‘Many advantages in Lokpal as a constitutional body’

JAN LOKPAL CAMPAIGN

JAN LOKPAL CAMPAIGN

JUSTICE J S VERMA IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

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.

The writer is a former Chief Justice of India

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/many-advantages-in-lokpal-as-a-constitutional-body/838149/0

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

JAN LOKPAL BILL- ALL PARTY MEETING APPEAL TO SHRI ANNA HAZARE TO END FAST

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Image by vm2827 via Flickr

This meeting of all parties in Parliament requests Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast. The meeting was also of the view that due consideration should be given to the Jan Lokpal Bill so that the Final Draft of the Lokpal Bill provides for a strong and effective Lokpal which is supported by a broad national consensus.

Justice Verma writes to Prime Minister on the Jan Lokpal Bill

JUSTICE J S VERMA IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

I write this letter with some hesitation about a matter of great national significance, succumbing to the constant pressure of many eminent citizens with the background of considerable public service and experience of governance at the highest level. Naturally, they are disturbed as I am, as you must be most of all, by the urgent need to prevent the clear and present danger of the prevailing unrest crossing a Rubicon, by taking steps to end the imbroglio.

As the head of the government, you alone can, and have to, perform this onerous task. With the commitment of “We, the People of India” to a democratic polity, I am sure, the people also clamour for a peaceful solution.

The nation is focused on the urgent need to combat corruption at all levels, which most affects the common man in every aspect of daily life. The demonstration of their anger on the streets is sufficient evidence that remedial measures cannot be delayed. The rule of law, which is the bedrock of democracy, is in peril. No referendum is needed to know that the nation is unanimous on the necessity of taking prompt remedial measures, which is the prime responsibility of the government, to be discharged with the aid of citizens doing their duty. The people’s participatory role in governance is the justification for the public outcry against corruption and the inordinate delay in taking remedial steps.

The prime need of your government, therefore, is to convince the people of the government’s equal commitment on this behalf. This can be done only by you, and none else! The malaise of a lack of political will and an erosion of individual rectitude, which is the foundation of national character, has to be arrested and reversed. This, too, can be done only by you!

Anna Hazare has rendered yeoman national service by mobilising public anger against corruption, and by identifying the causes of the malaise that needs to be cured. The next important step now is to decide on the way forward, and to move in that direction. Not merely curative or punitive, but preventive measures also have to be taken. Obviously, this can be done only in a congenial environment, with the government engaging with all sections of civil society, and donning a thinking cap. It is the government’s responsibility to create this environment by gaining the confidence of all of civil society.

No one has, rightly, doubted that the final act of enacting legislation has to be performed by the legislature; and then the law has to be faithfully implemented by the executive under constant public gaze and judicial scrutiny. This is, undoubtedly, our constitutional scheme, to which everyone is committed.

What is the way forward now, at this stage?

It is unnecessary, in this context, to reiterate my views on some of the contentious issues relating to the jurisdiction of the proposed Lokpal and the contents of the existing drafts of the bill. Substantially, they are already in the public domain. I confine this letter to my suggestions for your consideration about the way forward. These suggestions have crystallised after due reflection, and also consideration of the responses of some equally concerned eminent citizens. These are stated hereafter.

Mr Prime Minister, after your government constituted a joint committee with a few members of the civil society to draft the Lokpal bill, the logical corollary of that decision has to be accepted. This means that the views of the entire civil society must be presented by your government, along with the government’s draft, to Parliament for consideration during the debate on the bill. In an “inclusive” democracy, which undoubtedly our republican democracy is, every section of civil society, and every individual, has a participatory role in governance, including policy-making. The demand of Anna Hazare to send to Parliament the draft bill prepared by his team cannot, therefore, be denied. This I say, notwithstanding my differences with some points in that draft, and the mode of his protest.

This procedure has to be equally applied to the views and drafts of other sections of civil society, including individuals, if any, offering any serious suggestions. I am also of the view that the government needs to hold a few national consultations to give all sections of civil society an opportunity to participate in the exercise by offering their views for due consideration during the debate in Parliament. This exercise must be performed within a reasonable time.

