Goa Lokayukta: Why and how 2011

By Prabhakar Timble
27 September 2011 17:41 IST

The undue haste and competition to enact the Lokayukta for Goa refreshes my memory of 19th December, 1961. The first to come on the streets chanting “Jai Hind” were the families who ridiculed the freedom fighters and basked in the glory of the Portuguese rulers as they were the economic beneficiaries of the colonial power. I see a similar scene in the corridors of political power, halls of spiritual gurus, galleries of social clubs and arcades of business magnates.

A senior MLA glued to spoils of political office for over three decades extolls the virtues of Anna Hazare and manages headlines in newspapers. A cabinet minister from the same family makes youth to bend and MLAs to crawl throwing the bread crumbs of contract jobs in government. The Chief Minister is set to introduce and clear a Lokayukta bill in almost a one-day session of the state assembly, actually convened to avoid a constitutional deadlock. The Opposition in their bid to prevent the ruling party from scoring brownie points has prepared another bill to be tabled in the House. Another MLA still considered to be of the ruling festivity has given notice for another private member’s Lokayukta bill. As happens in rescue operations during natural calamities, the Goa Law Commission has provided a draft bill for the establishment of the institution of Lokayukta to inquire into grievances and allegations against public functionaries. Former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde during his visit to galvanise the anti-graft movement of the civil society has advised the government to notify the 2003 Lokayukta bill with requisite amendments rather than enacting the 2011 draft bill recommended by the Goa Law Commission.

It just cannot be 2003

Post the Jan Lok Pal successful movement in building public awareness, I feel there is no substitute for the 2011 draft of the Lok Ayukta. The 2011 code enunciated by the Goa Law Commission to facilitate the Law Department, Govt. of Goa to table the bill before the state assembly is answering the kindled and sparked aspirations of the citizens by Anna Hazare and the group. The 2003 bill, if taken up with the cosmetic amendments answering the objections raised by the Central government cannot even offer a consolation. The 2003 bill was fairly good during those times. The march of events necessitates major departures and if not done would be disastrous to the facts of experience and would render the office of the Lokayukta ineffective and impotent.

2011 bill has expanded the scope of the Lok Ayukta. All public functionaries from the Chief Minister to Panchayats and all government servants including government corporations are brought in the ambit. The notable innovation is the inclusion of NGOs and individuals receiving public grants or foreign contributions despite the fact that they are not strictly public offices. The powers proposed to the Lok Ayukta move on the footsteps of the Jan Lok Pal i.e. independent prosecution and investigation wings, special courts to try offenders, freezing of bank accounts and confiscation of disproportionate assets. These are the major and much needed departures from 2003.  The 2003 bill gives only the power to recommend and pass appropriate orders. The 2011 draft is a sea change in this area. We can ill afford to ignore these significant improvements.

The 2011 draft also dispenses the need of prior sanction from competent authority. The critical step forward is the “suo motto” provision, giving power to the authority to act on its own initiative i.e. even without a formal complaint or reference.   

 The Goa Law Commission proposal makes it mandatory for all ministries and departments to prepare the citizens charter specifying the commitments with reference to delivery of public services and grievances of citizens for violation of these commitments would come under the scanner of the Lokayukta.

It is therefore advisable that instead of re-working to notify the 2003 bill with minor amendments, Goa should surge ahead with the spirit and contents of the 2011 draft presently with the Law Department for necessary rectification.

Managing fears

The fear advocated is that the legislators would scuttle the passing of a new legislation demanding time for scrutiny and discussion. The same reasons could also apply for the desired amendments to the 2003 bill since it is also not a part of the statute books. Some say that the Lokayukta enactment should be done through an ordinance by the Governor. At this stage, this view does not stand the test of logic since a session of the state legislature has been already convened. Further, any law enacted through an ordinance gets extinguished if not ratified by the legislature within a period of six months. Considering the talk that the government may go ahead with an early dissolution or the very limited balance term of the Goa Assembly, it is not worth taking the risk of the ordinance power of the Governor.

If the legislators i.e. the ruling and the opposition are serious that the present Assembly should bequeath a strong Lok Ayukta law for the State, it can happen. The spirit to make it happen can be set in motion by the Chief Minister and the cabinet by initiating a formal pre-consultation process with the Opposition group before the assembly session. The opposition needs to respond positively. If at all, the bill needs more time for discussion, a fresh session for another two days can be convened in the second week of November. The intervening period could be utilised for a quick and time-bound report from a small committee of the House. If the government can convince the opposition that the credit for the Lokayukta Act is jointly owned by all the political parties, the delivery of 2011 draft as a law is a foregone reality. However, if the intention of the already tarnished Congress party and its ministers is to use this opportunity to whitewash the onslaught of corruption charges by holding the shield of the Lok Ayukta law during the election campaign which is not far away, I do not see the light of the day for this law during the present session.  

Note of caution

Enacting the law is one aspect. Setting up of the Lok Ayukta machinery would take a reasonable time.  It may be the first unpleasant task of the new government. What’s important is the occupier of the hot seats of Lok Ayukta and Upalokayukta and the team of officers. The public expectations from this authority are very high. It would not be easy for the authority to live up to such extraordinary expectations. After the people see the reality, the citizens should not lose their confidence in this machinery. Hence, citizens should not equate Lok Ayukta to Amitabh in ‘Zanjeer’, Rajanikant in ‘Shivaji’ and Ajay Devgan in ‘Singam’. This is my note of caution.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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