Lokpal Not a Mere Slogan

Measures to ensure probity and integrity in public life have been at the centre stage of national consciousness, particularly during the tenure of UPA II.  Lokpal, though not a “cure for all ills”, was embraced by masses as a significant step to deal with corruption at the highest levels of Government and political machinery.  Anna Hazare’s fast at Ramlila ground in 2011 and again from December 10, 2013 has forced the Parliament to deliver the Act.  The first Lokpal bill was proposed and passed in the Fourth Lok Sabha in 1969.  However, it did not pass through the Rajya Sabha.  Subsequent Lokpal bills from 1971 to 2008 also met the same fate.  Rajya Sabha on December 17, 2013 and Lok Sabha on December 18, 2013 have passed the amended Lokpal bill.  Thus, the jinx has been broken after more than four decades.  The political strategy displayed by many political parties to sabotage the passage of the Lokpal Bill has finally met the dust.

Anna Hazare and many important political leaders recognize that the mere passage of Lokpal bill is only a first step for effectively addressing the deep rooted corruption.  It would require a very informed and committed civil society to ensure that the institution of Lokpal becomes functional.  After the assent by the President, the Government would need to declare the date of effectiveness of the Act.  Concurrently, the Government will have to frame and notify the rules for giving shape to the institution. The selection of the Chairman and the Members is a pre-requisite for finalizing the support staff and rules of business.  With the best of intentions, it may take about six months’ time to give a shape to a functioning Lokpal.  The manning of the staff positions is not an easy task as people with proven integrity would be brought initially on deputation from government followed by their absorption to ensure the autonomy and independence of the Lokpal Institution.

The Lokpal is to encompass not only the senior bureaucracy and political functionary, but would also cover up to Group A and B level officers, senior staff of public sector undertakings as well as government assisted non-governmental organizations.  Lokpal would be required to coordinate with highly decentralized administrative framework in the government.  It would be a logistical challenge for a centralized institution like the Lokpal to handle all cases from high profile scams to complaints of speed money in procurement of goods and delivery of services.  The most serious danger is the plethora of complaints which would have to be screened and then properly graded for further investigation.

The experience of the functioning of Lokayukta, Central Information Commission and the State level Information Commissions is a great lesson for the Lokpal institution.  There are a number of Lokayukta institutions who have not even published their annual reports.  There is a huge pendency of cases in terms of disposal of complaints.  In many Lokayukta offices, the institutions of new complaints have overshot the disposal and thus growing pendency.  Karnataka has one of the most effective functional Lokayukta.  The total number of pending cases upto 2012 are 15027, of which less than six months cases are 1632, six months to one year – 1360, one year to two years – 2707 and two years and above – 9328.  Other States also have similar periodicity and number of pending cases.  The Central Information Commission has a balance of 430425 appeals by the end of 2012, which makes a mockery of appeals and the citizens’ need for information has become a casualty.  It is reported that UP Information Commission has 35000 RTI applications pending with 250 applications/appeals filed everyday.

The Lokpal would need a huge organizational capacity, manpower and proven work culture.  It has to ensure that specialized intervention and focused action is not compromised with indiscriminate coverage of irregularities in the governmental organizations.  It must not become another parallel bureaucracy where the remedy would be worse than the disease itself.  It is important that the Government takes a pro-active stance in providing initial staff to the Lokpal institution.  Unless the rules of Lokpal Institution is carefully framed, proper staff recruited in a reasonable time frame and above all, effective screening of the complaints is enforced, the institution would fail to deliver the expectations and once again we will face the spectre of blame game  between the Government and the Lokpal for the failure.  Awakened civil society is the best disinfectant.

By Nripendra Misra, former Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

(This article was published in Dainik Bhaskar on 19th December, 2013)