Lokpal is the counterpart to the north European institution of Ombudsman, which originated in the early part of last century. Lokpal is meant to bring to book the highest political functionaries of the Government – the members of political executive in the Union Government and members of Parliament who are charged with corruption. The Administrative Reforms Committee recommended for its setting up in 1966.
The Bill to set up Lokpal was introduced in the Indian Parliament in 1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1996 and 1998. The Bill did not become an Act as either the relevant Lok Sabha or the Ministry did not survive.
The provisions of the 1996 Lokpal Bill are:
- The objective is to enable the citizens to have speedy and inexpensive form of justice.
- The Prime Minister comes under the scope of Lokpal.
- The Lokpal to be a three member body with a Chairman, who is or has been a Chief Justice or Judge of the Supreme Court; and two members, who are or have been qualified to be judges of the Supreme Court.
- The salaries and conditions of service of the Chairman and members to be at par with that of the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court respectively.
- The President appoints the Lokpal after consulting a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, some Union Cabinet Ministers, leaders of opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha etc. Prime Minister is the Chairman of the Committee. It is not clear whether the committee has to make a unanimous decision or, a majority decision.
- His tenure is for 5 years and can be removed on ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity, if an inquiry by Chief Justice of Supreme Court establishes it.
An independent investigative agency is to be created under its administrative control and also, the Lokpal can secure the services of any officer of any investigative agency of Central or State governments with their concurrence.
- Search and seizure operations can be ordered by Lokpal.
- MPs should declare their assets to the Lokpal.
- Proceedings are to be held in camera and reporting them is a punishable offence.
- If the complaint is found to be false, the complainant is liable to be prosecuted.
- The Lokpal, after an inquiry, can neither prosecute nor recommend prosecution, but should send the report to the competent authority.
- Public servants are barred from complaining.
- The information requisitioned by the Lokpal can be withheld, if a Secretary to the Government certifies that it will interfere with the investigation of a crime or reveal cabinet proceedings.
In a major decision, the National Democratic Alliance Government has included the Prime Minister’s Office within the purview of the Lokpal’s domain. However, surprisingly the Members of Parliament have been kept outside the jurisdictional domain of Lokpal. The writ of Lokpal is not to be applicable, in case where the decision of the Prime Minister concerns national security and other related matters. It will be vested with adequate penal powers so that the Council of Ministers can be guarded from “vexatious and patently malafide” complaints.
Lokpal Bill, 1998
The Lokpal proposed by the government in 1998, makes some changes to the 1996 Bill that lapsed with the dissolution of 11th Lok Sabha. The changes were made on the basis of the Som Pal Committee recommendations. The Committee commended that
Lokpal should be assisted by two members.
- The committee to appoint the Lokpal and the two members should consist of the Vice President as Chairman and the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker and Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as members.
- Since the status of the Lokpal is equal to that of a Supreme Court judge, the removal procedure should be equally stringent.
- An inquiry for the removal of the Lokpal and members should be made by the Chief Justice and two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.
- Proceedings must be open, except in extraordinary cases.
- Complaints relating to cases in the last 10 years can be inquired into.
- MPs must declare assets within 90 days after being sworn in and every year thereafter or face punitive treatment.