‘Genuine movement’

Arun Jaitley

Image via Wikipedia

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN & AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA IN THE FRONTLINE

Interview with Arun Jaitley, BJP leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

THE interventions in the monsoon session of Parliament by Arun Jaitley, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, have been rated as “masterly” by a large number of seasoned Parliament-watchers. During the course of these interventions, which saw him make important observations on the legal and constitutional dimensions of the issues relating to corruption and the Lokpal Bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader also adopted the role of an “in-depth political analyst and visionary” who had cast off the limitations of a “narrow, sectarian politician”. In this interview to Frontline, Jaitley elaborated on these interventions and delineated his understanding of the future course of action on issues such as the Lokpal Bill. Excerpts:

Parliament has conceded three points raised by Team Anna on the Lokpal Bill, and the Standing Committee is going to look at the provisions of the Bill. What will be the broad road map on the issue?

Logically, all issues and viewpoints on which parliamentary consensus was built up after the recent debates will be placed before the Standing Committee. The committee should hold extensive public consultations and come out with a report expeditiously so that the final draft, with amendments, can be approved by the Cabinet. Hopefully, the government will introduce the amended Bill in the winter session.

What is the BJP’s position on the Lokpal issue?

There are two underlying principles that should guide the issue. There should be wide scope for government offices coming under the Lokpal’s jurisdiction. It should be a strong, independent Lokpal. The judiciary should have an alternative mechanism, where I prefer the National Judicial Commission. The appointment mechanisms should be completely independent; not excluding the government, but the government should not be able to be dominate or control it. So it should be an institutional mechanism. And it should be a mechanism where we are able to eventually bring in various other institutions. The institution of Lokpal should follow fair procedures. For instance, we should be able to bring in [under its purview] civil servants who work in state instrumentalities.

The only other factor that should be taken into consideration is that the Lokpal Bill should be consistent with constitutional requirements. There are four areas that need to be stressed in this connection. One, when you deal with the judiciary, you have to keep it independent of the executive. Therefore, the mechanism for the judiciary should be separate and not executive-centric.

Two, the principles of federal polity enshrined in the Constitution should not be affected by the Lokpal Bill. The Centre pressing for Lokayuktas in the States can compromise the federal principles of the Constitution. For instance, can the Centre legislate on a law dealing with State bureaucracy? My prima facie view is that with regard to some criminal law procedures, the Centre can, but not with regard to disciplinary and inquiry procedures against the State bureaucracy. The Centre can at best pass an enabling law under Article 252 of the Constitution [Power of Parliament to legislate for two or more States by consent and adoption of such legislation by any other State] or a model law, but not a binding law. The States will have to do it. Therefore, the fight against corruption should not compromise the federal principles. I have already spoken about the issue to Team Anna.

Three, in relation to the conduct of the Members of Parliament inside the House, the Bill should be consistent with Article 105 of the Constitution [power and privileges of the Houses of Parliament and of the members and committees].

Four, in relation to who takes disciplinary action – those who hold a civil post in the Central and State governments have protection under Article 307; that constitutional protection should not be affected.

Now, having covered all these areas, we can say that the Prime Minister should be covered but we can exclude certain functions; functions predominantly in the areas of public order and national security.

There is a suggestion that the functions of intelligence agencies relating to external affairs should not be covered. These are issues that should be fine-tuned by the Standing Committee.

There are other questions, too. Such as whether the entire bureaucracy should be covered and whether it should be entirely under the Lokpal. I think we would like the entire bureaucracy to be accountable. But the government has said there can be a splitting of functions in which the lower bureaucracy can come under the Central Vigilance Commission. There is a third proposal, that the lower bureaucracy can be put under a CVC, which in turn could be monitored by the Lokpal.

Should MPs be covered? Yes, obviously, but what they say inside the House, protected by the privileges of Article 105, should not be covered. These are issues of workability and accountability, which the Standing Committee can look into keeping the major principles in mind.

I have objected to only one point that is found in both the Bills [the Jan Lokpal and the government’s Bill], that is, the bugging of telephones. This can compromise national security. It violates personal liberty. I hope the Standing Committee will consider this.

The idea of attaching property of those charged with corruption has also raised objections.

There are already laws in some States that address this issue. There is a law of 1945 called Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance. The principle behind attaching property is that you cannot profit out of corruption. The court can attach corrupt money, not an executive authority, and use it for national development. The money should not wither away or you should not be able to dispose of the corrupt money. Proceeds of narcotics and smuggling money are invested in the state. Why not in the case of corrupt money? Bihar has brought this law. Other States are following suit.

There is a view that the BJP has spoken in different voices, especially with regard to the Jan Lokpal Bill.

The positions I have enunciated in Parliament are the party’s positions.

 Several votaries of the Jan Lokpal Bill hold the view that the existing anti-corruption laws are completely faulty and inefficient. Do you agree?

