Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in response to the questionnaire sent by the Union government to chief ministers seeking their views on the Lokpal Bill has suggested that the Bill should be scrapped because the existing institutions are adequate to deal with corruption. I too have been advocating this. However this may not be politically practical.
In public perception the Lokpal Bill has become identified with the resolve to end corruption.
All political parties have supported the creation of a Lokpal. It is an ancient proposal. In India old is gold. The ability to think independently is sadly absent. Mismanagement and confused thinking led the government to dig itself into a hole. Its decision to call an all party meeting to discuss the issue is unlikely to help. Opposition parties will seek to embarrass the government which will compound confusion and not help resolve the issue. But neither the government nor most opposition parties can altogether abandon the Lokpal Bill without loss of public face.
However, there is a way out.
The Lokpal Bill can be rescued without upsetting the existing constitutional structure as the government wants, and at the same time effectively addressing popular demands voiced by representatives of the civil society.
The following steps need to be taken to satisfy the concerns of both sides.
In order to differentiate the role of the Lokpal from that of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) the new institution should be entrusted with dealing only with political corruption that involves ministers, chief ministers and the prime minister. The CVC may continue to deal with the rest of the corruption cases. The judiciary should be dealt with by an independent Judicial Reforms Commission that may along with the Lokpal be made a constitutional body. Apart from corruption there could be other aspects of judicial functioning that may need attention demanding specialized legal knowledge.
All these constitutional bodies should be under the direct purview of the President. The CBI too should be made into a constitutional body directly accountable to the President. It has been suggested that the Lokpal should consist of eleven members. All the members of the proposed Lokpal would be appointed by the President without clearance by the cabinet. It might be recalled that in disputes between the Election Commission, which is also a constitutional body, and the cabinet, there is already experience from during the tenure of Mr. TN Seshan indicating that the President has to act as impartial arbiter. In the new dispensation the President may continue playing the role of adviser to the cabinet and to parliament without exercising final authority. But with regard to the functioning of all constitutional bodies the President would exercise direct authority over them. This should be explicitly stated for the public satisfaction. This arrangement would be in total conformity with the existing Constitution without disturbing the existing political structure.
It may also be desirable that no anonymous complaints may be considered by the proposed Lokpal. All complainants would have to identify themselves and furnish credible prima facie evidence. It may also be preferable that the Lokpal should not suo moto launch investigation or prosecution unless formal complaints are received. If such an arrangement were made it would call for a presidential role that was not required in the past. The electorate would have to take note of this change. Therefore if such a Bill is successfully drafted it should come into operation only after President Pratibha Patil’s term ends and a new President is elected. If this suggested course to create a new Lokpal post is adopted it would satisfactorily address the concerns voiced by the government and the representatives of civil society. It would be a decisive step forward in restoring democratic governance in accordance with the Constitution, and effectively address corruption.