Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Right Information by Right to Information: An Interview with Wajahat Habibullah

Dear Friends ,

I came across this insightful, short interview with former CIC(Chief Information Comissioner) on RTI.From Public administration perspective it comes under Accountability and Control



As India grapples with the Naxal menace in Left Wing Extremism affected states with no concrete long-term solution in sight for now, the former CIC suggests simple measures using the RTI which may prevent further outbreak of the problem.

Question: What is the genesis of RTI in terms of being utilized in Naxal affected areas in the Eastern Tribal Corridor?Wajahat Habibullah: At the time when the Naxal uprising first appeared in India in Naxalbari, another revolution was taking shape in Rajasthan, that of demand for Right to Information. In both places, the dispossessed excluded population was demanding the right to ask questions from the authority and equality and parity. However, one group took to arms, while the other pursued the RTI for the same demands.

Question: Can effective implementation of RTI reverse the trend of violence in the tribal hinterlands which are the worst affected by Left Wing Extremism? WH: RTI can be an effective tool only as long as it is utilized before the violence starts. Once a trend of violence is set, it cannot be used to reverse the cycle. It is only a preventive and not a corrective measure. If used properly, it can be effective in the tribal heartlands of India, which are taken over by the Naxals at present.

Question: Has the failure of proper implementation of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 proved to be an element in increasing tribal anger towards the government?
WH: The tribals have been displaced, marginalized and victimized. It is critical to put PESA to proper use now. It has not been effectively utilized so far as it has not been able to bring much voice to the tribals. It must be given an opportunity and means to empower the tribals.

Question: Has the government been able to reach out to the vulnerable tribal population through the RTI?
WH: Government and administration have been oppressive since the British expropriated tribal and government areas. Now, with RTI, they have an opportunity to be heard. The tribals of India have suffered exploitation for far too long. Now, growth of education has allowed them to project what they have been denied. The redressal mechanism could include RTI as the initiating point. Unfortunately, so far the RTI has not been able to be properly implemented in the affected states.
Question: Which state has benefited the maximum from proper implementation of RTI? Which states show the worst implementation of the RTI?WH: Except Andhra Pradesh, all Naxal affected states have the worst implementation  record of RTI. This is the reason why Andhra Pradesh is now the state which is least affected by violence despite being the state where the genesis of the problem emerged with the Telangana uprising.
Andhra Pradesh has had very effective implementation of both Panchayati Raj and RTI. YS Rajasekhara Reddy was himself a big propagator of the RTI. He had said that the RTI Act was a big part of his success as it allowed him to reach out to the rural areas of the state and Telangana.

Question: RTI pendency has been steadily going up over the years. How far will it prove to be effective, even if implemented properly, in tribal areas when the pendency in areas with educated and aware problems is so high?Question: RTI implementation position is much better.  Statistically speaking, the pendency numbers have gone up - about three years ago, pending applications stood at 10,000. Now, they are 14,000. However, three years ago, total applications settled were 22,000; the number now stands at 65,000. So, in that context, while pendency has gone up, so has the number of people using the RTI. 

Question: How can RTI result in a decline in violence?WH: The expectation of people to get a reply for their grievances and making the system accountable has risen. This tendency will give way to a decline in overall violence. People may get agitated, frustrated or more demanding, but will not take to violence. It gives some sense of responsibility and accountability. 

Question: How can the awareness about RTI spread in the interiors of Naxal affected areas where accessibility is still a huge problem for authorities?WH: Spreading of awareness about RTI in tribal areas can be done through various NGOs working with the Naxals in the areas as they have better accessibility among the population rather than the authorities. Allow the civil society to function properly in these areas. Tribals are not even aware of the RTI as of now, let the NGOs and other agents of civil society spread the awareness about what can be done with the help of RTI as an alternate to taking up arms.

Question: Can RTI prove to be a tool for reforming the existing Naxal cadres?WH: I don’t know if the RTI can prove to be an effective tool in reforming existing Naxal cadres. It can definitely be used to wean away their support base in the tribal belts. Right to Education, Whistleblowers’ Act etc, all go hand in hand. 

Question: Has the media been playing a responsible role in the spreading of awareness about the RTI in Naxal areas? What else can they do?WH: Visual media is playing a role in the spread of awareness about RTI. Doordarshan has given coverage in collaboration with the respective state governments to promote community television or education through community televisions and computerization through NREGA (already in place) by putting up computer systems in rural areas. Furthermore, the PDS system needs to be strengthened and visual media’s support can be sought for that.

Question: Can the corrupt practices in Indian politics and bureaucracy be reformed towards changing the pattern of uneducated vulnerable tribal population being targeted by the Naxals for support?
WH: Taken with RTE, if the RTI is promoted successfully in rural and tribal areas, it will help engender a demand for awareness. Political demand for the same will automatically follow if the masses demand for it. Effective utilization of RTI will also have a remedial effect on corruption in the Indian political and bureaucratic system; it will not eliminate it, but can be used for imposing restraint.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Administrative News (Jun 20 2010)

Dear Friends ,

This is a news bite appeared in deccan chronical which says there is acute shortage of IAS officers in the country and hence are proposing to conduct examination for the state public servants to induct in to IAS. But as usual this is a thought - not sure when it will materialise.

Also there is a summary of the survey conducted among the ICS ( Indian Civil Service ) officers which might give some idea of how IAS/IPS/IFS officers are feeling.


June 17: The government has proposed special examinations to induct young officers recruited through the state civil services into the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

Faced with a shortfall of at least 560 IAS officers across India, a proposal for the UPSC to hold “limited” competitive examinations to allow young officers serving in the states to join the IAS is being actively considered by the Prime Minister’s Office.

