Home > Law and governance, Politics > Thoughts on the Jan Lokpal Bill

Thoughts on the Jan Lokpal Bill

Everybody seems to have an opinion about the Jan Lokpal bill (draft available here) these days — after Anna Hazare threatened to starve himself to death if the government didn’t agree to put up the bill in the parliament’s next session. Thousands of people waved little flags and wore the white Gandhi caps worn by Anna Hazare and associated with followers of the Mahatma, including Nehru and almost every leader of Congress (but most probably never worn by the great soul himself). It is perhaps a bit ironic that the anti-corruption marches had so many people wearing the Gandhi caps, when those caps are associated with the picture of corrupt politicians. Shiv Visvanathan’s description of the events as a simulacrum is not without merit.

There are now several articles in the blogosphere spelling out problems with the Jan Lokpal bill, for example by Shuddhabrata Sengupta here and Mihir Sharma here. The criticisms focus on the powers of the Lokpal, which appear to be unbridled, and the mechanisms of appointing or removing the said authority. The comments on Tarunabh Khaitan’s post at Law and Other Things seem to be quite well-reasoned, although restricted to a small group of people.

I have another problem with the `movement’. The movement originates in the failure of our justice system — there would be no such movement if the courts did not allow the rich and the powerful to delay or alter the course of justice, often through official mechanisms. The police is completely controlled by the government, which translates to politicians, and the investigations against politicians are often cursory to nonexistent as a result. And this neglect of duty often extends to those in business and industry who fund politicians.

By mobilising in favour of yet another office — that of the Lokpal — the public is reaffirming its loss of faith in the judiciary, the police, the legislature, and in fact the existing laws. So why do they expect this other office to function any better? If there is no one in all these other offices who can be relied upon, or if there is so much corruption in all courts, all law-enforcement agencies and among all politicians that it smothers all efforts to bring the corrupt officials and politicians to justice, how will the office of the Lokpal remain free of it?

My feeling is that one bill or one office will not serve the purpose of preventing or removing corruption from public offices and officials. The only way that will happen is if the existing laws are enforced properly, justice is served quickly, and action is taken quickly against those who protect politicians or rich people. Some new laws may be needed as well, but those must be easily enforceable.

For example, one way of restricting the movement of cash is to prevent the withdrawal of more than Rs.25000 cash per day from any bank account. There was a proposal by the finance ministry under Chidambaram in 2005 to impose a 0.1% tax on cash withdrawals above Rs.10000. Savings bank accounts were exempted from this soon afterwards. I cannot help but think that the pressure to exempt savings accounts must have come from the beneficiaries of such withdrawals, businesses in the real estate in particular, who ask buyers to provide a significant percentage of the price in cash.

Another way of preventing `official corruption’ — i.e. the kind of corruption which grants contracts at inflated prices — is to ensure that whenever such a case comes before the court, all files concerning the government decisions should be provided to the court without delay. I find it very strange when the government asks a court for time to prepare its defense of its own decision, and even stranger that the courts allow such petitions.

Anyway, the Jan Lokpal bill may be passed, with or without modifications. Some actions will result soon after, but in the long run I think it will undermine the functioning of all other offices of law enforcement, thus creating an effect opposite to what it was supposed to.

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  1. April 17, 2011 at 5:08 am

    Bribe Taker or Bribe Giver or Both ?

    On its website and in print, Times of India [ April 17,2011 ] mentions a working paper by Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, in which he is supposed to have suggested that that those who pay bribes should not be penalized because they would then be encouraged to report the crime after they have committed it. This will make the bribe receiver too scared to ask for it. This, he claims, could substantially bring down everyday corruption.

    “It is being argued is that this entire punishment (for the act of corruption) should be heaped on the bribe taker and the bribe giver should not be penalized at all, at least not for the act of offering or giving the bribe,” he suggested.

    On the face of it, this looks like a good suggestion provided the Lokpal Bill provides for the following :

     Onus of proving [ that a bribe was given / accepted ], must lie with the bribe-giver

     Complaint must be specific and provide details in respect of a claimed incidence of bribing

     If it turns out that the complaint was false / mischievous / malicious and cannot be proved, then the Lokpal Act must provide for severe punishment to the complainant – in order to deter harassment of honest officials

    I hope, Drafting Committee will thoroughly consider all aspects.

    With regards

    hemen parekh

    http://www.CustomizeResume.com

    Jobs for All = Peace on Earth

  1. June 2, 2011 at 2:11 am

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