Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anna Hazare & the Lokpal Disaster

Disclaimer: This article contains my views, and also some points that I have used from various articles that I have read about this issue across the internet. I certainly do not claim this to be my creation in any way. 

After an overdose (??) of anti-Anna Hazare (he is just one letter away from being a hazard!) Facebook posts, I realised the futility of trying to make people see sense. Or atleast attempt to do that, and thought of shifting the rest of it to my blog rather. 

The other day, I was having a heated discussion with people in my Dorm regarding this, and took a bet that even half the students at a crème de la crème educational institute wouldn't have bothered to go through the bill in detail, and were just basing their views based on the media and the outcry against corruption. I fail to understand, since when being against the Lokpal, translates into supporting corruption! Or for that matter, a Congress supporter, as I've been accused of, on Facebook.

While going through the entire bill in detail, I spotted a few points that I believe are something that are highly baseless and stupid. Here we go.

Immediately after the commencement of this Act, the Central Government by a Notification shall establish an institution known as Lokpal, who would have administrative, financial and functional independence from the government.
 I understand the hurry behind having an anti-corruption authority, but what is the point in such a hurry so as to establish the institution so soon, immediately on commencement of the act. Why cant there be sometime given, so that a proper structure can be worked out?

Any person, who is less than 45 years in age shall not be eligible to become Chairperson or Member of Lokpal. 
Does this mean to say that people below the age of 45 lack the know-how to  deal with things? Why do you want to leave out a part of the population that is about 70% of the Indian population without a representation in the Lokpal? Even leaving out the bunch below 15, and approximating, the population between 18-45 should be atleast 35%, which I believe is a significant number. 

At least four members of Lokpal shall have a legal background.
Explanation: “Legal Background” means that the person should have held a judicial office in the territory of India for at least ten years or should have been an advocate in a High Court or the Supreme Court for at least fifteen years.
Any person, who was in the service of any government and has remitted office within the last two years, either by way of resignation or retirement shall not be eligible to become Chairperson or Member of Lokpal. 
I have my serious doubts as to how the Lokpal is going to find enough people with judicial backgrounds, with its other criteria of age, eligibility etc, to set up benches all across the nation. 

The search comittee will be formed this way. 5 of its members shall be selected by the Selection Committee from amongst the retired Chief Justices of India, the retired Chief Election Commissioners and the retired Comptroller and Auditor Generals with impeccable reputation of integrity, who have not joined any political party after retirement and who are not holding any office under any government. The 5 members so selected shall, through consensus, co-opt another 5 members from the Civil Society in the search committee.
If you were thinking wow! They have representation of the Civil Society, a person like me, or a person from the village can actually decide corruption cases etc .. Wait. Here's the next and one of THE most funny clauses of the 'Jan' Lok Pal. 

The Search Committee before preparing the short list will invite nominations from such eminent individuals or such class of people, whom they deem fit, for the position of Chairperson or the members of the Lokpal.
Only eminent people are eligible to be a part of the LokPal. And how vague can a law get. 'Eminent people'. Eminent for whom? For the villagers, the panchayat chairman will be an eminent person. But for a guy sitting in Delhi, he might be a nobody. So what are we going to do now? Put Amitabh Bacchan, Aamir Khan, Arundhati Roy and Chetan Bhagat in the Lokpal? What happens to the 75% of India's population who live in villages? Unrepresented? Why call it a 'Jan' Lok pal if there is no Jan aspect to it so far. The PM, Opposition Leader and Judges select the selection committee. The selection committee selects the search committee. The search committee prepares the shortlist based on their list of eminent people. What about a common man? The aam-aadmi? The Jan in the 'Jan' Lok Pal? 

Such nominations as are received shall be put on a web site for inviting comments from the people with regard to the suitability or otherwise of the nominees.
The next biggest joke. Does this so called Civil Society know the penetration of Internet in India? It is a paltry 8.5% as of date! So people who dont have access to the internet are out of the selection process altogether. Great. There goes the 'Jan' Lok Pal.

Only persons with impeccable integrity and record of public service particularly in the field of fighting corruption shall be eligible for being considered for nomination.
 How many people have a record of public service in the field of corruption? I mean, is there even a record?

