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Lokpal ‘Be-Ill’! Licence to govern does not mean licence to be corrupt

Updated: August 20, 2011 12:41 pm

“I would go to the length of giving the whole Congress a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant,” Mahatma Gandhi, wrote in May 1939. Corruption has become a critical national concern that threatens the very existential foundation of the nation. We need to tackle it effectively if we want to progress and move forward as a modern state. In this background, the new legislation to curb corruption, i.e. Lokpal Bill shouldn’t be an eyewash or hiding place for any ruling coterie. The new anti-corruption mechanism must be independent and its institution must be free from conflict of interests. But that is not be, as the government cheated the entire nation by clearing the draft of the Lokpal Bill that excludes the clauses the civil society has been fighting for. It emphasised that the CBI should be brought within the ambit of the Lokpal Bill and all states should have Lokayukta (ombudsman). The draft bill also excludes from its ambit the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and Members of Parliament for their actions inside the house. The government wrote to every Chief Minister, asking for their opinion on the Lokpal Bill and all Congress-led states said that whatever the high command said that they would concur with it, which is a great fraud on the nation. The Union Cabinet approved the draft of the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill last week, to be presented in the ongoing monsoon session of the Parliament. India is today plagued by corruption of such enormous breadth and depth and running across all public authorities that it is now at the serious risk of becoming a banana republic and a mafia state. It was in recognition of this alarming reality, demanding a comprehensive, independent, empowered though accountable anti-corruption authority, that Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev launched campaigns against corruption. After seeing the extent of public support for their demand, the government agreed to a joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill. Although, refusing to meet most of the demands of the civil society group in the Jan Lokpal Bill, the government has now come out with its bill, which will not succeed in tackling even one per cent of India’s corruption. That corruption is a disease consuming the body politic is a fear expressed by dignitaries in India over many years. As far back as 1979, Justice VR Krishna Iyer observed in a judgment in his inimitable style that fearless investigation was a ‘sine qua non’ of exposure of delinquent ‘greats’ and if the investigative agencies trembled to probe or made public the felonies of high office, white-collar offenders in the peaks might be unruffled by the law. Hence, an independent investigative agency to be set in motion by any responsible citizen is a desideratum, and the Prime Minister should be brought under the ambit of an Ombudsman (Lokpal) and be subject to its scrutiny. It is worth mentioning that in most of the Lokpal Bills, including the 2010 government draft (except the 1985 version), the Prime Minister is within the ambit of the Lokpal.

                According to a CRISIL report, inflation has caused the Indian public to be squeezed to the extent of Rs. 2.3 lakh crore. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the estimate of loss to the exchequer owing to the 2G spectrum scam is Rs. 1.22 lakh crore. Further, the economic Outlook for 2011-12 highlighted GDP growth in this financial year at 8.2 per cent. According to it, agriculture, in spite of a monsoon within normal levels, is not expected to grow more than 3 per cent. What further aggravates the situation is the fact that foreign institutional investment will be half of last year’s level; inflation, the Outlook emphasises, will remain around 6.5 to 7 per cent till March next year; and industrial growth will stay downward at 7 per cent. The Indian economy is stuttering. Unarguably, some of the reason is a harsh external ambience that has provided us with a high input cost and weak export market. But most of it is attributed to the dilatory government policies. So the government is solely responsible for this gloomy performance. But in the present scenario, can the government, or for that matter the ministers and MPs responsible, be brought under the purview of Lokpal? Simply no. All Congress MPs participating in discussions on the Lokpal bill have relentlessly advocated that the existing machinery is enough to tackle corruption. They cite the 2G and the CWG scams to prove their point. But the people know that it is only because of the Supreme Court’s intervention that these cases have come to light. Whether they will be taken to their logical conclusion is a moot point. In fact, all the explanations for the PM having immunity from the Lokpal are hollow at best. Only accountability at the highest levels will ensure that the rank and file behave responsibly. There is no dearth of commissions, agencies, panels, rules etc. to deal with corruption, but with messy documentation and sometimes questionable motives, every investigation is scuttled in our country. We have to begin by holding the highest officebearers responsible. Only that will prompt them to demand accountability from their subordinates. The higher the office, the bigger the risks and liabilities–as unfettered powers without the tight leash of accountability only lead to arbitrariness and despotism.

                Manu may not be relevant to the present century, but as human nature more or less remains the same and states either in monarchy or democracy are governed by the same human beings, he is still relevant. License to govern does not mean license to be corrupt. Mahatma Gandhi believed in a need for creating a social climate against corruption, which meant creation of an atmosphere in which the corrupt could not thrive.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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