The Kerala High Court refused to quash the proceedings initiated by filing a complaint, before the Lok Ayukta against former Health Minister K Shailaja, alleging corruption and irregularities in the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly observed that "On a perusal of the complaint, we are of the clear opinion that the complainant/1st respondent herein has not challenged the manner in which contract was provided, by invoking Section 50 of the Act, 2005; the allegations made in the complainant is with respect to the alleged corruption or maladministration that has taken place in the purchase of materials by making exorbitant and huge amount to the products than the maximum retail price."

In this case, the complaint was filed by one Veena S Nair (complainant/respondent no.1), who is an advocate and claimed to be a social worker, before the Lok Ayukta, alleging large-scale corruption and embezzlement in the procurement of PPE Kits and other Surgical equipment during the COVID-19 Pandemic period. In the complaint proceedings before the Lok Ayukta, the complaint was held to be maintainable and notices were issued to file the written statements to the officials of Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL) and the State Government, including the then Health Minister KK Shailaja. This order of Lok Ayukta was challenged by this Writ Petition.

It was alleged that the purchases were made by the KMSCL through its officials at an exorbitant price than the market price of the product period by taking advantage of the situation. It is also pointed out that 10000 numbers of disposable PPE kits were bought at a higher price than the maximum retail price of Rs.3,000/-. It is also stated in the complaint that all the purchases were made in violation of the provisions of the Store Purchase Manual.

Senior Advocate S. Sreekumar with Adv. Ajit Joy Advocate appeared for the Writ petitioners M. Ajay, appeared for the Kerala Medical Services Corporation Ltd. Senior Government Pleader V. Tek Chand appeared for the State officials.

The petitioner contended that the Lok Ayukta does not have the jurisdiction to deal with the said complaint as it comes under the Disaster Management Act 2005, which is an exclusive law for cognizance of offence under Section 60 of the Act.

The Court observed that "respondent No.1 has not made any allegations with respect to the emergency powers exercised by the petitioners or other authorities under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (the Act, 2005). But, her contention is that under the guise of exercising that power, corruption is practiced by the authorities."

The Court rejected the contention that Section 71 and 72 of the Act, 2005 creates a bar of jurisdiction of Courts other than the Supreme Court or a High Court and that the enactments had an overriding effect over other laws.

The Court also rejected the contention that the subject matter would not come under the purview of the Kerala Lok Ayukta Act, 1999, the Court said that the truth of allegations made with respect to abuse of financial position and corruption were such matters which required enquiry by the Lok Ayukta, in accordance with law. "It is equally important to note that Section 9(5) of the Act, 1999 empowers the Lok Ayukta to refuse investigation of to discontinue with the investigation of any complaint involving a grievance or an allegation, if in his opinion, the complaint is frivolous or vexatious or is not made in good faith; that there are no sufficient grounds for investigating or; as the case may be, for continuing the investigation, or; other remedies are available to the complainant and in the circumstances of the case it would be more proper for the complainant to avail of such remedies." said the Court.

The Court further observed that the Lok Ayukta has sufficient discretion and mechanism to identify whether the complaint is frivolous, and refuse to investigate or discontinue with the investigation.

The Court also observed that after considering the facts and circumstances of the case, the petitioners had failed to make out any case of illegality, arbitrariness, irregularity or other legal infirmities justifying to invoke extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution and thus, the complaint was maintainable before the Lok Ayukta.

Accordingly, the Writ petition was dismissed.

Cause Title- Dr. Dileep Kymar v. Veena S. Nair

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