21 May 2014 – On 1 January 2014, the Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee, signed a new anti-corruption legislation (lokpal bill) which will enhance the country’s capacities to combat corruption. This new piece of legislation creates an ombudsman who will be vested with the powers to prosecute politician, ministers and civil servants in case of misconduct. The new law puts an end at a legislative process that has been initiated 46 years ago. The new act closes a regulatory gap that had come under close public surveillance in recent years: so far, a Central Vigilance Commission was competent to conduct inquiries into alleged offences of federal-level officials. However, alleged offences by state-level officials were neither subject to investigations nor to supervision. Historically, the new law builds on a long-standing tradition, for state-level ombudsmen have been created by most of the Indian states in the course of the 1970s. Despite their initial creation, state-level ombudsmen lacked effective means of control since even their recommendations were subject to prior governmental approval.Only senior members of the Indian Supreme Court or Chief Justices of the High Court qualify for the new ombudsman’s office which will comprise one Chair and up to eight other members. In order to ensure the institution’s independence, its members must not be members of any legislative bodies at state or federal level. Also, ombudsmen are required to resign from any office of trust or profit, and to renounce any business and professional ties.While critics emphasize that another ombudsman will complicate the (already) fragmented landscape of Indian anti-corruption legislation, public sentiment seems to place hope in the newly established office. Click here for the full text of the new bill.
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