Saturday, March 24, 2012

Can Corruption Cancer be abated in India?

No consensus on Lokpal Bill after all-party meet: 10 big facts: NDTV Report
New Delhi: Will India get the new anti-corruption law it has been waiting for? The Lokpal Bill - named for a national anti-graft agency that it creates - was passed by the Lok Sabha. But the Winter Session of the Rajya Sabha ended before the bill could be put to a vote. The Prime Minister called an all-party meeting today to build consensus before the bill is scheduled for discussion in the Rajya Sabha. The Left says the meeting ended without any consensus. Here are 10 facts on this big story:

1) What is the Lokpal? This is a national agency of nine members, who will be selected by a committee that includes the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The Lokpal will investigate complaints of corruption against all government servants. A state-level branch of the Lokpal is called a Lokayukta.

2) Why did the PM call an all-party meeting today? In December, opposition parties moved close to 200 amendments on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. They want many changes to the Bill. The ruling coalition is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha. In December, the debate on the bill proved that the government would not be able to get the bill passed. Opposition parties say the government therefore orchestrated chaos and delays so that the bill could not be put to a vote which it would have lost. At today's meeting at the PM's house, it was decided that the Lokpal Bill will be taken up during the second half of this Budget Session of Parliament. On March 30, Parliament breaks for three weeks and the union budget has to be passed before this financial year ends.

3) Before bringing the bill to the Rajya Sabha, the government will work on re-wording contentious parts of the Bill. The BJP, Left and parties like Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress all agree on the need for a Lokpal but have serious objections to the bill in its current form.

4) What do opposition parties want? There are many points of difference among the main parties on the Lokpal Bill. The biggest is whether the bill, in its current form, violates the federal structure of India. The bill asks for Lokayuktas or ombudsman agencies to be set up in every state to tackle cases of corruption. Parties like the BJP say this violates the autonomy of state governments. They say that the centre should provide an enabling framework that provides the guidelines for how the ombudsman should be selected and what its powers should be. But it cannot force states to create a Lokayukta.

5) How do allies feel about this? The ruling coalition, led by the Congress, has two senior allies - the DMK from Tamil Nadu and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress from Bengal. Both are needed for the government's survival. Because both parties are regional, they have joined the BJP in objecting to the references to Lokayuktas, even in the title of the bill. Mamata Banerjee wants this part of the bill deleted completely. If the BJP pushes for a vote on this issue, the Trinamool and DMK will vote against the government they belong to. That means not just embarrassment for the Congress; the government will have been defeated on landmark legislation, allowing the opposition to point out that it does not have the right to stay in office.

6) What powers will the Lokpal have? This is a major argument among different parties. Those like the Left say that the Lokpal should supervise the CBI which will be assigned to investigate the complaints received by the ombudsman. The government says the CBI cannot be made accountable to the Lokpal because this would amount to creating an executive structure outside Parliament. The bill currently allows the Lokpal to refer complaints to the CBI, which will keep it updated on those cases. The BJP says the government's control over the CBI should be reduced. The rationale is that as long as the government decides the CBI's budget, and the postings and transfers of its officers, the agency is vulnerable to governmental influence.

7) Does everyone agree on the need for the Lokpal? Parties like the BJP have said they want the Lokpal to be introduced as quickly as possible. "I think they should present an amended bill in Parliament; they have got the message loud and clear," BJP leader Arun Jaitley told NDTV today. They blame the government for delaying the legislation in the Rajya Sabha. But others like the Samajwadi Party and Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD say a Lokpal as currently envisaged creates a new autocratic body. They want the Lokpal Bill to be studied and revised by a parliamentary committee.

8) The Anna Hazare factor: The fact that the Lokpal Bill was debated and passed in the Lower House or Lok Sabha was due almost entirely to the efforts of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. With activist-aides like Arvind Kejriwal, he turned India's attention to this legislation through a series of hunger strikes. It was his 16-day fast in August last year that brought thousands of people in support every day to his camp at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan. Anna, who is 74, ended his fast after Parliament assured him that it would consider the Lokpal Bill urgently. However, Anna says the bill in its current form is pointless. In particular, his group feels that the Lokpal has no real authority and has been reduced to a "post office" where it will distribute complaints of corruption filed by the public to different officials or departments over whom it has no real control.

9) How the Lokpal will be selected is also contentious: The opposition says that the five-member selection committee for the ombudsman gives the government too much representation. That, they argue, will ensure the Lokpal goes soft on any investigation that the government does not favour.

10) The Prime Minister is covered by the Lokpal - he can be investigated while in office if approved by two-thirds of the Lokpal's nine members.
Read more at: Will India get a new anti- Corruption Bill

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