Other Salient features of the Jan Lok Pal Bill
There are a few other salient features that are unique to the draft prepared by the civil society representatives that do not find a place in the draft prepared by the Government. The Jan Lok Pal bill envisages repealing the Central Vigilance Commission Act and the vigilance administration under the control of all departments of Central Government shall be transferred to the Lok Pal. It also merges the anti-corruption wing of the CBI into the Lok Pal. This would now become the investigation wing of the Lok Pal. Essentially, the Jan Lok Pal bill seeks to make it a single window agency to pursue cases of corruption against public officials. Apart from making one agency accountable for delivering on the mandate of anti-corruption, it also seeks to remove dual control, ambiguity and non-coordination between agencies investigating graft cases. Merging the CBI with the proposed Lok Pal will necessitate amendment of the Delhi Special Police Act.
The Jan Lok Pal bill also provides specific powers for the removal of civil servants. It is empowered to conduct enquiry to investigate and prosecute public servants and impose penalties including dismissal. Such orders made by Lok Pal shall be binding on the Government. After the Lok Pal has investigated a complaint and found that the complaint against a public servant (other than the ministers, MPs and Judges) is substantiated, the Lok Pal shall pass orders to the effect of preventing him/her from continuing to hold the post held by him/her. In case of public servants being a minister or a MP, Lok Pal shall make such recommendations to the President, who shall decide either to accept such recommendation or reject it within a month of its receipt.
In this context, we need to understand that Articles 311 and 310 of Part XIV of the Indian Constitution protect the rights of civil servants and make it very difficult for them to be dismissed. The constitution has to be amended in order to make the dismissals possible. Appropriate legislation under Article 309 will also then be needed to protect the bona-fide acts of public servants in public interest to prevent any abuse of this amendment.
One of the challenges that prevent any law from being taken with the seriousness that it deserves is the speedy disposal of cases and appropriate and visible punishment. The Jan Lok Pal bill has laid down the following provisions for speedy disposal:
- Preliminary enquiry under possession of information regarding any act of corruption should be completed within a month of receipt of complaint
- Investigation into any allegation shall be completed within six months, and in any case, not more than one year from the date of receipt of complaint
- Trial in any case filed by the Lok Pal should be completed within one year. Adjournments should be granted in only the rarest circumstances.
One of the criticisms of the Jan Lok Pal bill is that it centralizes too much power into one institution and that things could go awry if members of the Lok Pal are found wanting in certain set standards. This is addressed by providing for removal of members in the bill itself. The Chairperson or any member can be removed from office by an order of the President on one or more of the following grounds:
- Proven misbehaviour
- Professional, mental or physical incapacity
- Being charged of an offence which involves moral turpitude
- Engaging in any paid employment while holding such office
- Acquiring financial or other interests, which are likely to affect his functions as member or Chairperson prejudicially
- Being guided by considerations extraneous to the merits of the case under his consideration with a view to favoring someone or implicating someone through any act of omission or commission
- Unduly influencing or attempting to influence any Government functionary
- Committing any act of omission or commission which is punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act or is a misconduct
Additionally, if a member or the Chairperson in any way, concerned or interested in any contract or agreement made by or on behalf of any public authority in the Government of India or Government of any State or participates in any way in the profit thereof or in any benefit or employment arising there from otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company, he shall be deemed to be guilty of misbehaviour.
Legal experts have also opined that instead of such procedures for removal, one could also contemplate whether the Jan Lok Pal bill be made into a constitutional bill and make the removal process only by impeachment proceedings. While this could protect the office of the Lok Pal from frivolous charges, it does bring in a very complicated system of removal. The experience of the country in impeaching judges is not worth mentioning and it usually ends up being long drawn with no results to show.
Bringing in a strong Lok Pal bill at the Center by itself may not be enough to arm the common citizenry in their fight against corruption. One also needs to understand that apart from the postman or the passport office, the man on the street may not have many interactions with the public functionaries of the Central Government. Having an equally powerful Lok Ayukta Act is what will make a huge difference to him. Experts feel that there should be a single law to provide for identical Lok Ayuktas in states (similar to the Right to Information Act). This would ensure that the whole country would benefit from the attempt to bring in strong legislation.
In conclusion, we also need to understand that mere laws may not be enough to impact the entire eco-system of corruption in this country. We need to put in place police reforms, judicial reforms, electoral reforms, prevent dilution of the RTI act, bring in laws to address corruption in the private and NGO sectors along with building the moral fibre of the citizenry. Only then will a noticeable and meaningful attempt at providing good governance emerge. Till then, we should continue the struggle and not be satisfied with the passage of one bill alone.