Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who completes 100 days in office this week, talks to Joe C Mathew on his governance initiatives and the state Lok Ayukta.
The hallmark of your agenda for the first 100 days was “transparency” and the live webcast of the functioning of your office was perhaps its manifestation. Do you think transparency in governance can solve the major issues raised by anti-corruption campaigners through the Jan Lok Pal Bill?
The (anti-corruption) agitations remind us that in a democracy it is not enough that the rulers do the right thing; they should also sensitise the public that they are doing the right thing. And, for that, every decision should be transparent; it should be in the public domain. Today, we find people advising others, but that transparency is not seen in their own deeds. We know what was BJP’s position on Yeddyurappa (former Karnataka chief minister), and CPI(M)’s eagerness in protecting Pinarayi Vijayan (CPI(M)’s Kerala state secretary, allegedly involved in a corruption scandal). In the case of civil society demands, the only difference of opinion I have is that they want a law enacted by bypassing established laws and rules. Lawmaking should happen within the legal and democratic framework. The civil society groups should get their demands put by any of the political representatives that we have. If you stand outside this set-up and demand that elected representatives should only do what they (civil society groups) want, I don’t agree with that. I am not saying that their demands have no merit. But their approach does not go well with our democratic set-up.
You are also facing an inquiry in the so-called Palmolein import scam... (The Opposition alleges Chandy had a role to play)
Yes. It happened 20 years ago. Until recently, nobody had mentioned my name in the issue, though I was the one who had been defending the deal all along. The current Opposition was in power twice, for 10 years in between. During their term, I was questioned several times and they had found nothing against me. I have always maintained that through that deal, we had made a profit of Rs 8 crore. The allegation is that if it was done in some other manner, we could have got an additional profit of Rs 2.3 crore. Even during the just-ended five-year tenure when the Opposition was in power, nothing was said against me, except in the last three months. My name was dragged into the case when the election dates were declared. My stand at that time was very clear. I never gave any technical excuse, but welcomed yet another investigation. I have always maintained that the allegations against me will be fought morally and legally but not politically. I cooperated with the investigation team appointed by the previous government. Their own team, during their own tenure concluded that there was nothing against me. But the matter came to the court after I became the chief minister and the previous government had already appointed a special prosecutor specifically for this case. Everyone advised me to change the counsel, who was a political appointee. I did not do that. The court has now ordered further inquiry. I got legal advice to approach higher courts. But I refused. My position is that I am willing to face any inquiry. Why should I appeal if I have nothing against an investigation against me? If I do that, my words and actions will not match. That is what I consider as openness. Why should a politician be afraid of inquiry if he has nothing to hide? I have nothing to hide.
So, do you feel your transparent approach shielded you from the allegations of the Opposition?
People are not taking the Marxist party’s high-profile campaign (against Chandy in Kerala) seriously because of this open approach. My strength is my clear consciousness.
What should be the structure of a mechanism such as Lok Pal? How do you see Kerala’s Lok Ayukta Act?
There are several shortcomings in the state’s Lok Ayukta Act. Today, all members of the state Assembly come within the purview of the Lok Ayukta. But very few government institutions are covered under this Act. In fact, there were only three institutions that were covered under the Lok Ayukta Act when I took over. During this short period, I have included 117 institutions under the Lok Ayukta’s purview. We have also decided to have an interaction with the Lok Ayukta, most likely on September 2, to understand how we could provide more teeth to the institution.
You are completing 100 days in office. How many of your promises (for the first 100 days) have been fulfilled?
I had announced 110 projects for the first 100 days of coming to power. As on date, we have issued final orders on 30 such initiatives, 54 are in very advanced stages, while the progress on the remaining 26 is not up to mark. We are monitoring that too. But that’s not all. We will also announce some very important initiatives that were not among the 110 proposals.
Could you explain?
For instance, we are working on a Right to Services (Act) on the lines of the Right To Information Act. There are many services that people should get from the government. We believe it is their right to get those services. The public has some hope, they have some requirements and there are some basic services that they are entitled to get. The Right to Services Act will set it straight. Our law department has been asked to frame the law. The draft will be ready soon.
What does this mean?
We will set timeline for availing of each and every service from the government. This will be decided after consulting the employees. Let us take the example of ration card. Today, if we want a new ration card, it is a three-four-month process. We have told our employees that it should be given within 24 hours. They have said it is impossible, as they need to examine the veracity of applications. So, I had to ask them, supposing they got 1,000 applications, how many were mistake-ridden or bogus. They said very few. So I told them to take six months to examine the application details, but provide the card on the same day of taking an affidavit from the applicant. The wrong applications could eventually be cancelled, but the deserving would not have to wait. Similar timeframe would be given for every service. If they are not doing it, the officials would be answerable under law.