Lokpal bill will fight corruption at centre, not states: Hegde

Lokpal bill will fight corruption at centre, not states: Hegde

The Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill will only help fight corruption at the centre and not in states where the magnitude of graft is alarming and accounts for almost 90 percent of corruption in the country encountered by the common man, says former Supreme Court judge Justice N. Santosh Hegde.

Hegde, also the ombudsman for Karnataka, is part of the 10-member committee set up by the government to draft the new bill following the hunger strike by reformer Anna Hazare that had triggered a nationwide movement against corruption.

"The lokpal will deal with acts of omissions and commissions at the centre such as alleged corruption by union ministers, including the prime minister and central government employees. But there is much more corruption at the local level in states, which has to be tackled by the lokayukta (state-level ombudsman)," Hegde told IANS in an interview.

Hegde, who played a key role in drafting the various clauses of the Jan Lokpal bill, the stronger alternative drafted by civil society members, hoped the fight against corruption and maladministration would not only be strengthened at the centre but also in states.

"The institution of the lokpal at the centre has been overdue. Unlike in Karnataka and a few states where the lokayukta has been constituted and functioning, there is no such legal entity at the central level for people to fight against corruption. There is an urgent need because corruption is also prevalent at the centre, as evident from the various scams that surfaced recently," Hegde asserted.

Though the lokpal may not deal directly with corruption cases and other grievances at the state level, Hegde said the members representing the civil society on the joint panel would strive to ensure that the act would be uniform and its powers applicable in all states through their respective lokayuktas.

"One of the suggestions I made is that the Lokpal Act should be uniform and its powers applicable in all states so that the lokayuktas are equally empowered to tackle the menace, as about 90 percent of the graft incidents occur at the ground level, be it in the local body, district offices and state capitals," Hegde noted.

Though it would be in the interest of speedy justice, he said, to accept the lokpal judgment as final, the accused or a convicted person cannot be legally stopped from approaching the Supreme Court as he or she would be entitled to under the laws of the land, especially where fundamental rights were involved.

"We cannot stop the affected person from taking to legal course against the lokpal ruling even if he or she is held guilty of the offence though it would be ideal. But we are governed by the constitution, which empowers every citizen to defend from being framed, accused or convicted," Hegde pointed out.

"As a central act, the lokpal will facilitate creation of a lokayukta in every state with a common law on the lines of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, which is one of the best in the country. But having been an ombudsman over the last four years, I have not been able to check corruption and maladministration in the absence of adequate powers  envisaged in the Jan Lokpal bill," Hegde told IANS.

Lauding the role of social crusader Anna Hazare in making the government form the joint panel after protracted delays, Hegde said he was optimistic that the draft bill would be finalised by June and passed in parliament in its monsoon session so that the momentum gained by the recent unprecedented turn of events was not lost.

"There are two draft bills - one from the government and other from our side (civil society). With the cooperation of all the members, we hope to finalise the draft bill by June. There could be 10-12 meetings to review the bills clause by clause and build a consensus to protect the legitimate rights of citizens, bring in transparency in governance and ensure accountability on the part of the executive, legislature and even judiciary," Hegde emphasised.

The drafting committee of the Lokpal bill would comprise five ministers and five nominees of Hazare, including himself. While the ministers are Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, M. Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal and Salman Khursheed, the civil society members are Hazare, Hegde, advocates Shanti and Prashant Bhushan and activist Arvind Kejriwal.

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