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Archive for April, 2011

Should bribe giving be legalized?

April 21st, 2011 No comments

 The last few months saw a number of allegations of corruption in issues such as contracts for the Commonwealth Games, allocation of  2G Spectrum, and the building of the Adarsh housing society.  Professor Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic Adviser to the Ministry of Finance, has proposed a modification in order to make the anti-corruption law in the country more effective.  The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 penalizes both bribe giving and taking.  Bribe giving is punishable under the Act with imprisonment ranging between six months to five years.  He argues that bribe giving should be legalized.

Professor Basu distinguishes “harassment bribes”, which he defines as “bribes that people often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to” from the remaining, “Non-Harassment Bribes” which would involve illegal benefits accruing to the bribe giver at a potential cost to the public interest.  He argues that legalization of harassment bribes would reduce the nexus between the giver (victim) and the taker of a bribe. Giving complete immunity to the bribe-giver would ensure higher reporting and co-operation of the giver in bringing to justice the bribe taker.

The present law acts as a deterrent to reporting of bribery. Courts have also highlighted this issue. The High Court of Delhi in the Bharadwaaj Media Case (2007) observed that a “bribe giver is normally on the mercy of the officials and babus who compel him to pay bribe even for lawful work.The Court further observed that “Instead of expressing gratefulness to the persons who expose corruption, if the institutions start taking action against those who expose corruption, corruption is bound to progress day and night.”  It can be inferred from the judgement that steps ought to be taken to provide protection to those exposing bribery.

The proposed legalization of bribe-giving may result in increased reporting of bribery and co-operation of the victim during prosecution. The fear that a bribe giver may report the public official could reduce corruption, at least in terms of harassment bribes. However, this proposal may reduce the stigma attached to bribe-giving and result in corrosion of morality. Much of the recent debate around corruption and the Lok Pal Bill revolve around effective prosecution. This paper looks at the incentive structure for reporting bribe-giving, and merits public debate.

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Does the judiciary “make laws”?

April 20th, 2011 3 comments

A recent case before the Supreme Court has once again highlighted the issue of judicial decisions potentially replacing/ amending legislation enacted by Parliament.  The case importantly pertains to the judiciary’s interpretation of existing law concerning itself.  The eventual outcome of the case would presumably have important implications for the way the higher judiciary interprets laws, which according to some amounts to the judiciary “legislating” rather than interpreting laws.

 

This assertion has often been substantiated by citing cases such as Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997) where the Supreme Court actually laid down the law pertaining to sexual discrimination at workplaces in the absence of a law governing the same.  In numerous other cases, courts have laid down policy guidelines, or have issued administrative directions to governmental departments.

 

In the recent case of Suraz India Trust v. Union of India, a petition has been filed asking the court to reconsider its own judgements regarding the manner of appointment and transfer of judges.  It has been contended that through its judgements in 1994 and 1998 (Advocate on Record Association v. Union of India and Special Reference No. 1 of 1998) the Supreme Court has virtually amended Constitutional provisions, even though amendments to the Constitution can only be done by Parliament.  This question arises since the Constitution provides for the appointment and transfer of judges by the government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.  The two Supreme Court judgements however gave the primary power of appointment and transfer of judges to the judiciary itself.

 

Importantly, one specific question which has been raised is whether the judgements referred to above really amount to amending the relevant provisions of the Constitution.  Another question raised which is relevant to this discussion is whether the interpretation by courts can actually make provisions in the Constitution redundant.

 

In its judgement on the 4th of April, the Supreme Court referred this case to the Chief Justice of India for further directions.  The outcome of this judgement could potentially require the Supreme Court to define the circumstances when it interprets law, and when it “legislates”.  An indication of the Supreme Court’s attitude concerning this issue may be gleaned from the recent speech of the Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia at the M.C. Setalvad lecture.  The CJI unambiguously stated that:

…In many PILs, the courts freely decree rules of conduct for government and public authorities which are akin to legislation. Such exercises have little judicial function in them. Its justification is that the other branches of government have failed or are indifferent to the solution of the problem. In such matters, I am of the opinion that the courts should be circumspect in understanding the thin line between law and governance...”

 

 

The Lok Pal story

April 18th, 2011 3 comments

This article was published in the Indian Express on April 8, 2011
Dodging the Drafts

By Kaushiki Sanyal and C.V. Madhukar

Social activist, Anna Hazare’s fast unto death for the enactment of a strong Lok Pal Bill has provided an impetus to examine not only the Bill proposed by civil society activists but suggestions made by various experts.

The idea of establishing an authority where the citizen can seek redress against administrative acts of the government was first mooted in 1963 during a debate on Demands for Grants for the Law Ministry. Under the existing system, a citizen can either move court or seek other remedies such as petitioning his Member of Parliament. However, these remedies are limited because they maybe too cumbersome or specific grievances may not be addressed. Also, the laws that penalise corrupt officials do not have provision to redress specific grievances of citizens. Currently, corrupt public officials can be penalised under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Both these laws require the investigating agency to get prior sanction of the central or state government before it can initiate the prosecution process in a court.

