WITH HIS five-year term set to end on January 18 next year, Haryana Lokayukta Justice Pritam Pal, a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, speaks to Sanjeev Verma about his concern over the “lack of political will” across party lines in making the office of the Lokayukta strong. Excerpts:
Lokayukta is known as ‘toothless tiger’. What steps did you take to empower the Lokayukta office?
I have given five reports till date, including one to the present government in April. But it is unfortunate that those were not even discussed once in the assembly sessions in the past five years. I have been pressing time and again for empowering Lokayukta and given many suggestions to improve the system. Let alone
ruling party MLAs, even the Opposition MLAs have not even taken the initiative. What does this mean?
How do you see corruption in the system?
Corrupt public servants are worse off than beggars. Because a beggar does not have anything but public servants have jobs, money and everything and despite that, a section of them indulges in corruption. Lawmakers themselves are lawbreakers. The majority of bureaucrats and politicians are not straightforward, they are not leading their life in accordance with our shashtra and dharma. Several lawmakers are sitting in Parliament facing serious criminal cases. Will they make the institution of Lokayukta a strong one?
There is a perception that some judges are approachable? Did anyone approach you as Lokayukta?
People approach only those judges who invite such things. In the judiciary when you join, your image gets established within one or two years. Sab pata lag jata hei kaun approachable hei aur kaun kya hei. (It becomes clear who is approachable and who is what.) Otherwise no one would approach you. I have never been approached. I have decided cases against politicians and IAS on merit.
How do you see dilution of the Haryana Lokayukta Act over the years?
Lokayukta Act of 1997 of (former CM) Bansi Lal’s term was a perfect and ideal Lokayukta Act of Haryana. Rather, it was number one Act of the country. Then other governments came and it was repealed and important provisions of law not suiting the politicians were made weak.
What kind of difficulties does a Lokayukta office face?
In the past five years, more than 3,300 complaints were received and around 2,700 were disposed of. There is delay in disposal of complaints because of non-cooperation of public servants. We give 45 days’ notice to act but it takes years to get reports from officers. Instead of taking strong action against corrupt public servants on our recommendations, it is reduced to minor penalty. We also have vacant posts in the investigation department. Also, Lokayukta does not have regular cadre of employees and on deputation, nobody is prepared to join this office. I don’t have a permanent private secretary, personal assistant and judgment writer. All are on contract.
What suggestions have you given to the government?
As the directions of Lokayukta are recommendatory in nature, there is an urgent need to insert a provision of contempt of court in the Lokayukta Act, 2002, to ensure compliance. There was a provision of suo motu cognizance of allegations in the repealed Lokayukta Act of 1997 and it needs to be restored to encourage the common man to come forward. Also, whistleblowers need to be protected.
Any other recommendation?
I have strongly recommended in my report to include moral value based education up to Class XII so that children emerge as strong personalities and fear from corruption. Rather than having public relations department, government should have character-building department. Human values are falling day-by-day. Education and teachers should be put on the highest pedestal.
Your term ends next month. Would you like to get another term?
Even if the government offers me an extension, I will not accept it. Enough is enough. Lokayuktas in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have got extensions… But I want to work on a bigger assignment – of fighting against corruption and injustice. This would be my last ambition in life.