Lokayukta & Info Com in cold storage!

By Cleofato A Coutinho
27 August 2014 16:59 IST

Three years back, it was thought that Lokpal at the central level and Lokayukta at the state level is an idea whose time had come.  The Right to Information Act brought a number of scandals involving state resources on the table. If we see a change at the center with the UPA knocked out, the blame could be laid at the door of UPA itself! The UPA which brought the revolutionary Right to Information Act became a victim of   the law. The Right to Information was Momentous  for several reasons. It fired the imagination of the citizenry and also made way for the demand for an accountability mechanism. Despite opposition from the then ruling party, the Lokpal law was brought  with an unprecedented show of solidarity in parliament  and herein Goa the state Assembly met in 2011 to pass a bill of 2003 vintage. The civil society felt all issues  of malgovernance would now be thing of the past.

As the Lokpal refused to see the light of the day,  the Goa government amidst much controversy over the choice of the Lokayukta amended the existing law to make a retired Supreme Court Judge and/or a retired Chief Justice of the High Court only eligible.  Justice Sudarshan Reddy appointed under the amended Lokayukta act resigned after doing precious little and since then we seem to have lost track of that institution.  

We are now told that the Lokayukta will have to be amended as retired Supreme Court judges and retired chief justices of High Courts are not available and/or not ready to take up the assignment of the Goa Lokayukta. There are many disturbing questions that need to be answered Why was the Goa Lokayukta amended to make only a retired chief justice of a high court and the retired Supreme Court judge eligible for appointment? Was justice Sudarshan Reddy first chosen and then the law amended? Was the question of retired chief justices and supreme court retired judges not being available not considered then? Was the law amended only to fit justice Sudrashan Reddy?

  The thoughtless haste with which the law was amended shows the infirmity created by the haste but the  serious issue that has not been debatedis -Whether the law was amended to fit the incumbent or the law was amended to raise the bar of efficacy and competence? IT is certain the law was tailor-made to fit Justice Sudarshan Reddy. That is an extremely dangerous situation when institutions are tinkered to fit particular persons and personalities. The amendment actually struck off the law in one blow.

 What is the situation of the other transparency institution. The state Information commission is facing acute paralysis. On one occasion a selected state information commissioner resigned. On the second   and third time the government annulled its own selection. The net result being the present government has crossed about half its   term without a functional state information commission. The state information commission has been a great mechanism providing ammunition to  various movements in the state against the previous Congress government. The then leader of opposition exploited the law in a big way.  The battle against the allotment of land for SEZ is a shining example. If the High court finally upheld the state governments decision to cancel SEZ herein Goa, it was due to the information made available to the activists through the Right to Information Act.

The qualifications for State Information Commissioners seems to be the problem. Certain questions need to be raised. Are any rules framed by the Goa Government setting minimum qualifications to keep the standard of appointees in tune with the eminence required under the act?    How is that qualifications become a issue  after the selection process? There appears to be a complete method in the madness. The way the selection process has been subverted  it is clear, that the government is not at all interested in having the  transparency mechanism  

The state Assembly has just concluded its long monsoon session. The lack of opposition has been the major highlight of the current Assembly. Serious issues like compromise over SEZ land, mining policy, investment policy, delay over regional plan, casino pollution went almost without a serious debate with no floor coordination and no attempt to corner the government. There was neither moral pressure nor political pressure from the nonexistent opposition. In the absence of healthy opposition, government is bound to slip into a corrupt authoritarian regime. Constitutionalism flourishes and democracy becomes vibrant with a healthy opposition

In the good old days, when Right to Information did not exist and lok pal/Lokayukta was a distant dream, the India judiciary provided a legal frame work for activists and non government organizations by creating a system called public interest litigation which attempted to control the executive The Indian judiciary exercising one of the widest and deepest judicial review  in the world,   brought in a semblance of accountability. But that court mandated public interest litigation is unable to deal with the vice of bad governance and corruption which has creeped into our system after the new economic order unleashed  by the market forces post 1991. We now require proper transparency and accountability institutions. Lokayukta and Information Commission, it was thought would fit the bill. But these institutions have been placed in cold storage. It is as clear as daylight that the placing in cold storage is   more by design then default. The Goa’s civil society is taken for a ride and made to feel the ride enjoyable! With two and half years to go, the big question is whether the civil society can reorganise its forces, ideas and energies to meet the challenge.  

 

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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Previous Comments

Goa Government is shying away from implementing Lokayukta & Citizen Charter Acts. They don’t tell these Corrupt Babus to come in time and go in time and not to shout at the Aam Aadmi. Goa Government don’t tell these Corrupt Babus that this Aam Aadmi is paying Salary for them. Goa Government are scared of these Corrupt Babus. No implementation of Time-Line till date.

- Mathew Dias, Goa | 22 nd September 2014 15:54

 

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