Political apathy on Lokpal is shameful

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has once again threatened to take to the streets for the cause of a Lokpal. In view of continued inaction with regard to promises made and the midnight resolution of Parliament, what grounds do the parliamentarians have to claim that their authority to work on their own accord is being undermined through the hanging sword of Damocles?

It was around July-August, 2011, that the agitation for the institution of Lokpal, along with the other demand for grievance redressal, seized the national conscience — with citizens coming out in full support of the India Against Corruption-led campaign. The common view was that governance deficit was glaring, political will lacking and the Government just not serious about tackling the menace of corruption manifested in the form of black money, muscle power in politics, corruption in public procurement, slow administration of justice and lack of transparency in the working of institutions entrusted with the task of investigating corruption.

Mr Hazare’s fast at Ramlila Maidan had struck a chord with the citizens and the bulging support on the streets was an expression of their frustration with the growing corruption and ineffective measures to curb it. Rattled by the public outcry, the Government and the political functionaries put up the defence that exerting pressure on the Government through unsolicited mechanisms, like protests and street shows, to get an important legislation like the Lokpal adopted, was blatant undermining of the authority of Parliament and the Constitution.

Yet no one can deny the fact that it was this public outcry which pushed both the Houses of Parliament to emerge from their extended phase of inaction and adopt the ‘Sense of the House’ resolution on three key issues — citizen’s charter, lower bureaucracy under Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and establishment of Lokayukta in the States.

Two years on, the urgency shown by the Government and the Members of Parliament has gradually sunk into a state of torpor. With the next general election round the corner, unceasing attempts at maligning the image of rival parties and their leaders has taken centre stage.

Important legislative Bills like Lokpal and the Lokayukta Bill, 2011, and the Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievance Bill, 2011, have again been put on the back-burner, perhaps because the parliamentarians do not see these issues as game-changers in the forthcoming poll.

The Lokpal and the Lokayukta Bill, 2011, was adopted in the Lok Sabha on December 27, 2011. It was taken up for discussion and endorsement by the Rajya Sabha on December 29, 2011. However, the Bill was suddenly referred to the Select Committee for consideration. The Committee’s report is awaiting further movement since last eight months. This clearly demonstrates the lack of interest amongst lawmakers to take action on the report. Whether the Bill will be converted to an Act remains a moot question.

The Select Committee’s recommendations and the Bill as was presented in the Rajya Sabha, have very few issues of discord. The Government has to decide on the extent of Lokpal’s supervision of Central Bureau of Investigation; nature of investigation/prosecution wing under Lokpal; functional division of responsibility between Central Vigilance Commission and Lokpal and the nature of quasi-judicial powers with Lokpal, particularly on disciplinary matters. These issues can be addressed amicably and without any significant delay as there is commonality of views.

A similar indifference was meted out to the central version of the Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievance Bill, 2011. This Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2011, and referred to a Parliamentary Committee in January 2012. It is almost a year since the representation by the Parliamentary Committee got over, but as per the information in the public domain this very important piece of legislation is languishing and awaiting adoption in Parliament.

The continuing governance crisis and political apathy towards issues of larger public concern needs to be immediately addressed. The unanimous decision of all political parties to exclude themselves from the ambit of Right to Information Act is a clear indication of the reality that the campaign to free the electoral process from the shackles of muscle and money power is not over yet.

Indian democracy can ill-afford to continue with such a degree of insensitivity towards public welfare matters. As long as crucial issues, many of which have a bearing on the nation’s socio-political well being, continue to be ignored, street protests will remain the last resort of an angry people.

(By Nripendra Misra, Director, Public Interest Foundation)

(This article was published in The Pioneer on 9th September, 2013 and Dainik Bhaskar on 11th October, 2013)