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Posts Tagged ‘Transparency’

Corrupting the movement

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

The day opened to a very strange piece of news: the megastar yogastar Baba Ramdev has refused to call off his `fast unto death’ on the issue of black money. Ok, it’s not very strange if we simply view this as a publicity stunt. But is it only for publicity or does he have deeper reasons for this fast? Some think that he is doing this at the behest of his political masters to derail the Jan Lokpal Bill. I think the bill is a bad idea, and I think Ramdev has other, more personal reasons to go on this fast. The trusts that he is associated with are enormously wealthy, and little is known about the source of their income, or the source of income of people who donate to these trusts. One politician did ask for an investigation into the source of his assets, but nothing else has been heard about it since. My feeling is that Ramdev is trying to establish himself as a leader of the anti-corruption lobby in order to avoid any serious charge of corruption for himself or his financial backers. Right now, any investigation into his amassed wealth, or even of his followers, can be projected as an underhanded scheme by the government to undermine his credibility. So all his financial dealings remain unseen by the probing eyes of the Income Tax department — and I think he is only the face of an organisation, not the brains — there are others behind the financial dealings of his organization.

Someone really should go on a fast unto death for investigating the finances of Ramdev.

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.

Arjun and Judhishthir

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Arjun Singh now says that it was P.V.Narasimha Rao, who was Home minister in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet in 1984, who allowed Anderson to escape.

And of course Rajiv Gandhi, whose widow is now the party supremo, had no knowledge of it.

There is really no reason to confuse Arjun with Judhishthir (Yudhishthir).

Spending without a research grant

June 6, 2010 Leave a comment

We all get to hear stories about how research grants are spent or wasted. Recently I came to know about another channel of flow. Every research institute buys instruments from research grants, but also outside research grants. This comes from the institute’s `research budget’, which is usually finagled out of the total budget by the Director. This usually means that there is no money for other things,  whether it is a students’ hostel, or library subscription.

In some places, or perhaps some cases, the allocation of money to buy instruments (or computers) from the institute’s budget follows a procedure similar to a grant application in which a detailed budget has to be made by the principal investigator (PI) and the research proposal has to be defended in front of a committee. Usually this committee is not as strict as the grant committees of the national agencies, but still, there has to be a defence.

A few days ago, I saw some figures for one of the smaller research institutes in the city. In the last five years, this institute has spent about Rs. 100,000,000, mostly in foreign exchange, to buy instruments on its own. Yes, that is 10 crores. On average 2 crores a year. This is without taking into account the instruments bought from sponsored grants, but that figure is not comparable. In other words, granting agencies did not agree to give similar grants to this institute for buying instruments. And I was told that in many cases, these instruments were paid for by the centre because the granting agencies refused to.

The annual maintenance of all these instruments is more than a crore. The support expenses, due to power, air conditioning, and consumables, is probably of the same order. Which is less than what it would cost to promote all the scientists there to the highest pay grade. But that procedure requires application, CV, letters of recommendation, and an interview committee. Why should similar amounts of money be spent without any checks?

Someone suggested that it is because cut money is involved in the purchases. I do not wish to believe him, but I do not have a satisfactory answer either.

Mines and Maoists

May 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Today’s paper carries the headlines that Maoists have asked Mittal to keep his hands off the mines of Jharkhand. I am a little surprised that this is headline news, because I thought it was obvious the tribal areas were seeing a lot of violent protests — and often Maoism — because mining activities kept displacing the tribals and destroying the means of their livelihood. There is a clear historical correlation between Maoist activity and displacement. There is no information on the MOUs signed between the state governments and the mining companies, and these are treated as secret by the governments. So it would seem that the companies and the governments have something to hide. Perhaps headlines like these will make more people want to find out exactly what is going on between the mining companies and the tribals.