Why Jan Lokpal Bill needs People’s Support?

Legislation on Lokpal is not like any other laws. It is different because, it is concerned with the conduct of those who claim the right create this law itself. This is the main reason that there is a conflict of interests. This conflict of interests has not been addressed in the bill that has been passed by the cabinet. Neither has it emphasised to create a robust anti-corruption regime

If the Bill goes through in its present form, it will be an opportunity lost to set things right. The current bill is fraught with deficiencies eventually would lead to defeat the very objective of this important legislation. Here are some of these deficiencies brought out:

Hearing before lodging an FIR:

  • The Civil society has demanded that the Lokpal should not be required to take anybody’s sanction for initiating an investigation or filing a charge sheet against any public servant.
  • The Government Lok Pal bill has allowed it but while doing so, it has skewed the process of investigation heavily in favour of the accused. This is because; the bill forbids the Lokpal to register any FIR without first giving a hearing to the accused.
  • This is exactly opposite to the Criminal Law under which the Police is obliged to register a case simply on the basis of information suggesting the commission of a cognizable offence.

Hearing After Investigations:

  • The Sarkari Lokpal Bill stipulates that the Lokpal, on completing the investigation, should give another hearing to the accused before filing a charge sheet in court.
  • Thus, it has tried to safeguard the culprit by providing hearing opportunity both before FIR and before filing a charge sheet in the court. These are gratuitous safeguards for the corrupts.

No safety of Whistleblowers:

  • The Sarkari Lokpal Bill seems to be anxious in relieving the corrupt Netas and Babus by giving no thought to the safety of the whistleblowers on account of premature disclosure of evidence to the accused.
  • The bill has provided that the cross case could be filed against the complainant and he would be liable to be punished severely if the complaint was found “false and frivolous or vexatious”. Here we see the double standards adopted by the Bill.
  • There is a provision that the minimum jail term for a “false or frivolous” complaint is two years, while the public servant in the event of conviction for corruption could get as little as six months.

Lots of exemptions:

  • The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which has been recently ratified by India, envisions a uniform anti-corruption regime for public servants of all categories (ministers, bureaucrats, judges, legislators).
  • The reference to UNCAC has been now removed from the Preamble of the Bill. The Sarkari Lokpal bill has kept the judges out of the Lokpal’s remit. It exempts allegations of corruptions against MPs for their conduct in Parliament.

Too less coverage:

  • There are 1.2 crore government servants in India, and the Sarkari Lokpal Bill covers only 65,000 (0.5%).
  • This is because, the Lokpal has been provided jurisdiction only over Group-A Central government employees.

No Independence of Lokpal Institution:

  • The proposal by the five ministers on the joint drafting committee was that the chairperson and Lokpal members were liable to be removed on the basis of a Supreme Court inquiry following a reference made by the President.
  • But now, it has been amended and now such references can be made by the President not just at the instance of the government but also on a petition signed by at least 100 Members of parliament on a petition submitted by a citizen where a prima facie case is made out.
  • So, President’s consent remains a pre-condition for the Supreme Court inquiry, means that no member of the Lokpal can ever be held accountable without the government’s nod.

Covers Private Individuals:

  • The previous draft was to bring NGOs, societies and trusts under the Lokpal’s original jurisdiction. This meant that, in a departure from norm, a corruption case could be made out by the Lokpal even when there was no involvement of a public servant.
  • The accused could simply be private persons accused of embezzling NGO funds, irrespective of whether they were funded by the government or registered or not.
  • The latest draft mitigates this controversial provision to some extent by clarifying that smaller NGOs having annual income below the minimum limit prescribed by the government would be exempt from the Lokpal’s ambit.
  • Playing it safe, the Bill adds that Lokpal cannot touch bodies established for religious purposes.

No Contempt Powers

  • There was a salutary provision on the draft bill prepared earlier that Lokpal was vested with contempt powers so that it could take action against public servants who did not cooperate with its inquiry or investigation.
  • But the draft cleared by the Cabinet a month later omits this provision. The sarkari Lokpal bill says that Lokpal was anyway not a court or tribunal to enjoy contempt powers.

Prime Minister Out of ambit

  • This is the most high profile change in the Lokpal Bill.
  • The draft said that Lokpal would have jurisdiction over “any person who is or has been a minister of the Union other than the Prime Minister”.
  • Then there was an uproar and in the final draft it was proposed that Prime Minister too come under Lokpal’s oversight — but only “after he has demitted the office of the Prime Minister”.

Size of the body

  • The Bill shrinks the proposed probity body from 11 members to nine. “It was felt that an 11-member Lokpal will be too large,” is all that the government offers by way of explanation.
  • It could also have been to get away from the number that was originally proposed by Team Anna. This downsizing proposal is just another signal of the government’s rather modest conception of Lokpal.

Who will be Lokpal?

  • The previous bill, prepared by five government members of the drafting committee had suggested that the chairman of Lokpal could be an eminent person of long standing from diverse fields such as public affairs, administrative law and policy, academics, commerce and industry, law, finance or management.
  • The bill cleared by the Cabinet has stipulated that the chairman would have to be a serving or retired Supreme Court judge or Chief Justice of India. Thus, judiciary is set to dominate Lokpal as half of its other eight members are also required to have a judicial background.

Who will Select Lokpal?

  • Selection committee composition Under the earlier Bill, a 10-member selection panel was packed with authorities from within the state structure i.e. from the Prime Minister to a high court chief justice, and only slot left in it for civil society was reserved, curiously, for the National Academy of Sciences president or the senior-most “national professor”.
  • The latest Bill provides two civil society slots in a nine-member selection committee: One for a jurist, the other an eminent person, though both are nominated by the Union Government.

Employment after tenure

  • On ceasing to hold office, the Lokpal chairperson and members are barred from any further employment under the government.
  • The earlier Bill also barred them forever from contesting any election of President or Vice-President or to Parliament or state legislatures. The new Bill however reduces the restriction to five years.

Investigation Officer:

  • As per the latest bill, investigating officer needn’t be a cop but the earlier draft said the investigating officer should not be below the rank of deputy superintendent of police, the current draft extends that authority to other officers of equivalent rank.
  • The rationale is that corruption cases could do with investigators from other disciplines such as income tax, customs and audit.

Inspection of documents by accused:

  • Under the criminal laws, an accused is not entitled to any evidence till the investigating agency files a charge sheet against him on the completion of probe.
  • But the latest Lokpal Bill allows him to inspect documents and obtain copies right at the preliminary stage when an investigation is proposed to be initiated by Lokpal.

No Citizen’s Charter

  • Previous Bill enjoined every department to come up with a citizens’ charter spelling out its commitments relating to delivery of services or fulfilment of objectives.
  • So, every department was required to designate a public grievance redressal officer to whom any aggrieved person may file a complaint for non-compliance of the citizens’ charter.
  • Team Anna demanded that a violation of the charter should carry sanctions. But, rather than providing teeth to it, the latest Bill drops the charter altogether.
  • The message clearly is that inefficiency cannot be equated with corruption and so there is no need to give a statutory status to the citizens’ charter.

Consent of States:

  • Given its devious intent to bring NGOs too under its ambit, the latest Bill makes provision for the Centre to obtain the consent of the states so that the Lokpal’s investigation wing can have jurisdiction over private citizens across the country.
  • The note in Bill says: As police is a state subject, it was felt that we should provide for a consent mechanism to extend the jurisdiction of the investigation officers to the state concerned.
  • But we here note that the state government employees can come under their own Lok Ayukta, thus, the target of this amendment is the lakhs of people associated with those NGOs, societies and trusts covered by the latest draft of the Bill.

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