THERE are some systems that cannot be challenged. One is the constitutional position about the supremacy of Parliament. It is the Parliament composed of representatives of the people which has the last word. An outside agency, howsoever popular, cannot push any kind of legislation down Parliament’s throat. Team Anna surely is aware of that. For Team Anna to get its views accepted, it must have the support of the UPA coalition. Without that support no amount of confabulation can succeed.
Unfortunately what has been so markedly evident in all the talks between Government and Team Anna is an absurd lack of confidence among the participants. The Trust deficit, if so it may be called, is so patent as not to lead to any elaboration. After the latest meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) it became clear that even if the talks went off without any acrimony, there was still a lot of ground to be covered. According to Kapil Sibal, agreement has been hammered out on some 85 per cent of all issues. Team Anna differs.
According to it consensus has been evolved on 11 issues, while another 15 to 20 issues were ‘discussed’. But contentious issues remain still unresolved relating to the structure of the Lokpal. On the one hand the government seems to feel that it is being bullied. Over and again Sibal has made it plain that the government is not going to succumb to it. Fair enough. Team Anna must take that into account. At the same time the UPA government has driven itself into a mess of its own making and is now attempting to get out of it. Presently the government wants to call a meeting of all political parties to assess their views in the hope of fashioning a mutually acceptable draft bill.
But team Anna views that as a clever move to delay work. Besides, Justice Santosh Hegde has pointed out that appropriate questionnaires have already been sent to all parties and their members and there is no need for a special all-party meeting to be called which some believe may turn out to be rumbustious and likely to get out of control. And what good would that possibly serve? The right course, of course, is for Team Anna and government representatives to work out a fairly acceptable plan and then present it to Parliament for adoption. In the Lokpal Bill proposed by Team Anna, a 11-member Lokpal would be selected by a broad-based Selection Committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), the CAG, two judges of the Supreme Court and two Chief Justices of the High Courts.
The 11-member Lokpal would have a full investigative agency under its control through which it would get complaints investigated. On six major points differences have been noticeable. Team Anna insists that the Prime Minister must be covered under the Lokpal Bill. Government spokesmen find that unacceptable. The point is made that a Prime Minister can only be charged once he demits power but Team Anna feels that prior to demitting power a Prime Minister may have seen to it that all incriminating evidence against him is destroyed. Team Anna wants Lokpal to have powers to probe corruption charges against MPs but government points out that the Constitution protects MPs from charges of saying or doing anything inside Parliament. That is a poor excuse.
Team Anna is not talking about what an MP says or does within Parliament. It is concerned with what MPs do outside. It is well-known that 23 per cent of all MPs have criminal charges registered against them. Isn’t that a case for concern? According to knowledgeable sources, about 70 MPs of the 15th Lok Sabha have violated Lok Sabha rules by not filing declaration of assets and liabilities within 90 days of taking oaths as members because they are afraid of scrutiny of their returns by concerned agencies. But apart from MPs, at what level should the Lokpal concern itself with corruption in the bureaucracy? Team Anna insists that for checking corruption, the Ombudsman should have powers to probe all government employees.
According to government sources, only officers of ranks of Joint Secretary and above should be under study. Does that make sense? The trouble is that every year, more than 100,000 (a lakh) complaints of corruption are registered across the country against government officials, but mostly lower level staff like clerks and peons. If the suggestion of ‘mantri to santri’ is included in the bill, it will be practically impossible for the Lokpal to handle each and every petty case of corruption. Is it realised that the Supreme Court reportedly has more than 1,50,000 cases pending? Over three million cases are pending in India’s eighteen High Courts and an astounding 26.3 million cases are pending in subordinate courts all over the country? At the same time, there are almost a quarter million under-trials languishing in jails of whom some 2,059 have been in jail for more than five years, even as their guilt or innocence is yet to be ascertained. The Allahabad High court, to mention just one, had some 1.09 million pending cases with over eight out of ten cases being civil cases at the end of 2006.
To try out cases of corruption would involve a tremendous amount of investment. It is relatively easy to record a case of corruption but how are those cases to be heard and by whom? Attempts are presently being made to employ retired judges as in the Punjab and Haryana but if the Lokpal is serious the situation may demand employment of practically every retired judge and magistrate.
Meanwhile, attention may be easily given to a promise made by the Swiss Government to look into the matter of Indians who have stashed money in Swiss banks, apparently under some conditions. This need not have to wait for the appointment of a Lokpal. Furthermore, attention can also be given to the number of IAS defaultees who have not submitted their Immovable Property Returns (IPRs) to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). The DoPT has directed all Ministries to issue show–cause notices to officers attached to them with the suggestion that defaulters should be denied vigilance clearance and be passed over for Promotion and empanelment to senior level post s in government. Justice like charity, begins at home. Besides, this does not have to wait for the establishment of Lokpal.