Before beginning this post let me make it clear that I am neither a ‘Corrupt’ Congress nor a ‘Non Secular’ BJP supporter. I don’t want BJP to come in power whose ultimate aim is to turn India into a Hindu nation, but I also don’t want Congress to stay in power and continue looting the nation and censoring free speech. I have shown my support for Anna Hazare and India Against Corruption for it’s a non political movement meant to benefit the nation.
Let’s understand Jan Lokpal Bill first
- First thing first, Jan Lokpal bill proposes institution of Lokpal at Central Government level and Lokayukta at State government level, correspondingly Lokpal will accept corruption complaints against Central government and Lokayukta against state governments.
- These will be completely independent and will function without the interference of politicians and bureaucrats. In the present system despite evidences there are no punishments in most cases (Chidambaram anyone??). Jan Lokpal and Jan Lokayukta will ensure punishments by time bound investigations within one year unlike the government which is for 5 years.
- If proven guilty,Jan Lokpal has the power to dismiss that person from service and impose departmental penalties which is justified for a deed such as indulging in corruption. Also the case can be put under a time bound trial where the court will announce the punishments.
- In order to recover the loss caused to the government, the transfer of assets of the accused would be banned till the investigations are on, and at the time of conviction, court will assess the loss caused by the government and it will be recovered from the assets of the accused which rightly should be done for the accused has gathered those assets by the means of corruption.Currently no such laws are provisioned in the system hence no one gives a second thought before indulging in corruption.
- There will be yearly submission of movable and immovable assets for bureaucrats and politicians (for these are the people who are most corrupt today) which will be made public and if an asset is found to be owned by a public servant which is undeclared, it will deemed to be obtained through corruption and a case will be registered which is again justified for this would result in total transparency of the assets and the public servants will have to think twice before indulging in the acts of money laundering and corruption.
- And the important point is that Jan Lokpal and Jan Lokayukta have power to punish the guilty if its orders are not followed by imposing financial proceedings and initiating proceedings against the accused.
This was about corruption at high levels, now about corruption at low levels which is most important for it directly affects the common man.
- Here each government department will have to make a citizen’s charter which will specify who does what job and for how much time. If the charter is not followed people can complain to the head of the department designated as Public Grievance Officer (PGO) and he will have to redress the complaint within 30 days max.
- If PGO doesn’t satisfy the complainant then a complaint can be made to vigilance officer of Jan Lokpal and Jan Lokayukta and from here the case will be deemed to have a corruption angle. The vigilance officer will have to solve the grievance within 30 days by the means mentioned above.
- In general, no complaint can be rejected without a hearing. This ensures that every single case of corruption comes under the purview of Jan Lokpal which will take the suitable action and help make India a corruption free state. And all records will be open to public except few where national security is affected etc.
- And to keep Jan Lokpal neutral, the members will not be eligible for appointment in any position in the government and contesting the elections when they leave. Any person proved guilty will be removed from the position and criminal cases as per the heinousness of the activity will be applied.
- In order to ensure that Lokpal stays corruption free a transparent selection procedure as been formed which is described in detail in the bill which I am not mentioning here. Also minute details like the definition of public servant etc. are also clearly defined in the Jan Lokpal bill draft.
There are also few points which highlight the need of Jan Lokpal in the current scenario.
In the current system the quantum of punishment for people convicted of corruption ranges from 6 months to 7 years of imprisonment which as per the Team Anna is inadequate, Jan Lokpal bill proposes 1 year rigorous imprisonment to 10 years max, which should be there in order to make corruption a serious crime In the current system, if anyone obtains any benefit from the government illegally, it is difficult to prove that the person did so by paying bribes but Jan Lokpal bill proposes that if a person obtains any benefit from the government in violation of a law or rules and regulations, that person along with concerned public servants shall be deemed to have indulged in corrupt practices.
Also currently, people who report corrupt practices or raise their voice against corruption are being threatened, victimized and even murdered. There is no protection for them but in Team Anna’s version Jan Lokpal and Jan Lokayukta will be responsible for providing protection to whistleblowers, whether it is from inside or outside the government.
Presently there are multiple anti-corruption agencies like CBI, CVC, ACB, state vigilance department all these are controlled by corrupt officials and politicians and serve their vested interests and hence are ineffective. jan Lokpal wants that anti corruption branch and vigilance wings of all these bodies should be merged with it and also state Lokayuktas should be merged with Jan Lokayuktas for this will do away with multiplicity of anti-corruption agencies.
This may be looked upon by many as blackmailing or forcing the government but they don’t understand that having a strict and strong Lokpal is the need of the hour if we want to do something about the corrupt practices taking place in our nation.
Now comes the point of comparing Jan Lokpal Bill with Government’s Lokpal Bill
I will highlight few key points which I feel make jan Lokpal a better option.
First of all comes the issue of including the PM under the purview of Lokpal; while the PM himself wants it to be under the Lokpal’s eye, the government’s version doesn’t. Jan Lokpal has the powers to investigate allegations of corruption against the PM with certain safeguards against frivolous and mischievous complaints which is quite sane. But here many people argue and I will quote one member of Rajya Sabha who defended his stand by saying that inclusion of PM would be derogatory to the image of the nation and if found guilty it would not show a good picture of India to the world. First of all why assume that the PM has to be charged, has the situation worsened to the extent that the PM has to indulge in corrupt activities? And what are the safeguards for? Also if we look at it in a manner that if PM is found guilty and charged, we would portray a positive image of India to the world, as a nation where charges of corruption against even the PM are not tolerated and who knows that in the near future our Lokpal may be used as a model for other nations!
