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Posts Tagged ‘lawyers’

Supreme Court loses its cool

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

I don’t know what others think of this story, but I find it very strange to find a Supreme Court bench literally yelling at someone. Judges are not supposed to lose their cool! People have faith in the law because it is expected to act rationally and unemotionally. If the highest court of the land starts showing its rage on just about anything and starts speaking in hyperbole, the common public will stop taking it seriously. Judges are not schoolteachers bringing a class to order, they are unbiased arbitrators of disputes. Supreme court judges even more so, and they need to remain visibly unbiased and rational¬† even when the supreme court itself is a party to the dispute. Otherwise things may reach the point where their opinion would be like that of anybody else and would be treated like that of anyone else. Some might say that has already happened.

Thoughts on the Jan Lokpal Bill

April 16, 2011 2 comments

Everybody seems to have an opinion about the Jan Lokpal bill (draft available here) these days — after Anna Hazare threatened to starve himself to death if the government didn’t agree to put up the bill in the parliament’s next session. Thousands of people waved little flags and wore the white Gandhi caps worn by Anna Hazare and associated with followers of the Mahatma, including Nehru and almost every leader of Congress (but most probably never worn by the great soul himself). It is perhaps a bit ironic that the anti-corruption marches had so many people wearing the Gandhi caps, when those caps are associated with the picture of corrupt politicians. Shiv Visvanathan’s description of the events as a simulacrum is not without merit.

There are now several articles in the blogosphere spelling out problems with the Jan Lokpal bill, for example by Shuddhabrata Sengupta here and Mihir Sharma here. The criticisms focus on the powers of the Lokpal, which appear to be unbridled, and the mechanisms of appointing or removing the said authority. The comments on Tarunabh Khaitan’s post at Law and Other Things seem to be quite well-reasoned, although restricted to a small group of people.

I have another problem with the `movement’. The movement originates in the failure of our justice system — there would be no such movement if the courts did not allow the rich and the powerful to delay or alter the course of justice, often through official mechanisms. The police is completely controlled by the government, which translates to politicians, and the investigations against politicians are often cursory to nonexistent as a result. And this neglect of duty often extends to those in business and industry who fund politicians.

By mobilising in favour of yet another office — that of the Lokpal — the public is reaffirming its loss of faith in the judiciary, the police, the legislature, and in fact the existing laws. So why do they expect this other office to function any better? If there is no one in all these other offices who can be relied upon, or if there is so much corruption in all courts, all law-enforcement agencies and among all politicians that it smothers all efforts to bring the corrupt officials and politicians to justice, how will the office of the Lokpal remain free of it?

My feeling is that one bill or one office will not serve the purpose of preventing or removing corruption from public offices and officials. The only way that will happen is if the existing laws are enforced properly, justice is served quickly, and action is taken quickly against those who protect politicians or rich people. Some new laws may be needed as well, but those must be easily enforceable.

For example, one way of restricting the movement of cash is to prevent the withdrawal of more than Rs.25000 cash per day from any bank account. There was a proposal by the finance ministry under Chidambaram in 2005 to impose a 0.1% tax on cash withdrawals above Rs.10000. Savings bank accounts were exempted from this soon afterwards. I cannot help but think that the pressure to exempt savings accounts must have come from the beneficiaries of such withdrawals, businesses in the real estate in particular, who ask buyers to provide a significant percentage of the price in cash.

Another way of preventing `official corruption’ — i.e. the kind of corruption which grants contracts at inflated prices — is to ensure that whenever such a case comes before the court, all files concerning the government decisions should be provided to the court without delay. I find it very strange when the government asks a court for time to prepare its defense of its own decision, and even stranger that the courts allow such petitions.

Anyway, the Jan Lokpal bill may be passed, with or without modifications. Some actions will result soon after, but in the long run I think it will undermine the functioning of all other offices of law enforcement, thus creating an effect opposite to what it was supposed to.

Taxing the doctors

May 14, 2010 Leave a comment

As this news report from the BBC shows, doctors in Greece have been guilty of the same sort of practices as I mentioned in an earlier post, of not giving a receipt. And as the Greek economy has crashed and the people have started rioting in protest of the `austerity measures’, the government has fined a few doctors for underreporting their income. Surely our government can do something similar, after all, the Indian economy is in a worse shape than Greece’s — at least in terms of a much higher percentage of people being without food, water, clothing, education or medical services.

Gifts to the rich

April 25, 2010 1 comment

Thanks to Paranjoy Guha Thakurta for writing what must be in the minds of many — the government gets nothing by way of service taxes from doctors and lawyers, and could have gained an additional Rs. 10000 crores from taxing these two professions alone! And what he does not ask has been on my mind for a while — many doctors and lawyers with a private practice, i.e. outside a hospital or a firm, do not offer a receipt unless asked. Of course they always provide a receipt when asked, but many clients do not bother to ask for a receipt, especially if they are not reimbursed for the bills. Lawyers’ bills are not reimbursed in general anyway.

Guha Thakurta also mentions that `revenue foregone’, i.e. the revenue given up by the government by way of exemptions and concessions (and `incentives’ I suppose) to companies rose from Rs 4,58,516 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 5,40,269 crore in 2009-10. I wonder how much revenue is lost through not auditing the accounts of doctors and lawyers.

A possible RTI question would be how much income — outside salaries, if any — is declared by these professionals, and how many doctors and lawyers have been investigated by the Income Tax dept for lifestyles not appropriate to declared incomes.