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Posts Tagged ‘Lokpal Bill

Civil society leaders behaving like legislators: Pranab

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Pranab Mukherjee, Indian politician, current F...

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Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday said that the leaders of the civil society movement for a Lokpal Bill have given an impression as if they have become legislators.

“The way the civil society movement is continuing in the country, it gives an impression that the leaders have become legislators,” Mukherjee said.

Speaking at the convocation of the Bengal Engineering and Science University in Shibpur in Howrah district, Mukherjee said he had been asked during a programme in Hanoi why the Indian government was giving so much importance to the civil society movement in the country.

“I told them that Indian democracy is not stagnant. It is a multi-faceted democracy. We have to consider opinions of different people and organisations. It is a new kind of process. We have to listen to them,” Mukherjee said.

There are thousands of opinions on any important issue which have to be heard, the Finance Minister said.

Speaking at the Bengal Engineering and Science University in Shibpur in Howrah district, Mukherjee said he had been asked during a programme in Hanoi why the Indian government was giving so much importance to the civil society movement in the country.

“I told them that Indian democracy is not stagnant. It is multi-faceted. We have to consider opinions of different people and organisations. It is a new kind of process. We have to listen to them,” Mukherjee said.

He said, “Pre-legislation consultation will not have to be necessarily confined to civil servants and political executives. If larger sections of society want to participate in it in a disciplined and well-established format, we can go for it. There may be failures, there may be successes but the point is Indian democratic system is not stagnant. It is expressing itself in various formats.”

There are thousands of opinions on any important issue which have to be heard, the Finance Minister said.

COURTESY: INDIAN EXPRESS

Full Text: PM’s reply to Anna Hazare’s letter

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has written back to Anna Hazare after the activist wrote to the PM expressing his unhappiness over the conditional permission given by the Delhi Police for his August 16 fast over Lokpal Bill. In his letter, Dr Singh has asked Mr Hazare to approach the statutory authorities.

Here’s the full text of the PM’s letter:

I have received your letter, carrying the date 14th August, 2011 and carefully read its contents.

Your grievance that the police has given you permission to protest and go on fast at JP Park only for three days needs to be addressed by the statutory authorities who have taken that decision. My Office does not in any way get involved in the decision making process. The terms and conditions on which you are entitled to carry on with your protest are decided by the statutory authorities concerned taking into account the prevailing circumstances and other relevant factors.

I would request you to address your grievances to the statutory authorities concerned.We are all committed to the Constitution of India and to uphold it both in letter and spirit.

Written by THE LAWFILE

August 14, 2011 at 1:13 am

Anna writes to PM, says if not helped, he will court arrest on Aug 16

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Anna Hazare and his team have rejected Delhi Police‘s conditional permission for his August 16 fast over Lokpal Bill. Expressing his unhappiness, Hazare has once again written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “If you can’t help us, we will court arrest,” he has said in the letter.

The 74-year-old Gandhian wants to begin an indefinite hunger strike at the Capital’s protest hotspot Jantar Mantar. But he was denied permission for this venue. The Delhi Police instead said he could hold his fast at Jai Prakash Narain Park. The permission, however, is conditional – only 5000 people will be allowed to gather and they will have to vacate the venue by August 18. Rejecting these restrictions, Team Anna said today, “We cannot control the number of people since it is an indefinite fast. We will decide where to hold the fast. Police may arrest us.”

“Can’t our PM get us a location to protest peacefully,” Hazare asks Dr Singh in his letter. “People say your government is the most corrupt. Because of what’s happening in the government, America intervened in our matters. If you can’t help us, we will court arrest on August 16,” he has further added. (Read Anna’s full letter)

Addressing a press conference this evening, Mr Hazare said that the government is curbing free speech and is creating an Emergency like situation.

Mr Hazare said that he is running from pillar to post for a venue for the fast and that he has written to the Prime Minister requesting him to allot a venue for the fast.

Yesterday, Home Minister P Chidambaram requested Anna Hazare to call off his hunger strike. “Everyone has a right to protest. But the context and circumstance decide whether the protest is legitimate or not. When there was no Lokpal Bill, the protest was justified. But now that there is a Bill in Parliament, and the Standing Committee has asked Anna Hazare to testify, the protest, at this stage, seems to be unjustified,” Chidambaram said.

