At last, the country has a Lokpal. It took a long time, but augurs well for the protection of our democratic institutions. Pinaki Chandra Ghose, a former Supreme Court judge and currently, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, may become the first national-level anti-corruption ombudsman.
His name was selected by a committee, comprising PM Modi, Chief Justice of India, Lok Sabha Speaker and an eminent jurist, in this case Mukul Rohtagi, former attorney-general. The leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge was invited as a ‘special invitee’, but he refused, insisting on being invited instead as the Leader of the Opposition. It was frivolous.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act notified in 2014 provides the selection committee can appoint the Lokpal even if there is any vacancy in the selection panel. Later, the law was amended to invite the leader of the single largest party in the Lok Sabha as a special invitee and in that capacity Kharge was duly invited repeatedly, but, every time he refused. In fact, the government blamed Kharge’s refusal to join the selection panel for the delay in appointment of the Lokpal.
Last month, the Supreme Court finally set a deadline for the government. Hence, the country is expected to get the firstever Lokpal. Hopefully, the state governments, some are yet to appoint lokayuktas, will take the leaf and appoint the anti-corruption monitors. Ironically, Delhi’s AAP government, which assumed power on the anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare, has made no move to appoint a lokayukta.
The Lokpal is empowered to inquire into complaints of corruption against sitting and former MPs, ministers and sitting and former PMs. It will have eight members, half with judicial background and its decisions will have to be endorsed by at least two-thirds of the members. It will have its own independent setup and it can call for relevant documents and summon witnesses to verify the veracity of complaints.
Given the rampant corruption in the system, leaving ministers and PMs, sitting and former, out of the ambit of an anti-graft body was an anachronism. There was much hand-wringing over the inclusion of a sitting PM in the ambit of the Lokpal, but due to the popular pressure eventually the UPA government had to give in to the Hazare movement.
Hopefully, we shall not have to countenance the ignominy in a long time of a sitting PM being indicted by the Lokpal, though, if the truth be told, the last incumbent ought to have been in the coal scam while his then secretary, Coal Ministry, has been convicted by a regular court of law. The said former PM was his own coal minister at the time illegal allotments of coal mines were made.