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Will Justice JS Verma join the junkyard of forgotten committees?

One of the advantages of enjoying a tipple or three with friends is the ease in formulating sweeping policy recommendations for the various ills that beset our society and polity. Fearlessly nonsensical, these propositions and formulations are not only well understood and earnestly discussed by inebriated enlightened souls but also examined respectfully by the motley bunch of thirsty guzzlers, delicate sippers and macho bottoms-uppers.

Sometimes the level of communion reaches hitherto unattained heights and respect takes on alarming proportions. Sighting a halo is not entirely uncommon - messianic zeal, after all, does involve collateral damage.

I, of course, speak from personal experience, having been on both ends of the nonsense-and- halo spectrum; the Zen-state doler and nonchalant flaunter, as well as the apprentice-monk-like receiver and eager sighter.

Ah, the joys of drinking with friends.

Verma and Leila Seth during the presentation of the report. PTI

Verma and Leila Seth during the presentation of the report. PTI

Unlike us mere mortals, our political masters prefer sipping from another cup, the cup of power. Once suitably intoxicated, they then proceed to enact the exact same scenario described above. Nonsense is once again discussed, understood and respected. There is a crucial difference though – the stakes are a tad bigger and the impact of a drunken commitment to nonsense much more real and infinitely longer-lasting than the ephemeral respect of delightfully tipsy friends.

For these are the folks who claim to run our country and address its myriad ills. When cornered into doing their professed jobs, they seek refuge in the formation of committees. And then, punch-drunk on power, they shoot down the reports and recommendations made by the committees, in a never-ending cycle of replacing sense with nonsense. Nonsensical backburners. Nonsensical delays. Nonsensical inaction.

Sinfully sozzled, taking turns as they sip and slurp, one wonders if they even notice when they invert the entire concept of justice and good governance and take it one step further into the realm of farce.

Take the Justice Verma Committee report. Commonsensical. Perfectly logical. Yet, political panties in a twist because someone exceeded his brief? The country desperately needs some of those recommendations to be implemented. As the Firstpost report indicated, the entire document has now vanished from the Home Ministry’s portal, replaced by the smiling face of Shinde. The 4-step dance of the power-drunk, ladies and gentlemen, is on - first a committee, then a report, then some obfuscation & obscurantism and finally the burial. Men at work, business as usual. Report vanishes. Justice follows suit. And all that remains is the Issue. Unresolved.

Committees, Reforms & the Great Indian Vanishing Trick:  Let me now quote some of the most damaging examples of this tendency of political parties to negate the sensible and the crucial.

Police Reforms:  An area of huge concern to the country for over 40 years. Naturally, there have been multiple Committees to supposedly address those concerns. Here is a list - not exhaustive - that sheds some light on how the political masters use the Great Indian Committee trick so that they can pretend that “transformation” is happening. Yeah sure, I just saw 3 pigs fly past my window.

1971 - Gore Committee on Police Training. The committee made 186 recommendations, 45 of those were related to police reforms. I will reserve further comments on the implementation aspect, especially on the recommendations pertaining to the structure of the police system.

1977 - The National Police Commission [NPC] was the first commission to exhaustively review the Indian police system. NPC wrote eight reports in four years. The eight reports suggested all together 291 recommendations related to police reforms. Most of the recommendations have not been implemented.

1998 – Ribeiro Committee on Police Reforms set up by the central government [as directed by the Supreme Court].

2000 - The Padmanabhaiah Committee on Police Reforms set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

2001 - Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System.

2003 - Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System, Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs.

2005 - The Central Government set up the Soli Sorabjee Committee to draft a new model bill to guide state government's adoption of new police laws. The Committee was required to take into account the changing roles, responsibilities and challenges of policing. Report submitted to the Home Ministry in 2006.

2009 - Law Commission of India [Report No. 230], submitted to the Union Minister of Law and Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India.

2012 - Law Commission of India, Expeditious Investigation and Trial of Criminal Cases Against, Influential Public Personalities Report No.239, Submitted to the Supreme Court.

The most damaging commentary on the state of affairs is perhaps this: in 2005, the Supreme Court of India delivered its historic judgment instructing the Central and the State Governments to comply with a set of seven directives that laid down a practical mechanism to start police reforms. Last I checked, the governments were in contempt of court.

Electoral Reforms: A topic I have covered extensively in the past, and after having pored over almost all the reports mentioned below, I can state unequivocally that NONE of the important recommendations have been implemented, save for some cosmetic changes hither and thither, low-impact of course. Nevertheless, the list of Committees/Reports follows:

1975 - Tarkunde Committee Report

1990 - Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms

1993 - Vohra Committee Report

1998 - Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections

1999 - Law Commission Report on Reform of the Electoral Laws

2001 - National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution

2004 - Election Commission of India – Proposed Electoral Reforms

2008 - The Second Administrative Reforms Commission

2010 - Background Paper on Electoral Reforms [Ministry of Law]

2011 - NEW Recommendations for Electoral Reforms [submitted to Law Ministry & Election Commission of India]

And finally, Anti-graft [aka Lokpal]: To shamelessly borrow from one of my earlier blog-posts, the scenario looks somewhat like this on the issue of anti-graft -

“The Aborted attempts….The first attempt was in 1966, when the then President Dr. Radhakrishnan set up the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai. It was this ARC which first recommended enacting a law for the establishment of a Lokpal.

The baby was then gleefully killed in the womb on 11 occasions. Be it the abortionists in the Lok Sabha, or the Rajya Sabha or some superlatively meaningless review Committee. Different abortion clinics, same end result.

See what the abortionists did in 1968. And then again in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2011. Aborted it each time, that’s what! Select committees, Standing committees, bills withdrawn and what have you not!

In light of the facts presented in this write-up, calling the attempts of the political establishment to deliver meaningful change on any front [except MREGA etc] “sincere” would be a horrendous absurdity; on the other hand, calling their attempts “insincere” is a truer reflection of reality”.

Afterthought: Do they get away with it because we allow them to?

I will be taking up the issue of Judicial & Police Reforms in greater detail over the next fortnight. Your inputs, insights and suggestions are most welcome.

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