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Corruption is a phenomenon which has plagued innumerable societies and has been detrimental to their progress and development. It is also said that the widespread prevalence of corruption hampers the whole prospect of having a quality life. Corruption in India has time and again proven to be debilitating to the development of the country. Innumerable statutory bodies have been set up by the Government of India to filibuster this social evil such as the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013.
Genesis of The Lokpal And Lokayukta Act
In 1966, the Government of India had constituted a committee, Administrative Reforms Commission under the chairmanship of Morarji Desai, later taken over by K Hanumanthaiah. The central goal of the commission was to lay out guidelines for better governance. This committee went on to recommend the establishment of the Lokpal at the centre and Lokayukta at the state level.
This complex mechanism was brought forth to curb the escalation of corruption in all domains and realms of administrative and governmental organisations of India. In the following decades, multiple Acts were passed, all of which fell flat owing partially to the incessant political pressure. Finally, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission was constituted under the chairmanship of Verappa Moily in the year 2005.
Owing to the increasing rates of corruption, in the year 2011, Anna Hazare had undertaken a fast until death to demand for a concrete body that would monitor the corruption levels. Following these protests, Anna Hazare and other anti-corruption protesters were welcomed to help prepare the Jan Lokpal Bill. Within two years, this was replaced by the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013.
- The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 came into effect in India on 16th January 2014. The Act was found to be applicable even to Jammu and Kashmir. The Act sought to set up a Lokpal that would serve as an active vigil and monitor any malpractices of any civil servant or governmental organisations.
- The set-up of Lokpal consists of eight members, fifty per cent of whom must have some legal background. The other fifty per cent of the aforementioned body is composed of the minority spheres of society, for instance, ST, SC, OBC, and women. The Act also provides for certain parameters that have to be followed during the process of appointment of members and the Chairperson of the Lokpal. To elucidate, the Act prohibits the appointment of a former convict as the Chairperson of the body.
- It is interesting to note that the expenditure of the body is taken care of through the Consolidated Fund of India.
- The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 has also mentioned that the Lokpal has the power to set up an Inquiry Committee, which would set forth a preliminary investigation when there is a corruption allegation against any public servant. The Act has also mandated that the Lokpal would be equipped with officers and workers from various ministries to facilitate the process of investigation. The Lokpal has the authority to extend its power over the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, and the Central Government. The jurisdiction extends even over the government officials, who are posted abroad.
- The said Act also looks into the aspect of confiscation and seizure of wrongfully gained assets, though the route of surreptitious, corrupt practices. The Act additionally mandates the members of Lokpal to declare their assets before joining the board.
- Additionally, the aforementioned Act also mandates the Central Government to set up special courts to ensure expedient disposal of cases. However, the Act does not authorise Lokpal to look into any complaints concerning the chairperson or any member of the body. That is, the members of the statutory body can be removed on grounds of malpractices by the President.
- It is interesting to note that religious bodies that collect money from the public come under the purview of this Act.
- In addition to Lokpal, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 has recommended the establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level to combat the menace of corruption.
- The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 also provides a provision wherein, any person who files a false and malicious complaint against a public servant is subjected to imprisonment of one year and a heavy fine of Rs. 1 Lakh.
- Even though the Act attempts to unveil the malpractices of various public servants, the Act also attempts to bolster the goodwill of the loyal and honest public servants.
Shortcomings of the Act
- The implementation of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 is severely hampered because of the many misnomers in the Act. One of the biggest challenges to the implementation of the Act was that Lokpal was not even established until the year 2019. One of the reasons for such a delayed implementation is the resistance displayed by various political figures. As a result, the implementation was also side-lined for several years.
- However, the aforementioned Act is also observed to be silent on various aspects that are seen to be crucial to the process of repression of corruption. For instance, it is observed that the Act provides no protective armour to the whistle-blowers who expose the various malpractices at several governmental levels. Additionally, the selection board of the Lokpal comprises of the Prime Minister and other Parliamentarians. Hence, the selection procedure itself is not fully free of external influence.
- The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 also appears to focus heavily on the Lokpal. To elaborate, the Act only mandates the setting up of Lokayuktas in the respective states within the timeframe of one year. That is, it could be observed that the Act does not adequately delve into the functions of the Lokayuktas. In other words, clear demarcations of powers were not marked. Additionally, the make-up of this state-level body has not been specified clearly in the Act.
- Another concern that has been highlighted with regard to the Act is the fact that the jurisdiction of Lokpal does not extend to the judiciary of the country, which could also be plagued with corruption. Consequently, little power is given to the body to deal with the malpractices that creep into the judiciary. In fact, the jurisdiction of the Lokpal does not even extend to the armed forces of the country.
- It is further observed that the Lokpal and Lokayuktas so established are heavily dependent upon bodies, such as Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Central Vigilance Committee (CVC) to carry out even preliminary investigations. It has been time and again debated that these ombudsman institutions require some autonomy to carry out their functions in a more efficient manner, without the unnecessary intervention of political parties. To elaborate, it has been claimed that these institutions need to be equipped with enough autonomy to permit these bodies to carry out their functions and ensure a greater sense of transparency and accountability of various governmental agencies.
- It could be observed that only a handful of states had implemented the setting up of the Lokayuktas. Additionally, various states have enacted various Acts, which lay out different powers for the Lokayuktas. This shows the haphazard execution of the said Act. Moreover, it could be observed that in many states such as Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, the Lokayuktas have actively taken various initiatives to tackle instances of malfeasance; however, other states seem to lack the resources to bring forth even minutiae of changes.
- It has further been contended by many that this ombudsman system has been crippled severely with red-tapism. That is, the convoluted procedures and mechanisms could prove to be counterproductive to the very ideals of this system.
- Additionally, the body could easily be infiltrated and taken over by the officials with clout. Another significant concern raised is over the fact that there is no provision to make an appeal against the Lokpal. Furthermore, it is also observed that the Lokpal does not investigate into the complaints that date back to 7 years or more, which also seems to hamper the process of unveiling even the minute instances of corruption.
All in all, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013, though brought in with the purpose of reducing corruption and other forms of malfeasance in the governmental realms, seems to lack in various areas. The lack of whistle-blower protection could be contended to be the biggest flaw of the Act. To elaborate, many would be hesitant to raise their small voice against the clamorous influential voices. Hence, the anti-corruption movement in India has a long path to tread.
Author: Vaishnavi Kokkonda from NALSAR, Hyderabad.
Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.