THE Civil Society groups (CSGs) have already lost more than half the battle against corruption against to the UPA Government. This harsh conclusion becomes crystal clear if one takes into the fact the UPA Government has either rejected or is dragging its feet on the anti-bribery recommendations of two commissions and other committees that it appointed.
Before taking up the rejected recommendations or the ones that are deferred or delayed, it would be useful to see how UPA is shifting its stance on fighting corruption.
When it first came to power in mid-2004, it stated: “The UPA makes a solemn pledge to the people of our country: to provide a government that is corruption-free, transparent and accountable at all times, to provide an administration that is responsible and responsive at all times.”
Compare this with the Prime Minister’s recent statements on corruption. The other day he reportedly said: “We are serious about fighting corruption, but there is no magic wand.”
He made similar observations while addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in November 2010. He stated: “We need to deal effectively with the threats of corruption and crony capitalism, not only in India but all over the World. There is no magic formula. No magic wand. No rabbit that can be pulled out of a hat.”
The public does not want the PM to pull rabbit out of hat. It just wants or expects the Government to explain why it cannot act on anti-corruption recommendations that have been made not by CSGs but by its own entities.
The rejected/deferred/delayed recommendations that need special scrutiny have been made by, a) Commission on Centre-State Relations (CCSR) that submitted its seven reports under the chairmanship of an ex-Chief Justice of Supreme Court in March 2010; b) Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) that submitted its 15 reports under the chairmanship of Dr M Veerappa Moily, who is now the Union Law Minister and c) the Committee of Experts on Disciplinary & Vigilance Inquiries that submitted its report in July 2010 under the chairmanship of PC Hota, former Chairman of Union Public Service Commission (Hota Committee).
In its seventh report, CCSR has recommended: “The citizen’s right to have a corruption-free government be acknowledged as part of administrative law.”
The Commission stated: “good governance is a far cry because of the wide prevalence of corruption and the poor administration of criminal justice. Corruption retards economic growth and imposes heavy burden on the poorer sections of the people. States cannot achieve the goals of development and social justice without ensuring corruption-free governance. A rights-based approach is the Constitutional way to fight corruption. The corruption problem, when framed as a human rights issue, can enable the judiciary to enforce certain rights for the citizenry, demand a transparent and accountable system of governance and help establish a basis to monitor the process. The inclusion of a fundamental right to corruption-free delivery of public services will enable citizens to directly challenge cases of corruption as Constitutional violations and to seek Constitutional remedies. The Commission is inclined to recommend such an approach as the problem has assumed serious proportions warranting drastic remedies.”
The Home Ministry has steered clear of CSSR’s recommendations by referring them to Inter-State Council Secretariat (ISCS). ISCS has been asked to examine the report and furnish its views to the Union Government to take a view on the report.
It is anybody’s guess as to when UPA would take a final call on this and when ISC or Chief Minister’s conference would be convened on this subject.
In the case ARC’s 4th report on ‘Ethics in Governance’, UPA has already shot down recommendations without which corruption cannot be tackled effectively.
One recommendation that has been rejected without any reason reads as: “The following should be classified as offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA); 1) Gross perversion of the Constitution and democratic institutions amounting to willful violation of oath of office; 2) Abuse of authority unduly favouring or harming someone; 3) Obstruction of justice; 4) Squandering public money.”
The reason for this rejection is obvious. The UPA cannot afford to classify these activities as offences as these are hobby horse of ministers and officials of all hues across the country.
The Government has also rejected ARC’s recommendation for framing code of ethics for ministers in addition to the existing code of conduct. While making this suggestion, ARC also recommended setting up of “dedicated units should be set up in the offices of the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers to monitor the observance of the Code of Ethics and the Code of Conduct. The unit should also be empowered to receive public complaints regarding violation of the Code of Conduct. The Prime Minister or the Chief Minister should be duty bound to ensure the observance of the Code of Ethics and the Code of Conduct by Ministers. This would be applicable even in the case of coalition governments where the Ministers may belong to different parties.”
Had the UPA implemented these and allied initiatives, it would have been spared of shame it suffers due to alleged misdeeds of A. Raja and D Maran and others.
The Government shot down this 6-point recommendation by claiming that “The Code of Ethics would only be duplication (of Code of Conduct) and may not serve any purpose.”
Yet another crucial suggestion of ARC trashed by UPA relates to collective acts of bribery.
ARC recommended that Section 7 of the PCA needs to be amended to provide for a special offence of ‘collusive bribery’. An Offence could be classified as ‘collusive bribery’ if the outcome or intended outcome of the transaction leads to a loss to the state, public or public interest. In all such cases if it is established that the interest of the state or public has suffered because of an act of a public servant, then the court shall presume that the public servant and the beneficiary of the decision committed an offence of ‘collusive bribery’. The punishment for all such cases of collusive bribery should be double that of other cases of bribery. The law may be suitably amended in this regard.”
UPA has rationalised the rejection of this recommendation as: “It may not be feasible to attribute mens rea at the time of taking decision/action for subsequent loss to the State, public and public interest. Possibility of loss in commercial decisions in particular may not always be attributable to only the decision/action in the past due to changing commercial environment.”
The Government has also rejected without any giving any reason the ARC’s recommendation for speeding up trails under PCA. ARC had suggested: “A legal provision needs to be introduced fixing a time limit for various stages of trial. This could be done by amendments to the CrPC.”
The Government has also rejected ARC’s recommendation for amendment of the Constitution to end the Immunity Enjoyed by legislators. ARC report stated: “The Commission, while endorsing the suggestion of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, recommends that suitable amendments be effected to Article 105(2) of the Constitution to provide that the immunity enjoyed by Members of Parliament does not cover corrupt acts ommitted by them in connection with their duties in the House or otherwise. The Commission also recommends that similar amendments may be made in Article 194(2) of the Constitution in respect of members of the state legislatures.”
Both ARC and the Hota Committee have recommended appropriate amendments of the Constitution to deal with corrupt officials.
Hota Committee, for instance, recommended that amendment of Article 311 of the Constitution to dismiss a government servant from service on charges of corrupt practice as defined in PCA.
UPA government transformed this recommendation into as one of the terms of reference for the Group of Ministers (GoM) on tackling corruption formed a few months back.
The setting up of one committee after another is the favourite pastime of any Government that lacks the political will to act.
At the recommendation of GoM, the Government had set up a committee to look into various issues relating to public procurement policy, standards and procedures in January 2011.
The Government’s failure to put on a comprehensive and effective package against corruption has left Aam Adami cheated.
It is thus not surprising to find Hota Committee airing public disgust as put by Hota Committee, “The net result is growing cynicism in the country that for a corrupt government servant, corruption is a low?risk venture.”