Finding loopholes to escape the legal net

Some interesting twists in law come up in corruption cases, revealing technicalities that need to be addressed to clean up the system. This morning’s news about Lokayukta-filed cases against former CM BSY is one such technicality.

The cases were filed based on a CAG report, but in court it was argued (and accepted) that CAG reports are the exclusive property of the legislature, and no one else can take action based on them. I.e., when the CAG finds irregularities in actions of ministers, we must rely on the MLAs to take action against their own fellow legislators. In practice, given the reality today, I’m not sure if this would work.

I’m also reminded of another technicality that arose a few years ago when one of our corporators was charged in court. His argument was that under the terms of the Prevention of Corruption Act, municipal corporators did not qualify to be treated as ‘public servants’ and therefore the Act was not applicable to him. Imagine that – an elected representative claiming in court that he is not a public servant.

People’s perception of these things, of course, is very different. But unless the laws are also tightened to reflect people’s perceptions, we will be running around in circles forever. Discovery of corruption must automatically oblige someone to take action, under an appropriate statute. Otherwise, between role-play and institutional mandates, most accusations will lead to dismissals of cases at the outset, or eventual acquittals.

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Speaking at IIM this week on “the meaning of good governance.” This phrase has traveled quite a lot, with plenty of people claiming to be delivering it, or having already delivered it. But judging purely by outcomes, it would be fair to say that while we have – here and there – seen slightly better governance than the norm, by and large the whole country needs a lot more of whatever it is.

A lot of people have been on this wagon in recent political history – from ABV to MMS and NaMo, to Nitish Kumar and Arvind and Shivraj Chouhan and Manohar Parrikar even – to their supporters in particular – JJ and Mamata. Surely, if good governance is all that prevalent across the country, we should be seeing a lot more results for it than we now are.

I think that we have uniformly got the plot wrong. Good government and good governance are two different things. Most people, when they speak of governance, actually mean government. Under than framework, a successful program here, a little change there all seem to qualify as good governance. But not so.

We have to see ‘governance’ as effectively raising the number of people involved in making public decisions, at more and more decentralised levels. Good governance is not about doing it all yourself- it is about trusting other people too to do the right things, and putting in place a regulatory canvas to ensure that they do. Uniformly across the country, no one has truly DEVOLVED power away from the centralised model that led us to today’s misery.

Good governance is also about measuring things, and making claims on the basis of what they reveal, without distorting the facts. For instance, our education department claimed last year that they had the highest percentage of pass-outs in SSLC exams, conveniently forgetting that a very large number of children didn’t even take the exams.

To my mind, (a) increasing the number of problem solving people, and (b) being accountable in policy and implementation to measurable things are the core of good governance. There are of course many other things that will also be needed, but without these two as the foundation, we will simply be telling ourselves we have already reached nirvana, knowing fully well that no one else believes it

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Ashwin Mahesh
About Ashwin Mahesh 85 Articles
Ashwin Mahesh has been involved in public policy for Bengaluru through his work with the Karnataka government. The views expressed here are his own. He is a member of the Lok Satta party. He is also CEO of Mapunity Information Services, and a director at Oorvani Media, publisher of Citizen Matters and India Together. He is also a visiting faculty with the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore.

1 Comment

  1. This model of jurisprudence puts our republic several notches below a banana republic. A crime/wrongdoing is a crime or wrongdoing under any definition or jurisdiction and should be prosecutable once it is brought to the notice of the authorities; it is for the judicial authorities to direct it to the appropriate jurisdiction/statute if it has to be done for admin purposes – and not dismiss it citing a technicality. This also applies to the filing of FIRs and complaints with the police. It is easier for one police station/dept to send it to another through their tapal system rather than make a harassed complainant run from pillar to post – especially when the rules itself are deliberately made incomprehensible, complex and knotty, lacking clarity even to the authorities

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