Civil Society’s Imbalance Versus Government’s Obfuscation

Abdul Khaliq for BeyondHeadlines

The article’s title is partly inspired by the piece authored by two leading lights of civil society which appeared earlier this month (“Being weighed in the Imbalance:” H.T. 08.07.2011) as the latest salvo in the conflict between Anna’s team and government over the Jan Lokpal Bill.  From joint discussions that ended in a logjam, the battle is now being fought through the media with facts being misinterpreted to bolster up one’s argument, the truth be damned.  Anna team’s formulations are driven by a pathological distrust of all institutions of governance whereas the government’s approach is that nothing much needs to be done.  As a result, both sides have provided prescriptions that are either impractical, ineffectual or downright absurd.

Anna’s team believes that today corruption is ‘low risk with high gain’ because of the inadequacy of the vigilance apparatus.  They bemoan the fact that there are only 15 anti-corruption officers to check 85000 Delhi Police staff against the international standard of one anti-corruption staff for every 200 employees.  To carry this argument to its logical conclusion, Indian Railways would require 7250 anti corruption officers for 1.5 million employees against the present strength of 150 vigilance officers.  Significantly the total strength of officers on IR today, excluding doctors and RPF officers, is approximately 11000 for managing one of the largest railway systems in the world.  No sane government would accept such an overpowering anti-corruption agency that would not only cause grievous financial harm but also slow down overall working, with no matching benefits whatsoever.  The proposed Lokpal monster will have a similar deleterious effect on all other government organizations.  Do we want such an absurdity?

Anna’s team has ridiculed the criticism that it would be difficult to ensure the integrity of people in a large anti-corruption set- up and has cited the example of Delhi Metro which has a workforce of 7000 staff and delivered a world class Metro.  Anna’s team could not have chosen a more inappropriate example to prove their point.  Delhi Metro has only 5 vigilance officers and yet is an exceptional organization on account of the most dynamic leadership ever seen in the country, a motivated work force, adoption of best practices and an environment of openness and trust.  Mr. Sreedharan has repeatedly said that ensuring a clean administration is a critical management function, whereas the vigilance unit can only raise the storm signals.  A large anti-corruption unit –Anna’s cure-would only have stifled the Delhi Metro.

Anna’s group believes that only tyrannical powers in the hands of the anti-corruption agency can root out this evil.  The Lokpal Authority as conceived will be investigator, prosecutor and judge.  Anna’s team has taken umbrage to the fact that the government Draft contains a clause that before prosecuting an officer, the Lokpal will have to issue a show cause notice to him and present all the evidence.  They ignore the simple truth that by denying him this opportunity, justice is subverted.

There are other disruptive, hare brained ideas in the Draft for creating an autocratic Lokpal Authority.  The Lokpal will be empowered to approve interception of messages or voice transmitted by telephone by internet or any other medium.  Although in an earlier draft,’ exercise of discretion in excess’ was to be treated as an act of corruption, the Lokpal will have unmitigated discretionary powers to recruit investigating officers and other staff.

Most ridiculous of all, the judicial officers under the Lokpal will have sweeping disciplinary powers.  A bench of judicial officers shall determine the quantum of penalty and their recommendations ‘shall be binding on the appointing authority’ (Section 22.4).  In effect, their decisions shall perforce have to be accepted even by the President of India who is the appointing authority of Group ‘A’ government servants.  Do I need to say more?

The government’s draft, couched in bureaucratese, is an exercise in dissimulation.  The proposed Lokpal Authority will have a parallel investigation and prosecution apparatus, an arrangement which inevitably will cause serious friction between the government agencies and the Lokpal Authority.  For instance, in a composite case of corruption, a Group’ A’ officer could be involved along with his staff.  In the government’s scheme, allegations against the group ‘A’ officer will be handled by the Lokpal whereas the cases of the other staff will be handled by the government anti-corruption agency.  Apart from the administrative hassles in sharing evidence, documents etc, conflicting conclusions could result in unending litigation.

Government’s cavalier approach is also apparent from the fact that while excluding government employees, barring Group ‘ A’ officers, from the Lokpal ambit, NGOs have been included ,clearly with the aim of dissipating the energies of the Lokpal on peripheral issues.  Government’s Draft contains no provisions for the protection of whistle blowers, but conversely very stiff punishments have been recommended for frivolous complaints.  A chapter has been devoted to the ‘Citizen’s Charter’ but in keeping with the general tenor of the Draft there is no punitive clause for non-fulfilment of commitments.

Both drafts have lethal infirmities on account of which they need to be jettisoned.  Amidst the brouhaha over the Lokpal bill, one might like to ponder over what the HDFC Chairman said recently.  ‘The government’s come to a halt.  Bureaucrats, bankers, everybody is scared to take decisions’.  He further added that as a result of delays in government approvals at all levels, corporates  are looking at other countries for investment.  This should serve as a warning to those misguided, predatory anti-corruption crusaders who have driven even honest government officials into dithering and indecisiveness.

(The author is Secy. General Lok Janshakti Party,can be reached on [email protected])

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.


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