All together now
Setting up a lokpal alone won't curb corruption at high levels. We should simultaneously bring about electoral reforms and establish a National Judicial Commission. Sitaram Yechury writes.india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:47 IST
Bizarre developments have taken place in the past fortnight. More appear to be in store. Baba Ramdev's hunger strike in Dehradun has finally ended. This came after the condemnable midnight police swoop at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan, which was the culmination of a series of deceitful compromises that the UPA government had made with this yoga proponent.
The large public participation in such protests against corruption in high places and the government's completely inadequate, widely perceived as insincere, response in unearthing ill-gotten black money stashed away in tax havens abroad is a reflection of widespread popular disgust at the rampant corruption all around.
However, the ongoing controversies between the government and 'chosen' civil society representatives around the lokpal bill seem to suggest that little has moved forward over the decades.
The concept of the lokpal was first mooted by an Administrative Reforms Committee headed by late Morarji Desai in 1969. This institution was to be established along with similar institutions at the state-level called the lokayuktas.
The concept was revived in the 1990s at the insistence of the Left parties, following the political turmoil that gripped the country in the aftermath of the Bofors scandal. The United Front, formed in 1996 with the crucial outside support of the Left parties, had drafted and adopted a Common Minimum Programme (CMP).
Under the section 'clean administration', the CMP stated: "The United Front is committed to a corruption-free and clean administration. A bill to set up the lokpal will be introduced in the first budget session of the Eleventh Lok Sabha. The bill will cover the office of the prime minister as well. All members of Parliament will be required by law to declare their assets annually before the lokpal."
Mired in controversy on whether the Prime Minister and her office should be brought within the purview of the lokpal or not, the 1997 bill mooted by the United Front government, headed by HD Deve Gowda, never saw the light of the day. The six year BJP-led NDA government that followed from 1998, notwithstanding their current projection as fighters against corruption, sat tight on this issue.
On the Left's insistence, once again, the CMP of the UPA 1 government in 2004 reiterated the assurance that, "The lokpal bill will be enacted into law." This is the draft under contest today.
Apart from the range of the lokpal's ambit on the question of including the prime minister, there are many other contentious issues. There are questions on whether to include the judiciary, or, the conduct of MPs inside Parliament.
Specific articles of our Constitution protect civil servants from being dismissed or removed by any authority subordinate to the appointing authority. Should these provisions of the Constitution be amended? Will the lokpal, single-member or multi-member, exercise all quasi judicial powers? If so, what will be the status or need for institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission or the Central Bureau of Investigation?
A process of consultations has been initiated by the central government. In the final analysis, it must be borne in mind that in our constitutional scheme of things, irrespective of consultations, whatever may be their level, Parliament alone is the lawmaking authority.
This can't be hijacked by 'yogasanas' or civil society 'hunger strikes'. Required attention must also be paid to certain other matters.
An effective struggle against corruption in high places needs a multi-pronged approach. Lokpal alone will not meet this requirement. While the institution of lokpal should be established covering the PM, simultaneously, other measures will also have to be initiated.
One is the establishment of a National Judicial Commission. Apart from determining the appointment of judges and other senior judicial officers, this commission must also be vested with the authority to probe matters of alleged misconduct by members of the judiciary. The current constitutional procedure of moving an impeachment motion in Parliament is so cumbersome that it has virtually ceased to serve as the required deterrent.
Simultaneously, meaningful and substantial electoral reforms must be initiated to check, if not curb, the growing use of money power that is distorting our democratic choices very grievously. Some degree of State funding of elections in kind, needs to be considered. This has been discussed in the past, but there has been no substantive forward movement.
If corruption at high places needs to be addressed in right earnest then all corporate funding of political parties should be banned. This is an important root cause for political corruption as such funding is seen more as an investment by corporates for potential dubious deals.
The corporates must surely be made to contribute towards strengthening the democratic system in our country. Their contributions may go into a corpus maintained by the Election Commission, or any other institution that the government may decide, to finance State funding of elections.
The simultaneous establishment of such institutions to take care of all these dimensions is absolutely essential to curb corruption at high places. Any piecemeal attempt to tackle only one dimension, however lucrative the desire for a lokpal may appear for the sake of publicity, will not provide the desired result.
If the humongous amounts looted through the various scams in the recent past were instead used to provide food security, health and education for our people, India would have been qualitatively different. Fighting corruption, hence, is necessary for the creation of a better India, materially and morally.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal