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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.

UNI MJ DSB DS0945

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Workers – Not To Be Toyed With ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                            December 01, ‎2011

Labour law concerns the inequality of bargaini...

Labour law concerns the inequality of bargaining power between employers and workers (Photo: Wikipedia)

Workers – Not To Be Toyed With !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – A retiring High Court Chief Justice is paid a High Court Judge’s pension. The mistake is rectified– but not before a 15 year court battle.

An Indian Institute of Technology professor invokes his Right to Information– to know why his gratuity is withheld.

After a Japanese executive kicks a worker and tosses the turban of another one, 3,000 employees at a Gurgaon plant form a union– prompting dismissals. Protest brings brutal thrashing from Haryana police in full view of news cameras.

Fired en masse, 362 union-led newspaper employees spend 20 months in Delhi High Court without relief– only to start afresh before a labour tribunal.

Tens of thousands of farmers persuaded to borrow for modern tools, chemicals and seed incur a crop of debt they cannot cope with– and end their lives.

Hired on merit, a scheduled tribe teacher harassed at work goes to the Central Administrative Tribunal, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court– her battle and hounding cut short by her death in the premature delivery of a stillborn.

Those are some glimpses of what India’s so-called strong labour laws are doing for– and to– some of its officially counted 400 million workforce Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls ‘toiling masses’.

Labour and Employment Ministry officials say India has 154 labour laws to ensure welfare of roughly 30 million organised workers and 370 million unorganised workers, including some 250 million farmers and farm hands.

Set up 36 years ago to research labour issues, V V Giri National Labour Institute has yet to produce a comprehensive study of workplace disputes, their causes and outcomes– that might have shown the way to reform.

As in instances cited at the outset, those guilty of making life miserable for some of India’s workmen and women seldom suffer personal consequences under the law.

That, experts acknowledge, defeats right there a key purpose of any legal system– to deter crime by instilling the fear of law in potential offenders.

“Where we fail is in punishing our crooks or offenders,” says former Calcutta High Court Chief Justice D S Tewatia, stressing the urgency of reforms to remedy the situation.

Knowing, for instance, that the worst consequence of denying employees’ wages is having to pay after 10 or 15 years, employers may take such recourse capriciously at the slightest pretext or even without any.

Quite unlike elsewhere in the civilised world, employers in India do not face jail or hefty punitive damages that may make them behave.

In the United States, for instance, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was given more than 24 years in prison for fraud and conspiracy involving more than US40 billion dollars debt, thousands of lost livelihoods and duped clients.

Before sentencing, an outraged Enron employee of 17 years, Kevin Hyatt, had asked the judge to ‘send a message’ to other corporate executives by giving Skilling the maximum sentence.

About labour legislation in India, a Western expert observes with an almost audible smirk, ”these laws are of little broad significance. They have long been circumvented in practice in most areas of the economy.”

Such laws as Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970, Industrial Disputes Act 1947, Factories Act 1948 and Minimum Wages Act 1948 provide imprisonment for violators.

But strangely the option to invoke those provisions is controlled by government officials.

Headquarters of the International Labour Organ...

International Labour Organisation – Presiding (United Nations Photo)

For any harassment they inflict on employees, employers cannot be prosecuted on those counts without express sanction of labour inspectors or commissioners.

Here are some examples:

— Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923 section 18A(2): No prosecution under this section shall be instituted except by or with the previous sanction of a Commissioner.

— Industrial Disputes Act 1947 Section 34(1): No Court shall take cognisance of any offence punishable under this Act or of the abetment of any such offence, save on complaint made by or under the authority of the appropriate government.

How that works out on the ground was indicated when Lok Sabha Members Sunil Khan, Basudeb Acharia, Amitava Nandy and Gurudas Das Gupta drew attention to labour law violations some years ago.

The Labour Ministry gave data on the violations handled in 2003-04 and 2004-05 by the Central Industrial Relations Machinery headed by the Chief Labour Commissioner.

Of 9,826 and 9,538 disputes received under the IDA, for instance, 3,533 and 3,583 were settled while ”FOC– failure of conciliation–reports (were) submitted” in 4,276 and 2,743 disputes respectively.

The Ministry gave no account of how many violators, if any, went to jail.

“The Ministry and its machinery should be protecting labour– not employers,” was how Acharia, a Communist Marxist MP from Bankura, West Bengal, put it.

Asked then if he knew of any case in which an industrialist has had to go behind bars for breaking labour laws, Acharia said, “not one.”

As it is, given poverty and unemployment on one hand and the state of law and courts obtaining on the other, employees find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

The reverse appears to hold for affluent industrialists. Matters are filed in courts where they take years before it is time for appeals and more years.

How workmen or women survive without wages or relief may be hard to grasp for authorities not familiar with such hardship.

Thus it is that workers lose jobs while employers keep running industries and establishments– unmindful of consequences not in evidence. There is little to deter employers’ misconduct.

A published source says even West Bengal, the left bastion, saw 274 lockouts in 2000, more than half– 143– declared to reduce workforce on “the pretext of loss of economic viability.”

Short of sound laws and implementation, half measures abound.

The Institute of Company Secretaries of India proposed some time ago requiring independent professional assurance from practising company secretaries on labour law compliance.

But critics stress the importance of sound labour laws and effective enforcement.

Experts point out how professional auditors have for decades approved accounts without raising an eyebrow– while Swiss numbered accounts of Indians have grown.

Given such facts or data, it may appear natural that workers representatives agitate to rectify things.

Strangely, it is employers’ associations which have been demanding greater facility to hire and fire employees, a Labour Ministry statement noted some time ago.

“The employers have been vehemently pressing for labour reforms on the plea that these are necessary for making Indian industry globally competitive and for attracting more of foreign direct investment.

“The existing laws, it is contended by employers, slow down growth and job creation. They say that under the existing labour laws the churning of new skills is slower; companies lose cost cutting flexibility and ability to bounce out of recession quickly.

“The employers further contend that Labour Market will become more flexible with the amendments; more workers can be hired legitimately and can ask for better benefits including better work conditions, safety standards, welfare measures and health benefits,” the statement said.

Some of these arguments are backed by such institutions as the World Bank.

But critics ask how governments reconcile promises to workers of more jobs with bigger pay packets and better work conditions with promises held out to foreign investors of abundant cheap and skilled labour.

English: Official Portrait released by the Off...

Labour & Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge (Photo: Wikipedia)

At a conference in New Delhi, WB experts spoke of better work contracts.

Asked who will fix a contract if an employer breaks it, the experts promptly replied: the Courts.

Asked if it was fair for employees to have to go through years of litigation for wages of their work, the experts conceded the incongruity of the situation and spoke of judicial reforms.

They argued that reforms would follow in the legal system as pressure builds up. But that, critics say, is like putting the cart before the horse, especially considering some recent trends in labour-related adjudication and judicial orders.

On the other hand, experts say it is important to note that the associations seeking to change the rules are made up of industrialists who are themselves often subsidised by taxpayers in any number of ways.

Apart from receiving concessions in tax and costs of land and other public resources, many have been notorious in building up lakhs of crores of rupees of India’s Non Performing Assets– a euphemism for unrepaid loans.

Unlike tens of thousands of debt-ridden farmers who end their life unable to face the ignominy, no one appears to have heard of NPA defaulters making such choices.

Experts agree that the government must strike a balance. Citizens must not only be proclaimed to be equal, they must also be treated as equals. Just as workers must work, so must employers manage properly and pay wages.

Any failures or abuses, including manipulation of unions, must lead to consequences, they say.

Laws and fora must be put in place or firmed up to deliver justice in time– not at leisure, experts say.

UNI MJ TBA RP 1454

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