August 08, 2012

Too Many Hollow Promises

After all the wrangling, the government draft of the Lokpal Bill is still very much a ‘jokepal’

By - Arvind Kejriwal

In government schools in the villages, teachers rarely turn up. They collect their monthly salaries and pay a part of it to Basic Shiksha Adhikari for marking false attendance. Medicines are diverted to the black market before they reach government hospitals. Poor people are turned away when they go to hospitals. There is endless corruption in the work done by various panchayats. Rations meant for people living in extreme poverty are diverted to the black market.

This is the reality of the aam admi’s life. Yet, none of this corruption is covered under the government’s draft of the Lokpal Bill. If the Bill does not serve the common man, what options does he have when faced with such corruption? We repeatedly posed this question to the government representatives in our joint drafting committee meetings. According to them, the existing systems would continue. But when we pointed out that the existing systems have not worked, they had no answers to offer.




The government claims that it first wants to tackle high-level corruption. However, none of the ongoing large scams like the Adarsh housing scam, the Commonwealth Games scam and the Reddy brothers scam are covered by the government’s Lokpal. Even the 2G scam is only partly covered because the Lokpal would not have the jurisdiction to call for files from the prime minister’s office, which has had a role in the affair. How ridiculous is that?

Why is the government so adamant about keeping junior officers out of Lokpal? The answer lies in the fact that while slush money received at the top often makes it to personal coffers, most of the money made at the lower levels is channelled directly to political parties. More than 80% of Rs 40,000 crore of the PDS subsidy is siphoned off, all of it through ration shops and food officers. It is this money that is used to run parties and their workers at the grassroots. The Rs 35,000 crore foodgrain scam in UP over many years, which is currently being probed by the CBI, took place at the lowest rung of the bureaucracy. Several hundred employees are involved in this scam. Such scams help feed the very foundations of our political establishment. It should come as no surprise that the government does not want lower-level corruption to be covered by Lokpal.

The government says that checking the corruption of four million central government employees and two million public sector employees would need a huge workforce. Is that a legitimate reason to keep them unchecked and corrupt? Under law, corruption is a crime, as serious as murder or rape. Can the government say that it will not provide adequate staff to counter murder and rape should these get out of control? Before anything else, it is the first duty of any government to protect its citizens against crime at any cost.

Another major flaw in the government draft is that it makes no change to its stranglehold on the CBI. The meaningful approach is to take the anti-corruption wing of CBI out of the government’s direct control and merge it with the Lokpal. Even the Supreme Court has said in the Vineet Narain case that the CBI should be made independent of the government. Interestingly, all the cases of corruption mentioned earlier are either being investigated by the CBI or can be investigated by the CBI if it so desires. But Lokpal would have no jurisdiction over them. This means that the government’s version of the Lokpal will give it a very small fraction of the CBI’s jurisdiction.

Sadly, if history is any indication, the government won’t give up its control over the CBI. Prime ministers have tended to appoint only their most trusted men as CBI directors, which is why appointments and exits of CBI chiefs have usually been almost coterminous with prime ministerial tenures. Not surprisingly, no prime minister has wanted to undo Rajiv Gandhi’s unconventional order of 1988. In 1988, faced with the Bofors probe, Rajiv Gandhi brought the CBI directly under his own control. Since then, if the prime minister indulges in corruption, he can only be investigated by the agency which directly reports to him! Such a system makes a mockery of any kind of investigation. Should the need arise, it makes sense for the PM to be investigated by an independent Lokpal. Despite Manmohan Singh agreeing to this proposal, the Congress has vehemently opposed it. Perhaps the Congress is worried about Singh’s successor?

Lastly, the government wants the judiciary to be covered through the Judicial Accountability Bill. Under this Bill, if any judge is accused of having taken a bribe, the permission to register an FIR would be given by a scrutiny committee consisting of three judges of the same high court. It is inconceivable that three judges of the same court would ever grant permission for action against their own colleagues with whom they interact on a daily basis.

The government’s proposals to tackle corruption are far from sincere and will have no impact whatsoever on curbing corruption. ‘Congress ka haath, aam admi ke saath’, is how the slogan goes. But ironically, ‘aam admi’ has been abandoned in this Lokpal draft. In summary, the government draft does not cover junior officers, or the judiciary, or the PM, or any of the recent major scams. All the power is still vested with the CBI which remains directly under the control of the government. If this draft is not a joke, what is?

The writer is member of the civil society group on the Lokpal committee.

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