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We don’t want to bleed anymore

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PUBLISHED IN ZEE NEWS INDIA

When the general secretary of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi walked into the RML Hospital premises on September 07 after the Delhi High Court blast, slogans were shouted against him. And so were against other politicians who came to empathise with the victims and their families. This in many ways is symbolic of the growing frustration of the general public with those who govern them and the apathy with which they are treated.

India has been attacked again and again. Sample this – On March 12, 1993, Mumbai serial bombings shook the financial capital of the country killing more than 250 people. The main accused, Dawood Ibrahim is yet to be extradited to India from Pakistan. On December 13, 2001, more than a dozen people, including five gunmen, were killed in an attack on Parliament. On September 24, 2002, terrorists attacked Akshardham temple in Gujarat. In August 2003, two taxis packed with explosives blew up in Mumbai at crowded areas killing more than 50 people.

In October 2005, three bombs placed in Delhi markets, crowded with Diwali shoppers killed around 62 people and injured hundreds. In July 2006, seven bombs placed on Mumbai’s local trains killed over 200 people. Eight serial blasts rocked Jaipur in a span of 12 minutes in May 2008. On November 26, 2008, attacks on ten locations in Mumbai left more than 180 dead. Pakistani national, Ajmal Kasab has been sentenced to death with an appeal pending before the Supreme Court.

The list, sadly, goes on…

The Ram Pradhan Committee formed after 26/11 attacks to look into the lapses and recommend measures to stop further attacks, called for radical transformation of the police force. In spite of its recommendations, the beat constable is still unequipped, CCTV cameras still do not work and the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad established in 2004 is reportedly working at some 30 percent of the strength as compared to the numbers sanctioned by the government.

National Intelligence Grid was given approval by the Union Cabinet in June this year, months after the idea was first mooted. The project aimed at facilitating information-sharing among law enforcement agencies to combat terror was apparently delayed because of objections from other ministries, especially that of defence and finance, as they felt that the home ministry would have an unlimited access to all the information.

National Counter Terrorism Council (NCTC), an umbrella body to fight terror is also in the pipeline. Not sure when it will see the light of the day.

Delhi Chief Minister, after the High Court blast, had remarked that “multiplicity of agencies” created functional problem in combating terror and solving cases. To which the Home Minister P Chidambaram had replied that no single body can alone handle internal and external intelligence, policing and counter-terrorism. How often have we heard the government talk in different languages? And if statements like these do no create confusion in the minds of the citizens then what does?

On May 25, 2011, a blast took place at the Delhi High Court car park. Nonetheless it did nothing to wake up the authorities.

Home Minister recently said that Af-Pak was the epicentre of terror and that home-grown terror modules are fertilised from outside. And to a foreign television channel he said, “As far as cross-border terrorism is concerned, we have to continue to put pressure on Pakistan.”
The Indian Mujahideen gained notoriety in 2008 after taking responsibility for blasts in Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi and Assam, even though it had been active since 2003. As per intelligence reports, the IM is being controlled from across the border. It was also reported recently that militants trying to infiltrate into India by June had exceeded the figures of 2010.

In this scenario what good are the photo-ops between SM Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar, especially if the perpetrators of 26/11 cannot be brought to book? Yes, we cannot change our neighbours but we can certainly change the way we talk to them. Yes, trade and commerce are important issues, but not at the cost of losing innocent lives.

P Chidambram, was supposedly pulled back when he decided to tighten the noose around the Maoists, due to pressures from certain quarters and certain political parties. After the Batkal encounter case in Delhi, senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, decided to visit Azamgarh. The Afzal Guru hanging case has long been in the public domain for the people to read between the lines. Isn’t it time we stop the policy of appeasement and vote-banks at the cost of bloodshed?

Congress leader Renuka Chowdhry said in a recent television debate, “Do you think that the terrorists will stop if we have a CCTV? What do you do when terrorists are ready to die?” After the serial blasts in Mumbai in July, Prithviraj Chavan, CM of Maharashtra lamented, “Terror groups are active and are able to strike at will.” Instead of statements like these, we need our leaders to send out a stern message to all terror groups that India will go after them in hot pursuit. And we also need a strong anti-terror law in place.

We have generic information about impending attacks but are we in a position to have specific and actionable and preventive attacks. Do our intelligence agencies depend too much on technical intelligence? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed the same concern at a recent event when he said that security establishment needed to improve its, “human intelligence capabilities”.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley said in a television interview, post the Delhi HC blast, “The most dangerous thing is that in the last six or so blasts, the cases are by and large unsolved.”

