Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Evasive Justice, Invasive Risks

Lingering court cases and the blow-hot blow-cold style of CBI inquiries has disappointed the people and wasted tons of nation’s money ever since Bofors, Fodder, Hawala et al without leading to convictions for only one reason – all the accused in these cases were powerful people. In cases like crimes of 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Bhopal gas tragedy or even the likes of BMW hit-and-run case, the pain of the victims is only heightened manifold when children rendered orphans by the crime grow up watching the criminals responsible for the crime not only roaming free from harm under the protection of the establishment. Decades lost in wait for justice is not merely delay – it is crime repeating itself over and over.

While the war against political and bureaucratic corruption rages, not enough has been talked about corruption in the judiciary, especially the higher judiciary even by the civil society groups, which are spearheading the tirade against corruption. In democracy it is the Judiciary that enjoys special constitutional powers and privileges as one of the three organs of State. Judiciary is the ultimate repository of trust and faith of the people who look towards it as their saviour against all kinds of exploitation and injustice. Sadly, there are many in the robes of ‘Justice’ who, succumbing to temptation or duress, have given questionable judgements and, thereby, robbed the Judiciary and their Lordships of the aura and honour they once exuded. It is very unfortunate that some of the Chief Justices of the honourable Supreme Court have also been exposed as men of smaller virtues to give in to temptations. Recently, we saw how two senior judges – one Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court, the other a senior judge of Calcutta High Court – arraigned for impeachment on charges of corruption and misdemeanour, manoeuvred their way out of the impending punishment. The question now arises: is resignation an escape or punishment for their misdeeds?

What is most astonishing is the increasing contradiction within the judiciary which often manifests in the quality of judgements. Judgements of lower courts are turned upside down without showing much of the basis for converting conviction to acquittal or vice versa as has been seen in some of the cases where the accused came from influential backgrounds like Manu Sharma, Vikas Yadav, Haryana Police ex-DG SPS Rathore, IG (Prisons) RK Sharma, Sanjiv Nanda and so on. Variance in the quantum of the award is understandable in any two judgements where the appellate court may alter the award either way. However, verdicts that turn death or life sentence to outright acquittal or vice versa need explanation to justify the absolute contrast. It is also expedient to determine as to which of the two judgements is aiding crime and preventing justice from its natural course. Punitive and corrective actions against the erring judges need to be incorporated in the system through appropriate judicial reforms to inspire prudence and reign in recklessness in the field of justice.

When ‘Equality’ is ‘Inequality’

The current inflationary market trends have hit our judicial system too. Cost wise, justice has become unaffordable for majority of the people. A host of questions about systemic inadequacies in our judicature have acquired urgency to set things right through comprehensive judicial reforms. The principle of ‘Equality before Law’ itself makes it ‘unequal’ for the poor who has no option but to accept his victimisation itself as fait accompli. Features like high counsel fees, prolonged trials, multiplicity of appellate stages – all favour the rich and resourceful but perpetuate the victimisation of the poor. The scene for the rich, however, is not as gloomy, for he can afford to pay and choose his time and verdict – at least in some cosy courts with judges more affable.

In judicial dispensation, the phenomena of time and finance, delay and cost, have a striking variable – the loss of the poor becomes the gain of the rich. Poorer the victim, faster he needs the justice because his suffering becomes more acute with each passing day. Delay frustrates his witnesses impedes the normal course of life. Also, everyone knows how even the eyewitnesses retracted their depositions against the accused who later proved to be too mighty. Threats and rewards that can be packaged by the rich to scare away prosecution witnesses and win over evidence in defence has become a routine in the courts.

The more a court case drags, the more relief its delay brings to the rich and powerful while the poor exhausts his life’s resources in his pursuit for the mirage of justice. So simple and yet how strange that the epithet ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is not always so in all cases. A sample of lingering court cases suggests that ‘justice delayed’ is an advantage to the rich and powerful but a cruel denial to the poor and hapless. Even if justice accrues to the poor at the lower court, the fruit of justice tantalisingly eludes the beneficiary as the case continues through tortuous appellate stages to be one among millions of cases pending for years and decades.

Flawed Onus of Evidence

Who has the courage to depose against killers who chase and they prey in broad daylight in a busy market teeming with humanity? Who deserves ‘benefit of doubt’ genuinely – the accused or the victim or the nation? ‘Benefit of doubt to the accused’ helps only the mighty because giving evidence against Netas and criminals requires special courage and assured protection which is missing in our context as is clear from the high rate of killings of whistle blowers and RTI activists in the recent past. Signal from the crime lobby is clear: ‘It’s highly perilous to question high-end wrongs’.

The principle of treating the accused ‘innocent until proved guilty’ in cases where the accused is a powerful person also weighs heavily against the victim of crime. Firstly, echoing the colonial era the victim of the crime is not even a party in the criminal case, which is left to the police to steer. Secondly, even the eye-witnesses get scared once they realise that the accused on the other side is an influential VIP. In rare cases if at all some witnesses do come forward in the initial stages, they also retract and turn hostile in due course, thanks to the influence from the opposing side.

Therefore, in cases involving high profile accused, due weightage must be given to circumstantial evidence. In high profile cases where circumstantial evidence indicates complicity of the accused, it is expedient to reverse the above mentioned principle and hold the mighty accused ‘guilty until proved innocent’ placing upon him the onus of proving himself ‘innocent’. In addition, there must be effective safeguards to protect witnesses from every kind of coercion, temptation or blackmail from the opposing party.

Unfair Compensation Awards

Courts grant relief to aggrieved parties to compensate their loss and mitigate and suffering on the one hand and to penalise the offender on the other. To be effective, such awards should serve two purposes in effect – compensation for the aggrieved and retribution for the offender. However, whereas the compensatory effect is always clear and pointed irrespective of where it comes from, the punitive effect loses its pointedness and effect when the amount of compensation is paid by the Government departments and agencies because being paid out of public funds such a penalty pinches nobody’s pocket.

To illustrate the malady, consider the compensation award in the case of Delhi’s Uphaar Cinema tragedy. The Delhi High Court held Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Delhi Vidyut Board (DVB) and the licensing authority ‘guilty of negligence’ and, awarding a Rs 25 crore compensation, directed that 45 per cent of this award would be borne equally by MCD, DVB and the licensing authorities, the rest 55 per cent being borne by the Cinema owners. Now, no doubt that the aggrieved parties would be the genuine beneficiaries of such compensation (amount somewhat reduced later by the Supreme Court this year), penalising corporations and institutions serves neither corrective nor punitive purpose because officials ‘guilty of negligence’ remain unaffected even as the penal amount is paid out of the public money held by the departments concerned.

When the court indicts a government, corporation or institution holding it ‘guilty of negligence’, it implies there are specific human functionaries upon whom the blame and accountability must stick. Therefore, it will be a more effective reformative measure if a substantial part of the compensation is deducted from the salary and service benefits of such erring officials and functionaries. Otherwise, the compensation amounts so ordered are an unnecessary burden on the public exchequer.

Prolonged Detentions

Delay in conviction turns criminals into heroes. Keeping those who are awarded death sentence and kept waiting even after disposal of their review petitions at the Supreme Court waiting for long periods have been at times exploited by social activists, communal manipulators and politicians to promote their own vested interests as has been recently seen in the case of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers and the guilty man of attack on India’s Parliament, Afzal Guru. Official callousness and inefficiency become useful tools for the criminals to escape from their deserved fate – their Nemeses. Political and communal lobbyists whip up public passions and, casting aside all national security concerns, they demand leniency for the most dangerous convicts who have exhausted all their legal rights and options from the lowest to the highest levels.

Prolonged detention of high value under-trials or those sentenced to death carries other risks as well like the risk of jail-break, escape and chances of criminals blackmailing the government through more serious terror actions like the infamous Kandahar episode. It is most depressing to visualise another plane hijack with some high value VVIPs on board the aircraft taken this time to Waziristan and Haqqanis mediating between the Indian Government and the hijackers demanding safe deliverance of Afzal Guru and Kassab in exchange for the hostages. Today it might be easy to dismiss such conjectures but if and when such probability becomes real, it might put the Government in a quandary because any decision will have serious ramifications ranging from questions marks on national security and existence of the government itself. There are good reasons, therefore, for faster disposal of court cases, quicker Presidential decisions on clemency petitions, and prompt compliance of the final verdict especially the capital punishment.

Endless wait for justice, unaffordable costs and questionable judgements are seriously undermining the prestige and credibility of Judiciary. After the final verdict, the government inaction mars whatever is left of public faith in the legal and administrative processes. There is a crying need to revamp these processes and impose accountability at all levels so that efficiency is put on smooth rails. At a time when the raging political and bureaucratic corruption is threatening our national security, unchecked rise in judicial corruption can be catastrophic.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shivani Bhatnagar Murder Case: HC Judgement - Reward for Crime

The gruesome murder of Shivani Bhatnagar in January 1999 dominated the media for quite some time, initially because of the cold-blooded nature of the murder and later due to involvement of a high-ranking police officer in the crime. After tortuously long investigations by the Delhi police and subsequent trial, a Delhi court sentenced RK Sharma, a senior IPS officer of Haryana cadre (IG – Prisons), and his accomplices to life imprisonment for the murder. This was in March 2008. Now, a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court comprising Justices BD Ahmad and Manmohan Singh found no merit in the trial court’s judgement and, reversing the lower court’s judgement, has acquitted RK Sharma and two others. Interestingly, the bench had reserved its judgement on December 21, 2010 and it took the honourable judges more than 10 ½ months to reveal their judgement on 12 Oct 2011 granting freedom to the three ‘innocent lives’, who, the bench viewed, were wrongly punished by the trial court! More interestingly, the bench upheld the conviction of RK Sharma’s third accomplice, Pradeep Sharma who had actually executed the murder plan. What baffles human prudence is that grounds that were no evidence for RK Sharma’s culpability became strong enough evidence to let Pradeep Sharma continue in jail for life.

