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Pvt Coaching Centres: GOVT MUST HALT UNHOLY NEXUS, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 3 August 2022 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 3 August 2022 

Pvt Coaching Centres

GOVT MUST HALT UNHOLY NEXUS

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education has recently recommended to the government to curb the growing unholy nexus between colleges and coaching centres, a trend academics attribute to centralised entrance tests. The Committee highlighted other challenges with higher education such as cheating in examinations, leakage of question papers and student-examiner connivance, which too need the government’s urgent attention.

In its report, it has referred to the “disturbing trend of many colleges associating with coaching centres to prepare their enrolled students in certain cities, making the learning process a farce through this unholy nexus”. The committee recommended that the government develop a mechanism to curb this trend and derecognise the institutions involved. It also suggested the ‘establishment of a study group to assess the ground realities.’

The report also stated that certain State and deemed universities and local colleges are engaged in a tough competition to attract students and has asked the government to bring a halt to it. This practice, said the report, has led not just to crass confusion but a feeling of being cheated amongst the students and their guardians.” Experts are of the opinion that students are no longer interested in serious study and attending classes regularly and instead are interested to get admitted into ‘dummy’ schools that collaborate with coaching centres to receive suggestions and/or question papers. The House panel underlined that question paper leaks, student-examiner collaboration were vitiating the examination process in many State universities.

Going deeper into the matter, it is quite discernible that the very motive of coaching institutes or coaching centres has only promoted ‘commercialisation of education’ in the country. It is well-known that students need to cough up huge amount of money in the form of fees to get into such institutes. At the same time, whether the student can pay such a huge fee is of no concern to those who are at the helm of affairs in such institutes. In this way, money motive guides such institutes in its day-to-day affairs. Education, which is considered to be a right of every individual, has unfortunately turned out to be a commercial product. In such a scenario, imparting education is in the grip of commercial coaching centres thereby, making a mockery of the very divine nature of attainment of education insofar as India is concerned.

With the commercialisation of education, it has been seen that such coaching centres are mostly located in the vicinity of government aided educational institutes. This lures both the teachers and the pupils/students of such educational institutes to turn to these coaching institutes instead of developing their own educational institutes. There are hoardings/banners of the coaching classes near schools and colleges. In the long run, such commercialisation instigates both the teacher-student combine to coaching classes. Coaching it could be said has become an addiction and the spread of qualitative education an eventual casualty.

Presently, situation has come to such a pass that, in most cases, class rooms in the educational institutes, mostly government, are empty as the pupils/students are busy in house-packed coaching institutes. In some coaching classes, the number of pupils/students is even more then the regular classes of schools or colleges. Experts believe that in such coaching classes there is little scope for doubt clearing and personal attention and emphasis is paid on to rush through  various academic syllabus, within deadline.

The mushrooming of coaching centres is a fast-track mechanism invented to earn a fast buck and thus there are ills associated with it. First, it is advertently or inadvertently deviating students from their normal procedure of studies by inculcating the habit of studying for few weeks as they are promised success in exams through ‘shortcut coaching.’Second, many below average students avoid making the effort to make up on their learning process by attending regular classrooms only.

The astute teachers, finding anopportunity to exploit and make a buck, run or teach in private shops or tuition centres at their homes or big coaching institutes, influence students they would be provided with ready-made notes and suggestions which they have to memorise or rote learning for the exams. This is blocking the independent thinking abilities of the students in different perspectives as they concentrate solely on the written notes sold & supplied to them.

Thirdly, teachers too get enticed and deviate from their basic paid responsibilities of teaching and training students in schools and colleges. Most of these teachers do not take the pains to teach properly in their institutions and may also not be punctual in their attendance. Clearly, their attention is diverted to the coaching centres where they spend time teaching and earning extra money. Thus private coaching centres do roaring business by turning normal dedicated honest teachers to wealthy elite ‘educationists’.  These so-called ‘elite-teachers’ have converted education into a purely commercial activity that is harming our society.

The upper echelons of society find it a lucrative business to invest in this booming sector where they spend money on infrastructure, quality teachers and aggressive marketing with sole objective of reaping enormous returns on the one-time investment, like true businessmen. Through a specially crafted network, they get the best teachers who are used to attract students to the coaching centres. The urge of the rich and middle class as also a section of the lower income groups send their wards to coaching centres in the hope that their children will get more marks and qualify for a medical, engineering or pure science seat in a reputed institution. 

Educationists have expressed concern over the lack of regulations in the coaching industry. It has been stated that while there are umpteen regulations that govern schools like classroom size, teacher-student ratio and teacher qualification, there is nothing set for a coaching centre. In fact, in response to a RTI, the CBSE admitted that it had no jurisdiction over coaching centres or ‘dummy schools’ as it had no jurisdiction over these. It needs to be mentioned here that schools have found a way to survive by running collaborations with prominent coaching institutes.

Coaching may be necessary for students after Class X but the recent trend and the unholy nexus between certain schools and coaching centres does not augur well for advancement of education and knowledge. The tendency to get notes and suggestions from these centres does not ultimately help students in their careers. Therefore, it is critical that the government strictly ensure that in all classes, the stipulated syllabus be completed to the satisfaction of students. Only then the importance of private coaching centres may come down.  

More importantly, the Government must study the Parliamentary committees report thoroughly and act upon it. For it is the educated youth which is to take the future of the country forward.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

ED On Rampage: ‘POWER’ OF CORRUPTION, By Poonam I Kaushish, 2 August 2022 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 2 August 2022

ED On Rampage

‘POWER’ OF CORRUPTION

By Poonam I Kaushish

When does money become dirt? When it begins to stick. As the Parthagate corruption saga explodes on the political firmament, it has come to haunt and taunt West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata’s TMC. Over 51 crores cash, jewellery, documents of innumerable properties tumbled out from Minister Partha Chatterjee and aide’s apartments in the school recruitment process. Big deal! In a country where political morality is non-existent, what corruption are we taking out?

Followed by Shiv Sena Sanjay Raut’s arrest by Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in a land scam case. Next three Jharkhand Congress MLAs were caught by West Bengal police with large amounts of cash in their vehicle. Earlier, Chief Minister Soren’s lawyer and aide were arrested by ED in a mining lease case and AAP Minister Satinder Jain for laundering money through four companies. Further besmirching the sleazy waters is Congress’s prima donna Sonia and son Rahul in the National Herald case.  

True these revelations are nothing new and just a tip of the iceberg of the amount of unaccounted wealth that pervades the working of our democracy. All Parties know this. Aren’t we accustomed to an immoral, corrupt and unaccountable polity who could stoop to anything for paisa. Loot, bribe and deals have become the bedrock of our system with none interested in reforming it. Wherein a ghotala of a few thousands crores is not worth feeding the chara of morality. Shrugged as one of the “unlisted” perks of their job.

With the Supreme Court giving its seal of approval to PMLA the ED which was dreaded has now been further empowered. Over 3,555 cases (65%) are registered since 2014 compared to just 112 in 2004. ED  filed charge-sheets in 888 cases resulting in just 23 convictions and attached Rs 99,356 crores under  PMLA as  crime proceeds compared to Rs 5,346 crores in 2004-05 and 2013-14 during UPA Government.

Predictably, Opposition accuses Government of painting them black. They have a point. Recall, earlier this year before elections ED raided then Punjab Congress Chief Minister Channi’s close relative and found Rs 8 crores as also Samajwadi Chief Akhilesh’s aides prior to UP Assembly elections, in 2021 ditto in West Bengal wherein 14 Mamata associates were targeted and again in Tamil Nadu when some DMK leaders were investigated pre-elections.

