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Millennium Post

Lokpal Bill on the go

It is gratifying that the prospects of the Lokpal Bill have brightened with the government starting serious negotiations with the opposition on its provisions. There is no accord yet on the various provisions of the Lokpal Bill and the differences need to be narrowed down. That the country needs an ombudsman like the Lokpal to fight corruption is a matter on which there is a near consensus. Corruption is a big issue and a cancer that is destroying the body politic. It has been estimated that corruption has virtually enveloped India, growing annually at a rate of more than 100 per cent and there have been far too many scams recently involving large amounts of money. That such large-scale pilferage of money is happening at a time when a large majority of Indians live in poverty and are deprived of essential services is a matter of shame.

There is a need to put an end to corruption and the public clearly feels strongly about corruption as exemplified by the large support to Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. It is necessary to go through with this anti-corruption legislation for, given the history of previous attempts to bring a Lokpal into existence, vested interests go to any extent to derail the Bill. It is nobody’s case that the presence of a Lokpal will completely eliminate corruption for the reasons for this phenomenon are systemic but the institution will nonetheless, act as a powerful check that will substantially help curb and roll corruption back. Much would depend on how the Lokpal Bill is structured and how much powers the Lokpal is given. The Lokpal will not be effective, much like the institutions currently set up to fight corruption, unless the institution is sufficiently empowered. Thus, the Lokpal must have sufficent teeth to be effective.

The fears that the Lokpal will become a parallel, autocratic body with unwieldy powers are probably unfounded as it will operate within a system of checks and balances and with a jurisdiction limited to corruption only. A system of appointment of the Lokpal has to be worked out and it has to be ensured that only persons who are competent and have a record of probity are appointed. The other important aspect is that of how the Central Bureau of Investigation is positioned vis-a-vis
the Lokpal. It is common knowledge that the absence of autonomy to the CBI has hampered its ability to conduct fair and judicious investigations into corruption cases thus allowing many of the powerful to get away. Therefore, the CBI, or any investigative agency under the Lokpal, has to be sufficiently empowered so that it can work without fear or favour. These are all questions that need to be looked into before the Lokpal Bill is promulgated.
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