What is Jan Lokpal Bill and why is it important?

Jan lokpalThe Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s ombudsman Bill) is a draft anti-corruption bill drawn up by prominent civil society activists seeking the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body that would investigate corruption cases, complete the investigation within a year and envisages trial in the case getting over in the next one year.

The draft of Jan Lokpal Bill envisages a system where a corrupt person found guilty would go to jail within two years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth being confiscated. It also seeks power to the Jan Lokpal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission.

Retired IPS officer Kiran Bedi and other known people like Swami Agnivesh, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Anna Hazare and Mallika Sarabhai are also part of the movement, called India Against Corruption. Its website describes the movement as “an expression of collective anger of people of India against corruption”. We have all come together to force/request/persuade/pressurize the Government to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill. We feel that if this Bill were enacted it would create an effective deterrence against corruption.”


Salient Features of Jan Lokpal Bill

*  An institution called LOKPAL at the centre and LOKAYUKTA in each state will be set up.

*  Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations.

*  Cases against corrupt people will not linger on for years anymore: Investigations in any case will have to be completed in one year. Trial should be completed in next one year so that the corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years.

*  The loss that a corrupt person caused to the government will be recovered at the time of conviction.

*  How will it help a common citizen: If any work of any citizen is not done in prescribed time in any government office, Lokpal will impose financial penalty on guilty officers, which will be given as compensation to the complainant.

*  So, you could approach Lokpal if your ration card or passport or voter card is not being made or if police is not registering your case or any other work is not being done in prescribed time. Lokpal will have to get it done in a month’s time. You could also report any case of corruption to Lokpal like ration being siphoned off, poor quality roads been constructed or panchayat funds being siphoned off. Lokpal will have to complete its investigations in a year, trial will be over in next one year and the guilty will go to jail within two years.

*  But won’t the government appoint corrupt and weak people as Lokpal members? That won’t be possible because its members will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by politicians, through a completely transparent and participatory process. 

*  What if some officer in Lokpal becomes corrupt? The entire functioning of Lokpal/ Lokayukta will be completely transparent. Any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months

*  What will happen to existing anti-corruption agencies? CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI will be merged into Lokpal. Lokpal will have complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician. 

*  It will be the duty of the Lokpal to provide protection to those who are being victimized for raising their voice against corruption.


History of the Jan Lokpal Bill

History of the Jan Lokpal Bill

Iconic Gandhian Anna Hazare also launched another sampoorna kranti to press for a strong anti-corruption. In this season of scams, corruption is almost a way of life and is often being used as a sheet anchor for governance. That was precisely the reason the soldier-turned anti-corruption crusader made it clear, “The revolution is not against any particular party or a government. It is meant for a change in the system.”

Hazare’s 12-day-long Satyagraha to press for a stronger Lokpal Bill has awakened the nation. The movement has rekindled nationalism. Bowing before the mass movement, both the houses of Parliament in their resolution in principle agreed to Hazare’s three key demands, which include bringing lower bureaucracy in the ambit of Lokpal, appointing Lokayuktas in the states and a citizen’s charter for government departments.

The nation saw history being once again anchored from the historic Ramlila Maidan. Call it the victory of democracy or victory of peoples’ power; it was for the first time that peoples’ voice got heard in the legislation making process.

The 74-year-old Gandhian picked up an issue on which Parliament sat on for four decades. Hardly did anyone think that the issue could now shake Indian politics.

Those aware of the political history of India would know that the idea of Lokpal was floated way back in 1963 by LM Singhvi, an independent member of Lok Sabha. The Lokpal Bill was first introduced in 1968 by the Indira Gandhi government. It was consequently passed in Lok Sabha in 1969. It was in the same year that the ruling Congress split and the bill could not get through in Rajya Sabha.

The bill was subsequently introduced in Parliament nine times between 1971 and 2008, but continually stymied each time. Governments introducing the legislation either failed to complete full term or didn’t return to power. It was last introduced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2001. The bill was then put on the backburner by UPA-I regime.

