Preliminary Response to Standing Committee DeliberationsThe issue of Lokpal is before Parliamentary standing committee. Team Anna has already made its submissions before the standing committee. The reports filtering out of standing committee discussions are a cause of concern for the following reasons:
1. Anna suspended his fast in August on the basis of a resolution passed by the Parliament of India which was termed as “Sense of House” by some people but was referred to as a “resolution” by the Prime Minister in his letter to Shri Anna Hazare. This resolution clearly stated that three issues would be addressed through the Lokpal Bill namely Lokayuktas in states would be created through the same bill and lower bureaucracy and citizens charter would be included in the lokpal bill. However we are surprised that contrary to that resolution, the government proposes to exclude citizen charter and lower bureaucracy from Lokpal’s jurisdiction and bring a weak and ineffective bill to deal with citizens grievances.
2. Exclusion of Group C and Group D employees from the jurisdiction of Lokpal: It is being reported in the media that the jurisdiction of Lokpal would be confined to Group A and Group B employees of Central Government only and the jurisdiction of state Lokayuktas would be confined to Group A and Group B employees of that state Government only. Lokpal/Lokayukta would not have jurisdiction to investigate allegations of corruption against Group C and D employees. We strongly oppose this for the following reasons:
a. If Group C and Group D employees are excluded then would this mean that they could indulge in corruption and they would not be investigated by any agency? Aren’t we giving them a license to indulge in corruption?
b. It is being argued that their corruption would be investigated by CVC. This is misleading because firstly CVC has jurisdiction only over Group A employees. Secondly, CVC is an advisory body. Thirdly, CVC is not a police station and hence does not have power to register an FIR and do criminal investigations. Fourthly, CVC does not have necessary financial and human resources (it just has a staff strength of 230 employees). Therefore, it is misleading to say CVC would investigate allegation of corruption against Group C and Group D employees.
c. A common man has to deal with Group C and Group D employees on a daily basis. Lakhs of people who participated in this anti corruption movement wanted a solution to this day to day corruption. If Group C and Group D employees are excluded, where would a common man go and report his day to day corruption?
d. Some people say that there is hardly any scope for corruption at the level of Group C and Group D employees. This is incorrect. Inspectors who are infamous for indulging in corruption are Group C employees. It is the Group D staff which is notorious for stealing the critical files from government organizations. So where would all these cases be reported? Which agency would investigate all these cases?
e. In states, maximum corruption takes place at the level of Group C and Group D employees. Almost Rs 30,000 crores worth of ration meant for poor people is annually siphoned off by Group C and Group D employees. Thousands of crores of leakage takes place in NREGA works at the level of Group C and Group D employees. Panchayat secretary and panchayat officials are Group C and Group D employees. Huge amount of corruption takes place in panchayat works. Who would investigate all this corruption?
f. It is being claimed that Lokpal/ Lokayukta institutions would become unwieldy if all employees were brought under their jurisdiction. This is wrong. Firstly we need to appreciate that India is a large country with 120 crore population. Therefore it has a large bureaucracy. Central government itself has 60 lakh employees (including PSUs). Group A and Group B employees put together are less than 3 lakhs. So should we allow the balance 57 lakh employees to keep on indulging in corruption and not provide any systems against their corruption? This is completely unacceptable to us. By international standards, you would need a total staff strength of 30,000 people in Lokpal to check corruption of 60 Lakh employees. A central government department consisting of 30,000 personnel is a middle size department. It is not such a big department. Most of the central government departments like Railways, Post Office, Defence, Income Tax etc are much bigger than this size. So why are we getting overawed and overwhelmed by this sized Lokpal?
g. It is being alleged that if Lokpal started investigating small cases of corruption then big fish would go scot free. This is wrong. Lokpal will have to create its work systems in such a manner that its normal staff spread across the country would handle smaller cases of corruption. Lokpal could create special units to deal with high level corruption. These units could be directly monitored by Lokpal members. This is how CBI and Income Tax department presently function. CBI has regional offices to deal with smaller corruption but has a few Special Investigating Units in Delhi for high level corruption. Likewise, ordinary income tax officers spread across the country deal with lower income tax payers. But income tax department has separate investigation wing and special commissioners to deal with high level tax evaders. If income tax department can check the tax evasion of more than 3 crore tax payers, then why can’t Lokpal check corruption of 60 Lakh central government employees. In the case of states, the total number of employees is even lesser. The number of all employees including Group A, B, C and D put together would be less than 5 lakh in any state government.
h. A question is being raised that how would one ensure the integrity of such a huge staff in Lokpal? Where would so many honest people come from? We first need to appreciate that there has been a huge vacuum of anti corruption staff in our country. There are some state governments which have less than 10 staff for the entire state in their anti corruption bureau and state vigilance department put together. Delhi police has less than 15 vigilance officers to check the corruption of more than 85,000 police officials. So therefore there is an urgent need to employ adequate number of anti corruption staff and fill this vacuum. There is so much of corruption in Income Tax department. Does this mean that we should wind up IT department? No. The country does need an Income Tax department. The answer lies in putting right kind of systems in place in Income Tax so that the scope for corruption reduces and also making Income Tax officials responsible and accountable. Likewise, the time has come to first put adequate number of anti corruption staff in place on one hand and to make their functioning transparent and accountable on the other hand so that the institution of Lokpal/ Lokayukta itself doesn’t turn corrupt.
