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RAM JETHMALANI
ETHICS & POWER

Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Government doesn’t want a JPC because it cannot corrupt it

Uproar in the Lok Sabha over the demand for JPC (PTI)

ur Parliament has not been able to able to work for more than two weeks now, which is a matter of national concern. People are getting angry and disgusted. Of course the blame is being laid at the door of the ruling party, as well as the Opposition parties, usually without any serious application of mind to the question, "Whose wooden-headedness is the proximate cause of this sorry impasse?" Those whose judgement is not clouded by party politics are asking the question, "Why are the Prime Minister and his party afraid of an investigation by a Joint Committee of both Houses?" What follows helps to provide a rational and honest answer to this question.

Today I am not even aware whether the Prime Minister has been advised by his law officers that the Parliament of UK in constitutional history is called the "Grand Inquest of the Nation". This description is apt for our Parliament too. In India, the word "inquest" is known to many as the coroner's inquiry over the dead body of a person who has met with an unnatural death. It is the primary function of Parliament to hold an inquest over the dead body of good governance and integrity. There is no other body more qualified to unearth the truth. In the classic book by Anson entitled The Law and Custom of the Constitution, on page 384, the learned author refers to the control exercised by Parliament on actions of the Ministers of the Crown as a part of the function as the Grand Inquest of the Nation. On page 400 he refers to the appointment of a body, which though consisting largely of members of one or both Houses, contains also some outside elements, and is, therefore, in the nature of an independent tribunal less likely to be influenced by party bias.

In the classic book on parliamentary practice by Erskine May, on page 729 of the twentieth edition, the learned author refers to the habitual appointment of joint committees composed of equal number of members from each House to consider specific matters of public importance, including bills to be passed. The practice in India is no different. Subhash Kashyap's well known treatise on the same subject records at page 1793:

"In a letter dated 11th June 1987, HMPA requested the Speaker, LS and Chairman, RS to constitute a Jt. Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the report of Swedish national Audit Bureau re. alleged payment made to individuals and companies in connections with a contract entered into my Defence Miny. With M/s. Bofors of Sweden for requisition of 155 mm guns. HMPA was informed by the Speaker and Chairman that a Jt. Parliamentary Committee can be appointed by POs in consultation with each other or by a motion with names of members forming part of motion itself or by a motion authorising POs to nominate members from the respective Houses. However, in view of the special circumstances and importance of the matter, it would be better if such a Committee is appointed by a motion moved in one House and concurred in by the other House. A motion for appointment of a Jt. Committee was accordingly made on 6th Aug. 1987 in LS and concurred in by RS on 12th Aug. 1987."

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It is the primary function of Parliament to hold an inquest over the dead body of good governance.

People are justly wondering why the ruling party prefers investigation by the CBI instead of the JPC. Commonsense and experience provide the reason. The ruling party is unfortunately able to corrupt and control the CBI, whose proceedings will be totally devoid of any transparency For lack of space, I do not wish to enter into a detailed discussions of why people who know have lost faith in the efficiency and integrity of the CBI, which once upon a time it certainly did posses in good measure. Proceedings before the Hon'ble Supreme Court in the very same matter do nothing to repair the damage to its reputation for integrity which the CBI has caused to itself over the last few years. One can point to concluded judgements of the Supreme Court in which the CBI has been seriously criticised on this very score. The Joint Parliamentary Committee certainly does not enjoy the power to arrest innocent persons, secure false confessions or to intimidate witnesses into lying, to the ruin of respectable citizens.

It is open to Parliament to have in the Parliamentary Committee two or more retired chief justices and jurists of impeccable integrity and spotless reputation to add to the credibility of the JPC. The nation will heave a sigh of relief if the government promptly takes the sensible step of conceding the Opposition's demand and enables the Houses of Parliament to revert to normalcy.

 
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