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Lots Of MPs Are Excellent, We Can’t Paint The Entire Political Class With Black Brush, AG Tells Supreme Court

The Attorney General, K.K.Venugopal, today told the Supreme Court bench of Justice J.Chelameswar and S.Abdul Nazeer, that it is not fair to assume that the political class, by nature, is corrupt.  He was responding to the petitioner, S.N.Shukla of the NGO, Lok Prahari, who claimed that politics has become the most lucrative profession in India with the number of crorepatis among the politicians on the rise.

While Shukla justified the need for a permanent institutional mechanism to deal with complaints of corruption against political class, the Attorney General opposed it saying that the presumption that the Central Board of Direct Taxes is not monitoring or exercising its responsibilities effectively is not justified.

When Justice Chelameswar posed a specific question on the desirability of creating an institutional mechanism for the purpose, the AG referred to cases of farmers’ suicides and the prison reform cases before the Court, when the Government’s assurances that it is taking effective steps has been acknowledged by the Court, in its orders. “Let the Government get some time to work out its plans”, he suggested to the bench.

The AG expressed his view that it is wrong to presume every allegation as a case of corruption.  If a doctor takes his or her fee in cash, can we presume it is corruption, he asked.  When the bench asked why he did not think of giving the example of lawyers instead of doctors, the AG, in a lighter vein, admitted that he had to be cautious, with lawyers present in the court keenly watching the proceedings.

Impact of Privacy Judgment

Today’s proceedings saw an interesting exchange between Justice Chelameswar and the AG on the right to privacy.  When the AG claimed that with the elevation of the right to privacy as a fundamental right by the  Supreme Court, there is now a valid ground for denying information about the source of income of candidates, their spouses, and their dependents, as sought for by the petitioner.   Justice Chelameswar then observed that the right has to be balanced with the right to know about the candidates, which is equally a fundamental right protected under Article 19(1)(a).

The AG then responded that it is this balancing of right which he was arguing before the nine-Judge bench in the privacy case when he said that the poor and the underprivileged have a right to basic necessities of life, which the State wanted to ensure by making Aadhaar card mandatory.   Justice Chelameswar responded saying while balancing competing rights, limitations need to be identified in individual cases.  He reminded the AG that nobody even in the privacy case, disputed his claim that privacy cannot be absolute right, but a qualified one.

The discussion then turned to the justification for amending Section 24 of the Right To Information Act, which grants immunity from disclosure of information to intelligence and security organizations specified in the Second Schedule.  The Centre amended the Schedule  to include the Director General of Income Tax (Investigation) and the CBI.  “Would this amendment be consistent with the objectives of the RTI Act?”, Justice Chelameswar asked the AG.

The AG responded saying that the issue cannot be dealt in the current proceedings before the Court, and that the petitioner is free to challenge the amendment by filing a petition.  Justice Chelameswar asked the AG whether the Cr.P.C.’s provisions are not sufficient to protect the investigation, and its details from being disclosed.

Shukla, during his submissions before the bench, justified the intervention of the Court in this case, by pointing out that whatever electoral reforms which had taken place was possible because of the previous orders of the Supreme Court.  The political class has been paying only lip service to root out criminalization from politics, he said.  He referred to several reports and resolutions passed in Parliament, which have been gathering dust.

Shukla also requested the bench to allow costs to the petitioner, if it found his prayers reasonable.  He mentioned that Lok Prahari, the NGO, consists of just 12 retired civil servants, who have been running their campaign to reform the polity, with their pension funds.

The bench has reserved the judgment in the case.

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