Civil society demands an effective anti-corruption agency

1st of Dec 2010

1 December 2010, New Delhi -- The voice against corruption is increasingly becoming pro-active. Recently, a group of activists, backed by people from all cross-sections of the Indian society, went beyond just the rhetoric and drafted a Lokpal Bill to plug loopholes in the Indian anti-corruption system. They then forwarded the Bill to the Prime Minster with a request to make it a law. The letter is signed by Arch Bishop of Delhi, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi, Mallika Sarabhai, Arvind Kejriwal, Anna Hazare, Sunita Godara, Devinder Sharma, Kamal Jaswal and many others.

The two cornerstones of Indian enforcement infrastructure are the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Chief Vigilance Commission. Unfortunately, both have been rendered ineffective due to the way they have been setup. The CVC is independent but does not have powers. The CBI has powers but is not independent. As a result, the first cannot punish while the latter cannot investigate fairly. Therefore, there is an urgent need for an effective alternative. The government is purportedly working on a bill to setup such an agency with the name of Lokpal. However, it seeks to make the Lokpal an advisory body without jurisdiction over bureaucracy. These provisions will make the Lokpal ineffective.

Six features are necessary for effectiveness of the Lokpal - independence from the government, complete jurisdiction over the executive, powers to investigate without prior permission, ability to prosecute without restrictions, capability of recovering losses from a convicted public servant, and protection to whistleblowers. These features are enshrined in the alternative draft Lokpal Bill put together by the activist group with the advice of a number of relevant experts such as Justice Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge and the Lokayukta of Karnataka, Mr Pratyush Sinha, a former CVC, and Prashant Bhushan, an eminent Supreme Court Lawyer.

Members of the group addressed a press conference today and sought broader public support. This movement named “India Against Corruption” or “Bhrashtachar ke virudh Janyudh”, has put the draft bill on its website to seek people’s opinion on it.

“There is no law in the country, which provides for recovery of the loss caused to the government due to the corruption of any politician or officer. For the first time, this Bill seeks to recover the loss suffered by the government from those who are convicted. Lokpal shall also be responsible for providing protection to whistleblowers,” informed Kiran Bedi. “There is a class divide as far as our criminal justice system is concerned. For the poor, you have police stations and for the rich, you have CAGs, CVCs and CBIs. There is no effective system for tackling white collar crime.”

Swami Ramdev in a message said that the country had already suffered quite a lot due to corruption. All bad people from media, business, politics, officialdom are joining hands and looting the nation. He urged all good people from all sectors of society to join hands to fight the evil forces. He also urged all political parties to rise above their party politics and join hands in fighting corruption. “Everyone in the country will have to join in this movement against corruption. Even if we have to amend the constitution, the time has come to do that.”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said it was rare that the religious leaders commented on government policies. But when the situation became dire, they cannot remain mute spectators and had to intervene. “Unless we have effective systems to book and punish the corrupt speedily, we will never be able to tackle corruption. It is difficult for the Prime Minister to take action against his own ministers when he is heading a coalition government. Therefore, he should immediately set up independent systems on the lines of election commission.”

Arvind Kejriwal injected hope by citing an anti-corruption success story. He said, “When corruption reached its peak in Hong Kong in the 70s, its government created an Independent Commission Against Corruption armed with required powers. The Commission sacked 103 out of 107 police officers right away sending a strong signal to everyone. The commission followed up effectively and made Hong Kong one of the most honest countries.” He added, “It is also possible for India to turn around with the help of a similar independent body.”

“Rather than have a plethora of ineffective agencies, we have suggested that these agencies should be merged into Lokpal and let there be one effective agency,” said Swami Agnivesh. He said that the group will not hesitate in resorting to protests if the government did not take quick action on the Bill. “Time has come for adopting zero tolerance against corruption.”

Anna Hazare warned of a movement all across Maharashtra, which has been in centre stage in the past due to Adarsh scam. “We have also written a letter to the Chief Justice of India requesting him to issue necessary directions to unshackle CBI from the clutches of the government. The government is also proposing to introduce a Lokpal Bill in Parliament. However, the government’s draft is ineffective because it seeks to make Lokpal an advisory body and does not give it jurisdiction over bureaucracy and judiciary.”

The same group of people had made a formal police complaint in Parliamentary police station and CBI to register FIRs against corruption in Commonwealth Games. “The government agencies are yet to register any FIR. We will soon file a case in courts to request directions that FIRs be filed”, informed Sunita Godara, Asian marathon champion.

“We have also requested all the Chief Ministers to make similar laws in their states. We have separately requested the Prime Minister to enact the Lokayukta law through Parliament to enforce it in all states,” said Kamal Jaswal, Director Common Cause.