Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mumbai Mumbles: Lokpal - an unviable solution to a relevant problem

The Scams triggered
the anti-corruption
(This coming week- Lokpal bill would be discussed at the Parliament in New Delhi.  In Mumbai and elsewhere,  Team Anna and its supporters would take to the streets to push for another version.   Game on, folks. In this context, let us examine a different point of view on the anti-corruption issue and Lokpal.)

Tickle leads to giggle.   Torture leads to pain.  

Not sure if this was due to the mountainously large corruption scams - the 2G and the Common Wealth games or whether it was a rub-off the arab-spring-jasmine revolution against oppressive regimes in the Arab world- started it all, but India's fight against corruption is well on its way.  

After 60 years of independence, from an era of the 1940's when new countries were born and freed to the first decade of the new millenium, things have changed so much. 

India tried 40 years of dynastic socialism and 2 decades of socialistic capitalism.  Our journey as a republic remains an experiment.   But some tenets are evident.   Politicians are perceived corrupt and incorrigible,   judiciary - honest but bogged down by the volume of cases,  executive - higher and lower bureaucracy seemed mired in red tape and corruption,  and the people seemingly powerless.

Sustaining interest in the anti-corruption problem - the role of Team Anna

The CWG case investigation and trial has got sidelined, 2G has become a middle-page affair since the Jan - Feb of this year, but the focus is still on corruption.   The existing system - the CBI, the supreme court and the special courts would drive these.   In India, law works slowly.   Cases transcend beyond generations.   So it is natural to conclude that the investigation would consume at least a decade, to be optimistic.
Team Anna sustain interest of the
commoner on the anti-corruption issue

In this context, from December 2010, the efforts of Team Anna, which is called Indian Against Corruption, is commendable.  They have had the tenacity to engage a reluctant government, first on a one-to-one basis, and then stage a fast in the Ram-Lila Maidan when the Parliament is in session in August, and pushing for a sense of the House.  

Like all mass movements, it is important that people's emotions are synergized for a singular cause and Team Anna achieved this to a large extent.   The importance of this achievement should be noted from the fact that there is a sustained interest of the otherwise indifferent middle class - who votes, watches election results on TV and cribs for the rest of the year about the status of this country.   Fickle memories were resusticated every month. 

The biggest result of this achievement of getting people's sustained interest is that media was also focussed.  If people were interested, it meant higher TRP's.  So the issue was kept in the limelight through the year.   So anti-corruption was a focussed problem.

So what started as a tickle in December, had the government giggle.  In August it turned into a torture, and therefore painful to conclude the anti-corruption solution.

Corruption - fundamentals and the Lokpal solution

Corruption in India, is three pronged.  

First, the lower echelon - the one that the common man encounters normally.   The size of the transaction is piddly, but the volume of transaction is very high. Let us call this C2o business.  Corruption during transactions like application of passports, traffic violations which help people to circumvent simple rules, beat the system with a little ease, and the official makes a quick buck.  
More than 5000 such instances
happen in the Mumbai city everyday

Secondly, the larger ones involves higher officials and business.  These transactions are normally life changers for middle class people.  Let us call this C2O. School admissions and house purchases are large transactions - running into lakhs and even crores.  These are examples of the C2O business.

Thirdly, are the business and politician - which is the B2P business.  The scale of this is like mountainous and breath taking.   One stroke, the politician bags a multi-crore contract, and the business party gets the vital contract or preference during a selection process.   Corruption of this scale, cannot be done without political nexus.  The 2G and the CWG scams fall squarely under this category.

The suggestion from Team Anna, hence the people and hence the media is a single solution to all these problems - the Lokpal.  It is supposed to be an ombudsman, a super cop which can cover the entire country from the Class C -D bureaucracy to the Prime Minister.   

Why Lokpal is unviable?

The solution has 3 fundamental flaws.

First,dealing with volume:  in a city like Mumbai, there are atleast 10000 + traffic violations any given day.  Even assuming half of these were to be filled as a visit-to-court case, then it would be totally 3 Lakh cases in a month!

There are more than 30000 passport applications during last year (Source : MEA)) and about 20% of them were delayed beyond the stipuated time.  Imagine if even if these were paid through some touts, then we would be having 3000 individual FIRs, don't we?  

Secondly,  how sure are we that Lokpal won't itself be corrupt or prejudiced?   If every system in India was corrupt - then how come a new system fix?   After all, it would be the same people.    With Lokpal, we would be creating one more system of bureaucracy, with head to tail, different insignia, and power.

We already have CVC for bureaucracy,  impeachment by Parliament for judges and courts for politicians.   These are sufficient to manage themselves.  The checks and balances are adequate, only need to be well executed.

Trespassing into Parliament's supremacy
is dangerous
Thirdly, with the Lokpal, the privilege of Parliament as the supreme decision and law making body would diminish.  Every debate, every question, every bill and vote in the Parliament can be seen with a colored glass.  The courage to act by the elected representative will disappear. 

Already, in the Indian DNA, blame game is ingrained so deeply, that decision making is difficult - especially in the multi-party democracy environment.   If we are prejudiced against the Parliament and the Judiciary, then we will over a time also see Lokpal in the same color.


The Solution is re-align and revamp.  Learn from our success story of the Election Commission.
    CBI should report to Law Ministry
    and investigate/ prosecute all but
    anti-corruption laws
  • Make CBI report to Law Ministry, and prosecution Law Ministry responsibility for all scenarios except corruption
  • Make CVC independent, and powers to investigate  and prosecute corruption - all anti-corruption bureau's of Center should be part of CVC
  • State Vigilance Commissions with similar setup for the states
  • CVC to be appointed by a committee of CJI, Leader of Opposition and Prime Minister
  • SVC to be appointed by a committee of the Chief Justice of High Courty, Leader of Opposition of State Assembly and the Chief Minister of that state
  • Allow a nominal service fee for C2o -  but make the lower official and his supervisor accountable for liability for after -effects - this service fee should be paid against a receipt and money goes to the official
  • CVC should be made independent
    instead of creating a new Lokpal
  • Allow a nominal service fee for C2O.  This should also be paid against a receipt and accounted.
This way, the existing Anti-corruption wings of the central government should be integrated with the CVC and made independent.  This is not a new solution. 

Look at our Election Commission - the independence and the exercise of power wielded by the EC is a fine example of how we can make systems work.   We don't need Lokpal.

Finally, to those in Team Anna, their followers and patrons - a salute to all of you for sustaining the focus on the anti-corruption issue.

But the solution cannot be outside our existing systems.   The Solution lies in revamp, and not in reinventing.   We don't want a 5th pillar - Lokpal - which is an unviable solution to a relevant problem - corruption.

-The One

( Pics Courtesy Internet)


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