Looking beyond Lokayukta functioning

Nothing can be more disquieting than the “disenchantment” expressed by Retired Justice Prafulla Kumar Misra after working as Lokayukta in Goa for four-and-a-half years. His regret is that the Government of Goa has failed to act on even one of the 21 reports that he had submitted against public functionaries on various charges.

“Why should public money be spent for nothing? If the Lokayukta Act is being thrown into the dustbin with such force, then it is better to abolish the Lokayukta,” he says.

I understand Justice Misra’s frustration. He served as Lokayukta in Goa with the expectation that he would be able to play a crucial role in fighting corruption and establishing a cleaner system of governance. However, somewhere along the line the people’s hopes, that the Lokpal and Lokayukta Acts adopted by Parliament would fall into place decisively, seems to have gotten shattered, going by Justice Misra’s experience.

Take for instance the Lokayukta’s categorical reports against former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, former Secretary of Mines Pawan Kumar Sain and Director of Mines and Geology, Prasanna Acharya, who were all found guilty of abuse of power, were rejected by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant. No logical explanation has officially been offered in this regard

It will be instructive to know from Justice Misra how and where things had gone astray. According to him, Goa’s Lokayukta Act in its current form “lacks teeth”. It does not have the powers of prosecution that the Karnataka and Kerala Acts have, nor does it have a provision “for contempt of the Lokayukta’s orders”.

Take for instance the Lokayukta’s categorical reports against former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, former Secretary of Mines Pawan Kumar Sain and Director of Mines and Geology, Prasanna Acharya, who were all found guilty of abuse of power, were rejected by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant. No logical explanation has officially been offered in this regard.

Justice Misra’s regret is that top functionaries provide opinions without reading the Act. On his part, he invariably spelt out in his reports the relevant provisions of the Act for ready reference. Still, no action was taken against the persons concerned.

During Justice Misra’s tenure, the office of Lokayukta reportedly received 191 cases, 133 of which were discarded. Among the 58 pending cases, he sent reports on 21 cases to the government, but the authorities did not take the trouble to provide Action Taken Reports on them.

The Lokayukta’s recommendations included “initiation of disciplinary action, transfer, detailed investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), or a declaration that an elected functionary is unfit to hold office”. Justice Misra suggested an ACB probe against MLA Pandurang Madkaikar for alleged disproportionate assets. He says that in several instances the police had not filed First Information Reports (FIRs), which is a mandatory requirement under Section 154 (3) CrPC1 (cognizable offences). In one case, he came to the conclusion that a cabinet minister was unfit to hold office.

Justice Misra did not spare even the late Manohar Parrikar for shying away from the responsibility of probing “Madkaikar’s assets, as “he was serving as a minister and an MLA belonging to the ruling party”.

Justice Misra’s is a sad story about dealing with corrupt practices and the impassive attitudes of political-bureaucratic bosses. Such behavior in public life could be both dangerous and counter-productive.

This episode reminds me of a famous story of the king who was faced with a palace revolt because of widespread corrupt practice indulged in by his bother-in-law. Pushed against the wall, the king banished him to the seaside and gave him an innocuous task of counting waves.

A master operator in money-making, his brother-in-law started stopping the ships passing by on the plea that they were interfering with his royal duty of counting waves. The ship owners got the hint and started bribing him. The king’s habitually corrupt brother-in-law made a fortune even from a supposedly innocuous assignment.

Justice Misra’s is a sad story about dealing with corrupt practices and the impassive attitudes of political-bureaucratic bosses. Such behavior in public life could be both dangerous and counter-productive.

Today, “brothers-in-law” within and outside of the establishment have perfected the technique of minting money through India’s highway of corruption in utter disregard of the common man’s deprivation. Where can we go from here?

The current state of Lokayuktas at the state level is not uniform – seventeen states have provided for Lokayukta; and the Acts passed in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra are said to be somewhat effective. Yet, corruption and maladministration are rampant at the district, municipality and mandal levels. Service registers and several records are not even maintained in some offices. In addition, revenue collection agencies are known to be the most corrupt; they reportedly do not even remit property taxes collected by them.

Should I say that laws and institutions are good on paper? It appears to be so. It is no secret that provisions of law are violated and manipulated by vested interests. If public probity is to be restored, enactments of effective laws have to be implemented efficiently.

The crisis of Indian character is real. Corruption is devouring the Indian state. Institutions and agencies have inexorably failed to contain the spread of corruption. It is a system of total failure. Laws and institutions may be refined, but they have to function effectively, efficiently and with complete transparency and accountability else, the entire exercise by Lokpal and Lokayuktas in fighting corruption may end up as mere shadowboxing.

To usher in a corruption-free system, we need a radical electoral system, administrative, economic and fiscal reforms, besides changes in attitudes and behavior patterns on the part of those who wield power in public and private life. On the face of it, the situation seems hopeless. But I feel that all is not lost as yet. The nation is still vibrant, with a vigilant public. All that is required is to build up public pressure through free flow of information.

— By Hari Jaisingh, veteran  journalist

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst