Failure of watch dog institutions under parliamentary democracy have pushed us in this hunt for a super watch dog. To make the Lok Pal effective, the central government has even attempted to give constitutional status to the Lok Pal. Democracy can function only when there is accountability. Elections must weed out the corrupt, but that does not happen and hence the search for that super watch dog.
Will Laws and the appointment of Lokayuktas help reverse the tide? The Prevention of Corruption Act could do little in curbing corruption. The Central Vigilance Commission was modelled after the Supreme Court formulated the scheme for independence of the CVC and providing for functional freedom to the CBI in the famous Jain hawala case. But the remodelled CVC also failed us which has led to the pitch for Lok Pal/Lokayuktas.
The Bellary Mining, 2G spectrum scam and the CWG scandal brought to the fore the level to which the post economic reforms India had slipped into. It is said that despite the dismantling of the license –permit raj an ordinary entrepreneur still faces over two dozen inspectors who have power to close industrial units unless bribes are paid. The mining sector and the real estate industry, infrastructure sector appears to be the gold mine for the decision makers (both politicians and bureaucrats). It is also a fact that for every bribe taker there is a bribe giver and in business terms bribe giving it is called the ‘speed money’. But between the bribe giver and bribe taker, it is always a situation of unequal relationship. The bribe giver is normally vulnerable because he is in a hurry. A business entrepreneur is at least in a position to hope to harvest the dividend of that speed money. The common man’s position in getting regular services and their entitlements is pitiable if not miserable.
In the midst of this gloomy picture, Justice (Retd.) Santosh Hegde, the former Karnataka Lokayukta fired the imagination that the decision makers could be held accountable and things must change. The arrest of D. Raja, Yedurappa brought some cheer. Although Lok Pal at the central level failed to see the light of the day the Lok Ayuktas had been functioning in different states. But their performance has been dismal. The existence of Lok Ayuktas has made no impact in number of states. In fact it is not even known that Lok Ayukta Acts exist or that the Lok Ayuktas are appointed in various states. In some states the Lok Ayuktas and Chief Ministers have traded charges and counter charges against each other. The institution of Lok Ayukta has not been impressive the states have been seeking to bring in the Lok Ayuktas for cosmetic purposes and as a populist measure to give a false sense of confidence to the public that corruption is being fought and that citizens have a grievance redressal machinery. The reports of Lok Ayukta are not implemented and not even publicized.
In the mid 1970s the Lok Ayukta in Maharashtra found two ministers guilty of malpractice but instead of accepting the report the ministers levelled counter charges against the Lok Ayukta who was an ex-Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court. In many states even when the Acts are not very impressive, the state governments have somehow avoided the appointment of Lok Ayuktas itself. Some months back we witnessed the dispute over the appointment of the Lok Ayukta of Gujarat Justice R. A. Mehta. The Governor and the Chief Minister openly displayed their hostility leading to a High Court deciding in favour of the Governor. The matter is now pending in the Supreme Court. We have almost forgotten that Karnataka does not have a Lokayukta after justice Shivraj Patil resigned amidst a controversy over allotment of plots. Even the appointment of the Upa Lokayukta of Karnataka has been struck down. There is no doubt that the state Governments have been hostile to the idea of such institutions and the Lokayuktas are unable to achieve much in the due to state hostility, and the Lok Ayuktas have become a mere symbolic institutions rather than protectors of the people. The biggest roadblock in the functioning of Lok Ayuktas has been their reliance on state police and state investigative agencies to investigate complains.
In such a state of paralysis of the institution, Santosh Hegde stood out and electrified the otherwise lulled society into “things must change.” There is no doubt that Justice Venkatachalla and Santosh Hegde brought some punch into the 1980 Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act in this century! Lok Pal /Lok Ayukta is an idea whose time has come and our Chief Minister has understood that well.
We in Goa had a functioning commission under Goa Public Men’s Corruption (investigation and inquiries) Act which contributed nothing to bring down corruption or to create an anti corruption atmosphere in Goa. Despite dismal performance by the commission there was a demand to bring the commission back if the presidential assent to the Lok Ayukta Bill 2003 would take time. So impatient was a section of society that it was believed it is better to have some sort of machinery even if it is not worth it. It is with that impatient mind that the 2003 Bill was approved by the house again in 2011 with minor changes. That nobody was interested in having a strong Lok Ayukta is a different matter. The argument that something is better than nothing prevailed and we in Goa have the 2003 Bill brought into force in 2012 without the improvements and an areas which are seen as making the Lok Ayukta more effective.