Shadow boxing

AAP-Congress face-off on jan lokpal skirts the real issue: sweeping powers of the anti-corruption body .

Published: February 6, 2014 1:44 am

AAP-Congress face-off on jan lokpal skirts the real issue: sweeping powers of the anti-corruption body .

Amid the political squalling over the Jan Lokpal Bill, debate on its provisions has become a casualty. By all accounts, the Aam Aadmi Party-led government in Delhi — whose cabinet cleared the draft legislation this week — intends to table the bill in the legislative assembly against the wishes of the Congress, which props it up from outside.

The Congress contends that this law would require the prior sanction of the lieutenant governor and the home ministry, given that the jan lokpal’s expenses would be met from the Consolidated Fund of India. Arvind Kejriwal’s government, which has made the Jan Lokpal Bill the life and soul of its fight against corruption, seems to be in no mood to listen.

If the AAP stays with its decision to send the bill for Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung’s approval after the Delhi assembly passes it, the Congress will have to confront the difficult choice of either supporting a bill it considers to be constitutionally unsound, or voting against it. Should the bill fail to clear the legislative assembly, the government may even fall, offering Kejriwal and his party the big stick of anti-corruption to beat the Congress with on the the eve of the Lok Sabha polls. Aware of its limited options, the Congress has sought refuge in procedural rules to prevent the Jan Lokpal Bill from reaching the floor of the House.

The issue of gubernatorial assent is indeed important. The AAP cannot purport to bring the Delhi Police and the DDA — which fall in the ambit of the Union government — under the jan lokpal without consulting the lieutenant governor and the home ministry. That said, there’s also a debate to be had on the mandate of the jan lokpal.

The bill moots a number of controversial measures to stem corruption, many of which fall foul of due process. In as much as the jan lokpal combines investigative, prosecutorial and judicial functions in one body, it has been invested with sweeping powers. It can impose life imprisonment on officials found guilty of corruption.

Failing to comply with the jan lokpal’s directives could mean imprisonment upto six months and/ or hefty fines. It can also issue orders to bring about changes in “work practice”.

The anti-corruption body’s powers need to be subjected to careful scrutiny. By harping only on prior Central government approval, however, the Congress is evidently trying to keep alive its bid to somehow appropriate a plank it has tried to seize belatedly. But its silence on the bill itself does disservice to the anti-corruption cause.

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