The Fight Against Corruption
Now that noted social activist Anna Hazare has gone on a fast until death, expect to read and hear a lot more about India Against Corruption and the Jan Lokpal Bill. Just how are the three related? Here’s a quick primer:
What is India Against Corruption?
India Against Corruption is the umbrella group of people and organisations who have come together nationwide to collectively demand the enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill. It includes social activist Anna Hazare, former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Arya Samaj leader Swami Agnivesh and the Archbishop of Delhi, Vincent M. Concessao. In Mumbai, groups involved include the Bombay Catholic Sabha, the Jagrut Nagrik Manch, Byculla-based NGO Sadbhavana Sangh, the H-West Federation of Citizens from Bandra, and the Juhu Citizens Welfare Association.
What is the Jan Lokpal Bill?
Following the revelation of a series of scams over the last year–the Commonwealth Games scam, the Adarsh Housing Society scam, the 2G Spectrum scam–involving prominent members of the central and state governments, former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hedge, prominent New Delhi lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Right to Information activist Arvind Kejriwal drafted an anti-corruption bill in January they called the Jan Lokpal. The bill would empower a committee equally made up of citizens and representatives from the government to file First Information Reports and prosecute corrupt officials, politicians and even judges. The bill stipulates that corruption cases be investigated within a year, and then tried and closed within the following year. According to the bill, if found guilty, the corrupt officer should not only be imprisoned but the money received by him should also be recovered. “While the Right To Information Act will get you the information, the Jan Lokpal Bill will prosecute the errant and corrupt officer or politician,” said Mayank Gandhi, the Maharashtra co-ordinator of India Against Corruption. “It’s a sequel to the RTI, where you come to know things but can’t do anything about them.”
How is it different from the Lokpal Bill?
Different versions of the government’s own anti-corruption bill, the Lokpal Bill have been introduced and rejected by the Centre over the last 42 years. The government started discussing a new version of the bill following the recent spate of scams. However, IAC says that in its present form the Lokpal Bill will be an ineffective tool to fight corruption on a number of grounds, which they have outlined on their website. For instance, under the government’s bill, the Lokpal committee will not be empowered to receive complaints from the general public and will have to file their grievances with the speaker of the Lok Sabha or chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. Complaints will then have to be forwarded to the Lokpal for further investigation, which IAC says is a mechanism with much scope for misuse by the ruling party. In essence, the Lokpal Bill restricts the role of the Lokpal to that of an advisory committee.
Why has Anna Hazare decided to fast until death?
The people behind IAC feel that thus far, the government has not been serious about the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill. “When the Prime Minister was met on March 7, he said that considering Parliament is on, [and that] there are elections that are slated to get over on May 13, the government will take this up only after May 13,” said Gandhi. “Then, they said the [Lokpal] committee will consist of nine ministers. It was felt by many, including Anna Hazare, that the people whom we are sure are corrupt are the same people making up the committee. So we asked the government that the committee should consist of 50 per cent of members of civil society and 50 per cent from the government. [But] The government did not think that bringing in people into the drafting of the bill is a good idea, which is a position we do not accept.” Hazare thus decided to go on a fast until death, until the government agrees to the enactment of the Jan Lokpal Bill. After Hazare began his fast on Tuesday, April 5, at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, the government responded by saying that a panel headed by defence minister A. K. Anthony has already been constituted to look into the bill. Hazare has, however, dismissed this, specifically calling out the inclusion of Sharad Pawar, “known for possessing large amounts of land in Maharashtra”, in the panel.
If the government has not taken any action by Tuesday April 12, IAC plans to stage a Jail Bharo Andolan. (This date was changed on Friday to Wednesday, April 13.) In Mumbai, they plan to stop government officers from going to work at Mantralaya and will request the police to arrest them (the protestors that is). The movement was described at the “Dandi March”, organised by IAC two Sundays ago, as the nation’s “Second Freedom Struggle”.
What you can do?
“First, you need to be aware,” said 23-year-old Ruben Mascarenhas, who helped organise the Dandi March and is one of the most active of co-ordinators of IAC in Mumbai. Apart from a fairly comprehensive website, IAC maintains reasonably active Facebook and Twitter accounts that provide real-time updates of country-wide activities and links to articles related to the ongoing anti-corruption movement. If you want to get directly involved with the IAC, Gandhi said that it has a range of activities that volunteers can contribute to, from “distributing pamphlets” to “sitting on a fast”. The bigger struggle, however, is one we each face in our daily lives, in resisting the temptation to bribe a traffic cop or government clerk. “Human beings respond to incentives,” said Mascarenhas. “Ten per cent of the people will always do good, ten per cent will always do bad. Eighty per cent of the people will follow the ten per cent who are being rewarded.” The Jan Lokpal Bill, IAC says, seeks to ensure that corruption is not rewarded through inaction but instead, punished through the swift implementation of justice.