Scholars at the university set up by IT czar Azim Premji seriously doubt the effectiveness of the all-powerful Lokpal, advocated by Anna Hazare and his team, to fight corruption without legal reforms.
"Without highly contentious legal reforms, an extremely powerful agency, which the Jan Lokpal Bill (advocated by Hazare and his team) promises to establish, can at best marginally improve investigation rates and filing of chargesheet in corruption cases without securing more convictions," they assert.
The scholars also fault the Jan Lokpal bill as well as the central government's Lokpal bill that is being debated in the Lok Sabha, for not taking into account the experience of Lokayuktas (state ombudsmen).
"We conclude that a bill that does not assimilate the experience of existing anti-corruption agencies in states like Karnataka is doomed to fail," A. Narayana, Sudhir Krishnaswamy and Vikas Kumar of Law, Governance and Development Initiative of Bangalore-based Azim Premji University said in their recently released study.
"The presumption of a criminal conviction model is at the core of the Lokpal bill, which means that it will come up against the same environmental limits - the efficacy of the criminal justice system - that the Lokayukta in Karnataka confronts.
"The proposal for the Lokpal at the moment fails to address this core problem and for that reason is bound to fail to achieve its primary purpose: the criminal conviction of corrupt officials," the study said.
Narayana has a Ph.D. from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Krishnaswamy a D.Phil in Law from Oxford and Kumar was a doctoral fellow in economics at university of Hamburg.
Their findings are based on a study of the debate that has been raging for several months on the Jan Lokpal bill as proposed by Hazare and his team and the working of the Karnataka Lokayukta, the most active state ombudsman in India.
The Karnataka Lokayutka was the first in India to be set up in 1986 but became highly active only since 2001 and made history in July this year by indicting the then chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa for corruption in illegal mining scandal.
Yeddyurappa, the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister in south India, was forced to quit July 31 following the indictment.
Noting that while there was "agreement on the core moral imperative to tackle corruption seriously", the study said the debate "has quickly moved from this agreed premise to the questionable conclusion that we need a powerful national institution to prosecute and convict the corrupt under the criminal law.
"To our knowledge the choice of appropriate legal instruments to deal with corruption has not been debated," it pointed out.
The study said: "There has been no systematic effort to evaluate or assess the experience of existing anti-corruption agencies in the states."
"Our analysis suggests that the policy debate on the Lokpal has focused on issues that have been anticipated and largely resolved by existing legislation and institutional design of the Lokayukta in, say, Karnataka and has ignored critical issues that may have little or nothing to do with the design of the Lokpal itself but affect its performance," it said.
The study said the Karnataka experience showed that sanction of prosecution and completion of investigation were not an issue at all as both were done in overwhelming majority of the cases handled by the state Lokayukta.
"The Indian public debate on the Lokpal has focused extensively on the need to equip the institution with extraordinary powers of investigation. Our analysis leads to the conclusion that much of the Indian debate has sought to extinguish a problem that does not have a very significant impact on the effectiveness of anti-corruption agency," the study said.
However, it noted, that "the story changes after chargesheets are filed", that is at the trial end.
It said the average time taken for the trial to be completed was over five years and conviction rate was very low.
"The Indian debate on the Lokpal has focussed extensively on the remedying institutional inefficiencies at the complaint and investigation stage in the Lokpal. No matter how successful these innovations are, they will not tackle the core problem with a criminal trial in India: the trial stage," the study said.
"If we use criminal conviction as the measure of success then the best Lokayukta in the country (that is Karnataka Lokayukta) is undoubtedly a failure. But a caveat is in order: the Lokayukta does not administratively control the criminal court. Hence, we should attribute this failure to the choice of a criminal conviction model as the centrepiece of our anti-corruption strategy," the study advocated.
It noted that between 1995 and 2011, Karnataka Lokayukta carried out only 357 raids on its own - the power to conduct raids on its own was given only early this year - against individual officials but received and responded to over 2,159 complaints against 2,681 officials.
"Interestingly, institutional leadership (a reference to the head of the Lokayukta panel) is seen to have a significant impact on the agency's performance. For instance, in Karnataka more than 66 percent of the raid cases by the Lokayukta were initiated between 2006 and 2011, when Justice N. Santosh Hegde was the Lokayukta."
The five-year term of Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, ended Aug 2.