#316 Jan Lokpal Bill and Anna – Fizz or a Fuss?

I got a message a few days back which read “Join us today at NIBM for a protest against the government in support of Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill. You can come and join us anytime for some time anytime before 8.30pm.” I was not too surprised. I met a few friends later in the day who asked me if I would go with them to ABC chowk for a morcha in the evening. In a few hours, all I could see on my Facebook page and Twitter streams were chants, slogans and statuses requesting people to dive in to the protest for the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Little do most people know what the bill means for them and for the state in general, and the extent of corruption widespread in India in specific. What most people know is that it is a means to remove corruption, what most people know is that the media and social media in particular are supporting it. What they also think, is that since they are active users of Facebook and Twitter, they represent the general typical middle class population on whom and for whom this country runs. 

So what is the Lokpal or the Jan Lokpal Bill?
Go read the the Wikipedia article on the Jan Lokpal Bill or visit Anna Hazare’s website and you will get a fair idea about both. In short, the Lokpal bill or the Jan Lokpal bill permit a probe into complaints of corruption, and prosecution of corrupt officials. The only differences between the Jan Lokpal bill or the Government’s proposed Lokpal bill are the differences in power and prosecution. For over 4 decades, the Lokpal bill has failed to become a law.

What is my understanding of corruption?
As one of my friends correctly points out, corruption is not just the wrong use of power, but it is moral impurity. Corruption of various forms end up being called by different terms such as fraud, nepotism or even perversion. Today we see all of these in the society, at all levels of the society including within ourselves.

Corruption in India is deep rooted. It is not just the superficially visible form of corrupt government officials, but even high degrees of nepotism at organizational levels and perversion at individual levels. I will explain:
Have you never requested to get a discount on a product just because you are related to someone in the store?
Have you never let your friends into the office if they have forgotten to get their ID cards?
Have you never gone to your child’s school to defend him, when he has obviously hit someone with his geometry set?
Have you never tried to find loopholes in an organizations rules to get as much money reimbursed as possible?

I bet you have done all that and much more. Why? Because you see short term benefits out of such acts. You are selfish. Period.

The fact is that we are all corrupt from deep within, our entire society is corrupt. What gives us the rights to blame government officials and people in power of corruption and what gives us the rights to prosecute them? Have you ever been caught by a traffic cop for either not wearing the seat belt, or talking on the phone while driving, or for not possessing a license or a PUC? Have you always lawfully paid the default amount and moved on? I bet No! If the fine for breaking the rule was Rs 500, you would rather pay Rs 200 without a receipt and get off – you get a deal, and the cop gets to earn the entire Rs 200 (none of it goes to the government if he does not generate a receipt). I do not have the statistics, but most of the times it is us, who ask the policemen if they can pay a bit less in lieu of no receipt and get off. It is not the policemen who give that option to you first! Similarly, it is us, who are ready to pay under the table to an officer to get our papers moving faster, it is not always them who initiate the action. Some of you will deny this – you would argue that the government officers intentionally sit on our papers and not process them quick because they know the potential to earn some money. But here – I beg to disagree (read my later points).

Corrupt officials or corrupt systems?
I have not travelled all over the world and I cannot for sure say that I have seen the world, but I have definitely been to a few nations that have got things right, and systems in place! I have always believed and will always believe that it is not the people who are corrupt, it is the ill designed archaic systems that give rise to the whole concept of corruption. Take the example of paying a traffic rule violation fine in the United States (no, I am not comparing US vs India, this is one specific example) – In the US, if you break a traffic rule, the following might happen – either the cop will chase you down, or your violation will be caught on an intelligent system such as a CCTV. In either cases, you will be presented with a piece of paper which will ask you to go and pay the fine (either online or at a specific office). You may contest the fine if you feel that you have not violated any laws, but only in a court. The cop does not take away the keys of your car, or your driving license till you accept your mistake and pay the fine – you get to keep them and even drive on. On top of that, you do not negotiate or pay any money to the cop – the only transaction you do is mostly online – directly to the traffic authority.

How does that compare to what happens in India? You break a rule and the cop calls you to stop by the side of the road. Depending on the cop, he may pull out your car keys and even take away your license. He will then ask you to pay a certain amount of fine. If he has a receipt booklet, he will collect the fine and give you a receipt and your license back, if not, he will ask you to go to the nearest police station and pay the fine and then take back your license. In the interest of time, and due to the fear of getting blacklisted, you do not wish that your license number is noted down and hence start negotiating with the cop. You know, negotiating with the cop will mean that he will let you go faster and you will have to pay lesser, and on the top of that, you will not end up defaulting as there will be no record of your offence. You clearly take the easier option out.

