We need effective anti-corruption laws: Anna Hazare
New Delhi: Kisan Baburao Hazare, popularly known as Anna Hazare, has been on a fast unto death seeking a role for the public in the drafting of an anti-corruption Bill.
The 72-year-old activist's protest has taken the contours of a popular movement. Thousands of people including students, teachers, artists, retired government officials and traders have joined him near the Jantar Mantar monument.
The activist says that while millions of people were barely able to earn two meals a day, "politicians have stashed millions in their bank accounts".
"Though the Right To Information (RTI) Act had given power to the people to seek information and expose corruption, tough laws are needed to punish the responsible. That is why an independent body like the Lokpal is needed," he said.
The first mention of an anti-corruption ombudsman (Lokpal) was made in the early 1960s. In 1968, a Lokpal Bill was presented for the first time in the Lok Sabha. It was revived in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001, but each time was referred to some committee of Parliament. It was again revived in 2008.
A fresh movement for an effective Lokpal began in 2010 after a series of scams hit the country. And an alternative draft — Jan Lokpal Bill has been prepared by the activists of India Against Corruption under the guidance of Justice Santosh Hegde and lawyer Prashant Bhushan. While the government has also prepared a rough draft of the bill, the activists are against it.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Hazare.
Gulf News: The Lokpal Bill has been under process for several decades. Is the UPA government's recent basket of scams the reason for your impatience to see the Bill through?
Anna Hazare: Not just that, but we also want to say that the proposed draft prepared by the government is weak and we want people's participation in drafting what we call the Jan Lokpal Bill.
How will the Bill help the common man?
Corruption affects every person and unless this silent agitation becomes a mass movement, the government will not move. The government is only scared of public outrage, hence there's a need to increase pressure on the government.
The Bill needs to be drafted in a manner that not only politicians and bureaucrats, but every public servant would be accountable under this legislation. If a common man goes to a government department and lodges a complaint, it would be fed into a computer. After that, the complainant would be able to track his case and monitor the progress from home. In case of any kind of malpractice, the concerned official would be arrested.
Several political leaders have been coming to meet you and shown sudden solidarity. Have you sought the support from political parties?
I am here to fight for the public, not for political leaders. I have not asked any political party for support. They should fight their own battles and not try to take advantage of the situation. I certainly do not want them to join us.
Good use has been made of technology including SMS and social networking for the massive India Against Corruption campaign before you began your fast. Are you hopeful the government will accede to your demand?
It's a ‘do or die' fight for us. I am told that hundreds of people are sitting on fast with me, not just in Delhi but in 450 towns and cities across the country. My fast will continue till the government listens to our demands. We have no faith left in politicians and bureaucrats and it is time that people took up the fight against corruption. We should be allowed to decide what we want.
What exactly is the demand that the government is refusing to accept?
We are demanding a joint committee of ministries and social activists to come up with the draft for an anti-corruption bill. People's involvement is a must. If they do it on their own, there will be discrepancies and it will be autocratic, not democratic. What can one expect from the government's own group of ministers who have been facing allegations of corruption? We won't accept this. What they are doing is a farce.
But despite several existing laws that have stringent provisions for punishment, corruption and scams have continued. How will the proposed bill make a difference?
If the laws were effective and anti-corruption systems had been in place, some of our ministers would have been behind bars. We see that cases are dragged on endlessly for years. But the bill would stop this.
The Jan Lokpal Bill should have the powers to prosecute the guilty in a time-bound manner. Also, there would be provision to confiscate the wealth that the guilty cannot account for.
In fact, this fear of punishment will force the politicians to stop corrupt practices. At present, there is corruption in every field.
The Jan Lokpal Bill aims at making decisions of the state and Central Lokayuktas binding and final. It will have powers to dismiss corrupt officials, including judges and politicians. That's why the government feels the bill should be limited to make recommendations.
Why are the Congress Party leaders terming your fast as a course ‘fraught with dangers' and that the fast is no way to tackle the issues?
Let them say what they want. In the last few months I sent several letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi with our demand for a joint committee on formulation of the anti-corruption bill. But the Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by us and drafted by a team of senior lawyers and public leaders was rejected. I have written to the Prime Minister once again. Let's see what the government has to say. Let them tell us exactly what processes are underway.
But you are being accused of showing impatience?
They have been giving me false assurances. I have waited enough for their response. So far every government has shown complete insensitivity and lack of political commitment to tackle corruption.
Facts: The evolution of a leader: