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An article by Ashwini Kulkarni at Indian Express on 13 April, 2011 Is the Lokpal the next “krishnaavatar”? Is this the last and final stroke required to root out corruption? The conclusion that the state is unable to tackle corruption because it does not have a mechanism or an institution to do so, is unfounded. Kiran Bedi has said that the Lokpal will clean up corruption from our society in five years. This euphoria is unfounded too, because the devil lies in the details. There is no universal, singular, dramatic solution to the all-pervading problem of corruption. Acceptance of this truth is not pessimism, but an admission that we need to work harder. In a functional democracy, working on the nuts and bolts of all its institutions is necessary — but there is nothing romantic about that. In recent times, the political mobilisation against corruption started with the Right to Information, or RTI. The present mood of despair partially stems from the perceived ineffectiveness of the RTI. It is a logical consequence that Anna Hazare, who was instrumental in the making of the RTI and in keeping it intact, is now demanding a Lokpal bill. RTI activists always felt there was a vacuum in that after they got hold of documents which prima facie showed wrongdoing, they had little way of ensuring that some kind of enquiry was started against the wrongdoers. In spite of this, we have witnessed grave instances of RTI activists getting killed just for having the information — though they were unable to book anybody for the irregularity that they had unearthed. In addition to the experience of activists, the common man is frustrated with the corruption all around; be it Rs 20 demanded by a traffic policeman or gigantic scams like that surrounding 2G spectrum. Hence the growing support to the “India against Corruption” movement. But there are some steps that need to be taken first, before a Lokpal bill would be effective. For one, the RTI stands to be ineffective for two reasons. One is that the infrastructure needed — like the number of information commissioners and their offices — are not in place in a number of locations across the country. Two, and most importantly, the data required is just not available. The data that would constitute a minimum transparency requirement for any government programme are not defined. The collection of data about inputs, process and output indicators is ad hoc, sporadic and shabby, if it happens at all. This is serious. Regardless of how much the government spends, especially on welfare programmes and public goods and the like, any data is conspicuous only by its absence. And if there is some data being collected, it is not uniform across time and region. What those of us who work with the RTI thus wind up with is scattered information, spread across a lot of documents. To capture an irregularity in any function of the government is certainly not simple. The road is slippery because the road is ill-defined. That is why a clearly-defined set of procedures and criteria is important. Then the process needs to be followed, and data generated as it unfolds. Process data is especially relevant to understand if there is any misuse — even though procedural lapses do not necessarily mean that there is misuse or misappropriation. And so what we need to demand is instead good governance, defined as putting in place systems with clearly-defined rules, procedures and guidelines, and good data-capturing mechanisms, which collect data at all points of delivery. Most of this information must be in the public domain as soon as it gets generated. For example we have seen how the railways, electricity boards, public-sector banks and the like changed drastically after reengineering their processes. Transparency increased and the general frequency of irregularities decreased. While with 2G and the CWG, precisely the opposite happened. No one knew the procedure that was intended for allocation, or the one that was to be adopted. Information related to CWG purchases was not put in the public domain as a matter of course. So if we do not define what is “regular” how could we catch what could be “irregular”? A Lokpal bill, in whichever form it may come, it is unlikely to be effective if systems are not in place across state functions, systems designed for transparency and accountability. Given this we can catch irregularities, and have documents to prove each one, which could then be taken to the appropriate authority for redressal. Good governance is a prerequisite for an effective Lokpal or any such authority. Expecting a Lokpal bill to give you good governance is, in my opinion, putting the cart before the horse. This means civil society must engage with the government in several ways, at many levels, and on a sustained basis. Unfortunately, the prevailing mood may not find this proposal appealing. The writer is a Nashik-based agricultural economist