Thursday, April 25, 2024

LokAyukta Issue Orphaned


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The Meghalaya Assembly is a strange place. What is expected is Opposition unity when an MLA takes up an issue that is in the larger public good. But expecting political camaraderie even from colleagues in the same party appears like a distant dream here. A striking example is that of the VPP MLA from Mawkhar who sought to move an important resolution which is to strengthen the Lokayukta which was created to check corruption in governance. The LokAyukta is a body headed by an official appointed by the government after due consultations with the Chief Justice of the State High Court and the leader of the Opposition to represent the interests of the public. It is an anti-corruption authority or ombudsman. The Lokayukta Act, 2013 provides for the establishment of LokAyukta for States to inquire into allegations of corruption against public functionaries and related matters. The functions of the LokAyukta as an institution include investigating any action taken by a public servant if it is referred to by the State Government. It is tasked with speedy redressal of public grievances. However public complaints are not taken up if there is any alternate remedy. The LokAyukta has an investigating and prosecution wing. Considering that the LokAyukta is intended to look into malfeasance committed by public servants, it has to be completely free and independent. However, there is a dichotomy here since serving officials are appointed to the investigation and prosecution wing. Can it be expected that the investigation be fair and free when complaints are against a senior official of the government?
The objective of the LokAyukta is an alternate and effective system to improve the standard of public administration in the country because the existing systems to handle these issues, such as courts, departmental authorities, and other avenues, were considered insufficient to deal with issues of corruption and other malpractices by public servants. The Lokayukta has the authority to oversee and direct matters referred to it for an initial inquiry. It has the power to investigate, the powers of search and seizure; in some circumstances, civil court power; the ability to employ the services of state government employees; to formally seize assets; and, in some situations, the power to seize revenues, receipts, and benefits obtained through corruption. The Lokayukta is empowered to recommend a public servant’s transfer or suspension in connection with corruption allegations. It can give instructions to prevent the destruction of records during preliminary investigation.
Considering that the LokAyukta of Meghalaya had after due investigations come out with chargesheets against functionaries of the Garo Hills District Council for acts of corruption, it would have been judicious to proceed with necessary action but the Government stepped in and dismissed the officials it had earlier appointed in the Investigation and Prosecution Wings. Isn’t this a blatant attempt to cover up corruption? Of what use then is the LokAyukta if its powers are curtailed and diluted? And why did the VPP MLAs who were vociferous against the sacking of the two retired police officials earlier on, now not supporting their fellow VPP MLA? Something is amiss here.


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