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For better laws, debate and discuss bills first

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The Lokpal Bill 2011 is one among 67-odd bills listed as pending before Parliament. Is it fair that out of a list of 67, only the Lokpal Bill gets intensive civil society scrutiny? And why should any bill be passed without complete transparency or due diligence? Thanks to Anna's campaign, the two drafts of the Lokpal Bill have got diverse inputs but very few stakeholders were consulted before the rest of the bills were drafted. This abysmal lack of deliberation is quite normal because there is no clarity on who will be consulted or treated as a stakeholder. In fact, the consultations are mainly confined to a few ministries with little scope for reflection either inside or outside Parliament. Some bills that do attract civil society inputs are more like exceptions that prove the rule.

As for legislative debates, out of the 12 bills the Lok Sabha passed in the Budget session last year, five took less than 15 minutes of discussion each, while two got through in less than five minutes. If the devil indeed lies in details, nobody was nitpicking or raising doubts. Worse still is the way in which the subsidiary legislation and rule framing takes place at the state level where deliberations are more rare and tinkering relatively easier. The pattern so far is that most bills are secretly drafted by babus and routinely approved by the cabinet to be hastily, and often indifferently, passed (or dumped) by Parliament or state assemblies.

No doubt that some of the best and noblest minds are offering insights for an effective Lokpal Bill, but why should other equally important matters suffer lack of civil society inputs? India has a phenomenal base of domain knowledge and experience in virtually every field. Why can't we evolve institutional arrangements to utilize this ready resource for making better laws rather than giving in to bargains? In fact, in the developed world, the interest group bargaining model of legislative decision-making is now giving way to a more deliberative one. The process of lawmaking in many countries reaches out to the public through every process available, including referendum, which in India's case can be done quite easily because of our well-oiled electoral machinery.


The first rule of thumb is that debates and deliberations must precede rather than follow the tabling of any bill in Parliament and a minimum period of up to a year must be provisioned so that no Act is ever passed in haste. According to an approach paper presented by Oxford law researcher Tarunabh Khaitan at an exchange of ideas in Delhi recently, out of several options practised globally, an adaptation of the South African model might work best for India. Under this, the government draft can be first publicized as a "White Paper" through gazettes, libraries and websites. Anyone can then forward suggestions to a designated committee which also engages with experts, stakeholders, guilds or trade bodies and intermediaries who can speak for the marginalized. The final draft is then reworked and published again as a "Green Paper" which can still be debated before being tabled in Parliament. In exceptional matters that can't wait, the government can always bring in ordinances.

This will ensure that knowledge from the field, laboratories, think-tanks and academic institutions is mobilized for lawmaking. A compulsory gestation period will give time to peoples' organizations, NGOs, lobbies and political parties to respond and intervene. The issue of pre-legislative transparency may not have the zing of an anti-corruption campaign, but in the long run, it can be more consequential than even the Lokpal Bill, which most of us are eager to see as law.


For the full text of the column by Mr Vipul Mudgal, who heads the publics and policies programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, published in the SToI, click here.

Being what I consider a very important matter, I have taken the liberty of reproducing a large part of the original text. What is suggested is very much the need of the hour, and I hope the Civil Society will pursue the matter to its logical end.

Muralidhar Rao

Comments

kbsyed61's picture

Jan Lokpal - A Lost opportunity!

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Murali Sir,

You have raised the right question. In my humble view, the whole campaign against corruption by Jan lokpal team is an lost opportunity. The campaign is run with blinders that has failed to see the world around.

Unfortunately the team Anna, Panicked government, clueless opposition and blind media has somehow resigned to the view that Lokpal will be panacea for all the country's ills. Team Anna's blinded view has really blinded the citizens to look beyond lokpal bill. Nobody in the above list has any time to inform the country about all the bills that are up for parliament nod. Food Security, revised draft of the Direct Tax Code (DTC) and the single rate goods and services tax (GST) to name few important bills.

Currently there is no institutional mechanism for wider consultation. Specially ordinary citizens like you and me, citizens who sleep on pavements for lack of roof over their head, citizens who have to content with dismal govt schools for their children, do not have the means to give that 2 cents of advice.

Jan lokpal campaign had the opportunity to push for instituting such institutional public participation mechanisms. Lokpal bill could have been the start of that new era. But the JLP team in their utter contempt for govts, squandered a golden chance to do the right thing. But for reasons known to them they only tread the path of my way or highway. In their intellect arrogance, they even stopped listening to sane voices, just because it went against their public and personal stands.

The reason I am bringing these points is, for own good and bright future we should strengthen our democratic institutions. When we the citizens opt for alternatives to institutional mechanisms, there is a danger of weakening the system that runs the country.

 There is a lesson for us also here. In our zeal of doing our civic duty let us help govt do its work efficiently rather than we doing the govt's work.

 

rackstar's picture

webpage

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I think there is a webpage that lists all bills currently in Lok Sabha or Rajya sabha. Only it is not publicised. I tried searching only in vein. http://india.gov.in/outer...

murali772's picture

nobody claimed it's a panacea

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@ Syed-bhai

Unfortunately the team Anna, Panicked government, clueless opposition and blind media has somehow resigned to the view that Lokpal will be panacea for all the country's ills.

