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Lokpal: India’s Anti-Corruption Ombudsman

  • The office of ombudsman first came into being in sweden.  Ombudsman is a Swedish word and refers to an official whose job is to investigate complaints from the public against government officers.
  • Austria, Denmark and other countries in Scandinavia started following the Swedish model. At present, more than 130 countries have similar institutions of ombudsmen.
  • The word Lokpal was coined by L.M. Singvi in 1963. It is derived from the sanskrit word meaning “protector of people”.
  • In India, the system of Lokpal is modelled after Ombudsman system in Scandinavian countries and its adaptation in the U.K. in 1967.
  • The government passed the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act after a mass movement led by Anna Hazare in 2011.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 
  • The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act envisages the appointment of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in States to look into cases of corruption against certain categories of public servants
  • The then UPA government introduced the Bill in Lok Sabha in 2011. This Bill was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice and passed by the Lower House. The Bill was then referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha.
  • Based on the recommendations of the Select Committee, the government made amendments to the Bill before it was passed in Rajya Sabha. Lok Sabha then approved these amendments leading to its passage in Parliament in 2013. The Act was notified on January 16, 2014.
Eligibility and Qualification of Lokpal Members 
  • According to the Act, there is provision for a chairperson and a maximum of eight members in the Lokpal panel. Of these, four need to be judicial members.
  • At least 50% of the members of the Lokpal shall be from amongst the persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, minorities and women.
  • The chairperson and members shall hold office for a term of five years or till they reach 70 years of age.
  • The salary and allowances of the chairman will be same as that of the Chief Justice of India. The members will be paid salary and allowances same as that of a judge of the Supreme Court.
  • To be appointed as Chairperson of Lokpal, a person must have been a Chief Justice of India, or a judge of Supreme Court or an eminent person having special knowledge and expertise of not less than twenty five years in the matters of anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, finance, law and management.
  • To be eligible for appointment as Judicial Member of Lokpal, the applicant must have been a judge of Supreme Court or a Chief Justice of High Court.
  • Eminent persons having special knowledge and expertise of not less than twenty five years in the matters of anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, finance, law and management are eligible to be appointed as other members of Lokpal.
Jurisdiction of Lokpal
  • Lokpal’s jurisdiction will cover all categories of public servants including Prime Minister, or a Minister in the Union government, or a Member of Parliament, as well as officials of the Union government under Groups A, B, C and D.
  • Also covered are chairpersons, members, officers and directors of any board, corporation, society, trust or autonomous body either established by an Act of Parliament or wholly or partly funded by the Centre.
  • It also covers any society or trust or body that receives foreign contribution above ₹10 lakh.
  • The Lokpal cannot inquire into any corruption charge against the Prime Minister if the allegations are related to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.
  • Also, complaints against the Prime Minister are not to be probed unless the full Lokpal bench considers the initiation of inquiry and at least 2/3rds of the members approve it.
  • If such an inquiry against the Prime Minister is conductring, it should be held in camera. And if the Lokpal comes to the conclusion that the complaint deserves to be dismissed, the records of the inquiry are not to be published or made available to anyone.
Functioning of Lokpal
  • The Lokpal will have a Secretary, who will be appointed by the Lokpal Chairperson from a panel of names prepared by the Central government. The Secretary will be of the rank of Secretary to the Government of India.
  • The Lokpal will have to appoint an Inquiry Wing, headed by a Director of Inquiry, and a Prosecution Wing, headed by a Director of Prosecution.
 Procedure for dealing with complaints
  •  A complaint under the Lokpal Act should be in the prescribed form and must pertain to an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act against a public servant. There is no restriction on who can make such a complaint.
  • When a complaint is received, the Lokpal may order a preliminary inquiry by its Inquiry Wing, or refer it for investigation by any agency, including the CBI, if there is a prima facie case.
  • Any officer of the CBI investigating a case referred to it by the Lokpal, shall not be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.
  • Before the ordering of an investigation by the agency, the Lokpal shall call for an explanation from the public servant to determine whether a prima facie case exists.
  • The Inquiry Wing or any other agency will have to complete its preliminary inquiry and submit a report to the Lokpal within 60 days.
  • A Lokpal Bench consisting of no less than three members shall consider the preliminary inquiry report, and after giving an opportunity to the public servant, decide whether it should proceed with the investigation. It can order a full investigation, or initiate departmental proceedings or close the proceedings if the allegation is false.
  • If Lokpal orders a full investigation, it must be completed within six months. However, the Lokpal or Lokayukta may allow extensions of six months at a time provided the reasons for the need of such extensions are given in writing.
  • The Lokpal, with respect to Central government servants, may refer the complaints to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
  • The CVC will send a report to the Lokpal regarding officials falling under Groups A and B; and proceed as per the CVC Act against those in Groups C and D.
  •  It may also proceed against the complainant if the allegation is false. Making false and frivolous complaints to Lokpal would result in a fine of up to one lakh rupees and imprisonment of up to one year.
Prosecution
  • The agency ordered to conduct the probe has to file its investigation report in the court of appropriate jurisdiction, and a copy before the Lokpal.
  • A Bench of at least three members will consider the report and may grant sanction to the Prosecution Wing to proceed against the public servant based on the agency’s chargesheet.
  • The trial shall be completed within a maximum of two years.
  • It may also ask the competent authority to take departmental action or direct the closure of the report.
Lokayuktas in State
  • For public servants under the State governments, the States have to set up Lok Ayuktas to deal with charges against their own officials.
  • The Lokayuktas shall have jurisdiction over the CM, Ministers, MLAs, all state government employees and certain private entities (including religious institutions).
  • Even before the enactment of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013 almost all states have created Lokayukta as a statutory authority with a fixed tenure.
  • Members of public can directly approach the Lokayukta with complaints of corruption, nepotism, or any other form of maladministration.
Lokpal Search Committee & Selection Committee 
  • After a long delay and several criticisms from Supreme Court, Government began the appointment process of first Lokpal in 2018.
  • The government constituted a eight-member Lokpal Search Committee in September 2018, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, to recommend names for the posts of Lokpal chairperson and members.
  • The names recommended by Lokpal Search Committee were scrutinised by a Lokpal Selection Committee and nominates the Lokpal.
  • Lokpal Selection Committee is a five-member panel comprising:
    • the Prime Minister,
    • the Lok Sabha Speaker,
    • the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha,
    • the Chief Justice of India and
    • an eminent jurist nominated by the President
  • The Selection Panel comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi; the Chief Justice of India’s nominee, Justice S.A. Bobde; Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan; and eminent jurist Mukul Rohatgi selected the first Lokpal of India.
  • Since there was no official opposition leader in Lok Sabha, the Leader of the largest opposition party was included in the Selection Committee as a ‘special invitee’. But Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leader and the Special invitee, refused to attend the meetings.
Pinaki Ghosh, India’s First Lokpal
  • Justice Pinaki Ghosh, a former Supreme Court judge, was named as India’s first Lokpal, the anti-corruption ombudsman on March 19, 2019. He took oath on March 23, 2019. The oath was administered by President Ram Nath Kovind at a ceremony held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
  • Former Chief Justices of different high courts — Justices Dilip B Bhosale, Pradip Kumar Mohanty, Abhilasha Kumari — and  Ajay Kumar Tripathi,  the sitting Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court were appointed as judicial members in the Lokpal.
  • Former first woman chief of Sashastra Seema Bal Archana Ramasundaram, ex-Maharashtra chief secretary Dinesh Kumar Jain, former IRS officer Mahender Singh and Gujarat cadre ex-IAS officer Indrajeet Prasad Gautam are the Lokpal’s non-judicial members.

 


Timeline
  • 1963: The idea of an ombudsman first came up in parliament during a discussion on budget allocation for the Law Ministry. The word Lokpal was coined by L.M. Singhvi.  
  • 1966: The First Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai recommended the setting up of two independent authorities- at the central and state level, to look into complaints against public functionaries, including MPs.
  • 1968: The Lokpal Bill was introduced in parliament by Shanthibhushan but was not passed.
  • Eight attempts (1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001) were made till 2011 to pass the Bill, but in vain.
  • 2002: The Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by M.N. Venkatachiliah recommended the appointment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas; also recommended that the PM be kept out of the ambit of the authority.
  • 2005: The second Administrative Reforms Commission chaired by Veerappa Moily recommended that office of Lokpal be established without delay.
  • 2011: The government formed a Group of Ministers, chaired by Pranab Mukherjee to suggest measures to tackle corruption and examine the proposal of a Lokpal Bill.
  • 2013: Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, was passed in both Houses of Parliament.

 

(Courtesy: The Hindu, Indian Express, PRS) 

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