HC ask Uttarakhand to appoint ‘Lokayukta’ (ombudsman) within two months, state without one for past decade
Dehradun, June 27
Dehradun, June 27
In a significant judgement, Nainital High Court has directed the Uttarakhand government to appoint a ‘Lokayukta’ within next two months in the state. A division bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rakesh Thapaliyal hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition of one Ravi Shankar Joshi, a resident of Haldwani today, asked the Uttarakhand government to make the necessary appointment of ‘Lokayukta’ within eight weeks.
The court took a serious note of the delay in the appointment of a ‘Lokayukta’ and expressed surprise that out of an amount of Rs. 36.95 crore allocated to ‘Lokayukta’ office , a sum of Rs 29.73 crore have been spent. Besides 24 employees have also been appointed in the office. Uttarakhand state is without a ‘Lokayukta’(ombudsman) since 2013. The next date of hearing in the case has been fixed for August 10,2023.
The issue of appointment of a ‘Lokayukta’ (Ombudsman) which has been pending since 2013 in Uttarakhand, a state mired in spectrum of corruption cases speaks volumes about the attitude and inclination of the political parties and their leaders belonging to both Congress and ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in tackling the menace of corruption.
It has been a decade that Uttarakhand had a ‘Lokayukta’, which used to atleast listened to the public grievances of corruption. Over the years, the sense of accountability to the people by the ruling parties has eroded tremendously. Interestingly both Congress and BJP had vowed to bring in strong ‘Lokayukta’ in the state to tackle corruption but the ground situation is that nobody likes such an institution where corruption cases could be heard by a retired judge of high court. Both these parties which had ruled the state since its’ inception in 2000 had promised in their election manifestoes to bring in strong ‘Lokayukta’. But it seems that not only politicians who are being guided by bureaucrats and contractors, even the common people have lost interest and hope in such institutions. The recent judgement would again revive the hopes of the common people of the state. Uttarakhand had adopted the Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta Act (1975) which was a weak act.
A RTI query by Nadeemuddin, an RTI activist and lawyer from Kashipur revealed in 2021 that out of total 1595 pending cases, 950 complaints pertains to alleged corruption in various government departments.
The first elected government of Uttarakhand state had appointed Justice HSA Raza, as the first Lokayukta of the state, who had assumed office on October 24, 2002. Since then, the Lokayukta office had received 8,515 complaints.
The previous BJP government led by Trivendra Singh Rawat from 2017 till 2021 did not showed any interest in the appointment and passage of new Lokayukta bill which is pending before a select committee of the Uttarakhand assembly. Justice M.M. Ghildyal (retd) was the second ‘Lokayukta’ who worked from 2008 till 2013. But the annual reports of the ‘Lokayukta’ were not presented in the State assembly since 2006 and no concrete action was taken on the recommendation of ‘Lokayuktas’ in the past.
However, so far none of the politician or senior bureaucrats have been indicted by the ‘Lokayukta’. The office of the ‘Lokayukta’ had recommended action in 13 cases in 2003, 39 cases in 2004, 46 cases in 2005, 32 cases in 2006, 46 cases in 2007, 34 cases in 2008, 7 cases in 2009, 14 cases in 2010 and one case in 2011.
During the Congress regime in the year 2014, Uttarakhand became the first state to adopt the provisions of Lokpal Act amidst stiff resistance from the then opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The state government passed its own Lokayukta Bill-2014 after the legislative assembly chose to drop Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta Bill-1975.
As per the bill, the Lokayukta office will be and headed by a practising or retired judge or Chief Justice of the High Court. Apart from the head, there will be four members on the panel out of which half will be from the judiciary and another half from SC/ST/OBC category, minorities or women. The provisions of the legislation also state that no member of a legislature of any other state or Union Territory can be a member of the Lokayukta body of the hill state.
The appointment of a strong ‘Lokayukta’ was part of the BJP’s vision document for the assembly elections in Uttarakhand in 2017 which the party contested on a strong anti- corruption plank.
However, after it came to power it changed its stance and the then Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat talked of forming another commission to tackle corruption cases but nothing actually happened.
Even before 2013, the issue of having a strong Lokayukta Act in the state went into many turns, twirls and twists.
