The present system and its institutions put private interest over the general interest of society!

We need to harmonise the rights of individuals and collectives with the general interests of society! 

We need people’s power!

People from all walks of life are angered that the narrow private interests of capitalist monopolies, politicians, judges, bureaucrats and other people in positions of power, dominate over the public interest, or the general interest of society.

The Radia Tapes and the 2G spectrum scam have revealed that the three pillars of the current system of parliamentary representative democracy – the executive, parliament and judiciary — serve the big monopolies and business houses and work for their interests. 

These investigations also reveal that existing vigilance, audit and investigative agencies cannot prevent corruption. The big industrial houses who actually determine the policy and functioning of the government, have been manipulating these institutions to cover up their crimes. These institutions are not elected bodies and they have been accountable not to the people but to big monopolies, bureaucracy and the executive. Either these institutions are powerless bodies, meant to provide a semblance of monitoring and control over anti-people activities, or they are downright mechanisms in the hands of ruling parties and the business constituencies that they serve, to settle scores with their rivals.

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), an apex governmental body created in 1964 to address governmental corruption has the status of an autonomous body, and is supposedly free of control from any executive authority. It has the responsibility of monitoring all vigilance activity under the Central Government, and advising various authorities in central Government organizations in planning, executing, reviewing and reforming their vigilance work. It is not an investigating agency but only an advisory body. It either gets the investigation done through the CBI or through the Departmental Chief Vigilance Officers. It does not have police powers. Neither does it have the authority to investigate corruption cases where politicians are involved. The CVC itself was caught in the eye of a storm when the former Telecom Secretary, P.J. Thomas, was appointed as the Central Vigilance Commissioner despite pending criminal charges. He has been forced to resign, following a Supreme Court Judgement.

The CVC has proved itself to be a powerless body in eliminating corruption. With a staff strength of less than 200 it is supposed to check corruption in more than 1500 central departments and ministries. On being asked about the CVC’s effectiveness in curbing corruption, one official said, "The Central Vigilance Commission is only a recommendatory body which advises suitable disciplinary action against government officials. It is for the administrative authority to impose punishment effectively and promptly." 

The CVC has failed to protect the “whistle blowers”, those individuals who expose corruption by government officials and departments. Some of the whistle blowers were even killed, the latest being Gujarat-based Right to Information (RTI) activist, Amit Jethwa, who had filed a PIL against illegal mining in Gir forest. Also killed in Maharashtra a few months ago were RTI activists Satish Shetty and Datta Patil, who had accused politicians and bureaucrats of involvement in land scams and corruption. 

Another institution which has been powerless to curb corruption has been the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, an authority established by the Constitution of India, who audits all receipts and expenditure of the Government of India and the state governments, including those of bodies and authorities substantially financed by the government. The CAG is also the external auditor of government-owned companies. The reports of the CAG are taken into consideration by the Public Accounts Committees, which are special committees in the Parliament and the state legislatures. 

After the CAG came up with gross violations in the allocation of 2G spectrum, the new Union telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal called the Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss estimate by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) "completely erroneous”! What this meant was that the CAG had no powers to punish the culprits, and a Minister could easily make a mockery of its findings. 

An editorial in the Business Line lamented on “the need to properly empower the CAG which, at present, is a rather toothless body. It is also the butt of government jokes where an ‘audit para’ is regarded as something to be avoided but not feared”. The CAG himself admitted back in April 2010, that his organisation — a Constitutional body, no less — often faces difficulties in getting information from the Ministries it audits!

The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament is supposed to conduct a detailed examination of the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG), scrutinising the yearly accounts of the Government. Having 15 members of the Lok Sabha and seven members of the Rajya Sabha, the chairmanship of the PAC conventionally goes to a nominee of the main opposition party. It is currently headed by BJP leader, Murli Manohar Joshi.

The Opposition parties are supposed to be watch dogs to check the work of the ruling party. It is clear from the Radia Tapes that the biggest capitalist houses have their men and women in both the major parties and coalitions, ruling as well as opposition. In fact, in all the parliamentary parties that matter. There are clear hints that the Samajwadi Party was forced to toe the nuclear deal using the vulnerability of Anil Ambani, who was a financier of this Party. It also revealed how on the oil fight, Mukesh Ambani managed to ensure his representatives in the BJP spoke as leader of the opposition, in support of his interests, as opposed to the representative of Anil Ambani. It also revealed how Mukesh Ambani was getting his people into positions in the committee of the Central Government dealing with oil piplelines, through his control over the then minister Murli Deora. 

Another agency notorious for its arbitrary activities is the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This is a government agency that serves as a criminal investigation body, national security agency and intelligence agency. It was established in 1963 and evolved from the Special Police Establishment founded in 1941. The CBI is controlled by the Department of Personnel and Training in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension of the Union Government, usually headed by a Union Minister who reports directly to the Prime Minister. In October 2010, the Supreme Court rapped the CBI for its “slipshod” investigation into the 2G spectrum allocation scam. “You ( CBI ) have not done anything. The matter is serious. The same minister (Telecom minister A Raja) is still continuing today. Is that the way the government functions? Do you follow the same standards in respect of everyone? One year has (already) gone by,” said a committee comprising Justice G S Singhvi and Justice A K Ganguly.

It is after a hue and cry from the public, as well as the work of lawyers like Shri Prashant Bhushan to bring to book the culprits of the 2G scam, that the Supreme Court forced the CBI to act.

The Supreme Court is itself caught in a web. It has been alleged by prominent lawyers in front of the Chief Justice that six of the last ten Chief Justices were corrupt. The Radia tapes have revealed how judgements in the Mumbai High Court were manipulated by industrial houses in the fight between the two Ambani brothers. They also reveal how plans were being hatched to manipulate the Supreme Court judgement.  

Opposition parties have been demanding that a Joint Parliamentary Committee be set up to go into the 2G scam. What is a JPC? It can be constituted by agreement of chiefs of both houses of parliament. The JPC can contain any number of members – the Lok Sabha members will be double that of Rajya Sabha. A JPC can obtain evidence of experts, public bodies, associations, individuals or interested parties suo motu or on requests made by them. Usually the proceedings of the JPC are confidential. 

The government can withhold or decline to produce a document if it is considered prejudicial to the safety or interest of State. The Speaker has the final word on any dispute over calling for evidence against a person or production of a document.

There have been four investigative JPCs so far. The first was to inquire into the Bofors contract. The JPC report on this was tabled in Parliament, but it was rejected by the Opposition. We are all aware that the real culprits were never punished. The same happened in other JPCs also – investigations into Harshad Mehta scam, stock market scams and pesticide residues in aerated drinks. 

Aware of the total loss of credibility of these investigative institutions, the government has come up with a draft Lok Pal Bill. In order to salvage its image, the government proposes to set up an institution of Lokpal to check corruption at high places. However the remedy seems to be worse than the disease. Rather than strengthening anti corruption systems, this bill if passed, will end up weakening whatever exists in the name of anti corruption today. It is no different from the Communal violence bill, the Food Security Bill, and countless other such bills and acts that the government has either proposed or passed, allegedly to ensure rights.

Rights are not guaranteed in the present system. They are not enforceable. It is the moneybags who control state power and dictate the course of our country.

In these conditions, what is required is a thoroughgoing discussion amongst peoples organizations as to what kind of constitutional mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure harmonizing of individual and collective interests with the general interests of society. So that private profit does not dominate government policy and state institutions.

We need to discuss how people will control parliament, the administration, the judiciary, and other institutions. We need to discuss what kind of institutions the people need to ensure that human rights are guaranteed.

S Raghavan

President

 

 

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