As Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court faces impeachment proceedings, the focus is back on corruption in the Indian judiciary, often accused of opposing measures to introduce transparency and accountability in an institution that also judges the works of the Legislature and the
During the debate on the resolution in the Rajya Sabha to remove Justice Sen, cutting across party lines, MPs attacked the judiciary for corruption, lack of accountability and the collegium system of appointments, in which the executive hardly has any role to play. No wonder, in his farewell speech, Justice VS Sirpurkar of the Supreme Court described the statements against the judiciary as “indigestible”.
Should the Judiciary be under Lokpal?
Gandhian Anna Hazare, who had been on an indefinite fast since August 16 to demand a strong Lokpal (anti-corruption ombudsman), first demanded that the judiciary be brought under the Lokpal. However, team Anna is now said to have agreed to keep the judiciary out of the purview of the Lokpal if the government simultaneously brings the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill with strong provisions to deal with judicial corruption.
“Judiciary can’t be covered by this (proposed) Lokpal. It should be covered by another alternative mechanism. We call it the National Judicial Commission,” leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said on August 18, during the debate on Sen’s impeachment.
According to former Chief Justice of India PN Bhagwati, bringing the judiciary under the Lokpal would “seriously” affect its independence. Only a “specialised agency” should be entrusted to ensure accountability in the judiciary, whose autonomy could be compromised if brought under the Lokpal, Bhagwati said in an open letter to Hazare.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010
The UPA government introduced the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill in the Lok Sabha on December 1, 2010. It proposes to lay down judicial standards, provide for the accountability of judges, and requires them to declare their assets and liabilities, and also that of their spouse and children.
The Bill requires judges to practise universally accepted values of judicial life, such as prohibition on close association with individual members of the Bar who practise in the same court as the judge and allowing family members who are members of the Bar to use the judge’s residence for professional work.
Law Commission Vice Chairman KTS Tulsi terms it a historic step, saying, “For the first time judges’ conduct is being defined by a statute.”
The proposed law is to replace the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 that lays down procedure for removal of the Supreme Court and high court judges. But most importantly, it empowers the common man to file complaints against judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court.
The numbers game
Under the present system provided for in the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, the process for removal of a judge can be initiated through a resolution either by 100 Lok Sabha members or 50 Rajya Sabha members.
After the MPs submit a duly signed motion to the Lok Sabha speaker or Rajya Sabha Chairman, the presiding officer constitutes a three-member committee to probe the allegations and determine if it is a fit case for initiating the impeachment process.
If the panel indicts the judge, the resolution for removal has to be passed by two-thirds majority in both Houses in the same session. The resolution is then sent to the President, who orders removal of the judge. The judge is given an opportunity to defend him/her.
While retaining the reference procedure, the Bill proposes to introduce a complaint procedure to empower the aam admi to file complaints against judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court.
It seeks to establish two authorities — a National Judicial Oversight Committee and a Scrutiny Panel — to investigate complaints against judges.
The Oversight Committee will comprise a retired Chief Justice of India as the chairperson, a judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the sitting Chief Justice of India, a Chief Justice of the High Court, the Attorney General for India, and an eminent person appointed by the President. The scrutiny panel shall comprise a former Chief Justice and two sitting judges of that court.
A Parliamentary panel on Law and justice is said to have recommended inclusion of one MP each from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in the Oversight Committee. Initial complaints will be made to the Oversight Committee, and they will be referred to the scrutiny panel constituted in the Supreme Court and in every High Court.
If the scrutiny panel feels there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the judge, it shall report on its findings to the Oversight Committee.
When the panel finds that the complaint is frivolous, or that there not sufficient grounds for inquiring against into the complaint, it shall submit a report to the Oversight Committee giving its findings for not proceeding with the complaint.
If the scrutiny panel recommends investigation into a complaint against a judge, the Oversight Committee will constitute an investigation committee to probe into the complaint. The probe panel will comprise three members. It will frame definite charges against the judge and shall communicate the same to the judge, who shall be given an opportunity to present the case, but if the judge chooses not to be heard, the proceedings may be heard without him present.
