Resurrection of a forgotten Movement

Lokpal, yes it’s the same forgotten institution that led to fall of the UPA In 2014. The word which let one of the biggest movements of India and leaders like Anna Hazare, Kejriwal, the present Chief Minister of Delhi amongst many others shone bright. Due to popular support it was finally passed in 2013. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas act, 2013 was the beacon of hope against corruption. After a long wait of many years, several debates and failed bills, the moment of victory of justice was here.

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Though the act was passed, it remained on paper for the about five months. The argument for the dawdle was given as delay in appointments of chairperson and members of Lokpal. Since no one could be recognised as leader of opposition after 2014 general election, the committee responsible for selecting members of Lokpal could not be formed. However in March 2019 chairman of the commission was appointed by the president on recommendation of a four member selection committee the devoid of leader of the opposition. Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose became the first chairman of the ombudsman. Further, the centre refused to disclose the deliberations of selection committees meetings. Central information Commission has taking account of the fact and this investigating the matter upon appeal by Ms. Bharadwaj who filed an RTI request. The information Commission gave its decision after two years. department of personnel and training stated that the minutes of the selection committee was confidential and henceforth was exempted under Section 8 of the RTI act. Ms. Bharadwaj Countered the argument sing that the larger public has a right to know about the basis on which their Lokpal or Lokayukta was selected. Finally in February, 2021 the final verdict was in favour of the centre. The verdict was substantiated by citing Supreme Court decision on local search committee and committees for selecting information commissioners.

The latest update about Lokpal has raised many ears. After 2 long years, anti-corruption ombudsman submitted its first annual report to the President. As per the report, Lokpal received 110 corruption complaints. Among them 4 were against remember yourself parliament in the year 2020 -21. 1,427 complaints were reported in 2019-20.

Back to basics: overview of Lokpal

  • First recommended by administrative reforms commission of India (1966-1970) inspired by Scandinavian countries and New Zealand. It is notable that the commission kept judiciary outside the view of Lokpal and Lokayukta
  • More than 10 official attempts were made before the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act was passed in 2013
  • Few States had established Lokayukta even before the act was passed like Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan etc.
    composition -Chairperson and 8 members in which 4 should be Judicial members (50% members from SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women)
    Appointed by President on recommendation of a selection committee
  • Members of selection committee for selection of Chairperson-
  1. Prime Minister
  2. Speaker of Lok Sabha
  3. Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha
  4. Chief Justice of India
  5. Eminent jurist nominated by President of India on the basis of recommendation of first four members of the selection committee
  • Search committee to help selection committee – 50% members from SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women
  • Jurisdiction extends to group A, group B, group c and group D officers and employees of government, institutions fund partially or fully by government (excluding government aided agencies), entities receiving donations from foreign source in the context of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in excess of Rs. 10 Lakhs per year . Prime Minister is also under its purview.
  • Power of superintendence and direction over investigation agencies (like Central Bureau of Investigation)
  • Well defined time periods for preliminary enquiry (3 months extendable by 3 months), investigation (6 months extendable by 6 months) and trial (1 month extendable by 1 year)
  • Lokayukta should be set up by state governments within a year from the date of commencement of the act.

The watchdog agency is an important organ for a corruption free democracy. There are a few drawbacks regarding the transparency of procedure while dealing with cases related to Prime Minister. In addition, anonymous complaints are not allowed. This threatens the privacy of whistleblowers who file complaints against powerful people. Also there is a heavy penalty for false complaints which can deter people. There are some flaws which should be repaired.
The transparency in selection of Chairman of Lokpal is being questioned. The Lokpal movement might be getting a new lease of life after it faded away in 2014. The organisation was made for the people of India and hence it belongs to the people. Every fact related to it should be put to display for public. This will be the mantra of creating a strong and trustworthy Lokpal.