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India: An alternative approach to the Anti Corruption Watchdog ’Jan Lokpal’ Bill

12 August 2011

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August 10, 2011 at 6:03 PM, aruna roy wrote:

Dear . . .

As a preface and a possible apology, let me say that this is a
combination between a letter and a note. Please bear with the length
of it. We write to you on a matter of mutual and common concern, the
Lokpal bill, now in Parliament. The context of this letter is
explained below.

When the Joint Drafting Committee of the Lokpal was working on the Jan
Lokpal, the NCPRI had written to the Chair, Shri Pranab Mukherjee,
and the co-chair Shri Shanti Bhushan, enquiring about the TORs and the
process of and participation, in public consultation. Both assured us
that there would be formal public consultation. It did not happen.

When the government bill went to cabinet with the intention of placing
it in the monsoon session of parliament, the NCPRI decided to make its
position known. The NCPRI is continuing with its deliberations and
consultations and has prepared an approach paper and a set of
principles for circulation. This is a work in progress.

The belief in consultations and discussion is the reason why we write to you.

The NCPRI’s (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information)
involvement with legislation to deal with corruption and arbitrary use
of power, began with the demand for an RTI law in 1996. The Lokpal was
flagged as a law that needed to be taken up along with the Whistle
Blowers Bill to address the killing of RTI activists and establish
accountability. A committee was set up in the September 2010 for that
purpose. The issue of the Lokpal was however taken up by some members
of the NCPRI Working Committee, who formed the IAC and the NCPRI
discussions remained suspended.

The Lokpal discussion has had an interesting trajectory. It began as
the stated logical end of a large middle class mobilization on
corruption. The stated end of that campaign was the demand for the
setting up of a Joint Drafting Committee for a Lokpal bill. In common
usage and understanding of corruption, the term casually refers to a
range of corrupt practices. The political/governance spectrum is
indeed more culpable than others. For it is mandated to maintain
integrity in public life, to keep the country on keel with
constitutional and other guarantees. This includes preventing the
arbitrary use of power and corrupt practices. The Lokpal was too
simplistically ordained by the campaign as a solution to all varieties
of corrupt practices in our lives.

However the assurance that all solutions to the entire gamut of
corrupt practices could be worked out through a strong Lokpal has left
us with a great sense of disquiet. Not only because it does not
address the arbitrary use of power. But because it is an unrealistic
promise to rising expectations that it is an alleviation of all ills
through one bill. It is also a question of the contents of the Jan
lokpal draft itself.

There have been public meetings but few consultations on the content
of the Act in detail . While gestures and symbolic assent - like sms
and referendums - may approve the intent, drafting of an Act needs
more informed debate. The Lokpal debate has had its share of
general platitudes, we need now to go beyond that. We also have to
place the role of dissent squarely in the fulcrum of the debate. The
discussions after all, flow from the acceptance that a strong Lokpal
bill is needed. Also that the earlier and even the current government
draft is faulty, even on principles.

The NCPRI however did make efforts before the 5th of April to arrive
at a consensus with the IAC in a meeting held on 3rd April in the
NMML. The NAC took up the matter independent of the NCPRI on the 4th
April. The NCPRI had expressed reservations about the over arching
and overwhelming structure of a law, which included grievances and
corruption within its ambit. It was argued that though both are
equally important, they require different mechanisms for

Subsequently events took over, and in the polarised discourse, it
became impossible to make suggestions and or suggest changes. Every
critique was attributed to wrong intent and viewed with suspicion and
mistrust by the civil society members of the Joint Committee. Critique
of the Bill has evoked sharp reactions, and statements have been made
that no amendments or change to the principles or the framework is
possible, and that disagreement with the draft was tantamount to
promoting corruption. We were baffled by such statements. The NCPRI
however continued with the consultations to evolve an approach, a set
of principles and measures to unpack the huge unwieldy and much too
powerful structure proposed by the IAC.

We are attaching a set of documents defining our approach to the
Lokpal, different both from the Jan Lokpal and the Government bills.
The NCPRI would like to share a set of principles and a framework for
deliberation. The summary of our basic arguments is detailed below.
This was placed in the public domain by the NCPRI and the Inclusive
Media 4 Change ( CSDS) on the 5th and 6th of June 2011.

The consensus that emerged was that in place of a single institution
there should be multiple institutions and that a basket of collective
and concurrent Lokpal anti corruption and grievance redress measures
should be evolved.

Summary of the NCPRI approach towards a series of concurrent and
collective Anti-corruption and Grievance Redress measures:

Rationale: Vesting jurisdiction over the length and breadth of the
government machinery in one institution will concentrate too much
power in the institution, while the volume of work will make it
difficult to carry out its tasks.

1. Unanimous endorsement of the need for accountability of all
public servants, including the contentious issue of inclusion of the
PM, with a few caveats. ( No one is above the law, enforcing the rule
of law).

2. An independent system for judicial scrutiny and standards.

3. An independent and strong institution to scrutinize corruption
of public servants and issues, which require different administrative
processes and organizational set-up.

4. and a mechanism to redress grievances of the common citizen

5. Whistle Blowers protection.

The five measures proposed by NCPRI are:

1. Rashtriya Bhrashtachar Nivaran Lokpal (National Anti-corruption
Lokpal): An institution to tackle corruption of all elected
representatives, including the Prime Minister (with some safeguards),
Ministers and Members of Parliament and senior bureaucrats (Group ‘A’
officers) and all other co-accused including those in the private and
social sector. The Lokpal will be financially and administratively
independent from the government and will have both investigative and
prosecution powers.

2. Kendriya Satarkta Lokpal (Central Vigilance Commission): Amending
the Central Vigilance Commission Act to remove the single directive
and empower the CVC to investigate corruption and take appropriate
action against mid-level bureaucracy.

3. Nyayapalika Lokpal (Judicial Standards and Accountability Lokpal):
To strengthen the existing Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill,
that is currently before the Parliament, to ensure that the judiciary
is also made effectively and appropriately accountable, without
compromising its independence from the executive or the integrity of
its functions.

4. Shikayat Nivaran Lokpal (Public Grievances Lokpal): To set up
an effective time-bound system for grievance redress for common
citizens to make the government answerable in terms of its functions,
duties, commitments and obligations towards citizens. The grievance
redress structure would have decentralized institutional mechanisms
going right down to each ward/block level, and would ensure a
bottom-up, people centric approach so that complaints and grievances
can be dealt with speedily and in a decentralized, participatory and
transparent manner. It will integrate public vigilance processes like
vigilance committees and social audits, and provide for facilitation
for the filing of all grievances/complaints through the setting up of
block information and facilitation centres in every Block (rural) and
ward(urban) in the country.The grievance redress mechanism will be a
three-tier structure consisting of grievance redress officers at the
local level within the department, independent district level
grievance redressal authorities and central/State level grievance
redress commission. It will include and rationalize existing

5. Lokrakshak Kanoon (Whistleblower Protection Lokpal): To strengthen
the existing Public interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons
Making the Disclosure Bill, that is currently before the Parliament,
to ensure appropriate protection of whistleblowers.

These institutions, where relevant, will also be established at the
State level. In addition there will be a common selection process to
staff these institutions. We feel that all these measures need to be
brought in simultaneously to effectively tackle corruption at all
levels and provide a mechanism to redress grievances of citizens.

We write to you, to present this alternative, to elicit your
responses, and to invite you to be part of the discourse. Please do
let us know whether you are interested in being part of the discourse
and in receiving periodic updates.

Please forward this on to friends and other interested people.

We look forward to your reply.

Warm regards,

Aruna Roy
- Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)
- Village Devdungri, Post Barar
- District Rajsamand 313341
- Rajasthan

The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) have suggested an alternative approach to the Jan Lokpal. Shankar Singh, Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy of MKSS and NCPRI have critiqued the government draft of the Lokpal now in Parliament and also the Jan Lokpal bill for its lack of accountability and concentration of power in a single body. They have suggested an alternative framework that takes a multi-pronged approach to tackling corruption through concurrent anti-corruption and grievance redress measures.

Some links to relevant discussions and documents, below.

Shoma Choudhury, The Third Flight Path

The Jan Lokpal requires more discussion with Jan‚ interview with Aruna Roy

Nikhil Dey & Ruchi Gupta, Putting the "Jan" in Lokpal Bill

Aruna Roy & Nikhil Dey, Make Sure the Cure Isn’t Worse than the Disease

Aruna Roy & Rakshita Swamy, Lokpal Must Lead by Example

NCPRI, Draft Concept Notes from Public Consultations on Collective and Concurrent Lokpal Anti-Corruption and Grievance Redress Measures

NCPRI, Background Documents on Jan Lok Pal Bill

Website of the NCPRI