Wednesday, January 11, 2012

‘There is no law that says only the government can draft a Bill’

In a candid conversation, former Lokayukta of Karnataka Nitte Santosh Hedge and key member of Team Anna shares his views on Lokpal Bill with Sopan Step.

The government has kept the CBI out of the control of Lokpal, while they have agreed to bring the Prime Minister under Lokpal with some safeguards. What are your reactions?
I am totally against the government's idea of keeping the CBI out of Lokpal. This would mean Lokpal cannot investigate but only enquire. In Karnataka, the idea of conceiving a Lokayukta was to investigate into matters when the investigating agency had failed. No point in making Lokpal an enquiry body. My personal view about the inclusion of Prime Minster under Lokpal with some safeguards is okay for the time being.

Is Lokpal panacea for every problem?
I would not call it a panacea and in fact it is not. People have asked me if this would wipe out corruption. My answer is no. My personal understanding is that corruption is not a recent menace. It has been into existence since the civilisations started. If one read the scriptures one will find references of it. It is the growth of the corruption which is causing all the problems. The corruption problem has compounded. Therefore, Lokpal is a tool which can check corruption from going bad to worse and to also bring in a system of vigilance in place.

How to make a strong Lokpal, Lokayukta acceptable to political parties, elected members of Lok Sabha and assemblies?
Today I hear that the government is considering including Group C and Prime Minister under Lokpal. I think they understand the importance of having a Lokpal. It is just a matter of considering the suggestions put forth to them. To make it a strong Lokpal, it is necessary to include everyone, right till the end of bureaucracy. We cannot exclude bureaucrats and have Lokpal only for Politicians. Why just Group C, why not include Group D? You neither need huge infrastructure nor human resources for implementing Lokpal but purely the power of delegation. Empower the Lokpal and things will fall in place. Lokpal is a body which deals with anti-corruption and administrative misconduct too. Once everyone is in the ambit of Lokpal, it will be an effective tool.

What should be the jurisdiction of the Lokpal? Should CBI and the Prime Minister come under Lokpal?
Our suggestion is that Lokpal should be a wide body. Wide body does not mean inclusion of large number of people but in terms of diversity of the people involved. We suggest the inclusion of the Prime Minister, leader of the opposition, two judges of the Supreme Court and two Chief Justices of the High Court. We want the CBI's wing and CVC also included. CVC is an organisation meant for correcting the misconduct of the officers. So in this context it is necessary to merge the CVC with Lokpal.

If the government decides not to consider citizen's charter, CBI and appointment of Lokayuktas under Lokpal, would you approve of it? If not then what would be team Anna's next step?
Every demand under Jan Lokpal is a fair demand but we need to prioritise. Some are non-negotiable and some can be negotiated. I think inclusion of CVC and CBI's wing is a must. On inclusion of the Prime Minsiter, I have a slightly different opinion. I am prepared to negotiate on some of the suggestions. Having said that, it does not mean I do not support Team Anna. We will see how the government takes it forward. As far as Citizen's Charter is concerned, the government says that it will be given to the respective states. Therefore, I am prepared to wait and see how this goes. Let us give it a try and see.

The argument is that how will Lokpal deal with so many people, when included?
I don't buy this argument. Everybody should have the right for redressal of their grievances. If the power of delegation is given to the Lokpal, we will be able to deal with it. For example, if a complaint comes from Kanyakumari, it can be addressed by the district in charge and then referred to the Lokpal. The Lokpal may then act upon it. Therefore the principal focus must be to have a grievance redressal system. From my personal experience of having served as Lokayukta in Karnataka, I feel that it was difficult to tackle the problems which are not in my jurisdiction. For example, the postman, one of the lowest Central government officers is the one who harasses the poor people the most.
Unless you bribe him the money orders do not reach the concerned. Presently we are not able to look into this because it is not under State Lokayukta jurisdiction. When this is sent to the CBI for enquiry, it thinks this to be very trivial to handle since they deal with several hundreds of big cases every day.

The recommendations for the composition of Lokpal are that it must comprise of judicial members, former judges and non-judicial members with 25 years in anticorruption policy. However in the recent times, several judicial members including Supreme Court judges and former CVC have been framed with corruption charges. In this wake, do you think Judiciary is free of corruption?
Choosing members for Lokapl is similar to the process undertaken for any other agency. There might be an element of suspicion in the selection. Well this is evident everywhere, including the process in choosing one's life partner.

The general mood among the citizens is that of complete loss of faith in politicians and to an extent in judiciary. Why can't the existing laws or system be strengthened instead of introducing another legal body, Lokpal, to combat corruption?
More laws create more delays. Lokayukta was suggested by high level body in 1966. Therefore it is an appropriate body to tackle corruption.

There is a lot of debate about the way this movement is heading to. People feel that the civil societies are dictating terms to the government. How democratic is it to have no elected leader but a handful of activists, taking decisions on behalf of the entire country?
As a democratic country, citizens can draft a Bill. There is no law that says only the government should draft a Bill. I cannot believe when they say that we are undermining or blackmailing the parliament. I want to ask them who are 'we' and who are 'they'? 'We' means the citizens visa via the parliament, the government. The opening line in our constitution says 'we the people, given to ourselves this constitution..". Therefore, 'we' includes everyone. Now who are 'they'? They are creatures created under the constitution. Parliament, the judiciary and the executive is created under constitution. Institutionally the parliament makes the law but practically the members are the ones who speak and vote. But we have chosen these members. They are there not as a matter of right but as our representatives. The article 19(a) says every citizen has the freedom of speech and expression.

Debating is one thing and influencing is another. Civil Societies are charged with influencing and interfering with the system.
Influencing or lobbying happens everywhere. It is a right of every citizen to speak. May be the tone with which Anna says is being read wrong. But the fact remains that lobbying, canvassing and putting forth one's view is not against the law or democracy. Many a times laws have been influenced by groups. Do not be under the impression that the parliament is functioning in a true parliamentary system. According to a survey done by a magazine 'Election Watch' on the performance of the members of the parliament between the years 2004-2009, out of the 540 plus Loksabha members, only 174 spoke just once during the Parliamentary sessions during those 5 years. If that is all we want then why send 540 members? One Member of Parliament from each state is enough. On 23rd December 2008, 17 bills have been passed in 12 minutes by the Loksabha. Can that be called as a discussion? Did the people know what bills were being passed? Out of the 17 bills, one bill was an amendment to the prevention of corruption act (1947). What were they trying to do? They were trying to take away three sections, which were necessary in prosecution of the accused. I respect the judiciary, parliament and the constitution. But I am not going to keep me eyes closed.

You have welcomed the suggestion by Rahul Gandhi on making Lokpal a constitutional body. Are we now ready to make Lokpal a constitutional body?
Rahul Gandhi made a statement that it would be a good idea to have a strong Lokpal. A strong Lokpal like an election commission should be constitutional and not an ordinary statutory. I agree but it cannot be done right away. It will take another year if they want it to be constitutional. There are two opinions on this, whether it requires 2/3rds majority or a simple majority to amend the constitution. I have no comments on these opinions. In any case the matter is to be discussed.
However if we start discussing on this, it will then be a new set of things to tackle. Therefore let us proceed with the way we have started with Lokpal bill. Let us create a statutory body and also simultaneously start the process of giving constitutional status to it. When the bill succeeds, its statutory status automatically gets converted into constitutional status.

What do you think of the role of media in the recent times? Has it helped or impeded the Anna's movement on Lokpal?
Media, by and large especially in the beginning has encouraged the movement by projecting it positively. There are some incidents where it has highlighted some unnecessary things too. Overall, I am satisfied with the role of media.

What do you think of the recent developments where the opposition has come out in support of Team Anna? While in Gujarat and Karnataka, where BJP is the ruling party, we see that there are problems related to appointing Lokayukta. Isn't this ironical?
Yes it is ironical. The political parties must look at their stance before going public with their views. In Gujarat, it is the issue between the governor and the chief minister. By and large, they all should realise that the common agenda is to fight corruption.

Despite Lokayukta framing charges against several big politicians, including former chief ministers, they are out on bail and even come back to power. Do you think Lokpal will also be meted with same fate?
Releasing the politicians on bail is a system which we have followed since the British days. There are two types of offences, bailable and non-bailable. Offences which are permissible with a maximum of two years imprisonment are automatically bailable. Non-bailable offences are the ones where the punishment is more than two years and or has death penalty. But the judiciary has laid down that even in non-bailable offences, bail can be granted. If the punishment is 5 or 7 years then bail is granted. But if it is a case of death or life penalty, bail cannot be granted unless there are exceptional circumstances. Technically there are two categories but in practice there are three. For crimes like forgery, minor assaults one can get bail, even if the sentence is more than two years. My question is why should an FIR stay as as an FIR only. Investigation can never be stayed. The Supreme Court has laid down that only if there is a malafide complaint then it can be stayed. Or if the FIR is registered and the agency investigation is not empowered then it can be stayed. Releasing on bail for a scam like 2G which involves Rs 1,76,000 crore, is unfortunate.

Would you think of joining politics in the near future?
What is sarcastically put forth to me often is that why don't you fight an election? I don't think either me, Anna nor can his team members fight an election as we neither have the financial capacity to spend large amount of money nor can anyone get elected in the present situation. Today even if Mahatma Gandhi contests from Porbandar he cannot win. You don't have to be in the parliament to fight. This is a wrong concept. This would only reflect that we are isolating the parliament from the people. In Prajaprbhutva, praja is the prabhu the others are public servants.

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