As Anna Hazare’s indefinite fast entered the third day on Thursday, prominent citizens rejected the government’s draft Lokpal Bill, saying it cannot be a judges-only body.
Maintaining that the final draft could be worked out after wider public debate and consultation, they said it should have power to initiate probe on its own as well as on reference from presiding officers of both the Houses of Parliament.
“It cannot be a judges-only body. The basic criteria should be impeccable integrity, probity, experience and non-partisan conduct,” former Cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian said.
Subramanium said he was not opposed to judges being appointed as the apex anti-corruption ombudsman, but people from other walks of life should also be included.
Former Delhi HC Chief Justice AP Shah was of the opinion the judiciary should be kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. “The judiciary cannot be brought under it (Lokpal). You can have some other body such as National Judicial Commission for judges but not this,” he said.
Law Commission vice-chairman KTS Tulsi said: “We have to strike a balance between independence and accountability of judiciary... But since there is a Judicial Accountability Bill pending, judiciary should be left out… if the Bill is not there judiciary should also come under Lokpal’s purview.”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was part of the committee that drafted Jan Lokpal Bill, said: “Judges should be covered under this law. Otherwise you have to seek the CJI’s permission to prosecute a judge.”
Stating that Lokpal should cover PM, chief ministers, ministers and senior bureaucrats, Subramanian emphasised Lokpal should have power to ask a person to step down if it comes to a prima facie conclusion that there was some misconduct on the part of the politician/bureaucrat concerned. He, however, said Lokpal should not be a substitute for courts.
What govt draft says
If the draft Lokpal Bill prepared by the government becomes the law of the land, the Lokpal can’t punish a corrupt public servant but can send a person to jail for making a frivolous complaint.
This is one of the provisions in the draft Lokpal Bill being opposed by civil society. Activists want this provision to go and instead they suggested imposition of fine to check frivolous complaints.
According to the draft bill, the Lokpal cannot act on its own or on a public complaint and can only receive complaints referred by LS Speaker or Rajya Sabha chairman.
Lokpal, after inquiry, will forward report to competent authority that can decide not to act on recommendations. Under the draft bill, Lokpal does not have powers of police to register FIR. Prosecution would be pursued by existing agency such as CBI.
Lokpal will have jurisdiction only on MPs, ministers and PM. It will not have jurisdiction over officers. The activists want it to include even judges.
Another controversy is around the composition of the body as the draft proposes Lokpal to be three-member body — all retired judges. The selection panel is proposed to comprise Vice-President, PM, Leaders of both houses, Leaders of opposition in both Houses, law minister and home minister. But activists want CEC, CAG and international awardees of Indian origin to be on the panel.
The draft does not deal with corruption of bureaucrats. Corrupt bureaucrats would need to be dealt with separately and the Lokpal would not have powers to redress grievances. It does not incorporate mechanism to redress public grievance.
In the draft bill there is no provision to seize ill-gotten wealth. A corrupt person can come out of jail and enjoy that money. A limit of six months to one year has been prescribed for Lokpal to probe. But there is no time limit for completion of trial.