Tuesday, August 30, 2011



From Our Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI: A parliamentary standing committee headed by a Congress MP has slammed the government for massive corruption in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA), stressing that "the number of corruption cases s reported is just a tip of the iceberg.

In its report on disbursement of wages under the programme through post offices, the panel expressed shock at discrepancies in the records furnished by the Department of Posts (DOP) and Department of Rural Development (DRD). While DOP claimed only seven cases of frauds in the accounts of the beneficiaries, the DRD records showed 244 such frauds.

"Huge gaps in the data of the two departments raise a question mark about the system of maintaining as well as monitoring of accounts under MGNREGA, one of the biggest centrally-sponsored scheme of the Union Government," says the report of the panel headed by Rao Inderjit Singh, a Congress MP from Gurgaon, Haryana.

It noted that the gap in data submitted by the two departments widened to 13 lakhs in terms of the workers engaged in MGNREGA works and there was also a big difference in their accounts of the wages paid by over Rs 1000 crores in 2009-10. This gap further widened in 2010-11 to 29 lakhs in terms of the number of accounts of the workers and Rs 1221 crores in terms of the amounts disbursed.


30 Aug 2011


From Our Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI: Inordinate delay in the coastal security plan become operational since after 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai has prompted Defence Minister A K Antony to do some plain-speaking at a review meeting here and demand definite timelines for major projects and actions on unresolved issues.

This was the second review meeting held by him in less than three weeks and attended by all the 18 stake holders in the coastal security network and they were hard put by Antony seeking detailed explanation from them on the delays in setting up the electronic "eyes and ears" to secure Mumbai and other coastal towns and villages.

The biggest sore point emerging in the review was the lack of coastal radars as the chain of coastal radars cleared way back in February 2001 by a Group of Ministers has not yet kicked off the ground. Post-Mumbai attacks, the government raised the project cost to Rs 602 crores but yet no radars are yet installed.

At an earlier review meeting on August 10, Antony wanted to know how MT Pavit sailed into Juhu, Mumbai, undetected early this month and he expressed shock when the Naval chief told him that no critical equipment had been okayed post-26/11 and as such it was impossible to pick out such ships sneaking in and as such the Navy is dependent on other agencies for information needed to tackle any threads from the coasts.


30 Aug 2011


From Our Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI: Anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare(74) is still recouping in cardiologist Dr Naresh Trehan's hospital Medanta in Gurgaon near here since after breaking his fast at Ramlila Maidan on Sunday and he is expected to move back to his Ralegaon Sidhi village on September 3 after discharge.

Dr Trehan said he had dehydrated badly during 12 days of fast and as such he has not yet been put back to solid food. He is being fed coconut water and fruit juice. "I don't know when he will be discharged from the hospital," Dr Trehan said when told about Team Anna planning his return home on Saturday.

The Team Anna's core group plans to visit his village around September 10 after he has rested for a week to discuss further strategy to spare him of travelling to Delhi for keeping on the pressure for early and effective Lokpal Bill's enactment, his associate Arvind Kejriwal said.


30 Aug 2011


From Our Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI: Both the Houses of Parliament were repeatedly rocked on Tuesday and ultimately adjourned for the day as both sides agitated with focus on Gujarat over the Lok Ayukt's appointment and the High Court acquitting all 12 accused, trashing botched CBI probe into murder of the state's BJP home minister Haren Pandya.

The main Opposition Bhartiya Janata Party protested at the Lokayukt's appointment without consulting Chief Minister Narendra Modi and its parliamentary party chairman Lal Krishna Advani went to the extent of threatening no further Opposition cooperation in running Parliament.

The Congress members from Gujarat pricked the BJP, demanding a fresh probe into Pandya's murder with hints that it was a political murder masterminded by Modi. Both sides entered into repeated shouting matches and the BJP members stormed the well to press for the Gujarat Governor's recall for arbitrarily appointing a "biased" retired High Court judge as the state's Lok Ayukt.

The wrangle between the two sides started in the Lok Sabha right from the start when the BJP wanted the Question Hour suspended while both the Houses became made house after Advani and Opposition leader Arun Jaitley were permitted to speak in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively in the Zero Hour at noon.

Pandemonium broke out as the Congress members hackled Advani and Jaitley and it was the turn of the BJP benches making it inaudible in the Lok Sabha when the Chair permitted Congress member Jagdish Thakor, MP from Patan in Gujarat, to raise the issue of Pandya's murder.

Both Advani and Jaitley demanded recall of Gujarat Governor Kamla Beniwal, alleging that she had acted on behest of the Centre in appointment of retired Gujarat High Court judge R A Mehta as the Lok Ayukt without consulting the CM.