The Selection Committee shall, after considering all relevant information about the short listed candidates, select the required number of persons preferably through consensus.
I thought the Jan Lok Pal will atleast give the scope for me to select my Lok Pal members. But seems like my role is restricted to commenting on their website and then watching them selecting whomsoever they want. 'Preferably' through consensus. So there is the first scope for crap happening. A member can be selected even without consensus. Ha ha!

The Chairperson or members of Lokpal shall not be serving member of either the Parliament or the Legislature of any State and shall not hold any office of profit (other than the office as Chairperson or member) or carry on any business or practice any profession and accordingly, before he enters upon his office, a person appointed as the Chairperson or member of Lokpal shall-
Wow.  Here is probably the most abused clause in India. The law that prohibits you from holding conflicting positions. Who even follows this? Maran was communications minister when his brother owned Sun TV. Srinivasan was in the IPL Committee and he owned a team too.

The Lokpal's functions include : to receive complaints against any officer or staff of Lokpal.
A whole bunch of people was suggesting that they have a problem with the current mechanism because they need to go to a police officer to complain about another. Wonder what they have to say to this. 

to recruit investigating officers and other officers and staff and get them trained in modern methods of scientific investigation.
to appoint judicial officers, prosecutors and senior counsels.
to acquire modern equipment necessary for proper investigation.

And t
here goes your hard earned money, in the form of taxes. The Lokpal can recruit, the Lokpal can investigate, The Lokpal can appoint judicial officers, prosecutors, acquire modern equipment. The Lokpal can do this that. If you aren't suggesting a whole parallel structure to the current government, may I please know what this is? Aren't you ending up vesting way too much power in one body, on the basis of just plain trust. The members of whom, you have no control on? Nor does the government have a control on? Who controls the expenditure of the Lokpal? They don't want to come under the Financial budgeting of the country. Which organisation is afforded this luxury?

to recommend cancellation or modification of a lease, license, permission, contract or agreement, if it was obtained by corrupt means and to recommend blacklisting of a firm, company, contractor or any other person, involved in an act of corruption.
Ok, so assuming the 2G case, the Lokpal would have cancelled the licenses and blacklisted Reliance, Uninor and whole list of forms that took licenses by unfair means. Oh, Aircel too. There goes your mobile connection. Pooof!

to make recommendations to public authorities, in consultation with them, to make changes in their work practices to reduce the scope for corruption and whistleblower victimization.
Ok, Since when did the Lokpal get the expertise to comment on anything and everything? A body consisting of 5 people from the legal field and 5 emiment personalities can suggest changes to public authorities. LOL

Such other functions as may be necessary for the proper implementation of this Act.
And here comes the biggest bombshell. To ensure implementation of the Act, they can make any such things. Aren't you vesting way too much power in a body of 10 people? Or even in one person? 

The Investigating Officers of Lokpal authorized to investigate offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 shall have all the powers which are vested in a Police Officer while investigating offences under the Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as the powers conferred on the director of enforcement under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 as well as under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
So here comes you parallel police force. People have a problem with the police because they have too much authority. Wonder what they would say about this. 

While investigating any offence under Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, Lokpal shall be competent to investigate any offence under any other law in the same case.
Wow. So what is the point of the judiciary in India if the Lokpal can investigate anything and everything? I have never heard/seen any bigger farce than this bill. 

For the purposes of investigation of offences related to acts of corruption, the appropriate Bench of the Lokpal shall be deemed to be designated authority under Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act empowered to approve interception and monitoring of messages of data or voice transmitted through telephones, internet or any other medium as covered under the Indian Telegraph Act read with Information and Technology Act 2000 and as per rules and regulations made under the Indian Telegraph Act 1885.
What happens to the current authority? Gone with the wind. Adding layers and layers of authority upon authority in just one organisation, the work of which was performed by about a 100 earlier. That too with poor efficiency due to lack of manpower, despite being 100 organisations. Wonder what this 10 member Lokpal and their minions are going to achieve. 

A warrant issued under sub-section (1) shall for all purposes, be deemed to be a warrant issued by a court under section 93 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
First they wanted the Judicial Powers, then the investigating, now the authority of giving a warrant too. Preposterous if you ask me. 

