On the ‘movement’ against corruption

Readers may be interested in two excellent pieces analysing the recent ‘awakening’ against corruption in India: Shuddhabrata Sengupta writing in Kafila and Mihir Sharma in the Indian Express (Readers may also be interested in watching Karan Thapar roast Arvind Kejriwal in this interview). I endorse Sengupta and Sharma’s outrage at the preposterous provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill and share some of their misgivings about this television-driven ‘movement’ against corruption. I don’t know what I think about the legitimacy of Hazare’s chosen means – fast unto death – but the telling comparison with the much-ignored-10-year fast by Irom Sharmila in remote Manipur is noteworthy.

One hopes that the committee set up to draft the Lokpal Bill will realise that the impunity around corruption in India is part of a larger problem with our criminal justice system more generally. The police and the prosecution are not separated from other branches of the executive and consequently lack independence and professionalism, the use of torture, ‘encounter deaths’ and other ‘shortcuts’ to deal with less influential criminals is routine, whereas impunity provisions like section 197 of the CrPC protect public servants who commit crimes. Our politicians, and indeed most people with requisite influence, manage to avoid convictions not just for corruption but for all other crimes, including murder. Nor are the politicians the only people who are corrupt – what about the corporate houses only recently exposed in the Radia tapes? Structural reform of the criminal justice system does not translate into sexy slogan, but then India Against Corruption‘s Jan Lokpal Bill will do nothing to address the problem of corruption, and create others we can do without.

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Sushant
Sushant
10 years ago

Tarunabh: I have heard the principal complaint against "Jan LokPal" bill as the Lokpal envisioned is a "tyrant", "all-powerful" subverting democratic institution.

But as far as I have read the provisions, the LokPal is only given powers to investigate crimes. It will have to prove charges in court. So it will not have any legislative and no judiciary powers. It will only have executive powers to investigate in a free and impartial way, which is anyway required and lacking in police today.

So am I missing anything?

V.Venkatesan
V.Venkatesan
10 years ago

Tarunabh,
What is wrong if a movement is television-driven or print-media driven? What difference it makes? Do you think if a politician sat on a fast-unto-death, and if television covered it non-stop, it would have had similar impact? Therefore, what distinguishes Anna is that people felt inspired not because it was television-driven, but he was a non-political, and well-respected personality. Secondly, many including you seem to have strong views against Jan Lokpal Bill, even though its authors themselves have an open mind on this. This much is clear from Karan's interview with Arvind.

V.Venkatesan
V.Venkatesan
10 years ago

I'd agree with you that Irom Sharmila's decade-long fast – uncovered live by the media – exposes the media's double standards. Therefore, it is not the fast itself that mattered to the media, but the issue, espoused by Anna, appeared to appeal to the entire nation. Sharmila's fast as well as her demands are indeed praise-worthy, but unfortunately, they could not get the nation-wide sympathy which Anna had evoked. His anti-corruption crusade became instantly popular because of the common distrust of politicians. Secondly, Anna's demand could be easily conceded by the Government which was worried by the nation-wide mobiliation of people by his movement. True, Government ought to concede Sharmila's demands as well, but I wouldn't say the difficulties in so conceding are similar.

Suresh
Suresh
10 years ago

Sushant,

I couldn't access the indiaagainstcorruption website, so I am basing my opinions on the article at the NDTV website. The draft seems to say

Cases against corrupt people will not linger on for years anymore: Investigations in any case will have to be completed in one year. Trial should be completed in next one year so that the corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years.

Now, how can this — trial should be completed within one year of the investigation — be guaranteed unless the Lokpal is also the judge? On the other hand, if a case initiated by the Lokpal goes into the court system (as you suggest), then we will witness the further clogging up of an already crowded justice system. At the least, it will result in cases initiated by the Lokpal "crowding out" other cases. Is this what we want?

That aside, consider what will happen if the bill goes ahead. By all accounts, we are a very corrupt country. Even if we take into account the possibility of the Lokpal "deterring" some corruption, the chances are that she/he will have to deal with a large number of cases. What will therefore happen is that the Lokpal institution will itself become a big bloated "super-bureaucracy" with all the attendant corruption that plagues the bureaucracy in general.

In short: the medicine will most likely prove worse than the disease. And we haven't even begun discussing the other unsavoury aspects of this bill.

Corruption is a serious issue but it cannot be addressed in this way. It is frustrating that such a serious issue is being addressed in such a cavalier manner.

Sushant
Sushant
10 years ago

Tarunabh: Don't you think police powers to record FIR, file chargesheet, and arrest individuals are required for any agency investigating corruption case.

In Karnataka, I often hear of Lokayukta police doing this and that has not been of much problem afaik.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on constitutional principles and I do not know the difference between Lokayukta police and Jan-Lokpal police powers 🙂

Sushant
Sushant
10 years ago

The first time I read about one year and two year time limit, I thought that it was a limitation on LokPal. LokPal cannot keep investigating a matter for years and hold some politicians.

Suresh reading seems to suggest that the provisions need to be re-examined and clarified. It won't be legally tenable to grant judicial powers to LokPal anyway. So this is more a case for clarification rather than an argument for throwing Jan-LokPal bill.

Suresh brings in another argument "If there are lot of charges against politicians/central government officers, then LokPal will become a big bureucracy". First when Lokayukta in Karnataka is not facing this problem when it so active here, I do not see why this will be a problem for LokPal. Secondly what is wrong with a bigger investigating agency.

Sushant
Sushant
10 years ago

Tarunabh: The promotion and posting of police officers is determined by the executive. How can we expect them to do a fair investigation? Isn't current system flawed as well?

And considering police is very important in shaping law and order for the state, do you think any government will make their promotion/posting independent?

Suresh
Suresh
10 years ago

First when Lokayukta in Karnataka is not facing this problem when it so active here, I do not see why this will be a problem for LokPal.

I don't know how effective the Lokayukta institution is in Karnataka. The effectiveness is in question because of the Justice Santosh Hegde resignation saga of last year.

Note that some states in India have the Lok Ayukta institution and some don't. Is it the case that those states having Lok Ayukta have lower levels of corruption? This is not clear. Indeed, Sanjaya Baru in the Business Standard writes that many people testify to the fact that there is less corruption in Gujarat than Karnataka – both ruled by the BJP – where a distinguished person holds the office of Lok Ayukta.

I have no way of knowing whether the above is true. To the best of my knowledge (and I am open to being corrected), there is no systematic academic study of the Lok Ayukta experience. The answers to these questions in particular would be interesting: (i) For the states which have implemented the Lok Ayukta system, has the incidence of corruption gone down after the system was put in place?, (ii) Do states having the Lok Ayukta system have lower levels of corruption compared to other states? (iii) From a cost-benefit perspective, is the Lok Ayukta system worth it?

The last question is not irrelevant, by the way. All initiatives cost money. Putting money into Lok Ayukta or Lokpal means that that money is not available for other uses like poverty reduction. We thus have to ask whether spending money in Lok Ayukta or Lokpal is really worth it.

I fail to understand why we are so eager to jump into the Jan Lokpal bill when even the existing experience with the Lok Ayukta has not been fully evaluated. Usually, countries make a systematic evaluation of a new policy through a "pilot" before moving to a full-scale implementation. Even then, they discover unexpected problems. In India, it looks as though data doesn't matter. We (read the elite) have made up our minds that Jan Lokpal bill is the way to go and we are going to go down that route, come what may. The problem with such an approach is that it can lead unreasonable expectations, and when those are not met, to a disillusionment with the entire system.

Finally, the concern about bureaucracy is no joke. The Karnataka Lok Ayukta has statistics on its website here [pdf file]. It is interesting to note that there were 18299 pending cases as of 31/3/09. The Lok Ayukta did manage reduce the backlog by 2514 cases over the previous year but it means that there is going to be a backlog for many years at the current rate of clearance (assuming no increase in the number of new cases). At the Lokpal level, we can expect matters to be worse. If you also want to guarantee clearance within two years (as the draft promises), there is no way other than to increase the staff — in other words, create a big bureaucracy.

V.Venkatesan
V.Venkatesan
10 years ago

The Jan Lokpal Bill does not propose a Lokpal with judicial powers. It will have only incidental powers like stopping of contract, or initiating disciplinary proceedings. It is the ordinary courts which will conduct the trial.

Sushant
Sushant
10 years ago

Suresh: It is important to note that LokAyukta has disposed more cases than received between 2008-2009. Upalokayukta has disposed almost double of the number of received cases. I see a positive here.

And corruption is dependent on a number of factors. Nitish govt in Bihar is considered more honest than Laloo govt (and LokAyukta has no role in it).

Shamnad Basheer
Shamnad Basheer
10 years ago

Dear Tarunabh:

I just watched the Karan Thapar interview from the link you gave. Why do you say that Thapar "roasted" Kejriwal. I thought he held on pretty well and made it clear that they are not stuck on any particular version of the bill but are open to wide public consultations and feedback….

A student
A student
10 years ago

Well, seeing the amount of discussion on this post, rather commenting on the article I would prefer to add my ideas in support of hazare movement.

Being a constitutional law student, I admit that for the first time I understood the meaning of the words "WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA" given in the preamble.

I am not sure whether this act was legitimate or not, but on the second hand this cannot be discarded due to illegitimacy.

Justice Gilbert in Rayan case, said the Constitution and the laws can be well preserved by the people. Today due to hazare action it seems that now there is not only one check on the legislature that is the court but also the people. They have tend to take a participation in such event.

This seems to me a new start and I prefer that it should end.

Shamnad Basheer
Shamnad Basheer
10 years ago

Hi Tarun:

i am equally contemptuous of indian politics. what's wrong with that?

i think you heard him wrongly on the CBI. he was asked by thapar as to how the jan lokpal regulator could search without a warrant, when no other authority could do so in india. kejriwal answered pointing him to fact that CBI etc are agencies that have authority (in some circumstances) to search without warrants.

Shamnad Basheer
Shamnad Basheer
10 years ago

tarun,

you must strike a distinction between contempt for the principle of politics and contempt for how it is played out in practice. and those contemptuous of the practice of indian politics don't necessarily lead on to support for a despot as you suggest….but rather an urge to push for reforms etc…the right to free speech also means the right to express contempt for a system…if it is rotten…a very fundamental right, if i might so say….