Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monsoon Waves - Take Five !


The Monsoon Session of the Parliament has started from August 1. The usual formalities have begun. The ususal drama has also begun. The usual song and dance. Last year India wasted one entire session of the Parliament because of a tussle between the ruling party and the opposition on an obscure JPC. We lost 20 days out of 23 days of what could have been a fruitful session of Parliament.

Politics in India is passing through a difficult phase. The 'Civil Society' who claims to be more 'Civil' than our politicians have taken on the baton to save India from Corruption , from Politicians "who only get elected because of Money and Alcohol " ! The media is providing them unending free publicity. The Supreme Court and the judiciary as a whole is showing some disproportionate amount of Judicial Activism. The Opposition is demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister every second day.( Of Course their callous attitude is responsible for the un-elected civil society to step in !) The Indian Politician, however intelligent he may be , however educated he may be, however hardworking he my be, has become the favourite bashing doll of everybody. 

The UPA did well in its first term. It passed important legislations like- Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarentee Employement Act, Right to Information Act, National Rural Health Mission, National Tribal Policy,  National Urban Renewal Mission, Domestic Violence Act, Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Brought in some path breaking economic reforms like implementation of VAT and Establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZ's). Also reaped rich electoral dividends by a huge farm loan waiver which benefited lakhs of farmers across the country. 

The UPA in its second term had equally ambitious plans, But the events in the last 8 months have created a perception problem for the ruling alliance. The second Term had started on a very positive note. The UPA passed the Right to Education Act in 2010 and had cleared the ever-pending  and difficult Women Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha (still awaiting Lok Sabha's nod) But with the winter session going down the drain, thanks to our media savvy and loudmouth opposition, which is comfortable giving innocuous sound bites in air conditioned television studios and daily press conferences, than taking the fight to the ground and the street, India lost the opportunity to draft highly important legislations. There is an urgent and almost utmost need to pass these bills in this monsoon session, otherwise the growing anger against the politicians would cease to be 'Civil' ! If the UPA manages to pass some of these pending bills, its perception problems would become less and it might gain a positive edge against the opposition, leading up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Most importantly these bills have far reaching impact on Public Life and would benifit the Nation in significant ways.

The debate about the Lokpal Bill has been raging in since the past few months. There have been demonstrations and fasts. Unprecedented meetings between the 'Civil Society' representatives (self proclaimed) and the Government of India. The Government has promised that they would pass this bill in this very session. They have also made it clear that both the drafts of the 'Civil Society' and the Government would be discussed in the cabinet. 

The Lok Pal Bill has been introduced eight times in the Lok Sabha (1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001). However, each time the Lok Sabha was dissolved before the Bill could be passed, except in 1985 when it was withdrawn.A number of commissions have made various recommendations regarding the necessity of the office of the Lok Pal, its composition, powers and functions, and jurisdiction. The commissions, which dealt with the Lok Pal include the First Administrative Reforms Commission of 1966, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of 2002 and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007. The Lok Pal Bills that were introduced were referred to various Parliamentary committees (the last three Bills were referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs). The National advisory Council also started working on a draft Lokpal Bill, But ceded to the 'Civil society' to avoid duplicity in approach. Also, In January 2011, the government had formed a Group of Ministers chaired by Shri Pranab Mukherjee to suggest measures to tackle corruption, including examination of the proposal of a Lok Pal Bill.

The differences between the drafts of the Government and the 'Civil Society' representatives are sharp. There has been an All Party meeting before the commencement of the Parliament session. Some Political parties have toed the Government line, Others have not open their cards yet, some are still 'studying' the drafts of the Civil Society. Almost all of them are of the opinion that Judiciary should not come under the review of the Lokpal unlike that of the Civil Society, which is a healthy sign that even in these tough times Indian Politicians are mature enough to respect the 3 organs of the Constitution and the separation of powers between them drafted by our forefathers.

The Lokpal Bill would be a do or die proposition for the UPA Government.


One of the key commitments made by both the UPA Governments is on food security whereby it proposed to enact a legislation that would entitle every BPL family in both rural and urban areas to 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg. This is the single most ambitious social sector reform that this Government is trying to usher in. The Left inclined media has lauded it, the 'neo-liberal' media has panned it and even tried to raise concerns of Global Inflation ! However, Right to Food Act, is something that the Government is debating within itself from a long time. It is supposed to be implemented from 1st April, next year, hence the urgency to pass this bill is utmost.

On June 3, 2011, the National Advisory Council (NAC) posted the draft of the National Food Security Bill on its website and has asked for public feedback on the Bill by June 12, 2011. Now this Bill has been sent to State Governments for their inputs and they have been instructed to make provisions for its implementation.

It would be the most appropriate time to pass this bill, if  UPA-II wants to maintain the tag of an "Aam Aadmi" Government.

