The Lokpal Bill is in danger of skidding off the rails. As it is introduced in Parliament, eminent activist Aruna Roy tells Shoma Chaudhury why we should not rush into it

Raising the pitch The rigid positions of Team Anna have put civil society in a spot
Raising the pitch The rigid positions of Team Anna have put civil society in a spot
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

THE LOKPAL BILL is now being debated in Parliament, almost 40 years after the idea was first mooted. Unfortunately, parented on one side by decades of wilful government inertia and, on the other, by the panicked hustle of ‘Team Anna’, it is not a glorious document.

The Team Anna document tried for too much, over-reaching itself; the government one does too little. The former seemed to have been put together in a cleansing rage: it wants to set up a super-structure of high-integrity individuals to curb and prosecute corruption among MPs, higher bureaucracy, lower bureaucracy, clerks, peons, police, every government department and project, the judiciary, and the prime minister. It wants to protect whistleblowers and fix every governance grouse of every Indian citizen — all through the same magic wand: the Lokpal.

The latter seems to have been put together not as an act of visionary statesmanship but a defensive feint: doing just enough to get by. It allows for the setting up of a Lokpal and frees it up to investigate and prosecute MPs and higher bureaucracy without being shackled by official sanctions, but it does not give it complete autonomy either in its selection process or its administrative and financial control. It also excludes the prime minister from its purview and just hives off all the rest: no protection for whistleblowers, no state Lokayuktas, no mechanism for checking corruption in the judiciary and middle bureaucracy, and a seriously ill-thought out grievance redressal mechanism. The government had some fair critiques of the Jan Lokpal Bill Team Anna was insisting on. But clearly, they could not exert themselves to come up with acceptable alternative answers.

Over the past few months, in fact, as Team Anna and the government have tussled theatrically over the shape of the Lokpal Bill — sizzling television channels with their dharnas, crackdowns, airport receptions, escapades, and colourful charges and counter-charges — there’s been a huge opportunity for disturbing reflections about the nature of corruption and the fight against it.

Strangely, the toughest piece to swallow in all of it has been some of Team Anna’s own actions. In the battle for good, governments everywhere in the world have classically been the inferior partner, pushed, cajoled, threatened onto the right path by pressure lobbies: the electorate, civil rights activists, media, judiciary, the opposition, and sometimes, just genuinely good leadership. But for the longest time, at least in India, no one has ever quite outlawed government and the political class as dangerously and in such essentialist terms as Team Anna’s rhetoric managed to do.

To raise this concern is itself difficult business. The government and political class across the board do very little to deserve defence: they are pervasively corrupt, they are brazen, selfish and timid at the same time. You keep hoping Parliamentarians will redeem themselves with a display of statesmanship, but they almost never do. This season, in particular, with poor leadership and scams spilling simultaneously like a twin can of worms, it has been especially difficult to keep the faith. There is a huge temptation to say: let’s crack it all open. Let’s experiment wildly with the magic wand.

But, you never expect civil society to miss a step in its own basic principles. Team Anna’s mistake was not in ratcheting up a street-storm over the Lokpal Bill, it was in demanding not that the Lokpal Bill be debated in a robust and time-bound manner, but that their particular version of the Bill be rammed through by a certain date.

Even the contentious Joint Drafting Committee was a charade on both sides, because one side really did not want to listen and the other was only gauging the government by the “percentages” it was giving in to the Jan Lokpal draft. Had they even arrived at a common goal? It was impossible to decipher.

This peculiar rush and mutual intolerance has trapped Team Anna in a situation unprecedented for civil society. Today, Team Anna’s strident public stances and its inner impulses and selfimage do not match. Having acquired a huge and angry constituency through its India Against Corruption forum, it feels beholden to keep the temperature going.

