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The long wait for a Lokpal

The first Lokpal Bill drafting committee meeting in progress. The chairperson of the drafting committee responded with alacrity, sensing an opportunity to let the government have its way by claiming divisions in civil society. File Photo

The first Lokpal Bill drafting committee meeting in progress. The chairperson of the drafting committee responded with alacrity, sensing an opportunity to let the government have its way by claiming divisions in civil society. File Photo   | Photo Credit: S. Subramanium

The idea of an anti-corruption body and an ombudsman to look into corruption allegations against administrators, including legislators, has been floating around for over five decades now. It finally got shape with the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, in Lok Sabha on December 18, 2013, but only after a nationwide protest led by India Against Corruption, a civil society movement of activist Anna Hazare.

What is the Lokpal Bill?

Though a Bill to set-up an anti-corruption body was put forth as many as eight times between 1968 and 2011, the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, stands as the base for the Lokpal Act in the present form. A Group of Ministers chaired by Pranab Mukherjee proposed this Bill, to which the Standing Committee made substantial modifications. The modified Bill, called as Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, was passed by the Parliament with the support of all major political parties, barring the Samajwadi party, making it the Lokpal Act of 2013.

  • 1963: The idea of an ombudsman first came up in parliament during a discussion on budget allocation for the Law Ministry.
  • 1966: The First Administrative Reforms Commission recommended the setting up of two independent authorities- at the central and state level, to look into complaints against public functionaries, including MPs.
  • 1968: The Lokpal Bill was introduced in parliament but was not passed. Eight attempts were made till 2011 to pass the Bill, but in vain.
  • 2002: The Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by M.N. Venkatachiliah recommended the appointment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas; also recommended that the PM be kept out of the ambit of the authority.
  • 2005: The second Administrative Reforms Commission chaired by Veerappa Moily recommended that office of Lokpal be established without delay.
  • 2011: The government formed a Group of Ministers, chaired by Pranab Mukherjee to suggest measures to tackle corruption and examine the proposal of a Lokpal Bill.
  • 2013: Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, was passed in both Houses of Parliament.
  • 2016: Lok Sabha agreed to amend the Lokpal Act and Bill was sent to Standing Committee for review.

What are its salient features?

The Act allows setting up of anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta at the State-level. The Lokpal will consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members. The Lokpal will cover all categories of public servants, including the Prime Minister. But the armed forces do not come under the ambit of Lokpal. The Act also incorporates provisions for attachment and confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means, even while the prosecution is pending. The States will have to institute Lokayukta within one year of the commencement of the Act.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/salient-features-of-lokpal-lokayuktas-bill/article5474256.ece

It has been made mandatory for public servants to declare their assets and liabilities along with that of their spouse and dependent children. The Act also ensures that public servants who act as whistleblowers are protected. A separate Whistle Blowers Protection Act was passed for this purpose.

What are the powers of Lokpal?

The Lokpal will have the power of superintendence and direction over any investigation agency including CBI for cases referred to them by the ombudsman.

As per the Act, the Lokpal can summon or question any public servant if there exists a prima facie case against the person, even before an investigation agency (such as vigilance or CBI) has begun the probe. Any officer of the CBI investigating a case referred to it by the Lokpal, shall not be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.

An investigation must be completed within six months. However, the Lokpal or Lokayukta may allow extensions of six months at a time provided the reasons for the need of such extensions are given in writing.

 

Special courts will be instituted to conduct trials on cases referred by Lokpal.

The Lokpal can award fine up to Rs. 2 lakh for “false, frivolous or vexatious” complaints.

Who appoints the Lokpal?

A five-member panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist nominated by the President, selects the Lokpal.

So why is there no Lokpal yet?

The current Lok Sabha does not have a Leader of Opposition to sit on the selection panel. For an opposition party to get the Leader of the Opposition post, it should have a strength of at least 10% of the total members in the House and none of the parties managed to cross this mark. This unique situation called for an amendment to the existing Lokpal Act to change the Leader of Opposition to Leader of the largest Opposition party.

While the amendment was moved and the Standing Committee approved it, it is yet to be tabled in the Parliament. With the next Parliament session expected to begin in July, the Lokpal is unlikely to see the light till then.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 9:32:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-lokpal-bill/article18254568.ece

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