Exonerating RK Sharma and two others, the judges have raised some questions, “"Did he (Pradeep) act alone? Did he act at the behest of RK Sharma or did he act at the instance of someone else? These are questions we can't answer on the basis of the material before us.” Death in the absence of motive would be mere accident or mishap with no culpability on a person who could be present at the scene of occurrence for a number of reasons. Even fingerprints not corroborated by motive could as well suggest a timely benign help and effort to save the life of the deceased. The reluctance of the honourable judges in ascribing motive for the killing bores many holes and raises pertinent questions, which the judges have themselves raised in their strange judgement. Intriguingly, they have left these questions unanswered for unexplained reasons. If RK Sharma is removed from the entire episode, Pradeep Sharma would not – in all probability – have ever known or met Shivani Bhatnagar and, therefore, would not appear as a killer in the episode. But the judgement makes it appear as if the killer jumped out of Aladdin’s lamp in Shivani’s house just to commit the crime and go. The judgement confounds the confusion about Pradeep Sharma killing Shivani without having any personal reasons that could drive him to commit the crime. That he killed her, they are fully convinced; why, they do not know! Worse, they do not attempt to find out either.

Thanks to his training and professional experience as a senior IPS officer, RK Sharma’s expertise in criminology, procedures and mechanics of investigations, attendant legal aspects and evidence management et al place him at an enviably advantageous position to plan and organise crime more ably and skilfully than the professional criminals bereft of such prowess, experience, resources and requisite influence of office. The quality and size of his influence could be surmised from the fact that he had done tenures in the CBI, as an officer on special duty (OSD) at the Prime Minister Office (PMO), vigilance officer for Air India and a tenure with the Interpol (France) – a service record that could earn him enough clout to vitiate the investigations and, who knows, influence some pliable judges too.

The judgement has evoked strong resentment and criticism in the media and public besides a number of conscientious lawyers and activists. While there are many in the legal profession who condemn the judgement, some like Ashok Arora, a well known Supreme Court lawyer and social activist, have stepped up their tirade against corruption in the Judiciary. Not able to digest the prejudice in the judgement, an irate Ashok Arora has questioned the integrity of one of the judges. While norms of civility must be followed even in criticising, the threat of contempt proceedings forestalls all kinds of debate and criticism of happenings inside the courtrooms. Their Lordships would only exalt their own prestige and dignity by rising above vindictive attitudes and displaying higher levels of tolerance and magnanimity before issuing contempt notices. That vendetta mostly drives contempt cases is clear from the fact that these cases are taken up faster and decided quickest while more serious cases anguish for years and decades. Their Lordships are so addressed because a divine conduct where the conscience and mind are in harmony is expected from them when they proclaim a judgement. Ironically, in the Shivani case, sobs of a suppressed conscience of the judge can be felt from the judgement itself when it says, "Judges, like other human beings, have suspicions. But judges, unlike others who are free to arrive at their own conclusions, cannot and do not convict on the basis of mere suspicion." (Read ‘inferences’ instead of ‘suspicions’). The inner conflict gives away enough for prudence to judge the judge.

For reasons unknown, the bench has preferred to ignore some vital aspects of the case. If RK Sharma was innocent, why did he did he behave like a criminal by going in the hiding? Why did he – IG (Prisons) of Haryana - continue to abscond as a deserter for over two years until confronted with the court deciding to declare him a ‘proclaimed offender’! When Shivani was in London for two months, he made 90 ISD calls to her from Mumbai; she made 176 calls to him from London. It takes simple logic, not rocket science, to reasonably deduce whether such deluge of passionate communications reinforce or refute the nature and intensity of their relationship? The fact that such an extra marital relationship carried risks that could destroy career, personal reputation and family life of RK Sharma is obvious. Being in such a situation, it is also obvious that he could be easily blackmailed, a logical inference that is also corroborated by Shivani’s friend Sejal and sister Sewanti in their statements. A ‘gentleman’ in RK Sharma’s position would naturally fear serious damage to his career, family life and social reputation if exposed as a debauch. RK Sharma found himself in a trap. Luckily, his profession and position afforded the wherewithal with which to destroy this trap and break free.

There is a huge class difference between RK Sharma and the other accused in the case. His proximity to urchins like these from humble backgrounds and he treating them at places like Hotel Ashok is an unusual and odd behaviour – an aberration from his known life style and relationships, which raises curious questions. And, what’s more significant, RK Sharma’s intimacy, communication and meetings with them became more intense and frequent in days just prior to the murder. Curiously enough, all intimacy, communication and meetings between RK Sharma and his accomplices suddenly changed in pattern soon after the murder. Their movement, meetings and communicating pattern before and after Shivani’s murder – if prudently concatenated, lead to irrefutable conclusion: their conspiracy for the crime, preparation, commission and efforts to destroy the evidence as had been rightly observed by the Sessions Court. It is the logical conclusion – not suspicions – that is product of factual occurrences and actions of specific individuals, which unambiguously point to the mastermind in the crime. “It is settled law by the Supreme Court with regard to motive, conspiracy and Indian Evidence Act, Sections 8 (regarding conduct of accused), 10 (act of any accused to be relevant against all) and 27 (disclosure leading to recovery of fact), which were totally ignored ….”, says Ashok Arora.

There is no doubt that there are many honourable judges with impeccable record of honesty and integrity whom wealth cannot lure and threats cannot scare, yet judicial probity is on the decline. Earlier, cases like Jessica Lall and Nitish Katara had exposed the influence of power – money, muscle and position – and susceptibility of our judicial system to such forces. If it were not for the pressure exerted by the public and media, the high profile criminals would be exonerated and let free to hunt and wipe out more innocent human lives. What will be more profane and contemptuous in judicial dispensation than a court awarding the highest quantum of punishment and another acquitting the accused altogether? The High Court judgement is not at variance with that of the Sessions Court; it turns the latter upside down and, by implication, rewards persons punished severely by the Sessions Court. The contrast between the two judgements being as stark as this, it is plain and obvious that one of them is highly improper and unjust – a dangerous lacuna in the judicial dispensation will one day send the innocent to the gallows and set the dangerous criminals free just as simply. Therefore, after the Supreme Court’s verdict on the appeal, the conduct of the erring judge must be made to face speedy prosecution himself for being unjust, which is tantamount to the judge abetting and being an accomplice in the crime.

There has been much debate about judicial reforms but little has been done despite repeated suggestions and recommendations from various institutions and organisations including Law Commission and Administrative Reforms Commission. Now under pressure from a nation-wide anti-corruption tirade, the government is contemplating to introduce, among others, the Judges Accountability Bill, which one hopes, will salvage the system from going adrift.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unholy Coalitions and Bad Governance: India faces a cruel double whammy

Corruption has taken time to grow in India. It has graduated from a slow pace, covert and cautious activity in the Nehru era to a fast, audacious and daring occupation of politicians and bureaucrats today as can be seen from the size and frequency of scams. Party funds of all political parties started swallowing cash ‘donations’ from public and corporate houses which encouraged generation of black money and patronised the affluent donors. Numerous inquiries and lingering court cases have gone on for decades tiring the witnesses and the public to such an extent that the delays virtually turn out protective for the accused while their crimes gradually fade away into oblivion. As if by the legal processes so designed, no political party or senior political leader has yet been convicted and finally punished (exhausting all appellate levels) which could be an example to deter others. The sluggish pace of court cases and moderated enquiries gave comfort and much needed security to the culprits who have insidiously formed their pressure groups within the political parties. Progressively, party ideologies became out-dated giving way to an era of politics of mutual comfort and gain. Small wonder that we find the tone and tenor of party spokespersons quickly shifting from their pre-poll accusatory stance against their declared foes, to an immediate friendly mode, keeping in tune with the post-poll trends emerging from the counting.

The anti-defection law has curbed retail horse-trading to an extent but in recent times we have seen political parties, which fought elections as avowed enemies coming together for form alliance with no qualms about their pre-election espousal of promises in their manifestoes. Governments formed on the basis of shared interests of parties, which in today’s context are virtual family domains of dynastic lords who call the shorts. Shamefully, it is sad chapter in the history of world’s largest democracy that weak governments have openly traded parties and groups to win a vote of confidence in the Parliament. First, the Narsimha Rao government was saved with support bought from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Again, in July 2008 when the Left Front withdrew their support from the UPA 1 over the Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation Treaty and the Manmohan Singh government, reduced to minority, was confronted with a confidence motion, the stench of political corruption rose again. Wads of currency notes, allegedly paid to MPs to buy their vote to save the sinking Manmohan Singh Government, were waved and the drama of active horse-trading was caught in a sting operation. While the ‘cash for votes’ is still being ‘investigated’, the public is largely convinced about the existence of murk and muck in our political actions at the top.

The culture of political convenience and opportunistic functioning at the highest levels is dangerous for the country’s security. On critical national issues like corruption, security, good governance, health care and poverty eradication it would be great if the major political parties eschew narcissistic and vindictive politics resolving to sincerely act together at least to safeguard the vital national interests. Such an approach can perhaps help in restoring some semblance of political integrity at the national scene and bring in systemic change in the decaying state organs and callous departments. Some of the aspects that need immediate focus are :-

1. Political Blackmail: Everyone knows how confidence motions have been won through dubious machinations between parties and individual MPs and MLAs. Modern day Chanakyas have devised ways and means to bend and twist Democracy their party or alliance. As we saw in the in the questionable confidence vote for the Manmohan Singh government, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party jumped in straight from the Opposition with its 22 MPs to save the Manmohan Singh Government despite his vociferously voiced divergence with the policies of the ruling combine. It is also fresh in public memory how ruling coalitions are often held to ransom by tiny parties and even independent MPs/MLAs who find and create opportunities to coerce and blackmail the ruling alliance primarily to achieve their own narrow aims. The arrogance and audacity of the erstwhile DMK ministers mounted so high that they saw nothing odd in publicly admitting that they received their directions from Karunanidhi and not from Manmohan Singh! How are such coalitions different from gangs of criminals looting and sharing the booty? Thanks to our coalition politics, Madhu Koda, an independent MLA, went on to become Chief Minister of Jharkhand. Though now in jail for having amassed booty of over Rs 4000 crore through mining mafia, he is now an MP in the Lok Sabha. His ambitions and possibilities in present day Indian politics are not hard to speculate.

2. Emergence of Dangerous Trends of Populism: In a weird move to placate particular segments in the society at the cost of higher national interests, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly has passed a resolution to save lives of three convicts sentenced to death for assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. They have exercised and exhausted all their legal rights, appeals and mercy petitions, which have been duly heard and finally rejected by the Supreme Court and the President of India. Now, inspired by this populist move of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, there is a similar resolution mooted in the J&K Assembly to save Afzal Guru, convicted and sentenced to death for attack on India’s Parliament. These moves to save the worst of the criminals and terrorists are also echoing in Punjab and, if allowed to prevail, will turn the worst of the criminals into heroes to inspire their ilk to tread the same path with greater assurance. With the advent of such politics, do we need Pakistan or China to destroy India? The enemy within is more potent, cunning and on its way to invincibility as well! What is mind-boggling is that it is the victim – the unsuspecting gullible masses – who, in the name of care and welfare, are being used by the perpetrators to intrinsically destroy themselves. This sinister trend of populism too is being pedalled hard in the name of Democracy!

3. Systemic Degeneration: Corruption has had a cascading effect on all organs of State resulting in a systemic degeneration of institutions and departments. If not based on Rule of Law, Democracy gradually shrinks into a self-serving Oligarchy, which in turn converts resources and power of the State to instruments serving vested interests of the ruling group. Look how the State is being emasculated by this approach. CBI, the so-called autonomous investigative agency is, as everyone knows, not so autonomous. Like hounds in sheath, the CBI sleuths can be set on trails or shooed away depending upon the convenience of the Government (DoPT). People have frequently seen how quickly the CBI sleuths also adapt to the changed equations between the ruling coalition and their erstwhile targets. In most cases their investigations are inconclusive and kept alive or in suspended animation for need based subsequent revival. A pattern of CBI behaviour has been established and it is becoming simpler now to predict their course and object of investigations. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has not done enough to curb corruption at the Centre. Appointment of tainted officers to head such an organisation further eroded its credibility. Institutions that should be people oriented are top-oriented serving personal interests of a chosen few at the cost of those who wait and suffer. What is even more worrisome is that the politico-bureaucratic nexus has not shied away from destroying the cohesion among India’s Armed Forces. Recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee emphasised on the need to have a single point military advice system to help and advise the Government on matters involving national defence and security. This, the Committee reiterated, necessitated early institutionalisation of ‘Chief of Defence Staff’ as a fountainhead of integrated and cohesive military vision as is working in countries like France, UK and Australia among others. The nexus, however, has not only slept over these vital recommendations for over a decade now but has pushed down the military from their entitled position in the National Warrant of Precedence. Take away the sheen from professions like military and you will have destroyed their morale and pride so completely that they will blunt their fighting edge. And see how its manifests – we have juniors going berserk killing themselves or their colleagues in the field; and generals getting increasingly involved in cases of corruption.

It is pathetic that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the most qualified among the world’s prime ministers, has expressed his inability to control terrorism, inflation and corruption ‘because of compulsions of a coalition government’. Is that how we had expected India’s Prime Minister to lead India? A government that cannot find answers to questions as basic as these in the 21st Century has no moral right to hang on to power:-

• Public safety and security is the very basic responsibility of the State. Why then have the Police withdrawn from peoples’ security leaving them to fend for themselves by hiring private security guards while the police protect only politicians and their officers?

• Every vehicle owner pays advance road tax in lump-sum. Why can’t we have all roads as good as the privately constructed and managed Express ways?

• Every citizen has a right to pure drinking water. Why is contaminated water, unfit for human consumption supplied through water supply lines to homes?

• Why are residents living in government-approved colonies not getting uninterrupted power supply? Why should they pay for back-up power generation from privately run generators and inverters?

• Why are Government hospitals, schools and institutions not performing with the same efficiency as the private ones despite being well equipped and profusely funded by the public money?

• Why students should be required to seek ‘coaching’ from hoards of Coaching Shops by paying hefty sums to prepare for IITs etc? Why don’t schools impart quality education that should enable students to avail of all career opportunities?

India is passing through a curious phase faced with a mix of challenges and opportunities. There is matching potential available too. We can transform it to a global power if only we can overcome the coalition blackmailing and self-serving politicking within the government. The tendency of ministers treating their ministries and departments as their fiefdoms must be curbed and accountability introduced to infuse positive energy in the callous administration.

Need for the Army to Speak up

The good news is that tourists are pouring in Kashmir and Dal Lake, Pahalgam, Gulmarg and other scenic places are once again humming with fun and charm. The bad one is the hue and cry on the alleged ‘discovery of 2500 unmarked graves in north Kashmir’ implicating the Army for it and raising questions on its role in combating terrorism in the Valley. Mute response from the government and the Army has only lent credibility to these allegations. Adverse commentaries by organisations like Amnesty International and indigenous rights activists have also come as a shot in the arm for the decimated anti-India lobby and political poachers of peace in Kashmir. Army’s stance of avoiding questions by issuing defensive, cryptic one-line denials of allegations have raised more suspicions than allaying baseless fears and mounting rumours.

Public curiosity demands answers to questions like, “Can the Indian Army really do this?” “Are our soldiers so cruel and inhuman?” “Is there no difference between the Indian Army and Gaddaffi’s?” Barring odd aberrations, the record of the Indian Army has been laudatory not only at home but also in foreign territories captured by it and where it held its sway in war or post-operational occupation like Bangladesh, Pakistan and the UN missions in Africa.

Having served as an Infantry officer in the Army and the NSG, I have planned and conducted numerous operations at different occasions in J&K, Punjab, North East and special operations elsewhere. Fighting terrorists is a very complex operation because, no matter how much caution and care you exercise, the probability of collateral damage cannot be ruled out. This probability is further heightened when terrorists are holed up in densely populated built up areas like towns and villages. The situation becomes even worse when the terrorists start shooting and throwing grenades with no regard to lives – military or civilian, their aim being to create chaos and confusion through which they could escape. Many gallant soldiers have sacrificed their lives fighting this menace primarily because they moved with utmost restraint risking themselves for the sake of the innocent local population, even as the terrorists sprayed the area with bullets and grenades. Despite abundant caution by the fighting troops, innocent civilians often get caught in this frenzy of fire. There have also been occasions when innocent civilians, even children and women, are held hostage and used by the terrorists to barter or cover their escape. It cannot be denied that innocent civilian lives have been often lost in such operations not only in the Kashmir Valley but in all terrorist infested states in the country. Therefore, the onus of such deaths should be on the terrorists, not the Army.

Let’s also face it that there have also been aberrations where some extra ambitious sub-unit or unit commanders have tried to paint accidental civilian deaths as ‘terrorists killed in encounter’ to protect the wrong doer and earn laurels for ‘a well conducted operation’. Thankfully, whenever such episodes have come to light the Indian Army has moved with terrific swiftness to enquire and punish the wrong doers. Officers and jawans indicted for serious offences have been dismissed from service and handed out long jail sentences. It might surprise many to know that punishments awarded by Courts Martial have been so stern that according to one researcher nearly more than 93 per cent of the punishments awarded by Courts Martial are mitigated and 40% acquitted by the appellate courts. And trials by Court Martial do not drag for years like the cases going on for decades in our civil judiciary. Army officers involved in the Tehalka scandal were sacked and punished even before formal enquiries commenced against the politicians and bureaucrats involved in the same episode. People also know what happened to the politicians and bureaucrats indicted for the same misdemeanour – sweet nothing! They were all back to business as usual until prevented by death or incapacitating diseases like Alzheimer. Let also be widely known that stern actions have already been taken against the serving army officers indicted for their role in scams like Adarsh Society in Mumbai and Sukhna land deal – some have been demoted, sacked and punished summarily; some have been court-martialled while trials of the remaining few are in their final stages. What has happened to their civilian comrades-in-crime – ministers, bureaucrats and also those ex-military veterans now beyond reach of the Courts Martial? They are playing ball which keeps bouncing between this court and that. It is sad that the overflowing corruption in our bureaucracy and political life has spilled over the military and smeared its image of pure professionalism, honesty, high ethics, discipline and self-less dedication to national safety, security and wellbeing. Candid analysis of the drift in character qualities at the top will surely suggest an urgent need for a comprehensive, sincere and ruthless self-cleansing operation to redeem the lustrous glow of the dimming top brass. The Army will delay this exercise at its own peril.

