Lokpal Bill: A farce on the public

The headlines in the media, the constant talk of how deep corruption has sunk in our body politic and the nefarious role played by ill-gotten contributions to political parties is a spectre, haunting the public all the time.

But why is the government still not persuaded to seriously consider enacting an effectively genuine Lokpal legislation to deal with this menace of corruption? If the draft of the Lokpal Bill 2010 is any indication, it would appear that a realisation of grave urgency is still absent in the government. No one is suggesting that an evil like corruption in public life can be eliminated merely by legislation.

A clean public life, the standards and character of political parties have to be built on the grounds of moral conscience and public pressure. Corruption in public life can only be eliminated when, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history”.

But we must face the reality. Such spirits are rare to find and we ordinary mortals must make an effort to find some mechanism which may hopefully be able to keep in check the demoralisation and corruption in our public life. One such mechanism, that almost all governments since 1996 have been promising but done nothing about, is the institution of the Lokpal, an independent body to inquire into the lapses and complaints against legislators and MPs, both at the Centre and the states.

The government has at last proposed the Lokpal Bill 2010, but unfortunately it fails even to be a cosmetic exercise to fight corruption. It is shamefully toothless and just meant to give a false reassurance to the people that the government is serious in its fight against corruption.

The Lokpal is a three-member body consisting of a chairperson who is or was a former Chief Justice or judge of the Supreme Court and two members who are or have been judges of the Supreme Court or Chief Justices of a High Court. But restricting it to judges is too narrow, and outstanding social scientists or academicians should also be eligible, and it should be a five member body. The jurisdiction of the Lokpal under Section 10 apparently covers the PM, ministers and MPs. But the hypocrisy is exposed when at the same time it nullifies the same by providing that the Lokpal shall not enquire into any allegations of corruption against any member of either House of Parliament unless the recommendation of the Speaker or Chairman of the Council of States (as the case may be) is received by it.Not only that but insultingly, even when the Lokpal finds that any of the charges has been proved, against MPs, all he can do is to send a report of his findings to the Speaker and Chairman of the Council of States, and they alone will determine what action is to be taken.

Of course, the presiding officers have to place the report before both the Houses of Parliament. A formal courtesy is to be done by informing the Lokpal as to what action is taken or is proposed to be taken, which may include the rejection of the findings of the Lokpal. This reduces the authority of the Lokpal to lower than that of a magistrate whose order the highest in the land, including the President, has to comply with.

The sheer effrontery of the Law Ministry in proposing such an insulting provision is a direct negation of the institution of Lokpal.

What should have been done was to provide that the establishment of guilt by the Lokpal would be treated in the same manner as Section 8 of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951, as a disqualification from contesting elections for a period of six years.

Further, the Lokpal should have been authorised to impose a penalty for the recovery of any amount found to have been lost by the action of legislators or ministers. The Lokpal, under Section 11, is also forbidden to enquire into any memo of a complaint if it is made after five years from the date when the offence is alleged to have been committed. Has the government realised the absurdity of providing a limitation period in such complaints, which, if they were to be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act, would have no limitation bar, because there is no limitation for initiating proceedings under criminal law where the punishment provided is more than three years?

Also has the UPA Government considered that if a five-year period were to be provided, by the same logic would they not be barred from holding an enquiry into the 2G scam of 2001-02 during the BJP government (which by all standards should be held along with the enquiry into the 2G scam against Raja)?

No judge with even a modicum of self-respect will accept such a demeaning, low grade rate post – the inevitable result would be that the Lokpal Bill will collapse — an event that legislators have always desired.

So it is goodbye to cleaning the political dirt, notwithstanding the high sounding calls by all the governments.

Regrettably, cynics may be right when they say ‘who cares’ if, in the process, some dedicated Gandhians fighting for integrity in public life fast unto death against this unforgivable lapse by the government.

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