Tag Archive | United Progressive Alliance

Indian Hostages Running Short Of Water, Food: Captain’s Wife – By Mukesh Jhangiani

English: GULF OF ADEN (July 7, 2009) Coalition...

Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

                                                                                                                                    September 30, 2008

Indian Hostages Running Short Of Water, Food: Captain’s Wife

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – With 18 Indian seafarers reportedly running short of water and rations after their ship was seized by Somalian pirates 15 days ago, relatives and friends urged ‘immediate’ steps this evening to secure their release.

”Bring an end to the ordeal of these innocent seafarers,” Seema Goyal, wife of Captain Prabhat Goyal urged in a petition to Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Minister T R Baalu.
Chemical tanker Stolt Valor, a Japanese-owned ship flying the Hong Kong flag and manned by a crew of 22, was sailing from Houston, in the United States, to Bombay when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.
The tanker was carrying phosphoric acid and lubricating oil for Indian end-users, including Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited at Kandla.
As many as 18 of the 22, including Captain Goyal, are Indian, one Russian, one Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.
The hijackers appeared to have originally demanded six million dollars but lowered the demand to 2.5 million dollars, Mrs Goyal told a meeting at the Indian Society of International Law.
She said Capt Goyal and crew members have been in touch with her from the ship’s bridge, presumably using a satellite phone.
”For last 18 days, these 22 sailors are living under the shadow of guns with constant threat to their lives, and look upon the government of India as their last hope.
”Yesterday, a crew member telephoned me and said they will be out of fresh water in a day or two, and rations, in another 3-4 days,” Mrs Goyal said.
”I do not understand what the delay is about,” Ms Goyal said after submitting a petition in the Shipping Minister’s office.
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1958, the Director General of Shipping, who licenses recruiters of Indian seamen and officers, is also responsible for the welfare of Indian seamen, experts say.
The post has been vacant since the last incumbent, Kiran Dhingra, was transferred to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation 19 days ago.
The delegation of seafarers’ relatives and friends she led also met some Society officers, including secretary general Rahmatullah Khan and former treasurer Joginder Singh Gill.
She has also requested a meeting with United Progressive Alliance chairman Sonia Gandhi.
As many as 55 ships have been attacked off the coast of Somalia since January and 11 were still being held for ransom, published accounts indicate.
The International Maritime Bureau has issued an advisory urging ships to stay 250 Nautical Miles away from the Somali coast.
The ship was reportedly in a corridor made ”safe” by a coalition of US, British and French forces.
An official for the recruiting agent declined to comment on negotiations under way.
UNI MJ AB SK KP2054

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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.

UNI MJ RA GR1013

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.

UNI MJ NK 1749

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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How ‘Functional Felony’ Creeps Into Judiciary : CJI – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                March 14, 2005

CJI R C Lahoti

How ‘Functional Felony’ Creeps Into Judiciary : CJI

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Personal visits to Judges’ residences, dinner invitations from lawyers and political pressures are some of ways in which ”functional felony creeps into the judiciary,” India’s Chief Justice has cautioned.

As a counter, Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti has stressed such time-tested judicial ethics as independence, impartiality, integrity and propriety.

Justice Lahoti was delivering the Inaugural M C Setalvad Memorial Lecture on Canons of Judicial Ethics organised by the Bar Association of India recently.

It was an evening given to remembering one of India’s finest lawyers– a ‘grand’ practioner, who charged ‘reasonable’ fees irrespective of stakes and respected Judges, but declined Judgeship.

The hall packed mostly with judges and lawyers heard a message from former Supreme Court Judge V R Krishna Iyer: ”Today, when the decline and fall have become deleteriously visible in the two sister professions, the memory of Setalvad will be a necessary admonition.”

The ethics topic sat well with 2005 dubbed the Year of Excellence in Judiciary. Judicial misconduct in India has no legal remedy.

Codes of ethics have been tried time and again, Justice Lahoti said, adding that if required to make a reference to such documents, he would ”confine myself… to three”:

— The Restatement of Values of Judicial Life adopted by the Chief Justices’ Conference of India, 1999

— The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, 2002

— The Oath of a Judge as contained in the Third Schedule of the Constitution of India.

As Justice Lahoti spelt out the documents it became clear that a number of Judges are already in violation of one or another of the canons of ethics.

Take Canon 4 of the Restatement: A Judge should not permit any member of his immediate family, such as spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law or any other close relative, if a member of the Bar, to appear before him or even be associated in any manner with a cause to be dealt with by him.

Over a year ago, the Bar Council of India (BCI) asked the government to transfer 130 High Court Judges who have relatives practising in courts in which they function. That meant almost one in four HC Judges. India’s 21 HCs between them had close to 500 Judges in place, the remaining positions being vacant. No action ensued.

The BCI is the apex statutory grouping of India’s 800,000 or so lawyers.

The trouble, experts say, is that a code of ethics cannot be enforced.

Indeed, as Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj reminded audience, ethics cannot be foisted on anyone and should be left to the institution to evolve or embrace.

Nor does law in India make a proper provision to discipline Judges.

One option provided is impeachment, which, experts say, is more a political remedy than legal. It failed the only time it was invoked in 1992 against a Supreme Court Judge accused of corruption.

With Congress Members of Parliament under a whip to abstain in the vote to impeach Justice V Ramaswamy, Parliament virtually abdicated its duty to ensure accountability in Judiciary.

That was not perhaps the first time an Indian Judge had misbehaved. It certainly was not the last.

A spate of allegations has surfaced over the years involving HC Judges– in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Bombay, Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta and Punjab and Haryana– in bribery, sex and abuse of office, resulting in a few cases to transfer, removal, even arrest.

In one bizarre episode, dozens of HC Judges took leave en masse because two of them were asked by their Chief Justice to explain why they took complimentary membership from a club, which was a litigant.

One of Justice Lahoti’s predecessors, Justice Sam Piroj Bharucha told a lawyers’ meet in Kollam, Kerala three years ago that ”more than 80 per cent of the Judges in this country, across the board, are honest and incorruptible.

”It is that smaller percentage that brings the entire judiciary into disrepute. To make it known that the judiciary does not tolerate corruption in its ranks, it is requisite that corrupt Judges should be investigated and dismissed from service.”

A year later, Justice Bhupinder Nath Kirpal told a judicial colloquium that Judges ”are also Indian citizens who come from the same aggregate as those in the legislature and the administration.”

”Therefore,” Justice Kirpal said, ”there are also instances where corruption and incompetence have also pervaded the judicial establishment that cannot be denied.”

But as Justice Lahoti pointed out, ”The Judge can ill-afford to seek shelter from the fallen standard in the society.”

The trouble, experts say, is that in absence of a clearly laid down law, opacity takes over where will to cover up asserts itself.

Former Chief Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, during whose tenure the Supreme Court Judges adopted the resolutions on Values of Judicial Life in May 1997, has called for a clear law to discipline errant Judges.

In a radio talk show aired two months ago, Justice Verma said: ”Time has come for enforcing judicial accountability.”

Asked to explain his insistence that the process be conducted by the judiciary itself, he said any external effort would be dangerous for judiciary’s independence.

Justice Verma said he sent the resolutions in December 1997 to then caretaker Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, requesting enactment of such a law. ”It has not happened so far.”

Some two months ago, Bhardwaj announced a Group of Ministers set up to suggest steps to strengthen the Judges Inquiry Act 1968 as part of an effort to ensure accountability in governance.

Asked after the Lecture as to when the group will give its findings, the Minister told UNI it would probably be after the Budget session.

Corruption in their ranks is not the only issue Judges must reckon with: they have a huge workload– 24 million pendencies– and inadequate strength– 14,000 judicial officers from district level upwards, as against an estimated need of 50,000, topped by a large many vacancies.

Experts question lingering HC vacancies considering that the five member apex court collegium expected to select appointees knows well in advance when a vacancy is due to arise.

Law Ministry officials say 222 HC positions were vacant against an approved strength of 719 last year when the United Progressive Alliance took over from the National Democratic Alliance.

Bhardwaj has said all vacancies will be filled by the end of this year.

”It is futile to think of excellence,” Justice Lahoti said in his lecture, unless judges– howsoever highly or howsoever lowly placed– ”were to follow the canons of judicial ethics.”

He recounted how veteran Judges handled ethical issues. One instance involved a dinner for Judges given by a lawyer– paid for by a client whose matter was to come up in the court a day later while another was about a Vacation Judge approached for ‘interim’ stay by an advocate who happened to be the son of the then Chief Justice.