If the complaint is frivolous or has been made with malafide intentions against a Lokpal member, Supreme Court may impose a fine or an imprisonment upto one year or both on the complainant.
Fine. Good. But why the 180 degree turn with just a fine when it comes to a false complaint against an official? I want a project to be withheld. I am a rich guy. I will file a complaint, make sure the project is withheld for the time I need it to be. And pay the fine. Why would I even care!

Any orders passed by any bench of the Lokpal or any officer of the Lokpal shall be subject to the writ jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. Ordinarily, High Courts shall not stay the order.
A Lokpal order cannot be stayed through a High Court? Then you need to go tho the Supreme Court for a wrong judgement in a case of a Rs.100/- bribe, wasting your time and energy. And how can a parallel system be given so much authority that even a High Court Order cannot be used to stop a judgement?

(2). It shall be the duty of the Lokpal to provide full protection to whistle blowers from any physical harm or administrative harassment. Identity of such whistle blowers shall also be protected if the whistle blower so desires.
(3). For achieving this objective it shall be competent for the Lokpal to give suitable direction to any security agencies for providing security as well as to any other authority to ensure that no harassment is caused to such whistle blower.
There you go. One more job for the Lokpal. Providing Security. Who will do it? Police? Dont they have enough on their hands already? Black Dog Security Services? And the Lokpal can direct the security agencies into compliance. Sounds more like a dictatorial body running parallel to the government to me. 

For any act of corruption, the punishment shall not be less than six months of rigorous imprisonment and may extend up to imprisonment for life.
Ok, all said and done, the quantum of punishment may actually work and reduce corruption. Fine. But how are you going to prove it? By investigating a cop for a Rs.100 bribe? Or a peon for a Rs.10 one? Or a Doc who issues a fake medical certificate? Bloody I guess Anna Hazare was inspired by Shankar's Anniyan (Aparichit). Secret cameras everywhere? Half the corruption cases in the country go nowhere due to lack of proper evidence. How is the Lokpal act going to change that? Colleges taking a bribe are still going to continue, due to lack of evidence. The Lokpal will provide the person with security till death? What if a person is victimised in his office/college/anywhere for that matter for having gotten a superior into trouble through this? You study in a college. You go to the Lokpal for some corruption issue and get a teacher into trouble. Do you think you'll be able to survive your years in the college after that? Or be it an office, how'll you survive in the office after that? The Lokpal will give you security for life? How difficult is it to get the details of an anonymous applicant in these days of electronic advancement? 

Each public authority shall designate an official called Public Grievance Redressal Officer in each station where the public authority has an office, to whom a complaint could be made for any violation of the citizens’ charter.
In an ideal world, there is nothing better. But doesn't BSNL have one already? Or the passport office? Or every other private company? What comes of a complaint to the authority? Nothing. You just end up wasting more money than the complaint was worth. 

There shall be at least one officer of the Lokpal in each district to receive grievances who shall be called an Appellate Grievance Officer. However, in such places where there is more concentration of central government offices, there shall be more Appellate Grievance Officers as may be required.
There are 640 districts in India as per the Census. Add up, and you get the logistical headaches through this. 

The Board shall finalise the Lokpal’s budget in such a manner that it is less than ¼ % of the total revenues of the Government of India. Lokpal shall not need any administrative or financial sanction from any government agency to incur expenditure.
Granted the lack of this may lead to loss of independence. But granting budgeting independence from government funds to such an all powerful entity is akin to committing suicide. Ever heard of dont put too many eggs in one basket? All I can see of the Lokpal is such a situation. 

Every public servant shall within 3 months after the commencement of this Act and thereafter before the 30th June of every year submit to the Head of that public authority in which the said public servant is functioning or to such other authority as may be prescribed, a statement of his assets and liabilities and those of the members of his family which shall include their sources of income, in the format prescribed by the Lokpal.
Explanation : In this Section family of a public servant means the spouse and such children and parents of the public servant and such other people as are dependent on him.
Wow. Have these guys heard of a Benami by any chance? Are they this naive that they think this is going to stop all the corruption? A guy intelligent enough to make the black money, will be intelligent enough to launder it too. 

