JUSTICE J S VERMA IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS
After the appeal by all political parties to Anna Hazare to end his fast cutting across party lines in the resolution adopted unanimously in the Lok Sabha on August 25, it was reasonable to expect that his core group of advisors would ensure that the impending danger to his health and life would be averted. Justice Santosh Hegde, a member of Anna Hazare’s team, and his many other followers also made such an appeal. A meaningful constructive debate on the status, nature and jurisdiction of the proposed Lokpal requires a conducive atmosphere. Fortunately, Anna Hazare having decided to end his fast, the debate on the contentious issues can now proceed coolly.
One such issue has emerged from Rahul Gandhi’s suggestion in the Lok Sabha that the proposed Lokpal be a constitutional body like the Election Commission or the Comptroller & Auditor General, which has the status of a Judge of Supreme Court. As it is, the contemplated draft Lokpal Bills also envisage the same status for the Lokpal, though in an ordinary legislation. Many persons have sought my view on this issue. Therefore, I consider it worthwhile to put it in public domain for consideration, as part of the democratic process.
What, if any, could be the advantages of the proposed Lokpal being a constitutional body, instead of a mere statutory authority? I would think there are many.
One obvious difference is that any change in the structure or status of a mere statutory authority can be made by a simple majority in the legislature enacting an ordinary legislation, whereas such a change in a constitutional body would require the more onerous route of a constitutional amendment adhering to the principle of federalism. No doubt, the initial creation of the Lokpal as a constitutional body would itself require a constitutional amendment, but in the current mood of the entire nation supporting the crusade against corruption demanding a ‘strong Lokpal’, the environment is conducive for this progressive step. An immediate impact of such a move will be also to satisfy the core demand of Anna Hazare and his team voiced by the entire nation of a ‘strong Lokpal’.
One of the contentious issues relates to the provision for effective Lok Ayuktas in the states. Article 253 of the Constitution does empower Parliament to enact a law for the whole or any part of the territory of India to implement an international treaty or convention: UN Convention against Corruption in this case. This provision overrides the Lists in the Seventh Schedule. A constitutional amendment to create the institution of the Lokpal akin to that of the Election Commission or the CAG will overcome that difficulty by making uniform provision for equally effective Lok Ayukta in the states.
Another relevant factor is that corruption-free governance is a basic human right, more so in a developing country. In India it is a judicially recognised enforceable right derived from guaranteed fundamental rights. The Human Development Report, 1999 on the theme of ‘Crisis of Governance in South Asia’, identified corruption as a major cause for that crisis. A ‘strong Lokpal’ to combat the malaise of corruption is a clarion call of the nation; and it is also a means to address the constitutional promise made in the directive principles of State policy as well as for eradication of poverty-the foremost Millennium Development Goal. The Durban Commitment to Effective Action against Corruption (1999) resolved: “[Corruption] deepens poverty; it debases human rights, it degrades the environment; it derails development and it destroys confidence in democracy and the legitimacy of governments. It debases human dignity.” A constitutional Lokpal, instead of a statutory Lokpal, will be more effective to achieve this objective.
Another incident of a constitutional Lokpal to combat corruption would be to make its function a basic feature of the Constitution, and, therefore, a part of its indestructible basic structure that would be beyond even the amending power under Article 368: Keshavananda Bharti, AIR 1973 SC 1461. Immunity from vagaries of changing political equations in the era of coalitions is another benefit.
Experience has shown that the constitutional bodies are comparatively more effective and immune from political and other extraneous influences than statutory bodies. The need for creation of a ‘strong Lokpal’ providing greater public confidence in its credibility is sufficient reason to prefer its constitutional status.
I may reiterate another aspect which I have been emphasizing for long. The Lokpal, in whatever form, is not a panacea for controlling corruption from all sources. A holistic view is necessary to take measures to cure as well as to prevent this evil in all its aspects. More than one measure is needed to provide complete remedy. A few illustrations would suffice.
Judicial accountability as a facet of judicial independence cannot be achieved without the effective accountability also of the lawyers, which is inadequate under the Advocates Act, 1961 giving the entire control over the conduct of lawyers only to a body of lawyers. Linkage between misconduct of some lawyer and that of the errant judge is common knowledge. Similarly, corruption of other professionals, corporates, media etc. has also to be addressed. Even the field of education is no longer sacrosanct. In short, the long term target of restoration of values as the strongest preventive measure must also be a part of the action plan.
Electoral reforms are necessary to curb the ill-effect of money and muscle power that breed corruption and criminalise politics; and reforms to prevent tax evasion contributing to increase of black money. Constitution Amendment Bill could also simultaneously introduce concurrent constitutional changes essential for a strong anti-corruption regime such as to Articles 105, 194 and 235. The impact of the JMM bribery case needs to be overcome by amending Articles 105 and 194 and codifying the privileges of the members.
Such a comprehensive programme alone can prevent as well as cure the malady; otherwise adding to the existing plethora of legislation on the subject would only be a symptomatic treatment instead of a permanent cure. There is no instant cure for a chronic disease. It requires a sober debate along the correct route.
Enlargement of the debate on the challenge at this juncture also provides the opportunity which must not be lost. Anna Hazare has provided this opportunity for an intensive search for the best method to combat rampant corruption. The churning process to find the best solution has begun. It is time for Hazare to derive satisfaction that his prime purpose is served. He should now leave it to those who are constitutionally entrusted with completing the task with the aid of all of the civil society in our inclusive democracy. I sincerely urge movement in this direction within the constitutional scheme.
The writer is a former Chief Justice of India
- JAN LOKPAL BILL : Prime Minister writes to Shri Anna Hazare (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Jan Lokpal Bill- All Party Meeting Appeal to Shri Anna Hazare to End Fast (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- LOK PAL CAMPAIGN: For a strong and effective Lokpal (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- LOK PAL BILL CAMPAIGN : Prime Minister speech in the Lok Sabha debate on Corruption (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Prime Ministers Statement on the Lokpal Campaign and Anna Hazare Arrest (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- Justice Verma writes to Prime Minister on the Jan Lokpal Bill (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
- JAN LOKPAL BILL- Prime Ministers opening remarks at the All Party Meeting (indialawyers.wordpress.com)