Readers will recall that Common Cause had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court in 1995 to demand the establishment of an effective framework for combating corruption by creating the institutions of Lokpal at the central level and Lokayukta at the state level. The essential features of a law for establishing an independent and empowered Lokpal were first outlined in an affidavit filed by Common Cause in August 2008. Our PIL is now at the final stage of hearing.
Over the last fifteen years, governments across party lines have demonstrated their lack of political will and commitment to enact the law on Lokpal, although the ritual of introducing a bill in Parliament has been performed eight times.
The first UPA Government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh broke this tradition by failing to introduce a Lokpal Bill in Parliament, notwithstanding the fact that an affidavit filed on behalf of the Union of India in our PIL in August 2007 had grandly stated that pursuant to the commitment made in the National Common Minimum Programme of the government in this regard, a draft Lokpal Bill, 2004 had been formulated by the Ministry of Law. The affidavit went on to claim that the Bill had been considered by the Union Cabinet, examined by a Group of Ministers and was to be reconsidered by the Cabinet for a decision regarding introduction of a revised version called the Lokpall Bill, 2007. The Prime Minister had earlier won much public acclaim by volunteering to submit himself to the jurisdiction of the Lokpal (to be instituted in the indeterminate future), overruling the advice of experts and august bodies such as the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. Prescient, Common Cause cautioned the Apex Court that the phraseology used in the affidavit betrayed a deliberate attempt to avoid a firm commitment even in regard to the process of introduction of the Lokpal Bill, not to mention its outcome and impact.
The second UPA government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh has been in the saddle for nearly two years. Once again, a Lokpal Bill, version 2011, is said to be on the anvil. Meanwhile, in the context of the rampant corruption encompassing all the organs of the state and the failure of the government to put in place credible institutions capable of stemming the rot, the leading lights of civil society have come together to draft a law for the establishment of an independent and empowered central institution for combating corruption at the political and bureaucratic levels. This institution will be radically different from the toothless advisory body with limited jurisdiction envisaged in the Lokpal Bill being formulated by the government.
A mass campaign is being launched under the banner of INDIA AGAINST CORRUPTION to press for the enactment of the Lokpal Bill drafted by civil society. This campaign will commence with a massive rally at Ramlila Ground, Delhi on Sunday, January 30, 2011. The rally will be followed by a march to Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Swami Agnivesh, Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and many other social activists will address the rally and lead the march.
This is a critical moment in the history of independent India. There is a growing realization that unless we apply unrelenting pressure on the political and bureaucratic system NOW, we will have missed a great opportunity to change the trajectory of our governance from a free fall to an upward climb. The mass rally/march being staged in the national capital on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi martyrdom is intended to send a strong message to the powers that be that the people of India insist on enactment of a law to establish credible institutions to combat corruption and will not be satisfied with half measures.
The run-up to the march has witnessed an upsurge of popular support. Individuals and organizations of diverse backgrounds, persuasions and affiliations are coming forward to contribute their mite to the cause. The event planned for Delhi is being spontaneously replicated in a number of cities across the country. There is reason to hope that the movement will go from strength to strength until the political establishment bows to the inevitability of establishing a credible and independent institutional framework for combating corruption and restoring probity in public life, starting with the People's Lokpal.