I think to say they are completely faulty may not be correct. They are a bit lax, a bit liberal, and capable of misuse. At times the law works, at times it does not. Seeing the enormity of corruption, you do not see so many people punished. A Lokpal may not be able to eliminate corruption but the fear of the Lokpal and of being tried under a fair mechanism may certainly be some kind of a deterrent.

Do you think this movement has created an unprecedented public sensibility?

I think this movement was genuine. No major parties participated. Sympathisers and workers did join it, but in their capacity as citizens. It was genuinely a citizens’ movement. It had a lot of goodwill. Such kind of consciousness is a positive development in India.

Do you subscribe to the view that such protest methods are symbolic of bypassing representative democracy?

I do not think it is fair to say that they were bypassing [representative democracy]. They were not saying they had the power to legislate, and not Parliament. Yes, they did bring pressure on Parliament. But we should treat them as a pressure group. They have the right to campaign and we have an obligation to listen to them. I think the government did not have a game plan. I have spoken to Team Anna at least three times. And on most issues, I have found its stand to be extremely reasonable, and after a little diversion we have converged on the same opinion. On the question of excluding certain functions of the Prime Minister, we are of the same view. Regarding the judiciary, we are of the same opinion also.

 There is a feeling in many quarters that the political class as a whole has lost the moral authority in the context of the movement.

I do not think this is fair. You see, there is a campaign against the political class. The campaign is also against Parliament. I still believe that there are still a large number of good and honest people in various political parties. There are aberrations also. But there is still a space for decency and ethics in politics and that space is being encouraged by such strong public opinion. There is no reason to be cynical. But if you pick up each one of the debates in Parliament in this session, I can tell you some of the debates have been exemplary. For instance, if you see the debate on the day Anna Hazare was arrested, or on the Lokpal Bill, or the impeachment debate, the quality has been very good. The fact is that if private television channels feel that the debates are bringing them TRPs and they cut out to Parliament for speeches, that itself means that people are interested. The stronger the public opinion, the more the viewership of parliamentary speeches, both in the electronic and the print media.

Provocative statements are being made against Parliament. We must not be vindictive in our actions even then. We should not make angry reactions or get provoked. What we do on the issues will be our response to the people. Even without this movement, States such as Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have brought out Citizens’ Charters. This is a significant response and this is the way it should be.

http://www.frontline.in/stories/20110923281901400.htm

Advertisements

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

TIME TO MAKE A START

Thirteen ways to cleanse the system

RAMACHANDRA GUHA IN THE TELEGRAPH

In an article published 50 years ago, the great Indian democrat, Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari, deplored “the unconscionable and grievous expenditure on elections, which gives overwhelming advantage to money-power.” Rajaji argued that “elections now are largely, so to say, private enterprise, whereas this is the one thing that should be first nationalized.” Towards this end, he recommended that the government issue voter cards, take votes not at fixed destinations but at mobile booths that went from home to home and hamlet to hamlet, and provide State funding to parties and contestants.

In the decades since Rajaji wrote, money-power has become even more pervasive and influential. A candidate for Parliament requires crores of rupees to fight an election. These costs are obtained through party funds, which rest not (as they should) on membership fees and small voluntary donations, but on commissions creamed off government contracts, and on bribes given by industrialists to whom the parties have granted favours. The funds provided to (or gathered by) contestants are then used to seek to bribe voters. The money spent in fighting elections is recovered many-fold in case the party or contestant wins.

In Rajaji’s time, a minority of politicians (perhaps 20 per cent or so) were corrupt. And virtually none were criminals. Now, certainly less than 20 per cent of politicians in power are completely honest; and somewhat more than 20 per cent have criminal records. That said, the electoral system itself is relatively transparent. Sterling work by successive election commissioners — such as T.N. Seshan, J.M. Lyngdoh, N. Gopalaswami and S.Y. Quraishi — have largely put an end to the practice, widespread in the 1970s and 1980s, of capturing booths, doctoring ballot papers and ensuring that those who were not likely to vote in your favour were kept away from the electoral process. Also on the positive side, voter turnout remains high, far higher, in fact, than in older and otherwise more mature democracies. Besides, the poor vote in larger numbers than the middle-class and the rich.

Indian elections, then, are by no means a farce; but they are surely in need of reform. They need to be made independent of money-power, and less captive to the interests of crooks and criminals. Recognizing this, the ministry of law and the Election Commission have been holding a series of meetings in different parts of India, soliciting views on how best to reform the electoral system. Asked to speak at the meeting in Bangalore, I took as my manifesto (the word is inescapable) a submission prepared by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a remarkable organization that has single-handedly made electoral malpractice and the criminalization of politics topics of national debate. (It was a public interest litigation filed by the founding members of the ADR that resulted in a Supreme Court judgment making mandatory the declaration of assets and criminal records of all those seeking to contest assembly and parliamentary elections.)