Former BJP Chief Minister Maj-Gen. B.C. Khanduri (retd), during his second stint in the state in 2011, had come up with the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Act on the lines of the Bill proposed by social activist Anna Hazare. Team Anna had come to Dehradun to discuss the modalities of the Bill. Finally, Khanduri got the Bill passed in the state assembly which is considered a stringent Bill.
It was an interesting turnaround by the politicians of the state.The state had a ‘Lokayukta’ since 2003 and its’ power were only recommendatory and annual reports of the ‘Lokayukta’ were supposed to be tabled in the state assembly. With the passage of time, the office of ‘Lokayukta’ became totally redundant as the state government neither took cognizance of the reports nor placed these on the table of the state assembly. It was only after the hulla bulla of team Anna in 2010 about bringing Jan Lok Pal bill that there was a hue and cry in the state also on the status of the ‘Lokayukta’. Khanduri during his second stint in 2010 placed the reports of the ‘Lokayuktya’ since 2006 in the state assembly.
However, many believed that although giving more powers to ‘Lokayukta’ to investigate and pronounce sentences in corruption cases was a welcome step but there were many lacunas that remained in the new law.
It was believed that the provision of unanimity amongst five members of ‘Lokayukta’ to take a decision would practically lead corrupt bureaucrats and politicians go scot free as it would be impossible to bring unanimity on an issue between five members. It should have been by a majority vote. The selection process of ‘Lokayukta’ as per the act would be taken care by a election committee headed by Chief Minister with Leader of Opposition as a member, so it would not be free from political influence, it was charged. Moreover, the provisions of giving prison sentences clash with provisions of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and needs approval of the Parliament. The then Governor of the state Margaret Alva also gave her consent to the Bill and sent it to the President of India for final consent.
During the state assembly poll, the Lokayukta Bill was one of the poll issues of the BJP, but the Congress came to power in March 2012 and Vijay Bahuguna took over Chief Minister. Bahuguna announced that the Congress government would bring in amendments to the Bill and bring a fresh one in the state assembly.
During the regime of Vijay Bahuguna, state Congress government faced a major embarrassment this week on the issue of consent given by the President of India to the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Act 2010 passed by former Chief Minister Maj-Gen B.C. Khanduri (retd). The state Congress government was completely in the dark on the issue till it was known that the Bill after coming back with consent in the state was sent for publication. It came as a shock to the state government, particularly to the Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, as it was completely ignorant about the Bill.
The new Congress government had lost track of bill passed by Khanduri which had gone to the President of India for consent. the Bill was returned to the state following Presidential consent and sent for publication. The then Congress Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said that certain sections of the Bill regarding bringing in lower judiciary under the purview of the Lokayukta are “unconstitutional”. The state government wanted amendments to the bill. He then announced that the state will adopt the Lokpal Act passed by the Parliament, which the state government did. The Uttarakhand government also passed the Lokayukta Amendment Bill (2014), in November 2014 amending the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Act for substitution of subsection (3) of section 1 and subsection (3) of section 4 to end the 180 days’ limit for constituting the Lokayukta office in the state. But the Lokayukta was not appointed despite demand by the then opposition BJP demanding implementation of the Bill passed by Khanduri which they claim was stringent and state specific.
Since the 2017 state assembly elections and victory of BJP, the issue has been on the back burner with the bill pending with the select committee. “ When I last checked out it was sent to the concerned minister by the select committee and the minister was Chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat himself. The Bill has lapsed since the term of the 2017 state assembly has expired and a new state assembly has come up, “ said Suryakant dhasmana, Senior Vice-president of Uttarakhand Congress. “ It was a deliberate and conscious attempt by BJP Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and BJP not to appoint a ‘Lokayukta’ in the state. Interestingly, after 2017 state assembly elections, the ruling party sent it to a select committee of the house despite protests by opposition Congress which wanted to support the bill,” he added.
There is no talk of appointment of ‘Lokayukta’ by the Pushkar Singh Dhami government BJP government since March 2022 despite the facts that corruption scandals are coming out on daily basis.
Uttarakhand has not appointed a ‘Lokayukta’ in the state for the past one decade but the state spent more than Rs 29.73 crore under ‘expenses’ for the ‘Lokayukta’ office, a facet taken cognizance by the Nainital High Court .