Heavy hand of law

By K.N. Pandita

For over two years in the past the country has been in the throes of deep embarrassment and disrepute because of horrendous corruption disclosures made by independent media or non-government organizations. The situation is made worse by government’s policy of complacence in regard to some of the corruption cases, its unwillingness to speed up investigation and covert attempt of suppressing facts in violation of the law of right to information. This entire phenomenon became catalyst to deep rumblings in civil society and created an atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty at a time when country’s economy was limping back to normalcy after the market crisis worldwide. Three major scams happening in near past and still hanging fire have revealed that all is not fine with our system of governance.  

A visible chasm between the government and civil society on the basis of integrity and rectitude expected to be maintained by an elected government could become serious and threatening if damage controlling process was not initiated. The upheavals called Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev movements are the early symptoms of civil society being ill at ease with current ruling dispensation. Most of the embarrassment for the government surfaces from a misguided concept of the executive that under the rubric of majority syndrome it can hoodwink the law as well as the rule of law. But as long as the organ of judiciary enjoys the freedom and independence under constitution, the heavy hand of law does strike when it strikes.

The verdict of the Apex Court on a PIL on money secreted away in foreign banks and appointment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate and monitor steps taken to bring the unaccounted money back home contains virtual strictures against the union government on its handling of a crucial issue of national importance. The verdict reflects in no ambiguous words government’s intention of going slow about the enquiry and action in the case. The Honourable Court has come to this sordid conclusion though it does not delve into the reasons of such intent. However, one can glean from the history of the case that some very important and influential people are involved in stashing away black money in foreign banks and thus robbing the nation of its huge assets. This vindicates the stand of some social organizations and personalities who had mobilized public in support of their demand for pressurizing the government to get the stashed money back home and invest it in mega developmental projects. Though the Supreme Court verdict does not favour disclosing the names of involved persons, nevertheless it has recommended that the government disclose the names of those against whom it has initiated the process of enquiry and show cause notices have been issued. But the way, in which the matter is proceeding, one finds that the government will have to disclose the names including those indicated by the German government about stashed money in Liechtenstein banks. In its scathing criticism, the court says,” The named individuals were very much present in the country. Yet, for unknown, and possibly unknowable, though easily surmisable, reasons the investigations into the matter proceeded at a laggardly pace,” while referring to Hassan Ali Khan case in which progress was made only at its intervention.

This landmark verdict of the Supreme Court will have far reaching impact on the entire thinking, and functioning of the government especially the party that leads the coalition government. Some of the observations made by the Bench are indeed no less than a shocking commentary on the credibility of the government. For example the Bench points out, “Unaccounted money, especially large sums held by nationals and entities with a legal presence in the nation, in banks abroad, especially in tax havens or in jurisdictions with a known history of silence about sources of monies, clearly indicate a compromise of the ability of the State to manage its affairs in consonance with what is required from a Constitutional perspective. The failure of the Government to control the phenomenon of black money stashed in foreign banks is an indication of weakness and softness of the State in managing its affairs.” This verdict and these observations in a crucial case of great social and political significance to the country are bound to influence the future course of our democracy and political parameters. In what the Supreme Court has brought to light, the very concept of good governance needs to be re-visited along new approaches and new actions.

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