Bring in a law on accountability

Marry merit and integrity with ‘authority’ so that public officials are honest and meritorious to deliver goods and services

By Author G Ramachandra Reddy   |   Published: 24th Sep 2020   12:05 am Updated: 23rd Sep 2020   9:39 pm

Former President Pranab Mukherjee, one of India’s wisest politicians, made the following observations during his lifetime:

• Successful democracy does not necessarily involve successful governance (on the eve of Independence Day, 2013)
• Fight against poverty is far from over
• We must rediscover the virtue of self-scrutiny, and
• We need to prevent wastage of our precious resources

In the light of these observations, we need to scrutinise whether our democratic experiment of the last seven decades has been ideal and successful. Ours is basically an electoral democracy. Some electoral democracies are successful, while others are a failure. We need to evolve our electoral democracy into a participatory democracy, where the voice of civil society, which includes the media too, is heard and respected.

State power, according to the constitutional and legal scheme, is shared at present by elected political institutions and the unelected such as Bureaucracy, Police, Judiciary, Attorney General, Comptroller and Auditor General and Election Commission. There is no place for civil society in the decision-making process.

Involving Civil Society

Participatory democracy envisages legal recognition for civil society in the law-making process. It does not mean civil society members are conferred with voting rights on the Bills to be passed. It only means that their voice is heard and respected in shaping a Bill by involving them in the committees appointed thereof. It applies, particularly to important legislations such as Lokpal and Lokayukta, which are meant to fight corruption. This holds equally true in respect of the stillborn accountability law and the defective Right to Information Act, 2005.

Similarly, if labour laws are to be passed or amended, workers, labour unions, management need to be involved in discussions. Civil society’s representation is the need of the hour in various committees, commissions and boards, tribunals (public authorities) that take day-to-day decisions while implementing laws — for example in several committees, commissions, boards that make recommendations for grant of licence or for commutation of prison sentences, etc.

Civil society needs to be represented in cabinet appointments committee too, which approves posting to Joint secretary level and above officials in government departments and public sector undertakings and also in Niti Aayog, which is responsible for huge discretionary grants to States so as to reduce discrimination.

 law on accountability

Decision Making

Civil society also needs to be represented in decision-making process in appointments in higher Judiciary and in budget making. In judicial administration, troubled in recent times by allegations of lack of democracy in managing the roaster in the apex court, in the matter of granting stay orders indefinitely by high courts, there is a need for re-introduction of jury system not only in such matters as deciding the quantum of punishment but also to check ultraliberal grant of bail, or in issuing indefinite stay order.

Civil society also needs to be involved in the social audit of public works. These are just a few features of participatory democracy for making our electoral democracy a success.

Clean-up Politics

Apart from the above, we need to eliminate negative features in our democratic politics. And for achieving this, the following must be considered:

• Party fund collection needs to be limited to members of the party. Say if 10% of the population is affiliated to a party, small donation from our huge population will make the party fund sufficient. Donations from capitalists, crony capitalists, mafia dons must stop. Party functionaries need to be defined as public servants falling under section 21 of the Indian Penal Code for accountability in managing the fund.
• ‘Election’ to party positions needs to be the norm and not an exception.
• The system of Chief Ministers being chosen by a sealed cover method devised by the party high command needs to cease.
• Put a break on dynastic politics, which powers nepotism in party system.
• Stop sponsoring crime-tainted to Parliament and Assemblies.
• Stop the practice of bribing voters and electoral malpractices like rigging.
• Stop political defection for money and for gaining power.
• Promote pre-poll alliances instead of post-poll alliances.
• Successful democracy excludes abuse of constitutional and legal provisions — Emergency imposed in the 1970s, suspending fundamental rights.
• Prevent a situation where democracy does not become the “political property” of those who wield public power
• Political parties that shelter battalions of goons to intimidate, threaten, coerce, cause physical harm to independent thinkers and authors, journalists and civil society activists are a threat to functional democracy.

Good Governance

Since such defective democracy reflects on governance, it is useful to have a brief on good governance. Governance in India is not in an admirable state of affairs. One needs to refer to books by foreign authors such as Gunnar Myrdal and scholars on the subject of governance.

Governance involves two or three stages. One is to formulate right public policies and enact them into law. Strict and honest implementation of laws is the soul of good governance. The second is right man at right place. We need to marry merit and integrity with “authority”, which means public official, judge and minister are honest and meritorious to deliver goods and services. They hold authority (public power). Therefore, people holding public power need to be meritorious and honest.

To make governance more meaningful, we need a law on accountability. It exists in neighbouring Pakistan. But in India, it is a stillborn child, and remains on the lips of intellectuals. Accountability is for wrongful omissions, commissions and crimes of public officials and ministers. It lies at the heart of good governance. It is the experience of the common man when he approaches a police and revenue official, or his experience in the court of law, etc, that should be used to benchmark good governance.

(The author is a retired IGP)

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