Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act 2013

Mains Marks Booster     1st August 2023        
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In the last four years, over 68% of corruption charges filed against public workers with the Lokpal of India have been disposed of with no action. According to evidence submitted by the Lokpal's office to a legislative inquiry, only three complaints were thoroughly investigated.

Need of Such institution:

  • Fair investigation and prosecution: The preambular statement of The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 notes that the law has been enacted to ensure prompt and fair investigation and prosecution in cases of corruption against public servants.
  • The executive's authority has deteriorated significantly. For different causes, all executive organisations are losing prestige.
  • Independence is lacking. The vast majority of our agencies, such as the CBI and state vigilance department’s working, are not transparent and accountable to the general public.
  • They act as an "ombudsman" and investigate charges of misconduct against some public officials, as well as other matters.

Evolution in India:

  • The first institution of ombudsman (Similar to lokpal and lokayuktas in India) was officially founded in Sweden in 1809.
  • In India, the idea of a constitutional ombudsman was first suggested in parliament in the early 1960s by then-law minister Ashok Kumar Sen. Dr. L. M. Singhvi invented the terms “Lokpal and Lokayukta”.
  • The First Administrative Reforms Commission proposed in 1966 the establishment of two autonomous authorities, one at the federal level and the other at the state level, to investigate complaints against public officials, including MPs.
  • The Lokpal bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in 1968, but it lapsed with the abolition of the Lok Sabha, and it has been reintroduced several times since then.
  • The Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, proposed the appointment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas in 2002, as well as the exclusion of the Prime Minister from the authority's purview.
  • The Second Administrative Reforms Commission in 2005, recommended that the Lokpal office be created as soon as possible.
  • Anna Hazare's "India Against Corruption" movement placed pressure on the government at the Centre, resulting in the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, being passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Salient features of Lokpal Act 2013:

  • Wide Jurisdiction: The Lokpal has jurisdiction to inquire into allegations of corruption against the Prime Minister, or a Minister in the Union government, or a Member of Parliament, as well as officials of the Union government under Groups A, B, C and D. 
    • Also covered are chairpersons, members, officers and directors of any board, corporation, society, trust or autonomous body either established by an Act of Parliament or wholly or partly funded by the Centre. 
    • It also covers any society or trust or body that receives foreign contributions above ?10 lakh.
  • Composition of Lokpal: The Lokpal is a multi-member body with one chairperson and up to eight members.
    • Half of the maximum eight members will be judges, and at least half of the members will be from the SC/ ST/ OBC/ Minorities and women groups.
  • Autonomy in enquiry and prosecution: The Lokpal will have to appoint an Inquiry Wing, headed by a Director of Inquiry, and a Prosecution Wing, headed by a Director of Prosecution. 
  • Appointment of Lokpal: The president appoints the members after a Selection Committee recommends them.
    • A search panel of at least eight people is formed by the selection committee (Headed by PM) to select the chairperson and members.
    • Lokpal Chairman and Members serve for five years or until they reach the age of 70.

Powers of the Lokpal:

  • Jurisdiction: The Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Groups A, B, C, and D officers and officials of the Central Government are all subject to Lokpal's jurisdiction.
  • In the case of something said in Parliament or a vote taken there, the Lokpal has no authority over Ministers and MPs.
      • Pro Active Disclosure: The Lokpal Act requires all elected officials to disclose their assets and liabilities, as well as those of their dependents.
    • It has the authority to supervise and direct CBI's operations.
    • When Lokpal refers a case to the CBI, the investigating officer cannot be transferred without Lokpal's permission.
        • Power of civil court: The Lokpal's Inquiry Wing has been given the authority of a civil court.
          • In exceptional cases, Lokpal has the authority to seize properties, proceeds, receipts, and benefits obtained through corruption.
        • Ensure neutrality: Lokpal has the authority to recommend the transfer or suspension of a public servant accused of corruption.
      • Preserve evidences: During the preliminary investigation, Lokpal has the authority to issue orders to avoid the destruction of documents.

