Union Law Minister Offending Bharat – Dr Pravin Togadia
An ominous sign for government
31 Jan 2012 11:31:00 PM IST
Here is a telling contrast in fighting corruption. The nation has seen in the last couple of years two distinct endeavours to fight corruption. One is the fight for a new anti-corruption law with the blessings of even the suspects. And the other is identifying the suspects and fighting them under existing laws. Anna Hazare and his team have launched an agitation for an anti-corruption law — the Lokpal Bill — without which, they told the nation, corruption could not be fought or contained. In their enterprise against corruption they first appealed to Sonia Gandhi for her support to fight corruption! And she also wrote to Anna offering her support! Subramanian Swamy, on the other hand, took the view that corruption could well be fought under the existing anti-corruption law provided the corrupt are targeted directly. First, he filed an application with the prime minister for prosecuting A Raja for his role in the 2G scam. Next he applied to the prime minister for sanction to prosecute Sonia Gandhi, whose support Anna had sought to stop corruption. Swamy, a seasoned politician and accomplished intellectual, knew that without the visible picture of the corrupt, corruption is a theoretical issue — a point which the apolitical Anna and team had missed.
How Subramanian Swamy has cornered the UPA finally is not a complex story. The 2G licence issue had all the trappings of an open air theatre scam from the day the licences were fraudulently issued, namely, on January 10, 2008. When the government was covering up the 2G issue, everyone was merely wondering how to fix the government. But Swamy acted. He filed an application on November 24, 2008, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for permission to prosecute A Raja who had issued the 2G licences. At that time Raja was a powerful minister in the ministry of UPA-I, being from the DMK that was dominant in the alliance. The anti-corruption law mandates that no court can look at a complaint against a public servant “except with the previous sanction” of the authority competent to remove the public servant from office. Since Raja was a minister, who could be removed by the PM, Swamy approached the PM for the sanction.
The likes of Sibals and Chidambarams were perhaps laughing at Swamy. But Swamy persisted. He kept on writing letters to the prime minister reminding him about his application. He ceaselessly kept talking about it in public and through the media. But the prime minister, as he is sworn to in most matters, kept silent. The silence of the PM had made the government and the ruling party happy. But Swamy moved the Delhi High Court for a direction to the PM to take a decision on his plea. The high court dismissed Swamy’s petition. The ruling government and party were in ecstasy. But, undeterred, Swamy moved the Supreme Court. The PM had written to Swamy on March 10, 2010, that Swamy’s plea for prosecuting Raja was premature as the CBI was investigating the matter — a response authored by amateur legalism. After having trivialised Swamy thus, on April 26, 2010, the PM told the media — which asked him whether Raja’s statement that he had the approval of the PM to do what he did — that Raja had consulted him before issuing the licences. That what the PM had accepted as consultation, Raja has asserted as permission.
Swamy also complained to the Supreme Court about the inordinate delay by the PM in deciding the matter. Meanwhile, the 2G issue had exploded on the face of the government with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India saying that the loss to the government was, on the lower side, some `69,000 crore and could be as high as `1,75,000 crore. The Supreme Court, seeing the government prevaricating at all levels, began monitoring the CBI investigation of the scam. The petition by Swamy too became part of the 2G scam litigation in the Supreme Court. The CBI did file charge-sheets in some cases of scam, including Raja as an accused in all except one. But Swamy’s plea to the PM to prosecute Raja and the PM’s inaction on it survived for consideration by the Supreme Court. The apex court did go deep into the matter, called for the records of the PMO and asked for an explanation from the PMO for the delay. By now, the ruling party and the government stopped laughing at Swamy. It became the turn of Swamy to laugh at them. It is the plea of Swamy to the PM to allow him to prosecute Raja which has been decided by the Supreme Court on January 31, 2012, in a landmark judgment.
First, the court has set aside the judgment of the Delhi High Court that had refused to direct the PM to decide on Swamy’s plea. Second, it has ruled that it is the constitutional right of a citizen to move to prosecute any public servant. Third, the authority to whom the application is made for permission to prosecute should take a decision within three months and if, within four months, no decision is taken, the permission shall be deemed to be granted. The import of the Supreme Court judgment is evident. The court has clearly indicted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for delaying the decision on Swamy’s plea. It has also directed him to decide on Swamy’s plea in 90 days. The court has also said that Parliament should lay down the guidelines for 2G prosecution. Finally, the court has said that for ordering inquiries into corruption against any public servant, criminal courts do not need sanction.
