I said in one of my previous article on the Lokpal Bill, that this is the topic of the year. I still stand by what I said. And as the days are progressing and with what is happening in Indian politics, it is becoming seemingly important to know all that is there to this Bill, a Bill that took 46 years and 8 failed attempts before finally being passed.
As soon as the Lokpal Bill was passed, the AAM AADMI PARTY supremo Aravind Kejriwal termed this Bill as “farcical Jokepal bill”. His reasons were that the government’s Bill and the Jan Lokpal Bill do not match up even at the most fundamental aspects of what was promised. He went ahead to declare that the Jan Lokpal Bill, for which the entire nation had marched to the streets during the “India Against Corruption” movement, would be passed in his state, Delhi. Now due to this reason or that, the Jan Lokpal Bill could not be tabled in the Delhi cabinet on Feb 14, 2014. So what is this Jan Lokpal Bill that was considered so important by the newly elected CM to root out corruption, that a mere political hurdle to its passage led him to resign from the post of Chief Minister of Delhi?
Let’s here point out the major differences between the Lokpal Bill passed by the Parliament and the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLP):
Jurisdiction of the Bill: Both bills include ministers, MPs for any action outside Parliament, and Group A officers (and equivalent) of the government. The government Bill includes the Prime Minister after he demits office whereas the JLP includes a sitting Prime Minister as well. The JLP includes any act of an MP in respect of a speech or vote in Parliament (which is now protected by Article 105 of the Constitution). The JLP includes judges; the government Bill excludes them. The JLP includes all government officials, while the government Bill does not include junior (below Group A) officials. The government Bill also includes officers of NGOs who receive government funds or any funds from the public; JLP does not cover NGOs.
Composition of Lokpal: The government Bill has a chairperson and up to 8 members; at least half the members must have a judicial background. The JLP has a chairperson and 10 members, of which 4 have a judicial background.
Selection of Lokpal: The JLP has a two stage process. A search committee will shortlist potential candidates. The search committee will have 10 members; five of these would have retired as Chief Justice of India, Chief Election Commissioner or Comptroller and Auditor General; they will select the other five from civil society. The Lokpal chairperson and members will be selected from this shortlist by a selection committee. The selection committee consists of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, two Supreme Court judges, two high court chief justices, the Chief Election Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor General and all previous Lokpal chairpersons.
The government Bill has a simpler process. The selection will be made by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the leaders of Opposition in both Houses of Parliament, a Supreme Court judge, a high court chief justice, an eminent jurist and an eminent person in public life. The selection committee may, at its discretion, appoint a search committee to shortlist candidates.
Qualification of Lokpal Members: The JLP requires a judicial member to have held judicial office for 10 years or been a high court or Supreme Court advocate for 15 years. The government Bill requires the judicial member to be a Supreme Court judge or a high court chief justice. For other members, the government Bill requires at least 25 years of experience in anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance or finance. The JLP has a lower age limit of 45 years, and disqualifies anyone who has been in government service in the previous two years.
Removal of Lokpal: The government Bill permits the president to make a reference to the Supreme Court for an inquiry, followed by removal if the member is found to be biased or corrupt. The reference may be made by the president (a) on his own, (b) on a petition signed by 100 MPs or (c) on a petition by a citizen if the President is then satisfied that it should be referred. The President may also remove any member for insolvency, infirmity of mind or body, or engaging in paid employment.
The JLP has a different process. The process starts with a complaint by any person to the Supreme Court. If the court finds misbehaviour, infirmity of mind or body, insolvency or paid employment, it may recommend his removal to the President.
Whistle-Blower Protection: A“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 Right to Information Act.
The government Bill deals only with offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. There is no whistleblower provision. The JLP, in addition, includes offences by public servants under the Indian Penal Code and victimization of whistleblowers. The Lokpal has the power to take necessary action to provide protection to a whistleblower as per various provisions of this Act.
Lokayukta Selection: According to the government bill, a body called “Lokayukta” will be established in every State through the enactment of a law by the State legislatures within a period of 365 days from the date of commencement of this Act. States to have absolute freedom in determining the nature and type of the institution of Lokayukta. The Jan Lokpal bill, however, sought to create a Lokayukta along the same lines as the one at the Centre.
Punishment for false or frivolous complaints: Clause 46 of the government Bill provides for a punishment with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with a fine which may extend to Rs1 lakh in case a complaint is found to be false and frivolous or vexatious. The JLB seeks fines on complainants but no imprisonment. Lokpal would decide whether a complaint is frivolous or vexatious or false.
Citizen’s Charter: Similar to the whistleblower protection, there is no mention of Citizen’s Charter in the government version of the Bill.
The JLB has a lot to say on this:
Each public authority shall be responsible for ensuring the preparation and implementation of Citizen’s Charter, within a reasonable time, and not exceeding one year from this Act coming into force. Each Citizen’s Charter shall enumerate the commitments of the respective public authority to the citizens, officer responsible for meeting each such commitment and the time limit within which the commitment shall be met. Each public authority shall designate an official called Public Grievance Redressal Officer, whom a complainant should approach for any violation of the Citizen’s Charter. It shall be the duty of the Grievance Redressal Officer to get the grievance redressed within a period of 30 days from the receipt of the complaint. In the event of even the Grievance Redressal Officer not getting the grievance redressed within the specific period of 30 days a complaint could be made to the Lokpal. The Lokpal after hearing the Grievance Redressal Officer would impose suitable penalty not exceeding Rs 500/- for each day’s delay but not exceeding Rs. 50,000/- to be recovered from the salaries of the Grievance Redressal Officer. Apart from levying the penalty on the Grievance Redressal Officer, the Lokpal may also in suitable cases recommend to the appropriate authority to have departmental punishment imposed on the Grievance Redressal Officer.
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) : Under the government Bill, The CBI shall have a separate Directorate of Prosecution under a Director, who shall function under Director of CBI. The Director of CBI shall be the head of the entire Organisation. Director of CBI will be appointed by a collegium comprising of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India. Director of Prosecution will be appointed on the recommendation of the CVC. Director of Prosecution and Director of CBI shall have a fixed term of two years. Power of superintendence and direction of the CBI in relation to Lokpal referred cases must vest with the Lokpal. Officers of CBI investigating cases referred by Lokpal will be transferred with the approval of Lokpal.
Under the Jan Lokpal Bill, the anti-corruption branch of the CBI will be merged into Lokpal which will have complete power authority to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician. This way CBI will be brought under the administrative control of the Lokpal, so that the investigating machinery can be made independent of the government.
It is very clear from the above discussions that the government version of the bill is not complete and definitely not what was expected by Arvind Kejriwal. But after so many years, it’s seen by many as a start and obviously will be improved with experience and implementation. The Jan Lokpal Bill has many points in its favour like the Citizens Charter and Whistleblower protection. All in all, the JLB looks good on paper than the Bill passed by the government. And it would be fruitful if some good aspects of the JLB are included in the law with the course of time.
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