Wanted: An ombudsman to try graft charges against big guns

Narendra Modi is floating on air. The controversial Gujarat chief minister has been patting his back ever since a WikiLeaks report earlier this week described the Machiavellian politician as an ‘incorruptible’ leader.

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Published: Sun 27 Mar 2011, 11:13 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 11:20 PM

The shrewd strategist summoned journalists even while he was attending a function to tell them that now the United States also was convinced of his honesty. Praising the WikiLeaks for its ‘faithful reporting’, Modi said that the 2006 cable had quoted the Consul General in Mumbai, Michael Owen, as saying that the Gujarat administration under him was ‘corruption-free’.

True, the Mumbai Consulate’s 2,850-word assessment was cleared by the New Delhi Embassy before being cabled to the State Department, but the leader of the Opposition in the legislative assembly Shaktisinh Gohil immediately joined issue with him describing Modi’s ‘interpretations’ of the WikiLeaks statements as ‘day-dreaming’ and said the chief minister was deliberately ‘misreading’ the reports to mislead the people in the State.

According to Gohil, at no stage had Owen described Modi as ‘incorruptible’ and only stated that corruption at the lower levels of the administration had been considerably reduced.

The same cable, he added, mentioned that at the higher levels and particularly in relation to the big industrial houses, corruption had increased manifold.

The state government admitted in House on Thursday that it had given land to big corporates for a song.

Human rights activists and other non-governmental organisations also refuse to attach much significance to the WikiLeaks reports and ask why the Modi regime claiming to be ‘clean’ was then dragging its feet for as long as eight years on appointing a Lok Ayukta (anti-corruption ombudsman authority) for trying ministers, legislators and other influential officials and leaders for corruption charges.

Congress legislators have been demanding a reply on this in the ongoing budget session but all that the Bharatiya Janata Party administration would say was that the process was on, triggering an Opposition walkout now and then after hurling charges about corruption in various fields.

A Lok Ayukta is an unbiased arbiter who can crack the whip on powerful politicians and officials who have a greasy palm.

In the absence of a Lok Ayukta, who is generally a neutral retired High Court judge, complaints of corruption cannot be lodged against ministers, chairpersons and directors of various government-owned boards/ corporations, elected representatives in local self-government bodies and vice-chancellors and pro-vice-chancellors of universities.

It was in November 2003 that the last incumbent, retired High Court judge S M Soni, stepped down from the post after completing his five-year term. Since then, the Lok Ayukta office has received as many as 850 complaints against many influential people but all these papers are gathering dust.

Recalling Modi’s famous statement that he did not take bribes and also did not allow his ministers and officials to do so, Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia said that the Gujarat government was “deliberately delaying the appointment of the ombudsman to shield the Chief Minister and his ministerial colleagues.” The state government has to consult the Leader of the Opposition in the legislative assembly and the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court before naming a Lok Ayukta who is then formally appointed by the Governor.

According to Congress leaders, the Chief Justice of the High Court has already suggested the name of a neutral person which has been approved by three of the four concerned members but Modi wants a Lok Ayukta with a saffron leaning and hence the delay. In fact, even the Governor had asked Modi to explain the non-appointment of the anti-corruption ombudsman.

Surprisingly enough, the chief minister has time to name tourism ambassadors but is too busy for the past eight years to appoint a deserving person on the all-important post of Lok Ayukta.


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