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Fear of ‘toothless’ lokayuktas

- Activists call on parties to ensure law not watered down in states

New Delhi, Jan. 2: Social activists have voiced fears that the freedom states have been given to frame lokayukta laws might derail the fight against high-level corruption with legislatures opting for a watered-down version of the Lokpal, the central anti-graft ombudsman.

The activists have called on parties that supported the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill in Parliament to enact tough lokayukta laws in states on the same lines as the recently passed central law, which has brought even the Prime Minister under its ambit.

The plea to follow the central model has come at a time some parties have said they planned to keep the chief minister outside the purview of the lokayukta, the proposed body to tackle corruption in states.

Nikhil Dey, of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information, said any such move would defy logic. “Some parties have indicated that they will keep the chief minister outside the ambit of the lokayukta bill. If the Prime Minister is under the ambit of the Lokpal at the Centre, there is no rationale why the chief minister should be outside the ambit of the lokayukta,” the NCPRI convener said.

The AIADMK, which rules Tamil Nadu, has said that its lokayukta bill would keep the chief minister out of its purview. Party leader V. Maitreyan had even told the Rajya Sabha that the Prime Minister shouldn’t be brought under the Lokpal, though the party supported the bill when it was put to vote in the last session.

Only the Samajwadi Party had opposed the Lokpal bill, which has been cleared by both Houses of Parliament and yesterday received the President’s assent.

Dey said parties shouldn’t make any compromises in the battle against graft. “We urge the political parties, which supported the Lokpal bill at the Centre, to ensure that their governments in the states do not compromise on the provisions. The lokayuktas should be at least as good as the Lokpal at the Centre. Otherwise, the lokayuktas will be toothless bodies,” the NCPRI activist added.

Right to information activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal said the central bill was silent on how to deal with states that don’t have lokayuktas in place within a year of the Lokpal act coming into force, as the central law stipulates. “If a state does not pass the lokayukta bill within a year, what will happen? There is nothing in the central bill to deal with such a situation. In my view, states may not pass lokayukta bills within the stipulated time.”

At present, 19 states have lokayuktas or similar bodies. Ten states, including Bengal, don’t have any such bodies.

Agrawal also voiced feared that some states might dilute the provisions regarding the appointment of the lokayukta and its members. “The central bill is just a model. The states are free to decide their own lokayukta framework. Nothing prevents them to have a lenient law,” he said.

Constitutional expert Subhas Kashyap defended the freedom of states to frame laws according to their needs. “Why should there be a uniform law for every state? States know their needs and should enjoy the freedom to frame a law as it suits them. And this is in the interest of federal principles.”

Former National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy said the Lokpal at the Centre and lokayuktas in states might not be enough to check corruption unless related bills — like the ones on judicial accountability, grievance redress and protection of whistleblowers — were passed by Parliament.

“We demand that the government convene a special session and pass the remaining anti-corruption bills,” Roy said.