The Removal of a judge
If the Oversight Committee feels that the charges proved against the judge merit his/her removal, it shall request the judge to resign voluntarily, and if the judge fails to do so, it shall advise the president to proceed with the removal of the judge. In such a case, the President shall refer the matter to Parliament, where the rest of the procedure is the same as the one in the case of a motion moved by MPs.
The Bill exempts documents and records of proceedings related to a complaint from the purview of the RTI Act, 2005 but the reports of the investigation committee and the order of the Oversight Committee can be made public. The tainted judges gallery
Why The Collegium stays
Under Article 124(2) and Article 217(1) of the Constitution, a judge of Supreme Court/High Court has to be appointed by the President after “consultation” with the Chief Justice of India (CJI). The government was not bound by the CJI’s recommendation. But in 1993, the Supreme Court introduced the collegium system, taking over primacy in appointments to higher judiciary. A nine-judge Constitution Bench in 1998 ruled that “consultation” must be effective and the chief justice’s opinion shall have primacy. Now India is the only nation in the world where judges appoint judges. In 2008, the Law Commission favoured restoration of pre-1993 position. Despite the UPA government criticising the collegium system, the Bill does not propose to change it.
During his speech on Sen’s impeachment, Jaitley said: “The desire of a job after retirement is now becoming a serious threat to judicial independence.” Tulsi also described it as a menace. “I agree with Jaitley that judges should not be given post-retirement jobs. If a statute requires a judicial person, a sitting judge can be appointed.”
The way forward
Prevention is better than cure. What is needed is a system that ensures only an honest person becomes a judge. If that happens, the occasion for removal of a judge may not arise. Also, the collegium system must go, says former law minister Ram Jethmalani. “Setting up a National Judicial Commission is the only solution. The Commission must have the powers to appoint, transfer and remove judges,” he said.
He, however, said: “It should be a broad-based body comprising a government representative, the leader of the opposition and representatives of the judiciary, organised Bar, academic world and the world of social sciences.”
After the appeal by all political parties to Anna Hazare to end his fast cutting across party lines in the resolution adopted unanimously in the Lok Sabha on August 25, it was reasonable to expect that his core group of advisors would ensure that the impending danger to his health and life would be averted. Justice Santosh Hegde, a member of Anna Hazare’s team, and his many other followers also made such an appeal. A meaningful constructive debate on the status, nature and jurisdiction of the proposed Lokpal requires a conducive atmosphere. Fortunately, Anna Hazare having decided to end his fast, the debate on the contentious issues can now proceed coolly.
One such issue has emerged from Rahul Gandhi’s suggestion in the Lok Sabha that the proposed Lokpal be a constitutional body like the Election Commission or the Comptroller & Auditor General, which has the status of a Judge of Supreme Court. As it is, the contemplated draft Lokpal Bills also envisage the same status for the Lokpal, though in an ordinary legislation. Many persons have sought my view on this issue. Therefore, I consider it worthwhile to put it in public domain for consideration, as part of the democratic process.
What, if any, could be the advantages of the proposed Lokpal being a constitutional body, instead of a mere statutory authority? I would think there are many.
One obvious difference is that any change in the structure or status of a mere statutory authority can be made by a simple majority in the legislature enacting an ordinary legislation, whereas such a change in a constitutional body would require the more onerous route of a constitutional amendment adhering to the principle of federalism. No doubt, the initial creation of the Lokpal as a constitutional body would itself require a constitutional amendment, but in the current mood of the entire nation supporting the crusade against corruption demanding a ‘strong Lokpal’, the environment is conducive for this progressive step. An immediate impact of such a move will be also to satisfy the core demand of Anna Hazare and his team voiced by the entire nation of a ‘strong Lokpal’.