A similar move to make up the acute shortfall of IPS officers through a “limited competitive examination” for young officers in central police organisations, central paramilitary forces and state police forces had been firmed up by the Union ministry for home affairs in March this year. The proposal had been struck down by the UPSC, prompting the home ministry to approach the PMO to overrule the UPSC’s decision.

Home minister P. Chidambaram will meet law minister Veerappa Moily and minister of state for personnel Prithviraj Chavan on Friday to elicit their views, settle contentious issues like age criteria, and other modalities involved in holding such exams.

“We will be taking the views of the stakeholders to resolve any complications in view of the concerns expressed by the UPSC. A final view will be taken after we study their suggestions,” an MHA official said.
Bearish Babus
(ICS survey summary)
When the early results of India’s first Civil Services Survey came in from Hyderabad a few months ago, the close-knit team of government officials at the Department of Administrative Reforms associated with the ambitious project weren’t particularly surprised, or shocked.

Yes, there had been disappointment and frustration among leaders of India’s civil services. Men and women of questionable integrity did manage to hold important positions in the government. In fact, they were the ones who often managed to get the better postings.

But almost everyone knew that.

Not many, however, were aware how deep, and widespread, the problem was.

One-third of the respondents in the survey – who studied for years to make it past the fiercely competitive civil services examination – had been almost driven to a point where they wanted to give up their job and the perks that came with it.

“We did have our hypothesis on the basis of practical experience … for instance, we expected the survey to reflect frustration … a divide between the Indian Administrative Service and the non-IAS services and political interference to some extent. It did,” conceded a senior researcher at the Hyderabad-headquartered Centre for Good Governance, which did the survey.

For someone who pegged civil service reforms as a key agenda point for his government six years ago, government officials said the survey delineated the agenda that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to pursue actively. Of course, civil service reforms aren’t going to be easy.

“Government officers have been the target of criticism for far too long. This survey seeks to capture the circumstances that they work in … often with their hands tied behind,” said an official, pointing it was fashionable to compare the private and the public sector without accounting for the handicaps.

A significantly large proportion (42-48%) of the respondents from the three all-India services — the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service — complained about undue outside interference. Many others spoke out about the lack of adequate financial resources and competent staff.

Respondents complained that if they did not fall in line, they ran the big risk of being transferred to an obscure post and location.

“What worries the honest government servant is the prospect of being posted to an obscure (place) with zero job content or worse, a string of such postings as a price for one’s honesty,” the survey report observed. Government officials said the fear of such a posting usually forced most ‘honest’ officials to fall in line. Those who resist spend the better part of their careers living out of their suitcase.

Shekhar Singh, who was with the Indian Institute of Public Administration and has spent years interacting with the civil service, said the impression within the bureaucracy that merit and honesty didn’t count any longer was crucial.

The performance appraisal system has gone for a toss with everyone being ranked as very good or excellent, he said. “A civil servant recently told me that when they joined the service nearly two decades ago, officers were afraid to be corrupt. Now, they are afraid to be honest,” he said.

“The irony,” a senior IAS officer said, “is that the government works so hard to recruit the best minds available into the civil services and then forces them into mediocrity”.

Some officials insist that the ability to work despite the pulls and pressures is one of the greatest strengths of the civil service vis-à-vis the private sector.

But it is something their job trains them to do from the moment they begin their first stint in a district.

“As district magistrate, you not only prioritise the allocation of funds in the face of competing demands from different departments as well as local political representatives; right from the MP down to influential local political leaders,” a senior IAS officer said.

The civil service will definitely be able to deliver better if there aren’t any pulls and pressures.

“But the bitter reality is, this may never happen… never mind what anyone tells you. Reforms are like this transparency bug … Everyone wants it but not for themselves,” said a government official with more than 20 years of experience behind him.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bad Governance leaves Bureaucrats disillusioned

Dear Friends

It is my responsibility to give both sides of the coin with respect to Civil Services and civil servant.This article falls under 'signficant issues in Indian administration' as far as UPSC current syllabus is considered. 

But this should not deter you by taking the exam - as there is no other career can be compared to civil services in India. But at the same time you should not be in an illusion that civil services is feather's bed.  Let me tell you one thing upfront - as you all know clearing civil services is itself a big achievement but its not an end but its a beginning of a long journey which is hailed as even more difficult than clearing the exam. The war between politicians and bureaucrats is long standing and will continue. How well a civil servant handle his political head will depend on his success as a civil servant.

But these are only informations - which can be true or false. What you need to understand is - these issues are happening in Indian Administration.


Disillusioned, dispirited, disgusted, disenchanted, dismayed, disoriented, demoralized, dejected…… these adjectives sum up the current state of bureaucracy in Andhra Pradesh.

For six years now, bureaucrats in the state have been in disarray. Not all of them, of course, but the majority who are committed to work and service of people are certainly feeling the discomfiture.

Deprived of suitable postings where they could function more effectively and deliver better, most of the bureaucrats – particularly the younger lot – are left distressed.

Obviously, this state of despondency among the cream of civil servants – a result of abysmal cadre management – has left a telling impact on the administration in the state.

Administration had, literally, gone to dogs during the regime of (late) Y S Rajasekhara Reddy between 2004 and 2009. And, the rot seems to be continuing even under his successor K Rosaiah.

When S V Prasad, the 1975-batch Indian Administrative Service officer, became the Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh on December 31, 2009, bureaucrats saw a ray of hope in him. Most of the IAS officers, especially the “juniors”, sincerely hoped things would change under the guidance of S V Prasad as he was perceived to be an able officer who had a better understanding of the “cadre.”

Alas, all such hopes seemed to have dashed.

Reading the latest list of transfers (of IAS officers) affected on April 2, one would be left with a sore feeling.

Here’s a classic example: N Nageswara Rao, an IAS officer of the 1992 batch, has been appointed Collector and District Magistrate of Khammam district. He would now be the senior-most officer among the district Collectors in the entire state. That’s, however, not the news. Nageswara Rao practically has 363 days of service left before he superannuates on March 31 next year.

Now, what’s the sense in appointing such an officer to an important post as a district Collector? Another officer M Purushottam Reddy of the 1996 batch, who has been appointed as Collector of Mahbubnagar district, is just two years away from retirement.

Of the 23 districts in the state, 11 districts now have promotee IAS officers as Collector and District Magistrate. Exclude the state capital Hyderabad district, it become 50:50 for regular recruits and promotees. This is something that hasn’t happened in the past.

Also, why did the government develop a sudden love for such officers and land them in prime posts? Nageswara Rao and another IAS officer P Venkateswarlu (1994), posted to Adilabad district as Collector, have already risen to the rank of ‘Secretary to Government’ and should ideally be relegated to suitable postings in the Secretariat or other departments.

There are many young and deserving IAS officers, that too regular recruits, eagerly waiting to be posted to the coveted job of a district Collector. These are the ones who actually need to be posted in the districts so that they can move around with agility, work with more vigor and produce better results. But certainly not the ones who are on the verge of retirement.

Consider another ridiculous thing: Natarajan Gulzar has been appointed Collector and District Magistrate of Hyderabad. He is an IAS officer (regular recruit) of the 1999 batch. Now, he will boss-over a promotee officer V Durga Das (Joint Collector), who technically is one year senior to him in the IAS.

This isn’t the first instance where such postings were given. During YSR’s regime, a similar thing happened in West Godavari where Lav Agarwal (1996 batch) was the Collector and B Ramanjaneyulu (1995) was the Joint Collector.

The Chief Minister might be unaware of such technicalities but what were the top bureaucrats, who were supposed to guide him in such matters, doing? Was the Chief Secretary unaware of these lapses? Was also the Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary Jannat Husain ignorant about it?

Such goof-ups will not only show them in poor light but also threaten to damage the system as such.

Time to Change the Exam Pattern

Dear Friends,

Came across this article in 'The Hindu' wanted to share with you all.Even if there is a change - good news is Public Administration remains as this is core subject for any Administrative work

GM StudyCenter

Those aspiring to be civil servants must have not only the required skills and knowledge, but also the right values which would include integrity, commitment to public service and above all, commitment to the ideals and philosophy embodied in the Constitution.

So, a number of committees and commissions were set up to make recommendations on various aspects of recruitment. The first was the Macaulay committee of 1854. It established the principle of ‘transferability of academic talent to administration.' The Macaulay system continued till three decades after Independence.

In 1976, the Kothari committee recommended a sequential system of examination based on the dictum that the average quality would get richer as the stream proceeds from one ‘stage to the next'. Accordingly, the examination was designed as a sequential three-stage process: an objective-type Preliminary examination comprising one Optional and General Studies, a Main examination which would comprise nine written papers and, finally, a Personality Test.

In 1989, the Satish Chandra Committee was appointed to suggest reforms and it recommended minor changes to the Kothari model. Accordingly, an ‘Essay' paper was introduced and the marks for the Interview were enhanced. Presently, the Civil Services Examination is conducted on an annual basis on this pattern.

The new millennium demanded excellence at every level of governance which required almost total re-shaping, re-structuring of the economic as well as the administrative apparatus of the government. Responding to this need, the Y.K. Alagh Committee, in 2001, recommended significant changes.

At the Preliminary level, it suggested that the ‘optional' subject should be continued but the General Studies paper should be recast to that of a Civil Services Aptitude Test comprising questions on ‘basic awareness', ‘problem solving and analytical abilities' ( situation from the civil services arena to be taken to test reasoning and understanding of problems ) and ‘data analysis ability.'

In order to establish a level-playing field it recommended that the optionals at the Main examination be replaced by four compulsory papers: Sustainable Development and Social Justice, Science and Technology in Society, Democratic Governance, Public Systems and Human Rights. The Second Administrative Reforms (Veerappa Moily) Commission in its report in 2008 upheld the recommendations of the Alagh Committee and made a few more significant suggestions.

The first step in this direction is its proposal to introduce a Civil Services Aptitude Test at the Preliminary level from the year 2011.

The Preliminary examination is expected to be re-modelled in either of the following formats:

Format-I: In this, following the Alagh Committee recommendations, the Preliminary examination may comprise the following two objective-type papers: Optional Subject (300 marks) and Civil Services Aptitude Test (200 marks).

Format-II: Following the recommendations of P.S. Bhatnagar, the Preliminary examination may comprise the following two objective-type papers: Civil Services Aptitude Test (300 marks) and General Studies (300 marks).

The Union Public Service Commission may choose any of the above formats and a notification may be expected by May-June this year. Whatever the format, the Civil Services Aptitude Test appears to be on the anvil.

Likely pattern

A Civil Services Aptitude Test would comprise questions which would test the ‘problem solving', ‘analytical', ‘logical reasoning' and ‘decision-making skills' of the aspirant. To ensure that these questions are relevant they would necessarily be from the arena of civil services with an underlying essence of Public Administration in practice.

The UPSC is expected to push for changes at the level of the Main examination too. It is seriously examining the proposal of including compulsory papers exclusively from the domain of humanities based on the French model of examination. The compulsory papers that are expected to be introduced are: Sustainable Development and Social Justice; Democratic Governance, Public Systems and Human Rights; Indian Constitution with an emphasis on Indian Legal System including Administrative Law; Economic Theory and Indian Economic System; Administrative Theories and Organisational Behaviour and Indian Administrative System. However, these changes are not expected in the near future.


The news of any change is an unnerving moment for any serious aspirant. However, if one is mentally prepared, the transition becomes easier. Given below are a few broad guidelines to help the prospective aspirant to prepare for the examination:

1. First and foremost, there is only a proposal for a change in ‘principle'. The change is to be debated and accepted. The UPSC has to formally declare the new pattern. Till then, all aspirants should continue with the old pattern.

2. As the questions would be from the arena of the civil services, all aspirants irrespective of their background should try to understand the philosophy behind the Constitution, its ideals, its principles and its focus on development. Having understood the constitutional framework they should comprehend the position of the civil services in the relevant context.

3. Having acquired basic knowledge within the given parameters, the next step would be to understand the logic behind every provision. Till now, what was tested was the ‘what'; now, what would be tested will be the ‘why'.

4. The mode of preparation should change from the ‘descriptive' mode to the ‘explanatory' mode.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Constitution today

Dear Friends,

This article is taken from Frontline.While writing the answers it is very important to have an all round understanding of the constitution. More importantly every now and then civil servant will have to interpret the the constitution in its real spirit. These are the articles which you have to read again and again.


Article is written by A.G. NOORANI

It is the people who alone can make it work.

C. Rajagopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was the Chairman of the Union Constitution Committee and the Union Powers Committee. Vallabhbhai Patel was the Chairman of the Committee on the Principles of a Model Provincial Constitution and the Advisory Committee on Minorities, Fundamental Rights, etc.

“Constitutions are easily copied, temperaments are not; and if it should happen that the borrowed constitution and the native temperament fail to correspond, the misfit may have serious results. It matters little what other gifts a people may possess if they are wanting in those which from this point of view are of most importance. If, for example, they have no capacity for grading their loyalties as well as for being moved by them; if they have no natural inclination to liberty and no natural respect for law; if they lack good humour and tolerate foul play; if they know not how to compromise or when; if they have not that distrust of extreme conclusions which is sometimes misdescribed as want of logic; if corruption does not repel them; and if their divisions tend to be either too numerous or too profound, the successful working of British institutions may be difficult or impossible.

“It may be least possible where the acts of parliamentary persuasion and the dexterities of party management are brought to their highest perfections. Let the political parties be reduced to two (admittedly the most convenient number for Cabinet government), but let the chasm dividing them be so profound that a change of administration would in fact be a revolution disguised under a constitutional procedure” (Walter Bagehot; The English Constitution, The World’s Classics; Oxford University Press; 1867, Balfour’s Introduction to the Second Edition, 1928; pp. xxii-xxiii).

THE framers of India’s Constitution decided, at the very outset, to adopt the parliamentary system of government based on the British model. On this the two top leaders were agreed. Jawaharlal Nehru was Chairman of the Union Constitution Committee as well as the Union Powers Committee. Vallabhbhai Patel was Chairman of the Committee on the Principles of A Model Provincial Constitution and the Advisory Committee on Minorities, Fundamental Rights, etc.

As early as June 5, 1947, it was decided, at a joint meeting of the Union and Provincial Constitution committees, to emulate the British model. Patel announced the decision in the Constituent Assembly on July 15, 1947: “Both these committees met and they came to the conclusion that it would suit the conditions of this country better to adopt the parliamentary system of Constitution, the British type of Constitution with which we are familiar” (Constituent Assembly Debates (CAD); Vol. 40; page 578).

Two days later, Patel told the Assembly that “a Schedule according (sic.) to the traditions of responsible government will be framed and put in”. Members demanded that the Schedule be put in first before the clause conferring powers on the governors was adopted. Patel retorted angrily: “It has been suggested that there is no guarantee that the Schedule will come. There is as much guarantee about it as a guarantee that the House will meet tomorrow” (ibid., pages 648-649).

Two years later, on October 11, 1949, at the fag end of the Assembly’s labours, the Schedules containing two Instruments of Instructions, for the President and the Governors, were dropped; a little over a month before the Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949. The Instruments codified a few of the conventions on which the uncodified British parliamentary system rests. T.T. Krishnamachari, a member of the Assembly’s Drafting Committee, explained unconvincingly: “It has now been felt that the matter should be left entirely to convention rather than be put into the body of the Constitution.” The directions to the President and the Governors “really should arise out of conventions that grow from time to time, and the President and the Governors in their respective spheres will be guided by those conventions” (CAD; Vol.X; pages 114-116. For the texts vide B. Shiva Rao The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents on India’s Constitution; Vol. IV; pages 67-6 8. emphasis added, throught). Sixty years of the working of India’s Constitution have belied these expectations which were unrealistic even in 1949. What Indian conventions did he expect to “grow”?

It would be a gross exaggeration to say that the perversions of the parliamentary system we have witnessed all these years, at the Centre and in the States, would not have occurred if only the conventions had been codified. Even the letter of the supreme law, the text of the Constitution, has not been spared abuse. But codification could have served as a significant check and, more, as a guide to the people by which they could judge the conduct of those they had voted to power.

Each of the major offices and institutions that the Constitution set up in 1950 bears a battered shape in 2010 – the President, Parliament, the Supreme Court, Governors, State Assemblies and the High Courts. The generation that works the system it established has a radically different outlook from that of those who enacted it and worked it for some years thereafter. As far back as 1962 Myron Weiner wrote of “India’s two political cultures”, the culture in the districts and “the second political culture [which] predominates in New Delhi”, an “emerging mass political culture” and an “elite political culture” (Political Change in South Asia; Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay; page 114).

