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Something rotten in the state of Maharashtra

Ravikiran DeshmukhNo class of the citizenry would want the government to be run by courts, not even the judiciary. But in recent times, the Bombay High Court has pulled the state Democratic Front government up in as many as 26 matters. Many of the court’s declarations were eye-openers for us. No one would disagree that in a government the elected government should always have a free hand to govern. But the current scrutiny of government decisions by the courts, followed by strictures, censure and directives, certainly shows that something is rotten in the state of Maharashtra. 

It’s not just the electorate but the judiciary too that is finding fault in the workings of the government. Apart from a decision to take up the death of malnourished children and the shoddy purchases made in their name as a suo motu PIL after an extensive series of reports run by MiD DAY, there have been a number of PILs demanding scrutiny of government decisions.  The HC had to ask the government to appoint an officer from the IAS cadre to oversee the schemes and projects implemented for the benefit of tribal dominated Melghat in Amravati, where a number of deaths due to malnutrition have been reported.

In order to challenge government decisions, the citizens have to pay doubly. They have to bear the legal expenses to fight against the government. The government, on the other hand, uses money collected in taxes and duties from the citizens for its legal expenses. The 26 recent strictures received by the government from the courts do not augur well for the future of our system, as it also shows at least eight members of the Prithviraj Chavan-led cabinet have been facing various charges for misuse of power, questionable decision-making or alleged corruption. 

Matters were particularly embarrassing when the HC recently told the government to decide on the request forwarded by the state Anti -Corruption Bureau for sanction to prosecute tainted faces in the administration. This was in the wake of a PIL challenging the lethargy of the state government — a committee headed by the chief secretary had to give a green signal to prosecute 40 odd officials. The number of cases filed by people against the state also shows up loopholes in decision-making, as prudent ones aimed at public welfare would never have invited the court’s wrath. 

The HC came down heavily over the way the process for caste validation certificates was handled, the inadequate funds for recruitment of police personnel, the implementation of the controversial toll policy, failure to prevent adulteration in milk, the sorry state of affairs at shelter homes and RTOs, scrutiny of ration cards, failure to remove illegal hoardings and banners, inaction against illegal schools, the matter of protection of RTI activists, and the state government’s reluctance to recover money from organisers of IPL matches. A chunk of the litigation is about the implementation of slum redevelopment schemes by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). In some of the cases, the high court has pulled up the SRA, headed by the chief minister of the state and IAS officers appointed from time to time as chief executive officers. 

The courts have also directed the police to register FIRs against senior babus. The legal scrutiny has caste a shadow on the efficiency of the administration. As most of the babus attend court proceedings, government services take a serious setback. Babus, who aren’t interested in addressing public grievances, cite pending court matters as reason for delayed responses in specific matters.

The failure of the state means that the role of the judiciary is expanding — for instance, a committee of senior judicial officials was appointed to study the traffic system in Mumbai and recommend measures to discipline it. Does this mean that the collective efforts of the RTO, the traffic police, and the BMC aren’t enough?

Eight ministers have come under judicial scrutiny for various reasons — for taking favours, controversial decision-making that drained the state kitty or benefited their cronies. The names of two ministers can be found in FIRs and three more are in the process of finding their names in some.

The scenario certainly shows the true face of the government. But the state government has maintained a suspicious silence and failed to take concrete steps on preventing further embarrassment before the judiciary.

 

The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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