If it is found that the public servant owns some property which was not disclosed in his statement of assets, that property would be liable to be confiscated by the Lokpal.
There are 10 lakh public servants in India. I am sure that a maximum of a 5000 in them wouldn't be indulging in things of this kind. Does the Lokpal have the machinery to check all of them? Infrastructure anyone?

If the public servant is found to be in possession or enjoyment of any property which is not shown in his statement of assets, it shall be presumed that it was owned by him unless he proves to the contrary.
Speechless. Half the things in this country are unbilled. More than half actually. How the hell do I prove I own something? I dont have the bill for my underwear. You'll arrest me for laundering of wealth? There are no norms to provide bills for rent collection. What'll you do there? What about the priests who charge so much, and get away without paying any tax? All those huge tuition centres who dont pay taxes? What are you going to do about them? All I see here is government, government. What about other kinds of corruption? Nothing? How'll things reduce? They'll just shift from one sector to the other. An agent taking a bribe to get work done isn't covered here is he? What'll you do about that? My bribe is a bottle of the costliest champagne? How'll you check that? By digging into my stomach? What is the proof that it was a bribe in the first place? I might say it is a gift, and that the person is taking vengeance against me for reasons not known to me. 

Any permission which is required under any law for initiating investigation or initiating prosecution under any Act shall be deemed to have been granted once the Lokpal has granted permission to initiate investigation or prosecution for any offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
'Any' .. 'Any' .. 'Any' sounds familiar? Unbridled power anyone?

Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, if someone makes any complaint under this Act, which lacks any basis or evidence and is held by Lokpal to be meant only to harass certain authorities, Lokpal may impose such fines on that complainant as it deems fit, but the total fine in any one case shall not exceed Rs one lakh.
Provided that no fine can be imposed without giving a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the complaintant.
Provided further that merely because a case could not be proved under this Act after investigation shall not be held against a complainant for the purposes of this section.
Provided that if such complaint is against the staff or officers of Lokpal, Lokpal may sentence the complainant to three months of simple imprisonment in addition to fine.
If the complaint is against government official, it is a fine of upto a lakh (Which might be pocket change for someone with such intentions). But when it is against the Lokpal, it is imprisonment. How much more biased can you get? What if a person says that you guys were not able to prove it. Damn you. Why fine me. "That contractor building that huge flyover in the busiest street of the city got the contract after paying a bribe." Ding. The project halts. Till the investigation is over. End of the day, nothing gets proved. Project is delayed. Objective successful. And I say that you guys couldn't investigate and get the evidence, doesn't make my case false. End of.

A complaint or allegation once made under this Act shall not be allowed to be withdrawn.
Ding. You want to keep the cases piling on your head, even when the applicant is ready to accept he made a mistake and is ready to withdraw the case. Why may I know?

All contracts, public-private partnerships, transfer by way of sale, lease, and any form of largesse by any public authority shall be done with complete transparency and by calling for public tender/auction/bids unless it is an emergency measure or where it is not possible to do so for reasons to be recorded in writing. Any violation of this shall make the contract/largesse void. The details of all such transactions would be put up by the public authority on a public website.
Want to buy a rubber? Give a tender. Non-dust, Natraj, Faber Castel will apply. And then you can make a decision. Pretty impractical in my opinion. You cant have tenders for everything in the world. Will delay things infinitely. 

The part of the Delhi Special Police Establishment, dealing with investigation and prosecution of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, shall stand transferred, alongwith its employees, assets and liabilities to the Lokpal. The Central Government shall cease to have any control over the transferred part and its personnel.
(2) Such part of Delhi Special Police Establishment, which has been transferred above, shall form part of the Investigation Wing of Lokpal.
The entire police force, vigilance commissions all over the states, CBI etc haven't been able to contain the corruption. And with one wing of the Delhi Police as investigation wing, the Lokpal is going to weave a magic wand and investigate the lakhs of cases that are going to crop up each month. Wow. How lame a law is this. 

By the way, wasn't the premise of the law, the fact that the police is corrupt? Why are you taking an entire police force then? Train your own investigators. Or create them with the same magic wand you are using to investigate a lakh of cases with a small wing of the Delhi Police. 

