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Modiji, Please walk the talk on Corruption

JANUARY 17, 2017

By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor

'GIVE me time till December 30, I will give you a clean country: PM Modi'. 'Won't stop even if burnt alive: PM Modi on fight against corruption'. 'Demonetisation move to create corruption-free India, PM Narendra Modi says'. 'Narendra Modi signals step up in anticorruption agenda'.

Such steely resolve by our bhavuk (emotional) Prime Minister has made billions of Indian hearts turn bhavuk with his crusade against graft.

Modiji's quote, as reported by news agency, promised the dawn of new India: "This suffering is only for 50 days. Once there is cleanliness (swachhata), not even a mosquito can fly..... This is a 70years old disease and I have to remove it in 17 months. I will expose corruption going on since Independence; even if I have to employ one lakh youths for this, I will do it."

The daunting target of 17 months is more ambitious than 2-year target that was set by late Gulzarilal Nanda, Home Minister in Congress Government during November 1963. It is needless to say that corruption increased by leaps and bounds even after Mr. Nanda's initiatives.

Aam Aadmi (the common man, not the political party) expects more fireworks from our beloved PM while day-dreaming about Acche Din in cash queues. Many like this columnist are willing to join Modi Bhakts in fight against corruption, provided PM agrees to walk the talk on anti-corruption.

From Ist Prime Minister (Nehru) to the present one, the political will to take on corruption has been missing. And the best proof of this is non-implementation of recommendations of Santhanam Committee regarding formation of Lokpal and provision of protection to informants (whistleblower).

Modiji would agree that this Committee on Prevention of Corruption, which submitted its report in March 1964, can't be overlooked by any anti-graft activist.

This column should thus be considered as a modest attempt to provide inputs for PM's non-existing anti-bribery agenda. Many citizens have been waiting and waiting for such Agenda from the day he came to power in May 2014.

Preparing time-bound agenda and implementing it sincerely is very important for Government. This is because PM's political rhetoric on corruption is lately crashing under the impact of post-demonetization allegations of graft and frauds in every nook and corner.

Unabated seizure of lakhs and crores of new currency notes across the country has come as a jolt to the poor. PM pitted them against the tax-evaders and corrupt as major hurdle in eradication of poverty.

Masses are now wondering whether they have been tricked into accepting cash rationing. Is there a hidden hand that is serving the corrupt and black money hoarders through the banks' backdoor?

Mr. Modi's silence on alleged complicity of a Union Minister of State in a public sector hydel project in Arunachal Pradesh has not been relished by the Opposition. This is not solitary case of Chalta Hai attitude.

PM appeared at ease with the usage of Rs 20-lakh Toyota Fortuner by another mantriji for a few months in Delhi. It was the Indian Express' investigative stories that led minister part with SUV. Is it a case of illegal gratification as public sector enterprise SAIL was asked to buy this vehicle for ostensible use by field staff of Forest Department in Odisha?

The Government appears happy to note that mainstream media has largely drawn curtains on discovery of Modiji's name in Birla-Sahara dairies. This follows recent dismissal by Supreme Court of a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking probe. It is worth noting that the same Court had asked for probe into the same Birla dairies in another case in 2015. And at that time BJP didn't question the authenticity of Birla diaries.

The chill over corruption realty is turning into freeze with emergence of whistleblowers from the ranks and file of BSF and CRPF. The alleged corruption and mismanagement in the administration of para-military forces can't be overlooked by citizens in Digital India.

The unfolding ruthless scene has left analysts guessing as to why Mr. Modi chose demonetization as the neutron bomb to maim a few lakh corrupt and tax evaders. Why he preferred demonetization to unveiling an anti-corruption agenda in keeping with BJP's manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha polls?

The Manifesto says: "We will establish a system, which eliminates the scope for corruption. We will do this through: public awareness; technology enabled e-Governance -1) minimizing the discretion in the citizen-government interface; 2) system-based policy-driven governance - making it transparent; 3) rationalization and simplification of the tax regime - which is currently repulsive for honest tax payers; 4) simplification of the processes and procedures at all levels - bestowing faith in the citizens, institutions and establishments and 5) open government and accountable administration."

UPA Government had made Modiji's job to implement the electoral promise easier. The former left behind robust legal elements that Mr Modi can use to implement BJP's electoral promise to stamp out bribery. It is now opportune time for NDA Government to stop prevaricating and start acting on them.

