Millennium Post

Finally, an ombudsman!

The anti-corruption movement of 2013 is accredited for the enactment of Lokpal Act in 2013 – unprecedented legislation to create an autonomous body in order to probe corruption against public servants – including chief ministers and the prime minister. Public outcry spearheaded by Anna Hazare forced legislation, aptly displaying that power rests with people in a democracy. But does it? The movement, ensuing from years of graft chapters scripted in UPAs regime, and even beyond, was converged to hit incumbency with the essential demand of Lokpal. The united voices surged public demand through the pillars of parliament and Lokpal Act saw the light of the day in 2013. However, the victory achieved was only on paper. It has been more than five years without any trace of Lokayuktas or Lokpal. Selection Committee's finalisation of PC Ghose as the first Lokpal and the upcoming Lok Sabha elections seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Though the current government could have seen its term out without paying heed to the Lokpal affair, it was actually the Supreme Court's constant push which has scripted progress in the Lokpal narrative. In the SC hearing on January 4, of PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, the apex court had asked the Centre to appoint an ombudsman at the earliest, acknowledging the huge chunk of time wasted since Lokpal was enacted. Better late than never is the mantra as having an ombudsman is better than longing for one. Clearly, Lokpal is not just one appointment. PC Ghose's appointment will follow eight more appointments of members who have at least 25 years of experience in matters related to anti-corruption policy, vigilance, public administration, finance, law and management. The next step, without wasting any more time, should be the ensuing appointment of these eight members as well as setting up of Lokayuktas in states and Lokpal at centre. Should this progress be expedited, it may also appear as the current dispensation's parting gift to the public before the country enters general elections in April. Though the hindsight does not favour such proactiveness, yet it can happen only because the time is crucial. Lokpal as an objective single-handedly garnered massive support – instrumental in facilitating its legislation. It is obvious that any development in the stagnant Lokpal topic will stir public perceptions. But moving beyond perceptions of coincidences, the appointment and the unanimous choice is what matters more. Retired Supreme Court judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose has been tipped to become the first ombudsman of the country. His reputation speaks for him as the Selection Committee's choice fits the criteria in PC Ghose. The man is accredited with the prosecution of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa and her aide VK Sasikala in the disproportionate assets case. Ghose's track record attracts such a posting which he would do justice to by serving the country, yet again. For long, the country has suffered due to corruption and despite having stringent laws to tackle it, the prevalence of the same has been the order of society. But the future promises a change. Lokpal will remedy the corrupt channels, the strongholds which have so far been unimpregnable due to the cloak of power. India needs Lokpal desperately. Hence, even if the immediate motive to constitute one has other reasons, the fact that we will have an ombudsman, at last, eclipses those. Lokpal exercises the power to initiate a preliminary investigation after it receives a complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. A preliminary inquiry should be completed within 30 days of receiving a complaint. The period can be extended to further three months. A full inquiry has to be completed within six months, extendable by another six months. The trial should be completed within a year of filing the case; the time period can be extended to a maximum of two years. Lokpal does not need prior sanction from the government to investigate a complaint. While rejoicing, it must be acknowledged that a stalled process hereafter will not only promote vested interests but pose as a serious lacuna on the government's part. It is well acknowledged that the decision to finally constitute an ombudsman also neutralises all the opposition arguments that could question the current dispensation over the prolonged silence on it. While decisions in politics always come with deeper significance, undisputedly laced with latent perspectives, they are hailed owing to a constructive nature that it has when looked from the perspective of nation's interest.

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