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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016
LATEST LOKPAL BILL - Vital Changes Still Needed

The much awaited Cabinet approved Lok Pal Bill is no surprise. The decision to exclude the Prime Minister is maintained, notwithstanding the proclaimed stand of S. Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister since 2004 that he wants to be included, but has had to yield because of the cabinet decision. This surrender of one's conscientious opinion on a matter of vital public importance at the altar of petty considerations of party politics ill serves Prime Minister's reputation because inspite of all the scams in the present Government even his worst opponents preface their criticism by reiterating their faith in his personal integrity. His well-wishers still hope that the Prime Minister will still assert himself and respect the sentiments of the masses than that of a small coterie for whom party is above the nation and principled politics secondary. Why should he be the whipping boy - let his successor when time comes face the people's wrath by suggesting a change.

The argument that if allegations of corruption against the Prime Minister are allowed to be examined by the LokPal, it will prejudicially affect the working of the government, is a non-starter. Bofors scandal was not about the quality of guns purchased, but the pay off received in lieu thereof. Similarly, Kargil coffins scandal was not about the quality of the product but about the alleged pay offs. The tragic comic provision that the Prime Minister will be covered after he demits office is like bolting the stable after the horses have run away. Can there be more callous absurdity in public life than a corrupt Prime Minister continuing in office with immunity. If this decision on Prime Minister's exclusion is not modified, a veritable storm will ensue.

Keeping judiciary out may be acceptable provided simultaneously legislations like Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and other connected Bills are brought in legislation. One may call this legislation as LokPal (Judiciary).

Members of Parliament are putting their case for exclusion from the LokPal Bill by seeking cover under Article 105 of the Constitution, and for this they apparently have some marginal support from the widely criticized majority judgment of (3 against 2) in Narsimha Rao case (1999) (I believe the matter is referred to a larger Bench) - it may apparently be technically correct but it is certainly morally reprehensible conduct and can not certainly be pleaded by MPs to be excluded from the jurisdiction of LokPal.

The minority judgment very aptly pointed out the absurdity of the argument that Article 105(2) exempts the legislator from being convicted on a charge of taking bribes and observed that this interpretation could lead to charter for corruption so as to elevate Members of Parliament as "super-citizens, immune from criminal responsibility".

It would indeed be ironic if a claim for immunity from prosecution founded on the need to ensure the independence of Members of Parliament in exercising their right to speak or cast their vote in Parliament, could be put forward by a Member who has bartered away his independence by agreeing to speak or vote in a particular manner in lieu of illegal gratification that has been paid or promised. By claiming the immunity such a Member would only be seeking a licence to indulge in such corrupt conduct.

In other countries such a conduct of MPs is treated as criminal. Thus, as far back as 1875, Australian Courts have taken the view that an attempt to bribe a member of the legislative assembly in order to influence his vote was a criminal offence and that there is no difference at paying money to a Member of Parliament to use his vote in a particular manner and paying him money for the said purpose outside Parliament.

The exemption of MPs from ambit of LokPal would make a mockery of the legislation - the public already has a low opinion of legislators. Their criminal antecedents already casts a doubt on their honest working.

In view of the above, one expects sensitivity of legislators that they should take steps to seek the Amendment of Article 105 of our Constitution. I have one more suggestion. As is well known the politicalization of criminals is a stark and dangerous reality. Even in Parliament there are nearly over 100 MPs having criminal cases pending against them. There has been a demand that tainted persons should not be allowed to contest elections. I feel that the law of LokPal should provide that whenever LokPal takes a decision, after having the matter investigated that the legislator has to be prosecuted for his misdemeanor, he should be deemed to be ineligible to continue as legislator till he is proved innocent.

A serious flaw in Government Bill is the denial of power to LokPal to prosecute those accused of corruption. This is totally unacceptable. No self-respecting person will agree to be on LokPal Body if his decisions are subject to control by the Government.

If all parties could simultaneously agree to provide a strong Lok Ayukat, much criticism of the lower officials not being included under LokPal will disappear. (Personally I myself feel that extending jurisdiction of LokPal right from the lowest official may hinder expeditious working of LokPal) - Lok Ayukat should be able to do so. But in this BJP would have to come in open because Modi is resisting constituting Lok Ayukat in Gujarat for the last nine years.

The power for removal of a LokPal should be vested in the 7 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India.

The Government should not treat LokPal Bill as a battle of people versus the Parliament, as some indiscrete remarks of some Ministers seem to suggest. Government needs to be humble enough to recognize that power to take the ultimate decisions rests with the real sovereign under our Constitution - namely, the people and not the temporary occupant- the Government which remains subordinate to the people.

(Print Version)
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