On charges of not providing Jantar Mantar (in New Delhi) as a venue for Team Hazare’s agitation, Chidambaram had said, ”Anna’s is not a special case. Jantar Mantar cannot be given for long protests or to one group alone. As there are many other people with causes, the day has to be divided and the group given slots.”

The Lokpal Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 4, has been sent to the Parliamentary committee for its consideration. But its draft did not include several key suggestions made by Team Anna. Earlier this week, the panel had invited Hazare for the discussion in yet another bid to strike an understanding with civil society activists.

The Lokpal Bill provides for the establishment of the institution of Lokpal, or ombudsman, to fight corruption in public office. Hazare and four of his nominees were initially invited by the government to help draft the new Bill, along with five ministers. The elected and non-elected teams of representatives clashed bitterly, and ultimately produced two dramatically different versions of the Bill. But the government chose to introduce its version of the Bill in Parliament. In this version, senior judges and the PM are exempt. Team Anna has accused the government of “betraying” the nation by delivering a Bill incapable of really taking on politicians or public servants over corruption.

No one is a holy cow, why keep PM out?: Sushma

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The BJP logo

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J. BALAJI in THE HINDU

A Bill to establish the institution of Lokpal that will look into into charges of corruption against certain public functionaries was finally introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. The BJP opposed the Bill as it had not brought the post of Prime Minister within its purview.

The Bill has created controversies resulting in a dispute between the Union government and the civil society led by Anna Hazare.

Soon after the Bill was introduced, Mr. Hazare urged people to burn copies of the government draft, while doing so himself. Terming it a weak Bill, he asked every village, district and State to come forward and burn copies of the Bill. He was talking to the media in his hometown Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra.

When Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V. Narayanasamy tabled the Bill, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj objected to some constitutional provisions in it.

With the permission of Speaker Meira Kumar, under Rule 72, she said: “what is the logic in excluding the office of Prime Minister from the ambit of the Lokpal Bill, 2011, when legislations such as the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act did not give immunity to the post. No one can be a holy cow. How can you put Prime Minister outside the system?”

Vajpayee’s statement

Ms. Swaraj recalled a statement of the former Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee. He had said: “if Prime Minister is not included in the Lokpal, then the law becomes ineffective.”

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched keenly, she said even Dr. Singh had opined that he had no objection to his post being brought under the purview of the Bill. When the Prime Minister himself was willing why his allies were not accepting it, she asked. Ms. Swaraj said even Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, while heading the parliamentary standing committee on the Home Ministry in 2002, felt that the post of Prime Minister could be brought under the Lokpal.

The BJP would support the Bill tomorrow itself if it was amended by including the post of Prime Minister and introduced again. “But in this form [without the Prime Minister] we would not allow this Bill to be introduced,” she said.

Mr. Mukherjee, accepting that he made such a suggestion on February 16, 2002, wanted to know what prevented the then NDA regime from including the post of Prime Minister and introducing the Bill.

Mr. Narayanasamy said that though Dr. Singh wished for inclusion of his post in the Lokpal, the decision of the Cabinet was ultimate and the objections of Ms. Swaraj could not be sustained. If at all the Opposition wanted to raise their points, they could do so when the Bill was considered by the standing committee.

When Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United) wanted to say something on the Bill, he was disallowed by the Chair.

The post of Prime Minister during his/her term, the higher judiciary and the conduct of MPs inside Parliament will not come under the ambit of the legislation. It does not provide for constitution of Lokayuktas in States.

BJP: illogical, unconstitutional

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Keeping the Prime Minister out of the purview of the proposed Lokpal Bill is “illogical” and even “unconstitutional,” Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said here on Thursday as she explained why the Bharatiya Janata Party had opposed the measure at the introduction stage itself. Ms. Swaraj said she was allowed to place her objections in the Lok Sabha, although normally a member could, at the introduction stage, question only the legislative competence of the House to pass the proposed legislation, which was not the case now.

