When a bill that has eluded a political consensus for decades comes close to actual enactment, cynicism must give way to pragmatism and hope. The Lokpal Bill, passed in the Lok Sabha in an earlier form two years ago but now amended on the basis of the report of a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha, is likely to be approved soon by the Upper House and sent back to the lower chamber for fresh passage. The Union government has dropped the provisions relating to establishing Lok Ayuktas at the State level. Instead, the Bill says States should put in place their own institutions within one year. A composite law may be preferable from the people’s point of view, but the concession is in deference to the need to federalise the anti-corruption domain. Contrary to what its critics say, the bill cannot be dismissed as weak; nor can it be seriously contended that the Lokpal does not have an independent investigative mechanism. The Central Bureau of Investigation has been placed at the disposal of the Lokpal, which will have superintendence over that agency in cases under its consideration. The need for sanction from the respective governments to initiate prosecution has been waived for cases cleared by the Lokpal. The CBI Director’s appointment will be on the basis of a statutory process, and the Lokpal will have its own inquiry and prosecution wings.
A significant factor that informs the urgency shown by the political class in putting in place the anti-graft institution is the perception highlighted by the results of the Delhi Assembly election that large sections of society are disillusioned with mainstream parties that are seen as tolerant of corruption. The crusade for such a law initiated by Anna Hazare, along with the success of the Aam Aadmi Party based on the campaign for a Lokpal, has made fresh legislation unavoidable. The development is unlikely to end the debate over the adequacy, independence and effectiveness of the anti-graft institution the new law will put in place, but it will certainly be a milestone in the quest for an institutional mechanism to combat corruption. Voices of criticism on the inadequacies of the new law, some of them suspiciously raised on the eve of its passage, should not deter the two major political parties from closing ranks to get the Lokpal Bill passed in both Houses. However, the mere enactment of this Bill is not enough. The amendment to the Constitution needed to confer constitutional status to the Lokpal and Lok Ayuktas also needs to be passed. And so does the proposed law on the right of citizens to time-bound delivery of goods and services and to have their grievances redressed. Only this will fulfil the need for a strong institutional framework to curb corruption.