Archive for June, 2012

With respect, Your Honour!

Posted on June 4, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

With respect, Your Honour!

GovernanceNow, June 01-15, 2012, pp.18-21

Dear Justice Katju,

I am taking the liberty of writing this
open letter to you, having been guided
and encouraged by your piece in The
Indian Express of April 4, in which you
have quoted, so aptly, Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
“Bol ki lab azad hain tere, Bol zubaan
ab tak teri hai” (Speak since your lips
are free, Speak since your tongue is still
yours). I was also impressed by your
courage to adapt the ancient shastras to
the current situation in the country, to
say that you will “Bruyat satyam apriyam”
(Speak the unpleasant truth).

I have read, with respect, a number
of your writings over the last couple of
years, before and after you took over as
the chairman of the Press Council of India
(PCI). Having read some of your writings
before you became chairman of PCI,
and having found them very informative
and scholarly, I was very happy and
hopeful when you became chairman PCI
on October 5, 2011. Happy because such
an erudite person had come to occupy an
important statutory office in the country,
and hopeful because I thought significant
improvements will now happen to the
way press functions in the country.

However, some doubts have been
creeping into my mind very gradually,
and I am now getting somewhat concerned
that the preceding seven months
have shown hardly any evidence of
concrete corrective action though we, the
general public, have had the immense
benefit of getting to know your views on
many issues. Let me also add that while
I am getting concerned at the seemingly
lack of real action, I for one really appreciate
the candour and force with which
you express your views.

Let me begin with what I consider to
be your most significant writings in the
public domain in the last one year, “The
90%” and “Ten ways of being foolish”,
both published in The Indian Express,
the former on April 4, and the latter on
April 23.

Your first point in “The 90%” gives us
a categorical answer to the question
“Why people in India vote the way they
do?” You have also given the example of
Phulan Devi in support of your response
to the question. You have given a ‘positive’
example of a person being elected
and have been very polite in not giving
a well-known ‘negative’ example of a
person not being elected because he did
not belong to the right “caste or community”
and had so much merit that he now
occupies one of the highest offices in the
country. Even if you had been even more
forthright and gone ahead and given the
‘negative’ example that I am referring to,
I hate to point out that it would not have
really proved your point. Let me explain
why.

Voter behaviour is an issue that has
been studied by a large number of people
who study elections and electoral processes.
A consistent conclusion that has
been reached is that voter behaviour is a
very complex phenomenon, particularly
in a diverse and complex society such as
India, and no single factor can explain
the behaviour of voters with any significant
accuracy. In any case, the example
that you did give, and even the one that
you did not give and the one that I have
hinted at, are called anecdotal evidence
in social science research with which I
happen to have some acquaintance. And
anecdotal evidence is far from the standard
that is required to be met before
one can make categorical and unqualified
statements such as “90% vote on the
basis of caste or community, not the merits
of the candidate”. I will, for obvious
reasons, not even dare to comment on
the judicial standards of evidence.

Having worked in the areas of electoral
and political reforms for over a decade,
I agree with you that vote banks do exist
in India but find it difficult to agree that
they exist only on the basis of caste and
community, and nothing else. What I
agree with you on is that the vote banks
are “manipulated by some unscrupulous
politicians and others”. I would have
agreed with you wholeheartedly if you
had not used the words, “some” and “and
others” in your statement! I will come
back to this later.

I could share your disdain about astrology and its impact on human lives
but I find myself wondering at your expression
“a little commonsense tells us”.
I am actually surprised that a person as
knowledgeable as you does not seem to
have heard an often-used expression:
Common sense is not very common!

Item 3 of your “The 90%” article took
umbrage at the way media kept “harping
on” Rahul Dravid’s retirement from
cricket and Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th
century while “issues of a quarter million
farmers suicides, and 47% Indian
children being malnourished, was sidelined,”
and item 4 objected to the reporting
of Dev Anand’s death since, according
to you, Dev Anand’s films “serve(d) no
social purpose”.

While I agree that the media does go
overboard often, please allow me to
quote Faiz whom you have also quoted:
“Aur bhi gham hain zamaane mein mohabbat
ke sivaa/Raahatein aur bhi hain
vasl ki raahat ke sivaa”

It is certainly necessary to deal with
farmers’ suicides and malnourished
children on an urgent basis, and to make
films that serve a social purpose, but to
suggest, even peripherally, that there is
absolutely no social value in sports or in
what, for want of a better word, may be
called ‘pure entertainment’ films, and
that these have no place in the pubic discourse,
I submit, is going overboard.

