A Dejected Ombudsman

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State must empower Lokayukta to penalise corrupt public servants

Justice (retd) P K Misra, who recently demitted the office of Lokayukta of the state, would be leaving as a disappointed anti-corruption ombudsman as the state government did not accept most of his recommendations. Justice Misra made his disenchantment public in an interview with this paper by saying that rather than having a farcical institution of Lokayukta, it would be better to abolish it and save some public revenue. He served as Goa’s Lokayukta from March 18, 2016 to September 16, 2020 and made inquiries against and recommended action against several public servants including former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar and a current minister Michael Lobo. During his tenure, he received 191 cases, of which 133 were disposed of by him. He sent his findings in 21 of the 58 cases pending before him to the government but the action taken reports on them did not reach his office. His recommendations included initiation of disciplinary action, transfer, detailed investigation by ACB and declaring an elected functionary unfit to hold office.

Denying that he ever sought extension of his retirement age, he lamented that a whispering campaign was launched against him by some “disgruntled politicians” to tarnish his image and make a villain out of him. The politicians, he alleged, were trying to “salvage their reputation” and divert public attention by claiming that he came out with adverse reports against them after his request for an extension was not granted. It is indeed a sad state of affairs when the Lokayukta, who is a former Supreme Court judge, comes to a conclusion that, with bureaucrats ready to become willing tools in the hands of corrupt politicians, the possibility of eradication of corruption and maladministration was extremely remote in Goa as in other parts of India, irrespective of which party is in power.

It is ironic that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rode to power in 2012 using corruption as a plank to oust Congress from power and promising to put the corrupt behind bars, did not even send action taken reports to the Lokayukta in most of the cases. The party had promised to punish all those involved in corrupt practices. However, with the reports being released one after another against its own functionaries and government officials during their own rule the party with a difference chose to sit over the files. It is unfortunate to note that the pleas of the Lokayukta to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to provide for more teeth to the anti-corruption ombudsman to launch prosecution against those involved in corrupt practices failed to get a positive response, though the government was not lacking in assurance. Of course it is not only in Goa that the anti-corruption ombudsman has proven to be ineffective. In other states too, the political party in power, regardless of their ideology, has seen to it that the office of Lokayukta does not become a deterrent body for corrupt public servants. And both politicians and civil servants have been together in this deliberate design of undermining the effectiveness of the Lokayukta.

It is necessary that a government should not only be fair, transparent and honest, but it should also look to be so. That should be the way for a government to gain public confidence. That corruption is prevalent in the government is something that cannot be denied. The government should have acted on the recommendations of the Lokayukta in order to gain public confidence. The Goa Act does not provide Lokayukta the powers to prosecute those found to be corrupt and the matter goes to the ACB. Justice Misra has observed that unfortunately almost all police officers, including those in the ACB, obey their political masters and the recommendations against the corrupt become infructuous. The Governor could exercise the power vested in him under Section 25(2) of the Lokayukta Act to bring the ACB under the supervisory control of Lokayukta as suggested by Justice Misra. Inaction on the part of the government would reinforce people’s belief that it was not serious in tackling corruption. It is time for the government to show that all are equal before law.