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It looks like a bill of goods

The flip-flops by the panel looking into the Lokpal raise doubts about the UPA's sincerity.

india Updated: Dec 03, 2011 00:29 IST

Parliament has been in disarray much to the chagrin of the public, which is justifiably concerned that the taxpayers' money is going down the drain. The government had an opportunity to make amends with the recommendations of the parliamentary standing committee on a draft Lokpal Bill. But it seems to have blown that chance with its reluctance to bring the lower bureaucracy within its ambit after initially recommending this. The main demand, of bringing the prime minister and the judiciary under a lokpal, has also been rejected for the moment. If the problem was that lakhs of officers can't be handled by a handful of members of a lokpal, then the issue of including the lower bureaucracy shouldn't have been considered by the standing committee in the first place. Now there are bound to be suspicions that the UPA is trying to bring in a diluted bill even as Parliament is up in flames over the foreign direct investment in retail issue.

The only charitable thing that can be said about the panel is that it's agreed to include the top categories of bureaucrats, who have been a law unto themselves for far too long, in the purview of the lokpal. The decision to keep the Central Bureau of Investigation out of the lokpal has also caused considerable heartburn. There is merit in the argument that including the lower bureaucracy in the categories that should be brought under the lokpal could make the working of the institution unwieldy. But, as with all our systems, we could have streamlined things along the way. The Opposition is justified in being miffed at the exclusion of the citizen's charter. If the government is willing to start the ball rolling, howsoever imperfectly, towards the eventual drafting of a comprehensive lokpal, it'd have benefited from including at least some provisions contained in the citizens' charter. With dissenting notes from the Left, BJP, BSP and SP, there's bound to be a gridlock in further debate on the subject when it comes up. This will again lead to an unproductive trading of charges. Already, Anna Hazare is set to begin agitating later this month. This endless bickering, and a seeming reluctance on the part of the UPA to be transparent, could further undermine faith in our democratic institutions, which are facing a crisis of confidence.

There is merit in the argument that a sitting prime minister could be hobbled by frivolous charges under a lokpal though in principle there is no justification for his exclusion. If there were strong enough mechanisms to prevent such a situation, there's no reason why the government couldn't consider the matter. It would end this imbroglio once and for all and then we could get down to the business of governance, which has been needlessly held hostage to this issue. The UPA should stop what seems to be obstructionist behaviour. The endeavour should now be to have a meaningful debate on how to take the lokpal forward. This way perhaps Anna and gang could pack up their tents as far as the lokpal goes and take up the other pressing social issues that are exercising them.