In a historic first, India gets its first Lokpal comprising 8 members with former Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose in charge, marking an end to anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare’s relentless agitation for nine years.
President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday, March 19, formally appointed the national anti-corruption ombudsman, along with former Chief Justices Dilip B Bhosale, Pradip Kumar Mohanty, and Abhilasha Kumari, and sitting Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court Ajay Kumar Tripathi as its judicial members.
There’s an equal number of non-judicial members on board—Maharashtra Chief Secretary Dinesh Kumar Jain, retired IPS officer Archana Ramasundaram, retired IRS official Mahender Singh, and retired IAS officer I P Gautam—according to the communique issued by Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Ramasundaram, also the ex-DG of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), and Justice Kumari, who served as the Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court, are the only female members on the Lokpal.
“The above appointments will take effect from the dates they assume charge of their respective offices,” the communique said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi-headed high-powered Lokpal Selection Committee cleared the names, which President Kovind also approved, last week.
What makes Ghose the perfect gatekeeper?
Justice Pinaki Ghose, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2017, is currently serving as a member of the National Human Rights Commission. Having presided over some revolutionary judgments during his SC tenure, Ghose has “the highest regard for the Indian judiciary and zero tolerance towards contempt of court”.
One key verdict befitting the new Lokpal is his 2017 ruling in the disproportionate assets case against late Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalitha and her aide V K Sasikala. The court found them guilty of misusing public office to launder ill-gotten wealth for purchasing huge properties in the name of masked fronts, turning political sentiments in the state against the AIADMK.
Another politically significant verdict that Ghose was a part of was the one that restored criminal conspiracy charges against senior BJP leaders L K Advani, Uma Bharti, Murli Manohar Joshi, and 13 others for their involvement in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition.
Justice A K Tripathi, 62, is the current Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court, assuming office in 2018. He holds a graduate degree in economics from Delhi University’s Sri Ram College of Commerce and a law degree from Campus Law Centre (DU).
CJ Tripathi started his career at Patna High Court, becoming additional judge in 2006 and a permanent judge in 2007. He has also served as the standing counsel for the Union of India and the Income Tax Department and later as the additional advocate general for the Bihar government.
His contributions to the education sector range from setting up the Chanakya National Law University in Patna to being a member of the General Council of National Law School Bengaluru.
Son of erstwhile Maharashtra CM, Justice D B Bhosale served as the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court between 2016 and 2018.
Armed with a law degree from Government Law College in Mumbai, he joined the Bar Association in 1980. Throughout his legal career, Bhosale acted as the standing counsel for many educational institutions, sugar factories, district central co-operative banks, municipal corporations, municipal councils, and various co-operative societies and trusts.
He was a Bombay High Court judge from 2001 to 2012, until getting transferred to Karnataka High Court; in 2014, he was transferred to High Court of Judicature in Hyderabad, where he assumed duties of the office of the Chief Justice in 2015.
Justice P K Mohanty, 64, hails from an eminent family of jurists in Cuttack, Odisha. Graduating from Cuttack’s Ravenshaw College in 1974, Mohanty completed his law degree from MS Law College in 1978; thereafter, he joined the Bar, practising mainly in constitutional, criminal, and civil laws.
Throughout his career, Mohanty has worked as the additional government advocate in the Orissa High Court and the special public prosecutor in the famous Graham Stains’ murder case.
He was sworn in as an additional judge of Orissa High Court in 2002 and made permanent in 2004, besides being appointed as its acting Chief Justice five times. A year after he was appointed as the acting Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court in 2016, Mohanty was elevated to Chief Justice there.
Justice A Kumari got her law degree from Himachal Pradesh University and joined the Bar in 1984; she served as the additional central government standing counsel from 1995 to 2002.
She also held the post of additional advocate general for Himachal Pradesh; in 2005, she was elevated to additional judgeship at the high court. She then went on to become a permanent judge at Gujarat High Court in 2006; last year, she became the Chief Justice at Manipur High Court.
An IAS officer of the 1983 batch, Dinesh Kumar Jain from Rajasthan took charge as the chief secretary of Maharashtra in April 2018. He holds an MTech in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA in Overseas Projects; he has been on central deputation from 1995 to 2015 and was closely associated with the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
A Tamil Nadu cadre IPS officer of the 1980 batch, Archana Ramasundaram
holds the distinction of being the first woman to head a paramilitary force in India. She got her postgraduate degree in economics from the University of Rajasthan and was a lecturer before joining police service; she has served as the CBI DIG, joint director and later as additional director while on a central deputation.
In 2015, she got a promotion and took charge as the Director General, National Crime Records Bureau in Delhi; she remained the DG, SSB, from 2016 until her retirement in 2018.
Mahender Singh, a retired 1981-batch Indian Revenue Service (Customs and Central Excise) officer, has also served as a member of the Central Board of Excise and Customs, which played a major role in GST implementation.
An IAS officer of the 1986 batch, Indrajeet Prasad Gautam was closely associated with the development of Ahmedabad. He was a key figure in the construction of the Sabarmati River Front, Kankaria Lake Front, and the Bus Rapid Transport System; in 2013,he retired as principal secretary, Urban Development. He notably serves as the full-time managing director of Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation (GMRC) Limited.
Why this matters
The Lokpal’s appointment marks the culmination of the most intense people’s struggle in India, senior AAP leader Gopal Rai said. He added that the BJP felt growing pressure from courts as well as Hazare’s allies to form the Lokpal, after initially trying to suppress the movement, just like the previous UPA government.
The Lokpal Act was passed in 2013, but Centre’s procrastination in selecting these officials, despite nods from the SC as well as Parliament, came under massive scrutiny following several controversies insinuating large-scale corruption with nodal bodies like the CBI.
The jurisdiction of the Lokpal, which is empowered to bring the PM under its purview, is also bound by several clauses. For example, a Lokpal-led inquiry does not extend to allegations against the PM in matters of international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy, and space. Inquiries in such cases must be considered by the full Lokpal bench and approved by at least two-third of its members.
According to the Indian Express, the Lokpal will have the power of inquiry into allegations of corruption against sitting and former ministers and MPs but not in respect of anything said or a vote they cast in Parliament or any House committee. It will also have jurisdiction over all classes of public servants.
The appointment comes at a time Twitter is abuzz with both praise and ridicule for BJP’s last-minute “Main Bhi Chowkidaar” campaign that has seen the party’s rank and file add the prefix “Chowkidaar” before their usernames. This has necessitated the question: who will watch the watchmen?
As the nation struggles with a crippling corruption culture, a lengthy people’s movement has delivered it the first-ever office dedicated to fighting just that.
While some argue that this may just be another election gimmick, this is a momentous decision, which has the potential to pave the way for radical transformation in India’s democratic process.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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