LOK PAL BILL CAMPAIGN : Prime Minister speech in the Lok Sabha debate on Corruption

Manmohan Singh, current prime minister of India.

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Following is the text of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s uncorrected speech in the Lok Sabha on corruption:

PRIME MINISTER : Hon. Speaker Madam, I am very happy that at long last, the House had a debate on the issue of corruption. I thank all the Members who participated in this debate.

Madam, that corruption is a major national issue is something a matter about which there is unanimity in the country. That we should collectively work to find credible approaches, credible solutions to deal with this scourge is also a matter, which unites all sections of thinking public opinion in our country.

Madam, I share that perception; and on behalf of our Government, I would like to assure this august House that in the two and A half years of period that is left to us, we will do everything in our power to clean the system of this country.

Madam, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi is not here. Yesterday, he made a powerful speech and he turned into a personal attack on me as if I am the fountain head of corruption and that I have knowingly connived at corruptions of some of my colleagues.… (Interruptions)

MADAM SPEAKER: Nothing else will go on record.

PRIME MINISTER : Madam, I consider it beneath my dignity to enter into an argument on issues which are before the PAC, issues which are in our courts. In my seven years as Prime Minister even when the Opposition Members have accused me of many crimes, I have never used harsh language in describing the conduct of any Member of this House.

Madam, I would like to assert before this House that I have a public life in the service of this country for nearly 41 years. In these 41 years of my public life, 20 years in Parliament I have tried to serve this country to the best of my ability.

I, as Finance Minister, inherited an economy with bankrupt treasury, with foreign exchange reserves totally exhausted, with credit worthiness of our country seriously in doubt. We turned around that economy. We have ensured that this economy, the bankrupt economy that we inherited, has become one of the fastest growing economies of the world.

Madam, whatever the Members of the Opposition may say, the fact is that India is respected all over the world. I think that is because of the inherent strength of our economy, of our polity, of our democratic system but at the margin, in these seven years or as earlier as Finance Minister, I did make a small contribution in my own way to enhance the prestige of this country, and therefore, while charges are leveled against me, it hurts but I am not going to convert this forum into a forum for accusation one way or the other. All I can say is that if any wrongdoing has been done by me, I invite the Leader of the Opposition to look at my property which I may have accumulated in the last 41 years, my members of my family … (Interruptions)

I would accept the verdict of the Leader of the Opposition if they find that I have used public office to amass wealth for myself or for any member of my family.

Madam, in the course of seven years as Prime Minister, I may have made mistakes. Who is above making mistakes? To err is human but to accuse me of evil intentions, of conniving at corruption is a charge I firmly repudiate.

Madam, this is not an occasion to trade allegations to and fro and I am not going to deal with this matter as the matter is before the court or before the various Committees of Parliament and they will come with their own conclusions. I would, however, like to say that corruption is a multifaceted problem. Therefore, we, as a nation, have to find practical, pragmatic means but effective means to tackle it, and this is not merely the responsibility of the Central Government. The State Governments are responsible for over 50 per cent of the total national spending and the conduct of the State Governments, which is the one way people come in contact with Government, is essentially the responsibility of the States. There is anger in the country. There is anger about the misuse of public offices.

Therefore, both at the Centre and the States, it is our obligation to clean up the system of governance to reforming and to ensure that we leave behind for our children and grand children a system of public administration which is capable of meeting the challenge of the 21st Century. I commit our Government to doing precisely that. In my address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, I listed a number of areas where in the next couple of months I would like our Government to take initiative and I stand committed to whatever I promised from the ramparts of the Red fort.

Madam, corruption sources are numerous. Until the early 90s, the biggest single source of corruption was the licensing system, the industrial licensing system, the import controls and the foreign exchange controls. The liberalisation that we brought about has ended that part of this corruption story.

Another major part of corruption was the rates of taxation which were so exorbitant that people were tempted to enter into corrupt practices to reduce their tax liabilities. We have, I venture to suggest, ourselves and the successor Governments worked hard to simplify to streamline the taxation system and on balance there is less scope for corruption as far as taxation matters are concerned. Even though I recognise that a residual element is still there and we have to work together through various mechanisms, including goods and services tax which is now in public domain and, which is, I believe, an obligation which our country must fulfil if it wants to move forward. But, there are many other areas where corruption still persists. We have to tackle this problem from various angles.

