LAW RESOURCE INDIA

Mercy plea or Lokayukta: Can Prez and guv act in personal capacity?

Posted in LEGISLATURE, PARLIAMENT by NNLRJ INDIA on September 5, 2011
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DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Recent decisions by constitutional heads – rejection of mercy petitions in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case by the President and the Gujarat governor’s decision to appoint Lokayukta – have caused debates both on constitutional and political lines.

The Constitution vests sovereign power in the President and governors. Governance in the Centre and states are carried out in their name. But they do not have unbridled power to decide mercy petitions in exercise of exclusive powers conferred on them under Articles 72 and 161. They have to act in aid and advice of the council of ministers, both at the Union and state levels, as have been held conclusively by the SC. The SC had grudgingly agreed with Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, who had said, “Pardon is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power. It is part of a constitutional scheme. When granted, it is the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.”

So, the President by rejecting the mercy pleas has, on the aid and advice of the Union council of ministers, come to the conclusion that public welfare would not be served by reducing the punishments awarded to the convicts. The Constitution does not provide for any mechanism to question the legality of decisions of President or governors exercising mercy jurisdiction. But the SC in Epuru Sudhakar case has given a small window for judicial review of the pardon powers of President and governors for the purpose of ruling out any arbitrariness.

Now, it is in the process of examining whether there should be a time limit for deciding mercy petitions, which keep pending for years inflicting mental torture on condemned prisoners awaiting their day. The question of the President and governors, conferred with wide powers under the Constitution, acting in their own capacity without consulting the elected government came in for wide discussion in Shamsher Singh case [1975 SCR (1) 814].

A 7-judge constitution bench was amused by the ingenious arguments by a counsel supporting vesting of discretionary powers with President and governors to step around the SC’s consistent view that India has accepted the Cabinet form of government.

The counsel argued – wherever the Constitution has expressly vested powers in the President or the governors, they belong to them alone and cannot be handled on their behalf by ministers under the relevant rules of business. It is similar to the arguments justifying Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal‘s decision to appoint Lokayukta without consulting the chief minister.

The SC had answered this question by saying, “How ambitious and subversive such an interpretation can be to parliamentary (and popular) authority unfolds itself when we survey the wide range of vital powers so enunciated in the Constitution. Indeed, a whole host of such Articles exist in the Constitution, most of them very vital for the daily running of the administration and embracing executive, emergency and legislative powers either of a routine or momentous nature.”Discussing the governors, the court said they had “power to grant pardon or to remit sentence, the power to make appointments including of the chief minister, the advocate general, district judges, members of the public service commission”.

It listed such kind of power vested in the President – supreme commander of the armed forces, appointment of judges of the SC and HCs, power to dismiss a state government under Article 356 and an entire army of public servants who continue in service at the pleasure of the President. If President and governors acted on their own, then parliamentary democracy “will become a dope and national elections a numerical exercise in expensive futility”, the court had warned.

The 7-judge bench said if this was true of Indian Constitution and the system of governance, then “we will be compelled to hold that there are two parallel authorities exercising powers of governance of country, as in the dyarchy days, except Whitehall is substituted by Rashtrapati Bhawan and Raj Bhawan. The Cabinet will shrink in political and administrative authority”.

It said such a distortion “would virtually amount to a subversion of the structure, substance and vitality of our Republic, particularly when we remember that governors are but appointed functionaries and the President himself elected on a limited indirect basis”.

Irrespective of who gets appointed and who gets pardon, let politicians not introduce politics into the constitutional scheme, the thread that keeps the country united. In case of Gujarat, there is a difference- the statute clearly provided that Lokayukta will be appointed by the governor in consultation with the chief justice of the HC. The Modi government can amend the statute, which on Shamsher Singh judgment logic, appears untenable. But as long as it is there, why does the BJP want the Modi government to have primacy in Lokayukta appointment but grandstands for an independent process for Lokpal?

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Mercy-plea-or-Lokayukta-Can-Prez-and-guv-act-in-personal-capacity/articleshow/9866312.cms

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The Lokpal and the CBI

Posted in ACCOUNTABILITY, ANNA HAZARE CAMPAIGN, CORRUPTION, JAN LOKPAL by NNLRJ INDIA on September 5, 2011
JAN LOKPAL BILL

JAN LOKPAL BILL

R K RAGHAVAN IN THE HINDU

The ushering in of a Lokpal should in no way dilute the CBI’s legal authority or operational effectiveness.

It is a happy turn of events that there is, at last, a kind of truce between the Central government and the Anna Hazare Team on the Lokpal issue. Both sides have displayed a measure of maturity that augurs well for the future of public life in India. The stage is now set for some animated but objective discussion of the law that will concretise the idea of a strong ombudsman. It is not enough for the two sides to say that they are for a credible Lokpal. They need to go the extra length to accommodate each other’s sensitivities. Otherwise things will be back to square one. This is why a lot of importance should be attached to the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee scheduled in the next few days.

The Anna Team’s focus is rightly on the status of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the future scheme of things. With all its faults — some real and many imaginary — the CBI is still the best bet to strike at the venality that marks public life in India.

To say that politicians alone are guilty of corruption, an impression given by the Anna Team, is greatly skewed. Civil service misdeeds are equally enormous and cannot be ignored. Take, for instance, the recent arrest of a senior Income Tax Department official who allegedly demanded a sum of Rs.50 lakh to overlook the suppression of unaccounted income by a company. Instances are legion of top officials of enforcement agencies asking for a bribe without any sense of shame or fear. The magnitude of corruption in the Central government departments is mind-boggling, and this is why we first need an effective anti-graft machinery at the Centre, rather than in the States. The corruption in the States could be tackled subsequently. If the Lokpal is unable to cut at the roots of the civil servant-politician nexus in promoting dishonesty, it would have hardly justified its creation.

The ushering in of a Lokpal should in no way dilute the CBI’s legal authority or its operational effectiveness. This should be the starting point for any discussions of the Standing Committee. A former Union Minister, referring to the plea for total autonomy for the CBI from the Executive, asked this writer some time ago as to who exactly the organisation should be answerable to if it wants to be autonomous — particularly when monitoring of all CBI cases by the judiciary was impractical. This query by an otherwise well-meaning public figure summarises the political perspective of the whole issue of the CBI’s autonomy. It reveals the unconcealed desire of the average politician to somehow retain at least a semblance of control over the CBI.

It is generally known that the senior bureaucracy is also not exactly unhappy with the current state of affairs wherein the CBI is under the thumb of the Department of Personnel. Perhaps the most significant move that came in 2003 was the insertion of Section 6A in the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, making it mandatory for the CBI to get prior government permission before it can even proceed with a preliminary enquiry (PE) against an official of and above the rank of Joint Secretary. This was a dubious amendment to the Act, based on the specious ground of saving civil servants from needless harassment by the CBI. But it amounted to deliberate emasculation of an organisation that requires teeth to tackle public servant corruption. The provision has been questioned in judicial forums as violative of the fundamental right of citizens to equality before law. Let us hope that this issue is resolved soon in favour of maintaining the integrity of the public services.

It is against this backdrop that the Anna Team’s demand to bifurcate the CBI, attaching its anti-corruption wing with the proposed Lokpal machinery, should be examined. This is ostensibly in order to remove the organisation from the clutches of the Executive. The rationale is unexceptionable. The practicality of the proposed arrangement is, however, highly debatable.

The CBI does not operate with any watertight compartmentalisation of its numerous wings. No doubt there is a distinct Anti-Corruption Wing functioning at its headquarters. In the field units the distinction is, however, blurred. There is a pooling of resources at all levels when a major case, invariably a sensational conventional crime, is investigated by the CBI at the request of a State government or on the orders of a court. This will no longer be possible if a large chunk of the CBI representing the anti-corruption staff is removed and tagged on to the Lokpal. The current top brass of the organisation are reportedly opposed to such an arrangement, which would deny them the substantial manpower needed for non-anti-corruption work. The CBI’s resources are already quite slender, making it difficult to cope with the nearly 1,000 cases registered by it each year and about 7,000 cases that are on trial.

Following the Vineet Narain judgment (1997) by the Supreme Court, the superintendence of the CBI’s anti-corruption work is with the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). This is a nominal arrangement which has worked reasonably well, because we have had some non-interfering and mature Central Vigilance Commissioners, and an equally responsible and self-effacing CBI leadership. Under an aggressive and egoistic CVC this arrangement could have become untenable. If, however, you want to disturb this stable state of affairs with a view to yielding to the demand of the Anna Team, the whole process of transition will have to be carefully conceived and worked out.

As one who has headed the CBI, I am totally against any dismemberment of the organisation. That would cause more harm than good to the objective of rooting out corruption. If the Lokpal becomes a reality, the most sensible thing to do would be to transfer the existing authority of superintendence of the CBI from the CVC to the Lokpal. Any other arrangement would result in the creation of two separate investigating agencies, namely, the CBI, and the small unit envisaged for the Lokpal. That would lead to confusion and a clash of functions. Along with such empowerment, the Lokpal could be conferred the authority (that currently vests with the government) to sanction the prosecution of public servants. This can be done by suitably amending Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The power enjoyed by the government under Sections 377 and 378 of the CrPC to deny or accord permission to the CBI to go on appeal or prefer a revision petition against the orders of lower courts could also be vested in the Lokpal. It should be remembered that we have been witness to totally political decisions in such matters. Finally, the entire budget allocation for the CBI could be placed at the hands of the Lokpal, so that the CBI enjoys freedom from any tendentious holding up by government of sanctions of money required for its day-to-day running and implementing its long-term projects.

All these suggested moves may be viewed as being too drastic. But, then, without them the CBI will remain tied to the apron strings of the Executive. The former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, must be a disappointed man. His bold judgment in the Vineet Narain case was aimed at insulating the CBI totally from political caprice. If, however, in the public perception this has not materialised, both the organisation’s leadership and the executive will have to bear the cross.

The opportunity that is currently available to improve the image of the CBI through a thoughtful fusing of the agency with the Lokpal should not be frittered away. A lot of magnanimity on the part of the current Executive is called for. At the same time, the role of the media and the citizenry at large in bringing enough pressure for a reform of the system can hardly be overemphasised.

(Dr. R.K. Raghavan is a former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2424159.ece

Justices delayed: SC down, Judge vacancies pile up

Posted in COURTS, JUDICIAL REFORMS, JUDICIARY, JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT by NNLRJ INDIA on September 5, 2011

INDIAN EXPRESS

At a time when the collegium system of appointment of Judges is under attack, the Supreme Court — with over 50,000 cases pending before it — will soon be working at less than 75 per cent of its total sanctioned strength of Judges. By October 15, seven Judges of the apex court will retire, the largest number of retirements in a single year since Independence.

And that’s just the position in the country’s highest court. The biggest court in India, Allahabad High Court, has been functioning with just 62 of its total 160 approved strength of Judges, as reported by The Indian Express (nine more will join tomorrow). The Gujarat HC, with a sanctioned strength of 42, has 18 vacancies; while Punjab and Haryana HC has just 43 Judges, against a sanctioned strength of 68.

In all, data compiled by the government shows, of the total 895 posts of Judges sanctioned in the 21 HCs in the country, only 610 are currently filled — a gap of 285. This year, in fact, saw the highest number of posts falling vacant in HCs in a calendar year since 1990. However, only 41 new appointments have been made so far in 2011.

The subordinate judiciary is not much better placed. Data collected by the Supreme Court says that as of December 31, 2010, out of the sanctioned strength of 17,151 posts in states and Union Territories, 3,170 were vacant, with Bihar (389 vacancies), Gujarat (361), Uttar Pradesh (294) and Maharashtra (234) leading the list.

Even though the Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia has recommended three names — two HC Chief Justices and one Judge of Bombay HC — even if they are able to take oath by October 15, the number of vacancies in the apex court will still be six out of 31.

“Even though at every meeting of chief ministers and Chief Justices, the judiciary is requested to recommended names for elevation to the Bench at least three months before an anticipated vacancy, it is never done. Today, except for the Himachal Pradesh High Court, there is no court that is working at full strength. Though the sanctioned strength of the Jammu and Kashmir HC is 14, the court is functioning with just seven judges. In most cases, the HC collegium has not met even once in the last one year to recommend names,” said a senior government functionary. Sikkim, the country’s smallest court with a sanctioned strength of three judges, has just one judge, who was designated Acting Chief Justice after the resignation of Justice P D Dinakaran last month.

The other HCs with a significant number of vacancies are Andhra Pradesh (16), Bombay (14), Calcutta (14), Rajasthan (13) and Chhattisgarh (12). The highest number of appointments made in a single year was 110 in 2006 when Justice Y K Sabharwal was the CJI and H R Bhardwaj the Union law minister.

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