India gets its first Lokpal
More than five years after the enactment of the Lokpal Act 2013, the Government of India appointed eight members of its first anti-corruption ombudsman, the Lokpal, on March 22, 2019. The new Lokpal were administered the oath of office by President of India Ram Nath Kovind in New Delhi. Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose became the country’s first Chairperson of Lokpal. The President of India had approved the appointments of the Chairperson and members of the Lokpal after the selection committee led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended the appointments. A person who is or has been the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court Judge is eligible for appointment as Lokpal. Justice P.C. Ghose, 66, retired as the Supreme Court Judge in May 2017 and later served as the member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The Lokpal Act, which envisages appointment of a Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to look into cases of corruption against certain categories of public servants, was passed in 2013. According to the Act, there is provision for a Chairperson and a maximum of eight members in the Lok Pal out of whom four need to be judicial members. Former Chief Justices of different High Courts — Justices Dilip B. Bhosale, Pradip Kumar Mohanty and Abhilasha Kumari — besides sitting Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court Ajay Kumar Tripathi were appointed as the judicial members in the Lokpal. The non-judicial members of the Lokpal include former first woman chief of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) Archana Ramasundaram, former Maharashtra Chief Secretary Dinesh Kumar Jain, former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer Mahender Singh and Gujarat cadre ex-IAS officer Indrajeet Prasad Gautam.
Likewise, as per the rules, not less than 50 per cent of the members of the Lokpal panel shall be from amongst the persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, minorities and women. The Chairperson and members shall hold office for a term of five years or till they attain the age of 70 years. The Lokpal selection committee is headed by the Prime Minister and has as its members — the Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of India (or a judge of the apex court nominated by him), and an eminent jurist who could be nominated by the President or any other member. Objections were raised as the Leader of the Opposition did not participate in the selection committee meeting. As per the rules the salary and allowances of the Chairperson of Lokpal will be same as that of the Chief Justice of India. The members will also be paid salary and allowances same as that of a judge of the Supreme Court. President Kovind had nominated former Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi as “eminent jurist” in the Lokpal panel against the vacancy arising following the death of senior advocate P.P. Rao. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act of 2013 came into existence on January 1, 2014. The Act extends to the entire country and applies to public servants as defined in the Act, which includes the incumbent Prime Minister and the Union Ministers. Even the past public servants can also be covered under the Act. The landmark law followed a war against corruption and probity in public life led by Anna Hazare.
Critiques point out that the Lokpal Act was enacted in a great hurry and it contained many legal infirmities. These flaws have to be tested in the court of law in due course. How effectively the issue of corruption is addressed in the coming days by the newly appointed Chairperson and the team of Lokpal is a humongous challenge before them.