Corruption and the Lokpal Bill

By Pallavi Sinha for Indian Link

The Indian government seems to be finally taking a definite stance on corruption, notes 

Political and bureaucratic corruption in India is widespread, and a major concern. In March 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that the “malice of corruption” needs to be dealt with. As recently as April 24, Indian politician Suresh Kalmadi was arrested by the CBI on charges of cheating and corruption for his alleged role in irregularities of the Commonwealth Games projects. At the time of writing this article, he had been suspended as a politician and was being held in custody.

Tackling corruption in India

A powerful campaign against corruption has been started by Kisan Baburao Hazare, popularly known as Anna Hazare. On April 5, 2011 in Jantar Mantar in Delhi, Hazare adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s technique of fasting to exert pressure on the government of India to introduce into Parliament the Lokpal Bill, also known as the “Citizens’ Ombudsman Bill”.

What is the Lokpal Bill?

The aim of the Lokpal Bill is to set up a central Lokpal – an anti-corruption institution, and a Lokayukta at the state level in every state of India (similar to the Commonwealth and state Ombudsman offices in Australia). According to the present drafting of the Lokpal Bill 2010, the Lokpal would be able to receive complaints from the public about a person who is, or has been a Minister and/or Member of Parliament. The Lokpal would have the power to hold an inquiry and to detain an offender. It could also provide protection to whistleblowers (people who report alleged acts of corruption). The first Lokpal Bill was unsuccessfully introduced into Indian parliament 42 years ago (it failed to pass through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament).

Action at last

Anna Hazare’s fasting campaign successfully drew the attention of the Indian community and government. In Mumbai, his supporters wore Gandhi caps and organised marches and gatherings to urge people to join the campaign against corruption. There were also nationwide protests supporting Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign. Anna Hazare ended his fast five days after he started it, as the Prime Minister issued a notification stating that a joint drafting committee would be formed. This committee would be responsible for drafting the anti-corruption bill, which would be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament (around June to September). The drafting committee would comprise 10 members (5 government and 5 civil society representatives). A timeline was agreed, of finalising the drafting of the Lokpal Bill by June 30. On May 5, Baba Ramdev announced that he would start a fast on June 4, to put pressure on the Government to adhere to the June 30 deadline. Public support continues to be high with a huge rally organised by India Against Corruption at the Gateway of India in Mumbai in early May. This rally was well-attended, and included guest speakers such as retired Indian Police Service Officer Kiran Bedi.

HC petition marks beginning of problems

Ashok Pandey and Dr Prettam Thakur filed a writ petition before the Lucknow Bench, seeking dissolution of the drafting committee on the ground that the power to make laws, under the Indian Constitution, is vested in the Parliament and the state legislative assemblies and common people do not have this power.

The petition was heard by Chief Justice FI Rebello and Justice BK Arora. On April 20, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court issued notice to the Attorney General to respond to the challenge to the constitutionality of the notification for making a joint committee for drafting the Lokpal Bill. The matter has been posted for the next hearing in mid-May.

Long way to go

Evidently, there are already problems that have been encountered, even before the Lokpal Bill has been introduced into Parliament. Even if a resolution is reached about the composition of the committee to draft the Lokpal Bill, it may take time to reach agreement and finalise the drafting of the Bill. After that, there could be more problems, or in any case, more time taken to introduce the Bill into Parliament, and for it to become an Act (if accepted by Parliament). Even if the Lokpal Bill does eventually become an Act, laws can be passed but they are not always complied with. There could also be issues with enforcement of the law. The Lokayutas in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana have limited resources. Former Lokayukta Justice R Ramanujam referred to the Lokayuta as a “paper tiger”. And what is the guarantee that the Lokpal or Lokayutas will not themselves be corrupt? I am not trying to put a dampener on steps to address the serious problem of corruption in India. Every drop of water in the ocean counts. Therefore, a Bill to make politicians and government departments accountable is to be commended, and would be a powerful ‘drop of water’.

Starting from the bottom

My intention in raising the issue of the great amount of time that it can take for a bill to be drafted and an Act to be passed, and the possible problems with enforcing it, is to highlight reality and the need for other measures. For example, anti-corruption measures should start at the “grass roots” level with awareness in each individual of the extent of corruption in India and the problems it is causing. This could occur by every individual, either living in India or the multi-faceted global diaspora reflecting on their actions, and the consequence of those actions (or inaction) on a nation. Politicians in particular need to lead by example, and set a model of behaviour that is not corrupt. Individuals could also take active steps themselves to fight corruption. Such steps include increasing awareness by keeping abreast with any information on the subject, making an informed decision and spreading awareness of these issues through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, hosting house meetings or parties to review the subject, and getting involved in anti-corruption campaigns.