Tag Archive | India

Soumya Vishwanathan’s Employer Fined Rs 250 – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                              March 26, 2009

Soumya Vishwanathan’s Employer Fined Rs 250

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Four months after a woman journalist was found shot in her car in the dead of night, her employer paid a Re 250 fine for breaking the Capital’s work hour norms.

TV journalist Soumya VishwanathanShot in dead of night (Photo: Mid-day.com)

The quantum of fine for the sort of violation incurred in Soumya Vishwanathan being at work till 3 am, some half an hour from a killer bullet, was set in the 1950s, shortly after India gained freedom.

Section 14 of the Delhi Shops and Establishments Act 1954 outlaws any establishment allowing women to work between 9 pm and 7 am in summer and, 8 pm and 8 am, in winter.

”Any contravention… shall on conviction, be punished with fine which shall not be less than twenty-five rupees and which may extend to two hundred and fifty rupees,” Section 40 of the Act says.

Indian governance– no matter the political label– has let it remain, notwithstanding the fall in Rupee’s buying capacity, the changing values or conditions, the state of security and the level of law and enforcement half a century thence.

”It’s one of the outdated provisions,” V V Giri National Labour Institute researcher Sanjay Upadhyaya acknowledged in an interview with United News of India Special Correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani.

On September 30, 2008, Ms Vishwanathan, 26, left her place of work at 03:02 am, say police, who got word of the incident at 3.41 am.

Greeting the news of the arrest of her alleged killers some six months later her mother, Madhavi Vishwanathan, remarked: ”It’s unfortunate that another murder had to take place.” She was referring to the murder of Jigisha Ghosh, 28, killed last week returning home from work.

The Soumya Vishwanathan murder sparked a debate over a young woman driving home from work unescorted at such hours.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s reported remark that ”one should not be adventurous” shocked even admirers of a woman CM. It contorted a serious issue, critics said.

”The girl is being blamed for driving home late after work,” fumed Sudha Sundararaman of All India Democratic Women Association.

She said the Chief Minister should instead be ”finding out how this happened and looking at ways to strengthen the city’s security set-up.”

Angry netizens pointed out that a chief minister responsible for law and order must make the city safe and secure for residents.

One, G Sriniwasan, remarked: If Shiela has her Z security removed and has to work to earn a living possibly she will change her tone.

Chief Minister of Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit (Photo: Wikipedia)

Ms Dikshit acknowledged in a published interview that ”travelling at three in the morning is not a safe thing for anybody to do… even for boys.” She said, ”Companies employing young girls and boys 24 hours for that matter should provide escort for the safety of our girls and boys.”

Section 14 says ”no young person, or woman shall be allowed or required to work whether as an employee or otherwise in any establishment between 9 pm and 7 am during the summer season and between 8 pm and 8 am during the winter season.”

The Delhi government exempts employers who make workplaces ”secure and safe” for employees and provide them ”door to door pick-up and drop facility.”

Two weeks after the murder, New Delhi newspapers published her ‘Appeal’ reminding employers of exemption available ”subject to the safety and security of the women.”

But in a society where jobs are scarce and law enforcement scarcer– barely six per cent conviction rate for even heinous crimes– what happens when an employer does not obtain exemption ?

The city’s Shops and Establishments Chief Inspector filed a complaint naming the employer, Managing Director Aroon Purie, and the establishment, M/s TV Today Network, as accused no. 1 and no. 2.

K R Verma submitted that Ms Vishwanathan, working as producer with ”the aforesaid Management/Employer, met with an accident on her way home after leaving from work at 3.02.54 AM.”

The work attendance sheet showed that late Ms Vishwanathan and some other women employees ”worked during the hours prohibited under the Act,” the complaint said.

It said the management having ”not been granted any exemption” for Section 14, ”the employer committed an offence by violating the provision… and is liable to be punished” under section 40.

It prayed ”that the accused be summoned, tried and… punished according to law.” A lawyer for Purie urged the court to ”dispense with” his client’s personal appearance, saying he was ”falsely implicated” and ”impleaded for malafide reasons.”

Advocate Sushil Dutt Salwan pointed out that his client was ”a Padma Vibhushan Awardee” and ”not involved” in the company’s day to day administrative affairs.

On February 19, before Special Metropolitan Magistrate Javed Aslam at Karkardooma, the accusation was explained to a company executive, Puneet Jain, to which he pleaded guilty voluntarily.

Each accused was fined Rs 250 which was paid.

But if penalty is intended to deter violations then a Re 250 fine in 2009, specially when it is not reported by mass media, amounts to little, experts acknowledge.

The order is not even on the internet notwithstanding Rs 854 crore of Indian taxpayer money the Law and Justice Ministry is spending on computerising courts and judgements or orders.

In a newspaper interview as early as December 2002, Verma’s predecessor, M K Gaur, had warned that call centres faced prosecution unless they complied with law.

Incidents involving women employees returning home from call centres at odd hours show the inadequacy of deterrence at work.

Experts agree there is dire need for clear laws, with strong deterrence in terms of mandatory punishment not just for violations, but for any lapse in enforcement at any level.

The 1954 Act regulating work hours, pay and so on is one of two dozen laws on matters ranging from minimum wage to gratuity the city’s understaffed Labour Department enforces.

While commercial activity has mushroomed, hogging even space meant for homes and street traffic, law or its rule have yet to catch up.

The Department neither knows how many units do business in the National Capital Territory– having stopped counting two decades ago– nor makes inspections provided in law to catch offenders.

Asked by UNI in September 2008– just weeks before the murder– how many shop owners were prosecuted under the Act in the last three years, the Department replied: ”Nil.” But experts indicate more bad news– a trend gradually excluding more and more employees from the protective coverage of labour laws.

Upadhyaya cites the ”reversal” of a theory of notional extension of employers’ premises upheld in Supreme Court Judge S Jafer Imam’s judgement of April 28, 1958.

Recent apex court judgements– September 1996 and November 2006– do not appear to subscribe to the principle, he says, stressing the need for a ”more worker centric” approach by judiciary.

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Ex-Hostage’s Wife Wants Laws Against Piracy Business ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                       July 6, 2011

 

Ex-Hostage’s Wife Wants Laws Against Piracy Business !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Indian authorities were urged today to enact clear laws– as well as enforce them– to regulate merchant seafaring, including hiring of sailors and allowing or requiring armed guard to protect vessels against pirates.

