March 29, 2020
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Lokpal: The Way Ahead

Lokpal: The Way Ahead
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It would be the understatement of the year to say that what was finally conceded by the government could and should easily have been done months back.

Indeed, it was rather strange to hear the PM say the following in Lok Sabha on August 25:

"a thought comes to me that perhaps we could have a debate in this House on all the Bills that are in the public domain and have a discussion what are the weak points of various Bills and what are the strong points of various Bills"

For this was exactly what was being demanded ever since the Joint Drafting Committee reached an impasse -- but then perhaps we should be grateful that the thought did finally manage to reach Dr Singh. It is pointless really to criticise those Congress party spokespersons who are left with the thankless job of trying to spin it as a gesture of great statesmanship.

Team Anna would also do well at this stage not to insist on by-passing of the Standing Committee process after the above debate.

The CPI (M) and the BJP's Arun Jaitley had already indicated their broad stand on the issue of Lokpal early in July after the government came out with its Draft Bill and it would be instructive to see what they finally decide to say in Parliament.  Arun Jaitley had also spelt out his party's stand in his two recent speeches in Rajya Sabha as well: August 17 | August 24.

It was actually the Congress and the UPA government which harmed their cause by not publicly elaborating on why they were opposing some of the crucial issues and we were forced to learn about their shifting stand only from what India Against Corruption (IAC), more commonly known as Team Anna, announced from time to time.

Why the government persisted with some of the most obvious weaknesses in its draft bill will always remain a mystery but in the last few days, the differences, as we learnt from Prashant Bhushan, have been narrowed to the following three issues of contention:

  1. Lokayuktas
  2. Lower bureaucracy
  3. Citizen's charter

The PM in his letter to Anna Hazare on August 23 wrote, inter alia:

I have made it clear earlier and would like to restate that all options are open before the Standing Committee. Undoubtedly, they would be entitled to consider, in detail and clause by clause, subject to their discretion, not only the Bill introduced by us but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like those prepared by Ms. Aruna Roy.

In his opening remarks to the All-Party meeting on August 24, the PM repeated:

I said that the matter was with the Standing Committee and the Committee was entitled to consider not only the Bill introduced by the Government but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like those prepared by Shrimati Aruna Roy as well.

In his statement in Lok Sabha on August 25, the PM said:

There is Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan’s group which produced a Bill; there are ideas which have been mentioned in a paper by Shrimati Aruna Roy.

So at least one mystery which had been exercising many was officially cleared -- that there were no "versions" of any Draft Bill made or presented by Mrs Aruna Roy's National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), though her group NCPRI has offered more than one valuable critique and discussion paper on the various aspects of  the debate.

For the record, likewise, Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan’s group Lok Satta, also did not produce a Bill but it too has put in a lot of effort and work in offering meaningful commentary on the two Draft Bills.

For those interested in detailed critiques, as has been linked before in these pages, it would be instructive to look up the very useful resources here:

On Twitter yesterday, Lok Satta also directed this blogger to their following two resources in particular:

***

Finally, with the above out of the way, perhaps it is now possible to have the debate that we all ought to have been focussing on since at least April this year, if not earlier. On the three substantive issues, Team Anna's supporters would now do well to step back a little and engage with the various counter-proposals that are on the table for there clearly are pros and cons of various options:

1. State-level Lokayuktas:

JLPB: Set up Lokayutkas, with similar powers and functions as the Lokpal, in each of the states

NCPRI: Set up State Anti Corruption Lokayutkas, with similar powers and functions as the Lokpal, in each of the states

Lok Satta:

  • The Lokayuktas should be appointed in a similar manner by a state level selection committee, and should have similar powers, protection and functions
  • With the ratification of UNCAC, the Parliament, under Article 253 of the Constitution, has the power to make laws for the entire territory of India even on state subjects in matters relating to corruption. This power should be exercised
  • The State ACBs should be brought under the superintendence and guidance of Lokayuktas. Lokayukta will also supervise vigilance machinery in state.
  • There should be 3-5 members Lokayukta in each state. Under Lokayukta, there should be local ombudsmen for each district and city, and they will deal with local government matters.

