Friday, November 30, 2012

why 66 A happened

Whether its television or newspapers or social media or e zines, one encounters Section 66 A of the IT Act in all one's meandering journeys these days. Some commentators have read the said clause,  some haven't, some understand it, some don't, some are genuinely concerned, some are not, but every one is talking about it. We owe a debt of gratitude to K Chidambaram, B Thackeray, and Mumbai Police. Had it not been for these worthy men, each one of us would have remained in blissful ignorance of Section 66 A ----- till dragged to the nearest police station for reason of an offending FB post!

Have we asked ourselves the reason for such ignorance? There are more than 40 Bills which are either pending introduction in the Parliament, or have been introduced and are to be passed. Other than the Lokpal bill, which erupted into national conscience thanks to India Against Corruption, most of us would be hard put to name even 2 or 3 pending Bills. As for the provisions of these Bills, the level of ignorance will be even higher, notwithstanding the fact that when enacted into law, these will directly impact our lives, our rights, responsibilities and privileges.

The media too remains mostly silent ---- neither the national newspapers (with exceptions like The Hindu) nor national TV channels carry any discussion on proposed legislation. All the discussions take place, if at all, post facto.

Is it the case that we are too busy to keep ourselves abreast of developments in at least one or two large areas of public policy? I think not ---- middle class lives are far more comfortable and far less tedious than they were 30 years ago. We have plenty of leisure. What we do with our hours of leisure is, however, dictated by an almost frantic attempt to have "fun"---- lots of television, lots of shopping, lots of eating out, lots of sight seeing in India and abroad, in short, lots of stuff that places no burden on the mind. None of these activities is undesirable per se ----- but the fact that this is what we mostly do in our leisure hours and have totally dissociated ourselves from the making of public policy is disastrous for the nation. The educated middle class owes it to itself and the nation to make an effort to learn, perhaps master, those aspects of public policy that do not require expert knowledge ----- even esoteric subjects like atomic energy have some aspects that a layman could acquaint himself with if he tried. It is only a well informed citizen who can trigger/participate in public debate on issues of public importance. That such public debate can influence policy is something all of us have seen vis a vis the Lokpal bill, which would have remained in hibernation had the ordinary Indian not begun talking about it in every nook and corner of the country.  It is only when each one of us begins to participate in policy making to the best of his ability that more such successes will happen, and there will be an enrichment in the quality of our lives, the future of the nation, and the legacy that we leave behind for the next generation.

There are some excellent online resources to aid one in this effort ---- one is,which aims to increase public engagement on issues of national importance. 

Let us not leave the task of nation building to the government -----let each one of us also assume that responsibility.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Akhilesh's game changer

While the UPA government flashes cash subsidy as a "game changer", Akhilesh Yadav has gone one step better and decided to withdraw prosecution proceedings in several criminal cases in which the accused belong to the minority community and are charged with the same category of offences, viz., terrorist acts.

 In a manner of speaking, Akhilesh Yadav is not on weak ground. The Code of Criminal Procedure provides vide Section 321 that the Public Prosecutor in charge of a case may, with the consent of the Court, withdraw from the prosecution of any person at any time before the judgment is pronounced. This provision is taken recourse to by the Central and State governments in many different types of cases. In UP itself, in the recent past, prosecution proceedings have been withdrawn against Sanjay Dutt, actor, in the cases which were registered in respect of his allegedly offensive remarks against the Mayawati government. Prosecution proceedings have also been withdrawn in several criminal cases that were lodged against farmers during the protests over land acquisition-related issues in Tappal in 2010. 

It is also a well documented fact that in many of the criminal cases involving charges of terrorist activities, the accused are acquitted after several years of incarceration. A group of teachers at Jamia Milia Islamia University has put together a compilation of 16 such cases between 1992 and 2008 that failed to hold up in court. All these cases involve youths arrested and described as terrorists, some of whom languished in jail for years before courts acquitted them, citing lack of evidence or possible tampering of evidence.

So, the action proposed by Akhilesh Yadav is neither illegal nor implausible. What makes one react so sharply, perhaps, vehemently in opposition to the proposal are the following facts:

1. While the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for the Public Prosecutor to withdraw from the prosecution of a person, with the consent of the Court, and therefore appears to have adequate checks and balances against the abuse of such a provision by the Executive, the ground reality is that the Public Prosecutor is appointed by the government and rarely contradicts or opposes the wishes of the government. It is therefore likely that a government which has made up its mind will experience no resistance from the Public Prosecutor, no matter what the merits of the case.

2. A single terrorist set free could be instrumental in the deaths/loss of limb/injuries of countless innocent Indians. Will Akhilesh Yadav then step forward, assume responsibility and make good the loss of lives?

3. It is not from the minority community alone that innocent people are being arrested and jailed for years only to be set free subsequently by the courts. This is the fate that befalls many for the simple reason that our investigating agencies adopt short cuts, are used by political bosses to achieve short term political gains, still carry the colonial legacy and therefore view the ordinary citizen as a lesser being deserving indifference at best and exploitation at the worst, and do not, in any case, possess either the skills or the equipment or the will to make proper investigations and collect infallible evidence. That being the case, should we immediately review each and every criminal case pending in the courts to decide whether it merits withdrawal?

4. There are, at present, approximately 2.5 lakh undertrials in India's 1500 prisons. Of these, roughly 70 % or nearly 1.7 lakh have been booked for petty offences. Many, many of them have either undergone the maximum punishment for the alleged crime or major portion thereof without conviction. If at all Akhileh Yadav wishes to ensure that the criminal justice system with its huge backlogs and innumerable deficiencies does not cause harassment to the innocent, why does he not focus on the under trials in UP and secure the release from prison of those accused of petty offences? 

No matter how strident the denials, we know that Akhilesh Yadav is motivated not so much by compassion or a passion for justice as securing/strengthening a vote bank, whatever the repercussions.This is politics of the worst kind and reinforces my conviction that it is not so much educated politicians that we need as politicians with a conscience.