The issue of corruption has once again hit the headlines after Union Cabinet’s nod for amended version of Lokpal draft. Neither Anna Hazare nor his ex-aide Arvind Kejriwal is pleased with the amended Lokpal Bill. Both of them, who had launched a nationwide movement two years back for a strong and effective Lokpal, said that the government was cheating people in the name of fighting corruption. Even the main Opposition party BJP has also expressed its reservations on the amended draft of Lokpal. The BJP has rightly said that without granting autonomy to the CBI, it will be difficult for the proposed Lokpal institution to function properly. It is hard to decipher the reasons behind keeping the political parties out of the ambit of proposed anti-graft ombudsman law nevertheless these parties are fully responsible for corruption. There is hardly any transparency in the functioning of these political parties. They enjoy freedom from accountabilities for their acts. They have single motive either to grab power or remain in power at any cost. Only the conduct of these political parties will abet corruption. The argument that these parties are already under the ambit of the Representation of the People Act and their acts are always under the scanner of Election Commission hardly bears any relevance. It is a well known fact that political parties are reluctant to allow amendment to the Representation of the People Act.

It is also disappointing that the CBI has been once again denied autonomy. The new provision for a group comprising the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha to decide on the appointment of CBI director is a welcome step, but it does not suffice to ensure the autonomy of country’s premier investigative agency. Until the CBI is not granted the kind of autonomy the Election Commission holding, the probability of its misuse by the ruling party would continue. Centre’s denial to give autonomy to CBI reflects that it is not ready to free the top investigating agency from its clutches. Whatever might be the arguments behind not giving free hand to CBI, but it has emanated a wrong message to the public that Centre is not ready to lose the investigating agency for political reasons.

It is not only political parties but religious organisations and the NGOs, which are allotted lands at throw away prices, have also been kept out of the purview of Lokpal in the amended draft. It is really surprising that the NGOs, which are granted financial aid from the government, have been brought under the ambit of Lokpal but the same organizations, which get plots from government at concessional rates, have been kept out of Lokpal institution. It is difficult to decipher the relevance of this difference, which causes suspicions that government might want to cover up irregularities in the NGOs that have been allotted concessional plots.

Government might take pride for approving 14 out of 16 recommendations of the Select Committee but the amended Lokpal draft appears comparatively weaker and ineffective after dropping the two recommendations. First of the two recommendations was not to allow an official charged with corruption to present his/her stand prior to the commencement of the probe and second recommendation was to authorise Lokpal with a right to decide on the transfer of a CBI official who is probing a case assigned by the ant-graft ombudsman. It is really disappointing to reject these two significant recommendations. Denial to accept the two major viewpoints of the Select Committee highlights that government is intentionally not ready to empower Lokpal institution and it is sheltering the corrupt officials.

One cannot deny the fact that there are certain fundamental flaws in the amended draft of Lokpal, but at the same time the fresh initiatives taken by the government must be welcomed as the proposed anti-graft ombudsman law has been awaited for the past four decades. Once the Lokpal becomes a reality, it will require pondering over how to check the corruption in political parties and the organisations which are still out of its purview. There is hardly any relevance in keeping some organisations and institutions out of the purview of the anti-graft ombudsman law. It is required to contemplate over all the aspects of Lokpal especially on its powers so that no corrupt institution or organization can evade from the probe.

Corruption, which has emerged as a big social evil, has not only tarnished India’s image in the world but also stymied the pace of development of the nation. More importantly, the ill practices of the political parties have created a lot of disparity in the society. The mismatch in practice and perception of the political parties over the issue of fighting corruption becomes evident from the fact that they are either apt to remain aloof or moving forward reluctantly when it comes to curb the menace of corruption. Immense delay in framing an effective and strong Lokpal is an example in this regard. Keeping the political parties out of the ambit of Lokpal will be seen as another cheating by the political class. It will be nice to seriously discuss this matter when the amended draft is tabled in the Parliament.

In a way to rein in corruption and prove their credibility, political parties are required not only to go in the root of the menace but also show their keenness of coming under the ambit of anti-graft ombudsman. If it does not happen, it is quite possible that even after setting up of the Lokpal institution, the whole exercise in this regard would be seen as something to deceive people by the government. People will think that the Congress-led UPA government sets up Lokpal institution only for formality after decades of delay to take political gains at the time of elections. Presently it is difficult to say that Lokpal which will be set up on the basis of amended draft recently approved by the Cabinet would in reality succeed in putting a check on acts of corruption.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on February 3, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)