Burdened with the expectation of wrenching the country from the stranglehold of corruption, the government-approved Lokpal Bill-tabled in the Lok Sabha on Thursday-fails.
Civil society activists may not overtly support Gandhian Anna Hazare’s form of protest but there is unanimity in their criticism against the anti-corruption Bill. National Advisory Council member Harsh Mander pus it succinctly: “I agree with Anna Hazare’s criticism but not with the solutions he is offering.”
He believes that the Prime Minister’s Office should be within the purview of the law but the judiciary should be excluded. Mander also feels that a redressal mechanism to tackle public grievances should be created. “So in effect I am not agreeing with either the government or Anna Hazare,” he added.
However, Mander feels that while Hazare has a legitimate right to protest there is need to engage with the goverment. “We have to admit that this agitation has brought the issue to the fore. There is no doubt about that. But now it is time for discussion,” he said.
Magsaysay awardee and NAC member Aruna Roy supports Hazare’s right to fast and says the “momentum should be used to lobby with parliamentarians and political parties. I believe that due process must be done in making a law. While I am a supporter of public action, whether in the end it will lead to a better legislation is in the realm of probability.”
Roy has been part of a consultation with other members from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) to draft a basket of measures to address corruption. This includes creating a Lokpal that will include all elected representatives and officials.
“The Prime Minister must be included within the Lokpal but as direct responsibility and not vicariously. Also, if there is a case against the PM the entire bench of the Lokpal must agree and this must be followed by concurrence from the entire bench of the Supreme Court for prosecution to be made possible,” she says.
Roy adds that not establishing Lokayuktas was a dangerous trend and had been attempted by the Centre when the Right to Information Act was being drafted. She felt that MPs should be brought in even as parliamentary privilege and their freedom of speech are preserved.
Narmada Bachao Andolan’s Medha Patkar, who supported Hazare’s fast in April, terms the proposed legislation weak while other activists say although it took 60 years in the making, it does not have a clear mandate.
RTI activist and NCPRI Nikhil Dey slammed the government Bill terming its exclusion of lower bureaucracy and state government employees as “one of the biggest disasters”. The NCPRI draft has suggested that a separate mechanism be put in place to address public grievances and “strongest provisions” be brought in to ensure that all conduct of MPs outside Parliament be brought within the law without impinging on their freedom of speech or privilege of the House.