The Parliamentary panel examining the Lokpal Bill has come under fire after it reversed its decision and said that it preferred exclusion of group C and D officials from the Lokpal.
The decision did not go down well with Team Anna, who lashed out against the panel's U-turn on the issue. Social activist Anna Hazare accused Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi for the exclusion of the lower bureaucracy from the ambit of the Lokpal bill draft.
Rediff.com reporters spoke to employees of the lower bureaucracy to know what they think of all the commotion surrounding their inclusion in the Lokpal bill.
"I have always been of the view that all central government employees must be brought under the purview of Lokpal. But my only apprehension is that it may not be practically possible for a single Lokayukta to cover a gigantic force of 57 lakh central government employees," said Shiv Gopal Misra, general secretary of All India Railwaymen's Federation.
Misra is of the view that the institution would be an effective tool in curbing corruption at various levels in the government. "I see no reason why anyone should fear the Lokayukta," he said.
R K Agrawal, secretary of UP State Bank Employees Union, also favours bringing all group three and four employees under the purview of Lokpal. "Group 3 employees are the main interface of the common man; so how can you exclude them from the ambit of Lokpal," he said.
"I also see no logic in the argument that it would be impractical to imagine a Lokpal covering as many as 57 lakh central government employees and a Lokayukta maintaining vigil over lakhs of employees. Isn't the CBI doing that? After all the institution of Lokpal will have its regional offices with their respective local jurisdictions," said Agrawal.
According to Agrawal, "the Lokpal set up with its branches across the country will not require more than 20,000 employees, which is not an unmanageable number. The only thing is that those engaged in the institution will have to be truly above board."
S P Misra, general secretary of UP State Employees Federation claimed that they were already being covered by the Lokayukta. "The UP Lokayukta is already entertaining complaints against group three employees, so there is nothing new that the proposed Lokpal institution could bring," said Misra.
He, however, stands out in disagreement with his central government counterparts. "If the sword of Lokpal hangs over the neck of employees they are sure to become overcautious and in the bargain delay the process of delivery," said Misra.
Ashok Srivastava, another state government employee, is strongly in favour of Lokpal. Srivastava, who heads the union of class 3 and class 4 employees of the government printing press in Lucknow is of the view that
Lokpal was the need of the hour and that no government employee should be kept out of its purview.
"I do understand that there are many positions where there is no scope for corruption, but at the same time there are several posts that personify corruption and therefore need to be kept under check," he observed. "As a trade union leader I am handicapped to bring such corrupt elements to book, but if there is an independent mechanism to curb the menace, it would surely make a lot of sense.
According to him, "far from causing delays, the Lokpal/Lokayukta should ensure speedier functioning in government offices".
And as for the feared victimisation of employees on account of creation of the new institution, Srivastava feels, "that is a very convenient alibi to keep the Lokpal away. It is only the corrupt who would fear it, why should an honest employee be worried about it?"
'Bringing us in or leaving us out won't make any difference'
Ravi Dutt, computer operator at the complaints and accounts office, ministry of food and consumer affairs, department of consumer affairs, government of India said, "We are most willing to come under the purview of the Lokpal Bill."
"Frankly, keeping group 3 and 4 employees in or out of the purview of the Lokpal bill will not make much of a difference. No peon or junior clerk can delay a file; it is always the senior officers who can delay a file or work."
"We have to merely work as per what our senior officers tell us to. All corruption starts from the higher ranks, specifically the group 1 officers. If they become honest, rest will have to fall in line. It really doesn't matter if you bring us under its purview or not."
On Team Anna's insistence that group 3 and 4 employees be brought under Lokpal, Dutt said, "I think that Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal are unnecessarily wasting time trying to bring these employees under its purview."
"The common man is now beginning to feel harassed. If they want to bring in the bill, they should not delay it any further," said Dutt. "Why aren't they talking about bringing NGOs under Lokpal? Kiran Bedi runs two NGOs," he said.
On being asked if he believed the Lokpal Bill will curb corruption, he said, "No, I don't think it will curb corruption. A person who wants to indulge in corruption will do so anyway."
Ganga Ram, office boy at the same office, said, "First they will make Lokpal and then another committee to look into its cases. What is the guarantee that the committee will not become corrupt?"
"Lokpal will not end corruption. It will only happen when the group 1 officers discontinue corrupt methods," Ganga Ram said.
When the directorate of enforcement, Delhi zonal office was approached and asked if they were willing to come under the purview of the Lokpal Bill, the administrative staff, mostly comprising of group 3 and 4 employees, said they did not mind being under the purview of the Lokapl bill.
"We have to anyway work as per our senior officers' instructions. How does it matter to us?," asked an enforcement officer.
A few sepoys working at the office seem confused at the questions. "Please tell us what the Lokpal bill is. When we don't know what Lokpal bill is, what difference does it make if we come under its purview or not," they said.
