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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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UPA Govt Seized Of Law Commission’s 25-Year-Old Idea ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                August 18, 2011 

English: Ashoke Kumar Sen at the United Nation...

Ashoke Kumar Sen, former Law and Justice Minister, to whom the Law Commission of India submitted its Report No. 116 on Formation of an All India Judicial Service on November 27, 1986 (Photo: Wikipedia)

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Twenty-five years after experts suggested an All India Judicial Service to draw the best talent to judiciary, the United Progressive Alliance government is seized of the matter, Parliament was informed today.

The government is seized of the matter of creation of an All India Judicial Service under Article 312 of the Constitution, Law and Justice Minister Salman Khurshid said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.

He was answering Bharatiya Janata Party member from Rajasthan Arjun Ram Meghwal and Indian National Congress member from Haryana Shruti Choudhry who drew attention to a Law Commission recommendation made in 1986.

The two Members wanted to know whether the government intends to introduce the said Service, the timeframe set for its introduction, and, if not, the reasons therefor.

In his reply, Khurshid acknowledged the Commission findings that such a service would also serve as a powerful unifying influence and counteract growing regional tendencies.

He said the process of creating it requires a Resolution to be passed by the Rajya Sabha enabling Parliament to enact necessary laws.

He did not say when that and any subsequent requirements might be carried out.

In reply to another question, Khurshid said the government has examined various options — including National Judicial Commission– to address the issues concerning appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.

However, no specific proposal has been finalised, the Minister said.

Over the past many years, selection for appointment of Supreme Court and High Court Judges has been made by a Judges collegium but questions have arisen owing to complaints over conduct and persistent vacancies.

The Rajya Sabha, for instance, took an unprecedented step this afternoon to approve an impeachment motion against Calcutta High Court Judge Soumitra Sen who is accused of having misappropriated funds while he was a lawyer before his elevation.

The motion will next be considered in the Lok Sabha, and, if approved, go to the President, the appointing authority, for the Judge’s removal from office.

The last Parliament was close to impeaching a Judge was in the 1990s when it considered corruption allegations against former Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice V Ramaswami defended by then senior advocate Kapil Sibal.

The move in the Lok Sabha fell through then with Indian National Congress members abstaining, an instance cited ever since by critics as proof that impeachment was not a sound way to ensure accountability.

Khurshid was answering Meghwal and Communist Party of India (Marxist) member from Kerala M B Rajesh and INC member from Lakshadweep Hamdullah Sayeed on steps to improve judical service quality and standards.

The Members asked if the government proposed to introduce a constitutional code of conduct for Judges and a mechanism for periodical assessment of Judges performance.

Khurshid said the UPA government introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha in December 2010 to ensure accountability and transparency in the higher judiciary.

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 incorporates a mechanism for enquiring into complaints against Supreme Court and High Court Judges and makes way for Judges to declare their assets and liabilities, besides setting standards for them to follow, he said.

The Minister gave no timeframe as to its enactment.

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Jailing Corrupt Politician, Officer Or Judge ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                   April 9, 2011

English: Hon. Anna Hazare in Nanded , Maharastra .

Anna Hazare (Photo: Wikipedia)

Jailing Corrupt Politician, Officer Or Judge !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – With a 72-year-old fasting for five days, the government today announced a panel to draft within 83 days a Bill for Lok Pal– 45 years after it was conceived to regulate Indian governance.

Anna Hazare broke his fast amid euphoria at authorities yielding on an issue government after government has dodged for decades without discarding the idea outright.

The announcement listed ten members, five each representing the United Progressive Alliance government and the activists, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as chairman and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, as co-chairman.
”The Joint Drafting Committee shall complete its work latest by 30th June, 2011,” the announcement by the Law and Justice Ministry said.
The members include Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Water Resources and Minority Minister Salman Khursheed on one hand, and septuagenarian Hazare, Justice N Santosh Hedge, advocate Prashant Bhushan and activist Arvind Kejriwal on the other.
Dr Moily has been named convenor.
Experts hailed the development but were cautious about expectations.
”What we have witnessed over the past week is anger, real anger of people, reflecting injustices that have been building and must be redressed and the guilty punished,” said former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah. ”This anger must be properly channelised for national and public good.”
A document titled Salient Features of Jan Lok Pal Bill circulated by activists who pitched their camp at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday spelt out some of the ideas they brought to root out corrupt.
— Creating an institution called Lok Pal at the centre and Lokayukta in each State so ”completely transparent” that any complaint against even its own members is investigated and a guilty ”officer dismissed within two months;”
— ”Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the governments” so that ”no minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations;”
— Giving Lok Pal complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician;
— Recovering any public exchequer or government loss caused by a corrupt act from the perpetrator at the time of conviction;
— Imposing financial penalty on officers guilty of not doing ”any work” of a citizen in prescribed time and giving it to complainant as compensation;
— Ensuring cases against corrupt do not linger– giving a year for investgation and another year for trial– so that ”corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years;”
— Lok Pal members to be selected by citizens, besides judges and constitutional authorities– not politicians– through ”a completely transparent and participatory process” to preclude induction of corrupt or weak individuals;
— Merging anti-corruption agencies– vigilance commissioners and anti-corrupt investigators– into Lok Pal;
— Requiring Lok Pal to provide protection to those victimized for raising their voice against corruption.
Activists say citizens denied ration or voter cards or passports could turn to a Lok Pal as could those having difficulty lodging complaints with police, for instance.
Anyone with complaints about, say, the quality of roads or abuse of public parks or other works could also request investigation into possible corruption by elected  or other officials. ”The guilty will go to jail within two years.”
Although Lok Pal, as a political ombudsman was conceived 45 years ago, it is still nowhere around.
”We have been misled completely,” Gandhian Satyagraha Brigade spokesman Shambhu Dutta Sharma, who, too, has been campaigning for a Lok Pal said of government failure to pass a law. ”We cannot trust any longer.”
The concept of Lok Pal– inspired by Sweden’s ombudsman– grew out of an interim report on redressal of citizens’ grievances submitted in 1966 by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai.
Two years later, the Lok Pal and the Lok Ayuktas 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.
Resistance to the bill appears manifest in the fact that even after being tabled seven more times– in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001– it has never again been put to vote.
While authorities did not enact a Lok Pal they certainly did not reject it– possibly because doing so might have placed on them the onus to find a substitute.
Indeed, in 2007, a second Administrative Reforms Commission recommended appointing a national ombudsman called Rashtriya Lok Ayukta instead of Lok Pal.
Critics say corruption in public life has been sinking lower and lower, compounded by a virtually unaccountable governance.
Agencies or institutions once created in public interest appear to have become part of the problem instead of being instrumental in finding solutions.
The past year or so has seen unprecedented– in sheer size– allegations of financial irregularities levelled at the UPA government.
Public mind has been disillusioned by one scam after another whether it is 2G– underselling mobile phone licences at public cost notionally estimated at Rs 1.75 lakh crores– or Rs 70,000 crore extravagance in organising Commonwealth games.
”Hopefully,” Justice Shah said, ”there will be a proper bill. But at the same time before any Bill is put to vote there must be a thorough public debate about it in which citizens not just experts or authoritative figures should be heard on their opinions, questions, concerns and suggestions. No doubt we need a strong Lok Pal, but we also need a strong executive, legislature and judiciary.”
For rule of law to find a sound footing in India, the nation must attend to a lot more legislative reform, experts acknowledge.
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