Good progress

The joint drafting committee on the Lokpal bill, comprising representatives of the government and civil society, has made welcome progress in evolving proposals on the scope of the proposed legislation for creation of the anti-corruption body. The committee has had three sittings so far and it was decided at last week’s meeting that ministers, MPs and senior government servants like IAS, IPS and other civil services officers would be brought under the ambit of the bill.

There was a welcome consensus in the committee on the proposal. At present,  initiation of investigations and prosecution of ministers, MPs and senior bureaucrats could be done only with prior permission from the government. In the case of a minister the sanction has to come from the prime minister and for an MP the sanctioning authority is the Lok Sabha Speaker or the Rajya Sabha chairman. The procedures are cumbersome and usually have the effect of shielding corruption.

The existing procedures for prosecution of senior bureaucrats are also ineffective. The provision for government sanction for prosecution of an officer above the rank of a joint secretary was intended to protect them from harassment but this has been misused to protect corrupt officials by scuttling or delaying action against them. Bureaucrats are also involved, along with politicians, in all the major corruption scandals in the country. To make the administration corruption-free the present system of protection should end.

Provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which governs the CBI, have to be amended for this. If the proposal to remove the badly implemented protection regime becomes a reality the prosecution of about 300 senior bureaucrats who are facing serious corruption charges can be fast-tracked. This will help to clean up the administration and serve as a warning to officials in future.

The drafting committee has not taken a decision on inclusion of the prime minister and the judiciary within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. There were differences over these proposals and a decision is expected in the coming meetings.  Even the government’s draft Lokpal bill had provided for inclusion of the prime minister within its scope. The present reservations may have arisen because the proposed office of the Lokpal is stronger than that envisaged under the government’s bill. But there is no case for leaving the prime minister out of the ambit of the bill.

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