The Constitution gave no person holding any office immunity from criminal prosecution and the BJP’s objection is that the Bill giving the Prime Minister immunity is “constitutionally invalid.” The existing penal laws and the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988 also do not exclude action against the Prime Minister. It is therefore “illogical” to keep him out of the purview of the proposed legislation, argued Ms. Swaraj and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley. Although the National Democratic Alliance government between 1998 and 2004 did not get a Lokpal Bill passed, Ms. Swaraj said the party’s stand had been consistent for, the draft legislation of 2001 included the Prime Minister. “We have been consistent. It is the Congress which has changed its stance as Pranab Mukherjee, as chairman of the standing committee that looked at the Bill then, favoured inclusion of the Prime Minister.”

EQUALITY

Mr. Jaitley said the exclusion of the Prime Minister violated the constitutional guarantee of equality before law; two, the Lokpal Bill would come out with a procedure for looking at corruption in high places and any punishment would be decided on the basis of the Prevention of Corruption Act which did not give the Prime Minister any immunity and three, normally any corruption case against a Prime Minister would involve charges against one or more Ministers and bureaucrats who would be involved in a conspiracy to defraud the state. The law should not separate the individuals in a conspiracy and deal with them differently.

In response to questions, Ms. Swaraj clarified that her party had no objection to granting exemption to the Prime Minister in issues and decisions involving national security.

JUDICIAL COMMISSION

Asked why the BJP was not insisting on the higher judiciary also being covered by the Lokpal Bill on the same principle of constitutional guarantee of equality, Mr. Jaitley said the party favoured a separate national judicial commission for this purpose as that would ensure “separation” of the executive and the judiciary. As an executive-dominated committee would select a Lokpal, it would not be correct to bring the judiciary under that institution. In this context, he said an “alternative” must be found to “the current system of judges appointing judges and judges punishing judges” for, that had simply not worked.

Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Jaitley said the BJP would present its view forcefully before the standing committee when the Bill was discussed. When the Prime Minister could be investigated by the ordinary police or the Central Bureau of Investigation, it was “illogical” to keep him/her out of the purview of the Lokpal, they said.

The dangers of redefining democracy

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Arun Kumar in THE HINDU

If bribe-giving is legalised, some have suggested, the vexed problem of corruption facing the government would be less severe. Some powerful voices from within and outside the government have even argued for this. The argument is in line with the theoretical case that corruption and smuggling improve economic efficiency. Such redefining of words is not an isolated activity today.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indulged in it at a recent meeting with newspaper editors. On the Lokpal bill, he said he personally favoured the Prime Minister coming under its purview but added that his Cabinet colleagues were against it — prevarication at its best.

Dr. Singh has acted decisively on issues close to his heart like the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal, which he pushed through in spite of the threat to his government and disquiet among many. Clearly, for him, the Prime Minister coming within the Lokpal’s purview is not of much importance. It is consistent with his view that corruption is not as endemic as is being made out by the media and the Opposition, and that it is largely their creation. He also pleaded for moderating the campaign against corruption on the plea that it is spoiling our international image.

His argument that decision-makers act ex-ante, in uncertainty and without full information, must be music to the ears of wrong-doers. He clarified that in hindsight, one can be wiser about the mistakes committed. The sub-text is that inappropriate decisions are not deliberate, but genuine errors of judgment — an alibi for corrupt elements.

As a general proposition, the argument can hardly be faulted. But is it also true in specific cases? In the 2G spectrum allocation case, the CBI, under the Supreme Court’s directions, has unearthed blatant wrongdoing. Giving a very short notice to file bids and, that too, a few hours, for instance. Without advance knowledge, a bid could not have been filed. Why did some of the licences go to those who had no experience in the field? None of this had anything to do with uncertainty.

Dr. Singh also argued that he could not be expected to look into details pertaining to each Ministry and that he was not an expert on all matters. But he has a string of agencies and experts at his beck and call. Why was their advice not sought? Especially, when the wrongdoings pertaining to the 2G case were immediately pointed to in 2008? The implication is that the system failed. Is someone accountable for the failure? In the Commonwealth Games scam, there was blatant loot in contracts and purchase of exercise machines and toilet paper rolls. None of this had anything to do with uncertainty or ex-ante nature of decisions or lack of expertise. Has the Prime Minister shifted ground — from his ‘coalition compulsions’ argument to giving technical explanations for his silence and inaction?