      Issues associated with Lokpal Act:

      • Lacking Constitutional backing: The Lokpal has no constitutional backing, and there are no appropriate mechanisms for challenging Lokpal's decisions.
      • Politically motivated appointments: Inherent bias towards recommending candidates by executive, favoured by the government. 
          • Since the nominating committee is made up of representatives from political parties, the Lokpal is not immune to political interference.
      • Delay in appointments: For more than five years, the chairperson and members of the Lokpal were not appointed since the inception of the act. The chairperson and members of the Lokpal were appointed only in March 2019 after a contempt petition was filed in the Supreme Court
      • Not covering Judiciary: One of the greatest flaw is the Lokpal's removal of the judiciary from its purview.
        • Since there is no criteria for determining who is an "eminent jurist" or "a person of honesty," the appointment of Lokpal can be abused.
      • Information accessed under the Right to Information Act has confirmed that the inquiry and prosecution wings of the anti-corruption ombudsman are yet to be set up, as mandated by the Act of 2013.
      • Overlap in Lokpal, CVC probe may cause confusion: The Act provides that the Lokpal may refer complaints about government officers to the CVC, which would send a report to the Lokpal regarding officials falling under Groups A and B, while proceeding under the CVC Act against those in Groups C and D.
      • No provision for Appeal: There is no provision in the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013 for appeal, review, or reconsideration of an order passed by the Lokpal of India.
      • Issues with registration of complaints: According to an RTI reply, Lokpal received 5,680 complaints during 2021-22, of which over 5,100 were not registered.
      • Limitation period: In terms of provisions under Section 53, of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, a complaint cannot be made after the expiry of seven years from the date on which the offence mentioned in the complaint is alleged to have been committed.
      • Issue with Lokpal amendment Bill 2016: It Amends section 44 of parent Act that deals with provision of furnishing of details of assets and liabilities of public servants within 30 days of joining the government service. 
        • The amendment has removed the period of 30 days. Now the public servants will make declaration of their assets and liabilities in the form and manner as prescribed by government.

      Measures required to be taken:

      • Need to remove anonymity in Appointments of Lokpal: The Department of Personnel and Training, which works as a nodal Ministry for both Lokpal and CIC, should ensure complete transparency when nominating a Lokpal and Lokayukta. It will increase the chances for the right person to be appointed.
      • Greater Government accountability: The appointment of a Lokpal is not the real solution to issues; rather, the government should concentrate on eradicating the underlying reasons why the public is demanding a Lokpal.
      • Functional autonomy and availability of manpower: To tackle the problem of corruption, the institution of the ombudsman should be strengthened.
        • The Lokpal and Lokayukta must be financially, administratively, and legally empowered and separate from those they are tasked with investigating and prosecuting.
      • Ensure Active participation of opposition in appointment: The amendment bill 2016, enables the leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha to be a member of the selection committee in the absence of a recognized Leader of Opposition.
      • Along with strong leadership that is prepared to put itself under public scrutiny, more transparency, a stronger right to information, and the empowerment of citizens and citizen groups are needed.

      2023 Report of Parliamentary Panel:

      • A recent report of the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice revealed that anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal has not prosecuted a single person accused of graft to date and its performance appears to be far from satisfactory.
      • The panel asked it to act as an enabler rather than an inhibitor. In a report tabled in Parliament recently, it said several complaints are being disposed of by the Lokpal on the ground that they are not in the prescribed format and asked it not to reject genuine complaints.
      • It recommended the Lokpal not to reject genuine complaints only on technical grounds that a complaint was not in the prescribed format. A total of 2,518 such complaints (not in a prescribed format) were received by the Lokpal during 2022-23.

      UGC has brought up Lokpal for Universities:

      • University Grants Commission has introduced the University Grants Commission (Redressal of Grievances of Students) Regulations, 2023. So, students now have the option to appeal to the Ombudsperson (Lokpal) if their grievances are not addressed by the institution's Students' Grievance Redressal Committee.
      • Each university and affiliated colleges/institutions will appoint Ombudsperson and their recommendations will be binding.

      Conclusion

      • The scope of democracy and development depends, to a greater extent, on the efficiency of the government machinery. In a democracy, people should have opportunities to ventilate their grievances through an efficient and effective system of redressal. Best practices in public administration will be realised, only when the integrity in public services is maintained. Since the pertinent issue of corruption in the developing countries retards the development process, the need of the hour is to ensure effective implementation of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
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