Centre finally begins hunt for Lokpal chief, members: All you need to know

On Wednesday, February 6, the Centre asked for applications for chairman and member positions for Lokpal, an anti-corruption organisation that came into effect five years ago with the Lokpal Act.

This decision comes on the heels of anti-graft activist Anna Hazare’s week-long fast protesting the delay in setting up the Lokpal. The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pensions posted an advertisement asking eligible candidates to apply latest by 5 pm on February 22.

The Lokpal Act

Around 2011, as public sentiment against corruption grew aggressive, Arvind Kejriwal and Hazare demanded the formation of an ombudsman to tackle the issue. This dissent aided the passage of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act in 2013; it came into effect on January 16, 2014.

The Lokpal Act 2013 sought to establish an anti-corruption body at the Centre to act like a watchdog and root out corruption in government agencies. The Lokpal must coordinate with the Central Vigilance Commission and can investigate allegations and move special courts to prosecute corruption and maladministration by any central government agency or public servant, including the Prime Minister, Union ministers, and MPs. The Act also helped to set up smaller Lokayuktas in states within a year of its implementation.

The body could ask public servants to declare their assets and those of their spouses and dependents. However, in 2016, an amendment to the 2013 Act removed this provision.

Who appoints the Lokpal?

The Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition, Chief Justice of India, and a distinguished jurist nominated by the President make up the five-person panel in charge of appointing the Lokpal.

Who can apply?

According to the advertisement, the position of chairman can only be filled by either a current or former Chief Justice of India or Supreme Court judge or an “eminent person” with “impeccable integrity and outstanding ability, having special knowledge and expertise” of at least 25 years in the fields of anti-corruption policy, public administration, finance, law, management, and vigilance. The chairman cannot be a member of Parliament, the Legislature or Panchayat, and must resign from any profit-motivated business positions.

To be appointed as a judicial member of the Lokpal, one must either be an SC judge or Chief Justice of a high court; while general members must have the required 25 years of experience.

The ad also clarifies that at least 50% of Lokpal members should belong to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), minorities, and women, and that all members should not be younger than 45 years.

Issue with vacancies

The Economic Times reports that before the Congress-led UPA government could appoint officials for Lokpal, it lost the general elections to BJP-led NDA. Now, with only months left for the next general election, the NDA is attempting to fill the positions.

One of the reasons for this delay was BJP’s complaint that the Lok Sabha does not currently have a Leader of Opposition to preside over the selection proceedings. A Leader of Opposition must be from a party that has at least 10% of the Lok Sabha; since no party fits the criteria, BJP’s complaints seemed valid.

To fix this, the Standing Committee approved an amendment that allowed a Leader of the largest Opposition party to be a panelist instead. However, Parliament has not passed it yet. On January 17, a three-judge SC bench asked the government to extend logistical help to the Lokpal search committee, so that it may recommend names for vacant positions by February-end.

Hazare said, “It’s not just this government; even previous governments did not want a Lokpal because it’s a revolutionary law.”  Other than a non-functioning Lokpal at the Centre, the following 13 states don’t have a Lokayukta either: Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.

Corruption in India

Transparency International, an international anti-corruption agency that ranked India 81st on a list of 180 countries analysed for corruption, said India has seen “massive public mobilisation against corruption coupled with significant political participation and voter turnout [which] resulted in new governments that promise extensive anti-corruption reforms.” However, according to the Economic Times, of the 54,139 registered corruption cases between 2001 and 2015, only 55.3% have been tried fully; of these, only 35.3% have resulted in convictions.

In 2016, the National Crime Records Bureau said 7,846 cases from 2015 were still pending investigation, 22,107 were pending trial, and only 814 cases had resulted in conviction. Maharashtra reported the highest rate of corruption cases—22.9%—in any Indian state in 2016, as well.

Hazare went on a hunger strike last week to demand the establishing of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas at the states. According to NDTV, Hazare said senior BJP leaders who once “vehemently backed” his Lokpal demand had turned “allergic” to it after coming to power, and accused the ruling dispensation of betraying people who voted it to power in 2014.

The search committee tasked with filling the vacant positions met for the first time on January 29.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

Anna HazareCorruptionLokpal