The Lok Ayukta bill passed today in the Tamil Nadu Assembly is a toothless law. It will not only not fight corruption but also embolden the corrupt. The flaws are glaring and obvious.
The Lok Ayukta is to be selected by a selection panel comprising Chief Minister, Speaker and Leader of the Opposition. There is no deadline for this. A robust mechanism would have allowed independent people of repute a decisive say in the appointment of the Lok Ayukta.
The Lokayukta is not empowered for independent enquiry and investigation. A complaint received on Group A, B, C and D officials will be forwarded to the Vigilance Commission (which is the current DVAC headed by the Vigilance Commissioner who is an IAS officer under the Chief Secretary). The vigilance commission will conduct preliminary enquiry on it. For Group A and Group B officials the preliminary report will be sent to the Lokayukta. For Group C and Group D officials, the vigilance commission will decide on the course of action. This means the government has retained complete control on the preliminary enquiry and thereby protecting corrupt officials.
For Group A and Group B officers, based on the preliminary report, the Lokayukta can conduct a detailed enquiry. For elected representatives, Lokayukta’s enquiry wing will conduct preliminary and detailed enquiries. The detailed enquiry report will then be sent to competent authority which is the government itself for further action. This means the Lokayukta is not empowered to take any further action.
Further, those who are found to have filed a false complaint will be charged with prison term of one year and Rs 1 lakh fine. This will have a chilling effect on those who want to file complaints. The Lokayukta does not contain a prosecution wing at all and has no powers of chargesheeting the corrupt and prosecuting them in court. During inquiry if the Lok Ayukta feels an official facing allegations of corruption should be transferred or suspended as he could influence the enquiry, the action recommended by Lok Ayukta on such officials is not binding since the government can reject it for administrative reasons.
The Lok Ayukta cannot investigate complaints on issues that happened more than four years back, which is against the spirit of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Generally it takes a few years before evidence on a scam comes out. There’s no mention of declaration of assets and liabilities of public servants.
The secretary to Lok Ayukta and the director of inquiry will be appointed by the Lok Ayukta from the list of names recommended by the government and appointment of all other officials will be done by the government. Therefore there is no independence in recruitment as well. A lot of corruption happens in transfer and postings but they have been left out from the inquiry powers of the Lok Ayukta.
A survey by Transparency International and Centre of Media Studies in 2008 called Tamil Nadu a Very Highly Corrupt state. Scams and cases of disproportionate assets have involved big politicians. The state intelligence and vigilance are directly under these politicians that have prevented them from acting fairly in scams involving the top bureaucrats and politicians. The Lok Ayukta does nothing to change the situation.
Section 63 of the Lokpal and Lokayukta act, 2013 stated that every state shall establish a Lok Ayukta within a period of one year from the commencement of the Act. Many states followed suit and passed the law.
The Supreme Court had ruled that all states should pass a law on Lok Ayukta by July 10 of this year. Tamil Nadu was a holdout state, among the very few that did not have the Lok Ayukta so many years after the law came into force. The way the draft of the law was not put for public consultation itself revealed the intentions of the Tamil Nadu government.
The success of Lok Ayukta in other states, though patchy, seems to have put Tamil Nadu rulers on guard against a strong and powerful Lok Ayukta. In neighbouring Karnataka, for instance, Santhosh Hegde’s swift inquiries resulted in chief minister Yeddyurappa losing his post. The Bellary Reddy brothers went behind bars for swindling iron ore.
Monday was indeed a sad day for Tamil Nadu. The state government has shown its true colours.
(Jayaram Venkatesan is the Convenor of Arappor Iyakkam, an anti corruption movement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)