Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sibal has a theory: More laws, the better (Sunday Guardian)

Kapil Sibal addressing the media in New Delhi on 13 May. PTI
imid souls may point to the co-existence in India of myriad laws with minimal implementation, and at the growing spiral of bribes and fixing of cases as evidence that, as Lenin once wrote, "better less, but better" is what is needed in matters of legislation. However, to our intrepid legal eagle, Kapil Sibal, there is no problem in India that cannot be reduced to legal terms. Are people starving to death in India? Legislate a Food Security Act that ignores administrative and financial constraints, and India's population will miraculously be well fed.
The streets of Dubai, London and Miami are littered with relatives of the country's power elite, but if there be anything suspicious in the fact that those admitting to relatively minuscule levels of income can spend many tens of times more than their declared income in prolonged stays at expensive foreign locations, the Sibal remedy would be to pass the "Law to Regulate Foreign Visits", which would as usual leave the influential untouched while adding yet another layer of harassment to the existing misery of the 1.26 billion minus two hundred thousand citizens with access to the powerful and the wealthy, two groups that have seamlessly merged in modern India.
There are laws which set limits not on the expenditure of a candidate, but lay down expenses at such a low limit that it is almost inevitable that the process of election entails the filing of a false affidavit, thereby creating a them a contempt for the law. If there are candidates with better access to money, so be it. What is needed is to ensure that candidates are transparent about the moneys raised and their source, so that voters may judge whether they merit their trust.
Because almost all the income of a candidate is in the unrecorded column, there is complete opacity about the sources of funding, with the result that several candidates have dubious sponsors who subsequently get protection for their crimes, once their agent gets elected and, in more than a few cases, begins to hold ministerial office. Surprisingly, Sibal has yet to bring in a law that prescribes life in prison (or that favourite of the media in India, a death sentence) to those guilty of under-reporting their election expenses. Of course, while this columnist has long held the view that 90% of the laws in India should be repealed, he would favour legislation which sets clear limits on the personal wealth of ministers and their close relations. Political power and big money are pools of privilege prone to misuse, and the two coming together creates a cocktail which very often leads to abuse.
Political power and big money are pools of privilege prone to misuse. The two coming together creates a cocktail which leads to abuse.
There was a time when Ram Jethmalani as Law Minister was working on bringing the law in India into the 20th century from the period from where the British colonial authority (the fount of modern law in the independent Republic of India) drew the inspiration for their numerous enactments, the 19th. However this effort at making the law less of a nightmare for those without money and power was aborted when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee removed Jethmalani from the post.
In case a leap into the 20th century and its imperatives is not beyond Prime Manmohan Singh, he needs to set up a commission of eminent lawyers who know each of the alleyways and byways of their arcane craft and task them with creating a penal code and a code of criminal and civil procedure that is just fifty rather than two-hundred years behind the times. Jethmalani's blocked efforts need to be re-continued, although doing so may fall foul of a philosophy which sees more law as the answer to any lack in the administration or otherwise of this country.
It was predictable that Kapil Sibal would come up with the suggestion of yet another law to fix match fixing. Clearly, the intrepid minister has limitless faith in the ability of laws to alter behaviour patterns rooted in external conditions and internal self-interest. However, the Law Minister needs to be weaned away from his zeal to make India as litigious a society as the US has become. Match fixing will not go away with a match fixing law. What will come in its wake are yet more enforcers demanding still more bribes. If only Kapil Sibal were one of us, he would soon see for himself the way in which the myrmidons of the law have converted ordinary human lives into a wasteland of dreams gone sour.

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