Christian Community’s Response to Lokpal Bill

November 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Campaigns, Government, Issues, National, newsletter-india

Lokpal BillNew Delhi, November 17, 2011: The Churches and the ecumenical movement in India are concerned about corruption in public life. Corruption adversely affects the whole system of Governance, having a negative influence on the relationship between those who govern and the governed, especially the poor and marginalized communities. Despite its ratification of the United Nation‘s Convention against Corruption in May 2011, India lacks the political will to come up with a strong Lokpal Bill. The climate of corruption at all levels as well as the growing number of scams being exposed day after day and the gross failure of various Governments to bring about any effective anti-corruption law, despite the fact that the first Lokpal Bill had been introduced in 1968, has left the people of this country disillusioned. Consequently, people have begun to lose faith in the democratic rule in our country.

Inspired by the values of the Bible and those of Jesus Christ, the Churches have a duty to guide their members on issues of justice, and a role to play in the creation of a just society. In fact, the Churches are actively engaged in formation of a civic conscience and in the education of citizens in true democracy.

The Bible holds that corruption will destabilize a country, as it is antithetical to justice (Proverbs 29: 4). Hence, the Bible prohibits the acceptance of a bribe (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace rightly observes: “Corruption deprives peoples of a basic common good, that of legality: respect for rules, the correct functioning of economic and political institutions and transparency” (No. 5, The Fight against Corruption, 2006). The same Council adds in no 8. that corruption exploits the human person, disdainfully using men and women for selfish interests. It represents an obstacle for achieving the common good, because it is based on individualistic criteria of selfish cynicism and illicit special interests. It also acts against the preferential option for the poor by hindering the proper delivery to the poor of the resources intended for them. Finally, it stands in contrast to the universal destination of goods. The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) has been at the forefront of campaigning for the transparency and accountability. The XXV Quadrennial assembly had also adopted a code of conduct on Christian Leadership.

The Churches hold that corruption is unjust, illegal, immoral, unethical and highly exploitative of the poor and the under-privileged; greed, selfishness and materialism being the roots of corruption, it has to be rooted out from the hearts of people. While the Churches recognize that laws alone do not wipe out corruption, it is still of the opinion that a strong legislation is required to fight against this social evil.

The process of globalization facilitated and accelerated the expansion of corruption, making it an international phenomenon. However, the same process also offers greater opportunity to fight it, by means of more resolute and -coordinated international cooperation.

The demand for an effective Lokpal Bill that has gained momentum over the past couple of months, with the common people coming out on the streets to fight against corruption is a sign of the times and a clear indication that the people of India will not settle for anything but an effective Lokpal Bill.

Though Anna Hazare and his team were able to capture the imagination of common people and the media, their draft bill disturbs the balance of power of the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislative arms of the country. We also recognize the weaknesses in the Government Bill.

That many alternative drafts have come up from different sources is only a positive development that will enable the Standing Committee on Law and Justice as well as the parliament to bring to the people a strong Lokpal Bill. Through this memorandum, we would like to make the following suggestions on the clauses of the Lokpal Bill

1. Jurisdiction:

1.1. Prime Minister: The Lokpal Bill should have jurisdiction over the Prime Minister with certain riders. The Prime Minister’s office carries a moral and ethical responsibility towards the citizens. As the topmost person who leads the country, his/her position should be safeguarded against malicious or baseless targeting by groups who would like to disrupt democracy.

1.2. Elected Representatives: The members of the Parliament should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. However, they should continue to enjoy the privileges of the Parliament. The Article 105 of the Indian constitution provides for privileges for the Lok Sabha and Raja Sabha members; under this clause freedom of speech in Parliament is guaranteed.

1.3. Group A officers: Group A officers of the central Government and those above in rank should be covered by the Lokpal Bill.

2. Strengthening the Vigilance Commission:

The Central Vigilance Commission needs to be revamped and accorded autonomy and the power to prosecute. All officers other than Group A officers to be covered by the Central Vigilance commission.

3. Strengthening the Judicial System:

Judiciary should be kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. The basic structure of the Constitution which separates the judiciary from the Executive cannot be compromised. However, acknowledging that corruption in the Judiciary is a reality, we suggest that the Judiciary Standards and Accountability Bill be adopted so as to initiate Judicial Reforms as early as possible.

4. Lokayuktas at State Level:

The new Lokpal Bill should urge each state to have state Lokayuktas with similar powers of the Lokpal in the centre.

5. Corporate Industries:

As part of the New Economic policies, many public sector undertakings have been privatized. Hence, the companies should come under the purview of the Lokpal Bill, as stipulated by Article 21 of the UN convention against corruption: “Each State Party shall consider adopting such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offences, when committed intentionally in the course of economic, financial or commercial activities…”

6. Grievance Redressal:

To ensure that the grievances of the common people are adequately addressed at different levels, appropriate grievance procedures should be introduced and grievance redressal officers appointed. There should be additional citizen’s charters pertaining to SCs, STs, OBCs, Minorities, Women and Children.

7. Assets Recovery:

There should be provision for recovery of the assets or confiscation of properties from the offenders. The government should also develop international cooperation to bring back the resources taken out of the country.

8. Prevention of Witch-Hunting:

Honest public servants should not be harassed. There should be provisions to prevent misuse of the Lokpal system against sincere and honest government employees.

9. Provisions of whistleblower Protection:

There should be an effective mechanism to protect whistleblowers, witnesses and victims of corruption.

10. Investigation and Prosecution Wings:

The Lokpal should have separate investigation and prosecution wings.

We reiterate our confidence and belief in the Parliamentary Democratic system, in the values of secularism and justice enshrined in our Constitution. The Parliamentary Democratic process should not be diluted for any reason. We appeal to all political parties for their cooperation in working together for the common good of the people of India and we hope, pray and demand that Government will pass a strong Lokpal Bill in the coming winter session of Parliament.

Ms. Leila Passah (General Secretary, YMCA of India)
Rev. Fr. Charles Irudayam  (Secretary, JPDO• CBCI)
Mr. Samuel Jeyakumar  (Executive Secretary, COP, NCCI)

– cns

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