New Delhi – Former Chief Justice of India Justice J.S. Verma has backed Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s idea of “a constitutional body than a statutory office” for the Lokpal to satisfy the “public demand” for a strong ombudsman to check corruption in public life.
“A constitutional Lokpal would be strong, more important and powerful,” Justice Verma told IANS in an interview.
However, he said 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.”
As Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement gathered momentum across the country in the past two weeks, Rahul Gandhi suggested in parliament a “constitutional” framework for the proposed Lokpal, akin to the Election Commission or the Comptroller and Auditor General, “to make it more powerful and accountable to the people”.
Even Arvind Kejriwal, a member of Team Anna, has said he “favours” a constitutional Lokpal but does not want it to be “delayed”.
According to Justice Verma, the difference between a constitutional body and a statutory one is that any change in the structure or status of a mere statutory authority can be done through a simple majority in parliament.
But in the case of a constitutional body, such a change would require the more difficult route of a constitution amendment, sticking to the principle of federalism, he said.
He clarified the creation of the Lokpal as a constitutional body would itself require a constitution amendment.
Suggesting a solution to the “contentious” issue of setting up Lokayukta in the states, Justice Verma said Article 253 of the Constitution empowers parliament to enact a law for the whole or any part of India. Lokayuktas is one of three key demands of Team Anna besides a citizen’s charter and bringing the lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal. At present, the state assembly legislates on the Lokayukta.
Pitching for a “strong Lokpal”, Justice Verma said it would “not only fulfill the constitutional promise made in the Directive Principles of State Policy to combat the malaise of corruption” but would also help in the eradication of poverty.
There are other benefits too.
“A constitutional Lokpal, instead of a statutory office, will be more effective in providing immunity to the office from the vagaries of changing political equations in the era of coalitions,” said Justice Verma.
He said experience has shown that the constitutional bodies are comparatively more effective and immune from political and other extraneous influences than statutory offices.
Stressing on “electoral reforms to curb the ill-effect of money and muscle power that breed corruption and criminalise politics” the former CJI said “it is time for Anna Hazare to derive satisfaction that his main purpose of highlighting the need for a strong Lokpal has been served.”
The former CJI said “keeping in mind the mood of the entire nation which expects a strong Lokpal, the environment is conducive for the progressive step of exploring a constitutional route to Lokpal.”