Lokayukta: How Perceptions Differ!
Blatant belittling of autonomous institutions creates serious doubts on an independent and effective Lokpal being created, and ever being allowed to function without strings are pulled from behind
India’s obsession with cricket is globally known. It was more than evident when everyone everywhere was being bombarded 24X7 with the real and imaginary details of the IPL gate, relegating all other corruption gates to background! IPL remains the favorite baby of the Uncontrollable Board of Control for Cricket in India. It has money and glamour, two of the most significant attributes that completely takeover the human ingenuity of discretion. People are amazed to learn that not only the BCCI is beyond the control of the government in any manner; it is not even in the ambit of the RTI! The BCCI Chairperson proved it beyond any doubt that he is law unto himself. The situation is as anomalous as could baffle not only the common man but also the legal luminaries. The cricket team represents India but government of India has no business whatsoever in the affairs of the BCCI! Is it not shocking that BCCI is an independent ‘sovereign’ state within Indian union! Even if we had a Lokpal of our dreams, it would be told to keep off the BCCI. During this IPL-BCCI Blitzkrieg that had to be endured by a shocked nation, much could be learnt regarding the issue of the autonomy and independence of institutions. People were given to understand that an ‘Independent and Autonomous Lokpal’ would be in position to bring down corruption, penalize the corrupt and ensure transparency in public dealings and expenditure. It attracted nationwide attention and support during the last over two years; courtesy the Anna Hazare and Ramdev movements. How these movements were cleverly decimated is still fresh in the minds of the people. The manner ruling party treats the CBI is a clear instance of its unwillingness to ensure transparency in governance and matters that impact public confidence in it. The appointment of a CVC was annulled but the approach of the government remained unaltered. The appointment of the successor CAG to Vinod Rai clearly indicates how the government remains unconcerned on probity and transparency. We all had heard so much of protests on the delay in the appointment of Lokayukta in Gujarat and, people had a genuine point as the delay was indeed too prolonged. The governor of the state took the initiative and appointed an incumbent to the position. This appointment has been found in order by Supreme Court of India. But do other state governments really give the Lokayukta its due? The critics of the delay in Gujarat just prefer to keep mum when it comes to the Lokayukta of Delhi being ignored fully and completely by the state government? This is an instance of the prevalent hypocrisy in Indian politics.
The potential of the institution of Lokayukta became evident in several cases and Karnataka could be cited as an exemplar. Justice Santosh Hegde, during his tenure as Lokayukta of Karnataka, created history, and did set up a glittering precedence to be followed. He took a bold and legitimate stand on corruption in high places, by politicians and the resourceful. He could excavate facts and figures on unbridled plundering of natural resources by unscrupulous elements under the protection of the high and the mighty. These revelations consumed the Chief Minister of Yedyuruppa and some of the ministers of his cabinet landed in jail. All this wiped out people’s confidence in the government and the party. People had some inkling of the wrongdoings but when Lokayukta put the facts before them, they got convinced as it came from an agency specifically created to keep a watch on those who become a law unto themselves. It was also revealed how the vulgar exploitation of natural national resources was being unashamedly being indulged not only by the then chief minister but also by his predecessors in Karnataka and also in Andhra Pradesh! Though the CM had to quit under Party instructions the people of Karnataka have penalized the Party. The episode created very positive fallout: people developed healthy respect for the institution of Lokayukta.
The government of Delhi, under the evident patronage of the central government, presents a contrasting scenario. Not many may recall that the Delhi Lokayukta had recommended the removal of a Delhi minister from the cabinet on charges of corruption. It was just not paid any attention by the government. It was a brazen attempt to reduce the institution of Lokayukta to naught in a calculated manner. It was also the fate of several other recommendations. Very recently, the Lokayukta of Delhi Justice Manmohan Sarin has strongly indicted the chief minister of the state for gross misutilization of public funds in an advertisement blitz launched just prior to the Assembly elections in 2008. In a rare instance the Lokayukta wants her or her party to refund half of the expenditure so incurred that comes to eleven crores! Justice Sarin has clearly established the collusion of the Party and the government critically examining the tone, tenor and contents of the advertisements issued by the Delhi government and the Congress party of the state. How callously public money was squandered by the state government becomes shockingly clear as the expenditure for advertisements rose from Rs 4.00 crores in 2004-05 to Rs 22.55 crores in 2008-09! Even the Maharajas of the yore would have hesitated in such gross squandering of public money and violation people’s trust. To win elections, if the ruling parties are allowed such liberties, the basics of democracy would wither away in no time. Totally ignoring the Lokayukta, those running the Government of Delhi have already begun its media blitzkrieg for the November elections, Right from FM Radio stations to huge hoardings on Delhi Streets are presenting a picture of Delhi Shining! It may help them to recall; ‘every empire sows the seeds of its own destruction’! Those who had made all the noises against the Yedyuruppa Government are nowhere visible when it comes to the Lokayukta report of Justice Manmohan Sarin which severely indicts Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of Delhi.
The present political set wants BCCI to remain sovereign, there is little hesitation in ignoring Lokayuktas, and most of the political parties are furious on being brought under the purview of the RTI! Political hypocrisy is at its peak. The politics without principles is known to strive hard to give preference to persons and personal interests over national and principled stands. During the last couple of years people have witnessed umpteen such cases: the manner in which A. Raja, Pavan Bansal and Ashwani Kumar were defended by the Prime Minister is only one of such examples. The manner Shinglu Committee report was practically trashed shall remain fresh in the minds of alert citizens. What is the way out? First the honest and clean Prime Minister must take the initiative to give teeth to the RTI—let institutions like BCCI come under RTI. Further all political parties must acknowledge their public accountability and let people know their sources of funding and the details of expenditure. The central government has a great opportunity to respond to the wishes of the people and ensure passage of the Lokpal Bill in right earnest. Meanwhile the credibility of the institutions of Lokayuktas must not be allowed to be compromised on political and personality considerations. No nation can afford moving ahead belittling its institutions.
By J S Rajput