Asserted a senior Congress leaders, “The ED conveniently suffers from a bad bout of amnesia and is highly selective. Remember, ED and CBI interrogated TMC’s Suvendu Adhikari in Saradha scam in 2014-17 but after joining BJP in 2020 he has not been interrogated, and is now Opposition Leader in West Bengal.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Sarma was target by BJP in Guwahati’s water supply scam but after joining the Party cases were put in thanda baksa as also in Maharashtra ex-Chief Minister Narayan Rane PMLA cases once he switched to BJP and anointed MP. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chauhan was cleared in Vyapam scam 2017.  BJP’s Yediyurappa became Karnataka Chief Minister 2019 despite graft and land scams.”

Perhaps ED is acting primarily against Opposition politicians, but in whichever case it has started proceedings a lot of financial skulduggery has been unearthed. Though its conviction is under 1% does it mean we should let the corrupt go unchallenged? This raises disturbing questions: It does not strike any chord among leaders who have reduced graft to a farcical political pantomime. There is no sense of outrage or shame.

Can one compromise on corruption? Does politics force an indulgence on issues of governance and probity? Is this part of political dharma? Whereby politics has everything to do with acceptability, little with credibility and public life is all compromises, not principles dripping morality sermons but not practicing it.

In a milieu where graft and sleaze is India’s creepy-crawly Osama bin Laden which permeates the very core of daily Government functioning ensnaring the country in its vicious tentacles, the temptation to make money is always great, indeed irresistible. In the political brothel of corruption, one may not begrudge our netagan from making money, ostensibly for Party funds or feathering his own nest. That is the prevailing culture.

Either which way, Parthagate exposes our leaders hypocrisy. As long as a leader is part of the Establishment, all wink at his misdemeanors. Bringing to the fore striking immoral aspects of governance whereby, an honest person is perceived as one who does not get caught. Shockingly, 34 of 78 Central Ministers have declared corruption and criminal cases against them according to Association of Democratic Reforms, notwithstanding, Prime Minister Modi preening about ending corruption.

Besides, it underscores the inequity in our system. While a   petty thief languishes in jail for years and a junior babu caught for accepting a princely bribe of Rs.1000 is immediately suspended, a leader who ‘transacts’ crores invariably goes scot free.  On the facetious plea that there is “not sufficient evidence,” or is “innocent till proven guilty,” “law will take its own course,” or hide behind the smokescreen of “electorate’s verdict” to escape punishment by manipulating the system.

Accentuated by Supreme Court in 2018 whereby MPs and MLAs income and assets grew over 500% to 1200% between two polls 2009-2014 as reflected in their election affidavits, a sure sign of misuse of offices. That too being unemployed! Indisputably nothing costs a nation more than a cheap politician.   

Not a few assert that the cost of corruption to the country might exceed Rs. 350,000 crores. Leading even Supreme Court to lament and express concern over growing corruption in Government machinery. Said an anguished Bench recently, “nothing moves without money.”

Sadly, our polity fail to realise that corruption not only perpetuates poverty but makes the poor poorer. Think. Sleaze erodes and cripples the capacity of the State to provide the aam aadmi roti, kapada aur makaan forget bijli, sadak aur paani. What worries one is political malfeasance and assiduous cultivation of low morality for a place in high political society.

As India aspires to sit at the high-table of nations, it needs assertive corrective action that goes to the depth of deep-rooted corruption followed by appropriate remedial measures like urgent reforms in electoral and political financing to prevent an encore.

Importantly, Governments are custodians of public trust and interest. The nation and people are first -- way above selfish and narrow political interests. What the people ultimately want is transparency and accountability. Alas, this has so far been only preached ad nauseum but seldom practiced.

Clearly, Parthagate and Raut narrative should make our netagan do a double-take. We must  devise a political mechanism instead of replacing one corrupt Tweedledum with another corrupt Tweedledee. The challenge lies in overhauling our system of governance. There should be no scope for any lingering doubt or suspicion that politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel! ------ INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

Malaria Comeback: REQUIRES $80 BILLION FUNDING, By Shivaji Sarkar, 1 August 2022 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 1 August 2022

Malaria Comeback

REQUIRES $80 BILLION FUNDING

By Shivaji Sarkar

Dreaded malaria can make a comeback amid global warming-heavy rains and needs three times more allocations a year. India suffers a severe economic hardship, wage and production loss as it accounts for 83 per cent of malaria cases and 82 per cent deaths in South-East Asia regions in 2021, says the World Health Organisation.