This points to corruption in the following descending order:
1. Corrupt systems 2. Corrupt you 3. Corrupt officials

Various other such examples of corrupt systems and corrupt you can be compiled into books that would run into volumes. What we need right now, are Technology enabled systems that make life easier for the common man to do something as elementary as say:
1. Paying a traffic violation fine
2. Getting a passport
3. Setting up a shop

Did you know – the Four Seasons hotel in Mumbai needed as many as 165 licenses:

Bureaucracy and a shortage of skilled workers make building hotels difficult – the opening of the Four Seasons was delayed by at least two years. The hotel needed 165 government permits – including a special license for the vegetable weighing scale in the kitchen and one for each of the bathroom scales put in guest rooms.

Now each of those 165 licenses were hotspots for bribery and corruption. In the end only the 165 officials would come into the newspapers, but what we really need to blame is the archaic British Raj systems and licenses that make little or no sense today. Reducing those 165 licenses to merely a handful would have helped Four Seasons open up to the customers faster, and offer rooms at much cheaper rates! Plus, it would have eliminated almost a hundred and fifty visible corrupt officials :)

Anna’s methods of fighting to set up a Jan Lokpal Bill:
Enough has been said and seen about Anna Hazare and the entire mass movement on the Jan Lokpal bill in the last few days. But what exactly is wrong in the way it is moving? Surely, Anna’s intensions are not bad, nor are yours!

The fact that the Facebook and Twitter junta believes that they represent the India of today is bizarre and baseless. They do not even correctly represent the middle class population of India and most of India is still in the upper lower or lower middle class. Where were you guys when issue of reservation in educational institutes was brought up? Where were you guys when Nooriya Havelivala killed an innocent cop on duty while driving under the influence of alcohol? Why are you so selective in what you want to band up against? Just because the media is giving limelight to Anna you want to join the band, no? If tomorrow he stands up to completely ban tobacco and tobacco products manufacture, sale and import in India, will you stand by him in the same numbers?

Again, I am not against Anna Hazare, and to a big extent I am happy that you guys are taking up the cause and supporting an honest fighter – I really am. But the fact remains that you are selective and at times even ignorant. On top of that, what are you doing in support of Anna?

Just yesterday I was travelling back from Mumbai to Pune. In Navi Mumbai, a group had organized protests against the government, and was mobilizing large crowds. The crowd was filled in trucks and tempos all moving towards a common destination. But the crowd was not mature adults who understood the importance of the bill, the crowd comprised of poor little kids mostly in the age group of 12-18 years. And what they were doing was pretty shameful – Anna would have ended his protest then and there had he seen that. The kids and a few grown up adults were doing the following:
1. Shouting and screaming from the trucks
2. Littering the streets with bits of paper and snack pouches
3. Pouring water from moving trucks onto the roads
4. Splashing water on passersby
5. Some were even throwing water bottles on busses and other vehicles on the highway

All this to support a peaceful protest by Anna Hazare? All this to fight corruption? Clean your corrupt minds first young men and then identify where lie the roots of corruption in India – is it the high ranking government officials, the archaic treacherous systems of the license raj or ourselves!

And do read this by a dear friend… “An anti-corruption herd” where she says:

Legislation fails catastrophically (what lawyers like to dismiss as implementation problems) when it doesn’t account for incentives. India is known for fantastic legislation and implementation failure. However, implementation failure, like other forms of market failure, are signalling devices. They’re telling you something. They’re saying, for example, systems where clerks are under-paid sustain systems where bribes need to be paid. Systems where accountability is not structurally built-in allows for large-scale corruption…

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8 thoughts on “#316 Jan Lokpal Bill and Anna – Fizz or a Fuss?

  1. Dude….this is what i was expecting from a smart Indian. This is what i am trying to explain to the masses from past so many months. Awesome!!!….I hope, people have some sense of thinking like yours, and become more logical towards this topic. Following someone is good, but following blindly anything is not good. That is what is happening here. Good work!!

  2. The success of Anna’s movement lies in the fact that it has driven educated IITians like you to start thinking about the problem seriously. You are found of talking about moral impunity – I agree – but why restrict it to just the matter of money and corruption?

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