What should the powers of the Lok Pal be in respect of suo motu complaints, investigations, search and seizures?
In the middle of last year after some drama, the Government of Karnataka conferred suo motu (or suo moto) powers to the Lok Ayukta. Many were unaware of how this would impact the functioning of the Lok Ayukta and affect its investigating capacity and till then, he could act only the explicit complaint of persons in the prescribed application with necessary affidavits attached. The Upa Lok Ayukta did have suo motu powers and could initiate investigations on his own. The Lok Ayukta could authorize a Police Officer not below the rank of an Inspector of Police by a search warrant to conduct a search operation. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 applied to searches and seizures conducted.
The 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission also recommended a uniform model for Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas and gave them supervision and monitoring powers over investigation agencies under them, apart from suo motu investigative powers, and the powers to search and seize.
The Lok Pal Bill, 2010 drafted by the Government expectedly did not permit taking up inquiries suo motu. They could take up enquiries based only on a ‘Memorandum of Complaints’. They could seize and retain documents till the completion of the enquiry.
The Jan Lok Pal bill addresses this deficiency and permits the Lok Pal if in his recorded opinion deems any action to be subject of a grievance or an allegation, to investigate such action suo motu. The chairperson, members of Lok Pal and the officers in the investigation wing of the Lok Pal will be deemed police officers. The Lok Pal will be deemed competent to investigate any officer under any law in the same case. The Jan Lok Pal bill also wants the Lok Pal to have all the powers of a civil court while trying a suit. It can also authorize by a search warrant any Police Officer not below the rank of an Inspector of Police to conduct a search or carry on an inspection. The Lok Pal as crafted by civil society also permits it to seize any such property, document, money, bullion, jewelry or other valuable article or thing found as a result of investigative search. The provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 relating to search and seizure shall also apply here.
One needs to keep the perspective of a proper and full investigation into allegations of corruption while understanding these powers. Without powers of suo motu investigation and the powers to search and seize, the entire process could be limited and unearthing evidence that can stand the scrutiny of law will be limited. For the effective working of the Lok Pal, one should have the power not only to take up investigations on a suo motu basis but also try them and take the trial to the logical conclusion of punishing the guilty. Otherwise the law will remain more of a paper tiger and end up pretty much like the present Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act.
(to be continued…)