To make matters more complicated, no matter what the detractions, this raised temperature has been a triumph. To bring old and seething frustrations against corruption to whitehot boil is no mean achievement. Events of the past few months have shown that one does not really need a Lokpal or supercop, if existing institutions would just do their primary jobs in the correct proportion: a functioning Comptroller and Auditor General, a vigilant media, an upright judicial bench, and an executive that is at least decent and shame-faced enough to let matters take its course. There are more powerful leaders and corporate heads in jail now than in the past many decades. Even the supposedly toothless Karnataka Lokayukta report — unarmed with the power to prosecute — has taken a scalp. But would all of this have clicked into place if the anti-corruption movement had not created a climate of no-tolerance?

The trouble is, Team Anna is trapped in the trapeze act of hard positions necessary to keep the issue hot and theatre of interest alive (in an electronic era, the challenge is not just to grab attention but to sustain it). Yet, it also wishes to seem open and receptive to suggestions on changing its draft law. These are untenable positions: how can they deride the government for not accepting the Jan Lokpal draft exactly as they have conceived it and yet keep changing and improving it themselves at the same time? How can it urge other civil society stakeholders to send in suggestions for improvement yet insist they will not change the basic structure of their draft or consider any alternatives no matter what the rationale? What kind of corralled debate is this? And why take to the streets before all the finer deliberations were done and a satisfactory draft Bill was ready? Why shoot before you have picked the best cannon?

The trouble is that Team Anna is trapped in the trapeze act of the hard positions necessary to keep the Lokpal issue hot and theatre of interest alive

Far from being an exhilarating journey, or even confrontation with power, the Team Anna-led Lokpal debate and anti-corruption crusade has left many would-be fellow travellers strangely disturbed and wary. Into this vexed situation — this Lokpal Bill being imperfectly hustled in different ways by both government and Team Anna — there has now come a third voice.

ARUNA ROY of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) is a widely reputed civil society activist and one of the key catalysts behind the paradigm-shifting RTI Act. At first, Roy and her colleagues stayed away from the Lokpal debate, caught in a peculiar dilemma: how do you challenge long-cherished co-travellers publicly without dismantling or discrediting their cause?

But eventually, the larger ethical demand prevailed. The basic goals and intention of Team Anna’s Bill are unimpeachable. The MKSS has now come up with a “basket of measures” that addresses all these concerns but in a decentralised, and perhaps more sustainable, way (See TEHELKA — Lokpal: An option without a fast or fuss by Revati Laul, 23 July).

In this conversation, Roy details the many complex issues that underlie the corruption debate, their implications for democracy, and why it is important not to rush through with the Bill, even as one continues to keep up the pressure on it.

In the first sign of good faith, the government has circulated not just its own imperfect draft Bill, but a detailed analysis of the Team Anna Bill to all Parliamentarians ahead of its introduction in the House. Perhaps, the tide will yet turn, and there will be a more nuanced debate on the merits of an effective anti-corruption Bill. If so, it is time to start discussing a newer, better shape.

‘It’s democratically immature to demand a black and white position on this Bill’

Aruna Roy, NAC Member, 65

Voice of sanity MKSS co-founder and social activist Aruna Roy
Voice of sanity MKSS co-founder and social activist Aruna Roy
Photo: Vijay Pandey

Aruna, both Prashant and Arvind have been your co-travellers in many fights for social justice. But your critique of the Jan Lokpal Bill now is being construed as delaying the anti-corruption act, playing into the government’s hand, and a rift in civil society. Can you explain your dilemma in speaking out?
There is just one line from a song that plays in my head these days — “akla cholo re (walk alone if you must)”. It has been a very difficult decision for the MKSS to make our position public on the Jan Lokpal Bill but we finally decided to speak out because this is a huge and complex issue with many ramifications and as public people it is our responsibility to say what we think and make our ethical positions clear and let people take their own decisions after that. We are not going to force anybody to pledge support for our law or our group as a touchstone of their commitment to fight corruption. We hope people will hear our views and think for themselves.

