‘Lokpal bill will fight graft at Centre, not states’

BANGALORE, April 15 (AGENCIES): The Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill would help fight corruption only at the centre and not in states where the magnitude of graft is alarming, cautions former Supreme Court judge Justice N. Santosh Hegde amid the escalating hype over the proposed legislation.
Hegde, also the ombudsman for Karnataka, is part of the 10-member committee set up by the government to draft the new bill following the hunger strike by reformer Anna Hazare that had triggered a nationwide movement against corruption.
“The lokpal will deal with acts of omissions and commissions at the centre such as alleged corruption by union ministers, including the prime minister and central government employees. But there is much more corruption at the local level in states, which has to be tackled by the lokayukta (state-level ombudsman),” Hegde told IANS in an interview.
Hegde, who played a key role in drafting the various clauses of the Jan Lokpal bill, the stronger alternative drafted by civil society members, hoped the fight against corruption and maladministration would not only be strengthened at the centre but also in states.
“The institution of the lokpal at the centre has been overdue. Unlike in Karnataka and a few states where the lokayukta has been constituted and functioning, there is no such legal entity at the central level for people to fight against corruption. There is an urgent need because corruption is also prevalent at the centre, as evident from the various scams that surfaced recently,” Hegde asserted.
Though the lokpal may not deal directly with corruption cases and other grievances at the state level, Hegde said the members representing the civil society on the joint panel would strive to ensure that the act would be uniform and its powers applicable in all states through their respective lokayuktas.  “One of the suggestions I made is that the Lokpal Act should be uniform and its powers applicable in all states so that the lokayuktas are equally empowered to tackle the menace, as about 90 percent of the graft incidents occur at the ground level, be it in the local body, district offices and state capitals,” Hegde noted.
Though it would be in the interest of speedy justice, he said, to accept the lokpal judgment as final, the accused or a convicted person cannot be legally stopped from approaching the Supreme Court as he or she would be entitled to under the laws of the land, especially where fundamental rights were involved.
“We cannot stop the affected person from taking to legal course against the lokpal ruling even if he or she is held guilty of the offence though it would be ideal. But we are governed by the constitution, which empowers every citizen to defend from being framed, accused or convicted,” Hegde pointed out.
“As a central act, the lokpal will facilitate creation of a lokayukta in every state with a common law on the lines of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, which is one of the best in the country. But having been an ombudsman over the last four years, I have not been able to check corruption and maladministration in the absence of adequate powers envisaged in the Jan Lokpal bill,” Hegde told IANS.