Lokayukta: The history repeats

By Sandesh Prabhudesai (EdiThought)
07 February 2013 22:55 IST

History repeats. It has now repeated once again after 15 years. The only difference is that in 1997, Pratapsing Rane was the chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party was just four members, with Manohar Parrikar as their leader. In 2013, Parrikar is the chief minister and Rane is the leader of opposition. Quite a new faces added and many old faces disappeared. But the attitude of the political class remains unchanged. That time it was Right to Information; today it is Lokayukta. However, media was the ultimate target of ALL the politicians; in spite of their so called differences of opinion.

In 1997, the journalist took an initiative to bring in India’s first real Right to Information Act. Rane happily agreed to frame it on the lines of the bill suggested by then Press Council of India chairman Justice P B Sawant. But, added one small clause. Section 9 (1) of the bill stated : "Where a person obtains information under this act for malafide purposes or publishes in any manner information, which he has reason to believe to be false, shall be punishable with fine which shall not be less than Rs 10,000". Obviously, the clause was inserted to strangulate the media and the freedom of the press.

In spite of strong opposition by the whole media, the 40-member House including the ruling Congress as well as opposition Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and other small groups including the BJP passed the bill unanimously. However, state-wide agitation launched jointly by the Goa Union of Journalists and the Editors’ Guild compelled the government not to go ahead with Governor’s assent. The governor gave conditional assent and the bill was sent back to the Assembly to delete the obnoxious clause. However, the government also deleted another clause, which was providing a fine for supplying false information. But, finally the prime battle was won.

The present controversy over Lokayukta amendment bill reminds of the Right to Information controversy, where all the MLAs were united to pass the bill. The Lokayukta amendments provide for heavy fines as well as compensation to be paid by the complainant for a false and frivolous complaint but hardly few thousands the corrupt public functionary has to pay to the complainant when corruption charges are proved. While justifying this, chief minister Manohar Parrikar says he is prepared to delete the clause of heavy fine for the complainant, provided the media does not publicise the charges of corruption levelled against the MLA, the minister, the chief minister etc.

Of course, the major controversial issues in Lokayukta amendments are – 1. no compulsion for the minister or the chief minister to resign even if the Lokayukta proves charges of corruption against them; and 2. giving free hand to the competent authorities like the Governor or the Chief Minister not to act on the Lokayukta report and get it “deemed rejected” if no action is initiated within three months. In the Assembly, the opposition Congress opposed only the hefty fine, but not the clause about the fine and supported other obnoxious clauses. They walked out, perhaps to pave way to get the bill passed.

The media has literally joined hands with the India Against Corruption against the pro-corrupt attitude of the politicians – no matter which party they belong to. And after consistent media pressure, the opposition Congress is now planning to meet the governor, echoing IAC demand not to give assent to the bill and opposing “all” the amendments. Chief minister Parrikar has also agreed to make necessary changes to the bill, in order to strengthen the Lokayukta act and not dilute it.

Basically, section 16 A regarding “Public functionary to vacate office” is a good adoption from the Karnataka Lokayukta Act. But changing the provision that the corrupt minister or the chief minister “shall” resign to “may resign” and also changing Lokayukta’s report getting “deemed accepted” to “deemed rejected” defeats the basic purpose of the insertion of this special clause. The chief minister now says he is prepared to delete the whole section 16 A, if the IAC and the media wants. In reality, neither the IAC nor the media opposed section 16 A, but dilution of it with these two major changes.

As the chief minister now agrees to change the amendments by placing it on the floor of the House once again next month in the budget session, it reminds of the same history of Right to Information that has repeated once again after 15 years. And the credit of it, obviously, goes to Goa’s vibrant media and the alert civil society.

Bravo!!

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Sandesh Prabhudesai (EdiThought)

Sandesh Prabhudesai is the Editor of goanews.com. He has been earlier the Editor of Sunaparant (Konkani daily) and Editor-in-Chief of Pruden (TV channel). His collection of selective editorials of Sunaparant has been published as 'Goff'. He writes brief thoughts as EdiThought for goanews.com, but not on regular basis.

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Previous Comments

dear sandesh,

From your elephantine memory and pool of experiance you have drawn an excellant parallal on how absolute power leads to absolute corruption. Our country has accepted the form of british parliementary democracy but not its substance. That is sacrifice of self interest for the public good not by the public but by the chosen representatives of the public. They simply adopt peoples mandate into heavens mandate and seek share in public funds entrusted to them. In this circumstances it has become imperative for the fourth estate to keep the public representatives under a microscopic observation. More so in this age of decay. Hope the govt keeps its word given to prashant bhushan at least for the sake of its own credibality if nothing else. only the peoples pressure and collective bargaininng by the public can ensure that govt walks on the right path. Your efforts in this regard, despite personal discomforts, are praiseworthy.

- shriniwas khalap, new delhi | 12 th February 2013 07:24

 

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