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Strong Lokpal, weak judiciary recipe for failure

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This debate misses the main reason why the Lokpal is likely to flop. Even if the Lokpal controls the CBI, it will have no control over the courts. These seem incapable of convicting any resourceful person beyond appeals within his or her lifetime. Little will be achieved if the Lokpal initiates a thousand cases that then drag on for decades, with the accused out on bail. - - -

Research by three academics (Kumar, Krishnaswamy and Narayana) at Azim Premji University, on 16 years’ performance of the Lokayukta in Karnataka, claims that lack of Lokayukta control over the police is not a binding constraint. In these 16 years, Karnataka’s Lokayukta carried out only 357 suo motu raids but responded to over 2,159 complaints against 2,681 officials. So, the legal power to initiate action was not the key determinant of the Lokayukta’s anti-corruption crusade. The lion’s share of Karnataka cases was against lower officials. This suggests that the Lokpal might be overwhelmed with petty cases if given jurisdiction over the lower bureaucracy.

Further, 95% of the investigated cases in Karnataka received sanction for prosecution. The researchers cite this as evidence that there is little political resistance to anti-corruption crusading. However, only 10% of the cases were against senior officials, and only 0.8% against elite corps like the IAS, IPS, IFS and KAS. So the evidence suggests nothing more than that anti-corruption action is feasible against petty officials. It does not diminish Anna Hazare’s case for strong powers to overcome political resistance to tackling Big Corruption.

The huge problem uncovered by the researchers is that the cases under trial are, on an average, more than five years old. Only 16 cases overall have resulted in convictions, a conviction rate of 20% of completed cases and a small fraction of pending cases. This is much lower than the rate of convictions in criminal prosecutions in anti-corruption cases in India in recent years, which is between 34 and 40%. Despite having an activist Lokayukta, corruption has not been stemmed in Karnataka. To put it bluntly , India is a land without justice. So, Hazare’s belief that a powerful Lokpal with investigative powers will stem corruption is dead wrong. Unless we have root-and-branch judicial reform to speed up processes and verdicts, the new Lokpal will simply increase the already formidable backlog of incomplete cases in the courts. Unless there is justice for all cases, we will not get justice in corruption cases.

For the full text of the blog by Mr S A Aiyar in the Sunday ToI, click here.

Compounding the problem further is the following scenario, reported in today's ToI (for that report, click here)

Two part-time prosecutors handle 450 corruption cases in Bangalore district! With one retiring on Dec 16, there's only one left to handle all the cases.

This is the situation at the Karnataka Lokayukta. The institution has a separate police wing headed by an officer of the rank of additional director general of police and a court to try the cases. But it does not have permanent prosecutors to fight the cases it registers under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The prosecutors are hired on a two-year contract with a measly salary.

"Any given month, the salary and allowances don't cross Rs 16,000. It's a parttime job, but its high pressure leaves no time for private practice,'' says I S Pramod Chandra, who worked as SPP for two years handling cases like the KIADB scam and cases related to former CM B S Yeddyurappa, home minister R Ashoka and industries minister Murugesh R Nirani.

Not surprising then that Yeddy is continuing to lay claims to CM-ship, saying 'let justice take its course', and claiming 'innocent until proven guilty'. By the time justice takes its course, he will any way be too old to hold any post, if he is alive at all.

Mr V Balasubramanian, retired additional chief secretary, GoK, has a suggestion - "Replace the "adversarial system of jurisprudence", where an accused is innocent until proven guilty, with the Continental system of "inquisitorial jurisprudence", where an accused has to prove his innocence once he is charged by an 'investigating magistrate' (check this). Is that a possible answer?

Whatever, finding a proper way out of this sad state of affairs has become the prime need of the country.

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