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The corrupt are afraid

The fear that the jan lokpal will end up as a Frankenstein's monster is plain wrong. Beware of such malicious propaganda, write Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2011 22:32 IST
Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi
Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi
Hindustan Times

It is being alleged that the jan lokpal will become a parallel government — since it would not come under the government — and will be a threat to parliamentary democracy. Both these assumptions are wrong. The government will remain powerful. The jan lokpal will only keep a check on it from becoming arbitrary, unjust and corrupt.

Several independent institutions such as the Supreme Court, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the Chief Election Commission (CEC), the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Chief Information Commission (CIC) already exist. Some of these institutions were created through law and some through the Constitution. Are they parallel governments or a threat to democracy? No. Similarly, the jan lokpal will be one such independent institution. Instead of being a threat to democracy, it will be a threat to the corrupt.

Another important question that is being asked is this: who would be the jan lokpal accountable to? To answer this, we must see who are the existing independent institutions accountable to. What can a citizen do if a judge, the CAG, CEC, CIC or CVC is corrupt? He can do nothing. In some cases, Parliament can impeach the wrongdoers. But despite strong and credible evidence of corruption in so many cases, no one has been impeached in the last 62 years.

Compare this with the level of accountability provided in the Jan Lokpal Bill. It will be directly accountable to the citizens, as per the drafted provisions, contrary to the one provided by the government's bill. Under the people's bill, an ordinary citizen can complain against a jan lokpal member to the Supreme Court. And if found guilty, the court can remove the member. The Supreme Court will also have the power to punish complainants who make frivolous or malicious complaints.

We are not aware of any other institution or authority in India that is directly accountable to the people. Unfortunately, the government has rejected this proposal. According to the government-drafted lokpal bill, the lokpal would be accountable to the government only. Only the government can approach the Supreme Court for his removal. This means that if any lokpal member becomes inconvenient for the government, it would move the Supreme Court for his removal. This will only erode the lokpal's independence.

What if the jan lokpal staff becomes corrupt? We had suggested several measures to address this issue like complete transparency in the lokpal's functioning, an independent complaints authority to receive complaints against the lokpal staff, time-bound investigation of complaints against the staff and their summary removal if found guilty, social audits, annual financial and performance audits by CAG, annual performance appraisal by a parliamentary committee. The government has rejected all these proposals, thus ensuring that there are very high chances of the government's lokpal turning corrupt.

A corrupt lokpal will serve vested interests within the government. This is what the government has been doing with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Recently, the CBI has been taken out of the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. These vested interests increased the scope of corruption within the CBI and also the possibilities of its misuse.

It is also being alleged that the jan lokpal is a 'Frankenstein's monster'. Barring powers to recommend dismissal of a corrupt officer, no other power has been suggested for the lokpal that is not already vested in the CBI. The lokpal would obviously need these powers if he has to do any worthwhile investigation. Vested interests want a weak and ineffective lokpal. We should demand a strong lokpal but with adequate checks and balances. In contrast, the government is offering us just the opposite.

Should a lokpal have the power to dismiss a corrupt officer? Our suggestion: after completion of investigations by the jan lokpal's team, a three-member bench of the jan lokpal would hold open hearings and pass orders on whether or not to remove the officer. If dissatisfied, the officer could challenge that order in the high court. In contrast, the government's bill proposes that the ministers should have the power to dismiss a corrupt officer. Experience shows that ministers are direct or indirect beneficiaries of corruption. Rather than punish the corrupt, they have been brazenly rewarded.

Recently, the CBI arrested a senior officer of the National Highways Authority of India with unaccounted cash but the concerned authority refused to permit the investigators to even register a case against the corrupt officer. Do we really think that such ministers would even order dismissal of corrupt officers? Even today, the ministers enjoy the powers to dismiss corrupt officers. But no senior officer has ever been dismissed in the last 62 years by any minister for corruption. The government's bill proposes to maintain the status quo.

It is being alleged that if the lokpal has jurisdiction over the PM, judges, MPs and officers, it will become a superpower. This is wrong. An income tax officer has powers to scrutinise the returns of the chief justice of India, the prime minister, the president, ministers and MPs. He even has powers to impose taxes and penalties on them. Does that mean that he will become a superpower? No. Likewise, an investigative officer in the lokpal would only — and only — investigate any allegation of corruption against these authorities. Unlike income tax officers, the lokpal would not have powers to impose any taxes or penalties also on any of these authorities. The lokpal would only do investigations and the courts will decide on the punishment.

When Anna Hazare sat on a fast for the lokpal bill, he received tremendous support from the people. The government hopes that its misinformation campaign will decrease his popularity. People should guard against such propaganda because it is only being done to protect vested interests and will hurt the general public.

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 concluding part of this article will appear on July 8. The views expressed by the authors are personal.

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