Unfortunately the civilian population in India is not informed enough about the restraints, risks and operational necessities through which troops function. Local people do have a stake and responsibility in what happens in their vicinity and, therefore, they also have a right to know how the Army is delivering them from chaos and terror to peace, freedom and prosperity. It is sad that not enough is known about the Army even in the government echelons. Our political masters and bureaucrats who look towards the Army whenever in crisis do not have any idea about its capabilities and limitations – features that every citizen must know.

The age-old tradition of keeping the media and taxpayers insulated from all military matters in the name of security is now coming in direct conflict with the mood of the masses. We are living in the Information Age today where transparency, connectivity and information sharing are a rule rather than exception. Spies and enemy agents no longer have to sneak into military Ops Rooms to steal traces and maps of our defensive layout. A click at Google Earth provides more detailed and accurate photographs of these defence works and terrain than the Top Secret war books and layouts locked up in strong room cupboards of the general staff branch. Comprehensive details including photographs, blueprints and technical data of our classified weapon systems and equipment are also a click away on the Internet. Notwithstanding the dissatisfaction of the Armed Forces about the inadequate remuneration and long pending modernisation programmes, the defence budget is a huge chunk of taxpayers’ money. They have a right to know how their soldiers function, what they have, what they need et al. The Armed Forces stand to benefit more from the principle of transparency because their genuine needs will become a public concern too.

Thanks to the CAG reports and RTI activism, many wrongs in the government functioning have been exposed leading to an unprecedented number of ministers, MPs, bureaucrats and Corporate big-guns going to jail on charges of corruption. No doubt, transparency in military context will have to have a limit beyond which it cannot open to public keeping regard to highly sensitive matters of national security and operational imperatives. Yet, the blanket ban on sharing even routine military information with the people, has only harmed the Army in many ways including lowering its image and raising doubts in public mind about the fairness in its conduct despite sacrificing gallant soldiers in self-less dedication to duty. Prompt and timely press briefings about successes and failures, if any, including misconduct by combatants – officers or jawans – and corrective actions contemplated or taken, would have stifled rumours that have thrived on military silence even as media celebrated by scandalising ‘military crimes’. Imagine the positive effect on the people if the Army had shared the progress of inquiries and Court Martial proceedings in respect of those found guilty of offences in Kashmir Valley or, for that matter, anywhere else. In today’s exposed world, people neither expect nor believe that soldiers living and fighting terrorism under severe adversities will not commit mistakes, even crime, howsoever rare it might be. The ‘Army-does-no-wrong’ theory advanced as a line of defence is no more tenable. Persistent denials in the face of accusations have only damaged Army’s credibility whereas candid acceptance of such oddities would only reinforce people’s faith in the Army’s fairness.

While the aam Kashmiri is enthusiastically looking up to new vistas of hope and fresh opportunities in the dawn of normalcy now, the defeated alienists and power hungry politicians will do anything to revive anarchy by provoking the masses against the Indian Army in the wake of the so-called discovery of 2500 unmarked graves. In the absence of plausible clarifications from the Army, rights activists within and outside the country have found it easier to lend their voice to a ‘cause’ in the Kashmir Valley. What if the Indian Army Chief, Gen VK Singh had offered – better still, demanded – an impartial probe into the discovery of unmarked graves with an unambiguous assurance that the military personnel found guilty shall be dealt with severely and swiftly. Hypothesising a worst case scenario in which such a Probe finds some, say 10, 20 or 50 of these corpses being those of the innocent villagers picked up and wrongly done to death by the Army, will such a finding itself not demolish the outrageously provocative accusation that implies as if the Army had indulged in mass killings? Carrying the hypothesis a little further and assuming Gen VK Singh’s magnanimity to apologise for the odd military wrongs, the Army Chief orders enquiry to be followed up by general court martial in respect of those found involved in the crime, howsoever rare. There will be three powerfully positive fall outs of such a bold action: one, the anti-Army propaganda will lose steam and people’s faith in Army’s fairness will be largely restored; two, the wrong doers within the Army will get the message loud and clear to steadfastly adhere to the laid down ethics in operations; three, the reputation of the Army and its Chief will be greatly enhanced. Also, the Chief of the world’s third largest Army has much bigger things to fight for and remembered by than mere personal battles seeking reconciliation between two conflicting dates of birth!

Why Armed Forces Special Powers Act? - A Soldier's Perspective

Brigadier V Mahalingam (Retired)
Based on the recommendations of the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee and the Second Administrative Reform Commission, the Government attempted to replace the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) with a law which it felt would be more humane than the existing one. With the Army and the Ministry of Defence opposing the move vehemently, the proposal was put on cold storage only to be revived after a statement by the Chief Minister of J & K to the effect that the Act will be revoked from certain parts of the State.

Withdrawing the AFSPA from some parts of the State presupposes that the security situation in the areas so selected is manageable by the State with its own law enforcement resources. If that be so, even with the AFSPA on, what prevents the State Government from ensuring that the army is not deployed or requisitioned in these areas is a big mystery. By adopting such a resolve, it may well be possible to test the efficacy of the Chief Minister’s proposal before a final decision is taken.

The Chief Minister is well within his right to demand the annulment of AFSPA from which ever part of the State as deemed fit by him provided the Army is not called upon to act or be requisitioned in these areas. The Government needs to understand that making a soldier act in an insurgency situation without the AFSPA will be considered an act of betrayal besides adversely affecting the morale of the services as a whole. Needless to say, the political hierarchy ought to bear in mind that national security cannot be bartered for petty political gains.

The subject matter one hopes will be discussed in the Parliament and the country will adopt a deliberate and a well calculated measure. The Parliament has the obligation to make certain that its citizens have a safe and a secure environment to live in. While employing the Armed Forces in an insurgency situation, the moral responsibility of the Parliament is no less in ensuring that the Armed Forces are not pushed into action with all the operational and legal impediments intact. To that end AFSPA is a suitable legal framework created by the Parliament. It now intends to repel or replace it with a new law under pressure from the state governments, human right activities and political parties. In this issue, the ground realities confronting a soldier are compelling and needs precedence over intellectual opinion. The Parliament therefore needs to understand the practicalities of military operations and evaluate the implications without any vote bank or other partisan considerations.

Legal Powers
Armed Forces need the legal authority to conduct operations involving entry, search of premises and arrest of individuals without warrants. Authorization to use force including opening effective fire, seize weapons, military hardware and explosives, destroy armed camps and military stocks held by militants are a must. They need legal safeguards against motivated accusations and long winded legal action. Without this authority, the Armed Forces will be acting exactly like the Police which obviously are not the intention. They are not meant to perform police duties or adopt their methodology.

The Milieu
When the army is requisitioned for counter insurgency operations, there is a total intelligence vacuum. The locals are not prepared to cooperate or provide information for fear of the gun or ideological reasons. The enemy that the Army is chasing is an invisible one and has no addresses or identity to locate or arrest from. The militants are constantly on the move from one village to the other and the locals are forcibly made to provide shelter and feed them by over ground workers. Some are foreign mercenaries. Under these circumstances, what search or arrest warrant can be obtained and against whom?

The presence of the Army restricts the movements and activities of the militants and they want the Army to go. A smear campaign against the Army, they hope, will have them returned to their barracks. The militants and the locals identify the army with the government and are hell bent on discrediting them as a part of their political campaign to claim legitimacy for their criminal activities.

There are no courts or police stations in the remote areas where operations are conducted. Access to these establishments will involve movement through militant infested areas which may have been mined or an ambush kept in waiting. Accordingly, road opening and convoy protection will have to be undertaken before any such movement, a massive effort indeed. Under such circumstances, where does one obtain an arrest warrant or a search warrant from and for whom or which premises? Can these be done without jeopardizing the lives of the soldiers?

Obtaining a search or an arrest warrant will involve processing or at least the papers being moved through more than a single individual. It is our experience that, any contemplated action against the militants or their hideouts if provided to civilians or even local police invariably gets leaked out jeopardizing the entire effort, and the lives of the personnel. This being the operational constraints, should arrest warrants or search warrants be obtained prior to such action?

Operational Setting
How does the Army carry out its operations? Based on broad spectrum information on the movements and activities of the militants in the area, a number of area domination patrols led by Non Commissioned Officers (NCO) and Junior Commissioned officers (JCO) are sent out to seek encounter. Interrogations of captured militants from such encounters are the primary source of information. Information thus obtained regarding the hideouts is effective only for a limited period. Such information will therefore have to be acted upon immediately by dispatching an independent detachment commanded by a NCO or a JCO for the purpose. In these circumstances, who should have the powers to order opening of fire? After the incident who will give evidence to the effect that the fire was opened in self-defence? How does one obtain a search or arrest warrant and from whom?

Militants engage army columns by small arms or rocket fire throw hand grenades or activate IEDs either remotely or by powering it from a distance. Such engagements are carried out from within or close to habitation so as be in a position to have an easy get away and quick merger with the local population, their human shield. When fired upon, the security force detachment returns fire. Being close to habitation, it may injure or kill any civilian who happens to be in the

path of the bullet. When civilian casualty thus occurs, who will come forward to give evidence in favour of the army? In such a situation, how many rounds should a soldier fire? What is the minimum force? Should he wait for orders to fire at all? When search is carried out to trace the culprit, can search or arrest warrants be obtained?

