The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act of 2013 seeks to equip the citizens of India with a means to air their grievances against a government functionary at any level of governance. It provides for the institution of a body of ombudsmen called the Lokpal at the central level, and the Lokayukta at the state level, both of which will be empowered to investigate claims of corruption against certain government officials, including the Prime Minister and his cabinet.
This Act was formulated to ensure bureaucratic transparency and was finally passed in 2013, after overcoming numerous roadblocks and derailments, 45 years after its first tabling in the Lok Sabha.
What does the Lokpal Act provide for?
A nine-member independent body of ombudsmen called the Lokpal (‘caretaker of the people’) is to be formed to look into the complaints of corruption, maladministration, misuse of power and illicit acquisition of wealth raised against any public service official.
- Except the defence forces, all levels of civil servants will be under the ambit of the Lokpal or the Lokayukta.
- Punitive powers of the Lokpal include prosecution (in terms of special trials), confiscation of assets, fines and penalties.
- It guarantees the safety of whistle-blowers through the Whistle Blowers Protection Act of 2014.
History and Context
The Lokpal Bill has had a very troubled history, to say the least. It was conceived by Laxmi Mall Singhvi in 1963 and the establishment of a Lokpal was later proposed by Morarji Desai, who headed the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), in a 1966 report.
It was first tabled in the Lok Sabha in 1968 by Mr. Shanti Bhushan in 1968. It was passed in the Lok Sabha in 1968 but failed in the Rajya Sabha in 1969. Subsequently, it was raised again in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, and 2001, all in vain. Six out of seven times, the bill lapsed due to the dissolution of the government.
The institution of an anti-corruption body became the need of the hour in 2010-2011 after the discovery of the Commonwealth Games scam and the 2G allocation scam where thousands of crores of taxpayers’ money had been embezzled from the national exchequer by top ranking officials of the then-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
The Indian public was aggravated at such bureaucratic misconduct and it was in this angry and antagonistic environment that two individuals – Kisan Baburao ‘Anna’ Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal – mobilised the masses to protest against the widespread and rampant corruption in the state machinery.
They formed India Against Corruption (IAC), with Hazare as its leader, and organised massive rallies and protests to pressurise the government into devising a legislation that would act as an anti-corruption mechanism. They were ultimately successful and were asked to be part of the committee responsible for drafting the bill.
However, the committee failed to reach a consensus, with a large number of Kejriwal and Hazare’s demands not being met. They, therefore, launched another round of agitations to demand a stronger and a more robust bill, in accordance with their own draft, called the Jan Lokpal Bill.
In an attempt to control the situation, the government arrested Hazare pre-emptively, on August 16 2011, right before he was about to go on a hunger strike. This plan backfired and garnered Team Anna more support. Finally, the government caved in and accepted his demand to incorporate his suggestions, and the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha in the winter session of 2011.
The Lokpal Fiasco
The Lokpal Bill introduced by the UPA government on the 4th of August 2011 in the Prime Minister’s Office was decried and lambasted by all. It was termed weak, ineffective, toothless and unconstitutional. Anna Hazare even went on to incinerate copies of it to express his furore.
All the major opposition parties condemned it too and made their own separate demands. Some of the parties which were part of the UPA coalition also criticised it. All in all, the UPA was foundering and it seemed to be teetering on the verge of collapse.
On the 27th of August 2011, both the houses of the Parliament agreed with Anna Hazare’s proposition to set up a citizen’s charter, bring in the lower bureaucracy within the Act’s ambit and establish Lokayuktas in the states.
Among the first tenets of the proposed Lokpal Bill which were criticised (by the Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj of the Bharatiya Janata Party) was the exclusion of the Prime Minister from its purview. Furthermore, Hazare and co. wanted the entirety of the bureaucracy (upper and lower) under the purview of the bill, a demand which was later partially met by making the Group A and B staff subject to the Lokpal and the Group C and D staff answerable to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
The setting up and the autonomy of the Lokayuktas was also questioned by some of the regional parties like the Trinamool Congress (TMC) which defended their stance by arguing that India was a quasi-federacy. Parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) insisted on the insertion of a stipulation which made the inclusion of minorities in the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas mandatory. In contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposed such a clause.