If Dr. Singh’s line of argument is to be accepted, from now on, no one need take responsibility or be accountable as mistakes can be said to be unintended or due to a lack of expertise. Further, one ought not refer to widespread wrongdoing lest it spoil the international image. The Prime Minister, a clever academic, has distorted the meaning of words such as “accountability” and “corruption.”

Changing the meaning of words like “accountability” will damage the system. Rule of law, social justice, good governance and building a civilised society depend on it. Similarly, when terms like “democracy,” “people’s representation” and “justice” lose much of their content, democratic institutions decline. Thus the nation needs an institution like Lokpal to bring about accountability.

The government has decided to aggressively stall a stricter Lokpal bill. To be fair, arguments for leaving the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary out of the Lokpal’s purview have been advanced by other respected persons too. Their argument is that the inclusion of the Prime Minster and the judiciary will undermine their independent functioning and prevent them from taking tough decisions for fear of being incorrect and inviting challenges. Logically, then, they should not come under scrutiny even after they demit office because even that could deter them from taking decisions. In other words, no accountability should be demanded of the Prime Minister.

Further, it is argued that in a democracy, the Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament. So, any wrongdoing by him would automatically be checked by the Opposition (enforcing accountability). It is also stated that the Lokpal, an agency external to the parliamentary system, will undermine Parliament. It is also feared that frivolous charges could be brought against the Prime Minister, given the nature of fractious politics. Every time a charge is levelled, there would be a demand for the Prime Minister’s resignation and she/he would be immobilised.

All this begs the question: why is there a strong demand for bringing the Prime Minister within the Lokpal’s purview? Why has Parliament failed to make the Prime Minister accountable? In the last 40 years, many Prime Ministers have been suspected of wrongdoing. Same is the case with many Chief Ministers, Ministers, Chief Justices and the higher judiciary. The existing institutional structure has patently failed to make these high functionaries accountable.

Further, due to corruption, justice is either miscarried or delayed (barring a few high-profile cases). There is a widespread feeling of lack of social justice. The political leadership and the top judiciary are seen to have failed the people in spite of the checks and balances a democracy is supposed to provide. Their credibility has been eroded, leading to the demand that they be made accountable in newer ways — outside the present democratic framework.

In brief, ‘democracy’ is being given as the reason for not bringing the nation’s highest functionaries within the Lokpal’s ambit. The counter-argument is: because ‘democracy’ has been twisted out of shape, there is a need for newer ways to re-energise it by, say, an independent Lokpal. Of course, it goes without saying that even the Lokpal may eventually get subverted since there can neither be a magic wand nor a perfect law to deal with social problems.

It is also argued that NGOs and civil society groups are not people’s representatives — at best, they represent small groups. The legislators, on the other hand, are people’s representatives. This view also emerged in the all-party meeting on the Lokpal bill. While formally this is true, the reality is that ‘representation’ has lost much of its meaning. Does anyone represent people’s interests today? Members of civil society groups and NGOs who have stood for elections have mostly lost. So the politicians are right in saying they represent only small groups. But this is not the whole truth.

The way the government initially caved in to the demands of civil society groups suggests that it panicked because these groups captured the popular sentiment of that section — the middle class — which has provided the government its legitimacy. The media, by playing up the issue, aggravated matters.

The government’s flip-flop on the issue in the last few months ought to clarify whose interest it serves — citizens, the elite or vested interests. While workers’ movements (big and small) have been routinely ignored by the government or dealt with a heavy hand, it responded to the middle class protests. With a scam a week surfacing in the last few years, the illusion of the middle class that the government represents its interests stood shattered, which is why the government initially reacted the way it did. As soon as it devised ways of confusing the middle class, it backtracked.

Revelations in the phone hacking investigations in the U.K. have brought out the nexus among the power elite and the erosion of accountability in the mother of democracy. In India, we are way ahead and have creatively redefined national interest, representation, democracy and corruption to the benefit of the vested interests.