This was, perhaps, a trifle simplistic even in 1947 or 1962. By 2010 the divide has all but vanished. We have had Prime Ministers like Charan Singh, Chandrashekhar, and H.D. Deve Gowda, who could have done little credit even to the office of the Chief Minister. Parliament is as rowdy as any State Assembly. It is more meaningful to talk of our constitutional culture. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, was steeped not only in British and American constitutional history and constitutional law, but also in the history of Greece and Rome and in political science. In this he was peerless among lawyers. His colleague, Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, was an erudite conservative, while K.M. Munshi, alert to political realities, spoke more than once, unlike Sir Alladi, in defence of the citizens’ rights.
Constitutional lawyers of the time had drunk deep at the fount of British constitutional lore. With H.M. Seervai’s death in 1996, the last of the constitutional lawyers was gone. We have advocates of conspicuous ability ready to argue on complex issues of constitutional law or company law but bereft of the erudition and the insights that make a constitutional lawyer. They know little outside the law. If this seems harsh, listen closely to the off-the-cuff remarks they so readily dish out to anchors on television shows or editors at the drop of a hat, as it were.

When did we last see a single judge of the Supreme Court who had earned a reputation as a constitutional lawyer before his appointment to the court? How many erudite, incisive commentaries on the Indian Constitution can one cite today? The discourse is debased by political partisanship, craze for publicity, and an assertiveness that is not backed by learning. Constitutional illiteracy has spread. Informed critiques are few. Abuse receives censure that is sporadic and seldom well-informed.

There is something lacking and that is the spirit of constitutionalism. Balfour’s caution is one of the many that mocks us as we survey the situation today. Gladstone held that the British Constitution “presumes more boldly than any other, the good faith of those who work it”. That good faith is none too conspicuous in our public life.We resented British admonitions as excuses for denying India its right to govern itself. Especially these observations in the Report of the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform: “Parliamentary government, as it is understood in the United Kingdom, works by the interaction of four essential factors; the principle of majority rule; the willingness of the minority for the time being to accept the decisions of the majority; the existence of great political parties divided by broad issues of policy, rather than by sectional interests; and finally the existence of a mobile body of public opinion, owing no permanent allegiance to any party and therefore able, by its instinctive reaction against extravagant movements on one side or the other, to keep the vessel on an even keel. In India none of these factors can be said to exist today. There are no parties, as we understand them, and there is no considered body of political opinion which can be described as mobile” (Vol. 1 (Part 1) Session 1933-34; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO), London; 1934; page 210). It was an illiberal document, but those words sting. They are so true.

South Asia is unique among parliamentary democracies in enacting laws against defections by legislators. Such a malaise cannot be cured by laws alone. It reflects a state of political morality and an outlook that rejects the system. The defector will readily topple a newly elected government for personal gain and even wreck the system for political gain. To his niece Blanche Dugdale, Balfour was more forthright, in a conversation on April 25, 1925: “I doubt if it is written in any book on the British Constitution that the whole essence of British parliamentary government lies in the intention to make the thing work. We take that for granted. We have spent hundreds of years in elaborating a system that rests on that alone. It is so deep in us that we have lost sight of it. But it is not so obvious to others. These peoples – Indians, Egyptians, and so on – study our learning. They read our history, our philosophy, and our politics. They learn about our parliamentary methods of obstruction, but nobody explains to them that when it comes to the point all our parliamentary parties are determined that the machinery shan’t stop. ‘The King’s government must go on,’ as the Duke of Wellington said. But their idea is that the function of opposition is to stop the machine.”

The constitutional lawyer Ivor Jennings wrote in his famous work Cabinet Government: “The function of parliament is not to govern but to criticise. Its criticism, too, is directed not so much towards a fundamental modification of the government’s policy as towards the education of public opinion… the government governs and the Opposition criticises. Failure to understand this simple principle is one of the causes of the failure of so many of the progeny of mother of parliaments and of the suppression of parliamentary government by dictatorship” (page 16).

The frailty of public morality of India’s political class was no secret even during the freedom movement. Motilal Nehru wrote to his son Jawaharlal on December 2, 1926, about the tactics used “under the auspices” of men of stature like Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lajpat Rai in an election: “Communal politics and heavy bribing of the voters was the Order of the day. I am thoroughly disgusted and am now seriously thinking of retiring from public life…. The Malaviya-Lala gang aided by Birlas’ money are making frantic efforts to capture the Congress” (Jawaharlal Nehru; A Bunch of Old Letters; 1958, page 50). The Governor of Bengal Lord Lytton complained to the Viceroy about the practice of bribing members of the Legislative Council in the early 1920s (Evolution of Parliamentary Privileges in India till 1947; Salil Kumar Nag; 1978; page 212).

The wise Rajaji saw it all and wrote while in prison: “Elections and their corruptions (sic.), injustice and life power and tyranny of wealth, and inefficiency of administration will make a hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old regime of comparative justice and efficient, peaceful, more or less honest administration.“The only thing gained will be that as a race we will be saved from dishonour and subordination. Hope lies only in universal education by which right conduct, fear of God and love will be developed among the citizens from childhood. It is only if we succeed in this that Swaraj will mean happiness. Otherwise it will mean grinding injustices and tyranny of wealth.”

None of this was absent from the minds of the framers of our Constitution, least of all from the most erudite and discerning one among them, B. R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee. He was far removed from the tribe of lawyers whose vision is limited to texts and precedents. Ambedkar was erudite, profound and insightful.

