Thursday, March 4, 2021

Willing to resign, Nagaland Lokayukta tells SC, seeks protection from state

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Nagaland Lokayukta Uma Nath Singh has expressed his willingness to resign as the state’s anti-corruption ombudsman following complaints of impropriety and unjustified personal demands leveled against him by the state government.

The suggestion came on a note of paper submitted in the court by senior advocate Vikas Singh who represented the Lokayukta. But the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde did not receive the note. Even the Advocate General KN Balagopal appearing for Nagaland was served a soft copy of the note during the hearing. The bench decided to post the matter for hearing next week.

The note by Lokayukta suggests “unpleasant circumstances” and “hostile environment” as the reason to quit forthwith but “upon dismissal of writ petition (by Nagaland government)”. He further wants no action or proceeding to be initiated against him by the state that could defame him or cause any stigma to his privileges and status as Lokayukta.

The state ombudsman even cited a pending criminal case lodged by him against his personal security officer (PSO) and demanded closure of the case. The case related to assault or use of criminal force to stop a public servant from executing his duty, punishable under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 353 and 506 (criminal intimidation). Since the accused was poor and had since apologized, the Lokayukta had agreed for a compromise. Finally, the Lokayukta demanded a graceful exit from the state after submitting his resignation to the Governor.

The Nagaland government had come to the apex court in exceptional circumstances for orders to restrain the sitting Lokayukta from hearing any case or exercising his powers or functions under the Nagaland Lokayukta Act, 2017. Justice (Retd) Uma Nath Singh, a former Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court, was appointed Lokayukta of Nagaland on March 13, 2019.

The petition pointed out numerous instances to show the “crippling” state of affairs with the Lokayukta engineering documents to show that the Chief Secretary gave him approval to function online from Delhi when no such consent was granted. The counsel for Lokayukta pointed out that he worked online from Delhi due to “meager work” and the extraordinary situation due to Covid-19.

On the previous date of hearing, the bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian had observed, “When there is no dignity in continuing why go through all this and insist to continue at any cost.”

The state even told the apex court that the Lokayukta was taking up commercial arbitration work despite a clear prohibition provided under the Lokayukta Act.

“In another case he has ordered the Chief Minister to conduct a preliminary enquiry against Deputy Chief Minister which is not permissible under the Act,” the senior advocate added, pointing out that these orders were the result of state denying his demand to occupy the old bungalow used by the state’s Chief Minister.

His other demands include exemption from frisking at airports, deployment of army personnel for his protection, presence of Commissioner of Police at his arrival and departure from airport, his photograph to be displayed next to that of the Governor and Chief Minister on the state’s official website among others.

The petition said, “The Respondent 1 (Lokayukta) is behaving in a manner that suggests he has become a law unto himself and has no respect for the rule of law and in particular the legislature….this type of maverick decision-making indicates that Respondent 1 is unfit to an office that requires him to lead by example.”

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