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
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.