The Supreme Court recently delivered a significant ruling on the powers of the Lok Ayukta as stipulated under the Kerala LokAyukta Act 1999, clarifying that the Lok Ayukta does not possess the authority to issue positive directions but is limited to submitting reports with recommendations to the relevant authorities.

A bench comprising Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Rajesh Bindal referred to two judgments of the Kerala High Court—Sudha Devi K. v. District Collector (2017 SCC OnLine Ker 1264) and District Collector v. Registrar, Kerala Lokayukta(AIR 2023 Ker 97)—which correctly interpreted the provisions of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999.

Citing Section 12(1) of the 1999 Act, the Supreme Court emphasized that the Lok Ayukta lacks the competence to issue positive directions. Its sole jurisdiction lies in submitting a report to the competent authority along with its recommendations if it identifies any injustice or hardship caused to the complainant due to a party’s action or inaction.

The case arose from a Writ Petition filed by an Additional Tahsildar challenging an order issued by an Upa Lokayukta. The Upa Lokayukta’s order directed the correction of revenue records related to a complainant’s property. Subsequently, the High Court dismissed the Tahsildar’s appeal, leading to the matter being taken up by the Apex Court.

The complaint lodged with the Lokayukta pertained to the correction of errors in the revenue records of a specific property and requested the mutation of the property in the name of the legal heirs of the complainant. In response, the Lokayukta not only directed the correction of the mistake in the revenue records but also instructed the Tehsildar to collect taxes from the complainant.

The Appellant argued before the Apex Court that the Lokayuktaisn’t a superior authority over other statutory bodies and has jurisdiction solely to address issues of maladministration. However, in this instance, the Lokayukta exceeded its jurisdiction by dealing with the matter on its merits and issuing positive directions for the correction of revenue records.

The Institution of Lokayukta in India plays a crucial role in combating corruption and maladministration in the government machinery. Originating from the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013, these ombudsman institutions are established at the state level to inquire into allegations of corruption against public functionaries and address complaints of maladministration.

The term “Lokayukta” Is derived from Sanskrit, where “Loka” refers to “people” and “Ayukta” means “appointed.” Thus, a Lokayukta is an entity appointed to represent the interests of the people by overseeing the functioning of public administration, particularly concerning corruption-related issues.

The role of ’he Lokayukta primarily revolves around receiving complaints from citizens against public servants, conducting investigations, and taking appropriate action against instances of corruption, abuse of power, or maladministration. The Lokayukta investigates complaints relating to maladministration, corruption, and misconduct against public servants, including ministers, legislators, government officials, and employees.

The jurisdiction and powers of the Lokayukta are generally defined by the respective state laws. These laws empower the Lokayukta to investigate complaints, summon witnesses, gather evidence, and recommend actions such as disciplinary proceedings, including prosecution or administrative actions, against the accused.

The Lokayukta’s jurisdiction often extends to allegations of corruption, nepotism, favoritism, or abuse of power by public officials. Its authority may cover various areas of governance, including land and revenue matters, law enforcement agencies, municipal corporations, and government-controlled institutions.

The Lokayukta is vested with quasi-judicial powers and functions independently of the government. It operates as a separate entity and does not require government approval to initiate an investigation or take action on complaints received. This independence is crucial in ensuring fair and unbiased scrutiny of allegations against public officials.

While the Lokayukta possesses investigative and recommendatory powers, it should be noted that it is not a court of law. It does not have the authority to prosecute or punish individuals directly. Instead, its recommendations are forwarded to the concerned authorities or competent bodies for further action.

However, despite its significance in addressing corruption and maladministration, the Lokayukta’s powers are recommendatory in nature. It cannot issue binding orders or directives. It can only recommend disciplinary action or further investigation based on its findings.

The Apex Court further observed that the Complainant had not pursued any statutory remedy after their initial request for rectification of revenue records was rejected.

In light of these considerations, the Supreme Court opined that the orders issued by the High Court and the Upa Lokayuktawere legally unsustainable and therefore set them aside.

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