A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and (1) Madhya Pradesh Right to Food Campaign Support Group; (2) Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan; (3) Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Morch; (4) Sarokaar; (5) Baal Panchayat; (6) Nagrik Adhikar Manch; (7) Yuva Samvad; (8) Prasoon and (9) Vikas Samvad; human rights organisations working in India.Veteran human rights defender and anti-corruption activist, Mr. Anna Hazare has started an indefinite fast in New Delhi, on 5 April, demanding the Government of India to legislate the Jan Lokpal Bill without any further delay. The Bill is a model law against corruption, drafted and proposed by the civil society in India to the government. The Bill, if enacted by the Parliament, would create two independent institutions in the country, the Lokpal in the centre and the Lokayuktha in the states, mandated to accept complaints from the general public concerning corruption, and to investigate and prosecute persons suspected of corruption. The Lokpal and the Lokayuktha, if constituted, are conceived to be independent bodies like the Supreme Court and the Election Commission and to remain immune from any form of external influences. Several civil society groups in India have joined Hazare in his struggle.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) along with the above named organisations expresses solidarity to the struggle and joins hands with the rest of the civil society in the country in the fight to create an environment to constitute a corruption free India. We believe that the civil society initiative in India will lead the way and will form the bedrock of inspiration for similar movements in South Asia.
Dealing with corruption is a taboo for governments that holds fort in New Delhi and at the state capitals. For the past 42 years, a draft Bill to constitute a Lokpal has been pending before the Indian Parliament. No government was interested in dealing with the subject, or if interested, was unable to get the law passed. Even though the country’s economy advanced to become the fourth largest in the world in terms of GDP dollar estimates derived from purchasing power parity, India still does not have an independent functioning mechanism to deal with corruption. In that, India is one of the alarmingly corrupt countries of the world, being ranked 87 consistently for the past nine years, by global corruption monitoring agencies like the Transparency International.
Corruption and the concept of a socialist, secular and democratic republic cannot go together. Corruption undermines justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, the core values of India’s constitutional framework. Freedom and sovereignty has no purpose or meaning should corruption remain the central cord with which the social fabric of a country is woven and if corruption determines the balance of power in interactions among the people and between the people and their government. Social evils like caste-based discrimination can be only addressed adequately in a corruption free environment. Rightly conceived social welfare measures will deliver timely results should corruption be brought under control. Effective control of corruption could be the silver bullet with which poverty can be eliminated. Corruption undermines fair trial and thus sustainable development and progress. A corruption free environment is thus the dream of every aam admi and in that perspective Hazare’s protest represents the whole of India, including those who have formed the government and those who opposes it.
While having a legislation that envisages the constitution of independent and capable institutions is a prerequisite to contain corruption, it will be devoid of legitimacy, should it lack adequate consultation in the process and if the law does not receive the support of effective implementing entities.
A good law must ideally represent the will of the people, for which they must be heard. The collective wisdom of Indians must be thus held supreme and the civil society must take the lead to therefore consult the people, gathering opinion of what they wish to have as a corruption prevention entity in the country. The Parliament cannot and must not be held the sole representative body for this purpose, since many members of the Parliament lacks moral and legal legitimacy as they have benefited from the existing corrupt environment. It is thus for the civil society of the country to take the lead, in consultation with the government, to decide upon a transparent and mature process through which an all inclusive and time bound consultation could be held to deal with the subject.
