The new Lokayukta will take office at a time when the amendments to the Goa Lokayukta Act are still being debated by civil society as to whether they strengthen or weaken the institution. Goa does not need a Lokayukta to merely fill in the position because the Act exists.
To recall, Goa has been without a Lokayukta for the past six months, after Justice PK Misra retired in early October last year. His retirement had brought the focus on the institution of the Lokayukta as he had passed a flurry of orders before his retirement recommending investigations in a number of cases that had been referred to his office. Even prior to this, Justice Misra had written to the Governor after the government had ignored his report on the renewal of mining leases case, in which he had passed severe strictures on the politicians and officials involved. While civil society and the opposition had hailed him, his efforts had not gone well with the government.
It was after Justice Misra’s term of office had ended that the governemnt introduced amendments to the act that do not allow the Lokayukta to examine the correctness of any Judgement or order passed by any Court of Law, Tribunal, Statutory Authority or Officer. The amendments also give the competent authority to whom the report of the Lokayukta is sent the freedom to intimate to the Lokayukta action taken or proposed to be taken on the report or reasons for refusal to take action. The Lokayukta, if not satisfied with action taken, may make a special report to the Governor. The amendments also omit the section where if the declaration is not rejected within three months, it shall be deemed to have been accepted by the competent authority, as also the section where if the declaration is in respect of a Chief Minister or a Minister and is accepted or deemed to have been accepted by the Competent Authority, he may resign from his office.
Among the amendments, is one that opened the position of the Lokayukta to retired Judges of the High Court, with the government explaining that it had difficulty in obtaining the willingness from eligible retired Supreme Court Judges or retired High Court Chief Justices for appointment as Goa Lokayukta. Despite the amendment, the choice of a Lokayukta was not easy. The government had earlier shortlisted Justice (retired) U V Bakre as the Lokayukta but he had withdrawn the consent given to the government, forcing the administrators to look elsewhere. Now that the government has identified the person for the post, it has to also ensure that the Lokayukta is given powers to tackle corruption.
The Lokayukta as an ombudsman deals with complaints of corruption that come to his office, the complainants being citizens. Therefore, the institution has to be independent and the Lokayukta given powers to act and investigate complaints without any hindrance. But, it goes beyond that, as the Lokayukta’s reports have to be acted upon by the government and this action has been missing. The government has reasoned that the reports of the Lokayukta are recommendatory and not binding upon the government.
Justice Misra, as seen from the reports on cases he sent to the government, had taken a firm stand against corruption. Goa expects nothing less from the next incumbent of the office. What the State requires is a strong Lokayukta, one who will stand firm against illegalities and the corrupt. It is really not too much to ask.