Current affairs Blog
Lokpal Act ushers in a new era of justice
- March 23, 2019
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Indian Polity ,Governance & Issues
After nearly a decade of agitations, demands by the civil society, elections and court hearings, the first Lokpal has been appointed. Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, has occupied the position. He has had a distinguished career and is known for overturning Karnataka High Court judgment in the Sasikala case involving disproportionate assets.
The Lokpal consists of a chairperson (a retired judge of the Supreme Court or retired Chief Justice of a High Court or a person of impeccable integrity who holds at least 25 years of expertise in matters relating to corruption, public policy, etc), and other maximum eight members. Of these eight, at least four should be representative of minorities, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and women. The appointment of the chairperson to this committee is made by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India or his representative, and an eminent jurist recommended by the chairperson and members. The Act also provides for a selection committee and mandates that the proceedings of the selection committee shall be transparent.
The salary of the chairperson is to be equivalent to the salary of the Chief Justice of India and the salary of members is to be the equivalent of that of Supreme Court judges. These are to be paid from the Consolidated Fund of India. Interestingly, on ceasing to hold office as the chairperson or member, the Act puts a prohibition, not only on being reappointed as a member but also on holding any other office of profit. Members cannot contest presidential, vice-presidential, state or central legislature or panchayat elections for a period of five years post ceasing to hold office.
Additionally, the Act requires the establishment of an ‘Inquiry Wing’ and a ‘Prosecution Wing’. The powers of the Inquiry Wing take precedence over all previous laws and allow for the creation of the office of the Director of Inquiry who shall carry out preliminary inquiries into any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The Prosecution Wing is to be headed by the Director of Prosecution who will act on the findings of the Inquiry Wing, and in case of sufficient evidence, file a case in special courts.
For purposes of prosecuting public officials, the jurisdiction of the Lokpal includes all Members of Parliament (including the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers) and all central government employees. The trials will be held in special courts, which must complete them within one year. Failing that, reasons need to be recorded in writing explaining why the trial could not be concluded in the time frame and an extension of three months can be given. At the end of the three months, the trials should be completed, or again, to get an extension of three months, reasons should be recorded in writing. The total period should not exceed two years.
The Act goes a long way in sharpening the fight against corruption and has some interesting features. First, it cuts through layers of bureaucracy and permissions that currently need to be taken before putting elected members and officials on trial. These permissions, largely speaking, exist to ensure that elected members as well as the bureaucracy can carry out their work without unnecessary pressure. The requirement to seek permissions adds a layer of accountability. Nonetheless, these are also open to misuse. The committees in the Lokpal have to be extremely careful in ensuring that the safeguards—to ensure independence of the officials—are maintained. The Act, in this regard, does provide for a provision that will help in filtering out vexatious complaints. In case of a complaint being found to be vexatious, upon conviction, the complainant can be punished for a term of up to one year and a fine of up to `1 lakh. Equally, the provision will have be to clarified so it does not inhibit well-meaning, but misguided complaints.
The judicial process in India is extremely thorough, meticulous, time-consuming. The Sasikala trial, for instance, spanned 18 years. The Lokpal Act provides for an expeditious disposal of complaints (30 days) and trials (maximum two years). The functionaries under the code and the committee have to be sensitive—the balancing of a fair, thorough and meticulous trial with the demands of concluding it on time needs to be done carefully. Well-established principles of criminal jurisprudence and due process must be balanced with the requirement for justice.
The Act ushers in a new era of justice. It is not only in line with demands from the civil society and various stakeholders in the country, but also shows India’s commitment to her obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The first few months of the implementation are bound to bring in teething problems. Nonetheless, it is hoped this will bring in an era of active citizen engagement, transparency and accountability, as well as justice and fairness
Sharing is caring!
Sharing is caring!