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Explained: Why no government wants an effective Lokayukta

Saurav Datta | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:32 IST

Very few governments want to submit to accountability principles, more so, to an ombudsman who has been appointed to ensure that public servants abide by integrity and probity. Hence, it comes as no surprise that appointments of the Lokayukta- the state ombudsman, in various states, are often mired in controversy.

The appointment fiasco in Uttar Pradesh- where the Supreme Court was compelled to invoke its extraordinary powers to appoint a Lokayukta because of the government's reluctance, took an embarrassing turn.

Also read - UP Lokayukta row: 'SC took away the executive's powers' - Justice AP Shah

This is because Dhananjay Chandrachud, the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, and a member of the committee to appoint the Lokayukta, opposed the apex court's appointee, Justice Virendra Singh, citing an integrity deficit. In a judgment delivered on 28 January, the Supreme Court had to recall its earlier ruling and appoint another retired judge, Sanjay Misra.

But even as the embers seem to be cooling off in Uttar Pradesh, a fresh storm is brewing in Uttarakhand.

Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, a lawyer practising at the High Court, has filed a PIL alleging that the government is not only delaying the appointment of a Lokayukta, but is also diluting one of the best and most competent accountability legislations to have been ever drafted.

The Uttarakhand Lokayukta Bill, 2011

The Bill, as Upadhyay claims in his petition, is an exemplary one, because it includes in its scope the Chief Minister's Office, former CMs and MLAs, and even retired government servants (who under other laws, enjoy immunity from investigation once their periods of service are over).

Despite getting Presidential Assent on 3 September 2013, and more than 700 complaints against public servants piling up, Upadhyay alleges that the government, in a bid to protect corrupt public servants, brought in a new law on 21 January 2014, which was way weaker than its predecessor.

Upadhyay's PIL is yet to be admitted, but if, and once it is, it is bound to open up another ground for confrontation between the state government and the judiciary, just like what happened in Uttar Pradesh.

Other Lokayukta Appointment Controversies

Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh are not outliers- in other states also, there have been similar skirmishes and controversies, with governments going all out to dilute the Lokayukta legislations.

The most recent one happened in Gujarat, when in 2013, the state government's efforts to resist the appointment of Justice RA Mehta as the Lokayukta were foiled by the Supreme Court. This appointment row had witnessed an unedifying tussle between the governor Kamla Beniwal, and the state government, with the latter accusing the former of political manipulations.

Subsequently, in order to circumvent the Supreme Court's ruling, the government brought in the Gujarat Lokayukta Aayog Act, which gave the government overriding powers in appointing the state ombudsman. The powers of the Chief Justice of the High Court and the Governor were taken away.

This law is yet to be challenged, but one is compelled to ask - where is the government's integrity when it arrogates to itself the sole power to appoint the watchguard supposed to investigate it?

SC had to step in to appoint a Lokayukta in UP. Uttarakhand and Gujarat seem reluctant to appoint one

Prior to the Gujarat incident, there was a row surrounding the Lokayukta in Karnataka, in 2011. It all began with the Lokayukta, retired Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde unraveling a mammoth mining scam and indicting then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. So stung was the government, that it pulled out all stops to stall the appointment of Hegde's successor. Shivraj Patil, a retired Supreme Court judge, was supposed to take over, but then he found himself embroiled in an illegal land allotment controversy. The Lokayukta institution itself found its credibility coming under question.

Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao, a retired chief justice of the Karnataka High Court, who was finally appointed as Lokayukta in February 2013, also had to resign in December last year, over corruption allegations.

In India, where pitched political battles are fought over corruption issues, the rows over Lokayukta appointments only reinforce the fact that enforcing public integrity would be more than a Herculean task.

More in Catch - From crusaders to scamsters: what corrupted the Karnataka Lokayukta

Why is Delhi's AAP govt delaying the appointment of a Lokayukta?

First published: 31 January 2016, 10:48 IST
Saurav Datta @SauravDatta29

Saurav Datta works in the fields of media law and criminal justice reform in Mumbai and Delhi.