Listen to this article:
New Delhi: While the office of the Lokpal has so far received fewer than 1,600 complaints, a sum of nearly Rs 60 crore has been spent on this office, which was constituted in 2019.
But what has been worrying transparency activists even more is that the number of complaints filed with it per year has declined sharply from 1,427 in 2019-2020, to 110 in 2020-2021 and then, to just 30 in the first six months of the current financial year.
A petition to “make the Lokpal effective or disband it” has been started by former Central Information Commissioner and transparency activist Shailesh Gandhi. It will be sent to the chairperson of the Lokpal.
The Lokpal was established under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, to inquire and investigate into allegations of corruption against public functionaries who fall within the scope and ambit of the Act.
The Lokpal has jurisdiction to inquire into allegations of corruption against anyone who is or has been prime minister, or a minister in the Union government, or a Member of Parliament, as well as officials of the Union government under Groups A, B, C and D.
It also covers chairpersons, members, officers and directors of any board, corporation, society, trust or autonomous body either established by an Act of Parliament.
Writing about the objective behind the move, Gandhi has in the petition raised the issue of the number of complaints being filed with the office dropping sharply with each passing year. “From data on your website it appears that the Lokpal had received only 1,427 complaints in the first year. The outcome must have been so ineffective that citizens filed only 110 complaints in the subsequent year and in the first six months of 2021-22 filed only 30 complaints,” he remarked in the petition.
‘Over Rs 60 crore spent by Lokpal’
The former CIC, who had handled a record number of complaints and appeals during his term at the Central Information Commission, has in the petition questioned the manner in which the Lokpal was functioning.
“It appears the Lokpal has become a senior citizen’s club with no accountability. We are sure you recognise that the over 60 crores spent by the Lokpal has come from the pocket of the poorest man in the nation who may be starving,” he wrote, adding that “spending public money with no accountability is not acceptable.”
Recalling how “the Lokpal was set up with great hope and effort by a citizen’s movement,” Gandhi lamented that it has had “zero impact on the corruption in the country and does not seem to be aware of its pathetic performance.”
Gandhi also demanded some introspection from officials in the Lokpal and urged them to “perform or quit”. The Lokpal consists of a chairperson and eight members out of whom 50% are judicial members. One of the members, Justice Dilip B. Bhosale had resigned as a member in January 2020.
Gandhi urged those working in the ombudsman to “either find a way of discharging your duty or resign.” Referring to Justice Bhosale’s resignation, he said, he appears to have resigned listening to the voice of his conscience.
“Public servants in such high positions must at least display this level of honesty,” Gandhi insisted, adding that else, “citizens will lose all faith in such institutions set up to monitor the government if this charade of being an ombudsman continues.”
Modi government was slow in creating Lokpal
A look at the history of the creation of the office of Lokpal reveals that the journey has been anything but smooth.
In early 2008, activists from the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) had in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out that while the Lokpal law was passed by parliament in December 2013 and was notified in the gazette on January 1, 2014, his government had not appointed a single Lokpal.
The letter told Modi that the delay in implementation “has created a strong perception that that your government does not wish to put in place an effective anti-corruption institutional framework.”
The letter had also accused the Modi government of diluting the original law through an amendment Bill which was passed by Parliament. It said the amended law did away with the statutory provision to publicly disclose the assets and liabilities of spouses and dependent children of public servants.
SC had termed appointment process of Lokpal ‘wholly unsatisfactory’
Then in July 2018, the Supreme Court had acknowledged that the government’s stand on completing the appointment process for getting an ombudsman to protect the citizens from corruption was “wholly unsatisfactory.”
Later, the same year, it was revealed in RTI replies how Modi government had gone slow on Lokpal appointment. Replies to RTI applications filed by activist Anjali Bhardwaj had shown that in the first 45 months of Modi’s time in the government, he did not chair a single meeting of the Lokpal selection committee. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had further revealed that no meeting of the search committee was convened during that time either.
Selection Committee comprising majority of government representatives
Even when the Lokpal was finally appointed just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the process of selection was not transparent. Bhardwaj had charged that there had been “a complete erosion of public trust and confidence” in the institution of Lokpal due to the manner in which the appointments were made.
“The selection committee should not have had a majority of government representatives but finally it did. Would the Lokpal be able to take allegations of corruption against the BJP government which made the appointments?” she had asked.
Two years on, the decline in the number of complaints with the Lokpal probably answers the question.