LOKPAL: MUCH DELAYED APPOINTMENT
The chant of ''bhrashtacharbhagao,'' Anna Hazare, the protagonist for the anti-corruption movement, was able to catch the imagination of masses and galvanize thousands of people to come on the street and fight against corruption. Seven years ago, the chant became the national slogan, which resulted in the formation of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act in 2013. The Act provides for the appointment of an anti-corruption ombudsman, which was envisioned by several lawmakers and legislators way back in the 1960s, to alleviate the wounds of victims of deeply rooted graft in Indian society. But after seven years of delay, finally, the first Lokpal of India got appointed. This delay in appointment was due to several reasons, which eventually questions the credibility and efficiency of the much-awaited Act.
After the enactment of Act in 2013, several aspersions on the provisions of the Act came into the picture, which was taken by the executive as an excuse for much delay in the appointment of the chairperson. The selection panel for the office of chairman; includes the prime minister, Leader of the Opposition party, Eminent Jurist, Lok Sabha Speaker, and Chief Justice of India. But due to the absence of any opposition party, amendment in the provision was orchestrated. The 10-page amendment bill did not limit itself to the composition of the selection panel, but also sought to dilute the original law fundamentally. It provided that disclosure of assets of public servants would take place only following the guidelines of the Centre, which eventually resulted in tumult in the country. This allowed the government to make a case for delay in the establishment of the institution. Only after the reprimand from Supreme Court, stating; the amendment should not be taken as an excuse by the government for the delay of establishment of a much-needed institution that leads the selection committee to meet for the first time in March 2018.
This driving force for much delay, from the formation of Act to establishment of the institution, was nothing but lack of political will to establish the same. As per RTI reply, UPA govt. held meeting of selection committee twice in 2014, but the next meeting for the same was held only after four years by BJP government; 48 months after the formation of BJP. As Anna Hazare, rightly said, "It is not just this government, even previous governments did not want a Lokpal because it’s a revolutionary law," Indeed, Lokpal with a vast reservoir of powers and independence can prove to be the epitome of revolutionary law, which only become the reason for the delay of its establishment.
Implications of the Delay
Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013, is a product of mass agitation against deeply rooted grafts in Indian society and enactment of the same, providing wide-range powers that increased the people's expectation from the very Act. The history of Lokayuktas, the parallel institution of Lokpal in states, has a history of misgovernance; delay in the appointment of Lokpal at central level shadows the credibility of this institution's governance well. Further, the opposition party's leader to be a part of the selection committee did not find its place in the actual selection, which eventually led to the preponderance of representatives of the ruling party. In the absence of the leader of the opposition party, the selection of chairperson and members of Lokpal came under a cloud with doubts arising about an inherent bias towards the selection of candidates favored by the government.
Moreover, transparency, which could have helped the government cast away the allegations of preponderance, was ridiculed during the selection process. The functioning of the committee was shrouded in secrecy, and no details of the selection were presented in the public domain. In addition to this, minutes of the meetings of the selection panel, sought under the RTI Act, were denied, and the same was not in keeping with the provisions of RTI. Furthermore, the reluctance of the Supreme Court to issue the guidelines in maintaining the transparency for the selection process was just like icing the cake. The stance of the Supreme Court was at odds with the progressive stance taken by it in ensuring transparency in the appointment of other oversight bodies.
An inescapable inference is that the delay in the appointment of the first Lokpal in India is not due to any legal bar. Still, the lack of political will to establish the same due to its revolutionary power to cast away corruption. Furthermore, aspersions over the credibility of the procedure of the appointment have an impact of doing the revolutionary act no less than other contemptible acts dealing with the same problem of deep-rooted corruption in our society. The whole episode of delay makes it unrealistic to expect any considerable impact on the lives of people. Nevertheless, the comrade of the Lokpal act has a huge responsibility to live up to people's expectations from the Act.
USLLS, GGSIPU, New Delhi
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