There are Central Government programmes administered by the State Governments but there are leakages. Therefore, we must find ways and means of reforming the system of public administration so that these leakages can be plucked. Malfunctioning of public distribution has been widely commented upon. We must, therefore, devise new methodologies to ensure that Public Distribution System will be free of malpractices. This is an obligation which we can discharge only with full collaboration with the State Governments and discharge we must. But I would like this House to endorse the reform of the Public Distribution System, where the ordinary people come in contact with Government machinery or meeting the basic needs of existence of livelihood, is cleaned up.

Madam, yet another source is, where Government contracts are given in a manner which creates suspicion that something is going wrong. Therefore, we need a Public Procurement Act, as some other countries have, to streamline our contracting mechanisms in a manner in which there will be less scope for corruption in future.

Madam, in certain areas, greater competition itself will reduce the scope for corruption. But, we still know that there are areas of infrastructure where competition can at best be only limited. There is scope for regulation. We have, in the last couple of years, put in place regulatory mechanisms, but the functioning of these regulatory mechanisms, especially with regard to the management of the infrastructure, is something which requires attention. That is yet another area where we must find ways and means to streamline the regulatory system, so that there is less scope for corruption.

I could go on. But I do not want to repeat what I said from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The House has my assurance that we will work in full public glare to fulfil what we have promised. I have set up a group under Shri Pranab Mukherjee to look at the scope for reducing the amount of discretion that ministers have at the Centre. This group has made some important suggestions. They will be considered by the Cabinet and we will put in place a mechanism to reduce the scope for misuse of discretionary power or to eliminate discretionary power wherever it can be done without detriment to public interest or achievement of public good.

Madam, it is in the context of corruption that the last few weeks have seen momentous developments. Shri Anna Hazare has gone on fast. His plea is that we should adopt the Jan Lokpal Bill that has been drafted by them. The background of this whole exercise is well known to this august House. We have sittings together with the five representatives of Shri Anna Hazare, including himself, who met with our five representatives and a large measure of agreement was reached with regard to the shape of the Lokpal Bill that we should have. On certain matters there was disagreement and that disagreement could not be resolved and therefore we have referred that matter for consideration of the All Parties Committee and the said consensus was that the Government should come with its own version of the Bill and various Parties would then reflect on what to do with that Bill. We discharged that obligation. We submitted that Bill to Parliament. It has now been referred to the Standing Committee.

This Standing Committee can consider all options and we can find ways and means of ensuring that the Bill that has been prepared by Shri Anna Hazare is given due consideration by this Committee. Also, along with this, there are other ideas. There is Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan’s group which produced a Bill; there are ideas which have been mentioned in a paper by Shrimati Aruna Roy. All these matters can be discussed, debated and a consensus can be built up in the Standing Committee. We are open to all suggestions. We will work with all sections of this House to have a Lokpal, who is strong, who is effective and about which there is a national consensus.

We have produced a Bill which reflects the thinking of our Government. But we are open to persuasion and we have an open mind and when we discuss this Bill, whether in Parliament or in the Standing Committee, we will work with a single minded devotion to ensure that we leave behind for posterity a Lokpal Bill which does credit to our concerns for meeting the challenge of corruption. Madam, yesterday there was a very good meeting of all political parties. All political parties agreed that we should request Shri Anna Hazare to give up his fast and that we should find ways and means to ensure that ideas reflected in the Jan Lokpal Bill are given adequate consideration in parliamentary processes and that we should come forward with a strong, effective Bill which has the broad support of the country as a whole. I commit our Government to working with all sections of the House to realise this dream. Therefore, I urge all Members of the House to join me in making an appeal to Shri Anna Hazare that he has made his point. It has been registered with us. I respect his idealism. I respect him as an individual. He has become the embodiment of our people’s disgust and concern about tackling corruption. I applaud him, I salute him. His life is much too precious and therefore, I would urge Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast.

We will find effective ways and means of discussing the Jan Lokpal Bill along with the Government version of the Bill along with Shrimati Aruna Roy’s Bill, along with the ideas in the paper that Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan has submitted. All ideas should be discussed, debated so that we have a Bill which is the best possible Bill, which will help us to deal with the problem of corruption.

