Fundamentally flawed

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:56 pm IST

Published - December 31, 2011 01:42 am IST

That the United Progressive Alliance regime was not serious about getting Parliament to legislate into existence a strong and effective anti-corruption ombudsman became clear amidst the sound and fury that marked the proceedings relating to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 in both houses of Parliament. The defeat of the Constitution (116th Amendment) Bill, which was politically sponsored by Congress general-secretary Rahul Gandhi, seemed to be a real debacle brought on by miscalculation compounded by inept floor management in the Lok Sabha. Whether the midnight collapse of the government's efforts in the Rajya Sabha was contrived or beyond the control of its floor management team need not concern us here. Suffice it to note that the legislation that made it through the Lok Sabha is fundamentally flawed. It was heartening to see that public opinion, however sceptical, displayed reasonableness and democratic spirit in giving the elected representatives of the people every chance to get the Lokpal Bill right; that might help explain, at least in part, why the Anna Hazare-led movement failed to evoke an enthusiastic popular response in this round.

One does not have to agree with every demand made by Team Anna to recognise that the thrust of its anti-corruption campaign is sound and radical, given the Indian context. And whatever one thinks of the political agenda of the Opposition players, it must be recognised that they did well, in the parliamentary debates, to highlight three vital respects in which the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 fell unacceptably short. The first issue is selection of the Lokpal: it is clear that Section 4, which provides for a five-member Selection Committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge nominated by him or her, and “one eminent jurist nominated by the President,” gives the government political control of the selection process. The second issue is the scheme of separation of the power to inquire into, investigate, and prosecute alleged offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Under this scheme, the Lokpal is studiedly denied any investigative mechanism or role. The full import of this fix becomes clear when we come to the third issue — the political control the government will retain over the Central Bureau of Investigation. Encroaching on the constitutional jurisdiction of States is a serious matter; among other things, it contributed to the legislative debacle in the Rajya Sabha by isolating the Congress from some of its key UPA allies. But then in the amended Bill, State legislatures have been given an option on constituting Lokayuktas as set out by Parliament, and it is quite conceivable that Part III of the Bill, which provides for Lokayuktas, will be deleted. But unless the three fatal faults are surgically corrected, this legislative exercise is bound to go the way of the previous ten Lokpal Bills, which, under one excuse or another, never became law.

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