The Gujarat Lokayukta on Monday put a gag on reporting any inquiry with the office of the Lokayukta, be it before a complainant files a complaint during inquiry or after the report is submitted to the government.
“According to Section 10 of the Gujarat Lokayukta Act, 1986, it is very clear that no information can be revealed/leaked, about the complainant or the identity of the accused (government officials and ministers). It is an offence punishable with two years’ imprisonment and a fine. Every report is submitted to the government. I was being approached with requests for information and it was not appropriate,” said Justice DP Buch, the incumbent Lokayukta of the state.
The same section of the Act, however, mentions that the ‘Lokayukta may conduct any investigation relating to a matter of definite public importance in public, if he, for reasons to be recorded in writing, thinks fit to do so’.
This gag on reporting matters of the Lokayukta is among the several contentious propositions in the new Gujarat Lokayukta Ayog Bill 2013 that was passed by the Narendra Modi government in February last year, but rejected by Governor Dr Kamla as travesty of the institution of Ombudsman. The new Bill also proposes to do away with the role of the Chief Justice of the high court in the appointment of Lokayukta.
Activists and the opposition Congress have strongly objected to the gag order.
“We will fight this in court It is against the freedom of speech. If there is such secrecy, what is the purpose of Lokayukta?” said PUCL general secretary Gautam Thaker.
Former leader of the Opposition and a lawyer himself, Shaktisinh Gohil, also termed the order undemocratic and said they will protest it. Veteran lawyer Girish Patel was outraged. “In this day and age where transparency is empirical for effective functioning of any agency, how can a critical body like the Lokayukta in which the citizens have reposed their faith for punishing corrupt government officials, remain completely non-transparent? What is the point of submitting the report of guilt to the guilty and expect them to make it public? You (Lokayukta) are required to be pro-people, not pro-government. You are a people’s agency, not a government agency.”
Gujarat Congress had submitted a long list of allegations amounting to Rs1 lakh crore worth illegal land allotment by the Modi government to various corporates over the last decade. In the absence of a Lokayukta, Congress took them to the President to probe it. Immediately, the government appointed a commission headed by Justice MB Shah, who has already submitted its first report.
This February, the government tabled a 2003 report of the Lokayukta, indicting former Congress CM Amarsinh Chaudhary in a 30-year-old Rs35-crore tree-chopping scam. GPCC president Arjun Modhwadia questioned why the government had not tabled the Nanavati Commission report on the 2002 riots or the Rs1,100-crore Sujalam Sufalam scam report.