Are we closing down our Parliament and/or its legislative powers in the near future? Are we having the last chance of legislating something, so that we have to cover anything and everything in this ONE LAST CHANCE that we have? Answer seems to be YES, if we go by the hurry with which our activists are trying to push through a panacea called Janlokpal!
(I have an issue with the name Janlokpal itself as it implies that all other laws, existing or proposed, in India are not that of the people (jan) but pushed down our throats by some external forces. The underlying inference seems to suggest an aversion to the representative system of democracy itself.)
Coming back to the demands of an all inclusive and instant Janlokpal, what is the big hurry? This country has survived for sixty four years without a Lokpal. No doubt that we need to create one now as the corruption level in public life has increased to alarming levels. But, when we create a new institution with wide ranging powers , to the extent of going against the very basic features of the Constitution itself (such as Separations of powers and independence of judiciary etc), cant we afford little more time and deliberation?
We cannot forget that all through these years there have been efforts, albeit half-hearted, from the Executive itself to bring in an institution of Lokpal. Various Bills were introduced in the Parliament at different points of time. So, it would not be correct to say that the concept of Lokpal is something that was not acceptable to the entire political class.
Anyway, that is past. Thanks to the increasing awareness of wrongdoings in the Executive (this awareness itself being a result of various developments like transparency though RTI, Media, judicial activism, social media and public activism etc), there is a growing demand for introducing a credible and independent institution to curb the menace of corruption. Government, bowing to these voices, agreed to bring in a reasonably strong and practically feasible Lokpal Bill, before the Parliament, in its very next Session. Cabinet has now approved tabling of this Bill.
The proposed Bill has not satisfied many activists, including the Anna Hazare group. Major defects being pointed out are; it does not cover Prime Minister and Judiciary, it does not cover entire administration but only the higher bureaucracy, and it does not cover MP’s actions within the Parliament, such as voting and debates etc. Each of these points has its own merits and demerits.
Government argues that bringing Prime Minister under the ambit of investigative powers of Lokpal may lead to destabilising the Executive and may be counter- productive at times. One may agree or disagree with this argument. But can’t we even keep one institution outside the purview of Lokpal? Do we really worry that a Prime Minister left outside Lokpal’s purview (so long as he is in power, with the power to remove him in the next election safe in the hands of people) would make the entire institution of Lokpal a mere joke? That too when all his colleagues in the ministry can be investigated and prosecuted? I refuse to believe so.
Same is the case with judiciary. True independence of judiciary from executive is the cornerstone of our constitutional democracy. That cannot be compromised, even if we have all our trust in the magical integrity and effectiveness of the Lokpal. No one would really want to be tried by a judge who himself is worried about antagonising the prosecutor! (Please remember it is not always the guilty alone, who have to face prosecution) In any case the Accountability Bill for Judiciary is already in process. If we have a Lokpal like institution within the Judiciary to ensure accountability of judicial officers would that not serve the purpose? In my opinion it would serve the dual purposes of accountability as well as independence.
As regards the issue of excluding MP’s conduct within the House, I am really ambivalent. However, I am not against the view that instead of subjecting them to a jurisdiction of an external entity, we must ensure that the respective Houses strengthen their own disciplinary committees to deal with any misdemeanours by its members. After all, the Constitution has given the immunity to MPs for their behaviour inside the Houses, with certain objectives. Those objectives cannot be sacrificed merely because of some rotten eggs!
Finally, let us look at the issue of not including the entire administration under the ambit of Lokpal. The sheer size and reach would dilute the effectiveness of Lokpal, if we were to make it the watchdog for the entire administration. We have our criminal procedures and anti-corruption systems that can be strengthened, if necessary, to cover the lower rungs of the administration. We can leave the Lokpal to deal with corruption at the highest levels of Executive, so that the Lokpal does not end up like our judicial system, slow and ineffective!
As discussed above, all the major issues related to the proposed Bill have various dimensions. We need not make it a prestige issue so as to have an all encompassing Lokpal at the beginning itself. Let us get the one that the Legislature and Executive is comfortable to begin with. Let us study its operations for some reasonable period. If we find it as effective, as much as being claimed to be, in dealing with corruption and we find that the institutions left outside the purview is defeating the purpose, we can always revisit the law and make changes.
Let us not put all our eggs in one basket, which is yet to be made. “Power corrupts and an absolute power corrupts absolutely”- We have no reason to believe that this saying would not be applicable to Lokpal. Let us not concentrate all powers under one institution. Have watchdogs and not overwhelming superpowers. Let us not destabilise the existing system in one stroke. We can speed up evolution instead of trying out revolution.
When I say this, it doesn’t mean that the door is closed yet. In any case, the Bill will go to Parliament’s Subject Committee for further studies. As per the existing practice, this Committee will definitely seek public opinion on the provisions of the Bill. Convincing arguments can be presented before the Committee, to be included in the Draft Bill.
Before I conclude, let me look at some of the arguments being put forth by advocates of Janlokpal to justify its immediate necessity. They say, our politics have no future- because it cannot attract better candidates; restrict money power in elections; make people to vote. But do they really believe Janlokpal will change all these? If the life was only with such simple, straight forward and holistic solutions!
How can an institution like Lokpal change the very basis of our society? At best it can investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Can it change the way people behave? Can it change the value system prevalent in the society? Can it prevent corruption, if the people continue to be as greedy? Can it ensure that all discretions are exercised for considerations that are above board? Can its own members (hailing from the same society/ system) completely keep away from the temptations of the bad world?
I find it difficult to believe that one institution or a group of officials, whether Lokpal or Janlokpal can make such fundamental changes in the way a nation’s affairs are conducted. It can no doubt, improve investigation and bring to book the perpetuators of corruption who are not smart enough to avoid some evidences getting left behind. It can instil a fear of detection in the minds of corrupt officials. But would that fear make them honest? Or merely make them more careful? This is a question to be answered by time alone.
What a Lokpal or even Janlokpal cannot be is a panacea for all the ills of this country. The people of this country, civil society, political parties and media should continue to be vigilant all the time and cannot just outsource their responsibilities to Janlokpal. For this Nation to be free from corruption, we the people have to change. That change will only come through sustained efforts at awareness and change in values. What we need today is more social reformers than political activists. But unfortunately, it is the latter class that can hog limelight these days and therefore there is a dearth for the former class!
Let us not get greedy and over enthusiastic. Or let us not bring in egos and arrogance into the public affairs. Let us tread cautiously; some steps at a time. Let us welcome the current Bill (what some refers to as the Jokepal) and ensure implementation of the institution of Lokpal. We have all the time in the world to study its functioning and to improve / enlarge its scope. Lokpal is not doing away with our Parliament; we can still exert pressure on it to make necessary amendments in the law, from time to time, to make the institution more effective!
P.S: Please read the comments as well, as they provide different perspectives!
P.S: Please read the comments as well, as they provide different perspectives!