Constitutional morality
While moving for the adoption of the Draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, Ambedkar quoted at some length Grote, the historian of Greece, on constitutional morality. It meant “a paramount reverence for the forms of the Constitution, enforcing obedience to authority acting under and within these forms yet combined with the habits of the speech of action subject only to defined legal control, and unrestrained censure of those very authorities as to all their public acts combined too with a perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen, amidst the bitterness of party contest, that the forms of the Constitution will not be less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than in his own.”

Such confidence was not overly abundant even in 1948. Sixty years later, it does not exist. Ambedkar was not unaware of its frail nature. “Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic” (CAD; Vol. VII; page 38). The seth who converts his proprietary firm into a company does not acquire the corporate culture.
On November 25, 1949, when he moved “That the Constitution as settled by the Assembly be passed”, Ambedkar said: “However good a constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it happen to be a bad lot…. It is, therefore, futile to pass any judgment upon the Constitution without reference to the part which the people and their parties are likely to play.” The following day the President of the Constituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, pointed out that many things that cannot be written in a constitution are done by conventions. “Let me hope that we shall show those capacities and develop those conventions.” (CAD; Vol. VII; page 38, and Vol. XII; pages 975 and 993).

Indian politicians, the tallest included, betrayed the trust reposed in them. As far back as November 19, 1954, the then Union Home Minister, Kailash Nath Katju, described the practice in vogue in these picturesque terms in the Lok Sabha: “Offer some plums before them, give a laddu to one, a rasagulla to another… members from Independents will join and you will then be able to produce a majority. Now, this is an insult to the Constitution. This is a mockery of the Constitution.”

A Constitution rests on the foundations of basic norms of political morality as Katju correctly noted. The situation deteriorated further in 1967 when the Congress lost its hegemony. Defections became the norm. Now half a century after Katju spoke, we have lost not only vestiges of political morality but also a national consensus on which a democracy can function. During 1969-1989 it was Indira Gandhi, and later Rajiv Gandhi, versus the rest. From 1990 to this day, it is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva versus the rest. We are a badly split polity justifying Balfour’s fears.

It is absurd to suggest that the presidential system accorded better with our national character such as it is. The defector or bitter partisan who topples a government in the parliamentary system will bring the government itself to a grinding halt as Newt Gingrich did in the United States. In India, it would pave the way for a legitimised autocracy. It is, however, one thing to lament the growing disconnect between constitutional values and public morality and between the text of the Constitution and the underlying conventions of the parliamentary system on which the text is based. It is another to assert that the Constitution is unsuited to the Indian character and temperament and should be discarded in favour of a shuddh (pure) swadeshi document, as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) holds.

This was the very argument which Indira Gandhi’s supporters in Britain patronisingly asserted during the Emergency. They received their just deserts from Prof. W.H. Morris-Jones, Constitutional Adviser to the Viceroy in 1947 and a scholar of high repute: Referring to Eldon Griffiths’ defence of the Emergency, Prof. Morris-Jones wrote to The Times (London) on June 25, 1976:“Mr Griffiths’ jibe about ‘exhibit A of the Westminster model abroad’ misses the point that it had become a specifically Indian achievement; it only adds insult to the injury already suffered by Indian democrats. Such denigration has long been a sport in which high imperial Tory and revolutionary Marxist could find common enjoyment. Even your own leader (June 21) chose an odd time to point out the limitations of democracy under Congress, for an incomplete democracy is diminished further, not remedied by illiberation.

“Nor can one easily detect any clear and consistent signs that the elite-mass gap which you deplore is being closed by the present regime of Mrs Indira Gandhi. And just how may the change ‘accord better with indigenous habits’? Are habits never modified? Had not growing numbers of Indians begun to make the habits of liberal democracy indigenous? Surely it is a ‘massive’ loss when damage is done to a way of political life which in two decades had already converted into citizens so many who had been subjects beyond the political pale…. Moreover, the gains are doubly suspect. In origin they are at best uncertainly attributable to Mrs. Gandhi’s dose of autocracy. In their effects they appear too fragile to endure. Unitedly, Indian democracy had freely mobilised demands and grievances; in its place is put none of the usual alternatives.”

The Constitution of India is very much an Indian achievement and Indian democracy, which it nurtures and protects, has struck root in the Indian soil. These achievements were predicted by some British statesmen. By none more prophetically or eloquently than Thomas Babington Macaulay who is decried for his thoughtless Minute on Indian Education dated February 2, 1835. Overlooked is his majestic peroration in the House of Commons on July 10, 1833, perhaps the very first prediction by anyone, English or Indian, of India’s eventual rise to self-government (“demand European Institutions”).

The parliamentary system has struck root in the entire South Asia. Its practice can be improved. There is no cause for despair provided the causes are accurately understood and the remedies effectively devised. Consider the office of the President. The first holder of the office, Rajendra Prasad, sought to undermine parliamentary democracy. His successor, S. Radhakrishnan, bared his ambitions and animosities no sooner than he assumed office. Bar Zakir Hussain, we had since rubber stamps or intriguers. We owe it to Shankar Dayal Sharma and K.R. Narayanan that in 2010 the office is just what the framers intended it to be – a constitutional head of state in the parliamentary democracy. How did this come about? Because all the major political parties realised that it was in their interests to abide by the rules. A wayward President is a menace to all; to one party now, to the opposition tomorrow.