Soldier in a Legal Battle?
The Armed Forces belong to the nation and a soldier is not a party to the dispute. He operates under conditions where the Police forces are politicized and corrupt. The nexus between the politician and the criminals besides the finesse with which evidences and witnesses including postmortem and other reports are manufactured should leave no one in doubt with regard to the facility with which a soldier can be falsely implicated. Considering the endemic delays in our legal procedures, how long will a soldier fight a legal battle? Does he have the financial and other resources to fight a criminal case especially after his arrest or retirement? Should he be harassed just because he did what was right for the country? Why should a soldier’s family suffer with the head of the family running around courts and police stations to defend himself for no fault of his? Why then should a soldier sacrifice his life and clean up a mess created mostly due to political and administrative mismanagement? Will he do that?

While supporting the retention of AFSPA no one is suggesting that human rights violations are not taking place or should be condoned. The Armed Forces’ legal system has time and again proved much faster than the civil courts in providing justice. They should continue to act decisively against the culprits. The Army on its part needs to understand and educate their troops that their role is limited to restricting the violence to an acceptable level and nothing more or less. Incentives for capturing weapons, killing militants etc have over the period proved counterproductive and needs to be stopped. The Government on its part should to be fair, just and honest in its dealings. It also needs to get its act together to find a political solution without dragging its feet endlessly.

AFSPA has been created to accomplish a certain purpose under certain conditions. If it is repealed, and subsequently the Armed Forces made to act in an insurgency situation, the very decision to create the Act and its purpose gets obliterated. The question is, will the Parliament, the Government and the country raise above petty politics and support the Armed Forces to achieve the aim for which it may be requisitioned or deployed? Would the Armed Forces be able to carry out its operations with the impact and freedom which is very necessary to bring down the level of violence in the affected region? Or will the Armed Forces like the police forces of the country be conditioned by the politician bureaucrat combine to make it yet another police force without a back bone? It is time to decide.

The writer, a retired Brigadier, is a veteran of the 1971 Indo – Pak war and an ex Force Commander of the National Security Guard (Black Cat Commandos)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Let's Save Democracy from Political Parties

Hissar might become a milestone in the Indian Democracy for very peculiar reasons. The by-election on 13 October 2011 has been preceded by unique aggressive campaigning by a non-contesting, non-political civil society group that had no direct stake at the hustings. Anna Hazare had given a call to the electorate to ‘defeat Congress because the Party heading the UPA Government at the Centre is dithering on the Lokpal Bill’. Claiming to be wholly ‘apolitical’ and above party politics, Team Anna has avoided extending support to any of the contestants in the fray. If the Congress loses this election, the Team Anna tactics might emerge as a potent threat to party based polity because political parties have ceased to represent the people and turned into self-serving, domineering gangs.

Whereas there has been unanimity of views all through the 42 years debate on the desirability of having an effective Ombudsman (Lokpal), the political establishment has willy-nilly let eight bills lapse. The ninth attempt is now on in the Lok Sabha. Lots of lip service and no concrete action to have it enacted into a law has exposed the absence of political will in the ruling alliance and the Opposition alike. Whenever there had been a political will, bills were passed in exemplary swiftness without much debate like the MPs’ Salary Bill. This stance of the political parties has led to frustration among the masses. Anna’s call to rouse the people against the Congress should therefore be seen as a public response to political arrogance.

Questions are often asked whether it is democratic for the civil society groups to incite people to vote against a particular party, stage dharnas, fasts and Satyagraha with a view to ‘coercing’ the government to comply with their demands. The counter question, however, is how else will people make the unwilling government act to realise their aspirations and cherished national goals? The underlying problem is that democracy in India has been hijacked by a few families and groups who converted parties into their fiefdoms. Consequently, democracy has slowly dissipated giving way to Oligarchy. Here are the facts that prove this contention.

Dynastic Control. Except perhaps the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Leftist parties, almost all other political parties have a Family in control. The party functionaries in such parties are favourites of the ‘Family’ rather than ‘choice’ of the people they are ‘assigned to represent’. Come election season and we find aspiring sycophants jostling, quarrelling and crying over nomination and party tickets for the ensuing polls. Honest individuals rising on their own merit from grass roots are viewed as potential threats as, having strong mass backing, such individuals might not hesitate to question the party high command’s policies which is not acceptable to the all-powerful High Command used to reigning supreme in unquestioned environs as is so often experienced. If criticise you must, it would be okay to find faults with ministers and even the Prime Minister but who dare criticise Madam Supreme and Rahul Gandhi? This style of party-government functioning has destroyed constitutional institutions and reduced even the Prime Minister to a mere titular figure heard while the power centre in New Delhi has shifted from South Block or 7, Race Course Road to 10 Janpath. The absence of Mrs Sonia Gandhi from Delhi during Anna Hazare’s fast left the Indian Government so headless that decision-making process became a mockery bringing the country to a near chaotic situation.

‘Whip’ – an Undemocratic Diktat. It has become a routine practice for the political parties to issue ‘whip’, a mechanism devised to force their respective MPs to vote for or against a particular Bill. In the case of Lok Sabha where there are 543 MPs, issue of whip from the Party bosses of the major parties decides the fate of the Bill. This means there are only 3-4 persons deciding matters crucial in running the nation! Conscience of individual MPs or people’s demands has no standing. Their wisdom, opinion and mandate of the people they represent has no meaning in this farce of a democracy where the boss dictates how thou shalt vote. And what’s more, this voting culture runs against the constitutional grain of our democracy where citizen’s individual opinion is respected and guarded through secret ballot free from all influences. Why not follow the same principle inside the House of the People, the Lok Sabha?

Inner Party Autocracy. Constitutionally, the Chief Ministers of States are required to be elected by the elected MLAs of the majority party or single largest party. In practice, however, these ‘leaders of the legislative party’ are nominated by the party high commands in New Delhi. Likewise, ministers resigning should submit their resignations to the Chief Minister in the States and Prime Minister at the Centre; but a practice has gained currency in which they submit resignations to the Party President. A culture of sycophancy has thus mushroomed that has disoriented the democratic outlook of our polity in which favours and fears looming from the top overrun common public interests in utter disregard to people’s aspirations.

Opportunism killing Ethics: Very tempting manifestoes are publicised by all parties prior to general elections, which are hyped to display the Party’s pro-people dedication and resolve. Like marketing gimmicks, these manifestoes or promised programmes are dumped in trashcans the moment polling is over, never to be talked about for the next five years. Legislatures and governments thus are a consequence of lies and cheating. Parties that contest elections criticising the very philosophy, policies and ethos of opponent parties – often trading abuses and serious allegations on character and deeds of party leadership – show no qualms about making a sudden turnabout from their tirade and forming alliances and governments for mutual comfort and shared exploits. Coalitions formed on the basis of shared common minimum programmes prior to the elections are visible to the electorate who are led to believe or disbelieve in the joint philosophies of such alliances. Therefore, governments formed by pre-poll coalitions have the approval of the electorate. But post-poll coming together of the erstwhile bitter enemies would be plain betrayal of the voters’ mandate. Likewise mid-stream withdrawal from the coalition by member groups or parties would also betray this mandate. Therefore, there is a case for the Election Commission to examine and create a mechanism to fortify people’s mandate by treating post poll making or un-making of alliances as defection. Parties planning a shift in their pre-poll declared positions must seek a fresh mandate for their proposed plans.

High Offices – Prestige and Credibility Compromised. It is constitutionally mandatory that only non-partisan, apolitical personalities of high calibre, integrity and merit should be elected/nominated to hold high constitutional offices like President of India, Governors and other constitutional bodies. Wary of independent opinion and wisdom of meritorious citizens of eminence from ‘apolitical’ background, the political parties have systematically circumvented the constitutional mandate and established a convention whereby persons of negotiable integrity, low calibre and doubtful credentials have held high offices of national prestige including the Office of the President of India, governors and other institutions. Individuals who have been active members of political parties do not become ‘apolitical’ overnight just by resigning their party memberships. Every now and then we find State Governors getting involved in unseemly controversies involving their partisan behaviour, Gujarat and Karnataka being some of the most recent examples. What portrays the country’s highest Office in a pitiable form is that even The President of India cannot say ‘Yes’ or ‘NO’ on matters as simple as mercy petitions that keep lying for his/her consideration for years and decades. And this is when every such case has been thoroughly detailed, considered and passed through comprehensive legal process including review by the Supreme Court – country’s most revered ultimate legal Authority. One of the Presidents was so obsequious that he is on record having said that ‘I would sweep the room if Indira ji ever asked me to do so’. We need to restore the honour and dignity due to nation’s highest office. But how?

Interestingly, India’s Constitution does not specify the necessity of political parties and its founding fathers certainly did not dream of how Democracy would be devoured by Oligarchy centring on family controlled political parties. A question arises: Is it time for India to go for ‘Party less Democracy’?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

What a Farce of Democracy we are!

Every Indian feels proud when someone describes India as the world’s largest democracy! Life of aam admi in India would be largely different if the focal point of our pride were the quality of democracy rather than the quantity of its population. Hubris over the ‘largeness’ of our population which at best goes to highlight the virility of India’s men and fertility of her women is, therefore, somewhat misplaced. What has ‘democracy’ got to do with it? In the absence of ‘quality’, the value of ‘quantity’ is as meaningless as the abundance of water at high seas where the thirsty voyagers do not find a drop to drink. Rather than boasting about our numbers, there could have been more appropriate reasons to trigger mass euphoria, like quality of governance – better health, freedom from starvation, security against terror blasts, efficient service delivery system, people friendly administration and so on. That humble aspiration of the Indian masses, however, has been sadly belied by the politico-bureaucratic nexus that has firmly rooted itself in India’s governing systems.

