Justice Santhosh Hegde has become a very popular face at the FreedomPark in Bangalore. He has been leading the protest since the past couple of days and has not budged from his place. Justice Hegde who retired as the Lokayukta of Karnataka after presenting the explosive mining report is back in action today at theFreedomParkin support of the Anna Hazare movement against corruption or for the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Justice Hegde who was pessimistic about the actions by the Government however adds that he has hope that the Government will bend since the kind of support this movement has been getting has really built up that hope. In this interview with rediff.com he says that it is sad to see that people are calling Anna Hazare a dictator. These are desperate attempts after the government has failed to take any sort of action.
Are you hopeful Justice Hegde that there will be a logical conclusion to this movement?
I get the feeling that the government will bend since no one expected that there would be such a huge response to the movement. We have been getting overwhelming support from across the nation and looking at the manner in which things are going I am very sure that the government will bend.
Anna Hazare has been acting like a dictator some say and he cannot impose the law on the government. What are your thoughts about that?
Whoever has said that is arrogant and a fool. Are we making the laws? We are suggesting because laws which are to be made affect the common man and all of us have a right to suggest. If you remember we had a long drawn deliberation process and the government had finally given us a watered down bill. The people are unhappy with it and hence we are making a demand. Anna Hazare is on the right path and his demands are valid and calling him a dictator is nothing but foolish.
The government says that such matters have to be discussed in Parliament and only then a bill passed. The accusation is that the rule of law cannot be imposed on Parliament.
We all understand what the process is. This is a democratically elected government by the people and if the people want to make suggestions then there is nothing wrong in it. Anna Hazare or any of us are not fighting any personal battle it is something that we want to do for the people. Also another thing I would want to add is why did the government not send out version of the bill to the standing committee in the parliament. Now who has violated procedure?
Do you think Anna Hazare has a personal agenda in all this?
What personal agenda? Can you point it out or for that matter can anyone point out what the personal agenda is. I can say confidently that this is just in public interest.
The meeting of the Lok Pal to be held later today is expected to be a make or break one. The members of the Lok Pal drafting panel are going for this meeting alright, but they do not have their hopes too high and are aware of what the government will do at the end of it.
Justice Santhosh Hegde who is one of the members of the panel tells us what one could expect from the meeting. I get the feeling that the government will come around the Prime Minister’s issue, but will scuttle all the other important issues. At yesterday’s meeting, the issue of the Prime Minister did come up. But the government had pointed out that a Prime Minister can be probed into only once he demits office. This rule already exists and we saw what happened in the case of P V Narasimha Rao. He was probed in connection with the JMM bribery case only once he demitted office. If the government expects us to agree to that then it would be nothing but mockery.
However what I understand out of this entire exercise is that at the end of it the Government may agree for the inclusion of the Prime Minister. While they may agree to do this, they will for sure leave out the rest of the important issues that have to find a mention in the final bill of the Lokpal. A majority of the general public think that the disagreements are only relating to the inclusion of the Prime Minister. If the government includes this clause then it will not agree on the rest of the things we have asked for. There is bound to be friction due to this and then the government will go tell the people that they gave what we asked for but we continue to make a fuss and this would make us all look like cribbers.
I am not expecting much from this meeting to be held today. There are still a lot of issues where there is a disagreement between the two parties. Some of these issues are really crucial for the bill.
Take for instance the appointment of the Lokpal. The government wants a lot of politicians and burecrats to hold this post. Barring the inclusion of two from the judges fraternity, the rest of them are from the political side. This is not a feasible option since the control goes back to the government entirely.
The other issue is the recommendation to remove a person for charges of corruption. The government says that only it can make this recommendation. This is just a farce. If the Lokpal is favourable to the government then it defeats the cause entirely. A citizen can seek the impeachment of a judge provided he has the support. Why cant he be given the same right over here too?
The issue of having another anti corruption is also another matter for disagreement. The government has made it clear that the anti corruption wing of the CBI shall not be used for the Lok Pal. My question is why is the government contemplating more than one anti corruption wing in the country. What happens to the wing under the CBI then if another similar force is put in place? Obviously the wing of the CBI becomes defunct. The government should realise that it will take a while before it could set up a new wing and train all the personnel to handle this case. We feel that the wing of the CBI should be included into the Lok Pal.
The other issues also include the strength of the body around the Lok Pal. The government refuses to give more persons.
