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THE FARCE BEING PLAYED OUT ON THE LOKPAL BILL

The Jan Lokpal was conceived as an independent empowered and accountable ombudsman which could independently, credibly and expeditiously investigate corruption offences of all public servants who are today not being investigated because the investigating agencies are controlled by the same public servants who need to be investigated. Such a Lokpal would need to be functionally, financially and even in terms of appointment and accountability be independent of the government and indeed the political establishment even if they are for the time being not in government. A Jan Lokpal bill was drafted by the Civil Society members of the joint drafting committee for this purpose in June 2011 which had the support of at least 80% people of the country. A fast was undertaken by Anna Hazare at Ramlila Maidan in August 2011 for this purpose, at the end to which the Parliament passed a unanimous resolution committing to passing a Lokpal Bill which would have at least 3 elements: That all public servants, high or low would be included in the investigative ambit of the Lokpal; that the Lokpal would also monitor the Citizen’s charters and have the power to penalize public authorities and servants who violate it; and that the Lokpal bill would contain provisions for Lokayktas on the same lines as the Lokpal for the States, which would take of corruption among State Public servants.

Unfortunately however, the government introduced and passed a farcical bill called the Lokpal Bill 2011 in December 2011. The same bill was then brought before the Rajya Sabha but torn up and thrown away and then referred to the Select Committee. The Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha left the selection of the Lokpal essentially in the hands of the government. It also left the accountability of the Lokpal in government hands, thus completely compromising the independence of the Lokpal. Equally importantly, this bill left the Lokpal’s corruption investigations in the hands of a government controlled CBI. Also, the bill did not contain even a single one of the 3 provisions which the Parliament had unanimously promised Anna Hazare before he broke his fast. Only group A public servants and not all were brought within the Lokpal’s purview;  There was no provision for a State Lokayukta’s in this bill; and there was no mention of a citizens charter. Moreover, the investigation of the Lokpal was crippled by the need to first have a preliminary inquiry where the accused public servant would have to be heard (thus allowing him to destroy evidence) before even the FIR could be registered. And worst of all, a person whose complaint was labeled “frivolous or vexatious” by this government controlled Lokpal could be imprisoned for upto 5 years (even more than the punishment for corruption)! That is why we had called this bill a Jokepal bill or a bill for the protection of corrupt public servants.

The select committee has recommended some cosmetic changes in the bill which do not take care of the fundamental defects of the bill. In the selection and removal of the Lokpal, slightly more weightage has been given to the opposition rather than the government, but even with this, the appointment and removal of the lokpal remains under the control of the political class who usually would have the same vested interest to have a weak and pliable Lokpal. Similarly, the select committee has recommended that the CBI officers investigating the corruption complaints entrusted to them by the Lokpal would remain under the suprindentance of the Lokpal and would not be transferred out without the permission of the Lokpal. However, the essential administrative powers over the CBI officers of promotions, postings, disciplinary control and post retirement jobs would remain with the government, thus rendering them beholden to and dependant on the government. Nothing substantive is proposed by the select committee to deal with the 3 assurances of Parliament to Anna.

We are now witnessing an unseemly spectacle in Parliament with the Congress and the BJP fighting to claim credit for passing this farcical Jokepal bill, with or without the cosmetic amendments of the select committee. In either case, it would remain a far cry from the Jan Lokpal bill which had been drafted by Team Anna and for which Anna had fasted at Ramlila maidan.

Anna is on fast again at Ralegan Siddhi for the Lokpal bill. Agents of the Congress and the BJP have been going to him to get him to accept this Jokepal bill. We realized more than a year ago that these corrupted parties like the Congress and the BJP were not going to allow any independent and credible Lokpal which would send half of their ministers and many of their leaders to jail. That is why we had to form a political party, realizing that we will need to be in the legislatures to get the Jan Lokpal bill passed. No amount of Fasting and protests will force these parties to do what the country really needs. While expressing our full support for the cause for which Anna is fasting, we call upon him to give up his fast and join the resurgent civil society movement for an electoral revolution in the country which promises to bring about the revolutionary changes in the democratic, electoral and anti corruption system in the country.

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