Your Ad Here

Monday, 22 August 2011

Lokpal Logjam : Anna Hazare's Fast Against Corruption Continues

 India, the world's largest democracy, is witnessing what is perhaps one of the biggest mass movements in recent times, against corruption, which has rattled the government. The movement is led by social activist Anna Hazare who has been on fast since August 16 to press the government to implement a stronger anti-corruption law.

Up until a year ago, Anna was unknown to many outside Maharashtra, the state from which he hails. The 74-year old activist catapulted to national attention in April of this year when he went on a fast, urging the government to enact a stringent anti-corruption law.

Read on to find out more about this septuagenarian who has struck a nerve with millions of Indians who are unhappy with the worsening corruption in the country.

Anna, whose real name is Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare, was born into a poor family in Bhingari village of Maharashtra in western India. With his family slipping into abject poverty, Anna moved into his ancestral home in Ralegan Siddhi, a small village in the district of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, in 1952. He dropped out of school after class 7 due to financial difficulties and took to selling flowers for a living.

In response to the government's appeal to the youth of the country to join the Indian Army during the Indo-China war in 1962, Anna enrolled with the Army in April 1963 and served as a driver. Frustrated with life and unable to find an answer to the purpose of his life, it is said that he even contemplated suicide once. But a chance reading about Indian spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda changed Anna's outlook on life and he realized that the purpose of his life was to serve his fellow humans. Anna is a bachelor and lives a spartan life.

Anna voluntarily retired from the army around 1975 and returned to Ralegan Siddhi to work towards the betterment of his native village, which was drought prone and poverty stricken with alcoholism also running rampant then.

With people's participation, Anna implemented the watershed development program which boosted the agricultural production of the village. As agriculture production increased, employment opportunities also increased, transforming the economy of the village.

Once a nondescript village, Ralegan Siddhi now has a place on the international map as a model village of sustainable development. What's more, the village has also become free of alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes.

Having realized that corruption is a major hurdle to development, Anna started a movement against corruption called Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan, or BVJA for short, in 1991. The anti-graft crusader sees hunger strike as a potent weapon against perpetrators of wrong doings.

Anna Hazare's hunger strike campaign has been instrumental in the implementation of an Act for Right to Information, which is a fundamental right of a citizen, and is a means to achieve transparency and accountability in all government transactions. The Right to Information Act, or RTI, was enacted by the government in 2005.

On April 5, 2011, Anna went on a fast urging the government to introduce a more stringent anti-corruption Act known as Lokpal Bill. He called off his fast on April 9 after the government agreed to his demand , but set an ultimatum for the government to introduce the Lokpal Bill by August 15.

Lokpal, the Indian equivalent of the European concept of ombudsman, is derived from the Sanskrit words "loka" meaning people and "pala" meaning protector/caretaker, and refers to an independent body with the power to investigate politicians and bureaucrats.

In the wake of high-profile corruption cases in recent years, the fight against corruption has been gaining momentum across the country. The 2G Spectrum scam, Common Wealth Games scam and cash for vote scam are some of the recent scandals that were widely reported in the world's press.

The idea of Lokpal Bill meant to combat corruption at higher levels - politicians and bureaucrats, was mooted in 1963 and was recommended by the First Administrative Reforms Commission in 1966. Two years later - in 1968, the Bill was introduced in parliament for the first time when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. But unfortunately due to various constitutional issues the Bill was not enacted then.

Subsequently in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008, Lokpal Bills were introduced by the government, each of which was a different version. But not one version of the Bill has been able to see the light of the day till date.

Finally ending all speculations, the Congress-led government tabled its draft of the Lokpal Bill on August 4, 2011. However, the civil rights activists consider the government's version of the Lokpal Bill as very weak and ineffective with major loopholes and want it to be withdrawn.

The civil rights activists led by Anna want a Lokpal with more powers in place to nail the corrupt, and have been urging the government to introduce an alternate bill known as Jan Lokpal Bill.

The Jan Lokpal Bill was drafted in December 2010 by Santosh Hegde, a former justice of the Supreme Court of India, Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal after a series of public consultations and interactions.

While the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill wants the prime minister, judiciary and MPs (Members of Parliament) under its ambit, the government's Lokpal Bill does not cover the prime minister, judiciary or MPs.

According to the government, a complaint of corruption against the prime minister can be investigated by the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), a Central Government Agency that investigates cases of bribery and corruption. But the civil society feels that since the CBI is directly under the control of prime minister, an honest investigation is unlikely to happen.

The government believes that a Judicial Accountability Bill that is already in place is enough to take care of corruption allegations against the judiciary but the civil society feels that the Judicial Accountability Bill can only look into professional misconduct by judges and has no provisions to deal with bribery charges against the judges.

As far as corruption allegations against MPs are concerned, the government wants them to be probed by the Parliament itself while the civil society doubts that whether a panel of MPs will be able to take action against an MP of their own party.

The proposed Jan Lokpal Bill is in favor of setting up a citizen's charter for grievance redressal in each government department while the Lokpal Bill is against such a citizen charter. The Jan Lokpal Bill wants the anti-corruption branch of the CBI to be merged with Lokpal and thereby work as its investigation team while the government wants the CBI to be under the control of the Central government.

The government wants the selection and removal of Lokpal members to be under its control while the proposed Jan Lokpal bill is in favor of a transparent and participatory selection process of members.

Other contentious issues between the government and civil society regarding the Lokpal Bill include, bringing the lower bureaucracy under the purview of Lokpal, terms of punishment for corruption and delegation of powers among Lokpal members , to name a few.

Under the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill, the maximum punishment for corruption is life imprisonment for the convicted persons and if it is a business entity it will be blacklisted. In the government's Lokpal Bill, the maximum punishment for corruption is 10 years.

Anna, along with his supporters, had planned to hold an indefinite fast from August 16 at Jai Prakash Narain National Park in central Delhi to press the government to replace its version of Lokpal Bill with the Jan Lokpal Bill. However, the Delhi Police refused permission for Anna's fast in the scheduled venue citing law and order reasons and arrested him on August 16.

Anna's arrest sparked off massive protests across the country, forcing the government to release him the same day. However, he refused to leave jail unless he was granted permission to hold fast. On August 18, Anna and his supporters were permitted to hold the fast at Ramlila ground in New Delhi for 15 days, following which Anna agreed to leave jail.

Anna has been at the Ramlila ground since August 19, continuing his fast, where thousands of his supporters are gathered.

While proponents consider the Jan Lokpal Bill as the need of the hour, opponents decry it as a 'Frankenstein in the making'. Critics also blame Anna Hazare and the civil society members for undermining the parliament and have dubbed his fast a 'blackmail'.

Meanwhile, Anna who is on his seventh day of fast for a strong anti-corruption bill, has stepped up his campaign, appealing to his supporters to stage protests outside residences of their respective MPs. He has set August 30 as the deadline for the government to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Parliament.

The government which today said that it is open for talks regarding the Lokpal Bill, has clarified that there are certain issues that cannot be decided on deadlines.

As anti-corruption protests continue across the country, all eyes are now on the Indian government to see what steps it will take to end the Lokpal logjam. Stay tuned...


Post a Comment