Paying the Bill

The Lokpal bill now in Parliament is an unloved orphan introduced under duress by the UPA, nearly every political party objects to one or the other idea in it. Much of the needless furore is now over the question of reservation for minorities in the Lokpal, while the 70-page, confused bill is riddled with glaring contradictions.

The Lokpal now being proposed is a strange beast, one that concentrates too many punitive powers, and acts as a parallel police and court. It can be argued this bill cedes too much for instance, the prime minister is now accountable to the Lokpal, which was only the legislature's prerogative so far. The Lokpal needs no sanction or approval for preliminary investigations, can search and seize any documents, and has the powers of a civil court (unlike the CBI, which still needs sanction). It has de facto control of the CBI, its investigations, chargesheets and closure reports. If the Lokpal or any officer it authorises has reason to believe a public servant possesses ill-begotten gains, they can provisionally attach her property. If a public servant fails to declare her assets, for whatever reasons, these will be "presumed to be assets acquired by corrupt means". For all this reflexive suspicion of legislators and civil servants, it reposes great trust in the individuals who will people its offices. Its members, if not judicial members, shall be of "impeccable integrity and outstanding ability having special knowledge and expertise of not less than twenty-five years in the matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, finance including insurance and banking, law and management." The Lokpal chairperson can be removed only by the president based on a petition by at least 100 MPs, or by any one citizen.

The guiding assumption is still that public officials tend towards corruption, and can only be countered by a stern Lokpal, a caucus of upright people (though it is unclear how their own "impeccable integrity" will be proved). However, as they will inevitably find, the Lokpal inhabits the same fallen world our legislators and civil servants do. As Parliament debates it, it must disregard the sound and noise from outside, and heed the important reservations that have been expressed.

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