One of the contentious issues relates to the provision for effective Lok Ayuktas in the states. Article 253 of the Constitution does empower Parliament to enact a law for the whole or any part of the territory of India to implement an international treaty or convention: UN Convention against Corruption in this case. This provision overrides the Lists in the Seventh Schedule. A constitutional amendment to create the institution of the Lokpal akin to that of the Election Commission or the CAG will overcome that difficulty by making uniform provision for equally effective Lok Ayukta in the states.
Another relevant factor is that corruption-free governance is a basic human right, more so in a developing country. In India it is a judicially recognised enforceable right derived from guaranteed fundamental rights. The Human Development Report, 1999 on the theme of ‘Crisis of Governance in South Asia’, identified corruption as a major cause for that crisis. A ‘strong Lokpal’ to combat the malaise of corruption is a clarion call of the nation; and it is also a means to address the constitutional promise made in the directive principles of State policy as well as for eradication of poverty-the foremost Millennium Development Goal. The Durban Commitment to Effective Action against Corruption (1999) resolved: “[Corruption] deepens poverty; it debases human rights, it degrades the environment; it derails development and it destroys confidence in democracy and the legitimacy of governments. It debases human dignity.” A constitutional Lokpal, instead of a statutory Lokpal, will be more effective to achieve this objective.
Another incident of a constitutional Lokpal to combat corruption would be to make its function a basic feature of the Constitution, and, therefore, a part of its indestructible basic structure that would be beyond even the amending power under Article 368: Keshavananda Bharti, AIR 1973 SC 1461. Immunity from vagaries of changing political equations in the era of coalitions is another benefit.
Experience has shown that the constitutional bodies are comparatively more effective and immune from political and other extraneous influences than statutory bodies. The need for creation of a ‘strong Lokpal’ providing greater public confidence in its credibility is sufficient reason to prefer its constitutional status.
I may reiterate another aspect which I have been emphasizing for long. The Lokpal, in whatever form, is not a panacea for controlling corruption from all sources. A holistic view is necessary to take measures to cure as well as to prevent this evil in all its aspects. More than one measure is needed to provide complete remedy. A few illustrations would suffice.
Judicial accountability as a facet of judicial independence cannot be achieved without the effective accountability also of the lawyers, which is inadequate under the Advocates Act, 1961 giving the entire control over the conduct of lawyers only to a body of lawyers. Linkage between misconduct of some lawyer and that of the errant judge is common knowledge. Similarly, corruption of other professionals, corporates, media etc. has also to be addressed. Even the field of education is no longer sacrosanct. In short, the long term target of restoration of values as the strongest preventive measure must also be a part of the action plan.
Electoral reforms are necessary to curb the ill-effect of money and muscle power that breed corruption and criminalise politics; and reforms to prevent tax evasion contributing to increase of black money. Constitution Amendment Bill could also simultaneously introduce concurrent constitutional changes essential for a strong anti-corruption regime such as to Articles 105, 194 and 235. The impact of the JMM bribery case needs to be overcome by amending Articles 105 and 194 and codifying the privileges of the members.
Such a comprehensive programme alone can prevent as well as cure the malady; otherwise adding to the existing plethora of legislation on the subject would only be a symptomatic treatment instead of a permanent cure. There is no instant cure for a chronic disease. It requires a sober debate along the correct route.
Enlargement of the debate on the challenge at this juncture also provides the opportunity which must not be lost. Anna Hazare has provided this opportunity for an intensive search for the best method to combat rampant corruption. The churning process to find the best solution has begun. It is time for Hazare to derive satisfaction that his prime purpose is served. He should now leave it to those who are constitutionally entrusted with completing the task with the aid of all of the civil society in our inclusive democracy. I sincerely urge movement in this direction within the constitutional scheme.
Vandita Mishra: The Anna Hazare movement has been gaining momentum. In your interaction with MPs, do you see a shared sense of siege because of what is happening right now?
There is near unanimity in the country and amongst parliamentarians that corruption is a national issue. However, there is equal unanimity amongst parliamentarians that the way forward to address corruption is not to call into question the entire constitutional edifice where parliamentary supremacy in the matter of law-making is non-negotiable. In a republic inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, you can’t completely ignore the constitutional means for addressing a national malaise. But you should address corruption in a way consistent with the sanctity of our Constitution.
