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Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

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.

Government obstructing justice

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The Supreme Court has come down hard on the government for not disclosing the names of Indian depositors of black money in Swiss banks, and for talking about only Hassan Ali whenever the issue of black money comes up. It has further scolded the government for not taking action about black money despite having the necessary information. Clearly, the government is trying to avoid prosecuting such people, and does not want the court to take any steps either. In other words, the government is obstructing the course of justice by not disclosing information and often by misleading the court.

Is it really sufficient for the court to rap the Solicitor General? If the decision to obstruct justice has been taken at ministerial levels, shouldn’t the court try to find a way to bring those responsible to justice? Even ministers are not above the law. Really.

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.

So what was the problem with the JPC?

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I wonder if anyone else finds it curious that the government agreed to the JPC (joint parliamentary committee) even before the Parliament opened for the budget session, after the entire winter session was lost due to the logjam over scams, in particular the Rs. 1.7 lakh crore (that’s 1.7 x 10^12 = 1.7 trillion) 2G scam. The logjam was caused by the government refusing to accept a JPC, and the opposition trying to force one. And now, with a recess intervening, the government has agreed to the formation of JPC, and the opposition is muted in their jubilation. So why didn’t they accept one earlier?

Certain things have happened in the meanwhile, CBI has arrested Raja, the Supreme Court has goaded the CBI into questioning Anil Ambani, whose ADAG group is supposed to have benefited immensely from Raja’s policy of allocating 2G spectrum without an auction, CBI has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against Advani (on the Babri Masjid demolition case), and Advani has apologised to Sonia Gandhi for saying that her family has huge undisclosed sums of money in Swiss bank accounts.

Make one wonder, were backroom deals done between the government and the opposition to ensure that only a few scapegoats are punished? Will we ever see a report on how much was paid as bribe by various people?  Will we ever see a return of the crores that went into these bribes? Will the nation regain more than a small fraction of the loss incurred to the exchequer? We have to wait and see.

Caesar’s wife

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The Supreme Court is the highest authority on law in the land, and the highest arbiter of any legal dispute. So it is absolutely imperative that those who are part of that authority, the judges who sit in the Supreme Court, are above reproach. Like Caesar’s wife, not only must they not be involved in anything wrong, they must not be suspected of doing anything wrong, either.

Reality is far from this ideal. We the people have no idea if the justices of our Supreme Court are involved in any wrongdoing, but any doubt about their integrity, or any suspicion about their conflicts of interest, are quelled immediately by the court by way of a contempt notice. The latest to draw the court’s ire is Prashant Bhushan, for his interview with Tehelka, titled ‘Half Of The Last 16 Chief Justices Were Corrupt’. (I first learned about the issues here, here and here.)

Now Shanti Bhushan, former Law minister and Prashant Bhushan’s father, has submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, repeating the statement that eight of the last 16 supreme court justices were definitely corrupt (other reports here, here, here).

This is a cause I support wholeheartedly. The contempt law has completely stifled all criticism of the legal system, and provides a precedence for rules and regulations blocking criticism of the government. If the Supreme Court agrees that the public at large has the right to criticise it, at least on the grounds of freedom of speech, and that contempt  of court should refer only to acts which prevent the functioning of the court.

I thought this report this morning was rather ironic in this context.

Update: Prashant Bhushan has filed another affidavit with the Supreme Court on Saturday listing alleged instances of `corruption’ of six past CJIs.

Grading Indian education

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Some sort of a global ranking of universities has come out, and it seems that Indian universities have done rather badly. The highest ranked Indian institution is Bombay IIT at 187th in the list and IIT Delhi at the 202nd place.

Among Asian universities alone, the picture is not much better — IIT Bombay is at the 36th place, followed by the IITs. The regular universities are further behind — the University of Calcutta coming at the 99th place.

To those of us making a living out of education, this does not come as a surprise. Politicians have long controlled all aspects of higher education, with mainly two goals in mind. One is the goal of creating influence, which is perhaps the primary goal of politicians. Universities provide a fertile breeding ground for their lieutenants — colleges provide the foot soldiers. So the students’ union elections get the big parties involved. Often government machinery, including the police, is brought out to influence the students’ election.The university administration, appointed by the government, often takes sides in these elections. The result is an atmosphere of distrust and fear,  and a sense in the campus that the administration exists only for a part of the university population.

The goal of creating influence and following is also behind various laws regarding reservations in the student and faculty populations. Reservations ensure that a large section of the students often do not meet the same criteria for admission as others. And perhaps more importantly, many of the faculty are downright incompetent. This last is not only a result of official reservation policies, but also because `unofficial quotas’ lead to hiring/promotion of incompetent people simply because they are close to some politician, either by birth, or by stated political affiliation.

The other goal for the politicians is of course money. Education has a lot of money in it,  both government and private. Nearly all private colleges and universities, mushrooming around the country, have the sole aim of making money for their `owners’ who usually double as principals or rectors. The promise of a degree, usually not much better than a vocational diploma, nets a huge `capitation fee’ in addition to the usual admission and tuition fees. Since the supreme court put a cap on such fees, these are taken in cash, usually without a receipt. This leads to several million rupees of unaccounted money for a small college, to much more for the `universities’. The big owners are themselves politicians, but many more colleges simply provide a cut to the politician who arranged for the land and necessary permits. This of course does not directly affect the IITs or the government  universities, unlike the other kind of interference, but this does create an overall atmosphere of corruption and a lack of faith in the education system. Anyone with a lot of money can  get into one of those private colleges even if they qualify for the government colleges, and once they are in, they must be granted a degree, since the colleges have taken much more money for their admission than they are legally allowed to take, and much more than is really required for a good education.

Everyone suffers as a result, as we can see from the university rankings.Is there a way out? Sure, but it requires political will, judicial action (or perhaps judicial activism) and perhaps a lot more activism from the people.

Perhaps I will compile a short list of people in the faculty of various universities who have close relationships with political parties or politicians. Interested readers can then supply more names and/or submit RTI queries to the universities in question regarding educational qualifications of such people. And of course there are other reasons for the decline of education in India, in particular in the IITs, some of which I can also discuss. All in another post.

Court TV

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

This blogpost about the new UK Supreme Court made me wonder: Why not televise the proceedings of the Indian Supreme Court? After all, the parliament is on tv!