Event ReportsPublished on Dec 18, 2010
Participants at an interaction at ORF Chennai called for a multi-disciplinary task force to investigate scams of the kind of 2G, rather than individual investigating arms of the Government, like the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Income-tax and other authorities undertaking parallel and separate investigations.
Need for multi-tasked  mechanisms for investigation and prosecution in corruption cases
In supervising the CBI investigations into the ‘2-G spectrum scam case’, the Supreme Court may consider appointing a high-level committee, reporting to it periodically, to supervise the on-going multi-layered investigations, it was proposed at an interaction of the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, held on Saturday, 18 December 2010. The proposal took into consideration the uni-focussed approach that is required for supervising the investigations which task is now being handled by the Supreme Court itself and requiring day-to-day guidance and directions to the probe team.

In this context, a suggestion was made that the Supreme Court may constitute a team headed by a retired judge, assisted ably by a senior CBI veteran and a public prosecutor of standing, all three men of impeccable integrity and efficiency. Considering the ‘unprecedented width and depth’ of the scam, which could pervade Governments involving different political parties at the Centre since 2001, when the 2-G spectrum allocation policy evolved, and which permeates almost all arms and agencies of constitutional governance, this may also be one occasion for the nation to apply correctives for the future, the participants felt.

The occasion also demanded that the nation revived/evolved schemes for finding permanent solutions to the problem of corruption in public life and also ‘corrupt practices’ that went beyond ‘criminal culpability’, it was felt. Apart from leaving it to the electorate to punish those whose ‘criminality’ could not be established under the laws but whose ethical and moral practices come under a cloud, there need to be specific laws that discourages such practices and punish the guilty, the participants said.

In this connection, the participants called for a multi-disciplinary task force to investigate scams of the kind, rather than individual investigating arms of the Government, like the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Income-tax and other authorities undertaking parallel and separate investigations. Such an effort not only spoiled the chances of conviction in one or more cases pertaining to the same party and transaction, but also caused considerable and avoidable delays. If need be, the laws in this regard may be amended to facilitate the process, the participants said.

Flowing from this suggestion was the proposal for the Government to set up a mechanism to monitor forex and hawala transactions, which have come to have a huge bearing on corruption cases, both in terms of numbers and money involved. The Government should also stop shying away from seeking the assistance of foreign governments and agencies in this regard, as they tended to have more information on banking transactions flowing from corruption and bribe-taking nearer home. Such information may be used for evidential purposes and tracking down ill-gotten wealth that needed to be brought back.

The argument that ‘national interest’ and ‘national security’ required that the Indian Government should not have transactions of the kind with foreign governments and their agencies would not wash, as the latter anyway seemed to have such information in their possession and are not known to have abused the same in any way, it was pointed out. If anything, overseas governments may be keen on ‘clean governance’ as a tool to facilitating the fast-tracking of investments from their countries reaching India.

Given such avenues of escape available to the accused in corruption cases, and also the current track-record of some of the more famous corruption cases pending in various courts of the country, participants stressed the need for a comprehensive fast-track laws and courts, when alone justice would have been done – and also seem to have been done. Such laws should provide against multiplicity of procedural applications and appeals either when an FIR is filed, or when the charge-sheet is presented to the court. As a ‘public audit’ in corruption cases, there is also a need to consider the re-introduction of jury as it would imply engaging the civil society in the process, without in anyway interfering with the administration of justice or the rights of the accused, the participants said. 

Participants also lamented how over two decades after Parliament passed the Benami (Prohibition) Act in 1988, successive Governments headed by political parties of varied hues, had not thought it fit to frame relevant rules for effecting early implementation. The civil society should hence bring pressure on the political parties in this regard, and also ensure that the Government put in effective mechanisms for the purpose under the existing law or under new laws that went with the times, for the efficient and meaningful implementation of this and other laws aimed at curbing corruption in a big way.

