By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, August 2, 2022: Odisha Lokayukta (Amendment) Bill, 2022 passed by the Odisha assembly on Monday giving the anti-corruption watchdog the power to impose punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 faces bitter court battle.

Activists said the amendment of the Odisha Lokayukta Act to exercise powers under the Contempt of Courts Act could be used to silence criticism of the watchdog’s orders.

“Not many states have made such amendments. Many petitioners are hurt that no action is taken against corrupt officials and politicians by the Lokayukta and this amendment will prevent them from criticising the office. Lokayukta is after all a quasi-judicial body. We will surely challenge the amendment in the High Court,” said activist Pradip Pradhan.

The bill was passed before the assembly was adjourned sine die on Monday, three days ahead of schedule.

It also said that it would treat willful disobedience of its order or direction of any government official as serious misconduct entailing departmental action.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who piloted the legislation, said the Lokayukta sought steps to strengthen the authority of the institution in its annual report for 2020.

A new sub-section has accordingly also been added that considers willful disobedience of the watchdog’s directions regarding any process or order as misconduct and enables the government to initiate disciplinary action against the public servant concerned on the recommendation of the Lokayukta.

In February 2019, Odisha established the state’s first Lokayukta with the former judge of Guwahati high court Justice Ajit Singh as its first head.

The anti-corruption watchdog disposed of 2,251 cases while 514 cases were pending in 2019 and 2020, It is yet to give the details of the cases disposed of in 2021. The Lokayukta has not found anyone guilty in the last three years.

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