No one bill will do

We need a whole raft of electoral,judicial and administrative reforms to address corruption

Written by P P Rao | Published: January 23, 2012 3:39 am

Corruption has become a serious problem,defying solutions. To curb it,several measures are needed apart from the Lokpal bill,the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosures Bill,otherwise known as the whistlblowers protection bill. The three bills,in their present form,do not appear capable of achieving the avowed objective. Like the Right to Information Act,these bills need to be made effective. Ideally,they should be made part of a comprehensive package of electoral,administrative and judicial reforms. These should facilitate the removal of public servants found to be of doubtful integrity and the appointment of persons of probity,ability and commitment.

Protection of whistleblowers is overdue. For want of protection,several whistleblowers who dared to expose corruption have been killed,including journalists. The whistleblowers protection bill,passed by the Lok Sabha,was drafted after considering the reports of the Law Commission and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission,to encourage public-spirited persons to disclose information relating to corruption and the wilful misuse of power or discretion on the part of any public servant,to ensure their anonymity,facilitate discreet and thorough inquiry into the allegations and to provide a mechanism,not only to punish the guilty and recover the loss,but to provide safeguards against the victimisation of informants. The bill also prescribes penalties for motivated complaints made against innocent public servants.

While adopting the definition of “public servant” from the Prevention of Corruption Act,covering government servants,members of Parliament and state legislatures,ministers and judicial officers,the bill excludes the prime minister and chief ministers who act as “competent authorities” and are made responsible to ensure effective implementation of the law. The success of the proposed law depends on the competent authority’s integrity,ability and determination to root out corruption. The prime minister in relation to a Central minister and the chief minister in relation to a minister in a state are supposed to shoulder this onerous responsibility. At a time when the credibility of severalCMs appears to be doubtful,can this bill achieve its objectives?

While the high court is rightly made the competent authority in respect of judicial officers and the court staff,in the case of Central government servants and holders of office under a Central Act,the competent authority will be the Central Vigilance Commission or any other authority,as the Central government may specify. There is no guidance for exercising discretion by the Central government. Similar discretion is given to the state governments to specify the State Vigilance Commission or any officer of the state government or authority as the competent authority in respect of its employees or holders of offices under a state law. Unguided discretion means avoidable uncertainty. Legislative guidance is necessary. Keeping out judges of superior courts is understandable as the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill provides for a mechanism to entertain complaints against them.

The British had left behind a disciplined army,neutral civil services,efficient police and paramilitary forces and a strong and independent judiciary. Those fighting for Independence,promised better governance through elected representatives. B.R. Ambedkar and Rajendra Prasad told the Constituent Assembly that if the people elected have competence and integrity,they can make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these,the Constitution cannot help.

What are the ground realities now? Candidates spend large sums of unaccounted money. After getting elected,their interference with the administration,including the police,has become inevitable. Corruption starts here. The Supreme Court,in the Vineet Narain vs Union of India case,took notice of the N.N. Vohra Committee Report on the activities of crime syndicates,being protected by some in the government,and suggested remedial measures. In Jayalalithaa’s case,the Supreme Court,referring to the corruption that has corroded electoral democracy,suggested amendment of the Representation of the People Act,1951,so that a person on being convicted of an offence punishable under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act could be disqualified from being chosen as a member or continuing as a member of a legislative assembly or Parliament. The public opinion for a strong,independent Lokpalreflects the the lack of trust in the integrity and objectivity of the elected representatives. Parliament is yet to act.

To check corruption,the electoral system needs to be purified first. Administration of justice needs to be toned up. For ensuring successful prosecution of corrupt public servants,there has to be an independent and thorough investigation. In addition to whistle blowers,protection needs to be given to each and every prosecution witness as suggested by the Law Commission,Justice Malimath Committee and the Supreme Court. In short,comprehensive reforms covering all aspects of corruption are required. Who will do it,and when?

The writer is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court,and an expert in constitutional law

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