Nothing can be totally right or totally wrong and one does not know what further nuancing might arise out of an open debate but I think it’s democratically and politically immature to demand that one take a simplistic and black-and-white position on this. This is what governments have always been doing with us. You are seen as either with them or against them. For instance, if you fought for land rights you were described as a Maoist and a votary of violent revolution. We cannot do the same thing ourselves, but we are. We are not allowing ourselves the luxury of the rich debates and nuanced thinking that has been our strength. Pluralism has been the strength of so-called civil society. We cannot sacrifice that. I don’t care what happens to the government but it’s wrong for the people of this country, it’s wrong for democracy and that’s why we have decided to speak from the NCPRI. I trust that the friendships and shared ideals of our co-travellers will survive the disagreement. To doubt our intention and ethics over disagreements cannot be described as Machiavellian. That is a real loss because it precludes open dissent in a climate of trust.

You have come out with a ‘basket of measures’ that addresses all the concerns of the Jan Lokpal Bill but decentralises and breaks up its functioning. We’ll come to that later. Can you first explain your essential disagreements with the ‘Team Anna’ campaign and why you did not join it?
I don’t want to dwell too much about the campaign but even before they went on the Jantar Mantar fast on 5 April, Arvind knew our reasons for not joining it even though we had all been part of the initial discussions about the creation of a strong Lokpal Bill back in 2010. In fact, the drafting of the Lokpal Bill was a spin-off from an NCPRI meeting in which Arvind was asked to convene a small group to draft a separate and strong Whistleblowers Act. He did not finish that but segued it into the Jan Lokpal Bill that then went into forming the India Against Corruption (IAC) forum. When he asked if we would join it, some members of the NCPRI working committee like Prashant agreed but MKSS said no because the forum included saffron groups and we felt that in a movement demanding accountability, the means — the process — is as important as the end. The other concern was that when you demand accountability of others, your own ethics must undergo extremely rigorous standards yourself and that has been a continuing struggle within our movement. Some who shared that dais do not share that rigour. This is why we had said we were happy to be part of the lawmaking process but not the campaign.

There are those who would say, don’t look at the messenger, look at the message, which in this case was an anti-corruption drive and the saffron networks proved to be huge amplifiers.
Yes, but financial corruption is only one aspect of corruption. Communalism, majoritarianism, the unequal application of power and justice as happened in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat and in many other communal situations in our country are also important facets of corruptions. In fact, these corruptions can take away lives that have incalculable value.

And no matter how popular it was, we can’t forget that actually the famous JP Movement gave birth to a resurgent RSS. From a position of oblivion they came back as a force to reckon with in society and even changed the national discourse finally. As political animals, one has to think not just about immediate returns but the longterm issues and consequences of your actions. You cannot walk a journey like this with a set of people and then disown or be blind to their core politics.

Before we move on to the actual Bill, what do you think of the referendum in Chandni Chowk as a pressure tactic and the 16 August fast ahead?
The referendum is a good tool to gauge the broad strokes of whether people want a law or not. It’s like an opinion poll and anyone has a right to do an opinion poll on anything. It’s a free country. But to make a referendum like this the basis for the formulation of a law, or to use it to insist on a certain version is an approach we find difficult to back. One can even use it to ask whether people want the prime minister within its purview or not, but the modalities of how the PM should be brought in is a different discussion altogether. Having said that, even asking whether people want the government’s Lokpal Bill or the Jan Lokpal Bill is a bit misleading.

Let me give you a very small example from a meeting in Tilonia in Rajasthan. Every 15 August and 26 January the gram panchayat there has meetings and invites me to speak. Once there was this big talk in the air that “Constitution koh badalna hain”. I asked the 3,000-strong crowd, how many of you have seen the Constitution? About six hands went up. Then I asked, how many of you have touched it, about four went up. Then I asked, how many of you have read it and two went up. So then I said, if a political party is telling you the Constitution of India is anti the people of India and we must amend it, and all of you are saying, yes, yes, it’s bad, change it, are you acting out of reason or ignorance?

