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Mainstream, VOL XLIX No 31, July 23, 2011

Towards A Rainbow of Anti-Corruption Measures

NCPRI’s ‘Doable’ Proposals Bring New Hope

Monday 25 July 2011, by Bharat Dogra

Recent proposals prepared by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) for a rainbow of anti-corruption and grievance redress measures have brought a new hope to India’s anti-corruption agenda. At a time when people were getting confused by huge charts detailing differences of viewpoints, the practical, down-to-earth suggestions made by the NCPRI have brought a strong ‘can-be-done’ sense to an agenda which was getting too divisive to be ‘doable’.

The NCPRI, which played a crucial role in the enactment of a national RTI law in India, has continued since then to play a significant role in most transparency related issues. It has now intervened at a very critical juncture of the anti-corruption debate with a set of very well-thought-out constructive proposals that should be adopted simultaneously to check corruption at all levels as well as to redress grievances. While the various proposals can be brought together under a single umbrella-type legislation, these various proposals essentially involve diverse institutions so that the institutional set-up most suitable for a particular objective can be utilised.

The first proposal of the NCPRI is directed at tackling high-level corruption by enacting a law for the setting up of commissions at the Centre and in each of the States. At the Centre this commission can be called Lokpal Anti-Corruption Commission while the State-level commissions can be called Lokayukta Anti-Corruption Commissions. These commissions would receive and investigate complaints about corruption relating to all elected reps, including the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Central and State Ministers, MPs, MLAs, MLCs, Councillors etc. and all Class A officers. In cases where sufficient evidence of corruption exists, the commission will ensure effective prosecution. Any other co-accused will also be covered.

The second proposal of the NCPRI is for amending the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill. This Bill is already under the consideration of Parliament but it is widely believed to be a weak piece of legislation. The NCPRI would like it to be suitably amended to ensure that the judiciary is made ‘effectively and appropriately’ accountable, while at the same ensuring that its independence from the executive and the integrity of its functions are not harmed.

The third proposal is for strengthening the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and bringing under its purview all officers not covered under the Lokpal Bill. The CVC would be provided with adequate investigative and prosecution powers, and matching resources. Similarly independent and empowered State Vigilance Commissions (SVCs) need to be set up in each of the States. In addition departmental inquiry procedures will be improved.

The fourth proposal is for enacting an effective law to protect the whistleblowers. One law is already under consideration but this is widely perceived to be weak. It needs to be debated whether this can be adequately amended to strengthen it or a new law is needed.

The fifth proposal is for the enactment of a law for an effective and just grievance redressal system. This will establish a nationwide, decentralised, bottom-to-top system based on national and State-level laws. This could involve setting up of Lokshikayat (grievance redress) Commissions at the Centre and in each of the States. These commissions would have powers to ensure that detailed citizens’ charters and norms of functioning are prepared for each public authority and specified commitments towards citizens are fulfilled. This law would include imposition of a penalty on officials who violate the prescribed time-frames for providing public services. Strengthened social audits can also be linked to this system.

The NCPRI has described these proposals as ‘work in progress’ so that these can be further improved in consultation with people and experts, and new proposals (such as those relating to the CAG and the CBI) can also be added. There are some gaps (such as accountability of lower judiciary) which need to be filled.

The NCPRI will strive for simultaneous implementation of its various proposals as a collective and the possibility of an umbrella-type legislation to cover all the proposals is also open.

WHILE working towards more detailed proposals, this campaign has enunciated a number of guiding principles towards building a strong, multi-layered, anti-corruption apparatus in India (or any other democracy). Firstly, anti-corruption institutions must be financially, administratively and legally independent of those whom they are called upon to investigate and prosecute. Instead of concentrating too much power in any one institution, it is essential to have a multiplicity of decentralised institutions with appropriate accountability mechanisms. Each of these institutions must be of a manageable size.

The approach should be not to entirely uproot or seriously disturb whatever existing anti-corruption mechanisms are available but to try first to repair and improve them, and then create those new institutions which are really necessary. Initial complaints must be made to each public authority, with adequate scope for appeals to independent bodies. The functioning of the anti-corruption institutions must also be transparent; and their accountability should be well-established. Maximum efforts must be made for fairness and impartiality, particularly to ensure that honest persons are not harassed.

The author is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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