A large section of the people’s representatives and some of the regulators are so steeped in corruption that we urgently need a strong, independent, effective Lokpal that can investigate and punish speedily. The Jan Lokpal proposed by Team Anna Hazare meets these requirements. Corruption may not vanish, but at least it will become a very risky business
It seems like the entire world is undergoing winds of change. First, the United States-the unchallenged superpower-was thrashed by the financial crisis in 2008 and the resultant economic downturn, and only recently lost its prestigious AAA global credit rating, triggering fresh shock waves through world economies. That situation is more than matched by India which has seen rising inflation, rampant corruption, inefficient administration, terrorism and a Maoist insurgency that is pushing people's patience to the limit. Thanks to the inroads made by telecom technology, the general awareness and aspirations among common people all over the world have expanded exponentially. People are now asserting themselves more vigorously, particularly in developing countries, to make governments responsive and people-friendly. The uprisings in North Africa and West Asia, where angry protests has seen corrupt and callous regimes toppled, must serve as a warning for us in India.
Ironically, India's healthy growth story in the private sector is in sharp contrast to the falling standards of probity and accountability in governance. In the 'Corruption Perception Index 2011', compiled by Transparency International, India scored a poor 2.7 out of 10, which is worse than the scores of even Honduras, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. In fact, the score is a huge dip from the 3.3 in the previous year. India not only tops the list of nations with tonnes of black money stashed in Swiss banks, but its cache of black money there ($1,546 billion) is far more than the combined total of the next four countries in the list of black money creators, namely Russia, the UK, Ukraine and China ($1,056 billion) as reported in The Times of India (Ahmedabad), on 8 June 2011.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India in 1928, "Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it; and the public can, as its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinise their conduct, as it likes.' Do our leaders think like this today?
Of late, there has been a qualitative decline in our political discourse and debate in and outside parliament. Whenever cornered by logic and fair argument, politicians lack the capacity to absorb criticism and accept a point; and what is worse, they do not hesitate in turning abusive and raking up irrelevant details from the past, in no-holds-barred mudslinging. The virtue of magnanimity and tolerance has disappeared from the political scene. There is an increasing breed of leaders today whom people know more for abusive language and arrogance, rather than their contribution to the public good in any sector. They are like the mischievous hockey coach who taught his players, "hit the opponent if you can't reach the ball".
The first batch of Indian parliamentarians considered the Lok Sabha subordinate to the People of India, for, it was "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved … and do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution." The Constitution of India subordinates the government (the executive) to the parliament, which in turn is and will always remain subordinate to the people of India on whose mandate it runs the affairs of the state. It is the people's aspirations that must be respected by their representatives-the members of parliament-while enacting laws in parliament. But having tasted blood in an increasingly corrupt environment where election to parliament too can be traded for cash, it is logical for politicians to behave in such an irresponsible and arrogant manner because they 'paid' to get elected and the people have no right to demand more from them! This drift in public morality has added to the malaise.
It is an insult to every proud Indian that nearly a third of our elected representatives in the Lok Sabha (162, plus latter additions A Raja, Kanimozhi, Suresh Kalmadi, and more to come) face criminal charges (ranging from trespassing to murder). This is a more than 27% increase over the record of the previous Lok Sabha. Nine ministers in the central cabinet face criminal charges, including one for 'theft'.
According to National Election Watch, 76 members of parliament (MPs) are involved in serious criminal cases. We are inching towards a situation when criminals will have the majority and form a government of their choice too! In times of coalition governments, if Madhu Koda could become chief minister of Jharkhand, on the strength of being a lone independent MLA at the time, this sitting MP who is attending the Lok Sabha session from Tihar Jail, could well become the prime minister too. Then why should they vote for a strong, independent and effective Lokpal?
The appearances that our leaders put on while answering questions on television, betray their insincerity and smugness towards issues vital to the nation. There is an obvious disconnect between the people and the government and the drift is taking them far apart. It is a dangerous trend and calls for immediate change in the way our political masters think.
Now, union ministers P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal are redefining 'democracy', calling Anna Hazare's peaceful hunger protest "undemocratic". The Constitution, on the contrary, bestows upon every citizen a fundamental right "to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association or union, movement…" The government's attitude towards Anna Hazare's peaceful hunger protest-cum-rally is ominously similar to how Hosni Mubarak chose to deal with the Egyptian people when they protested peacefully in Cairo's Tahrir Square in January.