Coomi Kapoor: Are you saying unconstitutional means are being used? All they are doing is building up public opinion so that parliamentarians take into account the views of the public for this long delayed Bill.
The right to dissent, the right to protest and the right to mobilise opinion is given and it is respected and accepted. This is the reason why Anna and his team are fasting at Ramlila Maidan. In fact, the state is making all arrangements to facilitate the protest. What is an issue is the inclination to put a gun to the government’s head and say this is the Bill that you must legislate into law and you must do so by such and such time irrespective and in derogation of the established procedure of law-making as per the Constitution. How can you, in the name of advancing a laudable national objective, completely negate the permissible means under your Constitution? Now the argument is that we, the people of India, come first in the Constitution, therefore, everything else is subservient to the will of the people. Even with this I have no quarrel. But how do you determine the will of the people? The Constitution ordains that you determine the will of the people after every five years through an election. If you insult the collective judgment of the people of India, you are not advancing democracy. This is my view as a citizen of this country, as a constitutionalist, as a lawyer. The Constitution is intended to be a bulwark against the impulses of transient majorities. Majorities will come and go but the Constitution is supposed to be an enduring edifice.
Dilip Bobb: The general impression is that the government is now employing delaying tactics. How do you convince them that you are with them and not against them?
Let me tell you what this government has done so far: it’s not as if PM made his appeal for the first time last Tuesday–he used every opportunity to say that any peaceful contestation can be the subject of a debate. He has said, let us have a stronger Lokpal Bill based on a larger political consensus. He said he was not against the protest, he was concerned about Anna’s health. But don’t insist on forcing us to do something against the oath of our office. As a duly-elected government, we are voted into power and we want to uphold the Constitution of India. In the parliamentary process of law-making, the Standing Committee is a time-tested process which has produced very good legislation. Today, the atmosphere in the country is such that there is an earnestness to push for Lokpal as an instrument to remove corruption. But to say, do it by tomorrow and discount the Standing Committee procedure, to say that you want a bill to be rammed through in a manner that tomorrow somebody can ask why we have consciously ignored contrary views–that’s where we have issues. The same Constitution that gives me the right to the validity of my views, gives to the other the right to contest those views. But if you insist on deadlines, you are negating the first principle on which this republic is founded. What prevents another group from saying they will sit at Rajpath? If the government starts to buckle on issues of principle, the government will have no right to ask the citizens to comply with the law.
Coomi Kapoor: But the government has buckled, firstly by making Anna Hazare a member of the official drafting committee. Then you said the PM has to be out of the Lokpal and you buckled on that too. There has been a series of retractions from the government which shows that things are not that hard and fast.
There are give and take situations but there has never been a negation of an express constitutional stipulation. There is no bar on the Standing Committee to take into consideration the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Coomi Kapoor: But earlier the government had said it was not possible?
The difference is in what was being said by the Anna camp–that the Standing Committee should discuss “our” Bill. The process of law is that the Cabinet prepares a format which goes to Parliament, and that Bill is presented to the Standing Committee. There is no precedent for anyone insisting that the government takes only their Bill; if the government agrees with their Bill, it can present it to the Standing Committee as its own–there is no difficulty in that. But to tell us to disown our own Bill and to discuss only ‘your’ Bill amounts to law-making being outsourced to people who, as per the Constitution, cannot be the lawmakers. And the day you make a deliberate departure from the expressly stated and incontrovertible stipulation of the Constitution, you violate your oath of office. No government worth its name can consciously negate the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
Maneesh Chhibber: You said you can’t outsource lawmaking to anybody. So what is the National Advisory Committee (NAC) doing?
NAC is doing nothing other than submitting its suggestions. Name one law which NAC has insisted upon, the manner in which Anna Hazare is insisting. I cannot recall NAC ever insisting on anything.
Pradeep Kaushal: Why did you outsource drafting of the Lokpal Bill to the committee where half the members were from civil society?
It was a limited decision made in order to ensure that their views were fully taken on board. There is no constitutional or legal bar to not associate somebody with the draft. The bar is on the Bill we eventually bring before Parliament. After the drafting committee came to a conclusion, the ministers accepted some of Hazare’s suggestions and did not accept others. Then they presented the Bill to the Cabinet, which, in turn, endorsed it to make it a government Bill. That was presented before Parliament. We associated with these people purely to make sure that they had a full say in giving their inputs while the members of the government in that committee were formulating the draft.
Vandita Mishra: People say the government’s case is being made on too many legal, technical grounds and there is not enough of a political input.
Political issues are responded to politically as the PM has done last week. It is a political response of a sensitive and responsive PM who is concerned about the way things are developing, about the health of Anna Hazare. Legality and politics are not mutually exclusive to the extent that lawyers are able to backseat constitutional and legal issues and package them as part of the political response. I don’t see any inconsistency or mutual exclusivity between the two
Vandita Mishra: But what is the single largest source of hostility to the government?
My sense is that people tend to think we are not with them in the fight against corruption. As time has gone by and as the debate is put in the correct perspective, it is clear that this is a choice between the right ends and the right means. People are tending more and more to agree with our perspective. The letter PM wrote and the public appeal made earlier to Anna Hazare to give up his fast were intended as a decisive signal to bring the national discourse back from an idiom of confrontation to an idiom of rational discourse and dialogue.
Maneesh Chhibber: Would you agree that Anna Hazare’s arrest was a wrong move?
I have already said that if I had been in-charge of the situation on the ground, I would not have sent Anna Hazare to Tihar jail. I think the right course would have been to notify a place like a guesthouse to detain him on a preventive basis. I think things moved too fast and these nuances got lost.
Dilip Bobb: What is your personal stand on the issues of the Lokpal covering PM, the bureaucracy and the judiciary?
Constitutionally, it is completely impermissible. How do you expect the government to consider these demands? On the judiciary: we have a constitutional procedure to discipline judges. As for PM, he has repeatedly said he has no problem being under the ambit of the Lokpal. But it is not as if this PM is the only PM under contemplation. What is under contemplation is the office of the PM, who has been described as the keystone of the Cabinet arch. And if the keystone is disturbed, the arch collapses. It is my personal view that no prime minister should be subjected to a system of inquiry or prosecution where immediately on the receipt of a complaint, the entire regime is triggered. It is not the absence of laws that have prevented prosecution of PMs. We have had two PMs who have been prosecuted even without the Lokpal. We are being unfair to those honest officers in the government who actually prosecuted PMs and former PMs. It is not because of the absence of laws that corruption in the country is growing, It is because of the general decline in the moral fibre of most people that the country is going down.
Maneesh Chhibber: Very recently, the government removed CBI from under the RTI. Is that probity?
I believe the reason for keeping CBI out of RTI is ensure the integrity of the investigation as the accused can use RTI to get information about what stage the investigation is at, which might destroy the integrity of the investigation.
Raj Kamal Jha: This is hypothetical but if the same debate had happened under UPA-I, do you think you would have been on a stronger wicket than UPA-II under the shadow of CWG and 2G? What role has that shadow played in the current discourse?
I do agree that the atmosphere created in the country with allegations related to 2G and other issues have had an impact, consciously or unconsciously, on the sentiments of the people, and the sentiments of the lawmakers, even the judiciary. In fact, we are all impacted at a certain level–and rationality and objectivity sometimes become the casualty. I saw this phenomenon in the indictment of Justice Sen.
Coomi Kapoor: Did the prevailing atmosphere influence the views of parliamentarians who were not in favour of Justice Sen’s impeachment?
I believe, as a lawyer and not as a parliamentarian, that in a criminal case, two views are possible and if the prosecution has not proved its point to the hilt, the benefit of the doubt must go to the accused. That is not to say that the same principle applies when we have debates on issues such as this in Parliament. The parliamentarians, in their collective wisdom, took a view that the judgment would advance the cause of substantive justice for a cause.
Kaushal Shroff: The Jan Lokpal Bill states that seven members should approve any investigation against the PM, of whom at least four would be judicial members. Wouldn’t they understand the gravity of the issue involved and the repercussions of investigating a PM?
The fundamental issue is the environment in which our democracy operates. The imminent possibility of a mala fide prosecution or investigation into the conduct of the prime minister in the discharge of his extremely critical duties can have the effect of destabilising governments. This is the view that is taken by those who dispute the necessity of the PM in the Lokpal. There are others who believe that there are sufficient safeguards to see an abuse of the law doesn’t take place. If Parliament in its wisdom decides to put the PM under the Lokpal, so be it. But there are two strong views and somebody has to decide which view must prevail. Which is that instrumentality in the scheme of our constitutional order which takes the final call? Parliament, in its collective judgment, where all shades of political opinion are reflected.
Vandita Mishra: Some people in your party say Rahul Gandhi should step into the Anna Hazare negotiations.
Rahul Gandhi enjoys a preeminent position in the party. He has a very incisive instinct on many issues. His counsel is always available to the party. As the Congress general secretary, he doesn’t have to ask anyone before intervening. For all you know, he may be involved in giving his advice in the manner he deems fit. It is his call how to intervene, when to intervene and on what issues to intervene.
Sourabh Jyoti Sharma: Transparency International Report 2010 says the judiciary is the second most corrupt institution in India after the police. Do you want to bring a stronger Judicial Accountability Bill in Parliament?
The Judicial Accountability Bill will be brought before Parliament. The government remains committed to it. There is a broad consensus on it. We need to ensure that there is an adequate mechanism to deal with allegations of lack of probity in the judiciary.
Sourabh Jyoti Sharma: What is your view, as a lawyer, on the collegium system of judicial appointment?
On judicial appointments, the experience has been mixed. I don’t think the collegium system has always achieved the desired results.
Unni Rajen Shanker: Many people are talking for the government in the media. Are you being briefed before you talk?
There is so much information on the issues at hand, we almost drink, eat and breathe these issues. The senior people who go on TV channels do have their own perception of what is required to be said and if there is a doubt in their minds, they are always free to seek clarification.
Vandita Mishra: What is the feedback your parliamentarians are getting from the ground, from outside big cities like Delhi? Do they face the same outrage or is there a distinction to be made?
Nobody disputes that the issue of corruption has caught the imagination of the country. The point of contestation is how does the nation together move forward in a direction that will minimize the scourge of corruption and show that the fundamentals of our body politic are not constantly being eroded by this menace. It is a great tragedy that the current UPA leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh known for their deep commitment to probity in public life should have to bear the brunt in a very unjust and a very unfair manner just because an atmosphere in the country has been created where the responsibility for all that is wrong lies with the government. Look at the series of initiatives the government has taken on corruption: has anyone else take such corrective measures?
When did a serving minister go to jail, when did we send the top bureaucrats to jail? It is said this was done because Supreme Court wanted it to be done. Who went to Supreme Court and asked, through CBI that the Supreme Court monitor the investigations so that the people of India should not think anybody was being protected? We must at least be given credit for vigorously pursuing the cases of corruption. The proof of the pudding is in its eating. Judge me not by what I say but by what I do and this government has taken conscious, purposive and strong action where strong prima facie cases of corruption have been an issue. One more thing; these are the people who have been behind bars for the last several months and whose bail applications have not been granted. As a lawyer I ask myself, is bail the rule and jail an exception or jail the rule and bail an exception? As early as 1977, Justice Krishna Iyer said bail is the rule as it subserves the cause personal liberty and jail in an exception. You must jail only those people who are hardened criminals who can pervert and thwart the course of justice. I sometimes wonder whether someone can be denied liberty merely because the atmosphere is in favour of hanging those without convicting them. At another level, there are proposals that nobody can contest an election if there is a charge of a criminal offense against him. It is said this is the best way to eliminate criminals from politics.
But it is a dangerous path to follow. We have a great law and a great legal architecture but we also know that laws are abused. It is easy to have a false charge against someone in a mofussil town. Years of reputation built in public affairs, a man’s political career can be destroyed. The answer to the criminalization of politics is not in riding roughshod over fundamental principles that are intended to safeguard your liberties and your inalienable rights embedded in the Constitution. Let us not tinker with the fundamental principles of our republic on account of impulses of the moment. All constitutions are designed to secure the nation against intensities of the momentary impulses. If you tinker with the Constitution, you will never be able to restore its integrity.
Vandita Mishra: The burden of your argument is that there is an atmosphere in the country and the government is an unfortunate victim of that atmospehere. Would you not admit to a single mistake the government has made in contributing to this atmosphere? Has the absence of Sonia Gandhi made a difference?
Sonia Gandhi’s absence is deeply felt at all critical moments and even otherwise both in the party and in the government. Her presence, her guidance, her sage counsel and advice has been a great source of strength to the UPA government and Congress. I will be the last person to say this government, or any government, is infallible. There could be a bona fide error of judgment like sending Anna Hazare to Tihar Jail. Governments do make mistakes but as long as they are bona fide and are redressed and corrected, I think the benefit of doubt must remain with the government.
People throw out governments when they don’t find their explanations convincing. The choice is not between a perfect government and an imperfect government, the choice is between a bona fide governance and misgovernance.
A resolution passed in Parliament may have limitations when it comes to implementation
In the context of the ongoing moves on the Lokpal Bill issue, it has to be noted that a resolution of either House of Parliament, even when it is passed by a division, has limitations with regard to implementation by government. There are three types of resolutions: one is the kind that, when passed, the government will have to implement statutorily; the second type can control the procedure of the House; the third type may be an expression of the opinion of the House.
For instance, when a Bill on appropriation of grants is passed by the Lok Sabha and considered by the Rajya Sabha, it gives statutory authority to the government to withdraw amounts from the Consolidated Fund to meet the specific purpose for which Parliament makes the grant.
Article 123 of the Constitution provides that if both Houses pass a resolution disapproving an Ordinance promulgated by the President, it shall be mandatory to cease to operate it. Under Article 356, the Proclamation of President’s Rule issued for a State should be approved by Parliament through a resolution; otherwise it will cease to operate. Resolutions moved by private members are generally meant to express an opinion; even if passed it is not mandatory that the government implements it.
About the impact of a resolution passed by the UK Parliament, Erskine May states: “Every question, when agreed to, assumes the form of either an order or a resolution of the House… By its resolution, the House declares its own opinions and purposes.”
In Law of the Constitution, Dicey says: “On this basis, the resolutions of a House may be divided into the following three categories: (1) Resolutions which have statutory effect, (2) Resolutions which the House passes to control its own proceedings and (3) Resolutions which are mere expressions of opinion by the House.”
Rule 171 of Lok Sabha: A resolution may be in the form of a declaration of opinion, or a recommendation; or may be in the form so as to record either approval or disapproval by the House of an act or policy of government, or convey a message; or commend, urge or request an action; or call attention to a matter or situation for consideration by government; or in such other form as the Speaker may consider appropriate.
Practice and Procedure of Parliament by Kaul & Shakdher states: “Resolutions may be broadly divided into three categories:
“Resolutions which are mere expression of opinion of the House: Since the purpose of such a resolution is merely to obtain an expression of opinion of the House, the Government is not bound, as convention has it, to give effect to opinions expressed in these resolutions. It entirely rests on the discretion of the Government whether or not to take action suggested in such resolutions.
“Resolutions which have statutory effect: The notice of a statutory resolution is given in pursuance of a provision in the Constitution or an act of Parliament. Such a resolution, if adopted, is binding on the Government and has the force of law.
“Resolutions which the House passes in the matter of control over its own procedure: The House by such a resolution evolves sometimes its own procedure to meet a situation not specifically provided for its Rules. It has the force of law, but its validity cannot be questioned in a court of law.”
In Parliament, Ivor Jennings writes: “Private Members’ Motions then are part of the technique of propaganda. They enable the opinion of the House to be taken. The ‘opinion’ need not be representative for the attendance may be small.”
On August 10, 1978, N.K.P. Salve moved a motion in the Rajya Sabha for the appointment of two Commissions of Inquiry to look into corruption charges against the family members of the Prime Minister and the former Home Minister. This writer opposed it, for under the Commissions of Inquiry Act a motion passed by the Lok Sabha has statutory effect, and the government has to implement it. A motion passed in the Rajya Sabha was only a recommendation to be considered by the government at its discretion. However, the Rajya Sabha adopted the motion 104 to 78.
Over the next few days, the Opposition demanded the early appointment of a House committee or the Commissions of Inquiry. The Rajya Sabha Chairman asked this writer for a note, which was submitted on August 12. On August 17, Chairman B.D. Jatti gave his ruling: “Two courses, therefore, seem to be open to the government, namely, either they should seek the guidance and advice from a committee of the members of Rajya Sabha, or forthwith appoint two separate Commissions of Inquiry. I am of the opinion that in terms of the Motion, the question of appointment of a Committee by me would depend on the indication from the Government as to which one of the two alternatives in the Motion is acceptable to the government.”
L.K. Advani, the Leader of the Rajya Sabha, accepted the ruling and promised that the government would carefully consider the recommendations of the motion. There the matter ended.
Regarding a statute for the establishment of the Lokpal, the government prepared on August 4, 2011 ‘The Lok Pal Bill, 2011′ according to the Rules of Procedure and practices, and along with the President’s Recommendation under Article 117(1) and (3). This Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on August 8; it was required to send its report in three months. The committee advertised on August 20 inviting views/suggestions within 15 days. These have to be sent by September 4, and the committee may examine them and submit a report by November 3.
However, the agitation by Anna Hazare and the civil society team has created an urgent and critical situation. It may not be possible for the government to send on the Jan Lokpal bill or the bills propounded by others. Unless the government has made clear and satisfactory decisions on the points raised by the civil society team, the situation could go out of control.
Of the 10 Lokpal Bills introduced so far at the Centre, five were by Congress governments and the rest by non-Congress governments. The major difference among them was the exclusion of the Prime Minister by the former and the inclusion by the latter in the ambit of the Lokpal Bill. But none of them demands a constitutional amendment for the establishment of a Lokpal. A constitution amendment may require still more time; the legislatures of not less than half the States would have to ratify it, as required under the Article 368(2). This will take months.
If there is a will, there is a way to enact an effective Lokpal Act even under the statutory procedures available. The Karnataka Lokayukta Act of 1985 enacted by the Ramakrishna Hegde government provided for a Lokayukta to investigate and report on allegations or grievances relating to the conduct of public servants including the Chief Minister; Ministers and members of the legislature; all officers of the State government; chairman, vice-chairman of local authorities, statutory bodies or corporations established by or under any law of the State legislature, including cooperative societies, persons in the service of local authorities, corporations owned or controlled by the State government, a company in which not less than 50 per cent of the shares are held by the State government, societies registered under the State Registration Act, cooperative societies and universities established by or under any law of the legislature.
Where, after investigation into a complaint, the Lokayukta considers that the allegation against a public servant is prima facie true and makes a declaration to that effect, and the declaration is accepted by the competent authority, the public servant concerned, if he is a Chief Minister or a Minister or a member of State legislature, shall resign his office. If he is any other non-official, he shall be deemed to have vacated his office, and, if an official, shall be deemed to be under suspension, from the date of acceptance of the declaration.
If, after investigation, the Lokayukta is satisfied that the public servant has committed a criminal offence, he may initiate prosecution without reference to any other authority. Any prior sanction required under any law shall be deemed to have been granted.
Any effective government in a functioning democracy worth its name should anticipate a problem before it becomes a crisis and solve a crisis before it lands the government and the country in a catastrophe.