Your comments on the so-called Jan
Lokpal Bill, I submit with respect, display
a lack of attention to detail which, I must
admit, I find extremely surprising. Consider
this sentence: “Obviously one person
cannot supervise and decide the lacs
of complaints against them which would
pour in. Hence thousands of Lokpals,
maybe 50,000 or more, will have to be
appointed to deal with them.” It seems to
clearly indicate that not enough attention
has been paid to what the Jan Lokpal Bill
contains and attempts to convey.

It is heartening, though not at all surprising,
that you “want to see Indians
prosper…want poverty and unemployment
abolished…want the standard of
living of the 80% poor Indians to rise
so that they get decent lives”. And yes,
“(T)his is possible when their mindset
changes, when their minds are rid of
casteism, communalism, and superstitions,
and instead they become scientific
and modern”. And yes, “Being modern
means having a modern mind, which
means a rational mind, a logical mind a
questioning mind, a scientific mind.” And
yes again, “To abolish poverty we need
to spread the scientific outlook to every
nook and corner of our country.”

But the question, sir, is how exactly
are we going to (a) change mindsets, (b)
rid our minds of casteism, communalism,
and superstitions, and instead they
become scientific and modern, (c) spread
the scientific outlook to every nook and
corner of our country, and (d) develop
a rational mind, a logical mind a questioning
mind, a scientific mind? What
do “The 10%” which, it is presumed,
includes you, need to actually do, in addition
to telling “The 90%” what they need
to do?

Now, coming to “Ten ways of being foolish”.
It was interesting to note that when
it came to responding to The Wall Street
Journal, you decided to give a range,
from 85 percent to 95 percent, rather
than the exact percentage that you had
given to your fellow country folks. One
wonders if it was due to the fact that in
your opinion the Wall Street cannot deal
with exactitudes and needs simpler concepts
to function properly!

The definitive statement that “an overwhelming
number of Indians (are) fools”
would no doubt make the Wall Street
residents jump with joy as they will now
feel assured that none of these “fools”
will pose a threat to their well-paying
jobs. On the other hand, I wonder about
the future for this microscopic minority,
ranging from 5 to 15 percent, the “nonfool”
population of India. Should they
allow themselves to be overwhelmed by
overwhelming majority of fools, which
is likely to happen in a democracy in
which 90% of the voters are nuts, or
should they, being extremely bright, get
away from it all and move to some more
enlightened place rather than engage in
the almost unachievable task of pulling
out the overwhelming majority out of the
morass of ignorance?

While one may understand and even
accept the phenomenon of ministers
being foolish, the fact of “many chief
justices of high courts tak(ing) oath at
the ‘auspicious’ time, as advised by their
astrologer” is indeed shocking, as is the
fact of “the then Chief Justice of India
(writing) to the concerned authority to
remove that house from the judges pool”.
One wonders, your honour, why did not
your lordship try to explain the irrationality
to the honourable chief justice
of India, and if you did try, how come a
learned person such as yourself, did not
succeed in doing that to a person equally
learned who had risen to the highest
judicial office in the land. And, I shudder
to think, sir, that if that is the situation at
the very top of India’s judicial hierarchy,
what hope is there for the lesser mortals!

The “ninth way of being foolish” opens
with a characteristically unambiguous
statement: “(M)ost Hindus are communal,
and most Muslims are also communal”
but later in the same paragraph one
finds the following statement of truth:
“The truth is that 99 percent people of
all communities are good…” This “statement
of truth” is followed by a qualifying
clause: “…but it will take a lot of time to
remove the communal virus from our body politic.”

I am grateful to you, and the Tamilians,
for clarifying how “communal” people
can be “good”, and “good” people can be
“communal”. The very first “way of being
foolish” also shows us that “scientific
and unscientific ideas can co-exist in the
same head.” If that indeed is the case, sir,
then why are we so worried? Is it really
necessary to fully eradicate every single
idea, even if marginally unscientific,
from the “head” of the entire population
of the country, and that too when you did
not seem to have succeeded in removing
one such idea from the “head” of the
chief of judiciary in the country?

I have no doubt whatsoever, sir, in your
intentions when you say that you “have
said all this not to demoralise Indians,
but to point out to them the correct path
to prosperity,” but sir, please permit me
to ask you a naïve question: Are you also
an Indian, sir?

In both of these articles, sir, you have
referred the “foolish” readers to your
article ‘Sanskrit as a language of science’,
and have mentioned that we, “the
foolish Indians” should “go back to the
path shown by our great scientific ancestors,
Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta, Sushrut,
Charak, Ramanujan and Raman…
”(emphasis added). Allow me to submit,
sir, that I have actually read that article,
and would seek your permission to ask
the following question: Can we not, Sir,
attempt to go forward by also following
the path shown by people such as
Rabindranath Tagore, Raja Rammohun
Roy, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Bhimrao
Ambedkar, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo,
Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Jiddu
Krishnamurti?

