A tale of two achievements: An open letter to Rahul Gandhi; Pubished in Dainik Jagran, December 21, 2013

Posted on December 22, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

A tale of two achievements: An open letter to Rahul Gandhi

Do uplabhdion ki daastaa — Published in Dainik Jagran, December 21, 2013

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

Dear Rahul Gandhi,

I am writing this letter to you as a citizen of India concerned with the political governance of the country. Two events that happened on two consecutive days, December 17 and 18 have prompted me to write to you. One of these obviously is the passage of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill 2011 on December 18. The other, which may be a bit hard to guess, it the submission of the 66th report of the Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice which was presented on December 17. The link between these two may not be obvious at first glance, so let me explain.


Speaking on the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha on December 18, you said that the members had an opportunity to do what their predecessors were unable to do for the past 45 years since the Bill was first tabled in 1968. You rightly termed the passage of the Lokpal Bill as a “big success”, and went on to say “But the Lokpal Bill alone is not adequate to fight corruption. We need a comprehensive anti-corruption code in this country. The UPA Government has developed a powerful anti-corruption framework consisting of eight new Central laws…Even after the passage of the Lokpal Bill, four of these laws still remain pending in the Lok Sabha and two in the Rajya Sabha. I believe it is our responsibility to complete our unfinished work in our fight against corruption. I believe it is the responsibility of the 15th Lok Sabha to consider and enact all six pending anti-corruption Bills before its term expires.”

All this sounded very nice and was correct too. But so was what you said before all that which was that the “RTI [Right to Information] was the UPA’s most important assault on corruption.”

Let me now share what is happening to “the UPA’s most important assault on corruption.”

“The UPA’s most important assault on corruption,” the RTI Act, came into force in 2005. For the last almost nine years, it has proved to be one of the most empowering pieces of legislation in the country’s history. Ordinary citizens have taken recourse to it for a variety of issues and problems, some personal, some societal, and in very many cases succeeded in holding public authorities to account moving away from the old mai-baap conception of public authorities that were imbibed during long colonial rule. Starting with some initial misgivings, the RTI Act has found a place of pride among citizens at large. The Indian RTI Act has also drawn well-deserved accolades in international circles.

On June 03, 2013, the highest competent statutory authority under the RTI Act, the Central Information Commission (CIC), came to a conclusion that based on the information placed before it, and after listening to the arguments of various parties including those who were opposed to the proposed action, six national political parties fulfilled the conditions laid down in the RTI Act which determine whether a particular entity is a “public authority” under the RTI Act or not. These conditions are laid down in the section of the Act, which defines a public authority. Accordingly, the CIC “held that AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.”

It was to undo the above decision of the highest competent statutory authority under the RTI Act that a Bill to amend the RTI Act was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 12, 2013. This Bill proposed to add a clause to the definition of a “public authority” in the RTI Act, which would specifically exempt all “registered and recognized” political parties from being “public authorities” under the RTI Act. Just to clarify why this was being done, the Bill also included a clause saying “It shall be deemed to have come into force on the 3rd day of June, 2013,” the date of the CIC’s decision.

The Lok Sabha, in its wisdom, did not pass the Bill but referred it to Parliamentary Standing Committee on the September 12, 2013 for examination and report. It is this Committee that submitted its report on December 17, just the day before the Lokpal Bill came up for discussion in the Lok Sabha. What has the Committee said?

The Committee is categorical in its recommendation: “The Committee considers that proposed amendment is a right step to address the issue once for all. Committee, therefore, recommends for passing of the Bill.”

The Committee has been fair enough in noting several infirmities in the proposed amendment that were brought to its notice. The foremost among these was the opinion of the Attorney General of India who is the highest constitutional law officer of the government who unambiguously said that the proposed amendment would not stand judicial scrutiny. The Committee chose to overlook the opinion of the Attorney General and decided to follow the opinion of the Secretary to the Law Ministry to the government of India.

It is now an established practice that if anyone is aggrieved by a decision of the CIC, the correct legal course of action is to go the High Court to challenge the CIC’s decision. There have been some cases where the High Courts and the Supreme Court have overturned the decisions of the CIC. The Committee does take note of this and dismisses this in para 18 of their report which reads “The Committee understands that none of the six political

parties, who happened to be respondent to CIC Order of 3rd June, 2013, challenged the order in the higher judiciary. That was an option with those political parties, which they did not exercise, as the instant case is a case of misinterpretation of a clear provision of law.”

The question arises that if it was a “case of misinterpretation of a clear provision of law”, why should an amendment of the law be necessary rather than getting the misinterpretation corrected following the due process of law?

Lastly, THE only non-political member of the Committee, a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, gave the lone note of dissent.

Let me conclude by pointing out that if the RTI Act is rendered meaningless by the proposed amendment, the sheen of the Lokpal will be lost. It does seem strange to blunt your “most important assault on corruption” just at the time you are claiming to launch a new one! I hope you will take appropriate action.

With best wishes,

Jagdeep S. Chhokar




Jagdeep S. Chhokar is a former professor, Dean, and Director In-charge of IIM, Ahmedabad. Views are personal.

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