July 7, 2011

Supreme Court needs to govern as governance fails

We know for sure that integrity of many of the Supreme Court judges, past and present, has not been above reproach. There is a case already before the Supreme Court on this very issue. However, as an institution, the Supreme Court has been delivering well.

On the other hand, not only the actors that make the governments at the Centre and in states, the institution called government itself is failing. The omission to act against known tax evaders and alleged black money creators is one such huge failure on the part of the central government. The Supreme Court had to act by setting up its own SIT, though its resources will be much less than the combined resources of ED, CBI, etc. The Court had to act in 2G case; only after that the central government’s investigative agencies started investigation worth its name. You name a case where the government was proactive and higher courts did not have to either take action in their hand or threaten the governments to action? Remember the major recent scams relating to Commonwealth Games, land acquisition in NOIDA, Adarsh Housing Society, the CVC appointment…

No sane person would like the Supreme Court to take upon itself the administration of the country, and the Supreme Court itself took the role of investigating into black money trails when it found that the government was not acting at all, despite direct and indirect orders by the Court.

Of the auditing authority CAG, the otherwise reticent PM had the cheeks to say that the institution was exceeding its mandate when he found that CAG was bringing government’s acts of commission and omission in the public domain and embarrassing his government. Do remember that many recent skeletons have been bared by CAG and action was initiated by a reluctant government when people and media raised hue and cry after CAG’s exposures. Auditors are not known to be honest men themselves; yet the institution is delivering.
Take the case of the Election Commission. It used to be a lame duck before Sheshan gave it fangs. After that, Election Commission and only Election Commission has been able to tether the unruly political class. From the days of Indira Gandhi, when DMs were asked to declare elections to suit the ruling party and the weaker sections of the society were not even allowed to vote, the elections have come a long way. The machinery through which elections are held remains the same babudom but the Election Commission delivers as an institution.

On the other hand, there are many controlling authorities and key investigating agencies [DG Hydrocarbons, Medical Council of India, AICTE, DG Civil Aviation, CBI and ED to name a few] that have failed the nation. They are ridden with nepotism and favouritism, corruption, inefficiency and other ills at individual as well as institutional level.

In the context of the Lokpal debate, it would be worthwhile to go for a strong institution to look into complaints of corruption at high places. If strong, public-spirit minded people with high integrity and commitment man the Lokpal institution in its formative years, it would deliver; otherwise, it would be another institution investigating complaints and cases ad infinitum to avoid action against the rich and the mighty.

Coming back to governance. It is shame that the central government, headed by learned and seasoned economists, lawyers, administrators and politicians is failing as an institution. Rajas, Kanis, Kalmadis and [probably] Marans came in with wrong intent and went out, but Sonias, Manmohans, Mukherjees and Rahuls – all seemingly right-intentioned - would also go unsung or cursed if they are unable to raise the standard of governance. One least appropriate, but important, yardstick of governance would be that whenever a case is brought to the government’s notice by a court, the government acts with all sincerity and urgency.

You could visit our earlier related posts here: judiciary .. governance .. corruption.

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