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Posts Tagged ‘UPA Government

Manmohan for strong, effective Lokpal Bill

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PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH

Affirming his commitment for a strong and effective Lokpal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said there is a “dynamic” in the legislative process which takes time.

In an apparent reference to Mr. Anna Hazare demand for passing the Jan Lokpal by this month-end, Singh said he does not want to controvert anything that was being said on it.

He said all the parties should work together to push for a “strong and effective” Lokpal and remove the “obstacles” in the way.

Observing that there was a “lot of scope for give and take”, the Prime Minister said the government was “open to discussion and dialogue” as it wants a national consensus to emerge.

“We are all in favour of a Lokpal, which is strong, which is effective,” he told a group of journalists after a full Planning Commission meeting while answering questions on the Hazare agitation.

“We are open to, I think, discussion and dialogue. We would like…a broad national consensus to emerge,” Dr. Singh underlined.

“Therefore there is a lot of scope for give and take. Our hope is that we can enlist the cooperation of all thinking segements of Indian public opinion to ensure that the end product is a strong and effective Lokpal which all sections of our community want,” he said.

He noted that the government had presented a Lokpal Bill in Parliament which was the demand of all political parties voiced at a conference convened by him.

“They (parties) said we cannot give you our view point unless and until you come out with a draft. We have fulfilled that obligation,” he said.

Panel seek suggestions

Earlier a Parliamentary committee examining the Lokpal Bill on Saturday sought suggestions from public within 15 days, making it clear that the August 30 deadline set by Anna Hazare on passing the anti-corruption legislation would not be met.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice and Personnel issued an advertisement in dailies outlining salient features of the Bill and asking people to send their opinions and suggestions within 15 days.

While 15 days is the standard time given by Parliamentary panels to people or organisations to send feedback on bills, the time-frame in this case makes it clear that the deadline of August 30 set by Mr. Hazare for passing the Lokpal Bill will not be met.

Soon after the bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on August 4, the Rajya Sabha Chairman had referred it to the Committee and given it three months to give recommendations.

The Standing Committee on Law and Justice and Personnel is serviced by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat and is headed by a Rajya Sabha member — in this case Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Soon after the bill was referred to it, the Committee had invited team Hazare to place its views before the panel. The Hazare team appeared before the Committee later.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram recently said Mr. Hazare was free to give his views to the panel once again.

Reacting to the newspaper advertisement, Mr. Hazare`s associate Arvind Kejriwal said it appeared to be an exercise which will waste the time of people and Parliamentarians.

“We appeared before the Standing Committee earlier and told them that the present bill is actually for promotion of corruption and save the corrupt people,” he said.

Nowhere has CAG held PMO, Sheila guilty: UPA

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Still for an Interview conducted with Sheila D...

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SMITA GUPTA in THE HINDU

The United Progressive Alliance government and the Congress on Monday vigorously defended the Prime Minister’s Office and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit against accusations made by the Opposition, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, that they had been indicted by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

Nowhere in the CAG’s report on the Commonwealth Games had the PMO or Ms. Dikshit been found guilty of any wrongdoing, said the government and the Congress.

On a day the Opposition used the CAG report to force an adjournment of both Houses of Parliament without allowing them to conduct any business, the Congress’ response at two separate press conferences was sharp and pointed, as it asked people to read the report carefully.

‘CAG exceeded brief’

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari even went so far as to question the bona fides of the CAG. Pointing out that the CAG was “only an auditing body,” he said it had no “remit to comment on an appointment process” or “on policy choices that a government may or may not make.” When the CAG commented on the appointment process in the context of the Games, “it erred.”

Mr. Tewari wanted to know why three crucial dates had escaped the CAG’s attention: September 11, 2003, when the Host City contract for the CWG was approved by the National Democratic Alliance Cabinet; November 13, 2003, when the Host City contract was signed; and November 1, 2004, when the India Olympic Association general assembly — “which consisted of many eminences of the NDA” — decided to elect Suresh Kalmadi chairperson of Organising Committee.

Questioning the CAG’s intentions, he said: “Were these omissions intentional or was it a case of oversight, given that two of [these] took place during the NDA’s time?”

