It makes sense to put the Central Bureau of Investigation under the purview of the Lok Pal, instead of creating a whole new agency for it, activist and National Advisory Council (NAC) member Aruna Roy tells Sreelatha Menon
Finally, the Lok Pal Bill is tabled. But critics say without investigation powers, it is quite useless. Is this true?
The Lok Pal needs its own investigation agency. But, even with the powers of directing that an investigation be carried out and superintendence over the concerned investigating agency, it is an improvement over the current situation, where the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is principally answerable to the government.
Is lack of investigative powers the main reason why Lokayuktas, say in Uttar Pradesh or other states, are not able to have an impact? And, yet they do create a pressure from public opinion. Is that fine to start with?
It is true that one reason the Lokayukta in Karnataka has been successful is because it possesses its own independent investigative agency. But, public pressure often has a large role to play in how these institutions are run. No Lok Pal or Lokayukta law is going to be perfect. One of the most important steps forward, if this law is passed, will be the creation of Lokayuktas in every state, with powers to direct investigation from the chief minister downwards.
How do ombudsmen on corruption elsewhere in the world manage to keep their independence where such freedom exists?
There was a concern expressed by some that giving investigative powers to Lok Pal and administrative control over CBI would make it into some kind of a super cop.
No matter whose control CBI is under, it is an agency that can always be misused. However, it is even more dangerous for CBI to be autonomous and completely independent. Because an investigating agency freed from civilian control can lead to a Gestapo regime. It is true that putting it under the Lok Pal does not take away from some of these concerns. However, instead of creating a whole new investigating agency for the Lok Pal, it makes sense to use the existing structure of CBI, as 80 per cent of CBI cases are related to corruption. Most important, we have to evolve a system by which the investigating agency will be answerable to the Lok Pal and the Lok Pal to Parliament.
Are you concerned by the fact that though bureaucracy now would be investigated by the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the latter is totally under government control and the Lok Pal can at best be a spectator?
This is only true for the lower bureaucracy because ‘A’ and ‘B’ class bureaucrats are to be investigated by CVC under the superintendence of the Lok Pal. However, for ‘C’ and ‘D’ classes of bureaucrats, it seems to be the case that the Lok Pal has no superintendence. This could be altered by giving the Lok Pal powers of superintendence at the time when CVC submits a report to the Lok Pal.
Are you confident that the grievance redressal (GR) organisations would be visible and accessible to the last man?
The Bill introduced in Parliament is a big step in the right direction, as it speaks of a designated authority as the first level of independent appeal at the district with powers of a civil court. If a GR Bill with these decentralised and accessible systems gets implemented, it will be one of the strongest tools in the hands of citizens today, and especially for the urban and rural poor.
Consumer redressal forums are there to deal with grievances about the private sector. Often, they fall short in numbers. Would grievance bodies face the same problem?
The raison d’être of the private sector is different from that of the government sector. As for the GR Bill, the problem of numbers is a reality we have to live with. While they may not be able to deliver fast and instant justice, at least there is a system in place. The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) has maintained that an effective GR system will have to be extremely decentralised. To this end, after the GR officer, a complainant should be able to appeal to a designated authority at the district level. Further, not only are people unaware of their entitlements, but several people are unable to file complaints. Thus, NCPRI has suggested an information facility centre be set up at the block level.
The government is doing a Below Poverty Line census to identify what it considers poor. But the process is rather arbitrary and cruel.
The need to identify people has a logic, based on the need to counter the nature of social inequality, feudal structures and the oppressive system of governance. This is often the argument for setting aside the logic and practical applicability of self targeting.
The MGNREGA with an inclusive category and a process of self-selection, has largely proved the efficacy of universalisation in the effective use of anti-poverty programmes by the poor. Categorisation depends too much on the competence of surveyors, and leads to exclusion of genuine beneficiaries.
Will the Lok Pal Bill be passed this time, with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the activists led by Anna Hazare strongly opposed to it?
The answer to this lies in what Parliament does. Like everyone else, we will have to wait and watch to see what happens. Civil society plays an important role in getting issues into focus, especially those neglected by governments. In the life cycle of legislation, a great many changes happen, as the Bill evolves. Ultimately, it is not about what one particular set of people want, but what will empower citizens the most. The appropriate time to pass a legislation must still be left to Parliament.
Do you think Anna’s agitation clearly showed the government acts only under pressure?
There is no doubt that there are severe malfunctions in the operation of the state machinery, and the recent anger on the streets represents that. But how this is channelled and to what end must be debated carefully, before any new institutions are put into place.
All institutions of power only act when pressure is put on them. It is something that movements and activists in this country have understood. It is a process necessary in a democracy to register dissent when the normal channels get clogged. These struggles must ultimately empower people by giving them entitlements promised but not fulfiled.