The bonhomie between the state government and Lokayukta PP Naolekar has aroused suspicions. will the fight against corruption now take a back seat?
By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal
The office of the lokayukta has come under scrutiny in recent times. While in Gujarat, the then chief minister Narendra Modi remained dead against appointing a lokayukta all through his 13-year tenure, in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan seems to be enamored with his lokayukta, Prakash Prabhakar Naolekar.
In fact, so happy is the cabinet with Naolekar that on August 13, it extended his term by a year, a good 10 months before his retirement. Even the deputy lokayukta will continue in his post after retirement if no successor is appointed, subject to a maximum period of one year. The term of the lokayukta is six years in MP, unlike five years in other states. With another year’s extension, Naolekar will stay in office till the age of 72. So what makes this head of the anti-graft institution so special?
While state parliamentary affairs minister Narottam Mishra defended the amendment in Section 5 of the MP Lokayukta and deputy Lokayukta Act-1981, saying it was done to ensure continuity in the posts, the Congress is suspicious about the motive and timing of the cabinet decision.
The leader of the opposition, Satyadev Katare, attributes Chouhan’s move to “ambition to bring all constitutional bodies under his control”. “Lokayukta PP Naolekar is not retiring immediately as his term ends in June 2015. What was the compulsion to increase the tenure when the government is in a majority and can take such a decision anytime?” Katare asks, wondering if the government has no trust in judges, who are scheduled to retire soon and may become eligible for the post.
Upset that the ruling BJP government in the state did not seek his prior consent before taking the decision, he registered his protest in a letter to governor Ram Naresh Yadav. Incidentally, the 1981 Act makes it mandatory for the government to consult the leader of the opposition, chief minister and chief justice of the high court at the time of the lokayukta’s appointment.
This gives credence to the view that there is more to this issue than meets the eye. The alleged bonhomie between Chouhan and Naolekar has been hotly debated in the state assembly ever since Naolekar, a retired Supreme Court judge, assumed the lokayukta office in June 2009. Last year, fiery Congress MLA Kalpana Parulekar even stormed into the assembly carrying a placard, which alleged that Naolekar was an RSS agent.
What has made the opposition see red is the lokayukta’s alleged kid-gloves treatment towards tainted ministers and bureaucrats for years. The high court even sent a notice to the lokayukta on September 11 based on a PIL, asking him to submit a report by October 6, explaining on what grounds bureaucrats and ministers were let off from alleged corruption charges against them.
Petitioner P Najpandey claimed that 11 ministers in Chouhan’s cabinet, apart from at least 90 civil servants, were under the lokayukta’s scanner. Some of the complaints were pending for seven or more years, but there was no forward movement as far as prosecution goes.
Incidentally, the lokayukta had disclosed ahead of the assembly election in MP last year that it had closed the probe in eight cases of alleged irregularities against former and present ministers, in reply to RTI activist Ajay Dubey’s petition. However, the loka-yukta maintained that the probes were closed for want of solid proof against the accused. “If we get a complaint backed by solid proof and evidence, we will not spare time in raiding or catching a powerful and influential person, be it a powerful politician,” Naolekar had claimed recently to an English magazine.
But the opposition is not impressed with his defense. His clean chit to Chouhan and his wife, Sadhna Singh, in the dumper case four years ago still rankles the Congress leadership. In this case, Chouhan was accused of misusing his official position to rent out dumper trucks to an industrial house as a quid pro quo for allotting a mining lease. Taking cognizance of the lokayukta’s closure report, a special court had then given a clean chit to the CM.
So forceful was the lokayukta’s clean chit that special judge RPS Chauhan was moved to observe: “That Shivraj Singh Chouhan should indulge in a business of petty corruption is not prima facie acceptable because he, as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, could siphon off hundreds of crores of rupees without directly bringing his relatives in the picture. Even otherwise, as soon as he came to know of this business (of petty corruption), he closed it down, which only shows his (good) character.”
“Lokayukta PP Naolekar is not retiring immediately as his term ends in June 2015. What was the compulsion… when the government is in a majority and can take such a decision anytime?”
—Satyadev Katare, leader of the opposition, MP Assembly
Around this time, allegations also flew thick and fast about the government’s benevolence towards Siddharth Naolekar, son of the lokayukta. Siddharth is an Indore-based industrialist and considered close to powerful minister Kailash Vijayvargiya. Last year, Siddharth’s name figured in an FIR along with five others in a case of alleged cheating by a real estate firm. The MP High Court, however, stayed the operation on the orders of Indore Junior Magistrate First Class (JMFC) court.
Another allegation against the lokayukta was that he was not adequately proactive in compelling the government to give assent for prosecution of the officers facing probes. More than 100 such requests by the loka-yukta, including around 40 made in 2013, are pending with the state, despite the apex court’s direction for clearing such requests in three months. For example, the state government nod is awaited for prosecuting Indore health officer, Dr Rajesh Kothari, even a year after multiple lokayukta raids unearthed disproportionate assets to the tune of `55 crore from his house.
BLAME IT ON ACT
Worse, Section 197 of the code of criminal procedure, introduced by the state government, mandates sanction before prosecution of public servants for criminal offences. So, the anti-corruption watchdog has to wait for sanctions before prosecution of corrupt babus. Naolekar blames the unresponsiveness of the state government to the lack of teeth in the present lokayukta act. “There is a need to make some amendments in the… Act to give more teeth to it. The Act is about two decades old and needs to be amended,” he argues.
Around a year after assuming office, the lokayukta had remarked that corruption of lower rung officials like patwaris was more dangerous than of those in high places. His institution seems to have endorsed this statement in earnest as it has often trapped petty officials. According to official sources, in the last five years, as many as 146 cases related to disproportionate assets (DA) were registered, involving proceeds worth `303 crore between June 29, 2009 and April 30, 2014. Further, the lokayukta has registered 891 trap cases, in which government officials were allegedly found demanding and receiving bribe from people during the same period. Between February 1982 and March 2013, the lokayukta registered 704 cases and seized properties worth Rs. 417.27 crore, allegedly acquired through corrupt means. MP punished 4,280 gazetted and non-gazetted officials during the period on the recommendations of the lokayukta for their alleged involvement in corruption.
The same alacrity should be shown against those in high places too.