LOKPAL BILL : A CHEQUERED HISTORY

July 4, 2011

In the annals of the Indian Parliament, no Bill has had a more chequered history than the Lokpal Bill.

 

The term Lokpal is the Indian version of Ombudsman, which is a Swedish term meaning “the grievance man.” Ombudsman is thus an official appointed to investigate complaints against the administration.

 

In 1966 the then Rastrapati Dr. Radhakrishnan set up the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Bhai Desai it was this A.R.C. that recommended enacting a law for the establishment of a Lokpal.

 

Today’s Lok Sabha is the Fifteenth Lok Sabha. The first time a Bill of this genre was introduced was 43 years back, in the Fourth Lok Sabha. It was then described as the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 1968.

 

The Bill was referred to a Joint Committee of the two houses and on the basis of the Committee’s report the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha. But while the Bill was pending before the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha was dissolved, and so the Bill lapsed.

 

In the Fifth Lok Sabha Smt. Indira Gandhi once again introduced the Bill. For six long years it remained in the queue of Bills ‘to be considered’. In 1977, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and the Bill lapsed.

 

morarjiIn 1977, under Morarji Bhai’s Government, the Bill was introduced as the Lokpal Bill, 1977. The Bill was referred to a Joint Committee which submitted its Report in July, 1978.

 

While the Bill as reported was being considered by the Lok Sabha, the Lok Sabha was prorogued and later dissolved. So this Bill also lapsed.

 

In the Seventh Lok Sabha formed in 1980, no such Bill was presented.

 

In 1985, with Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister, the Lok Pal Bill was presented afresh. It was again referred to a Joint Committee. I was Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha at the time. At the very outset I pointed out that two joint committees had earlier examined the Bill in great detail, heard many experts, and collected massive evidence. This elaborate exercise need not be repeated. But the Committee, in its wisdom, thought otherwise.

 

For over three years, the Committee went round the country from Shimla to Trivandrum, and form Panjim to Port Blair. The Committee actually visited 23 different States and Union Territories.

 

The Committee’s tenure was extended as many as eight times and at the end of it all on November 15, 1988, then MOS for Home, Shri Chidambaram informed the committee that Government had decided to withdraw the Bill.

 

In a Dissent Note signed jointly by all the Opposition members on the Joint Committee, namely P. Upendra, Aladi Aruna, K.P Unnikrishnan, Jaipal Reddy, C. Madhav Reddy, Zainal Abedin, Indrajit Gupta, Virendra Verma and myself, we observed, inter alia :

 

indrajit-guptaOf the various versions of the Lokpal Bill presented till now, the 1985 Bill seemed to us the most anaemic in content, and the most restricted in scope. So, when the Government decided to refer the Bill to a Joint committee of the two Houses, we felt hopeful that the Government would be open to persuasion with regard to the many infirmities of the Bill.

 

We strongly disagree with this majority view to have the Bill withdrawn which would make the Joint Committee‘s three year long labours an extravagant exercise in utter futility. From the very outset we have been of the view that the Bill, as introduced, was inadequate. The Government did not agree with us, and decided to go ahead with it. And now, after three years, it has perhaps come to the conclusion that it is not only inadequate, but it is so bad that it cannot even be improved.

 

The Lokpal, even with the present deficiencies of the Bill, was expected to function as a watchdog, over ministerial probity. During the past two years, corruption in high places has become a subject matter of animated public debate. In the course of our examination of the Lok Ayuktas’ functioning in the States we found that in several States, the Chief Ministers of those States also came within the purview of the Lok Ayukta . We have been strongly of the view that the office of the Prime Minister also should be similarly brought within the purview of the Lokpal.

 

It is a matter of deep regret that, instead of appreciating public concern about this issue and the validity of our demand , the Government’s response is to torpedo the Bill altogether and to move for leave to withdraw it, thus bringing the Joint Committee itself into public ridicule. It only shows the nervousness of the Government in face of serious charges of corruption against persons in high places and its reluctance to create an institution which might cause embarrassment to it. We cannot be a party to such a crude attempt of the Government to cover up its misdeeds. Hence this note of dissent. 

 

In 1989, the Congress Party under Rajiv Gandhi lost the elections. Shri V.P. Singh became Prime Minister as head of a coalition government with the outside support of the BJP and the Left Parties.

 

The Lokpal Bill introduced by this government in 1989 naturally reflected the non-Congress viewpoint contained in the 1988 joint Dissent Note, and covered the Prime Minister.

 

vajpayeeThe Lokpal Bills presented subsequently by NDA Governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee also covered the Prime Minister.

 

I well remember that Atalji as P.M. was very insistent that the Prime Minister should not be kept out of the Lok Pal’s jurisdiction.

 

Placed below is a table indicating whether the Prime Minister was included or excluded in the Lokpal’s jurisdiction in the different Bills introduced since 1968.

 

Title of Bill                                                                            P.M. Covered or not.

            Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 1968                                                     No

Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 1974                                                     No

The Lokpal Bill, 1977                                                                        No

The Lokpal Bill, 1985                                                                        No

The Lokpal Bill, 1989                                                                        Yes

The Lokpal Bill, 1996                                                                        Yes

The Lokpal Bill, 1998                                                                        Yes

The Lokpal Bill, 2001                                                                        Yes

 

TAILPIECE

cag-vinod-raiOne can safely bet, and win a wager, that even in a college quiz, an over whelming majority of students would not be able to tell the name of the country’s Comptroller and Auditor General.

 

Well, the C.A.G. is SHRI VINOD RAI.

***

OUTLOOK Dated July 11, 2011 carries Vinod Rai’s picture on its cover alongside a bold caption THE MAN WHO ROCKED THE UPA.

 

The subheading reads: Behind every gigantic scam that has shaken the Manmohan Singh regime – CWG, 2G or KG basin – there is the quiet and assertive hand of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

 

POST SCRIPT

I have been in Parliament for forty years, and have attended numerous all – party meetings convened by Government.

 

The meeting held by the Prime Minister on July 3 evening, however, proved unique, and without precedent.

 

Never before has an all party meeting turned out to be so unanimous in its criticism of Government as last Sunday’s.

 

The discussion was initiated by Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha. Her speech was crisp and powerful. The country wants a strong and effective Lokpal. But the manner in which Government has dealt with the issue and bypassed Parliament is totally indefensible. By deviating from established parliamentary procedure, it has messed up the matter, and made a laughing stock of itself. This all – party meeting seems only an exercise to extricate itself from the mess.

 

Almost every MP who spoke at the meeting endorsed what the BJP leader said. The last speaker at the conference was Arun Jaitley, LOP in Rajya Sabha.

 

He said that Government had given to the meeting two Draft Bills – one prepared by Team Hazare and the other by five Union Ministers. He wished to emphasise that the Ministerial draft would make Lokpal a pliable government person. When government introduces the Lokpal Bill in Parliament let the present draft be completely overhauled.

 

L.K. Advani

New Delhi

4 July, 2011

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