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Is Anna's magic fading

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Last Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 08:29
Ritesh K Srivastava
The Observer

With the demon of corruption taking another major casualty in Karnataka and the CAG report dropping a political bomb on the CWG mess over Congress, more fireworks are likely to be seen in the days to come.

Having failed to convince the UPA government to agree to his version of the Lokpal Bill, social activist Anna Hazare has now decided to resort to the Gandhian way of protesting. The social crusader is all set to go on an indefinite fast from August 16, just a day after India celebrates its 65th year of Independence from the British regime.

However, considering the uncompromising stand taken by the ruling disposition, the million dollar question is whether Anna’s fast would yield any concrete results? Whether he will succeed in forcing the government to heed to his demands? Will Anna’s movement generate the same kind of response from his supporters (usually the common man) as it did during his ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign at Jantar Mantar?

Anna Hazare recently wrote an open letter to parliamentarians and appealed them to block the presentation of the Lokpal Bill, prepared and cleared by the Union Cabinet, by describing it as anti-farmer and anti-poor.

Viewed objectively, it looks like that Anna has taken a clever move by appealing to parliamentarians and not threatening the government directly. The Congress government, on the other hand, seems to have learnt tough lessons from the intense criticism it faced for allowing the crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s supporters at the Ramlila Ground. That’s why, it has been denying permission to Anna Hazare to commence his fast either at the Ramlila Ground or Jantar Mantar, and instead asked him to choose other sites in the outskirts of Delhi.

The government knows that it can always say no to Anna on the grounds that his indefinite agitation would disturb law and order in the national capital.

The thing which is important in this context is whether or not the civil society should be allowed to protest or, in other words, blackmail the government?

Team Anna and their supporters burnt copies of the government version of the Lokpal Bill after the government tabled it in Parliament. This shows that both the sides are unrelenting and will not give up easily. Both the sides have been backing their version of the Lokpal and several parleys to reach an agreement in this regard have been inconclusive.

The points of contention are many – The Government's version of the Lokpal Bill does not allow the public to file complaints. The cases of corruption could only be sent to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, who in turn would forward it to the Ombudsman.

Secondly, the Ombudsman, as per the Government’s draft, lacks power to take suo motto cognizance of complaints. The government draft makes Lokpal an advisory body, having power to prosecute guilty officials. The Lokpal panel would constitute only three members- retired judges –leaving no scope for members from other backgrounds.

What is likely to distract public from lodging complaints is a provision in the government’s version that the complainants will face severe punishment if their complaints turn out to be false. And most importantly, the government draft keeps the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary, the MPs and higher bureaucrats outside the purview of Lokpal.

On the other hand, the draft prepared by the civil society activists' Jan Lokpal Bill seeks to repeal the Central Vigilance Act and merge it with the Lokpal. This would mean that the anti-corruption agency would become a supreme authority having both powers of investigation and prosecution.

The Jan Lokpal envisages that no complaint can be dismissed without hearing. This too would require the Ombudsman to devote much of his time and resources to verify the admissibility of complaints. As against the government’s version, the draft prepared by the civil society gives absolute powers to the Lokpal over and above the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. For this kind of Lokpal to turn into a reality, a Constitutional amendment would be required.

Moreover, the deadline set by Anna Hazare for Parliament to pass the Lokpal Bill by August 15 is also not practically feasible. After a bill is tabled in Parliament, it is sent to a high-level committee for a feasibility study and suggestions. The process requires time so it is highly unlikely that a parliamentary committee would be able to finish it before August 15.

Given the lack of consensus among major political parties on various aspects of the Lokpal Bill and an on-going campaign by civil rights activists, it looks unlikely that the anti-corruption legislation will see the light of the day this year.

Undoubtedly, corruption today has become a major issue in India. Moreover, in the wake of several scams related to the 2G spectrum allocation, the Adarsh housing society, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the illegal mining business in Karnataka, the land acquisitions in Uttar Pradesh, voices calling for a more comprehensive and stringent anti-corruption mechanism have become louder and louder.

It is true that we need a comprehensive and strong anti-corruption mechanism but for that Parliament should be allowed to debate and our chosen representatives to carve an effective Lokpal to curb the menace of corruption.

Instead of usurping the rights of our lawmakers, the civil society activists should convince political parties to include some of their recommendations to make it balanced and effective.

The issue of corruption has been stalling normal business inside Parliament, leading to its adjournment these days, and several important bills are still pending with the government. So, as the situation stands, the concept of an effective Lokpal looks like a far-fetched thought.

However, I still hope that the two sides would reach a consensus on the issue and an effective anti-corruption legislation will come into force.

First Published: Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 08:29

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