Tuesday, August 31, 2010

LOK PAL BILL – PROMISES TO REDEEM :: an article by Justice Rajindar Sachar

The controversy following resignation of Justice Santosh Hegde, the Lok Ayukat of Karnataka and the subsequent amends purported to have been made by Karnataka Govt. has again highlighted the failure of Lok Pal Legislative history at the Centre and the equally passivity and reluctance of all political parties to pass this legislation, which is most urgently desired, if the attempt to control the rapid drift downward to political corruption which is eating the vitals of our nation is to be stemmed.

Gujral Govt. unsuccessful attempt to pass the Lok Pal Bill in 1996 after five attempts since 1968 had been frustrated, was again introduced by Vajpayee Govt. in 1998 and 2001, but as expected was talked out.

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When UPA government cause to power at the Centre Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh had in September, 2004 commendably stated that; “UPA Government would lose no time to enact the Lok Pal Bill and that the need for it is more urgent than ever.” That it could not be passed was because of concerted opposition by a small clique within UPA and also helped by quite a few in the opposition by the not so clear move to start a controversy by seeking to include judges in the Lok Pal Bill (which constitutionally was impermissible.) That promise has not still been redeemed.

A routine exercise is done by Parliament to appoint select committee to go into the Bill and this process goes on endlessly with predictable in action till Parliaments life comes to an end.

Gandhian Brigade consisting of respected Gandhian’s in their eighties and nineties have been in long communication with Prime Minister Office about the desirability of passing the Bill. Many of then regularly observe one day fast – of course for media of soccer hype mentality, it is no news. Law Minister Moilley on paper shows deep concern and has been promising legislation soon. But it is still not on parliaments agenda.

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A facile excuse for not passing the Bill is deviously put forward by the legislators that there is a strong opinion both among legislators and outside Parliament that Prime Minister should not be included in the purview of Lok Pal Bill. Totally unconvincing because there had been detailed discussion in this aspect since 1996, Vajpayee and Man Mohan Singh have openly said that Prime Minister should be included in the Lok Pal Bill –so who are these worthies who are taking cudgels on Prime Ministers behalf – it is no mystery – these are about 70 tainted members in the present Parliament. Naturally the public is skeptical.

Even though I do not find any understandable reason for excluding the Prime Minister still the Lok Pal Bill could have been introduced by excluding the Prime Minister from its purview, so that the legislation could come into existence – the debate on the propriety of inclusion or exclusion of Prime Minister could continue and if approved Prime Minister could be included later on. But why should the enactment of Lok Pal legislation be delayed.

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It is no secret that the reason for this apathy is the unwillingness of legislators to face scrutiny by Lok Pal. This is brought into sharp focus in the aftermath of Justice Hegdes resignation story. Whereas congress rightly lambastes the shabby treatment of Lok Ayukat by Karnataka Government, it without batting a eye still supports Karnataka Governments disgraceful stand of keeping high officials and legislators from the jurisdiction of Lok Ayukat, on the specious plea that legislators should not be under the Lokayukat – no wonder the members of parliament will not pass the Lak Pal bill lest they are put under the watchful eye of Lok Pal. Does hypocrisy in politics have no limits – is the fear of public wrath even at election times looked upon with contempt by political parties. The argument that legislators can not be put under the cover of a single person, even though he may be a retired Judge of Supreme Court is ridiculous. Legislators forget the basic philosophy of republicanism running through our constitution, namely ‘Be you ever so high – the law is above you’.

Hypocrisy is further heightened when Parliament spends extra time to pass National Judicial Bill to enquire into the misconduct of Judges. No, I am not objecting to it – rather I welcome it. Because I firmly believe that it is only.

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the incorruptible judiciary that can maintain the democratic structure. I am all for Parliament to pass even in the next session Judicial Accountability Bill. But legislators need to remember that unless the other wings of State namely executive and legislature are equally free from the taint of corruption, society will remain infected and ill. As J.P. the socialist leader sorrowfully put it, “I know politics is not for saints. But politics, at least under a democracy, must know the limits which it may not cross. Otherwise, if there is dishonesty, corruption there can be no government, no public order, no justice, no freedom, no national unity, in short, no nation”. Again as John Adams one of the founding father of US Constitution said, “the people have a right, an inalienable, indisputable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge – I mean of the character and conduct of their Rulers”.

The pain felt by Mr. Som Nath Chatterjee, the former Lok Sabha speaker when he said, “Large sections of the people are greatly worried about the nexus between crime and politics as well as administration in the country. I am saddened to observe that politics in the country has to a large extent, become criminalized and crime has become politicized.”

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So let not the members of Parliament hide their real motive for opposition under the hypocritical concern for the Prime Ministers Status by stalling the passing of the Lok Pal Bill.

Let Lok Pal Bill be passed by even excluding the Prime Minister, this will somewhat satisfy the people at large that the Govt. is serious about meeting the menace of corruption in public life. The question of inclusion of the Prime Minister can be deferred and can be debated independently and decision taken subsequently.

Article by:
Chief Justice (Retd.) High Court of Delhi, New Delhi
Chairperson Prime Minister’s High Level Committee On Status of Muslims (Ex.)
UN Special Rappoetuer on Housing Member, U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (Ex.)

President, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) India (Ex.)