What should the Jurisdiction of the Lok Pal be?
This is indeed a much debated question and there are many views on it. Most activists including myself feel that everyone should be covered under a strong Act. This includes both the higher judiciary and the office of the Prime Minister. Some even opine that the President and the Governors should be included. This suggestion could be based on the fact that we have had a few Governors come under a cloud recently. Despite how one feels, we also need to take into cognizance the constitutional demands and the political realities of the Indian Democracy.
The Lok Pal Bill 2010 drafted earlier by the Government includes the following:
- All public functionaries – defined as all current and former MPs and Union Ministers
- The Prime Minister, except on issues of national security, maintenance of public order, national defence and foreign relations.
It may inquire into any act or conduct of any person other than a public functionary if it considers it necessary, for the purpose of its inquiry into any such allegations of corruption.
The President, Vice-president, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha, members of higher judiciary, constitutional authorities like the CAG, Attorney General, chairpersons and members of the SC/ST Commission, Election Commission and UPSC are excluded from the purview of the Act.
The Jan Lok Pal Bill is based on the premise that anyone holding public office should practice the highest standards of probity and hence everyone should be included. This means that the Lok Pal conceived by the civil society will have jurisdiction over the Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Judges of the High Courts and Supreme Courts, all Central Government servants, Chairmen/Vice-Chairmen or members of local authorities in the control of the Central Government or a statutory body or corporation established by or under any law of the Parliament of India, all those who are declared as ‘public servants’ in section 2 (c) of Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 and other authorities as the Central Government may, by notification specify. The Jan Lok Pal Bill also talks about covering any other person benefitting from corruption/violation of law/rules along with public servants.
Some activists feel that any person or NGO receiving support from the Central Government should also be included under the jurisdiction of the Act.
The Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act has jurisdiction over the Chief Minister, Ministers, MLAs, all officers of the State Government, Chairmen, Vice chairmen and members of local authorities, statutory or non-statutory body or corporations established by or under any law of the State including co-operative societies and all public servants with a monthly remuneration of Rs 20,000 and more. The Upa Lok Ayukta is given jurisdiction over all the other Government servants with remuneration lesser than Rs. 20,000.
The 2nd ARC is specific in keeping out the PM in order to preserve his constitutional authority and sovereignty and supremacy of the Parliament. It has kept out the higher judiciary and is silent on other constitutional authorities.
Constitutional experts and former Chief Justices M N Venkatachalliah and J S Verma are of the view that the constitutional framework does not permit the higher judiciary to be under the Lok Pal. In the event of wanting to include them, one needs to have the constitution amended that could be time-consuming and a long drawn process. They are also of the view that one needs a law stronger than the Jan Lok Pal for the judiciary and insist that a separate National Judicial Commission be set up to look into the appointment, promotion, removal and conduct of judges. They also feel that Parliament should be supreme and the Prime Minister be held accountable to Parliament and not to the Lok Pal. In a noisy democracy like ours, one could well imagine how complaints against the PM to the Lok Pal be reduced to a mere political tool rather than a serious allegation against corruption.
(to be continued…)