Lokpal paying Rs 50 lakh every month in rent to New Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel
In the absence of a permanent office in the national capital, the country’s apex anti-corruption body, Lokpal, set up to look into complaints against public servants, pays a monthly rent of Rs 50 lakh to government-owned Hotel Ashoka for the office space it occupies in the five-star luxury hotel.
A reply under the Right to Information Act, recently, disclosed that “Lokpal is provisionally operating from the Ashoka Hotel. Total monthly rent is around Rs 50 lakh and Rs 3 crore 85 lakh has been paid till now ( from March 22, 2019 to October 31, 2019) for rent fixed by the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT).”
In March this year, former judge of the Supreme Court , PC Ghose, was appointed by the government as India’s first Lokpal. Besides him, the government also appointed four judicial and four non-judicial members to all the nine posts in the office of Lokpal. Since then, the office of the Lokpal has been functioning from the second floor in Ashoka Hotel and has 12 rooms for its office space.
HT has a copy of the response given by Lokpal secretariat to one RTI activist, Subham Khatri, who had earlier this year sought details from the Lokpal about its functions and disposal of complaints.
The RTI’s response also discloses that till October 31, 2019, Lokpal had received 1,160 complaints of corruption against public servants but none of them merited any inquiry. “A total of 1,160 complaints have been received by Lokpal to date out of which 1000 complaints have been heard by the bench of Lokpal.Preliminary inquiry has now been initiated in any of these complaints and in no case Lokpal had initiated full investigation yet,” reads the RTI reply.
Lokpal has jurisdiction to inquire into allegations of corruption against anyone who is or has been Prime Minister, or a minister in the government, or a Member of Parliament, as well as officials of the government under groups A, B, C and D.
Also covered under the Lokpal law are chairpersons, members, officers and directors of any board, corporation, society, trust or autonomous body either established by an Act of Parliament or wholly or partly funded by the Union or state government. It also covers any society or trust or body that receives foreign contribution above Rs 10 lakh.
RTI activist Shubham Khatri said,“ According to law, Lokpal has the authority to inquire into cases of corruption and also seek the help of CBI or other police agencies for investigation purposes. But I am surprised that of more than a 1000 complaints received by the Lokpal in the past seven months, none is worthy of investigation.”
Responding to a query on the rent and disposal of cases, Lokpal justice PC Ghose said he could not comment on the issue off hand, but a permanent space for Lokpal office has been identified. “We have already identified a permanent office space for Lokpal, We are looking into it as some changes have to be made in the office space and soon the office will move there.”
Retired justice N Santosh Hegde, who was the Lokayukta of Karnataka between 2006 and 2011, said he saw no problem in the rent being paid to Hotel Ashok.
“So far as my experience goes, it is an absolute necessity to have the institution of Lokpal even if they are spending Rs 50 lakhs per month for office rental. I don’t see any problem is that because the money is going from one pocket to another pocket of the government,” he said.
Hegde added that when he was the chief of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, his office occupied an entire floor of the Samrat Hotel, right next to Ashok Hotel. “Whether its a temporary arrangement or for immediate urgency, whatever be the reason, there is an absolute necessity to run the Lokpal from a convenient place,” Hegde said