Thanks to Hazare, once again Parliament has woken up to the essence of the Lokpal Bill. Now the bill is in parliamentary Standing Committee’s court. Interestingly, late LM Singhvi’s son senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi is heading the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which looks into the draft of the bill.

This is not to dispute that the draft of the Lokpal Bill gives restricted remit to the Lokpal institution. The draft needs to be rewritten in order to widen the ambit of Lokpal. A copy of the Jan Lokpal Bill prepared by Team Anna is also with the Standing Committee. Best provisions of the Jan Lokpal should be incorporated in the bill taking a broader national consensus into account.

Hope the new Lokpal Bill will give enough space for the independence of the ombudsman. The bill should talk about a transparent appointment system for Lokpal. The last, but not the least: there is a possibility that the Lokpal could turn corrupt and in that case the bill should have the provisions for recalling the Lokpal.

The government should act fast.


Differences between Lokpal and Jan Lokpal Bills

The Lokpal and Jan Lokpal bill has widespread media coverage and the issue was on wide board discussions. Therefore, it became essential for all the citizens to know about the differences. The Lokpal Bill and Jan Lokpal Bill have numerous differences; but the major ones are as follows:

First difference is divergence of jurisdiction:

The Lokpal bill include ministers, MPs for any action outside Parliament, and Group A officers (and equivalent) of the government, the Prime Minister after he demits office and all the NGO’s who receive government funds or any funds from the public. Government bill excludes judges and junior officials (below Group A).

The Jan Lokpal bill include ministers, MPs for any action outside Parliament, and Group A officers (and equivalent) of the government, includes a sitting Prime Minister, any act of an MP in respect of a speech or vote in Parliament (which is now protected by Article 105 of the Constitution),judges, all government officials. Jan Lokpal excludes NGO’s.

Second difference is the composition

The Lokpal bill has a chairperson and up to 8 members; at least half the members must have a judicial background.

The Jan Lokpal bill has a chairperson and 10 members, of which 4 have a judicial background.

Third difference is process of selecting the members

The Lokpal Bill has a simpler process. The selection will be made by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the leaders of Opposition in both Houses of Parliament, a Supreme Court judge, a high court chief justice, an eminent jurist and an eminent person in public life. The selection committee may, at its discretion, appoint a search committee to shortlist candidates.

The Jan Lokpal has a two stage process. A search committee will shortlist potential candidates. The search committee will have 10 members; five of these would have retired as Chief Justice of India, Chief Election Commissioner or Comptroller and Auditor General; they will select the other five from civil society. The Lok Pal chairperson and members will be selected from this shortlist by a selection committee. The selection committee consists of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, two Supreme Court judges, two high court chief justices, the Chief Election Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor General and all previous Lok Pal chairpersons.

Fourth difference is the qualification of members

The Lokpal Bill requires the judicial member to be a Supreme Court judge or a high court chief justice. For other members, the government Bill requires at least 25 years experience in anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance or finance.

The Jan Lokpal requires a judicial member to have held judicial office for 10 years or been a high court or Supreme Court advocate for 15 years. The JLP has a lower age limit of 45 years, and disqualifies anyone who has been in government service in the previous two years.

Fifth difference is removal of members

The Lok pal Bill permits the president to make a reference to the Supreme Court for an inquiry, followed by removal if the member is found to be biased or corrupt. The reference may be made by the president (a) on his own, (a) on a petition signed by 100 MPs or (c) on a petition by a citizen if the President is then satisfied that it should be referred. The President may also remove any member for insolvency, infirmity of mind or body, or engaging in paid employment.

In the Jan Lokpal Bill the removal of members starts with a complaint by any person to the Supreme Court. If the court finds misbehavior, infirmity of mind or body, insolvency or paid employment, it may recommend his removal to the President.

Sixth difference is the offences covered by the bills

The Lokpal Bill deals only with offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The Jan Lokpal Bill covers offences under the prevention of corruption act and also offences by public servants under the Indian Penal Code, victimization of whistleblowers and repeated violation of citizen’s charter.

Seventh difference is the investigation process

The Lokpal Bill provides for an investigation wing in the government bill.

The Jan Lokpal Bill states that the CBI will be under the Lok Pal while investigating corruption cases.

Eighth difference is the process of prosecution

The government Bill provides for a prosecution wing of the Lok Pal. In the

government Bill, the Lok Pal may initiate prosecution in a special court. A copy of the report is to be sent to the competent authority. No prior sanction is required.

In the JLP, the CBI’s prosecution wing will conduct this function.  In the JLP, prosecution of the Prime Minister, ministers, MPs and judges of Supreme Court and high courts may be initiated only with the permission of a 7-judge bench of the Lok Pal.

Ninth difference is process of grievance redressal

The Lokpal Bill does not deal with grievance redressal.

The Jan Lokpal Bill deals with grievance redressal of citizens, in addition to the process for prosecuting corruption cases. It requires every public authority to publish citizen’s charters listing its commitments to citizens.


The highly expensive Black Money

The highly expensive Black MoneyAnna Hazare’s fast seeking the acceptance of the Jan Lokpal Bill, have shaken the government. Political parties have woken up to the depth of feeling against corruption. The snowballing protests are seen to be against corruption. Obviously, the public are fed up with the day-to-day harassment they face. To put this in perspective, it is important to understand the benefits to society of tackling the huge black economy in India.

The anti-corruption campaigns that has brought politicians and businessmen under the scanner, especially their links with the builder community being exposed in recent scams, have got the real estate sector worried. A number of industry insiders and sleuths have confirmed that the flow of unaccounted money in the system, a big source of funding for the sector facing funds crunch, will get disrupted.

An unhealthy nexus between builders and politicians as well as businessmen is the source of a considerable amount of black money in the system, say industry watchers. These politicians and businessmen are believed to use real estate to park black money. Even individuals looking at buying homes are willing or unwillingly forced to transact in black a number of times as there is a vast difference between governments specified rate in an area compared to the real rate of a property, putting the black money component in many transactions between 50-60 %.

Some people argue that the black economy also generates jobs and production. For instance, they argue that a lot of goods are bought in the market using black incomes, and that leads to increase in production and employment. They argue that the black economy generates informal sector employment and helps the poor. Some go to the extent of arguing that India escaped the worst effects of the global recession in 2008, and the economy only slowed down, because a large amount of black money was floating around, which generated additional demand. Some justify bribes as “speed money” that enables work to be done faster. There is some truth in all this. Yet, it can be shown that the ill-effects of the black economy far outweigh its beneficial effects.

Think of bribe as “speed money.” In order to extract a bribe, the bureaucracy first slows down work and harasses the public. If work was automatically done, why would anyone pay bribes? Thus, the system has to be made inefficient so that those who can afford to pay can get their work done quickly but the rest continue to suffer. The administration becomes rundown because instead of working efficiently it is looking into ways of making speed money. This paved way to “middlemen” culture .The personal approach to officers, hardly happen in the routine manner. The corrupt need the middleman to insulate themselves from direct public contact and find it a convenient arrangement.

Black MoneyMuch of the black economy in India is like “digging holes and filling them.” That is, one digs a hole during the day and then another fills it up at night; the next day there is zero output but two salaries are paid. This is “activity without productivity.” An example is of poorly made roads that get washed away or become pot-holed with every rain and need repeated repairs. Thus, instead of new roads coming up, much of the budget allocation is spent on maintenance. Teachers may not teach properly in class so that students have to go for tuitions. Not only families have to pay extra but the students find learning to be insipid and lose interest. This affects their creativity and future.

