The Modi Government must consider two important legislations when claiming a record in productive legislative business.
Without strong watchdog institutions, impunity becomes the very foundation upon which systems of corruption are built. And if impunity is not demolished, all efforts to bring an end to corruption are in vain,” said Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace prize winner of 1992 from Guatemala. Writing for Transparency International on June 12, 2017, Menchu summed up the essence of it all as to why a watchdog institution like an Ombudsman (Lokpal), a much awaited body, is a must and is required to be constituted for our country to fight corruption.
The year 1809 is of notable significance since it was during this time that the concept of Ombudsman took birth in Sweden. The Swedish Parliament created the post of Riksdagens justitieombudsman, now commonly known as Ombudsman, whose duty was to help maintain public confidence in the court’s activities and in public administration by ensuring that the said functionaries acted within the framework of law and the duties cast upon them.
The Swedish model was so successful and estimable that other Scandinavian countries adopted it in the due course of time. As of now, 150 countries have adopted such model and have an ombudsman in place. The spread of the concept of ombudsmen across a diverse geographical and political spectrum is a reverential acceptance of a creditable experiment. It is also an ode to all those who not only earned respect for themselves but also brought credence to the institution. LM Singhvi, one of the members of the Constituent Assembly, was so enamoured by the functioning of the Swedish body that he talked of the same on the floor of the Lok Sabha on April 3, 1963, and urged the powers that be to form a body like an Ombudsman for the country. It was he who coined the term “Lokpal”, which has come to stick with the body in its Indianised avatar.
The administrative reforms commission set up in January 1966 made several recommendations. One of them was to have an institution to redress grievances of citizens on the lines of an Ombudsman. The foundation was laid for the introduction of a Bill in 1968 in the Lok Sabha. However, it did not take the shape of a law. Many failed attempts were made by successive Governments, to be precise nine times, till a popular movement by “India Against Corruption” forced the hands of political parties to put their acts together and pass the legislation ie, The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. It came into force from January 16, 2014. Despite the Act having been on the statute book, it took another five years and three months for the body to be formed. It was a record of sorts as the period of gestation for the Lokpal lasted 51 years.
What now and what next is the question on many people’s minds. For common men and women, for whom it is a struggle to make a living every day, they want relief from any kind of demand or forced payment of speed money to get things done from Government agencies or authorities. For the informed or opinion-makers, it is the systemic and structured corruption, which has implanted itself in the very innards of the system, that has been a cause of worry.
This country has experienced many popular movements when corruption made life insufferable for a majority of the citizens and Article 21 of the Constitution of India ie, Right to life, remains illusory. To recall some noticeable ones, Jayaprakash Narayan’s concept of “Total Revolution” and the more recent one by Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption. The fall of the UPA-II Government is attributed to the people’s anger against “corruption” in all its forms and reach.
Along with the Lokpal Bill, two other legislations were introduced that are of vital significance in the fight against corruption but somehow have not yet seen the light of the day.
The first is the Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 and the second is the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014. Aimed at safeguarding disclosures affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India and security of the state, the Government introduced the Whistle Blowers Protective (Amendment) Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha, which passed it on May, 13, 2015. On being transmitted to the Rajya Sabha, the said Bill is still ruing its fate.
The newly-elected Government has set a record of kind in productive legislative business in the two Houses. Hoping the same momentum to be alive, steps should be taken to include the two legislations as part of legislative business in the next session.
This writer has a reason to argue for this based on experience, gained in the last few months, from the volume of complaints received by the Lokpal from diverse corners and cross-section of people of the country. Besides complaints on issues of corruption, a large number of them relate to such public grievances for which there are mechanisms in place but there are shortfalls and disaffection in their delivery. They find hope in the Lokpal. The present arrangement needs a serious revisit and relook whatever be the reason for non-resolution of complaints.
Many other public grievances can be redressed if not addressed under the Right of Citizens For Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal Of Their Grievances Act, if enacted. The said Bill is required to be brushed up, may be recast and brought in as legislation without losing out on the object and reasons as well the need why it was drafted in the first place as a Bill.
The Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014 enables any person (ie, a whistleblower) to report an act of corruption, wilful misuse of power or discretion, or criminal offence by a public servant. This includes all public servants, including Ministers, Members of Parliament, regulatory authorities, Central and State Government employees. Such disclosures are made to a specified competent authority, who must conduct a discreet inquiry and conceal the identity of the complainant and public servant. Now that the body of the Lokpal has been constituted, the Whistleblowers Protection Act must see the light of day as soon as it is supplemental in nature to the Lokpal Act.
I hope that the powers that be take note of the same and respond by bringing the two legislations at the earliest. This will not only enhance the image of the Government by showing its resolve to fight corruption at all levels but also save valuable time resources and energy of the Lokpal if complaints are channelised to the body which was contemplated under the Right of Citizens For Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal Of Their Grievances Bill 2011.
Many complaints do not come within the purview of the Lokpal Act but are still issues that vex most citizens in their daily interface with governmental and administrative agencies. That is sullying the image of governance cumulatively. If it were not so, Transparency International would not have ranked India 78th globally in its 2018 report. This isn’t complimentary for any self-respecting nation.
(The writer is former Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court, now Judicial Member, Lokpal of India)
Writer: Ajay Kumar Tripathi
Courtesy: The Pioneer