7 PM | Nudged into action: on the Lokpal Act| 19 January, 2019

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Context:

Search committee on Lokpal to shortlist a panel of names for chairperson and members by Feb end 2019

Main Issue: Delay in the appointment of Lokpal

  • Recently an NGO had filed a contempt petition against the government for not appointing the Lokpal despite an April 2017 judgment by the Supreme Court.
  • Lokpal Act was passed in 2013 and received President assent in Jan 2014.
  • Eight-member search committee constituted under the Lokpal Act was to recommend the name for chairperson and Lokpal members. However, it has taken more than five years without any progress.
  • Rule 11 (2) of the Search Committee Rules, 2014, says the panel recommends at least five names for chairperson and at least three times the number of vacancies in the case of members.

Reasons for delay:

  • Absence of position of Leader of Opposition in 16th Loksabha who is one of the member of Selection Committee.
  • Lot of groundwork is needed for Search Committee to shortlist the names from diverse fields such as anti-corruption policy, public administration, law, banking and insurance; also, half its membership should consist of women, backward class, minority and SC/ST candidates.
  • The search committee has been handicapped due to lack of office space, manpower, infrastructure and a secretariat.

What is Lokpal Bill:

  • The basic idea of the Lokpal is borrowed from the office of the ombudsman in other countries. It provides for filing complaints of corruption against ministers and members of parliament with the ombudsman.
Timeline of Lokpal Bill:
1963: The idea of an ombudsman first came up in parliament during budget allocation discussion for the Law Ministry.
1966: The First Administrative Reforms Commission recommended the setting up of two independent authorities- at the central and state level.
2002: Commission headed Venkatachiliah recommended the appointment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas; also recommended that the PM be kept out of the ambit of the authority.
2005: The second Administrative Reforms Commission chaired by Veerappa Moily recommended that office of Lokpal to be established without delay.
2011: The government formed a Group of Ministers, chaired by Pranab Mukherjee to suggest measures to tackle corruption and examine the proposal of a Lokpal Bill.
2013: Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, was passed in both Houses of Parliament.

 

Highlights of the Bill

  • The Act allows setting up of anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas at the State-level
  • The Lok Pal will cover the Prime Minister after he demits office, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Group ‘A’ officers and officers of organisations which are either government aided or funded by public donations.
  • Armed forces do not come under the ambit of Lokpal.
  • All expenses of the Lok Pal will be charged to the Consolidated Fund of India.
  • Provisions for attachment and confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means, even while the prosecution is pending.
  • Mandatory declaration of assets by public servants.
  • Donation received under the context of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in excess of Rs 10 lakh per year shall be under ambit of Lokpal

Powers of Lokpal

  • Superintendence and direction over any investigation agency including CBI for cases referred to them by the ombudsman.
  • Lokpal can summon or question any public servant if there exists a prima facie case against the person, even before an investigation agency (such as vigilance or CBI) has begun the probe.
  • Any officer of the CBI investigating a case referred to it by the Lokpal, shall not be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.
  • Special courts will be instituted to conduct trials on cases referred by Lokpal.
  • The Lokpal can award fine up to Rs. 2 lakhs for “false, frivolous or vexatious” complaints.

Selection Procedure:

  • The selection of chairperson and members of Lokpal shall be through a selection committee.
  • Selection Committee will consist of Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or a sitting Supreme Court judge nominated by CJI, eminent jurist to be nominated by the President of India on the basis of recommendations of the first four members of the selection committee.

Way Forward:

  • Considering the positive aspects of establishing the Lokpal, the search committee should move forward in shortlisting names of chairperson and members so that Lokpal implement not only in letters but also in spirit.
  • Since there is no Leader of Opposition in the current Lok Sabha, the unique situation called for passing an urgent amendment to the existing Lokpal Act to change the Leader of Opposition to Leader of the largest Opposition party.

 


Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/nudged-into-action/article26030882.ece

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