The South East Asia region has 4.2 million cases and 7341 deaths. Climate change and warming can accentuate the problem, according to Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Economist of WHO amid global commitment to eliminate malaria by 2030.

Annually India spends about $1.94 billion on malaria or over Rs 11000 crore, according to an estimate in 2017 by Indrani Gupta and Samik Chaudhury of Ambedkar University. But it may have to increase allocations as the WHO finds that its own estimates needs at least three times rise a year. Meeting global targets need robust funding. According to the WHO report, current funding levels (estimated at US$3.3 billion in 2020) will need to more than triple, reaching US$ 10.3 billion per year - $ 80.24 billion by 2030, target date for elimination of the disease. Malaria can strain national economies, impacting some nations’ gross domestic product by as much as an estimated 5–6 per cent. It includes 75 per cent losses on productivity/wages and the rest on treating the disease, says Gupta.

The WHO funding raise is important as it targets malaria elimination by 2030. India has also committed to it. It needs enormous budgetary allocation, a severe strain for a government under financial constraint. It is said that malaria is manageable and controllable. The 15th Finance Commission recommends unconditional grants of Rs 1 lakh crore for the health sector for five years and told the States to spend 8 per cent of their budget on health. The Economic Survey 2020-21 says that out of pocket expenses by households on health is one of the highest in the world more so if treated in private sector.

Mumbai warns of malaria spread as in June 2022 itself it detected 57 cases and 119 cases in the first week of July. Assam has recently issued a warning on vector borne diseases as 74 encephalitis cases have been detected. North-East has very high incidence and malaria related anaemia. Similarly, Delhi reports detection of 126 dengue cases in June itself but is silent on malaria. In western Uttar Pradesh, medical officer Dr Avanindra Kumar issues alert and creates special malaria-dengue wards at 10 primary health centres early July. Rajasthan has heavy rains this year. The incidence of malaria in 2021 had increased marginally to 649 cases from 449 cases in 2020 and dengue case 1022 cases from 717 cases foods.

The Union Health Ministry says despite powerful drugs to treat malaria, the last two years of covid pandemic has thrown up challenges for diagnosing malaria. Several symptoms are so common and adds, “it has become harder for medical professionals to discern from initial symptoms leading to misdiagnosis or worse no diagnosis”. No wonder that there remains a gap between Indian national data and that of the WHO.

Various data and information from Purulia, Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, Kheda in Gujarat and WHO may be an indicator of the losses because of the vector-borne disease. New data from the WHO reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted malaria services, leading to a marked increase in cases and deaths. According to its latest World Malaria Report 2021, there were estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020. This represents about 14 million more cases in 2020 compared to 2019, and 69,000 more deaths. Approximately two-thirds of these additional deaths (47000) were linked to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.

Malaria cases and deaths remain unacceptably high and are resurgent in several settings, though recent developments inspire optimism. The report also states between 2.7 and 5.9 million cases for India in 2020, whereas the official data records about 187,000 cases. Director of Malaria No More, Pratik Kumar, says that one of the reasons for disparity remains malaria burden diverted to the private health sector, which now are catering to a large segment of healthcare facilities. The disparity is also noticed in the numbers, 10.9 lakh malaria cases reported in 2016 while the sales of anti-malaria drugs were ten times more. Acknowledging the factor Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has asked private healthcare facilities to report such incidence.

Despite gains over the last 15 years, malaria control has stagnated, with resurgence and rising morbidity in several highly endemic countries exacerbated by service disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, says a study ‘Malaria in 2022: Increasing challenges, cautious optimism’ by Prasanna Jagannathan & Abel Kakuru in Nature Communications.

Indrani Gupta notes that an analysis of the trend and patterns in public expenditure by the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme shows a declining focus of the central government on vector-borne diseases. Also, allocation of financial resources among States does not reflect the burden of malaria, the major vector-borne disease in the country.

