The Lok Pal (anti-corruption body) Bill has generated widespread interest in the past few days.
The Bill is an attempt by the government, under massive pressure due to corruption charges, to gain some of its lost ground. However, civil rights activists, including Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, have termed the draft legislation as weak and demanded that fifty per cent of the members in the committee drafting the bill should be from the public.
But the common man appears to be in the dark about the scope of the proposed bill.
Here's an FAQ on the controversial bill.
What is the controversy between the government and Anna Hazare about?
Anna Hazare and other civil society activists have proposed a draft Lok Pal Bill to tackle the menace of corruption. The Prime Minister formed a sub-committee of the Group of Ministers to discuss the issue with these activists. However, these two groups were unable to reach an agreement on the provisions of the Lok Pal Bill. According to the government, the activists demanded that the government should accept the Bill drafted by them without any changes.
What steps has the government taken to enact the Lok Pal Bill?
In January 2011, the government has formed a Group of Ministers chaired by Shri Pranab Mukherjee to suggest measures to tackle corruption, including examination of the proposal of a Lok Pal Bill.
What is the purpose of the office of Lok Pal?
The office of the Lok Pal is the Indian version of the office of an Ombudsman who is appointed to inquire into complaints made by citizens against public officials. The Lok Pal is a forum where the citizen can send a complaint against a public official, which would then be inquired into and the citizen would be provided some redressal.
What are issues that have generated debate on the Lok Pal Bill?
There are diverging views on issues such as the inclusion of the office of the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, inclusion of judges, and powers of the Lok Pal. Some experts contend that all public officials should be accountable while others feel that the autonomy and privilege of Parliament require the Prime Minister, Ministers, and Members of Parliament to be accountable only to Parliament.
Have there been other attempts to establish the institution of Lok Pal at the central level?
Yes. The Lok Pal Bill has been introduced eight times in the Lok Sabha (1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001). However, each time the Lok Sabha was dissolved before the Bill could be passed, except in 1985 when it was withdrawn.
Have any expert commissions made recommendations on the office of Lok Pal?
Yes, a number of commissions have made various recommendations regarding the necessity of the office of the Lok Pal, its composition, powers and functions, and jurisdiction. The commissions, which dealt with the Lok Pal include the First Administrative Reforms Commission of 1966, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of 2002 and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007. The Lok Pal Bills that were introduced were referred to various Parliamentary committees (the last three Bills were referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs).
What are the present laws that deal with corruption of public officials in India?
Public servants (such as government employees, judges, armed forces, and Members of Parliament) can be prosecuted for corruption under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. However, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the 1988 Act require the investigating agency (such as the CBI) to get prior sanction of the central or state government before it can initiate the prosecution process in a court.
Have the state governments been more successful in setting up bodies to redress public grievances against administrative acts?
So far 18 state governments have enacted legislation to set up the office of Lokayukta and Uplokayukta (deputy Lokayukta). The 18 states are: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.
Which other countries have the office of the Ombudsman for grievances?
Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, Burkina Faso and the United Kingdom are some of the countries which have the office of an Ombudsman.
The article was published on rediff.com on April 5, 2011
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.