RTI-EXPOSING THE IDIOTS AND TRAITORS AMOUNG PUBLIC SERVANTS
PART 4- WAKE UP CALL
“Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw. They will have sweet tongues & silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power & India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air & water would be taxed in India.”- Winston Churchill, opposing grant of freedom to India
'...stop not until the goal is reached!’- Swami Vivekanada
‘You are not defeated until you give up!’- old quote
On 15 Aug 1947 this country is believed to have woken up to a new dawn of freedom. But shortly after that a one man commission was appointed to assess the extent of corruption in government offices. On submitting the report the author had reportedly exclaimed that the experience had made him believe in God. On questioned how, he had said ‘there is so much corruption but still the people seem to be happy. It has to be the hand of God!’
There is no need to harp on the status of citizens in a democracy. They are the sovereign entities. But the way our institutions of governance were set up and nurtured the claim of our’s being a democratic society may look preposterous. Nowhere are citizens of a democratic society treated so shabbily as in this ever developing nation. So it was that in the 1970s itself Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan gave a call for a second freedom struggle, even asking the soldiers in uniform not to obey illegal orders of their superiors. What followed was Emergency. Inflicted on us by a power hungry PM, Indira ( I am omitting the surname Gandhi, because I consider it a misuse of the surname of the person who is revered as the Father of the Nation) convicted for electoral malpractices by a high court and upheld by the apex court, but had not only not (repeat not) been punished but quite illogically been allowed to continue in office. But the citizens rose to the occasion and at the first opportunity they got gave her the punishment she deserved. But those who came to power squandered the opportunity. People decided that a known devil is better than an unknown angel. On returning to power though Indira tried to do better, it was impossible for her to do so what with her nature not being tuned to democratic needs. Every institution of governance suffered irrevocably. Corruption got institutionalized. Sycophancy ruled the roost.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong a silent revolution took place. When corruption had hit an all time high, the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) was established in 1974. Gradually, the ICAC gained momentum and power. The ICAC adopted a three-pronged strategy of effective law enforcement, prevention and education in the fight against corruption, respectively undertaken by the Operations Department, the Corruption Prevention Department and the Community Relations Department. No doubt corruption took a nose dive there, though not completely eliminated.
In India the greatest disaster has been the judiciary. Even the judges can be heard admitting the huge back log of cases. But instead of trying to do anything about it (like reducing their holidays or denying unwarranted adjournments) they are seen simply passing the parcel by demanding more judges, more infrastructure and more resources. They can be heard quoting an irrelevant judge to population ratio to justify their demands. This is blasphemy. Any judge who quotes such a ratio should be immediately considered unfit for the job he is tasked to perform. The US of A which has only 25 percent of our population has many more times cases filed than in our country where a large percentage of population is still illiterate and the majority are concerned only of their next meal. And of the remaining too, many, like me, cannot even think of approaching a court for justice not only because of denial of justice through preposterous delays but also due to the high cost involved. I am among those who believe that the denial of justice is not only through preposterous delays but it is quite often denied even at the end of it. Adv Prashant Bhushan, talking on the need for a simpler judicial system, had said that ‘Not even 1 % get justice in present system’. This 1% cannot be 1% of the population but only 1% of those who approach the judiciary hoping to get justice. Please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udJjDwGDREA&feature=youtu.be
I had the opportunity to attend the valedictory function of a seminar on Access to Justice organized by the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association a few years back. Ravi Shankar Prasad, then Union Law Minister had painted the right picture then when he said that at the beginning of the litigation proceedings the litigant went by car and the advocate by cycle and by the time the litigation was over, the litigant was on cycle and the advocate was driving by in a car! Recently, it was reported in the media of Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani claiming that his fee, only for conference, was Rs 1 Cr!
Speaking of Ram Jethmalani, there is an interesting incidence that was reported when he had been Union Minister in A B Vajpayee cabinet. He had directed that all documents in his ministry be made available for scrutiny to members of the public and if they required it they could take copies also at a nominal fee. This was long before the RTI Act was enacted and its predecessor the Freedom of Information Act was being debated. The report said that the Secretary in the ministry took up the matter with the Cabinet Secretary who told him he could hold on to the proposal as the FoI Act was in the offing! And that shows the strangle hold of our bureaucracy on the government. In an article titled ‘Survival by blackmail or art of governance’ (Available at http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4595) I have dwelt on this in a little more detail.
Of the three organs of our Constitution we have been freely blaming the politicians for everything. While it is warranted only because it is them that we have empowered to steer this country on the road to progress there is a need to appreciate their handicaps also. Firstly, it is the short term for which they are elected. On this, of course, nothing can be done. But what can be done is that certain qualifications and experience have to be prescribed for the candidates aspiring to be people’s representatives. Next, the accountability of the bureaucrats has to be defined and all such protective armour like prior permission for their prosecution has to be done away with. When being prosecuted or prosecuting they should go through the litigation process in their personal capacities, investing their own time and resources and being rewarded only if there is material savings to the state. R.K.Raghavan writing in the Hindu of 23 Jan 2017 (‘Dealing with the deadwood’, available at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/Dealing-with-the-deadwood/article17078468.ece?homepage=true) has stated ‘The only obstacle in the way of drastic civil service reform — like the one pursued by the present government at the Centre — is the judiciary that overturns or stays every administrative action against an erring senior officer. Courts would earn the admiration of a harassed public if they stopped interfering in disciplinary matters once they are satisfied that prescribed procedures had been followed in a case coming up before them and there is no malice writ large on a decision. Judicial overstepping, while correcting unjust action against a few honest civil servants, unwittingly promotes the cause of many unscrupulous elements. The track record of administrative tribunals in the country is a matter of great concern to those looking for a balanced and objective bureaucracy.’