Any bribe giver may be granted immunity from prosecution by the special court if he voluntarily and gives timely information to the Lokpal about the giving of bribe by him with entire evidence for the purpose of getting the concerned bribe taker/public servant caught and convicted, provided he also relinquishes all the illegitimate benefits which he had received by the giving of that bribe.
'Bhaiya. Ye le lo. Mujhe chod do' and the police man leaves you. And the heartless guy you are, go to the court with immunity and say that he took a bribe and get him into trouble? 

Oh and I still haven't gotten to the fact that Indian people don't bother about corruption anyways. They will still pay a 200 to the agent and get their tickets done. Or pay 100 to a doctor to get a medical certificate. And well, with Lokpals in each state capital (or so I've heard), what is the motivation for a villager to spend the money and come all the way to file a complaint. He can anyway do that in the current judicial system to. What is the Lokpal going to add? For Rs.100 bribe, a villager in a village near Kanyakumari has to come to Chennai spending a minimum of Rs. 400 per trip. Is the Lokpal going to refund for such trips too? Some more tax payers money down the drain? I'd rather use the money to fund some development that make such a humungous waste on a impractical half boiled solution. 

And why is Anna's team ready to cover only NGOs funded by government and not everything? If they feel the NGOs are clean, why aren't they ready to allow everything under the ambit if the law? After all they came with a noble intention to clean the country of corruption. I for one, believe that all NGOs, big or small, whether government funded or not, even unregistered movements and campaigns also covered under the ambit of Lokpal. NGOs are as corrupt if not more.

Oh well, the Lokpal could get corrupt etc etc. Haven't even got there and this thing is already 4000 words long!! Let me give it a rest. I'm anyway not going to change many opinions with this piece. Will be happy if even one or two people change their opinions after reading this. 

You are welcome to a debate through the comments or through a mail to shrinivas.sg@gmail.com


Saturday, August 13, 2011

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

No no, this has nothing to do with the failed English FA campaign for Respect to Referees in Football. This is about a phone call, earlier this week with a friend of mine. 

IIM-Ahmedabad came up with it's admissions criteria for the Batch of 2012 (CAT 2011) earlier this week. 

After satisfying the cutoffs in each section and overall ,
70% weightage is given to the CAT/GMAT score and 30% weightage is given to the Application Rating Score.
Application Rating (AR): 2012-14
Rating Score <60:1pt, 60-80:2 pts, >80: 3pts

A: Percentage score in 10th Std. Exam
B: Percentage score in 12th Std. Exam
C: Percentage score in Bachelor's Degree Exam
D: Percentage score in Master's Degree Exam
E: Work Experience
<1 Year: 1pts, 1-2 Years: 2pts 2+ Years: 3pts

Application rating: (A*B*C)+D+E
Personally I have no opinion on the criteria. But the person I spoke to, was an aspirant for CAT-2011 and in my opinion deserves to get into one of the IIMs. He was unlucky the last time around, and gave up admission in one of the premier non-IIM institutes to give CAT another shot. The news of this criteria was real bad news for the guy as it reduced his chances of a call drastically, as compared to last year's criteria due to a fraction of a mark in UG. Rather than rejoicing with a 27 that would have nearly guaranteed a call after clearing the CAT percentile requirements, he was left to ponder over an 18 or 19. 

I have seen plenty of people cribbing about the new criteria. Many of these guys will probably crib about anything and everything under the sun, unless they aren't affected by it. Normalisation will have them cribbing, cut offs like the previous year would have them cribbing. Weightage for 10th and 12th will have them cribbing. High weightage for CAT score, compared to the interview will, as well. 

The conversation with this friend of mine was a breath of fresh air. The  guy who should have been highly disappointed, and cribbing (I probably would even agree with him cribbing). But he took it in his stride and preferred to use his energies in getting a good CAT score rather than waste time cribbing about something that is out of his hands. I loved his "I cant do anything much about this now. Let me rather prepare for CAT and ensure other calls than crib about this" attitude.

If I had been in his position, I'd probably have been cribbing to death about it. This conversation taught me to leave aside things outside our control and rather work at things that we can still influence and are in our hands, than such stuff which we can do nothing about.

Dude, if you are reading this, RESPECT. You are someone who deserves it this time around. Hope you get through to a B-School of your choice this year!
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