Implementing the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 may go down on record as one of the most significant pieces of legislation to have been passed by the Indian Parliament in decades.
The Lokpal Act was introduced in 2011 and passed by Rajya Sabha in 2013, and it received Presidential assent in 2014. The legislation seeks to combat corruption by establishing an ombudsperson within the executive branch of government (the Lokpal) and empowering the judiciary with similar powers (the Lokayukta).
However, implementation challenges may mean that the Act may not live up to its potential to prevent corrupt activities at all levels of government.
In 2013, the Lokpal and Lokayukta act came into existence in India in response to Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement of 2011, which aimed to provide an effective deterrent against corruption in public institutions.
The Bill, which aims to create an independent body of investigating officers who will ensure that cases against government servants are investigated thoroughly, has been in limbo for quite some time.
When the Bill has been proposed again, it’s time to review its pros and cons to understand whether it will work.
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History and origin of Lokpal and Lokayukta Act
India’s Lokpal and Lokayukta act is the world’s most vital anti-corruption law. The origin of the Act was due to a mass movement in India led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal.
The mission of the Lokpal Act was to provide a more systematic process for public grievances against corruption by certain functionaries of the Government of India and those of states and Union territories.
The initiative, which started in Aug 2011, is still not finalized but has provided many conversations on how it would change government and public life if successful.
What does the Lokpal Bill entail?
It has provisions for establishing a Lokpal (ombudsman) in various departments, committees or institutions under the control of the central government, state governments, Union Territories or local authorities for which Parliament may make laws.
Further, it prescribes measures for the prevention of corruption in such offices. It also prescribes punishments for public servants involved in corruption in addition to penalties for abetment by any person, including outsiders.
The Bill does not have provisions making corrupt officers liable for prosecution without sanction from the Lokpal.
Further, it does not include judges, senior military personnel and intelligence agency members, among those the Act covers.
Consequently, many commentators have been critical of the lack of coverage of these groups, as this leaves them free to indulge in criminal activity without consequence.
Another criticism is that setting up a Lokpal will take an immense amount of time as this would involve amending at least 40 statutes. Consequently, there is no quick fix solution to the problem of corruption.
Provisions of the Lokpal Act
The Lokpal Act aims to eradicate corruption, and it has the following provisions:
- Separation of powers: The Lokpal will not be subject to presidential or parliamentary approval.
- Structure and Membership: A 12-member panel, including a chairperson. Members must include two experts in law, one expert in finance or banking, one expert in audit, one retired judge of the Supreme Court, two eminent persons and four MPs.
- Appointment: A collegium system of CJI and eight senior judges of the Supreme Court appoints Lokpal.
- Supervision and Removal: He can only get removed from office on the grounds of incapacity or misconduct on a ground specified in the Constitution or if he refuses to obey orders given by the SC/ST bench on complaints against him under this Act.
The governor of the state will appoint the Lokayukta, and he must, before doing so, consult the high court’s CJ and the opposition leader.
Limitations under this Act
This Act could bring about a new era in which people trust the government because there are guidelines for transparency in dealings with the public.
Also, the Act would address any corruption allegations efficiently and is limited because when corruption has been exposed, those who work closely with the corrupt officials will also come under scrutiny. Many would refuse to cooperate or even testify out of fear for their safety.
Lokpal jurisdiction and power
The Lokpal’s jurisdiction should cover anyone who is a public servant and is not limited to the president, prime minister, and members of Parliament.
The ombudsman’s power strengthens with broader investigation power, such as compulsory powers and unrestricted access, as well as executive power, such as search and seizure. The Lokpal must have an independent investigative arm to enforce it.
One way it could do this is by establishing an autonomous investigation agency that operates separately from other law enforcement agencies to ensure its independence from political interference.
It also has broad sanctioning powers, including prosecution, fines, and imprisonment, without permission from any other authority or person.
How adequate do you think this law will combat corruption in India?
While this law addresses some corruption issues, its effectiveness is questionable. For instance, the proposed Bill suggests setting up a Lokpal Commission without defining its powers and responsibilities in detail.
The only mention of the commission’s power in the Schedule at the end of the Bill leaves it vague whether these powers are exclusive or concurrent with other authorities.
There are also no provisions for adequate powers to investigate allegations against judges and politicians. Some states have refused to implement the law because they feel that they should not get bound by a central law enacted by Parliament under the Indian Constitution, which deals with federalism.
In conclusion, while there may be some merit in enacting such legislation, India will need more than just this new legislation to combat the pervasive corruption problem.
What is the current status of this Bill in India?
After the death of activist Anna Hazare in August 2012, the Indian government promised to introduce a new law called the Lokpal bill.
The Bill would create an independent anti-corruption authority investigating all public servants. In October 2012, the government introduced an amended version of the Bill in Parliament. Still, it was met with massive opposition from all quarters, including civil society activists, other political parties, sections of the media and leaders from within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The latest version worries many groups because it removes transparency requirements for those investigated for corruption by giving them immunity.
It also doesn’t specify the punishment for those found guilty, which is a major problem because officials who commit bribery can easily find loopholes to escape punishment.
In addition, the new draft bill gives unelected members of Parliament more power than elected representatives and politicians making it impossible for accountability and transparency to occur.
Many states still do not have a Lokayukta like Punjab, while some states like UP and Bihar where Lokayukta are appointed.
So there is no confirmed uniformity and proper implementation of this Act. Another drawback of this Act is that if the complaint is against the prime minister, it must follow many protocols before accepting a complaint.
Is Lokpal considered a constitutional body?
Lokpal is not given constitutional status, so it is not a constitutional body.
Which Indian state first introduced Lokayukta?
Maharashtra was the first Indian state to introduce Lokayukta.
Who is the current chairperson of the Lokpal ombudsman?
Shri Justice Pradip Kumar Mohanty (Judicial member) is the current chairperson and was appointed on 28 May 2022.
How is the chairperson of Lokpal selected?
The chairperson and its members are selected by a selection committee consisting of the prime minister, leader of the opposition, Chief justice of India, or sitting supreme court judge appointed by the CJI.