Police brutalities range from uncalled for lathi-charge on crowds of sleeping women and children at Ramlila Maidan to trigger-happy cops shooting and killing unarmed, innocent kisans protesting peacefully against injustice in Bhatta Parsaul in Uttar Pradesh and over the Pune-Mumbai Expressway in Maharashtra. These incidents bear a grim resemblance to what Muammar Gaddafi's forces did in Tripoli when people rallied against a corrupt and callous regime. Activists and journalists who voiced public disgust and suffering were hounded, and either put in jail or killed, leading people to take to arms that turned into a bloody civil war.
While Anna Hazare's peaceful pleadings have been spurned and ridiculed by senior Congress functionaries, including cabinet ministers, there exists a plethora of evidence to show how our political parties have been holding unruly rallies, demonstrations and bandhs with scant regard for law and order and public convenience. In fact, almost always, the government has bowed readily to violent mobs on the rampage.
Many of India's political leaders have risen through riots and have no idea about Satyagraha, a higher, nobler form of protest. The message is clear: the government yields to threats and violence more readily. Shiv Sainiks have been deftly employing such tactics in Mumbai every now and then. In Delhi, even a Congress workers rally blocks traffic and causes a public nuisance, ignoring the rules and permits which Team Anna is being taught to seek today. Now, it is easy to understand how insurgencies are aided by governmental apathy and stubbornness.
Of course, there were differences while drafting a joint Lokpal Bill that could not be resolved in the joint drafting committee formed by the government. Both sides finally presented their own drafts. In all fairness, the government should have placed both the drafts on the table of the House for an open debate. Withholding the draft Jan Lokpal Bill and the deliberations of the joint drafting committee from parliament and the people, appears inappropriate and unjustified and makes a mockery of the decisions taken by the government at the highest level.
Law is above you
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi faced serious corruption allegations in the Bofors case, until then the worst in the scale of corruption. Prime minister Narasimha Rao also faced allegations of corruption in the JMM votes-for-cash case. Preventing the Lokpal from looking into such cases will in no way enhance the prestige of the high office of the prime minister. In fact placing himself for scrutiny by the Lokpal will only go to serve as the highest example of our faith in the basic principle of jurisprudence, "Be you ever-so high, the law is above you."
And why not bring the higher judiciary under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal too? On 17 August 2011, the Rajya Sabha is set to take up the case of the impeachment of a sitting High Court judge, Justice Saumitra Sen. Another judge in the higher judiciary, PD Dinakaran, chief justice of Sikkim High Court, has resigned after he failed to stymie the pre-impeachment inquiry by a duly constituted inquiry panel.
There have been allegations of impropriety on credible evidence involving judges in the lower as well as the higher judiciary, including chief justices of the honourable apex court. Former chief justice KG Balakrishnan's name is remembered for the wrong reasons rather than his uprightness as an honourable judge. The list of corrupt judges taking bribes, seeking undue favours and going to the extent of misappropriating provident fund deposits of junior employees is increasing by the day.
Failure of regulatory institutions
The various sectoral regulatory bodies have failed to deliver due to vested interests that have helped foster a fraternity between corrupt officials and investigators.
Even after the arrest of Dr. Ketan Desai, former president of the Medical Council of India (MCI), corruption at the MCI is continuing unabated. According to union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, 80 cases of corruption against officials of MCI and various medical institutions were being probed till May this year. No wonder human organs are being traded illegally and poor patients continue to suffer and die for want of medical care.
Similarly, people were shocked by the revelations about fake pilots (not one or two, but many) flying unsuspecting passengers, although the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) monitors and controls the standards of flying safety and certification.
The appointment of persons with questionable integrity to head institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission (the PJ Thomas case) has seriously marred the credibility of such institutions in whatever their limited sphere of functioning. The Enforcement Directorate functions under the Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance and therefore remains a hand-held tool for undertaking only specific cases assigned to it by the ministry. States also have anti-corruption bureaus, but corruption in states is increasing with some highly-placed beneficiaries continuing to reap gains with fearless arrogance, like we have seen in Mumbai, Delhi and recently in Karnataka.