They accused the Centre of creating a constitutional crisis by attacking the federal structure of the Constitution and Advani warned: "Don't expect the Opposition's cooperation (in Parliament) until the attacks on the federal structure that are not limited to the Lok Ayukt's appointment are reversed."

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal repeatedly intervened to accuse the Opposition determined not to allow Parliament function and loudly protested at the BJP members making din to drown the Gujarat Congress member raising the issue of Haren Pandya's murder.

Since the Governor's conduct can not be questioned in Parliament, Advani and Jaitley took recourse to claim they were bringing to notice attack on the basic federal structure envisaged in the Constitution. While Advani refrained from any comments on the former judge, Jaitley did not mince words in pointing out that retired Justice Mehta has been participating in rallies against Chief Minister Modi and hence he is bound to give malafide reports with political intentions.

Both the BJP leaders pointed out that the governor ought to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers under Article 163, but she appointed the Lok Ayukt without even consulting the chief minister. The party members marched into the well in the Rajya Sabha and kept doing so every time the House re-assembled, shouting the slogan of "Pradhan Mantri javab do."

Advani and around 15 BJP MPs from Gujarat also staged a protest dharna and raised slogans at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the Parliament House complex and he told reporters that they would meet President Pratibha Patil on Thursday or Friday after she is back in the capital to demand the Gujarat Governor's removal for "bypassing all established norms."

The MPs carried placards saying, "Dual policy on Gujarat will not be tolerated", "Recall Gujarat governor", "murder of democracy" and "Rajyapal Bhawan has become Congress Bhawan (Governor's House has become Congress Bhawan).

Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley told a Press conference later that the Lok Ayukt appointed by the governor is a known Modi baiter from whom they can not expect any impartiality and hence the BJP will intensify agitation both inside and outside Parliament until Governor Beniwal (she is a veteran Congress leader from neighbouring Rajasthan) is removed.


30 Aug 2011


From Our Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI: A saying that the cat has nine lives aptly applies to the Lokpal Bill that is in its ninth avatar and all past Bills were jinxed spelling death knell for the governments who either failed to complete their full terms in their tryst with the legislation or did not return to power.

Every Bill that surfaced to enable appointment the ombudsman to fight corruption in the government was introduced in the Lok Sabha and hence did not survive after the House completed its term or dissolved.

The government could have brought the Bill this time in the Rajya Sabha that is a permanent body with members changing periodically through elections and as such any legislation placed in it never lapses or expires.

The Lokpal Bill is, however, before the Lok Sabha and hence doubts are being raised that it may also meet the same fate of its earlier copies as the standing committee examining it may recommend a Constitution amendment to make the Lokpal a constitutional authority in deference to PM-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi's wish and not just a statutory body as envisaged in the Bill before it for scrutiny.

The standing committee's chairman Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is also one of the spokespersons of the Congress, has already gone on record to back Rahul Gandhi's idea and there should be no surprise that he will push for the committee to rewrite the Bill for a constitutional amendment.

The passage of any amendment to the Constitution is a lengthy haul, requiring passage by Parliament by 2/3rd majority and concurrence of a score of the Assemblies. The life of the Lok Sabha may prove too short to achieve this and that will mean yet another death of the law to fight corruption.

The Congress MPs express fear in private conversations that the government mishandled the Anna Hazare's agitation and they see the jinxed Lokpal Bill repeating the history, taking toll of the party in the next elections.

The first Lokpal Bill was introduced by the Indira Gandhi government in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 1968 and passed on August 20, 1969. However, the Congress split with Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai parting ways and the Lok Sabha was dissolved even before the Bill could be ratified by the Rajya Sabha.

Another Lokpal Bill was brought by Indira Gandhi on August 2, 1971, but then followed the Emergency in 1975 and the Congress suffered a massive defeat in the 1977 elections, putting to sleep the Bill once again.

The third attempt was by Morarji Desai's government coming to power after emergency and tabling the Bill on July 23, 1977. He, however, had to quit before full term in 1979 and the Lok Sabha was ultimately dissolved, resulting in the Bill getting lapsed.

Rajiv Gandhi too introduced yet another Lokpal Bill on August 25, 1985 but he could not turn into an Act as the guns of the Bofors kickbacks boomed and brought V P Singh to power to make yet another tryst of introducing a new bill on December 21, 1989 that lapsed with his government falling in 1990.

H D Deve Gowda, who took the reins in 1990, too found the power stepping out his hands with a few months after introducing the Lokpal Bill on September 10, 1990.