There are glaring structural flaws in the world’s largest democracy as its ground application manifests in many ways. Ministers and bureaucrats have devised innovative escape routes and nearly always get away with omissions and commissions, which in a truly responsive democracy would be severely dealt with. While there has been widespread public disgust against poor service delivery mechanism in the government offices, our bureaucrats have displayed their skills in working out machinations that would blunt any tool of honesty and efficiency. There are leaders who are still a source of hope for the masses but the number of those who generate mass despair and disgust is increasing shamefully.

Here is a snap test to confirm this. What kind of emotions do names like these evoke in your mind: Buta Singh, Sharad Pawar, Shibu Soren, Ajit Singh, Mulayam Singh, Amar Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Bhajan Lal, Sukh Ram, Karunanidhi, Jai Lalitha, Yeddyurappa…? Much has been already written about those who are already in Tihar Jail and those on their way to it. They have ushered in a peculiar brand of politics unknown in other democracies of the world. Now think of the risks such a scenario poses when India is critically poised to leap into more responsible and powerful leadership roles at global level.

As is amply established by the endless scams involving high profile ministers and their caucus, it is not odd cases of corruption but the entire governance on a decadent path and needs immediate cure. The contamination has spread infecting all limbs and vital organs of the country including judiciary and the armed forces. It is essential to examine the hows and whys of this decay making inroads into our systems. Let’s accept the fundamental principle – leadership is the nation’s fountainhead, and whatever flows from it, good or evil, shall spread all over. Bottom level corruption and callousness cannot survive the thrust of good policies and actions from the top. In fact, right now a couple of Indian states are already setting new standards of good governance and a responsive democracy infusing hope in place of despair.

How far have we come in redeeming dreams of the founding fathers of our Constitution wherein the preamble itself is an expression of the aam admi’s aspirations (“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved … and do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution”)? Ground realities have belied these aspirations in a manner that within six decades of freedom, India has become a prisoner of her own sins – corruption, caste-based divisive policies, communalism, callous and inefficient administration.

No recruitment in a government job is possible without favourable character verification from the local police station, which must state that the applicant has never been involved in any incriminating activity and has a clean personal record. An adverse comment from the police will mean rejection of the potential Babu, constable or soldier. The law of the land, however, mellows down considerably for our leaders, as their character credentials do not seem to matter even as they would boss over the clean record holders and lead the country. There are 162 MPs in the current Lok Sabha who are facing charges for legal offences, some as serious as robbery, murder and rape. As we watch, more politicians including ministers are being added to this number. Besides the public outcry, look at who all have been crying for action:-

• Law Commission of India in its 166th Report dated 4.2.1999 recommended ‘Forfeiture’ of illegally acquired property of politicians and other public servants. The Commission also drafted and sent ‘The Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill’ to the Law Minister. No action in 12 years!

• Four Chief Election Commissioners have consecutively and persistently recommended enactment of a law to debar and disqualify the corrupt and criminal candidates from seeking election to the Parliament, State Legislatures and other public bodies. The Government and our political parties are all in a synchronous mute mode on this issue.

• The Administrative Reforms Commission constituted by the UPA 1 and chaired by Mr Veerappa Moily who was himself the Law Minister till recently also gave voice to the above two proposals and recommended appropriate enactment besides institutionalisation of an effective Lokpal in its 4th Report titled ‘Ethics in Governance’ in January 2007. Yet, India awaits arrival of ‘ethics in governance.’

• The least that the courts can do is to put the cases of tainted MPs/MLAs on a fast track setting a time limit by which the case must be led to its conclusion. Also, the charge-sheeted members should remain ‘suspended’ until absolved of the charges by the court on the same lines as is done for the government officers. Yet, most of them find more comfort in prolonging the cases than expediting. Why?

• The much discussed Lokpal Bill has been now introduced for the ninth time in the Parliament, though the public demand for the same has been raging for over 42 years. The Government has been driven to act only after Anna Hazare’s fast roused unprecedented public ire over the rising corruption in high places. Yet, the air is thick with suspicions about the political intent on institutionalising an effective Lokpal.

In sharp contrast to historic delays and inaction on bills that could significantly change lives of the Indian masses, Bills seeking salary hikes and perks of MPs by as much as 200% (from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000 plus 15 types of perks that add to an MP’s annual package of Rs 45 lakh) are passed unanimously in a day without much debate. And, almost at the same time the Planning Commission adds insult to the injury of the suffering masses by declaring that those spending an amount of Rs 32 and 26 per day in urban and rural areas respectively are no longer poor! Whereas India’s own official statistics peg India’s poverty between 37% (Tendulkar Committee) and 77% (National Commission for Enterprises in Unorganised Sector), there are as many as 645 million Indians living in conditions akin or worse than the 410 million living in the 26 poorest African countries. How do our MPs plan to deliver these millions from misery to a liveable, if not respectable, life style vis-à-vis their own?

India is at a peculiar juncture today. The western world is grappling with economic downturn. Starting from India’s immediate west there is terror, turmoil and anarchy in most of West Asia and North Africa. In such difficult times, India is on a growth path and in strategically advantageous position to assume greater global role to influence decision making in vital international affairs provided she first conquers her inner conflicts like rampant corruption in high places and a callous, unresponsive and unaccountable administration.

World’s ‘largest’ can be its ‘Greatest’ Democracy, if we can change course soon enough. Option is ours – we can either capture or lose the Opportunity, for no opportunity waits for long.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Value of Money vs People in emerging India

The advent of high-tech high-speed life has impacted societies all over the globe in a big way. The societal impact on has been diverse and enormous. On the positive side, Indian techies are emerging more competitive and grabbing higher salary jobs than any other in the world market. Yes, Indians have created a niche of honour for themselves in diverse fields like IT, medicine, environment, astrophysics et al. On the domestic scene, our economy too has managed to remain on a steady growth path despite a roller coaster journey through scams, red tape and corruption. We are now a society that is fast adapting to international norms of social, professional and commercial behaviour. With mobile wielding rickshaw pullers, roadside hawkers and their non-haggling cash ready customers milling around, chain snatching bikers too have melded themselves as a category in the milieu. Minor hang ups notwithstanding, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy life – air conditioned homes, work places, malls, cars, bars, clubs…. What’s not there, man?

On the negative side, in our exuberance to compete and hurry to win we seem to have forgotten to carry with us some valuable paraphernalia we will need to sustain our achievements on reaching the destination – our value system based on a culture of ethics and morals. We have missed out on the correct valuation of cooperation over competition, quality over quantity, standard of ‘life’ over standard of ‘living’ and the innate urge to give rather than grab. The national scene today is a veritable mix of oddities and contradictions. In affluence, we have our cities that will challenge the world’s best. In poverty too, we have regions in hinterland that could make countries like Somalia, Burundi and Zimbabwe look affluent in our comparison. We have business empires and tycoons whose wealth and life style will disconcert the best known kings and emperors. Yet our ordnance factories are so primitive and dysfunctional that we depend on others to arm and equip our military.– world’s second largest military might. Israel, a country that came into existence in world’s most desolate land after India gained her independence, also manufactures and supplies sophisticated military equipment to us! We have world’s most educated and ‘honest’ man heading the government; yet, no previous government has been more maligned than Manmohan Singh’s with no signs yet of the inundation of scams abating. We have lavish civic services infra-structure like primary health care centres, dispensaries, roads, electricity, TV and tele-communication network – even water supply network in some remote areas but thanks to the callous administration, these amenities lie in utter neglect, glut enormous government grants and have failed in delivering.

Despite easier access to modern amenities the rural India has been left far behind the high speed urban advancement. The divide between the rural and urban has only widened. Even poverty has its own status and class that clearly sets apart its urban poor from the rural rustics. Whereas the exploited destitute of city slums assumes an urbane swagger at the sight of a displaced tribal from Orissa, Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh or a debt laden farmer from the barren lands of Vidarbha, the latter – the feeder of the nation – presents a pathetic picture of a humbled warrior in dire need of justice and fair play rather than a share in the loot.

It is these contradictions that are threatening to slow down India’s march to a glorious future in the new world emerging from the Recession in the west and anti-autocracy turmoil in North Africa and West Asia. Our younger generation is already providing high tech solutions to complex problems of organisations and governments all over the world. Our reservoir of skilled and semi-skilled workforce too is larger than China’s. A new class of entrepreneurs is also well poised to venture out taking global leads. What is holding them up? The answer is: the environment creators at home! Who are the environment creators? They are a vicious circle of people whose insider trading techniques keeps them camouflaged from the public view.

A former minister simultaneously agreed and disagreed with my argument recently and sought to explain away this vicious environment of corruption and callous governance. “Forget about the theories you read in political science books about democracy and governance. Agreed, it is the people who matter in democracy but which people?”

“The people – the citizens of the country, of course! Who else?” I stressed hard.

“No, it is not that simple. The people who count here come in four categories:

I – The top academic brains who compete and win the most coveted careers through IITs, IIMs and other top grade institutions. It is the guys in this category who get fattest salary packages.

II – The next best join Civil Services at Centre and State levels. They control everything including the first category through a maze of regulatory mechanism.

III – Those who fail to qualify for the above two categories, take to politics and form the third category, the Third Reich of Indian Politicians! In the name of democracy, they control both the top categories.

IV – The school drop-outs and others who fare poorly academically, join the underworld of crime, handle black money and control the other three categories!”
Little wonder that the last category is now joining active politics and coming to assume direct control as ‘elected representatives’ of people to Parliament and State Legislatures.

