Bhubaneswar, Jan 9:
Senior Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik today slammed Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for ‘obstructing the course of justice’ in the Vedanta University Land acquisition case and requested Odisha Governor Dr. SC Jamir to let ‘law take its own course’ by issuing a direction to the state government to start a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) by the state vigilance within a week and file an FIR within a month against erring officials in the Vedanta land scam case for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
Then Lokpal late Justice PK Patra had in 2011 filed a Special Report in the Vedanta University Case and the Governor had directed the ‘Special Report’ to be discussed in the State Assembly with an action report of the state Government as per Section 13 of the Lokpal Act, 1995. The State Government, after dilly-dallying had placed the report in the state Assembly with an explanation that no action can be taken since the matter was pending before the Supreme Court of India. In a letter to the Governor, the former PCC President termed the State Government’s compliance as ‘facile’ and ‘highly deplorable’.
Once the Governor directed the State Government to place the ‘Special Report’ in the Vedanta case in the state Assembly, the Chief Minister as the ‘competent authority’ under the Act, should have facilitated full compliance of the law in letter and spirit. But the Chief Minister had to be reminded by the Governor several times to follow the law and finally when the special report was surreptitiously placed in the state assembly in response to a curt letter from Raj Bhavan asking for compliance during the August session of the state assembly, the Government justified complete and abject inaction by a contrived argument that the matter was pending before the Supreme Court of India, Patnaik said.
“This argument is rather hollow,” argues Niranjan in his letter to the Governor. “The State Government had already taken this line of defence in their explanatory memoranda, which the Lokpal had rightly rejected citing good reasons. The issues before the apex court in the pending litigation are very different from the specific direction of the Hon’ble Lokpal, specifically the direction to initiate action against erring officials. To the best of my knowledge the Supreme Court is not currently concerned with the issue of action against erring officials. The state Government did not get the special report and the contrived defence listed in the State Assembly, which was the only legal course of action available and so, the compliance violates your direction both in letter and spirit,” he said.
The purpose of creation of the institution of the Lokpal was primarily to hold the Government accountable for acts of corruption involving people in high offices, particularly the Council of Ministers and the Chief Minister. The assumption was that the investigating and prosecuting agencies of the state will not be able to investigate corruption involving the Chief Minister, the other Ministers and senior bureaucrats and therefore there should be an independent judicial oversight mechanism to direct executive action, including investigation and prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Under the Lokpal Act the Lokpal has to ask the Competent Authority to initiate action including order an inquiry by the concerned investigating agency of the state, which was one of the nine directions of the Lokpal. This direction should have been complied by asking the State Vigilance to conduct a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) leading to filing of an FIR, the former PCC president said in his letter.
“That is the law of the land. But, the Chief Minister is obstructing investigation for reasons that he should explain to you as the appropriate constitutional authority and to the people of Odisha. In my opinion, this is a fit case for you to direct the Government regarding the specific course of action under the law. There is an apprehension that the CM is protecting the erring officials because investigation against the erring officials will lead to his door steps, sooner or later,” Patnaik said
“Interestingly, I have read media reports that the State Government wants to promulgate an ordinance for hurriedly introducing a weak and ineffective Lokayukta system in the state without any public debate to hoodwink people. This approach to ensuring probity in high office is similar to the deplorable manner in which the Chief Minister has treated the Lokpal’s Special Report in the Vedanta Case and therefore there is deep suspicion in the public mind about goings on in the State,” the senior Congress leader said.