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Changes in the Lokpal Act will undermine it

editorials Updated: Jul 28, 2016 22:52 IST
Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act

Activists hold placards during a protest against corruption and demand strong anti-corruption legislation in front of parliament.

It is ironic that the BJP-led government is now making attempts to dilute the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, which was resurrected by the Anna Hazare movement, supported by both the BJP and the RSS. The government, on its part, denies the charge of dilution. In fact, this is a second amendment introduced after the bill was passed and received presidential assent in 2014. This time, the amendment moved by the government has exempted public servants, under the rubric of which fall government employees, legislators and NGOs, from declaring their assets by July 31, which is a necessity for every citizen. Worse, it exempts their spouses and children from declaring their assets altogether. The hurry with which the whole thing was gone through is explained by the fact we are very close to July 31. Though the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress objected to the amendment, their reservations were only to no time being given for discussion. It is to be seen whether any party seriously takes it up for debate later because the amendments benefit precisely those whose subterranean privileges the Anna Hazare movement sought to curtail.

Read: Lok Sabha passes Lokpal, Lokayukta amendment bill without discussion

What is more intriguing is that the amendment bill leaves a lot of holes. It does not specify by when public servants should declare their assets. It leaves the matter vague by saying that it may be done in the manner “as may be prescribed”. And since the amendment bill is going to the parliamentary committee, whose recommendations will be taken up in the next session of Parliament, the declaration of assets can wait indefinitely. All this goes against the spirit of the Act, which mandates a public servant to declare his or her assets within a month of taking office. The details of such declarations include assets, held individually or jointly, by public servants, their spouses and dependants. And it should not be forgotten that this amendment is a considerably diluted version of the original Jan Lokpal Bill, which wanted the lokpal to be a constitutional authority.

Read: ‘Good’ people could quit if NGO honchos brought under Lokpal

Despite the process of appointing the lokpal being laid out in the Act, no ombudsman has been appointed to date. Given the manner in which the Act is being amended from time to time, no appointment is likely to take place in the foreseeable future. And on top of this, if the provisions of the Act are being watered down like this, we might as well not have had the Act at all. Our legislators can, it seems, put aside differences when it comes to issues which concern them.