'Lokpal can check rampant corruption'
Sanjay Kumar, an IB official, posted in Bihar, said that he is ready to come under the purview of Lokpal. "Why not, if I am not corrupt why should I hesitate? All officials should be under it," he said.
Kumar said that it is difficult to say whether Lokpal will be able to curb corruption. But he said that it will give more teeth to check corruption.
"There can be some scope of misuse to victimise some people but it will be known only after it is implemented," he said.
"No, I don't think Lokpal will affect our work" he said.
Shamshad Khan, an official in the Bihar government's revenue department said that Lokpal or Lokayukta is a good move to check rampant corruption. "It is early to say that it will wipe out corruption," Khan said.
Akhilesh Singh, a teacher in a government school said that he supported both Lokpal and Loaayukta. "Corruption has been posing serious threat to development of the country, if it could be checked by Lokpal, people will benefit," added Singh.
'Most likely honest officers will be taken to task'
Opinions are sharply divided in Jammu and Kashmir whether or not the Jan Lokpal bill as recommended by Team Anna should be extended to the state.
The hot debate over the issue is presently going on in the middle rung of state's bureaucracy with divergent views being expressed on the issue that has hogged the nation's imagination for quite sometime now.
Three questions are largely being debated with regard to team Anna's Lokpal campaign, whether the enforcing of a stringent Lokpal law would really help address the menace of corruption in the state, whether it would really help the administrative machinery to work without the looming threat of unnecessary interference and finally whether the enforcement of such a law is possible at all.
"For me it would hardly make any difference personally. I have always done my duties honestly and whether you have a Lokpal overseeing my functioning or not, I am answerable to my conscience," said Sajad Ahmad (name changed), a state government officer.
He also feels those in the bureaucracy who have made corruption, nepotism and other such practices a way of life for them might continue to do so and evade laws even under the strictest anti-graft mechanism as proposed by Team Anna.
Those holding less strong views on the issue feel the creation of the institution of the Lokpal could expose the bureaucracy to blackmail and unnecessary hiccups which would seriously impede the normal functioning of the administrative machinery.
"Every Tom, Dick and Harry would get up tomorrow and threaten to drag you before the Lokpal for valid or imagined reasons. One would have to think a million times before taking a major administrative decision as one never knows where and when such a decision would be called into question," said another officer.
He also believes that it could most likely be the honest and the straightforward civil servants whose bonafide actions could be called to question.
"You must understand that bold decisions are usually taken by the honest civil servant and the dishonest ones always clear their footprints while making shoddy and shady decisions. They always cover up the consequences," he argued.
Despite these misgivings, a number of local middle rung civil servants believe it is necessary to have the proposed Lokpal institution in Jammu and Kashmir and it could make a big difference in ensuring transparency and curbing the menace of corruption.
"You see, the fear of stringent punishment always keeps the prospective criminal from committing a crime. If we really have a strong and impartial Lokpal institution, I am sure we could address the menace of corruption in civil services," said another officer Mohammad Hussain (Name Changed).
"The only problem is that there should be no political interference in the institution. Otherwise, disobeying the political bosses would attract the wrath of the Lokpal authority," he added.
'Lokpal must cover all the government employees'
In Andhra Pradesh, most of the government officials whom rediff.com contacted seemed to be optimistic about the fact that Lokpal would be able to curb corruption.
"Yes, Lokpal should cover all the government employees. It will put some fear and sense of accountability among the employees," an official in the Andhra Pradesh revenue department said.
The official also felt that Lokayukta or Lokpal will be able to curb the corruption provided they have the sufficient powers. "Some states have very good Lokayuktas but Andhra Pradesh does not have one, so it should follow the example of others," the official said.
However, the official admitted that there is a fear that some people will misuse the system to victimise the employees and target them for their own interest. "We have seen it happening in case of right to information act," the official noted.
"But the employees will be more careful in their work and it may affect the speed of work," the official added.
A public relations professional in the Andhra Pradesh government also said that Lokayukta is welcome.
"It should cover all the government employees from IAS to the class IV, or rather every body who gets paid from the public money," the official stated.
"To some extent it will curb the corruption. But it is the first step. The civil society should also campaign to create awareness among the people against giving in to corruption. In the eyes of the law giving and taking corruption is equally wrong," the official noted.
However, this official held a different stand over possibility of victimisation of government servants. "I don't think there will be victimisation. There will be allegations, but we should be ready to face them. Why fear when we have not done any thing wrong?" the official sought to ask.
The official added, "I don't think that it will affect the pace of the government work. Lokayukta is not going to interrogate every employee for months on. The procedure is very simple. Every thing is on paper. If need be they will ask for explanation. We the employees should be a little bit more careful about discharging our duties in accordance with the law and the rules."
Reportage: Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow, M I Khan in Patna, Priyanka in New Delhi, Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar and Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad