India is one of the MOST corrupt countries on this planet. We don’t need statistics from any international organization to prove this. Just ask a common man on the street and he/she will give you loads of experience of corruption at a personal level. No day passes in any Indian News channel or a News paper without mentioning one or other large scam of corruption. No month passes without the revelation of a new scam in the country. The only way to get your work done quickly at government offices and public departments is by paying bribe. RTI activists who try to expose corruption using the Right to Information act get killed in broad daylight. Compared to the number of scams and scandals in public life exposed so far post independence, the number of actual convicted people is almost negligible and can be counted on one’s fingers.
Lokpal Institution – Independent body to Act against Corruption
So here was a suggestion to check corruption in public life in the form of establishment of a Lokpal institution – an independent organization just like the Election Commission of India – with powers to inquire into allegations of corruption in public life and to prosecute and punish the guilty. And any idea when this suggestion was first made?
The first Lokpal bill was presented before the parliament to make it a law and establish Lokpal institution in 1969! And since then the bill has been presented in various edited forms in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008! But the parliament has never been able to accept it pass it and every time it was presented, it has been referred to some committee to make few more changes, few more suggestions, etc.
In other words, the politicians have always tried to make it even more powerless and still not yet satisfied till all its powers are removed and Lokpal becomes only a paper tiger. Only then the political class will allow the establishment of Lokpal institution, which they want to exist only for name sake.
For 42 years a bill supposed to fight corruption has not been agreed upon and passed by our parliament inspite of being presented eight times in the parliament!! So much so for the determination and will of our elected representatives to fight corruption. The politicians simply do not want to be held accountable. Look at the number of corruption scams in this country, now just once check how many have been really punished in this country for corruption?
Our Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh who went all out of the way even to risk his Government to get the Indo-US Nuclear deal passed in the parliament, has not shown the same determination to get the Lokpal bill passed! Isn’t rooting out corruption from the country more important than providing uninterrupted power supply to the country using risky nuclear reactors?
Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill
Lokpal means protector of the people, and the idea is for this institution to act as protector of people from the misdeeds of its elected representatives. But the current Lokpal bill which the government wants to bring in force is like a toothless tiger, it has almost no powers to act against the corrupt and will remain as a dummy institution which can only make suggestions in cases of corruption.
Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of the Delhi high court says the Lokpal Bill proposed by the Government of India is
shamefully toothless and meant just to give a false reassurance to the people that the government is serious in its fight against corruption.
This is where Sri Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption comes into picture.
Sri Anna Hazare and other eminent members of the “India Against Corruption” movement have created an alternate Lokpal bill called the “Jan Lokpal Bill” which has complete authority to act, prosecute and punish the corrupt politicians and administrators, and the indefinite fast unto death of Anna Hazare is to make the government pass the “Jan Lokpal Bill” instead of passing the “Government’s version of the Lokpal bill“. Anna Hazare, has become the Mahatma Gandhi of 21st century and has successfully initiated a mass movement against Corruption. Isn’t it an irony that the people of free India have to fight against their own government just to enforce a law to tackle the biggest menace the country is facing – Corruption in Public Life.
The Government’s version will create a Lokpal institution with almost no powers to act on its own. While the Jan Lokpal Bill gives sweeping powers to the Lokpal institution to inquire into the cases of corruption, the government’s version of the Lokpal Bill makes Lokpal only a dummy institution which can only suggest government institutions on corruption cases and cannot start inquiries on its own. The notable personalities who were involved in the drafting of the Jan Lokpal Bill are
- Shanti Bhushan – Senior Advocate and former Union Law Minister in the government of Morarji Desai
- Kiran Bedi – Former IPS officer and Social Activist
- Justice N. Santhosh Hegde – Former justice of the Supreme Court Of India, former Solicitor General of India and the present Lokayukta (ombudsman) of Karnataka
- J M Lyngdoh – Former Chief Election Commissioner and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner
- Eminent members of the India Against Corruption movement like Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Swami Agnivesh, Mahamood Madani, Archbishop Vincent M Concessao etc
Differences between Jan Lokpal Bill and Government’s version of the Lokpal Bill
|Government Proposed Lokpal Bill||Jan Lokpal Bill|
|Lokpal cannot start suo muto investigations into corruption on its own||Lokpal can start suo muto investigations into corruption on its own|
|Lokpal cannot act upon complaints received from General Public||Lokpal can act upon complaints received from General Public and start investigations|
|Lokpal can act only on complaints received from the heads of the parliament (ie Loksabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chariman)||Lokpal can receive complaints from any Indian citizen.|
|Lokpal is only an advisory body and can ONLY forward its reports on cases of corruption to a “competent authority”||Lokpal is not a mere advisory body. It can initiate prosecution against those found guilty.|
|Lokpal will not have any police powers.||Lokpal will have police powers and it can lodge FIRs, initiate criminal investigations and prosecution.|
|Lokpal will have nothing to do with CBI.||The Anti-corruption wing of CBI will be merged with Lokpal.|
|Punishment for corruption is minimum 6 months and maximum 7 years.||Punishment for corruption is minimum 5 years and maximum life time imprisonment.|
|Lokpal cannot investigate corruption cases against bureaucrats and government officers||Lokpal can investigate corruption cases against Politicians, Bureaucrats, Judges (including of Supreme Court and High Court)|
|Lokpal cannot investigate any case against Prime Minister which deals with foreign affairs, security and defense.||Lokpal can investigate ANY corruption case against all Politicians including the Prime Minister of India|
|Lokpal will constitute of three retired judges of the Supreme Court of India||Lokpal members will be elected by the prominent members from both public life and private citizens like chair persons of both houses of parliament, Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts, Bharat Ratna award winners, Chief Election Commissioner, Magsaysay award winners, CAG, Chairperson of National Human Rights commission, etc|
Now let us try to see the differences in detail. Look at the first two differences, why the Government wants the complaints to be made to Lokpal only by Loksabha Speaker or Rajya Sabha Chairman? Is there so little corruption in India that somebody as busy as a Loksabha speaker or a Rajya Sabha chairman will have enough time to look into all the corruption cases against Politicians and public servants in the country?
Why cannot I or you go and complain to the Lokpal? The answer government gives is that people may misuse the power and file false corruption cases with Lokpal.
Every citizen in this country has a privilege to file a Public Interest Litigation in the apex court. How many have misused this power? Also just filing a complaint does not mean punishing the accused. The Lokpal will conduct investigation on the complaint, isn’t it? So what is stopping the government from providing the citizen the rights to lodge a complaint with the Lokpal against a corrupt politician or government officer? Does the government expect all of the millions of citizens in this country who face corruption day in and day out to get their things done, to go to the Speaker of the Parliament to complain about corruption? This itself shows how serious the government is about fighting corruption.
Also why cannot Lokpal act on its own if they suspect corruption by a politician or an officer? Does the government fear that even Lokpal might misuse its own power and start investigating false cases? Is there a bigger joke than this? Or does the government wants the political class to CONTROL the Lokpal?
On the other hand it is the political class who are misusing their power by promising heavens to the people and delivering nothing. By definition of Indian Penal Code Section 420 almost every elected representative in India can be booked for cheating the public en masse.
Why does the government want the Lokpal to be only an advisory body? Whom should it advise to? The same ministers against whom it is recommending action? And what if their advise falls on deaf ears? Forget it and give the next advise is it? And also the government bill does not propose any police powers to the Lokpal. These two points make it ample clear that the government is only interested in showcasing to the public that it is serious about corruption, but in reality wants to create a toothless tiger.
Also look at the magnitude of punishment which the government is proposing for corrupt public servants. Starting with 6 months? Make a few crores, spend 6 months in prison, then return back to enjoy that money? Punishment should be dissuade a public servant from engaging in corruption. Does the government know the amount of punishment a common main this country receives if he is found guilty of cheating say a couple of people for a couple of thousand rupees?
