Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Gujarat govt has denigrated the office of Lokayukta, how can I join?, wonders Justice RA Mehta

By Our Representative
Even as declaring that he is unwilling to take charge as Gujarat Lokayukta, in a strongly worded letter to Gujarat governor Dr Kamla and Gujarat High Court chief justice Baskar Bhattacharya, Justice RA Mehta (retired) has declared that he is doing so because the Gujarat government has gone of the way to “denigrated” the high office. Justice Mehta’s appointment, which went controversial after Dr Kamla took a suo motu decision to appoint him as Lokayukta following the Gujarat chief minister’s reluctance, was cleared by the Supreme Court recently. The apex court dismissed the BJP government's curative petition against Lokayukta appointment in July third week.
Saying that he could not persuade himself “to accept the office of Lokayukta”, Justice Mehta underlined, a whopping Rs 45 crore of public money was spent by the Gujarat government in the litigations pursued against him by the Gujarat government over the last two years, first in the Gujarat High Court and then in the Supreme Court. This is “a humongously disproportionate figure by any standard”. Even after spending so much, he added, “The highest courts in the state and in the country have upheld the appointment and repeatedly negatived all contentions (including that of bias) against my appointment as Lokayukta.”
Saying that all this reveals the “mindset and attitude displayed by the state government”, he cited several examples to prove his point. First, the Gujarat government came up with a draft ordinance during the pendency of the petition to amend the scheme of the appointment of Lokayukta in order to “to exclude the Gujarat High Court Chief Justice and load the selection committee with majority of the ruling party and giving primacy to the political executive.”
This was rejected by the Gujarat governor. Then, “a large number of complaints against public functionaries were sent to the commission of inquiry so as to exclude them from being investigated by the Lokayukta.” This was followed by the new Lokayukta Bill, passed by the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, “again to exclude the Gujarat High Court Chief Justice and load the selection committee with majority of the ruling party and giving primacy to the political executive” – which again has “not assented to by the governor”.
Even after three judgments of the Supreme Court, the Gujarat government showed “reluctance” to “notify the Lokayukta appointment in the official Gujarat Government Gazette”, which “is surprising but not unexpected”, Justice Mehta said, adding, the letter sent to him by the Gujarat government dated July 26, 2013 (delivered at his Ahmedabad residence while he was in the US) “does not indicate any invitation or interest by the government.” He underlined, “It states that ‘the Hon'ble Governor of Gujarat has appointed you as the Loltayukta… The swearing in ceremony for the purpose needs to be organized at the Raj Bhavan to enable you to assume the office’, as if the government has no interest or role in the matter!” There is “no invitation and no notification by the government!”
Justice Mehta said, all this suggests the way the state government wants to treat the institution of Lokayukta. “I humbly believe that the high office of Lokayukta and its occupant (who is expected to inquire into the complaints against high pubic functionaries, including the Chief Minister) are entitled to utmost respect, dignity and grace to enable their to function effectively and perform the great public duty and to carry public credibility of the institution. When powerful elements do not care to maintain that effectiveness and credibility, the institution and its occupant suffer in their credibility, effectiveness and utility.” All this gives the impression that “the government wants the office of the Lokayukta to be their caged parrot.”
Justice Mehta emphasized, “The present controversy has denigrated the office of the Loltayukta and adversely affected its credibility. The appointment has lost all the grace and dignity. The objection alleging anti-government bias (though negatived by the courts) really hurts. Some think that if a person is not pro-government, he is necessarily anti-government. They can't accept that there is third category, neither pro nor anti, but independent and neutral. Their mindset is clear – their way or no other way.”
Fearing that given such a situation, when the “Lokayukta has to depend on the reluctant non-cooperative government for all infrastructure, staff, budget etc. and to beg or fight for it”, he said, “In this scenario the Loltayukta will not able to function effectively and to fulfill high public expectations. A lot of public awareness is generated about corruption of public functionaries. Allegations are widely made. In the absence of any independent credible investigation, the allegations may linger and stick. Many eminent public spirited and honest people are averse to becoming public functionaries in such climate of public life.”
He concluded, “A Lokayukta unwanted by the government cannot get all the necessary and timely support and cooperation from the reluctant government. The Lokayukta will be rendered ineffective, and the great public expectations would be frustrated; and I would be at the receiving end for being ineffective and failure. I frankly admit that I will not be able to fulfill the public duty, public need and high public expectation from the Lokayukta in the circumstances. How can I take the responsibility and become the Lokayukta when my objectivity and credibility are not accepted by the government and by the public functionaries whose conduct the Lokayukta may have to investigate? Findings and recommendations – for or against a public functionary – will always be under question mark.”

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