Constitution of nine-member group of ministers (GoM) by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to recommend an effective anti-graft mechanism and discuss the Lokpal Bill with activist Anna Hazare has not stopped the social activist from expressing his apprehensions over passage of the bill in the desired form.
“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be an honest person but is remote-controlled which might make it difficult to pass the Lokpal Bill,” Hazare said adding that there was a vast difference between the draft of the Lokpal Bill prepared by him and the one by the government.
Even as the GoM was meeting in New Delhi to form a sub-panel of four ministers (Defence Minister AK Antony, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, Law Minister MV Moily and Minister of state for personnel V Narayanswami) to start discussions in last week of March, Hazare was tearing into the UPA government.
“When I discussed the issue with the Prime Minister, he refused to accept all the proposals I had suggested. I then urged him to make some changes from both the sides. The government alone should not formulate the Lokpal Bill and it should be autonomous like court. It is only in such a case that the government would not be able to interfere with its functioning. Organisations like CBI and Central Vigilance Commission should also be covered under the Lokpal Bill,” he said.
Anna Hazare was alluding to his recent meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the Lokpal Bill. He was carrying with him the disconcerting voices of the common men perturbed over the season of scams. Hazare came out much disappointed to hear the ‘honest’ Prime Minister say no to including within the probing ambit of the bill almost every executive including the Prime Minister himself.
The season of scams included alleged theft of billions by officials behind last year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi; $40 billion in revenues lost from the crooked sale of 2G telecoms licences; and over $40 billion stolen in Uttar Pradesh alone from schemes subsidising food and fuel for the poor.
Dismayed over rise of corruption-related petitions by more than 50 per cent, the apex court recently blurted out “what the hell is going on”.
The Supreme Court’s anger reflects growing cynicism among the hapless populace. Appointment of a tainted bureaucrat as anti-corruption chief had already raised eyebrows among the liberal forces. Eventually, he was forced out. But the people had seen Manmohan defend the tainted bureaucrat to his fault. And when it came to share the accountability, Manmohan found in Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan a willing scapegoat.
Graft is hardly new in India. But there seems to be more of it for everyone than ever before. India is getting richer fast. The faster the economy grows, the more chances arise and the more mind-boggling is graft. Foreign businessmen, who have slashed investment over the past year, rank graft as their biggest headache behind appalling infrastructure.
WHO WILL GUARD OUR CONSTITUTIONAL GUARDIANS?
A self-anointed class of politicians has come up in the form of some MLAs, MPs and ministers, who not only feel that they are above the law, but also suffer from the delusion that they are above any system. This is, despite the Supreme Court ruling which says: “However high you may be, the law is above you.”
As the governments in the centre and some states have formed coalitions, the tantrums and demands, however unreasonable and even against the law, are conceded. Even otherwise, the party hopping is not something new, and a favour done for love or money or possible votes in future, may earn dividends many times more.
Delhi Lokayukta recommended the removal of Delhi government PWD Minister for trying to protect a leading resort in a tax evasion case. The order was in a case pertaining to the Minister’s alleged involvement in influencing a team of tax officials to provide relief to the resort in a tax evasion case. In his order, the Lokayukta has recommended to President of India to withdraw her pleasure in allowing the Minister to continue as a Minister in Delhi government.
The Lokayukta has made the recommendation to the President, who is the competent authority to withdraw the pleasure for the Minister to hold office in terms of clause five of Article 239 (AA) of the Constitution of India and Section 12 of Delhi Lokayukta-Uplokayukta Act, 1995. The Lokayukta has also recommended prosecution of the Minister under various sections of Delhi Value Added Tax Act, 2004. When questioned by the media, the Minister said, “I am a public representative. I always try to help people. I may have made the call to help somebody who had requested me for some favour.” He claimed that his order was of recommendatory nature only.
The Lokayukta had taken suo motu action on media reports that VAT Commissioner had written to the Delhi Government saying that a minister had asked him to recall enforcement team from the survey. Morality is simply knowing, what you have right to do and what is right to do. A minister simply taking a defence that a voter or a public man had approached him to save him from a tax raid or survey, can be stretched, theoretically by any Home Minister, that since a public man had approached him to save a person accused of murder or dacoity or rape or pick pocketing, he simply telephoned police to help him as was done in the present case. The Constitution of India guarantees equality of status and opportunities to all and not only to those, who can gain access to the ministers, either for love or for money or for any other reason. This approach resorted to by the Minister is a violation of his oath of secrecy and office and of ensuring equal justice to all.
The rule of law has been reduced to a mockery, where elected politicians think that not only they have the run of the country, but it is within their rights to trample on the system and laws. Another government, that is of Maharashtra, issued an order in January, 2011, asking the police officers not to mention about the recommendations of politicians in criminal matters in their police diaries. It claimed that it is not in the interest of administration of justice.
The decision seems to have been taken after the apex court of the country pulled up the former Maharashtra Chief Minister and now Union Minister for interfering in police investigations in a case involving money lending allegations against his close Congress compatriots. The investigating officer in that particular case is reported to have mentioned the recommendations in police diary and after taking serious note of this the apex court has said that the manner in which the constitutional functionaries behave is extremely shocking. The circular mentions that there have been instances when police officers have mentioned details of their telephonic conversations with the politicians and have sent them to the court adding that no such communication should be mentioned in station diaries henceforth.
