The Government of India is lurching from crisis to crisis. And, all of these have one thing in common – complicity of ministers’, Alliance Partners’, MP’s in crime –and the Government turning a blind eye to the pillage that has been going on. Worse, and more galling, than the blind eye – is its sheer brazenness when confronted by the loot. Be it Kapil Sibal on 2G or Abhishek Manu Sanghvi on Anna Hazare’s fast – they have been brazen to the core. UPA2 needs to realise they have not been voted as rulers of India in perpetuity, rather as administrators – and that too for a period of 5 years.
Obviously there has been furore. But, one has taken the furore with a bag of salt. When the media screams it is because it chooses to make money from outrage. When the opposition screams – it is because they have not been able to partake in the spoils. Cynical, but the nature of politics, political discourse and the public space has been so opportunistic and so devoid of values – that it is not difficult to go with the “Sab Chor Hai” attitude.
However, one person stands tall and apart from all this dirt, and has managed to put his finger on the pulse of the quiet anger that has swept the country. And, that is veteran Gandhian, Anna Hazare. He has been campaigning tirelessly against corruption across the country. And in particular, in my home state of Maharashtra. Amongst the campaigns he has waged has been the one against Lavasa – where a combination of Private Sector greed and Ministerial avarice has robbed Tribals of their forest land.
His current protest is against corruption in general, and the Government’s Lok Pal Bill in particular. Anna Hazare believes – and rightly so – the Government’s proposed anti-corruption bill is an exercise in futility, a mode of letting the status quo stand.
The Government’s Lok Pal bill is pretty much like any Government action on corruption. It is the equivalent of setting up a committee and hoping that those who complain will die before things are resolved. Furthermore, it’s Lok Pal bill has no teeth, can take no action against the corrupt. It can merely recommend. India against corruption has a succinct critique of the Government’s proposed bill. If you have the time, do read it.
Anna Hazare is demanding a more powerful Lok Pal – one with teeth that can take action against the corrupt, including depriving them of ‘ill gotten’ assets. The bill that he proposes, called the Jan Lok Pal, is a comprehensive document that looks at how action against corrupt can be undertaken
In an ideal world, with honest and truthful citizens, and a few corrupt officials this will be the best Act since Universal Franchise. However, we do not live in an Ideal World.
Till yesterday morning I was all for the bill, and then I read the bill in detail. What i will set down here are my issues with the bill. This does not mean I don’t want the people to be involved in drafting of the bill, it also does not mean i support the Government on their version of the bill – I don’t.
At the first level – and in effect it stops there – it is the ability to go “j’accuse’ on people in Public life – it doesn’t matter if they are innocent or guilty. You believe that they have done something wrong, and you have the right to complain and ask for a review.
I quote now from the proposed bill, those clauses i find problematic. The rest i am more or less ok with.
1)“Action” means any action taken by a public servant in the discharge of his functions as such public servant and includes decision, recommendation or finding or in any other manner and includes willful failure or omission to act and all other expressions relating to such action shall be construed accordingly;
7) “grievance” means a claim by a person that he sustained injustice or undue hardship in consequence of mal-administration;
9) “Mal-administration” means action taken or purporting to have been taken in the exercise of administrative function in any case where,-
- such action or the administrative procedure or practice governing such action is unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory; or
- there has been willful negligence or undue delay in taking such action or the administrative procedure or practice governing such action involves undue delay;
So, for example, I am unhappy with my property tax evaluation – I believe that the civil servant in charge has done this so that he can come back and ask for a bribe – i have the right to go to the Lok Ayukta. They will investigate. The time frame for the investigation is a year. And then they will pronounce their verdict. If the property tax officer was actually doing his job – and has valued my home on the right basis, what happens…Similarly take any case, forest official refuses permission for a person/company to expand their operations into the forest area. The official is following the law. But, vested interests decide the best way of expressing their ‘grievance” is to file a charge of ‘mal administration’ then what happens….
This part of the proposed bill can only work if there are exceedingly strong measures put in place to deter people from bringing in false accusations. Lets face facts – in India, especially in the last decade or so, it is easy to accuse, less easy to prove and almost impossible to clear your name. Cases are motivated as much by malice as they are by facts. Unless people who bring false charges end up getting penalised and facing jail terms – the bill in its current form is going to end up stalling all decision making. There needs to be a better way of achieving the same aim.
The Jan Lok Pal bill v.1.9 is well intentioned – but Utopian. And like most things Utopian, the proposed JanLokPal Bill, as it has been framed now, is dangerous – it is best summed up on twitter by @dubash
We can either look for good men to occupy high office, or create a good law that bad men can use to eliminate each other.
My second issue is more technical. The bulk of the provisions and definitions of the proposed Jan Lok Ayukta bill are based on the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988. That bill too has the provision of special courts and special trials and the like. The Act, although it exists in the Statute books, has not had much success. Primarily because corruption has to be proved – and that means you have to catch someone in the Act of asking and taking money. Entrapment is one way of getting there – but that is in a legally grey area. So, the question remains – how do you prove corruption? One is knowing someone is corrupt or has practised nepotism (that too falls under the purview of the PCA) – the more difficult thing is to prove it.
I am all for a war on corruption. But setting up a separate machinery to prove & prosecute corruption, is just adding one more layer of bureaucracy for me. Far more effective may be taking up the following:
- Clear legal back log on a war footing over the next 5 years
- Have time bound legal cases – the way it happens in the USA or most of Europe.
- Have a National Prosecution Service with teeth – and pay its lawyers better
- Give the CBI true independence
- Bring in much talked about Police Reforms
- More transparency in Government operations
- An effective mechanism of protecting whistle blowers – both in Government and in Private Sector
And finally, I support Anna Hazare in his demand for a more effective Lok Pal Bill. But, I don’t believe that the Jan Lok Pal that has been drafted is that bill.