The dinner story in former Chief Justice Pralhad Balacharya Gajendragadkar’s words: ”So far as I know, I and K C Das Gupta did not attend. Most of others did. The dinner was held on a Saturday at a hotel. On Monday next, before the Bench over which B P Sinha presided and I and K C Das Gupta were his colleagues, we found that there was a matter pending admission between the management of the hotel chain and its workmen.

”I turned to Sinha and said: ‘Sinha, how can we take this case? The whole lot of supervisors and workmen in the hotel is sitting in front and they know that we have been fed in the hotel ostensibly by the lawyer but in truth at the cost of the hotel, because the very lawyer who invited the judges to the dinner is arguing in the hotel’s appeal.’

”Sinha, the great gentleman that he was, immediately saw the point and said: ‘This case would go before another Bench’.”

Justice Iyer’s tale of the Vacation Judge: ”Naturally, since the caller was an advocate, and on top of it, the son of the Chief Justice, the vacation judge allowed him to call on him. The ‘gentleman’ turned up with another person and unblushingly told the vacation judge that his companion had a case that day on the list of the vacation judge. He wanted a ‘small’ favour of an ‘Interim stay’.

”The judge was stunned and politely told the two men to leave the house. Later, when the Chief Justice came back to Delhi after the vacation, the victim judge reported to him about the visit of his son with a client and his ‘prayer’ for a stay in a pending case made at the home of the Judge.

”The Chief Justice was not disturbed but dismissed the matter as of little consequence. ‘After all, he only wanted an interim stay’, said the Chief justice, ‘and not a final decision’.”

The incident, Justice Lahoti went on, ”reveals the grave dangers of personal visits to judges’ residences under innocent pretexts.

”This is the way functional felony creeps into the judiciary. A swallow does not make a summer maybe, but deviances once condoned become inundations resulting in credibility collapse of the institution.”

”A little isolation and aloofness are the price which one has to pay for being a judge, because a judge can never know which case will come before him and who may be concerned in it. No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this matter, but some discretion must be exercised.”

Audience were told of a lawyer who actually observed ethics.

Setalvad remained ever a lawyer and never agreed to become a judge. His fees ”were reasonable and did not vary depending upon the stakes involved in a case.”

He seemed to have instinctively grasped the true function of a Law Officer stressed in English Courts– Counsel for the Crown neither wins nor loses. He is there to state the law and facts to the Court.

Setalvad joined the Bombay Bar in 1911 and rose to occupy such high offices as Advocate General of Bombay 1937-42, Attorney General of India 1950-63, Chairman of the Law Commission 1955-58 and Member of Rajya Sabha 1966-72.

He also represented India before the Radcliffe Commission and the United Nations 1947-50.

”In those days,” Bhardwaj said, recalling the post independence era, ”there were no sharp practices at the bar at all. There was no need for such concerns. Such an occasion never arose.”

These are ”difficult times,” he acknowledged. Standards have ”gone down.”

He said the BCI had not performed its duty. The Bar has been ”left behind by many decades… So much adulteration has come into this institution.”

Many lawyers may not even know who Setalvad was, he remarked.

Organisers thanked Chennai-based Senior Advocate G Vasantha Pai, a former BAI General Secretary, who contributed Rs 15 lakh to conduct the lecture annually, for ”giving us back” Setalvad.

UNI MJ MM CS1100

 

SC Watchdog Headless – 82 Atrocities Daily – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                                             October 9, 2010

Gandhi collecting funds for harijan work

Gandhi collecting funds for harijan work (Photo: Wikipedia)

SC Watchdog Headless – 82 Atrocities Daily

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – While violations against India’s 180 million scheduled caste citizens have been on the rise, a government agency set up to investigate them has been headless over four months.

Experts say India’s Constitution prescribes a presidential appointment of Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three Members of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes but sets no time frame.

The NCSC chairmanship has been vacant since May 25, 2010, the vice-chairmanship and two memberships, since May 28, and another membership since May 29.

In the eyes of law, experts say, such a lapse makes the Commission ”non-functional.”

This is not the first time the posts have remained vacant since the NCSC was carved out of the 28-year-old National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in February 2004.

The NCSC chairmanship was vacant for more than nine months after incumbent Suraj Bhaan died in harness in August 2006. The other four posts, too, remained vacant for three months each.

Sanctioned posts remaining vacant is not unusual in India even in such crucial areas as judiciary, teaching, administration and so on.

Authorities have ignored suggestions about creating a pool of professionals from which candidates may be drawn for appointment without any delay or gap of more than a day or two.