In the present case, it was stated that as many as 34 complaints were registered against the MLA and his family till June 28, 2006, but due to the then Chief Minister’s interference, no subsequent cases were registered by the police forcing the distressed farmers to move the high court. The Supreme Court observed in the above case: “It is sad and shocking to see how the government allows and appreciates such ministers. Not only that, it also gives them a cabinet post. It is not a dignified act and I would call it a shameless act…”
Due to vote-bank politics, some politicians make recommendations about criminals. Politicians also use police to fix their opponents giving telephonic directions to cops. Again, Maharashtra Assembly witnessed uproarious scenes and adjournments in March, 2010, as the Opposition protested against the police manhandling an opposition MLA named Jadhav and sought action against the policemen concerned. The MLA and State Home Minister traded charges in the House, with the latter mentioning the previous cases against MLA and alleging that he had assaulted a policewoman after his vehicle was stopped as per the security restrictions, which led to the incident in January. However to buy peace, the government suspended the police officers, as a sacrificial goat.
While quashing the appointment of a former CVC, who no doubt would have pulled very high strings to get the job, the Supreme Court has used the word of institutional integrity, without going into the details of any individual. In our democracy, no government, which is separate from a political party, can go beyond the rule of law. It requires some authority under the law or rules framed and approved by the competent authority. There are no special rights for the ministers or MLAs under any law. But a government made up of a coalition is averse to stick to rule of law. It would rather stick to chair, either by hook or by crook or by use of any means, fair or foul, thus sacrificing governance and rights of the poorest of the poor.
Churchil had this to say during the debate in British Parliament on grant of Indpendence to India, in 1947: “Liberty is man’s birth right. However to give the reins of government to Congress at the juncture is to hand over the destiny of hungry millions into the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread shall escape taxation; only the air will be free and the blood of these hungry millions will be on the head of Mr Atlee. India will be lost in political squabbles…It will take a thousand years for them to enter periphery of philosophy or politics. Today, we hand over the reins of government to men of straw of whom no trace will be found after a few years.”
One hopes that government listens to the prophetic warning of Churchill and tries to prove him wrong.
By Joginder Singh
The writer is former Director, CBI
Till recently, corruption evoked little more than shrug of shoulders. Threshold of tolerance had gone up. After all, corruption does not seem to be stopping India from growing. Now, it has served to break the unspoken truce between the opposition and the ruling regime. Because everyone prospered from spate of scams. Impending assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala may reflect, if at all, a sense of unease among the citizens over corruption taking roots. In spite of usual political noise against corruption, the voters are generally swayed over by cash, caste and communal creeds. The BJP appears to have won a few brownie points though a general election is not due until 2014. By boycotting Parliament, it closed most of the winter session, until it won the inquiry into graft that it had demanded. It had a ripple effect and the press, the courts and street protesters picked up the campaign. The opposition may be hoping to make the 2G scam another Bofors which cost the Congress win in 1989.
Alive to the threat, Singh and his (and Congress’s) boss, Sonia Gandhi, want people to believe that the nation will soon see sweeping reforms (some suggest the reforms could radically change the policy-making process) across the board. These may include state funding for political parties, the removal of discretionary powers abused by politicians and civil servants, and the ratification of a UN corruption convention. There is no cause to believe such statements. Because most are forgotten as soon as they are spoken. But if they want, there are many books from which to take a leaf out of. Bihar is a recent entry to the list of states changing for better. They might do well to look no farther than this state where elected officials and civil servants must now publish a list of all their private assets or fear suspension.
It was, is and, to a great extent, will continue to be a flourishing industry. Nature of the state is the root cause of corruption. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” goes the adage. But more and more people are joining the civil movement against the graft. They are coming to the view that corruption raises costs not just to Indians, but also to the foreigners whose capital India needs. Thanks in part to the recent spate of scandals, India’s stock market was the worst-performing outside the Muslim world over the past year.
According to Hazare, around 60 lakh persons, mostly youngsters, have supported the agitation and shown interest in the movement. Participation of the youth in the fight against corruption has created optimism. “The Prime Minister asked for a time limit on the Lokpal Bill and we decided to wait till April 4. If concrete steps are not taken by then, a country-wide agitation would be launched from April 5,” he said.
It will also help if the agitation brings to senses those at the helm before treasury is thrown open for ambitious development projects. Some mechanisms must be instituted to check the graft before the next five-year plan commences next year. Because about $1 trillion is expected to be spent on roads, railways, ports and so on, with billions more on re-equipping the armed forces and welfare. As ever land, water and minerals will be much scarcer commodities. This all makes for a monsoon of bribes.
Besides RTI, web is helping. There are websites, led by ipaidabribe.com, to reveal the cost of graft by publicising the details of bribe demanded. Some states have even the bids for state contracts being run online so that anti-corruption bodies may keep tab on them. The central government’s scheme to implement a universal, computerised ID would allow welfare payments to be paid into individuals’ bank accounts, eliminating space for state workers.
By Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla