Friday, August 19, 2011

All about Jan Lokpal Bill (जन लोकपाल विधेयक)

The Jan Lokpal Bill (Hindi: जन लोकपाल विधेयक), also referred to as the citizens' ombudsman bill, is a proposed anti-corruption law in India. It was proposed by anti-corruption social activists as a more effective improvement to the original Lokpal bill which is currently being proposed by the the Government of India[1]. The prefix Jan (translation: citizens) was added to signify the fact that these improvements include inputs provided by the ordinary citizens through a activist driven non-governmental public consultation[2][3].

The Jan Lokpal Bill aims to effectively deter corruption, redress grievances of citizens and protect whistle-blowers. If made into into law, the bill seeks to create an independent ombudsman body similar to the Election Commission of India called the Lokpal (Sanskrit: protector of the people). It will be empowered to register and investigate complaints of corruption against politicians and bureaucrats without prior government approval[4]. First introduced in 1968[5], the bill has failed to become law for over four decades.[6]

In 2011, Gandhian rights activist Anna Hazare started a Satyagraha movement by commencing a fast unto death in New Delhi to demand the passing of the bill. The movement attracted attention in the media, and thousands of supporters. Following Hazare's four day hunger strike, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that the bill would be re-introduced in the 2011 monsoon session of the Parliament[7].

Accordingly, a committee of five Cabinet Ministers and five social activists attempted to draft a compromise bill merging both the version but failed. The Indian government went on to propose its own version in the parliament, which the activists reject on the grounds of not being sufficiently effective[8].

The Lokpal bill was first introduced by Shanti Bhushan in 1968[5] and passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969. But it did not get through in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India. Subsequent versions were re-introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008,[9] but none of them passed.

Renewed calls for the bill arose over resentment of the major differences between the draft 2010 Lokpal Bill prepared by the government and that prepared by the members of the associated activists movement — N. Santosh Hegde, a former justice of the Supreme Court of India; Lokayukta of Karnataka; Shanti Bhushan; Arvind Kejriwal; Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court; and members of the India Against Corruption movement[2].

The bill's supporters consider existing laws too weak, full of contradictions and insufficiently empowered to combat corruption.[10][11] On the other hand, critics of the Jan Lokpal Bill argue that the bill attempts to supercede existing constitutional bodies and attempts to create a super-institution with sweeping powers, which can be dangerous for the future of democracy.[12]

Key features of proposed bill
Some important features of the proposed bill are:[2]

  1. To establish a central government anti-corruption institution called Lokpal, supported by Lokayukta at the state level.
  2. As in the case of the Supreme Court and Cabinet Secretariat, the Lokpal will be supervised by the Cabinet Secretary and the Election Commission. As a result, it will be completely independent of the government and free from ministerial influence in its investigations.
  3. Members will be appointed by judges, Indian Administrative Service officers with a clean record, private citizens and constitutional authorities through a transparent and participatory process.
  4. A selection committee will invite shortlisted candidates for interviews, videorecordings of which will thereafter be made public.
  5. Every month on its website, the Lokayukta will publish a list of cases dealt with, brief details of each, their outcome and any action taken or proposed. It will also publish lists of all cases received by the Lokayukta during the previous month, cases dealt with and those which are pending.
  6. Investigations of each case must be completed in one year. Any resulting trials should be concluded in the following year, giving a total maximum process time of two years.
  7. Losses caused to the government by a corrupt individual will be recovered at the time of conviction.
  8. Government officework required by a citizen that is not completed within a prescribed time period will result in Lokpal imposing financial penalties on those responsible, which will then be given as compensation to the complainant.
  9. Complaints against any officer of Lokpal will be investigated and completed within a month and, if found to be substantive, will result in the officer being dismissed within two months.
  10. The existing anti-corruption agencies (CVC, departmental vigilance and the anti-corruption branch of the CBI) will be merged into Lokpal which will have complete power and authority to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician.
  11. Whistleblowers who alert the agency to potential corruption cases will also be provided with protection by it.
Difference between Government and activist drafts

(for clarity click on the images)

                                                        (to read Proper, click for enlarge )

Campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill

The first version of the Lokpal Bill drafted by the Government of India in 2010 was considered ineffective by anti-corruption activists from the civil society [17]. These activists, under the banner of India Against Corruption, came together to draft a citizen's version of the Lokpal Bill later called the Jan Lokpal[17]. Public awareness drives[18] and protest marches[17] were carried out to campaign for the bill. However, public support for the Jan Lokpal Bill draft started gathering steam after Anna Hazare, a noted Gandhian announced that he would hold an indefinite fast from April 5, 2011 for the passing of the Lokpal/Jan Lokpal bill[7][19][20].  

On April 8, Anna Hazare called for a Jail Bharo Andolan from April 13 to protest against Government's rejection of their demands[21]. Anna Hazare also claimed that his group has received six crore (60 million) text messages of support[22] and that he had further backing from a large number of Internet activists. The outpouring of support was largely free of political overtones; political parties were specifically discouraged from participating in the movement[23]. The fast ended on April 9, after 98 hours, when the Government accepted most demands due to public pressure. Anna Hazare set an August 15 deadline for the passing of the bill in the Parliament[24], failing which he would start a hunger strike from August 16. The fast also led to the Government of India agreeing to setting up a Joint Drafting Committee, which would complete its work by June 30[24].

Notable supporters and opposition
In addition to the activists responsible for creating and organizing support for the bill, a wide variety of other notable individuals have also stated that they support this bill. Spiritual leadersSri Sri Ravi Shankar[25] and Yog Guru Ramdev[26] have both expressed support. Notable politicians who have indicated support for the bill include Ajit Singh[27] and Manpreet Singh Badal[28] as well as the principal opposition party, Bharatiya Janta Party.[29][30] In addition, numerous Bollywood actors, directors, and musicians have publicly approved of the bill.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38]

Notable opposition has been expressed by HRD minister Kapil Sibal and other Congress leaders; Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamta Banerjee; Punjab Chief Minister and Akali Dal leader Prakash Singh Badal; Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Jagdish Sharan Verma. [39] Although BJP showed their support earlier, there are reports that BJP shares the Congress's concern "over letting the civil society gain the upper hand over Parliament in lawmaking".[40]

Government response
To dissuade Hazare from going on an indefinite hunger strike, the Prime Minister's Office have directed the ministries of personnel and law to examine how the views of society activists can be included in the Lokpal Bill.[41]

On 5 April 2011, the National Advisory Council rejected the Lokpal bill drafted by the government. Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal then met social activists Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal on 7 April to find ways to bridge differences over the bill.[42] Hazare's fast was supported by the CPI(M) with their politburo issuing a statement demanding an effective Lokpal Bill.

After several rounds of talks, on 8 April 2011, Anna Hazare announced to his supporters that the Government had agreed to all his demands and he would break his fast on the following Saturday morning. According to the understanding reached, five of the ten-member joint-draft committee would come from society . Pranab Mukherjee will be the Chairman of the draft committee and Shanti Bhushan his Co-Chairman.[43]

Government's handling of the formation of the draft committee, involving the civil society in preparation of the draft Lokpal bill, was criticized by various political parties: BJP, BJD, TDP,AIADMK, CPI-M,RJD, BJD, JD(U) and Samajwadi Party. [44][45]

On July 28, 2011, the Union Cabinet ministers approved a bill that will be introduced in the Parliament in August 2011 for approval. This bill contains parts of the provisions proposed in Jan Lokpal bill. The essential features are: Lokpal consists of eight members and a chairperson; the Chair will be retired Chief Justice; four members should have judicial background such as retired justices from the Supreme Court; the other four members should have 25 years of administrative experience in particular dealing with corruption with integrity; members are appointed for a term of five years; Lokpal will have its own investigation and prosecution wing; it has the authority to investigate corruption matters involving any ministers, Members of Parliament, any Group A officers in any organization set up by the Parliament; Lokpal will not have the power to prosecute but will have to refer the case to the Supreme Court. A nine member committee, headed by the Prime Minister (with members including the Speaker, opposition party leader, a minister and reputed legal professionals) and the Prime Minister and Supreme Court and High Court justices are exempted from he jurisdiction of Lokpal. If this bill becomes law, one major change from the current practice is that the LokPal can initiate investigation of government officials and ministers and other elected representatives without prior approval from the government, as it is practiced now under the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988. [46]

Drafting Committee
The drafting committee was officially formed on 8 April 2011. It consists of ten members, including five from the government and five drawn from society.[47][48] The committee failed to agree on the terms of a compromise bill and the government introduced its own version of the bill in the parliament in August 2011. [49]

The Government of India accepted that the committee be co-chaired by a politician and a non-political activist. It is reported that Pranab Mukherjee, from the political arena, and Shanti Bhushan, from civil society, will fill those roles[citation needed].

Government representation
Five Cabinet ministers will be a part of the Drafting Committee. They are:
  • Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister, Co-Chairman;
  • P. Chidambaram, Minister of Home Affairs;
  • Veerappa Moily, Minister of Corporate Affairs;
  • Kapil Sibal, Minister for Communications and Information Technology; and
  • Salman Khursid, Minister of Law
Civil society representation
Five leading social activists will be a part of the Drafting Committee. They are:
  • Shanti Bhushan, Former Minister of Law and Justice, Co-Chairman;
  • Anna Hazare, Social Activist;
  • Prashant Bhushan, Lawyer;
  • N. Santosh Hegde, Former Lokayukta (Karnataka); and
  • Arvind Kejriwal, RTI Activist.
Criticisms of the bill
The bill has been criticized as being naïve in its approach to combating corruption. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President of the Center for Policy Research Delhi writes[50] that the bill "is premised on an institutional imagination that is at best naïve; at worst subversive of representative democracy". The very concept of a Lokpal concept has received criticism from HRD minister Kapil Sibal in that it will lack accountability, be oppresive and undemocratic[12].

The pro-bill activist Arvind Kejriwal rejects the claim of Lokpal being extra-constitutional with the explanation that the body will only investigate corruption offences and submit a charge sheet which would then tried and prosecuted through trial courts and higher courts. And that other bodies with equivalent powers in other matters exist. And also that the proposed bill also lists clear provisions for the Supreme Court to abolish the Lokpal[51].

Despite these clarifications, critics feel that the exact judicial powers of LokPal is rather unclear in comparison with its investigative powers. The bill [52] requires "...members of Lokpal and the officers in investigation wing of Lokpal shall be deemed to be police officers". Although some supporters have denied any judicial powers of Lokpal,[53] the government and some critics have recognized Lokpal to have quasi-judicial powers. [54].

The bill also states that "Lokpal shall have, and exercise the same jurisdiction powers and authority in respect of contempt of itself as a High court has and may exercise, and, for this purpose, the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (Central Act 70 of 1971)shall have the effect subject to the modification that the references therein to the High Court shall be construed as including a reference to the Lokpal." [55] [56] [57]. Review of proceedings and decisions by Lokpal is prevented in the bill by the statement " proceedings or decision of the Lokpal shall be liable to be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called in question in any court of ordinary Civil Jurisdiction.". As a result, how the trials will be conducted is unclear in the bill, although the bill outlines requiring judges for special courts, presumably to conduct trial that should be completed within one year. The critics hence express concern that, without judicial review, Lokpal could potentially become an extra-constitutional body with investigative and judicial powers whose decisions cannot be reviewed in regular courts.[58].

The matter of whether the Indian Prime Minister and higher judiciary should or should not be prosecutable by the Lokpal remains as one of the major issues of dispute. Anna's own nominee for co-chairing the joint panel Justice Verma, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, has expressed his constitutional objections for including the Prime Minister and higher judiciary under Lokpal[59]. According to him, "this would foul with the basic structure of the constitution"[60].

Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy has said "Vesting jurisdiction over the length and breadth of the government machinery in one institution will concentrate too much power in the institution, while the volume of work will make it difficult to carry out its tasks". She and her colleagues at the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) have proposed an alternative mechanism consisting of five institutions[61].

In April 2011, the involvement of the bill co-chairman Shanti Bhushan was questioned after a CDROM emerged with audio clippings of a telephone conversation allegedly between him, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh about influencing a judge.[62] All involved reacted to the allegation saying that the CD was fabricated and demanded a formal investigation to verify its authenticity.

Delhi Police arrested Hazare on 16 August 2011 at his residence as he was leaving for the JP park, where he was to start his unlimited hunger strike. Arwind Kejriwal and many supporters were also arrested. Police arrested Hazare on the grounds that his protest could cause law and order problems in Delhi. After his arrest, thousands of people gathered in the city to protest against the government. People rallied in large numbers; the police arrested thousand of people, who were detained inside stadiums converted to jails.[63] The city observed a candle light protest at India Gate in response. The nation as a whole witnessed widespread protests against the alleged atrocities of the government.

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