The office of the Lok Pal or an Ombudsman seeks to provide a forum for citizens to complain against public officials. The Lok Pal would inquire into such complaints and provide some redressal to citizens. The basic idea of the institution of Lok Pal was borrowed from the concept of Ombudsman in countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, U.K. and New Zealand. Presently, about 140 countries have the office of the Ombudsman. In Sweden, Denmark and Finland, the office of the Ombudsman can redress citizens’ grievances by either directly receiving complaints from the public or suo moto. However, in the UK, the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner can receive complaints only through Members of Parliament (to whom the citizen can complain). Sweden and Finland also have the power to prosecute erring public servants.

The first Lok Pal Bill in India was introduced in 1968, which lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. The Bill was introduced seven more times in Parliament, the last time in 2001. Each time it lapsed except in 1985 when it was withdrawn.

Several commissions have examined the need for a Lok Pal and suggested ways to make it effective, without violating Constitutional principles. They include: the First Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) 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 First ARC report recommended that two independent authorities be created to redress grievances: first, a Lok Pal, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of Ministers or secretaries of government at the centre and the state; and second, a Lokayukta in each state and at the centre, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of other officials. Both these authorities should be independent of the executive, judiciary and legislature and shall be appointed by the President on advice of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution urged that the Constitution should provide for the appointment of the Lok Pal and Lokayuktas in the states but suggested that the Prime Minister should be kept out of the purview of the authority.
The Second Administrative Commission, formed in 2005, also recommended that the office of the Lok Pal be established without delay. It was in favour of including Ministers, Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament. However, it wanted to keep the Prime Minister outside the Lok Pal’s ambit. The ARC also recommended that a reasonable time-limit for investigation of different types of cases should be fixed.

The 1996, 1998 and 2001 Bill covered Prime Minister and MPs. The Standing Committee examining the 1998 Bill recommended that the government examine two basic issues before going forward with the Bill: first, MPs are deemed to be public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. If they are also brought under the purview of Lok Pal it may be “tantamount to double jeopardy”; and second, subjecting MPs to an outside disciplinary authority may affect supremacy of Parliament.

The 2001 Bill was also referred to the Standing Committee, which accepted that the Prime Minister and MPs should be included in the Bill. It further recommended that a separate legislation be enacted to ensure accountability of the judiciary. It however stated that the Bill did not address public grievances but focussed on corruption in high places.

The states have been more successful in establishing the Lokayuktas. So far 18 states have enacted legislation to set up the office of Lokayukta. While Karnataka Lokayukta is often hailed as a successful case, several other states have had limited success in combating corruption since all of them are recommendatory bodies with limited powers to enforce their findings.

A Group of Ministers is looking into ways to tackle corruption, including the establishment of a Lok Pal. A public debate on the issues raised by various committees would help iron out the weaknesses of any proposed legislation.

This article was published in the Indian Express on April 8, 2011

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FAQ: What is Lok Pal Bill? Why the ruckus over it?

April 7th, 2011 2 comments

The Lok Pal (anti-corruption body) Bill has generated widespread interest in the past few days.

The Bill is an attempt by the government, under massive pressure due to corruption charges, to gain some of its lost ground. However, civil rights activists, including Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, have termed the draft legislation as weak and demanded that fifty per cent of the members in the committee drafting the bill should be from the public.

But the common man appears to be in the dark about the scope of the proposed bill.

Here’s an FAQ on the controversial bill.

What is the controversy between the government and Anna Hazare about?

Anna Hazare and other civil society activists have proposed a draft Lok Pal Bill to tackle the menace of corruption. The Prime Minister formed a sub-committee of the Group of Ministers to discuss the issue with these activists. However, these two groups were unable to reach an agreement on the provisions of the Lok Pal Bill. According to the government, the activists demanded that the government should accept the Bill drafted by them without any changes.

What steps has the government taken to enact the Lok Pal Bill?

In January 2011, the government has 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.

What is the purpose of the office of Lok Pal?

The office of the Lok Pal is the Indian version of the office of an Ombudsman who is appointed to inquire into complaints made by citizens against public officials. The Lok Pal is a forum where the citizen can send a complaint against a public official, which would then be inquired into and the citizen would be provided some redressal.

What are issues that have generated debate on the Lok Pal Bill?

There are diverging views on issues such as the inclusion of the office of the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, inclusion of judges, and powers of the Lok Pal. Some experts contend that all public officials should be accountable while others feel that the autonomy and privilege of Parliament require the Prime Minister, Ministers, and Members of Parliament to be accountable only to Parliament.

Have there been other attempts to establish the institution of Lok Pal at the central level?

Yes. 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.

Have any expert commissions made recommendations on the office of Lok Pal?

Yes, 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).

What are the present laws that deal with corruption of public officials in India?

Public servants (such as government employees, judges, armed forces, and Members of Parliament) can be prosecuted for corruption under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. However, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the 1988 Act require the investigating agency (such as the CBI) to get prior sanction of the central or state government before it can initiate the prosecution process in a court.

Have the state governments been more successful in setting up bodies to redress public grievances against administrative acts?

So far 18 state governments have enacted legislation to set up the office of Lokayukta and Uplokayukta (deputy Lokayukta). The 18 states are: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.

Which other countries have the office of the Ombudsman for grievances?
Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, Burkina Faso and the United Kingdom are some of the countries which have the office of an Ombudsman.

The article was published on rediff.com on April 5, 2011

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