The Lokpal Debate
Four of the Lokpal’s eight members will have a judicial background while “public order” is among the considerations on which the prime minister enjoys immunity from prosecution under the Lokpal bill that also does away with the need for sanction for prosecution of public servants. The Lokpal and Lokayukta bill 2011—cleared by the Cabinet on Tuesday night and to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday—proposes a seven-year deadline for complaints. This means the antigraft ombudsman will not entertain a complaint after seven years of the alleged offence of corruption. The bill also seeks to confer constitutional status on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas in states for which a separate constitutional amendment bill will be introduced in Parliament. As a wide section of political opinion feels the provision for creating Lokayuktas in states by a central legislation is inconsistent with the Constitution, officials said the government has proposed a model law that the states need not adopt. Besides public order, the prime minister has been provided immunity with respect to external and internal security, defence, atomic energy and space. The draft of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill 2011 says the “new constitutional initiative” in creating the Lokpal and Lokayuktas is aimed at making ministers, MPs, MLAs and government servants “responsible and accountable in their affairs”. It also says this will help eradicate corruption at the “central and state level”. The bill says the initiative displays government’s zero tolerance towards corruption by empowering the Lokpal and Lokayuktas to receive complaints against ministers. The Lokpal will have supervisory powers, along with Central Vigilance Commission, over the CBI’s anti-corruption wing. Importantly, the bill proposes that no prior sanction of the competent authority—which was till now used as a shield against prosecution-—would be required for launching prosecution in cases inquired by the Lokpal, or initiated on its direction or with its approval. This means that the infamous “single line directive” that protects senior public servants from prosecution will be done away with after the enactment of the Lokpal Act. All non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving over Rs 10 lakh as donation from foreign sources, in terms and context of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), are proposed to be brought under the Lokpal’s jurisidiction. The Lokpal shall also function as the final appellate authority for grievances relating to delivery of all public services. It will also act as the appellate authority for redressal grievances relating to finding of public authority in any case falling under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Any complaint against the PM will be taken up for preliminary inquiry only by a full bench of Lokpal comprising not less than 75% of the members and all such proceedings would be held in camera. The bill proposes that the Lokpal, with a chairperson and eight members, will have independent preliminary inquiry and prosecution wings under its belt. The government retained a slender control over the process of selection of the chairperson of Lokpal by proposing that the panel which would choose the head of anti-corruption body would comprise the PM, Speaker of Lok Sabha, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or his nominee—a Supreme Court judge, and an eminent jurist to be nominated by the President. The chairperson and members will have identical qualification but 50% of the eight members, that is four, “shall be from amongst SC, ST, OBC, minorities and women”. And this reservation would also be applicable in case of four judicial members. The 50% reservation clause would apply to the composition of the search committee too. The bill also provides a removal mechanism for chairperson and members of the Lokpal.