Fait accompli

The PMO under the UPA regime had “no role” in the appointment of Mr. Kalmadi as it was a “fait accompli,” because of documents signed by the NDA government. “If there is any alleged financial loss, then the Public Accounts Committee needs to look into that,” Mr. Tewari added.

Meanwhile, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal told journalists shortly after the Group of Ministers on the media met that there was no indictment of the PMO in the CAG report: “There is only a reference [to the PMO] … and a statement of facts.”

Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni were present at the press conference.

Media restraint urged

Advising the media to exercise self-regulation and check facts, Mr. Sibal pointed out that media organisations were reporting that the PMO and Ms. Dikshit had been indicted by the CAG report, even though that was not true. “There may be a reference to different people but a reference does not mean indictment,” Ms. Soni added, stressing, “there is no indictment of any high office, much less that of the PMO.”

Mr. Sibal, however, parried questions whether he could say categorically that there was absolutely no criticism of Ms. Dikshit in the CAG report. “You should let us know if there is any particular passage which you find as indictment [of Dikshit].”

Mr. Tewari, however, was more direct saying that there was “not even a whisper of an insinuation” against Ms. Dikshit

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.

NAC proposals to strengthen MGNREGS

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New National Advisory Council(NAC)of India: So...

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SMITA GUPTA in The Hindu

The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) — at the initiative of which the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was rolled out in UPA-I — is taking a fresh look at how to strengthen it.

The NAC wants the scheme to move from its “relief work mode” to one that would blend “natural resources and labour to build productive assets.” When the NAC meets here on Thursday, the Deep Joshi-headed working group will suggest ways and means of strengthening the capacity of panchayats to implement the scheme more effectively.

Having finalised its recommendations for big-ticket laws on food security and communal violence, both currently with the government, the NAC will focus, over the next few months, on other smaller, but critical, aam aadmi issues. Besides proposing new guidelines for the MGNREGS, the council will deliberate on welfare interventions for de-notified tribes, social security for the unorganised sector and pre-legislative consultative mechanisms, sources in the NAC told The Hindu.

Three new working groups — on the northeast, minority welfare, and social protection for the most vulnerable groups such as street children and the homeless — will also be constituted.

WORKSHOP

In the run-up to Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Joshi, it is learnt, held a workshop in April, in which representatives of the Central and State governments, as well as NGOs, reviewed the MGNREGS. What emerged was that the annual budget of Rs. 40,000 crore could be better utilised with more effective planning. The sources said that though Schedule One of the MGNREG Act referred to conservation of natural resources such as rainwater, land, forests, this was not reflected in the works floated for the scheme. Thus far, the panchayats, barring those in Karnataka — and, to some extent, in West Bengal, thanks to the long years of Left rule — have “no experience at all in planning large-scale programmes.”

The current system does not have the space for any deliberation. The object, therefore, is to “enable” the panchayats to engage in better planning, giving them access to technical expertise and encouraging them to increase local consultation.

The second issue — how to improve the lives and livelihood of the roughly 13.5 crore-strong denotified tribes, whose members are yet to shed the colonial stigma of being described as criminal tribes — will be addressed by Narendra Jadhav, who heads the working group on the subject.

Spread over approximately 200 communities and several States and, being largely nomadic, at present they don’t enjoy the rights given to the tribal population.

Their status in different States varies: in some, they have been categorised as the Scheduled Castes; in others as the Other Backward Castes; and in some others, they have just fallen through the cracks.

Meanwhile, even as the government grapples with the controversial Lokpal Bill and its uneasy relationship with civil society, Aruna Roy, who heads the working group on transparency and accountability, will initiate a discussion on Thursday to put in place a framework to give non-state actors an institutional role in framing laws. The proposal emanated from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.

As for the unorganised sector, UPA-II has already extended the benefits of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to the MGNREGS and domestic workers, but the NAC feels that other social security interventions should also be considered. Towards that end, the Mirai Chatterjee-led working group will put forward some draft proposals on Thursday.

SACHAR PANEL REPORT

Of the new working groups coming up, Pramod Tandon will head the one on the northeast, and he is scheduled to outline its concerns. Harsh Mander and Farah Naqvi will head the one on minority welfare, which will look at how far the Sachar Committee’s recommendations have been implemented.