Having said that, there are many important and urgent changes required in the way we elect and compensate our elected representatives themselves. Some of the existing practices are an insult to the very concept of democracy. Among these are permitting candidates to contest from more than one constituency and allowing even candidates rejected by the electorate to be a representative for six months and then getting him elected to the Rajya Sabha or getting an elected member to resign and make way for this ‘exalted’ candidate. On tasking, the way elected representatives are seen doing things one is left wondering whether we elect them to go about inaugurating various functions in their constituencies or be our representatives in the law making bodies? Should they not be expected to hold consultations and consolidate their constituency’s opinion on various issues being taken up in the law making bodies and project them appropriately? (For some out of the box thoughts on reforming our democracy please see the blog at https://www.scribd.com/document/124887823/Democracy-East-is-East-and-West-is-West) And then there is the matter of compensation. While ministers may be considered full time employees the other elected representatives are not. Any citizen with an above average knowledge of the environment in which he is living and can effectively take up issues that needed attention and legislation should be able to represent his constituency on a pro bono basis. They may also be provided an ex gratia payment on completion of their tenure. But what we find is that they are made eligible for salaries and even pension for themselves and their spouses on highly objectionable terms. For example they become eligible for a minimum pension from the moment they take oath, full pension on completing one tenure and an increment for every year of additional service as an elected representative. (This is when even short service commissioned officers of the armed forces who do up to 10 years of service are not eligible for any pension whatsoever!) As per information gathered under the RTI Act, the pension disbursed to 3857 ex MPs/family pensioners of MPs, during the three months Jan-Mar 2013 were Rs 38648441, 46891359 and 43554552 respectively. That is an average of Rs 11150 per month. But that is peanuts compared to an amount of Rs 2,545 crores paid by the Lok Sabha Secretariat to the railways towards travel expenses of these ex MPs/family pensioners for the same quarter. And that works out to Rs 22,00,000/- per pensioner MP/family pensioner per month. And we are all familiar with the reference to Parliament as the cheapest rehabilitation home for the aged, going by the subsidized food served in the Parliament Canteen. Then there is also the objectionable practice of having politicians who have outlived their political career enter the Parliament through the Rajya Sabha. Conceptually atleast it is meant for representing experts from various fields who cannot get elected through a popular ballot. But apart from defanged politicians all you can find are film stars and cricketers being provided berths there. Doctors, engineers, soldiers, artists, litterateurs, industrialists etc need to be given representation, not only for making their voices heard but also for using their expertise while framing laws that pertain to their domain of expertise.
Taming the bureaucracy is easily done provided there is a political will. Today most of the bureaucrats are made to toe the line by unfair practices like threat of transfer to places or appointments that are not generally coveted. In one instance the people of Kasargode in north Kerala openly opposed the tendency to transfer employees from southern districts to their district in what is popularly known as punishment postings. There is definitely a need to provide fixed tenures for these babus to perform effectively. In exceptional circumstances when they have to be transferred before completion of their prescribed tenure a detailed explanation should be made mandatory. But it should also be ensured thereafter that they deliver their services to the satisfaction of the public. Even technology can be used to collect feedback from citizens on their satisfaction level in the matter of ease of doing business with public servants and this should be a parameter for their career progression.
Making the judiciary transparent, accountable, effective and efficient will remain a challenge as things are now. Not only judgments but also the docket sheets should be published on the websites of courts so that the public can study how effectively and judiciously the judges are performing their duties. Since the judiciary has unwarrantedly kept these out of purview of the RTI Act, let me quote an example of a consumer dispute that was decided by the District Forum at Palakkad. For the uninitiated the Consumer Protection Act has prescribed a period of 3 months to dispose of a dispute.
In OP 282/1999 (OP No 85/1995 transferred from Malappuram), the opposite party had produced interim stay order on 28/10/99 and the stay was vacated only on 8/6/2005 but through out this period the case was listed 58 times and adjourned! It was finally posted for orders on 6/7/07 but was opened for re-hearing suo moto on 15/2/08 and went on an adjournment spree from 3/3/08 to 31/5/2010. It was adjourned 17 times, including 5 times for want of members/President and 10 times for orders only! It was dismissed when an application was submitted under the RTI Act to find out the status!
Similarly, on a particular day, while all the disputes listed had been adjourned enmass due to absence of staff, the attendance register showed the complete staff as present!
Suggestions to the CM, Kerala to set up a cell to monitor the performance of all the quasi judicial bodies have fallen on deaf ears.
In the case of judiciary, it is aborable that provisions like the contempt of court still exist in our Constitution and other statutes. The only justification for its existance could be the need to ensure compliance with orders of courts. But the truth is that you can hardly find it being used for that prupose while being used freely to supress scrutiny and criticism. The most recent conviction of a high court judge, C S Karnan, for contempt of court when he had made specific allegations of corruption and the compromise reached in the matter of 4 judges who cast aspersions on the Chief Justice of India speak for itself.
Let me conclude with a parting question: doesn’t democracy demand a Contempt of Citizen (Prevention of) Act?