Consider how millions of litigants, their families/friends, and lawyers arrive daily in the courts. In most instances, the hearing in a particular case lasts just a few minutes. The next date, weeks or months away, is announced, and they go back home. Not only is justice delayed inordinately, but time is lost and expenses are incurred on lawyers’ fees, travel, and so on. Cases that could be resolved in a few months go on for years, multiplying costs. The expense of delayed justice is both direct and indirect. Delay is often a result of the impact of the black economy. Honest people who lose hope start resorting to other means, which dents the notion of social justice and weakens society. This cost cannot be calculated in monetary terms but it is significant.

Because of the growing black economy, policies fail both at the macro-level and the micro-level. Planning or monetary policy or fiscal policies do not achieve the desired results because of the existence of a substantial black economy. Targets for education, health, drinking water and so on are not achieved because “expenditures do not mean outcomes.” The economy does not lack resources but faces resource shortage. Much investment goes into wasteful and unproductive channels, like holding gold or real estate abroad. The flight of capital lowers the employment potential and the level of output in the economy. Capital sent abroad does not generate output in India but does so where it goes. A country that is considered capital-short has been exporting capital. A nation that gives concessions to multinational corporations to bring in capital loses more capital than it gets, and that too at a high cost, from foreign institutional investments or foreign direct investment. India’s policies are open to the dictates of international capital because the country’s businessmen and politicians have taken capital out in large doses since Independence. The costs are huge.

The direct and indirect costs are of policy failures, unproductive investments, slower development, higher inequity, environmental destruction and a lower rate of growth of the economy than would have been possible. India could have been growing faster, by about 5 per cent, since the 1970s if it did not have the black economy. Consequently, India could have been a $8-trillion economy, the second largest in the world. Per capita income could have been seven times larger; India would then have been a middle-income country and not one of the poorest. That has been a huge cost.

The black economy also leads to “the usual becoming the unusual and the unusual the usual.” That which should happen does not, and that which should not keeps happening. We should be getting 220 volts electricity but mostly get 170 volts or 270 volts. Equipment burns out, so all expensive gadgets need voltage stabilizers. This results in higher capital costs; maintenance costs rise. Water in taps should be potable, but it is of uneven quality because the pipes are not properly laid and sewage seeps in. Thus, people carry water bottles, use water-purifiers and boil water at great extra cost. Even then, people fall ill. Some 70 per cent of all disease in India is related to water, so we spend extra on hospitalization and treatment. Then there is the associated loss of productivity; the poor are particularly the victims.

Hospitalization can be traumatic because of the large-scale callousness there. Public hospitals are crowded and the doctors are overworked. Due to unhygienic conditions, patients can get secondary infection or attendants can fall sick. In private hospitals the patient is not sure whether unnecessary tests are being done and whether visits by consultants coming to see them are needed at all. Even after all this, cure is not assured: the drugs may be spurious; the intravenous fluid contaminated, and so on. The poor suffer from the presence of a large number of quacks in the market who give injections or steroids or an overdose of antibiotics. It is by the sheer strength of the human constitution that in spite of these adversities, many people get cured.

The result of all this is that costs everywhere are higher than they need to be — raising the rate of inflation. If capital is over-invoiced by businesses to make money, the cost of

setting up industry is higher. If poor quality grain is sold in the public distribution system, the price is higher. If children need tuitions because of poor teaching, the family’s cost is higher, and so on.

At the social level, the cost is a loss of faith in society and its functioning. Hence many now seek individual solutions and discount societal processes. At the political level there is fragmentation, with States demanding their own packages because the belief that the nation as a whole can deliver has been dented. The demand for smaller States is a corollary because the bigger States neglect the less vocal regions. Each caste, community and region now wants to have its own party to represent its narrow interest, leading to the proliferation of smaller parties. Can the cost of this fragmentation and loss of national spirit be calculated?

New movements for a strong Lokpal, the right to education, food and information, are likely to recreate a common national ethos that is so necessary, and which may generate the political will to tackle the hugely expensive black economy. The fight for one is the fight for the other also.

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