Updated: Oct 28, 2021
There exists a famous saying “Hitting an axe on your own leg” which is exceedingly befitting to the act. Procured from the classical language of Sanskrit, Lokpal is an amalgamation of ‘lok’ meaning people, and ‘Pala’ meaning protector together inferring as the protector of the people essentially from the corrupt activities of the politicians (Pundir, 2019). This act, although passed in the previous decade, deals with issues that persist in India for centuries. Chanakya rightfully expounded “whether one wishes or not, honey or poison kept on tongue gets tasted eventually”. Lokpal is fundamentally an ombudsman chiefly appointed by the government that registers complaints against the public servants for their dishonesty and falsification (Government of India, 2014). The Lokpal bill was passed in Lok Sabha on December 18, 2013, and accepted as an act under The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013. This bill initiates the setting up of the ombudsman in both the nation’s center and the states.
History of Lokpal Bill.
Albeit the Lokpal bill became an act in 2013 , it was proposed a lot earlier. The idea of Lokpal dates back to 1963. When the law ministry was scrutinizing the budget allocation for that fiscal year. It was in the same year that L.M. Sanghvi who was a Rajya Sabha member and a jurist coined the term Lokpal, i.e., the people’s protector. In 1966, the premiere administrative commission emphasized on setting up of two bodies at the central and the state level to look after the malpractices of the politicians. Bearing in mind the importance of the institution, the first form of the bill was introduced in the parliament in 1968 under the then Law Minister, Mr. Shanti Bhushan (Rajan, 2018). It failed to get any form of majority in the parliament, the rationale behind which was quite simple; this bill was perceived as a possible threat to the then sitting parliamentarians. This was, however, not the last time the bill was instigated in the parliament till 2013.
The same bill was reintroduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, and 2001. It was finally in 2002 when the constitution reviewing commission headed by M.N. Venkatachiliah demanded the appointment of Lokpal and Lokayakutas in center and states respectively. In 2005 the chair of the second administrative commission advocated a speedy setting up of Lokpal at the earliest. Under the presidency of Dr. Pranab Mukherjee, the matter of corruption was considered of grave importance.
The Revolution Led by Anna Hazare.
A large portion of the formulation of the bill can be credited to an 83 year old man who was determined to push the government to formulate rigid anti-corruption laws. He is recognized as Anna Hazare. Following the path of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent movement, he decided to fast until the government regulates a bill that remained elusive for the past five decades. This led to something very unusual. Anna Hazare’s representatives were called to have a discussion on the bill. Thus, this was the first time in India that the people outside the legislature had to assist in drafting a legislation. The ‘Sense of the House Motion’ was passed in the house which asseverated the parliament’s and the mass support to the bill. This led to the devising of the official Lokpal bill in 2013.
Passing of the Bill.
The journey of the Lokpal bill to an act can be evaluated under the following spatial sections (After the protests) (Parliament of India, 2015).
1. 4th August 2011 – New Lokpal bill was introduced.
2. 9th December 2011 – This bill was withdrawn.
3. 22nd December 2011 – The Lokpal and Lokayukta bill was again presented in the Lok
4. 27th December 2011 – The bill was passed by the lower house with certain amendments.
5. 29th December 2011 – The bill finally swayed to the Rajya Sabha but the residual was inconclusive.
6. 21st May 2012 – The bill was passed on to the select committee of the Rajya Sabha.
7. 23rd November 2012 – The select committee furnished the bill in the Rajya Sabha and after ensuing hours of debates, the government accepted 14 out of 16 recommendations made in the bill. Thereafter on the same day, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill 2011 was proffered and amended.
8. 17th December 2012 – The Bill was swimmingly passed by the Rajya Sabha with certain amendments and instantaneously sent back to The Lok Sabha for the final approval.
9. 18th December 2012 – The Lok Sabha acknowledged the amendments by the upper house and passed on the same day and was declared as an act.
Significance of the Bill.
a. Most of the committees that existed prior to the Lokpal did not function independently and were supposed to report to the same set of officers who themselves were involved in corrupt activities.
b. The level of punishments Lokpal can formulate seemed foreign to the bodies such as The CBI, state vigilance departments, Anti-corruption department of the state police, etc. These institutions were powerless per se as they could only impose penalties and prosecute the corrupt officials to the court which was quite easy to dodge.
c. The loopholes of such organizations were cherished and rarely anyone was put behind the bars (or for a maximum of 7 years).
d. India’s low strata ranking in the global corruption index complimentary to the aggravating corruption cases was worrying.
e. The in-transparency and weak heads of CBI and vigilance departments had birthed internal conflicts and corruption.
f. Citizens often faced harassment in government offices as they were forced to pay bribes.
Powers of the Lokpal Bill.
This statutory body consists of 8 members made up of one chairperson and the rest sitting members. The tenure of the chairperson and of the members is 5 years or till the attaining age of 70 (Government repository, 2015)
a. Under the prevention of corruption act of 1988, if Lokpal gets a complaint, the investigation can commence. They can instigate the Prime Minister, current or former ministers of the parliament, and any equivalent public officer. If proven guilty disciplinary actions can be taken by the government. However, fines of up to 2 lakh rupees are applicable for fake complaints.
b. Lokpal has the power to direct any investigation agency in India including the CBI and also has the authority to question the suspect before any investigating institution.
c. Extension of the apt duration necessary to solve an investigation is also granted to this institution.
d. Lokpal is also vested with the capabilities of a civil court and also has the mastery to confiscate all the saleable assets of the corrupt public servant.
e. The bill gives the power to formulate life imprisonment if proven guilty.
f. This institution is much more stable as it is more transparent compared to the previous institutions, and all of this is due to its autonomous authority.
Lokayuktas for the States.
The three membered body consists of selected representatives by the governor. The Lokayukta must be the judge of a Supreme Court or the High Court. The rest of the members include the State Vigilance Commissioner, and the Jurist.
Almost all the states have the authority to constitute a body that deals with the complaints of corruption against any public servants at the state level (under section 63 of the Lokpal and Lokayukta act 2013). All the committee members must be employees of the state government or members of the legislative assembly. This institution holds similar powers as the Lokpal but they work at the micro level and they report to the Lokpal.
Corruption petitions in The Supreme Court value up to 300 lakh crore rupees and the total speculative amount of money in the foreign banks remains unknown. A compact initiative to improve this must be encouraged by all the members of the nation. While approaching the bill certain aspects cannot go unnoticed. After a series of debates, the Prime Minister has been brought under the umbrella of its jurisdiction, but it has no provisions to involve the judiciary in the act. Many judges have been removed from their post for corrupt activities but many still remain, which is also one of the reasons behind over 4 crore pending cases in India. There are also no provisions to conduct an inquiry within the institution of Lokpal itself. Adding to that the initial responsibility to set up Lokayukta in every state was not fulfilled as many states don’t have an established Lokayukta. Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose’s statement on the pendency and denial of the cases are appalling. He expounded that over 1,100 complaints have been scrapped by the Lokpal just because it was not under their jurisdiction and they didn’t have proper resources to deal with those cases. A lot of high profile cases have been pushed under the carpet by these institutions in the recent past which is concerning. If all of these loopholes are solved and the officers inquire more diligently, corruption free India is not a farfetched dream.