The idea of the first Jan Lokpal Bill dates back to as early as 1969, yet this democratic bill was always denied by the pseudo democratic government of India for the last 42 years. None of the Lokpal bills introduced again and again in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008 passed the approval nod of our great Indian leaders simply because it threatened the supreme powers that the rulers have always enjoyed.
The latest Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by Shanti Bhushan, former IPS Kiran Bedi, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, advocate Prashant Bhushan, former chief election commissioner J. M. Lyngdoh in consultation with the leaders of the India Against Corruption movement and the civil society, proposes to create an effective anti-corruption and grievance handling system by forming an independent body with power to investigate and punish corruption. With 73 years old Gandhian Anna Hazare ’s determination to bring this bill into reality through his fast to death and every section of the media supporting him, millions of people are dreaming already to erase corruption and bring down the misuse of power by politicians. But this bill, as we see is not without its own set of risks and failure modes.
Some of these risks that need attention, as per the salient features of the Lokpal bill are:
1. Formation of Independent Institutions (Lokpal in the center and Lokayukta in each state) like the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, which will act on its own to investigate and punish corruption and the corrupted.
• It is being claimed that no politician or minister would be able to influence the decision of the Lokpal or Lokayukta because its members will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by politicians or ministers, through a completely transparent and democratic process. But it is a similar transparent and democratic process of the country that elects and puts the same corrupted politicians and leaders to power in every election! When people themselves select corrupted leaders to power, the justification that the people again will select their representative to fight those same corrupted leaders is really weak.
• According to the bill, any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months. The idea sounds good, but if some official of Lokpal is indeed found guilty and punished, the public trust on the system itself would be damaged. For example, in rural north east, the people still do not trust the Indian army because of the rapes and killings which it had done in the past, though some of those accused have been punished. The world always accuses the Pakistani cricket team to have fixed a match when they lose, just because a few of their players were found guilty of match fixing and punished in the past.
• The risk of corruption within Lokpal/ Lokayukta itself cannot be ruled out. As per the bill, entire working of Lokpal/ Lokayukta will be transparent to the public, but even working of Government agencies are supposed to be transparent which is not because of corruption within. If the officials of Lokpal or Lokayukta are bribed secretly or bought with huge amount of money, the entire idea of this establishment is destroyed.
2. As per the Jan Lokpal Bill, all current anti – corruption agencies like the CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI will be merged into Lokpal. The idea is appealing since the functioning of CBI and vigilance departments has always been secret and never transparent enough of the public. But ,
• If CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI will be merged into Lokpal, who will actually head the Lokpal? If the CBI or the Vigilance officers continue to call the shots and take decisions, this means it’s the Government again, this time indirectly, who is doing investigations!
• On current date, even if a CBI or Vigilance finds proof of corruption against the top politicians or ministers, it is nearly impossible to put the accused behind bars because of the diplomatic, political and influence from the Government. With CBI, CVC, etc coming together to form a Lokpal, their officials would continue to be direct or indirect central government servants. So the same problems would continue as present.
• With merging of the different independent bodies (CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI), there would be extensive differences in questions over authority, utilization of resources and efficiency of the entire new department might be in stake.
• The biggest risk would be prominent when a people-elected body comprising of good and clean names in the civil society but having no prior experience of administration of such bodies are given the sole power of running, managing, monitoring and implementing actions of this entire function.
3. As per the bill, investigation of any case will have to be completed in one year and trial should be completed in next one year. The idea is that in a maximum of two years, the corrupt officer or politician should go to jail.
• The idea is correct as Justice delayed is justice denied indeed. But what happens to the tens of thousands of other judicial cases of people which the courts have to deal with every year. The country is already known to have a bad name for delaying justice or giving decisions on judicial cases because of its constraints with different resources. Although it would be a great idea to complete all Lokpal driven corruption cases within two years, it should never be at the cost of delaying other cases of the common people. Setting up the right infrastructure and resources is a must here.
4. The loss that a corrupt person caused to the people or to the government will be recovered at the time of conviction. This looks like a great idea as there is currently no recovery of the corrupt wealth and a person punished for corruption can enjoy this wealth after returning from his conviction.
• But what is not clear yet and what needs to be taken into account is the nature of the recovery of corrupted wealth invested in assets like private educational institution, private medical college or trade and business that involves large scale employment. For example, corrupted ministers of several states are known to invest in opening private engineering and medical colleges. If investigations reveal that the institution was developed out of black money from corruption, what would be the fate of the college? It cannot be closed down for the reason that it will destroy career of the students, nor would the Government be able to take over it. In another example if a minister is found guilty of corruption, what happens to his private news channel? Would it be sold off to recover the money? What would happen to the employees working for their bread and butter? The list of examples is endless. So although it is must to recover corrupted wealth, it is utmost necessary that the nature of such recovery is defined well.
5. If any work of any citizen is not done within agreed time in any government office, Lokpal will impose financial penalty on guilty officers, which will be paid as compensation to the complainant. This step will act as a great measure as well as drive efficiency in different Government departments. It would be a welcome move for the people who have to pay bribe to get anything done in a government office. But the same time,
• This step ensures that Lokpal has the highest power of authority over all Government departments, which will mean that Lokpal becomes a parallel Government in itself. This in itself is a risk where the Government and the Lokpal, both selected by people, would try to exercise their power of dominance or authority over each other.
• Lokpal imposing financial penalty on officers for not completing work in time can be challenged in the court by the government departments or by the officers themselves with genuine reasons or excuses. This will increase the queue of judicial cases in the country and eat up substantial time and energy of both parties.
We salute Anna Hazare for his tremendous efforts against corruption in the country, but at the same time we fear that simply making the bill pass through the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are not going to be enough. If the risks are not assessed well and practical measures not put into place, this bill can actually turn out only to be an immature step rather than a practical solution to destroy corruption. Last thing we need is one more democratic Frankenstein, arising out of emotion, in the country.
Priyankan Goswami is the Editor of Times of Assam’s Political Analysis section. He is also founder member and member of the Executive board of Times of Assam.
By Academic Priyankan Goswami is MBA & Mechanical Engineer.