And now, the Lokpal wand of justice PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 March 2019 00:00
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With AAP planning to approach the Lokpal against Modi on Rafale, fear of forum-shopping resurface


Now that the members of the Lokpal have finally been appointed, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), one of the prime movers of the move behind the Lokpal along with one-time mentor Anna Hazare, has said it plans to move the newly-constituted anti-corruption watchdog against prime minister Narendra Modi in the Rafale and Sahara-Birla diaries scam. Given the Supreme Court has already opined on the two matters, the fact that AAP chief—and Delhi chief minister—Arvind Kejriwal plans to raise the issue again raises fears once more of forum-shopping via the Lokpal and the body becoming a source of harassment; the fact that both the Central government and the Lokpal have jurisdiction over bureaucrats is seen as yet another problem area. Interestingly, while AAP joined other Opposition leaders in pillorying the government for delaying the appointment of the Lokpal, when Kejriwal came up with his Lokpal Bill, members of his party felt it was a diluted version of what Hazare had proposed and called it a ‘Jokepal’.

The newly-appointed members of the Lokpal have the option of rejecting Kejriwal’s complaint—under the law, two thirds of all members have to agree to initiate an inquiry into the PM—though the obvious USP of the body is the power to investigate ministers as well as the prime minister. Forget about initiating an inquiry into a sitting prime minister (think Rajiv Gandhi in Bofors), which government would initiate a probe into even a sitting minister; even though the then prime minister Manmohan Singh had serious reservations about A Raja’s plan on telecom licences, he never dared to put Raja’s decisions on hold. And while the initial discussions around the Lokpal gave it sweeping powers—it could cancel licences or contracts during even the investigation phase—many of these issues were sorted out when initial passions cooled.

Whether the Lokpal—and the Lokayuktas at the level of the states—will work remains to be seen, but its genesis is the belief that nothing that is run by the government can deliver justice; that is clearly problematic since, while the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) that supervises the CBI is an autonomous body, this was not considered good enough. Also, till such time that the government appoints a separate investigation and prosecuting division for the Lokpal, it will work using existing bodies like the CBI. Why the CBI, which loses so many of its cases or the government lawyers, would work better under the Lokpal is not clear. And, it is more than a bit odd that, unlike the courts where all members are judicial, half the Lokpal’s members will not be judicial members. Even more worrying is the stipulation that at least half the members of the Lokpal have to be SC/ST/OBC/minorities/women since there is no such stipulation for reservations among the judiciary. Indeed, those who framed the Act didn’t believe these reservations would be adhered to by the government, so at least half the members of even the Search Committee for choosing the members will have to be SC/ST/OBC/minorities/women.

While the body independent of government is seen as India’s best shot at curbing official corruption, it is not clear why such a body is prone to less corruption, especially since it is not clear who will probe the Lokpal’s members who have been given fairly sweeping powers; members or the chairman can be removed following a Supreme Court inquiry that, in turn, follows a petition signed by at least 100 MPs. It is nice to see firm timelines in the Lokpal Act; the Inquiry Wing is to do its investigations within 60 days, the Special Courts have to complete their trial within a year. It remains to be seen how this will fare, even assuming the Centre makes good on its promises to speed up the process of appointments and providing enough court rooms for the Lokpal’s benches—the newly-minted Insolvency Code, by way of example, has very tight deadlines, but most of these are being breached regularly. How the newly-appointed members of the Lokpal will tackle these obvious shortcomings in the law—and the blind belief that the government-run surveillance system is completely bust, even bankrupted—will now be keenly watched.


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