When will the government operationalise the Lokpal law, even in its diluted form?
Failure to implement the Lokpal law by the Bharatiya Janata Party government is an indication of how the party is reneging with impunity on its poll promise of a corruption-free India. A lack of will on the part of the government to implement the anti-corruption law can be inferred from its various actions and inactions in the last three years.
Path taken by the lokpal bill
With the government’s refusal to recognise anyone as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) after the general election in 2014, the appointment of the Lokpal became an immediate casualty as the selection committee of the Lokpal includes the recognised LoP.
What was needed to turn the bill into a law
In order to operationalise the law, the government introduced a Lokpal amendment Bill in Parliament substituting the recognised LoP in the selection committee with the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
In fact, a similar amendment was required in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act for the appointment of the CBI Director; it was introduced by the government and passed expeditiously.
The alternate bill introduced
Instead of bringing in a single amendment to alter the composition of the selection committee, the government introduced a 10-page Bill which proposed to fundamentally dilute the original law. Given the controversial nature of amendments, it was referred to a parliamentary standing committee. The Bill continues to languish in Parliament.
How was the original bill diluted?
The Lokpal Act stipulated that by July 31, 2016, Section 44 related to disclosure of assets of public servants was to be operationalised irrespective of appointment of the Lokpal.
To prevent the asset disclosure provision from taking effect, the government introduced another amendment Bill.
This Bill, which completely removed the asset disclosure requirement, was passed within 48 hours of its introduction.
What did the new law say?
The law was thus diluted even before it could be operationalised. The Lokpal Amendment Act, 2016, did away with the statutory requirement of public servants to disclose the assets of their spouses and dependent children provided for under the original law.
Since illegally amassed assets are often handed over to family members, public declaration of assets of the spouse and dependent children of the public servants was necessary to enable people to make informed complaints to the Lokpal.
Other controversial provisions of the bill
The requirement for seeking prior sanction from the government for prosecuting government officials is a critical bottleneck and results not only in huge delays but also, and often, in the accused never being prosecuted.
To address this problem, the Lokpal Act vests the power of granting sanction for prosecution in the independent institution of the Lokpal.
By requiring the Lokpal to seek permission from the government before it can prosecute officials in cases of corruption, the proposed PCA amendments make a mockery of the independent institution and render the entire exercise of demanding an empowered Lokpal futile.
(Adapted from The Hindu)