Thankfully, a few institutions like the Lok Ayuktas (in Karnataka and Delhi) and the Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG) have performed laudably in their bid to instil some fear and caution against corruption. What does this prove? This is strong evidence that India is in dire need of a strong, independent and effective Lokpal with enough powers to investigate and punish speedily in a specified timeframe. The Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by Team Anna Hazare meets these requirements which, if enacted into law, will change the way government offices function. They will have to be responsive, efficient and people-friendly-an environment where the corrupt will have much to fear about. No doubt, corruption may not vanish-yet it could well become a very risky business. Why is the government scared? Is it the premonitions of losing a lucrative business?
(The writer is a military veteran who commanded an Infantry battalion with many successes in counter-terrorist operations. He was also actively involved in numerous high-risk operations as second in command of the elite 51 Special Action Group of the National Security Guard (NSG.) He conducts leadership training and is the author of two bestsellers on leadership development that have also been translated into foreign languages).
"The government has bowed down. We will have to be prepared to go to JP Park in a peaceful manner," Swami Agnivesh said
New Delhi: The standoff in Tihar Jail likely to be over with Anna Hazare set to come out of the prison after a night-long protest demanding that he be allowed to launch his indefinite strike from a venue of his choice in the capital, reports PTI.
Mr Hazare, who was ordered to be released last night after a day-long detention before he was to begin his fast demanding strong Lokpal, had refused to come out of the prison unless he was allowed to protest from JP Park without conditions.
Activists Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh announced to the hundreds of supporters waiting since last night that the 73-year-old Gandhian was about to come out of the prison anytime now.
"The government has bowed down. We will have to be prepared to go to JP Park in a peaceful manner," Swami Agnivesh said.
The sector fund has been launched when the apex bank has been hiking interest rates, and banks are facing some tough times. Again, there are already six existing banking & financial sector funds. Why should an investor go in for a new offering?
After Taurus Mutual Fund launched its Banking and Financial Services Fund, Pramerica Mutual Fund has filed an offer document with SEBI (the Securities and Exchange Board of India) to launch its Pramerica Banking & Financial Services Fund, an open-ended sectoral equity fund. The fund will mainly invest in stocks of banking and financial services companies. The exit load charge will be 1% if the units are redeemed/switched-out on or before one year. Should you consider investing in it?
Sector funds' performance is linked to the fortunes of a sector. If the sector is doing really well, they outperform the market for that period. The contrary too holds true. The banking sector performs well when there is an overall growth in the economy and interest rates are low. Economic growth results in an increase in corporate credit offtake. Also, the retail loan segment does well in a growing economy as people tend to borrow more to finance their homes, cars and so on. But the stocks of this sector also suffer when the Reserve Bank of India's policies end up pushing interest rates higher and this slows down banks' business. The CNX Bank Nifty index has given a compounded return of 16% in the past 5 years. But this was during a period of low interest rates. Interest rates are rising now against the backdrop of a slowing economy-which is bad for the profits of banks and financial services companies.
Remember also that sectors move in cycles. There was a time when the infrastructure sector was hot. It has become one of the worst-performing sectors now.
For lay investors, a diversified equity mutual fund is more suitable. These funds will typically have some exposure to all sectors, especially the ones that are doing well on the stock market. If someone is hell-bent on buying a banking and financial services sector fund, he already has a variety of funds offering this particular sector fund. Then why would he go for a new fund company? Remember, the existing fund houses would give them a past record to compare. There are six banking and financial sector funds. Their average one-year and three-year returns are -6% and 22% respectively-while their benchmark CNX Bank Nifty gave a return of -14% and 19% in one and three years, respectively.
The scheme will invest 65% to 100% of assets in equity and equity-related securities (including equity derivatives & IDRs, or Indian Depository Receipts) of companies engaged in the banking and financial services sector with a high risk profile. Up to 35% of assets would be allocated in equity and equity related securities (including equity derivatives) of companies wherein, a part of their operations would be leveraged to the banking and financial services sector with high risk profile. Up to 35% of assets would be allocated in debt and money market securities with low to medium risk profile.
The scheme will be jointly managed by Mahendra Jajoo and Ravi Gopalakrishnan. The scheme's performance will be benchmarked against the BSE Bankex Index.