The First Lokpal

After assuming office on 23-3-2019, an Hon’ble  retired Supreme Court judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose has  become   the  first Lokpal of India  heading a panel of  four judicial and four non-judicial members. The bill backing the appointment of an Ombudsman or Grievance Man or Lokpal at centre and Lokayuktas at the state level happens to be one of the most important  bills much debated and discussed by media  & in the public sphere. 

The bill has  a prolonged journey of over 46 years from the year of its first introduction in the Parliament  to the year in which it came into force. By dint of its  long pendency it may probably find place in the Guinness Book of  World Records.

The lokpal/lokayukta are Sanskrit words which mean ‘caretaker of people/civil commissioner ‘respectively. It is an official  appointed to investigate complaints against administration and an institution to combat corruption &  mal-administration.

The word Lokpal was first used by Mr. Laxmi Mall Sangvhi – a Maharashtrian Member of Parliament in 1963 in a parliamentary debate regarding grievance mechanism.

Bill to this effect was first introduced in 1968 which could not take up due to dissolution of the fourth Lok Sabha Session. However, introduction of the bill was repeated intermittently during the years of 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2008,  and lastly in 2010 but of no avail.

After that the bill was produced in Lok Sabha on 22-11-2011 and was passed by it on 27-11-2011 under the name & style of ‘Lokpal and Lokayukts Bill.’ Subsequently the bill was submitted to Rajya Sabha on 29-12-2011 but could not  be deliberated  upon owing to paucity of time. On 21-5-2012 the bill was referred to Select Committee  of Rajya Sabha for consideration. Large scale protests  by public led by a social activist Anna Hazare and his associates against corruption  prompted the government to take up the  bill for its passage.

The Rajya Sabha passed it on 17-12-2013 and Lok Sabha on 18-12-2013 with some modifications. President Pranab Mukerjee  assented to the bill on 1-1-2014 and it came into  force with  effect from 16-1-2014 clearing decks  to fight corruption and ensure accountability of public offices  including Prime Minister through the creation of Ombudsman. Maharashta is the first state to introduce the institution of  Lokayukta in 1972.

The Lokpal and Lokayukts Act envisages for  creation of Lokpal for centre and  the Lokayukts for the state governments. Some high lights of the bill are as follows.

a)            Lokayukts. The bill authorises the state governments to appoint the Lokayukts within 365 days.

b)            Selection Method. The selection of a Lokpal shall be by a Selection Committee of five members headed by the Prime Minister  with the Speaker of the Lok Sabha,  Leader of the Opposition in the Lower House and the Chief Justice of India  or an apex court judge nominated by Chief Justice  being its members. The fifth member shall be an eminent jury  nominated by the President of India on the recommendations of the first four members of the Selection Committee.

c)            Constitution. The establishment of Lokpal will consist of a Chairperson   and shall have a maximum of eight members. 50 percent of which shall be judicial members. Rest of 50 percent members shall be  from the categories of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Women, Minorities & Other Backward Classes.

d)            Prime Minister. With the exception of some safeguards Prime Minister  will fall under the domain of Lokpal  for the purposes of accountability with specific process for handling complaints against him .

e)            Central Bureau of Investigation.  For the independence of CBI the bill provides for the formation of a Prosecution Directorate. The Director will be appointed on the basis of recommendations made by the Central Vigilance Commission. Transfer of officers of CBI investigating Lokpal referred cases will be subject to approval by the Lokpal  who will supervise the CBI in connection with Lokpal referred cases.

f)             Religious Trusts & Bodies.  The bill encompasses  religious trusts & bodies  which collect money  from public  or receive  foreign funds /donations above Rs.10 lakh  and have a income level above  a  threshold.

g)            Prosecution. Before filing a charge sheet on the recommendations of the investigation report, Lokpal will order its own prosecution through its prosecution wing  or the investigating agency  concerned for prosecution in special  courts.

h)            Hearing. Before any investigation is started the chance of being heard shall be available with government servant  complained against.

i)             Inquiries & Investigation. Inquiries shall have to be completed  within 60 days  and the investigation with six months. Inquiries against Prime Minister shall be held in camera  and with the approval of the two-third majority of the full bench of Lokpal. 

j)             Penalties. Penalties for incorrect complaints shall be upto Rs. One lakh and an imprisonment upto one year. For public servants imprisonment upto seven years and for a criminal misconduct & habitually abetting corruption jail term upto 10 years  also exist.

1.            The UPA. government  in 1/2014 called the passage of  the bill a ‘historic & landmark’ step  to fight corruption, yet the establishment of Lokpal at centre   remained a miss  despite lapse of more than five years  till 23-3-2019. Some  see it through political prism calling it  a 2019 lok sabha  election related decision of the incumbent  NDA. government although passage of the bill in similar scenario  has not helped the previous  UPA.

Government in 2014 lok sabha elections. However, the much and largely awaited institution has made  a debut that is better late than never. People wish  justice success  sans delay. Viewing the factors of cost of  mind, money and the age behind  the passage of this bill the governments should have since made functional these much wanted public offices. 

A country claiming  to be proud of having galaxy of human resources capable & worthy to be  selectors/selectees for these establishments action should not have been delayed grieving the  soul of   grievance man for so long.

States too have a equally important role & responsibility no less lighter or shorter  than that of  centre fulfilment of which is  their obligation in the best interests of the subjects. Establishment and proper functioning of these offices assumes  much importance in the wake of public demand/protests, black money, corruption, etc vis-a-vis financial accountability. Big decisions need bold  forward steps -a sine qua non for stronger and just future cherished by all.

[The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer  working as Consultant in the A.G’s Office Srinagar.]