“This is not about one Bill; this is about the framework and we would like to deliver that framework to the country.” Rahul Gandhi said so, in a rare intervention in LS before the Lokpal Bill’s passage. It was an appeal to the 15th LS that, besides Lokpal, it should “consider and enact all six pending anti-corruption Bills before its term expires”.
He proposed that the winter session be extended “to complete our unfinished work in our fight against corruption”. Law minister Kapil Sibal made a similar request in RS, “Let’s try and work extra hours to bring these Bills to the House and to have them passed.” Though the House has been adjourned indefinitely, the proposal of reconvening it merits serious consideration, as demanded by Aruna Roy on behalf of civil society — more so because there is apparently a political consensus in favour of these legislations.
Since the term of the 15th LS has been marred by scams, there cannot be a more fitting way of signing off than carrying out this “unfinished work” to complement the Lokpal legislation. Consider the difference each of these Bills could make once passed.
Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011: As Arun Jaitley pointed out in RS, Parliament was obliged to pass this Bill to honour its 2011commitment before Anna Hazare broke his fast. One of the three clauses of the Sense of the House resolution passed then was a promise to enact a citizen’s charter for every public authority. This Bill subsequently introduced seeks to create a mechanism under which the charter will detail goods and services to be provided and their delivery timelines.
The proposed mechanism will have to redress within 30 days grievances related to the charter, functioning of the public authority and violations of a law or policy. It provides for the appointment of central and state public grievance redressal commissions, which will fine errant officers up to Rs 50,000. While Lokpal will deal with corruption, this Bill is about grievances like potholed roads or failure to supply ration cards.
Whistleblowers Protection Bill, 2011: The government came up with this Bill to strengthen safeguards for whistleblowers. It widened the whistleblower definition to include not just a conscientious public servant exposing corruption but also “any other person” including NGOs so that even RTI activists get similar protection. Disclosures of whistleblowers could be about an act of corruption, misuse of power or any criminal offence by public servants.
Under this, whistleblower can make his disclosure in confidence to the central or state vigilance commission. Anyone disclosing the complainant’s identity will be penalized. It imposes a penalty on whistleblowers if they knowingly make false complaints.
Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010: This lays down enforceable standards of conduct for SC and HC judges. Sixteen of the 18 enumerated standards are derived from SC’s code of conduct for judges and requires judges to declare their and their kin’s assets and liabilities. Given the need to maintain judicial independence, it creates three mechanisms to deal with complaints on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity. Once a complaint is filed, the proposed Judicial Oversight Committee will serve as first check. It will be a five-member body comprising two serving judges, a retired judge, attorney general and an eminent person. In keeping with the practice in countries like UK and US, this panel will allow non-judicial members to evaluate complaints.
If the complaint is in order, the oversight committee will forward it to the Scrutiny Panel comprising judicial members. Two of the three members will be judges sitting in the same court as the judge against whom there is a complaint. If the scrutiny committee is convinced of the complaint’s truthfulness, it will be referred to the Investigation Committee, which will have civil court powers. Penalties that may arise from this network of committees could range from an advisory to public censure of a sitting judge. This may also lead to a recommendation to the President for a judge’s removal.
Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2013: After the coal scam, the government came up with a radical proposal scrapping the notion of punishing somebody for corruption even when there is no quid pro quo or bribery. The proposed amendment seeks to delete the clause in the corruption law against “misuse of official position to extend undue favours”. This will ensure that a public servant isn’t booked for a judgment error on his part unless there’s evidence of graft.
This introduces the need for sanction to prosecute retired bureaucrats, joint secretary and above and strengthens the investigating agency’s power to go after bribe givers.
The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill: It penalizes Indian companies and individuals bribing foreign state or international agency officials.
Public Procurement Bill: It seeks to ensure transparency in procurement by the Central government and its entities. It exempts procurements for disaster management or strategic purposes, and those below Rs 50 lakh. It sets open competitive bidding as preferred procurement method and mandates publication of all information on a portal.