Monday, 22 August 2011

A third view on the Lok Pal bill (and may there be more!)

This letter is reproduced here with Ms Roy's permission, and with the request to forward to friends. We need more debate, not just blind following.

Please also visit this page on the NCPRI site, which has a lot of related reading and additional matter.

Letter from Aruna Roy:

As a preface and a possible apology, let me say that this is a combination between a letter and a note. Please bear with the length of it. We write to you on a matter of mutual and common concern, the Lokpal bill, now in Parliament. The context of this letter is explained below.

When the Joint Drafting Committee of the Lokpal was working on the Jan Lokpal , the NCPRI had written to the Chair, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, and the co-chair Shri Shanti Bhushan, enquiring about the TORs and the process of and participation, in public consultation. Both assured us that there would be formal public consultation. It did not happen.

When the government bill went to cabinet with the intention of placing it in the monsoon session of parliament, the NCPRI decided to make its position known. The NCPRI is continuing with its deliberations and consultations and has prepared an approach paper and a set of principles for circulation. This is a work in progress.

The belief in consultations and discussion is the reason why we write to you.

The NCPRI’s (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information) involvement with legislation to deal with corruption and arbitrary use of power, began with the demand for an RTI law in 1996. The Lokpal was flagged as a law that needed to be taken up along with the Whistle Blowers Bill to address the killing of RTI activists and establish accountability. A committee was set up in the September 2010 for that purpose. The issue of the Lokpal was however taken up by some members of the NCPRI Working Committee, who formed the IAC and the NCPRI discussions remained suspended.

The Lokpal discussion has had an interesting trajectory. It began as the stated logical end of a large middle class mobilization on corruption. The stated end of that campaign was the demand for the setting up of a Joint Drafting Committee for a Lokpal bill. In common usage and understanding of corruption, the term casually refers to a range of corrupt practices. The political/governance spectrum is indeed more culpable than others. For it is mandated to maintain integrity in public life, to keep the country on keel with constitutional and other guarantees. This includes preventing the arbitrary use of power and corrupt practices. The Lokpal was too simplistically ordained by the campaign as a solution to all varieties of corrupt practices in our lives.

However the assurance that all solutions to the entire gamut of corrupt practices could be worked out through a strong Lokpal has left us with a great sense of disquiet. Not only because it does not address the arbitrary use of power. But because it is an unrealistic promise to rising expectations that it is an alleviation of all ills through one bill. It is also a question of the contents of the Jan Lokpal draft itself.

There have been public meetings but few consultations on the content of the Act in detail . While gestures and symbolic assent - like sms and referendums - may approve the intent, drafting of an Act needs more informed debate. The Lokpal debate has had its share of general platitudes, we need now to go beyond that. We also have to place the role of dissent squarely in the fulcrum of the debate. The discussions after all, flow from the acceptance that a strong Lokpal bill is needed. Also that the earlier and even the current government draft is faulty, even on principles.

The NCPRI however did make efforts before the 5th of April to arrive at a consensus with the IAC in a meeting held on 3rd April in the NMML. The NAC took up the matter independent of the NCPRI on the 4th April. The NCPRI had expressed reservations about the over arching and overwhelming structure of a law, which included grievances and corruption within its ambit. It was argued that though both are equally important, they require different mechanisms for implementation.

Subsequently events took over, and in the polarised discourse, it became impossible to make suggestions and or suggest changes. Every critique was attributed to wrong intent and viewed with suspicion and mistrust by the civil society members of the Joint Committee. Critique of the Bill has evoked sharp reactions, and statements have been made that no amendments or change to the principles or the framework is possible, and that disagreement with the draft was tantamount to promoting corruption. We were baffled by such statements. The NCPRI however continued with the consultations to evolve an approach, a set of principles and measures to unpack the huge unwieldy and much too powerful structure proposed by the IAC.

We are attaching a set of documents defining our approach to the Lokpal, different both from the Jan Lokpal and the Government bills. The NCPRI would like to share a set of principles and a framework for deliberation. The summary of our basic arguments is detailed below. This was placed in the public domain by the NCPRI and the Inclusive Media 4 Change ( CSDS) on the 5th and 6th of June 2011.

