Lokpal Act

The idea of creating an anti corruption ombudsman, in the form of a Lokpal, was first conceptualized in 1968 in the fourth Lok Sabha. Thereafter in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001 efforts were made to enact legislation to create the institution of Lokpal, but these efforts remained unsuccessful. Over the last few years the issue of enacting a law to create Lokpal has seen active citizen engagement. Continued civic engagement with the issue resonated with the government and the legislature and led to the passing of the Lokpal Bill in the recently concluded winter session of Parliament. The bill has received parliament's assent on 01 Jan 2013.

This has been one of the few pieces of legislation in recent years which has been extensively debated publicly and received in depth parliamentary scrutiny. Before the bill was introduced in parliament, a joint committee made up of government and civil society representatives had made an attempt to draft the Bill. This effort remained inconclusive and the government introduced a Bill drafted by it in Lok Sabha. This Bill was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice and passed by the Lower House in 2011. The Bill was then referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha. Based on the recommendations of the Select Committee, the government made amendments to the Bill before it was passed in Rajya Sabha. Lok Sabha then approved these amendments leading to its passage in Parliament. Some of the key provisions of this Bill relate to the jurisdictions of Lokpal, its selection, autonomy of Central Bureau of Investigation and the creation of Lokayukta's in states.

The Bill as passed by Parliament creates a Lokpal at the centre which shall consist of a chairperson and up to eight members. Half of these members should have higher judicial experience and the other half should have experience in public administration, finance, insurance and banking laws, anti corruption and vigilance. It also provides that half the members of Lokpal shall be from amongst scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward castes, minority communities and women. The chairman and members of Lokpal shall be appointed by a selection committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Lok Sabha, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of India or a sitting supreme court judge as nominated by the CJI and an eminent jurist to be nominated by the President based on the recommendations of the other members of the selection committee. The Bill specifies that the office of Lokpal shall investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. The jurisdiction of Lokpal extends to the Prime Minister, Ministers, current and former Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies, government employees and employees of companies funded or controlled by the central or state government. Lokpal shall also have jurisdiction over institutions receiving foreign donations in excess of ten lakh rupees per year or such higher limit as specified. The Bill excludes, any allegation of corruption against a Member of Parliament in respect of anything said or a vote given in Parliament, from the jurisdiction of Lokpal.

It specifies a time limit of 60 days for completion of inquiry and 6 months for completion of investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. This period of 6 months can be extended by the Lokpal on a written request from CBI. Lokpal is also required to hear the explanation of the public servant before ordering an investigation. This however would not interfere with any search and seizure required to be undertaken by any agency. The bill also specifies that any inquiry against the Prime Minister has to be held in-camera and approved by two third of the full bench of the Lokpal. The Bill gives Lokpal the power of superintendence over CBI with respect to cases referred by it to CBI. It also specifies that CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal can only be transferred with the approval of the Lokpal. It proposes establishment of a Directorate of prosecution within CBI to be headed by Director who is an officer not below the rank of joint secretary for conduction prosecution of cases under the Lokpal Bill. The director of prosecution shall be appointed by the government on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission. The CBI with the consent of Lokpal is empowered to appoint a panel of advocates, other than government advocates for conducting cases referred by Lokpal. The central government is entrusted with the responsibility of making funds available to CBI for conducting investigation into Lokpal referred matters. All expenses of Lokpal shall be charged to the Consolidated Fund of India.

The legislation provides an imprisonment of up to seven years for public servants on grounds of corruption. Criminal misconduct and habitually abetting corruption has a higher penalty and would result in imprisonment up to ten years. Making false and frivolous complaints to Lokpal would result in a fine of up to one lakh rupees and imprisonment of up to one year. In addition a person who is convicted for having made a false complaint shall be liable to compensate the public servant against whom the false complaint was made. However complaints made in good faith, that is with due care, caution and a sense of responsibility will be excluded from penalty.

A number of political parties had raised the issue that provisions relating to establishment of state Lokayuktas were not in line with the federal nature of governance as envisaged in the constitution during the debate in Lok Sabha. The Bill that as passed by Lok Sabha specified that provisions related to state lokayuktas would only be applicable to states that gave their consent. However, when the bill reached Rajya Sabha and was scrutinized by the Select Committee of RajyaSabha, the committee recommended that the states should have the freedom to determine the nature and type of lokayukta depending on their requirements. It also recommended that states have to mandatorily have a lokayukta in place within a period of one year from the passing of the Lokpal Bill. Both these recommendations of the select committee were incorporated into the Lokpal Bill which was passed by Parliament.

While the Lokpal bill has been passed by Parliament, a number of other supporting bills which address issues related to tackling corruption are still pending in Parliament. Bills related to citizen charter and electronic public service delivery, public procurement, whistle blower protection, judicial accountability, benami transactions are pending in Parliament. These bills when passed would ensure that the institution of Lokpal does not get flooded by day to day complaints of administrative inefficiency and corruption. And while enacting a law is the first step towards curbing corruption, the effectiveness of the law would depend on how well it is implemented on the ground.