Now comes the point of including the lower bureaucracy under Lokpal, Government wants that only group A employees should be accounted for under Lokpal; if so then what help would be the Lokpal to a common man? Everyday the common man in India has to come face to face with the group C and group D employees and only the one who has to pay bribes in government offices to get smallest of his works done which by the way the is the duty of govt. employee/public servant and gets paid for it. Today while even for approving passports one has to pay bribes to the police officer who does the verifications and I have experienced it myself! So if mere group A employees are included this will not empower the common man. Thus government’s bill comes crashing down in protecting the interest of the common man. Government argued that the Lokpal would get overwhelmed with too many cases if all public servants were brought under its ambit, hence government has restricted its jurisdiction only to 65,000 Group A officers. Also, state employees are not be covered by Lokpal. But if strict Jan Lokpal Bill comes, lower bureaucracy will itself refrain from indulging in corrupt activities for if found guilty they will have to be dismissed and would pay heavy fines along with imprisonment in some cases and a group C or D employee who has to run his family surely wouldn’t want this, where’s the burden then?
Jan Lokpal says that it should be able to investigate allegations that any MP had taken bribe to vote or speak in Parliament but the government wants MPs to be immune. Team Anna rightly says that taking bribe to vote or speak in Parliament strikes at the foundations of our democracy. Government’s refusal to bring it under Lokpal scrutiny virtually gives a license to MPs to take bribes with impunity and repetition of things like ‘Cash for Votes’ which was a blot on our democracy. Also remind me who is in Tihar again? Suresh Kalmadi, Kanimozhi and A Raja, all MPs! This shows how badly we need MPs to be included under Lokpal!
Whistleblower protection as I mentioned above is also considered under Jan Lokpal but not under government’s Lokpal bill. Come on, we all know how witnesses and whistleblowers are oppressed for revealing dirty secrets of those in power, take Sanjiv Bhatt for example, how Narendra Modi dug out old cases accusing him in decade old cases suspending him sending him to prison, had it not been under the eye of the media we know that Bhatt would also have seen the same fate as Sohrabbudin Sheikh, Ishrat Jahan or Ehsan Jaffery, well this is just an example but it shows how important the protection of whistleblowers is in order to get true justice, and if it is a common man then goodness save him.
Now coming to inclusion of CBI which has been much debated in the media too, Team Anna says that the anti corruption wing of the CBI should be included under Lokpal but government wants to retain its hold on CBI in order to keep on misusing it for its vested interests. Arvind Kejriwal has rightly said that Lokpal minus CBI is like an empty box for it is like creating an investigating body without an investigating body which is ridiculous. If CBI is outside how the Lokpal would be strong? This system will save corrupt politicians. Government is saving corrupt politicians like P Chidambaram and then saying that it’s a strong Lokpal, totally absurd.
In the case of false or frivolous complaints 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 government servant are proved, there is a minimum of six months of punishment for the corrupt government servant! This will give a handle to every accused to browbeat complainants. Often corrupt people are rich. They will file cases against complainants and no one will dare file any complaint. And as I mentioned minimum punishment for corruption is six months but for filing false complaint is two years. This is not acceptable by any means!
Also the government wants to cover all NGOs and unregistered groups under its version of Lokpal, while Anna wants only government funded NGOs under Jan Lokpal. But the point to note is that most public servants are out of Lokpal’s purview but NGOs up to village level within its purview, this clearly shows the motive of government to oppress anti government NGOs.
Also government bill is legally unsound. Lokpal has not been given police powers. Therefore Lokpal cannot register an FIR. Therefore all the enquiries conducted by Lokpal will tantamount to “preliminary enquiries”. Even if the report of Lokpal is accepted, who will file the chargesheet in the court? Who will initiate prosecution? Who will appoint the prosecution lawyer? The entire bill is silent on that. But Jan Lokpal has police powers. It will be able to register FIR, proceed with criminal investigations and launch prosecution.
There are many other points which due to space and time constraint I am not posting but the points discussed above, as per me, make the Jan Lokpal bill more preferable, neutral and transparent than government’s version. Also many call Jan Lokpal bill unconstitutional! I ask in what manner? Agreed the rule is strict in terms of punishments but as I said it is the need of the hour or else who knows how many 2G and CWG like scams might sprout up in India.
And with yesterday’s Rajya Sabha session which many claim was orchestrated by the Congress so as to not make any conclusion and delay it to the extent that no voting takes place for the bill, shows the attitude of government and how serious it is for passing this bill. Also many called it the democracy’s midnight farce and a deceit to the public of the nation. The Congress now says that it would pass the bill in the Budget session in few months but with what happened yesterday it is clear that government is not at all serious in passing the Lokpal, forget Jan Lokpal bill. I should say that after gloating over diminishing crowds at Anna’s movement, the UPA has given them reason to come together again!!
Anna may not be a Mahatma, Anna may be a district leader, and I don’t support Anna in whatever he says, particularly the comment he made about flogging those who drink alcohol. But to point out, my feelings on corruption are represented by him because we see wrong happening but have no courage and voice to speak out. At least he and his team has brought out the voice. Apolitical should have been the campaign, but with folded hands I say sometimes some hard words (unintentionally) should be used to give a befitting reply to the persons who personally provoke on his individuality. Corruption is the menace with which all are suffering in one way or the other. We have many laws but they are not followed in true spirit. It is only a wish and belief that a lokpal institution will effectively implement those laws. As everyone hopes to have something better than existing one, it is one such. One should have a positive note on the issue and yes critics also should be vocal for this is a democracy but confined to certain limits.
In the end, Strong Lokpal means Jan Lokpal Bill. Any thing less strong is politically deliberated move to save existing corrupts. If you want to think of it as ‘My Way or the Highway’ then you are free to do so. Without any political and religious barriers every one in India wants corruption to be eradicated. If Anna’s movement will help to achieve this end, everybody should support him either physically by joining the movement or with mental support to him through various media and social networks.