It’s hard to be humble, when you’re as great as I am.
- Muhammad Ali
It has been nearly more than four years since the passage of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act by Parliament. The appointment of an anti-corruption ombudsman still eluded and finally Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose has been appointed as the first Lokpal after a delay of five years. His name was finalised and recommended by the selection committee comprising of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and eminent jurist Mukul Rohatgi. His reputation speaks for him as the Selection Committee’s choice fits the criteria in PC Ghose. The man is accredited with the prosecution of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa and her aide VK Sasikala in the disproportionate assets case. The selection of the Lokpal followed the insistence of the Supreme Court, which asked the government what steps had been initiated to set up the mechanism expected to look into complaints of corruption in high places. The Lokpal Act was notified in 2014 to form a panel to look into cases of corruption and maladministration by public servants. The Lokpal will work with the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). It has the powers to ask investigating agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe allegations against public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Under the 2013 Act, the Lokpal should consist of a chairperson and such number of members, not exceeding eight, of whom 50% should be judicial members. The selection procedure for these posts is the same as that for the chairperson. A search committee will prepare a panel of candidates, a selection committee will recommend names from among this panel, and the President will appoint these as members.
The appointment of Justice Ghose is a welcome step, considering that the legal and political journey of appointing a Lokpal has been mired in controversy for decades. It ought to be welcomed as a milestone in the cause of fighting corruption in high places. After the appointment of Justice Ghose a crucial question has arisen: Is the office of the Lokpal independent of the government and others whom it is mandated to scrutinise? This question is doing the rounds because the government, be it of BJP or Congress has the tendency of interfering in the functioning of autonomous institutions that are set up to ensure transparency and accountability of governance. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Reserve Bank of India have faced such meddling.
With the selection of the first Lokpal, victims of corruption now have an option of redress. The Lokpal will have to entrust the responsibility of investigation to any agency, including the CBI. To ensure a fair and professional investigation, those agencies have to be free from interference of the powers-that-be.