Another suggestion from the floor mentioned mandatory provisions for ‘public servants’, including politicians, to automatically remain ‘suspended’ from being one from the time their names find a place in the preliminary report of any official body set up to monitor/investigate Government spending and/or corruption or other violations of the law. While such laws existed in the case of Government employees, politicians often waited until the very last minute before reluctantly leaving office. There was thus greater possibility of and opportunity to tamper with available evidence and this needed to be stalled.

Initiating the discussion, N SathiyaMoorthy, Director, ORF-Chennai, pointed out how the 2-G scam probe had an exponential reach, and how almost every public institution, whether in the Government domain or otherwise, was seen crumbling under its own weight. If in the ‘Vineet Narain case’, the Supreme Court laid down rules for the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) to monitor CBI investigations into major cases of corruption, etc, the incumbent now found himself having to recuse himself from guiding the probe into the 2-G scam, though for other reasons. Likewise, the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General too have had to recuse themselves from the case.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the apex, new-generation body for the monitoring of the new-generation technology-driven industry in the private sector in this reforms era, has not escaped CBI investigation and raid on the incumbent. This can cast aspersions on the reform process as a whole as the astronomical volume of money mentioned in corrupt deals could end up being attributed to ‘globalisation’ of corruption, which in turn could be described as an inevitable fallout of the ‘globalisation’ process as a whole. Such a construct, while untenable, may also feed frustration among sections of the population that feel the inevitable, intermediary pinch of the reforms process, it was said.

While the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General mentioned a loss of Rs 1.76-lakh crore to the exchequer in the 2-G scam, no fixed figure was as yet available as to bribery, if paid and taken, which alone could constitute corruption under the law. All other decisions could pass off for error of judgment, not punishable under the law. Under the circumstances, the wisdom of the CAG citing a ‘presumptive figure’ may also add to the confusion in the end, leading to frustration in the minds of thinking people while the very magnitude of the figure could leave others baffled at first and indifferent, otherwise. The wisdom of the CAG singling out a case for briefing the media was also considered unwise, as non-existent motives could be attributed, if only to embarrass the high constitutional office.

In this context, the speaker also referred to the impropriety of a former CAG involved in the unearthing of some of the sensitive scams of the Eighties, going on to accept political party nomination for the Rajya Sabha after retirement and also accepting a gubernatorial posting, subsequently when the same party was in power at the Centre. Likewise, Election Commissioners, another constitutional authority demanding impeccable record in non-partisan approach, had accepted post-retirement assignments that could also be dubbed ‘offices of profit’.

Reference was also made to the demand for the setting up of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the current scam. While such an effort may help to fix political culpability, it should not be construed as a substitute for the ongoing criminal investigations, which alone could lead to conviction and punishment of those found guilty by the courts of law. At the same time, efforts should also be made to design a new piece of legislation where ‘political culpability’ should lead to ‘criminal accountability’, by way of deterrence in the future.

The impropriety in this regard related not only to the person accepting the said office(s) but also in the political party nominating such persons to such offices. A legal remedy may have to be found in this regard, Mr. SathiyaMoorthy said, pointing out how the intervention of the Election Commission through the Nineties may have contributed to the cleansing up of the poll processes across the country, even if such exercises may have only limited longevity.

Both the speaker and the participants also referred to the damage that the ‘Radia tapes’ had done to the nation and its various institutions, which included high offices in the Government and also industry houses and personalities, apart from media, which otherwise was supposed to be the eyes and ears of the civil society. Questions were also raised about the source of the ‘leak’, which, while helping to unearth a scam of this magnitude, might have also set a dangerous precedent as others of the kind could compromise national security, one way or the other. The participants and the speaker also found the nonchalance with which most parties named in the tapes from various walks of life handled the 2-G scam as repugnant and dangerous, even while underscoring the need for civil society to be active and also stressing that a free and pro-active media be allowed to do its bit for national good.

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