This brings me to your third article, “Media
cannot reject regulation”, published
in The Hindu on May 2. This one made
eminent sense as it pertained to your current
assignment. I agree with a number of
your averments and have myself written
about some of the maladies afflicting the
media (Please see ‘Paid news: Press Council
report hides more than it reveals.’ The
Tribune, October 19, 2010. http://www.
tribuneindia.com/2010/20101019/edit.
htm#7; and “Print and the mint!” Governance
Now, September 1-15, 2010, pp.
30-35). Two of your observations in this
article invite comment.

The first one is “If the electronic media
also comes under the Press Council
(which can be renamed the Media Council),
representatives of the electronic media
will also be on this body, which will
be totally democratic” (emphasis added).
This brings me back to the issue of unscrupulous
politicians that I had said I
would come back to later. I also wish
that this happens, but the million-dollar
question is: Will it happen? And this is
where all that you say will be put to test.
You will need to work with politicians,
unscrupulous or otherwise, to make this
happen, and I wish you all the luck.

The second observation that invites
comment is “I would welcome a healthy
debate on this issue.” And my comment,
actually a question, is: How will it be
decided and who will decide that the
debate is healthy or not? Going by the
general tenor of your writings, it may
seem likely that you shall be final judge
of that…but then dare I say, once a judge,
always a judge!
Having commented on your writings,

please allow me to make one overall
observation. I am sure you know of
what Lord Byron said in his unfinished
sixteenth poem on Don Juan’s adventures,
“Good workmen never quarrel
with their tools.” As chairman of the PCI,
I believe you do not have a choice but
to work with the media, and if you keep
blaming them all the time without doing
anything else, it does not seem likely that
much goodwill come out of it. I know you
have taken some actions to support the
freedom of the press but I also believe
that (a) these are not enough, and (b) not
enough is known about them.

I am sure a lot of people appreciate the
forthright expression of your views on
a variety of issues, which is a rarity in
public life in India these days, and so do
I, as I said in the beginning. However,
it would be nice if you were to be a bit
circumspect in your public expressions.
The reason is that you now occupy a
very important public office, which has
a critical bearing on the functioning of
Indian society and the future of Indian
democracy. It is not my place to point out
the difference between obiter dicta made
when one is on the bench and statements
made by holders of critical offices, which
are not only in the public eye but are
actually in the eye of a storm.

I have followed the working of the PCI
and it is not my place to alert you to the
complex set of vested interests that come
into play in the functioning of the media
in India, as well as anywhere else in the
world. As you well know, the business of
journalism has robbed the profession of
journalism of its integrity.

To restore the integrity of the profession
of journalism is a tall order in the
current situation but I have no doubt
that you do have the stature and the
wherewithal to do it provided the intellectual
arrogance and the lure of public
adulation can be kept in check.
I wish you all the luck.
With regards,
Jagdeep Chhokar.

Chhokar is former professor, dean, and director
in-charge of Indian Institute of Management,
Ahmedabad. Views expressed are
personal.

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Transparent Intentions

Posted on June 4, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Transparent Intentions:

CIC is the custodian of transparency. Shouldn’t it then be a little more transparent itself?

GovernanceNow, May 16-31, pp.36-37

The central information commission (CIC) deserves to be commended
for its transparency in putting up complete minutes of its meetings on its website (http://cic.gov.
in/). A curious exploration of the minutes revealed an interesting ambivalence
about transparency and accountability, the two defining foundations of the Right
to Information (RTI) Act of which the commission is supposed be the major
implementing authority.

The minutes of a meeting of the CIC held on April 10, 2012 show an intriguing
sequence of events. The first item in the minutes reads as follows:

“Agenda-1: Follow up on the Citizen Charter as decided in its meeting dated
13.03.2012.

The Commission discussed the proposed citizen charter in detail. The Commission
felt the necessity of a grievance redressal mechanism for the Commission;
to be headed by the Secretary to the Commission. It was directed that a draft
detailing Grievance Redressal Mechanism and structural arrangement for operationalising
the same shall be presented in the next meeting for consideration.

It took on record the draft citizen charter dated 15.01.2012 and the note of IC
(SG) (copy enclosed).”

The “draft citizen charter dated 15.01.2012” and the “note of IC (SG)”,
taken on record, are also accessible on the CIC website.

A reading of the “draft citizen charter dated 15.01.2012” reveals it to be a fairly
standard document, generally following the format suggested at the government
of India’s website on citizen’s charters, mentioned above. It has the standard
headings such as Vision and Mission Statement, Our Key Commitments to the
Stakeholders of RTI Act, Services to attain Vision and Mission Statement, Expectations
from Citizens, Objectives to be achieved by 2015.