Arun Jaitly/BJP Let somebody in the Government make a case study and you will reach a conclusion why offices like Governors should be kept away from the appointment of Lokpal. You find efforts being made to appoint the Lokpal without involving an elected Government! We don't even want that situation to come. Mr. Krishna is here and Mr. Kamal Nath is here. Let them examine it, rather than any side comment on this. No State Government in this country will accept the Governor making an appointment by saying that elected Government is not to be involved. If that were to happen, then the Federal structure in India would seriously get affected. So, let us, honestly, introspect the facts on that basis.

CPM: In the states, Lok Ayuktas should be set up on the model of the Central Lokpal. The Lok Ayuktas set up on the lines of the Lokpal should bring all state government employees, local bodies and the state corporations under their purview.

2.  Lower Bureaucracy:

JLPB: All public servants should be covered under Lokpal itself. Bring the CVC and that part of the CBI that deals with corruption under the Lokpal.

Lok Satta: Lower officials to be covered by CVC, which will be part of Lokpal as ex-officio members, but will have separate existence and functions under CVC Act

NCPRI: Have a separate institution for lower bureaucracy. All officers other than Group A officers- to be covered by Kendriya Satarkta Lokpal (Central Vigilance Commission) by strengthening the Central Vigilance Commission Act.

Arun Jaitly/BJP From the briefing on Aug 25, it seems the BJP stand is in consonance with  the JLPB on this but it is still not clear how they want lower bureaucracy covered -- under a separate mechanism or under the Lokpal itself, though they seem to be for making CBI autonomous/covered under Lokpal

CPM:  While corruption in high places has to be tackled on a priority basis, for the ordinary citizen, it is the corruption faced by them in daily life and in dealings with public authorities that also needs to be urgently taken up. Much of this sphere of corruption falls in dealings with authorities at the states-level. The Lok Ayuktas set up on the lines of the Lokpal should bring all state government employees, local bodies and the state corporations under their purview

3. Citizen's Charter/ Grievance Redressal Mechanism

JLPB: A grievance redressal system – backed by a provision mandating every public authority to prepare a citizen's charter and fulfill its commitments to citizens within a specific time limit should be part of the Lokpal's jurisdiction

Lok Satta: Public Grievances should not be part of Lokpal jurisdiction. A separate Grievance Redressal Authority should be created at the national level and in each state as recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Committee

NCPRI: Grievance redress under a separate legislation-  Shikayat Nivaran Lokpal (Grievance Redress Commission).  As Aruna Roy and Nikhi De pointed out in an article in Outlook itslef:

The determination to bring grievance redressal under the ambit of the Jan Lokpal will ensure that it collapses under its own weight. A citizens’ charter mandated department-wise (also monitored by the Jan Lokpal), with powers to order inclusions in the charter, pushes it into the domain of the executive. Non-compliance of the citizens’ charter can also become a vigilance complaint if the grievance redressal system mandated by the act fails. Establishing a functioning grievance redressal system is a huge challenge: it has to be built bottom upwards. The Jan Lokpal has arrogated to itself a role that is unpragmatic, and in the process it has promoted spiralling expectations without a resolution of the contradictions that exist

Arun Jaitly/BJP Now, I find there is a difficulty in the grievance mechanism. There is a debate whether it should be in Lokpal or it should be in a separate Bill. The Government of Bihar has come out with this legislation. The Government of Madhya Pradesh has come out with this legislation. They are working out the mannerism of starting this mechanism. Mr. Mishra tells me that the Government of Uttar Pradesh also came out with such legislation. It is the Government service delivery system that you must address the grievances of the common man, either through having an alternative mechanism or you have the Lokpal covering it. It could be a matter of debate.

CPM: A citizen’s grievances redressal machinery, that we have proposed be set up separately, should address all grievances regarding delivery of basic services and entitlements for citizens.

Both NCPRI and Lok Satta have rubbished the Govt Draft Bill and have found it deficient on almost all other points of contention. It is likely though that the Lok Sabha debate will not be confined to the above three issues that could not be agreed upon by the Govt and IAC and issues about appointment and dismissal of Lokpal/ayuktas, jurisdiction over PM and judiciary will definitely figure in the debate and for ready reference, the summaries made by the NCPRI and Lok Satta are provided below once again:
Lok Satta Proposals Summary

Jan Lokpal Bill Govt Lokpal Bill and NCPRI Draft Formulations

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