PEOPLE’S LOKPAL REVISITED
The India Against Corruption movement has succeeded in taking out the issue of a strong and effective integrity institution from the backburner and mobilizing popular support for enactment of a central legislation without further prevarication. It has also compelled the government to give civil society an important role in the process of formulation of the legislative proposal in this regard. The movement has also been able to expose the hollowness of the government claim that in our representative democracy, elected representatives have the exclusive right to articulate the popular will. Results of the referendums held by the movement in high-profile parliamentary constituencies, including that of Mr. Kapil Sibal, the most strident of the critics of the “tyranny of unelected and unelectable”, have shown that in regard to all the contentious issues of the emerging law, an overwhelming majority of the respondents would prefer the propositions of the Jan Lokpal Bill over the official Lokpal Bill.
Our elected representatives have now been put on notice. They must engage with their electorates on a continuing basis and be sensitive to their concerns and aspirations. An inexorable change is being wrought in the character of our democracy.
There is little doubt that the government bill introduced in Parliament on August 4 is fatally flawed. It should suffice to enumerate some of its particularly serious deficiencies and inconsistencies. The preponderance of the executive and its nominees in the selection committee of Lokpal detracts from the independence of the institution, which is further impaired by the power of the President to suspend the chairperson or a member of Lokpal once a reference has been made to the Supreme Court for his removal on grounds of misbehavior.
There can be no justification for excluding the Prime Minister from the purview of the Lokpal, given the importance of this office in the formation and implementation of government policies. In most cases of grand corruption, these processes are manipulated for pecuniary considerations, which have lately attained astronomical proportions.
The exclusion of the lower bureaucracy from the purview of Lokpal, ostensibly on grounds of keeping the size of the universe under its oversight to a manageable level, is predicated on the severability of acts of corruption based on the rank of the perpetrator. It is also assumed that the Central Vigilance Commission, which in its current avatar is bereft of both authority and resources, will somehow reinvent itself and ensure the probity of millions of junior public servants. Neither of these premises is grounded in reality.
Interestingly, the avowed concern for freeing the Lokpal from the overwhelming burden of dealing with allegations of petty corruption by a multitude of junior public servants is negated by the inclusion under the Lokpal’s inquiry jurisdiction of millions of functionaries of registered and unregistered societies, associations of persons and trusts in receipt of any donation from the public. Is this the grand corruption that the government wants the Lokpal to focus on? The real motivation for this sleight of hand should not be hard to guess.
- Kamal Kant Jaswal