Madam, it has been mentioned to me that Shri Anna Hazare and his colleagues are very keen that their Bill should be discussed in the Parliament. I have not thought over this matter in great depth, but a thought comes to me that perhaps we could have a debate in this House on all the Bills that are in the public domain and have a discussion what are the weak points of various Bills and what are the strong points of various Bills and at the end of that debate, send the whole record for consideration of the Standing Committee of the Parliament. I have a feeling that this will meet the point that Shri Anna Hazare and his colleagues have been making that Parliament must have a chance to give its views on their Bill before sending it to the Standing Committee and therefore, I submit to this august House that this is one via media which will respect the parliamentary supremacy and, at the same time, enable Parliament to take on board ideas contained in the Lokpal Bill drafted by Shri Anna Hazare and his colleagues. Madam, I conclude by appealing to all sections of the House to join in appeal that I have made to Shri Anna Hazare that his life is much too precious. We would like him to live a long life and a happy life in the service of our people. He has registered his point. Therefore, we respectfully request him to end his fast. I think that if we do it, then this would be a befitting finale to this very constructive debate on corruption and in tackling it that has taken place in this House since yesterday.”

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LOK PAL CAMPAIGN: For a strong and effective Lokpal

PRAKASH KARAT

PRAKASH KARAT

By PRAKASH KARAT IN THE HINDU

The Anna Hazare fast has seen an outpouring of support across the country. The government Lokpal Bill is unacceptable. A fresh Bill is needed for an effective Lokpal. There has been an outpouring of support all over the country in favour of the fast conducted by Anna Hazare for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The agitation has found support predominantly from the urban middle classes and a substantial section of youth belonging to the strata. There is no doubt that since the first hunger strike launched by Anna Hazare in April, the anti-corruption movement has gained momentum.

The attitude of the United Progressive Alliance government and its failure to tackle corruption, have fuelled widespread anger. First, the government is seen as being complicit in corruption. This has been the most corrupt government in the history of independent India. The paradox of a “clean” Prime Minister heading such a government has sunk into the consciousness of the urban middle classes.

The manner in which Ministers in the government defended the corrupt practices indulged in as a part of the 2G spectrum allocation, stating that there was zero loss of revenue for the government, confirmed the fears of many people that this government, steeped in corruption as it is, cannot take any meaningful action on this front. In all the cases – whether it be those related to the allocation of 2G spectrum or the conduct of the Commonwealth Games – agencies independent of the government, that is, the Supreme Court of India or, the Comptroller and Auditor General, were the ones that spurred the Central Bureau of Investigation into action to investigate and prosecute the guilty.

The problem has been compounded by the government’s act of introducing a Lokpal Bill that is weak and ineffective. The Prime Minister is excluded from the purview of the Lokpal. The method of appointment of the Lokpal will not make it an independent authority. A Lokpal set up under the provisions of this Bill would be unable to act independently. There are no provisions for the Lokpal to act against corporates and business enterprises that indulge in corrupt practices in relation to the government.

Secondly, the UPA government and the Congress leadership were in the dock for the manner in which Anna Hazare and his colleagues were arrested on the morning of August 16, even before the hunger strike was launched. The irony of a corrupt government putting an anti-corruption crusader in Tihar jail was not lost on the people. The brazen attack on the democratic rights of citizens to protest peacefully, isolated the government among the people and inside Parliament.

The ruling party decried the Hazare-led movement as an attack on Parliament and democratic institutions. Its leaders claimed that since the government has introduced a Bill in Parliament, any agitation against it is an attack on Parliament. This is specious reasoning. Political parties and citizens’ organisations have the right to oppose and agitate against any bill introduced in Parliament. The Left parties and the trade unions have opposed many bills which were anti-working class, and organised protest actions and struggles against them. Strikes have taken place against proposed legislation that seeks to liberalise the financial sector in the areas of insurance and banking.

Even the Congress opposed the Prevention of Terrorism Bill that was introduced in Parliament in 2002 by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The Congress continued to oppose the legislation even after its enactment, and demanded its withdrawal.

Corruption has become a major issue and people are increasingly becoming conscious and determined to fight it. But there is need for a proper understanding of the causes for the rampant corruption that has affected all spheres of public life. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has set out its understanding of the present malaise of corruption, the causes and the effects.

In the last two decades, with the advent of liberalisation and the neo-liberal policies, high-level corruption has become institutionalised. The neo-liberal regime has led to an exponential rise in corruption. Much of this corruption stems from the big business-ruling politician-bureaucratic nexus which has been established.

