Anti-Corruption Legislation on the Move in India, follow-up

The two red Indian letters stand for "Rupee" - corresponding to the Riel in Cambodia

The two red Indian letters stand for "Rupee" - corresponding to the Riel in Cambodia

As I had promised on 5 April 2011 that I will try to continue to report further developments in Cambodia and in India related to the respective anti-corruption legislations and their implementation – here are the newest developments from India, as reported in India Today, The Times of India, and Indian Express, about what is called the Lokpal Bill – the ombudsman bill. Not only are the activists requesting that the authority of an ombudsman has to be strengthened so that authority is given to pronounce indictments (as is the case with the Anti-Corruption Unit in Cambodia) and not only to report and to make recommendations, but the major concern is that an ombudsman’s appointment and work should be independent from government action.

Anna Hazare ends fast, says his fight against corruption to continue

Four days after going on a fast unto death against corruption, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare on Saturday called off his fast unto death agitation after the government issued a notification for the constitution of a joint committee on the Lokpal Bill.

The Gandhian activist has now set a deadline of 15 August 2011 to pass the Lokpal Bill.

Anna Hazare said that the real fight has just begun and warned the government that his agitation will continue till the Lokpal Bill is finally passed by the Parliament.

India wins again, Anna Hazare calls off fast

Veteran social activist Anna Hazare on Saturday broke his fast after over 97 hours of spearheading the campaign against corruption after government issued a gazette notification constituting a 10-member joint committee of ministers and civil society activists, including him, to draft an effective Lokpal Bill…

Hazare first helped supporters break their fast before ending it himself. Thousands were waiting for Anna Hazare to break his fast. The 72-year-old took a few sips of juice offered to him by a little girl…

Terming the movement a second freedom struggle, he said the system had to be changed. “We have got a lot of strength from the people,” the former soldier said, adding that there would be further revolutions on other issues confronting India.

The notification by the Ministry of Law and Justice said the Joint Drafting Committee to prepare a draft of the Lokpal Bill will have five ministers from the government and five nominees of Hazare, including himself.

The five ministers are finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, chairperson, home minister P. Chidambaram, law minister Veerappa Moily (convener), human resource development minister Kapil Sibal and water resources minister Salman Khurshid.

The civil society will be represented by Hazare, former Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde, former law minister Shanti Bhushan (co-Chairperson), lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Right-To-Information activist Arvind Kejriwal.

The notification said the Joint Drafting Committee will commence work forthwith evolving its own procedure to prepare the proposed legislation. The committee shall complete its work latest by 30 June, it said.

The following section shows that there was hard bargaining before mutual agreement was reached. Not only are the civil society representatives also persons with well known public carriers, but also the government side will be represented at the level of ministers.

Besides a joint panel with a 50:50 ministerial-activist composition, the Center [= the government] accepted Hazare’s offer of the committee being co-chaired. This is the only compromise the activists agreed to after the Center said it would concede the chair to Hazare’s group but no minister would be on it. Hazare said the co-chair formula was a middle path as he was keen that ministers be on the panel. “Ministers will give the panel more weight, it will make the government more receptive to agreeing to the draft the committee draws up,” Hazare explained…

Hazare’s handsome victory seems a significant political milestone, marking the impact of popular opinion in a media-influenced age. It is the culmination of a string of corruption scams that placed graft at the political centerstage…

In view of this creative mutual agreement breaking new ground for which there is no precedent, there were also critical voices raised, asking if this is not undermining basic provisions of the political order of the country. But voices from among the supporting activists stressed that such concern is off the point:

…they are not trying to undermine the sanctity of Parliament or the Constitution. Any draft will finally have to be approved by Cabinet and passed by the Lok Sabha [the National Assembly] and the Rajya Sabha [the Upper House]. The organization hopes it can pave the way for more progressive legislations in future and similar initiatives must be taken for the proposed land acquisition amendment act and other acts with far-reaching legislations.

So these activities are not intended to diminish the role of the legislative bodies – they are rather a reminder that the members of the legislative bodies should fulfill their role as elected representatives of the people, so that they have to consider the voices of the people when they make their own responsible decisions. This implies more than just to agree with draft legislation others have drawn up.

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