The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013 provided for the establishment of Lokpal for the Union and Lokayukta for States. They perform the function of an ‘ombudsman’ and inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries and for related matters.
The issue of corruption in public life has been at the centre stage of the political discourse in India. The Indian electorate has always answered the clarion call of ending ‘Bhrashtachar’.
The results of the 1989 General elections in the backdrop of the Bofors scandal and the 2014 General elections with the promise of ‘Ache Din’ show the impact and importance of how the ‘Aam Aadmi’ perceives corruption and is impacted by it. It bears mentioning that the 2014 elections took place in the backdrop of the Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption (IAC) movement.
The IAC movement itself led to the creation of a political party – the Aam Admi Party, which is currently embroiled in its own corruption scandals.
The IAC movement and its end-goals, i.e. establishing a Lokpal, were such a seminal moment in Indian political history, that one can’t help but be bemused at the rather conspicuous absence of the all-hailed office of the Lokpal from the current corruption discourse in the country.
The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act was passed in January 2014 and the first Lokpal was only appointed in March 2019. It will be startling to note that the there is no permanent Lokpal since May 2022 after Justice PC Ghose retired!
Even though the jurisdiction of Lokpal under Section 14 includes Prime Minister, Ministers, members of Parliament, Groups A, B, C and D officers and officials of Central Government, the Lokpal has been pretty much missing in action.
The Lok Pal envisages an Inquiry Wing under Section 11 and a Prosecution Wing under Section12, but neither are in functional state. Even the expenditure of the Lokpal is to charge upon the Consolidated Fund of India.
In a sorry reflection on the lack of impact and public trust in the office of Lokpal, it has been revealed in a RTI that from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021, the complaints to Lokpal dipped by a whopping 91 percent. The expenditure during the same time by the Lokpal dipped only by 17 percent despite the Covid pandemic, making it another bureaucratic white elephant.
The institution proposed as the one stop solution for all the corruption related issues plaguing the country seems to have become another Sarkari office. Oscar Wilde had rightly remarked in this context, “The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”.
The issue of an independent and robust anti-corruption institution like Lokpal gains further prominence as the former Deputy CM of Delhi who was among the most visible faces of the IAC movement has been accused of serious charges of corruption. There are other such cases of allegations of corruption against members of opposition political parties.
As one would expect, the usual drumbeat of political vendetta is raised whenever an agency investigates corruption allegations against members of the opposition. However, it does make one wonder if a neutral body with public standing and stature had embarked upon these investigations, would that have invited the same level of scepticism and imputations of bias.
Had the Lokpal been designed as a credible institution with real powers, it could have initiated criminal actions against anybody, including those from ruling dispensation, without any fear or favour. An effective anti-corruption body with substantive powers like the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong SAR is an example to emulate.
Despite the maze of anti-corruption bodies like Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Lokpal, Lokayukta and Enforcement Directorate (ED), corruption in India has not substantially reduced or improved in the last decade.
India’s ranking in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index was 94 in 2012 and in 2022 it had improved only to 85. It is evident that creation of the office of the Lokpal has barely had any major impact of reduction of corruption in public life.
Corruption in a developing country like India has multi-fold ramifications from slowing down economic progress to impacting poverty alleviation. A dignified life, guaranteed to the citizen by the Constitution, gets eroded by corruption.
The current status of the Lokpal also reflects poorly on the IAC movement and its stakeholders. The most significant socio-political movement in the past 20 years has only led to the creation of yet another white bureaucratic elephant and its ‘heroes’ are now accused of significant acts of corruption.
The aspirations of India’s youth for change and an alternative politics as promised by this movement have been dented. The next time anyone calls for change and promises a different kind of politics, will be looked at with suspicion.
Merely passing legislations and creating institutions will not cure deep rooted social ills. Martin Luther King Jr remarked that “A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution”.
An anti-corruption body that actually enjoys public credibility would go a long away in ensuring probity in governance. The Prosecution and Investigation in a neutral and impartial way would remove any sense of bias or political vendetta.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in it’s recent report submitted to the Parliament has also come down heavily on the current working of the Lokpal. It has been observed that many complaints made to the Lokpal are being disposed off on mere technicalities that the same are not in the prescribed format despite the Lokpal being created to tackle the menace of corruption in public life. The Committee has also expressed its dismay at the non filing of vacancies. Taking note of India’s leadership of the G 20 anti corruption working group, the Committee remarked that India must rise to the occasion and strengthen the anti corruption regime in the country.
Lokpal has an institutional framework backed with an Act of Parliament and safeguards therein. It needs leadership and will to be the anchor to cure this ill which is plaguing our democracy. It essentially boils down to the men who lead these institutions. It was TN Seshan who transformed the Election Commission of India. Who will be the Seshan for Lokpal?
(Akshat Bajpai Is A Lawyer Practicing in Delhi. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.)