Sunday, August 14, 2011

For an effective LOKPAL

The term ‘Lokpal’ is getting highly contentious day by day.  There is an urgent call for a comprehensive review of the draft bill and for incorporating some fundamental working modalities. Other than the prevalent issues like the inclusion of PM, Judiciary under the Lokpal’s ambit, its power and conflict of interest, etc., there are few other  aspects that gets least attention. For instance, take the issue of low-level corruption involving every-day bribes for acquiring driving licences, birth certificates, community certificates, patta for land ownership, etc. Specific cases of corruption of this kind are taken up for formal investigation when the harassed victims come up as complainants. However, the primary desire of the victims will be to get their grievances redressed without delay. Prosecution and punishment of the corrupt functionary have a lower priority in their perception. They would be happy if their grievances are redressed, and would willingly let the matter rest there.

It is therefore most necessary to build into the Lokpal set up an effective mechanism for grievance redress on par to punishments and prosecutions. Justice Ramanujam Committee set up by the government of Tamil Nadu had recommended in 1997 a detailed working scheme for this purpose. Unfortunately the state government shelved action on this important recommendation, merely noting that it may await central legislation on Lokpal!

The draft Lokpal Bill by the government apparently revolves around the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PoCA) in most of the aspects. Instead, it can go along the lines of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 so that it will be pro-people, focusing more on victims.

In terms of independency of Ombudsman bodies, much is debated about its freedom from political and managerial influences, which is apparent in early anti-corruption agencies. Beyond this, these bodies must have their constabulary, necessary powers for arrests and prosecution and their own cadre of prosecutors to handle cases in courts and must not depend on any other departments for their processes. Their dependency hampers their speedy and effective investigation.

The states should not be empowered to legislate their state ombudsman bodies (Lokayuktas) on their own. They should be firmly anchored by a uniform central legislation on national interest.