It is modelled on a legislation which is in effect in the Scandinavian countries. But will it be nearly enough to combat the levels and extent of corruption in India will be the question that many will ask about the draft Lokpal bill which the government proposes to table shortly. There is no doubt that the government’s urgency to bring forward this bill which has been hanging fire for 42 years is fuelled by the recent mega-scams which have come to light. But whatever the motivation, any anti-corruption law will help to plug the loopholes in the system which culprits have exploited in the past.
The singular achievement of this draft bill is that it makes it possible for people to complain against bureaucrats and politicians and for the probes to be within a six-month timeframe. It also includes the provision that a complaint against the prime minister can be made to the speaker of the Lok Sabha. Where the draft bill will be severely criticised is in the fact that it will not have investigative powers over the president, vice-president, deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, sitting Supreme Court judges and high courts and other constitutional functionaries. Since the Lokpal will comprise a serving or former chief justice of India and two retired or serving high court or Supreme Court judges, it would carry more credibility if too many exceptions were not made as has been now. There are enough safeguards in the draft bill to ensure against motivated or frivolous complaints. The fact the ombudsman can make its reports public is a positive step at a time when people are up in arms about the opacity of the system. Along with the Right to Information Act, this proposed bill, could, if implemented in the spirit in which it was conceived, go a long way towards restoring public confidence in the political and administrative system.
However, while in the draft stage, it would still be worthwhile for the authorities concerned to decrease the list of those out of its purview. If the prime minister himself can volunteer to appear before a Public Accounts Committee on the grounds that he has nothing to hide, public functionaries should themselves come forward to be included in the ambit of the Lokpal. It has been so long in the making that it would be a shame if it were to be accused of being toothless against the powerful. But as the New Year kicks in, the public will be glad to note that it is not business as usual on the corruption front.