The “note of IC (SG)” reveals an almost rare insight into the inner workings of
the CIC. Since it is the note of “IC (SG)”, after going through the list of those attending
the meeting one assumes that “IC (SG)” is the information commissioner,
Shailesh Gandhi, the first non-bureaucrat to have been appointed in that position.
Possibly the most revealing statement in the note is, “There appears to be a
reluctance to prepare and commit to a Citizens’ Charter.” The note then goes
on to reveal that “There are three points on which the drafting committee had a
sharp divergence of opinion,” and then it goes on to describe the three points and
gives the views of IC (SG) as to why the three reservations appear to be without
any real basis.

My own sense is that the overwhelming majority of information commissioners
who are former bureaucrats might be hesitating to agree to the specificity
of “Objectives to be achieved by 2015” which include the following:

— To ensure that over 95% of appeals and complaints are adjudicated within
120 days of reaching CIC.
— Ensure that non-compliance of CIC’s orders is brought to less than 5%.
— All public authorities are routinely complying with their obligation to disclose
certain categories of information suo motu.
— Digitisation of records and use of eprocesses in the working of CIC.

In addition, it is also a possibility that former bureaucrats might have an inherent
dislike to making commitments to public, whom they might have considered
as “subjects” during their long service careers where they were quite likely
thought of as mai-baap of the general public.

Some background

The country is passing through a difficult phase. Even the well-established institutions
are facing a crisis of credibility, the media and even parliament being two
shocking examples. In such a scenario, creating a new institution is obviously a
huge challenge.

The CIC is a relatively new institution and needs to be nurtured in its initial
years. The supreme court has a well-deserved reputation for judicial innovations.
Two sterling examples are the ‘basic structure doctrine’ for the constitution,
enunciated in the Kesavananda Bharti case, and creating the institution
of public interest litigation (PIL).

The most recent is the concept of ‘institutional integrity’, an innovation in
administrative law enunciated in what is popularly known as the PJ Thomas case,

though its official citation is Centre for PIL & another versus Union of India
and another, Writ Petition No. 348 of 2010, with WP (C) No. 355 of 2010, the
judgment of which was pronounced on March 3, 2011. The attempt to establish a
citizens’ charter for the CIC seems to be an appropriate step to build institutional
integrity of the institution of CIC.

The much hailed RTI Act was passed by parliament on June 15, 2005, and came
into effect on October 13, 2005. 

The opening paragraph of the preamble to the RTI Act says: “An Act to provide for
setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access
to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency
and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of
a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for
matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act defines a public authority to be “any authority or
body or institution of self-government established or constituted—
(a) by or under the constitution;
(b) by any other law made by parliament;
(c) by any other law made by State legislature;
(d) by notification issued or order made
by the appropriate government, and includes any—
(i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed;
(ii) non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or
indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.”

Section 12 (1) of the Act says, “The Central government shall, by notification
in the official gazette, constitute a body to be known as the central information
commission to exercise the powers conferred on, and to perform the functions
assigned to, it under this Act.”

A simple reading of the above two sections together with the preamble, should
leave no one in doubt that the CIC is itself a public authority, and the preamble
also establishes that transparency and accountability is to be promoted in the
working of the CIC too.

A government of India website, http://goicharters.nic.in/chartermain.htm, says:
“A citizens’ charter represents the commitment of the Organisation towards
standard, quality and time frame of service delivery, grievance redress mechanism,
transparency and accountability”.

Given that the CIC is a public authority which has been set up for the explicit
purpose of implementing an Act exclusively meant to promote transparency
and accountability in the working of every public authority, and that citizens’ charter
is an accepted mechanism to promote transparency and accountability in public
bodies, it stands to reason that the CIC should have a citizens’ charter.

Conclusion

As the first item of the minutes reveals, after discussing the “proposed citizen
charter in detail”, the CIC “felt the necessity of a grievance redressal mechanism”,
and the meeting concluded by “directing” the preparation of another
document “for consideration” at the next meeting! Possibly a classic case of C.
Northcote Parkinson’s favourite law on the working (or non-working) of public
bureaucracies: Delay is the deadliest form of denial.

This should also make us think about the mysterious process of appointment
of information commissioners on which repeated requests for information
by Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra (Hindustan Times, April 27, 2012, also
profiled in Governance Now, June 1-15, 2010) have failed to elicit any specific
response, leading to the inescapable conclusion that either there are no
criteria set for appointment of information commissioner or the government
does not want to reveal them: a sad commentary on the body whose sole
purpose for existence is to usher in transparency!

Chhokar is former professor, dean, and director in-charge of IIM, Ahmedabad, and a
founding member of Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch.

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    This blog contains Jagdeep S. Chhokar’s views, opinions, and comments on variety of issues.

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