Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fast forward, now pause

Sangita Jha/New Delhi

MPs' panel has to give its report on the Bill in three months; till then it is peace

Change may be painful at times. No wonder an attempt to change generally sets in motion opposition from those who find tough to shrug off status quo. The story of Lokpal may also be that of one struggling to jolt the establishment to shun status quoist position.
Shrillness on the street for Lokpal appears to have taken a pause. It's clearly in lines with the strategy of the proponents of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The guerilla warfare is no more just confined to military parlance only, as its tactics are very much part of those striving to bring in change in a well entrenched system.
The Central Bureau of Investigation and Chief Vigilance Commissioner have largely been the faces of anticorruption wings of the establishment. However, their performance has largely left the people in the country disenchanted. Therefore, it's easy to explain why people across the country hit the street on the call of the Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare. One is led to believe that the time to have an effective and independent Lokpal has come and can not wait any further.
However, the CBI does not believe in the popular demand. The agency does not want to be split in two parts. Therefore, the CBI deposed before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel Public Grievances and Law and Justice examining the two versions of the Lok Pal Bill --- government and Anna Hazare's --- saying that the agency not be divided, and rather its functionally autonomy be ensured. The CBI, sources said, is of the view that the proposed Lokpal can have superintendence over it.
The Jan Lokpal Bill calls for CBI to be under the proposed anti-corruption Ombudsman. The Lokpal is proposed to be an anti-corruption watchdog. Anna Hazare wants his version of the Lokpal to investigate cases of corruption and give punishment apart from recovering the losses from the guilty. The CBI has largely two functions, that of investigating financial irregularities and also some high profile criminal cases. The CBI officials are of the view that if the part of investigation in financial irregularities is taken away, it will be left only to investigate high profile murder cases, which do not come in big number to it. However, the counter view as some say is that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) could take over the crime investigation part from the CBI without much fuss.
However, the CBI is learnt to have deposed before the standing committee that it should be retained in its present form as "the only premier investigating agency for corruption cases", while the Lokpal can be given all such powers because of which "interference is said to be caused" in its functioning.
Therefore, the CBI is believed to have reasoned "underlying theme in both the draft Lokpal bills is to confer more autonomy on the investigation agency so as to insulate it from interference. This kind of autonomy and independence can be given to the CBI by conferring Lokpal with all such powers because of which interference is said to be caused in functioning of CBI".
It's quite clear that the CBI has gone behind the existing model of having a working relationship with the proposed Lokpal as it has with the CVC. The clear focus appears to have superintendence by the proposed Lokpal but at an arm's length. The proposed Lokpal could be vested with all powers to meet the financial, administrative and legal requirements of CBI.
Further caveat appears to be the position of the premier investigative agency that the Director, CBI should continue to exercise the final police powers to decide a case. "The Lokpal could instead have an enquiry wing under it for conducting fact-finding enquiries in matters that it may deem fit and entrust investigation to CBI, if it so warrants," said a senior official.
However, this is not what Anna Hazare is demanding. Team Anna will have reasons to believe that such a position as proposed by the CBI would only be camouflaging the status quo. But no one clearly at least those on the street want status quo any more.
The CVC on the other hand is stated to have recommended vigilance framework under proposed Lokpal for the corporates also. The CVC also wants that overlapping of responsibilities with Lokpal be avoided.
The standing committee headed by the Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi was given three months' time to submit its recommendations, as the Parliament is expected to take up the Bill in the Winter session. Meanwhile, the team Anna has gone to the people conducting referendum in a number of cities in UP and Uttarakhand.
One is led to believe that another round of confrontation between team Anna and the government is in the making. Till then, it may just be a pause for tactical purposes.

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