Corruption by a public servant on the other hand amounts to treason against the country, every single corrupt act by a public servants costs the country its development. Corruption in an arms procurement by the armed forces have potential to weaken the country’s defense preparedness. Corruption in business deals like the one in 2G spectrum allocation can cause a huge loss to the exchequer, increase the tax burden on the people. Corruption in handling agricultural products can cause inflation, lead to steep rise in food prices, make basic food not affordable to the poor. Corruption in mining ministry can allow a few to loot the entire natural resources of the country and sell of the precious ores mindlessly, thereby depriving the country of those resources in the future. Take Iron Ore for instance, its mindless mining and exports at throw away rates today, will cause the country a lot in the next 50 years when we will have a huge requirement to build a great infrastructure in the country, but have no ore left and will have to import Steel at huge prices from other countries. So, in general, Corruption at public offices causes a huge setback to the overall development and security of the country, and should be punished on the lines of treason against the country.
And now this one is again a serious difference. Why doesn’t the government want Lokpal to investigate corruption against Bureaucrats and public officers? Are they any holy cows or are they saints descended directly from the himalayas who will never indulge in any corrupt activities? There cannot be a partial solution for a whole problem. If the government is serious about tackling corruption, it should happen at ALL levels.
And finally, what is this about Lokpal not being given powers to investigate the Prime Minister if the Corruption allegations are related to foreign affairs, defense and security? The government wants to hush off all corruption related to these sectors is it? Infact these are the ones which are of utmost importance to a country’s stability and security and should be the first ones to be investigated with the highest priority. The government’s proposed bill will make it impossible for the Lokpal to investigate into scandals like Bofors.
What is the government trying to convey by saying Corruption allegations in these fields should not be investigated? Remember Wikileaks, where it was alleged that somebody from the ruling party had shown boxes full of cash to the US embassy officials, saying that it would be used to bribe parliamentarians to vote in favor of the Indo-US nuclear deal? Is government fearing that all such cases will be revealed in front of the public? Again, if the government is serious about tackling corruption, it should happen in ALL fields. Else we will see that every case somehow getting tagged with being related to foreign affairs, security etc. Probe against corruption CANNOT HAVE ANY EXCEPTIONS.
Finally about the selection of members of Lokpal. Why restrict it to judges of Supreme Court? The selection of Lokpals should be a democratic process where the voters are eminent members of the Indian society from both public and private life. Saying that only retired Supreme Court judges can become Lokpals will make the Lokpal institution indirectly controlled by the political class who will then try to influence who the judges of Supreme Court can be, because in that way they can control who the future Lokpals would be.
Another major feature of the Jan Lokpal Bill is that any probe into a corruption case should be completed within two years, where in the first year is for investigation and the second year is for prosecution. So no minister or public servant can dream that the cases against him will go on for decades and will not reach a conclusion even after he dies.
The Jan Lokpal Bill also gives power to the Lokpal members to probe into allegations about any officer or member of Lokpal and if found guilty, then dismiss the corrupt official or member within two months.
The Jan Lokpal Bill gives power to the common man to lodge complaint if public servants are not getting their work done, like driving license not being issued, construction of poor quality roads, ration being siphoned off, misuse of public funds, police not registering a complaint, etc. In simple terms, this bill gives Lokpal the power to ensure that public servants remain accountable to the people. This has been a major ingredient missing from our democracy, and inclusion of a Lokpal institution will make our democracy more or less perfect by making public servants accountable for their actions.
The Jan Lokpal Bill also proposes the establishment of Lokpals at state level called Lokayuktas who can probe corruption cases at a state level. Some states like Karnataka already have Lokayuktas, but they are still powerless institutions who can only probe to some extent but not punish the guilty.
