In Hongkong in the 1970s, The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) sacked 119 of 180 police officers in its first instance. Inspired by this, the 23rd draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill, led by Gandhian Anna Hazare (head of India Against Corruption Movement), was passed in August 2011 after a nationwide protest movement that any Indian would know of. Fast-forward to the present and we see a new “amended” Lokpal Bill. But is it really amended for the better?
According to the new “amended” Lokpal Bill, the ombudsman (another name for the Lokpal) will have no power to transfer CBI officers probing graft allegations and that an official facing an inquiry by the Lokpal should be given an opportunity to be heard at the stage of the preliminary inquiry. Out of the 16 recommendations made by a Parliamentarian committee, 14 were passed including the allowance of state government to appoint Lokayuktas, the anti-corruption organisation in states.
The rejection of the two recommendations by the government –transfer CBI officers investigation a case, prior approval of the Lokpal and not allowing accused officials to give a response, were widely criticised. According to BJP Spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad,“The process of appointment of Lokpal must be transparent and free from government control. The autonomy of the investigating body while investigating cases of corruption is of crucial importance. I regret to say that whatever we heard from the government today raises serious questions about that”. The lack of control given to the Lokpal suggests that effective investigation won’t be possible; unless full autonomy is given.
On the issue of giving opportunity to an official to present his or her view, the government feels that such a protection is required and depriving the officials facing allegations the opportunity to present their views was against the “principle of protection”. Rajya Sabha Leader Arun Jaitley said, “Such an enquiry would be destructive of any effective probe against a delinquent public servant.”
The select committee, to which the controversial Bill was referred in view of sharp differences between political parties, has recommended delinking of the creation of Lokayuktas from the Lokpal Bill.Nikhil Dey, a social activist says, “I am disappointed that Lokayuktas have been delinked in the name of federalism.”
The new bill also included NGOs under Lokpal’s purview, while excluding the government-aided NGOs . This means that societies and trusts which receive government aid and not funds have been kept out of the ambit of the Lokpal.But NGOs which receive major funding from the government have been kept under the ambit of the proposed ombudsman.This has been publicly criticised, with the anomalies in the NGO run by Salman Khursid’s wife being a popular reason on social media websites.
Anna Hazare revealed that he was promised by the Prime Minister that lower bureaucracy and CBI would be under Lokpal’s ambit and later accused the government of betraying the people. The government not considering the CBI to be independent will only come in their way of working “without any fear”. With a need for clear transparency, the CBI needs to autonomous and with it being under advise of the government, that need might not become a reality soon. With such a reaction to this newly revised Bill, there is much more amendment needed for the fight against corruption to even continue properly. In order to replicate Hongkong’s ICAC, the current bill will have to do better. But will they?
Image Source [http://www.indiatogether.org/legislation/images/2005/law-lokpal.jpg]