Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lokpal and Lokayukta Bills

For the last couple for years, the country has been obsessed with the issue of corruption to the exclusion of several other vital problems afflicting the body politic of India, such as poverty and unemployment, increasing economic disparity, social unrest and insurgency, separatism, ever present cross-border terrorism and above all, degeneration of politics where no holds are barred for power. No doubt, news of corruption at high levels and involving mind boggling magnitudes have hogged the headlines in the media in recent years. Equally vociferous has been the media coverage of various campaigns waged for the purported purpose of eradication of corruption. These campaigns have taken various forms such as mass rallies, meetings and fasts organized at public places, almost invariably in the national capital of Delhi, or country-wide journeys undertaken and meetings held by high stature individuals with some fanfare for the expressed purpose of rousing awareness of the people on the issue of corruption and the need to eradicate it. These activities and actions are euphemistically declared as “battles against corruption”. In this battle, substantial part of energy is devoted to highlighting the prominent corruption cases that have been coming to light one after another in recent years and thereby targetting the government of the day and instigating disaffection with it. As far as strategy for winning this battle is concerned, it is articulated as a “strong and effective” Lokpal bill at the centre and similar Lokayukta bills in the states. While there seems to be near unanimity on all sides on having such bills, differences of perception and views exist on what constitutes, or what is construed to be, such a “strong and effective” bill. On the one side, the view is that the institutions of Lokpal or Lokayukta should be powerful having wide powers for making its own rules and regulations, taking cognizance, carrying out investigation and adjudging conviction, should have sufficient autonomy of action and should have minimum of governmental control and interference in its constitution and functioning. This view is based on the thinking that the government is essentially the patron of corruption and cannot be trusted to deal with corruption impartially and strictly. On the other side, the thinking is that the government being representative of and responsible to the people cannot absolve itself of its duty of ensuring that any institution under it is duly constituted and of overseeing its functioning. While both the views are valid in their own ways, there are also dangers implicit in them. .The first view is flawed essentially on two basic counts. While the institution of government is constituted through a democratic process aimed at ensuring sanction of the people, the institutions of Lokpal and Lokayukta are proposed to be neither themselves being democratically constituted bodies nor constituted with any effective role of the democratically constituted government. Secondly, in order to ensure that the government acts properly, separations of legislative, executive and judicial functions have been duly provided for. No such effective separations of the corresponding functions are provided for in Lokpal and Lokayukta institutions. With such institutions vested with the power to oversee the functioning of the government at various levels, it is bound to affect the functioning of democratically elected governments in all spheres including execution of development and socially oriented programs. There is another aspect of the proposed Lokpal and Lokayukta bodies. As these bodies will be different and distinct from the existing governmental bodies and are expected to perform corruption related diverse functions at all levels, from the bottom to the top, they have to have a centrally controlled huge bureaucracy of its own, parallel to the governments they have to oversee. Apart from the establishment and operational cost ultimately imposed on the people, such an institution flies squarely in the face of the Gandhian concept of decentralized governance. On the other side, while there is concurrence in the view about the Lokpal and Lokayukta institutions being “strong and effective”, the thinking is that the government being duly elected representative of the people and answerable to it must have legitimate roles to play in their constitution as well as functioning. In the ultimate analysis, the elected government invested with state power as well as resources by the sovereign people has to be answerable to the people for all acts of omission and commission even by the Lokpal and Lokayauktas. While this view is unassailable, there are obvious dangers in this. The political party or parties constituting and controlling the government may have a vested interest in selectively protecting or investigating corruption or corrupt practices. Hence any effective role accorded to the government in the constitution and functioning of the anti-corruption institutions is likely to vitiate their actions and defeat the purpose. The proposed Lokayukta bill of the Govt. of Bihar, whose anticorruption credibility has been rather good in recent years, belongs to this category. To some extent, this danger can be avoided or minimized by making these institutions constitutional bodies. This can be done only by amending the constitution. Thus, we end up in a typical catch-22 situation by following the strategy advocated by the present day anti-corruption crusaders. In both the approaches and viewpoints, there are inherent angers due to which achievement of the objective of eradication of corruption from the body politic of India is gravely doubtful. In the first approach fiercely advocated by the Anna camp, there are additional risks to the nation as already pointed out. The moot point now is whether we have to helplessly surrender to the menace of corruption afflicting public life in India, which is now threatening the freedom, dreams and destiny of the nation. It is high time now to think objectively, dispassionately and coolly over the problem. It is easy to be agitated over it and to be facile in suggesting a quick fix for it. In order to do this, we must recognize that corruption is deeply related to the governance of India and is rather ingrained in its system of governance. We must also recognize that this system of governance was inherited by us from our erstwhile British colonial rulers who had ingeniously designed and skillfully operated it to systematically exploit their richest colony. Mahatma Gandhi, the architect of India’s freedom, had clearly seen that the impoverishment, degradation and degeneration of India having thousands of years of rich culture and civilization behind it were due to this system of governance imposed on India and had given a clarion call to get rid of this system rather than of the British people in India as such. He considered that India’s political freedom was a necessary step towards this but not all a destination. In fact, he apprehended that if India stops at this political freedom considering it as the destination of India’s unique struggle for freedom and the same system remains here to be operated by the Indians, India would be doomed to a sorry state of affairs and would be in pitiable condition. Corruption and other degenerative features appearing on the Indian scene with ever increasing intensity demonstrate the playing out of the Mahatma’s deep apprehension and dire prophesy. It was due to a conspiracy of circumstances and the vested interests that India chose to retain the colonial system for governance for a free nation, thus betraying Mahatma Gandhi, short changing the freedom fighters who made sacrifices for attaining freedom under his inspiring leadership and frustrating the post-freedom aspirations of masses of India. On analyzing the exploitative and degrading characteristics of the existing system of governance, it would be apparent that corruption is inbuilt in the system. While exploitation itself is an extreme form of corruption, it breeds corruption and needs corruption to sustain itself. In colonial governance of India, corruption at the lower and middle echelons of the government was rampant, well known and well accepted. At higher levels of the government where decision of governance was made, no doubt corruption in the usual sense of the term was almost non-existent. This was, however, not due to the fact that people at these levels were incorruptible. This was because of the fact that these people were made beneficiaries of the spoils of exploitation, i.e., they were corrupted from the above rather than from below. It is because of the corruption-prone and corruption-breeding nature of the inherited system of governance that corruption has been there from day one of free India not only at the usual lower and middle levels but now even at higher levels. Due to the degrading characteristics of the inherited system of governance, the process of political degeneration had set in after independence, leading to ever widening and deepening tentacles of corruption afflicting the body politic of India. In light of the analysis indicated above, we can see that corruption and culture of corruption are not people-centric or party-centric but is rather system-centric. Let us not delude ourselves that we can eradicate corruption by passing any law, however harsh and powerful, in the existing system. The nation has already experienced futility of such acts in eradicating social ills like dowry and child labour. Let us learn the right lesson from such experience. It is high time to accept that we have to change the system of governance to get rid of the virus of corruption and bring the nation to health, vigour and vibrancy. Lest we think it is too tall an order and an impractical prescription, let us once again recall Gandhi - a practical and ground level visionary. He had said that real freedom would not dawn on India till this freedom was experienced and lived in its villages. This enjoins completely decentralized governance with power emanating from the bottom to the top, rather than its flowing from the top to the bottom. Only in governance based on this concept will corruption wither away and become non-existent. -T. Prasad Convener-cum-Secretary Forum for Change of the System of Governance of India Patna 22 November 2011

1 comment:

  1. Namaste Uncleji,

    As expected, the first article that I read on this website relates to Lokpal Bill. This mirrors the discussion we had when we met for the first time in California. I agree with you that setting up a parallel beaureaucratic arrangement may not be the solution but unfortunately your article does not give a clear view as to what then may be the solution. We understand that changing the system of governance may be a solution but that cannot happen overnight.

    How about proposing to free CBI & CID from the clutches of governmental control as the first step towards finding an amicable solution? The idea is to suggest that like Election Commission, CBI/CID may be set-up as constitutional bodies and be independent of the governmental influence & control. Cases may be recommended to CBI/CID by courts, NGOs or even government but their investigation would need to be conducted in an unbiased & time-bound manner. This is probably what everybody wants anyway, Lokpal or no Lokpal?

    Please let us know your thoughts.
    With Regards,
    Tushar Kant