Corruption in all forms has endured for ages. The desire of an individual to have more than others has aided it overtime. The World Bank defines corruption as the “abuse of public office for unauthorized private gain”. India has a long history of corruption. Close internal relationships between politicians, bureaucrats, and other officials gave rise to it. However, in the past few decades laws have started to keep a check on it. In this process, the Jan Lokpal Bill or Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill aimed at the formation of Lokpal, an autonomous body to examine cases of corruption against administrators and legislators appeared.
The idea of a constitutional ombudsman emerged back in a parliamentary discussion in 1963. The first Jan Lokpal Bill was therefore introduced in 1968. It got passed in Lok Sabha but didn’t get through Rajya Sabha. After the first bill failed to pass, eight attempts were made between 1968 and 2011, but lack of consensus led to its failure. Several recommendations were also made in 2002 and 2005 for Lokpal. Finally, required modifications were made and Jan Lokpal Bill was passed in both Houses of Parliament which resulted in “The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013”. It came into effect on 16th January 2014. Pinaki Chandra Ghose, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, is the current and the first chairperson of Lokpal who was appointed by a committee consisting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ranjan Gogoi (Former Chief Justice of India) and Sumitra Mahajan (Lok Sabha Speaker) on 23rd March 2019.
WHAT IS LOKPAL?
A Lokpal is a body of ombudsman (authority appointed to investigate individual complaints) that represents the public interest in India. It protects whistle-blowers and averts corruption. The motto of Lokpal is “Don’t be greedy for anyone’s wealth”. The Lokpal is supervised by the Cabinet Secretary and Election Commission, making it fully independent, in both administrative and financial terms. Lokayukta looks after corruption charges against politicians, officers and judges at the state level whereas Lokpal does so at the national level.
The Lokpal consists of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members. Half of them are judicial members who were or are Judge of Supreme Court or a Chief Justice of High Court and the other half are non-judicial members who have the expertise and special knowledge of at least twenty-five years in anti-corruption policy, public administration, law, and finance. According to the Act, at least 50% of the members of the Lokpal must be belonging to SCs, OBCs, STs, minorities, and women. The members of the Lokpal are appointed in a transparent and participative manner by Judges and IAS officers instead of politicians. This rules out the possibility of corrupt Lokpal members. The minimum age of Lokpal (Member or Chairperson) should be at least 45 years.
The Lokpal is supposed to have a “Prosecution Wing” for the prosecution of public servants, which is headed by the Director of Prosecution and an “Inquiry Wing” for conducting a preliminary inquiry, which is headed by the Director of Inquiry.
Any ordinary citizen can approach Lokpal;
- If any work in a government office is not being done accurately or within the prescribed time,
- If ration card or voter Id or passport is not being made,
- If the police are not registering his/her case etc.
In such cases, Lokpal may order a preliminary inquiry by its Inquiry Wing or refer the complaint to agencies such as CBI. Lokpal will then impose a financial penalty on guilty officers after investigation.
Lokpal can enquire the allegations of corruption against;
- Current and former Prime Minister, Union Minister, Member of Parliament as well as officials of the Union government under Groups A, B, C, and D,
- Members, Officers, Directors of Board and Chairpersons of any autonomous body established by an Act of Parliament,
- Any society that receives foreign contribution above Rs. 10 Lakhs etc.
PROTESTS FOR LOKPAL
The path for Lokpal was not very easy. The idea of an anti-corruption body in India floated for five decades. Anna Hazare (Indian social activist, Right to Information crusader and a follower of Gandhi), led the Jan Lokpal movement, a series of protests aimed at ending political corruption in 2011. The movement gained momentum from 5th April 2011, when Hazare began a hunger strike (fast unto death) at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. He wanted the formation of a Joint Committee for stricter corruption legislation. Leading activists of the time, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal were a part of the protest. Several personalities of BJP and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) supported Hazare. On the fourth day of his strike, the government agreed to set up a committee of both ministers and civil society activists to draft the Lokpal Bill. By June, the committee said that two drafts would be sent to Cabinet, one of the government and the other of the civil society representatives.
There were many loopholes in the Bill presented by the government. The government wanted Lokpal as an advisory body that enquired and forwarded the report to authority and it could not file an FIR. The government’s Lokpal didn’t have powers to investigate against the Prime Minister, bureaucrats, and government officers. On the other hand, the Bill proposed by civil society representatives gave powers to Lokpal to initiate prosecution and have police powers with criminal investigations. It provided for no such restrictions on investigating the Prime Minister, officials, bureaucrats, other politicians or even judges.
Hazare was detained by the Delhi police on 16th August 2011, after he declared that he would go on a strike again if the government’s draft gets accepted. This lead to widespread protests all over the country. Protests began in Delhi, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and other states of the country. Hazare was however released from Tihar Jail on 19th August 2011. He headed for Ramlila Maidan where he again launched his hunger strike. Thousands of Delhiites marched in his favor. The crowd was estimated to be close to one lakh. Hazare ended his strike on 29th August 2011, when a resolution was adopted fulfilling his demands. However, India’s Cabinet approved its own version on a later date. Amid protests, the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 27th December 2011 but not by the Rajya Sabha. The Bill was ultimately passed in 2013 after delays.
The movement for Jan Lokpal Bill in 2011 gave rise to a new political leader. After failing to pass the Bill, “Team Anna” got separated on political lines. Hazare and some others didn’t honor the idea of being a part of mainstream politics, whereas Arvind Kejriwal joined politics. He formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on 26th November 2012. He argued for a corruption-free government. Since then, he has been very successful and sworn in as Chief Minister of Delhi three times. However, in 2013, when AAP came into power for the first time, it failed to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi assembly and he resigned on the 49th day.
Collective action in the form of protests, agitations, and strikes has resulted in positive change over time. The hunger strike of Hazare was revolutionary. Old and young joined him and thought he would change the nation. The power of widespread participation for a good cause was clearly observed during the movement. However, when we look back after six years of incorporation of the Act, necessary provisions for the functioning of ombudsman has not yet been operationalized. 1065 complaints were sent to the Lokpal office in the first eight months, 1000 complaints were disposed of after analysis as they didn’t fell within the mandate of Lokpal. Lack of Inquiry Wing led to difficulty in an investigation and the process of the constitution of the Prosecution Wing has not yet been initiated. Lokpal found its way after a long struggle. While it might not lead to an enormous change in the short run, it will definitely do so in the long run.