Eventually, after much political wrangling and mudslinging, the Lokpal Bill was withdrawn and in its stead, The Lokpal and Lokayukta’s Bill 2011 was presented in the lower house, along with a Constitutional (116th Amendment) Bill, which would furnish the ombudsman body with constitutional validity.
It was passed by acclamation (voice voting) on 27th December 2011, the first day of the three-day extension to the winter session. It was pushed forward by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, with near-unanimous support from the other major parties.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Shiv Sena walked out but the reduced numbers actually benefited the passage of the bill. However, it failed to be made a constitutional amendment as the UPA could not amass a two-third majority of the members present and voting and could not surpass the half-way mark of the house (273).
The bill’s journey in the Rajya Sabha was even more fraught with deadlocks and hasty trouble-shooting. The Congress did not have a majority in the upper house and feared that the bill would expose its numerical weakness. Moreover, Trinamool Congress matriarch Mamata Banerjee, a UPA ally, urged the Congress to excise the clauses regarding the Lokayuktas which she claimed impinged on the autonomy of the state government by violating integral federal principals.
Finally, even after two days of relentless deliberations, behind-the-scenes lobbying and back-door negotiations, the Rajya Sabha failed to pass it, with the winter session of 2011 being halted sine die by the Speaker, Hamid Ansari, even though MPs were willing to continue the debate.
The session had not been prorogued so the possibility of anothr extension also came up but was quickly shut down. The premature scuttling of the bill allowed the UPA to save face. At this point, popular pressure had also waned and Anna Hazare called off his hunger-strike due to the subdued public response.
The following Parliamentary session did not prioritise the Lokpal Bill, so it lay neglected. It was referred to a parliamentary select committee despite huge opposition and after high political drama. Arun Jaitley of the BJP accused the UPA government of being duplicitous in making an MP of a friendly opposition party (Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Aggarwal) mooting an amendment. It was then moved as motion, which passed, and a committee was created with the very same people that
Team Anna reinvigorated their struggle, but the government remained oblivious. This prompted them to venture into the political sphere, with the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Unfortunately, this merely served to highlight the rifts and differences which had arisen among Team Anna.
Several sections, including Hazare and his compatriots, wanted the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be made independent of government influence, alleging that it was used to further political vendetta. The then-CBI chief agreed as well, and it was suggested that Lokpal should have some say in the appointment of the Bureau’s top officials. However, this never came to fruition in the end.
The bill was finally enacted by the Rajya Sabha on 17th December 2013, and by the Lok Sabha on 18th December 2013, after a 4 hour long debate. The Samajwadi Party MP’s walked out again, alleging that the institution of a Lokpal might instil fear and deter bureaucrats from taking immediate and stringent decisions. The Act was ratified by President, Pranab Mukherjee, on 1st January 2014, and came into force from 16th January 2014.
Bitter rivals – the BJP and the Congress – worked together to push it through both houses; the general elections were next year and both parties wanted to be lauded as the orchestrator’s of the successful passage of the bill. They saw the bill as a golden opportunity for gathering brownie points in the eyes of the Aam Aadmi voters. This was ironic, as neither party was initially happy about it and tried several tactics to stall its progress.
The bill that was enacted was a very diluted version of the Jan Lokpal Bill of Team Anna. By this time, Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare had already gone their separate ways. Hazare accepted the bill, to everyone’s astonishment, but Kejriwal said that he would try to pass the bill in Delhi, where he been elected as chief minister. Kejriwal even went on to insinuate that Hazare had backed down to the political pressure.
Kejriwal passed a Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi Assembly in December 2015, fulfilling a core poll promise. Even this had to overcome numerous obstructions, and Kejriwal had resigned from his post in February 2014 over this delay. He came back to power again in 2015. This bill was also opposed by some erstwhile members of Team Anna, who said it was as ineffective as the 2013 Lokpal Bill.
The Present and the Future
The lack of administrative resistance to the pervasive corruption in its midst is a known fact and was proved by the wilful detainment of the bill in the Parliament by petty squabbling among political parties. The first Lokpal was appointed only in March 2019 by the NDA government, after Hazare threatened to launch a public agitation.
The official reason given was the lack of a Leader of Opposition (since no party was able to get 10% of the house strength, no Leader of Opposition could be appointed) to serve in the selection committee but one knows better. It is hoped that Indian polity can free itself from the shackles of corruption unscrupulousness.