The emerging amalgam of crime, corruption and politics is a more potent threat to India’s security than any external threat – even nuclear. As the crime graph continues to rise rather steeply, crimes such as rape, murder, high-way robberies are becoming only more audacious and daring in metro-cities and towns. The audacity of the crimes done and failure of police to effectively act only shows what patronage and impunity the criminals enjoy. The politico-bureaucratic combine are now busy drafting innovative bills that could silence the public outcry against raging corruption in higher government echelons and also protect the high and mighty of corruption.

Hopefully, India would be inducted as a permanent member of the UN Security Council in the near future. A plethora of opportunities lies ahead for India to assume bigger roles at regional and world levels. There is enough talent too. The government machinery has, however, gone rusty and needs urgent overhauling and oiling. It is not that those in authority are unaware of what is required to be done. They have become accustomed to move only when pushed by public pressure. Corruption is the breeding ground for all crime and terrorism since such pursuits need black money. However, corruption has seeped so deep in our political system that no political party today is keen to institutionalise any effective mechanism to curb and punish corruption at political and bureaucratic levels.

People power alone can coerce them into positive action. The public anguish over rampant corruption and government apathy is fully justified. This simmering energy needs to be carefully harnessed and guided to bring in accountability and good governance. Anna Hazare’s Movement against corruption has been so far fair, straight and transparent. More organisations need to lend a helping hand and all the people must rise for a peaceful but sustained campaign. No doubt there are a number of reforms pending but let corruption be the first enemy to be vanquished.

Ruling Clique Vs Democracy

The idea of ‘Democracy’ has gone awry in modern India. The spontaneity and universality of the people’s war cry against corruption in higher government echelons has scared not only those in power in the UPA government but also those in the Opposition smarting to return to power sooner than later. They are all set to unite and will flock together whenever any Lokpal shot is fired. The recent conclave of all political parties called by the government to discuss the format of Lokpal Bill has given us enough insight into the mindset of India’s political class. Earlier, the Congress spokesman, Manish Tiwari had called civil society activists like Anna Hazare ‘un-elected tyrants’, thereby suggesting that tyranny is a function and prerogative of the ‘elected’. It is like a thief who, chased by the victim, cries for help and expects the onlookers to save him and punish the victim. His mentors in the government, Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, Chidambaram and many more readily lent their music to this anti-civil society chorus. Later, after the all party meet in New Delhi, Lalu Prasad Yadav in his idiosyncratic style ridiculed peaceful mass movements by civil society activists and called them ‘a threat to democracy’. Almost all political parties seem to empathize with this notion: people being a threat to democracy – a threat unto themselves! If peaceful mass movements are a threat to democracy, what better democratic methods would they suggest for the people to make their voice heard and heeded by the government?

Are they really worried about ‘Democracy’? Or is their very notion of democracy different from what people hold it to be – a government of the people, for the people, by the people? The fears and concerns expressed by our politicians, however, betray their skewed conceptual interpretation of the great idea of democracy. They now assume themselves to be the embodiments of ‘Democracy’. This essentially connotes a privileged group of parties and individuals, who are off the people, force the people and buy the people to perpetuate their exploitation.

Election manifesto is a written undertaking each political party elaborately publicises committing themselves on the eve of elections in the service of the people assuring them with specific plans and projects within their tenure as people’s elected government. One would wish these manifestoes were to serve as reference points and constant reminders for the ruling parties with periodic performance audit posted on public domain. Sadly though, these undertakings are dumped as garbage soon after elections as leaders and parties go off the all the people, to force the good people and to buy stooges to pursue their undeclared aims. Selectively employing the Chanakya stratagems of ‘saam’ (persuasion), ‘daam’ (bribe), ‘danda’ (coercion), and ‘bhed’ (divide), our leaders have mastered the art of ruling by creating safe zones and sanctuaries for unhindered exploitation of public resources. They are highly innovative in crafting and selling dreams to the people hungry and eager to alleviate their suffering. They deftly entice and win over the poorest of the poor by doling away subsidies, caste based reservations and occasional freebies that serve to perpetuate their dependence on the political masters. It is from poverty that our politicians earn their fortunes in the form of votes and even notes that are easily siphoned from the subsidies, quotas and a host of schemes and programmes meant for the poor. ‘Long live Poverty; we will keep you alive’ could well be today’s political slogan – if only truth were to prevail.

This is best explained by the government’s stubborn stand to keep the most powerful people out of Lokpal’s ambit – the Prime Minister, Judges of High Courts and Supreme Court and MPs. And this is in spite of the fact that there are more than 160 sitting MPs in the present Lok Sabha against whom there are cases registered in courts of law, a lot of them facing multiple charges including serious crimes like murder. There are MPs and at least one minister already in jail with some more in the pipeline. Immunity provided to MPs for their conduct within the Parliament was intended to protect and encourage people’s representatives to serve people’s cause without fear or worry, not to get away with misdeeds like the JMM bribery case, ‘paid queries’ case or the blatant horse-trading during ‘confidence motion’ to save the Manmohan Singh Government (UPA 1) when MPs waved bundles of notes in the well of the House. The presiding officers (Speaker in the Lok Sabha and the Chairman in the Rajya Sabha), they say, are empowered to deal with delinquent members. There have been innumerable cases like these and more of gross misconduct by MPs, but no member has ever been dismissed from membership, even though some of them should have been convicted and jailed. Yet, they do not want them to be within Lokpal’s jurisdiction. Why?

Today, while there are ministers, MPs and senior bureaucrats facing enquires and trials for serious embezzlements, there appears no end to the deluge of scams that continues unabated. With Maran also now sacked and almost set on his way to Tihar, the UPA government appears to be held precariously by sand walls which threaten to crumble and wither in the clammy humid monsoon of scams. In such a vivid scenario how can you think of ‘corruption’ in high places without Ministers, MPs, bureaucrats and judges – the privileged categories they propose to keep out of Lokpal’s reach? Willing accomplices and patrons in positions of power come handy to lobbyists and their corporate clientele to manoeuvre government decisions in their favour by circumventing rules and procedures. To build and foster a conducive system, it is necessary for the ministers and bureaucrats to retain control, direct or indirect, over the investigating agencies like CBI and, as far as possible, over the so-called autonomous bodies like Central Vigilance Commission, Central Information Commission, Election Commission, other national Commissions and even Judiciary through a convergence of common interests where everyone gains – materially or otherwise – on reciprocal basis except the state and its people. And the nexus flourishes and proliferates. Of course, there have been individuals of great character and verve who, as heads of such bodies, meant business and refused to give in to political or bureaucratic pressures and restored public faith in institutions like the offices of CEC and CAG. These are rare examples though. Most of the institutions of democracy have lost their sheen and credibility, the PAC deadlock being the latest example.

An analysis of how some key posts are filled at the top echelons further clears doubts, if any. The first defect lies in the selection procedures for the autonomous bodies. For example, a selection panel comprising the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha presupposes that the government nominee shall be appointed making assent or dissent of the third member (Leader of the Opposition) irrelevant as was done in the case of PJ Thomas who became India’s Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) despite serious objections raised by Sushma Swaraj on his integrity. Technically, no impropriety was committed in this case because the principle of a majority 2:1 upheld fairness of the selection legally. But on grounds of ethics and need posts like CVC to be held only by men or women of unimpeachable integrity, this appointment brought us all shame and compelled the Supreme Court to intervene.

Dr Ketan Desai, President, Medical Council of India, was caught in April 2010 taking Rs. 2 crores bribe for granting government recognition to a private medical college. Much earlier, he was also convicted by the Delhi High Court. Yet, thanks to hefty cash packets, he rose to hold this top position in medical profession. Riding on his clout with ministers and bureaucrats, he was audacious enough to elevate unqualified people of dubious credentials to positions meant for highly qualified and meritorious doctors at the MCI and in hospitals. Not to be left behind in the fashion parade of misdemeanors, a former Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan, has been in the news for quite some time for all the wrong reasons most unbecoming of honourable man in that position. Yet, he was appointed Chairman of the National Human Rights.

The process of dealing with a corrupt judge of High Court or Supreme Court is so complex that there has been only one impeachment in India till date and that too in 1949 before the Constitution became effective. The second impeachment motion against Justice V Ramaswami failed in 1993 because the then ruling Congress (205 MPs) abstained. Interestingly, he was defended by Kapil Sibal, his lawyer at that time. Little surprise that shamelessly unfazed by all the allegations and indictments, judges like PB Dinakaran (Chief Justice, Sikkim High Court), Soumitra Sen (Calcutta High Court) and many more arrogantly go on dispensing ‘justice’ in their high positions.

Even as crime graph in general moves upward, it is still feasible to put petty criminals behind bars. It is the big fish that has proved too slippery for the law all through. From Bofors to Fodder to Hawala and the outpouring scams of today – only preliminaries have been played. No powerful politician, bureaucrat or judge has been finally convicted (having exhausted appeals at the Supreme Court level).
The system has proved power friendly and at a time when the talk of an effective Lokpal is gaining momentum, fears of those in power are quite understandable. Political parties have moved away from nationalistic orientation and metamorphosed into cliques of vested interests like promoting dynastic power centres. Coteries of henchmen have mushroomed in almost all parties. These henchmen are mostly local goons who have embedded themselves between the leader and the people insulating the former from the latter. Soon after the elections, leaders are quick to snap their public contact and interact with the people through their henchmen whose swagger signals when and whether you will have the Netaji’s darshan.

