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When will India’s 50-year wait for a Lokpal end? Soon, says the govt

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Despite many court ultimatums and poll promises, the government has failed to appoint a Lokpal at the central level. But things may start moving shortly.

New Delhi: The first bill designed to give India a Lokpal was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1968. But even 50 years later, the country is still awaiting its anti-corruption ombudsman.

The basic premise of the bill is to set up a body called ‘Lokpal’ at the central level and ‘Lokayuktas’ at the state level to look into corruption charges against government officials.

The bill was introduced several times, but only in 2011 did it grab the public eye, thanks to the India Against Corruption movement led by Anna Hazare.

Finally, the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act was passed in 2013, and signed into law by the President on 1 January 2014. But even after that, both the UPA and NDA governments have dragged their feet on appointing the Lokpal.

What next?

The Supreme Court has been monitoring the situation closely, and has given the government repeated ultimatums to get cracking.

On 2 July, the court asked for a timeline, and in a hearing Tuesday, the Centre filed an affidavit, assuring the court that the selection committee, which includes the Prime Minister, will meet on 19 July. This committee is expected to set up a search committee, which will suggest names for appointment to the Lokpal.

The apex court then announced it will hear the case again on 24 July, and expressed hope that the search committee will be set up before that.

Unfulfilled promises

Narendra Modi and the BJP fought the 2014 election campaign on a strong anti-corruption plank. But, when questions began to be raised about why it had not appointed a Lokpal, the government stated that the committee to appoint one needs a Leader of the Opposition (LOP) as its member, but there is no proper definition of LOP in the act.

According to the Constitution, the LOP is defined as the leader of the non-government party that has ten per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha. However, since the largest opposition party in the 16th Lok Sabha, the Congress, is short of this ten per cent mark, there is no official LOP in this House.

Through an amendment to the act, the Modi government felt the need to define the LOP as the leader of the single largest opposition party. However, when the government introduced an amendment bill in Parliament in 2016, this aspect was not included.

After this, the Supreme Court ruled that the selection committee could go ahead and appoint a Lokpal even without an LOP, and urged the Centre to take strong steps and ensure the Lokpal is formed at the earliest.

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