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Thursday, December 8, 2011

How should corruption of Group C officials be checked?

A common man has to deal with corruption by Group C employees on a daily basis.
Inspectors who are infamous for indulging in corruption are Group C employees. In states, maximum corruption takes place at the level of Group C employees. Almost Rs 30,000 crores worth of ration meant for poor people is annually siphoned off by Group C employees. Thousands of crores of leakage takes place in NREGA works at the level of Group C employees. Panchayat secretary and panchayat officials are Group C employees. Huge amount of corruption takes place in panchayat works. Who would investigate all this corruption? We must provide for an effective anti-corruption system for Group C employees also.
Government model: Let Lokpal/Lokayukta have jurisdiction over Group A and Group B officers and give jurisdiction over Group C officials to CVC.
This proposal suffers from the following critical deficiencies:
1.   There are 57 lakh Group C employees and 3 lakh Group A and Group B employees. Internationally, one anti-corruption staff is provided to check corruption of 200 government employees. So, you would need 28,500 anti-corruption staff in CVC to check corruption of 57 lakh employees. CVC has a staff strength of 230 employees. Does the government plan to provide 28,500 additional workforce to them?
2.   It is being argued that bringing entire bureaucracy under Lokpal would make it unwieldy. If that argument were accepted, then won’t CVC become unwieldy?
3.     Today, CVC neither has manpower nor powers to take up this job. Corruption is a criminal offence, just like murder and rape. FIR has to be registered and only police have the powers to do criminal investigations in any case of corruption. CVC does not have police powers. It is not a police station under law. Would CVC Act be amended and CVC be given police powers?
4.     Since 57 lakh Group C employees are being brought under CVC, would CVC police stations be opened in each district or block? So, would we have two police stations in each district – Lokpal police station for registering FIR against Group A and Group B officers and CVC police station for registering FIR against Group C officers?
5.   At the time of crime, many times the names of accused are not known. For instance, if the road in front of my house breaks down a few days after construction, it indicates that corruption has taken place. However, one would not know if this corruption was done by Group A, B, or C officials. So in which police station should an FIR be filed in this case – CVC or Lokpal?
6.   Why should Group A and B officials be investigated by Lokpal and Group C officials be investigated by CVC? It is being argued that Lokpal should deal with high level corruption and CVC should deal with smaller corruption. But how can we assume that high level corruption is done by Group A and B officials only and how can we assume that Group C officials indulge in petty corruption? There have been instances when Group C officials have colluded and indulged in scams worth thousands of crores especially in NREGA and PDS. In contrast, there have been instances, when Group A officers have been caught taking bribes less than Rs 10,000. Then shouldn’t this high amount corruption of Group C officials be investigated by Lokpal and this small corruption of Group A official be dealt by CVC?
7.   How would the government ensure integrity of staff in Lokpal and CVC? Government’s Bill and standing committee report (as indicated in media) are completely silent on that. Several suggestions had been made by us to ensure transparency and internal accountability. Government has rejected all those suggestions. With no effective systems for ensuring their accountability, Lokpal and the new CVC proposed by Government are bound to turn corrupt.
NCPRI model: Lokpal should be permitted to directly entertain allegations of corruption only against Group A and B officers. If there is an allegation of corruption against a Group C officer, the same should be made first to the local police station. If one is dissatisfied with the police investigation, one may approach Lokpal with a complaint/appeal. Lokpal would have powers to reprimand police.
This proposal suffers from the following deficiencies:
1.     Police turns away people even in cases of murder and rape. How does one expect them to register cases of corruption? Isn’t this a completely unnecessary step, which would substantially delay every investigation, as ultimately every investigation would land up at Lokpal as complaint or appeal?
2.     NCPRI says that they have suggested this because through this, they feel that police would also get reformed. In our opinion, police reforms is an extremely critical issue and should not be mixed up with Lokpal Bill. It should be attempted separately. Lokpal Bill cannot be a half hearted attempt at police reforms.
3.     There is a direct conflict of interest when police investigates a corruption case. Police is directly controlled by the government, whose corruption has to be investigated. Locally, police is controlled by MP and MLA. Most of the corrupt people are protected by these politicians. How can we expect the police to investigate corruption complaints against these officials and these politicians? Supreme Court has said that the investigating agency should be independent of the Executive against whom they are supposed to investigate. Internationally also, UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) clearly requires every country to set up investigative agency, which is independent of the Executive. India is a signatory to UNCAC. Therefore, won’t it be incorrect to give the responsibility of checking corruption against Group C employees to the local police?
4.     If a police inspector does a shoddy investigation or does not register an FIR, according to NCPRI proposal, the complaint against the same would lie with Lokpal. Today, if any inspector does a bad job, it is the duty of his seniors (SP, DIG, IG, DG etc) to intervene. NCPRI’s proposal would render the entire supervisory machinery of the police, inspector upwards, redundant.
