The Union Cabinet on Tuesday cleared three crucial anti-graft Bills aimed at making judges and public utilities more accountable and protecting whistleblowers.
The Bills come at a time when the government is being attacked by both the opposition and anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and his team. Analysts are doubtful about the intentions of the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The clearing of the Bills is a “cosmetic exercise” by the UPA government, said Jagdeep Chhokar, founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms, a think tank.
“These are not based on the intentions of the government, but it is reeling under pressure that it wants to be seen to be doing something,” he said.
Brinda Karat, politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, concurred with this. “These three Bills are extremely weak Bills and they will not solve any purpose,” she said.
Ashwani Kumar, minister of state for planning, said the Bills are crucial and well-intentioned and that the opposition should debate them in Parliament rather than aligning with Hazare and his team.
Key opposition parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party and the CPM supported Hazare on the issue of the Lokpal Bill when he held a a one-day token fast on Sunday in Delhi.
The three Bills—Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010; Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010, widely known as the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill; and Citizens’ Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill, 2011—are expected to be introduced in Parliament shortly.
Under the Judicial Accountability Bill, action can be initiated against a judge, although in a confidential manner, which may lead to the official’s removal. Besides declaring their own assets and liabilities, judges will be required to reveal those of their children as well.
The Bill proposes the setting up of a National Judicial Oversight Committee and any person can make a complaint against a judge to this panel over allegations of wrongdoing. The oversight committee can issue warnings to judges and recommend their removal to the President.
Currently, judges can be impeached only through a motion in Parliament. Hazare has been asking for the inclusion of judges in the Lokpal Bill. The government’s own version, which is still being finalized, excludes judges.
The Citizens’ Charter Bill, which Hazare wanted included in the Lokpal Bill, proposes to make authorities more accountable for citizen services.
Also proposed is the setting up of grievance redressal offices at the municipality and panchayat levels to provide assistance to citizens in filing complaints. The Bill also proposes setting up a central public grievance redressal commission.
The Whistleblowers Bill is aimed at protecting those who uncover wrongdoing in their organizations and proposes that anyone who reveals such a person’s identity will be liable for imprisonment or penalties. A false complaint would also make a person liable for punishment by imprisonment and fines.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, met allies on Tuesday to discuss the logjam over Lokpal, ahead of an all party meet scheduled for Wednesday on the issue.