December 22, 2013
Carry Forward the Struggle against Corruption

Struggle against Corruption

FINALLY, the Lokpal has been institutionalised as a mechanism to tackle corruption at high places in the country. The Bill adopted by the parliament incorporating most of the amendments suggested by the Rajya Sabha’s select committee was passed by the Rajya Sabha and sent back to the Lok Sabha which endorsed it, thus making it finally a law of the land. It has taken more than 45 years for this to become possible. The suggestion that there should be an institution like an Ombudsman was discussed in the parliament through the 1950s and was first suggested as a constitutional authority by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by late Shri Morarji Desai in 1966. Since then, eight draft legislations came before the parliament but never saw the light of the day due to contentious issues upon which no agreement was possible. This current legislation is the ninth in this line. In the past, the CPI(M) had been in the forefront demanding the establishment of the Lokpal for over three decades now. Since the Bofors scandal rocked the country and led to changes in the political leadership of the government, the CPI(M) has been seeking the enactment of a legislation to establish an institution that can effectively check corruption at high places and break the stranglehold of the unholy businessmen-bureaucrat-politician nexus of corruption. Since the V P Singh government of 1989 required the support of the CPI(M) for its survival, the CPI(M) pushed for such a legislation. On two subsequent occasions, in 1996 and 1997 when the United Front government, formed with the crucial outside support of the CPI(M), the Lokpal legislation was brought before the parliament but could not materialise as a law. Again, in 2004 when the UPA-1 government was formed with the CPI(M) and Left parties outside support, the goal of establishing the Lokpal was included in the Common Minimum Programme, which resulted in the current draft that was finally adopted. The CPI(M), hence, has been a consistent votary of the Lokpal and for the establishment of the institution of the Lokayuktas at the state level. Though many of the concerns concerning the fight against high level corruption, the independence of the institutional mechanism and the autonomous jurisdiction of the investigating agency, CBI, have been addressed to a large extent in the current legislation, there are, however, significant shortcomings that would need to be overcome urgently in the future. At the outset, it needs to be reiterated that the establishment of the Lokpal must go hand-in-hand with various other measures that are required to be simultaneously undertaken if the battle against corruption has to succeed. The CPI(M) is of the opinion that the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 needs to be amended to widen the definition of corruption from the existing one that narrowly restricts this by defining corruption as the misuse of public power for private gain or enrichment. In many cases, power is misused to benefit an entity like a private company which is not a “person” as required under the PCA 1988. Often, there may be no traceable kickbacks or embezzlement but there may be a huge loss to the public exchequer and breach of public trust for example through sale of PSUs due to a willful misuse of power. The definition of corruption has to be widened to include “willfully giving any undue benefit to any person or entity or obtaining any undue benefit from any public servant in violation of laws or rules”. While the government gave an assurance on the Floor of the House that a separate Bill amending the PCA has already been put in the List of Business of both Houses of Parliament, the CPI(M) arguing that since the government appeared to have agreed with such a need, the current Lokpal Bill should be amended to draw into its ambit all private entities that are alleged to have used corrupt means to obtain a government contract or win a tender bid. Further, PPP projects which are seen as the result of alleged graft should also be brought under its ambit. A concrete amendment to this effect was moved and a voting was sought by the CPI(M). This, however, was defeated as both the major political parties in parliament – the Congress and the BJP – joined hands to protect their sources of supply of funds. Corruption can never be tackled unless the supply side, ie, corporate funding of political parties is brought under the scrutiny of the Lokpal. In fact, the CPI(M) has been arguing that unless radical electoral reforms aimed at curbing the excessive use of money and muscle power in the elections accompanied the institution of the Lokpal, corruption cannot be effectively combated. Further, at present, the scrutiny of the conduct of members of parliament with regard to any corrupt practice is weak and unsatisfactory. For members of parliament, Article 105 of the constitution provides protection with regard to freedom of speech and voting. The real issue is how to ensure that this freedom and protection does not extend to acts of corruption by members of parliament. This can be done through an amendment to Article 105, on the lines recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. A legislation that requires further consideration is that if any member of parliament indulges in any act of corruption that motivates his or her action in parliament (voting, speaking etc.), then this act falls within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the IPC. This has become all the more necessary given the scandalous “cash for vote” scam that rocked the parliament when the UPA-1 government bought its way through in the 2008 vote of confidence following the withdrawal of the outside support to it by the Left parties as a consequence of the government’s unilateral decision to conclude the Indo-US nuclear deal. It is absolutely essential that whistleblowers must be protected in order to combat corruption. Monitoring and ensuring protection of whistleblowers can be a part of the mandate of Lokpal, but this needs a comprehensive statutory backing. Such a Bill was listed for consideration and adoption in the Rajya Sabha, but, unfortunately it could not be taken up simultaneously with the Lokpal Bill. This Bill needs to be urgently legislated. Simultaneously, the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Information) Bill, 2010 need to be strengthened and the bill enacted expeditiously. In addition to the establishment of a strong and effective Lokpal, the CPI(M) put forward the following six suggestions that need to be implemented simultaneously, if the issue of combating corruption is to be taken up in right earnest. (1) Setting up of a National Judicial Commission to bring the conduct of judiciary under its purview (2) Law to protect citizens charter for redressal of public grievances (3) Amendment of Article 105 of the constitution, if necessary, to bring MPs under anti-corruption scrutiny (4) Electoral reforms to check money power role of criminals in elections (5) Setting up of Lok Ayuktas in the states to cover public servants at the state-level (6) Steps to unearth black money and confiscate the funds illegally stashed away in tax havens. Therefore, while the parliament has finally legalised the institution of the Lokpal, much more needs to be done for effective legislation required to combat the ever-growing menace corruption at high places. In the final analysis, however, the scourge of corruption can only be effectively tackled when we as a people collectively raise the level of the social consciousness in our society. This requires a degree of political morality that is patently absent from the major existing political formations with the notable exception of the Left parties. A political alternative to the two main political formations – Congress and the BJP – who compete with each other in excelling the levels of corruption is required to cleanse our society from this morass of fast declining political morality. (December 19, 2013)