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The Lokpal- NCPRI Approach: The Right To Differ

16 August 2011 One Comment

Transcripts of mail of Activist Aruna Roy of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and Bhaskar Prabhu of Mahiti Adhikar Manch along with the views of RTI Activist Krishnaraj Rao on the Lokpal BillLokpal Issue.

Dear Bhaskar,

As a preface and a possible apology, let me say that this is a combination between a letter and a note. Please bear with the lengthof it. We write to you on a matter of mutual and common concern, the Lokpal bill, now in Parliament. The context of this letter is
explained below.

When the Joint Drafting Committee of the Lokpal was working on the Jan
Lokpal ,  the NCPRI had written to the Chair, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, and the co-chair Shri Shanti Bhushan, enquiring about the TORs and the process of and participation, in public consultation. Both assured us that there would be formal public consultation. It did not happen. When the government bill went to cabinet with the intention of placing it in the monsoon session of parliament, the NCPRI decided to make its position known. The NCPRI is continuing with its deliberations and  consultations and has  prepared an approach paper and a set of principles for circulation. This is a work in progress.

The belief in consultations and discussion is the reason why we write to you.

The NCPRI’s (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information)
involvement with legislation to deal with corruption and arbitrary use
of power, began with the demand for an RTI law in 1996. The Lokpal was
flagged as a law that needed to be taken up along with the Whistle Blowers Bill to address the killing of RTI Activists and establish accountability. A committee was set up in the September 2010 for that purpose. The issue of the Lokpal was however taken up by some members of the NCPRI Working Committee, who formed the IAC and the NCPRI discussions remained suspended.

The Lokpal discussion has had an interesting trajectory. It began as the stated logical end of a large middle class mobilization on corruption. The stated end of that campaign was the demand for the setting up of a Joint Drafting Committee for a Lokpal bill. In common usage and understanding of corruption, the term casually refers to a range of corrupt practices. The political/governance spectrum is indeed more culpable than others. For it is mandated to maintain integrity in public life, to keep the country on keel with constitutional and other guarantees. This includes preventing the arbitrary use of power and corrupt practices. The Lokpal was too simplistically ordained by the campaign as a solution to all varieties of corrupt practices in our lives.

However the assurance that all solutions to the entire gamut of corrupt practices could be worked out through a strong Lokpal has left us with a great sense of disquiet. Not only because it does not address the arbitrary use of power. But because it is an unrealistic promise to rising expectations that it is an  alleviation of all ills through one bill. It is also a question of the contents of the Jan lokpal draft itself.

There have been public meetings but few consultations on the content
of the Act in detail . While gestures and symbolic assent – like sms and referendums – may approve the intent, drafting of an Act needs more informed debate.  The Lokpal  debate has had its share  of general platitudes, we need now to go beyond that. We also have to place the role of dissent squarely in the fulcrum of the debate. The discussions after all, flow from the acceptance that a strong Lokpal bill is needed. Also that the earlier and even the current government draft is faulty, even on principles.

The NCPRI however did make efforts  before the 5th  of April to arrive
at a consensus with the IAC in a meeting held on 3rd April in the NMML. The NAC took up the matter independent of the NCPRI on the 4thApril. The NCPRI  had expressed reservations about the over arching and overwhelming structure of  a  law, which  included  grievances and corruption within its ambit. It was argued that though both are equally important, they require different mechanisms for implementation.

Subsequently events took over, and in the polarised discourse, it became impossible to make suggestions and or suggest changes. Every critique was attributed to wrong intent and viewed with suspicion and mistrust by the civil society members of the Joint Committee. Critique of the Bill has evoked sharp reactions, and statements have been made that no amendments or change to the principles or the framework is possible, and that disagreement with the draft was tantamount to promoting corruption. We were baffled by such statements. The NCPRI however continued with the consultations to evolve an approach, a set of principles and measures to unpack the huge unwieldy and much too powerful structure proposed by the IAC.

We are attaching a set of documents defining our approach to the Lokpal, different both from the Jan Lokpal and the Government bills. The NCPRI would like to share a set of principles and a framework for deliberation. The summary of our basic arguments is detailed below. This was placed in the public domain by the NCPRI and the Inclusive Media 4 Change ( CSDS) on the 5th and 6th of June 2011.

The consensus that emerged was that in place of a single institution there should be multiple institutions and that  a basket of collective and concurrent Lokpal anti corruption and grievance redress measures should be evolved.

Summary of the NCPRI approach towards a series of concurrent and collective Anti-corruption and Grievance Redress measures:

Rationale: Vesting jurisdiction over the length and breadth of the government machinery in one institution will concentrate too much power in the institution, while the volume of work will make it difficult to carry out its tasks.

1.     Unanimous endorsement of the need for accountability of all public servants, including the contentious issue of inclusion of the PM, with a few caveats. ( No one is above the law, enforcing the rule of law).

2.     An independent system for judicial scrutiny and standards.

3.     An independent and strong institution to scrutinize corruption of public servants and issues, which require different administrative processes and organizational set-up.

4.     and a mechanism to redress grievances of the common citizen

5.     Whistle Blowers protection.

The five measures proposed by NCPRI are:

1. Rashtriya Bhrashtachar Nivaran Lokpal (National Anti-corruption Lokpal): An institution to tackle corruption of all elected representatives, including the Prime Minister (with some safeguards), Ministers and Members of Parliament and senior bureaucrats (Group ‘A’ officers) and all other co-accused including those in the private and social sector. The Lokpal will be financially and administratively independent from the government and will have both investigative and prosecution powers.

2.  Kendriya Satarkta Lokpal (Central Vigilance Commission): Amending
the Central Vigilance Commission Act to remove the single directive and empower the CVC to investigate corruption and take appropriate action against mid-level bureaucracy.

3.  Nyayapalika Lokpal (Judicial Standards and Accountability Lokpal):
To strengthen the existing Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, that is currently before the Parliament, to ensure that the judiciary is also made effectively and appropriately accountable, without compromising its independence from the executive or the integrity of
its functions.

4.      Shikayat Nivaran Lokpal (Public Grievances Lokpal): To set up an effective time-bound system for grievance redress for common citizens to make the government answerable in terms of its functions, duties, commitments and obligations towards citizens. The grievance redress structure would have decentralized institutional mechanisms going right down to each ward/block level, and would ensure a bottom-up, people centric approach so that complaints and grievances can be dealt with speedily and in a decentralized, participatory and transparent manner. It will integrate public vigilance processes like vigilance committees and social audits, and provide for facilitation for the filing of all grievances/complaints through the setting up of block information and facilitation centres in every Block (rural) and ward(urban) in the country.The grievance redress mechanism will be a three-tier structure consisting of grievance redress officers at the local level within the department, independent district level grievance redressal authorities and central/State level grievance redress commission. It will include and rationalize existing structures.

5.  Lokrakshak Kanoon (Whistleblower Protection Lokpal): To strengthen
the existing Public interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, that is currently before the Parliament, to ensure appropriate protection of whistleblowers. These institutions, where relevant, will also be established at the State level. In addition there will be a common selection process to staff these institutions. We feel that all these measures need to be brought in simultaneously to effectively tackle corruption at all levels and provide a mechanism to redress grievances of citizens. We write to you, to present this alternative, to elicit your responses, and to invite you to be part of the discourse. Please do let us know whether you are interested in being part of the discourse
and in receiving periodic updates.