Eleven principles
The record from 1950-2010 establishes the following eleven principles. First and foremost, it is now firmly established that the President is entitled, in exercise of his own judgment, to question the government’s bills, appointments and policy proposals. Secondly, within limits, Presidents can comment on affairs of the state in public. Criticism of the government must be muted, though it should be more in the nature of sounding an alarm. In rare cases, public expression of disquiet is proper. Thirdly, the President is entitled to admonish and even censure the Prime Minister in private. Fourthly, the President’s right to know, embodied in Article 78, is not challenged. Fifthly, the practice is now established of the President receiving leaders of opposition parties, singly or in a delegation, to lodge a protest against the government’s action. He offers no comment but forwards the protest to the Prime Minister and speaks to him, if he so decides. Sixthly, it is established that the President is not bound to accept the Prime Minister’s request for dissolution of the Lok Sabha but is entitled to exercise his judgment and consider the alternatives before accepting it.

Seventhly, the power of dismissal of the government cannot be exercised except on the extreme grounds mentioned in textbooks. There was universal criticism of Zail Singh’s intentions in 1987 and again of his admission of them in 1992. The best course is to have an explicit provision on the lines of Articles 91 (5) and 130 (5) of the Pakistan Constitution, respectively for the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of States. They say that while the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers hold office “during the pleasure” of the respective heads of state, the latter will not exercise their powers unless satisfied that the head of government has ceased to command the confidence of the House. There follows the crucial constraint – “in which case he shall summon the National Assembly and require the Prime Minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the Assembly”. An identical expression is used for Governors.

Eighthly, not only the opposition parties but Chief Ministers of States also invoke the President’s moral authority as “guardian of the Constitution”; in their case, specifically to safeguard its federal character.

Ninthly, in 1977, the acting President, B.D. Jatti, was extremely reluctant to sign the proclamation under Article 356 imposing President’s Rule in certain States. The government’s threat of resignation induced him to sign the documents. The Postal Bill is of far less consequence. The fact remains that two successive Presidents, Zail Singh and R. Venkataraman, declined to sign it. They returned it for reconsideration in exercise of their own individual judgment. It is well settled that assent cannot be withheld; only reconsideration can be sought. If re-enacted assent must follow.

Tenthly, the question whether the President can assert a right, under Article 86, to address Parliament or to send messages to either of its Houses in his own discretion, is open. In 1950 the Attorney-General opined against it in the face of President Rajendra Prasad’s challenge on a host of issues. His opinion on the point gave no reasons. At the least, the matter is open. It is unthinkable that in an extreme case a President would flinch from taking his case to Parliament.

Lastly, the President is entitled to insist, when appointing a Prime Minister, that he obtain a vote of confidence from Parliament within a stipulated short period.

The existence of the President’s power of dismissal has not been seriously challenged. There is near unanimity on fears of its abuse. No responsible politician has sought such an intervention by the President against his political opponents. In 1987, some carpetbaggers did. In June, Zail Singh was tempted but wiser counsel prevailed. He would have come to grief.
India’s democracy has functioned for 60 years, bar the interlude of the Emergency. But the parliamentary system came into its own only since 1992.

Situation in the States
But this is not so in the States. Discredited Ministers are appointed Governors (Shivraj Patil and H.R. Bhardwaj). So are civil servants whose shelf-life has expired. They act as the Centre’s agents. The Chief Minister himself owes his office to the bounty of the central high command of his or her party. He cannot select his own Ministers, expand his Cabinet or sack a dissident without the high command’s permission. This is a result of the practice of 1937-39 when Congress Ministries were responsible to the high command rather than the elected legislature, a perversion that Prof. Reginald Coupland criticised trenchantly.

There is another flaw, even more fundamental. The Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislative Assembly acquires the party’s ticket to contest the polls not from his partymen in the constituency but from his party bosses. He serves as a bondman. Members of Parliament in Britain can defy the party whip. The Indian legislator lacks the capacity to revolt.

Speaker’s office
In 1937, the issue arose whether Purushottam Das Tandon should resign his party membership on election as Speaker. Both Gandhi and Nehru held that he need not, unmindful of the rights of non-Congress MLAs (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, First Series, Vol. 8; pages 351 and 376). Nehru deprecated following “blindly British practice and procedure”. Truth to tell, Nehru’s outlook on constitutional issues differed from Ambedkar’s. The hoary Erskine May holds: “Confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker is an indispensable condition for the successful working of the procedure, and many conventions exist which have as their object not only to ensure the impartiality of the Speaker but also to ensure that his impartiality is generally recognised.” In India, this “indispensable condition” does not exist and has not existed for many years.

One doctrine deserves speedy burial: the Speaker’s office is a gift in the hands of the ruling party. The Economist of November 19, 1994, wrote: “Over the grey men, the placemen and the hired men who characterise the present House of Commons, a star shines. Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker, dominates a difficult House to a degree that her immediate predecessors never attained.” She was elected in 1993 with the support of the Conservatives though she belonged to the Labour opposition. “She won because 74 Tories rightly rebelled at the thought of someone who had just left the Cabinet – the government’s unofficial candidate, Peter Brooke – sitting in the Speaker’s chair and posing as a neutral arbiter of proceedings.”

In India, such a revolt would be unthinkable and the language The Economist used would be regarded as breach of parliamentary privilege by Speakers, most of whom are no more than instruments of the government’s will. These are the very men who will act as judges on issues of free speech in the name of “parliamentary privilege”.

The anti-defection law calculatedly makes the Speaker judge and thus further politicises an office politicised already to a degree. But Parliament itself is held to ransom. “We don’t want a debate for debate’s sake,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee said on December 19, 1995, while the memorandum of the Left Front and the Janata Dal to the President, on December 22, 1995, queried: “Can we remain supine spectators of parliamentary proceedings being reduced to desiccating debates, particularly when the government has, time and again, cynically tried to sweep a succession of scandals under the carpet?”The implication is plain. Since debates do not yield the result desired by the Opposition, it will prevent Parliament from functioning. There is a certain contempt for debates per se, as if they are an exercise in futility. However, parliamentary debate has a direct impact on the minds of the public.

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court does not enjoy the esteem that apex courts enjoy in Britain, Canada or Australia. It is not politicised unlike the U.S. Supreme Court. But it has exceeded its explicit constitutional limits to usurp the power to appoint judges to itself, to veto the police’s professional discretion to investigate into the conduct of, and to prosecute, a judge, to order the legislature on how it should conduct its affairs, and intrude on the executive and legislative domain and to silence the citizen who asserts a right to censure the judges. Constitutional learning was not expended on any of these matters. Ipse dixit were used confidently and lavishly.

Parliament had to step in to provide that truth is a defence to a charge of contempt of court.But the Supreme Court is benumbed with excessive caution when faced with issues the nation expects it to answer. We know the havoc wreaked by Justice J.S. Verma’s palpably flawed judgment allowing campaigns for Hindutva to pass muster in elections. On April 16, 1996, a three-member Bench of the Supreme Court noted the conflict in the court’s decisions (Verma had studiously ignored ones that ran counter to his view).

The Bench directed the Registry to place the case before the Chief Justice “for constituting a larger Bench of five judges, and, if possible, at an early date so that all the questions arising in the present appeal could be decided authoritatively and expeditiously” (Abhiram Singh vs C.D. Commachen & Others (1996) 3 Supreme Court Cases 665, para 14; page 671).

Chief Justices of India have come and gone since, including J.S. Verma himself. Five general elections to the Lok Sabha and umpteen to State Assemblies have followed. With characteristic mendacity leaders of the Sangh Parivar tout the Verma ruling as the last word, which it is not. The Supreme Court has refused to heed the plea to decide the matter at “an early date”. Its silence is deafening.

So it is on the issue of parliamentary privileges, which are abused rampantly. One has lost count of the petitions pending before the court. The latest was by The Hindu. On December 9, 2004, the Supreme Court referred the issue to a seven-judge Bench, though not before delivering uncalled-for homilies to the press. Five years have rolled by. The Bench is yet to be constituted. The abuses continue apace to the court’s knowledge, of course.

Need for reform
On each of these matters – Parliament, Governors, the Speaker’s office and the Supreme Court – reform is feasible and practicable through constitutional amendment provided that the major political parties realise that, as in the case of the office of the President, it is in their interest to abide by the Constitution and remove the deformities that have crept in.

We consciously adopted, in Patel’s words, “the British type of Constitution” and froze our parliamentary privileges to the state they were in Britain on January 26, 1950. But our political class wilfully ignores developments in the U.K. thereafter. Fifty years later, a committee of both Houses of Parliament recommended codification of the privileges and abolition of the power to imprison for contempt. In Britain, it noted, “members do not divide on party lines” on issues of privilege. In India they do. The British model itself has evolved significantly. One of the most eminent authorities, Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at Oxford, has written an erudite work entitled The New British Constitution (Hart Publishing; pages 392, £17.95). He traces the radical changes introduced by the Human Rights Act, the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales by referenda, etc. Particularly relevant to India is the chapter on “Hung Parliaments; Governing without a Majority”, a fate all too common here.

Mass disenchantment
However, far more relevant are his remarks on the state of politics despite the reforms. It describes our lot as well: “Constitutional reform seems to have done little to combat disenchantment with politics. That disenchantment has been marked by a fall in turnout in general elections, a decline in the membership of political parties, and by a weakening in popular identification with political parties.”

The mass political party is dying on its feet. “It is hardly surprising, then, that the constitutional reform programme has made so little impact upon political disenchantment, for it has done little to open up a political system dominated by political parties, whose roots are no longer as deep as they once were, whose relationship to social interests is far less intimate than it was in the past, and which are not able ideologically to penetrate British society. Parties are no longer the pre-eminent mechanism for the expression of political opinion in Britain. They have become primarily a means by which the voter can choose between competing teams of rulers. The constitutional reforms do little to touch this condition; they do little to meet popular aspirations in a post-socialist and individualist age. They do little, therefore, to meet real popular grievances….

“The real achievement of constitutional reform is to have redistributed power, but it has redistributed power between elites, not between elites and the people. …. The next stage of constitutional reform, therefore, and a far more difficult stage, must be a redistribution of power, not from one part of the elite to another, amongst those professionally involved in politics and the law, but from politicians to the people.”

It is the people who alone can make the Constitution work. As John Stuart Mill noted: “If we ask ourselves on what causes and conditions good government in all its senses, from the humblest to the most exalted, depends, we find that the principal of them, the one which transcends all others, is the qualities of the human beings composing the society over which the government is exercised. Of what avail is the most broadly popular representative system if the electors do not care to choose the best member of Parliament, but choose him who will spend most money to be elected? How can a representative assembly work for good if its members can be bought, or if their excitability of temperament, uncorrected by public discipline or private self-control, makes them incapable of calm deliberation, and they resort to manual violence on the floor of the House, or shoot at one another with rifles? How, again, can government, or any joint concern, be carried on in a tolerable manner by people so envious that if one among them seems likely to succeed in anything those who ought to cooperate with him form a tacit combination to make him fail? Whenever the general disposition of the people is such that each individual regards those only of his interests which are selfish, and does not dwell on, or concern himself for, his share of the general interest, in such a state of things good government is impossible” (Considerations on Representative Government, Everyman’s Library, page 192).

To read such old truths of 1861 is to realise how far we have gone. It is an accurate description of the state of our legislatures, Central and State, and of our politics in 2010. On this our own Dr Ambedkar’s words are even more striking: “I feel that it [the Constitution] is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was Vile” (CAD; Vol.VII; page 44).