We have seen how, in the seven years of the UPA government and the earlier six years of the NDA government, policy-making has been suborned to serve the interests of big business; how privatisation and the loot of natural resources are facilitated by this nexus in operation; how the UPA government has pandered to big business – Indian and foreign – by putting in place policies and mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of resources such as land, minerals, natural gas and so on to business barons. The neo-liberal regime has affected the political system with big capital holding sway. Increasingly, politics is being converted into a business, and business is conducted through politics.

The fight against high-level corruption, therefore, requires a multi-pronged effort. There has to be an effective Lokpal authority; there has to be electoral reforms to curb money power for politics; there has to be a distinct mechanism to curb corruption in the higher judiciary through separate legislation; there has to be firm measures to unearth black money and crack down on those who have stashed away illegal money abroad in tax havens. Above all, the features of the neo-liberal regime, which encourage accumulation of capital through corrupt means and facilitate the loot of natural resources by big business, should be ended.

The main source of support for the Hazare-led movement is the urban middle class. Many of them were supporters of the liberalisation policies and the reforms ushered in by the Manmohan Singh government. Now plagued by corruption, they want a messiah to get rid of the corruption that constantly affects their daily life. They would like corruption to end, while maintaining the economic regime that has conferred certain benefits on them. Hence they are unable to see the organic link between the neo-liberal policies and the corruption that has been engendered.

The middle class propensity to be anti-political, to blame all politicians and to hold Parliament in contempt, are all on display in the Anna Hazare movement. The constant harping against all political parties and the setting of unilateral deadlines for Parliament to act have raised apprehensions about their intent and commitment to democratic values. This has only detracted from the rightness of the cause and the popular support it has evoked.

There is legitimate anger against the plutocracy that has come to dominate the political system. But this plutocracy and the corrupt nexus cannot be fought by targeting political parties and concentrating fire only on the petty corruption that citizens face in their daily lives. Given the amorphous nature of the movement that has gathered around Anna Hazare, the right-wing forces, including the corporate media, seek to support and direct the movement away from the focus on the fountainhead of corruption. There is a constant masking of the real causes of corruption in society. In a poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, published recently in The Hindu, to a question ‘who is the most corrupt,’ 32 per cent of those surveyed said government employees were the most corrupt; 43 per cent said elected representatives were the most corrupt; and only 3 per cent thought businessmen and industrialists were the most corrupt. This is the dominant opinion among the middle classes.

In every major corruption scandal in the recent period, there was big business or corporates involved in the act of corrupting public servants – whether they were Ministers or civil servants. In the irregularities involved in the 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games and the Krishna-Godavari basin gas contract, the hidden hand of big business exists. The government’s Lokpal Bill does not address this issue at all. The Jan Lokpal bill at least has clauses providing for the cancellation of contracts, and imposition of penalties on business found to have been illegally obtained by them. But the thrust of the anti-corruption movement, by and large, misses this main factor.

While a set of measures has to be taken to tackle the problem of corruption, right now the issue is the setting up of a strong Lokpal authority. The government’s Lokpal Bill has been rejected by large sections of the people; and it is not acceptable to most of the Opposition parties. In such a situation, the government should retract from its stand.

After eight days of the fast by Anna Hazare, the government has bowed down to public pressure and initiated talks with the representatives of the Hazare group. This is a welcome development. Hopefully, this will lead to a fresh or modified bill that can pave the way for an effective Lokpal.

(Prakash Karat is the general secretary of the Communist Party of India – Marxist.)

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2393469.ece?homepage=true

Premier High Court at 150

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T ANDHYURUJINA IN THE HINDU

The Bombay High Court has yielded illustrious judges and lawyers who contributed not only to its own standing but also to the prestige of the Supreme Court of India.

One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1861, the Bombay High Court was established under the Indian High Courts Act, 1861, of the British Parliament. It abolished the old Supreme Court and the East India Company Courts and merged them in a new High Court. For these 150 years, the Bombay High Court has been India’s premier High Court. It has yielded illustrious judges and lawyers who not only contributed to its own great standing but after Independence also contributed to the prestige of the Supreme Court of India.

The High Court’s contribution to the law, jurisprudence and administration of justice has been immense. It was, therefore, with pride and satisfaction that on August 14, 2011, a number of distinguished judges and lawyers of the Supreme Court and the High Court, and Ministers of the State and Central governments, assembled in the famous Central Hall of the Bombay High Court to commemorate the 150th year of the High Court.

