Millennium Post

Where is the ombudsman?

If there was a law against corruption, would corruption still prevail as it has for countless years impeding India's growth and depriving it of a humongous financial pool? The answer, currently, is yes. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, enacted on December 28, 2013, by Rajya Sabha, has officially been a law post the president's assent on January 16, 2014. Five years later, we are yet to see the fruits of a law which had brewed a massive public movement led by Anna Hazare. Anna's fast unto death had garnered the attention of masses and pressurised the government to act upon the collective interest of the citizens tired of pervasive corruption. But, five years is hardly a long time. Back in 1963, the term 'Lokpal' was coined by Dr L M Singhvi, following which, then Law Minister Ashoke Kumar Sen proposed the concept of constitutional ombudsman in Parliament. The first-ever Lokpal Bill was proposed by advocate Shanti Bhushan in 1968, and the quest for passing it through both the houses had been on till 2014. 45 years of struggle and almost 46 million rupees spent on a simple anti-graft bill which, not to mention, was in the best interest of the people and quite rightly so. Lokpal, by its description, is the shadow of democracy. People will misuse power and invariably indulge in corruption – no surprises there. What should surprise us is how any effective deterrence has been denied existence for so long. It makes us wonder if Mahatma Gandhi, had he been around today, would have taken up this issue and commenced a Dandi 2.0, advocating Lokpal and its rightful place in our Constitution. He most certainly would have unless he had already pulled the strings from within, given India's sovereignty. And, never can we attest that our beloved Mahatma would be corrupt. But we did not have Gandhi, neither did we have Nehru and nor did we have those eminent personalities that gave India its greatest gift – Constitution. So, the commoners suffered while the vested interests never actively pursued Lokpal. It kept surfacing, only to be sent back to its starting point. When the current government had to pass the 10 per cent quota for EWS, it did, that too in a very short time. So, the argument that Rajya Sabha was dissolved before the bill could be tabled and discussions could be initiated is pointless. An honest layman opinion will always opine on how Lokpal was impeded only by intent. And, the salient features of Lokpal validate this delay. If a law allowed commoners, the silent watchers of the democracy, to file complaints against public officers, judges, Members of Parliament, even the Prime Minister, bringing the entire nation's attention to alleged corruption, the incumbents might run into grave trouble – one they would not want. However, 'India Against Corruption' changed Lokpal's narrative for good. Team Anna fought for the Lokpal and we got it in 2014. Now, when SC has fixed a Feb-end deadline to recommend a panel for the appointment of the country's first ombudsman, it certainly is a development in the right direction. It has asked a search committee led by former apex court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai to come up with a panel of names, asking the Centre to provide the requisite resources in enabling the committee to complete its task, which again has been a tardy affair owing to slow progress. The eight-member search committee was constituted back in September by the Centre for the appointment of Lokpal. Had a fast-tracked process put Lokpal in place, the infamous CBI impasse would never have occurred. Like the Election Commission and Supreme Court, Lokpal will be an autonomous body independent of governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations. Unlike PILs which, through the court route, take years to convict an incumbent, the process of conviction would be done under a year and the losses will be recovered at the time of conviction. Lokpal will have the complete power and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician, bringing the existing anti-corruption agencies such as CBI and CVC under its garb. Projects will not remain stuck for years as the officer-in-charge will be quickly prosecuted on being found guilty of corruption. Clearly, the narrative of India would change once the Lokpal machinery is installed at its heart. The onus of such a radical change of affairs in the largest democracy was borne by citizens – who facilitated Lokpal's progress – and therefore, the credit is also theirs, not any particular government's.

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