Criticism of Jan Lokpal Bill
The only criticism of Jan Lokpal bill is that it gives sweeping powers to the Lokpal. My one line answer for that criticism is
Without having sweeping powers at your perusal you simply CANNOT tackle the menace of corruption in this country
Lokpal is not an institution which is going to probe cases against somebody on the next street, the scope of Lokpal is to probe cases against the highest authorities in the country, and without adequate power at your disposal you simply cannot initiate a probe or act against them. Can a police inspector in this country go and start a probe against a Chief Minister of a state or Prime Minister of the country? Obviously, having sweeping powers does not mean that Lokpal can go and prosecute and punish anybody without proof. Isn’t it?
Alleging that Lokpal will have sweeping powers is like saying Courts in India have sweeping powers. Of course courts need power to punish the guilty and they don’t (can’t) punish without evidence. Similarly Lokpal also cannot punish anybody without adequate evidence. We just need to make sure that there is at least one level of appeal allowed, say to Supreme Court or High Court ( in case of Lokayuktas) and there is a special fast track bench setup in these courts to hear the appeal and deliver the final verdict within a couple of months.
Even the election commission of India has sweeping powers in terms of conducting a free and fair election. How many times has it misused its power? Infact it is because of the existence of an independent Election Commission that the elections in India have largely remained free and fair. If election commission did not have the sweeping powers it has, then what would stop the party in power from stage managing the electoral process and coming back to power again? So not giving sweeping power to Lokpal is as good as NOT HAVING Lokpal at all.
By the way, the elected representatives already have sweeping powers in this country more than anybody else. Once they get elected, there is nothing the people can do for the next FIVE YEARS, no matter how much corruption the representatives indulge in. Read the Thoughts of a Frustrated Indian.
Quit India Movement against Corruption
All these days we had been complaining about the lack of leadership in the country to fight the different menace the Indian society is facing. Anna Hazare has come as a God sent opportunity for the common man of India. This is a solid test case for a population of 1.2 billion people to see if they can convert this into a non-violent peaceful mass movement to throw corruption out of India. Anna Hazare has started another Quit India movement, this time in Post-independent India – against Corruption. All those who care for the future of this country should support this movement and keep the momentum alive till the goals are achieved.
- A corruption free India will quickly rise into an even stronger economic power
- A corruption free India will quickly pull all those below poverty line into middle class
- A corruption free India will create ample opportunities for talents and further prevent brain drain
- A corruption free India will create a sense of belongingness to the otherwise frustrated common man and will increase percentage of those who cast vote. Today politicians buy votes, and if this electoral corruption is stopped, then no voter can say that “My vote does not count”.
- A corruption free India will bring an order into the current chaotic society where everybody is in a rush to make money in whatever way possible
- A corruption free India will leave no reason for people not to pay tax as all public work will get done on time and with quality
- A corruption free India will spiral our growth and help us make a giant leap towards becoming an economic, technological, military world power
Let us ensure that Anna Hazare’s fight for an India free of corruption becomes a reality. Anna Hazare is 71 years old, and he is fighting this for us, for the future of this country, and it is our duty as a responsible citizen of this great country to support this fight and make the government give in and pass the Jan Lokpal bill. No democratic government in this world has ever withstood a people’s rebellion.
Anna Hazare is fighting to bring the Power to the people, to make India a real democracy. Note that as of now India is not a real democracy, we elect dictators in the name of democracy who rule us for the next five years and they cannot be questioned or punished no matter how corrupt they become in those five years, no matter how much they fail to achieve what they promised to achieve before the elections. Lokpal gives every Indian citizen the right to keep a check on their elected representatives throughout their term, and ensure that corrupt public servants and politicians are dealt with immediately. Corruption allows politicians and parties to buy votes by spending huge amount of money in the elections. Lokpal ensures that there is a check on the money parties and candidates spend in the elections, as they can initiate investigations into any electoral malpractice immediately.
Lokpal MAY NOT be the answer to ALL of our problems. But it DEFINITELY IS the answer to MOST of our problems. Let us fight for it, let us support all those who are fighting for it, and JUST get it.