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Will Lokpal Bill end corruption in India
Friday December 20, 2013 11:39 AM, Syed Ali Mujtaba, ummid.com

After fifty-two years of its inception, the Lokpal bill at last has become a law. Both the houses of the Parliament passed this controversial bill on December 18, 2013 amidst reservation from the Samajwadi party and some other ruling UPA allay.

The new Lokpal bill has the consent of civil right activist Anna Hazare, who had been a vociferous campaigner for a strong Lokpal bill to end corruption in India and had led a social anti- corruption movement in 2011and 2012 in the country.

The latest Lokpal bill, however do not have the support of another anti graft crusader, Arvind Kajrewal, the leader of the Aam Admi Party, who too once was in the forefront of the anti corruption campaign and of the core group of team Anna.

The word Lokpal is derived from the Sanskrit word "lok" meaning people and "pal" meaning protector or caretaker. So, Lokpal means a caretaker of people. Actually, Lokpal is an Ombudsman or Legal Representative to be constituted as an independent body at the state and the central level, where complaints of corruption against the representatives of the people can be filed, including Prime Minister, though with certain riders.

The idea behind creating an ombudsman is to inculcate a sense of justice in the minds of the people and also to instill confidence in them about the efficiency of the government's administrative machinery. The question however remains, will the Lokpal bill end corruption in India. At the moment no one has an answer to it.

The history of Lokpal begins from the Nehruvian era. The concept of a constitutional ombudsman was first proposed in Parliament by Law Minister Ashoke Kumar Sen in the early 1960s during the second Lok Sabha. The word 'lokpal' was first coined by Dr L.M.Singhvi in 1963.

The first 'Jan Lokpal Bill' was drafted by lawyer Shanti Bhushan in 1968 and it was passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969. However, this bill could not get passed in the Rajya Sabha. Several 'lokpal bills' were introduced after that in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, and 2005 and in 2008. However both the houses of the Parliament were never able to pass the bill in tandem.

Each time the bill was introduced in either house of the Parliament, several conspicuous flaws were found in the bill. The bill was referred to all sorts of committees for improvement. The main reservation was the constitution of separate body to try corruption cases and no government was able to take a decisive stand on that and as a result this bill never got passed by both the houses of the Parliament.

It's since 2011 once again fresh campaign was launched by the civil society for passing the lokpal bill. Some prominent members of the civil society went on to draft a new 'Jan Lokpal bill' and demanded its approval by the government.

Social activist Anna Hazare sat on fast in New Delhi on Dec 27, 2011 to get this 'Jan Lokpal bill' passed. The government under the pressure from his agitation hurriedly brought its own version of Jan Lokpal Bill in the Parliament and got it passed in the Lok Sabha with some modifications on Dec 29, 2011.

However, Anna Hazare and his team rejected Bill calling it toothless. After that the government never brought bill in the Rajya Sabha and deferred it to the next Parliamentary session. In the year 2012 a series anti-corruption demonstrations were held across India to press for the passing of the Lokpal bill. Meanwhile, political differences arose in Team Anna, and Kejriwal and some others split from it to form the Aam Aadmi Party.

This background provided the actual setting for the passing of the Lokpal bill. With Anna Hazare once again sitting on fast pressing for the passing of the Lokpal bill, The UPA government did not like to face another Dec 2011, like situation. It once again brought the Lokpal bill and this time was able to successfully pass the bill in both the houses of the Parliament. It had support from the opposition BJP and its other allies. In this way the Lokpal bill at last is able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Here are some of the salient features of the new Lokpal bill:

The new bill mandates states to set up Lokayuktas within 365 days. States have the freedom to determine the nature and type of Lokayukta.

The Lokpal will consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members, of which fifty percent shall be judicial members. Fifty percent members of Lokpal shall be from among SC, ST, OBCs, minorities and women.

The selection committee will have prime minister, Lok Sabha speaker, leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India. A fifth member of the selection committee for selection of Lokpal under the category of "eminent jurist" may be nominated by the president on the basis of recommendation of the first four members of the selection committee.

The new bill includes societies and trusts that collect public money, receive funding from foreign sources, and have an income level above a certain threshold, it excludes bodies creating endowments for or performing religious or charitable functions.

Before taking a decision on filing a charge sheet in a case upon consideration of the investigation report, the Lokpal may authorize its own prosecution wing or the concerned investigating agency to initiate prosecution in special courts.

For independence of the CBI, in the new bill a directorate of prosecution will be formed. Appointment of the director of prosecution will be on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commissioner. Transfer of officers of CBI investigating cases referred by Lokpal will be only with the approval of Lokpal who will also have superintendence over CBI in relation to Lokpal referred cases.

The new bill says a government servant will get a hearing before a decision is taken by the Lokpal.

The Prime Minister will be under the purview of the Lokpal with subject matter exclusions and specific process for handling complaints against the prime minister.

Inquiry has to be completed within 60 days and investigation to be completed within six months. Lokpal shall order an investigation only after hearing the public servant. Inquiry against the Prime Minister has to be held in-camera and approved by two-thirds of the full bench of the Lokpal.

In case of false and frivolous complaints imprisonment up to one year and a fine of up to Rs.1 lakh has been mooted. Public servants could be imprisoned up to seven years. In case of criminal misconduct and those habitually abetting corruption can get jail term up to 10 years.

The idea of passing the Lokpal bill is very noble indeed. However, will the Lokpal bill live up to its desired objectives, will be only known only when it is finally implemented.

The author is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com



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