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Mainstream, VOL LII No 30, July 19, 2014

Disturbing Trends in Governance — Timely Warning by Citizens’ Report

Sunday 20 July 2014, by Bharat Dogra

The latest Citizens’ Report on Governance and Development prepared by the National Social Watch has drawn attention to several disturbing trends. The findings of this report are supported by a wealth of facts and figures.

Parliament

To start with, this report informs us—The nine sessions of Parliament during 2010-12 saw the Lok Sabha working for an average of less than four hours of work per day during its 227 sittings in 852 hours, that is, less than two-thirds of the scheduled six hours per day, losing in the process about 577 hours in disruptions and forced adjournments. The Rajya Sabha worked for 744 hours per day in 228 sittings. It functioned for three hours per day in each sitting instead of the scheduled five hours, causing loss of about 442 hours in interruptions and forced adjournments.

Further this report says: “Progressively in three years under review, pending Bills have been piling up in both the Houses—the number having more than doubled. Each session begins with a substantive backlog; in most cases there are more Bills from the backlog than the new ones introduced. There are even fewer Bills passed. In fact, the government could not even introduce several Bills it planned. Out of the Bills pending (51) in the 15th Lok Sabha, 25 are for less than a year and 19 for between one and two years. It may be noted that all pending Bills of the dissolution of the Lok Sabha would lapse. The Rajya Sabha being a permanent body, a Bill introduced in it remains pending unless it is passed/returned, withdrawn or negatived. It means that the House has longer pendency of Bills. In May 2012, it had 37 pending Bills, 11 for between two and five years and 13 for more than five years. Out of those 13 Bills, five were pending for more than ten years and another two for more than twenty years! It is significant to note and deserves scrutiny as to why some Bills are demised and whether by circumstances or by design.

“Equally worrying is the process of passing of Bills and approving budgets in the Parliament. Out of 34 Bills passed during 2011, five were passed in less than five minutes and another six within 30 minutes. The Parliament is apparently also non-serious in passing the budget. It usually does not have time to discuss the budgetary proposals of each Ministry (Demands for Grants). The demands of only a few ministries are discussed at length. The rest are ‘guillotined’, i.e., put to vote together without any discussion. In the budget session of 2012, about 92 percent of the total were guillotined. The budgetary allocations made in this manner amount to a total of Rs. 11.8 trillion. In 2011, 81 percent of the total demands had been guillotined and in the year 2010, 84 percent of the total demands had been guillotined.”

However, despite this poor performance there has been a strong urge towards a hike of benefits. This report says: “A threefold rise in the basic salary, on 20 August, 2010, was protested against by many MPs, who described this ‘low’ hike as an insult to the country’s legislators.” According to a study in select nine countries, in terms of absolute amount the value of Indian MPs’ pay and perks is higher than their counterparts in Singapore, Japan and Italy. It is four-and-a-half times higher than that of Pakistan; and is about 68 times higher than the per capita income of the country.

Public Private Partnership

Another aspect of governance examined in this report relates to Public Private Partnership or PPP. The rapid increase of PPPs has been accompanied by negligible discussion in the Parliament. Also there is much ambiguity in defining what constitutes PPP. In practice a range of services, from outsourcing of maintai-ning a building or hospital equipment to contracting out construction in an infrastructure, are all referred to as PPPs. There are today 785 PPP projects in India, being implemented at an estimated project cost of Rs 383,332 crores and operationalised via diverse models.

The report says: “PPP changes the dynamics of the relationship between the state and the citizen and makes citizens into consumers. Hence, the perspective that citizen has ‘rights to services’ is being replaced by the perspective that as ‘consumers/customers’ they must purchase public services.

“An important question then is who monitors these PPPs? How does public accountability function? Of late, there has been pressure from citizens groups and civil society organisations to bring PPP under RTI. Resistance to inclusion of PPP under RTI has come from the private sector and also from within the government, on the grounds that RTI covers only ‘public authority’.”

Judiciary

The National Watch Report has also drawn attention to several disturbing trends in the judiciary. This report says: “The Supreme Court is increasingly acquiring the character of a general court of appeal by routinely entertaining special leave petitions (SLPs) which do not involve important constitutional and subs-tantive legal issues. Up to June 2013, 35,439 SLPs, which do not involve important constitu-tional and substantive legal issues were pending in the court. Writ petition to enforce fundamental rights under Article 32 of the Constitution are less than 1 per cent of the annual petitions admitted by the court. On average only about 1 per cent of the court’s decision relate to PIL.

“The adage that justice delayed is justice denied is conspicuous in Indian Judiciary. Crores of cases are pending in the courts—some for more than three decades. The number of pending cases has increased from 2.81 crore in 2004 to 3.17 crore in 2011. The pendency remains high, if not increasing in recent years, despite increase in number of courts/strengths of judges, increased application/availability of new technologies, increased allocation of funds for the infrastructure development, increased methods/avenues of alternative justice, etc. One of the dreadful consequences of pendency is the prolonged imprisonment of under trials. About three-fourths of total prisoners in India are undertrials.”

According to a note circulated by the Law Ministry in 2010, ‘there are over three lakh under trial prisoners in jails across the country. About two lakh of them are imprisoned for several years primarily because of delays in the justice delivery system. In some cases, prisoners have been behind bars for more than the maximum term of imprisonment for offences they had been charged with.”

The National Watch Report says: “The Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement that ‘our legal system has made life too easy for the criminals and too difficult for the law abiding citizens’ aptly reflects the current status of the Judiciary in the country. To over-come these challenges the Judiciary needs to set its own house in order. Many of the challenges are within the system and it needs internal reforms.”

These are only a few of the many significant statements and disclosures contained in this many-sided National Watch Report which covers in a comprehensive way various aspects of governance.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.