Corruption in India, Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill

Note: This is a very “thinking aloud” article and now that I’m done and it’s 2 AM and  I have a feeling I’m saying something silly somewhere in here. I just don’t know exactly what. If you can point it out and explain, I would be very grateful.

It has just been announced that the government has agreed to Anna Hazare‘s demands to set up a joint-committee to draft the new Lokpal bill consisting of 5 members from government and 5 from civil society, with a co-chairman from amongst the activists*. This is probably good news even from the point of view of those of us who were less excited by this agitation than most. However, a little more analysis seems warranted.

I will freely admit that this whole thing caught me entirely by surprise, since I don’t really keep up with Indian mass media. I stick to the web and even there, rely on social media to get me any really urgent stories. So when people started talking about this as “India’s Tahrir Square moment,” I gaped a bit and frantically started reading up, relaxing only once I figured out that that, as we would call it here in college, was “absolute fart”.

The central concern here is the Lokpal (now, Jan Lokpal) bill, and you should all go read that wiki page. Also this and this. This is probably one reading assignment too many for one post, but Pratap Bhanu Mehta has an excellent (if, shall we say, written from a position of privilige) take on the issue at the Indian Express, here. I’ll wait.

Done? Ok. Does anyone yet realize that this bill will create what is essentially a Jedi Council run by a lot of not-very-Jedi people? (Not that that worked out so well either, of course.) It can initiate prosecution, file FIRs, integrate itself with the anti-corruption wing of the CBI and the central vigilance commission, and mandate a minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum of life imprisonment for any case. Certainly sets up a deterrent, huh?

Corruption in India, at least, can be broadly divided into 2 types: first, the “greasing of palms” necessary to get most basic services  or “baksheesh”, that poses an annoyance to almost every citizen who has to come into contact with a government agent-from the RTO who evaluates your driving to the policeman who comes to verify your address for your passport. This is usually necessary irrespective of the legality of your actions (although more often than not it’s done where only minor issues remain). The second type is large, institutional corruption, where you bribe an official for a government contract, or to approve your factory despite it not clearing regulations etc. Of course, even institutions that do everything right might need to pay up just to keep things moving, and even individuals might be paying for special favours or to make someone look the other way. But the point is that the vast majority of citizen’s annoyances are with the former, and few top down legal actions are likely to affect these much. Go to www.ipaidabribe.com (a wonderful initiative). Go look through the reports of bribes paid. The vast majority fall into this category.

So what is my point? My point is, the appropriate metaphor for the state of Indian corruption is not some ravenous dragon terrorizing the innocent villagers. It is a million little mosquitoes biting intermittently at a weary populace as they trudge to work every day. A big fu*king sword might be useful against a dragon, but the mosquitoes are probably just going to wait until you tire yourself out by waving it around.

An ineffective weapon against (most) corruption in India

Of course, a lot of this depends on just how the system is going to be implemented, and I’m thoroughly clueless about that, so this might be unfair criticism. It might be that the system also involves introducing technology that can track “choke points” of paperwork. It might be that it can set up an efficient and responsive bureaucracy that will basically do what the vigilance commission has always been meant to do, only properly. I certainly hope so. I just don’t think I can count on it.

PS: OK, so the important caveat here is that it is the latter sort of institutional corruption that arguably matters more as far as economic growth, safety, environment and a whole host of other things are concerned. And this bill will hopefully make it easier to prosecute that kind of case and reduce the levels of corruption there. Which is why I don’t think this is a bad thing, by any means. I just think it’s likely to do a lot less for most ordinary people than they think.

PS2: And, of course, I realize that the ipaidabribe website is prone to a sampling bias that favours this sort of corruption.

*”Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will be the chairman of the committee that will also include law minister Veerappa Moily, telecom minister Kapil Sibal, home minister P Chidambaram and water resources minister Salman Khurshid as members.Besides Hazare, those representing the civil society in the joint committee will be eminent lawyers Shanti Bhushan, Prasant Bhushan, retired Supreme Court Judge Santosh Hege and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal. Shanti Bhushan will be the co-Chairman.”-TOI.

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14 thoughts on “Corruption in India, Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill

  1. “mandate a minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum of life imprisonment”

    This is only a recommendation to increase the penalty already stipulated by the Prevention of Corruption Act, right? You do realize that the Lokpal can only chargesheet/prosecute people against whom complaints have been directed, and that a trial and conviction in a court will be required? Just wondering why you italicized it when I think most of us can agree that the current maximum of seven months imprisonment is ridiculously low for such crimes.

