Article first published as Indiaâ€™s Apex Court Takes on Political Corruption on Blogcritics.
India’s apex court, the Supreme Court has been on collision course with the country’s top politicians and powerful bureaucrats. The apex court is furious at federal Human Resources Minister Mr Kapil Cibal, who is also dealing the Telecommunications ministry, for trying to downplay what is said to be the biggest fraud of the country ever since it achieved independence in 1947. Mr Kapil Cibal criticized the statutory and independent auditing body, the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor Genera) for concluding that the nation might have lost $39 billion in revenue because of irregularities in awarding 2G spectrum licenses in 2008. He said the government did not lose single rupee in awarding 2G spectrum licenses adding that there was no ground for alleging that the nation had lost billions.
Indian left parties asked the minister why the previous minister resigned from his job if there was no fraud. The Supreme Court took a serious note of ministers’ comments and told the government counsel that the minister’s comments were unfortunate adding that the ministers had certain statutory responsibilities of respecting statutory bodies. It wondered how the minister could find wrong with the CAG’s report when it is based on government sources. The court observed the minister’s comments should not influence the investigation process looking in the matter. The CAG also responded to the minister’s comments saying that it was committed to its report.
The Supreme Court is also hearing some other politically sensitive issue of similar nature. The former justice minister and a renowned lawyer Mr Jethmalani appealed the apex court to order the government for initiating steps to bring back billions of dollars of Indian money hidden in offshore accounts of tax havens by the rich Indian politicians, bureaucrats and corporate owners. The Supreme Court yesterday said that the issue was not a routine one but about a big plunder of nation’s money. The court has asked the government to reveal the names of the people who hid the nation’s money illegally to escape from paying taxes. The court is worried that the black money was the source of financing terror groups operating against India.
The Supreme Court found wrong with the government’s decision to appoint Mr P J Thomas as the CVC (Chief Vigilance Commissioner). The CVC is also an independent statutory body that puts surveillance on top people of the bureaucracy. The court, hearing on a petition, said that Mr Thomas could not be appointed as CVS as he was involved in a corruption case of importing Palmolive oil from Singapore at rates much higher than the international price in 2000. If he were allowed to sit in CVC chair, he would have to investigate his own corruption case besides the investigative agencies. Despite several warnings from the Supreme Court, the Central Government allowed the time to pass until his retirement. However, the court issued orders to the lower court to proceed with the trials.
Indian Central Government is of the view that the names of the black money holders cannot be revealed as they have been handed over to the Indian Government as part of the international treaties for the purpose of taxation. India’s reputation will be tarnished for disrespecting the treaties if the names were revealed to the public, the government maintained. The opposition coalition has been outraged against the government’s corruption and is demanding the revelation of the details of black money holders. In fact, the opposition coalition had offered the same type of explanation when it was ruling the country in first half of the last decade. They denied revealing the names of those people who defaulted billions of dollars of loans issued by the public sector banks. The defaulted loans were abolished from repayment instead of recovering them at any cost.
Whenever the Supreme Court steps in to deal with the corruption at high echelons of the political and bureaucratic establishments, the media and other analysts begin a discussion depicting the court’s actions as judicial activism. It is nothing but an attempt to downplay the deepness of the corruption at higher places. The term “Judicial Activism” is used to brand as if the court is on a course of extra judicial process in taking on the people at the higher places of the government and bureaucracy. The comments by the Indian Prime Minister that the courts should not intervene in the duties of the government, demonstrate that fact. Indian PM delivered that comment when the court asked the government to distribute free the grains to the poor of the country, as they are rotten in open places due to unavailability of space in government warehouses.
In fact, Indian courts do not step in on their own in such cases. They only come into the scene when they are petitioned to do so through Public Interest Litigations by some non-governmental activists. It shows that the corrupted are not ready to tolerate even such weak attempts to bring the handful of greedy, corrupted and anti-nationalist people before the justice even they know well that such attempts will never logically conclude. The never-ending judicial processes due to which the guilty has every chance to escape unpunished in some way or other, guarantee their freedom. One may not need to be reminded about judicial corruption.
It is also true that when such systemic failures occur, one of the wings of the state takes up the rescuer role in order to see that the people may not lose belief in the existing socio-economic system. Indian Judiciary had played such role several times in the past. It may not be the judiciary every time. Central Election Commissioner (CEC) assumed that role in Nineties when almost all political parties were deeply immersed in organisational crises. During such crises, one of the wings of the state assumes a notional radical role for correcting wrong otherwise of which, the people of the country may take their own decision and build their own system that may work against the interests of the existing dominant classes.