Think over this – On December 7, 2010, a bomb went off at a Varanasi ghat killing a two-year old girl with no arrests made in the case so far. On December 19, 2010, gunmen on motorbikes shot at a tourist bus injuring two persons. It was considered to be IM’s handiwork. The case is unsolved. On July 13, 2011, triple blasts in Mumbai killed 21 persons, with IM being the prime suspect. ATS is investigating, with an arrest only very recently. On April 6, 2011, two blasts took place in Maligaon in Assam which killed 7 persons. Investigation is on, ULFA are the main suspects. Inspite of some arrests, it is said that the main culprit is still in the run. And the very recent May 25, 2011, Delhi High Court car park blast with no casualties. It too remains unsolved. And add to it the 7/11 blast again at Delhi HC – not much headway in this case either.

Yes, it is a cause for alarm if cases of terror attacks are unsolved for a long period of time.

Amidst all these spare a thought for the victims of the bomb blasts – past and present and if I may add with a dread – the future. The citizens don’t want to be saluted anymore for their so called resilience and die-hard-spirit – what they want is to live in peace and dignity. And anyways what choice do they have than to get up and get going the next day?

Yes, maybe terror attacks all over the world cannot be prevented all the time. Nonetheless, it is important for the government and the intelligence agencies of the day to be perceived as trying to do their best.

 

ORIGIN: http://zeenews.india.com/news/world/we-don-t-want-to-bleed-anymore_734644.html

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Half a victory

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VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN  IN THE FRONTLINE

Team Anna wins the first round, but the way ahead in the fight against corruption is full of uncertainties.

“A BATTLE has been won in the campaign for cleansing public life through the rallying of vast sections of people across the country. But a purposive piece of legislation has finally to be passed by Parliament even to rate this victory as truly meaningful. Indeed, the state of peace that has descended after the tumult is pregnant with uncertainties. Uncertainties of such dimensions that no one has a clue as to what this will ultimately deliver.” These words spoken by a key player in the negotiations between Team Anna and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government during the tumultuous 12-day fast undertaken by Anna Hazare, which rocked the national capital and most other parts of the country, sum up the mood prevailing among individuals and groups that would play a role in the drafting and passage of a new Lokpal Bill. The government, the big and small opposition parties with representation in Parliament, Team Anna and various other institutions and bodies that have come up with suggestions on the proposed Bill, such as the Aruna Roy-led National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and the Udit Raj-led Justice Party, all share these uncertainties and the lack of clarity about the future.

At the moment, of course, the prime mover is the Standing Committee of Parliament, chaired by Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi. The committee is expected to take up and initiate negotiations on the various proposals from different sides sometime in September itself. Central to these negotiations are the three points on which Parliament expressed its sense-of-the-House agreement in response to Team Anna’s demands. The sense-of-the-House resolution stated that the issues of “Citizens’ Charter, Lower Bureaucracy also to be under the Lokpal through appropriate mechanism, and establishment of Lokayuktas in the States” would be taken up by the Standing Committee. This process itself has historic dimensions because it is for the first time that the members of the Standing Committee will be discussing the provisions of an already introduced government Bill in response to a sense-of-the-House resolution suggesting incorporation of new provisions.

The mainstream political parties and Team Anna expect this process of the Standing Committee to be completed before the winter session of Parliament. On their part, both Union Finance Minister Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, who emerged as the most important player on the government side during the latter stages of the anti-corruption agitation, and Anna Hazare himself have come up with public postures that have signified a sense of caution and accommodation, which in turn is considered conducive to the smooth conduct of deliberations. In repeated comments to the media after Anna Hazare concluded his fast on August 28, Mukherjee made it clear that the government had bowed before people’s power and its genuine representative leader. Anna Hazare responded by agreeing that there was a lot more to be done peacefully to take the negotiations to the level of fruition. Asserting that “this is only half a victory”, he said he was confident that Members of Parliament would not go back on their word to provide “an effective and strong Lokpal”.

While this sense of accommodation and optimism bodes well for deliberations in the future, large sections of public opinion still harbour apprehensions as to how things will unfold. Speaking to the media immediately after Anna Hazare ended his fast, Infosys founder V. Narayana Murthy hailed the ‘in principle’ agreement of Parliament to the demands put forward by Team Anna but added that it was only the first step. “We have to go through the process of implementation and take it to success. And that is the toughest part. For implementation is the Devil.”

