It seeks to “deal with complaints of corruption in high places”

Ignoring the face-off with civil society members, the Union government has decided to introduce the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. The Bill, which seeks to “deal with complaints of corruption in high places,” was approved by the Cabinet last week.

The Bill provides for the setting up the institution of Lokpal to probe allegations of corruption against “certain public functionaries.” However, it seeks to keep outside its purview the office of Prime Minister during his term as also the higher judiciary and conduct of MPs inside Parliament.

It does not provide for constitution of Lokayuktas in States. It is silent on the demand of the civil society to provide for a strong public grievance mechanism with penalties for corrupt employees and bringing lower bureaucracy in its ambit.

“Sarkari Bill”

Reacting, lawyer and civil society member of the Lokpal Bill joint drafting committee Prashant Bhushan termed the government legislation a “sarkari Bill” designed to deter complaints.

The Bill envisages a recommendatory role for the Lokpal, i.e. after establishing the commission of an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the Lokpal shall refer the matter to a “competent authority” for action. The “competent authority” is Prime Minister in the case of a Minister, the Speaker/Chairman for MPs and the Ministry/department concerned in the case of a government employee.

The Lokpal shall constitute a chairperson who is or has been a Chief Justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court and eight members, of whom 50 per cent shall be judicial members. The decisions of the Lokpal shall be by majority.

The Bill lays down that the chairperson and members shall be recommended by a selection committee comprising the Prime Minister (chairperson), Lok Sabha Speaker, Leaders of the Opposition in both Houses, a Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister, a sitting judge each from the Supreme Court and High Court, an eminent jurist and a person of eminence in public life, to be nominated by the Centre. The term of the Lokpal shall be five years.

The Bill provides for the Lokpal to constitute an investigation wing and a prosecution wing to probe and prosecute under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Till such time the wings are established the government will depute its officers.

It says that no sanction or approval shall be required for investigation and prosecution by the Lokpal under provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure or the Prevention of Corruption Act.

While providing for the setting up of special courts, the Bill confers on the Lokpal the power of search and seizures and certain powers of a civil court. It empowers the Lokpal to attach property which, prima facie, has been acquired by corrupt means and enjoins upon every public servant to declare his or her assets and liability.

It recommends strict prosecution with heavy penalties for those making false and frivolous complaints.

The Bill lays down a period of limitation of seven years from the date of commission of alleged corruption offence for filing complaints before the Lokpal.

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