Justice Pritam Pal (retd), whose five-year stint as the Haryana lokayukta ended on Sunday, disposed of about 2,800 of 3,400 complaints he received since January 18, 2011.
Justice Pal hogged the limelight after he recommended registration of criminal cases against a former minister, two chief parliamentary secretaries and three MLAs in the previous Congress government in an alleged case of graft besides taking up a case of alleged evasion of excise duty and sales tax to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore in the state.
The former judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court minced no words in saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state did not seem be keen to strengthen the institution of lokayukta, given the lack of any concrete action on his recommendations against corrupt officials.
Why do you feel that the state government was non-serious about your recommendations as the lokayukta?
The current BJP government may be speaking a lot about zero-tolerance to corruption, but as far as implementing my recommendations against several accused politicians and public servants is concerned, it adopted a dilly-dallying approach. In several cases, the accused were let off left with a warning, ignoring my recommendation for legal or strict departmental action.
What about your experience with the former Congress regime?
It was the same. That government, too, was non-serious about taking action on my recommendations against corrupt officials or strengthening the institution of lokayukta. The then chief secretary once wrote back to me that all the provisions to strengthen the Haryana Lokayukta Act, 2002, will be incorporated from the Centre’s Lokpal Act. It, however, never happened. Initially in 1997, when the state act was passed, there were many effective provisions in it, which were later amended for reasons best known to the legislators.
Why cannot the lokayukta insist on action?
This institution is inherently weak and seems to have been created just to oblige the constitution and satisfy the civil society. An ombudsman office needs certain basic characteristics to be effective. It needs independence, clarity of mandate, strong investigative powers and the institutional capacity to perform. It appears there is lack of political will and no one wants it to work against their interest. What is the use of creating such an institution when the provisions of the act cannot be implemented with a firm hand?
Can you elaborate on it?
I had repeatedly written to the authorities to give powers to the lokayukta to take suo motu note of corruption from media reports or anonymous complaints, to have power to act in case of contempt of lokayukta recommendations, to have separate investigation and prosecution sections, and some protection and compensation for the whistleblowers. But nothing happened.
What kind of complaints of corruption is the maximum?
Complaints pertaining to public servants indulging in corrupt practices come in bulk to the lokayukta. Public servants seeking money through unfair means are worse than beggars