Data reporting in public domain seems to be less during the past few years. It is stated that since larger numbers are treated in private hospitals and clinics data prospecting has suffered. “The fight against malaria has recorded immense progress in the recent years. However, as seen in the past, malaria has a history of bouncing back with a vengeance. Through active media attention, key gaps and issues can be regularly highlighted, ensuring that those are addressed in strategic and policy decisions. This will help India expedite efforts towards malaria elimination,” says Kirti Mishra, chief technical officer, Odisha, Malaria No More.

The 2020 report of the WHO Strategy Advisory Group on malaria eradication has looked at this in detail and does provide useful information, especially with respect to malaria transmission and the vulnerability of populations to malaria as 95 per cent of Indians live in malaria-prone areas.

Chief Economist of WHO, Soumya Swaminathan says, the basic WHO position is that climate change is likely to increase rather than decrease the risk of malaria transmission. The WHO is testing genetical modification of mosquitoes to counter malaria but warns that India should not use it as field trials are several years away.

Malaria manifests in several forms and often goes unreported due to misattribution. Committing to eliminate it by 2030 after a 70-year crusade is not easy, and the world may have to wait for some more years.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

West Bengal Scandal: SETBACK FOR DIDI, TMC, By Insaf, 30 July 2022 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 30 July 2022

West Bengal Scandal

SETBACK FOR DIDI, TMC

By Insaf

 

 West Bengal’s fiery Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is caught on the backfoot. Despite putting up a strong front, her and TMC’s image has taken a severe beating in the School Service Commission jobs scam, with the ED having seized nearly Rs 50 crores of cash and Rs 5 crores of jewellery apart from foreign currency between Partha Chatterjee and his ‘aide’ Arpita Mukherjee. Pushed into damage control after 5 days, in a meeting on disciplinary affairs, the party on Thursday last, finally sacked Partha as Cabinet minister, party Secretary-General, national working committee member and Vice-President, Editor, party mouthpiece Jago Banglaand suspended him from TMC‘till the probe continues’. Diditook charge of his portfolios -- commerce & industries, IT, parliamentary affairs and public enterprises, till a ‘new Cabinet’.

 

Right reaction, but wrong clarification by the party: “We want to know the source of this huge amount of black money…If anyone betrays the people or uses our party platform in self-interest to create a mechanism of making money, the party will not support him. We also demand the strongest punishment of the accused in corruption matters.” Surely, people are not fools or naïve. Is it possible the supremo wasn’t aware of her heavyweight colleague making a huge buck? Was it his booty or for the TMC, as is the case with political parties? The BJP, like others would know. For its state leader said: Partha ‘was made a scapegoat. He can’t mastermind the scam alone. The entire government is involved. We want CM’s resignation…” Not happening. But will the Bengal tigress’ fangs get blunted, will Didi too fall in line?

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Awry One Year

Is there more than meets the eye in Karnataka? Chief Minister Bommai decided to cancel celebrations to mark his government’s one year in office on Thursday last. A mega rally ‘Janotsava’ to mark 3 years of BJP rule was too cancelled. The reasoning: the  murder of a youth party activist in Dakshina Kannada district two day ago. Was it his conscience or that Bommai doesn’t have much to offer during his stewardship? It’s no secret of him being beleaguered by uncertainty over his kursi. Maintaining communal harmony has been a tall order for him; there’s a ‘sense of indecisiveness,’ with him wary of taking any decisions on governance without consultations with party leadership; he hasn’t been able to induct a full Cabinet, despite many trips to Delhi; there are complaints of large number of files pending clearances; he’s promoting Hindutva but doing precious little on attacks on Dalits, minorities etc; he has backtracked on changes made in school textbooks following protests; High Court has scathing observations on probe in high-profile corruption cases viz IAS/IPS officers, et al. The Opposition has labelled the cancelled celebrations as a “Bhrasht Utsav (festival of corruption)”. Despite all, Bommai has continued as he has kept the party and RSS leadership ‘in good humour.’Will he lead the party in 2023, will be a nagging question alright.

