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Thursday, 05 February 2009 06:43

Combating-Corruption

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Letter to Speaker, AP Legislative Assembly
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Letter to Speaker, AP Legislative Assembly

1st April 2008
Sri KR Suresh Reddy Speaker
AP Legislative Assembly
Hyderabad

Dear Sri Suresh Reddy garu,

On behalf of Lok Satta Party and on behalf of all citizens committed to eradication of corruption from public life, I would like to convey to you the deepest concern of the people of Andhra Pradesh about the serious allegations of unchecked, monumental corruption of those in elected office in the State. The serious allegations of corruption leveled in the legislature and outside by responsible public figures have never been followed up by concrete action.

Corruption has thus become merely a stick to beat political opponents with, and clearly there is no intention to cleanse public life and promote probity and integrity in discharging responsibilities entrusted by the people. The cynical and callous disregard for all values of public life displayed by the ruling and main opposition parties and their leaders is shocking to the conscience of all fair-minded and decent citizens. Both the Chief Minister and Opposition Leader seem to regard corruption as a private matter between them and are completely uninterested in acting in concert to root out graft and malfeasance from public life. They are using the floor of the Assembly to merely score short-term political points by attacking their opponents, and abusing the privileges conferred on them as public representatives.

The ploy to enquire into assets of legislators by a sitting judge of the High Court, and the talk about a resolution of the House to facilitate that, form part of this cynical rhetoric and empty action. It is reasonable to assume that the Supreme Court and High Courts are unlikely to spare sitting judges for such fishing expeditions. It is also well-known that several Commissions of Enquiry have taken years, and some have not completed their work even more than a decade after they were constituted. Even if a Commission completes its work after a few years, its report is neither binding, nor can corrupt public servants be punished on the basis of the report. Vast amounts of public money would have been spent in a futile manner, and precious time would have lapsed. Almost certainly, such a Commission would yield nothing of consequence in curbing corruption, and it will merely add to the prevailing cynicism and despair about the corrupt and self-serving conduct of those in public office. I therefore urge you not to allow the House process to be abused for theatrical exercises or for cynical polemics or massive deception of the people.

Instead of such an empty gesture, there is concrete action possible and necessary to start the cleansing of public life and restore public confidence in our representatives and high officials. In such a course of action, the government, the House and the judiciary must be energetic partners in pursuit of constitutional goals. Lok Satta Party therefore proposes for the consideration of the State Legislative Assembly, the State government and the main political parties the following course of action.

  1. If the allegations leveled by parties and public figures are even partly true, they constitute gross acts of corruption and persistent abuse of public office for private gain. Section 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 gives power to the State government to appoint as many special judges as may be necessary for such area or areas, or for such case or groups of cases as may be specified, to try offences of corruption. Given the nature of allegations, the widespread and massive corruption that has become ubiquitous in our public life, the State needs to constitute at least one Special Judge of the Sessions Judge rank in each of the 22 districts outside the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, and at least five Special Judges in Hyderabad city.  These Special Courts, with all the necessary staff and infrastructure can immediately proceed to try all cases of corruption and assets disproportionate to the known legitimate sources of income.  The High Court will appoint the Judges, and therefore their impartiality and independence can be guaranteed in dealing with politically sensitive cases.
  2. In order for the Special Courts to be effective, there should be independent investigation and prosecution machinery to ensure that energetic and impartial action is taken against public figures who are guilty of corruption. Therefore, the Anti Corruption Bureau should be immediately strengthened in terms of personnel and infrastructure, and should be kept fully and directly under the control of the Lok Ayukta. The Lok Ayukta, Vigilance Commissioner and ACB Director General must be appointed by a collegium comprising the Chief Minister, Opposition Leader and the Chief Justice. All officials of ACB must be appointed by the Director General in consultation with the Lok Ayukta and Vigilance Commissioner. In addition, the High Court should be requested to depute serving judges of Assistant Sessions Judge rank to serve as special prosecutors in each of the Special Courts for a tenure of five years. The Special prosecutors should be free to engage other prosecutors for a tenure subject to High Court’s approval. Only when the investigation and prosecution are thus insulated from political pressure can fairness and independence be assured in pursuing these important cases.
  3. As per the Supreme Court Judgment in P V Narasimha Rao vs State (CBI / SPE), the elected legislators are public servants for the purposes of the Prevention of Corruption Act. However, Section 19(1) of the Act mandates prior sanction of prosecution by the government or the authority competent to remove him from his office. In the case of Legislators, the House is clearly competent to remove them for abusing the trust of the people or for disreputable conduct unbecoming of the members.  Precedents world-wide and in India amply testify to the sovereignty of the House.  For instance, the Parliament’s action in 1951 in removing (forcing the resignation of) H G Mudgal for a relatively minor infraction, and in recent times the removal of 12 MPs from Parliament in 2005 by the respective Houses establish this principle and practice beyond doubt.  Therefore, the Speaker of the House or the Chairman of the Legislative Council, as the case may be, should be the Sanctioning Authority for prosecution for violation of Prevention of Corruption Act.  Both the Houses can pass a resolution to this effect.
  4. The requirement of prior sanction is clearly unnecessary and counterproductive in cases of persons caught red-handed while taking a bribe, or assets disproportionate to known sources of income.  The law needs to be amended to that effect immediately. In respect of other cases of corruption relating to other public servants, the Lok Ayukta should be the sanctioning authority, so that governments cannot delay prosecution. The law should be amended to that effect immediately.
  5. The Legislature should immediately enact a law providing for forfeiture of all property acquired by corrupt public servants. The Law Commission, in its 166th Report (1999), presented a draft bill: “The Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill” (copy enclosed)
  6. The Parliament enacted the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act in 1988 (copy enclosed). However, rules have not been framed in the twenty years’ period since then, and the Act remains unimplemented. The Union and State governments need to act immediately to implement the law, so that corrupt public servants will not use the current loopholes by acquiring benami property.

These six are the minimal first steps to begin the process of cleansing our increasingly corrupt and discredited polity. Any short term grand-standing without substance will merely undermine public confidence in our politics and government further, and corrode our democracy and Constitution.

I therefore urge you to ensure these steps are taken immediately in the House and by the government. I am taking the liberty of sending copies of this letter to the Chairman of the Legislative Council, the Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition and other Floor Leaders for their follow up action. In view of the vital public importance of the issue, and in the interests of transparency and informed public debate, I am also making this letter public.

With warm regards,
Sd/-
Jayaprakash Narayan
President


CC: Sri A Chakrapani, Chairman, AP Legislative Council