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Lokpal – A ‘toothless’ tiger?

January 10th, 2011 3 comments

The union government is reportedly considering a legislation to create anti-corruption units both at the centre and the states.

Such institutions were first conceptualized by the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by Morarji Desai in its report published in 1966. It recommended the creation of two independent authorities – the Lokpal at the centre and the Lokayuktas in the states. The first Lokpal Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1968 but it lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha. Later Bills also met a similar fate.

Though the Lokpal could not be created as a national institution, the interest generated led to the enactment of various state legislations. Maharashtra became the first state to create a Lokayukta in 1972. Presently more than 50% of the states have Lokayuktas, though their powers, and consequently their functioning varies significantly across states.

Existing institutional framework

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are the two cornerstones of the existing institutional framework. However, the efficacy of the current system has been questioned. [1]

Though the CVC (set up in 1964) is an independent agency directly responsible to the Parliament, its role is advisory in nature. It relies on the CBI for investigation and only oversees the bureaucracy; Ministers and Members of Parliament are out of its purview. Thus, presently there is no authority (other than Parliament itself) with the mandate to oversee actions of political functionaries.

At the state level, similar vigilance and anti-corruption organisations exist, although the nature of these organisations varies across states.

Karnataka Lokayukta Act

The Karnataka Lokayukta is widely considered as the most active among the state anti-corruption units. [1] It was first set up in 1986 under the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984.

The Act was recently amended by the state government following the resignation of the Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde. Justice Hegde had been demanding additional powers for the Lokayukta – especially the power to investigate suo-motu. Following the amendment, the Lokayukta has been given the suo motu powers to investigate all public servants except the CM, Ministers, Legislators and those nominated by the government.

Following are the main provisions of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act:

  • The public servants who are covered by the Act include the CM, Ministers, Legislators and all officers of the state government including the heads of bodies and corporations established by any law of the state legislature.
  • The body is constituted for a term of five years and consists of one Lokayukta and one or more Upalokayuktas. All members must have been judges, with either the Supreme Court or some High Court.
  • Members are appointed on the advice of the CM in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, the Chairman of the Karnataka Legislative Council, the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, and the Leader of Opposition in both Houses.
  • Investigations involving the CM, Ministers, Legislators and those nominated by the government┬ámust be based on written complaints; other public servants can be investigated suo-motu.
  • Reports of ┬áthe Lokayukta are recommendatory. It does not have the power to prosecute.

The forthcoming Ordinance/ Bill

Given that a Lokpal Bill is on the anvil, it might be useful at this point to enumerate some metrics/ questions against which the legislation should be tested:

  • Should the Lokpal limit itself to political functionaries? Should CBI and CVC be brought under the Lokpal, thereby creating a single consolidated independent anti-corruption entity?
  • Should Lokpal be restricted to an advisory role? Should it have the power to prosecute?
  • Should it have suo-motu powers to investigate? Would a written complaint always be forthcoming, especially when the people being complained against occupy powerful positions?
  • What should be the composition of the body? Who should appoint members?
  • Should the Prime Minister be exempt from its purview?
  • Should prior permission from the Speaker or the Chairman of the House be required to initiate inquiry against Ministers/ MPs?

What do you think? Write in with your comments.

Notes:

[1] Report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), ‘Ethics in Governance’ (2007)

[2] Additional reading: An interview with the Karnataka Lokayukta