The government of India has finally recommended former Supreme Court judge Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose to be the first Lokpal of the country. The Selection Committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, and eminent jurist Mukul Rohatgi finalised his name on Sunday. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge refused to attend the meetings of the committee over the government’s decision to call him a special invitee’ instead of the Leader of the Opposition. This controversy aside, the selection of the anti-corruption ombudsman came more than five years after the Lokpal Bill was passed by both the Houses of the parliament in 2013 and received assent from the then President Pranab Mukherjee in January 2014.
The concept of Lokpal has been there for decades but it was social activist Anna Hazare who sped up the legislation through a series of agitations and hunger strikes, protesting against the scams under the previous UPA government and non appointment of Lokpal at the national level and Lokayukta in states. Today, most states have Lokayukta in place, and the latest to join the league is Nagaland which appointed Justice Uma Nath Singh as the first Lokayukta of the state last month. However, the central government delayed the appointment of Lokpal instead of leading from the front. The Supreme Court of India had to finally set a timeframe for the establishment of the anti-graft body and it yielded a positive outcome. While the delay was unjustified, making Lokpal into a reality is a remarkable accomplishment and should be welcomed because enough corruption cases involving high-profile personalities have been either swept under the rug or vanished into thin air in the past. It was due to the absence of a mechanism like Lokpal through which victims of corruption can seek justice.
The Lokpal is meant to redress citizens’ grievances and initiate inquiry into corruption cases levelled against certain public servants, including the Prime Minister, ministers, members of parliament, and employees of central government belonging to Group A, B, C and D. The body, which should have a chairperson and other members not exceeding eight, will have an inquiry wing to conduct preliminary investigation into the cases lodged against public servants; and a prosecution wing to persecute public servants who are found guilty. It is a mechanism to stop corruption and the only way through which a common person can fight against injustice done to them by people with power. But the ombudsman and his team will be effective only if the government provides support and a free hand to perform its duties. It is yet to be seen if it lives up to expectations or give in to the arm-twisting tactics of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.