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Talking transparency in an opaque manner

Bringing PPPs under the lokpal, which the Left parties wanted, would have been a step towards a corruption-free India, writes KN Balagopal.

ht view Updated: Jan 07, 2014 23:56 IST

The Delhi assembly election results delivered a clear message to the ruling class: people are against the uncontrolled manner in which liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation policies are being implemented in India. It is corruption and the deteriorating living conditions that pushed the people to look for a third option in Delhi.

The price rise, particularly the exorbitant electricity charges that amount to licensed looting, helped AAP in the city. The poll debacle pushed the UPA to pass the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill. But unfortunately, the Congress and the BJP have still not understood the message of the people.

The UPA claims that the Lokpal Bill will help curb corruption in the government. In my view, the lokpal will fail to deal with corruption related to many ‘new’ government functions: since the introduction of the new economic policies, many sovereign functions have been transferred to the private sector like giving licences, starting joint ventures and public-private partnerships (PPP).

Licences to run monopoly services like electricity distribution and water supply have now became gold mines for private players and there are plenty of bad models of private participation: airports in Delhi and Mumbai, the Mundra Port, the Taj Corridor projects and toll road projects among many others. The real value of such licences and the cost of its services are kept hidden from the public.

AAP has been right in demanding an audit of the accounts of the electricity distribution companies. Earlier it was only the Left parties who made this demand. The lokpal should be entrusted to look into the areas of corporate sector and PPP projects. The Left had moved an amendment for this, but the government and the BJP refused to support it.

Since the start of the liberalised economic regime, the Congress and the BJP, have taken a similar line on many policies like intellectual property rights, structuring foreign direct investment, deregulation, and initiation of privatisation, tax reforms and measures to control inflation.

The Left had moved a crucial amendment to the Lokpal Bill. In page eight of the Bill, after Line 27, we suggested that an amendment should be inserted: ‘Any corporate body, its promoters, its officers including Director, against whom there is a complaint of corruption in relation to grant of Government licence, lease, contract, agreement or any other including the conduct of the Public Private Partnership projects or to influence Government policy through corrupt means.’

This amendment could have brought a sea change in the debate on how to tackle corruption. Law minister Kapil Sibal gave a lame argument that the amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act, which is pending in the Lok Sabha, will deal with the corruption of bribe givers. This is a convenient reply. The lokpal was supposed to address the inadequacies in the existing laws. If the Prevention of Corruption Act could deal with it, then why do we need a lokpal?

We got just 19 votes in the Rajya Sabha for this amendment. But we are sure that our stand will be vindicated in the days to come. We are not against PPPs, but we believe that those who make profits from public money should be answerable to the public. Bringing the PPPs under lokpal would have been a step towards a corruption-free India. The Congress and the BJP have shortchanged the people again by compromising on this key issue.

KN Balagopal is a Rajya Sabha MP. He represented the CPI(M) in the Select Committee on the Lokpal Bill

The views expressed by the author are personal