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Lokpals

A Lokpal is an anti-corruption authority or ombudsman who represents the public interest. The concept of an ombudsman is borrowed from Sweden. The Lokpal has jurisdiction over all Members of Parliament and central government employees in cases of corruption.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act was passed in 2013 with amendments in parliament, following the Jan Lokpal movement led by Anna Hazare. The Lokpal is responsible for enquiring into corruption charges at the national level while the Lokayukta performs the same function at the state level.

The term “Lokpal” was coined by Dr. L.M.Singhvi in 1963. The concept of a constitutional ombudsman was first proposed in parliament by Law Minister Ashoke Kumar Sen in the early 1960s. The first Jan Lokpal Bill was proposed by Shanti Bhushan in 1968 and passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969, but did not pass through the Rajya Sabha. Subsequently, ‘lokpal bills’ were introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, again by Ashoke Kumar Sen, while serving as Law Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, and again in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008, yet they were never passed. Forty five years after its first introduction, the Lokpal Bill is finally enacted in India on 18 December 2013.

The Lokpal Bill provides for the filing, with the ombudsman, of complaints of corruption against the prime minister, other ministers, and MPs. The Administrative Reforms Commission(ARC) recommended the enacting of the Office of a Lokpal, convinced that such an institution was justified, not only for removing the sense of injustice from the minds of citizens, but also to instill public confidence in the efficiency of the administrative machinery.

Following this, the Lokpal Bill was, for the first time, presented during the fourth Lok Sabha in 1968, and was passed there in 1969. However, while it was pending in the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha was dissolved, and thus the bill was not passed.

Status of 2011 Lokpal Bills

The bill was revived several times in subsequent years, including in 2011. Each time, after the bill was introduced to the House, it was referred to a committee for improvements, to a joint committee of parliament, or to a departmental standing committee of the Home Ministry.

Before the government could take a final stand on the issue, the house was dissolved again. Several conspicuous flaws were found in the 2008 draft of the Lokpal Bill. The basic idea of a Lokpal is borrowed from the Office of the Ombudsman, which has the Administrative Reforms Committee of a Lokpal at the Centre,[clarification needed] and Lokayukta(s) in the states.

Anna Hazare fought to get this bill passed, and it did pass on 27 December 2011, with some modifications. These were proposed as the Jan Lokpal Bill. However, Hazare and his team, as well as other political parties, claimed that the Lokpal Bill passed was weak, and would not serve its intended purpose. So the proposed bill by the ruling Congress Party has yet to be accepted in the Rajya Sabha.

Lokpal and Lokayukt Bill, 2011

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, introduced on December 22, 2011, was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 27, 2011.  The Bill was taken up for consideration and passing in the Rajya Sabha, which referred it to a Select Committee.

The Bill provides for establishment of the Lokpal at the centre and Lokayuktas in the states for inquiring into complaints of corruption against certain public servants.  The Bill, once passed, shall be applicable to states if they give their consent to its application.

The members of the Lokpal (Lokayuktas) shall be appointed by the President (Governor) on the basis of the recommendations of the Selection Committee.

The Selection Committee for the Lokpal shall comprise of the Prime Minister (Chief Minister), Speaker of the Lower House, Leaders of the Opposition of the Lower House, the Chief Justice of India (Chief Justice of the High Court) or a judge of the Supreme Court nominated by him, and an eminent jurist nominated by the President (Governor).

The Bill makes it mandatory for the Selection Committee to constitute a search committee of at least seven members.  At least 50% of the members shall be from among SC, ST, OBC, women or minority communities.  The Selection Committee may consider a candidate other than one recommended by the Search Committee.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas shall consist of one chairperson and up to eight members.  The Chairperson shall be the CJI or a present or former judge of the Supreme Court or a non-judicial member with specified qualifications (Chief Justice or a Judge of a High Court).  Fifty percent of the other members shall be judicial members (judges of the Supreme Court and Chief Justices of the High Court in case of Lokpal and judge of a High Court in case of Lokayuktas).  A non-judicial member is required to have 25 years experience in anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance and finance.

At least 50 per cent of the members of both bodies shall be from among SC, ST, OBC, minorities and women.

Members of the Lokpal may be removed by the President after an inquiry by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court may inquire based on a reference from the President.  Such reference may be made by the President on his own, or on a citizen’s petition if the President is satisfied by it, or on a petition signed by 100 MPs.

A Lokpal can enquire into offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA) committed by:

The PM with specified safeguards,

  1. Current and former Union Ministers,
  2. Current and former MPs,
  3. Group A, B, C, D officers,
  4. Employees of a company, society or a trust set up by an Act of Parliament, or financed or controlled by the central government.
  5. Employees of association of persons that
  6. Have received funding from the government and have an annual income above a specified amount; or
  7. Have received public donation and have an annual income above a specified amount or received foreign funding above Rs 10 lakh a year.

An inquiry against the PM has to be held in-camera and approved by a 2/3rd majority of the full bench of the Lokpal.  The PM cannot be investigated if the complaint is related to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.

The Lokayuktas shall have jurisdiction over the CM, Ministers, MLAs, all state government employees and certain private entities (including religious institutions).

The Lokpal’s inquiry wing is required to inquire into complaints within 60 days of their reference.

On considering an inquiry report the Lokpal shall:

  1. Order an investigation.
  2. Initiate departmental proceedings.
  3. Close the case and proceed against the complainant for making a false and frivolous complaint.

The investigation shall be completed within 6 months.  The Lokpal may initiate prosecution through its Prosecution Wing before the Special Court set up to adjudicate cases.  The trial shall be completed within a maximum of two years.  The Bill specifies a similar procedure for Lokayuktas.

The Bill removes the requirement of sanction for initiating investigation and prosecution. The Bill penalises false and frivolous complaints with imprisonment for a maximum of one year and a fine of up to one lakh rupees.  The Bill amends the PCA to enhance penalties for a public servant for corruption from maximum of five years to seven years.  For criminal misconduct and habitually abetting corruption, the jail term is increased from seven years to ten years.

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