The consensus that emerged was that in place of a single institution there should be multiple institutions and that a basket of collective and concurrent Lokpal anti corruption and grievance redress measures should be evolved.

Summary of the NCPRI approach towards a series of concurrent and collective Anti-corruption and Grievance Redress measures:

Rationale: Vesting jurisdiction over the length and breadth of the government machinery in one institution will concentrate too much power in the institution, while the volume of work will make it difficult to carry out its tasks.

1. Unanimous endorsement of the need for accountability of all public servants, including the contentious issue of inclusion of the PM, with a few caveats. ( No one is above the law, enforcing the rule of law).

2. An independent system for judicial scrutiny and standards.

3. An independent and strong institution to scrutinize corruption of public servants and issues, which require different administrative processes and organizational set-up.

4. A mechanism to redress grievances of the common citizen.

5. Whistle Blowers protection.

The five measures proposed by NCPRI are:

1. Rashtriya Bhrashtachar Nivaran Lokpal (National Anti-corruption Lokpal): An institution to tackle corruption of all elected representatives, including the Prime Minister (with some safeguards), Ministers and Members of Parliament and senior bureaucrats (Group ‘A’officers) and all other co-accused including those in the private and social sector. The Lokpal will be financially and administratively independent from the government and will have both investigative and prosecution powers.

2. Kendriya Satarkta Lokpal (Central Vigilance Commission): Amending the Central Vigilance Commission Act to remove the single directive and empower the CVC to investigate corruption and take appropriate action against mid-level bureaucracy.

3. Nyayapalika Lokpal (Judicial Standards and Accountability Lokpal): To strengthen the existing Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, that is currently before the Parliament, to ensure that the judiciary is also made effectively and appropriately accountable, without compromising its independence from the executive or the integrity of its functions.

4. Shikayat Nivaran Lokpal (Public Grievances Lokpal): To set up an effective time-bound system for grievance redress for common citizens to make the government answerable in terms of its functions, duties, commitments and obligations towards citizens. The grievance redress structure would have decentralized institutional mechanisms going right down to each ward/block level, and would ensure a bottom-up, people centric approach so that complaints and grievances can be dealt with speedily and in a decentralized, participatory and transparent manner. It will integrate public vigilance processes like vigilance committees and social audits, and provide for facilitation for the filing of all grievances/complaints through the setting up of block information and facilitation centres in every Block (rural) and ward(urban) in the country.The grievance redress mechanism will be a three-tier structure consisting of grievance redress officers at the local level within the department, independent district level grievance redressal authorities and central/State level grievance redress commission. It will include and rationalize existing

5. Lokrakshak Kanoon (Whistleblower Protection Lokpal): To strengthen the existing Public interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, that is currently before the Parliament, to ensure appropriate protection of whistleblowers.

These institutions, where relevant, will also be established at the State level. In addition there will be a common selection process to staff these institutions. We feel that all these measures need to be brought in simultaneously to effectively tackle corruption at all levels and provide a mechanism to redress grievances of citizens.

We write to you, to present this alternative, to elicit your responses, and to invite you to be part of the discourse. Please do let us know whether you are interested in being part of the discourse and in receiving periodic updates.

Please forward this on to friends and other interested people.

We look forward to your reply.

Warm regards,

Aruna Roy
MKSS (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan)
Village Devdungri, Post Barar
District Rajsamand 313341

(email us at

Recommended reading on the Lok Pal bill(s)

A number of posts I found interesting and informative. Please also read Amit Varma's post, Anna's Song, where he has put together a similar selection (warning: links to this blog) and Prajnya's page dedicated the Lok Pal debate, which has a large number of links from different perspectives.

