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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

Lokpal to Badal: Save watchdog from being mocked

Pawan Sharma, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, August 09, 2014
First Published: 23:52 IST(9/8/2014) | Last Updated: 07:58 IST(10/8/2014)

Undermined and crippled by the Parkash Singh Badal-led SAD-BJP regime in the seven years and counting, Punjab's lokpal has asked the state government now to "take early action" and save the anti-corruption institution from being "disparaged" in public.

Unable to resolve long-standing issues despite repeated requests, Justice Jai Singh Sekhon (retd), who was appointed as the lokpal, the head ombudsman of the institution, by the Badal government, has now directly written a letter to the chief minister after "other options having run out" about the "critical" situation of the institution due to government's apathy.

The lokpal has told the CM that the investigation wing of the institution has been non-functional due to non-supply of staff by the government despite repeated reminders. Against 62 personnel once working in the wing, the strength left since 2009 is "helplessly minimal", that is, just one inspector general (IG), two head constables and four constables. "I hope you will take early action so that this Forum [of lokpal] is no more disparaged in the eyes of the general public," Sekhon has stated in his July 15 demi-official letter (HT has the copy) to Badal, in what is clearly a damning dossier of how the state government has been weakening the watchdog.

This is despite the Akali Dal promising in its 2012 assembly election manifesto that the party was "committed to institute a strong, independent and autonomous lokayukta" (or lokpal) in Punjab to weed out corruption. Now, the lokpal has told the CM that he was writing the letter because various communications dispatched by his office to the government "have seemingly run aground".
This inertia of the Badal administration towards the lokpal is not new.

Even the previous lokpal, Justice DS Dhaliwal (retd), once told HT: "The government has not responded to our communications regarding staff crunch." Justice Dhaliwal had stated in April 2011 that the state government was ignoring the lokpal "purposely, so that people lose faith in this institution".

"The situation being critical," Sekhon has written, "I am constrained to bring the matter to your (CM's) notice so that the problem is analysed and rationalised at your level."

Depicting his helplessness in disposing of cases due to paucity of staff, Sekhon, who served in the Punjab and Haryana high court, pointed out that since 1998, 2002, 2006, and onwards, as many as 29 complaints, 15 of them against high officials, were pending "as there is not a single investigating officer left".

"The very purpose of filing complaints under the (lokpal) Act is defeated if it takes years to dispose them of, when time is of essence," the letter reads.

Another administrative worry the lokpal has expressed is that complainants seek information under the Right to Information Act to know about the stage of their complaints. "…and this Forum has no cogent reply to make except to respond incoherently," the lokpal has told the CM.

It is learnt that chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal has written a letter to the lokpal that the state government would do the needful. When contacted, SK Sandhu, principal secretary to the CM, said, "Issues raised by the lokpal have been discussed at the appropriate level. The state government will take necessary steps very shortly."

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