Long before Team Anna’s version of the Lokpal Bill was rejected by the government, an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) led by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee agreed to amend the Constitution requiring every state to set up a Lokayukta and appoint district-level ombudsmen.
Since the government did not act on these decisions taken 3 years earlier, Team Anna is demanding provisions to enable the Jan Lokpal to delegate their powers to ombudsmen at the district level.
However, the government has rejected this demand, saying quasi-judicial powers could not be delegated, and insisted that the Lokpal Bill would be in accordance with the constitution as this wasn’t “an occasion to rewrite the constitution”.
But the EGoM – tasked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to examine the reports of the second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) including the one on “Ethics in Governance” – had agreed to amend the constitution.
The concept of Lokpal was mooted by the first ARC in the 60s and was still being debated 40 years later by the second ARC. The second ARC had gone a step forward and asked the government to reconsider the entire structure of anti-corruption machinery in the States.
The EGoM had declined to take a call on the national Lokpal but accepted the recommendation to amend the Constitution to incorporate a provision requiring states to establish a Lokayukta and stipulate the general principles about its structure, power and functions.
In its 2007 report, the Second ARC had argued a constitutional status would help insulate the institution from “vagaries of political expediency” witnessed in the past. This would also provide the opportunity to vest the authorities with uniform powers, responsibilities and functions across states.
To ensure that the Lokayukta was not saddled by too many cases, the EGoM had also accepted the ARC recommendation to amend laws relating to local bodies and panchayats to provide for appointment of an ombudsman each for a group of districts with powers to investigate complaints against subordinate staff.