5.     NCPRI’s proposal is contrary to several provisions of CrPC. CrPC does not provide for an external appeal or complaint against a bad investigation. According to CrPC, senior police officers have a duty to intervene, if any junior officer does not work properly. CrPC would need to be amended to take away this duty from senior police officers and give it to Lokpal. Which sections of CrPC would need amendments?
6.     So, under the system proposed by NCPRI, if any inspector did a shoddy job and if you approached his senior with a complaint, the senior would ask you to approach Lokpal. In addition to investigating corruption cases, won’t this overburden Lokpal with the additional duty of disciplining police force?
7.     According to NCPRI, it is the duty of elected government to check corruption. Therefore, the primary complaint of corruption should go to police, which comes under the control of the government. Ironically, NCPRI’s proposal would take away the control over police out of government rather than making elected government more accountable.
8.     Today, police is short staffed to even investigate cases of murder and rape. How much additional police force would be required to investigate corruption cases across the country? NCPRI has not done these calculations.
9.     Almost every case would go to Lokpal in appeal against police investigation. Either the complainant would be aggrieved or the accused officer would be aggrieved. Won’t this mean that we would need almost the same number of Lokpal police stations as there are normal police stations in the country today to hear appeals against police investigations? This means that we would need to employ double the number of staff as are required in IAC’s proposal.
10.   How would you ensure integrity of police and Lokpal staff? We have not come across any document from NCPRI, which gives these details.
                IAC’s proposal: In any case of corruption, all sections of employees and politicians collude with each other. They don’t indulge in corruption separately. Therefore, there should be just one agency covering all employees.
We have proposed that there should be one Lokpal institution to investigate allegations of corruption against 60 lakh Central Government employees and there should be one Lokayukta institution in each state for investigating corruption cases in the state.
Would this system become unwieldy? No. On the contrary, this would provide a comprehensive anti-corruption system in the country.
Today, CBI already has jurisdiction over all employees of central government. It has regional offices/police stations to deal with petty corruption and it has a few Special Investigation Units (SIU) in Delhi to deal with high level corruption. However, CBI suffers from severe staff shortage and is under government’s control. Through our proposal, we are only proposing that the workforce of CBI should be increased five-fold, as demanded by CBI and they should be taken out of government’s control and merged with Lokpal. Likewise, in states, the Anti-Corruption Bureaus and State Vigilance Departments should be merged into new Lokayuktas.
So, how would this system work? Lokpal would have an office/ Police Station is each district in the country (CBI already has one police station in each state. This is proposed to be increased to one police station in each district) and Lokayukta would have a Police Station is each block of that respective state. For corruption in a Central Government department, a citizen could register an FIR in the nearest Lokpal Police Station in the district and for corruption in any State Government, a citizen could register FIR in the nearest Lokayukta Police Station in that block.  It should be noted that the complaints would not go to Lokpal members sitting in Delhi or Lokayukta members sitting in state capitals.
If the complaint pertains to any politician or senior officials or involves huge amount of corruption, the same would be transferred by local Lokpal/Lokayukta police station to Special Investigative Units (SIU). Lokpal/ Lokayukta would have a few special investigative units stationed in Delhi (CBI already has them, their numbers would be increased) or state capital to deal with big fish and high level corruption.  These SIUs could be directly monitored by the Lokpal members.
After investigation, the district/block office of the Lokpal/lokayukta or the SIUs would submit an investigation report to the prosecution wing of the Lokpal/Lokayukta. The prosecution wing would independently assess the evidence contained in the report and decide whether to file a chargesheet in the appropriate court of Law.
Therefore, the role of Lokayukta/Lokpal members would primarily be to supervise investigation and prosecution departments mentioned above. However in order to prevent frivolous complaints being filed against senior bureaucrats and politicians it has been provided in Jan Lokpal Bill that before registration of an FIR and before filing of a chargesheet involving them, a bench of Lokpal consisting of 2 or more members would examine the case and give approvals thereof.
So would bringing all employees under Lokpal overburden them or make them unwieldy? The above clearly shows that if the highly decentralized system proposed above were implemented right upto district/block level, it would not burden Lokpal at all. Rather the above system would take Lokpal/Lokayukta system right at the doorstep of every citizen.
How would you ensure integrity of staff in Lokpal? Several steps have been suggested. The functioning of Lokpal should be transparent. All records related to any case should be put on website after completion of investigations. List of all cases received, disposed and pending should be updated on website every month. Lokpal members could be removed on a complaint by any citizen to the Supreme Court. Complaint against any staff of Lokpal could be made either to Lokpal members or to an Independent Complaints Authority set up in each state to entertain complaints against Lokpal/Lokayukta staff. There are many other steps that have been suggested to keep Lokpal functioning honest. However, government has rejected almost all suggestions.

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