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Meghalaya Sex Racket

The BJP in Meghalaya is red in the face. Its Vice President Bernard N Marak, accused of running a sex racket at his farmhouse in Tura, West Garo Hills,was arrested on Tuesday last from Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, following a lookout notice. A former militant leader, Marak went into hiding after a police raid on the premises‘Rimpu Bagan’, during the weekend, where 73 people were arrested, six minors (four boys and 2 girls)rescued and hundreds of liquor bottles and condoms, besides dozens of cars seized!Marakwho faces charges under sections of IPC and Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, and has over 25 criminal cases against him since early 2000s across the State, claims he is ‘innocent’ and alleges it’s ‘political vendetta’ by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma, heading the ruling MeghalayaDemocratic Alliance and fears for his life. The state BJP is backing his claim. However, the government has rejected the  allegations and left it to law to takes its own course. Predictably, tension between the ruling alliance is coming out in the open. How serious only time will tell. A court issuing non-bailable warrant against Marak, aids the NPP partner. BJP can continue crying hoarse. 

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Onus On Kejriwal

The ball is clearly in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s court. On Wednesday last, he  may have heaved a sigh of relief with a court order but the onus on him should be more weighing. Dismissing a petition to suspend Delhi minister Satyendar Jain from the Cabinet following his arrest since May 30 in a money laundering case, a two-judge bench of Delhi High Court said it’s for the CMto act in the best interest of the state and to consider whether a person with a criminal background should be allowed to continue as a minister or not.It held it’s ‘not for the court to either direct the Governor or Chief Minister’ for removing a person having committed a breach of oath, but only a duty ‘to remind these key duty holders about their role to preserve, protect and promote the ethos and uphold the Constitution’s tenets.’ The court even quoted Ambedkar’s statement: “…however, good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The Constitution’s working doesn’t depend wholly upon its nature.” So will Kejriwal be guided by constitutional principles and set another example of Delhi’s model governance? 

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Gujarat A Dry State?

Gujarat’s hooch tragedy, which has claimed 42 lives so far, clearly reveals chinks in the armour of the dry State. Nearly 97 people are still admitted in hospitals in Bhavnagar, Botad and Ahmedabad, where the spurious illicit liquor was sold. Primary investigations by police have revealed that some small-time bootleggers of different villages of Botad district had made spurious liquor by mixing water with methyl alcohol or Methanol, a highly poisonous industrial solvent, and sold it to villagers for Rs 20 per pouch. The Minister of State for Home said on Thursday last,police officials stand suspended; trial to be held in a fast-track court; control over production and sale of methyl alcohol is to be tightened, an inquiry to be conducted and report will be submitted within 3 days. Same old response but is the policy of a dry State being honestly pursued? The Congress asks: ruling forces are giving protection to the “mafias”of spurious liquor and drugs. A BJP leader has an interesting formula: “Those contesting polls should stop distributing alcohol during elections. If 182 MLAs decide, not a single drop of illegal liquor will be in the market…Instead of writing letters, MLAs with locals support should conduct Janta Raid on liquor dens-- a regular exercise, not symbolic.” A former Home Minister does one better: “No stringent law can enforce total prohibition, it’s better if quality liquor is provided…If you want to consume alcohol, have a quality one just like the milk supplied by cooperative milk dairies, and the government should make it available likewise”. Any takers? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

29 July 2022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMBATING POLITICAL CORRUPTION , By Inder Jit, 28 July 2022 Print E-mail

REWIND

New Delhi, 28 July 2022

COMBATING POLITICAL CORRUPTION

By Inder Jit

(Published on 21 January 1986)

Political corruption has been spotlighted again --- this time in the Prime Minister’s interview to the Illustrated Weekly and earlier in conference of Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers in New Delhi from January 6 to 8. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi has been speaking emphatically about fighting corruption ever since he took over as Prime Minister. He spoke on the subject at the Congress Centenary Celebrations and underlined the need to clean up the system of ‘brokers of power and influence". Asked by the Bombay weekly about his Government’s achievements, he candidly stated among other things; “Perhaps, the most difficult part has been the anti-corruption action plan where we’ve not made the sort of headway we wanted to”. Pointedly queried about steps taken against corrupt politicians, Mr. Gandhi replied: “The unfortunate thing is that where the politicians are involved, every complaint is politicized. Both ways (Congressmen and Opposition people). Highly exaggerated, on one hand. Discounted, on the other. Or both. And that way it’s very difficult to pinpoint and take hard action against them.’

