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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 37, September 4, 2010

Lok Pal Bill-Promises to Redeem

Wednesday 8 September 2010, by Rajindar Sachar


The controversy following resignation of Justice Santosh Hegde, the Lok Ayukt of Karnataka, and the subsequent amends purported to have been made by the Karnataka Government has again highlighted the failure of the Lok Pal legislative history at the Centre and equally the passivity and reluctance of all political parties to pass this legislation, which is most urgently desired, if the attempt to control the rapid drift downward to political corruption, that is eating into the vitals of our nation, is to be stemmed.

The Gujral Government’s unsuccessful attempt to pass the Lok Pal Bill in 1997, after five attempts since 1968 had been frustrated, was followed by the Vajpayee Government again introducing it in 1998 and 2001 but, as expected, it was talked out.

When the UPA Government came to power at the Centre Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in September 2004 commendably stated: "The UPA Government would lose no time to enact the Lok Pal Bill and the need for it is more urgent than ever." That it could not be passed was because of concerted opposition by a small clique within the UPA and also helped by quite a few in the Opposition with their not-so-clear move to start a controversy by seeking to include judges in the Lok Pal Bill (which was constitutionally impermissible). That promise has yet to be redeemed.

A routine exercise is done by Parliament to appoint a Select Committee to go into the Bill and this process goes on endlessly with predictable inaction till Parliament’s life comes to an end.

The Gandhian brigade, consisting of respected Gandhians in their eighties and nineties, have been in long communication with the Prime Minister’s Office about the desirability of passing the Bill. Many of them regularly observe a one-day fast-of course for the media of soccer-hype mentality, it is no news. Law Minister Moiley on paper shows deep concern and has been promising a legislation soon. But it is still not on Parliament’s agenda.

A facile excuse for not passing the Bill is deviously put forward by the legislators that there is a strong opinion, both among legislators and outside Parliament, that the Prime Minister should not be included in the purview of the Lok Pal Bill. This is totally unconvincing because there had been detailed discussions on this aspect since 1996. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have openly said that the Prime Minister should be included in the Lok Pal Bill-so who are these worthies to take up cudgels on the Prime Minister’s behalf? There is no mystery in this. There are about 70 tainted Members in the present Parliament. Naturally the public is skeptical.

Even though I do not find any understandable reason for excluding the Prime Minister, still the Lok Pal Bill could have been introduced by excluding the Prime Minister from its purview, so that the legislation could come into existence. The debate on the propriety of inclusion or exclusion of the Prime Minister could continue and, if approved, the Prime Minister could be included later on. But why should the enactment of Lok Pal legislation be delayed?


IT is no secret that the reason for this apathy is the unwillingness of legislators to face scrutiny by the Lok Pal. This has been brought into sharp focus in the aftermath of Justice Hegde’s resignation story. Whereas the Congress rightly lambasted the shabby treatment of the Lok Ayukt by the Karnataka Government, it without batting an eyelid supports the Karnataka Government’s disgraceful stand of keeping high officials and legislators out of the jurisdiction of the Lok Ayukt, on the specious plea that legislators should not be under the Lok Ayukt. No wonder the Members of Parliament will not pass the Lak Pal Bill lest they are put under the watchful eye of the Lok Pal. Does hypocrisy in politics have no limits? Is the fear of public wrath even at election time looked upon with contempt by the political parties? The argument that legislators cannot be put under the cover of a single person, even though he may be a retired judge of the Supreme Court is ridiculous. Legislators forget the basic philosophy of republicanism running through our Constitution, namely, ’Be you ever so high-the law is above you’.

The hypocrisy is further heightened when Parliament spends extra time to pass the National Judicial Bill to enquire into the misconduct of judges. No, I am not objecting to it-rather, I welcome it. Because I firmly believe that it is only the incorruptible judiciary that can maintain the democratic structure. I am all for Parliament to pass even in the next session the Judicial Accountability Bill. But legislators need to remember that unless the other wings of the state, namely, the executive and legislature, are equally free from the taint of corruption, society will remain infected and ill. As JP, the socialist leader, sorrowfully put it,
I know politics is not for saints. But politics, at least under a democracy, must know the limits which it may not cross. Otherwise, if there is dishonesty, corruption there can be no government, no public order, no justice, no freedom, no national unity, in short, no nation.

Again, as John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the US Constitution, said,

the people have a right, an inalienable, indisputable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge-I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers.

One can understand the pain felt by Somnath Chatterjee, the former Lok Sabha Speaker, when he said:

Large sections of the people are greatly worried about the nexus between crime and politics as well as administration in the country. I am saddened to observe that politics in the country has to a large extent, become criminalised and crime has become politicised.

So let not the Members of Parliament hide their real motive for opposition under the hypocritical concern for the Prime Minister’s status by stalling the passing of the Lok Pal Bill.

Let the Lok Pal Bill be passed by even excluding the Prime Minister; this will somewhat satisfy the people at large that the government is serious about meeting the menace of corruption in public life. The question of inclusion of the Prime Minister can be deferred and debated independently and decision taken subsequently.

The author, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, is the Chairperson of the Prime Minister’s high-level Committee on the Status of Muslims and the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. A former President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), he is a tireless champion of human rights. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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