    Also, the CBI and CVC are already existing “Jedi Councils”. Why is the establishment of another Jedi Council focussed on preventing corruption with a much wider role (and scope) than the CVC particularly worrying?

    • The old maximum was 7 years, not months, at least according to wiki (months WOULD have been ridiculous.) And anyway I wasn’t complaining about the maximum, just the mandatory minimum. Those have a tendency to skew judgement.

      The Lokpal would be able to take up suo moto complaints (without anyone directing them) , too. Scope and role is, of course, exactly what makes a Jedi Council worrying. Agencies with limited scope might be able to check each other. Something with this much scope might not.

      Also. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea! Just cause for concern and less uninhibited moral certainty than most people seem to have.

  2. About conviction, nobody seems to be very clear, so I actually read the damn thing:

    (2) The Lokpal, after getting such enquiries and investigations done as it deems fit, may take one or more of the following actions:
    a. Close the case, if prima facie, the complaint is not made out, or
    b. Initiate prosecution against public servants as well as those private entities, which are parties to the act
    c. Recommend imposition of appropriate penalties under the relevant Conduct Rules
    Provided that if a government servant is finally convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the penalty of dismissal shall be recommended on such government servant.
    d. Order cancellation or modification of a license or lease or permission or contract or agreement, which was the subject matter of investigation.
    e. Blacklist the concerned firm or company or contractor or any other entity involved in that act of corruption.
    f. Issue appropriate directions to appropriate authorities for redressal of grievance as per provisions of this Act.
    g. Invoke its powers under this Act if its orders are not duly complied with and ensure due compliance of its orders.
    h. Take necessary action to provide protection to a whistleblower as per various provisions of this Act.
    (3) Suo moto initiate appropriate action under this Act if any case, of the nature mentioned in clauses (a), (b), (c) or (d) of sub-section (1), comes to the knowledge of the Lokpal from any source.
    (4) Issue such directions, as are necessary, from time to time, to appropriate authorities so as to make such changes in their work practices, administration or other systems so as to reduce the scope and possibility for corruption, misconduct, public grievances and whistleblower victimization.
    (5) Orders made by Lokpal under sub-section (2)(c) of this section shall be binding on the government and the government shall implement it within a week of receipt of that order.

  3. [13]
    (4) In order to get its orders complied with, the Lokpal shall have, and exercise the same jurisdiction powers and authority in respect of contempt of itself as a High court has and may exercise, and, for this purpose, the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (Central Act 70 of 1971) shall have the effect subject to the modification that the references therein to the High Court shall be construed as including a reference to the Lokpal.

  4. I m not against anti-corruption but I don’t want to support Anna Hazare & his activity regarding Lokpal Bill…In my views Anna & his team play a game to highlight in Indian Media.

  5. Anna !!! jinke ghar sheshe ke hote hai wo light band karke kapde badalte hai. Lokpal ka shahara le k famous hona chah rhe ho. Disgusting…….

  6. If keeping Black Money is corruption,then evn supporters of Anna are Corrupt! They encourage black money in form of donations…Justice (retd) PB Sawant, whose probe found that an amount of Rs2.2 lakh was diverted from Anna Hazare’s Trust for his birthday celebrations, today said this action amounted to “corruption.”

  7. lgta hai Anna ji bhi PM bnne ki race m lge hue hain. Totally drama kar rahe h. Congress ko bdnaaam ki kerne kosis m ye aur inki team lgi hui hai.

  8. Anna ji kyu janta ko pagal ban rahe h. Congress ko bdnaaam kerne kikosis kar rahe h. aram karne ki umer h aram karo..

  9. Hmm…i think Anna & his team play a game with Indian Governments and just highlight in Indian Media. May be Anna Ji PM bnne ka sapna dekh rhe ho. kabhi pura na hone denge hahahha

  10. Anna HAZARe Thinks corruption is tagged with politics ; As a social activist he has failed to understand the reality of our country. Anna harazzer is dethroning the concept of democracy, the parliment the elected reprentives of people which drafted the lokpal bill has been
    given no value by anna. it is a very anti democratic stand by anna. anna indirectly is telling the people (who exercised the right of vote)of india that they are fools and he is image of right . Its a very wrong and agenda based move by anna.

  11. The movement of Anna hazare against the corruption is become a landmark and gives the challenge to political parties that if you are not succeed then public will take a lead to resolve all issues, this whole movement has given complete unrest to all political leaders and realized that Anna is doing the same work which should taken up by us. we salute to Anna and team for their all efforts to make this movement success

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