According to Professor Nil Rattan of the Patna-based A.N. Sinha Institute of Political Studies, the apprehensions about implementation have arisen essentially on account of the very track record of the players involved in the process. “Both sides have shown intransigence at different times. While the government has bumbled about from one mistake to another for long spells while addressing the issue, Team Anna had initially taken the obstinate position that nothing short of its version, the Jan Lokpal Bill, would do. The present atmosphere for deliberations could be arrived at only because the government rectified some of its mistakes and Team Anna was ready to come down on some of its demands like bringing the higher judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal. What is the guarantee that this will stand? Who knows whether sections of the government will embark on some adventurist path again,” Nil Rattan told Frontline.

Indeed, the UPA’s track record in handling the early days of Anna Hazare’s August agitation is pathetic. Almost every section of the government, starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, kept on making mistakes. Interventions by Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal made matters worse. Finally, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi contributed his mite to the rank confusion in the ruling establishment. These mistakes were in many ways directly proportional to the rising popularity of Anna Hazare.

Undoubtedly, the biggest mistake was the imprisonment of Anna Hazare on August 16, that too in Tihar jail, where people like Suresh Kalmadi and A. Raja, who were arrested on charges of corruption, are incarcerated. Subsequently, an official spokesperson of the Congress classified Anna Hazare as a “top to bottom” corrupt person.

Interestingly, the decision to take Anna Hazare to Tihar jail was made in an apparent effort to keep him away from the crowds. The political bosses and the administrative-bureaucratic leadership, especially of the Home Ministry, had reportedly considered different options, such as placing him in a government or private guest house or moving him out to Ralegan Siddhi (his hometown in Maharashtra), but finally decided against all these, fearing that his supporters would gather in front of the guest house or at Ralegan Siddhi. Informed sources said that they finally decided to shift him to Tihar because it was thought that the jail would not be accessible to Hazare’s supporters. But what happened was the exact opposite. Crowds gathered at Tihar in big numbers, forcing the government to order his release.

In the days following his release, and during the fast undertaken by him at the Ramlila Grounds, Anna Hazare was perceived as the symbol of all that is positive in society and in many ways the one-stop solution for all social problems. Various organisations, such as sections of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar and non-governmental organisations of different hues and patterns of funding, pitched in for crowd mobilisation. Cumulatively, the impact of genuinely inspired participation and motivated organisational mobilisation resulted in massive crowds at the maidan.

Meanwhile, the government made another faulty move: it stated that Parliament cannot give up its supremacy. This when it had undermined Parliament in April by calling Team Anna to draft the Lokpal Bill and keeping the opposition parties out of the drafting committee. While this move was made by the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi made a facile attempt to score some brownie points through an intervention in Parliament highlighting the same supremacy-of-Parliament position.

Ultimately, it required the intervention of some youth power from the government side itself to untangle the mess that senior politicians such as Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram and Sibal had created. It was through the good offices of a young Delhi MP, Sandeep Diskshit, that the government built channels of communication with Team Anna and managed to bring about a solution. To start with, Dikshit’s intervention was followed by an appeal from Manmohan Singh to Anna Hazare to withdraw the fast. He made this appeal even while crediting Anna Hazare with valid slogans representing the people’s aspirations.

However, in the euphoria created by this collection of crowds day after day, shrill voices questioning the very legitimacy of political processes and leaderships were heard from the Ramlila podium – from Team Anna leaders including Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, and supporters such as the actor Om Puri. The campaign was such that it sought to raise visions of an apolitical leadership replacing politics in the country. Voices like those of the social activist Swami Agnivesh, which emphasised the need to accord validity to political leaderships and elected representatives, were fiercely criticised by the volunteers of Team Anna and by sections of the crowd. Agnivesh’s comment that Hazare ought to have responded positively to Manmohan Singh’s appeal was targeted for special vitriolic treatment by many of Team Anna’s supporters.

Despite this, the government persisted with its efforts at negotiation. It was in this process that Pranab Mukherjee’s role came to the fore, even though Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal continued to argue that a tough line would ultimately compel Team Anna to compromise. This tussle on strategy reflected in a different manner within Team Anna too. Though voices like those of Swami Agnivesh had been sidelined, there also developed an impression that Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi were pushing things to the brink. A group within Team Anna, including senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, took the lead in meeting a number of political leaders, particularly in the opposition BJP and the Left. These initiatives were supplemented by the Mukherjee-led negotiations.

Gradually, sections of Team Anna that had raised a rant against the political class as a whole had to listen to the less aggressive sections. And, it was this that finally led to the discussion of Anna’s demands in Parliament and the final passage of the resolution.

Notably, when Anna Hazare’s fast was withdrawn on August 28 following the passage of the resolution, Kejriwal made it a point to underline the fact that at no point of time had Team Anna sought to denigrate the entire political class as corrupt. While this was sought to be presented as a clarification, many observers perceived the effect of a corrective reverse pressure in this statement.

