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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Open Letter to Shri Anna Hazare


Dear Annaji,

I am writing this letter to you in the hope that you will take the trouble to read it, deliberate on it with your team and find some value from it. This is about the anti-corruption movement that you are leading in the country today.

At the outset, I would like to inform you that I am not a politician, I am not a lawyer, I am not a social activist, I am not a mediaperson, I am not affiliated to any business - I have no interest whatsoever other than in the capacity of a common man of India (aam aadmi) in writing this.

Having said that, I have been following your anti-corruption movement from April this year when you went on your fast at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi. I have also been following ever since, on a daily basis, the various developments on this topic through various media (print, TV, internet). I was also one of the attendees at the meet arranged by India Against Corruption (IAC) at Bangalore in June this year.

I therefore feel invested enough to write this letter to you with my views and some suggestions.


First of all, I’d like to say that there is hardly anybody in India who does not agree with you that corruption is rampant (and that’s an under-statement) in our society. As you and others in your team have repeatedly said, corruption exists at all levels in the country. To get a birth or death certificate or passport or driving licence, you need to bribe somebody. And, at the highest levels of the government, corruption is being unearthed regularly. We are all aware of the various scams like CWG, 2G and the Adarsh Housing Society scam that have come to public knowledge recently. So your point on this is indisputable and well-taken.


Secondly, I totally agree with you when you say that one of the major reasons for corruption in our society is that our current laws do not have adequate deterrents to check corruption and punish the wrong-doers.


Thirdly, you are right in saying that our existing institutions have often been found wanting in addressing corruption matters. We have a justice system that seems to be painfully slow (and sometimes not entirely independent) in meting out justice. We have institutions like the CBI and the CVC which seem to have either limited powers or questionable independence. Why, we even have Parliament where our elected representatives are supposed to act in the interests of their constituents but have often been found to misuse their powers for personal gain. So I think it is fair to say that our institutions have not quite delivered to their brief.


All of this is true and I totally agree with you on these observations.


I would like to now share with you some of my own thoughts on this corruption subject.


In my humble opinion, there are several ways to address this scourge of our society.


One way of course is the Lokpal approach. If we have a Lokpal, an effective Lokpal, with Lokayuktas in various states, the common man can approach this institution with his grievances and hope for redressal. The Jan Lokpal Bill that you have been espousing so strongly and passionately for so many months now is geared towards the setting up of this institution.  You and your team have been working day and night to ensure the Bill contains all the provisions and safeguards for an effective Lokpal institution. I will not debate this – all I will say is that it is an option to fight corruption, yes. One option.


I would also like us to consider other options. Our objective is one and the same – both of us want to fight corruption. It is just that there need not be only the Lokpal way.


I know there is history behind this Lokpal subject. The country has been trying to get a Lokpal Bill passed for over 40 years now as its instrument to combat corruption. But that, in itself, is no reason to continue to pursue ONLY on this path. As long as our objective of fighting corruption is achieved – by legal and viable means – we should not need to quibble over whether it was done via a Lokpal or through another method.


Let me give you an analogy. It may not be completely comparable to the Lokpal subject but I hope it helps to understand what I am trying to get at.


Till 15 years ago, connectivity via telecommunication in India was limited to only a few who could afford landlines. The rest of the country had to use public booths , if they were available, or go without telecommunication connectivity at all. Today, thanks to explosion in telecommunications technology,  almost everybody seems to be connected. We did not invest in more landline production to scale to our needs (though we could have technically done so), we just exploited mobile technology that had arrived. Our objective was telecommunication for all, not a landline phone for all.


Similarly, I would think the objective here for all of us is to find a solution against corruption, NOT the creation of a Lokpal. They are two different things and we need to understand this.


Now if we ARE considering alternatives, I would like to take the following approach. This is not, by any means an exhaustive list of steps we could take. It is only indicative of an approach I would like to consider.


Strengthen our existing laws: We already have a Prevention of Corruption Act. I am not competent to comment on its provisions but if it lacks enough teeth, let us push for change in this piece of legislation and make sure it has teeth. Similarly if we have other laws that have loopholes that encourage corruption or do not have strict enough provisions to deter corruption, let us push for change in these. If any of this requires a constitutional amendment, so be it.


Strengthen our existing institutions: Through electoral reforms, let us work on ensuring accountability in our elected representatives in Parliament. Through judicial reforms, let us work on improving accountability and transparency in our justice system. If we feel bodies like the CBI and the CVC lack independence or powers, let us work on the necessary changes required to give them these.


Exploit technology to create transparency and ensure faster and direct delivery of services: In this day and age, a lot can be achieved through smart use of technology to replace inefficient and outdated practices and completely redesign new systems and ways of doing things. For example, the UID (Aadhar) project is one which could considerably improve transparency of our social benefits system and help plug leakages in it.  There are other areas too where technology could make life easier for the aam aadmi and eliminate middlemen (read, reduce corruption).

Improve transparency in land and other natural resource ownership patterns: I believe a large part of corruption (and black money) in the country stems from land-related dealings. A lot of land / property is held in benami ownership,  ownership and valuations are not transparent, most of our court cases are property-related, I can go on and on. So, if we want a quick win in our fight against corruption, it would make sense to make this a high priority area to streamline and completely make transparent.

Like I said, this is not an exhaustive list. We can add to this. But I do believe that if we even do just the above (which is a lot and is going to take time and effort), we will see a significant reduction in corruption in our country. And this would be without the creation of a Lokpal. It would only be with the use of, and strengthening, our current infrastructure. And building progressive infrastructure for the future which would be systemic and not human-dependent.

I know the Lokpal debate has been raging for a long time now and is now in its advanced stages, virtually on the verge of approval by both Houses of Parliament. It would appear that this letter is being written after the ship has sailed (or the horse has bolted the stable, whichever metaphor you prefer). Maybe this is true - but as long as the Lokpal is not officially there and functioning, I have hope that other alternatives can also be considered.  Yes, it would mean a lot of energy and effort of the last eight months for the Jan Lokpal Bill would seem to have been for nothing but for something as structural and long-lasting in its impact as this, what is eight months?

I would also like to add that, should you consider the alternative approach and decide to withdraw the demand for a Lokpal, it should most certainly not be seen as a failure of any sort for you or your team. You have already achieved a lot in terms of raising awareness amongst a traditionally indifferent Indian public and that is an achievement in itself. This is not about winning or losing, it is about doing what seems to make most sense.


Thank you for your time and patience in reading this.

With warm regards and wishing you the best of health,