DEMOCRACY, STRINGS ATTACHED
The rich man's shadow looms large over our corridors of power, suggests a recent report on governance, MPs and development
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi.
Several top industrialists and moguls with financial interests in the burgeoning and largely privatised health and education sectors are members of the parliamentary committees on their sectors of interest. This was recently brought out in the 'Citizens' Report on Governance and Development' prepared by National Social Watch, a Delhi-based NGO, and released by Jaipal Reddy, the Union minister for urban development.
According to the report, several industrialists including Rajeev Chandrashekhar from Karnataka, Jaganmohan Reddy from Andhra Pradesh et al are members of the parliamentary standing committee on finance. In the case of the standing committee on industry, nine of the 26 members have interests in various industries. They include perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal from Assam and businessman Akhilesh Das from Uttar Pradesh. Navin Jindal, a top industrialist, is a member of the public accounts committee.
The standing committee on health has three members who run medical education institutions: Prabhakar B Kore, BJP MP from Karnataka and chairman of Karnataka Lingayat Education Society, which runs 18 medical colleges; MAM Ramaswamy, Rajya Sabha MP and pro-chancellor of Annamalai University; and Datta Raghobhaji Meghe, Congress MP and president of Radhikabai Meghe Memorial Trust.
In December 2008, CPM MP Brinda Karat and Amar Singh had protested when automobile magnate Rahul Bajaj asked a question in the Rajya Sabha on steps taken by the finance ministry to ameliorate the problems faced by the auto sector. They argued that as Bajaj is himself a major player in that sector, he should not be allowed to ask questions.
The report notes that nearly 25 per cent of the members of the Lok Sabha are either industrialists, businessmen or from other trading classes. In the Rajya Sabha, this figure stands at 10 per cent. "With money power becoming a key element in elections at all levels, 'moneybags' have found prominence in getting tickets, regardless of political parties..." the report says.
Moreover, the wealth of many MPs increased manifold through the course of their terms. Congress MP L Rajagopal's assets climbed an astonishing 3023 per cent since his last election in 2004.
To stem the use of parliamentary privilege by members to further their own business interests, Rajya Sabha has come up with a mechanism in the form of a 'Register of Interest', "which entails members to register their 'pecuniary interests'". No such mechanism, however, exists in the Lok Sabha. "... just creating a 'Register of Interest' will not suffice as the specific business and industry interests and their role in it, needs to be specified," the report reads.
Taking a dig at the working of parliamentary committees, the report says, "the committees have prepared ATRs (Action Taken Reports) of reports on demands for grants of different departments very quickly." It must be noted that besides giving their inputs on the bills referred to them, the committees also examine the demands for grants, policy and working of ministries. In the case of department related standing committees, the report says, most of the evidence is taken in one session and the draft approved in the next: "The draft report in almost all cases is approved in a single session. This clearly shows that the time devoted to the deliberations is not sufficient."
Moreover, the participation of MPs in discussion on legislations had come down to a measly 8.8 per cent in 2009 from 11.5 per cent in 2008.
In matters of public policy formulation, the report notes, "...the current paradigms belie the objective of 'inclusive growth' and fail to address the issues of growth and equity." According to the report, government expenditure on the social sector is insufficient and there is a dire need to finetune even the flagship programmes to address the myriad problems of implementation.
Dealing with the state of the judiciary, the report says that although a "mapping of key verdicts" of the Supreme Court and various high courts "gives an impression that the Courts have been accessible to a range of public issues", this "is not the whole truth". In 2008, of the 24,666 letters, postcards or petitions asking for the apex court's intervention in cases that might be considered public interest litigation, only 226 were placed before the judges on admission days and only a fraction of these were heard as regular hearing matters. According to the report, "the jury is out on the accessibility of the Supreme Court on public interest issues today."