Betrayal In The House

Lokpal amendments underline the resistance of political class to scrutiny.

Written by Anjali Bhardwaj , Amrita Johri | Published: August 4, 2016 1:00 am
lokpal bill, lokpal act, government, centre, bjp government, congress, opposition, parliament, lok sabha, rajya sabha, leader of opposition, opposition parties, mps, member of parliament, opposition mps, editorials, opinions On July 27 the government introduced a Lokpal amendment bill which was passed by both houses of Parliament in less than 48 hours .PTI Photo

The Lokpal Act passed more than two and a half years ago has not been operationalised till date. The reason? The law states that the panel to select the Lokpal must include the recognised leader of opposition. Since the BJP government has not recognised anyone as the LoP, an amendment was required to ensure that the leader of the single largest party in opposition shall instead be a member of the Lokpal selection committee.

On July 27 the government introduced a Lokpal amendment bill which was passed by both houses of Parliament in less than 48 hours. The complete lack of will to operationalise the Lokpal law was exposed as the amendments passed have no provision to alter the composition of the selection committee. Instead, they have diluted one of the key provisions of the Lokpal Act — related to disclosure of assets of public servants.

Section 44 of the original law required all public servants to disclose their assets and liabilities and those of their spouses and dependent children. These disclosures were to be made available on government websites. The amended law does away with the statutory provision to disclose the assets and liabilities of spouses and dependent children. The public disclosure clause has also been dispensed with. The central government has been vested with powers to decide the form and manner of disclosure.

The amendments militate against the very purpose of the Lokpal which was established to inquire into complaints related to offences punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA). As one of the grounds of criminal misconduct under the PCA relates to public servants, or any person on their behalf, being in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to their known sources of income, it is critical that disclosure of assets and liabilities of public servants be of a high standard. Since illegally amassed assets can be handed over to family members, it is important that the declaration include details of assets of the spouse and dependent children.

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The arguments advocated against public disclosure of assets of spouses and dependent children of public servants include invasion of privacy, security threats and fear of harassment. The Supreme Court in PUCL vs UOI (2003) struck down the privacy argument:”When there is a competition between the right to privacy of an individual and the right to information of the citizens, the former right has to be subordinated to the latter right as it serves larger public interest.”

The argument that public disclosure of assets will result in blackmail and harassment is not borne out by experience in India, as in the case of candidates contesting elections to legislatures. The need for a thorough financial disclosure regime, which entails disclosing assets of not just the public servant but also the spouse and dependent children, is globally recognised as an important element in an anti-corruption framework.

In Parliament, the relevant minister stated that the amendments were being brought about due to concerns raised by NGOs. This justification is fallacious as two concerns were expressed by the NGO sector — one, that the deadline for asset disclosure was too short; and two, functionaries of NGOs should not be termed “public servants”. The government could have extended the deadline without diluting the provisions of asset disclosure. The contentious issue of bringing NGO functionaries under the category of “public servants” has not even been addressed by the amendments.

The hasty passage of the Lokpal amendment bill shows yet again the unwillingness of the political class to submit itself to scrutiny and accountability.

The writers are members of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information

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    1. J
      Aug 4, 2016 at 5:05 pm
      given the kind of corrupt and shameless media we have, ch000tiyaas like AAPtards, gullible public with no patience or intelligence - as I politician i will simply kill the useless idea of a lokpal as it is definedlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;in any case the geriatric who was screaming lokpal lokpal is retired hurt as his chela used an threw him.
      1. A
        Amar Akbar
        Aug 4, 2016 at 1:37 am
        I dont know why they blankly void a key provision. Why didnt they put in some reasonable criteria such as, if the ets of a family member is more than the public official it needs to be published. Or this info could have been kept with some private forum where everyone does not get access to it. Or whatever the provision how can you just revoke it and remove it?
        1. O
          Aug 4, 2016 at 9:14 am
          This is a ridiculous column, that says that declaring ets of spouses is an universal anti corruption precedent. How can any person "force" his spouse to declare his/her ets, when he/she is not a govt servant? Is the spouse to be treated as a slave? Secondly, all know that in most major towns of UP, even if one buys a car, the local goons expect to be rewarded. This columnist seems to be living in delusion. NGO's were included, just so that Puiblic servants find a way to escape. NGO's are a ciollateral damge for the Bill. How on earth canm a volunteer/worker of a society, be declared a "Public" servant, even if te NGO gets no money from the govt, and a pittance of 1250 dollars a month from Abroad.
          1. S
            S Srinivasan
            Aug 4, 2016 at 7:23 am
            None can blame the politicians,media,judiciary or civil servants for their atrociouslt;br/gt;actions so far that happened in our country or that is going to happen,unless the lt;br/gt;public at large,wake up and call for severe actions against the criminals,corruptlt;br/gt;persons. The public must know the value of their franchise and do not sell it for alt;br/gt;pittance.They should know that even the pittance they get is their own money.
            1. A
              Aug 4, 2016 at 5:56 pm
              Where does spouse gets ets from?
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