History of Lokpal Bill
The origin of the Lokpal (anti-corruption ombudsman) dates back to 1963, when Nehru was the prime minister. But it was in 1966 that a Lokpal was proposed at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states. In 1968, a Lokpal Bill was presented for the first time in the fourth Lok Sabha. The House passed it in 1969, but while it was pending, LS was dissolved and the bill lapsed.
The subsequent versions were re-introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, but never passed. The latest Lokpal bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 4, 2001, is the ninth version of the legislation before Parliament.
The impetus for the current demand for a Lokpal Bill came from a series of recent high profile scandals such as the 2G scam, IPL Lalit Modi scam, Adarsh Society scam, and the CWG scam, while the government merely watched the events unfold helplessly. Anna Hazare’s recent “fasts” and its extensive media coverage converted it into a mass movement.
The Bill aims to give power to ordinary citizens to sue corrupt officials at all levels. The idea of an ombudsman first came up in Parliament during a discussion on budget allocation for the Law Ministry in 1963. The first administrative reforms committee in 1966 recommended the setting up of two independent authorities at the Central and state level to look into complaints against public functionaries – Lokpal and Lokayukta.
What is Jan Lokpal Bill?
The Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s ombudsman Bill) is a draft anti-corruption bill that would pave the way for a Jan Lokpal, an independent body like the Election Commission or the Supreme Court, which would have the power to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission.
The bill proposes institutions of the office of Lokpal (Ombudsman) at center and Lok Ayukta at state level. Jan Lokpal Bill is designed to create an effective anti-corruption and grievance redressal systems at centre and states and to assure that effective deterrent is created against corruption and to provide effective protection to whistleblowers.
A draft – Jan Lokpal Bill – was prepared by activists of India Against Corruption under the guidance of Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Renowned Gandhian social worker, Anna Hazare is demanding that the government adopts the Jan Lokpal Bill and pass it in Parliament without delay. To put pressure he sat on hunger strike twice in recent months – April and August.
After the 4 day April “fast” of Anna Hazare a joint drafting committee with 50:50 representation of the civil society and government was set up to negotiate the draft. But the government was hesitant in accepting the key points that give real teeth to the bill and the negotiations failed, forcing Anna to announce “fast unto death” from August 16 which went on for 12 days. In the mean time, forced to act the government introduced its own version of Lokpal Bill in the parliament.
Anna and his team declared the Bill teeth-less and wanted the government to withdraw its bill and introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill instead. But after much drama the parliament debated on three key issues of common men’s concern and adopted those points on “sense of the house” rather than vote and sent the matter to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. A copy of the Jan Lokpal Bill was also sent to the committee. Now people are waiting to see how soon the final draft emerges for the final debate in the parliament and the Bill passed. This is the ninth version; eight versions of the bill have already been junked.
How the Jan Lokpal Bill proposes to tackle corruption will become obvious once the flaws of the current system are acknowledged.
Weaknesses of the Present Anti-corruption Legislation
The present legal mechanism to fight corruption is rather weak and allows powerful people and politicians to get away with crimes. Following are some of the obvious flaws of current anti-corruption legislation:
- The CBI comes under the government, so its functioning is badly compromised. Often appointments are also political.
- The Central Vigilance Commission being only an advisory body is hardly taken seriously.
- Taking against corrupt judges is problematic because permission is required from the Chief Justice of India to even register an FIR against them.
- Ordinary citizens have practically no help when they face harassment in government offices. In order to avoid that they are forced to pay bribes. They can only complain to the senior officers who are generally hand in gloves with their juniors.
- Recovery of wealth accumulated through corruption is currently not feasible. So even if someone is sentenced to prison, he does not lose it.
- Punitive provision for corruption is weak – minimum 6 months and maximum 7 years imprisonment.
- There is no explicit protection to the whistleblowers. Harassment of RTI activists is quite common – many have lost their lives.
Some of the salient features of the Jan Lokpal Bill are
- Jan Lokpal will be an independent body similar to the Election Commission. Appointments will be made by judges, prominent civil society personalities, and constitutional authorities and by politicians, through a completely transparent and participatory process. So, the government can not influence its activities.
- The anti-corruption wing of the CBI will be under it and not under government control. In fact, the CVC and departmental vigilance is also proposed to be under Lokpal so that there is just one body to deal with all corruption complaints. So, politicians, MPs and ministers will not be able to influence the investigation or protect the guilty. Lokpal will have complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician.
- Time bound investigation and trial. Investigation in any case will have to be completed within one year and the trial in another year. So, the corrupt office holder or politician will be in jail within two years.