In a move that has evoked protests from activists; the Odisha government has asked the office of Lokayukta, the quasi-judicial anti-corruption authority to protect the identity of any public servant against whom a complaint is lodged till the conclusion of the investigation.
The General Administration department of the Odisha government which notified the Odisha Lokayukta (procedure of filing of complaint) Rules, 2020 this month has made it clear that while processing a complaint, the Lokayukta has to protect the identity of the public servant against whom a complaint is being lodged till the conclusion of the inquiry.
However, the rules say that the complainant himself can reveal his identity to any other office or authority while making a complaint to the Lokayukta.
The government also empowered the Lokayukta to dispose of a complaint where the contents of the complaint are illegible, vague, ambiguous, trivial or frivolous. “If the Lokayukta is satisfied that there exists a case for an inquiry against the public servant including any person or institution, notice will be served on such public servant, person or institution calling for explanation in 45 days,” the rules said.
The new rules drew protests from anti-corruption activists of the state who alleged that the rules have been formed to protect the IAS officers some of whom are currently facing probe by Lokayukta. Former member of Transparency International India’s board, Biswajit Mohanty wondered how the Lokayukta Act can override the RTI Act. “Once the name of a public official is disclosed under the RTI Act, how can the office of Lokayukta keep the name under wraps? While instituting vigilance cases against officials, the government also discloses the names of the official before completing investigation. In that case the government should not disclose the name of any corrupt official till investigation is over. Now nobody will know who is being investigated,” Mohanty said.
Prominent RTI activist Pradip Pradhan too questioned the framing of the rules saying it was meant to protect certain officials against whom cases were lodged before the Lokayukta over alleged irregularities in purchase of PPE kit. “It’s no secret why the rules were framed after we lodged cases with Lokayukta against a few IAS officials alleging a scam in procurement of masks and PPE kits for Covid-19 warriors. What is the problem in disclosing the identity of the person against whom an allegation has been made,” asked Pradhan. He said the rules will be challenged in the High Court.
Pradhan also said that the new rules would make it difficult for a common man to lodge a complaint as one has to file a notarized affidavit as per a given format. “To get a notarized affidavit, one has to go to court and spend few hundred Rupees. The state government could have asked the complainant to give a self declaration instead of self-affidavit thing,” he said.
However, former president of Orissa High Court Bar Association, Surya Mishra said the rules protecting the identity of the official seemed to be a reasonable one. “The rule says it’s not absolute bar. It’s a temporary protection because prima facie a person who holds power or position should not be identified to be guilty before he is found as such. I think it’s a reasonable protection which can be given though under criminal law no such protection is given to anyone,” Mishra said.
As per the new rules, a complaint to the Lokayukta can be made electronically, by post or in person. But if the complaint is filed electronically, then the hard copy needs to be submitted to the Lokayukta within a period of15 days from the date of filing.
Odisha, last year commissioned its first Lokayukta under the Odisha Lokayukta Act, 2014 with the appointment of a former judge of the Gauhati High Court as its chairperson and 3 others as members.
Recently, the office of Lokayukta had suggested to the Naveen Patnaik government to bring the directorate of vigilance under its control to enhance the trust and credibility of its office. Though set up a little more than a year ago, the office of the Lokayukta is yet to have an investigation agency of its own and currently has to entrust the investigation to other agencies.