Lokpal: Not an Effective Tool against Corruption

Introduction

The Indian Lokpal borrowed its fundamental tenant from the practice of the office of Ombudsman, embodied in Scandinavia, where it has played a valuable role in checking corruption and wrongdoing since its establishment in 1809. Encouraged by thesuccess of Ombudsman in Sweden, many democratic-republican countries established similar organizations as a means to inhibit the corrupt practices of the Government officials and functionaries. India envisaged Lokpal on the lines of Ombudsman. Ombudsman is an indigenous Danish, Norwegian and Swedish term, which is etymologically rooted in the old Norse word Umboðsmaðr,meaning representative or a public official who acts as an impartial intermediary between the public and Government, bureaucracy, or an employee of an organization who mediates disputes between employees andmanagement.

The Ombudsman acts as a watchdog of the Government. It has the powers and functions to investigate and resolve complaints by citizens against the acts of corruption by Government officials. In modern times, the office of the Ombudsman comes within the framework of the Government but with a certain degree of independence.

The Indian model of the Ombudsman, i.e. Lokpal is a forum where the citizens can complain against a public official, which would then be inquired into and the citizen would be provided with some redressal.

History of Lokpal Bill

“In 1968, Mrs. Indira Gandhi had proposed Lokpal bill in Parliament. But, dissolution of Lok Sabha had not given chance to the bill to fructify. There were total of ten attempts in 42 years, but the bill did not become a law. There were two attempts by Mrs. Indira Gandhi to bring this bill into law in 1968 and 1971. They met failures due to the dissolution of Lok Sabha twice. In 1977, there was an attempt by Morarji Desai to fructify the law which failed due to the dissolution of Lok Sabha”.[1]

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“Rajiv Gandhi had taken initiative for this bill in 1985. Again, the same issue of dissolution haunted. In 1989, V.P. Singh had proposed the bill but later took it back. In 1996, Dev Gowda’s Government had taken up the issue and did not decide until the dissolution of Lok Sabha. In 1998 and 2001, A.B. Vajpayee had taken the issue of Lokpal, but the situation did not change. There were two attempts by Congress Government in 2005 and 2008”.[2]

To bring to the attention of the Government there was a requirement of the enactment of Jan Lokpal Bill, as a result, a focused campaign started in the form of India Against Corruption (IAC) movement. Anna Hazare was heading the core members of the civil society and the IAC movement. Being a foreground for Jan Lokpal campaign, IAC has also set up a website, ‘www.indiaagainstcorruption.org’ to encourage suggestions and objections from citizens across India.

Through these collaborative efforts until August 2011, IAC was able to upload the 23rd version of Jan Lok Pal Bill draft. In 2011, during the Parliament’s Winter Session, the Lok Sabha passed controversial Lok Pal Bill, but it was later turned down in the Rajya Sabha.

On 21 May 2012, it was referred to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha for consideration. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on the 17th of December 2013, after making certain amendments to the earlier Bill and in the Lok Sabha, the next day. It received assent from the then President, Pranab Mukherjee on the 1st of January 2014 and came into force since the 16th of January 2014.

Features of Lokpal

  • The office of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas deals with charges of corruption against any public official and includes the office of the prime minister of the court but with reasonable safeguards.
  • Lokpal hasauthorityat the Centre to try cases of corruption against all the Members of Parliament and Central Government employees.
  • The Lokayuktas have similar functions, at a state level.
  • Both the Lokpal and the Lokayukta deal with charges of corruption against the Government and its employees, in fact, they even conduct investigations and based on the findings from such investigations they conduct trials.
  • The act lays down the provision to set up a Lokayukta and its set of powers for each state without clearly defining the extent of the same, this has led to various Lokayuktas being set up, some with more power than the others. To create uniformity a proposal to implement the Lokayukta uniformly across Indian states has been made.
  • The Act provides that all states shall set up an office of the Lokpal and/or Lokayukta within one year from the commencement of the said Act.
  • Lokpal shall consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members, of which 50% will be judicial members 50% members of Lokpal shall be from SC/ST/OBCs, minorities and women.
  • All public officials should furnish the assets and liabilities of themselves as well as their respective dependents.
  • The Act guarantees protection to any Government official who acts as a whistleblower.
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Powers of Lokpal

  • During the investigation of cases that fall within the ambit of Lokpal, it can exercise the power of superintendence and direction over any investigating agency.
  • Lokpal has the authority to call for and/or question any Government official if it is satisfied that there exists a prima facie case against that person.
  • The Act empowers the Lokpal and Lokayuktas to confiscate and attach any property of any Government official which he/she has come to own through corrupt practices and during the pendency of proceedings against the said official.
  • Any CBI officer investigating a case referred to him/her by the Lokpal, cannot be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.
  • Only a maximum of six months to complete the investigations and proceedings of any complaint is available. However, there is an extension for a further period of six months, provided the Lokpal or Lokayukta is satisfied with the reasons for such delay.
  • Institution of special courts to conduct trials on cases referred by Lokpal. This provision has been enacted to reduce the pressure from the judiciary and to provide a fast remedy to the victim.
  • After completion of proceedings, if it is found that the person who complained has done so with a malafide intention, such a person can be fined by the Lokpal for up to a sum of Rs.2,00,000/-.
  • The Honorable Supreme Court allowed the other members of the selection committee to appoint a Lokpal, in the absence a leader of the opposition.

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[1] Shubham Srivastava, History of Lokpal Bill, Lokpal Bill History and Criticism, https://www.academia.edu/32138554/Lokpal_Bill_History_and_Criticism

[2] Ibid.

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