Prime minister Narendra Modi may not have wanted to oppose the Lokpal Act since its anti-corruption tone matched so well with his image and party’s charge against the Congress. It was, however, always clear Lokpal and Lokayuktas were a bad idea since they sought to create a parallel investigation structure and were borne out of the belief that no system that had anything to do with the government—even if it was autonomous like the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)—was capable of delivering justice while a body of civic-minded ladies and gentlemen would be able to do so.
Compared to the Lokpal that was being pushed by activists like Anna Hazare, the new Act is a lot better. In the original bill, the Lokpal could cancel licences after an investigation—while that may have looked desirable, it created a system parallel to the one run by courts. While these issues were fixed once passions cooled, the Act still has considerable flaws. Both the central government and the Lokpal, for instance, have jurisdictions over the same employees; and how does the Centre’s plan to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to safeguard decision-making square with the Lokpal’s mandate?
The fact that an autonomous CVC is not considered good enough to ensure the CBI functions independently, similarly, is worrying. In any case, those who believe it will do better under the Lokpal should relook their position after the way members of the Karnataka Lokayukta were accused of corruption/extortion in the High Court.
While the government may not have appointed members of the Lokpal due to these reasons, it is in a bind with the Supreme Court taking it to task. The government argument that there is no Leader of the Opposition (LoP) is not good enough since, in the absence of LoP, it could have got the head of the largest opposition party to be in the selection panel, as was done for selecting the CBI/CVC chief. The lesson for the prime minister is that, if not revoked, bad laws will come back to haunt you.
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The retrospective taxation law continues to spook investors and makes it impossible to deal with Vodafone-Cairn type of cases and the consequences of the Food Security Act will be frightening once the courts start insisting that two-thirds of the country get their vastly-subsidised grain. It is true the prime minister failed when he tried to revamp the land acquisition Act, but he simply has to keep trying. The problem could get a lot messier when the Lokpal is operationalised and starts giving orders that create trouble for the elected government—he has to convince legislators that, while the government is an elected body, the Lokpal is not.