While social activist and Gandhian Anna Hazare has begun an indefinate fast to press for his long-pending demand for a Lokpal as an ombudsman to tackle corruption, the anti-corruption watchdog's counterpart in Maharashtra--the Lokayukta, is a toothless tiger, dealing mostly with grievances and post-retirement and service issues.
Incidentally, Maharashtra was the first state to set up the Lokayukta in 1972. However, states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, which entered the picture later, have given the body more powers, including a separate investigating agency.
The concept of Lokpal and Lokayukta is based on the institiution of ombudsman in Scandinavian countries and was recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission in 1966 to supplement the existing arrangements of redressing citizens grievances.
“In order to make the Lokayukta more effective, an investigating agency must be sanctioned... if we cannot be given an earmarked machinery, agencies like the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) must be allowed to report to us,” said a senior official from the Lokayukta office, pointing to how the Lokayukta in Karnataka had a similar dedicated machinery right down to the district level.
Maharashtra introduced the ombudsman concept by enacting the Maharashtra Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayuktas Act, 1971, becoming the first state to do so. The Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayukta are statutory functionaries with powers to investigate and make recommendations in complaints of allegations involving abuse of position and corruption against public servants and rectify injustice to a person through maladministration.
“Maharashtra's Lokayukta is very weak,” admitted social activist and Hazare's associate Vishwambhar Choudhari, adding that the institution “was not properly empowered.” Choudhari said that Chhattisgarh had a strong Lokayukta.
In 2012, the Lokayukta received over 6,500 complaints, up from the 903 received in the first year of existence. Around 250 complaints are disposed off per month. A large number of complaints pertain to service issues, pay arrears, post-retirement claims and pensions.
The report of the one-man committee on good governance headed by Dr Madhav Godbole submitted to the state government in 2001 had observed that despite completing 25 years in existence, the Lokayukta's “impact on the public life in Maharashtra has been minimal. It has largely remained preoccupied with grievances of the staff and has not made any significant contribution to the cleansing of public life in the State. This will be possible only if the Act is amended extensively.”
“While the government has neglcted the institution of Lokayukta, newer institutions are proposed to be set up. One such proposal pertains to setting up of a vigilance commission. There is no reason why the Lokayukta cannot be entrusted with the same functions... which are intended to be entrusted to a vigilance commission,” said an annual consolidated report of the Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayukta, Maharashtra, submitted to the state legislature.
It sought that issues like entrusting the Lokayukta with overall responsbilities of overseeing vigilance work in the state, putting the director general (DG), ACB, Maharashtra under the overall charge of the Lokayukta, sanctioning a special investigating team of police officers for being placed at the disposal of the Lokayukta like in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and treating the recommendations of the Lokayukta to sanction prosecution in any case being treated as mandatory.