We will give Lokayukta more powers in Himachal: Chief Minister

Shimla : Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has promised a corruption-free state with a powerful Lokayukta system in place. He said he is in touch with Anna Hazare and his team for their suggestions to make the institution more potent.

His assertions come at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is facing charges of selling the state to non-Himachalis by granting them permission to buy huge chunks of land after bypassing the laid down land laws.

“We are one of the first states to have a Lokayukta. Now we are going to give the Lokayukta institution more powers in order to deal effectively with corruption and abuse of power,” Dhumal told IANS in an interview.

“For this, the act (Himachal Pradesh Lokayukta Act of 1983) would be amended. Members of civil society have been invited to give suggestions to strengthen the Lokayukta and give it more powers for dealing effectively with complaints of corruption,” he said.

The issue of giving more power to the institution, Dhumal said, would be discussed with the new Lokayukta, Justice (retd) L.S. Panta, who is to assume office next month.

Panta, a retired Supreme Court judge, is chairman of the National Green Tribunal.

The chief minister’s office also comes under the purview of the Lokayukta.

Dhumal, who took over reins of the state for the second time Dec 30, 2007, said his government was among the few states that reacted quickly after the national outcry against corruption.

“We have now laws in place to nail corrupt officials and make them accountable through timely delivery of services to the public,” he said.

The state assembly, during its eight-day monsoon session in August, passed the Himachal Pradesh Special Courts (Attachment and Confiscation of Property) Bill and the Himachal Pradesh Public Services Guarantee Bill.

The former aims to provide speedy trial in corruption cases and for confiscation of ill-gotten money and property of the public servants while the latter will ensure time-bound delivery of services to the public.

Dhumal said now there are special courts to dispose of the trial of corrupt public servants within a year’s time and appeal against the orders would lie only with the high court.

Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Himachal are the states that have a law to confiscate properties of corrupt officials.

But not everything has been as hunky-dory as the ruling BJP wants to make out.

In handling cases of corruption involving officials, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has pulled up the government a number of times.

The state has at least 23 tainted government officials, including Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Sanjay Gupta, two Himachal Administrative Services officers and former drug controller Sher Singh.

This fact came to light in a reply filed by the chief secretary recently in the high court in a case, still pending, related to postings of tainted officials occupying crucial posts.

The state government was also under attack of the opposition Congress, especially in its fourth year tenure, for promoting realtors, private universities and illegal property transactions.

The Congress alleged the state government is showing favouritism towards Bemloe Development and Infrastructure Company and Optima Construction Pvt Ltd which are respectively setting up an ultra-luxury housing project each in Shimla and Kasauli towns.

The builders have felled dozens of trees overnight and violated environmental and land laws, it alleged.

Even the ruling BJP’s own MP Rajan Sushant and some dissidents put the government in the dock by levelling allegations of corruption, especially shady land deals.

For quite some time, Sushant was openly criticising Dhumal. He was axed from the party’s state executive body in May for demanding ‘narco-analysis’ test of Dhumal and his cabinet ministers over corruption.

Some dissidents, comprising former state BJP chief Maheshwar Singh, floated the Bhrashtachar Mukti Morcha to expose misdeeds of the government.

Despite allegations, a confident Dhumal said his biggest achievement over the past four years was winning the trust of the “aam aadmi” or the common man.

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