Nikhil Dey, Shekhar Singh and Anjali Bhardwaj of the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) tell Revati Laul why they are cautiously optimistic about the new draft Lokpal Bill; why the government’s tenor is vastly improved, but that many pressing concerns remain.
Excerpts From An Interview
What do you think of what’s been made public of the new draft Lokpal Bill?
Broadly we have welcomed the new draft, but we have some concerns and some non-negotiables. Unfortunately, the two non-negotiables that we have still remain.
What are those?
The first is the CBI and its powers to probe corruption charges. We had been demanding that the CBI be brought under the Lokpal. For this, we’d suggested three options. 1. Shift the CBI administratively under the Lokpal and divest it of the 20 percent of non-corruption functions, which are given to another agency. 2. Split the CBI so that 80 percent comes directly under the control of the Lokpal and the remaining 20 percent looks after criminal cases like rape, murder, etc. 3. If you don’t want to do this to the CBI because it has some special status, then set up a new investigating agency under the Lokpal and divest the CBI of any role in prevention of corruption.
This draft suggests that the CBI will have independent administrative control, doesn’t it?
There are two ways of looking at this because it’s not terribly clear. One is that the CBI remains under government control and that’s a no-no. The other is that it becomes an autonomous body, which nobody has administrative control over. If that is so then we have serious problems with it because we feel that in a democracy, no police or armed force should exist without civilian control. This is the way private police are set up. We do welcome some suggestions. For instance, they have said the body that will conduct the initial inquiry into corruption will be different from the next stage of investigation. We welcome that.
What about clauses over who should check corruption of the lower bureaucracy — Group C and D officers?
This draft says they should come under the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). For that purpose, the CVC is going to be strengthened to roughly 32,000 people and will present a report to the Lokpal every three months. That’s vague. Does the CVC come under the Lokpal? If not, then what makes you think it’s going to listen to their directions? The other problem is, for Group C staff we had suggested the original complaint be filed with the local police because you don’t want to set up thousands of thanas across the country. Of course, the local cop might not always accept the complaint. So there should also be a district-level officer. This Lokpal draft puts it all under the CVC. Having one body to look after complaints of corruption for 57 lakh Central government staff is mind-boggling. In the system we’d suggested, you’d have one Lokpal, 28 Lokayuktas and 34 state policemen. The system will be decentralised.
What about measures like a separate grievance redressal mechanism, Judicial Accountability Bill and a Whistleblowers’ Bill that the new draft recommends. Isn’t that a branch of the NCPRI tree?
Yes. We welcome some of these recommendations, but we need to look into them. If they are recommending setting up a National Judicial Commission, we should say, let’s go with it, NOW! Because no one’s paying attention to that. Also the wihstleblowers, we should say bring it in immediately, in this session. As a separate Bill, like the draft recommends.
What about this draft’s inclusion of NGOs, corporate institutions and the media under the Lokpal?
You cannot leave out NGOs, corporates and the media. The Prevention of Corruption Act already covers them. Let these bodies be examined at the local level by the local police stations.
What do you think of the draft’s recommendations that grievances should be addressed by a grievance redressal mechanism?
There are several problems with the actual draft we have critiqued and put out in the public domain, alongside our own suggested draft Bill for grievance redressal.
What if your concerns remain even if some form of the Bill is passed in Parliament? Team Anna says they will agitate on the streets. Go on hunger strike, campaign in poll-bound states. What will you do?
We are going to try to get our two points accepted. But we’re not into fasting! We have our own ways of pushing our point including talking to the media. If on the other hand, the government backtracks on some things, we may have to be more aggressive.
What does more aggressive mean?
We might have to have public meetings of our own. It doesn’t mean that the only form of protest is a hunger strike. We are people who have protested innumerable times on many things. And it doesn’t mean that just because Parliament passes something that we have to accept it. We will keep working to change it, if need be.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.