The Prime Minister, however, hastened to clarify that it was not as though no action had been taken. He said: “What we have done, instead, is wherever we get continuing reports or I get the feeling that things are not going well, then we move in and do something. I don’t necessarily say that so and so is corrupt and we are throwing him out. But we change him. We get him out.” He also emphasised the correct position in democracy. Said he: “The ultimate responsibility of dealing with corruption in the political arena lies with the voters. The fact is that certain people even if they don’t have the best image, get solid support from the electorate, who must give the answer to political wheeling-dealing, corruption, whatever. Ultimately, that is where the buck is.” But Mr. Gandhi also has responsibility s Prime Minister. Much still needs to be done in the light of the Santhanam Committee’s report on Prevention of Corruption and wide experience elsewhere. In one sentence, corruption cannot be combated experience elsewhere. In one sentence, corruption cannot be combated unless it is tackled first among politicians, especially Ministers and MPs. Raiding industrialists and bureaucrats is not enough.

The Commonwealth Speakers Conference, which filed to get the media coverage it deserved, threw up several useful ides for combating corruption among Ministers and MPs on the opening day when it discussed “Declaration and Registration of Pecuniary Interests of Members”. Australia, according to Senator McClelland, President of its Senate, who opened the discussion, was today committed to a system of compulsory registration of interests of members of its Parliament. The Australian Labour Government, headed by Mr. Bob Hawke, had been formally and publicly committed to the principle for some years. In fact, when the Labour Party was voted to power in 1983, the new Prime Minister, in keeping with the policy enunciated earlier, tabled in Parliament statements by all the Ministers of their own pecuniary interests and those of their families. In October, 1984, the country’s House of Representatives adopted a new standing order, which established a Committee of Members’ Interests. This requires the registration of interests on a form to be determined by the Committee.

Of special interest was the contribution of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. Bernard Weatherill. The Commons, he said, had discussed the issue only last month. As far as could be readily traced, the Commons had “set its face against members using their position for personal gain, while upholding their constitutional right to represent without impediment their constituents and the country as a whole.” This balancing of the two principles had not always been easy. More recently, the concept of the right even of those in public life to privacy had entered the equation as had a great increase in professional lobbying (for large Government contracts) and in the number of members engaged in public relations and political consultancy. Nevertheless, a Member was expected “to have regard to his public position and the good name of Parliament in any work he undertook or interests he acquired --- and to be frank and open about his interests in his dealings with those who would be entitled to know about them.” This openness was secured by the Registration and Declaration of pecuniary interests, both being required of members by Resolution of the House.

Importantly, Mr. Weatherill pointed out that Declaration and Registration were two distinct matters. Complying with one did not absolve a member from performing the other. Declaration was required only in certain specific circumstances --- essentially when a Member was doing something relevant to an interest in his parliamentary capacity. The definition of interests in this context was wide. It could be present or future: direct or indirect. The duty to declare depended on the facts of the particular case and within the general concept of the standards which the House was entitled to expect from its Members. Registration of interests, on the other hand, was required of members within a month of their taking their seats and of changes in their interests within one month of the change occurring. The interests they were required to register were set out briefly in the Register under the following headings: (1) Directorships, (2) Employment or Office, (3) Trades or professions etc, (4) Clients, (5) Financial sponsorships, (6) Overseas trips, (7) Payments etc. from abroad (8) Land property, and (9) Declarable shareholdings.

