|Can govt deal with Anna?|
|Tuesday, 23 August 2011 00:00|
With over 50,000 people converging upon the Ramlila Grounds on Sunday, the pressure on government is likely to keep increasing. It doesn’t help that, in the past, the government has bent after taking a hard line, the flip flop on Anna Hazare’s fasting and arrest being the latest example. There is also little doubt the government strategy of denial and brazenness—there was no loss in the 2G scam!—helped increase Hazare’s credibility. The question now is whether the government has a pro-active Hazare strategy, or whether it just plans to let the pressure mount before it finally capitulates?
There are several areas where the government needs to act. A debate, in Parliament or outside, on the finer aspects of the two versions—the government’s and Hazare’s—is a good idea. The government has travelled some distance in its anti-corruption stance, but few have noticed. The provisions that made it mandatory to get government permission for prosecuting bureaucrats—236 requests were pending at the end of 2010—is what made it easy for bureaucrats, like S Behura for instance, to go along with corrupt ministers like A Raja. This provision has been dropped in the Lokpal Bill which has been drafted by the government (see our Smart caFE “Lokpal 1, 2, 3” in the Reflect section today). Similarly, while the Hazare camp continues to highlight the fact that the Lokpal Bill doesn’t allow for the CBI to be under the Lokpal, the Bill provides for a separate investigation/prosecution wing for the Lokpal. Hazare’s supporters, to be fair, have also modified their position. Version 1.8 of Jan Lokpal, doing the rounds just some months ago, gave blanket power to the Lokpal to order cancellation of licences or blacklisting of firms; in the latest version, the government gets a month to respond and, if it disagrees, Hazare’s Lokpal can approach the High Court on this. A serious debate on these issues, where the Opposition is forced to take a view instead of just indulging in rhetoric, is important.
The larger issue, as the PM said, is that the Lokpal is no panacea. The public procurement policy and policy to auction resources are good ideas the government has come out with to curb corruption, but they need to be implemented. The PM talked of difficult decisions that need to be taken to achieve a higher growth. A decade ago, McKinsey estimated (see today’s edit page piece “Neither America nor Anna ...”) 2.3 percentage points (ppt) could be added to GDP growth by eliminating product market barriers, 1.3 ppt could be added by just cleaning up the mess on land titles, another 0.7 ppt by government getting out of running business … Some of these second-generation reforms have taken place, most haven’t, and this is what the government needs to move on. Eventually, this is what will keep India’s growth going and deliver jobs to people, and that’s what the government will be remembered for.