In no particular order:

India needs reforms, not a super babu - Kanchan Gupta - Daily Pioneer

Is there a teaching moment we're missing today? - Swarna Rajagopalan (personal blog)

I'd rather not be Anna - Arundhati Roy - The Hindu

Rupees, Annas And Vice - Gautam Patel (personal blog, but a piece that has appeared in the TOI's Mirror set of city newspapers)

Why Anna Hazare is wrong and Lok Pal a bad idea - Nitin Pai - (personal blog, The Acorn, part of The National Interest)

Of the few, by the few and Time to step back (both by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, in Indian Express)

A thinktank brings Anna the eyeballs - Rahul Kanwal - India Today

The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi - Mukul Sharma - Kafila (a collective blog)

The dangers of a movement - Ranjit Hoskote - Tehelka

The Insurgent - Mehboob Jeelani - Caravan

Jan Lok Pal: unconstitutional, unnecessary - Amba Salelkar - Pragati (part of The National Interest)

Hazare is no Gandhi - Salil Tripathi - The Daily Star

Reign of the Tin Men - Shoma Chaudhury with Revati Laul, The third flight path - Shoma Chaudhury, with an interview with Aruna Roy and Lokpal: An option without a fast or fuss - Revati Laul (all Tehelka)

Answering Anna’s critics: 10 posers and rebuttals - R Jagannathan - Firstpost

Protesters We Like: Anna, Arundhati and the doublespeak of dissent - Lakshmi Chaudhry - Firstpost

Hazare's solution is no solution at all - Aakar Patel Friday Times

Dreams at the barricades - Mihir Sharma - Indian Express

Hazare, Khwahishein Aisi: Desiring a new politics, after Anna Hazare and beyond corruption - Shuddhabrata Sengupta - Kafila

Are we missing anything? Please leave links in the comments. Thank you.

Added later

A patriarch for the nation? - The nation’s problems cannot be solved by a supercop - Ramachandara Guha - The Telegraph

Annationalism - Shekhar Gupta - Indian Express

A tale of two movements - Amita Baviskar - The Times of India

The long shadow of the Ramlila stage - Ashutosh Varshney - Indian Express

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rs 0.02

1. I'm anti-corruption.
2. I'm anti-Anna Hazare.
3. Hazare is a sanctimonious right-wing tyrant so cloaked in his own virtue that he believes he is above the law.
4. The law is frequently an ass.
5. Nevertheless, the law is frequently our only hope.
6. Better the elected asses than the dictatorial unelected.
7. The government is playing into Hazare's hands with its idiocy.
8. Yes, these views can be held simultaneously.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Great-Grandson of Godawful Poetry Fortnight

We launched the first Godawful Poetry Fortnight in 2008, and followed up in in 2009 and 2010. All our posts are here, and there's a brief article in the TOI about the Fortnight here.

Now, time to gear up for 2011. You have been warned!

The essentials:

• Godawful Poetry Fortnight runs from the 19th to the 31st August.

• Our Patron Saint is William Wordsworth.
And he gets this signal honour for saying that poetry "is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." Way too many aspiring poets have rallied behind that banner, too few going so far as recollecting those emotions in tranquillity, let alone reading the rest of the preface to Lyrical Ballads (which can be found on Bartleby, for those interested).

• To join in, all you have to do is post on your blog*, Facebook or Google+ a godawful poem you have written, with—all totally optional—a brief note about GPF, a bit about what godawful poetry means to you, and a link to this post.

• Post godawful poems as often as you like during the Fortnight. (The True Believers Challenge: post thirteen godawful poems, one on each day of the Fortnight.) Squeeze your muse like a boil. Get it all out. Pester your friends to post too. Once GPF is done, you will write good poetry for the rest of the year, yes?

• Technorati is pretty much dead now. So just use a Godawful Poetry Fortnight tag or label on your post, and maybe a #GodawfulPoetryFortnight Twitter hashtag as well.

• To those who feel the need to point out this Fortnight lasts only thirteen days, we draw our cape around us, and say, in a marked manner, "Poetic license."

* I'd be happy to link to you if you tell me where your poem is.
If you don't have a blog, you're welcome to use the comment space here or, if you know me and have my address, email me your poems and I'll post them as guest posts.