Lokpal appointment: After delay, govt on tightrope ahead of June deadline to formulate rules for anti-corruption body
Government is walking a tightrope as it has set a 15 June deadline to draft a set of rules for the functioning of proposed anti-corruption authority Lokpal.
New Delhi: The government is walking a tightrope as it has set a 15 June deadline to draft a set of rules for the functioning of the proposed anti-corruption authority Lokpal, that would have powers to probe into allegations of corruption against the prime minister and his council of ministers, besides top public servants.
Firstpost has reviewed government documents that state the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions is putting its heads together along with assistance from other stakeholders to draft "eleven rules under section 59 of the Lokpal Act, which would define a charter for complaints, the appointment of officers and other matters related to the power of Lokpal".
Once it finalises the rules by 15 June, the ministry will have to notify the rules through Gazette (a public journal and an authorised legal document of the government) to make it operational, top government sources explained.
The Lokpal and the Lokayukta Act, 2013, which has remained stuck in bureaucrats' files since it was passed by Parliament four years ago, had clearly outlined that the "Lokpal shall inquire or cause an inquiry to be conducted into any matter involved in, or arising from, or connected with, any allegation of corruption made in a complaint in respect of any person who is or has been a prime minister."
The ministry, it is learnt, is cautiously defining the nature of 'complaints' Lokpal would be entitled to entertain since it would form the basis for inquiry against the top office bearers of governments. The Act passed by the Parliament invests Lokpal with powers of a civil court in certain cases – summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and examining on oath and seizing proceeds of crime.
The central government is examining to frame the rules of clause (vi) of sub-section (1) of Section 27, which suggests it could take up 'such other matters as may be prescribed'. The documents suggest that the government is yet to formulate rules for what could be those 'other matters' for which the Lokpal will have the powers of a civil court.
Since Lokpal or any officer authorised by it will have the power to provisionally attach the proceeds of corruption, the ministry is formulating rules related to the manner through which it will be sent to the special court in a sealed envelope. Section 59 (2) (e) of the Act empowers the central government to make rules and court may extend the order of attachment and keep such material for such period as the court may deem fit.
The government is also working on the rules related to the budget, estimated receipts, expenditure of the Lokpal and rules related to the form for maintaining the accounts and other relevant records, and the form of annual statement of accounts. Certain other guidelines would be finalised only after the Lokpal organisation becomes functional since they require the chairperson's approval.
The Ministry of Personnel has flagged Section 60(2) (b) of the Lokpal Act, which talks about the place of sitting of benches of the organisation. As per the act, the benches of the Lokpal will ordinarily sit at New Delhi and at such other places as the Lokpal may, by regulations, specify. And, the chairperson may constitute a bench with two or more members as he or she may deem fit. Every bench, however, may consist of at least one judicial member.
Once the Lokpal office is functional, it may require to look into regulations relating to the conditions of service of the secretary and other officers and staff of the Lokpal and rules related to salaries, allowances, leave or pensions. The Lokpal will also have to frame rules for the manner and procedure of conducting preliminary inquiry or investigation.
Sub-section 11 of Section 20 in the Act said: "The Lokpal may retain the original records and evidence which are likely to be required in the process of preliminary inquiry or investigation or conduct of a case by it or by the special court."
The Ministry of Personnel is also looking into rules related to appointment of officers and other staff of the Lokpal. Section 10 of the Act says there will be a secretary to the Lokpal in the rank of secretary to Government of India, who would be appointed by the chairperson from a panel of names sent by the Centre. Section 59 (2) (C) of the act suggests that such appointments will be made only after consultation with the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
The Lokpal Bill was passed in Parliament in 2013 amid heated debate on whether the prime minister should be brought under the purview of the new law. The Bill had gone through examination of the parliamentary standing committee as well as the selection committee. Finally, the new law had included the prime minister, who would come under the jurisdiction of Lokpal inquiry except in matters related to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.
Ministry's argument over delay
A government note cited the absence of the Leader of Opposition in the present Lok Sabha as the major reason for the delay in constituting the office of the highest anti-corruption body.
"It is mentioned that the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and other related law (Amendment) Bill, 2014 for amending the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, which inter-alia proposes to provide for an alternative to the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha in the selection committee is yet to be passed by the Parliament. The said Bill was referred to the department related parliamentary standing committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law & Justice for examination and report. The said Committee has given its report on 7 December, 2015. The recommendations made in the said report are presently under active consideration of the government and the inter-ministerial committee is seized of the matter," the Ministry said.
Then there is the issue of declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants. The Section 44 related to this provision has been amended through Lokpal and Lokayuktas (Amendment) Act, 2016 retrospectively, making the rules framed under original section 44 redundant.
According to sources, the draft rules to prescribe forms and manner for the declaration of asset and liabilities as per the amended provisions of Section 44 are under consideration of the parliamentary standing committee.
"The draft rules were sent for the parliamentary panel consideration through Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs in May 2017," Sources told Firstpost.
The process to appoint Lokpal will begin soon as the government had assured the Supreme Court last week, informing the bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi that a meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan and leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge is scheduled to be held on 1 March.
After Congress president Rahul Gandhi questioned Modi over the delay in appointing Lokpal, the Grand Old Party came out with all guns blazing to corner the government. Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad told Firstpost that he is not surprised by the delay since this government is not serious about tackling corruption.
"This is part of a deliberate attempt by this government to cover up all the corruption cases starting from Gujarat to now Nirav Modi. When they were in opposition, they wanted the immediate implementation of Lokpal and were even part of the anti-corruption movement. Now they are sitting on the files," Ahmad said.
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