Issues like autonomy of CBI still need thrashing out
Though the Opposition has gone to town over how the government is not serious about a Lokpal and how it was playing football with it, rushing it through Parliament was always a bad idea, given the serious nature of issues involved—referring it to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament offers the opportunity to mull over complex issues. It must also be emphasised that this committee is truly diversified, accommodating members from the Congress, BJP, BSP, JD-U, NCP, DMK, AIADMK, CPI-M, TMC and SP, as well as an industry expert nominated to the Upper House.
In a fundamental sense, once the government sanction for prosecution of bureaucrats was made easier, or even abolished, the real issue is whether CBI investigation into charges will be an honest one or whether, like so many cases against politicians, it will depend on who is an ally of the party in power. The issue of autonomy of the CBI is a complex one, and many solutions have been offered including having it report to the CVC, but it is clear the civil society solution to simply place it under the Lokpal is fraught with all manner of problems as it creates another power centre that, at the end of the day, is accountable to no one. Though the pressure exerted by Anna Hazare, and the votes to be won by those seen siding with him, is undoubtedly on the minds of legislators, issues such as these need deeper reflection. Indeed, the same applies to the Lokpal/Lokayukta creating a parallel structure of oversight over all layers of government. With the government moving towards more transparent public procurement, Aadhar-based money transfers in place of the current corrupt system of transfers, and auctions to allocate natural resources, it’s not immediately clear steps to clean up the system are not already being put in place—in which case, is the Lokpal/Lokayukta the panacea it’s touted to be, or will it just complicate governance further?
Apart from the issue of the federal principle of whether the Centre can mandate a Lokayukta at the state level, there is the question of whether reservations should be brought into a constitutional body and the repercussions of this on other wings like the judiciary. These are serious and complex issues that need deliberation—an artificial deadline imposed by civil society cannot be used to rush the debate.