The long-drawn-out effort for a new machinery to deal with rampant corruption has entered a crucial phase. With the polity deeply divided on the Bill the government placed before the Lower House of Parliament last week, the shape of the machinery that may emerge remains uncertain.
At the introduction stage itself, several members, led by Bihar leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, launched virulent attacks on the measure, kindling memories of the ill-fated Bill to provide reservation for women in Parliament and the state legislatures. Some of them accused the government of acting in haste, under duress.
Responding to criticism of the measure, Finance Minister Pranab Mukerjee said, “If you feel it is not necessary, we will not have it. Legislation is the domain of Parliament.” This gave rise to suspicion that the political class wants to defeat the legislative effort the way it thwarted the women’s reservation Bill.
However, the government cannot abandon the Bill since Anna Hazare’s movement has created sentiments in favour of a tough anti-corruption regime. The House is due to vote on the Bill after three days of discussion beginning tomorrow. Hazare will be on fast in Mumbai on all the three days. He has also asked his supporters to prepare for a “jail bharo” (fill the jail) agitation.
Anna Hazare deserves full credit for compelling the government to pilot the bill to create the Lokpal institution, which successive administrations have talked about but not pursued seriously. However, in insisting that Parliament reject the government Bill and adopt the one drafted by him, he is overreaching himself.
When Team Anna approached the Bombay High Court for a directive to the Mumbai authorities to make available a suburban ground for his fast at a concessional rate, the judges questioned the propriety of “parallel canvassing” when Parliament is considering the measure. Leaders of the Communist Party of India and the CPI-Marxist were present at the all-party meeting Hazare called in New Delhi recently, but in the house the CPI spokesman ridiculed him for seeking the mantle of the Father of the Nation.
An organisation styled as “Save Democracy: Save India” has announced plans to hold rallies in Mumbai for three days, coinciding with Hazare’s fast, in protest against his attempt to dictate to Parliament.
The Bill Parliament is considering is an improved version of the one the government prepared. The standing committee which considered the government draft, along with those submitted by others, including Team Anna, made many changes to strengthen it.
As it now stands, the measure provides for a nine-member Lokpal at the Centre and for a Lokayukta in every state. Both the institutions will be constitutional bodies. Half the membership of the Lokpal will be filled by women, Dalits, Adivasis and backward classes, with a quota for the minorities in the last category.
Hazare’s demand that the Prime Minister be brought under the purview of the Lokpal has been conceded. However, a bench comprising at least seven members must hold an in-camera preliminary inquiry into the complaint against him. His work with regard to sensitive matters like international relations, national security, atomic energy and space cannot be looked into.
The Lokpal can entertain complaints against ministers, members of Parliament, officials and non-government organisations which receive more than Rs 1 million as donations in a year. Hazare, however, insists the Bill is still very weak. He is unhappy that it does not place the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Lokpal, although it does provide for the Lokpal and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner supervising CBI investigation of cases referred by them.
Almost all parties have reservations about some provisions or other. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party and some regional parties are opposed to inclusion of the Lokayukta in the measure, viewing it as contrary to the federal principle.
Since parties which disapprove of particular provisions may be able to combine forces and defeat them, one cannot be sure about the form in which the Bill emerges from the House. If the Upper House makes any further changes in the measure it will come before the Lower House again. The Bill enacted by Parliament will be subject to judicial scrutiny. Parliament and the Judiciary will not be as susceptible to outside pressure as the Executive is. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 26, 2011.