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Being weighed in the imbalance

The lokpal bill should provide a law for the common man who has to deal with corruption daily, write Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi.

india Updated: Jul 07, 2011 22:24 IST

The entire debate on the lokpal bill has, unfortunately, become concentrated on the inclusion of the prime minister, members of Parliament and the higher judiciary in the ambit of the lokpal. These are vital issues, but not the only ones. Where does the common man go, for instance, when junior functionaries extort and do not deliver?

The lokpal, as per the government draft, will have jurisdiction only over Group A central government officers. How many times does a common man have to deal with Group A officers, whether in the income tax, excise or customs departments or in the railways? The common man deals with much junior officers in these departments. At the same time, the aam aadmi has to deal with several official departments like ration, water, electricity and licensing.

The contention of the government for keeping all government employees out of the lokpal’s and lokayukta’s ambit is that since there are 4 million central government employees, 2 million public sector employees and 8 million state employees, it cannot check their corruption. It would require a huge workforce. That isn’t a valid excuse to give up and leave holes in delivery services.

Internationally, one anti-corruption staff is provided for every 200 government employees. Against this, there are just 15 anti-corruption officers to check 85,000 Delhi Police staff. The Central Bureau of Investigation has only 3,000 staff in its anti-corruption wing to check corruption of 4 million central government and 2 million public sector employees. The corrupt know that corruption is low risk with high gains.

A question is being raised that if you put a large number of people in the anti-corruption set-up, how can you ensure their integrity? The integrity of an organisation does not depend upon the size of that organisation. It depends upon its internal systems. The Delhi Metro, with a staff size of 7,000 people, has delivered a world class metro only because the it has better systems, not because of its staff numbers.

Further, the government’s lokpal bill has some strange proposals. As soon as a citizen makes a complaint to the lokpal against any public servant, the latter will have a right to file a cross-complaint against the citizen straight with the special court, without any preliminary enquiry by any agency, that the complaint is false or frivolous. The government will provide a free advocate to the public servant to file this case. The citizen will have to defend himself on his own in the special court.

While the government’s lokpal bill will have jurisdiction over a miniscule number of officers, it will have jurisdiction over all community initiatives, NGOs and citizen groups in the country — whether funded by the government or not. Even unregistered groups of people in remote villages are covered under the ambit of the government’s lokpal. So, in a remote village, if a group of youngsters, using the Right To Information, detects corruption in the panchayat, the lokpal will not have jurisdiction over the sarpanch or the block development officer but only over the complaining youngsters.

Also, there is stiffer punishment for the complainant than the corrupt government servant. If the special court concludes that the complaint is frivolous or false, the citizen faces a minimum of two years of punishment. But if the corruption charges against a government servant are proved, there is a minimum of six months of punishment for the corrupt government servant.

According to the government’s lokpal bill, before filing an FIR and before prosecuting a corrupt officer, the lokpal will have to issue a show cause notice to him and present all evidence to the accused. Does the police issue a show cause notice to a burglar asking him why an FIR should not be filed against him?

( Arvind Kejriwal is a social activist. Kiran Bedi is a social activist and a former police officer. Both are Magsaysay Award winners and members of the joint drafting committee of the lokpal bill )

The views expressed by the authors are personal