Monday, April 11, 2011

Jan? Lok?

Some things that disturb me about the bill Anna Hazare is fighting for:

1) The selection of the Jan Lokpal is by a committee that has only one elected member -the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. All the rest are bureaucrats or judges or retired bureaucrats and judges. So in case there is a problem with the selection of the Jan Lokpal, in case it is someone controversial, where can a voice be raised against it? Definitely not in Parliament! We call ourselves a democracy but we leave the selection of a Lokpal to the hands of a few wise men?

2) One of the members of the Jan Lokpal selection committee is a retired Army general. The army has no responsibility in fighting corruption. Then why should he be a member of the committee? India has so far been free from military intervention in civilian affairs. Now we are inviting the army to intervene in an area where they have no say whatsoever.

3) The Jan Lokpal will also comprise the anti-corruption wing of the CBI and all the staff of the Central Vigilance Commission. The assumption is that all these officers have so far failed to take action against the corrupt only because they had to answer to politicians and now that they are under the control of the Jan Lokpal, everything will become all right. Isn't this a bit simplistic? Even if all these officers are under the control of the Jan Lokpal, would they stop listening to politicians? So on the one hand we are giving the Jan Lokpal massive powers. On the other hand, we are giving it the same machinery which existed till now. Is this safe?

4) It is an established principle all over the world that the same agency should not exercise judicial and police powers. However, the Jan Lokpal can issue warrants and orders for seizing property (which is the function of the judiciary) even as it investigates the case(police powers). Thus, the Lokpal has both judicial and investigative powers. A lawyer friend friend tells me certain agencies such as Revenue Intelligence have such powers. However, it is important to remember the such agencies are under a proper chain of command. The Jan Lok Pal is completely independent of any agency and it even has contempt of court powers. Is this a good outcome?

5) The members of the Jan Lokpal can be dismissed only by a bench of Supreme Court judges. Even Supreme Court judges and the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner are all responsible to Parliament. For the first time perhaps, we have an agency with wide ranging powers that is not responsible to Parliament. Some say this is a good thing since politicians are not involved but are we not giving too much of unchecked power in one organisation's hands. One of the key aspects of accountability is ensuring that no one entity has so much power. How do we call this democratic?

I am not a lawyer or a legal expert. From a common man's reading of the Bill , it seems we are creating a super-organisation with great powers and hoping it will be effective because it will be controlled by wise men. In a country where corruption is so wide-spread and efficient, isn't this attitude very dangerous? Thousands of people gathered all over the country over the past many days demanding this BIll. And this gathering is being called a great moment for democracy and a "second freedom struggle". Based on the observations above, are we actually strengthening democracy or weakening it?

Somehow it seems to be, seeking support for this Bill in the name of democracy is like holding a gun to my head and asking for protection money.