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SC Verdicts: ENFORCING JUDGEMENTS CRITICAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 18 Feb, 2014 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 18 February 2014

SC Verdicts


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


Three cheers to the Supreme Court. In the past few years, the nation’s apex court has been coming out with some landmark judgments, be it on scams, environmental violations and the lack of effective implementation of laid down rules and regulations, illegal mining, rape and sexual violence and now recently on forfeiture of property. Undeniably, these rulings have a significant bearing in our life and society per se and are definitely aimed at those who do not follow the law of the land to gain extra privilege. Importantly, these judgments have been aimed at protecting the economically weaker sections and the low income groups, who tragically are most-exploited and the worst sufferers.  


In its recent judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that the Government would be well justified and within its rights to deprive a person of his property, if he cannot explain the legitimate source of funding to acquire the same. “If a subject acquires property by means which are not legally approved, the sovereign would be perfectly justified to deprive such persons of the enjoyment of such ill-gotten wealth”, a bench of Justices H. L. Gokhala and J. Chelameswar stated.       


Clearly, unaccounted money cannot be legalized by acquiring property and those who indulge in it need to be punished by depriving them of that property that was bought using unaccounted money under the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act 1976 and other relevant provisions of the law. The bench very rightly observed that it could not be treated as double jeopardy banned under Article 20 of the Constitution which bars prosecution of a person for more than once for an offence.         


Further, the bench stated that the non-conviction based asset forfeiture model, also known as civil forfeiture legislation, had gained currency in many countries of the world like the US, UK, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Australia etc. and it needed to be enforced in India so that illegal wealth/property is not regularized and the corrupt and their descendants are not allowed to enjoy the same.       


The present ruling, if implemented in a proper manner, would indeed go a long way in curbing black money and unearthing unaccounted wealth obviously made through dubious means. Additionally, indirectly it would be a means to control evasion of taxes, which is pretty rampant in the country.       


Take, for instance, another recent development of the apex court which questioned the Centre’s insistence to list out the governance benefits in the past 15 years by re-enacting a provision after it was struck down as illegal to give protection from inquiry in corruption cases of bureaucrats. The five-member bench specifically drew the attention to Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which bars courts from taking cognizance of an offence against public servants without prior sanction from the Government. The Supreme Court very rightly questioned: “Do you want governance where everyone is free to take money? How can protection be given to those who have disproportionate assets?”


But unfortunately the bias in our system is geared towards the rich and the powerful, who enjoy the privilege of getting more or less everything done in their favour through corrupt means. They enjoy the best facilities and resort to different forms of exploitation. As such, good governance, which is being much talked about, is plainly lacking in the system. It has to be enforced so that the nexus between a section of politicians and police officials is not allowed to flourish, as some cases suggest.        


Take for instance, the Reddy brothers who were ministers in the previous BJP Government in Karnataka and had reportedly amassed thousands of crores of illegal money by exporting iron ore. While the apex court verdict only stopped illegal money it did not dwell into the forfeiture of this unaccounted wealth, which would have been a double blow. This apart, there are umpteen such cases where action is yet to be taken against those who illegally amassed huge wealth and/or property. The system is clearly too slow.       


The concern for efficient governance not just in India but all over the world can only become a reality if rules and regulations are strictly adhered to. Development can move ahead faster if there is a basic transformation of the political system in the country, signs of which are emerging today. Perhaps, the role of the judiciary in cleansing the system would gradually lessen, if the Executive carries out its responsibility in the right earnest. This apart, the economically poor could look to the elusive good governance coming their way.       


One may mention here a recent letter of Bill Gates who has predicted that by 2025 there would almost be no poor countries left in the world. According to him, in another decade no country will be as poor as the World Bank classifies as low income today, even after adjustment for inflation. But though per capita income may increase, it needs to be seen what is the percentage increase of the low income and economically weaker sections in India and other Third World countries compared to the upper echelons of society.    


Even after landmark verdicts of the apex court and various high courts, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) will fall far short of targets by 2015. In spite of various programmes that have been announced in the past few years, the impact on the targeted beneficiaries has not been satisfactory, obviously because of lack of effective implementation. Even the intervention of the judiciary did not have the desired effect. In fact, judicial activism has angered the political establishment because it openly revealed the lacuna in the functioning of the system.     


Both how will things change? The common but educated electorate no longer wants politicians to rule the country but would prefer technocrats, social activists and journalists with a clean image to shoulder the task of governance. This is because the poor and the economically weaker sections have been neglected over the years and a basic transformation of the system is imperative at this juncture. It is widely believed that people like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal are expected to bring this change and the urban poor and the middle class are looking to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to bring about the necessary transformation in the coming years. The nation’s capital, has been an example. Will others follow suit?---INFA  


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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