Issues in Lokpal Act By- Yasmin Gill
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LOKPAL Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013 came into existence on January 1, 2014. It extends to the whole of India and applies to "public servants" as defined in the Act, which includes the incu mbent prime minister and Union ministers Past public servants can also be investigated. This "landmark" law followed prolonged public debates on issues related to corr uption, and several demonstrations, including by activists such a s Anna Hazare However, it was enacted in great hurry and contained numerou s legal infirmities, which will sooner or later be tested in the app ropriate courts of law. This issue was in the works for nearly half a century after the re commendation for a Lokpal at the Centre was first made by the Administrative Reforms Committee of 1966 It had been the subject of several assurances given on the floor of Parliament n this background, the law should have been better drafte d. It should have gone before a select committee of Parliament for scrutiny by all the stakeholders.
If such "authorities" have no major role in the Act, why cal them "competent authorities"? The time limit for "the removal of difficulties" in the Act is alrea dy over, unless extended again, by law. More importantly, what is indeed not adequately appreciated in the fierce anti-corruption debate, is that this Act is only applicab le to "public servants" who come within the purview of the Unio n of India and not the states The scope for the Lokpal to deal with corruption involving publ ic servants would, therefore, be limited A very large part of the corruption we talk about involves state governments, their agencies and bodies of the local self-govern ment, which would fall entirely outside the purview of the centr al Lokpal A fully empowered lokayukta in Karnataka, enjoying "terms of s ervice" equivalent to the chief justice of India, has hardly failed t o contain corruption in that state There were instances when the institution there itself came und er a serious cloud, and when the lokayukta himself had to resig n following a controversy involving his own son.
The point here in any case is not the utility of the institution at the Centre .It is the undue haste with which the law itself was earlier enact ed and the obvious haste with which the institution is being op erationalised five years later, after assuming a sudden urgency reportedly on account of SC admonition. The guidelines contained in the model code of conduct do refe r to a ban on appointments or promotions in the government, without prior clearance of EC It could be argued that these are not election-related appointm ents in the government, but the appointment of high functionar ies by the President The note below these instructions in the Model Code of Condu ct states that the list of dos and don'ts is only illustrative and ca ses of doubt should be referred to the EC In this case, the President of India may take the stand that the y are acting at the orders of the SC Opposition parties are unlikely to complain either, since the co mmon plank now is "anti-corruption". And the EC too is likely to look the other way, once the President "swears in" the new app ointees.
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Some of the provisions of the Act contain directions, which are not tenable Section 63 of the Act mandates establishment of the Lokayukta in every state, where it is not established "within a period of on e year from the date of commencement of this Act" Many of the states have already enacted and developed Lokayu kta institutions much earlier, but this section had little effect on states which had not done so till then -Tamil Nadu, for instance, has enacted the law only now, but Lo kayukta appointments are yet to be made This shows that the section is a dead letter apart from encroac hing on the legislative powers of the respective states. There are many other provisions of doubtful utility "Competent authorities" are defined in the Act In section 24, if the findings of the Lokpal disclose any corrupti on, a copy of the report is to be sent to the "competent authori ty" while filing a chargesheet n the case of the prime minister being the accused, the compe t authority mentioned is the House of the People, namely th e Lok Sabha.