Not only that. Following the establishment of the Register, the Commons appointed a continuing Select Committee on members’ interests. This Committee oversees the production of the Register, considers any formal complaints made in relations to the registering or declaring of interests and reports to the House, which of course, takes any final decision. (The present Parliament, according to Mr. Weatherill, has had only one complaint. This concerned the Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, in regard to the contracts in Oman in which her son was said to be involved. The Committee found that the complaint was, in fact, unfounded.) Importantly, the Committee has been charged by the House with keeping under review the present arrangements and considering whether any extension or change is desirable in the present scope of the Register and the requirement to declare interests. This consideration stems from “the increasing concern at the growth of parliamentary lobbying and not least about the risks of conflicts of interests where Members promote the views of outside bodies to whom they stand in a financial relationship.”

Limitation of space prevents me from referring to the contribution of the other nine Speakers. But suffice it to refer to two smaller Commonwealth countries: Malta and the Bahamas, the venue of the last CHOGM. In Malta, the Income-tax Act was amended in 1984 to remove all secrecy from income-tax returns and also to require the Commissioner of Inland Revenue to send to the Speaker the declarations made by all members of Parliament with regard to their incomes and capital assets. These declarations were then required to be laid on the table of the House. As Mr. Daniel Micaleff, Speaker of Malta, explained: “The intention behind this was to remove all doubts. This was something new in Malta. But it could be found also, for example, in Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom. It was felt that social honesty necessitated these disclosures, from which those who were honest had nothing to be afraid of… the people had to be convinced of the honesty of each member of Parliament.”

President Edwin L. Coleby of the Bahamas said that “in 1987 we passed legislation that those who are members of Parliament, or those who are aspiring to become members of Parliament must declare their interests. And, not only Parliamentarians, but also their spouses and dependent children. In Bahamas, like many other countries, we believe that whenever one becomes a member of Parliament he should declare his interests… We do have in the Commonwealth members entering Parliament as poor members and in the short time they become rich. This goes for many Commonwealth countries…. In fact, we have a Disclosure Commission where all members are supposed to declare their interests and various properties and whatever they have… If they fail, they face a penalty… We have also set up a Commission of Enquiry to go into charges against members. We do have honest and dishonest parliamentarians in the Commonwealth and we want to separate the honest ones from the dishonest ones….”

Any specific suggestion for our own country? The situation could be transformed dramatically by requiring the Prime Minister and his Ministerial colleagues at the Centre and the Chief Minister and his team in the States as also MPs and MLAs to declare their movable and immovable assets to Parliament and the State Assemblies respectively at the outset and annually thereafter. Benami assets will no doubt pose a problem. But this could be largely tackled by requiring the Ministers also to declare the assets of their sons, daughters and sons-in-law. Not a few are certain to protest and ask: “Why drag in the family members?” Actually, a couple of top Janata Ministers did so. But my answer to them was: “The country can do without such leaders.” True, Ministers at the Centre and in various states have been required for some years to furnish a list of their assets to the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister respectively. But this has at best served the political interest of the leader, not of the country. Significantly, the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr. Balram Jakhar, suggested a code of conduct for MPs at the Speakers’ Conference.

In the US, the President, the Vice-President and all executive personnel are required to make financial disclosures. (President Reagan’s national security adviser, Mr. Richard V. Allen was forced to resign in 1982 for having failed to disclose acceptance of three watches and receipt of an ‘honorarium’ of $1,000 from a Japanese magazine.) US Congressmen are also required to make financial disclosures and are guided by codes of conduct. Each of the two Houses has its select committee to investigate allegations of improper conduct. Punishment includes censure, reprimand and expulsion. In sharp contrast, the position in India is dismal. What is worse, the Lokpal Bill makes little attempt to mend matters. “The top has to be clean to make the lower levels clean” as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, Mr. U.C. Agarwal, told me some months back and added: “People at the top are somehow not keen on anti-corruption drives. Unless they themselves are clean, they cannot enforce discipline. Yudhishtar once said in Mahabharata: mahajano gatha sa pantha. The common people follow the great!---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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