Isn’t this topic of the year?
This Bill is nothing but an anti-corruption law in India which “seeks to provide for the establishment of the institution of Lokpal, which will inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries and for matters connecting them”.Well, for those of you who don’t know, The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill 2013 has been passed after 46 years and 8 failed attempts of trying to pass it since 1968. It got the President’s approval on 1st Jan 2014 after being approved by Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on 17 and 18 December respectively. Anna Hazare must have heaved a sigh of relief… No more fasting for a while!
Enough of History… It is, no doubt, the most important topic this year. So let me begin by giving you the salient features of this literally historic Bill (46 years is a looong time…). Like I always say, please read these points very carefully. You can, then, make your own points, either for or against:
Who are Lokpal and Lokayukta?
As per the Act, a Lokpal will be at the centre level and Lokayuktas will be at the states levels. A Lokpal consist of a Chairperson and a maximum of eight members, of which 50 percent should be of judicial members. The Act provides that 50 percent of the total members of the Lokpal should be from SC/ST/OBCs, minorities and women.
Selection of Lokpal:
The Chairperson and members of the Lokpal will be selected through a selection committee, which include the Prime Minister of India, Lok Sabha Speaker, Lok Sabha’s leader of opposition, the Chief Justice of India or the Judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the Chief Justice. Then the President of India will nominate the eminent Jurist on the basis of the recommendations of the first four members of the selection committee.
Who can be prosecuted?
The jurisdiction of the Lokpal will cover all the categories of the public servant. Judiciary excluded completely and MPs excluded in respect of their votes and speeches in Parliament.The Prime Minister has been brought under the purview of the Lokpal. Under its also comes any/all entities, which will receive the donations from a foreign source in excess of 10 lakh rupees in context of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
Control over CBI:
The Act provide Lokpal the right to superintendence and direct any investigation agency including the CBI on the cases, which will be referred to them from the Lokpal itself. Lokpal’s approval will be required for the transfer’s of the officers of CBI, who are investigating the cases referred by the Lokpal.
Action to be taken:
- The Act gives the provisions to attach and confiscate the property that has been acquired by corrupt means even in the case that the prosecution of the case remains pending.
- Clear time lines for preliminary enquiry and trial has been laid in the Act. The deadline is of three months to CBI for completing a preliminary inquiry, six months for a detailed probe and settling the cases within a year. It also mentions setting-up of special courts towards the end of the trial.
- It mentions that a mandate for setting up the Lokayukta institution through enactment of a law by the State Legislature within 365 days from the date on which the Act was commenced.
Although that is a lot to digest, it is pretty simple. So now debate on how effective this Bill is.
POINTS IN FAVOUR:
Curb Corruption: The Lokpal Bill does what it is primarily meant to do, very well. It will bring a check on corruption from the lowest to the highest political authority. Even the Prime Minister of India has been brought under the purview of the Lokpal.
Fear of the Law: It will strengthen the power of the judiciary in India by inducing a fear for the law in the minds of all public servants. There will be special courts and advocates to handle the cases, so that they get resolved fast. Even if the prosecution of the case is pending, all corrupt property will be confiscated. Considering the money involved is in thousands of crores according to the recent Scams, Lokpal Bill makes sure the taxpayers money doesn’t fall into corrupt hands, but is utilized in the nation’s development.
Address govt. influence over CBI: The Lokpal has been given direct superintendence over any investigation. Also, no transfer of CBI Officer on the case is allowed without Lokpal’s approval. There is also a provision of selection of Director of CBI in the Act. All these measures reduce govt. influence over CBI.
Selection of Lokpal: The strategic selection mechanism for the Lokpal and his Panel makes sure that the right persons are selected for this highly challenging and responsible position. This makes the Act full proof against corruption amongst its own drivers.
A stepping stone: The Lokpal law introduces a modicum of accountability in the government sector and can be seen as a stepping stone in re-establishing faith on the government procedures for the common man. In a maturing, post-reform economy like India, which is struggling to cope with problems of development and inequality, it is an idea whose time has come and things can only get better from here. Former Army Chief General V K Singh had said “If a person is naked, he should at least get undergarments, a three-piece suit can follow.”
Protect the corrupt : The biggest flaw in the Bill is the Selection of the Lokpal and its members. Majority of those who will select Lokpal will be from the political class who will have a vested interest in a weak Lokpal. If the Lokpal is weak, there is no question of curbing corruption. It’s another way of protecting the corrupt, as per politician’s convenience.
Lokpal’s removal : According to the Bill, Only the government or 100 MPs can complain to SC if this are satisfied with the Lokpal’s performance. Why have a Lokpal to punish the political class if its removal is in the hands of the same political class. Rather, any citizen should be allowed to complain and seek any Lokpal member’s removal.
Suspicious Exclusions: The Bill excludes Judiciary. Can’t the judges in the courts be corrupt? They are also public servants and should be under the purview of this Bill. Also, any decision of Lokpal to initiate preliminary inquiry or investigation against the PM shall be taken only by the Full Bench with a “2/3rdmajority”. This 2/3rd majority is of the political class itself. Why will they opt to go against the PM?
No whistleblower provision: The “Whistleblower” is defined as any person who faces threat of physical harm or professional harm like illegitimate transfers, denial of promotions, denial of appropriate perks, departmental proceedings, discrimination or is actually subjected to harm for making a complaint to Lokpal under this Act or for filing an application under RTI. If they are not protected, there will be no complaints in fear of such consequences.
Appointment of Lokayuktas: Lokayukta should have been created in the states along the same lines as the one at the Centre. However, this Bill puts this responsibility on the States. States will have absolute freedom in determining the nature and type of the institution of Lokayukta. How is that any different from the State Vigilance Committees, we have today. For example: The Chief Minister of Punjab is the Minister in charge of Vigilance Department of Punjab. Interestingly, the same vigilance department is also investigating charges of corruption against himself and his family and is prosecuting them. Can we expect such department to do any honest investigations or prosecution?
Punishment for false or frivolous complaints: Clause 46 of the Bill provides for a punishment with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with a fine which may extend to Rs. 1 lakh in case a complaint is found to be false and frivolous or vexatious. Isn’t this a way to instill a fear in the mind of the complainant?
There are several deficiencies in our anti-corruption systems because of which despite overwhelming evidence against the corrupt, no honest investigation and prosecution takes place and the corrupt are hardly punished. Our anti-corruption agencies have basic structural deficiencies because of which they are incapable of doing any honest investigations. So with this regards as well as with the increase in the levels of corruption in the political class, such a Bill is welcome and comes as a relief to Indians.However, there are some unaccounted areas in the Bill, without which the whole intention of rooting out corruption from public offices might just seem to be an eyewash. The purpose of the legislation and struggle that led up to it would be defeated if the real motivation behind the new thrust were to be the 2014 general election and the propaganda mileage associated with it.
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