Two faces of Lokpal, Lokayukta Mother India

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santosh hegde, former lokayukta of karnataka, ...

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Editorial in the Shanghai Express

A toast is well deserved. Retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Santosh Hegde is certainly the man of the hour, courtesy the effective enforcement of the clau- ses contained in the Lokayukta in Karnataka.

However before the toast is raised, before the congratulatory notes start pouring in, it would be worthwhile to take certain things into consideration, study them and digest them. Largest democracy in the world.

Island of democracy in a sea of Nations where democracy has more often failed than succeeded, one of the few developing Nations (when this term was politically acceptable in 1947) where the rule of the ballot has never been disrupted by spells of military rule and the largest democracy in the world.

These are some of the epithets that sit pretty comfortably in the crown of Mother India and to top these is the reputation earned in the last decade or so as one of the fastest emerging economic powers in the world. So as Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa faces the heat in the face of the damning indictment issued by the Lokayukta of the State headed by Justice Santosh Hegde, this should be the ideal time to ponder over some uncomfortable questions.

As a Parliamentary democracy, India rightfully believes that the ballot or the EVMs are the final arbiter of the performance of a Government or more specifically a political party. This means that every five years a sort of a referendum on the performance, governance, character etc of a Government or a political party and at the micro level a politician is held and the verdict of the people is supposed to reflect the points we have just mentioned.

This has been the case ever since India attained independence more than 60 years back yet the five yearly elections have never been able to address certain questions and to this day this failure is reflected in the atrocious positions of women in society, the fate of the girl child, the caste structure which has mutated to caste based politics and probably the most niggling of them all- institutionalisation of corruption.

This is the reason why the word of caution against raising the toast was issued in the first place. In many ways the growing need of Bills or Acts like Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta at the States is a damning testimony that the mechanisms of power available to the people through the universal adult franchise have been manipulated and distorted by the political class to such an extent that today this democratic exercise has failed to check corrupt practices such as money laundering, bribery, financial misappropriation, stashing black money in foreign countries etc.

In as much as the average man on the street may feel a sense of vindication in the damning indictment of Yeddyruppa, the overwhelming sense of a loss or indignity forced on the Nation cannot be brushed aside. Should the indictment be a time for celebration or should it be a time to reel in a sense of shame that a person who was elected to the position of the leader of the people should be found dipping his dirty hands in the pie ?

The need for raising this very question is necessitated by the uncomfortable fact that Yeddyruppa is but just a small fish netted from the cesspool of corruption which is patronised by the political class and ably aided by a system which is personified by the Babudom. An understanding of this ugly reality is therefore necessary to understand why the Congress led UPA Government is dragging its feet and demonstrating that it is not at all interested in passing a Lokpal Bill which has teeth and muscle.

The adamant stand of the Government is necessitated by the benefits that the politicians stand to gain as long as the status quo is maintained and this is the very reason why Ana Hazare has been able to capture the imagination of quite a large number of people and why a Baba Ramdev nearly succeeded in stealing the thunder from the issue at hand.

In the beginning when innocence was still a virtue there was nothing wrong in bringing the Anti-Corruption branch and the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Government and this means that these two agencies cannot work at their own initiative.

The Lokpal at the Centre and the Lokayukta at the States look to undo this and this means that once these two agencies become independent entities they can initiate action against the top rung officers or any politician without much interference. This is not all.

The Central Vigilance Commission, which is the authorised body at the Centre to recommend the dismissal of a corrupt officer, has been reduced to the status of an advisory body, but Lokpal and Lokayukta will have the authority and the independence to dismiss the corrupt.

Judges can be tried and prosecuted by the Lokpal and the Lokayukta and politicians will have no say in the selection and appointment of chairpersons and members of these two bodies. It is easy to see why the UPA Government has developed cold feet in going full steam ahead with the Lokpal Bill at the Centre and this is totally in line with the political culture that is associated with a Yeddyruppa.

The question is whether it is the system which has given birth to the Yeddyruppas or whether it is the Yeddyruppas who have scripted the system. Karnataka has shown that its Lokayukta is alive and kicking and the natural question that follows is, what about here, in this kingdom of Mr Okram Ibobi ?