Gulf of Aden

Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

”Otherwise this piracy business will go on thriving,” Sampa Arya, whose husband Sandeep Arya was among Indian sailors aboard merchant vessel Suez released after a reported US$2.1 million payoff to Somali pirates, told journalists.

The racket has grown 177 per cent in just one last year, Mrs Arya claimed, drawing presumably on internet data.

She was accompanied by relatives of six Indian sailors in the captivity of Somali pirates aboard another merchant vessel called Iceberg.

The seamen captive aboard MV Iceberg: Jaswinder Singh of Haryana, Dhiraj Tiwari, Ganesh Mohite and Swapnil Jadhav of Maharashtra, Santosh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh and Shah Ji Kumar Purshotanam of Kerala.

Former Subedar Major Purshotam Tiwari said his son and five others from India were hostage for the past 16 months. He had sought the help of the Shipping, External Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence Ministries as well as the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Bihar. He had even drawn the attention of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil, all without much avail.

Mrs Arya criticised what she suggested was a ”passive” government approach to the issue of sailors taken hostage for ransom.

The reported US$2.1 million came from MV Suez owner Abdul M Mathar of Egypt and a welfare trust run by former Pakistani Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney who also helped negotiate.

”It was with Ansar Burney’s help that we managed to negotiate with the pirates,” an Indian online outlet quoted Mathar as saying.

Experts say Somalis have been targeting mostly ships flying Flags of Convenience, which typically have budget constraints, are ill-equipped, and thus easier to overwhelm.

Merchant ship owners often register their vessels in a foreign sovereign State to reduce operating costs and avoid regulations in force in their own countries.

English: GULF OF ADEN (March 22, 2009) The Amp...

Counter piracy effort – Amphibious assault ship USS Boxer and aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transit the Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

The term Flag of Convenience in use over half a century pertains to the civil ensign a ship flies to indicate its country of registration under the laws of which it operates.

The idea caught on and by the late 1960s Liberia surpassed Britain as the world’s largest shipping register.

More than a dozen States currently operating ‘open registries’ are reported to have sub-standard regulations.

More than half of the world’s merchant ships are registered under Flags of Convenience, with Panamanian, Liberian and Marshallese registries accounting for almost 40 per cent of the world fleet in deadweight tonnage.

A key criticism of the system is it lets shipowners be legally anonymous and difficult to prosecute in civil and criminal actions.

Such ships are also alleged to be engaged in crime ranging from illegal fishing to terrorism, offer substandard wages and working conditions and targeted for special enforcement by countries they visit.

But given the level of unemployment and state of regulation in developing countries such as India finding sailors is hardly a problem.

Complicating the situation over the past half a dozen years has been the Gulf of Aden, where a war-torn Somalia, without a functioning government since 1991, has turned into a hotbed of piracy.

Article 101 of Law of the Sea convention 1982 defines piracy as any illegal act of violence or detention or depredation committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship on the high seas against another ship or persons or property on board such ship.

But experts say it does not cover all cases of piracy.

”The Somali situation does not seem to strictly qualify as piracy under the Law of the Sea convention 1982,” says former additional director general of Shipping and nautical adviser J S Gill, adding that the wording ”may hamper charging a person as a pirate.”

A former chairman of the Delhi branch of the Company of Master Mariners of India, Capt Gill sees piracy as an exigency that ought to be linked to insurance, since it is underwriters who must eventually make good any losses to vessels or cargo.

Mariners interviewed say Somali activity has spawned a whole new mostly-Western industry for insuring vessels at risk with ever-increasing premiums.

That and other factors such as the data intelligence Somalis seem to possess or lawyers quick to rise to their defence on arrest suggest a new dimension– of an ‘organised under-world.’

Far from being sea pirates hunting for victims, they sometimes seem well-informed about their potential targets to the point of knowing for instance the cargo on board and the exact number of hands a vessel set out with, seafarers say.

Capt Gill who was present at the news conference said sailors in such captivity were often found to have taken employment through unlicensed agents.

”While the government may not be strictlly legally responsible for their employment they deserve basic humanitarian assistance as any citizen working abroad.

”Many victims or relatives,” Capt Gill said, ”do not know that the Director General, Shipping is statutorily entrusted to look out for Indian seamen in distress, irrespective of the source of their appointment, and must be persisted with.

”I believe the DG, Shipping and the MEA regularly press Embassies of the Flag States of the pirated ships.”

Mrs Arya stressed setting up a central agency to regulate seamen’s recruitment so as to help Indian aspirants steer clear of ships flying flags of convenience.

Experts say India has Shipping Masters at various ports supervising employment of merchant seamen and officers, but the system has eroded over the decades to a point that many seamen now find work without referring to it.

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9 Hostages Sick Aboard Seized Ship – Kin – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                October 7, 2008

9 Hostages Sick Aboard Seized Ship: Kin

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – As many as nine of 22 hostage crew members aboard Stolt Valor have taken ill waiting for freedom from Somali captors holding out for a $2 million ransom, relatives said tonight.

The hostages, 18 of them Indian, have been running low on water and food in the captivity of Somali pirates who seized their Chemical tanker in the gulf of Aden on September 15.

Somali pirates in the 21st century (Photo: somaliareport.com)

Somali pirates in the 21st century (Photo: somaliareport.com)

In a telephone interview from Mumbai, Seema Goyal, wife of the tanker’s Captain, Prabhat Goyal, indicated ”no tangible headway” in the 23-day-old crisis.

She is visiting the key port city meeting Shipping officials– including Shipping Director General and Nautical Advisor M M Saggi– and addressing sailors’ unions and ”gathering support.”

Mrs Goyal, who addressed a rally organised by several seafarers unions, was handed over a petition for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging steps to ensure hostages’ safe return and preclude such acts.

On Tuesday, she met a Japanese Embassy official in New Delhi in an effort to build up pressure on the ship’s Japanese owners to secure a quick end to the crisis.

The Japanese-owned tanker flying the Hong Kong flag was on way to Mumbai from Houston in the United States when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.

The tanker is carrying phosphoric acid and lubricant oil for end-users, including Kandla-based Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited.’

Besides 18 Indians, the crew includes a Russian, a Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.

Mrs Goyal and other members of the group have been meeting Indian authorities– ministers, senior bureaucrats, politicians– to bring home the urgency of securing the sailors’ release.

They held a candle light vigil on Saturday night drawing attention to the seafarers’ plight.

The pirates had demanded $6 million– subsequently pared down to $2 million– for letting the ship sail.

Experts say much of the initiative in the matter rests with authorities in Hong Kong, where the ship is registered, or Japan, where the owners belong.

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Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims : New Law Mag – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                      September 26, 2007

Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims: New Law Mag

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Professional negligence insurance for lawyers and other such issues are highlighted in a new legal magazine, Halsbury’s Law Monthly, unveiled by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan last evening.

When an advocate fails to provide competent services to his or her client (Photo: ethics-lawyer.com)

Insurance is intended to discourage practices and ways that hurt clients’ interests without much of a hope for them to recover losses, unless they have the stomach for protracted litigation– against their lawyer.

A Monthly piece stresses making professional negligence insurance mandatory in India, pointing out that it will make lawyers more vigilant and protect the clients’ interests.

Such measure can insure lawyers against claims for damages from clients who think the service received was not worth the fee given.

Speaking after unveiling a large-sized display of the magazine cover, Justice Balakrishnan spoke highly of the authoritative and reliable output of LexisNexis group which includes Butterworths, one of the largest legal publishers with over 180 years of history.

He said the publications were known for bringing out material which was a good source of reference professionals would like to possess and hoped the new magazine would live up to the publisher’s reputation.

”I hope the Monthly will maintain the high standards of Halsbury’s,” Justice Balakrishnan said.

LexisNexis’s Asia managing director John Atkinson told participants that the new venture would focus on such up and coming areas as outsourcing, retail, corporate and cyber laws and intellectual property.

The new publication is the publisher’s first in collaboration with Cybermedia, which already puts out nearly a dozen magazines.

LexisNexis also publish Halsbury’s Laws, The Malayan Law Journal, Mallal’s Digest, Laws of Malaysia, Hong Kong Cases and CaseBase.

Aalok Wadhwa, its managing director for India, said the magazine would orient readers to the growing potential of the corporate legal world in the current socio-economic environment.

In remarks afterwards, Atkinson told UNI that the group’s publications and efforts aim at promoting transparency and efficiency in legal affairs.

He cited how LexisNexis has implemented electronic-filing and electronic-service projects in some parts of the world, such as Colorado and Delaware.

”And it works. We’d certainly like to offer it in India.” Such efforts benefit not just courts, but also law firms by giving them prompt access to data, he said.

Asked whether the Monthly will focus on problems of access to justice or of corruption, Atkinson said initially the magazine expected to focus on such areas as the corporate law, which is a growing entity.

As for what he dubbed ”underlying problems,” he said the magazine has an editorial Board, mostly made up of lawyers, which will take such decisions.

Asked how the Butterworths have been roping in Judges to write for them, Atkinson said it was done as anywhere in the world, by first identifying a subject and then finding out who has the specific experience in that field of law and ask them.

A book assignment usually takes a couple of years to complete, and writers are only paid royalty from sales, he said.

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House Panel: Legal Aid Or Eyewash ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                           June 22, 2006

House Panel: Legal Aid Or Eyewash !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – India’s poor litigants see legal aid provided to them by an authority set up eleven years ago as ”mere eyewash,” a parliamentary panel has reported.

”Poor litigants feel that legal aid being provided to them is mere eyewash,” according to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice.

E M Sudarsana Natchiappan (Photo: NoCorruption)

The National Legal Services Authority was set up in 1995 under the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 to provide ”free and competent” legal services to the needy.

The views of the Committee headed by EM Sudarsana Natchiappan are contained in its latest Report on the Law and Justice Ministry’s 2006-07 Demands for Grants.

The Committee said the programme lacked proper planning and suffered from paucity of funds and failure at the level of states to utilise even the grants made.

It said, ”the actual benefit of this scheme is not gaining access to poor litigants” and the programme is ”confined to high profile areas or capital cities only.”

The NALSA’s goal, according to the Committee, was to ensure that no Indian citizen is denied opportunity to secure justice because of economic or other disabilities.

Experts call it a tall order considering the high litigation costs– unbridled lawyers’ fees and protracted court processes– which a vast many Indians find hard to afford.

The NALSA’S budget to achieve it all in 2004-05, for instance, was Rs 5.98 crores– raised in 2005-06 to Rs ten crores and sought to be maintained thereat this year.

To be eligible for legal aid, the annual income limit fixed by the central government for cases before the Supreme Court is Rs 50,000. Fourteen states have to catch up with even that.

Over the past decade, the Authority claims to have aided 8.25 million individuals, besides holding 4,86,000 Lok Adalats or conciliation courts nationwide and settling 18.3 million cases.

But critics say that tells little about the sort of cases in which the Authority helped individuals, the quality of legal aid or the outcome.

Nor does it tell the plight of citizens who are neither eligible for legal aid nor can afford legal recourse on their own– with no limits enforced on lawyers’ fees or duration of proceedings.

As in ordinary cases, in aided cases, too, the quality of lawyering is a key issue, only perhaps more so given the ‘meagre’ fees NALSA advocates supposedly get, critics say.

The Committee noted that counsels engaged for the poor under the legal aid programme ”are paid meagerly” and ”good and reputed lawyers do not come forward to take up the cases. Even Senior Advocates do not take up such cases.”

”As a result,” the Committee said, ”the poor litigants feel that legal aid being provided to them is mere eyewash.”

The Committee recommended ”reasonably” enhancing the fee structure– and standardising it nationwide– so as to draw experienced and competent lawyers to legal aid.

The Committee was ”given to understand that the government has been providing adequate funds to NALSA from year to year. However, there has not been total utilisation of the allocated grants.”

Some years ago, the Committee had suggested ”hundred percent central funding for implementing NALSA and also to ensure that the central grants released to the State Governments are utilised fully.”

But the government says NALSA has yet to submit a consolidated scheme for its consideration covering all its plans and programmes ”for formulating a Centrally Sponsored Scheme and seeking due approval.”

In what it calls a ‘vision document,’ NALSA has listed sections of Indian population it hopes to empower through legal literacy– knowledge of the law and the confidence to use this knowledge.

They include children, the elderly, workers, women, victims of mental or other disabilities, floods, tsunamis, drought, insurgency, Devadasi or other trafficking and those stigmatised by such conditions as Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

The Committee took note of it but said ”certain grey areas need to be addressed by the Ministry.

”One such problem relates to lack of proper planning. Moreover, non-utilisation of grants by the States Legal Services Authorities is another area of concern.”

It asked the Ministry to ”effectively monitor” utilisation of funds and implementation of NALSA’s schemes and programmes.

”Constraints of funds should not come in the way of successful implementation of the scheme,” it stressed.

Experts discount the value of sheer legal literacy unless it is accompanied by reforms that make adjudication more responsive to the litigants’ needs.

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Defence Bribery Affair Underscores Need For Appointing Lok Pal – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                               March 18, 2001

Defence Bribery Affair Underscores Need For Appointing Lok Pal

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai in New Del...

Morarji Desai who suggested in 1966 creating an ombudsman or Lok Pal became India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister 1977-79 (Photo: Wikipedia)

New Delhi (UNI) – The videotaped defence bribery affair has underscored a long-recognised need over which the authorities have vacillated while scandal after scandal has rocked the nation’s political life– appointing a Lok Pal, India’s much-heralded anti-corrupt ombudsman conceived 35 years ago but still nowhere in sight.

Last heard of, the Lok Pal bill was the subject of second thoughts: whether or not Members of Parliament be placed under its purview. This, notwithstanding the fact that a broad cross-section of MPs themselves has voiced support for that and several other measures aimed at promoting accountability.

The MPs’ support is reflected in responses already in to an appeal sent out some weeks ago by Lok Sevak Sangh, a Non-Governmental Organisation, and its sister NGO, Transparency-International India. Both groups have said they will embark on a Satyagraha if the Lok Pal bill is not introduced in this session of Parliament.

”If the bill is not introduced during the session ending on March 23 or if MPs are excluded from its jurisdiction, we shall resume the postponed Satyagraha on April 16, when Parliament reassembles after recess to continue the budget session,” LSS-TII Chairman Shambu Dutta Sharma told UNI.

The groups deferred Satyagraha last November after announcement of plans to introduce the bill during the winter session.

For decades, the authorities have let the grass grow under their feet while corruption has gone on unbridled– scam after scam bursting forth on the nation’s political stage, eroding public values, chipping away at public morale and cynicising public mind.

The concept of Lok Pal– inspired by Sweden’s Ombudsman– grew out of an interim report on the Problem of Redressal of Citizens Grievances submitted in 1966 by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai. The very thought of someone to whom an Indian citizen could turn with a complaint of corruption or administrative excesses against the mighty of the land was a whiff of fresh air.

Two years later, the Lok Pal and the Lokayuktas Bill, 1968 was introduced in the 4th Lok Sabha, when late Mrs Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. It was considered by a joint committee of the two Houses of Parliament and passed by the Lok Sabha in 1969. It was pending in the Rajya Sabha when the Lok Sabha was dissolved. The bill lapsed.

Over the years, with political and public life getting increasingly mired in scandalous goings-on and some governments at the Centre or in States even losing office over issues involving integrity– Bofors, Hawala, Fodder, Urea, Telecom, to name just a few controversies– the need for Lok Pal and other reforms has got more and more acute.

But resistance to the bill appears manifest in the fact that even after being tabled six more times– in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996 and 1998, the last time by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee– it has never again been put to vote.

English: People taking part in protests in sup...

Protesters demanding Lokpal (Photo: Wikipedia)

The concern was echoed by the Prime Minister while opening a conference of Lokayuktas or State Ombudsmen some weeks ago. As Mr Vajpayee put it, rampant corruption over the past few decades and the failure to catch and punish the corrupt has bred contempt for the law and led to widespread cynicism among the people, causing a decline in moral values in Indian society.

“Experience has shown that our efforts to strengthen probity in civil service and the polity cannot yield desired results without extending the norms of accountability to the judiciary. The inability of our judicial system to deliver speedy justice has itself become the source of much injustice. It has also eroded the credibility of our judiciary in the eyes of the public,” Mr Vajpayee told delegates.

Noting that corruption was detrimental to development, he announced that a Group of Ministers was putting together a new draft of the Lok pal Bill, which “will be introduced in Parliament soon.”

On his part, Mr Vajpayee volunteered to submit to its jurisdiction by vesting the Lok Pal ”with adequate powers to deal with charges of corruption against anyone, including the Prime Minister.”

Authorities acknowledge that even the implementation of Lokayuktas in states has not been satisfactory. Lokayuktas exist in barely 15 states and do not have uniform jurisdiction over Chief Ministers or Members of State Legislatures. Nor is the system entirely effective.

For instance, between 1986 and 2000, the Karnataka Lokayukta ordered investigation in 2,840 cases, of which 1,677 were charge-sheeted but only six percent cases ended in conviction. The bulk– 1,118– were pending trial.

Originally, the Lok Pal bill was to place under scrutiny the conduct of all public functionaries and political leaders, including the Prime Minister, the Members of the Cabinet, as well as all members of both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. It would have MPs and members of their immediate family declare personal assets each year they remain in office.

The bill was scheduled to be introduced for the eighth time in November 2000, but the move appears to have bogged down because of demands to leave MPs out of its sway.

An argument advanced for excluding MPs from its ambit is that Lok Pal should only mind the affairs of those wielding government and ministerial office who take decisions affecting citizens and therefore have the potential to abuse it for personal gain.

But activists for MPs’ inclusion point out that legislators exercise enormous influence in shaping laws, policy and decisions which is fundamentally important and has potential for abuse.

“MPs are also empowered to take decisions such as spending constituency development funds,” the LSS-TII spokesman said. “A few MPs have been known to accept bribes and misuse government property and ever increasing facilities and perquisites for personal benefit.”

A well known example is the acquittal of four Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs who allegedly voted for the Narasimha Rao government in return for monetary consideration. The magic words that got them off were written into Article 105 of the Indian Constitution: “no member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof… ”

The episode has occasioned calls to change such provisions. Law Commission Chairman Justice B P Jeevan Reddy recently sought to kick off a public debate by suggesting that bribe-taking legislators should be liable for prosecution. He suggested including a new clause requiring that “nothing… should bar the prosecution of a Member of Parliament under the Prevention of Corruption Act etc, if they take money for voting in Parliament”.

Another argument advanced by those seeking to exclude MPs from Lok Pal’s purview has been that MPs are accountable to Parliamentary Ethics Committees, and do not need additional supervision.

But in its appeal to MPs, the LSS-TII pointed out that even bipartisan ethics committees in the United States “have not really been effective in controlling the wrongful conduct of the Senators and Representatives there. It is not likely to do better in India. It will be a case of you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.”

The letter pointed out that “the argument that the MPs would not like their conduct to be adjudicated by any outside agency, is untenable… Nobody should seek to be a judge in his own cause.”

It cited the Rajya Sabha Ethics committee’s quietness when the national press and the Chief Election Commissioner in the last biennial election raised grievous doubts about some Rajya Sabha candidates trying to bribe the MLAs.

“So far as Lok Sabha Ethics Committee is concerned its Chairman and (former) Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar is facing proceeding re(garding) his large Bhondsi campus in a public interest petition filed by advocate Dr (B L) Wadhera.”

“We request that the Lok Pal legislation should not be delayed further on any ground whatsoever,” the LSS-TII said, adding that “thirty-three years are enough for our political leadership to put in place an effective Lok Pal.”

Appointing Lok Pal is one of seven measures the LSS has been stressing to further the cause of probity in public life. The others include enacting laws giving citizens access to information, plugging loopholes to discourage defections, requiring declaration of political parties’ assets and accounts audit, debarring corrupt and criminal citizens from contesting elections, speedy trial of erring politicians and forfeiture of illegally acquired property, most of which have been under legislative consideration for years, even decades.

The MPs who have stepped forward cutting across the party lines to support the measures include Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Dr Manmohan Singh, and leading attorney and Congress leader, Kapil Sibal, as well as ruling Bharatiya Janata Party veterans such as B P Singhal, Kailash Joshi and Vijay Kumar Malhotra.

They also include Debabrata Biswas of All India Forward Bloc, Nagendranath Ojha of Communist party of India, Sunil Khan and Subodh Roy of Communist party of India (Marxist), Chandra Vijay Singh of Akhil Bharatiya Lok Tantrik Congress, Tarlochan Singh Tur of Shiromani Akali Dal, Ananda Mohan Biswas of Trinamool, Prof M Sankaralingam of Dravida Munnetra Kazhgaham, Peter Alphonse of Tamil Manila Congress, Ashok Mohol of Nationalist Congress Party, Arun Kumar and Mahendra Baitha of Janata Dal United, Prabhat Kumar Samantaray of Biju Janata Dal, Prof A Lakshmisagar of Janata Dal, Dr S Venugopal of Telugu Desam Party, Ram Prasad Singh of Rashtriya Janada Dal, Ravi Prakash Verma of Samajwadi Janata Party and S D Shariq of National Conference.

Independent Member S Roy Choudhary and nominated Members writer K S Duggal, journalist Kuldip Nayar and jurist Fali S Nariman, all noted in their respective fields, have also voiced their support.

One party from which no response has been received so far is Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

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Crying Foul Over Violations, Secrecy In Games ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                 October 01, 2010
Crying Foul Over Violations, Secrecy In Games !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

women work2

Women At Work For No Pay ?
(Photo: nocwg2010)

New Delhi (UNI) – Violations of law that hit thousands of workers and drove thousands out of homes as New Delhi readied for Commonwealth games have yet to be remedied, activists say.

”Commonwealth Games hai! hai!”– cries of woe– rent the air as members of an Anti Commonwealth Games Front took to the streets on Friday, barely days before the event.

Such ”gross violations of human rights against Delhi’s poor and marginalised groups” called for a boycott of the 71-nation event on ethical grounds, a meeting at Jantar Mantar was told.

The protest coincided with the arrival of the ‘Queen’s Baton’ they dubbed ”a historical symbol of oppression and colonisation.”

They spoke of 200,000 now homeless and 300,000 without livelihood, not to mention labour law violations at CWG sites, beggars shipped out or young women trafficked in from States for sex work.

”In the run-up to the Commonwealth Games,” the Front, a coalition of 25 groups, said, ”the city has seen the most blatant violation of human rights of the urban poor.”

Many vendors, cart-pullers, waste-pickers, head-loaders, balloon sellers, cobblers, food stalls and eateries have simply been put out of work, it said in a statement.

The groups included Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights, Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Housing and Land Rights Network, Indo German Social Service Society, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and Beghar Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti.

”The government has completely lost its sense of priorities,” it said, citing Rs 70,000-100,000 crore– US$ 15-21 billion– spent on hosting the 12-day extravaganza.

They compared it, for instance, to Rs 11,270 crore allocated for housing projects for economically weaker citizens under Indira Awas Yojna 2010-11 and Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana 2010-2011.

They said CWG decisions– from bidding for the event to reserving lanes for participants or a somersault on turning the village into a student hostel– were ”taken in secrecy,” against democratic norms.

English: CWG Opening Ceremony 2010

CWG 2010 Opening Ceremony (Photo: Wikipedia)

While CWG construction workers ought to have been paid wages in keeping with the international stature of the event, a spokesman for a signatory group said most were deprived of minimum wages even by Indian standards.

Workers at CWG construction sites have experienced some of the most widespread violation of human rights, spokesman Subhash Bhatnagar for Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam said.

Unskilled workers in Delhi are entitled to a minimum daily wage of Rs 203 but got only Rs 110-130, volunteers said.

Experts say laws provide for paltry fines at the end of litigation– itself slow– not jail terms which can deter violations.

According to PUDR, the State agencies flouting labour laws as principal employers in CWG-related construction range from Delhi Development Authority to Delhi University.

Calling CWG one of India’s biggest corruption scandals, the groups said instead of accounting for the financial irregularities, the government ”is focusing” on ”success of the Games under the garb of ‘national pride’.”

It questioned the idea of supporting ”a sporting event that is making a selected few richer.”

The protesters dismissed suggestions that hosting the CWG will improve India’s performance in sports as ”completely false.”

They said for many schools across India a playground was a distant dream for children and the plight of most athletes ”is dismal if not pathetic.”

A placard they held demanded ”schools, not stadiums.”

English: CWG Delhi 2010 OC Building

2010 CWG Organising Committee’s home (Photo: Wikipedia)

Noting that India has spent at least Rs 4,500 crore on renovating stadiums for the Games, it said ”this money could have been more wisely spent to improve facilities for sportspersons across the country.”

It said Delhi residents have been put through ”a lot of inconveniences” to host an event they were neither consulted about nor asked for– but ”will eventually pay for.”

Alluding to remarks made by Delhi Finance Minister A K Walia in March 2010, the groups said the Delhi Government has gone bankrupt because of ”wanton spending” in the name of the Games. ”The city has become much more expensive and taxes have increased.”

It demanded ”full accountability from all agencies and departments involved in the CWG, full public disclosure of funds, transparency of transactions, protection of human rights of Delhi’s citizens.”

It also demanded ”compensation for livelihoods lost, adequate rehabilitation of the displaced close to their places of work, a post-Games legacy plan and cost recovery plan, and prosecution of officials responsible for embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.”

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Thousand-Wise, Billion-Foolish ? – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                February 20, 2005

Yashwant Sinha, Finance Minister of India

Yashwant Sinha, India’s former Finance Minister (Photo: Wikipedia)

Thousand-Wise, Billion-Foolish ?

