Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Why exclude eminent lawyers and members of civil society of probity and wide experience. The Indian judiciary has most often done us proud but a distinction must be drawn between acting judiciously and judicially. Many commissions of inquiry headed by judges have been total disasters.

Tackling Corruption Head On

A Lok Pal with jurisdiction over the prime minister, ministers, and MPs is a positive initiative. But why restrict the bench to judges?

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 25 October, 2010

Close on the heels of the comprehensive inquiry ordered into the CWG comes a report that the Government plans to introduce a Bill setting up a Lok Pal with a bench of three judges and with jurisdiction over the prime minister, ministers, MPs and other functionaries. Hopefully the intent will translate into a Lok Pal Act that has been hanging fire since 1967.

Excuses for delay are many. The truth is that the ruling class has benefited from corruption and has never been comfortable with probing eyes. For long the debate turned on whether the prime minister should be included within the ambit of the Lok Pal. Critics argued that this could jeopardise national security as false cases might paralyse the administration. This, despite Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh not objecting to inclusion. Such possibilities can be firewalled, and the proposed bill is believed to do that.

The draft Bill suffers from three infirmities. The first is restricting the membership of the Lok Pal bench to judges. Why exclude eminent lawyers and members of civil society of probity and wide experience. The Indian judiciary has most often done us proud but a distinction must be drawn between acting judiciously and judicially. Many commissions of inquiry headed by judges have been total disasters. The other two infirmities lie in neither equipping the Lok Pal with an independent investigating agency nor investing it with an automatic process of prosecution through an attached bureau of public prosecution, rather than leave further action to the discretion of the government. The same goes for the Central Vigilance Commission Executive decisions are political and can be dilatory, partisan and whimsical.

The sabotage of lok ayuktas at the state level, even in such states where the office has been established, reveals the deep-seated and pervasive effort to detach crime at the top from punishment. In some ways, the CWG, the phenomenon of paid news and the criminalisation of politics and politicisation of crime, coupled with the near-collapse of the criminal justice system has convinced public opinion as never before that the rot must be stopped before something gives.

That the battle will be hard fought is evident from the fact that as elsewhere previously, a large number of candidates being fielded in the Bihar poll have listed pending criminal charges of attempted murder, rape and other serious offences in the affidavits filed with their nominations. To be sure some of these may have been slapped on them by inimical elements, personal or political, but not all are innocent as past records show and are truly abominable specimens who will further corrupt the system from the inside with their money, muscle and political IOU’s gathered on the way.

The disgraceful drama played out in Karnataka, with MLAs up for purchase on both sides by moneybags grown rich by licensed thievery of iron ore or whatever by venal businessmen and contractors aided by dubious politicians and officials, only repeats the sordid drama witnessed elsewhere. No party has clean hands. Whatever the final High Court order on the disqualification of “defectors”, the long term remedy is to provide that any defector will be barred from any office, ministerial or otherwise carrying any monetary, social or political benefit for a period of six years. Remove the bait and fish will not jump.

At another level, a proud state like Punjab has been brought to the brink of fiscal ruin by profligate power and water subsidies that have swelled debt, hurt long term agricultural prospects and distorted cropping patterns. Manpreet Badal, the finance minister, who protested, has been ousted both from his office and the party by his uncle, the Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal and the latter’s son, the deputy chief minister.

In Delhi, it appears that the Finance Minister wants to end the profligacy and irresponsibility of wayward Railway Ministers by subsuming the Railway budget in the general budget, ending a colonial legacy that serves no contemporary purpose. Ministries cannot be allowed to become pocket boroughs for personal-political aggrandisement as flagrantly witnessed in recent times.

Changing the budget year from April-March to January-December also makes a great deal of sense, given India’s continued gamble in the monsoon and the nature of the so-called “working season” for outdoor constructional activity. This has been a reform long canvassed and makes eminent sense and would be in conformity with wide international practice.

The Congress preaches virtue but has not hesitated to allege tampering of EVMs without credible evidence during the recent Gujarat local body polls. Losing “lions” are prone to allege rigging after an electoral rout. Worse, this constitutes a perfidious attack on the EVM system that has served India wonderfully well much to the chagrin of manipulators and vested interests out to undermine India’s sturdy electoral democracy. Despite being given every opportunity to demonstrate any alleged infirmity, no busybody, howsoever eminent, has been able to show up a single blemish so far. Insisting on a “paper trail” is in effect to advocate two elections, double expenditure, process delay and exposing the system to dishonest practices and political chaos.

To turn to an altogether different topic, are enemies forever? The Government enacted the Enemy Property Act, after the 1965 war with Pakistan when the properties of those who had migrated to Pakistan or adopted Pakistani citizenship were taken over by the Custodian of Enemy Property. Pakistan and Bangladesh have similar enactments that have targeted minority, mostly Hindu, property. It is understandable that after 30 to 60 years many cases may be beset with complex legal entanglements – deaths, succession, new laws, changing places of residence, marriage and so forth. Disengagement may not be easy but it should be possible to cut the Gordian knot.

One matter that long held up progress in India was the case relating to the Raja of Mahmudabad in UP who was born and remains an Indian citizen though his father migrated to Pakistan at some stage. Since then Indian courts have established the Raja’s title to succession and the Supreme Court has pronounced in his favour. The Government, however, strangely thought fit to challenge this repeatedly for its own reasons but has at last, sensibly relented. A liberal amendment to the Enemy Property Act has reportedly been drafted and, hopefully, the Bill will not go through and the Raja will get back his property as also others similarly placed. If India cannot do the right thing by its Muslims, it should not expect concessions from Pakistan and Bangladesh in regard to minority properties in those countries.

Do we carry enmity and vendetta beyond the grave when no national interest is involved? These are mindsets that undermine the peace process.

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