Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Lokpal Bill

Activist Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi, the first woman IPS.

   The word Lokpal means an ombudsman or Watchdog in India. The word has been derived from the Indo-Aryan words "lok" (people) and "pal" (protector/caretaker). The concept of Lokpal has been drawn up ostensibly to root out corruption at high places the prevailing in Indian polity.

Lokpal Bill

    The first Lokpal Bill was passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969 but could not get through in Rajya Sabha, subsequently, Lokpal bills were introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008, yet they were never passed and its pending. 
The Lokpal Bill provides for filing complaints of corruption against the prime minister, other ministers, and MPs with the ombudsman. TheAdministrative Reforms Commission (ARC) while recommending the constitution of Lokpal was convinced that such an institution was justified not only for removing the sense of injustice from the minds of adversely affected citizens but also necessary to instill public confidence in the efficiency of administrative machinery. Following this, the Lokpal Bill was for the first time presented during the fourth Lok Sabha in 1968, and was passed there in 1969.
    However, while it was pending in the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha was dissolved, resulting the first death of the bill. The bill was revived in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and most recently in 2008. Each time, after the bill was introduced to the house, it was referred to some committee for improvements - a joint committee of parliament, or a departmental standing committee of the Home Ministry - and before the government could take a final stand on the issue the house was dissolved.
   Several flaws have been sited in the recent draft of the Lokpal Bill. Meanwhile the activists of India Against Corruption (IAC) have prepared a draft for the bill called Jan Lokpal Bill


The basic idea of the Lok Pal is borrowed from the office of ombudsman, which has played an effective role in checking corruption and wrong-doing in Scandinavian and other nations.In early 1960s, mounting corruption in public administration set the winds blowing in favour of an Ombudsman in India too. The Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) set up in 1966 recommended the constitution of a two-tier machinery - of a Lokpal at the Centre, and Lokayukt(a)s in the states.


Prime Minister or a House of Parliament — to whom a Lokpal sends its report holds that the allegations of corruption made in a complaint against the Prime Minister, or a Minister or MP (present or past) have not been proved, "notwithstanding anything contained in any other law", "no prosecution shall lie on any complaint, report, information or otherwise and no court shall take cognisance of any offence on the basis of the same or substantially the same allegations." Further it says that once a complaint is made to the Lokpal nobody can take up the same complaint or any thing close to it in any court of law through a Public Interest Litigation or otherwise. In such a case there is also a ban on referring it for inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1952. To think of it, imagine a situation once the Bill comes into effect, when someone (could well be the accused’s `paid complainant’) approaches the Lokpal with a case, then this could bring to a halt all pending investigations against the accused, a former or present Prime Minister, minister or MP. It could well be the case that the charge of a crime might absolve the criminal of all investigations into his crimes!
The Lokpal is empowered to give directions for deferring or suspending any ongoing police investigations in matters covered by the complaints made to it.
There are many more gems of justice that deserve attention. Contradictory to the government’s claim that the Lokpal would provide the common man with exemplary powers to censure his/her elected representative, every complainant, the government’s ‘common man’, has to pay a fees and take full responsibility for leveling charges and in case the complaint is found to be baseless, to discourage the same ‘common man’, serious punitive action extending to two years in jail and Rs.50,000 in fine will be imposed on the complainant.
Charges of corruption in the Indian legal system are not necessarily covered only under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 but also under many other Acts, but the Lokpal restricts its ambit to the cases under this Act.
Regarding the constitution of the Lokpal, the Chairman of the Lokpal shall be from among past or present chief justices of Supreme Court. But the other two members of the Lokpal may also be from those qualified to be judges of the Supreme Court. The loose end left here makes countless many from India’s entire judiciary eligible for the post including those who are also senior party politicians with legal background.
Another notable point is that the Lokpal has no powers to punish the ‘guilty’. After finding someone guilty Lokpal can only report its findings to the Prime Minister or a House of Parliament and
Lokpal is highest institution in India to investigate corruption at higher places in Government. Creation of Lokpal institution is under process. Many previous attempt were unsuccessful due to lack of political support.
This institution will cover all government ministers, officers at centre including Prime Minister (Under Debate).