There has been a lot of discussion on the Lok Pal Bill and what civil society can or cannot contribute as part of the drafting process. Much water has flowed under the bridge and both the Government and Civil Society have reconciled to the fact that there will be a joint drafting committee and together they would prepare a draft which would then be presented to the Parliament through the Union Cabinet. Over the last few weeks, I have addressed a number of gatherings and have been struck by the different versions of what people think is in the proposed draft. Like cricket, each one seems to have his opinion and many of their questions leave me feeling that not enough information about the proposed legislation is available on the public domain. In an attempt to disseminate the information on the Jan Lok Pal Bill, I will be writing a series of articles touching upon the key issues that are now under the consideration of the drafting committee. Much of the information is based on the continuous interaction with some of the key members and the participation in the Round Table in New Delhi and my own experience and interpretation based on the existing draft in circulation. I will present the information as a comparison of the Lok Pal Bill drafted by the Government, the one that is being proposed by the Civil Society, the Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act, and what has been recommended by the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC).
How many members should be in the Lok Pal?
The Lok Pal Bill 2010, drafted by the Government of India consists of 1 chairperson and 2 members. The Jan Lok Pal Bill has recommended 1 chairperson and 10 members, whereas the 2nd ARC recommended a 3 member body consisting of a serving or retired Supreme Court Judge as the Chairperson, an eminent jurist and the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) as members. The CVC was to serve as the ex-officio member.
Based on the experiences of the past in other similar institutions in India, we now need to understand the logic and reasoning behind the suggestion of having 11 members. Considering the scale and the extent of corruption prevailing in India today and the role and responsibility envisaged for the Lok Pal, one can easily justify that we will need a large body to ensure that cases do not simply pile up. Despite the fact that the Information Commissions are all multi-member bodies, cases are continuously piling up. The Karnataka Information Commission today has more than 13,000 cases pending! Similar backlog exists in the Karnataka Lok Ayukta, where the Act provides for a Lok Ayukta and multi-member Upa Lok Ayukta body.
We also need to understand that apart from the workload that could reach unmanageable proportions, single member bodies could end up with too much power centered in one individual. At the same time, the size should not be so large that it becomes unwieldy. Views of retired Chief Justices, former CVCs and former Chief Election Commissioners (who have the experience of multi-member bodies) suggest that a 5-member body would be reasonable and necessary. This body should have members from the judiciary, academia, activists, and people with experience of fighting corruption and economic offenses. The CVC and heads of other investigating wings could be considered as permanent invitees to ensure better coordination amongst them.
Whatever the size that one finally settles to, we should ensure that the persons on the Lok Pal are people with impeccable integrity and they should have a limited single tenure (say 2 to 3 years) and no extension should be given to any member under any circumstances. The act should also clearly stipulate that after one tenure in the Lok Pal, members should automatically become ineligible to any public office/position under the Government of India or State Governments.
(to be continued…)