 

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Authorities preparing India’s 2005 Budget have been urged to stop exempting dividends Indian and foreign promoters earn– to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees.

Virtually unnoticed by millions of toiling Indian taxpayers, hundreds– perhaps thousands– of promoters have netted thousands of crores of rupees free of tax over the past eight years.

Critics say in an economy which suffers from managerial and resource inadequacy and does not ensure citizens’ access to water, housing, jobs, an effective system of justice and other basics, such policies smack of a class bias.

On one hand, authorities tax wage earners and even productivity awards, and have cut provident fund interest.

On the other, lakhs of crores are sunk in non-performing assets– loans the rich haven’t repaid– and thousands of crores fly out as company reserves distributed to individuals are exempted.

According to a news report this week, some multinationals running operations in India have declared huge dividend payouts– windfalls for bulk shareholders abroad.

The joyride started in February 1997 with then Congress Finance Minister P Chidambaram abolishing dividend tax on recipients as part of what the market hailed as a ”dream budget.”

In fact, says one critic, this was the prospect that brought the cheer and the accolades.

Since then, governments– National Democratic Alliance as well as United Progressive Alliance– have– with one exception– exempted recipients, encouraging companies to declare higher dividends– or tax-free cash year after year.

One e-published source claims the average dividend payout from Indian companies moved up from 20 per cent to 25 per cent in financial year 2004.

According to India Infoline, a hundred companies paid Rs 4,334.18 crore dividends for 2003-04– up 54.1 per cent over the Rs 2,811.3 crore paid in the previous year.

Advocates of dividend tax exemption claim it eliminates double taxation of profits– in the hands of the company and again in the hands of shareholders.

But opponents say taxing dividends declared by companies is not the same as taxing recipients’ dividend income.

A 19th century United States court ruling held that ”the capital stock of a corporation, and the shares into which such stock may be divided and held by individual shareholders, are two distinct pieces of property.

”The capital stock and the shares of stock in the hands of the shareholders may both be taxed, and it is not double taxation,” US Judge Rufus Peckham declared in 1896 in Bank of Commerce v State of Tennessee.

Asked to comment, a top Indian economist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, ”There is no valid argument against taxing dividend or to favour exemption, especially considering that even wage earners who take home far less, are taxed.”

Yet, through that single exemption, critics say, the NDA and the UPA governments between them have contributed to thousands of crores of rupees of revenue shortfall over the years.

One man who tried to end that spree was NDA Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha who allowed exemption in February 2001– but abolished it a year later.

In that budget speech– his last– Sinha confessed he was troubled by the ”inherent inequity” in the system which ”must go.”

മലയാളം: ജസ്വന്ത് സിംഹ്

Jaswant Singh (Photo: Wikipedia)

The inequity: ”Income is exempt in the hands of the recipient” and ”allows persons in the high-income groups to be taxed at much lower rates than the rates applicable to them.”

Sinha said, ”these issues have been troubling me over the past four years, and I am now convinced that the existing system must go.” He moved to abolish tax on dividends distributed by companies and levy it on ”such income… in the hands of the recipients.”

”Few are aware,” Sinha remarked in a newspaper interview in July 2002, ”that there are people in this country who have been earning anything between Rs 10 to Rs 20 crore by way of dividends. They have been earning in crores without having to pay any tax. You think it is unjustified to tax them?” he countered.

His previous Budget, Sinha went on, registered a revenue shortfall of Rs 40,000 crore, of which ”something like Rs 22,000 crore could be directly ascribed to concessions.”

Sinha’s public remarks notwithstanding, such qualms did not appear to weigh with either his NDA successor, Jaswant Singh, or UPA incumbent Chidambaram.

In a telephone interview this week, Sinha told UNI he believed that ”all income should be treated alike from the point of view of tax.”

He said ”the hue and cry that followed the 2002 budget was largely on account of the fact that I re-introduced tax on the dividend. Many opinion makers invest in stocks and resented the tax.”

But the exemption was reintroduced in 2003 on expert advice supplied by a group led by Dr Vijay Kelkar, an economist and former International Monetary Fund executive director.

The group recommended exempting dividend both in the hands of shareholders as well as companies distributing it.

Singh was petitioned by the Legal Cell of All India Tax Payers’ Association which spelt out the incongruity in taxing everyone– even agriculturists– but exempting dividends to promoters.

Palaniappan Chidambaram (1)

Palaniappan Chidambaram (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Association warned that letting huge tax free sums accumulate in the hands of industrialists would increase the gap between rich and poor– violating Article 14 and the spirit of Article 39 (b) and (c) of the Constitution.

Those Articles provide for equality before law and forbid pursuit of economic policies that result in concentration of wealth to common detriment.

The Association said the move for full fledged exemption had not even found takers in the US.

Last week, the petitioners again represented to the authorities, urging withdrawal of exemption of tax on dividends in recipients’ hands, saying it amounts to discrimination between a common taxpayer and industrialists.

The Association says the dividends declared by companies end up in the pocket of the private management controlling the majority of shares, adding to individual incomes.

It says ten or twelve per cent tax companies must pay to declare dividend is not much price for promoters to transfer company reserves to individual accounts.

Individuals in control of companies can thus help themselves to more and more tax free income– increasing the gap between rich and poor and possibly undermining companies and jobs, it says.

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Fear Of Torture Doesn’t Let UK Deport Suspects : AG – By Mukesh Jhangiani

English: The Rt. Hon Lord Goldsmith QC, at the...

Peter Goldsmith (Photo: Wikipedia)

                                                                                                                                                             January 9, 2003

 

 

Fear Of Torture Doesn’t Let UK Deport Suspects : AG

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Fears that terror suspects might face ”death, torture or inhuman and degrading treatment” in their country of origin ”prevents us sending them back,” Britain’s chief legal advisor says.

”We have of course had to confront these issues in the United Kingdom,” Attorney-General of England and Wales Peter Goldsmith said, lecturing at the Indian Society of International Law in the Capital last night.

Mr Goldsmith, who delivered the 2003 M K Nambyar Lecture, also touched on Britain’s failure to deport a Pakistani cleric who raised money and recruits for a Kashmiri terrorist group accused of attacking the Indian Parliament in New Delhi last year.

He said the terrorist threat ”is now on an unprecedented global scale, as the dreadful events that have taken place over the last 16 months only too graphically testify: from New York-Washington and Bali to Moscow, Mombasa and here in India.”

