By Shailesh Gandhi
Corruption has been a key irritant for India. Apart from sapping the ethical base of Indians, it creates a general disrespect for laws and hinders progress. There have been many movements against this and the biggest was the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement in 2011 and 2012. The primary demand was an ombudsman against corruption—a Lokpal—who could stem and reduce corruption. Finally, a Lokpal has been selected and the nation expects that this will act as an effective check on corruption.
Most civil society members and media display a quaint approach to such appointments. My perception is that there will be no significant impact on corruption and this will be one more addition to the list of various commissions in the country which act as a sinecure for retired people – a senior citizen’s club.
This senior citizen’s club is likely to cost the nation over Rs 20 crore a year, and its chances of reducing or checking corruption are negligible.
These are actually designed as our checks and balances of democracy. If they do their job properly, they can have a strong impact and ensure good governance. Let us look at two such bodies which have been created earlier.
The Lokayukta in Maharashtra has a staff of over 80 persons. It received 11,153 allegations during the 25-year period between 1981 and 2006 and could find only 57 instances where it recommended any action by the government.
The Police Complaint Authority of Maharashtra, which has been set up as per the directions of the Supreme Court judgment to curb atrocities and illegal acts of police, received 832 complaints last year and recommended any action in only six cases. The recommendation was to conduct a police inquiry and then give punishments!
Do citizens really feel that the various bodies like Human Rights, Women, Children, Minorities, Disabled, Information Commissions and many more are able to improve the overall conditions of the intended groups?
The true answer is that they often become a façade, and do not deliver effectively to the citizens.
Most of them do not even function in the timeframes set by the law! With each such commission, we create an expense head of over Rs 10 crore. Most of them don’t deliver significant service to citizens or lead to improving governance. They mislead the citizens into believing there is relief and often waste the citizen’s time and efforts. What, then, is the way out? Why do these not deliver? In my opinion, there are a few root causes:
- There’s no thought about the essential qualities, experience and attitudes required for these positions.
- There’s no transparent process for selection. Most of the personnel are selected because of political patronage or bureaucratic networking.
- There is no evaluation of their performance nor any list of deliverables.
- Most of them become a harassment tool for citizens that have no commitment to timeliness in their work.
I am suggesting below a probable solution:
- First, some deliverables should be worked out for all such commissioners or members of such bodies. Based on these, the required qualifications, experience and attitudes should be specified.
- A search committee should invite applications or nominations for these positions. They should shortlist the most suitable candidates based on the criterion decided.
- The shortlisted candidates must be interviewed in a manner where the public and media can watch the interviews. The interviews must elicit from the prospective candidates their views on the law, and commitments of what they will achieve if selected.
- The search committee should recommend two to three times the number of people to be selected by the final selection committee. The final list should be selected out of these.
- There should be complete transparency in this process.
It’s also necessary to ensure the evaluation of the work of such bodies and its members. This evaluation should be undertaken by academic bodies or civil society organisations. A set of criteria should be developed and evolved to judge the work of every such commission or body. These should also involve perception indices of citizens and officers dealing with them.
Great stress should be laid on evaluating whether the bodies are delivering as per the law in terms of timeliness and effectiveness.
A critical element should be to judge whether there is any improvement in the areas which they are supposed to address. Their decisions and performance should be closely monitored. If such an evaluation is also published regularly and looks at the work of each commissioner or member, it would act as very useful feedback for the members manning such bodies.
The annual reports of most of these entities are meaningless rhetoric filled with inanities. All relevant details of their working must be displayed on their websites. Only then can we expect these checks and balances of our democracy to work and deliver. Otherwise, we are fooling ourselves.
Shailesh Gandhi is a Former Central Information Commissioner.
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