People would like to call it the Log Jam bill instead of the Lok Pal bill. Yet another meeting and nothing concrete out of it except a war of words between the Government of India and the drafting committee of the Lok Pal bill. Well it is sure going to be a no impact bill and I really do not have any great expectations from it says, Justice N Santhosh Hegde, member of the drafting committee.
Justice Hegde, former judge of the Supreme Court of India who is also the Lokayukta of Karnataka has been a target of many Congress leaders. Just last night he was even termed as a man of the Bharatiya Janata Party. With one contreversy after another, Justice Hegde says that comments are being made against him by those politicians who basically have no status. Here is what Justice Hegde has to say on the Lok Pal bill and also the comments against him by the leaders of the Indian National Congress Party.
On the Lok Pal bill what i say is that it would go through. However I would also add that the although the bill will go through it would do so only as a face saving excercise. The thing is that the people want the bill and hence there is no way in which the government scuttle it entirely.
However the big question is what type of a bill would it be? When we set out it was clear that it would cover virtually all those in power and powers would be given to act against those corrupt politicians and officials. However when I look at things today, I am sorry to say that the final bill may not include a lot of clauses which we have sought to include. No Prime Minister, no judiciary, restricted jurisdiction and also no powers to probe into militray deals which are suspect in nature. Well I am afraid that these clauses may not make it to the final bill since the government is adamant that it does not want all these clauses in the bill. To cut a long story short, the bill will be a no impact bill at the end of it and will not have any useful jurisdiction on the Lok Pal.
I am thoroughly disappointed. Initially when we all met things were cordial, but over the days a lot did change. We could see that the government of India had an open mind and were agreeing to a lot of the clauses suggested by us. However on the fourth day there were signs of resistance. They said that they wanted to consult the states and also the political parties which we had no objection to. Then things did go haywire. We are not suggesting that everything that we say should be accepted, but healthy consultations would not have harmed anyone. Then started the war of words and the talks became more and more aggressive. Basically everything that we said was made into an issue. However yesterday’s meeting was the last straw and none of the issues raised by us were taken up. There is a meeting on the 20th and the 21st and I am confident nothing concrete would come out of it either.
On the BJP man comment: I have really nothing to say about this. These are all politicians who have no status who make comments against me. I have no idea why they chose to comment on me every now and then. Well if you are asking me for the reasons behind these comments, I am really not in a position to tell you why. It was said that it could be a pre cursor to the mining report slated to be relased later this month. However I refuse to beleive that these comments are a pre cursor. No one really knows what is in that report and trust me I have not spared anyone in that report. I really do not want to attack all these persons for what they have been saying. I will submit the report which will speak for itself.
I do not think these comments have anything to do with the mining report only. It started with Veerappa Moily. Then Digvijay Singh came into the picture and started making comments despite not knowing the ABCD of Karnataka. His comments were followed by statements by B K Hariprasad and also Janardhan Poojary. What I noticed was that each time the intensity of the comments became more and more.
I have no regrets though and I do not think taking up the post of Lokayukta was wrong on my part. I may have failed in some areas but i have no regrets since I have given my best shot.
I will be writing to Pranab Mukherjee shortly. I would like to tell him that I was a sportsman and I have learnt to take things in the right spirit. I have always adopted the Olympic motto where winning is not everything. Participation is more important and we need to play the game in the right spirit.
There are ample indications to show that the government of India is doing things to split up civil groups in order to delay or push under the carpet the Lok Pal bill which has created such a hue and cry over the past few days. A member of the committee speaking under condition of anonymity says that this bill affects those who are in the seat of power or people close to them and hence we get the indication that there are attempts to delay or stall it.
Currently there is a demand that the Bill come into force by the 15th of August or the government will face the ire of the people. This seems unlikely and some members who are part of the drafting committee even express that they would like the bill to see the light of the day before they die.
Sources point out that at the moment it looks like it is very unlikely that the Bill will come out soon. Go back to the first meeting of the drafting committee. One would say that that it was the only cordial meeting and after that nothing has been smooth. There are allegations against the likes of Shanthi Bhushan and such things have only added to the delay and when people demand that the bill should come out by August 15th I find it highly unlikely that it may happen. Basically today there is a dirty war regarding this bill and many persons are being targeted. Now these are persons who can contribute their knowledge which in turn would make the bill a good one. These are all eminent personalities and can contribute their solutions. The government ought to realize that this bill is needed and should be implemented soon.
