Corruption, Jan Lokpal Bill and the Rule of Law. By Navaid Hamid


Corruption has become a major of issue of concern for a good number of Indians in last few years. The major scandals of recent past has shaken the ordinary people. But are we, as citizens, serious to confront this menance once for all ? This needs to be understand with an open mind.
Those who believes that corruption is a recent phenomenon lives in illusions. 'Bhishma Pitamah' of Indian politics, Chanakya had commented, "Corruption and governance are like the fish and water". A political strategist, who commands such large following since centuries in India and is considered as a political ideal by majority of the politicians and by those who are part of the governance, needs to be commended for his transparent and factual position in Indian ruling class on this important issue.
The question arises who is not corrupt? For me any body who got an opportunity to exploit the entrusted trust and loopholes of system in one's own favor but refused to be tempted by the greed and lust is a person of integrity. An individual who had never got an opportunity to indulge in corruption can be a person of integrity only till he gets the chance to prove otherwise.
In last quarter of century the issue of corruption has just become an issue of politics. All those who have political aspirations had exploited the issue to get either prominence or political power. Unfortunately majority of these voices had exposed themselves to be not more than that of those bubbles which have exploded before taking the issue to a decisive stage.
With the rise of Indian middle class, the country unfortunately has seen the rise in corruption. To an estimate every 12th house in posh localities of Delhi and every 10th Industrial unit, big or small, in Delhi had in past or still indulges in electricity thefts. While traveling in public transport buses, one would usually listen from a good number of ticket less commuters, the word 'Staff', in case of their being confronted by the ticket checkers. These self proclaimed 'staff members' are even ready to react violently if pursued to give fine or advised to purchase tickets.
Majority of the Indian newspapers furnish frivolous data to be bracketed into the category of maximum rate slabs to get government advertisements. The menance of paid news have reached to an alarming proportions and innocent Indians are forced to see and understand what the paid journalists and electronic channels tends to educate and show.
One would be amused to see an advertisement of a tender being invited by the government departments for goods and work projects in newspapers. Most of the times, the cost of the advertisements surpassed the estimated cost of the goods or work. Also, if one minutely follows tender advertisements, the inviting department announces the estimate cost of the goods or that of the work in the announced tenders. There have been known instances when the tender inviting departments has raised the cost of the goods or work in collision with the suppliers and the contractors but if one follows the tender mafia minutely there are more ways to plunder the taxpayers than that of raising the cost of the goods or work. Most of the times the tenders are awarded below the announced estimated cost too. It is difficult to understand, how government officials who had announced calculated estimated cost of the goods or work, issues supply or work/contract orders below the estimated costs. If a km of road stretch is estimated to cost a million of rupees is awarded to a tenderer who had offered to complete the project in less than the estimated cost, than the officer who had calculated the estimated cost needs to be grilled for his incompetence for calculating wrong estimate. No doubt, any tender below the estimate cost effects the quality of the goods and that of the project because its an open secret that the supplier of the contractor needs to grease the palm of every officer in the department beside keeping the concerned local politicians in good humour. Former PM, Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi had once rightly commented that only 15 percent of the sanctioned amount reaches the people.
The process to get permission to initiate the prosecution of the government officials and the ministers is near to impossible. Most of the times the higher ups sits on the files for the permission submitted by the investigating agencies. Governments irrespective of the political class, easily slowdown the process of prosecution or ensure that offenders are never prosecuted.
Between the period of 2005 - 2009 , on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission, the premium institution to fight corruption at the central level, the Central Government had sanctioned in just 6 percent of the cases and remaining 94 percent of the cases were let off with departmental enquiries and minor penalties.
As per the records available of the period till 2010, the central government had not even responded to 236 requests of the investigating agencies to prosecute the public servants on corruption related charges. 66 percent of these 236 cases were pending before the central government for more than 3 months.

Various state governments, irrespective of their political colors, have not responded to the 84 requests of the investigating agencies for prosecuting the officials on corruption charges during same period.
Slow criminal justice process has become one of the factors for the steep rise of the corrupt practices in public life. By the end of 2010, there were nearly 10,000 CBI cased pending in the courts and close to quarter i.e of 23 percent of these cases were pending for more than 10 years.
In early sixties, in the year 1963, the idea of Lokpal or the office of Ombudsman was first floated during a parliamentary debate. After the recommendation of the First Administrative Reforms Commission under the Chairmanship of Morarji Desai, who later became PM too, since the year 1968 there have been eight unsuccessful attempts to introduce Anti Corruption Bill in the Parliament but political parties had failed to have a consensus on the office and powers of the Lokpal.
The huge amount of wealth as being exposed in the recent scandals had prompted the civil society to initiate the process of having a Jan Lokpal Bill with a demand to have a strong and effective Lokpal to tackle the menance of corruption where the citizens can directly files complaints about any acts or omissions that constitutes an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, against any public servant including the PM, ministers, Members of Parliament, Government servants and employees of Statutory Corporations with powers of enquiry, investigation, prosecution, enforcement of orders, tapping phones and intercepting messages, confiscating properties of the accused etc, all proposed to be vested in one single window of Lokpal.
But there are fears that the concept of single authority with wide ranging powers and functions to investigate and prosecute by the same agency goes against the basic principles of separation of two functions in the criminal justice system. The Independence of the prosecutor would always be in question if the prosecutor and the investigating agency both are under the overall control of Lokpal.
Another highly contentious provision in the Jan Lokpal Bill is to limit the powers of the President to sign on the dotted lines of the recommended names of Lokpal snatching the right of the President to satisfy him/her that the procedure of selection as laid down by the law have been properly followed or not.
The draft persons of Jan Lok Pal Bill have enthusiastically ignored another important independent side of fairness by insisting to have videography of selection procedure and making it public. There can be instances that if all candidates had qualified and got same marks in the interviews process and there are deliberations to select the best from amongst them, the freeness of the discussion are likely to be effected adversely if discussions are allowed to made public.
Another surprising aspect of the Jan Lokpal Bill is of the provision of having absolute discretion of the Lokpal over the use the funds generated through the share of 10 percent of the the confiscated money and of the penalties. This provision is against the basic powers of legislative checks on the spending of funds collected from the public. The second flaw in this proposed provision is that it is silent on its source of income in case Lokpal fails to reach to any conclusion on the complaints against the officials and is not able to generate the required funds for its functioning.
Also if the provisions of the bill are accepted in to to, there are fears that the provisions would encroach upon the independence of even Supreme Court and thus the jurisprudence.
Another anaomoly in the draft of Jan Lokpal Bill is the provision to cover the corruption of the Central government officials only. It is totaly silent on role of Lokpal viz a viz the cases of corruption at the state level and its authority in case the state Ombudsman fails in its duty to acts or ignores the complaints against the politicans and the government officers of the states and that of the officials of the powerful Municipal Corporations where the level of corruption is unimaginable.
The draft gives an impression that Lokpal would be an authority above authorities and consititutional institutions like the controversial super authority of ''vilavyate faqih' under the Constituion of Islamic Republic of Iran.
Anti corruption campaign is an important issue for safeguarding the foundations of any society and nation at large. But sincerity of all would be at stake if one fails to see the dangers of inequality, exclusiveness, criminalisation in politics and communalism.
The denial of the rights to oppressed groups of tribals, scheduled castes and minorities are major issues which would endanger the progress and unity of nation. Few talks about the important provision of fraternity enshrined in the constitution. The concept of togetherness is missing just because of the indifferent and biased approach of the ruling establishment irrespective of the political colors. Sachar Committee had revealed that the country had failed in its paramount duty to do justice to the second largest section of its society, the Muslims, who have became backward in every walk of life. Denying rights to the oppressed and the minorities is nothing but political corruption. If financial corruption would endanger the progress of our nation, the political corruption of exclusiveness and hatred would endanger the unity of India.
No movement against corruption would succeed if we fails to educated people about the dangers of temptation to vote for note at times of elections. It is general public, who intentionally or unintentionally encourages the malpractices and corruption by selling their votes to those who are desperate to intrude into the institutions of power for minting nothing but money. For a free and transparent elections, the political parties and the civil society should launch an agitation to have law for the state funding of the elections for eradicating the menance of financial corruption and nexus between leaders, officers and the corporate houses.
It is irony that in past the campaigns against the financial corruption have been hijacked by the communal forces to pursue their agenda to reach to the corridors of power. Mr. Anna Hazare cleverly understood the anguish of the younger generations against the corruption and proved himself to be the Pied Piper to start a campaign for the Lokpal Bill. It is need of the hour that all those who are associated with Anna should ensure that he keeps his campaign away from the influence of the agents of communal forces and their mukhautas (masks) because they are more dangerous than the cause for which he wishes to fight.

(The writer is Secretary, Peoples' Integration Council and Member, National Integration Council, Government of India)

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