Monday, 4 July 2011

The Lokpal Bill

The Lokpal issue first began with humongous fanfare. The youth specially showed a great interest and support for the movement started by Anna Hazare. However as time has passed, and articles have been published, people aren’t as sure anymore. My belief is that people jumped to support a movement which was ‘anti-corruption’ without understanding the details. In the numerous debates and articles the main points have been jumbled up, a situation the government adores. It is clear to any half-wit that the numerous spokespersons on the TV debates just want to divert off the topic and hurl dirt at each other. My aim out here is to outline the points of arguments on some of the issues raised.

What is the Lokpal bill?

The bill aims to setup a constitutional authority that deals with corruption cases. It will not have the authority to pass judgement or hand out punishments. It will undertake investigations and prosecutions and put forth its case to the courts who will adjudicate on the same. Rest assure that they will not be an all-powerful committee who might over-throw democracy!

Is the bill too undemocratic?

In India, the constitution carefully balances power between the Executives, Legislature and the Judiciary. Many express concerns that the establishment of the Lokpal will topple this balance. This makes no sense. The Lokpal Committee should only have investigating and prosecuting authority and not to adjudicate. If this is adhered to, the status quo shall remain.

The Lokpal committee is just another anti-corruption investigative authority. Why not just correct the CBI instead of creating a whole new department?

This is probably the most fundamental question. Is there a need for the Lokpal bill at all? The CBI is governed by the very politicians they are expected to investigate. There is a clear conflict of interest and obviously they cannot function effectively. Furthermore, correcting the faults in the CBI is easier said than done. We have been aware of their deficiencies for decades now but have been unable to change them. There comes a time when it is more burdensome to correct the faults in an existing project as compared to starting a whole new one.

Other arguments include the fact that Lokpal authority will not have to seek permission to investigate the top politicians, which is currently mandatory and they can take up issues on suo moto, thus addressing incidents that no one is brave enough to complain about.

Should the ‘civil society’ be allowed to draft bills?

This has recently been heavily debated with claims that this is ‘undemocratic’ and that only the elected representatives have the right to draft and pass bills. While the latter is correct, the former isn’t. Being a democratic country, everyone has the right to state what exactly they would like from the bill. If the civil society is giving their version of it, I see no reason to stop them. There are many other ‘non-elected’ committees and departments that help our government design bills, then why simply stop this one?

Threatening to ‘fast till death’ if things aren’t done their way is too undemocratic.

Rubbish. This civil society is basically a bunch of lobbyists who are trying to bring change. The only difference is that instead of representing a particular industry or religious denomination, they represent the general people. All lobbyist put pressure on the government. An industrial lobbyist will threaten to not sponsor the next election or shut down factories; a religious lobbyist may even threaten with violence. But no politician will call them undemocratic (God forbid  something happens to their vote bank!), only the relatively peaceful form of protest is picked upon. Do I even need to say why?

The other point the government throws in is that this is a relative minority making a lot of noise. Swami Nigamananda died after fasting for more than 100 days. Until his death, did anyone even know he was protesting? Did the government do anything to address his concerns? It’s really quite simple: If Anna Hazare was fasting for something only a minority wanted, the government would not even address the issue. It would make no difference to their votes. And if their vote banks are unaffected, so are they.

How will the Lokpal Committee be selected?

The government naturally wants to hold onto the ability of putting their favourites in the position of power. However this has to be avoided. If the committee is governed by the very people they must investigate, they will never be able to do the task any justice.

Should the PM office and Top Judiciary also be covered in the Lokpal bill?

The argument goes that if the people in the top have to explain each and every decision of theirs, how will they function. I don’t see why this must be the case, however the argument still holds weight. The PM’s office has to discharge lots of sensitive issues. Questioning some of their decisions may not be in our countries best interest.

Should the CBI be taken under the Lokpal?

This has some good reasoning behind it. If the CBI and the Lokpal both fight corruption cases, then the 2 government agencies may have jurisdictional conflicts. By placing CBI under the Lokpal this can be avoided and the Lokpal will then be a concrete anti-corruption investigative agency. It will have a strong goal and clearly defined authority.

Anna Hazare and his team have already accomplished a lot and should be  congratulated for their success so far. I stand by the Lokpal bill and hope you see its potential after reading this article. Politicians have digressed onto smaller issues of ‘undemocratic means’ for bringing about the change, but we must not forget the bigger picture: the change itself.

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