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What are India's Anna Hazare protests all about?

Mr. Hazare wants his proposed anticorruption agency to have police and prosecution powers over the entire government. The government wants it only to be advisory.

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Colonel Bhatia admits he could file a petition to find out who is sitting on the case. India’s Right to Information Act (RTIA) forces government to respond to any citizen’s questions within 30 days.

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The dilemma: When information finally does come back proving wrongdoing, then what?

“I’ll have to go to consumer court, but it could take my lifetime,” says Bhatia. “There have been cases in the country going for 20 years, even 40 years.”

Many protesters expressed frustration by the lack of punishment in the string of high-profile scams by top officials recently.

Vanita Deshmukh, a newspaper editor and Hazare supporter in Pune, pointed to the corruption surrounding last year’s Commonwealth Games. RTIA requests uncovered misdeeds by organizers. Some have been arrested, but the process is moving too slowly for many Indians embarrassed by the tarnishing of the country’s international image.

“All the documents proved so many things,” says Ms. Deshmukh. “After finding this, what do you want to do, just scream and shout headlines in your newspaper?”

What the Lokpal could do

The Lokpal pushed by Hazare could reclaim money from officials by docking their salaries and seizing their assets. It also has the unilateral powers to suspend or dismiss officials – though criminal cases would still go through the current judicial system.

The power to dismiss officials would give the Lokpal powers close to a court, says Nikhil Dey, a pioneering RTIA activist.

“That to me is an indication of [the Lokpal] being investigator, prosecutor, and judge,” says Mr. Dey. It puts “far too much power in one body, which could destroy checks and balances and separation of powers.”

Ms. Ramanathan says Hazare’s Lokpal would be a “huge, monstrous structure” with staff on the scale of 15,000 officials around the country. She and Dey argue for smaller, decentralized solutions – judicial reform among them.

Deshmukh says she would welcome judicial reform too, but many judges have been shown to be corrupt, so the first step is to make sure they are not exempted from Lokpal.

Critics of Lokpal, however, point out that the agency could become filled with corrupt people as well. Removing a top Lokpal official requires a Supreme Court inquiry, while adding one is the decision of government and civil society leaders – not voters.

Colonel Bhatia concedes this is a potential problem.

“Even the new Lokpal committee selected along the lines of Anna Hazare – they might turn corrupt,” says Bhatia. “But it will take [them] time.”


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