But experts find allowing such vacancies in NCSC hard to explain given the United Progressive Alliance’s avowed commitment to social justice for weaker sections.

The issue has figured in Parliament as well as in the Supreme Court of India.

In Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment D Napoleon told Bharatiya Janata Party member from Madhya Pradesh Narayan Singh Kesari that its reconstitution ”is under process.”

That was on August 12, almost three months after vacancies had arisen.

Mr Napolean and MoS for Home Affairs Ajay Maken, in replies to Nationalist Congress Party’s Y P Trivedi from Maharashtra and BJP’s Om Prakash Mathur from Rajasthan, acknowledged a worsening trend.

Mr Maken cited National Crime Records Bureau data that ”a total of 27,070, 30,031 and 33,615 cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes were registered during 2006-2008 respectively.”

Mr Napolean cited Bureau data that ”the number of registered cases of rape of women belonging to the Scheduled Castes during 2004 to 2008 is” 1157, 1172, 1217, 1349 and 1457, respectively.

On an average, that amounts to an atrocity every 17-18 minutes and a rape every seven hours during the years accounted for– even with a Commission in place.

Data furnished by Mr Maken showed that in 90,716 cases registered, 150,240 persons were chargesheeted, and 43,613 convicted.

But there was no word on the quantum of punishment awarded, if any, that may explain why law or enforcement has failed to produce a deterrent effect.

Last year, a British study suggested that not empowering the NCSCST to enforce its findings has resulted in a failure to punish and deter violations.

The study was sponsored by the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity within Oxford University and supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development.

The CRISE study pointed to ”the lack of teeth for organisations like” the NCSCST which ”prevented oppressive social practices from being checked and severely punished.”

In July 2010, the apex court was petitioned by a lawyer handling cases of alleged harassment of SC citizens who wanted the government directed to fill the posts as per Article 338 of the Constitution.

In a civil writ petition, advocate Radhakanta Tripathy told the Court he ”has been witnessing the plight” of clients ”since the matters cannot be decided without chairperson and other members.”

He also stressed setting a time frame for future appointments.

At a hearing on August 2, 2010, Justices D K Jain and H L Dattu requested Attorney General G E Vahanvati present in Court ”to seek instructions in the matter.”

Eight weeks later, on September 27, 2010, the Judges disposed of the petition after a government lawyer submitted: ”all appointments in the National Commission for Scheduled Castes shall be made within two months from today.”

UNI MJ NK 1437

TV Covered Polls For Viewers – Not Voters ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                May 31, 2009

TV Covered Polls For Viewers – Not Voters !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Key social issues, law and governance took a back seat while television news channels focused on personalities and alliances in the 72-day run up to Poll 2009, a study reported today.

