ndsharma's blog

Challenges before new MP Lokayukta Naolekar

Posted on: July 5, 2009

Justice Prakash Prabhakar Naolekar, the new Lokayukta of Madhya Pradesh, has held out the assurance that he will make the Lokayukta Organisation a true guardian of public interest and dispose of the complaints strictly on merit, without pride and prejudice and without succumbing to pressure. In fact, he has said it in too many words during his interaction with the media after being sworn-in in Bhopal’s Raj Bhavan.

Samples: he has never in his life worked under anybody’s pressure; he will perform his duties with honesty in future also; he is not bothered with anyone’s likes or dislikes; he will go strictly by the evidence; there will be no delay (in disposal of cases) on his part; the cases will be disposed of as soon as the evidence is produced; he will not allow the platform of the Lokayukta Organisation to be misused by any one; every one is equal before him, whether he is a minister or any ordinary person; and lastly, his priority is expeditious disposal of the pending cases.

Having said all this, Naolekar went to the Lokayukta office and promptly took up a case for expeditious disposal. It was not a case that had been “pending” for long or had been agitating the public mind because of the dubious role played by Naolekar’s predecessor. The case that Naolekar took up so hurriedly is only a couple of months old and relates to Ravi Nandan Singh, who resigned as Advocate-General of Madhya Pradesh exactly a week before Naolekar was sworn in as the Lokayukta. Singh had stated that he had resigned “on moral grounds” because of the complaint against him before the Lokayukta.

It may not be freaky to assume that Ravi Nandan Singh’s recommendation as Advocate-General of the State has played an important role in the selection of Naolekar for the Lokayukta’s office. Naolekar was practising law in Jabalpur, as had been his father and grandfather. Ravi Nandan Singh’s karmabhoomi is also Jabalpur. Singh might have occasions to appear before Naolekar when he was judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court (which has its main bench at Jabalpur) from June 1992 to April 1994 (when he was transferred to the Rajasthan High Court). After his retirement from the Supreme Court on June 29 last year, Naolekar had been living again in Jabalpur where Singh was the Advocate-General and his wife Sushila Singh is the Mayor of the Jabalpur Municipal Corporation. Naolekar was reported to have been attending the functions of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Jabalpur where the Mayor was also sometimes present.

Naolekar’s eagerness to “exonerate”, at the very first opportunity, Ravi Nandan Singh of the charges of accumulating disproportionate assets has naturally created disquietude in the mind of the people who have seen in the past the Lokayukta only trying to curry favour with those in power. The last incumbent, Ripusudan Dayal, only did it much more brazenly. Justice Faizanuddin, the predecessor of Ripusudan Dayal, had seen the ‘politician-bureaucrat-criminal nexus’ as largely responsible for the increase in number of cases of corruption and had virtually accused then chief minister Digvijay Singh of shielding the corrupt.

Shahida Sultan case

And how did Faizanuddin himself act in a case pertaining to Digvijay Singh? The Income-Tax Department raids on the premises of a liquor baron’s establishments had yielded a diary in which were reportedly recorded the sums of hush money paid to various functionaries in the Digvijay Singh government – the chief minister included. The I-T Department forwarded the relevant records to the Lokayukta for an investigation. Even without registering a case or starting a preliminary investigation, Faizanuddin had, in a statement, ruled out payment of hush money to Digvijay Singh. Faizanuddin is also a former Supreme Court judge.

The Shahida Sultan case illustrates vividly the working of the Lokayukta Organisation. She was picked up, on a tip-off, by the Lokayukta police at the Bhopal railway station as she alighted from the Karnataka Express in the night of May 8, 1997 with a suitcase containing over Rs six lakh. Shahida was a Police Inspector and was on deputation to the Transport Department. She was posted at a check-post on the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border in Khandwa district.

The Lokayukta police investigated the case and filed a challan in the special court under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The special court sentenced her on July 31, 2007 to two years’ rigorous imprisonment for being in possession of assets disproportionate to her known sources of income. Was that Shahida’s only crime? To say that Shahida was making money at the check-post for herself and was occasionally bringing suitcases full of currency notes to keep at home is simply ridiculous. For whom did she bring the suitcase?

There were curious turns in the investigation of the Shahida case. A relative of hers, Javed Mirza, came forward to claim that the money in the suitcase belonged to him and that Shahida was bringing it to deliver to him. He, however, could not produce any evidence to substantiate his claim. He was also sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, along with Shahida, by the special court.

The most deplorable turn in the case came when the State Government moved an application in the special court, through none but the prosecuting counsel (who was representing the Lokayukta Organisation), for withdrawal of the case “in public interest”.

Why had Shahida Sultan, a small fry in the system, become so important to the high-ups in the government that they shamelessly trampled all decency and propriety to save her? And what was the “public interest” involved in her acquittal? No one, who has an iota of intelligence, can believe that the concern of the then chief minister and his coterie was merely for a police inspector who had a small hobby of stacking in a suitcase currency notes obtained through illegitimate means and coming to Bhopal once in a while to dump the suitcase in her house. Since the investigation of the case was so thoroughly bungled by the Lokayukta police, the people would never know for whom the suitcase was meant or how many suitcases she had delivered earlier there.

It may not be appropriate to draw conclusions about Naolekar’s intentions on the basis of his selection of the first case even though some may see in this an eagerness to help a friend. Some really challenging cases are before him — and these include the corruption complaints against about a dozen ministers of the State. Perhaps the most important is the complaint against chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and his wife Sadhna Singh, known as the dumper scam, the investigation of which has already been substantially bungled by Naolekar’s predecessor Ripusudan Dayal.


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July 2009
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Justice should not be cloistered

Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.

— Lord Atkin in a contempt case in 1936


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