The passage of the resolution in Parliament and the acknowledgement of Anna’s agitation methods by parliamentarians have evoked high praise, especially from sections of the media, some of whom have described the agitation as the most phenomenal people’s movement to have happened in the history of independent India. In fact, some commentators have even gone to the extent of suggesting that there could be a classification of national politics as pre-Anna and post-Anna phases.

While it is true that the agitation and the fast touched an emotive chord in large sections of the people, including the middle class which has never participated actively in political initiatives, the fact remains that many other movements, ranging from the struggle for land reforms to the empowerment of Dalits, have had more lasting historical impact on Indian society.

Professor Sudhir Panwar, an Uttar Pradesh-based social activist associated with the Kisan Jagriti Manch, who supported the Anna Hazare agitation as a significant effort to initiate a new democratic discourse in the country’s political system, also pointed out that the increased participation of the middle class had helped get enhanced media attention to the movement compared with other grass-roots initiatives such as those of farmers and agricultural workers.

“The fact is the issue of corruption, especially corruption by the political class, is so pervasive and the fight against it has such widespread resonance that even those who have never thought of the country and its people in a larger sense joined in,” he said.

Panwar pointed out that the middle class, which had assiduously kept away from politics and refused to respond to phenomenal political developments such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots of 2002, was triggered into action on political and other forms of corruption also because of the global economic crisis and its impact on day-to-day life.

Panwar emphasised that the leaders of Team Anna should use this opportunity to broadbase the movement with a larger understanding of other social issues and an earnest incorporation of other social movements. “Only then will this have a lasting impact,” he stated.

Naturally, this would involve adopting a more open approach to issues such as the demands of Dalits and backward classes in relation to the Lokpal and looking at broader issues such as the impact of neoliberal policies. Team Anna has announced its resolve to continue struggles in new areas such as electoral reforms, which will include the right to recall and the right to reject legislators. It has also stated that it will strive for decentralisation of power through the greater empowerment of gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas.

A one-line overview of the national political situation in the context of the agitation and the related developments was provided by Pranab Mukherjee when he said, “We are at a crossroads.” It was with this phrase that Mukherjee began his speech marking the beginning of the August 27 debate in Parliament on the Lokpal Bill.

Clearly, as the statement implies, it is time to move with caution to enhance the democratic content of the nation and its institutions and systems. It is a message that applies equally to the largely discredited and beleaguered political class as also to the new civil society players who have had a modicum of success in initiating a corrective process.

And exactly because of this success, Team Anna needs to be extra cautious in what it preaches and practises. For, the hallucination among some of its leaders that India is Anna and Anna is India militates against the very concept of democratic discourse.

Sen courted trouble as Receiver

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FORMER CALCUTTA HIGH COURT JUSTICE SOUMITRA SEN

For the beleaguered Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court, trouble started in 1983, when the Steel Authority of India Ltd. filed a money suit in the court against the Shipping Corporation of India for sale of Periclase Spinal Bricks lying at the Bokaro Steel Plant.

On April 30, 1984, the court appointed Justice Sen, who was a lawyer at that time, as a Receiver to make an inventory, sell these goods, and keep the proceeds until the case was decided. Between April 1, 1993 and June 1, 1995, he received the sale amount of Rs. 33.23 lakh.

In 1996, though he was entitled to keep only five per cent, Rs 1.66 lakh, towards remuneration, he kept the entire money in a fixed deposit with ANZ Grindlays (which later merged into Standard Chartered) and later transferred it to Lynx India Ltd, a company authorised by the RBI.

On January 20, 1997, another High Court Bench directed Mr. Sen to be the Receiver in another case and to keep Rs. 70 lakh for distribution among workers of Calcutta Fans. But he deposited this amount also in Grindlays Bank. Between May 14, 1997 and August 6, 1997, he issued several cheques to the workers.

On February 26, 1997, he deposited Rs. 25 lakh (from out of Rs. 70 lakh) with Lynx India, which sank. The shortfall was made up by taking Rs. 25 lakh from the SAIL money and depositing it in the Calcutta Fans account

On February 27, 2003, the SAIL filed an application in the High Court asking the Receiver to return the entire sales proceeds and render true and faithful accounts. He failed to do so until he was appointed judge on December 3, 2003.

On August 3, 2004, the High Court appointed a new Receiver, without asking Justice Sen to refund money lying with him till then.

Subsequently on February 15, 2005 when the matter was posted before another judge, he issued notice to Justice Sen for return of the money. On June 30, 2005 after the High Court ordered an enquiry, it came to light that Justice Sen, as Receiver, never filed any accounts, though he was required to do so every six months.