It may appear at the first sight that the judgment is against Raja and the PM. But, in substance, it is just an ant-bite on Raja and an embarrassment for the PM. Raja, already charge-sheeted, is in jail. The PM will have no difficulty in allowing one more complaint — that of Swamy — against Raja. But the real danger lies in the other application by Swamy — for permission to prosecute Sonia Gandhi — which the PM has labelled as “premature” and ducked. Under the anti-corruption law, the PM can sack Sonia, the chairperson of National Advisory Council, even though he himself may be removed by her. Swamy can now ask the PM whether the complaint has matured. He can also move the criminal court for inquiry against Sonia Gandhi for which, the Supreme Court has ruled, no sanction is needed. Swamy’s statement that he “can bypass Vadra and go straight to Sonia” is ominous. The Congress cannot laugh at him now.
(Views expressed in the column are the author’s own)
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.
FRONT PAGE | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:02:55 AM
PNS |New Delhi
A day after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee launched a frontal attack on anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team, the civil society members hit back at the ruling dispensation in the Centre. Accusing the Congress of behaving in an “autocratic” manner, they decided to brief the UPA allies and the Opposition parties about the goings-on in the meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) for Lokpal Bill.
“The Congress is not only excluding its UPA allies in the talks for the Lokpal Bill but also the Opposition parties. It thinks as if only the ruling party is important. It shows the Congress’ concern for parliamentary democracy,” said activist Arvind Kejriwal, while talking to mediapersons on Monday.
He said the civil society members would now brief the non-Congress parties on the issue. “We will brief them as to what all is happening at the JDC meetings,” he said.
The civil society would write to the political parties with details of the deliberations that have taken so far at the joint panel meetings. They would also attach the documents circulated during the meetings.
Kejriwal, a member on the joint panel, quoted Mukherjee as saying the MPs were elected representatives of the people and they had the powers to legislate laws. “But the MPs cannot become dictators if they are elected once in five years,” he retorted.
Replying to Mukherjee’s attack on Hazare, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said it was a proof of the Minister’s skewed understanding of democracy and arrogance of power. They have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying an honest person like him should not be scared of being investigated by an independent Lokpal.
In turn, without naming Hazare Congress went all out against him by alleging that the Gandhian was an “unelected dictator” who was acting at the behest of “forces attempting to destablise the country”.
On Sunday, Mukherjee, who is the JDC chairman, had stated that the civil society’s agitations and fasts were undermining established institutions of democracy such as Parliament. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, both members on the joint panel, spoke to the mediapersons on Monday to trash the charges made by the Finance Minister.
Responding to Mukherjee’s charges, the civil society members, in a statement, said, “Such statements betray a distorted understanding of democracy and an arrogance of power.
They show a mistaken understanding that the people have no role to play in governance and law making once they have elected their representatives and they have formed a Government.”
While Mukherjee had taken a dig at the fast undertaken by Hazare in April, Bhushan retorted that fasting, as Gandhi had demonstrated, was the most non-violent and civilised means of expressing oneself and exerting democratic pressure on any Government. “Unfortunately, a party which considers itself as the political legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, is reviling civil society movements and fasting as anti-democratic,” he said.
Bhushan also objected to Mukherjee rejecting the demand of civil society to televise live the proceedings of the JDC and calling it a circus. He asked whether by this logic it meant that Parliament was also a circus and the MPs were animals in that circus.
Kejriwal repeated the points made in the letter written by all five civil society members to Manmohan Singh to buttress their argument that the PM should indeed be brought under the purview of Lokpal.
He reminded the Government that Mukherjee himself as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal Bill in 2001 under the NDA rule had recommended that the PM should covered under the ambit of Lokpal. Later, in January this year, in the draft law prepared by his Ministry, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily suggested inclusion of the PM in Lokpal’s purview, he said.
Kejriwal went on to state that the draft law was sent to Home Ministry under P Chidambaram, which also concurred in March with this view. Even Manmohan Singh had advocated the inclusion of PM in Lokpal’s ambit, he said, adding that in the last 10 years the Government’s view has been in favour of bringing the PM under the purview of Lokpal. Incidentally, three out of five Ministers – Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Moily – are on the joint panel for Lokpal Bill.
Kejriwal asked, “Now, all the three Ministers have suddenly taken a U-turn and they appear to be adamant on keeping the PMO out of the Lokpal’s ambit. We are wondering what happened post-March, which prompted the Government to suddenly take a u-turn on the issue?”
On the other hand, stepping up its attack on Hazare and BJP-RSS, Congress charged that the greatest danger to the democracy is from the unelected dictator. “If democracy faces its biggest peril, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and tyranny of the unelectable,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told mediapersons without naming Hazare or BJP or RSS.
Apparently sending the message to Hazare and his colleagues not to take the engagement with the Government for granted, he said there can be only one veto in Indian democracy and that is in the hands of people and “not any one individual”.
Taking strong exception to Hazare’s threat to go on an indefinite hunger strike from August 16, Tewari wondered whether it was democratic to talk about such threats when one is engaged in a dialogue with the Government.