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‘Toothless’ Punjab Lokpal battles staff shortage
Sarbjit Dhaliwal/TNS

Chandigarh, July 16
The Punjab Lokpal seems to be ineffective in fighting cases of corruption, fraud and misuse of authority by politicians holding government offices in the absence of adequate staff to investigate complaints. The state Lokpal further lacks powers to probe government officials or take suo motu cognisance of acts of corruption by those holding public offices.

The Lokpal’s office currently has only one Inspector-General (IG)-rank police officer besides four constables and head constables to investigate complaints. With IG-level officers rarely getting involved in investigations or collection of evidence on the ground, there is no one to investigate complaints. Officers at the level of Superintendent of Police (SP), Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), inspector or sub-inspector often carry out such investigations. But the state government has not deputed any such officer at the Lokpal’s office in spite of several requests.

The Principal Secretary, Home Department, blames it on the shortfall of officers with the police department. “There is a severe shortage of police officers. Hence, adequate numbers cannot be deputed at the Lokpal’s office.”

Besides, the office lacks technical support staff such as Executive Engineers to process complaints. Sources say some complaints have been pending investigation since 2002-03.

In Karnataka, the Lokpal has been provided with SP-level officers in all districts beside adequate staff at the head office.

The Lokpal there can order search of property held by a public servant. But this is not true for the Punjab Lokpal as it does not have powers to take suo-motu congnizance of complaints of corruption involving public servants.

Most complaints received by the Lokpal’s office are against the government employees, but these have to be filed in the absence of powers to investigate. Sources say the Lokpal has written to the state government to allow it to investigate cases against politicians holding government offices.

In a recent amendment to the Punjab Lokpal Act, the state government had authorised the Lokpal to investigate complaints of corruption against chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of zila parishads; mayors, senior mayors and deputy mayors of municipal corporations; and presidents and vice-presidents of municipal committees. The government had also allowed the Lokpal to investigate complaints against employees of such institutions.

“There is a big contradiction here. While the Lokpal can investigate complaints against employees of zila parishads, municipal corporations and committees, it cannot investigate similar complaints against employees of other government departments,” says an official of the Panchayati Raj Department.

“How can there be separate laws with regards to corruption for employees of zila parishads, etc. and those of other government departments?” he says.





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