On November 1, 2005 he deposited Rs. 5 lakh. On April 10, 2006, the court directed him to repay Rs. 57.65 lakh, which included an interest of Rs. 26.26 lakh. Justice Sen went on leave and on his return, he was not allotted judicial work. Between June 27, 2006 and September 5, 2006, he repaid Rs. 40 lakh and on November 21, 2006, he repaid the balance amount.

On September 25, 2007, a Division Bench quashed single judge’s order and expunged remarks. The Bench held that there was no material to hold that Justice Sen had misappropriated any amount or made any personal gain.

But on a report from the then Chief Justice of the High court, the then Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan formed a three-member committee to probe the charge

In February 2008, the in-house committee, found Justice Sen guilty of breach of trust and misappropriation. It said he did not have any honest intention since he mixed the money received as Receiver with his personal money. There was misappropriation, at least temporary, of the sales proceeds.

Acting on the report, he was asked to resign or to seek voluntary retirement, but he declined.

In August 2008, the then CJI, K.G. Balakrishnan, asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to initiate removal proceedings against Justice Sen for his misconduct.

On February 27, 2009, 58 MPs of the Rajya Sabha moved a motion seeking Justice Sen’s removal.

On March 4, 2009, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha appointed a probe panel headed by the then Supreme Court judge, B. Sudershan Reddy.

On September 10, 2010, the committee held him guilty on two counts — misappropriation of money and misrepresentation of facts to the High Court — and recommended his removal.

On August 18, 2011 the Rajya Sabha voted the resolution to remove Justice Sen.

COURTESY: THE HINDU

Teaching a hard lesson

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SUDIPTO MUNDLE in TOI

Shehla Masood was killed in Bhopal recently, yet another RTI activist who lost her life in the battle against corruption. The Lokayukta report has brought down the chief minister in Karnataka. A high court judge is being impeached in Parliament. The Comptroller and Auditor General and the Supreme Court are in hot pursuit of mega scams. The CBI has charge-sheeted and locked up top executive honchos, MPs, even a cabinet minister. India is at war against corruption.

Now we have Team Anna’s much celebrated victory. His hunger strike and arrest galvanised a whole nation. Nothing like this had been seen since the freedom movement led by Gandhi, except perhaps the JP movement. Cong-ress leaders were clearly shocked. As the rallies swelled and Team Anna grew more stubborn, the party swung from hard line to soft line to hard line again.

Finally, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – much vilified in recent times even by his well-wishers for neither leading nor resigning, and presiding over a corrupt regime – who did the right thing. At his instance, alternative proposals for the Lokpal Bill were discussed in Parliament, and an all-party resolution passed that supports the three key issues raised by Team Anna. He then reached out to Anna, requesting him to withdraw his fast.

Anna responded by congratulating Parliament and breaking his 12-day fast while the nation rejoiced and heaved a collective sigh of relief. The prime minister’s approach preserved the authority of Parliament, yet ensured that Parliament was responsive to a popular non-violent movement. Between Anna and him, they have led the people and the Parliament of India to the finest moment of our democracy as the world has watched and applauded us.

The Parliament resolution is a giant leap for Indian democracy, but only one big step in fighting corruption. The hard work starts now. As the standing committee gets down to the nitty-gritty of drafting the revised Lokpal Bill, it is a good time to look at the insights on corruption containment offered by a cross-over subject called Law and Economics.

The organising theme underlying this approach is the pleasure-pain calculus attributed to philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The idea that all human behaviour is driven by this calculus is controversial. But it seems reasonable to suggest that crimes like corruption are indeed driven by the criminal’s perception of potential gain and the loss if caught: pleasure and pain. Much insight on how to contain corruption derives from this simple principle. However, corruption takes many forms and no matter how clever a policy, the criminal mind can be equally clever. Also, beyond a point, the costs of further reducing corruption could exceed the loss from corruption. Hence, corruption can be contained, possibly minimised, but not entirely eliminated. With this caveat, the following broad proposals can be made.

First, there is the widespread phenomenon of citizens having to pay a bribe to get what they are entitled to by right, e.g., timely delivery of pensions, ration cards, passports, etc or the timely restoration of power, phone lines, water supply, and so on. In such cases, the bribe payer is actually a victim of extortion. In a recent paper, economist Kaushik Basu has proposed that acts of bribe-giving in such cases of ‘harassment corruption’ should not be considered a crime, as at present. Instead, the punishment for the bribe seeker should be significantly enhanced. Such an amendment of the relevant law could vastly reduce ‘harassment corruption’ because the potential extortionist would be deterred by his knowledge that bribe-givers are likely to blow the whistle after getting their job done.

For other forms of major corruption, the pleasure-pain calculus has generated three basic approaches for containment: high civil service pay to moderate the lure of illegal gratification; laws prescribing very harsh punishment and/or strong law enforcement to enhance the probability and expected pain from being caught, compared to the potential gain; and strong competitive structures with transparent non-discretionary rules to minimise the opportunities for gain from bribe-driven decisions. International evidence reveals two cases of high civil service pay and low levels of corruption, Singapore and Hong Kong. However, both these places also have strong laws against corruption, strict enforcement and open, competitive market structures. Hence, the individual effects of each of the three approaches cannot be disentangled in either of these cases.

Evidence from other countries indicates that strong laws, strict enforcement and competitive structures each individually and significantly contribute to curbing corruption. In most developing countries, including India, poor enforcement of laws is the norm. Turning that around would be very costly in resources and a great administrative challenge. By comparison, enacting strong laws or introducing reforms to strengthen competitiveness are relatively costless and administratively less challenging.

These should be our strategic priorities in fighting corruption. The former requires a revised Lokpal Bill that provides for very stiff punishment of corruption. The latter requires other urgent reforms to strengthen competitiveness through transparent, non-discretionary regulations that are not unduly restrictive. While these should be our priorities, enforcement too has to be strengthened to the extent our fiscal and administrative capacities permit.

The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance & Policy, New Delhi.

COURTESY: THE TIMES OF INDIA

Significant victory

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Manmohan Singh, current prime minister of India.

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Parliament’s unanimous adoption of a resolution agreeing “in principle” with Team Anna’s position on the three sticking points that prolonged the standoff on the Lokpal legislation is a triumph for the anti-corruption mood in the country — and for the Gandhian technique of non-violent mass agitation on issues of vital concern to the people. Anna Hazare and his team deserve full credit for recognising and riding this popular mood, which showed plenty of signs of becoming a wave; for giving concrete shape to the inchoate aspirations of the movement against corruption through the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill; and for working out a strategy and tactics that refused to compromise on the core issues but knew when to raise the stakes and when to settle. As for the political players, the major opposition parties did well to recognise the soundness of the core demands of Team Anna and keep up the pressure on the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the politically savvy elements in the United Progressive Alliance regime can also take some credit for the way they finally acted to resolve this crisis.

What is clear to everyone — except the unreconstructed elements within the political system who have long been opposed to a strong, independent, and effective statutory authority to go after corruption at all levels — is that the Lokpal Bill that was introduced in Parliament by the government and is now before a Standing Committee lies thoroughly discredited. The government must not be guided by those in its ranks who advocate some kind of rearguard action in committee or on the floor of the House to go back on commitments made. The fact is that in sum, that is, in the parliamentary resolution and during the preceding rounds of discussion with Team Anna, the government conceded the following key demands. In addition to Ministers, Members of Parliament (subject to Article 105 of the Constitution), and Group ‘A’ officers, the Prime Minister at one end and the lower bureaucracy at the other will be brought under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. Secondly, under the same statute, strong and effective Lokayuktas on the same model as the Lokpal will be established in all States. Team Anna contends that no constitutional problem is involved here since the Lokpal legislation deals with substantive and procedural criminal law, which is covered by Entries 1 and 2 of the Concurrent List in the Constitution. The bottom-line is that it makes no sense to have a strong and effective Lokpal to investigate and prosecute central public servants for corruption while having defunct or no Lokayuktas in States. Thirdly, the Lokpal legislation will provide for a grievance redressal system, requiring all public authorities to prepare a citizen’s charter and make commitments to be met within a specified time frame. Constitutionally speaking, these arrangements are covered by Entry 8 of the Concurrent List dealing with actionable wrongs. Whether the Lokpal or another authority established under the same law will oversee this grievance redressal system remains an open question. For its part, Team Anna has agreed that judges need not come under the Lokpal provided a credible and independent Judicial Conduct Commission, free from conflict of interest and empowered to investigate and prosecute charges of corruption against judges, is established by law. Unfortunately, the contentious issue of a selection committee for the Lokpal could not be resolved. But considering that virtually everyone outside the UPA seems opposed to the official Lokpal Bill’s provision that the government will nominate five of the nine members of the selection committee, this can probably be regarded as a dead letter.