A count by CMS Media Lab shows that six of India’s leading news channels between them spent 25,266 minutes or about 421 hours airing election news in their 7PM-11PM slots between March 1 and May 11.
Analysing bulletins, the Lab found DD News, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24X7, Zee News, CNN-IBN and Star News spent more airtime on politics than on entertainment and sports– mainstays for ratings and revenues.
”Even though TV remains the popular medium of communication,” it appeared ”largely unsuccessful in shaping public opinion,” the study said.
It pointed out, for instance, how a campaign by some major media houses urging citizens to vote failed to motivate, keeping voter turnout low.
Issues Indians struggle with day in and day out– affordable food, housing, jobs, water, unbridled crime– blue-collar and white-collar, health, and social, economic and judicial inequities—barely got much attention.
Consider:
— Notwithstanding green revolution or claims of self-sufficiency, affordable food remains an issue. Foodgrain availability has fallen to 152 kg per capita, 23 kg less than in the 1990s, an e-source says. Some 47 per cent of Indian children, the nation’s future, are estimated to suffer from under-nutrition. India ”accounts for 21 per cent of the under-five children dying in the world… (and) is home to nearly 40 per cent of all low birth weight babies in the developing World.” In eradicating hunger, India ranked 66th among 88 developing and transition nations two months ago. A Hunger Index 2008 published under the auspices of Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute highlighted ”the continued overall severity of the hunger situation in India. Most States have a ‘serious’ hunger problem, and one State, Madhya Pradesh, has an ‘extremely alarming’ hunger problem.” At least one manifesto pledged to enact a Right to Food law that guarantees citizens access to sufficient food.
— With experts estimating that barely six per cent of heinous offences end in convictions– letting 94 per cent offenders walk free while law-abiding victims suffer, crime is a major concern. A serious example of white-collar crime in a company curiously named Satyam surfaced shortly before elections when its founder proclaimed himself a fraud, possibly to escape severer jurisdictions. The revelation raises questions about inept regulatory system– be it boards of directors, auditors or registrars of companies, not to mention investigators. Indeed, authorities have yet to make clear their response or consequences for such perpetrators.
— Given a billion plus citizenry, the government acknowledges a deficit of 22.4 million houses. Authoritative sources say even 180 million dwellings in existence include 108 million in a dilapidated condition– unfit for healthy living. A television jingle some months ago cited the soaring prices of Delhi Development Authority flats as an accomplishment– rather than a criminal failure to ensure adequate housing. As the Law Commission recently pointed out, former President Zail Singh once suggested that no person in India be allowed to have more than one house– any extra houses given to the needy on installments.
Issues abound. Critics say when it comes to parity and justice, Indian governance, no matter the political label, has been long on talk, short on delivery.
But little of all that showed up in the election campaign or related coverage.
The study said the channels spent more airtime on politics but the bulk of it was ‘superficial,’ not hard news that might have informed, educated or influenced voters.
The channels gave politics 42.75 per cent news time– against usual 10-12 per cent, or 33 per cent in 2004 elections– but ”a major chunk of it remained superficial.”
Almost a third or 30.87 per cent of this time– 7,801 minutes or about 130 hours– was devoted to political personalities and another 10.62 per cent– 2,683 minutes or 45 hours– to alliance prospects.
Instant replays, trivialisation and reality formats– gimmicks to drive entertainment or sport viewership or television rating points and ad revenues– were liberally evident. The channels also played up hate speeches, verbal duels and bickering.
The overall coverage of elections ”bordered on entertainment” as issues were trivialized– instead of being clarified to help broaden perspectives and build opinion in public interest.
The study said the channels spent 10.62 per cent news time reporting political formations or breakups but barely 4.82 per cent on security, nuclear deal, jobs, development, governance, recession, farmers’ suicides and amenities.
Many key issues made just fleeting appearances– in talk shows and debates.
”Communication that could empower voters with vital information needed to make an informed decision was negligible,” it said.
Attention given to voting added up to 1,786 minutes or almost 30 hours or 7.07 per cent.
There was virtually no television coverage about electronic voting machines although there have been some complaints of possible malfunction or tampering.
‘’There was not even a cursory debate on the subject,’’ Lab spokesman Prabhakar told United News of India Special Correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani.
”Broadly stating,” the study said, ”there was a clear disconnect between the voters and the media, which was apparent in the coverage priorities of news channels.”
Skewed distribution of news time meant that insignificant issues ate up precious minutes that might have been used to air such pressing concerns as health, environment, water, electricity or roads.
The study showed the time spent on basic concerns– jobs, crime, housing, price rise, justice– was miniscule. Governance, education, infrastructure, not to mention the controversial nuclear deal with the United States, figured even less.
The six channels between them spent 414 minutes– 1.64 per cent– of airtime on corruption, an issue raised nationwide in the 1970s by veteran socialist Jayaprakash Narayan– and yet to be taken care of.
Even word that Indians have trillions of rupees stashed in secret Swiss accounts, posed as a poll issue by a novice party, Youth for Equality, failed to fire up coverage.
Almost equally little attention was paid to two of the most serious menaces– terrorism and criminalisation of politics– 314 minutes and 313 minutes– or 1.24 per cent of the coverage.
This, notwithstanding the spate of incidents, including the ghastly 26/11 Mumbai raid, nor the rising clamour against allowing lawbreakers to blend in with lawmakers.
Airtime spent on candidate selection or ticket distribution stories: 572 minutes or 2.26 per cent of the total.
A quick check by an activist group, Election Watch News, shows the number of electees facing criminal charges went up on May 16 from 128 in the 14th Lok Sabha to 153 in the 15th Lok Sabha.
As many as nine of them were appointed United Progressive Alliance Ministers.
A ‘positive’ aspect of the coverage, the study said, was DD news, NDTV 24X7 and Star News highlighting some serious neighbourhood issues– 7.37 per cent airtime.
The channels spent 1,361 minutes reporting on the Election Commission, 1,344 minutes, on opinion polls, 1,276 minutes, on parties’ campaigns and 605 minutes, on their strategies.
UNI MJ ATI AS1109

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