Both petition special judge for exemption; Amar says he has undergone kidney transplant, while Sudheendra says he is away in the US. Two former members of parliament of the BJP present themselves before court, seek bail
New Delhi: Former Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani's former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni today failed to appear before a Delhi court that had summoned them for alleged involvement in the 2008 cash-for-votes scam. They are said to have moved the court of Special Judge Sangita Dhingra Sehgal, seeking exemption from personal appearance.
However, former BJP members of parliament Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Singh Bhagora appeared in court in the case and sought bail, reports PTI.
Mr Singh's lawyer sought exemption from personal appearance on medical grounds, whereas the advocate for Mr Kulkarni petitioned the court to be exempted as he is away in the US and that the court summons were not served on him.
Mr Singh's lawyer said he had undergone a kidney transplant recently and that he was suffering from various health problems, including kidney infection and high blood pressure. The court asked the lawyer to submit all the medical papers related to Mr Singh's medical condition.
When the lawyer sought two days to submit the medical papers to the court, the judge ordered him to submit them today itself.
The advocate for Mr Kulkarni assured the court that "Mr Kulkarni is in the US and he will appear in court within two weeks."
Meanwhile, the court scheduled the bail petitions of Mr Kulaste and Mr Bagora for hearing together with the petitions of two other accused, Sohail Hindustani and Amar Singh's aide Sanjeev Saxena, who have also been arrested. The hearing is scheduled for later today.
The court had issued summons to Amar Singh, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Mr Kulaste and Mr Bagora on a Delhi Police chargesheet that indicted them in the cash-for-votes scam.
The Delhi police has accused Mr Singh of conspiring with Saxena and others to bribe some members of parliament, and Mr Kulkarni is said to have played an active role to get their votes on a trust motion for the Congress-led UPA government.
Some ministers concerned over extent of compensation that could lead to land prices shooting up
New Delhi: The much-talked about Land Acquisition Bill that provides for enhanced compensation to land owners and other benefits, was approved by the Union Cabinet on Monday, notwithstanding reservations from some senior ministers on some aspects.
The legislation, titled the Land Acquisition, Relief and Rehabilitation Bill, 2011, was fast-tracked in the context of a numerous agitations in different parts of the country over the takeover of land. The Bill will be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said after the Cabinet meeting that was chaired by prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Various aspects of the bill, said to be the brainchild of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party general secretary, were discussed extensively over 90 minutes, reports PTI.
It is learnt that some former chief ministers now in the Union Cabinet, among them Veerappa Moily, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Virbhadra Singh, held firm views on certain aspects of the Bill and suggested that these be ironed out in the Standing Committee.
One of their concerns was that the measure could result in land prices shooting up across the country. The Bill is said to have a proposal for compensation of land that is four times higher than the market rate for owners.
It also proposes government help for acquisition of 20% of the land for a private project in case the firm has managed to acquire 80% of the land required.
The Bill also includes a proposal for subsistence allowance of Rs3,000 per family per month for a year and an annuity of Rs2,000 per family per month for 20 years.
The proposed legislation also suggests a "livelihood compensation" for displaced persons who do not own the land but are dependent on its produce for their livelihood. And it states that the public purpose once stated cannot be changed.
It has been said that the states would be free to also formulate their own laws on land acquisition.
The Bill that was adopted by the Union Cabinet yesterday, retains certain aspects suggested by the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), like having a single legislation for land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement.
The Council had recommended six times the registered value of the land as compensation, which was to be calculated by tripling the registered sale price of the land and adding a 100% solatium.
Farmers in various parts of the country have been at loggerheads with state governments on this issue for many months now, and some of these protests have even resulted in the loss of life and property in some instances.
My confidence in the existing parliamentary and judicial process has been shaken badly by the recent events in the campaign against corruption
That the government had to succumb—after innumerable flip-flops-to the common citizenry, led by a small battle-scarred fauzi, who hails from Ralegan Siddhi in rural Maharashtra, speaks volumes about the aam admi's frustration and anger over the corruption and arrogance he suffers. It may be the hard-earned money he is compelled to shell out to obtain a birth or a death certificate, a domicile proof, ration card, electric connection, driving licence or passport. Or in the villages it may be the 7/12 extract of the land record, or a change of land use, sanction for a well. The list is endless. It will not be too long before millions of tired middle-class Indians hit the streets once again, seeking a change for the better, with some concrete solutions to end bribery, stop rising prices and injustice.
The Indian people have tasted success in their first major fight. The young and the old, students and workers, flat owners or shanty dwellers, they came out in thousands. Not just the men, even women and children; announced their struggle at the Marina in Chennai, Bengaluru's Freedom Park, on Mumbai's Azad Maidan, even at schools and on street corners in towns and villages, in response to the call from the Ram Lila.
The people have come to realize that it is well within their rights to take on the hitherto uncontrolled autocracy of the executive at the Centre and in the states—the netas and babus from parliament, to the state legislatures, municipalities and panchayats, perhaps even sections of the judiciary and the media which can be manipulated.
No, the Lokpal is not a magic wand that will put an end to corruption and corrupt practices overnight. There is a far more effective Bhram Astra or Rambaan that came into existence in 2005, the Right To Information Act (RTI). This useful tool is an effective and potent weapon that has worked wonders in pulling out that skeletons of corruption out of the cupboard-the 2G call, the Common Wealth shame, or Adarsh disgrace.
Today, the common citizen who seeks information, does not have to hire a legal luminary or expert to help him get it. Focused, crisp applications can receive appropriate responses within 30 days. But an applicant choosing to sleep over the information thus secured can make it a wasteful exercise. It is imperative that the information available is utilised to pursue the matter to the source; this is the first step in the fight against corruption.
The citizen's battle against corruption begins from a simple RTI query
Let me explain the reasons for my belief in the simple RTI rather than the Lokpal, as my faith in the existing parliamentary, governmental and judicial process has been shaken considerably recently.
The Lokpal bill has seen eight avatars. It was first introduced in the Lok Sabha by the government of Indira Gandhi on 7 May 1968 and passed on 20 August 1969, but before it could be ratified by the Rajya Sabha, the Congress Party split and this resulted in the dissolution of parliament. Subsequently, the bill was introduced by the Congress four times and the Bharatiya Janata Party twice. All the governments that proposed the bill seemed to have been jinxed and collapsed before completing their terms.
What I cannot understand is why the government and parliament in their wisdom, did not consider bringing the bill before the Rajya Sabha, which is a permanent body that never lapses or expires, as its members change periodically. And now Rahul Gandhi, in an out-of-turn Zero Hour intervention is calling to convert the Lokpal into a constitutional authority, which will be an even more lengthy process that will require the concurrence and two-thirds sanction of a score of state assemblies that is nothing short of shooting the bill down yet again.
Post Anna Hazare's hunger protest, for the first time in parliamentary history, the government was forced to set up a Joint Lokpal Drafting Committee constituted of some high-profile cabinet ministers and down-to-earth members of civil society. There are provisions to fasttrack the process to enact the Lokpal Act, even bypassing the parliamentary standing committee. One of these is to convene a joint session of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, to allow members to debate the proposal in threadbare without the enforcement of party whip.
There will be enough time in the Winter Session this year. But it must also be debated in public and objections and suggestions must be sought from the people at large. In September last year, parliament apparently rushed through 17 bills in a few minutes, including an amendment to dilute the Prevention of Corruption Act! Come what may, the Lokpal Bill must be enacted into law this Winter Session and a Lokpal appointed to office by 26th January 2012. No two opinions!
The executive, that is the government, is next. Today, the hitherto respected prime minister is himself under a cloud of distrust for continuing to lead a bunch of ministers, some of whom are not only corrupt, but have even accused him of corruption. And still we read about the declaration of assets by some cabinet members which must be taken with a bucket of salt. Why does a former Maharashtra chief minister and now union minister not figure in the list of people disclosing their wealth? And should not the people know exactly how much, if any, income-tax each minister is actually paying? Some years ago there was the case of a very senior cabinet minister (who aspired to become prime minister) conveniently forgetting to pay taxes for ten long years. Unfortunately there was not RTI Act then to help fish out the information.
The stock replies from the prime minister these days is that a lot of the mess we are witnessing is due to the 'compulsions of coalition dharma', obviously implying that allies like the National Conference, Nationalist Congress Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Trinamool Congress are holding him to ransom, or that there is 'no magic wand' to deal with corruption and to bring back black money, both response devoid of logic and lacking in conviction. It is a sad statement of affairs that he has not been able to step in even mildly to bring any debate to an honest and meaningful conclusion. The latest is the collapse of the sports bill criticized by heavyweights with conflicting interests.
It may be relevant to point out that Dr Manmohan Singh is perhaps the only unelected prime minister (he is a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha from Assam) and that he chose not to cast his vote in a general election and instead set off on a visit to China on the day of the Assam assembly elections. So much for respect for the democratic process from the head of the government.
The prime minister is increasingly seen to be presiding over a motley group of ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ministers in his union cabinet. He chose to ignore the warning by the then sports minister on the Commonwealth Games, and is today posturing about applications to Swiss bankers to retrieve black money stashed there. The United States has managed to get the Swiss to disclose the names of 4,550 individuals and foundations; the United Kingdom, France and Germany have also struck deals with the Swiss authorities to tax their citizens who might park money there, while our government is still dilly-dallying on the extradition of a 26/11 accused from the US.
Now, by allowing his ministers to defend the indefensible, through verbal gymnastics or the use of dirty tricks like the threat of a CBI inquiry or parliamentary privileges, the prime minister has forfeited the confidence of the nation, and is largely seen as a weak leader who is not capable of dealing with some equally serious situations like the rise in food prices; a far cry from the earlier image of an outstanding economist, a man of integrity, not given to verbosity, amiable and free of arrogance.
It is time to shout the warning by Oliver Cromwell, from 20th April 1653 at the Rump Parliament: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go." It is time for UPA2 to seek the peoples' vote of confidence through a mid-term election, at the earliest.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based chartered accountant and activist.)