(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 05, 2011
Corruption Must Be Fought
Through A Multi Pronged Approach
THE ongoing arguments and controversies around the Lokpal Bill seem to suggest that little has moved forward over the decades. As noted in these columns earlier, the concept of the Lokpal was first mooted by an Administrative Reforms Committee headed by late Morarji Desai way back in 1969. This institution was to be established accompanied by similar institutions at the state level called the Lokayuktas. Predictable resistance had put this proposal into a long procrastination.
The concept was revived in the 1990s at the insistence of the Left parties following the political turmoil that gripped the country following the Bofors scandal. The United Front formed in 1996 with the crucial outside support of the Left parties had drafted and adopted a Common Minimum Programme (CMP). Under the section clean administration, this CMP stated: “The United Front is committed to a corruption free and clean administration. A bill to set-up the Lokpal will be introduced in the first budget session of the Eleventh Lok Sabha. The bill will cover the office of the prime minister as well. All members of parliament will be required by law to declare their assets annually before the Lokpal.”
Once again, a serious division of opinion has emerged, today, amongst the proponents of the so-called crusade against corruption themselves, on the question of whether the prime minister and its office should be brought within the purview of the Lokpal. The 1997 bill mooted by the United Front government headed by Deve Gowda never saw the light of the day as it was mired in the same controversy. The subsequent instability of the United Front government ensured no further progress on this count. The six year BJP-led NDA government that followed from 1998, notwithstanding their current projection as fighters against corruption, sat tight on this issue. Its logic seems to be the following: when in opposition fight corruption; when in office do the opposite! (a la Karnataka)
On the Left’s insistence, once again, the CMP of the UPA-I government in 2004 reiterated the assurance that, “The Lokpal Bill will be enacted into law.”
Apart from the range of the Lokpal’s ambit on the question of including the prime minister, there are many other contentious issues that need to be resolved. There are questions on whether to include the judiciary, or, the conduct of MPs inside parliament. Specific Articles of our constitution protect civil servants from being dismissed or removed by any authority subordinate to that by which the appointment was made. Senior officers of the central services like IFS, IAS etc, as also the judges of the Supreme and the High Courts etc are appointed by the president of India. Should these provisions of the constitution be amended? Will the Lokpal, a single member or a multi member, exercise all quasi judicial powers? If so, what will be the status or need for institutions like the CVC or the CBI etc. A process of consultations has been initiated by the central government with various stakeholders including political parties on such issues. The country will have to wait for its outcome. In the final analysis, it must be borne in mind that in our constitutional scheme of things, irrespective of the consultations whatever may be their level, an Act can only be promulgated by the parliament. The government therefore, despite all these efforts, cannot escape from bringing the Lokpal Bill before the parliament.
In the meanwhile, however, required attention must be paid to certain other matters. If the objective is to check, if not curb, corruption at high places will the establishment of the institution of Lokpal alone suffice? An effective struggle against corruption in high places must be based on a multi-pronged approach. While the institution of Lokpal should be established covering the prime minister and the PMO, simultaneously other measures will also have to be initiated.
The CPI(M) and the Left parties have, for years now, been demanding the establishment of a National Judicial Commission. Apart from determining the appointment of judges and other senior judicial officers, this commission must also be vested with the authority to probe matters of alleged misconduct by members of the judiciary. The current constitutional procedure of moving an impeachment motion through the parliament is so cumbersome that it has virtually ceased to serve as the required deterrent. Along with the Lokpal, such a National Judicial Commission should also be constituted. The government will do well to initiate consultations on this score as well.
Simultaneously, meaningful and substantial electoral reforms must be initiated to check, if not curb, the growing use of money power that is distorting our democratic choices very grievously. Some discussions that have taken place on the question of State funding of elections need to be carried forward. The CPI(M) had always maintained that if corruption at high places needs to be addressed in right earnest, then all corporate funding of political parties should be banned. This is an important root cause for political corruption when such funding is seen more as an investment by the corporates. The corporates must surely contribute towards strengthening and consolidating the democratic system in our country. Towards this end, their contributions and funding may go into a corpus maintained by the Election Commission, or, any other institution that the government may so decide, to finance State funding of elections.
The simultaneous establishment of such institutions to take care of all these dimensions is absolutely essential to curb corruption at high places. Any piecemeal attempt to tackle only one dimension will not provide the desired result.
Finally, it is needless, to once again, underline the importance of the need to eliminate corruption at high levels. As argued in these columns in the past, if the humongous amounts looted through the various scams in the recent past were instead used for providing food security, health and education for all, then India would be qualitatively different with its people enjoying a better quality of life. Fighting corruption, hence, is necessary for the creation of a better India, materially and morally.
(June 1, 2011)