Krishnaraj Rao’s Views on the above

I have read Aruna Roy’s email to you (attachment no 1, copy-pasted as a separate word document) and the documents that she sent (attachments no 2 and 3). Her stand is correctly reasoned, and it goes to the heart of the problem. I wholeheartedly agree, and I am posting this reply on numerous email forums. I would invite others to take a stand on this crucial issue.
In my opinion, the approach proposed by NCPRI is a reasoned and nuanced one. It expresses what my own thoughts on this issue developed over many months of the campaign for Jan Lokpal Bill. I am completely in agreement with the NCPRI stand, and I oppose the politicized approach where people who question the “Jan Lokpal Bill” approach are sought to be portrayed as traitors and congress stooges.
Below are my thoughts in consonance with Arun Roy’s email: 
Corruption is only one word, but this catch-all word is used to describe a very wide range of behaviours that cheat the system of checks-and-balances. These behaviours are not performed only by “public servants” alone, but by many civil society members in collusion. Builder mafias, water-tanker mafias, road-contractor cartels, industry-lobbyists and go-betweens, adulterators, hoarders, touts, slumlords, encroachers and thugs — these are all civil society elements.
Also, “public servants” is a catch-all term. It consists of a very wide range of persons, whose actions cannot all be dealt with by a single authority. Different authorities and different laws are needed to hold accountable ministers, bureaucrats, judges, clerk, bus conductors and neighbourhood sweepers, even though all of them are public servants. There cannot be one law to cover all of them, because the level of authority and discretion is massively different at each and every level.
Therefore, the way the battle lines are drawn through the Jan Lokpal Bill is not only simplistic, it is misleading and dangerous. There is an attempt to create categories where none exist, and to set the stage for a witch-hunt, similar to USA’s McCarthyism era. The battle against corruption cannot be seen as a battle between Us (clean civil society) versus Them (dirty politicians and bureaucrats). This is a basically incorrect premise; the battle against corruption can only be fought as an effort by ‘We the People’ to build systems of checks and balances that are effective in the modern context, and to use these systems to prevent abuse of the administrative systems. This battle has to be fought together in an inclusive manner.
Also, as the problem of corruption is not a single homogenous problem, we cannot deal with it with a single monolithic authority with vast and overarching  powers. The idea of a single magic want to solve all problems is a silly notion. Unfortunately, thoughtless zealousness is currently being dressed in the garb of patriotism. The right to hold a dissenting opinion is being demonized as leniency towards corruption.
Like Aruna Roy and many others, I feel angry and betrayed that the proceedings towards framing a rational and effective Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill (officially known as Public Interest Disclosure Bill) were hijacked to give birth to a pie-in-the-sky Jan Lokpal Bill. The Bill to facilitate whistleblowers and protect their lives was left in the lurch.
The solutions to our nation’s many problems lie not in creating thousands of zealots, but in creating many systems of checks-and-balances that are practical, down-to-earth and workable. The solutions will not be found in divisive Us-versus-Them thinking; they will only be found in cultivating a mindset of activating ‘We the People’ in constructive ways.
Fasting does not automatically mean Satyagraha, if the intent is to provoke social division and anger. Being able to fast for many days does not necessarily confer moral superiority; I fasted for nine days in October 2010 — six of them at the temple in Ralegan Siddhi where Annaji lives. For four days and nights, I literally slept outside Annaji’s bedroom door, until I was picked up by the police one evening, and ordered not to stay there. Fasting is a form of non-violent protest, but it is also a method of arm-twisting.
While I genuinely admire the massive public mobilization that Team Anna — led by Arvind Kejriwal — has done around the issue of corruption, I oppose the oversimplification and propaganda, and the confrontationist stances that are being consistently adopted. Such tactics (which are typically adopted by right-wing political parties like Shiv Sena and BJP) are an obstacle to sensible deliberations on any forum, including the parliament. Such tactics are unbecoming of public awakeners and activists.
The problem of corruption is like an octopus. The rational and feasible approach is to seek to isolate each tentacle of the problem, pin it down with a suitable legislative mechanism, and then kill each tentacle by ensuring that implementation happens.
That is the multi-pronged and methodical approach being proposed by Aruna Roy and NCPRI. I welcome this, and I would be happy to work for its success.
1 Aruna Roy’s letter to Bhaskar Prabhu

One Comment »

  • sivaprasadrao said:

    I personally feel that this version of lokpal is best suited and needed in the present society..this kind of blackmailing the government should not be encouraged by the people, atleast in the near future..finally a change in the attitude of people along with strong laws helps in achieving our goal of corruption free india..