Things within the committee began to change when the government started realizing the seriousness of this bill. At first as pointed out the meeting was very cordial. The government did think that it could push this bill like it would push any other bill. However one of the civil rights groups spotted this and began questioning the government. This is when matters turned ugly and the government decided to wage a dirty war against some of the members of the committee. Moreover there is also a writ petition against the constitution of this committee which again ensures that there will be a further delay. We need to wait and watch what would happen in the court now.
The source also goes on to point out that at the moment more and more rights groups are coming forward and want to be part of the bill. It is not possible to accommodate each and everyone in this. Some come with genuine suggestions while others come with an agenda. This is a peoples’ bill and those who want to contribute can always go on to the website and make their suggestions.
At the rate at which proceedings are on, it looks highly unlikely that the bill will be out anytime soon. The objective at the moment is being defeated and instead of moving forward, the government is trying to lure people into a consultation process which is only delaying the process further.
It is time that both parties the rights groups and the government break even. The rights groups also cannot continue to make unreasonable demands. One such demand was to introduce life imprisonment in corruption cases. This is not going to happen since it overrides the Constitution, the Indian Penal Code and also the prevention of corruption act. It would be madness to sentence a police constable to life imprisonment for accepting a bribe of Rs 50. The Prevention of Corruption Act does make a provision for seven years imprisonment and I think this is good enough.
However what was surprising in this entire exercise is that the demand by the people has really hit the government really hard. This does not concern the people directly and it involves those high up in the seat of power and those close to them. With the amount of corruption that is on at the highest level such a bill would prove lethal to most of these people and it was expected that the government would go out of its way to try and stall it like how it has been done since the past 42 years.
The demand is to draft a new Lok Pal bill, place it before Parliament and make it an act. The Government of India appears to talking of forming a committee in order to draft this bill and if this time too it does not take shape then it would be the ninth time that this bill would be going into the cold storage.
Legal experts say that the Lok Pal bill in its current form is useless and makes no sense and the government has since the past 40 years has shown no seriousness in giving the bill more teeth leave alone placing it before the Parliament.
Justice Santosh Hegde, Lokayukta of Karnataka says that the bill in its existing form is as good as non existent. It speaks about having three Lok Pals and confers them with a jurisdiction against members of Parliament, ministers and also the Prime Minister in cases of corruption.
Basically all acts of corruption have to be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act and ironically the Lok Pals cannot act on their own even if they have a case on hand. The reason why these Lok Pals will not be able to work on their own since they have not been given a dedicated police force. This would mean that they will have to refer the complaints to either the police or the Central Bureau of Investigation since these are the two agencies which have the power to deal with the Prevention of Corruption Act.
What is funnier about the existing Lok Pal bill is that no complaint can be acted upon unless and until the Speaker or the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha refers the complaint to the Lok Pal. Once the complaint is referred to the Lok Pal, he cannot do much since he will have to go back to the police or the CBI to investigate the matter. In such a event the presence of a Lok Pal is unnecessary since the Speaker or the Deputy Chairman can well refer the complaint directly to either the CBI or the police. Another drawback in the existing bill is that the Lok Pal has not been given suo motu powers to act against the persons under its jurisdiction.
Justice Hegde further points out that the existing bill has kept the Lok Pal out of the purview of central government employees. This is a major loop hole in the bill since no corruption by a minister can take place unless he has colluded with a central government employee. Even if the Lok Pal is aware that an act of corruption is committed with the help of a central government employee he cannot even refer his name to the investigating agency.
Suggestions for a new bill:
The new Lok Pal bill has to have more teeth and various provisions in the existing bill need to be changed if not done away with completely.
The new bill should ensure that three Lok Pals are appointed immediately after the bill becomes an act.
The public should have the right to complaint directly to the Lok Pal instead of waiting for the speaker to refer a complaint
Apart from ministers and the Prime Minister, even central government employees should come under the purview of the Lok Pal.
The Lok Pal like the Karnataka Lokayukta should have its own police force. This force should be directly under the control of the Lok Pal
The Lok Pal should be given suo motu powers to investigate cases of corruption and complaints should be entertained by the common man as well.
The Lok Pal bill should make a provision to have Lokayuktas in every state in the country which coordinate with the Lok Pal in case of cases that are connected between the state and the central government.