The lecture titled ‘Right or Rights: Does tackling terrorism force us to choose?’ dwelt on steps States should take to protect themselves from the activities of terrorists and the Courts’ role in relations to State action.

”One of the more controversial steps,” the British AG said, ”relates to the treatment of persons within the country who have no immigration right to remain and who are suspected of involvement in terrorism and pose a threat to national security.

”In relation to these persons we have a difficulty,” he said. ”Under our immigration laws we have the right to deport them because they have no right to be in the country.

”But we are prevented from carrying out the deportation because of certain international obligations, notably under the European Convention of Human Rights, which is now a part of our domestic law.

”Where the individuals would face death, torture or inhuman and degrading treatment if returned to their country of origin, those obligations (under Article 3) prevent us sending them back.

”So we are faced with a choice: either to leave them to roam free in the country–which is an unacceptable risk given the heightened threats since 11 September– or to detain them unless and until they voluntarily leave the country.

”Under these new powers, 13 people have so far been detained and two, having been detained, have voluntarily left the country,” he told the audience.

Mr Goldsmith spoke of the ”inherent, but now heightened, tension within the Constitution” between the judicial branch and democratic powers– Parliament and the executive– which, he said, was to be resolved by the ”emerging principle of judicial deference.”

Mr Goldsmith cited the case of Shafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani cleric who was ordered to be deported from Britain four years ago as a ”danger to national security” but was told a few months back that deportation proceedings against him have been dropped.

”In this case,” Mr Goldsmith recalled, the British Home Secretary had decided that the appellant’s deportation would be ”conducive to the public good” based on conclusions as to his involvement with a terrorist organisation ”operating in the Indian sub-continent (which was seeking ‘the liberation of Kashmir’).”

Shikaras are a common feature in lakes and riv...

Kashmir valley (Photo: Wikipedia)

But the appellant ”successfully appealed” to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which could not understand ”how conduct prejudicial to the national security of the Indian sub-continent could be prejudicial” to UK’s national security, he said.

”In the House of Lords, however which granted the Home Secretary’s appeal, Lord Hoffmann took the view that SIAC was not entitled to differ from the opinion of the Home Secretary on the question of whether, for example, the promotion of terrorism in a foreign country by a UK resident would be contrary to the interests of the UK’s own national security. In the carrying out of such assessments, the Courts should extend the appropriate degree of deference to the executive.

”That was not to say, of course, that the whole decision on whether deportation would be in the interests of national security was surrendered by the Court to the Home Secretary.

”For example, the question whether deporting someone would expose him to the risk of ill-treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention would be a matter which would certainly not lie within the exclusive province of the executive.

”This is an indication that the Courts are prepared to distinguish between those elements of a decision which attract deference and those which do not.

”The key question, is how well-placed or well-equipped the Courts are– having regard to the particular subject-matter of the decision and the particular areas in which the Courts have accepted expertise– to determine the particular issue,” he said.

India’s Chief Justice V N Khare presided over the lecture, which was organised jointly by the Bangalore-based National Law School of India University and the M K Nambyar Memorial Trust founded by Senior Advocate K K Venugopal to commemorate his father, one of India’s leading constitutional lawyers.

Describing the global nature and magnitude of the threat of terrorism, Mr Goldsmith said, the increased world travel, internet and global telecommunications which benefit millions ”have brought new challenges too, especially in the area of crime.”

Criminals conduct their business across international boundaries, Mr Goldsmith said. ”They traffic young women from the Ukraine or Romania to Bosnia and through the European Union to the UK; they smuggle drugs from the cocaine factories of Colombia to the streets of Paris or Rome; or launder money through bank accounts in all the financial cities of the world. Through international travel and cyberspace they operate globally. The scale of the problems is huge.”

He said drugs were a huge international business– UK market alone estimated at seven billion pounds– accounted for 2000 drugs-related deaths a year and much other crime: property crime, drug dealing, fraud and prostitution.

In one city, he said, it was reported that 70 per cent of all recorded crime was committed by drug users. He cited UN estimate that illegal immigration business is worth 15 to 30 billion dollars a year.

Estimates put the value of money laundering transactions– a key part of much organised crime– at two to five per cent of global GDP– around 1.5 trillion dollars. ”So crime now presents a global threat.

”But our national law enforcement is based firmly on a national level. Law enforcement agencies have to operate within their own national systems and national laws.

”A drug trafficker may have contacts and collaborators in any number of countries. Even to obtain the evidence of people in each of those countries may present a major logistical problem for prosecutors.

”Our courts cannot directly order the attendance of a witness from another country to attend before it; without the assistance of foreign authorities it cannot compel the production by a foreign bank of its records of transactions in another country; nor give us the ability to order the police force of another nation to investigate a particular potential witness in that country.

”And of course our national jurisdiction will usually be limited to crimes committed in our own countries so that we cannot bring to justice those whose activities may have affected us but whose conduct has been abroad.

”In short, we must respect national boundaries and frontiers whilst the criminals treat them with contempt. It is through international cooperation that we can hope to find an answer to this challenge,” the AG said.

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Drawing Line Between Trial And Punishment ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                          March 25, 2011

M. Veerappa Moila

M. Veerappa Moily (Photo: Nestlé)

Drawing Line Between Trial And Punishment !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – More than 300,000 under-trials were let out of custody after a special drive begun early last year but with new arrivals daily the number in prisons remains almost what it was– more than 200,000.

”Imagine the plight in absence of such an effort,” was how a senior government official responded when asked about the impact of the special drive, which, he pointed out, has been extended.

Article 21 of the Constitution lays down that ”No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

A statistic to bear in mind: roughly two out of every three prisoners in India are under-trials– only one is a convict serving sentence.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

Guilty or Innocent (Photo: publik16)

That, critics say, is a telling reflection of a justice system ostensibly committed to treating an accused as innocent until proven guilty.

For instance, 162 of 543 Members elected to Parliament in 2009 faced criminal charges as against 128 in 2004. Correspondingly, 76 and 58 of them faced serious charges.

Of 813 legislative assembly members in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, which go to the polls next month, 204 faced criminal charges, 83 of them serious charges.

Serious crime cases include those involving murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, robbery and extortion.

The special drive was an initiative by Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily to decongest prisons.

”We want to dispose of as many as two-thirds of the under-trial cases by July 31,” Dr Moily told journalists on Republic Day eve 14 months ago. ”The mission begins January 26.”

The exercise involved expediting legal process for some 200,000 under-trials as part of a National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms.

