By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, April 28, 2018: Corruption is like a canker to the health of the economic and industrial prosperity of a nation. In India, corruption not only has become a pervasive aspect of politics but also has become an increasingly important factor in the elections. This is quite evident from the fact that Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, has ranked India 81st out of 180 countries in its global corruption perception index for 2017.

The idea of an anti-corruption body and an ombudsman to look into corruption allegations against administrators, including elected representatives, has been doing around for over five decades now. However, with the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, in Lok Sabha on December 18, 2013, citizens hoped things to change for better with the anti-corruption body to function both at the Centre and at state level independently.

And yet, till date, the much vaunted Lokpal is nowhere on the horizon at the national level and Lok Ayukta at the state level in Odisha.

As many as 1,629 cases of corruption were reported in India — in which 9,960 people were involved or 11 every day — under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, over two-and-half years ended June 30, 2017, according to a reply to the Rajya Sabha on August 10 last year. Of the 9,960 people involved, 6,023 or 60 per cent were private persons / citizens, 3,896 or 39 per cent were public servants and 41 were politicians.

Similarly, in Odisha the Vigilance police arrested 172 government servants for accepting bribes and there were 123 government servants out of 137 found guilty of corruption charges in 2017, according to the annual report of General Administration and Public Grievances department.

However, neither the Narendra Modi led NDA nor Naveen Patnaik led Odisha have been serious in creating an anti-corruption ombudsman so far. Last year, the Supreme Court questioned the government as to why it had not set up the Lokpal at the Centre and the Lokayuktas at the state level as mandated by the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.

The Apex Court will hear a contempt petition filed in this regard for the NGO Common Cause by lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, on May 15 next.

Activists say that far from implementation, the Lokpal Act has been seriously diluted by the Narednra Modi-led NDA government. Section 44 of the law laid down that the disclosure of the assets of public servants, as well as those of their spouses and children, was to be made effective by July 31, 2016.

Notably, the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, received the President’s nod on January 1, 2014 and came into force from January 16, 2014. Section 63 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act states that every state shall establish a body to be known as the Lokayukta. However, 12 states including Odisha are yet to appoint Lokayuktas.

However, Lokpal continues to be stuck at the second stage—the stage of appointments to the institution. Specifically, it is stuck at deciding how to fill the slot mandated for the leader of the opposition in Parliament when there is no designated LOP currently. That’s where the story rests, and the outlook does not look too good.

On Odisha, the Apex Court noted last week that despite the Odisha Lokayukta Act 2014 being in force since January 16, 2015, steps for framing Odisha Search Committee Rules are still underway. The post of Lokayukta has remained vacant since January 22, 2013.

“We have perused the affidavit filed by the Chief Secretary of the State of Odisha wherein it has been stated that the Odisha Lokayukta Act, 2014 has come into force with effect from 16th January, 2015 and presently steps for framing of Orissa Committee Rules, etc. are under process. From the affidavit filed it is also evident that after the last incumbent had died in office on 22nd January, 2013 the State of Odisha has not had a Lokpal/Lokayukta. No reason, save and except that the Rules under the Act are under process, has been stated in the affidavit filed. In the above circumstances, to give effect to the provisions of Section 63 of the Central Act i.e. Lokpal and Lokayuktas, 2013 the State shall take immediate steps for appointment of the Lokayukta which process will be completed at the earliest. The progress made including the finalization of the process and appointment of Lokayukta, if achieved, will be considered by the Court on 10th July, 2018 on or before which date the status report will be filed by the Chief Secretary”, the Bench said in its order.

Incidentally, Odisha was one of the pioneer states in complying with the mandate of the parent Act by way of getting the Odisha Lokayukta Bill 2014 passed by its Legislative Assembly in February 2104.

Raising the issue in the ongoing Assembly session, Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra on Thursday accused the state government of lying to the State Assembly and the Supreme Court of India, regarding implementation of the Odisha Lokayukta Act, 2013.

The state government has filed an affidavit in the Apex Court stating that the Lokayukta Act has already been implemented from January 16, 2015, Mishra said adding, “If that is the case, the chief minister should place before the assembly the Gazette notification, the Act number and year.”

Mishra was referring to a Supreme Court (SC) observation on April 19 and said the state has filed a false affidavit in the apex court.

Meanwhile a campaign has been launched by the Cuttack based Bhrastachara Birodhi Abhiyan (BBA) and Odisha Lokayukta Abhijan for amendment of the Odisha Lokaykta Act to rectify critical lacuna and incongruities compared to the central parent act i.e Lok Pal and Lokayukta Act, 2013.

Table comparing Critical Differences between Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013 and Odisha Lokayukta Act 2014

The Odisha Act has several critical omissions and in its present shape would not serve no purpose and rather prove counter-productive vis-à-vis the central act. How can Director of Vigilance which is the principal anti-corruption investigating agency of the state, remains outside the control of State Lokayukta of for that matter, outside the statutory authority in respect of its role, functioning and accountability. We have submitted a petition to the President of India comparing the key features of the Odisha and Central Act and urged him to intervene in the matter”, BBA advisor Debesh Das said.

It is needless to say that there is a vast chasm between rhetoric and delivery when it comes to both Modi and Naveen. Both the leaders rode to power on the promise of transparency and accountability and yet, it took the Supreme Court to direct the governments led by them to appoint a Lokpal and Lokayukta.

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