The note submitted by the ADR to the ministry of law and the Election Commission makes 27 recommendations in all. These are listed in detail on the ADR website. I will here highlight 13 recommendations, which I shall divide into two categories — those that are immediately practicable, and can be put in place at once; and those that are highly desirable, and can perhaps be tested first in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and then implemented in subsequent parliamentary and assembly elections.

The seven proposals made by the ADR that can be implemented with immediate effect are:

1. Barring criminals from politics: A person charged with serious offences like murder, rape, kidnapping, or extortion, against whom charges have been framed by the police or the courts and which are punishable by sentences exceeding two years’ imprisonment should be prohibited from contesting elections. To prevent vendetta by political opponents, the law can specify that such action will be taken only if the case and charges were filed six or perhaps even nine months before the date of the election which the person wishes to contest;

2. Sources of income: Along with the declaration of assets and liabilities (now mandatory), candidates for state and national elections should also make public their yearly income and its sources;

3. Appointments of election commissioners: At the national level, this should be done by a multi-party committee consisting of the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. Likewise, state election commissioners should be chosen by a committee comprising the chief minister, the leader of the Opposition, the assembly Speaker, and the chief justice of the relevant high court. Further, to obviate bias and harassment, the chief election commissioner of the state should be a person from outside the state cadre;

4. Provision for negative voting: The electronic voting machines, while listing the names and affiliations of candidates, should have, as a final option, ‘None of the above’;

5. Bar on post-retirement jobs: All election commissioners should be barred from accepting government posts of any kind for a period of five years after their retirement, and from joining a political party for a further five years;

6. Financial transparency: It should be made mandatory for political parties to declare accounts annually, indicating their sources of funding, patterns of expenditure, etc;

7. Curbs on publicity at public expense: Six months prior to the expiry of the House, the government should be forbidden from taking out advertisements in the media trumpeting their achievements (real or imagined);

Six further proposals made by the ADR, which can be made operational in the next few years are:

1. The winning margin of candidates should be at least one vote more than 50 per cent of those cast. If no candidate gets a majority of votes, then the two top candidates in a constituency can ‘run-off’ against one another;

2. Elections should be funded by the state. The mechanics of this process have to be carefully worked out, to establish how much money is allocated to state parties, how much to national parties, how much to independent candidates, etc. But surely a committee composed of a selection of India’s many world-class economists can work out a formula that is both efficient and equitable;

3. The internal reform of political parties such that they have (a) regular elections (based on secret ballots); (b) term limits for office bearers;

4. The classification of political parties as public authorities, so that their finances and other activities come under the provision of the Right to Information Act;

5. The prompt detection of those who bribe voters with gifts of alcohol, televisions, etc., and their punishment by having their candidacy set aside;

6. The provision of annual reports to constituents by MPs and MLAs.

In recent months, the issue of political corruption has dominated the headlines — from the Commonwealth Games through the 2G scandal and the mining and real estate scams on to the controversy over the lok pal bill. Public discussion has been high on indignation and low on constructive proposals for reform. The document prepared by the ADR is an excellent starting point to move the debate from rhetoric to substance, from talk to action. For, to cleanse the election system is to cleanse the political class, and, thereby, the process of governance itself.

ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110604/jsp/opinion/story_14054369.jsp

Jan Lokpal: an alternative view

K.N. Panikkar  IN THE HINDU

Given the scale of corruption in India, the constitution of a Jan Lokpal will be a welcome initiative. But the proposed Lokpal has the makings of a super-monster.

After 42 years of hesitation and uncertainty, an institutional mechanism to deal with the all-pervasive incidence of corruption in India is in sight. What apparently moved the state machinery was the agitation spearheaded by Anna Hazare, which drew spontaneous support primarily in the metropolitan cities. Within five days of Anna Hazare starting a ‘fast unto death’ at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, the Government of India conceded his demand to constitute a committee to draft a bill to establish the institution of a Lokpal at the Centre.

This was quite different from the past practices of the Indian state. Remember Potti Sriramulu, who at the end of a prolonged fast sacrificed his life for the formation of Andhra Pradesh. And Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger strike for more than 10 years, demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Nevertheless, the developments leading to the constitution of the committee to draft a Lokpal bill, and the provisions of the draft bill, raise fundamental questions about the working of Indian democracy. Some of these questions demand urgent attention before a bill is piloted in Parliament.

In the matter of deciding the composition and the terms of reference of the committee, Anna Hazare appears to have exercised decisive influence. He chose the “representatives of civil society” and the government accepted his suggestions. The committee consists of five “representatives of civil society,” and five Union Ministers representing the government. Welcoming the initiative, the Prime Minister has said that the “coming together of the government and civil society is a step that augurs well for democracy.” But it should be apparent that no democratic principle was followed in the constitution of the committee. The civil society representatives were handpicked by Anna, and the government nominees do not reflect the diverse political opinion that is represented in Parliament.

