Lokayukta stalled in Tamil Nadu even as Lokpal moves ahead

It has taken the Supreme Court to repeatedly nudge the Centre to put in place a Lokpal. Imaging: Prathap Ravishankar

Even as the Lokpal list is ready and set to be announced on March 18, uncertainty looms large over the Lokayukta in Tamil Nadu. There are reports that former Supreme Court judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose will be chosen to helm the anti-corruption team, which comprises eight other members.

In Tamil Nadu, one of the last states to pass the Lokayukta Bill, the controversy regarding the effectiveness of the body has been in question ever since the Lokayukta rules were notified in November last year. The Lokayukta Act provides for inquiries to be held in-camera, and prohibits the disclosure of the identities of the complainant and public functionary, drawing criticism from the opposition, which has been calling for the provisions to be scrapped. The rules also say that the proceedings cannot be disclosed to the public or the press.

Raising questions

Last week, DMK president MK Stalin registered his protest yet again when he refused to attend the selection committee meet headed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, where the likely names for the panel were discussed. The meeting assumes importance as the CM, the speaker of the legislative assembly, and the leader of the opposition will finalise names that will be forwarded to the Governor. With the state facing flak from the SC over its delay in appointing a Lokayukta, any further postponement is going to backfire and raise serious questions on its intentions to have a watchdog.

Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of Arappor Iyakkam, a people’s movement based in Chennai, said the Lokayukta in the state has fewer powers than the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC). He said, “This is more of a fact-finding body than an investigating and prosecuting body. It is going to make Lokayukta serve like the Human Rights Commission and we know how the HRC works.”

Freedom to work

Venkatesan added that to make the body effective, it has to be given independence to carry out investigations. “They should conduct preliminary investigation, file an FIR and also prosecute the guilty, without the government’s interference.” He added, “Right now, they can only investigate and send the report to the government and the government will take the action it thinks is necessary.”

He pointed out that states in India have been making the Lokayukta effective by making it independent. “Karnataka, in the past, has shown in several instances how it can be an effective ombudsman. Going by the Act, the states of Bihar and Odisha have come up with broad-based selection committees that have given the institution independence, apart from having a prosecution wing. It is not the ruling government making the choice and that supports the integrity of the person.”

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