There are some excellent provisions in the Jan Lokpal Bill that have gone mostly unnoticed. For instance, Section 6(o) provides that the Lokpal can recommend the cancellation or modification of a lease, licence, permission, contract or agreement obtained from a public authority by corrupt means; if the public authority rejects the recommendation, the Lokpal can “approach [the] appropriate High Court for seeking appropriate directions to be given to the public authority.” It can also press for the blacklisting of those involved in acts of corruption. Then there is Section 31(1), which stipulates that “no government official shall be eligible to take up jobs, assignments, consultancies, etc. with any person, company, or organisation that he had dealt with in his official capacity.” Section 31(2) provides that “all contracts, public-private partnerships, transfer by way of sale, lease, and any form of largesse by any public authority shall be done with complete transparency and by calling for public tender/auction/bids unless it is an emergency measure or where it is not possible to do so for reasons to be recorded in writing.” And Section 31(3) requires that “all contracts, agreements or MOUs known by any name related to transfer of natural resources, including land and mines to any private entity by any method like public-private partnerships, sale, lease or any form of largesse by any public authority shall be put on the website within a week of being signed.”

In appraising what has happened over the past fortnight, a red herring needs to be got out of the way — the idea of the ‘supremacy of Parliament‘ versus everyone who comes up against it. Parliamentarians who assert this need to learn their Constitution. In India, unlike Britain, Parliament is not supreme; the Constitution is. Nor is law-making “the sole prerogative” of Parliament. The significant victory of the anti-corruption campaigners gives political India a rare opportunity to translate fine anti-corruption sentiments into a potent law that can be a game-changer. The challenge before the people of India is to ensure, by keeping up the pressure, that in the tricky business of law making in committee and on the floor of the Houses of Parliament a potentially powerful instrument is not blunted.

COURTESY: THE HINDU

Anna Hazare fast: Lokpal debate in House unlikely today over procedural delays

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IIT-Delhi faculty and students show support for Anna Hazare

A debate scheduled in Lok Sabha on various versions of theLokpal Bill, including that of fasting anti-corruption activistAnna Hazare, was unlikely on Friday because of procedural delays. Soon after the debate began, the House was adjourned till 3.30 pm following uproarious scenes by the Opposition.

Parliamentary Affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the debate may now be held on Saturday. He expressed displeasure over the functioning of the House.

‘Anna ready to break fast’
The developments came as Hazare’s fast entered its 11th day at the Ramlila Maidan. Hazare’s associate Kiran Bedi said the Gandhian activist would end his hunger strike once Parliament passed a resolution that met his demands. These are: the inclusion of lower bureaucracy under Lokpal, a citizens’ charter and the setting up of state Lokayuktas.

“Today is a key moment for India’s future. The resolution by MPs will be victory for every Indian,” Bedi said.

Prashant Bhushan, another Hazare associate, said: “A mere discussion will not do. Parliament will have to pass a resolution indicating that the Lokpal Bill covers the three issues raised by Anna.”

Hazare’s team demanded that Parliament, if need be, hold the debate on Saturday too, saying Hazare’s health was precarious and corruption was a critical issue.

Rahul suggests Lokpal on lines of EC

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi in Lok Sabha.

Hazare’s ongoing fast was lauded by Rahul in his Zero Hour speech in Lok Sabha, but he emphasised that the fight against corruption had to move beyond setting up an effective Lokpal.

“We can’t wish away corruption. It will require a comprehensive programme of action. There is a perception that enactment of single Bill will eradicate corruption. I have serious doubts about that,” Rahul said.

“The Lokpal law is just one element in the fight against corruption. Laws are also required on government funding of elections, land issues and mining,” he said, reminding MPs that they had the responsibility of allowing Parliament to function so that such laws could be enacted.

“Why not make the Lokpal a constitutional body like the Election Commission?” asked Rahul, all the while being backed by Congress MPs.

“Democractic processes cannot be undermined. Underming Parliament’s supremacy is dangerous for democracy,” he cautioned. “Let us commit ourselves to truth and probity in life. We owe it to the people of India.”

BJP MPs interrupt Rahul speech
Rahul’s statement sparked off an uproar in the House, with BJP MPs rising from their seats and shouting slogans. His speech was interrupted several times. BJP leader Ananth Kumar later stepped up the attack on the Congress by asking if Rahul or the prime minister was running the government.

Earlier in the day, Rahul met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, apparently to discuss the Lokpal Bill.

MPs seek debate under Rule 193

Doctors examine Anna Hazare
Doctors examine Anna Hazare at the Ramlila Maidan.

As the Lok Sabha session began on Friday, Congress MPs Jagdambika Pal, Anu Tandon and Sanjay Nirupam gave a notice to Speaker Meira Kumar, seeking a debate on the Jan Lokpal Bill under Rule 193.

This was after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal expressed doubts whether a debate could take place on Friday as there was no notice for it.