A Magsaysay award winner, Anna Hazare brought to the movement against corruption his considerable reputation and the moral strength derived from his social work in a village in Maharashtra, Ralegan Siddhi. But the methods he has adopted to press his demand have raised eyebrows. Many people believe that the hunger strike he undertook and the ultimatum he served were coercive in nature and have no place in a democracy. The attempt made by some of his followers to equate him with Gandhiji need not be taken seriously, as neither his ideas nor his methods justify such a claim. Nevertheless, his Gandhian credentials have earned him recognition from the state and civil society. Although he claims to be apolitical, he entertains a deep distrust of politics and politicians.

Paradoxically, he has sought the help of the political system to deal with the malaise of corruption. If he had chosen the moral path, he would have addressed the social conditions that made corruption possible. Yet, supported by a few civil society activists and projected by a section of the English media as a saviour of the nation, Anna acquired a larger-than-life stature that appeared to have punctured the government’s self-assurance.

His agitation has been lionised by some people as a second freedom struggle. But it appears to have escaped general notice that “the assertion of a few to represent the majority” without any representative character is essentially anti-democratic. The emotional, even unthinking, support that Anna Hazare commanded is understandable, given the widespread corruption indulged in by the political elite and the bureaucracy.

However, it is the timing of the agitation rather than the moral content of the campaign that accounts for the popular response. The neo-liberal policies pursued by the ruling elite had opened up the possibility of corruption in the massive transfer of public assets and the promotion of corporate interests through political patronage. Both the National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the United Progressive Alliance under the leadership of the Congress were bedfellows in promoting privatisation and inviting foreign capital to modernise India. The unprecedented levels of corruption in recent times are a concomitant of the economic conditions created by liberalisation.

Corruption is a complex issue that is embedded in bureaucratic rigidity and issues of economic access and political power. In this sense, the state is the main promoter of corruption. It cannot be reduced to a question of morality alone, nor can a solution be found by punishing individuals as a deterrent. Such a solution, however, will be most welcome to the state and its functionaries, and even to the liberal intelligentsia. It appears that corruption is a great unifier. For Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption platform attracted the former police officer Kiran Bedi and Arya Samaj leader Swami Agnivesh, along with communalists like Ram Madhav and religious entrepreneurs such as Baba Ramdev and Sri Ravi Shankar on the same platform. Not only were communalists and rightwing elements part of his entourage, but Anna extended his ‘blessings’ to the likes of Narendra Modi by praising the Gujarat model of development, ignoring in the process the moral problem that is so dear to his heart.

It is tragic that a person who believes that morality is neutral is being celebrated as the ‘saviour’ of the nation in some quarters, including the government. But the state’s favorable demeanour towards Anna is not surprising. So long as Anna Hazare, or for that matter anybody else, does not raise systemic and institutional issues, and only champions reformist measures, the state will have no problem in promoting them. In fact, the state’s attempt will be to ‘instrumentalise’ them.

As a result, Anna Hazare and his committee may end up as apologists for the state-run machinery of corruption. For it is not the absence of law that prevents action against the guilty, but the absence of a political will to do so. For a crisis-ridden government, the periodic appearance of the likes of Anna Hazare, and their reformist agendas, are safety valves. The government functionaries who are sharing the table with Anna now may help create another fortress around the beleaguered state.

The committee that was quickly constituted on the basis of mutual consent between Anna and the government has started its deliberations. More than one draft bill was presented at its first meeting, and therefore it is premature to discuss the provisions. Yet, there are some visible directions. Anna Hazare’s authoritarian approach to social problems, as is evident in the social ambience created in Ralegan Siddhi, and the principle of centralisation of authority that the state follows (in the matter of the National Council for Higher Education and Research Bill, for instance) find a common resonance in the drafts. They envision the Lokpal functioning in a social vacuum as a super-judicial authority, undermining the existing judicial system — which, all said and done, has withstood the pressures and preserved the rights of citizens. There is nothing in the draft to suggest that the Lokpal will bring to bear a greater sense of transparency and accountability of the system than what the existing institutions have so far achieved.

The aim of the bill is not to prevent corruption but to punish the corrupt. In this respect, the draft does not provide an approach that is qualitatively different from that of the existing institutions of the state. Only when a transparent system is put in place will the prevention of corruption become possible. Social audit does not necessarily create such transparency. The process of decision-making has to be fundamentally altered in order to ensure transparency. The targets should be the conditions that make corruption possible; that requires a complete overhauling of the existing mode of government management.

Given the scale and influence of corruption in India, the constitution of a Jan Lokpal will be a welcome initiative. But the proposed Lokpal has the makings of a super-monster. By absorbing all existing anti-corruption agencies, the Lokpal will have complete powers of independent investigation and prosecution. It will be an institution with overriding powers — but without any accountability. As such, it goes against all norms of democratic functioning. If the Jan Lokpal is to live up to its jan character, its authoritarian and centralised structure should be dispensed with and it should be turned into an instrument of people’s empowerment. A beginning towards this end should be made at the formative stage itself by sending the draft bill to every panchayat for discussion, so that nation’s conscience is truly aroused.

(Dr. K.N. Panikkar, a former Professor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, is at knpanikkar @gmail.com)

http://www.hindu.com/2011/04/20/stories/2011042054561000.htm

Threshold Population to Determine Status of Minority

Parliament building in New Delhi (Sansad Bhava...

Image via Wikipedia

LAW RESOURCE INDIA NEWS

The Government has said that no policy regarding threshold percentage of population beyond which a community can no longer be called a religious minority has been laid down. Giving this information in written reply to a question in the Parliament recently, the Minister for Minority Affairs, Shri Salman Khurshid said that the provision for declaration of a religious minority community is provided under Section 2 (c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. Under this provision the Government of India, Ministry of Welfare vide a Gazette notification dated 23.10.1993 had declared five communities as Minority Communities which are as under:

(1) Muslims
(2) Christians
(3) Sikhs
(4) Buddhists
(5) Parsis (Zoroastrians)

Shri Khurshid informed the House that Supreme Court in the case of T.M.A Pai Foundation Vs. State of Karnataka, reported in AIR 2003 SC-2003, had laid down that for the purpose of determining a minority, the unit will be State and not whole of India. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in CA No.4370/99 (Bal Patil & Another Vrs Union of India) held, inter alia, that statistical data showing that a community is numerically a minority cannot be the sole criterion; the declaration as minority has to be done on consideration of social, cultural and religious condition of that community. A review petition filed by Shri Bal Patil was considered by the Supreme Court on July 9, 2010 and referred to a larger bench and is pending before the Supreme Court for final hearing.

Undermining Parliament won’t do

Indian Parliament Building Delhi India

Image via Wikipedia

A TRIBUNE CHANDIGARH SPECIAL

Neither the Opposition nor the Government has the right to disrupt the session over any issue, says Subhash C. Kashyap

in recent weeks, we have witnessed so many scandals in high places to the tune of lakhs of crores of public money that we must bow our heads in shame. Disturbingly, the 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh Society and the Niira Radia tapes reveal only the tip of the iceberg. Much more is hidden below the surface.

Parliament, as the supreme representative institution of the people, ought to take serious note of the challenges to our polity posed by the giant scamsters. Members rising above party lines should have deliberated upon ways to quickly identify and punish the guilty and devise systemic reforms to prevent recurrence of such scams.

From day one, the winter session of Parliament has been rendered dysfunctional. The only business it transacted during three weeks was a sham and a disgrace. Supplementary Demands and Appropriation Bills for thousands of crores were passed without any debate by a voice vote amid din. There could be no better evidence of the low levels to which the MPs’ respect for Parliament and public money has descended. The basic issues of large-scale corruption have receded to the backstage and much of the focus is on the long logjam.

The Opposition members were united in demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) for examining the three big scams. They are firm on disrupting Parliament unless this was agreed to. The government is equally firm on its stand that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is the appropriate forum for deliberating on financial accounts and the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG). In any case, all matters could be discussed in Parliament. The government also offered a CBI probe under the Supreme Court’s supervision.

The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs says that the JPC demand is purely political and illogical. First, if the demand is political, its rejection by the government was equally so. Secondly, Parliament is primarily a political institution meant inter alia for debating political issues. ‘Political’ cannot mean unreasonable or illegitimate. Thirdly, there were compulsions of coalition politics. Some problems arose when for government formation in case of a hung Lok Sabha, a price had to be paid to coalition partners/ supporters, bargains had to be struck and the price demanded had to be paid in the form of creamy portfolios like Telecom.

In such a situation, corruption is inbuilt in government formation. It was known to the Prime Minister and others. It was understood and accepted as unavoidable in the best interests of power polities. Even former Telecom Minister A. Raja’s resignation became possible only after counter pressure and promise of support from a rival provincial satrap.

The Opposition felt that the JPC canvas could be vast while PAC probe would be limited in nature and the Ministers could not be summoned before it. As for the CBI inquiry under the Supreme Court, it was very legitimately wondered how the government could make such an offer or interfere with juridical functions and court’s discretion.

The Opposition asked what was so sinister about demanding a JPC probe. After all, during the NDA regime in 2001, a JPC was quickly conceded by the Prime Minister to probe the Stock Market Crash Scam and related issues. Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, P. Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh as also the Finance Secretary appeared before the JPC. A report was made and its recommendations were largely accepted.

The Opposition disowned responsibility for making Parliament dysfunctional. It asserted that it was the government’s job to make Parliament function. But, as a logical conclusion, it would mean the use of disciplinary powers of the Presiding Officers and the Houses and suspension of members obstructing the proceedings and committing breach of parliamentary privilege and contempt of the Houses.

All the efforts made by the troubleshooters and party managers at all-party luncheon meetings have failed to break the deadlock and evolve a compromise. This was a clear failure of political and floor management skills of the government. The Speaker’s last ditch effort, too, failed.

Clearly, both the government and the Opposition are equally responsible for the ugly impasse. There was an unnecessary, illegitimate and irrational tug of war in the name of the people. But the people are nowhere in the picture. As usual, on both sides, political considerations and calculations of gain and loss have the upper hand. Perhaps, there is an unsaid long-term political concern before the government and the Opposition. Both are eyeing the 2014 general elections. The Opposition would like to drag the matter on through the JPC device and the Congress feared a repeat of what happened to it after the JPC on Bofors.

The people are appalled and dismayed at the shameful levels and reach of corruption involving the UPA-II government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and advised by the all powerful National Advisory Council. But the Opposition has done precious little to explain to ‘we, the people’ why it insisted on disrupting the proceedings of both Houses. The government also has failed to convince the concerned citizens about the justification, if any, for its unrelenting opposition to conceding the near-unanimous Opposition demand. It is also feared that deliberate dilly dallying on the JPC demand would help one to fudge records and buy and manage evidence. As Parliament has been paralysed, some of the talking was being done through blogs or television channels. The people needed to be informed about parliamentary processes, relevance and respective merits of parliamentary committees. Friends from the media kept enquiring this writer about the difference between a JPC and PAC.

It would have been better to use Parliament to talk to the people and educate them through debates about the arguments of both sides. The Opposition leaders could place all the facts and arguments most forcefully and plead for the appointment of a Joint Committee of the two Houses. The government side could also justify its stand. The people could then form their opinion though in a parliamentary system while the Opposition has the right to have its say, the government, so long as it is in majority, has its way.

Parliament is the chief communication link between the government and the people. Close contact and an intimate rapport between the two is the quintessence of parliamentary democracy. Parliament belongs to the people and not to MPs or parties. People must have access to Parliament. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous disconnect between the two. Things get worse when both Houses do not function and are shut against the people.

If the Opposition was anxious to question the Prime Minister and nail his responsibility, the Lok Sabha was the more effective and legitimate forum than a JPC. However, in a JPC, proceedings are in camera. Interestingly, the nomenclature JPC finds no mention in any constitutional or legal provisions or in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the two Houses of Parliament. The term gained currency during and after the inquiry into the Bofors scandal in 1987.

The device of parliamentary committees is intended to assist the Houses of Parliament in the efficient discharge of their functions. There are two types of Parliamentary Committees in India: Standing Committees and Ad hoc Committees. Standing Committees are constituted by the House or the Speaker every year or from time to time and are permanent in nature. Ad hoc Committees are appointed for a specific purpose.

Standing Committees include the Financial Committees and Departmentally Related Committees. Ad hoc committees may be Select or Joint Committees or those constituted to report on specific matters. A committee which consists of members of both Houses is a Joint Committee. The Standing Financial Committee called the Public Accounts Committee is also a joint committee inasmuch as the Rajya Sabha MPs are also associated with it. All the Departmentally Related Standing Committees are Joint Committees.

Both Houses of Parliament have inherent powers to appoint special committees under special circumstances to examine and inquire into specific issues and report to the Houses. Apart from the Standing Committees, Ad hoc joint committees of both Houses have been constituted from time to time on various matters. Technically, these were JPCs. It is, therefore, not correct to say that the JPC on Bofors was the first JPC or that there have been only four JPCs so far. Also, it is incorrect to say that the four JPCs were total failures. A committee can only inquire and make recommendations. It is for Parliament to discuss them and for the government to accept them and take appropriate action.

After Bofors, the nomenclature JPC has in practice come to connote an ad hoc joint committee of both Houses formed for inquiring into a specific scandal of financial wrong doing. A distinctive feature of such committees is their investigatory role. Of the oft-cited four such investigative committees in the past, the first was in 1987 on the Bofors scandal. After crusading for it and blocking Parliament for long, the Opposition boycotted the JPC on the ground that it was packed by Congress members. Even though the Opposition boycotted the JPC on Bofors, its inquiry led to mass resignation of Opposition members and ultimately the change of the government. The Union Cabinet itself was split with V.P. Singh putting himself up as an anti-corruption Messiah.

The second JPC was formed in 1992 to investigate the Securities Stock Scam involving Harshad Mehta and other brokers. Parliament was largely paralysed for two weeks before the JPC was conceded. The third was set up in 2001 to investigate the Shares scam involving Ketan Parekh, banks and corporate Houses. From March 13, 2001, Parliament was paralysed for nine days after the Tehelka expose. In April, after another week of adjournments, the Opposition Congress demanded a JPC. On the issue of irregularities in defence purchases during the Kargil conflict, it again demanded a JPC. These demands were rejected. The political parties demand JPC when in the opposition and oppose it when in the government.

A joint committee may be appointed on a motion adopted by the two Houses and may contain the names of its members. It may also be appointed by the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha after mutual consultation. Members of some Standing Committees including the Public Accounts Committee are elected according to the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. This may be so even in the case of some ad hoc committees. But even if the committees are constituted by the presiding officers, proportional representation of parties is kept in view and the numbers in committees represent the party position in the Houses, i.e. by and large the ruling party or parties remain in majority in the committees as well. In case of the PAC, by convention, the Chairman has been from the Opposition since 1967.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India is an independent audit agency. To the extent that the executive is accountable to Parliament in financial maters, the CAG works as the watchdog on behalf of Parliament. Parliament’s effective functioning depends largely on the CAG’s assistance who is considered its friend and guide.

In the present case, the CAG had done his job and his report was laid before the two Houses. It had unearthed a major scam and pointed out blatant and substantial irregularities causing a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the public exchequer. Without a public and transparent auction, the 2G spectrum licences were given away to companies with doubtful credentials in 2008 at throwaway prices by former Telecom Minister A. Raja. Two companies which had bought the licences for Rs 1500 and Rs 1600 crore, after a few weeks, sold their stakes for Rs 12,000 crore!

In parliamentary committees, the effort always is to function on non-party lines. Decisions are taken unanimously or by consensus but the rules provide for all questions at any sitting of a committee being taken “by a majority of votes of the members present and voting.” On crucial issues involving party susceptibilities, therefore, it would not be easy for the Opposition to have its way against the government. It may be, therefore, wrong for the Opposition to believe that they would be able to compel the presence of the Prime Minister or other Ministers before the JPC. The majority in the committee may overrule such suggestions. Also, under the rules, the question may be “referred to the Speaker whose decision shall be final.”

In the PAC, a minister is not called before it to give evidence or for consultation in connection with the examination of accounts. A minister may appear before it if the Chairman agrees. Also it can be so arranged between the Speaker, the Committee Chairman and the minister concerned that he appears on his own.

If the Opposition can be convinced that it should not appear to be stalling the proceedings of the House and the government realises that it need not be seen as avoiding inquiry, there may be a way out of the present impasse whereby the concerned ministers and even the Prime Minister may appear before the PAC. The committee can also go beyond the CAG report and take suo motu notice of allied issues. This would only require an initiative and a promise from the Prime Minister himself.

The Opposition had a golden opportunity to draw maximum political advantage by providing good leadership, clean citizen-friendly governance and inclusive politics. They could make corruption a major issue and launch a massive campaign against it through speeches in Parliament instead of disrupting it and sipping coffee in the Central Hall.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has asked the CBI counsel not to beat about the bush when illegality was prima facie evident. It has castigated the CBI for tardy investigation and asked why Mr A. Raja and then Telecom Secretary P.J. Thomas (currently the Chief Vigilance Commissioner) have not been questioned. It has also questioned the legitimacy of Mr Thomas’ appointment on the ground of pending charges against him and his controversial role as Telecom Secretary.

The saddest part of the current debate in the media and among the pro-establishment pseudo-liberal intellectuals is that there is no willingness to call a spade a spade and condemn wrong doing. Cheating by those in power is countered and defended by pointing fingers at similar cheating by the Opposition parties when they were in power. Party ‘A’ accuses Party ‘B’ of swindling public money and vice versa. The blame game continues while the losers are we, the aam admi.

The Opposition pressure, the Supreme Court’s observations and the public outcry against corruption are beginning to impact the government inasmuch as notices have at last been issued to companies asking them why their 2G spectrum licences should not be cancelled. If Mr Thomas doesn’t quit voluntarily, there may be a strong case for seeking annulment of his appointment as mala fide and ab initio illegal and void.

The ultimate question is whether the political class — the largest beneficiaries of corruption — has at last realised that enough is enough and the people won’t accept the sordid state of affairs anymore.

The writer, a noted constitutional expert, is a former Secretary-General, Lok Sabha

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20101205/edit.htm#1

‘I feel let down’

A FRONTLINE INTERVIEW

Santosh Hegde: “I will continue the investigation.”

JUSTICE N. Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, was appointed the Lokayukta (ombudsman) for Karnataka in 2006. In a report presented to the State’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in 2008, he exposed major irregularities in iron ore mining in Bellary district. Hegde feels if the Lokayukta institution is “given some extra powers like prosecuting without sanction through very special courts, then it can deal with cases of corruption in six months’ time”. Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline:

Has corruption increased?

Certainly. It has increased very much. Not only the number of corrupt people but also in the quantum demanded has gone up.

What do you attribute this rise in corruption to?

I feel it is the greed of the people who are involved in these practices. Today, hundreds of crores of rupees has no value. Take, for example, the siphoning off of money in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games. It is about Rs.70,000 crore. Take the 2G spectrum scam, the figure cited is Rs.1,76,000 crore. The amount involved in the Bofors scam was only Rs.63 crore. When we compare these figures and look at the few years in which corruption has grown, I feel not only the opportunity but also the demand for corruption has risen. Obviously, the people who bribe also have the capacity to give that much money. Consequently, they will have to suck it out of somebody. And ultimately, the [adverse] effect is on the common man.

What is the relevance of the Lokayukta in such a situation?

Maybe without the Lokayukta the quantum [of corruption] might have been more because it would have been unhindered. Anti-corruption bodies have been there for several decades but they have not been a deterrent. If the Lokayukta is given some extra powers, like the power to prosecute without sanction through very special courts (I’m placing an emphasis on ‘very’ because the special courts that we have now take seven to eight years to deal with cases), then it can deal with cases of corruption in six months’ time. The rate of corruption will come down immediately by about 35-40 per cent.

Have you sought such prosecuting powers?

I have not made any demand because if such powers are given, it should be through an all-India enactment. Changes should be made to procedural law.

After you withdrew your resignation earlier this year, some of your powers were enhanced.

Half of one. I had asked for many.

What were your demands?

I wanted power suo motu to inquire, without any complaint, against higher officers and politicians. They [the Karnataka government] gave me the power only to act against the higher officers but not against politicians. Some of my other demands, such as doing away with sanctions, were also not met.

Then why did you withdraw your resignation?

I was promised that my powers would be extended. The Chief Minister, in the presence of BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Law Minister Suresh Kumar, promised to meet my demands.

Do you feel cheated in some way?

I feel let down. I will not use the word cheated. Some people asked me why I didn’t resign again. I said it would look juvenile and people would lose faith in the kind of work I do.

When you resigned, there was a lot of public support for you. You are perceived to be the people’s guardian. What do you have to say about this role? Are you living up to people’s expectations?

I think I am going by the number of invitations I get to address students in schools and colleges and employees of information technology firms. I have addressed students of 187 schools and colleges on building a value-based society and on the true meaning of satisfaction and contentment. I receive invitations from almost all the Central government institutions during their annual Vigilance Week.

So, although your powers are curtailed your role is recognised by society.

Yes, I think I agree with that statement even if it sounds like self-praise. There is also the poorer class which admires my work and that is not because of our anti-corruption work. The object of this institution is to ensure good governance. Wherever people face bad governance or are denied justice, they come to us.

Moving on to a sore point, you were hurt by the actions of the government with regard to the illegal mining issue. Even after the publication of your report no action was taken against the illegal miners who operate freely within the government. In a way, they have openly challenged you. How do you feel about it?

It does not make me feel happy but I will not be cowed down. I must continue my fight. If I cannot reach them [the illegal mining barons], let me at least help those who are in trouble because of other issues. However, I am quite confident that we will reach them. I have got an inquiry going on. The last part of the report will be completed much before my retirement, and I’m sure we will be able to catch some big fish.

What are the salient points of the affidavit filed by the Janata Dal (Secular) with the Lokayukta on November 18?

It says the Chief Minister [B.S. Yeddyurappa] does not have the authority to denotify the lands and that he has not followed the rules. It also says the denotification was not done in good faith but with a corrupt intention, to help his kith and kin. That is their main concern. I have read the complaint and we have taken cognisance of the complaint. The judicial officer scrutinised the complaint on November 20 and I signed [approved] it today [November 23].

Now that the Chief Minister has ordered a judicial probe, can the Lokayukta still continue the investigation?

According to me, yes, because any pending matter, if it has to be transferred from one investigative agency to another under the Lokayukta Act, will need the prior concurrence of the Lokayukta.

And this has not been taken?

No, I was not taken into confidence. No one discussed this issue with me. I came to know through the media.

So you will continue with your investigation.

Yes, my investigation is going on – the legal aspect of it. Prima facie I don’t think they [the Chief Minister’s family] could have done that. But I will continue the investigation.

What is the status of the investigation into the alleged involvement of Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu in a land scam?

That case is almost ready and they [the accused] will be charge-sheeted in a week or 10 days. The charge sheet was ready for filing a few days ago but we discovered some relevant evidence connected with the investigation. We will file a comprehensive charge sheet as far as this part is concerned.

So there is clear evidence to demonstrate his culpability?

As an investigative agency, my police are clear that there was wrongdoing. Not only rules under the Prevention of Corruption Act were flouted but also offences under the Indian Penal Code, such as forgery, threat and bodily harm, were committed.

At this stage can you comment on the allegations against the Chief Minister?

No, no. I have not seen the orders of the denotification. These need to be studied in detail before I can comment.

Do you think the Central government is doing enough to check corruption?

No, I do not think so. We have had a Prevention of Corruption Act since 1947. A special law is enacted only when a particular crime cannot be handled by a regular law. Obviously, corruption was recognised as a crime serious enough to merit a special law. But what happened in December 2008 when the government tried to denude this law of some of its important sections that were helpful to the investigating agencies? Corruption has become an all-India phenomenon and is all-pervasive. I am reminded of a judgment of the Allahabad High Court by Justice A.N. Mulla, who said, “In a basket full of stinking fish, I can’t pick one and say this one stinks when the whole lot stinks.”

http://www.frontlineonnet.com/stories/20101217272502700.htm