“Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law”
Recently there has been a lot of furore regarding the Lokpal Bill 2010 which is to be proposed by the government to curb corruption which has hit the incumbent government big time. Social activists such as Anna Hazare, KiranBedi, SriSri Ravi Shankar have even gone to the extent of terming it as a mere ‘eyewash’. Let’s see what this is really all about.
‘Lokpal’ or the ‘Ombudsman’ is a term of Scandinavian origin, meaning a ‘representative’ and in the Indian context they are the watchdogs of banking, insurance sectors and public bodies. Setup in 1968 on the recommendation of the Santhanam Committee, it is a 2-tier body, with a Lokpal at the Centre and a Lokayukta at the State. Yet the post could never be given a statutory authority by the Centre despite it being introduced in the house for a record 9 times, each time being referred to some committee or the other for improvements thus leading to a 42-year long wait.
The current proposed bill drafted by the government is just a ‘Paper Tiger’. As can be seen from the provisions of the proposed bill:
1. The Lokpal will not have the power to initiate any action‘suomotu’ in any case or even receive complaints of corruption from public.
2. Lokpal will be an advisory body, which will only forward its enquiry report to the competent authority for action.
3. Lokpal will not have any police powers and it will not be able to register an FIR.
4. Lokpal won’t have powers to investigate any case against PM, which deals with foreign affairs, security and defence.
5. Lokpal will not have jurisdiction over bureaucrats and government officers.
Corruption in various segments of public life is eating into the vitals of our nation. India has slipped from 84th to 87th position on the global corruption perception index. As a result, we have 1 lakh billionaires and 8.7 crore below-poverty-line families (about 40 crore people).
A Raja, former telecommunications minister in the UPA government, is alleged to have deprived the exchequer of Rs1.76 lakh crore. The key players in the Commonwealth Games scandal also belong to the ruling Congress.
Former chief justice of the Delhi high court and rights activist RajinderSachar, even said that the Lokpal Bill is “shamefully toothless and meant just to give a false reassurance to the people that the government is serious in its fight against corruption”.
Corruption currently is dealt by the CVC which only deals with disciplinary proceedings aspect of corruption and CBI on the other hand deals with the criminal aspect of the case. This system is full of gaping holes as it does not have adequate resources commensurate with the large number of complaints that it receives. CVC is a very small set up with staff strength less than 200. It is supposed to check corruption in more than 1500 central government departments and ministries, some of them being as big as Central Excise, Railways, and Income Tax etc. Therefore, it has to depend on the vigilance wings of respective departments and forwards most of the complaints for inquiry and report to them. While it monitors the progress of these complaints, there is delay and the complainants are often disturbed by this. It directly enquires into a few complaints on its own, especially when it suspects motivated delays or where senior officials could be implicated. But given the constraints of manpower, such number is really small. CBI is overburdened and does not accept cases even where amount of defalcation is alleged to be around Rs 1 crore. CBI is directly under the administrative control of Central Government. So, if a complaint pertains to any minister or politician who is part of a ruling coalition or a bureaucrat who is close to them, CBI’s credibility has suffered and there is increasing public perception that it cannot do a fair investigation and that it is influenced to scuttle these cases. Again, because CBI is directly under the control of Central Government, CBI is perceived to have been often used to settle scores against inconvenient politicians.
Why the Jan Lokpal Bill scores over the current Lokpal Bill and Anna Hazare scores over the government?
The Jan Lokpal Bill proposes features as:
1. An institution called LOKPAL at the centre and LOKAYUKTA in each state will be set up.
2. Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations.
3. Cases against corrupt people will not linger on for years anymore: Investigations in any case will have to be completed in one year. Trial should be completed in next one year so that the corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years.
4. The loss that a corrupt person caused to the government will be recovered at the time of conviction.
5. How will it help a common citizen: If any work of any citizen is not done in prescribed time in any government office, Lokpal will impose financial penalty on guilty officers, which will be given as compensation to the complainant.
6. So, you could approach Lokpal if your ration card or passport or voter card is not being made or if police is not registering your case or any other work is not being done in prescribed time. Lokpal will have to get it done in a month’s time. You could also report any case of corruption to Lokpal like ration being siphoned off, poor quality roads been constructed or panchayat funds being siphoned off. Lokpal will have to complete its investigations in a year, trial will be over in next one year and the guilty will go to jail within two years.
7. But won’t the government appoint corrupt and weak people as Lokpal members? That won’t be possible because its members will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by politicians, through a completely transparent and participatory process.
8. What if some officer in Lokpal becomes corrupt? The entire functioning of Lokpal/ Lokayukta will be completely transparent. Any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months.
9. What will happen to existing anti-corruption agencies? CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI will be merged into Lokpal. Lokpal will have complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician.
10. It will be the duty of the Lokpal to provide protection to those who are being victimized for raising their voice against corruption.
Student, RMLNLU Lucknow
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]