3. Land Acquisition Bill

India has abundance of Natural Resources. India has also an ever increasing population. India needs infrastructure and industrialization. It needs industry and cities, which is inevitable. Land is an essential requirement for all these processes. Government also needs to acquire land for a variety of public purposes. In every case, land acquisition must take place in a manner that fully protects the interests of land-owners and also of those whose livelihoods
depend on the land being acquired. 

Under the Constitution, land is a State subject but land acquisition is a Concurrent subject. So far, the basic law governing the land acquisition process has been the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Although it has been amended from time to time, it is painfully evident that the basic law has become archaic.The UPA-1 government had introduced an Amendment Bill in 2007.

The Congress party has a lot of stake when it comes to introduce what the Government officially calls a Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation & Resettlement Bill, 2011. Politically, it cannot betray its potential voters - the farmers, the tribals, the land -owners , specially because they were the ones who re-elected the UPA after the huge 70,000 crore loan debt-waiver which they got from the Government . Also Uttar Pradesh is the key to Lok Sabha-2014 and the political fortunes of the party's youth leader is at stake, following his brave and honest overtures in the battlefield of Bhatta-Parsaul against Chief Minister Mayawati. This is the reason why the the PM removed an ineffective Vilasrao Deshmukh from the Ministry of Rural Development and appointed Jairam Ramesh in the cabinet reshuffle, just before the Parliament Session. 

A healthy debate is still necessary when it comes to the Government's role in taking over huge acres of land. The whole SEZ policy of the UPA -1 got affected by issues in acquiring of land. The Central Government can only create a framework within which the States acquire land paying adequate compensation to the land owners. The Centre should put in both structures and strictures so as to enable resettlement and rehabilitation of the land owners. Private corporations to which the land is transferred must exhibit utmost responsibility in utilizing the land within a stipulated period of time, or else, return the land after that. Crony Capitalism must not be encouraged when it comes to the allocation of a scarce resource like land. 

This is Congress Party's chance for a third decade of reforms, and it should grab it with open hands, otherwise history will be the judge.

4. Communal Violence Bill

The National Advisory Council (NAC) has been working on the 'Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011' from quite sometime. This is the UPA Government's Secular Agenda which is highly delicate and most important in nature. Since 2002, Gujarat carnage, the Nation has not witnessed any large scale Communal Violence under the leadership of the UPA Government which came to power in 2004. This bill is being debated in the media from quite sometime, and the NAC has introduced a
number of amendments to make the bill clearer and clearer and non-partisan, more and more secular in nature.

The Bill envisages to Shift from empowering the State, to seeking action & accountability of State/public officials
  • Ensure accountability & criminal liability of public officials for acts of omission & commission, for preventing or controlling communal & sectarian violence, or extending timely and adequate rescue, relief and rehabilitation.
  • Definition of communal & sectarian violence to cover both isolated incidents as well as mass crimes, against people based on religious, caste, linguistic, regional and other identities.
  • Need to specifically define and include new crimes/offences including sexual assault, enforced disappearances, torture, long-lasting social & economic boycott, and genocide, among others
  • Statutory obligation on government to lay down national standards for the entire spectrum of provisions for victims - including rescue, relief, compensation, rehabilitation, resettlement, restitution, reparation and recognizing the rights of internally displaced persons.
  • Specific provisions for victim-witness rights to be made under this law
This is an extremely important bill which needs urgent attention in order to protect the secular fabric of a country as large and as diverse as India. 


According to an estimate, there are more than 3 crore pending cases in India, this is the most in any country. Certainly this is the single point which makes Judiciary in our country accountable. There is also a new kind of Judicial Activism which has crept in with multiple cases in which the Supreme Court has questioned administrative decisions taken by the executive and often made unpleasant remarks while delivering the judgement. Although the remarks by the Supreme Court might not be the text of the actual judgement, yet the media is always quick to pounce on those remarks and shame the executive. This is most unfortunate. There are several allegations of corruption, misuse of position, cases of disproportionate assets and even cases of transactional corruption while filing even a PIL !

In this atmosphere , certainly the Judges cannot escape scrutiny and it would be in the utmost interest of the country and its law abiding citizens to punish those guilty and make those accountable who are sitting in such high posts of office, and cannot be removed even by an election. 

There is also talk of bringing the Judiciary under the purview of Lokpal. (Read Janlokpal Bill prepared by 'Civil Society' under Anna Hazare). This is a wrong idea, and it would tamper with the basic organs of the constitution. Hence the Judicial Accountability Bill is the solution for making our legal system accountable and more transparent.

Epilogue

Smt. Sonia Gandhi often raises her palm emphatically while addressing public rallies. If the UPA Government is serious to legislate and implement these 5 bills of urgent public importance, It can pack a punch and wave its hands (the Congress symbol) once again and regain its legitimacy. 

Is the Prime Minister Listening?

( All views expressed by me are clearly personal)