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Lok Pal

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We all feel that corruption and its harmful effects need no introduction but let us begun the debate with the findings of the N.N. Vohra Committee (1993) on the issue of rising corruption in public life. According to it “The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians has come out clearly in various parts of the country. The existing criminal justice system, which was essentially designed to deal with the individual offences and crimes, is unable to deal with the activities of the mafia; the provisions of law in regard economic offences are weak. Various crime syndicates and mafia organisations have developed significant muscle and money power and established linkages with governmental functionaries, political leaders and others to be able to operate with impunity”. With the passage of time corruption has assumed alarming proportions and it is clear that the existing anti-corruption institutions have failed to tackle the menace and it has therefore become imperative to address the problems which plague the effectiveness of existing anti-corruption institutions and laws.

 

Understanding the Jan Lokpal Bill and its need: Anna Hazare’s fast in support of the Jan Lok pal bill has stirred the government as well as the nation, consequently government bowed to accept the demands of Anna Hazare and incorporate the provisions of the Jan Lokpal bill into the Lokpal bill of the government. In order to analyse the concept further and what happened in the country in last few months let us fully substantiate the Jan Lokpal bill. The Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s ombudsman Bill) is a draft anti-corruption bill drawn up by prominent civil society activists seeking the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body that would investigate corruption cases, complete the investigation within a year and envisages trial in the case getting over in the next one year. Drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde (former Supreme Court Judge and former Lokayukta of Karnataka), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court Lawyer) and Arvind Kejriwal (RTI activist), the draft Bill envisages a system where a corrupt person found guilty would go to jail within two years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth being confiscated. It also seeks to give powers to the Jan Lokpal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission. Some of the prominent feature of the Jan Lokpal bill includes:

  1. An institution called Lokpal at the centre and Lokayukta in each state will be set up.
  2. Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, the Lokpal and Lokayukta will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations.
  3. Cases against corrupt people will not linger on for years anymore as investigations in any case will have to be completed in one year. Trial should be completed in next one year so that the corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years.
  4. If any work of any citizen is not done in prescribed time in any government office, Lokpal will impose financial penalty on guilty officers, which will be given as compensation to the complainant.
  5. The members of Lokpal and Lokayukta will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by citizens, through a transparent and participatory process.
  6. In order to prevent corruption in lokpal/lokayukta, the bill provides that any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months.

Advantages of the Jan Lokpal Bill: (a) Major advantage of this bill is all about solving the No.1 problem of India i.e. corruption. (b) The basic idea of the Lokpal is borrowed from the office of the ombudsman in other countries. If implemented, it will provide for filing complaints of corruption against the prime minister, other ministers and members of parliament with the ombudsman. (c) If implemented the bill will give relief to the people of the nation against gruelling system to complain about the crime. (d) The bill has proposed to deliver faster justice than what we have right now, the proposed decision will be one year and punishment will be executed in two years. One has to examine how the Jan Lokpal Bill will improve existing anti-corruption systems in India in a simple format.

Under our present system there is almost no scope to punish our politician or senior officer despite of huge evidences available against them. Before starting investigation or initiating prosecution in any case, they have to take permission from the same bosses, against whom the case has to be investigated. As per the provisions of the proposed bill the Lokpal at centre and Lokayukta at state level will be independent bodies. ACB and CBI will be merged into these bodies. They will have power to initiate investigations and prosecution against any officer or politician without needing anyone’s permission. Investigation should be completed within one year and trial to get over in next one year. Within two years, the corrupt should go to jail.

Due to the advisory nature of the CVC, it is very difficult to dismiss any corrupt officer or politician from the job. Whenever it advises government to dismiss any senior corrupt officer, its advice is never implemented.

The new bill proposes to merge into the CVC and all the central departmental vigilance with the Lokpal and state vigilance will be merged into Lokayukta. These bodies will have complete powers to order dismal of corrupt office holders.

There is also certain amount of corruption within CBI and vigilance departments. Their functioning is so secret that it encourages corruption within these agencies. All investigations in Lokpal and Lokayukta shall be transparent. After completion of investigation, all case records shall be open to public.  Complaint against any staff of Lokpal and Lokayukta shall be enquired and punishment announced within two months. Due to rampant corruption in government departments citizens face undue harassment to their work done. If anyone makes a complaint to the senior officers, no action is taken on complaints because senior officers also get their cut. Under the proposed bill the Lokpal and Lokayukta will get public grievances resolved in time bound manner, impose a penalty of Rs 250 per day of delay to be deducted from the salary of guilty officer and award that amount as compensation to the aggrieved citizen. Further, there is no provision in the law to recover ill-gotten wealth. A corrupt person can come out of jail and enjoy that money. Loss caused to the government due to corruption will be recovered from all accused.

Differences between Jan Lokpal Bill and Government’s Lokpal bill: India has witnessed a huge public outcry for replacing government’s Lok Pal Bill by the Jan Lok Pal Bill as drafted by the members of India against Corruption team. The government wants to pass the bill that has been formulated by its own standing committee while the citizens now demand that the provisions demanded by team Anna should be incorporated into the government’s bill. Let us now examine the major differences in the two versions. Firstly, both the bill differs on the jurisdiction of the Lok Pal. Both bills include ministers, MPs for any action outside Parliament, and Group A officers (and equivalent) of the government. The government Bill includes the Prime Minister after he demits office whereas the Jan Lok Pal (JLP) includes a sitting Prime Minister. The JLP includes any act of an MP in respect of a speech or vote in Parliament (which is now protected by Article 105 of the Constitution). The JLP includes judges; the government Bill excludes them. The JLP includes all government officials, while the government Bill does not include junior (below Group A) officials. The government Bill also includes officers of NGOs who receive government funds or any funds from the public; JLP does not cover NGOs.

Secondly, there is difference of composition in both the bills. The bill drafted by the government envisions a chairperson and up to 8 members, at least half of which must have a judicial background. The JLP has a chairperson and 10 members, of which 4 have a judicial background.

Thirdly, the government bill proposed to make Lok Pal an advisory body, which will forward its report to the competent authority. The competent authority will have final powers to decide whether to take action on Lok Pal’s report or not. In the case of cabinet ministers, the competent authority is Prime Minister. In the case of PM and MPs the competent authority is Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, as the case may be. Whereas the JLP doesn’t makes Lok Pal an advisory body. It will have the powers to initiate prosecution against any one after completion of investigations in any case. It will also have powers to order disciplinary proceedings against any government servant.

Fourthly, both the bills differ on the process of removal of Lok Pal members. The government Bill permits the president to make a reference to the Supreme Court for an inquiry, followed by removal if the member is found to be biased or corrupt. The reference may be made by the president (a) on his own, (a) on a petition signed by 100 MPs or (c) on a petition by a citizen if the President is then satisfied that it should be referred. The President may also remove any member for insolvency, infirmity of mind or body, or engaging in paid employment. The JLP follows a different process for removal of members. The process starts with a complaint by any person to the Supreme Court. If the court finds misbehaviour, infirmity of mind or body, insolvency or paid employment, it may recommend his removal to the President.

Fifthly, the bill is legally unsound. Lokpal has not been given police powers. Therefore Lokpal cannot register an FIR. Therefore all the enquiries conducted by Lokpal will tantamount to “preliminary enquiries”. Even if the report of Lokpal is accepted, who will file the chargesheet in the court? Who will initiate prosecution? Who will appoint the prosecution lawyer? The entire bill is silent on that. On the other hand the JLP would have police powers. It will be able to register FIR, proceed with criminal investigations and launch prosecution.

Sixthly, the government version of the bill does not deal with corruption of bureaucrats. Corrupt bureaucrats continue in their job without any actions against them. On the other hand the JLP will have the powers to take disciplinary action, including dismissal of a corrupt officer from the job.

Seventhly, the government Bill provides for a prosecution wing of the Lok Pal. In the JLP, the CBI’s prosecution wing will conduct this function.
Finally, the JLP deals with grievance redressal of citizens, in addition to the process for prosecuting corruption cases. It requires every public authority to publish citizen’s charters listing its commitments to citizens. The government Bill does not deal with grievance redressal.

Major drawbacks of the Jan Lok Pal Bill: Though the JLP has been at the centre stage of our administrative and political dealings for some time now but the bill brings it with some drawbacks which need to be taken care of before implementing the bill: (a) The bill comes with huge burden on the government to run this, it needs huge money to manage the head counts. (b) Our system is prone to corruption and it is obvious that the person who will be appointed under the JLP will come from within only. So it is big question whether the ministers or bureaucrats will not bring undue influence on its investigations. (c) How can it be assured that Lokpal members are not corrupted? Don’t we have corrupted “judges, citizens and constitutional authorities”, who says only the politicians are corrupted? (d) There may be creation of superbody above constitutional authority could be dangerous in long run.
Anna Hazare has brought a storm in India by fasting unto death in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill, though his protest led to bowing down of the government, which has agreed to consider his demands but it has to be seen what’s going to be its impact on the finalization and implementation of the Jan Lok Pal Bill. Mere implementation of the Bill will not eradicate corruption from the country; it has to be wiped out from the psychology of the bureaucrats and the politicians. But we cannot deny the fact that the citizen of our country have come out in open support against the corruption. India is now standing united against corruption and the people are saying strict no to paying bribe to anyone and to expose the person who is seeking bribe to do the job. This is a kind of wave which has united the nation and the most surprising is the participation of the youth which is the future of the country. This movement clearly shows that people have really become tired, irritated and got angry with the kind of corruption which has come out with the help of media. And under such a condition a strong intention of the Government to curb corruption is the need of the hour. Everyone is waiting for such actions.