The Lokpal Bill joint committee's run into summer squalls as June - with its drafting deadline of the 30th - arrives. Disagreements between the panel's government and civil society representatives are many. The government does not want the Prime Minister, MPs in Parliament, the judiciary, defence personnel, officers below joint secretary rank, the CVC, CBI and departmental investigative agencies to fall under the Lokpal's purview. Given this wish-list, civil society representatives are not amused. Anna Hazare's group described its recent meeting with the government as disastrous. It also indicated it might walk out of the next one on June 6.
In expressing its demands, the government has displayed how terribly out of touch it is with the nation. Under its watch, a stream of scandal has flown forth from the unlikeliest - and least desired - of sources. India was shamed by MPs waving wads of cash inside Parliament, the cash-for-votes issue exploding within the august house itself. Even as other scams unfolded, the ISRO telecom episode involved no less than the Prime Minister's office. And to its horror, the nation learnt its defence forces were no longer inviolable. The building allotted for the widows of Kargil martyrs - named Adarsh or 'ideal' - was carved up between army top brass, politicians and rich civilians. In this atmosphere, demanding unquestioning public credence in these institutions is astonishing. The government should actually have insisted these offices come under the Lokpal's surveillance. That measure would go a considerable way in restoring tattered public confidence precisely where it should fly high.
Alongside, the civil society activists must remember it takes two to tango. Having an all-or-nothing approach won't forward public interest faster. It's practical to restrict the Lokpal's operations to officers above a certain cut-off rank in seniority terms, ensuring petty corruption isn't being constantly investigated with little time to check on the big plays in town. It's also over-zealous to demand the CVC, CBI and departmental investigative agencies come under the Lokpal's purview. These suffered deeply from being under the government's thumb. Civil society should insist these operate now as fully independent bodies, assisting the Lokpal, but not becoming an appendage.
Finally, the judiciary must be kept out of the Lokpal's purview, another group monitoring the former's accountability. It's vital a constitutional body exists to keep an eye on the Lokpal, checking this powerful office remains thoroughly above board. What's needed is an elegantly-designed, sensibly-integrated system of checks and balances, stopping one institution from overriding others. The Lokpal's office will be a vital one. However, it'll be one amongst many. The June 6 meeting should proceed on this understanding.