The Lokpal composition skirts statutory reservation to propagate upper-caste domination

16 April 2019
The caste identity of the nine Lokpal members shows, rather ironically, that its compliance with the statutory reservation provisions was little more than a pretence of representation and impartiality.
Shahbaz Khan / PTI
The caste identity of the nine Lokpal members shows, rather ironically, that its compliance with the statutory reservation provisions was little more than a pretence of representation and impartiality.
Shahbaz Khan / PTI

A conspicuous silence shrouds the social composition of the recently constituted Lokpal, India’s anti-corruption body, empowered to inquire into complaints against the prime minister, ministers and members of parliament, among others. The upper castes and other dominant social groups account for as high as 77.7 percent of the Lokpal’s members—upper castes alone account for 55.5 percent. It does not have a single member from the Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Tribes. The body comprises only one Dalit member, and religious minorities have been represented by a Jain—an ironic choice, given that the community was officially recognised as a part of the Hindu fold until January 2014, when it was accorded a minority status.

This skewed social composition violates the spirit of the provisions of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013, which establishes the anti-corruption body and mandates reservations among its members. The act prescribes a nine-member body, presided by a chairperson, and states that 50 percent of its eight remaining members “shall be from amongst the persons belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Minorities and women.”

The act also states that the Lokpal’s members would be chosen by a selection committee led by the prime minister—who is designated as the chairperson—the Lok Sabha speaker, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, the chief justice of India or a Supreme Court judge nominated by the chief justice, and one eminent jurist recommended by the chairperson and the three other members. The committee that selected the Lokpal did not, however, have any representation from the opposition because the Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge boycotted the selection proceedings­­. Kharge was seeking an amendment to the Lokpal act that would include the leader of the single largest opposition party as a member of the selection committee. The committee, in turn, is required to constitute a search committee of at least seven members that would shortlist candidates for appointment to the Lokpal. The Lokpal act prescribes a similar 50-percent reservation for the search committee as well.

The act’s emphasis on subaltern groups did not deter the selection committee from exploiting ambiguities in the Lokpal Act to deny them representation and instead enhance the hold of the upper-caste elite. A literal interpretation of the reservation provision indicates that the act does not stipulate a distinct break-up of reservations for each individual community, but only that 50 percent of the Lokpal’s members should cumulatively come from the specified subaltern groups. As a result, while the selection committee technically complied with the act by appointing four candidates from the reserved categories, its choice of members shows, rather ironically, that this was little more than a pretence of representation and impartiality.

To determine the caste identities of the Lokpal’s members, I checked their social background from a diverse range of sources, including politicians, lawyers and journalists. I also reached out to the additional secretary at the department of personnel and training, which issued the notifications for all Lokpal members, but I received no response despite multiple calls and emails.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist based in Delhi.

Keywords: caste upper-caste Hindus reservations religious minorities minorities Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribes Other Backward Classes Scheduled Castes
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