Can’t wait for a perfect Lokpal – An article with wisdom by Deccan Chronicle: Have it as its at humanrescueintermed ia

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Can’t wait for a perfect Lokpal

Which is worse, an imperfect Lokpal law or a non-existent Lokpal law? The passionate have always rooted for “all or nothing” in every situation and the Lokpal is no different. But when this desire for perfection at birth is likely to abort the precious plan you have conceived and nurtured, maybe it is time to take a step back and explore the limits of the possible. As it is, bringing in a law to curb corruption in an unwieldy democracy riddled with corruption at every level is not going to be easy. We have been trying to put the Lokpal in place for close to 50 years. The idea of an ombudsman first came up in 1963, and was recommended by the First Administrative Reforms Comm-ission in 1966. The first Lokpal Bill was introduced in 1968. Since then the Lokpal has been knocking at the door of various governments for more than four decades, but not being let in. The Lokpal Bill has been introduced in Parliament eight times in all these years, but never passed by both Houses. Meanwhile, corruption has spread its roots wider and deeper, making it more difficult to dislodge. The more we delay in establishing a Lokpal, the harder it becomes for the Lokpal to function in a dense jungle of graft, dishonesty and fraud. So is it really in our interest to demand perfection when basics are unavailable? When someone is critically ill, it pays to rush him to a local healthcare centre even with rudimentary infrastructure rather than deny him treatment while we demand a super speciality hospital. That’s what most Indians, the less privileged citizens dependent on a grossly inadequate public healthcare system, do. It doesn’t mean that we stop demanding better facilities, better care, cleaner hospitals, more beds, more doctors, more options. It means that we value the life of the patient and try to cure him and care for him in whatever way we can. Our body politic is severely sick. It needs urgent care. We do not have a quick cure or access to the best treatment yet. Is quibbling about ideal
arrangements while the critically ill patient gets steadily worse a smart option? We need to begin somewhere. And an imperfect Lokpal law could be a beginning to stem the rot that is killing us. Which is not to say that we should be happy with the proposed bill tabled by the UPA government. It has major flaws, which need to be rectified. So we should perhaps look at the bill — and the law if it is passed — as a work in progress. Once you have the basics in place, in a democracy you should have the power to amend, delete, improve and polish an act to perfection. Let’s look at some of the main objections of the activists against the tabled bill. The loudest objection is regarding the Prime Minister’s Office. The government has kept the Prime Minister out of the Lokpal’s purview, though an ex-PM can be brought under the Lokpal’s scrutiny. Opposition parties and activists have objected to this preferential treatment, and with reason. If the buck stops with the PM, if he is supposed to be responsible for the government, there is no reason why he should not be accountable. Especially since we still have vivid memories of the Emergency and the terrifying abuse of prime-ministerial power. Keeping the higher judiciary out of the Lokpal’s purview, as the bill does, may be a big mistake. Given that we have several examples of corruption among members of the higher judiciary, the activists’ demand that even judges of the Supreme Court be brought under the Lokpal makes sense. On the other hand, keeping the lower rungs of bureaucracy out of the Lokpal’s ambit makes no sense either. The bill proposes that only joint secretaries and above in the Central government can be probed by the Lokpal, whereas in real life corruption affects every rung of the Central and state bureaucracy, down to the local babu in a rickety chair. By only making a fraction of the massive network of corrupt babus accountable, the Lokpal Bill does a huge disservice to the common person who deals with the lower rungs every day, for every little service that she is entitled to. Besides, you can only send a corrupt official to jail for a maximum of 10 years, as opposed to the sentence of life imprisonment that the activists had demanded. This disproportionately light punishment is unlikely to make the big game hunters in corruption quake in their shoes. No wonder the proposed Lokpal Bill has been termed “weak and anti-poor” by Anna Hazare and his team. But the answer is not to stall work on what could be an excellent start to rooting out corruption. The answer may lie in that much-disliked word: compromise. Democracy is an approximate art. Like most intangible tools of life, it is never perfect. But it can achieve several grades of excellence. And compromise can help us get there. If we haven’t been able to introduce a Lokpal law in almost half a century, isn’t it time that we recognised the difficulties and climbed down a bit? The objections the activists and the Opposition raise would be used as election planks over the years, so why do we need to wait to debate all that? It would make more sense to bring the public into the debate — and not just the activists. And perhaps keep public demands that cannot be introduced into the bill right away as clearly marked options for future incorporation after public debate. Meanwhile, it makes a lot of sense to have a Lokpal law, even if it is weak. A law that is perceived as a first step, to be chiselled and moulded over the years. A law which is a work in progress, not just a bandage for ever. But even a bandage is better than life-threatening suppurating sores that are slowly poisoning our body politic. Sadly, neither the well-meaning and passionate activists led by Anna Hazare who claim to represent civil society, nor our elected representatives in Parliament, seem to value the urgent need for a Lokpal law. Squashed between the uncompromising egos of these two groups, both of whom apparently represent our interests, we the people continue to suffer while we lie unattended, as our festering wounds grow and the poison coursing through our veins spreads to new organs. We don’t have the luxury to wait for perfection any more. * Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:
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