Anti-corruption champion Anna Hazare’s public meeting at National College Grounds, Basavangudi on May 28 drew around 10,000 people towards the end, according to the India Against Corruption’s group. IAC had expected around 50,000.
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At 2 pm, when the event was expected to start, there were only about 2000 people in the audience. But the numbers had swelled by the time of Hazare’s speech at the end around 5pm. An ecstatic audience cheered as Hazare stepped up to speak. Hazare said that the Lokpal Bill should be drafted by June 30 and passed in assembly by August 15; if not, he would protest in Jantar Mantar again. "You can have your own ‘Jail Bharo’ protests here such that there won’t be any space left in jails."
He exhorted youth to work for social causes, with interesting anecdotes. "Having ousted six ministers and causing prosecution of many in the Telgi scam, there have been murder attempts against me, but even those who got the supari did not kill me as I was clean. Activists have nothing to fear; it is a pride to be jailed as an activist," he said.
While most of the audience was from educated, middle class backgrounds, Anand Yadwad, IAC member and a co-ordinator of the event, says that the campaign is yet to be popular among low-income citizens. IAC had about 500 volunteers promoting the event in the city over the last 10 days. Volunteers distributed pamphlets in the streets, went door to door and used social media to promote the event.
"We then found that most poor people did not know about Lokpal Bill or Hazare. They could not even grasp the concept of corruption, they only understood bribes. Participation at the event was lower than expected and this has been a learning experience for us. We want to be more inclusive," says Yadwad. Yadwad was one of the Bangaloreans who went on an indefinite fast along in support of Hazare at Bengaluru’s Freedom Park in April.
The organisation also plans to use less of social networking sites and do more field work. "A majority of the population has no access to internet. The ones who have access already know about the movement, so others have to be targeted," says Yadwad.
People from other districts and states had gathered at the event. IAC estimates that around 1000 came from outside the city, while another 1000 were new supporters within the city.
"There were time constraints in promoting the event. Also, many people, though they appreciate the movement, do not want to be involved directly. Traffic and chances of rain might also have prevented some from attending," says Yadwad.
Retd. IPS officer Kiran Bedi, RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal and social activist Swami Agnivesh, who have been supporting the campaign, also spoke at the meet. They said inputs from public on the Bill during the Bengaluru visit would be presented in the next meeting of the central government’s drafting committee meet on Monday. There were hurdles in passing the Bill and the nation-wide public meetings were needed to build more pressure on the government, they say.
Explaining the genesis of the movement, Kiran said that difficulty in filing FIRs against culprits in 2G and Common Wealth Games scams had led to it. "Though we succeeded in filing FIRs, we realised that the system had broken down and drafted the Jan Lokpal Bill. The government refused to commit to it, due to which we formed IAC," she said. The Lokpal system should be such that there should be a control room wherein anyone can lodge a complaint against anyone and action would be taken immediately, she said.
Kejriwal said that after character assassination of drafting committee members, opposers were spreading misinformation about the Bill. He explained provisions planned for the Bill: every complaint will be investigated within six months to one year of filing it, and after this within another year, prosecution would be complete. Loss to the government will be recovered from the accused. No one, including those in judiciary and government, will be exempt – everyone will have to declare their assets and their sources. If the culprits are business entities, five times the loss would be recovered from them.
When there are complaints against judges, a seven-member committee would decide on it, instead of the Chief Justice of India, as is the case today. Former Supreme Court Chief Justices from Karnataka, Justice J S Verma and Justice Venkatachalaya have been opposing this, but we request their support, Kejriwal said.
To report everyday corruption, the Bill has provisions for the public to approach a Lokpal’s Vigilance Officer; there will be one officer in every district. All government departments that do not comply with their citizen’s charter will be assumed to be corrupt. Vigilance Office will file corruption case and impose penalty on the officer responsible and the Head of the Department, and get the complainant’s job done.
When investigation in a case is over, its details will be publicised online by Lokayuktas and Lokpal. Complaints against these bodies will be investigated by a Complaints Authority; if found to be corrupt, the Lokpal/Lokayukta officer will be prosecuted by Supreme Court within three months.
Swami Agnivesh said that the biggest threat to the country was corruption and that public can make a list of the most corrupt people in their areas and bring them to book.
The speakers at the National College event also exhorted the public to contribute to IAC. Yadwad says that around Rs 50,000 was collected by volunteers while the speeches were going on. A larger amount was collected at a separate stall. The total amount collected and expenses will be published online in 1-2 days, says the IAC. The total expense for the two-day visit was approximated at Rs 6 lakh.
At a press conference in IIM-Bangalore earlier in the day, Kejriwal, Kiran, Swami Agnivesh and Justice Santosh Hegde said that Lokpal Bill would not remove corruption, but minimize it; the Bill is still in the initial stage. Replying to a question, Justice Hegde said that educational institutions, even those that take grants from government, will not come under purview of the Bill.
Around 3000 emails have been received from public on suggestions about the Bill, and all of these are discussed before every meeting, Kejriwal said. The Bill will have mechanisms to protect whistle blowers – Lokpal will provide them protection and keep their identities secret, Justice Hegde said.
Meanwhile IAC plans to start a social audit of the Public Distribution System (rations) in Bangalore. "There were questions from media and public on why no action was happening at the local level. We will start a pilot in a few distribution centres next week to identify bogus ration cards," Yadwad says.