The government had on Thursday agreed to a debate on three versions of the Lokpal Bill in Lok Sabha, giving rise to hopes of a resolution of the ongoing crisis.

Hazare’s team has demanded a Parliament debate under Rule 184, which allows voting.

Team Anna’s draft resolution for Parliment

Supporters of Anna Hazare
Supporters of Hazare in New Delhi.

Hazare’s team has proposed a resolution for Parliament. It reads as:
1) A Lokpal Bill shall be passed by Parliament in the ongoing session, which will set up an independent Lokpal institution at the Centre and an independent Lokayukta institution on the same model in each state.
2) The House further resolves that Lokpal shall have jurisdiction over all public servants at the Centre and the Lokayukta shall have jurisdiction over all public servants in respective states.
3) Such law would require that all government departments make Citizens’ Charters to give information about which public-dealing work being done in how much time and by which officer. Violation of the Citizens’ Charter shall be penalised by Lokpal or Lokayukta.

Anna writes to PM
Hazare also wrote a letter to the prime minister, which was taken to him by Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The highlights of the letter are:
– I am not sitting on a fast for serving my selfish purpose. I am just a common man and I want to help the poor people of this country. I have no partaking in power politics.
– Our movement is not against any person or any party. We want to fight and remove corruption. During this movement, if anything said by any of the team members has hurt your sentiments, then I apologise on their behalf.
– The common man is getting affected on a day-to-day basis due to corruption.
– (Mentioning the three demands on Lokpal Bill) If these can be accepted by Parliament, I will end my fast. Else I will keep sitting at Ramlila Maidan.

Govt wants assurance from Anna

Supporters of Anna Hazare
Supporters of Anna Hazare shout slogans outside the PM’s residence.

The government has sought a concrete assurance from Hazare that he will break the fast after Parliament takes up his Jan Lokpal Bill.

Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit, one of the negotiators for the government, said Hazare should keep the sanctity of his fast and stick to his words.

“This hunger strike has been an ideal for all. Anna is kind-hearted, I appeal to him to break his fast. He had said he will end his fast as the discussion begins. Since everybody is ready for the discussion, he should end the fast,” he said.

Ministers continue with meetings
Law Minister Salman Khurshid met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to discuss a way out of the deadlock. “We want a collaborative, cooperative resolution in the House. The whole House must be party to it,” Khurshid said.

Team Anna meets Left leaders
A day after meeting the BJP top brass, Hazare’s team met CPI(M) leaders on Friday.

“We are going back to all political parties to ask which provisions of the Lokpal need more clarification,” said Bedi.

After meeting CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat, Bhushan said, “I have given clarifications that the CPI(M) sought. The party has indicated that they by and large support the Jan Lokpal Bill.”

COURTESY: INDIA TODAY

Aiming high in the 12th Plan

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PLANNING COMMISSION DEPUTY CHAIRPERSON

The Planning Commission, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has fixed an average growth target of 9 per cent for the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17), the same as the one set for the 11th (2007-12). The identical growth targets for the two successive plans ought not to hide the fact that there have been changes in the macroeconomic environment in the meantime. It is not that that India’s growth trajectory that looked very promising — at one point in time the Prime Minister was visualising a double digit growth rate — has suddenly nose-dived. Rather, it is a change in the sentiment both within the country and outside that has made the achievement of a 9 per cent growth look daunting and contingent on the government taking some “difficult decisions.” Economic growth in the United States and Europe has petered out and there is a real danger of major economies slipping into another recession. India’s growth slowed to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09 after exceeding 9 per cent for three consecutive years. Since then, it has ranged between 8 per cent and 8.5 per cent, which is still respectable in relation to what obtains in most other countries.

Yet the outlook for the current year has changed for the worse in the eyes of most forecasters. It is not just the external environment, but also the policy drift and indecision in government in recent months that have dampened sentiment. Improving governance will be a critical and necessary condition for growth to accelerate. Unfortunately the Planning Commission has been silent on the many issues that are crying out for reform. The approach paper ought to have been the forum for initiating debates on the more politically difficult subjects of reform. Fiscal consolidation, achieving a sustainable balance of payments position, and boosting productivity in agriculture and industry have remained unexceptionable goals. Fiscal prudence is absolutely necessary for long-term stability without which higher growth rates are not possible. Although the size of the current account deficit is estimated to be well within the prudential range of 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent of the GDP, the financing requirements are large, and at the current juncture, policymakers cannot take capital inflows for granted. Finally, monetary measures to curb the persistent inflation will necessarily entail sacrificing some of the growth momentum, at least over the short-term. Will the targeted 9 per cent growth be as elusive as the double digit growth was during the 11th Plan?

COURTESY: THE HINDU