Gimmicks by Rahul Gandhi, the Prince Charming of Indian politics like dining at a Dalit’s home, stage-managed padyatras and public display of a pseudo-frugal life style are carefully orchestrated to create a mass impact even as his oratory skills and leadership prowess still remain hidden. Even if he fails to leave behind any lasting impact, his style leaves people largely amused. Organisations and parties bereft of ideas and ideologues will be likewise forced to innovate, borrow and stage-perform to entertain people. But how long will this drama go on? The political environment in India has become highly polluted and all parties need to reorient and readjust to changing ground realities of a new emerging India that surges from within.

Institutionalising a powerful, independent Lokpal will only help the country to prosper faster making development people friendly. The ruling clique has drifted far away from the people and a course correction is urgently needed. The sooner they change their bearing and perception, the better it shall be for them as well as the country.

Rise India, rise against Corruption

It looks like the entire world is under winds of change. The United States, modern world’s unchallenged superpower, was first thrashed by the economic downturn of 2008 and then lost her prestigious global credit rating of AAA to AA+ triggering fresh shock waves in the world economies. The scenario is more than matched by India through rising inflation, rampant corruption, inefficient administration, terrorism and Maoist insurgency pushing people’s patience to the limit. Thanks to inroads made by the telecom technology into routine life, general awareness and aspirations of people all over the world have also expanded exponentially. People are now asserting more vigorously to make governments responsive and people friendly almost in all developing countries. The uprisings raging through the countries of North Africa and West Asia with angry masses determined to topple corrupt and callous regimes hold enough warning and lessons for us in India.

Ironically, India’s healthy growth story in the private sector is sharply contrasted by falling standards of probity and accountability in governance. In ‘Corruption Perception Index 2011’ compiled by Transparency International India scored a poor 2.7 out of 10, a grade worse than countries like Honduras, Zimbabwe and Venezuela and a continuing slide from 3.3 scored in the previous year. India not only tops the list of nations having tons of black money stashed in Swiss banks but its cache of black money there ($ 1546 bn) is far more than the combined total of next four countries in the list of black money deposits namely, Russia, UK, Ukraine and China ($ 1056 bn) as reported in Times of India (Ahmedabad), dated 8th June 2011.

Moral Decline in Politics
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India in 1928,
Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it; and the public can, as its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinise their conduct, as it likes.
Do we have leaders who would think like this today? Of late there has been a qualitative decline in our political discourse and debate in and outside the Parliament. Whenever cornered in the face of logic and fair argument, politicians lack the capacity to absorb criticism and accept a point; and what is worse, they do not hesitate in turning abusive and raking up details from the irrelevant past in a no-holds-barred mudslinging match. The virtue of magnanimity and tolerance has disappeared from the Indian political scene. There is an increasing breed of leaders today whom people know more for abusive language and naked arrogance rather than their contribution to public good in any sector. They are like the mischievous hockey coach who taught his players, “hit the opponent if you can’t reach the ball.”
The first batch of Indian parliamentarians considered Lok Sabha subordinate to the People of India, for, it was ‘WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved ….. and do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.” The Constitution of India subordinates the Government (the Executive) to the Parliament which in turn is and will always remain subordinate to the PEOPLE of India on whose mandate it runs the affairs of the state. It is the people’s aspirations that must be respected by their representatives – the MPs– while enacting laws in the Parliament. But having tasted blood in an increasingly corrupt environment where election to the Parliament too can also be traded for cash, it is simply logical for the politicians to behave in such irresponsible and arrogant manner because they ‘paid’ for getting elected and people have no right to demand more from them! This drift in public morality has added to the malaise too.

It is insulting for every proud Indian that as many as nearly a third of our Parliament (Lok Sabha) – 162 plus latter additions like Kalamadi, A Raja, Kanimozhi and more in the pipeline – are facing criminal charges (ranging from trespassing to murder). This is more than 27% increase over the previous Lok Sabha’s record. Also, there are 9 ministers in the central cabinet facing criminal charges including one for ‘theft’. As per National Election Watch, 76 MPs are involved in serious criminal cases. We are inching forward to a situation when criminals will have the majority and form a Government of their choice too! In times of coalition governments, if Madhu Koda – a lone independent MLA then – could become Chief Minister of Jharkhand, he, now a sitting MP who regularly attends the Lok Sabha session from Tihar jail, could well become India’s Prime Minister too. Why should they vote for a strong, independent and effective Lokpal bill?

Dangerous Forebodings

The countenances our leaders put on while answering questions on TV channels betray their smug attitude and insincerity towards issues vital to the nation. There is an obvious disconnect between the people and the government, and the drift is taking them far apart. It is a dangerous trend and calls for immediate change in the way our political masters think. Today, the Home Minister, P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal are redefining ‘Democracy’ calling Anna Hazare’s peaceful protest fast ‘undemocratic’. The Constitution, on the contrary, bestows upon every citizen a fundamental right “to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association or union, movement….” The Government attitude to Anna Hazare’s peaceful protest fast-cum-rally is an ominously very similar to how Hosni Mobarak’s had chosen to deal with the Egyptian people protesting peacefully in Tehrir Square of Cairo in January this year.

Police brutalities range from uncalled for lathi charge on the sleepy crowds of women and children at Ramlila Maidan to trigger happy cops shooting and killing the unarmed and innocent kissans protesting peacefully against injustice as seen in Bhatta Pasraul in UP and Pune-Mumbai Expressway in Maharashtra. These incidents have grim resemblance to what Gaddafi’s forces did in Tripoli when people rallied there for peaceful demonstration against a highly corrupt and callous regime. Activists and journalists who gave voice to public disgust and suffering were hounded and either killed or put in jails forcing the public to take to arms and turning it into a bloody civil war.

In sharp contrast to Anna Hazare’s peaceful pleadings spurned and ridiculed by the senior Congress functionaries including cabinet ministers, there exists a plethora of evidence to show how our political parties have been holding unruly rallies, demonstrations and bundhs with scant regard to law and public convenience. In fact, almost always has the government bowed more readily to the violent mobs going on rampage burning trains, vehicles – public or private and vandalising shops with impunity. Many of India’s political leaders have risen through violent riots and have no idea about a higher, nobler form of protest – Satyagraha. The message is clear: the government yields to threats and violence more readily. Shiv Sainiks have been deftly employing such tactics in Mumbai every now and then. Even in Delhi, the Congress workers rally up to block traffic and cause public nuisance without bothering about any rules or permits which Team Anna is being taught to seek today. It is easy now to understand how insurgencies are aided by governmental apathy and stubbornness.

There were differences in drafting a joint Lokpal Bill which could not be resolved at the Joint Drafting Committee formed by the Government. Both the sides finally presented their own drafts. In all fairness, the Government should have placed both the drafts on the table of the House for an open debate. Withholding the draft Jan Lokpal Bill and deliberations of the Joint Drafting Committee from the Parliament and the people appears inappropriate and unjustified and makes a mockery of decisions taken by the Government at the highest level.

‘Be you ever so High, the Law is above you!’

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi faced serious corruption allegations in the Bofors case, until then the worst in the scale of corruption. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao also faced allegations of corruption in the JMM vote-for-cash case. Preventing the Lokpal from looking into such cases will in no way enhance the prestige of the high office of the Prime Minister. In fact offering himself to the Lokpal scrutiny will only go to serve as the highest example of our faith in the basic principle of jurisprudence, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.”

And why not bring the higher judiciary under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal too? On 17 August 2011, the Rajya Sabha is set to take up the case of impeachment of a sitting High Court judge, Mr Justice Saumitra Sen. Another judge in the higher judiciary, Justice PD Dinakaran, Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court, has now resigned after his efforts failed to stymie the pre-impeachment enquiry by a duly constituted enquiry panel. There have been allegations of impropriety with credible evidence involving judges in lower as well as higher judiciary including chief justices of the honourable apex court. Former Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan’s name is today remembered more for wrong reasons than his for his uprightness as an honourable judge. The list of corrupt judges taking bribes, seeking undue favours like going to the extent of joining en-mass to misappropriate junior employees’ provident fund deposits is increasing by the day.

Existing Regulatory Institutions have failed

Sectoral regulatory bodies have failed to deliver due to vested interests which helped foster a fraternity between the corrupt officials and the investigators. Even after the arrest of former President of Medical Council of India (MCI), Dr. Ketan Desai, corruption at the MCI has continued unabated. As per Health Minister Gulab Nabi Azad, 80 cases of corruption against officials of MCI and medical institutions were being probed till May this year. No wonder human organs are being traded illegally and poor patients continue to suffer and die for want of medical care. Similarly, people were shocked by revelations of fake pilots, not one or two but plenty, flying unsuspecting passengers across skies although the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) monitors and controls standards of flying safety and certification. Appointment of persons of questionable integrity to head institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission (PJ Thomas’ case) has seriously marred the credibility of such institutions in whatever limited sphere they functioned. Enforcement Directorate functions under the Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Defence and therefore remains a hand-held tool for undertaking only specific cases assigned to it by the ministry. States also have ‘Anti Corruption Bureaux’ but corruption in states also has only frown with highly placed beneficiaries hogging shamelessly with fearless arrogance as we have recently seen in Karnataka, Delhi and Mumbai to name only a few.

Thankfully, a few institutions like the Lok Ayuktas (Karnataka and Delhi) and the Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG) have performed laudably in their bid to instil some fear and caution against corruption. What does it prove? It only proves that India is in dire need of a strong, independent and effective Lokpal with enough powers to investigate and punish speedily in a specified time frame. The Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by Team Anna Hazare meets these requirements which, if enacted into law, will change the way our government offices function. They will be more responsive, efficient and people friendly – an environment where the corrupt will have much to fear from. No doubt, corruption may not vanish – yet let’s make it a risky business. Why is the government scared? Premonitions of losing a lucrative business?