The Big Picture: Supreme Court judgement on Lokpal- What are the hurdles?
The idea of an anti corruption body and an ombudsman to look into corruption allegations against administrators including legislators has been floating around for over five decades now. It finally got shaped with the passage of Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill in 2013 but four years after that, the Lokpal is yet to be appointed. Recently, the Supreme Court of India told NDA Government that there is no justification to keep enforcement of Lokpal Act 2013 suspended. The Government in turn told the Court that Lokpal could not be appointed because the amendment regarding the leader of opposition in Lokpal law are still pending before the Parliament. However, the apex court has said that if LoP is not available, then there is no legal disability in other members of the selection committee for making recommendation for the appointment of Lokpal.
Presently, Lok Sabha does not have a Leader of Opposition to sit on the selection panel. For any opposition party to get the Leader of the Opposition post, it requires a strength of at least 10% of the total members in the House which none of the parties managed to achieve. This situation called for an amendment to the existing Lokpal Act to change the Leader of Opposition to Leader of the largest Opposition party.
As the Government refused to recognize anyone as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) after the general election in 2014, the appointment of the Lokpal suffered as the selection committee of the Lokpal includes the recognized LoP. In order to operationalise the law, the government had to introduce a Lokpal amendment Bill in Parliament substituting the recognized LoP in the selection committee with the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
A similar amendment was required in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act for the appointment of the CBI Director which was introduced by the government and passed expeditiously. But for the Lokpal law, a single amendment to change the composition of the selection committee was not only absent, instead, the government introduced a 10-page Bill which proposed to fundamentally dilute the original law. Given the controversial nature of amendments, it was referred to a parliamentary standing committee.
Section 44 related to disclosure of assets of public servants was to be operationalised irrespective of appointment of the Lokpal. To prevent this from taking effect, the government introduced another amendment Bill. This Bill completely wiped out the asset disclosure requirement and was immediately pushed through by the government in Parliament and passed within 48 hours of its introduction. Thus the law was diluted.
Lokpal Act provides the power of granting sanction for prosecution in the independent institution of the Lokpal. Instead of reinforcing this provision that insulates the prosecution process from government influence, the Prevention to Corruption Act amendments strengthen the need to have government’s permission before prosecuting a public servant by. By requiring the Lokpal to seek permission from the government before it can prosecute officials in cases of corruption, the very purpose of Lokpal is hindered.
The Lokpal has to be implemented not only in letters but also in spirit. It requires a strong political will to clear the amendments and bring Lokpal into effect.