gfiles magazine

June 13, 2011

‘I don’t care who is on the Lokpal panel’

‘I don’t care who is on the Lokpal panel’
 But they must represent civil society at large, not a few luminaries
THE movement initiated by Anna Hazare was a huge success, especially in roping in the urban middle class. In a democracy, it is the inalienable right of the citizens to voice their concerns and seek redressal of their grievances through their elected representatives. And if the latter do not pay heed to their problems and concerns, it is equally legitimate for them to raise their voice collectively. More often than not, such collective agitations fail to elicit a favourable response from those in authority. But there are rare instances when the rulers come down from their exalted perches and listen.
The four-day agitation at Jantar Mantar and elsewhere in the country was such an occasion. The government agreed to consider a robust piece of legislation against corruption in consultation with civil society. This has never happened before in the Constitutional history of India. Hazare and his colleagues deserve the gratitude of the people for making the impossible happen. The debate on whether it sets a dangerous precedent stands deferred for another day.
Thanks to Hazare and his followers, corruption is at centrestage today. Yet, corruption in India is invincible. However much we may try to suppress it, condemn it or enforce legislation to curb it, its source remains untouched. The source, as all of us know, is the greed for money, power and fame. You and I have to find ways of conquering it, not the government and surely not the drafting committee of the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Therefore, though it is important to take the fight against corruption one step forward, the drafting committee has a limited task on hand. The notion that the Bill would be a panacea for all the ills of governance is far-fetched. We should attach only that much importance to it as deserved.
The selection and the subsequent actions of the drafting committee, however, raise a number of issues in the limited context of framing a new law against corruption. It should be accepted by all that the draft is not absolute. Those who think the draft prepared by Prashant Bhushan, Santosh Hegde, Arvind Kejriwal and their friends is the final word are going to be disappointed soon. If they are not open to conviction in the drafting committee, either Parliament will make drastic changes in it or it will be declared by the Supreme Court as ultra vires of the Constitution.
First, it should be remembered by all, including the framers of the Bill, that the resulting institution will not be a civil society one. It will be an institution of the state, hopefully at an arm’s distance from the government of the day. Therefore, it should be as responsible and accountable as is expected from other agencies of the state. To make it an all-powerful inquisitor, advocate and judge would be folly. Also, its lines of accountability should be clearly defined, not in a roundabout manner as suggested in the present Bill.
Where misuse of power is the problem, it would be unwise to create a new monster with more power. The mere selection of the drafting committee by persons of self-proclaimed virtue is no guarantee that the members of the Lokpal will walk the straight line.
Second, it should be a viable organization unburdened by unmanageable amounts of work. The Lokpal will prove ineffective if millions of grievances and complaints of misconduct are entertained by it. The Lokpal should focus on corrupt acts, nothing else. And, even among cases of corruption, it will have to choose some for direct attention. The remainder will have to be referred to the usual investigating machinery.
Third, the Lokpal should be able to act without prejudice towards anyone. To say that the politician is ab initio suspect would be to create an unfair prejudice. Every section of our people – politicians, bureaucrats, corporate honchos, educationists, mediapersons, and civil society leaders – is equally susceptible to the malady of corruption and it is absolutely unfair to single out a particular section for special treatment.
FOURTH, it should be realized that one organization cannot remove the governance deficit accumulated over decades. There is an administrative set-up which cannot be wished away by some spirited individuals. Creating confusion in the administrative set-up would be counter-productive and frustrating. The Lokpal being envisaged is sought to have an over-concentration of power without effective checks and balances. The administrative reforms should not be unidimensional. They should be holistic and should take account of the requirements of various agencies of the government. The authority and responsibilities of other state structures cannot be usurped by a single organization. This is neither achievable nor desirable.
There are several other provisions in the draft that require wider consultation across civil society. The print media has highlighted diverse views on several clauses, the euphoria of Hazare’s victory notwithstanding.
There has been understandable criticism about the nomination of civil society members of the drafting committee. It has been said, “The Lokpal charade is about politics, about the sharing of power between the elected and the self-selected.” Many have questioned the “authentic” voices of the people selected by a coterie around Hazare. Doubts are being raised about the accountability of these persons.
I have no problem with these persons or any other representatives of civil society being on the drafting committee. I don’t care who is on the committee. But I do care that those who represent civil society should not have closed minds. I think it is imperative for these persons to have consultations with other groups and legal experts to ensure the practicality and effectiveness of the new institution apart from the legislation being legally sound. They should try to become the voice of a larger civil society rather than of a few media celebrities.

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