Where is the Lokpal Bill?June 29th, 2010
Who is a Lokpal? If thats tough here’s another one, who is a Lokayukta? Well, Lokpal is supposed to be an ombudsman at the center who can look into irregularities by govt officials/politicians and give redressal to grievances of citizens. Lokayukta is supposed to be one in the states with the same functions. Thats the theoretical answer. The practical answer is that there is no Lokpal at the center. There are Lokayukta in some states, seventeen to be precise, but they are mostly toothless, with hardly any powers. And here is a shocker. The concept of Lokpal was first mooted in 1966 and has been introduced in Lok Sabha eight times since then but it never passed muster. In the meanwhile many state govts beginning with Orissa in 1970 enacted their own laws to appoint Lokayukta in their respective states. Ironically it was Orissa only which was first to abolish this post in 1993, quite possibly because this office was becoming too intrusive.
Nonetheless, if the office of Lokayukta exists in seventeen states today, ideally these states should’ve been the model for clean governance. But is it so? Quite frankly, NOOOOOO. Far from it, they are as bad or as good as those states where there is none. The recent resignation of Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde is a stark reminder of this blatant truth. The justice did not really enunciate the specific instances of corruption in the state which forced him to call it quits but we all know it is the mining syndicate of Bellary brothers and their misdeeds which are the prime reasons for his frustrations with the state govt because he and the state govt were unable to do anything against them.
Consider this, over 5 lakh tonnes of illegal iron ore, worth nearly Rs 200 crores, which was confiscated by Karnataka govt officials has been stolen from the store houses of port authorities of Karwar, Karnataka. Pertinent to mention that this comprised of nearly 40,000 truckloads which must’ve been ferried out over a period of months. To begin with, this entire thing was stored illegally in these very store houses by the mining syndicate from where they were confiscated. This is the issue which Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Hegde was fighting for and was being stonewalled at every step. Well, I guess BJP too is becoming as corrupt as anyone else in the country. Remember, CM Yedyurappa crying in front of TV cameras? Reddy brothers and his inability to deal with their syndicate was the reason why he did.
Another example is the inability of UP Lokayukta to deal with vulgar display of wealth by Mayawati and what seems like her money laundering statue parks. For the record the gentleman is Hon’ble Mr. Justice Narendra Kishore Mehrotra of Allahabad High Court who took over office in 2006. Finally, it was the Supreme Court which had to intervene on the issue of statues despite there being a Lokayukta whose primary job is to check corruption and misuse of govt money.
Fact is that the office of Lokayukta, where they exist, does not have any teeth at all, like many other independent bodies in the country. They have to rely on state authorities for investigation. And as you’d agree, that makes this office absolutely redundant. More importantly, the scope of this office varies from one state to another. In some states, there are certain portfolios which are kept out of its ambit while in some they are not. Thats because there is no central law in place to regulate it. Had it been so, not only this office would’ve been more powerful and uniform across the country but the states also could have had Lokayukta from anywhere in the country, not just from their own High Courts. And that, you’d agree, would make it all the more difficult for politicians to try and influence their decisions. Actually, they can’t really take any decision at the moment. They can only recommend actions against certain people. The final authority still rests with the respective state govts. Laughable, indeed!!!!
When Congress was asked about the Lokpal Bill they are supposed to have replied that the issue was under active consideration. Actually, what was being considered and debated within Congress is whether the PM’s office should come under the ambit of Lokpal or not. And cabinet is dead against it despite Manmohan Singh being in favor of it. But thats rather understandable from the point of view of Congress. Think about it, had the bill been in place with PM’s office very much under its scope the question of escape of Anderson, prime accused in Bhopal gas tragedy, and Rajiv Gandhi’s possible involvement in it would’ve been exposed.
Suffice to say that in a country as corrupt as ours we surely need an ombudsman (check out the list of countries who have an ombudsman on Wikipedia), specifically to deal with corruption in govt offices and agencies like the police, public works etc, with powers to independently investigate and pass judgments. Is Congress listening?