The point is, if you reduce big complex issues to their simplest formulations, it will of course invoke a strong response and this is always a tightrope walk. Slogans and simplistic formulations are important at one level to galvanise public involvement and get more visibility but that is just a small percent of the aim. If you reduce the public discussion on the Jan Lokpal Bill to its most common minimum and then ask everyone else to take a position based on that, it becomes a travesty. How many people have really read either drafts or thought deeply about any alternative approaches to the same goal? If you ask people whether they want a strong curb on corruption or want to hold the powerful to book, the answer will naturally and rightly be yes, but the deeper questions and issues involved in lawmaking are much more difficult to solve.

As far as fasting goes, again, this is a democracy and every citizen should be allowed to protest peacefully in whatever way they want. The government has no right to stop Anna Hazare’s fast. Having said that though, over the years the MKSS has revised its position on fasts as a strategy of protest. Irom Sharmila has been on a fast for 10 years, Medha (Patkar) has been on so many fasts, sometimes to little avail because there’s been no media attention and no response from government. Why should one protest in a way that de-energies and harms oneself? Perhaps the Hazare team does not have that worry because there is enough media attention tied into their campaign. But I don’t think it’s right to dictate that Parliament should pass a Bill by a certain date. It sets a bad precedent. If another set of people comes tomorrow and says, you must amend the Constitution as we demand, what do you do? So I’d say abiding by due process but sustaining continual moral pressure on the government to see the Bill is passed by the winter session after enough deliberation and discussion would seem a more reasonable option.

Let’s talk about the actual Team Anna draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill. What are the key issues you find problematic with it?
The first point we’d like to make is that to have a quarrel — and here I use the word in its literal sense of having a difference of opinion — with the approach or composition of the Bill does not amount to questioning the validity of the Bill itself. We’d also like to add that one is not blind to the public mood and window of opportunity that has been created by the IAC campaign. People’s movement leaders have galvanised huge crowds before — for instance, one lakh people had gathered for the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Medha’s antisubmergence protest in Harsud. People walked for miles from across the country to come there in solidarity but there were hardly any TV cameras to amplify that voice. Now, for the first time, the middle class has been galvanised to come on to the street and that is no mean achievement. But is that good enough reason to rush through a Bill that will have far-reaching consequences without adequate discussion? We are not asking for this to be put off for deliberations over nine years as we have been accused, but surely we can ask to get the Bill introduced in this Parliament session with a commitment from the government to pass it in the winter session and give all stakeholders a few extra months to deliberate over it.

In my over 40 years of activism on the ground and my few years in the bureaucracy, a key learning has been that the devil always lies in the details and our main issue has been: Are we making enough of an effort to look at the details of this Lokpal Bill? We also have a basic problem with the structure.

Both Prashant and Arvind repeatedly assert they have been inviting feedback on how to improve their draft and have been very open to incorporating suggestions. According to them, the draft has been revised 12 times.
Yes, they have been amending some of the details of the Bill based on feedback, but from the very beginning, their position has been that while everyone can give suggestions on how to improve the working of the Jan Lokpal, they will not budge from the basic structure as envisaged by them. This forecloses any real discussion. In all other pre-legislative consultations that we have been a part of — whether it is the RTI or NREGA — the effort has been to arrive at some basic consensual and non-negotiable principles that the law must incorporate. That is the foundation on which the actual Bill is written. But in this case, the form and structure of the Bill has already been pre-decided even though that is the basic quarrel many stakeholders like us have with it.

‘The Lokpal could become a Frankenstein’s monster, which was created by a good man who didn’t have any evil ideas but what he created became evil’

Nikhil (Dey) and I wrote a piece in Outlook where we had cautioned that in its current form, the Lokpal could become a Frankenstein’s monster. It is too large and trying to take on too many simultaneous powers and responsibilities and no matter what new institution you set up, ultimately it will become bureaucratic, so you have to put in the necessary checks and balances, and you have to decentralise the power to curb corruption rather than concentrate that power in a few — or new — hands. This concern should not be misunderstood: remember Frankenstein’s monster was created by a good man who didn’t have any evil ideas but what he created became evil.