Accordingly, the drafts already prepared by sections of civil society and in the public domain, namely, those by the Anna Hazare team, the Aruna Roy team and the Jayaprakash Narayan team may be presented to Parliament as the first step in this direction, to end the imbroglio. The additional views, offered in national consultations, can follow. This is the logical corollary of your government’s decision to involve civil society in the preparation of the draft Lokpal bill. Having commenced that process, it cannot be arrested midway or after part performance.

May I also suggest, in all humility, that this plan of action (if approved by you) needs to be conveyed by you directly to the nation in a broadcast through the active 24×7 media, which is busy these days disseminating information only on this issue, for its due impact.

The writer is a former Chief Justice of India  express@expressindia.com

JAN LOKPAL BILL : Prime Minister writes to Shri Anna Hazare

Manmohan Singh, current prime minister of India.

Image via Wikipedia

The Prime Minister has written to Shri Anna Hazare on the Lokpal issue. The text of the letter is as follows:

Over the last few days, I have watched with increasing concern the state of your health. Despite the differences between the Government and your team, I do not think that anybody is or should be in any doubt about the deep and abiding concern which I and our Government share about your health, arising from your continuing fast. I have no hesitation in saying that we need your views and actions in the service of the nation, from a robust physical condition and not in the context of frail or failing health.

I have maintained that your and our object is identical viz. to reduce significantly, if not eliminate, the scourge of corruption from this country. At worst, our paths and methodologies may differ, though I do believe that even those differences have been exaggerated. The Government is committed to passing a constitutionally valid and the best possible Lok Pal legislation with inputs from Civil Society with the broadest possible consensus. We are ready to talk to anybody. However, we will have to keep in mind Parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations in matters of legislation. As a Government we respect and are responsible to the Will of the Indian People as represented by Parliament.

As you are aware, the Lok Pal bill is now before a Standing Committee of Parliament. I have made it clear earlier and would like to restate that all options are open before the Standing Committee. Undoubtedly, they would be entitled to consider, in detail and clause by clause, subject to their discretion, not only the Bill introduced by us but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like those prepared by Ms. Aruna Roy. Equally, I do maintain that they are fully entitled to make any changes to the Bill introduced by the Govt. and referred to them. In that view of the matter, the formal non introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill version by the government is irrelevant and would largely boil down to a semantic debate.

Nevertheless, in view of the concern repeatedly expressed by your team that the Jan Lokpal Bill version should be before Parliament, but more particularly and more importantly, in view of my deep and abiding concern for your health, our government is prepared to request the Speaker, Lok Sabha to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill also to the Standing Committee for their holistic consideration along with everything else. Furthermore, if you have any anxieties about time and speed, the Government can formally request the Standing Committee to try, subject to its discretion and the necessity to reflect deeply and spend adequate time on an important Bill, and fast track their deliberations to the extent reasonably feasible.

I would like to say that this letter and each suggestion herein is actuated solely by the twin considerations of deep and genuine concern about your health and the emergence of a strong and effective Lok Pal Act in accordance with established constitutional precept and practice.

I do hope that you will consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality.

Anna Hazare, the Constitution and the Government

Though Gandhi never called himself a Hindu nat...

Image via Wikipedia

V RAGHUNATHAN IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

I wrote in this blog on April 7, 2011 about Anna Hazare, saying, “Perhaps after Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan‘s call for sampoorna kranti, … Anna’s fast may be the next most significant mass movement in modern India yet.” Soon thereafter, when the ruling Government seemed to respond to Anna sensibly and sensitively offering a joint dialogue with and say to the civil society for drafting a suitable Lokpal Bill, one thought it a sagacious gesture on the part of the UPA government and a victory for the maturity of our democracy.

Alas, that hasn’t been the case. Of late, with every single passing day, the ruling polity has come out looking increasingly petty, cussed and vindictive, targeting Anna with every gun that it has at its disposal. It has accused Anna Hazare and his Trust as being “seeped in corruption“.  It is questioning the funding of Anna’s website. It is digging up his ancient army records in the hope of finding something – anything – to chuck at him, hoping something may stick.  It is leaning on the weak spine of the Delhi Police to deny him a place to fast, placing uncalled for and unconstitutional limits of time and the size of crowd .  It is not that our politicians have usually stood so tall that we are surprised at how low they can stoop; but to accuse a simple and straight forward soul like Ana Hazare, who is the first major voice against corruption in independent India to stir the conscience of the nation, dwarfs even their pigmy standards.

In a democracy of a billion people, it is understandable to have a billion different views on the issue of the Lokpal Bill versus Jan-Lokpal Bill.  It is understandable if some think PM should be kept out of the ambit of Lokpal. It is understandable if some think civil society (read Anna Hazare) should be more practical and more patient or yielding in their demand or protest.  It may also be understandable if some think that Anna Hazare’s Satyagraha is not to be compared to Bapu‘s Satyagraha, or even that inarticulate Anna himself is in no way comparable with the suave Mahatma. It is understandable too if some question the somewhat intemperate language deployed by Anna Hazare in his communication to our straight as sphinx-like Prime Minister.  It may be understandable too if a section of the society is apprehensive about the liberties Civil Society seems to be taking with our constitutional mechanism. For that matter, it may also be understandable if some seem to think Anna Hazare to be a greater danger to our Constitution for seeking “extra-constitutional” remedies to cure our sick society of utter, run-away and rampant corruption, than the malaise of corruption itself.  I even came across a very intelligent, articulate and genuinely sensitive young professional who was “entirely against corruption, but who disagreed with Anna Hazare’s methods”, even if he did not have an alternative to suggest.  In his view, one couldn’t be led into a Bush-like stance – “You are either with us (or Anna Hazare) or against us (or Anna Hazare)”. Well, in short, we can understand all these various views in a democracy, and then some.

While we understand all of the above, we must also understand the low-stoop of the senior Congress functionaries in the personal mud-slinging against Anna for what it is — the last-ditch defense of a political class running scared.  And let us not get it wrong. Let us not believe for a moment as if it is only the Congress politicians who are running scared. The reality is that the major opposition, the UPA politicos, have not comported themselves much better on the ground and in the parliament, beyond opportunistic lip service to Anna.  Thus, it may be equally naïve to believe that even a Jana-Lokpal Bill blessed by Anna, shall sail smoothly through the Parliament, as a simple Anna seems to do. But then, Anna does seem to believe that at least in that case the country would know which parties support or do not support the people’s bill, the knowledge of which could decide the fate of the parties at the next hustings.   I, for one, can understand that.

True, participation of “Civil Society” in a parliamentary process is hardly the standard constitutional process in our democracy. The constitutional process provides only for the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary; it provides for no un-elected Civil Society to play a role.  But this is because the constitutional processes are ordinarily supposed to work. When constitutional processes work reasonably, for example, all citizens are genuinely equal before law, ministers and government servants are accountable to people, parliament functions and passes laws to govern the country rather than being in a perennial state of adjournment for one reason or the other, nor does it take over four decades to pass a law against corruption, justice is available to all and speedily, and 60% of the population does not remain bereft of food, education, health and justice due to large-scale corruption six decades after independence. None of these conditions has been made available under our constitutional processes.  The so-called 9% growth is despite these.

These are the reasons why the call of Anna Hazare has stirred the nation’s conscience. Never mind whether public support for Anna is 50%, 85%, 95% or 100%.  Even if Anna were in a minority of one, it stands to reason that given that our constitutional processes worked by the legislature, executive, and the judiciary have failed us in all these decades, the constitutional mechanism is perhaps already in a damaged condition in any case. Bringing in the “Civil Society” is unlikely to do any more damage to it.

Anna Hazare has offered the nation an opportunity which all the constitutional mechanism and its political ‘leadership’ did not give it since independence. If we are smart as a people, we shall seize the opportunity and lend our shoulders in whatever little way we can to him – not for his sake, but for our own.  But if we are not smart, we can continue to debate the issue to shreds while Anna Hazare acts tomorrow.

V Raghunathan is a former academic (professor of finance, IIM, Ahmedabad), a former banker (president, ING Vysya Bank) and currently a corporate CEO. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Bocconi, Milan, Italy, since 1990. Some of his books include “Games Indians play” (Penguin), “Don’t Sprint the Marathon” (Harper Collins) and “The Corruption Conundrum and Other Paradoxes and Dilemmas” (Penguin). He is also a columnist of long standing, with over 450 papers and articles to his credit. He sits on numerous boards and lectures extensively in India and abroad. Collecting old and ancient padlocks is his hobby.

Can Lokpal be investigator, prosecutor, jury and judge?

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRATIMES OF INDIA

Just 70 days ago, the UPA government succumbed to the pressure exerted by Team Anna, which posed as civil society being supported by advocates and actors, ex-babus, bloggers and twitteratti, swamis and social activists. The high decibel show at Jantar Mantar numbed the government’s political and constitutional thinking. Foxed by the red herring of Team Anna’s popularity, the Manmohan Singh government quickly agreed for a joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill only to realise that the taste of the pudding is in its eating. Public placating of Team Anna was easy, but translating their exasperating demands into a bill was legally excruciating.

Though the Congress has now stressed that the government will not succumb to Team Anna’s pressures, the draft prepared by both sides, despite their inherent disagreements, has one thing in common. Representatives of both Team Anna and government have perceived more or less a Lokpal who will investigate, prosecute and then change cloaks to stand as jury and judge. This all-rolled-into-one power centre is abhorrent to any democratic system of governance, which gets its legitimacy from a fair system of justice delivery.

Why did the government first succumb to Team Anna, then criticise it and now question its representatives’ character? Does it reflect the vacillating mindset of the two power centres — the PM and the Congress president? Why did ministers rush to discuss with Team Anna on the one hand while on the other, a senior party leader publicly criticised the move? He also went around saying it was time for a young PM?

Manmohan Singh will celebrate his 80th birthday on September 26 next year. Rahul Gandhi will turn 42 in June 2012. Singh has not contested a Lok Sabha election, a victory in which transforms a candidate into a people’s representative. Rahul has won twice from Amethi. It is difficult to judge Singh’s feelings on the vacate-the-chair talk from within Congress circles when he is perceived to be engaged in finding solutions to the most trying situations, both political and social. But what must be worrying the PM and the entire political class is the confrontational build up between the representatives of people and the ‘civil society’ to garner space in the legislative arena in the name of participatory democracy.

Can self-proclaimed representatives of civil society be recognised as harbingers of new legislative framework when the Constitution recognises only the Parliament and Assemblies as law-makers? In the early 1970s, the famous Keshavananda Bharati case was argued before a 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution. The Indira Gandhi government had argued that a political party enjoying two-thirds support in both Houses of Parliament could delete all provisions.

The bench’s shock and dismay forced the government to mould its arguments, “Though legally, there is no limitation to the amending power, there are bound to be political compulsions which make it impermissible for Parliament to exercise its amending power in a manner unacceptable to the people at large.” The apex court in Keshavananda case [1973 (4) SCC 225] said, “The strength of political reaction is uncertain. It depends upon various factors such as political consciousness of people, their level of education, strength of political organisation in the country, the manner in which mass media is used and finally, the capacity of the government to suppress agitation.

“Hence, people’s will to resist an unwanted amendment cannot be taken into consideration in interpreting the ambit of the amending power. Extra-legal forces work in a different plane.” The SC refused to accept the argument saying it was difficult to fathom the depth and weight of people’s wish when it came to change in law. In the present context, people are exasperated by the level of corruption, but is it their wish to have a all-in-one Lokpal? Are extra-legal forces true reflectors of the people’s wish and will?

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Can-Lokpal-be-investigator-prosecutor-jury-and-judge/articleshow/9007025.cms