The next attempt was made by the first NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It introduced the Bill on July 23, 1998 but it was voted out of power, losing the trust vote by just one vote by the end of that year.

It brought yet another Bill on July 9, 2001, only to find it losing power in 2004 as if repeating the history of the Lokpal Bill being always jinxed.


30 Aug 2011        [Total words: 896]


From Our Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI: A parliamentary standing committee has dubbed the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill as government's piecemeal approach with only limited success unless the issue of the judges' appointments is comprehensively addressed, though separately.

Tabling its report in Parliament on Tuesday, it asked the government to give urgent an due thought to bring a "holistic" legislation encompassing appointment and some mechanism to optimise judges' performance for the judicial accountability the Bill seeks for improved administration of justice.

The committee, headed by Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi, noted that "the method of appointment of judges in the higher judiciary was raised in almost all the meetings of the committee while deliberating upon the Bill, although this matter is not a part of the present Bill; be it the members of the committee or the witnesses, all were unanimously in favour of replacing the present judiciary driven collegium system of appointment of judges."

Singhvi told a Press conference after tabling the report that the accountability bill will be only a "half story" sans new mechanism for selection and appointment of the judges.

The recommendation is in consonance with the BJP's campaign for the National Judicial Commission and the government is already in the process of bringing yet another Bill for constituting such a commission to decide appointment of the judges, instead of the present system of the chief justice and four judges selecting the new judges.

NO COMMENTS: The committee has also sought to gag the judges in the habit of making comments in the course of hearing to extract response. It has recommended insertion of a specific clause to restrain them from making "unwarranted comments against other constitutional/statutory bodies/ institutions/persons in open court while hearing cases."

It has also sought to gag the media from reporting any information about proceedings of the proposed Oversight Committee, Investigation Committee and Complaint Scrutiny Panel (CSP) who will be probing complaints against the judges. It calls it "the accountability of the media."

Recommending that the proceedings of CSP should be held "in camera" to ensure the element of confidentiality, the committee wants no media trial of the judges even before the complaints are found correct. It seeks the Bill to provide "prohibition" of the media from divulging information at various stages of investigation and inquiry.

Committee chairman Singhvi justified the restriction proposed on the media, pointing out that it is to protect the judges concerned from unwarranted defamation at the initial stage of investigation. The original Bill did not provide for any "in camera" proceedings in the investigations.

GAG ON WHISTLE-BLOWERS: The committee also came down heavily on the punishment of jail up to five years and fine up to Rs 5 lakhs prescribed for making frivolous or vexation complaints. The severe punishment will only deter the prospective complainants from coming forward, defeating the very rationale of the Bill at a time when the government talks of providing protection to the whistle-blowers, Singhvi said.

Stressing that the quantum of punishment is such that it does not discourage people from taking initiative against the misbehaviour of a judge, the committee recommended that in any case it should not exceed the punishment provided under the Contempt of Court Act. The maximum punishment under the Act is the jail term of one year.

Going further, the committee has sought specific proviso in the Bill to protect those "who for some genuine reasons fail to prove their complaints. The protection should cover complaints made "in good faith" in line with the defence of good faith available under the Indian Penal Code.

BALANCING ACT: An elaborate procedure laid down in the Bill for investigation into individual complaints of misbehaviour or incapacity of judges received appreciation from the committee, pointing out that "it empowers the common man to expose the misbehaviour of judges" and at the same time "strikes a reasonable balance between the demands of accountability and judicial independence."

On a clause in the Bill that no judge shall have close association with individual members of the Bar, the committee felt the expression "close association" is very vague inviting different interpretations and hence better to use the phrase "close social interaction."

As regards the Bill envisaging a "statutory responsibility" of the judges to declare their assets, the committee felt it acknowledges people's "right to know" and facilitates greater transparency in judiciary, but there should be also a mechanism to ensure scrutiny of such declarations is "possible and implementable." A designated executive agency undertaking such scrutiny can report either to the CSP or the Oversight Committee.

BALANCED BODY: The committee also disapproved the government's contention of having only the judges on the National Judicial Oversight Committee and its opposition to put MPs on it on the ground that Parliament comprising the MPs already have authority to impeach any judge.

Pointing out that screening by the oversight committee which is the first stage of deciding the fate of any complaint against a judge is as important as the final stage when the impeachment process begins, the committee recommended that the oversight panel shall have two MPs "having legal expertise and high standing in the legal arena," one each nominated by the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman.

It insists that all the three organs of the government, namely executive, judiciary and legislature have to be represented on the oversight panel as such a balanced body would ensure the independent and transparent functioning of the committee and brace people's faith in redressal of complaints against the erring judges.


No comments: