More powers to Lokayukta to probe graft complaints

Four former Congress chief ministers, two serving NCP ministers, a BJP MP's kin and top bureaucrats are under scanner in the Adarsh housing scam. Senior NCP ministers faced the heat over allegations of rampant corruption in irrigation projects. In 2013, Maharashtra struggled to come to grips with cases of corruption and crony capitalism just like several other states.

Would 2014 usher in a welcome change? Though cynicism on overcoming the malaise continues to be high, the new year brings some hope in the form of a stronger Lokayukta (LA).

The Congress, rattled by the rout in recent Assembly polls in four states, has decided to push the anti-corruption agenda to regain lost ground. After enacting the Lokpal Bill, it has now directed all Congress-ruled states to empower LA institutions. On December 28, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said the Maharashtra LA and the Upa-Lokayukta (ULA) will be strengthened within two months.

Sources said the plan was to provide the LA and the ULA with their own prosecution wings. While the final modalities are being worked out, the plan is also to bring senior government functionaries, including ministers, in the LA ambit. It is also proposed to grant powers to attach and seize properties acquired by public servants through illegal means; powers to recommend the transfer and suspension of erring officials, besides power to secure services of state and Central government officials.

Former Karnataka Lokayukta Justice (retd) Santosh Hegde said, "While strong LAs in states and Lokpal at the Centre cannot wipe off corruption completely, they can reduce it to a great extent."

Though the state was the first to have a LA and a ULA — the legislation in this regard was enacted in 1971 —government functionaries conceded that they have remained mere 'paper tigers' owing to lack of autonomy. "To the best of my knowledge, the Maharashtra LA enjoys no powers at all. It has also not been provided the infrastructure required to be effective," said Hegde.

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