It's been over six years since the Lokpal law has received the President’s assent, and yet the institution of the Lokpal is to play any significant role in tackling corruption in the country. The manner in which the Lokpal has been deprived by the current regime closely mirrors the unwelcomed attitude towards this change.
The preamble of The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 provides for the establishment of Lokpal for the Union and Lokayukta for the states to inquire and investigate regarding the allegations of corruption against public functionaries. The Lokpal was visualized to be an independent body. It shall also have all the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure,1908 while trying a suit.
Due to delay in appointments, the chairperson and members of the Lokpal were appointed only in March 2019 after a contempt petition was filed in the Supreme Court following the failure of the government to comply with the 2017 ruling of the court to initiate the process of making appointments. Former Supreme Court judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose has become the first Lokpal of the country along with other eight members.
Despite the tussle over appointments, many had hoped that once constituted, the Lokpal would nevertheless be a significant oversight body to check corruption and the arbitrary use of power by the government. However even today, evidence suggests that the Lokpal is a non-starter.
Features that make Lokpal bill ineffective
Even after amendments to the act in 2016, the following issues remain to be addressed leading to inefficiency of the Lokpal system:
1) The investigation time limit can be extended indefinitely
Under the bill, the Lokpal can direct an investigative agency to complete an investigation as expeditiously as possible, provided that there is, prima facie, evidence of corruption against an official. This investigation should be completed within six months, failing which the investigative agency can ask for an extension of time, which should be for no more than six months at a time.
The original bill as introduced in the Parliament in 2011 had specified that an investigation had to be closed a year after it started. The draft prepared by Anna Hazare and civil society organizations had suggested that investigations be completed within 18 months and investigations involving whistleblowers should be finished within three months.
As per the current status, investigations can be extended indefinitely, whether whistleblowers are involved or not. This is not unknown in India.
2) States can create their version of the Lokayukta Bill
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill direct every state to establish a Lokayukta within one year of the legislation being passed, giving them the freedom to decide the nature and type of the Lokayukta Bill that they pass.
Anna Hazare's group and the National Campaign for People's Right to Information had recommended for the establishment of a body similar to the Lokpal in all states, called the Lokayukta. But if states are given the freedom to determine the nature and type of the Lokayukta Bill, they are likely to emasculate the powers of the Lokayukta.
3) Limited funds with CBI to carry out investigations
The Lokpal itself does not face this restriction as its expenses are covered under the Consolidated Fund of India, which funds judicial bodies, among others. While the Lokpal's budget is not dependent on the Centre, the CBI's investigative budget for Lokpal cases depends upon a nod from the Centre.
The website of the Lokpal also states that it scrutinized 1,065 complaints received till September 30, 2019, and disposed of 1,000.
Even though the government has recently notified the rules relating to filing of complaints with Lokpal, it remains to be seen whether the Lokpal system will be able to regain the trust with which it was introduced.
"Corruption is the enemy of development, and of good governance. It must be got rid of. Both the government and the people at large must come together to achieve this national objective"
- Pratibha Patil (Former President of India)