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In Anna season, India shows new resolve

A rush of anti-corruption action by states indicates what existing agencies can do-if empowered-and how much more is needed. Samar Halarnkar writes.

india Updated: Sep 06, 2011 01:23 IST
Samar Halarnkar

You could certainly call it a nationwide Anna effect - but a wave of action against corruption and governance failures appears to reveal little need for a Lokpal, the proposed all-powerful anti-corruption ombudsman.

Monday's arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of powerful former Karnataka BJP tourism minister Janardhan Reddy and the CEO of his mining is independent of corruption charges filed last month by the Lokayukta against former chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa, and the shock arrest of his former industries minister, accused of selling public land for private profit.

"My report had nothing to do with the CBI action," said former Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, an indication of the inherent strength of various agencies.

The Lokayukta mining investigation unfolded in Karnataka over five years; the CBI investigation of the Reddys in Andhra Pradesh took two http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/060911/06_09_pg9b.jpgyears.

A series of recent actions in other states is more evidence that India's existing agencies and governments are capable of becoming serious in the fight against corruption - if they are determined and so empowered. Some states, reacting to rising public expectations, are passing new laws to punish officials for administrative failures or reversing support to public servants accused of corruption.

One example is UP, where the ruling Bahujan Samaj quickly dropped its defence of animal husbandry minister Awadhpal Singh Yadav after a Lokayukta report recommended his dismissal after he ordered officials to give contracts, without tenders, to build 14 hospitals to a company run by his son.

In Tamil Nadu, special investigators and courts are at work against politicians accused of grabbing land. Chief minister J Jayalalithaa, herself previously accused of corruption, told the state assembly on August 24 that land valued at Rs 415 crore had been restored to owners.

There is much to be skeptical about. Despite the Andhra Pradesh move against the Reddys, who were close to former chief minister YS Reddy, no IAS of IPS officer has ever been jailed for corruption (the only IAS officer dismissed was for insubordination), despite many requests - 15 in 2010 - for prosecution.

Rajasthan, which has just passed a new act to ensure public services, has, similarly, never jailed a public servant.

Yet, without having the kind of powers envisaged for the Lokpal, the Karnataka Lokayukta has been one of India's strongest, filing charges against hundreds of bureaucrats and politicians, knowing permission to prosecute is rare.

Last month, former BJP industries minister and strongman Katta Subramanya Naidu and his corporator son Katta Jagadish Naidu went into a special Lokayukta court joking and emerged weeping when the judge ordered jail, pending trial for a corruption charges filed by the agency's police wing.

The season of public disaffection can be a spur to political change, some argue.

"There are honest people in all these parties, people who have been sidelines so far," said SR Hiremath, a whistleblower in the Bellary mining scam.

"A corruption-free administration is our birthright, like swaraj (self-rule), and we must strive for it."

What's possible-without a Lokpal
On Monday, suspended Bihar IAS officer SS Verma - accused of having illegally earned assets of Rs 1.44 crore - became the first bureaucrat to have his house in Patna confiscated under a law called the Bihar Special Courts Act, 2009, which allows such an action during a corruption trial. Special vigilance courts have ordered three such confiscations since last December.

On Monday, the state cabinet approved the Chattisgarh Public Services Guarantee Act, 2011, which forces timelines on officials for public services and fines for violations.

On August 17, UP chief minister Mayawati, herself previously accused of corruption and tax dodges, after first defending them, dropped two ministers on the recommendations of the state Lokayukta, which cannot prosecute or arrest them.

On August 29, the Rajasthan assembly passed a bill called the Rajasthan Guarantee of Public Services Act, 2011. Officials can be fined for administrative failures in 53 public services.

In Tamil Nadu, four former ministers are in jail on charges of land grabbing; 400 such cases filed in three months are being processed through special investigative cells and special courts with instructions that no one, regardless of political affiliation should be spared.

(With reports from Lucknow, Jaipur, Raipur, Patna, Chennai and Hyderabad)