Nearly half a decade after the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act was passed by Parliament under pressure from Anna Hazare’s mass movement, India seems set to have its first Lokpal. The selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have recommended the name of former Supreme Court judge PC Ghose for the position.
It is not clear if other members of the Lokpal committee—which can have up to eight members and must include Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes, minorities and women—have also been finalised. Even Ghose’s selection seems to have been nudged by the Supreme Court, which had put the selection committee on a clock, and decided to monitor its progress closely. Given its persistent procrastination in the past, the government’s belated move at the end of its first term would appear to be half-hearted at best.
The unexplained and unjustified delay notwithstanding, installation of the Lokpal nevertheless ought to be welcomed. The legal and political journey of appointing a Lokpal has been mired in controversy for decades and its resolution, howsoever imperfect, will be inarguably a milestone in India’s administrative jurisprudence.
Once in operation, the office of the Lokpal will now be tested on the grounds of transparency and independence from the government and others whom it is mandated to scrutinise.
This is important as in the past, most governments, irrespective of political dispensation, have sought to manipulate autonomous institutions set up to ensure transparency and accountability of governance.
Under the present law, the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, which is empowered to bring the Prime Minister under its purview, is bound by several clauses. It is required to have the unanimous support of the full bench of the Lokpal and at least two-thirds of its members, to approve an inquiry against the Prime Minister.
Given the prevailing atmosphere of distrust, it may be unrealistic to expect the office of the Lokpal to wield a magic wand to make corruption in public life disappear.
However, now that the stage is set for the office of the Lokpal to start working, victims of corruption have a viable avenue of redress. The Lokpal will take over the work of sanctioning prosecution, besides exercising its power to order preliminary inquiries and full-fledged investigations by any agency, including the CBI.
Its journey toward cleansing governance of India of corruption and nepotism will not always be easy. But the Lokpal and other members of the office have a historic responsibility to live up to popular expectations. With popular support, they should be able to cross any hurdle that crosses their path.