CHENNAI: A midst the recent debate on the Lokayukta Act, not many know that the Karunanidhi government in 1973 was the first to enact an anti-corruption law in Tamil Nadu. But, the subsequent AIADMK government led by MG Ramachandran struck it down, citing almost the same drawbacks that are now being pointed out by DMK against the Lokayukta Act.The 1973 bill was titled “Tamil Nadu Public Men (Criminal Misconduct) Bill” and was passed by the Assembly on April 5. During the debate, then Chief Minister Karunanidhi, according to Assembly archives, said, “We have made the bill with the provision to conduct inquiry on the Chief Minister himself, which is not available in other states. Hence, it is the most powerful bill.”
S Madhavan, industries minister, moved the bill which had provisions for a jail term of up to seven years for convicted public servants. But just like the Lokayukta Act enacted last month, the 1973 law also had a provision to punish the complainant, in case of “false and frivolous” allegations against public servants. It had set one year as the limitation period for filing complaint against misconduct by a public servant and six months after a person ceases to be a public servant.
During the debate, members of AIADMK, CPI and Swatantra Party walked out from the Assembly and the bill was passed by a majority of ruling DMK members and the act came into force on May, 4 in 1974. When MGR won the 1977 Assembly elections and formed the first AIADMK government, it repealed the Act in the very first session of the Assembly, with the support of Congress and CPM, records show.
During the debate, DMK leader K Anbazhagan said, “If the ruling party finds any fault in the Act, it can make any amendment as they have the majority in the house. It is not fair to withdraw the Act by citing some reasons as there is no law in the world which was not subsequently amended. Hence, the government should retain the legislation.” The DMK members argued for transparency in public life.
Supporting the withdrawal, R Umanath of CPM, said, “We welcome the repeal of the Act. Because, as per the Act, the accused will get only one punishment if the allegations are proved. But the petitioner would face two punishments, a penalty and imprisonment, if they fail to prove their complaints against the public servant. Hence, we suspect that the Act was passed only to subdue people raising complaints against public servants.”
Congress members cited the provisions that made decisions of the commissioner (appointed under the Act) as final and barring any appeal against it, the very narrow limitation period and the unjust penalties imposed on complainants if they fail to prove the allegations as reasons for their support for the repeal of the anti-corruption law.Even 41 years later, the debate on anti-corruption laws seems to be at the same point, but with the DMK, AIADMK and other political parties taking almost opposite stands.