Monday, September 12, 2011

Corruption,Lokpal & Democracy


A 74-year old man,leading a revolution of 24-yearolds is one of the most striking aspects of our democracy and Anna Hazare deserves our unequivocal salute for engendering this movement.Anna Hazare is doing a national service and the cause he is fighting for eliminating corruption in government through the institution of Lokpal is of far greater value than the methods he is choosing,which some may disagree with.However,any rational criticism of the Jan Lokpal Bill or for that matter the governments Lokpal Bill must not be taken as if you are not with us,you are against us or worse still if you are not with us,you are not against corruption.The key issues that need a nuanced response are: First,today the pendulum has swung too far to one side.Dishonest officers in the civil services openly plunder the system for personal gains.Having said that,there are some risks with the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill that it might swing way too far the other way,aka giving it too much of unfettered freedom to go after honest officers.Jan Lokpal Bill says it can take suo motu cognisance of suspicious behaviour or references through CAG reports.There are any number of CAG reports citing procedural violations by Delhi Metro.If these went to the proposed Jan Lokayuta,will they immediately start investigations against someone of unimpeachable integrity like E Sreedharan On many occasions he has violated government procurement rules by not picking L1 (or the lowest bid).My contention is,without the procedural violations that he did such as paying a vendor additional money to get the project completed,after a particular commoditys prices rose in the global market,thereby violating a signed contract the metro could not have been completed under budget,in time,given the convoluted systems of government accountability.Going by the letter and spirit of the Jan Lokpal Bill,it would mean that action should be initiated against Sreedharan! Is this desirable Thus,the route of seeking permission before initiating proceedings against civil servants must remain to be able to protect the honest or else it would completely kill all initiative and lead to enormous delays in decision-making.So much so that soon we would find that the cost of delays would be as high,as the cost of corruption itself hardly a desirable outcome.Second,the Constitution has mandated separation of powers between the various organs of our democracy to keep in place checks and balances,a much-used and even moreabused phrase.Version 4 of the Jan Lokpal bill wants to roll CBI and CVC into one and is against the basic structure of the Constitution.All that a smart Prime Minister needs to do is to insist on including the judiciary within its purview and in all likelihood,the courts themselves would strike it down as being ultra viresof the Constitution.Third,while the composition of the committee to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill has been the matter of debate that is a much smaller issue than whom the Lokpal should eventually be.Imagine a scenario when after careful drafting we have Justice K G Balakrishnan or Justice Y K Sabharwal as the first Lokpal of India.Wouldnt that cause a huge disservice to the nation,for armed with a powerful Lokpal Act,a combination of the clever,the venal and the corrupt can cause even more harm than the dumb and corrupt Lokpal How many times will Anna go on a hunger fast Would he do that again and again to ensure videography of proceedings,inclusion and exclusion of the right members and finally for the choice of the right Lokpal Fourth,again with the caveat that extraordinary circumstances do call for extraordinary measures like Anna-ism but it still does raise the troubling question what if India suddenly sees a mlange of fasts for various causes Chandrasekhar Rao has already shown what his fast can do to divide a perfectly good state.What if Syed Ali Shah Geelani goes on fast to demand a separate Kashmir What if Imam Bukhari goes on a fast demanding a new state for all Muslims within India Or Jats led by a fasting Tikait,though I suspect they have far more effective means of protest by simply jamming India Gate in thousands,asking for an independent Jatland Fasting and civil disobedience as a means of protest against a foreign government is one thing but using that as a weapon against an elected government comprising our own is quite something different.Where do the boundaries of direct action in representative democracy lie is a question for which we the people need to search for answers.Unarguably the agents have become principals or masters and the principals who send them to Parliament,have been reduced to helpless bystanders but even then,do such direct action augur well for an elected democracy Can mobocracy become a substitute for democracy Ever Anna and India both can ignore the above questions only at their own peril.

(The author is an IAS officer. Views are personal)

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