Lokpal Bill, the most talked about Bill had been waiting for the green signal for the last 40 years. Eight times the Bill was put for parliamentary approval but got clearance this Tuesday. Though Anna Hazare’s anti corruption movement stirred the crowd and politicians but the approaching general elections in 2014 have also played their role in passing the Bill. So an obvious electoral pressure can be seen on the government who suddenly and collectively passed the Bill.
Why India needed Lokpal Bill so badly?
India is recognized as a promising ‘BRIC’ economy and expected to become an economic giant. Within a short span of time India has become the most sought after country among investors across the world. Though India’s economy is booming but there is one major problem which is holding back all the progress and foreign investment. This is CORRUPTION.
Though corruption is there is every other country but the way it is working and penetrating in our system cannot be seen elsewhere. Due to this investors are now less interested in making investments as corruption causes unnecessary delay and increases the overall cost of business.
History and Current system working against corruption
Weak system and outdated laws resulted in corruption. With not so effective system in the past the problem grew like anything in the recent years. ‘License Raj’, a period between 1947-1990 was the time when government intervention in private business was to its extreme. According to the 1951 Industries Act, all the industrial units were required to get licenses from the central government for business. Then the powers were given to state with the 1956 Industrial Policy Resolution. This created a duplicate system and doing business in India became very complicated. The power was in the hands of government so government officials started taking bribe. Moreover lack of transparency in the system further favored the corruption. In 1991 economic liberalization took place that had attracted many foreign investors and investments. But corruption reduced their interest in doing business.
Presently there are two major reforms which are working against corruption in India. These are – the Prevention of Corruption Act in 1988 (amending the 1947 law) and the Right to Information Act (RTI) in 2005.
- The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA)
This was the first major anti corruption law that was originally enacted in 1947. Violations under the PCA are handled by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) established in 1964. PCA was amended in 1988 to prevent corruption. Criminal liability got attached to the 1988 PCA. According to the section 7 of this Act, any public official taking gratification other than legal remuneration as a motive or reward for doing anything is a crime.
Lack of effect is the major drawback of the Prevention or Corruption Act, as punishment under this Act has rarely happened.
The Act is numb on the issues related to foreign corruption. So Indian citizens or corporation doing frauds in international transaction cannot be penalized under this Act.
- The Right to Information Act 2005
With the Right to Information Act in 2005 common citizen of India is granted with the fundamental right to retrieve information related to the functioning from public authorities without giving reason for the inquiry. The RTI is applicable in all the states except for Jammu and Kashmir due to political conflicts and it covers all the government bodies from central, state to local bodies as well as NGOs.
For functioning, public information officers (PIOs) are appointed to receive applications for information at sub-divisional or sub- district level. Within three days PIO needs to respond. In case no information is provided then the citizen has complete right to appeal to a senior authority and second appeal can be made to the Central Information Commission. The officer can be penalized for not providing the information if not falling under any rule of exception.
But this system has its own flaws:
Firstly, right to obtain information has been given to a common citizen and getting information depends upon his will. It is possible that he might not be interested in this. Also he has no power, confidence and knowledge of the legalities involve which certainly make this system weak.
Secondly the RTI has too many exceptions making the Act ineffective in many cases.
Thirdly the whistleblower gets no protection under the RTI. So no one dares to fight against powerful people. Whistleblower must feel safe and must be statutorily protected.
Since 2005 when the Act was made law no major scandal or corruption has been uncovered.
Demand for Lokpal Bill has mounted recently because people are fed up with the present system against corruption. In spite of these acts, corruption is increasing in India. Further boost has been given by Anna Hazare’s fast. Apart from this, common man’s grievances are not heard properly. This led to the need of an independent investigating agency which is not controlled by politicians or bureaucrats. As our system has no independent frame work to fight against corruption so no one is afraid of indulging in corruption. Many legal cases of corruption take 30-35 years. Answer to all this may be the recent Lokpal Bill. But major point of concern is the government controlled CBI which is also an investigating body under Lokpal Bill.
The Lokpal Bill, 2011 is an anti-corruption law that seeks the establishment of Lokpal for inquiring into allegations of corruption against public officials. The Lokpal will have its own autonomous machinery to enquire and investigate the corruption cases. Though we have the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), but it is a recommendatory body and under the control of government.
All the cases of corruption in which high officials are involved go to the CBI. Lokpal is not going to completely controll the administrative officers of the CBI who will investigate the corruption cases. This is regarded as the major drawback of the Bill. Also critics are stating that present version of the Lokpal Bill is not as effective as its original version. It has been amended on the basis of suggestions from the select committee.
How Lokpal Bill is better than current system?
All the corruption cases of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 will come under the jurisdiction of Lokpal Bill. Preliminary inquiry will be conducted within 30 days and completion of investigation must take place within six months. Though extension of further six months can be given only after receiving a valid written reason. All the trials must be completed within a year that may extend to two years after giving valid reason in writing. To investigate cases against a public servant no sanction is required and this is one of the best parts.
But beware to make false complaints as penalty of false complaints is 2 to 5 years of jail and fine of Rs 25,000 to Rs 2 lakh. The Lokpal also has the power to search and seize documents and it can even recommend the suspension of the accused. Even if the prosecution is pending then also there is a provision to confiscate the property acquired by corrupt means.
In present system, Directorate of prosecution comes under law ministry but with the Lokpal Bill he will come under the control of CBI director. The Central Vigilance Commission will recommend the appointment of director of prosecution. Director of prosecution will work for two years.
Major advantage of the Lokpal Bill is its being independent as it is free from politicians, police officers and bureaucrats. Entire system is quick so no delay in the results.
The Lokpal Bill is indeed a great step but its effective results depend upon its effective implementation. There are certain flaws like no protection to the whistleblower and five years of imprisonment for making a false complaint. Also the Lokpal will get the cases investigated by any other probing agency including CBI. The investigating agencies are under the administrative control of government.
What more is required?
So the Lokpal Bill will surely help in combating corruption but to weed out this problem every sector must be audited. The desired change can be brought by completely freeing the Lokpal and its investigating agencies.
The Lokpal Bill in isolation cannot work successfully. So along with this the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2010, Whistleblowers Protection Bill and Judicial Accountability Bill should have been passed.