Bill without will

42 years and waiting for Lokpal

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | April 22, 2011



The idea of the Lokpal, which was supposed to be an ombudsman on the lines of those in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, was first mooted after two big financial scandals hit the free India in the 50s and 60s – a) Mundra scandal, which led to resignation of finance minister T T Krishnamachari and b) charges of corruption against Punjab province (Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh) chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon which led to his resignation in 1964. The first Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) of 1966, headed by Morarji Desai, pitched for such a body to fight corruption in high places. It envisaged a two-tier system – Lokpal at the centre and Lokayuktas in the states.

  • The first Lokpal Bill was drafted and introduced in parliament way back in 1968. This was passed by the Lok Sabha but was pending in the Rajya Sabha when the first mid-term elections were held in 1971.
  •   Thereafter, the Lokpal Bill was introduced in parliament seven times – 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001. All these bills lapsed with the dissolution of respective Lok Sabhas, except for the one in 1985 which was withdrawn on “specious” grounds. The 2010 bill, is yet to be introduced in parliament.
  • All Lokpal Bills (except the 1985 one) lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha because of an inbuilt infirmity that continues till date – salary and allowances of the Lokpal is charged to the Consolidated Fund of India which makes it a money bill and, hence, has to be introduced in the Lok Sabha. This is a deliberate attempt and is attributed to the reluctance of the government and the members of parliament to treat it otherwise. Just as the salary and allowances of the Election Commission of India is part of the law ministry’s budget, if that of the Lokpal is made a part of, say, the home ministry (whose committee examined the last three bills), the bill can be introduced in the Rajya Sabha too and won’t lapse with every general election. But political parties don’t want the baggage.
  • Inclusion of the prime minister, the highest political executive, in the Lokpal’s ambit has been contentious. The expert panels, including the ARC 1 of 1966, ACR 2 of 2007 and the National Commission on Working of the Constitution of 2002, advocated his exclusion. Thus, the bills of 1968, 1971 and 1985 excluded him but public pressure ensured that he is included in those of 1977, 1989, 2001 and 2010. The 2010 bill excludes the bureaucrats – another contentious issue. 
  • Inclusion of MPs too has been contentious. Many of the bills, therefore, excluded them, except for the ones of 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2010. The MPs have argued that parliament being the highest democratic institution, an outside body like the Lokpal can’t be given jurisdiction over them.
  • Jurisdiction over the judiciary is another bone of contention. A parliamentary committee of 2001 recommended a separate legislation for the judiciary.
  • The 2010 bill suffers major handicaps. It covers PM, MPs and ministers but excludes bureaucrats. It is an advisory body. It has no suo motu power to register FIR, investigate or prosecute anyone. It will enquire into the cases referred to it by the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and will report back its findings and recommendations. This makes Lokpal as toothless as the central vigilance commission (CVC) and hence the disquiet among the people and civil society members.
  • Shockingly, however, 2010 bill provides Lokpal with power of summary trial and power to award punishment of up to three years of imprisonment and/or fine of Rs 50,000 to the complainant if it thinks the complaint is frivolous! This actually turns the Lokpal on its head.
  • While the centre has dithered, the states have taken a lead. Maharashtra was the first to set up the Lokayukta in 1972. Though Orissa enacted the law in 1970, it appointed a Lokayukta in 1983. So far, 18 states have Lokayuktas – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. 
  • If the Lokpal Bill is still pending, the reason is simple: Politicians don't want a corruption watchdog. 

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