The Lokayukta is the “government’s conscience”, an anti-corruption ombudsman organised at the state-level and born out of a need felt among the country’s statesmen to instill a sense of public confidence in the transparency of the administrative machinery.
Legal experts say that the “best and the worst” of the Lokayukta organisation is that the success of the entire mechanism depends solely on the “personal qualities such as the image, caliber, drive, persuasive power, dynamism, perception of his role and institution of the individual Lokayukta”. This very facet may be a reason why the Lokayukta is generally perceived more of a failure than a success in dealing with corruption cases.
A lone soldier armed with limited resources and powers have over the years not turned out to be a viable concept to fight corruption prevalent within the ruling state government, the recent resignation of Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde is proof enough.
The institution of ombudsman originated in Sweden in 1809, and adopted by many nations ‘as a bulwark of democratic government against the tyranny of officialdom’. “Ombudsman” is a Swedish word that stands for “an officer appointed by the legislature to handle complaints against administrative and judicial action.” In India, the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), 1966 first mooted the idea of a “specialised institution” called ombudsman to redress citizens’ grievances, and to fight corruption among politicians and within the government services. Two special authorities, Lokpal at the Central level and the Lokayukta at the state-level, were introduced.
Lokpal: After the introduction of a series of eight Lokpal Bills in the Lok Sabha in the years 1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001, respectively, the establishment of the federal ombudsman is still a non-starter.
Lokayukta in the states:
The office of the Lokayukta and Up-Lokayukta exists in Maharashtra (1971), Bihar (1973), Rajasthan (1973), Uttar Pradesh (1975), Madhya Pradesh (1981), Andhra Pradesh (1983), Himachal Pradesh (1983), Karnataka (1985), Assam (1986), Gujarat (1986), Kerala (1988), Punjab (1995), National Capital Territory of Delhi (1996) and Haryana (1996). Orissa was the first state to pass the Ombudsman legislation in 1970 and also the first to abolish it in 1993.
The Lokayukta experience:
Despite statutory clearance many states have no
sitting Up-Lokayuktas. The lack of uniformity in Lokayukta statutes has resulted in mixed success and plenty of confusion among complainants.
Procedures: Written complaints are required from complainants by the Lokayukta office for investigation. If the complaint takes the form of an allegation, the office insists on the filing of an affidavit. Most of the complainants received turned out to be “anonymous, pseudonymous, and trivial in nature or not made on prescribed forms or were submitted without affidavits. “Many did not pursue their allegations when asked to file them in an affidavit format. Lokayuktas can either investigate the complaints using their suo motu powers under the state Act concerned or forward them to the heads of the departments under the scanner for action or act as a mediator between the citizen and the government servant against whom the complaint is made.
Punishment given: Reduction in rank, compulsory retirement, removal from office, stoppage of annual increments and censure are some of the frequently seen recommendations given by the Lokayukta to the government. The state can either accept the recommendations or modify them. The public servant concerned can challenge the decision in the state high courts or specialised tribunals.
Shortcomings: No uniformity in the Acts of different states; recommendations of the Lokayuktas are not acceptable to the competent authorities; many areas of administration are outside the jurisdiction of Lokayukta; every state has fixed time limit for lodging a complaint; in some states like Maharashtra the identity of the defaulters is not disclosed; some states have prescribed fee for lodging complaints, for example Madhya Pradesh is one of them; non-cooperative attitude of authorities; lack of independent investigating authority; requirement of prior sanction of the government in some cases; indifferent attitude of the state governments.
Appointments of Lokayukta and Up-Lokayukta: Lokayukta shall be appointed by the Governor of the state (Lieutenant Governor in case of Delhi) in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly. The Up-Lokayukta shall be appointed in consultation with the Lokayukta.
Qualifications of Lokayukta: Chief Justice (retired) of any high court in India, or a judge of a high court for seven years.
Qualifications of Up-Lokayukta: He or she is or has been a Secretary to the Government or a District Judge in Delhi for seven years or has held the post of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India.
No office of profit: Lokayukta or Up-Lokayukta shall not be a member of Parliament or a member of the Legislative of any state or Union Territory and shall not hold any other office of profit and shall not be connected with any political party or be carrying on any business or practice any profession. The office has a term of five years.
By: Krishnadas Rajagopal