Jan Lokpal Bill and Parliament by SHANTI BHUSHAN The Hindu News Paper 07/09/2011
The HinduSocial activist Anna Hazare having a word with his team members Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan during the fast for Jan Lokpal Bill at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. File photo: S. Subramanium
Is the Bill within the legislative competence of Parliament? Yes.
All provisions in Anna Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill are within the legislative competence of Parliament, including the provisions relating to Lokayuktas in the States. Some confusion is being spread in the media that Parliament cannot enact all the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill, particularly those relating to the Lokayuktas in the States, a law for which will have to be enacted by the State Legislatures themselves. Any constitutional jurist would confirm that there is no substance in this impression and that Parliament is fully competent to enact all the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Parliament can enact any law if the “pith and substance” of that law is covered by any entry in the Union List or any entry in the Concurrent List. Entry 97 of the Union List is as follows: “Any other matter not enumerated in list 2 or list 3 including any tax not mentioned in either of those lists.”
The effect of this is that unless the pith and substance of the Jan Lokpal Bill falls squarely under any of the entries in the State List, Parliament cannot be denied the legislative competence to enact the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Even a student of law would tell you that the pith and substance of the Jan Lokpal Bill does not fall under any entry in the State list.
One of the entries in the Union List is entry No.14: “entering into treaties and agreements with foreign countries and implementing of treaties, agreements and conventions with foreign countries.” Article 253 provides that “Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body.” The effect of Article 253 is that even if the pith and substance of an Act is squarely covered by an entry in the State List, even then if the enactment is for implementing a U.N. Convention, Parliament would still be competent to enact the legislation.
As the statement of objects and reasons of the Jan Lokpal Bill would show, the object of the Jan Lokpal Bill is to implement the United Nations Convention on Corruption, which has already been ratified by India (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CAC/index.html).
The definition of “public official” in the U.N. Convention includes any person holding a legislative, executive, administrative, or judicial office, whether appointed or elected. This is quite similar to the definition of “public servant” in the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, enacted by India's Parliament, which covers all Ministers including the Prime Minister, all judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court as well as all elected Members of Parliament and State Legislatures. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that the Prevention of Corruption Act was enacted by Parliament and not by any State Legislature, even though it is applicable not only to Central government servants but also to servants of the State governments. The main object of the Jan Lokpal Bill is to set up an independent authority as required by the U.N. Convention to investigate offences of corruption by all public servants covered by the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
Entry 1 of the Concurrent List refers to criminal law, including all matters included in the Indian Penal Code. As bribery and corruption were covered by the Indian Penal Code, Parliament had full competence to enact the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Entry 2 of the Concurrent List relates to criminal procedure, including all matters included in the Code of Criminal Procedure. Since the investigation of bribery and corruption was included in the Code of Criminal Procedure, Parliament is fully competent to enact a law to provide for alternative methods of investigation of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Article 8 (2) of the U.N. Convention requires each state that is a party to the Convention to apply, within its own institutional and legal systems, codes or standards of conduct for the correct, honourable, and proper performance of public functions.
Article 8 (5) further requires the states to establish systems requiring public officials to make declarations regarding their outside activities, employment, investments, assets, and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials.
Article 8 (6) further requires the states to take disciplinary or other measures against public officials who violate the codes or standards established in accordance with the convention.
Article 12 (2) requires the taking of measures for preventing the misuse of procedures regulating private entities, including procedures regarding subsidies and licences granted by public authorities for commercial activities. It further requires the imposition of restrictions for a reasonable period of time on the professional activities of former public officials after their resignation or retirement, where such activities of employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure.
Article 34 of the Convention requires the states to consider corruption a relevant factor in legal proceedings to annul or rescind a contract, withdraw a concession or other similar instrument, or take any other remedial action. It would be crystal clear to any constitutional jurist that even if the Jan Lokpal Bill had not been for the purpose of implementing the U.N. Convention, all its provisions would be squarely covered by the Union List and the Concurrent List.
While one can understand the anxiety of political parties to somehow attempt to dilute the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill by reducing its coverage or to weaken it, they owe it to the people of India not to mislead the gullible people that Parliament is not competent to enact the provisions contained in Anna Hazare's Jan Lokpal Bill. Even the claim that at the least the States are required to be consulted has no basis at all. The Constitution-makers had foreseen that in a federal or quasi-federal country, the States' views had to be taken into consideration by Parliament when enacting a law. They had, therefore, provided for the Council of States and a Bill cannot be enacted by Parliament unless it is passed both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The constitution of the Rajya Sabha provides that each State elects its representatives to this House. Thus all States are represented in the Rajya Sabha. The MPs in the Rajya Sabha are there to represent the views of the states on any Bill that comes before it and there is thus an inbuilt mechanism in the Constitution itself to provide for taking into consideration the views of the States on a Bill that is being enacted by Parliament.
(Shanti Bhushan, a constitutional expert, is a former Union Law Minister and member of the Joint Drafting Committee on the Lokpal Bill.)