gfiles magazine

December 5, 2011

A Frankenstein’s monster?

lokpal bill amitabh thakur
A Frankenstein’s monster?
Beware of making the Jan Lokpal an all-powerful authority, for it will invite misuse of power
THE issues of civil society and the Jan Lokpal have come to occupy the centre stage at public and media discussions. The media appears to have made the public believe that corruption can be eliminated only through the institution of the Lokpal as projected by a civil society group. It is being said that the moment the Jan Lokpal comes into existence, we shall be rid of the menace of corruption.
The fact is that there is no relation between the proposed institution of the Jan Lokpal and the eradication of corruption. There is not much that is new in this proposed Jan Lokpal which is not already there in our existing laws and whatever is new is generally against the established principles of law. India has a very large number of laws for curbing corruption, including the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, the Benaami Property (Prohibition) Act, 1988 and so on.
While there is always scope for improvement in laws, it cannot be said that corruption thrives in India only because of lack of proper laws. Our anti-corruption organizations face a lot of problems and if we are really serious about fighting corruption, a more important step would be to look into these problems and find solutions.
Also, there is a large number of direct ill-effects and dangerous consequences that accompany the formation of an all-powerful, all-pervasive superstructure in which all the powers get concentrated, so India should beware.
An interest group with vested considerations seems to be trying to get the institution of the Lokpal formalized as a parallel power centre where in future there might be cut-throat competition to grab posts. What would be different in this case would be the fact that, unlike other places, a section of civil society might also get into this rat race. When a new institution is created on the scale being advocated, there will be a huge drain of our limited resources.
Handing unfettered power as tapping of phones to an anticorruption
organization would be an infringement on individual
rights and liberties, and might be misused to any extent.
Such an institution is completely against the basic framework of our legal and governing system. The most important feature of our Constitution and our governance is the separation of power, the basic premise being that power shall not get concentrated in the hands of any one authority to prevent misuse. Lord Acton’s saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has wide acceptance in the principle of governance and the justice system. Hence, if the Lokpal is given authority as diverse as initiating an inquiry, guiding an investigation, taking administrative decisions, holding disciplinary proceedings, and seizing the supposed ill-gotten money, there is bound to be huge potential for misuse. Anyone who knows even an iota about human nature would never recommend such organizations’ coming into existence because they can aid a person with bad intentions in exploiting the powers in unimaginable measure.
We have seen military rule in neighbouring countries, with very serious accusations of misuse of power by a few persons. Would we like such a situation to arise here?
THE personnel working in such a powerful organization would always have a natural tendency to abuse their authority. Today we see a few officers of the CBI getting involved in corrupt activities and we hear complaints about judicial officers now and then. But an extremely powerful Jan Lokpal would be highly susceptible to such misuse of power.
Vested considerations seem to be trying to get the institution of the Lokpal
formalized as a parallel power centre where there might be cut-throat
competition to grab posts.
Handing over such an unfettered power as the tapping of phones to an anti-corruption organization would be a clear-cut infringement on individual rights and liberties, and might be misused to any extent. These dangers might not seem as serious as they actually are, more so because of the sway of the members of civil society, thanks to the massive promotion by the media. But they will start getting visible the moment such an institution actually comes into existence.
Today, when a policeman kills a criminal in one of those framed encounters, we do come forward and say that it was not right. Even when the policemen try to justify that the person killed was a dreaded and hardened criminal whom the law of the land was being unable to act against, we say that the policemen must keep to their area of activity and not try to act as judges. A much more dangerous situation will evolve if we have an institution which acts as police, prosecution, administrative wing and judge at the same time. g
The writer is an IPS officer of the UP cadre and president of the National RTI Forum.

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