The retired Supreme Court Judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose has been recently appointed as the first Lokpal of India. This article would dwell into the major milestones of the struggle behind the Lokpal in India. It will also analyse the causes for its non-establishment in spite of popular demand. The future implications of the establishment of Lokpal would also be discussed in detail.
The institution of ‘Lokpal’ has been modelled on the Swedish innovation of Ombudsman. The main task of Ombudsman would be to look into the complaints of corruption against the public officials and the elected representatives. The institution has been very successful in the Western nations, especially Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian countries. The stellar performance of these nations in the Corruption Perception Index released annually by the Transparency International is ample proof of the efficacy of Ombudsman; Denmark has topped this List for 2018. In India, the demand for Lokpal was first raised in the 1960s with the Union Law Minister Ashok Sen proposing it. The word ‘Lokpal’ (Indian word for the institution of Ombudsman) was coined by LM Singhvi in the year 1963. The First Administrative Reforms Committee Report in 1966 also mooted the institution of Lokpal with a two-tier structure at the Centre and State levels. It proposed that the Lokpal must be vested with the power to probe the corruption cases against officials and elected representatives as well. The Lokpal Bill was first introduced in the Parliament in 1968, but could not be passed. Since then, till the year 2011, the draft bills for the Lokpal were introduced 11 times in the Parliament, but none of these drafts could see the light of the day.
The poor levels of public accountability in India coupled with the rising cases of multi-billion rupees worth scams have led to the public demand for the establishment of Lokpal in recent years. Even the Committee to Review the working of the Constitution set up in the year 2002 recommended the Lokpal, but strangely advocated that the elected representatives be kept out of its purview. The Second Administrative Reforms Committee under the Chairmanship of Veerappa Moily also vouched for the immediate creation of Lokpal with two tiers- Lokpal at the national level and Lokayukta for the states.
- Anna Hazare Movement for Lokpal
There have been many attempts by the civil society to pressurise the government for the establishment of Lokpal in India. But the most proficient of these moves has been the Anna Hazare Movement of 2011. The movement under the banner of the organisation ‘India Against Corruption’ was launched in the backdrop of numerous scams of the UPA government headed by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The public was totally distraught with the 2G Spectrum Scam, Coal Gate Scandal, Commonwealth Games Scam, etc. The movement provided a way for the public to vent out their anger against the total absence of accountability of the officials and politicians. Thousands of citizens across all walks of life like students, housewives, professionals, senior citizens, etc. protested on the streets of capital Delhi in support of ‘Jan Lokpal’ Bill framed by the civil society. The entire nation reverberated the song ‘Pass Karo Lokpal’ in solidarity to the cause of the civil society activists. The hunger strike by the social activist Anna Hazare galvanised the public opinion for the Lokpal. The UPA government tried to placate Anna Hazare with false promises, but the veteran soldier did not waiver from the cause. Thus, a drafting committee was formed in 2013 with Anna Hazare to frame the Lokpal Bill. The bone of contention between the civil society and the government was whether the Prime Minister would be within the purview of Lokpal or not. Any law establishing the Lokpal in India which does not have the power to investigate the charges against the PM would be a ‘dead letter’ and it would also be a negation of the principle of the ‘Collective Responsibility’ enshrined in the Article 74 of the Constitution of India.
- Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013
The huge public pressure on the incumbent government in 2013 to pass the anti-corruption law culminated in the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013 by the Parliament. The Lokpal’s eligibility condition was that he should have been the Chief Justice of India or a Judge of the Supreme Court of India with an experience of more than 25 years of anti-corruption, law, public administration and finance. There should be a Chairman along with eight other members in the Lokpal, 50% of which must be from the judicial background. The members would be appointed by the President of India and would be given independence of office including staff and salary to not be varied to their disadvantage. There is also a provision that half of the members must be from SC/ST, OBCs, minorities and women. Thus, an attempt has been made to provide wide representation to the institution of Lokpal for public trust. The Prime Minister has been kept within the purview of the Lokpal, while the judiciary is outside it. The reason given for keeping the judiciary outside the jurisdiction of Lokpal has been to safeguard the independence of the judiciary which is enshrined under Article 50 of the Constitution of India. The similar provisions are also there for the institution of Lokayukta for the states. The states are free to make modifications to the model Lokayukta Acts which must be passed by their respective state legislatures in order to suit the conditions of their respective states.
- Lack of Political Will to create Lokpal
The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act was passed in the Parliament in 2013 after the Anna Hazare movement. Though the bill was passed by the legislature, the political will to implement the law was missing. The political apathy of the elected representatives towards any law aimed at increasing their public accountability could be gauged by the fact that none of the political parties had the creation of Lokpal on its agenda. It is queer that the ruling NDA dispensation under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi which came to power in 2014 riding on the wave of anti-corruption against the UPA did not establish the Lokpal for more than four and a half years of its rule. The present creation of Lokpal comes after the Supreme Court of India ordered the Union Government to speed up its efforts to implement the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013. Section 63 of the Act mandated the establishment of the Lokpal within one year of the passing of the Act, but the provision was been violated by the Modi government with impunity. It was only after the Apex Court’s direction that the institution of Lokpal could be established in India.
- Lokpal: The Road Ahead
The establishment of the Lokpal is indeed a major milestone in the quest for public accountability in India. With the Prime Minister in its purview, the Ombudsman is empowered to investigate the cases of corruption in the highest echelons of power. The establishment is also critical because India has been performing dismally on the Corruption Perception Index. It is pertinent to note that India’s rank on the Index dropped to 81st in 2018 from the 79th position in 2017 rankings. The present allegations of corruption in scams like PNB Nirav Modi case, Rafale Jet deal, etc. must be investigated by the Lokpal. We must also take a moment to thank millions of social activists especially Anna Hazare who struggled for years for their demand of Lokpal in India. The Lokpal is being touted as the biggest public reform legislation in Modern India after the Right to Information Act, 2005. Any law is only as good as its implementation. Thus, it is pivotal that the Lokpal is used as a weapon of offence against the corrupt public officials and elected representatives, and must not become a tool for delays in an investigation or political vendetta. It is hoped that the institution of Lokpal would be critical in increasing the public accountability in India and would help in fighting the menace of corruption by investigating the cases of corruption against the public officials and elected representatives.
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ET Online. (2019, February 6). In the Election Year, Government seeks applications for Lokpal, Members. The Economic Times. Retrieved from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/in-election-year-government-seeks-applications-for-lokpal-chief-members/articleshow/67870023.cms
Yadav, Shyamlal. (2019, January 21). Simply Put: A Search for Lokpal. The Indian Express. Retrieved from: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/lokpal-lokayuktas-bill-anna-hazare-5547507/
Deepalakshmi. (2017, April 27). The Long wait for Lokpal. The Hindu. Retrieved from: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-lokpal-bill/article18254568.ece
Tribune Bureau. (2019, March 27). Lokpal Members take oath of office. The Tribune. Retrieved from: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/lokpal-members-take-oath-of-office/749166.html
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