Goodbye to prevarication should thus be one point anti-corruption agenda. And the details would automatically pan out with inputs from diverse quarters. There can be no better way to start on this count by implementing Lokpal and Whistle Blower laws.

Both these laws enacted in 2014 are "dormant, gathering dust" to borrow Modiji's words. The Government has reduced these laws to paper tigers.

Shortly after coming to power in May 2014, Lok Sabha speaker of BJP pedigree trashed Congress' plea for nominating one of its MPs as Leader of the Opposition (LOP) in Lok Sabha. The rejection paved the way for the Government to delay indefinitely appointment of Lokpal. Unwilling to exercise her power to alter rules, the Speaker stuck to the interpreted rule that LOP should be from a party that won at least 10% of seats, that is 55 against 44 won by Congress in 2014 polls.

Keeping LOP slot vacant provided legal excuse to the Government to keep composition of selection committee for Lok Pal incomplete under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (LLA), 2013. The Act has not been amended so far to pave the way for substitution of LOP with leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha as member of selection committee.

The legal justification for relaxing 10% rule can be provided by invoking the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition In Parliament Act, 1977. According to the Act, "Leader of the Opposition, in relation to either House of Parliament, means that member of the Council of States or the House of the People, as the case may be, who is, for the time being, the Leader in that House of the party in opposition to the Government having the greatest numerical strength and recognised as such by the Chairman of the Council of States or the Speaker of the House of the People, as the case may be."

If Modiji does not want to "lower" the prestige of Speaker's office, he can opt for ordinance to amend LLA as recommended by Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC). It submitted its report on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014 during December 2015. The Government has so far maintained silence on way forward on PSC's recommendations.

Apart from endorsing most of the clauses of the amendment bill, PSC recommended that institutions of CVC and the CBI (insofar as its anti corruption functions are concerned), be fully integrated with Lokpal. The institution of anti corruption watchdog may be architecturally created vertically with the Lokpal at the apex level and CVC and CBI (anti-corruption wing) working directly under its command and control. The functions of Lokpal and CVC be clearly specified and overlap between functions and powers of CVC and Lokpal be addressed. Lokpal in turn should utilize these organizations for conduct of inquiry, investigation and prosecution.

The Supreme Court, which is hearing PIL on Government's failure to constitute Lokpal, would hopefully prod it to shed political reluctance on this count.

The Court, however, broke many hearts last week by declining to give fresh directive to the Government to implement Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBPA), 2014, which has not been put into force till today. This is contrary to its directive to Government during January 2016 to enforce WBPA within three months.

The Government perceives the Act as posing risk to national security if whistleblowers disclose secret/strategic information. The Government has thus pitched for certain amendments.

The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 11th May 2015. The Bill is presently pending in the Rajya Sabha.

Another pending crucial bill is The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, which seeks to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The amendments would help the Government align the law with current international practices laid down by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

Modi Government had moved as many as 31 official amendments to the Bill in 2015, which were substantive in nature. Subsequently, the Bill was referred to The Select Committee of Rajya Sabha that submitted its report in August 2016.

The saga of delays in enacting new laws is as interesting as Ram Katha. A large part of the delay is caused by lapse of the bills introduced in Lok Sabha. The bills automatically lapse with the dissolution of previous House and constitution of new one after the elections.

The lapsed bills can contribute directly or indirectly to reduction in corruption.

The major ones include Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organizations Bill, 2011,Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011, The Public Procurement Bill, 2012 and The Direct Taxes Code, 2010.

Modi Government has not indicated when and whether it would introduce all these bills and other lapsed ones that can help indirectly reduce corruption.

Now that Modiji has sworn to make India corruption-free, the Government should issue ordinances on all pending and lapsed bills. The Government can convert the forthcoming session of Parliament into an Anti-graft session to facilitate passage of ordinances into Act. The presentation of budget can be pushed back to normal date of 28th February or later.

Modi Government should also wipe out its credibility deficit in battling corruption by shedding its virtual indifference towards Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This Provision calls for maximum disclosure of information on suo moto basis.

The Government should also speaks its mind on amending Comptroller and Auditor-General's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971, a proposal that was once being finalized by NDA-I Government in 2003.

Ideally, the Government should accept CAG's recommendations made in 2009 to enact a new law to replace the present one.

If Mr. Modi shies away from turning political rhetoric into credible and comprehensive agenda against bribery, then he runs the risk of going Mr. Nanda's way into history as footnote in the unconquered battle against corruption, particularly political corruption.


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