NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - A proposed anti-graft “Jan Lokpal” bill, which won the support of thousands of Indians after veteran activist Anna Hazare went on hunger strike demanding its enactment, will not end pervasive corruption in the country, experts said.
Earlier this month, septuagenarian Hazare’s calls for a bill creating an independent ombudsman with court-like powers that could prosecute ministers, bureaucrats and judges tapped into widespread anger over a spate of graft scandals that have plagued the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Five days after Hazare’s hunger strike began, Singh - under immense pressure from civil society and opposition parties - relented and agreed to discuss the “Jan Lokpal” bill when parliament convenes in July. He also said some activists could be part of the body that drafts the new bill.
Experts at an anti-corruption conference in New Delhi this week said the “Jan Lokpal” bill would help combat the scourge of corruption, but did not offer a full solution as suggested by some of its supporters.
“Let’s not believe that the Lokpal is going to be a super body that will put everything right. Lokpal is a great idea, but not a one-stop solution,” said Justice J.S. Verma, former chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Other experts at the conference agreed, saying it was a “centralised bill” that would give “centralised solutions” but would not help tackle graft at grassroots level.
“While we welcome the Jan Lokpal bill, as it will send a clear message to those in high positions that they cannot escape (the consequences of) graft, we must also look at protecting whistleblowers and also providing immunity for bribe payers,” said Vijay Anand, president of 5th Pillar, a grassroots group that helps citizens seek transparency and accountability in governance.
People are often afraid to come forward and report those who ask for bribes they have ended up paying, because they fear prosecution, he added.
India is ranked 87th of 178 countries in Transparency International’s 2010 corruption perceptions index. Graft has long been a part of daily life, but the recent scandals - which include violations in granting telecoms licences that cost the country $39 billion in lost revenue - are unprecedented.
Hazare’s movement, India against Corruption - made up of the country’s most prominent and popular civil society leaders who have joined forces to push for the new legislation - inspired Indians from all walks of life to come out in opposition to the daily bribes they have to pay for basic public services.
The campaign has drawn comparisons to Mahatma Gandhi’s protests, which helped end British colonial rule and included hunger strikes. Hazare has termed the movement against graft a second freedom struggle.
India against Corruption says current legislation for investigating, prosecuting and convicting graft is poor, describing as “ineffective” the two main bodies tasked with handling cases - the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The CVC, it says, is independent but has no power to investigate cases, and can only advise not enforce, while the CBI can investigate, but is not independent because it requires government permission to launch probes and prosecute.
While many have welcomed the heightened awareness of corruption across the country, a senior government official told the conference on Wednesday that current legislation should be implemented fully before introducing new laws.
“I urge you to first look at the existing things (legislation), existing intentions and put pressure and make people responsible for doing it, rather than writing yet another one (law),” said Arun Maira, a member of India’s Planning Commission, a powerful government panel that charts the growth of Asia’s third-largest economy.
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