The AHRC is of the opinion that having a law unaccompanied by an effective implementation framework is destined to fail. To begin with, the present entities in India that deals with corruption must be thoroughly scrutinised. Of particular importance are: (1) the Central Bureau of Investigation, (2) the Central Vigilance Commission, (3) prosecutorial agencies and (4) the local police. In any jurisdiction of the world where corruption has been successfully prevented, the police have been kept away from the entire process. Within Asia, like in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, where the governments have been successful in keeping corruption relatively low, the corruption prevention framework has completely excluded the police from playing any investigative role on allegations of corruption. On the contrary, it was the police who have been brought under the scanner and prosecuted in the first phase of controlling corruption in all the four countries. Even today, these countries keep a watertight separation between policing and corruption prevention. If the success in these countries could be emulated in India, which has been the case also in some of the western countries, the presence of police officers on deputation, irrespective of their ranks must be prevented in the whole corruption prevention apparatus. Once the corruption within the police is controlled, it is relatively easy to deal with the failing rule of law environment, that must be revived to effectively deal with corruption.
A drive against corruption must also reflect its seriousness within the prosecutorial service. The hard work and labour of an investigation will be futile should the prosecutor fail in her job. The existing standard of prosecution in the country is not capable in discharging its legal mandate. The practice of appointing special prosecutors in selected cases must be dropped. Instead, the entire prosecution service must be reviewed and its standards improved drastically, to fit a justice system that guarantees fair trial. In the excuse of easing the job of the prosecutor, processes once suggested by shortsighted government committees like the one that was headed my former judge, Mr. Malimood, must not be adopted.
The appointment of the members for the proposed Lokpal and Lokayuktha must be open, transparent and practical. It must not be based on the sheer pleasure of the government or of seniority in service, as it is the case for the CVC, nor should it be cumbersome as suggested by the Jan Lokpal Bill. A simple, transparent process must be devised. In most jurisdictions where independent and capable corruption prevention agencies exist, such processes also have been devised. Similarly, both institutions must have its own independent staff to function, appointed not on deputation from other government services as it is currently the case concerning the human rights commissions, but selected on the basis of merits and trained and equipped to discharge their job.
Indeed such processes would entail heavy expenses, which could not become a tenable excuse for a country like India, nor can the government deny such spending since it would smother the very functioning of an essential instituti
on that the country need for its very survival and if it respects democracy as one of its founding norms. Indians might be poor India is not.
In addition to the above suggestions, an effective law against corruption must also guarantee time-bound investigation and trials. One of the curses of India’s justice apparatus is the inordinate delay in investigation and adjudication, which together can take more than 20 years. In cases concerning corruption, the experience so far is that the investigation itself could take more than two decades. The law could also consider providing a wider interpretation and definition to the term ‘corruption’. In today’s context, corruption need not necessarily be limited to financial corruption. The country’s governments are notorious for formulating polices with corrupt or otherwise malicious intentions. In that, policies that illegally profits any government or entities therein implemented through corrupt means or with malafide intentions must also be brought within the scope of corruption. Contrary to the mistaken perception that such wider definition of corruption would defeat the law, it has been successfully implemented in many countries, that has helped to bring in added responsibility and accountability within governments.
Contrary to what has been repeatedly projected by some of the political parties in the past few months, corruption in the country and its magnitude today cannot be held as the fault of any single government. Every political party in the country has an unshakable responsibility in deteriorating the conditions in India to the levels as it is today. Those political parties that pledge support today to the movement led by Hazare, understandably for sheer political mileage, have their own rotten skeletons inside their wardrobes. Yet this does not mean that these entities must not be consulted during the people’s consultative process. As a citizen of the country, everyone, including those who are part of the ruling coalition today, has a right to be part of the consultation, as individuals. Preventing corruption, for that matter is not the vested agenda of any particular political party. It is a decisive cause for the country, in which every political party that believes in democracy has a responsible role to play.
The AHRC wishes Hazare good health and supports him and his colleagues in this unique movement, which has the potential, not only to change the destiny of Indians, but also that of the region for a better tomorrow. It is also the responsibility of all civil society groups inside and outside India to join the campaign and extend support to Hazare and his friends.
The AHRC call upon the government of India to ensure that all necessary steps are initiated to ensure that Hazare’s fast finds a meaningful end. By doing so, the government is not succumbing to the sloganeering of the political opposition, but is respecting its people and thus fulfilling its mandate.