Is a Central Jan Lokpal scalable?

I just finished reading both versions of the Lokpal (Government and Anna Hazare Group) Bill. The Government’s version of bill appears to be too tamed down, while the Anna Hazare version tries to shoot for the star by bringing in everything you have heard of under the same enforcement/investigation/appellate authority. While there are several concerns about the centralization of power with a single authority and its dangers, there is another issue which is not discussed. Even if we decide to put in place a Jan Lokpal, will it be able to handle the expectations efficiently. It is important to understand the constitution and scope of work for this new institution that will clear up the evil of corruption from our society.The Jan Lokpal says that “there shall be an institution known as Lokpal which shall consist of one Chairperson and ten members along with its officers and employees. The Lokpal shall be headed by its Chairperson”. This effectively means there will be eleven people who will be the Watchmen of Indian democracy and ensure corruption is weeded out. This is absolutely unrealistic. Shailesh Gandhi has a wonderful contrast with the scale of RTI applications received by the Central Government. Here is an excerpt (more details are here):

the first two years the organization will have to find a way of dealing with 18 lakh communications in the first two years. This means about 1.5 lakh communications per month or about 7500 per day. The average communication which is received is likely to be about five to ten pages. My own guess is that if a person has to read these, send a response and initiate follow up action if required, an average person may attend to about 20 per day. This means a staff of about 375 trained persons with all necessary infrastructure would be required at the Lokpal just for this work

Clearly 11 members will not be able to handle this scale and hence they will very soon have to recruit staff. There is another worrying point in the Jan Lokpal about this recruitment under Section 23 (Staff of Lokpal, etc):

(1) There shall be such officers and employees as may be prescribed to assist the Lokpal in the discharge of their functions under this Act.

(2) The number and categories of officers and employees shall be decided by the Lokpal in consultation with the government. …..

(5) The officers and other employees referred to in sub-section (1) shall be under the administrative and disciplinary control of the Lokpal:

(6) Lokpal shall have the powers to choose its own officials. Lokpal may enlist officials on deputation from other government agencies for a fixed tenure or it may enlist officials on permanent basis from other government agencies or it may appoint people from outside on permanent basis or on a fixed tenure basis.

(7) The staff and officers shall be entitled to such pay scales and other allowances, which may be different and more than the ordinary pay scales in the Central Government, as are decided by the Lokpal from time to time, in consultation with the Prime Minister, so as to attract honest and efficient people to work in Lokpal.

In simple language, the Jan Lokpal can tomorrow decide that there will be 10,000 officers required and that it will hire them in its own way and give them the salary it deems fit. Ofcourse the expense for this will come from the Tax Payer’s money. This is horribly obfuscated and can end up in a parallel organization whose only promise to not be corrupt is that the four people who are championing the cause are not corrupt. If this argument was true, India would not have so much of corruption because our founding fathers were champions of sacrifice and social service. Why should our money be spent in yet another organization that has tall promises and no clear strategy to execute?

Today most of us are living in a hope that Anna Hazare and his team will give us something that helps improve the country in a dramatic way with almost immediate effect. While the entire movement is indeed dramatic thanks to the media frenzy (which is horribly biased in favor of the Anna movement as they call it), this hope needs a dose of realism. When governing a complex country like India a good intent may not always be enough.

Instead of shouting slogans against a particular party, the Anna Hazare team should be working feverishly in the alleys of the parliament with the standing committee to ensure the points are debated to death. Their argument that standing committee is a waste of time is misplaced – the RTI Act was debated in the standing committee and 153 ammendments were made to the bill the government had introduced. Aruna Roy from NCPRI had a press conference yesterday about this, which the media very conveniently did not broadcast.

Like most of us startup geeks ask – is this scalable? In plain english – can this be implemented? Share your thoughts and let’s have an open debate.

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