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The Lokpal is no magic wand to fight corruption

January 08, 2014 12:25 IST

A more informed electorate, rather than the Lokpal, can fight corruption better, argues Neeta Kolhatkar.

Parliament passed the ever delayed Lokpal Bill on December 18. The President has given the Bill his assent and the Lokpal is now expected to tackle the corruption which has pervaded our daily lives.

In a city like Mumbai where we hear of scams everyday, how will the Lokpal help to decrease -- if not completely prevent -- corruption? I have serious doubts that we will eradicate corruption with the Lokpal's help or the Lokayukta courts.

Maharashtra was the first state -- in 1972, nearly 42 years ago -- to set up the Lokayukta.

The Maharashtra Lokayukta has received 1,680 complaints of corruption since 2007, but it has not launched an investigation in even a single case.

The Lokayukta did not even investigate the Adarsh scam and it still does not have a separate vigilance wing.

In 2001, the state government-appointed (former Union home secretary) Madhav Godbole report felt the Lokayukta had made minimal impact on public life in Maharashtra.

It is then perhaps advisable that citizens stick to the usual agencies and avenues available to them when confronted by corruption and fraud.

When people cannot take it anymore, I presume they will make the effort to book officials and staff in government offices who want bribes.

Former Chief Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi says it is important to upload all information online.

After a Bhiwandi Right To Information activist was murdered, the information he had sought about an illegal structure was obtained by Gandhi who posted it online.

Lack of transparency often aids conspiracies and prevents the evidence from becoming public.

People face problems on a daily basis, but if one chooses to take it to the final destination, then the options available are plenty.

People need get as much information on the problem they are facing. The best tool citizens have and the one most feared by the authorities is the Right To Information.

The RTI is the one method to get all official documents and evidence to corroborate one's stand.

Activists who exposed the Adarsh housing scam, using the RTI, made all the documents public. The state government did try to trash the final report, but the points that it accepted were already in the public domain.

In any court, documentary evidence is key to hold the accused guilty and it has been proven in many a scam where exactly the officials have misused their powers.

Take the case of Rumi Ray, a painter who moved to Goa from Mumbai. She was duped of Rs 1.4 million by a Mumbai builder. Her college friend was duped of Rs 10 million, like the many investors duped in the National Spot Exchange Ltd case.

Citizens first go to the police station, struggle there to lodge a First Information Report.

In the case of a bribery complaint, one needs to file a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the agency that addresses bribery cases of any amount.

The ACB promises to keep the complainant's identity anonymous.

If one is willing to book a corrupt government official, one has to lead the corrupt officer into a trap set by the ACB, when asking for a bribe.

Financial fraud -- like in the case of NSEL victims or Rumi Ray -- need to be taken up with the police's Economic Offences Wing and the Crime Branch.

The Mumbai police, in the NSEL case, used the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors Court.

One hindrance to fighting corruption is the fear that no action will be taken and that nothing will change.

Many have attempted to fight corruption, many have lost their lives fighting for the truth to emerge.

These battles are not in vain, they are to empower citizens with information and the tools to fight corruption.

One must remember not to succumb to the fear mongering which is used by the people in power.

Neeta Kolhatkar