For me, the framework of the Jan Lokpal Bill as it stands now does not have commonsensical wisdom. See, the RTI got accepted by a cross-section of people — that is why it got space. You can’t say that integrity or honesty only lies in the hands of people outside government. We all know so many corrupt NGOs, even corrupt people’s movements, corrupt professionals, corrupt judges, lawyers, jurists, teachers, professors, academics, and of course, corporations, so it is not tenable to be holier than thou. If corruption is across the board then we have to build alliances across the board to weed it out. The struggle is to resurrect and correct existing institutions, not only create a fresh one.

Our other key argument with the Jan Lokpal Bill is over democracy itself. You know how easily one can become almost fascist in this country under its democratic overlay. To prevent that, one has to make sure the parliamentary process and legislative process is strengthened. If there is something wrong with that process, we have to cleanse it and that’s why electoral reforms is very important, Right To Information is very important, even the Lokpal is very important. But if you bypass the institution or the right of a ministry to formulate a Bill, you create very serious worries. In that sense, by creating the Joint Drafting Committee, the government has set a precedent. Tomorrow, if three lakh RSS workers want a Joint Committee to look at changing the Constitution into a theocratic one, will there be space for them? Or a particular community comes in a large majority and demands reservation, will it be possible to set it up? These are questions we have to ask ourselves.

Candle in the wind The middle-class has been galvanised but nuanced discussions are imperative
Candle in the wind The middle-class has been galvanised but nuanced discussions are imperative
Photo: Vijay Pandey

There has been criticism about your role in the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi, which could be seen as a similarly arbitrary body. (My own position is different. I’d say, not as exceptions, but as the rule, all legislation should invite public participation and recommendations by experts and stakeholders. Just that it should not get as negatively adversarial as the Jan Lokpal Bill exercise got.)
I also feel the NAC has helped establish the principle that people other than those in government have a right to advise on policy and the drafting of laws like never before. But that process has to be a dialectic one between the people making the law and an intensive study of it by others — who come back with a set of issues and proposals that make it better. The difference also is that the NAC is not self-constituted; it was set up by the PMO, in fact, and has a lot of random people in it with whom we do not agree. There is a lot of dissent, often furious debate within it, so it is not just one set of people who all see alike.

Even then, the NCPRI has been arguing that the NAC itself needs to be only a part of a larger, defined pre-legislative process, in which there is transparency and accountability and we all slot ourselves in wherever we can. The NAC would be one such body; there should be others.

Having said all this, it’s true my membership in the NAC was a huge dilemma for me. Would it be seen as a co-option by the government? On the other hand, by not joining it, would we be losing an important space for decision-making on a large number of interests we have been involved in? The NAC’s mandate is limited to looking at social policy and, by that yardstick, it is trying to bolster a part of the economy that has been badly neglected. Should one have ceded that space? However being a member of the NAC has not prevented me from dissenting and disagreeing with the government (on UID, the CBI exclusion from RTI, RTI amendments, the NREGA minimum wage). For me, the campaigns I’m part of pushed me into using the space. But when I go to the NAC, I do not go as an individual. I go there as a representative of a large number of people and am actually told by members of the MKSS or the NCPRI what I can say or not say at the NAC.

Dead existence The proposed Lokpal Bill doesn’t provide enough teeth to the marginalised
Dead existence The proposed Lokpal Bill doesn’t provide enough teeth to the marginalised
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

To go back to your key disagreements with the Jan Lokpal Bill and the alternative vision you have suggested. What is your basket of measures?
The most important disagreement is that we believe all the powers and functions currently vested in the Lokpal are too overarching and should not lie with one institution. Not only is there a danger of it getting too powerful and corrupt in itself, eating into other institutions; there is a danger of it collapsing under its own expectations. Therefore, we believe we need to create multiple institutions and legislations to achieve its goals. The Jan Lokpal Bill has five key goals: to curb, investigate and prosecute corruption among MPs, the higher bureaucracy and the prime minister. We believe this should be the mandate of a separate body called the Rashtriya Anti-Corruption Lokpal, which would be the watchdog for this category of public servants and all co-accused in a case, including those lower in the official chain, corporates, media or even NGOs. This institution should be made independent, have the right to investigate and prosecute without sanctions, but should have the necessary checks and balances.

The second goal is to curb corruption in the middle bureaucracy. We believe the current institution of the Central Vigilance Commission should be given this mandate, revamped, made independent, given the teeth to prosecute and be freed from the constraint of the ‘single directive’ (which currently requires it to seek official sanction to investigate). We also need to create similar vigilance commissions in each of the states.

The current Jan Lokpal Bill seeks to arm the Lokpal to investigate and prosecute corruption in the higher judiciary. We believe this violates the basic structure of the Constitution which ordains that the judiciary should be independent of the executive. It also introduces the danger of ‘circularity’, wherein the Lokpal is answerable to the judiciary and the judiciary is answerable to the Lokpal, jeopardising the honest functioning of both. We believe the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill that is currently in Parliament — and is a very flawed draft — should be amended to become more effective yet protect the independence of the judiciary.

‘Instead of having TV debates that reminds one of cock-fights, we should have a nuanced debate. After all, the nation is our collective responsibility’

The fourth and one of the most contentious parts of the Jan Lokpal Bill is its insistence that the Lokpal should also look into ordinary grievances. This is an unsustainable mandate. Just a ballpark estimate would give you a sense of the magnitude of this work: just one Indian household would have a dozen grievances about public services not delivered or promises not kept by government departments and projects — a missing pension, difficulty in getting a ration card, potholes in a road, an FIR not registered, compensation not paid. Multiply that into a billion households. It is impossible for one centralised institution to manage this, which is why we have suggested a three-tier bottom-up approach with grievance redressal officers in every government department, then at the district level, the state level and finally, a central appellate body.

We strongly believe grievance redressal is too detailed and ground-level a task for the Lokpal. It has to be fought bottom-up. On the other hand, if you look at higher level corruption, you need men like Prashant Bhushan to find out how virtual corruption takes place. You need accountants and lawyers and finance experts. If you put me there, I would not know how to deal with international finance, or hawala scams, or the intricacies of MOUs, etc. So you need different skillsets and different approaches for different things. Like they say in my village, alasan chutney and kheer are both very important and desirable, but you can’t mix the two.

But this is one suggestion that none of the Team Anna will even entertain. The final and separate legislation we have suggested is a strong and fool-proof Whistleblower Protection Act — a function that is currently subsumed under the Lokpal.

Does their resistance come out of a fear that if one goes in for all these disparate measures — and the complicated discussions each will need — the current momentum will be lost and the whole anti-corruption Bill will go into further cold storage?
There is no reason why that should happen. We are arguing for all these measures to be concurrently and collectively discussed and passed. And if the basic principles are agreed upon, it will not be difficult to have separate working groups pushing all these legislations. These measures must be created collectively and concurrently; the Rashtriya Anti-Corruption Lokpal, focussing on grand corruption in high places much along the lines of what they have suggested, and then move on from there to creating other institutions.

People power The RTI put the tool of accountability into every citizen’s hand
People power The RTI put the tool of accountability into every citizen’s hand
Photo: Tushar Mane

Either way, it is really important to have these separate mechanisms. You have to create a culture of governance and accountability that is bottom-up and participatory. The RTI, for instance, put the tool of accountability into every citizen’s hand. We still have many fights ahead to get that tool perfect — the government has recently put PPP projects and the CBI out of its purview, which is a real crisis — but that is the slow process of pressure and counter-pressure through which a society evolves.

In any case, as a woman and a feminist, I believe the process is as important as the end result. As a Gandhian, I’d say the means and ends have to match. You cannot bypass a process. Instead of having referendums and TV debates that reminds one of cock-fights, we should be asking for a rich and nuanced debate. After all, the country is a collective responsibility for all of us; not just the government alone, nor just of us alone. So, it has got to be a collective looking at how it should function and what are the real impediments. And if there are some real concerns and impediments — even from the government side — we should take cognisance of it. Otherwise we will suggest a plan that will never get off the ground. Then we must bear the blame for proposing a law that was so badly drafted or so lacking in common sense that it failed. It might be very good in its ideological positions, but it would fail completely in its commonsensical application. If that happens, the law will not be used. In a country like ours, everything begins with plurality.

What is your critique of the government’s version of the Lokpal Bill that is to be tabled in Parliament? After all, they have dumped many aspects of the Anna Hazare draft and are quite happy to rush their draft through as well.
That is exactly the point. We needed urgency, not undue haste and dogmatic and entrenched positions because the danger is you will get even less than you could have. The government draft actually is an improvement from its first draft, which was even worse but it still leaves a lot of important issues unaddressed. First of all, it has left the prime minister out of its purview, which we believe is a huge mistake. Both as the leader and as the first among equals, he/she must set the example at a very moral and ethical level. We have suggested many safeguards to prevent malicious or baseless targeting of the prime minister’s office and even a rethink on some of the prime minister’s current job description, so as to safeguard the sanctity of the office. All of this is part of an important and necessary debate that is still waiting to happen.

Exit stage left The trick is to build alliances across the board to weed out corruption. It will strengthen the system that helped purge the likes of Kalmadi, Raja, Maran and Yeddyurappa from public office

Photos: Shailendra Pandey, AFP, AP, Kashif Masood

A second glaring deficit in the Bill is that it has left out the creation of State Lokayuktas, which is a very dangerous omission. It has also excluded the higher judiciary from the ambit of the Lokpal but makes no mention of revamping the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill. It does not mention whistleblowers protection. It covers only Grade A officers but has not even mentioned how it contemplates curbing corruption in the lower bureaucracy. The grievance redressal mechanisms it suggests is woefully inadequate. And it has construed corruption only as complaints under the Prevention of Corruption Act rather than a more comprehensive definition, including complaints under the IPC, Money Laundering Act, and other legal instruments the government may notify in the future.

‘A glaring deficit in the government’s version of the Lokpal Bill is that it has left out the creation of state Lokayuktas, which is a very dangerous omission’

There are many other unacceptable provisions. To list just a few of them, there is a provision for penalty for so called frivolous or false complaints which can prove to be a big deterrent for even genuine complaints against powerful people; the Lokpal has not been given enough financial and administrative autonomy; the search committee should be mandatory not optional; and it should be made clear that the government has no advisory role to play in the powers given to the President of India to decide which complaints against the chairman or members of the Lokpal should be forwarded to the Chief Justice of India, otherwise it will amount to compromising the Lokpal’s independence. Finally, the government too has failed to hold any broad-based consultations.

What is the next constructive step possible from here?
We can hope that the debate in Parliament will be an informed and enlightened one, which pushes to refine the Bill to everyone’s desired goal. Even though the government has not tabled the Anna Hazare Jan Lokpal draft, none of the legislators can claim that they don’t know about it because the Hazare draft has had enough media attention. Our own suggestion of a basket of measures has been discussed with only hundreds of people. There are still people outside our net who might have very good ideas of how to solve all the issues and concerns raised. If all that fails, there is still the parliamentary standing committee, where many manipulations and lacuna can be corrected. (Do you know that the RTI Act was amended 153 times in the standing committee as lots of us deposed before it?) But, I still see even the standing committee as a limited mechanism because not everyone can go before a standing committee. That’s why the real need is still to push for a robust pre-legislative process and a commitment that the Bill is introduced in this session, debated and passed by the next winter session. Ultimately if, even then, we get a law that you don’t particularly like, if you believe in democracy, you accept it and get ready to struggle to improve it again. That struggle never stops.

Democracy is a dialectic and you can’t afford to lose it. And no matter how imperfect it is and how much we struggle to refine it, unless we want to opt for a dictatorship, even a benign one, it is the only viable political system we have.

Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka.