• India
  • Mar 31

Explainer - What is Lokpal?

• Former Law Commission chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi along with ex-bureaucrats Pankaj Kumar and Ajay Tirkey were sworn in as members in the Lokpal.

• The oath was administered by Lokpal chairperson Justice A.M. Khanwilkar at its office in Delhi.

• Apart from a chairperson, the Lokpal can have eight members — four judicial and as many non-judicial.

• Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, who has been sworn in as the judicial member in the Lokpal, served as the chairperson of 22nd Law Commission of India. Before that, he was Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court.

• Pankaj Kumar is a 1986-batch Indian Administrative Service (retired) officer from Gujarat cadre. He last served as the chief secretary of Gujarat. 

• Ajay Tirkey is a 1987-batch IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh cadre. He last served as the secretary of Department of Land Resources, government of India before being named as the Lokpal member.

• The new appointments took place as two existing judicial members — Justice P.K. Mohanty and Justice Abhilasha Kumari — and three members namely D.K. Jain, Archana Ramasundaram and Mahender Singh completed their tenure in Lokpal.

What is Lokpal?

• India ratified the ‘United Nations Convention Against Corruption’ by the deposit of Instrument of Ratification, on May 9, 2011. 

• This Convention imposes a number of obligations, some mandatory, some recommendatory, and some optional on the Member States. 

• The Convention envisages that State Parties ensure measures in the domestic law for the criminalisation of offences relating to bribery and put in place an effective mechanism for its enforcement. 

• The Lokpal, the apex body to inquire and investigate graft complaints against public functionaries, came into being with the appointment of its chairperson and members in March 2019.

• The Lokpal is the first institution of its kind in independent India, established under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, to inquire and investigate allegations of corruption against public functionaries who fall within the scope and ambit of the above Act.

• The Lokpal is committed to address concerns and aspirations of the citizens for clean governance. It shall make all efforts within its jurisdiction to serve the public interest and shall endeavor to use the powers vested in it to eradicate corruption in public life.

• The Lokpal has jurisdiction to inquire into allegations of corruption against anyone who is or has been the Prime Minister, or a minister in the Union government, or an MP, as well as government officials.

• A complaint under the Lokpal Act should be in the prescribed form and must pertain to an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, against a public servant. There is no restriction on who can make such a complaint.

History of Lokpal

• The institution of Lokpal was first contemplated in India in the early 1960s to root out corruption in public offices. In April 1963, Late Dr.L.M. Singhvi, while participating in the discussion on Demands for Grants of the ministry of law and justice, in the Lok Sabha, stressed the need for setting up of a Parliamentary Commission on the pattern of Ombudsman, for tackling corruption and redressal of public grievances. The terms Lokpal and Lokayukta were also mentioned during the discussions. 

• The word ‘Lokpal’ etymologically means ‘protector of people’. The term was coined as an Indian variant of the concept of ‘ombudsman’, which has a Scandinavian origin and refers to an official who is appointed to investigate complaints of citizens against the administration.

• In 1966, the first Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), recommended two-tier machinery consisting of Lokpal and Lokayuktas to redress grievances of the public. 

• As per the recommendations of the ARC, the Lokpal was to deal with complaints against ministers and secretaries of the central government as well as in the states. The Lokayuktas, one for the Centre and one in each state, were to attend to complaints against the rest of the administrative machinery. 

• For the first time, a Bill to set up the Lokpal was introduced in the Fourth Lok Sabha as the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 1968. Since then, Bills have been introduced many times.

• The Second Administrative Reforms Commission and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, 2002 (NCRWC) have made recommendations on various aspects of the institution of the Lokpal.

• The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 was enacted and brought into force with effect from January 16, 2014.

• It was amended by the Lokpal and Lokayuktas (Amendment) Act, 2016.

• The objective of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act is to further strengthen the existing legal and institutional mechanism, thereby facilitating more effective implementation of some of the obligations under the ‘United Nations Convention Against Corruption’.

• President Ram Nath Kovind administered the oath of office to Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose as the first chairperson of the Lokpal on March 23, 2019.

Size of the Lokpal panel

• There is a provision for a chairperson and a maximum of eight members in the Lokpal panel. Of these, four need to be judicial members.

• The chairperson and members shall be appointed by the President after obtaining the recommendations of a selection committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Lok Sabha, the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court nominated by him, one eminent jurist nominated by President based on the recommendation of other members of the panel.

• The chairperson and members of the Lokpal are appointed for a five-year term or till attaining the age of 70.

Conducting preliminary inquiries

• According to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, there shall be a director of inquiry, not below the rank of joint secretary to the government of India, who shall be appointed by the central government for conducting preliminary inquiries referred to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) by the Lokpal.

• According to provisions contained under Section 20(1)(b) of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, complaints in respect of public servants belonging to groups A, B, C or D are referred by the Lokpal to the CVC for a preliminary inquiry.

• The CVC forwards such references to the concerned chief vigilance officer for preliminary inquiry and report.

Provisions for inquiry against the PM

• The Lokpal shall not inquire into any matter connected with the Prime Minister if it relates to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.

• A full bench of the Lokpal, consisting of its chairperson and all members, has to consider the initiation of inquiry and at least two-thirds of its members should approve of such inquiry.

• Any such inquiry shall be held in camera and if the Lokpal comes to the conclusion that the complaint deserves to be dismissed, the records of the inquiry shall not be published or made available to anyone.

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