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 Lokpal Bill, 1996

Bill of Immunity to the Corrupt?

Here is one such case when politicians cutting across all established parties collude at the top in their mutual benefit. The Lokpal Bill, 1996, drawn up ostensibly to root out corruption at high places, has been introduced in the Lok Sabha and awaits the approval of both the Houses. Let us take a look at the smokescreen it has created to provide immunity to the corrupt that it claims to bring under its ‘objective’ scrutiny.

Clause 26 of the Bill mentions that after the Lokpal or the competent authority — Prime Minister or a House of Parliament — to whom Lokpal sends its report holds that the allegations of corruption made in a complaint against the Prime Minister, or a Minister or MP (present or past) have not been proved, "notwithstanding anything contained in any other law", "no prosecution shall lie on any complaint, report, information or otherwise and no court shall take cognisance of any offence on the basis of the same or substantially the same allegations." Further it says that once a complaint is made to the Lokpal nobody can take up the same complaint or any thing close to it in any court of law through a Public Interest Litigation or otherwise. In such a case there is also a ban on referring it for inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1952. To think of it, imagine a situation once the Bill comes into effect, when someone (could well be the accused’s `paid complainant’) approaches the Lokpal with a case, then this could bring to a halt all pending investigations against the accused, a former or present Prime Minister, minister or MP. It could well be the case that the charge of a crime might absolve the criminal of all investigations into his crimes!

And if this is not enough, note what the Clause 14 says. It empowers the Lokpal to give directions for deferring or suspending any ongoing police investigations in matters covered by the complaints made to it.

The second farce about the Bill is that it seeks to make the public functionaries accountable to the people by imposing its own brand of censorship and curbing the right to information. Unlike in legal proceedings in the courts which the media can report to the general public and where public too can attend the legal trials, in case of the the proposed Lokpal, as under Clause 23, disclosure — printing or publishing — of any information in respect of any complaint of corruption under this legislation when the enquiry is in progress and three months after the report has been forwarded by the Lokpal to the Prime Minister or a House of Parliament, as the case may be, has been made punishable.

There are many more gems of justice that deserve attention. Contradictory to the government’s claim that the Lokpal would provide the common man with exemplary powers to censure his/her elected representative, every complainant, the government’s ‘common man’, has to pay a fees and take full responsibility for leveling charges and in case the complaint is found to be baseless, to discourage the same ‘common man’, serious punitive action extending to two years in jail and Rs.50,000 in fine will be imposed on the complainant.

Charges of corruption in our legal system are not necessarily covered only under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 but also under many other Acts, but the Lokpal restricts its ambit to the cases under this Act.

Regarding the constitution of the Lokpal, the Bill says that the Chairman of the Lokpal shall be from among past or present chief justices of Supreme Court. Fine. But the other two members of the Lokpal may also be from those ‘qualified’ to be judges of the Supreme Court. The loose end left here makes countless many from India’s entire judiciary eligible for the post including those who are also senior party politicians with legal background — the likes of Ajit Kumar Panja (who pleading on behalf of KL Chugh and JN Sapru, the arrested former ITC chairmen, argued that they should be granted bail on the ground that both were well-acclaimed and internationally renowned personalities) or Somnath Chatterjee (who has no qualms about fighting the case for the same two corporate crooks, as he says, "it will be a relation between a lawyer and client").

Still another notable point is that the Lokpal has no powers to punish the ‘guilty’. After finding someone guilty Lokpal can only report its findings to the PM or a House of Parliament and who knows what the ‘people’s representatives’ engulfed by the ‘global phenomenon of corruption’ might finally decide.


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