Jan Lokpal Bill
The Jan Lokpal Bill, also referred to as the Citizen's Ombudsman Bill, was a failed anti-corruption bill drawn up by some civil society activists in India seeking the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body to investigate corruption cases.
The Jan Lokpal aimed to deter corruption, compensate citizen grievances, and protect whistle-blowers. The prefix Jan (translation: citizens) signifies that these improvements include inputs provided by "ordinary citizens" through an activist-driven, non-governmental public consultation.
The word Lokpal was coined in 1963 by L. M. Singhvi, a member of parliament during a debate.
The demand for an Ombudman was inspired by the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). and taken forward by a group of activists who came to be styled by the media as Team Anna.
Key features of bill
Some important features of the bill are:
- To establish a central government anti-corruption institution called Lokpal, supported by Lokayukta at the state level.
- As is the case with the Supreme Court of India and Cabinet Secretariat, the Lokpal will be supervised by the Cabinet Secretary and the Election Commission. As a result, it will be completely independent of the government and free from ministerial influence in its investigations.
- Members will be appointed by judges, Indian Administrative Service officers with a clean record, private citizens and constitutional authorities through a transparent and participatory process.
- A selection committee will invite short-listed candidates for interviews, the video recordings of which will thereafter be made public.
- 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.
- Losses to the government by a corrupt individual will be recovered at the time of conviction.
- Whistle-blowers who alert the agency to potential corruption cases will also be provided with protection.
Campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill
The first version of the Lokpal Bill drafted by the Government of India in 2010 was considered ineffective by some anti-corruption activists from the civil society. who came together to draft a citizen's version of the Lokpal Bill later called the Jan Lokpal. Public awareness drives and protest marches were carried out to campaign for the bill. However, public support for the Jan Lokpal Bill draft started gathering steam after Anna Hazare, announced that he would hold an indefinite fast from 5 April 2011 for the passing of the Jan Lokpal bill.
To dissuade Hazare from going on an indefinite hunger strike, the Office of the Prime Minister directed the personnel and law ministries to see how the views of social activists can be included in the bill. On 5 April, the National Advisory Council rejected the Lokpal bill drafted by the government. Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal then met social activists Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal on 7 April to find ways to bridge differences over the bill. However, no consensus could be reached on 7 April owing to several differences of opinion between the social activists and the Government.
Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill 2011 in Parliament
On 27 December 2011, Lok Sabha Parliament winter session passed the Government's Lokpal as the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill 2011. Before passing this bill it was introduced in Lok Sabha with key amendments moved. During the 10-hour house debate, a number of opposition parties claimed introduced bill is weak and wanted it withdrawn. Key amendments that were discussed but defeated were following:
- Including corporates, media and NGOs receiving donations
- Bringing CBI under the purview of Lokpal
Amendments that the house agreed upon were:
- Keeping the defence forces and coast guard personnel out of the purview of the anti-graft ombudsman
- Increasing the exemption time of former MPs from five to seven years
This bill was then presented in Rajya Sabha where it hit a logjam.
Criticisms of the Jan Lokpal Bill
The activist bill was criticised as being naïve in its approach to combating corruption. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President of the Center for Policy Research Delhi, the bill "is premised on an institutional imagination that is at best naïve; at worst subversive of representative democracy". The very concept of a Lokpal concept has received criticism from ex Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal in that it will lack accountability, be oppressive and undemocratic.
Kejriwal rejects the claim of Lokpal being extra-constitutional with the explanation that the body will only investigate corruption offences and submit a charge sheet which would then tried and prosecuted through trial courts and higher courts, and that other bodies with equivalent powers in other matters exist. The bill also lists clear provisions for the Supreme Court to abolish the Lokpal.
Despite these clarifications, critics feel that the exact judicial powers of Lokpal are rather unclear in comparison with its investigative powers. The bill requires "...members of Lokpal and the officers in investigation wing of Lokpal shall be deemed to be police officers". Although some supporters have denied any judicial powers of Lokpal, the government and some critics have recognised Lokpal to have quasi-judicial powers.
The bill also states that "Lokpal shall have, and exercise the same jurisdiction powers and authority in respect of contempt of itself as a High court has and may exercise, and, for this purpose, the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (Central Act 70 of 1971) shall have the effect subject to the modification that the references therein to the High Court shall be construed as including a reference to the Lokpal." Review of proceedings and decisions by Lokpal is prevented in the bill by the statement "...no proceedings or decision of the Lokpal shall be liable to be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called in question in any court of ordinary Civil Jurisdiction.". As a result, how the trials will be conducted is unclear in the bill, although the bill outlines requiring judges for special courts, presumably to conduct trial that should be completed within one year. The critics hence express concern that, without judicial review, Lokpal could potentially become an extra-constitutional body with investigative and judicial powers whose decisions cannot be reviewed in regular courts.
The matter of whether the Indian Prime Minister and higher judiciary should or should not be prosecutable by the Lokpal remains as one of the major issues of dispute. Anna's own nominee for co-chairing the joint panel Justice Verma, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, has expressed his constitutional objections for including the Prime Minister and higher judiciary under Lokpal. According to him, "this would foul with the basic structure of the constitution".
Criticism from the Director of CBI
The CBI in a presentation before the Standing Committee of the Parliament, has strongly argued against the vivisection of the CBI and merger of its anticorruption wing with the Lokpal, noting that this would seriously cripple the core functioning of the CBI and reduce it to irrelevance. An organisation built over last 60 years comprising competent professionals should not be subsumed under Lokpal. CBI officers concede that in some sensitive political cases there is of course interference from the government, but in respect of an overwhelming majority of cases CBI functions, unfettered and uninfluenced by extraneous considerations. For this reason there is an ever-increasing demand for CBI investigation from all over the country in respect of important cases.
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