As social crusader Anna Hazare gets ready for the second leg of his crusade for the Lokpal, this time in Mumbai, one needs to take a close look at the existing Lokayukta system in place in our state. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has made it clear that the state would wait for the Lokpal Bill to be passed before fortifying the institution of the Lokayukta in Maharashtra. Chavan, who has just completed a year in office, may not be aware that the government had made the same move seven years ago, when the state Lokayukta demanded that it be given more leverage.
Protected by Law: All ministers but the Chief Minister of the state fall
under the ambit of the Lokayukta for the state of Maharashtra
Few of us are aware of the fact that the state of Maharashtra has the institutions of Lokyakta and Upalokayukta in place since the last 38 years. The concept was introduced by an ombudsman, via a special act in the year 1971. While the position of Lokayukta is reserved for a retired High Court judge, a retired IAS officer is to be appointed as the Upalokayukta. All the ministers and administrators come under the ambit of the law, sparing only the CM, and anyone is free to lodge a complaint.
The fact sheet says that till December 2010, as many as 12,700 cases were pending for disposal, of which 7,426 were dealt with, leaving a backlog of 5,274 cases in the year 2011, not taking into account the newly registered cases. Of the 12,700 cases that were awaiting redressal in 2010, 6,000 were cases pending from 2009.
Who were most of the cases registered against? In 2010, just three cases against ministers cropped up, whereas the remaining 1,666 were related to the Revenue and Forest departments, 512 to the Home Department and 626 against civic bodies. 873 cases were registered with Lokayukta in Mumbai, 512 in Pune, 405 in Nagpur and 392 in Thane.
So when the state government speaks of strengthening the Lokayukta on the lines of the proposed Lokpal Bill at the Centre, the woes of the state authority deserve some attention, vis- -vis the basic principle of a democracy, which is formed by the people and for the people.
The recent Lokayukta report, submitted to the Governor in September this year, raises some valid points: it says that it must be plied with an independent investigative agency, adequate staff and requisite funds for its functioning. Even states like Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, and Delhi, which have enacted the Lokayukta Act much after our state did, the institution has been empowered with the desired financial liberty.
A 2001 report submitted by retired Home Secretary Dr Madhav Godbole had recommended that the State Lokayukta has had a minimal impact on public life in Maharashtra. It had largely remained preoccupied with grievances of the government staffers, and not made any significant contribution to the cleansing of public life. Certain proposals made to strengthen the Lokayukta were given the blind eye by the government, and a draft of a model legislation, formulated in the All-India conference of Lokayuktas, was also neglected.
In his report, Godbole wonders why the government has neglected the institution of the Lokayukta, while proposing to set up new institutions, one of which is the Vigilance Commission (VC). There is no reason why the Lokayukta cannot be entrusted with the duties and functions that are being planned for the VC, said the bureaucrat, recommending that the director-general of the Anti-Corruption Bureau be placed in charge of the Lokayukta, and a special team of police officers deployed under his aegis. He also recommended that the Lokayukta reports be made public as soon as they are presented to the government.
An important issue is the unwarranted secrecy surrounding the cases handled by the Lokayukta. The fact that not a single issue related to the annual Lokayukta report has ever come up for discussion in the State Legislature since it was established in 1972 --even though it is to be presented before it on an annual basis --bears testimony to the utter disregard that the state has for the institution.
Ravikiran Deshmukh is political editor, MiD DAY