- A man wearing a mask of anticorruption crusader Anna Hazare in Siliguri, West Bengal, Aug. 28.
Name: The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011
Aim: This landmark anticorruption legislation proposes to set up an independent ombudsman at the national level with parallel anti-graft agencies in states.
The bill’s primary objective is to fast-track investigations against allegedly corrupt government officials, in a bid to crack down on rampant corruption in India’s bureaucracy.
Why it’s important: The Lokpal creates a mechanism to review, investigate and fast track complaints, a much-needed resolve in a country where judicial cases typically drag on for decades.
Complaints registered under the Lokpal would have to be acted on within 60 days of their receipt and are eligible for prosecution in special courts, which, in turn, would have to complete the trial within two years.
Last year, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare led mass protests calling on the government to approve and implement a strong version of the Lokpal bill, a draft of which was first introduced in Parliament in the late 1960s .
Who it affects: All public servants, including cabinet ministers, chief ministers, members of Parliament and employees of state-funded organizations could be investigated on allegations of corruption under the bill, if approved. Charges against former cabinet ministers and members of Parliament could also be probed under the bill, should it become law.
The bill would allow the anticorruption body to investigate alleged wrongdoing by the Prime Minister, except on matters related to foreign affairs, security, atomic energy and space. Investigative proceedings against the Prime Minister, however, would have to be sanctioned by at least six of the nine members of the national Lokpal committee.
Officials serving in the armed forces are exempt from scrutiny under the proposed act.
What changes? If passed, the bill would pave the way for the creation of India’s first independent anticorruption agency, responsible for conducting a preliminary inquiry into offences allegedly committed by public servants and punishable under the 1988 Prevention of Corruption Act.
The Central Vigilance Commission, a federal body, is currently in charge of examining allegations of corruption against public officials. But, with a staff of fewer than 200, critics say it does not have the resources needed to process complaints of alleged corruption in over 1500 government institutions. The commission works mainly as an advisory body and does not have the power to initiate inquiries on its own, relying on the CBI and on the approval of senior bureaucrats. It has no jurisdiction over politicians.
Criticism: Anti-corruption activists like Mr. Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal have criticized the government’s version of the bill, saying it’s too weak.
Members of Messrs. Hazare and Kejriwal, who drafted their own version of the bill, have attacked the government’s draft on several grounds. For instance, they want the Lokpal to have jurisdiction over the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s apex investigative body, something the government opposes. They also want the agency to have its own investigation wing, rather than refer cases of alleged corruption to existing investigative bodies like the CBI.
What next? The bill, which was passed by the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, in December last year, was opposed in the Rajya Sabha during last year’s winter session.
In May, Rajya Sabha’s “select committee,” a body of lawmakers appointed to review and amend proposed acts, took up the bill for deliberation. The committee, which is believed to have incorporated a few minor tweaks, is expected to present the amended version of the bill to the upper house for approval this session. If passed, the amended version would be presented to the Lok Sabha for final approval.
Click here to read the full bill.