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What is Lokpal? Public Opinion on Anna Hazare Jan Lokpal Bill and Lokpal Bill

The concept of Lokpal is borrowed from the office of the ombudsman in other countries which provides for filing complaints of corruption against Prime minister, other ministers and members of parliament with the ombudsman. Main objective of Lokpal is to provide speedy and cheaper justice within a prescribed time lime.

The first Lokpal bill was passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969 but did not complete the process and, later Lokpal bills were introduced unsuccessfully in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008. Broadly the provisions of above mentioned different bills empowered the Lokpal to investigate corruption cases against political persons at the central level.

The Standing Committee has thrown its door open for suggestions and consultations and the Prime Minister already stated that the government could enlist the cooperation of “all thinking segments of Indian public opinion to ensure that the end product is a strong and effective Lokpal which all sections of our community want”. He underlined the need for national consensus on a strong and effective LokPal.

DART has done a preliminary study of the bill, and here are a few questions from DART;

Our Notes on Lokpal

The draft Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s ombudsman Bill) or JLP was drawn by Team Anna Hazare and the draft Lokpal Bill is the government version of the bill.No political party has accepted JLP in total. Is it true that both bills appear to have been lacking vital power to deal with corruption? Here, you can see a comparison between both bills, but there are issues more than the ten differences which are vital to tackle the enormous level of corruption the country is facing now.

The following differences in the Lokpal bill  and Jan Lok Pal appear to be cosmetic in nature which need only fine tuning;

1. Composition of members (difference only in numbers five or four)
2. Selection committee process (JLP appears to be a long process which goes from refining and further refining to find an eligible candidate)
3. Member’s qualification; needs fine tuning.
4. Removal of members; needs fine tuning
5. Merger of current investigating agency with Lokpal and prosecution wing; needs fine tuning in terms of following discussion

According to DART study, the following issues need further debate to evolve national consensus.

1. Jan Lokpal states that Lokpal shall have the authority to select its own staff. Government Lokbill does not speak about the authority of Lokpal to constitute its investigation wing. In the absence of specific authority for Lokpal to recruit staff members the Chief of Lokpal will turn out to be ineffective.

2. Jan Lokpal envisages the agency Lokpal as the sole anti-corruption agency.  It means that Lokpal will investigate corruption cases against lower rank officials.  Most probably this will result in Lokpal focusing on lower level functionaries and will achieve its annual performance by booking cases against lower level officials thus will leave the higher level officials. This almost sounds against the principle of Lokpal which is envisaged as more of an ombudsman focusing on serious issues performed by offices with higher discretionary powers including the office of Ministers.

3. Government Lokpal defines Minister as Union Minister except Prime Minister which appears to have been widely debated and which does not need any further public debate and hope it will be corrected in the course of time.

4. Government Lokpal prescribes a preliminary enquiry lasting up to 30 days after receiving the complaint whereas Jan Lokpal states that no investigation or prosecution shall be initiated without obtaining permission from a 7-Member Bench of the Lokpal. It means that the initial investigation will be carried out after a few days gap.  This delay in starting investigation after receiving a written complaint will give a chance to the alleged persons to escape and meddle with evidence.

5. Lokpal bill does not speak about the protection to bribe giver, but JLP offers protection under some circumstances to whistle blowers. Now it is a question, if the bribe givers need to be treated under Prevention of Corruption Act or as a conspirator or an abettor for the crime. Giving bribe is an offense as per law.  It is a fact that the bribe giver is cornered by corrupt people at appropriate time to extract money.

Is it not better if we give a platform to register the amount of bribe extracted by officials in each instance with name of official, circumstance and the amount bribed along with pictures of the incident, if possible (with latest gadgets it is easy)?. If such information turned out to be false then the so called bribe giver should be severely punished. This will protect honest government officials who used to be dragged to corruption by interested groups.

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