History

The Bombay High Court began functioning on August 14, 1862, with no pomp or ceremony, in the modest building of the old Supreme Court house. All that occurred on that historic occasion was an unpretentious declaration made by the English judges: “The judges appointed by the Charter of the High Court would seat as judges of the High Court from 11 a.m. till 2 p.m.” Thus began the historic life of this High Court. It was presided over by its first Chief Justice, Sir Mathew Sausse. He believed in such total detachment from the government and the public, and isolated himself to do justice, that he was known as “Sausse the Silent.”

A succession of 12 distinguished English Chief Justices followed him. The last British Chief Justice, Sir Leonard Stone, retired at midnight on August 14, 1947, after unfurling and saluting the Indian national flag in the High Court, with a gracious speech. He was succeeded by M.C. Chagla, the first Indian Chief Justice. He occupied that office with great distinction for 11 years. On the request of Jawaharlal Nehru he resigned, to become India’s Ambassador to the United States.

The construction of the vast and magnificent Gothic-style building of the Bombay High Court, situated opposite the Oval playground, was started in 1873 and completed in 1879. The foundation tablet records that it was built at an incredibly low cost of Rs.16,44,528, which was below its estimated cost. The first sitting here was held on January 10, 1879. Its court rooms and corridors are spacious. It also has comical figures of monkey judges and fox advocates, wearing lawyer’s bands with one eye blind-folded, peeping from the top of pillars. This was said to be the mischievous work of a disgruntled sub-contractor, a Parsi, who avenged himself on law and justice by libelling the lawyers and judges of the High Court. But the true symbol of justice is the stone statue of the Goddess of Justice on a tall tower of the building. She has both eyes blind-folded, to signify that justice is blind, with a sword in one hand and scales of justice meticulously balanced in the other.

Many famous trials and cases have been conducted in this historic court. Lokmanya Tilak was tried thrice for seditious writing in the Central Hall. On the second of his trials in 1909, when the jury returned a verdict of guilty and he was sentenced for six years in jail, he said the famous words that are today inscribed at the entrance to the Central Court: “All that I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the jury, I still maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destinies of men and nations; and I think, it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may be benefited more by my suffering than by my pen and tongue.”

There were some outstanding Indian judges of the Bombay High Court before Independence, such as Badruddin Tyabji, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Kashinath Trimbak Telang and Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar. They were not only erudite lawyers but also academicians and political thinkers known for their broad and liberal outlook. One instance to show this was the moving tribute paid by Badruddin Tyabji to his brother-judge Ranade on his death. He quoted the lines of Urfi, the court-poet of Emperor Jehangir: “Live thy life in such a manner that, on thy death, the Mussalman may wash thy body with the sacred waters of Zamzamat at Mecca and the Hindu may burn it on the holy ghats at Kashi.”

Making a mark

Amongst the lawyers who made their mark in the High Court were Sir Phirozshah Mehta, who was also a public figure, Bhulabhai Desai, K.M. Munshi, M.R. Jayakar, who later became a judge of the Federal Court and the Privy Council, and Sir Dinshaw Mulla, a writer of law books which are used even today. M.A. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was a fighting advocate in the Bombay High Court known for his blunt advocacy. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a lawyer with a good knowledge of Constitutional Law, was later the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India. Sir Jamshedji Kanga was the doyen of the Bar for many years. From his chambers were groomed distinguished lawyers such as H.M. Seervai, the leading constitutional expert, and Nani Palkhiwala, the country’s most versatile and eloquent advocate.

The Supreme Court’s first Chief Justice of India in 1950 was Sir Hiralal Kania from the Bombay High Court. Since then, a succession of distinguished Chief Justices of the Supreme Court have come from the Bombay High Court — including the present Chief Justice of India, S.H. Kapadia. The first law officers of the Government of India hailed from the Bombay High Court. Sir N.P. Engineer was the first Advocate-General of India; M.C. Setalvad was the first Attorney-General of India, and C.K. Daphtary, the first Solicitor-General of India. Even later, distinguished lawyers from the Bombay High Court have been the law officers of the Union government in the Supreme Court. No single High Court has had such an eminent array of persons from the Bar and the Bench as the Bombay High Court has had.

The Bombay High Court has passed through many vicissitudes in its 150 years. So long as those who work in and for it are conscious of its high traditions and connections, it will retain its stature — for in the words of the Bible, it was founded on Rock.

(The writer, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, is a former Solicitor-General of India and Advocate-General of Maharashtra.)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2393377.ece