3. Keeping CBI out of Lokpal’s control: It has been reported that CBI will not be merged with Lokpal. According to media reports, Lokpal would receive complaints of corruption, refer them to CBI, CBI would do the investigation and send its report to Lokpal and then Lokpal would file chargesheet in the court. Doesn’t that reduce Lokpal to merely a post office- receive complaints, forward it to CBI, receive CBI’s report and present it before the court. Then why do we need a Lokpal? Why can’t CBI directly receive complaints, do its investigations and directly file chargesheet in the court? This is exactly what CBI does today. However, today CBI is in government’s control. Government exercises administrative and financial control over CBI. Government appoints its director and staff. Because of these controls the government is able to unduly influence CBI investigations. If CBI continues to be under government’s control and if government is able to influence CBI investigations, then how is proposed system better than the present system? In any case of corruption, honest investigations are most important. Prosecution would be successful only if investigations have been honest and effective. Government proposes to keep investigations with itself by retaining its control over CBI. This has been the biggest obstacle in our anti corruption system so far. There is a direct conflict of interest in government’s control over CBI because CBI is controlled by the very same people against whom there are allegations of corruption. Therefore it is extremely critical that CBI were unshackled from government’s control; and converted into the investigative arm of Lokpal.
4. Corruption in Judiciary: We had initially proposed that allegations of corruption by judges should also be investigated by Lokpal/Lokayukta. However the government assured that they would address judicial corruption through Judicial Accountabilty Bill (JAB). We agreed to that. Unfortunately, the JAB presented by the government in Parliament and the standing committee report thereon do not make any mention of criminal investigation of corruption against judges. This means that if any judge indulges in corruption, he could neither be investigtated under Lokpal Bill nor under JAB. We strongly demand that since criminal investigation of judges has been left out of JAB, it should now be included in Lokpal Bill.
5. Protection of whistleblowers: A number of RTI activists and those who raise their voice against corruption are being targeted, victimized and assaulted. They need to be provided effective protection. It is apprehended that as soon as a person would make a complaint to Lokpal, he would be victimized. Since Lokpal would know the details of his case, it would be in best position to provide protection to that person. However, the government proposes to address this issue through yet another bill which gives the power to provide protection to whistleblowers not to Lokpal but to CVC. In 2003, in Satyendra Dubey case, Supreme Court had made CVC as the nodal agency for providing protection to whistleblowers against professional and physical victimization. In the last 8 years, despite receiving large number of requests, CVC has failed to provide protection even in a single case. This is because CVC has neither resources nor powers to fulfill those obligations. More than 13 RTI activists have been murdered in the last few years. CVC could not protect any one of them. Even the standing committee which studied the proposed bill for providing protection to whistleblowers, strongly felt that CVC was not the right agency to be given that job. Therefore, we strongly urge that the duty to protect whistleblowers should be given to Lokpal under the Lokpal Bill.
6. Public Grievances: The government proposes to address this issue through yet another bill. However, the proposed bill is bound to collapse within a few days of its enactment. This is because it proposes a highly centralized system. According to the proposed bill, if a citizen fails to get his grievance redressed from the grievance redressal officer and the head of that department, the grievance would go to the sate public grievance commission consisting of 5 members and stationed at state capital. One wonders how would this 5 member body deal with grievances from all the villages and cities of the entire state which could run into lakhs, if not crores. Still worse is the fact that an appeal against state public grievance redressal commission would lie before a 5 members Central public grievance commission stationed in Delhi. This 5 member central public grievance commission would be expected to solve all the grievances against all state and central government departments of 120 crore population. Obviously the system is designed to collapse. We would strongly recommend that the system implemented by Uttarakhand recently should be adopted. In this system, if a citizen fails to get his grievance redressed from the concerned officer, there are two levels of appeals provided in the same department. If he is still aggrieved, the appeal would lie before a judicial officer of state lokayukta stationed in the same district. Lokayukta has been given the power to appoint as many judicial officers as is required at district or block level. If a grievance reaches judicial officer of Lokayukta, judicial officer is required to act in a very tough manner. He would be required to impose financial penalty on guilty officers which would be deducted from the salaries of these officers and paid as compensation to the aggrieved citizen. Repeated violations of citizens charter would be deemed to be an act of corruption and could lead to imprisonment and/or dismissal of guilty officers. Such a huge deterrent would ensure that the grievances get solved within the department itself.
Therefore the government proposes to remove CBI, judiciary, citizen charter, whistleblower protection, Group C and Group D employees and CBI from Lokpal jurisdiction. Wouldn’t that reduce Lokpal to an empty tin box with no powers and functions?