In a jurisprudence known to let even those accused of serious crimes get bail or get elected to legislatures, many under-trials are believed to spend longer in jail than their alleged petty crimes warrant.

By law anyone arrested has a right to be informed of any charges he or she faces, consult a lawyer of his or her choice and to be produced before the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.

Lawyers say that without legal aid, those who cannot afford bail inevitably suffer prolonged incarceration during the pendency of investigation by police and trial by a court.

Experts say they languish simply because they are illiterate, do not know their rights or charges they face, and cannot afford lawyers– although Rs 50 crores is spent annually on legal aid.

According to a National Human Rights Commission consultant, India’s prison capacity in December 2008 was 293,144 inmates, against which 386,791 inmates were actually in prison– 264,502 of them under-trials and 122,289, convicts.

While authorities have been acquiescing in the miscarriage of justice, the victims’ plight has, from time to time, evoked concern at home and abroad with critics assailing India’s tortuously slow courts.

India is bound by several international human rights conventions and for decades the government as well as courts have been aware of the violations.

An early official reference to the plight of under-trial prisoners came in the findings of K F Rustamji, a National Police Commission member, 32 years ago.

He saw under-trials as ”dumb, simple persons, caught in the web of the law, unable to comprehend as to what has happened, what the charge against them is, or why they have been sent to jail,” and prisons as a system ”slowly grinding thousands of people into dust.”

Indeed, the first public interest litigation– Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar… 1979– brought to light how undertrial prisoners had been in jail longer than if they had been charged, tried, convicted and given maximum punishment.

Supreme Court lawyers recall a September 1977 judgement by Justice V R Krishna Iyer who held that ”the basic rule may perhaps be tersely put as bail, not jail.”

Among exceptions he spelt out ”are circumstances suggestive of fleeing from justice or thwarting the course of justice or creating other troubles in the shape of repeating offences or intimidating witnesses and the like.”

”It made clear that incarceration in the name of judicial custody and protracted or delayed trial is itself criminal as it hits at the very base of Article 21,” says advocate Ravi Prakash Gupta.

Eight years ago, National Democratic Alliance Law Minister Jana Krishnamurthy drew attention to the plight of more than 200,000 under-trials.

”It’s a shame,” he said, that in independent India men and women have to await their day in court for over ten years.

The yearly cost to public exchequer for under-trials upkeep was then estimated at Rs 4.6 crore.

Although under-trials’ guilt is yet to be proven, they remain in prison almost indefinitely.

Experts say unlike convicts, found guilty, they are not even entitled to such basics as uniforms, literacy lessons or work.

NHRC consultant Lakshmidhar Mishra says children and juveniles are worse off inasmuch as they are put up in regular jails with hardened criminals contrary to law for lodging them in police lockups or observation homes, which are neither adequate in number nor adequately equipped.

There was no let-up until about a year ago, when a move to cut two thirds of under-trial cases was announced by Dr Moily of the United Progressive Alliance.

Addressing lawyers on November 26, 2009, marked as Law Day, the Minister regretted the justice system’s failure to give every citizen equal protection of law.

”A necessary corollary to the guarantee of the rule of law is Article 14 of the Constitution,” Dr Moily reminded.

Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

”Unfortunately,” he admitted that ”justice delivery system in its working in India has not been able to guarantee this protection to every citizen– man, woman and child.”

The government asked High Courts to identify under-trials not involved in heinous crimes or preventive detention so that their cases may be put on a fast track to expedite pressing cases.

The Indian Constitution guarantees speedy trial. But the commodity is routinely in short supply, with litigation often taking years, even decades.

Indian courts have close to 31 million cases pending, a factor that discourages justice seekers at home, investors from abroad, and has even judges advocating alternative ways of resolving disputes.

Hope may be hard to entertain given hundreds of High Court judgeships and thousands of lower judicial posts perennially vacant and inconsistent sentencing practices across India undermining the deterrent value of law.

Government figures show that there were 213,739 under-trials in prison as the drive got underway.

Over the next six months or so, only 43,504 were convicted and 50,282 discharged.

As many as 309,728 under-trials were released after having been kept in jails for unspecified periods.

About the same time, 399,115 new under-trials arrived in prisons across India, to wait for their day in the court.

Government data indicate that of 612,854 under-trials in prison for unspecified periods– ranging from a day to possibly several years– merely 7.09 per cent were actually convicted in those six months or so.

The figures made available do not, for instance, specify how long individuals spent in jail on what sort of charges before they were convicted, discharged or released.

Nor has there been a mention of compensating any who might have been jailed or held without basis.

Any compensation awarded by human rights or other authorities is discretionary, depending on how a given judge feels at the moment– hardly fair.

No compensation is mandated by the Indian Constitution or statutes for wrongful confinement.

In a telephone interview with United News of India special correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani, Dr Mishra called it ”a significant omission,” and agreed that a remedial legislation is needed.

But given the pace of legislation in India, remedies are neither swift nor easy.

The figures indicating that the number of under-trials in prison at the end of the drive was 212,454– just 1,285 less than at the outset– do not necessarily reflect a nationwide trend.

In 16 out of 27 States or Union territories for which the Justice Department has received figures, the numbers actually went up.

West Bengal led in this increase with 14,238 under-trials put into prisons while 9,337 were released, an increase of 4,901 under-trials in prison.

It was followed by Orissa, with an increase of 4,305, Rajasthan, 3071, Haryana, 1,737, Jharkhand, 1,726, Bihar, 1,550, Chhattisgarh, 1,516, Gujarat, 1,086, and Assam, 1,000.

Smaller increases were reported by Andhra Pradesh, 678, Punjab, 677, Kerala, 652, Manipur, 238, Tripura, 118, Himachal Pradesh, 107, Goa, 106, Nagaland, 69, and Arunachal Pradesh, 47.

One State which reported the highest decline was Uttar Pradesh which released 77,205 under-trials while putting in jail 55,287, an actual decrease of 21,918.

It was followed by Madhya Pradesh, where the number of under-trials in prison declined by 748, Karnataka, 643, Uttarakhand, 569, New Delhi, 356, Maharashtra, 257, Mizoram, 156, Meghalaya, 112, Sikkim, 58, Chandigarh, 11, and Daman and Diu, 1.

The Department had no figures immediately from Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep and Puducherry.

The programme originally scheduled to end on July 31, ”is continuing,” Dr Moily told journalists a few weeks ago.

From citizens’ perspective locking up innocent, law-abiding individuals is as undesirable and indeed repugnant as letting crooks and lawbreakers roam free or shape laws or societies.

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