When the roar of Lokayukta fell on deaf ears in Goa

| OCTOBER 09, 2020, 11:54 PM IST

Justice (Retd) Prafulla K Misra, who was effectively Goa’s first Lokayukta has now parted from the State leaving behind a legacy of being outspoken, taking the sides of the common man who approached seeking action on their complaints and addressed their grievances in the manner he best could.

But his biggest achievement was in exposing exactly how hollow Goa’s Lokayukta Act, that was drafted and passed by the Manohar Parrikar-led government in 2012 is. The BJP stormed to power in 2012 riding the wave of the anti-corruption movement with Parrikar himself shouting from the rooftops that if elected to power there would be a policy of zero tolerance to corruption. He even promised to the anti-corruption movement of the time that he would bring about a strong Lokayukta law on the lines of the one that was in force in Himachal Pradesh.

Instead, what Goa got was a very watered-down version of the law that left the state ombudsman with very little powers and dependent on the government of the day to implement his orders. When the Act was tabled in the State assembly it was staunchly opposed by the Opposition benches, who despite knowing well that it could be used to target them for their deeds when in power, labelled the Act as one designed to protect those in power rather than haul them up.

Yet, Parrikar had staunchly defended the Act, despite steep penal provisions if people make frivolous complaints and a simultaneously insubstantial deterrent against acts of corruption. He defended it on the ground that an indictment by the Lokayukta itself would be enough to embarrass public functionaries into giving up their positions. It was a laughable argument back then too and has only been realised now. Rather than be embarrassed by their indictment we have seen politicians of the day -- most prominently Michael Lobo -- questioning the authority of the Lokayukta in indicting them. Never mind that the ability to declare a public functionary as unfit for office is one of the specific powers that have been enshrined in the Goa Lokayukta Act. Perhaps Lobo should have read the Act before voting in support of it back in 2012.

The need of the hour now is that the government brings in the suitable amendments to the Act as proposed by the outgoing Lokayukta giving the ombudsman powers of contempt, to prosecute and to probe cases of corruption. If not, it will only demean the office of the Lokayukta and no retired Supreme Court judge or Chief Justice of the High Court will be willing to take up a post-retirement post that has no real powers. No self-respecting former judge will want to be used as a namesake.

A Lokayukta which does not have prosecution powers remains only a pale and insignificant recommendatory authority. The question is whether the government can muster the courage to bring about a change. 

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