I don't know where you got that from. Appended below are excerpts from an interview of Mr Arvind Kejriwal in the Frontline dt April 23, which is self-explanatory ( I couldn't find the link readily).

Interviewer: The euphoria generated by the inclusion of civil society representatives in the drafting committee gives the impression that this is going to be the panacea for all ills plaguing our polity. Don't you think the hype and expectations that have come to be associated with the issue of the Lokpal Bill are bound to lead to frustration if it is not passed? If that happens, what will be the next course?

AK: This by no means is the panacea for all ills. This is just the beginning. Corruption has become so widespread that it is eating into the functioning of the entire system of governance. Once we can start tackling corruption effectively, then many of our problems can be solved, and for this we need to plug the deficiencies in law. The office of the Lokpal is meant precisely for this purpose. With the Right to Information Act, we ensured that the corrupt came to light, and with the Lokpal we are trying to ensure that the corrupt are held accountable, investigated and prosecuted, all within a time frame of two years. But there are other systemic reforms that are called for, like electoral reforms and complete decentralisation of power up to the gram sabha level. We are, however, confident that with the creation of the office of the Lokpal, 90 per cent of the corruption can be handled.

Muralidhar Rao
n's picture

The flip side to including a

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The flip side to including a gestation period or public consultation is, for the most part, poor response, uninformed and poorly researched response, I-don't-care-until-it-hits-home attitude and airing personal grievances than addressing the issue at hand "participation".  From the public " servants' " perspective, they have just gotten insensitive to such things for a long time.  It will probably take a simultaneous top-down and bottoms-up approach to fix the problems.  Praja is a great microcosm; very few active participants as compared to the passive ones. Armchair ranting or blaming "officials" is a start and the easy part; active participation is the next step and well-researched, professional participation the ultimate form of maturity.
Perhaps the solution is to conduct meetings on important topics in conjunction with reducing expensive litigation as indicated here.


blrpraj's picture

shall we reword the heading?

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I think the heading of the original post must be -

 

For better laws ENFORCE THE EXISTING laws EFFECTIVELY first. Sure, we can later debate, discuss all we want and create as many new laws after the fact that we demonstrate that we can enforce the existing laws first. 

murali772's picture

convincing argument

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Corruption in government is a far more entrenched malaise than what governments either want to acknowledge or seek to address. The Lokpal Bill in its current form or this timid effort at trimming discretions will not even make a little dent in the trajectory and vibrant growth of vested interests in government, malgovernance and corruption. The test of this is simple: Take the Lokpal Bill or any of these administrative discretion changes and apply it to any of the recent scams.  Would this Lokpal Bill deter the 2G scamsters? Would the prime minister have prevented the minister and his group from giving away spectrum? Would this Lokpal Bill have prevented the finance minister from ignoring this loss to the exchequer? Would this Bill have prevented the CWG scam, the NTRO scam, the CVC appointment or any of the recent embarrassments? The prevention of these scams is as important because the deterrent effect of such a legislation and institution is as important as post-facto prosecution! The answer is a resounding NO!

So I can’t help but agree with Prashant Bhushan when he calls this a ‘jokepal’ bill and with Anna Hazare when he says this is a joke on the people of India. So let the second revolution begin on August 16!


For the full text of the column by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, click here.

Convincing argument, I would say.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

a battle we must not lose

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For the full article by Pritish Nandy, click on the link below:

http://praja.in/en/blog/silkboard/2011/03/28/jan-lokpal-bill-proposal-iac-reformatted-version#comment-28931

Muralidhar Rao
rajachandra's picture

Jan Lokpal - A Lost opportunity!

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@ kbsyed61: But for reasons known to them they only tread the path of my way or highway. In their intellect arrogance, they even stopped listening to sane voices, just because it went against their public and personal stands.

Well said ! 

Today News byte: Anna - "The Government has betrayed me at every step.  Now, they have only one option - either pass the Jan Lokpal Bill or go,"

This is indeed height of arrogance and very unfortunate.  This portends a dangerous trend to the democracy. 

We  all have problem with coruuption and sadly  most of us are  corrupt in one sense or the other. But as Nandan Nilkeni said in a recent interview most of us are victims of what he termed as Retail  corruption. Unfortunately  despite all the hullaballoo about Lokbal bill it is not going to  be a catharsis of this scourge. We all know Lokayukta in Karnataka in over 25 years of its existence has not made any dent. We also have this wispered gossip of one of our much hyped former Loakayukta  as a corrupt man! 

I also cannot understand how a retired man who is technically not fit to continue as a Judge can  qualify as a Lokpal or Lokayukta. This avarice of Former SC judges hankering for post retirement post  and degrading themselves from being glorified Stationa Hosue Officer  itself a corrupt practice.

We need to do a whole lot of systemic change to do. May be change from the West minister Parliementary system where even a Good and well meaning  CM or PM becomes a victim of   coalition or party politics and managing MP's hankering for Ministerial posts to a Presidnetial system like American may augur well.




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