Sunday 7 September 2014

Mr Ranjit Sinha, out your visitors (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

‘Ranjit Sinha (L) is a trifle discomfited that Prashant Bhushan has made public the details of his roster of visitors.’ PTI
hen Prime Minister Narendra Modi was asked about businesspersons he had been photographed with, the response was that all these meetings took place in the open, and indeed were part of his responsibilities, prime among which is the need to ensure that the economy generates 15 million fresh jobs each year, both to clear the backlog of unemployment and to ensure gainful occupation to new entrants into the labour market. The PM's example shows the importance of transparency in the "visitors lists" of those in authority. In days past, there would be regular official bulletins detailing those who met high officials, a list that included the Prime Minister, Governors, Chief Ministers and ministers.
Very often, these lists were published daily in newspaper columns, thereby enabling citizens to get a peep into the workday of those they elect (or see selected) to high office. This practice needs to be revived, with lists getting placed online of each visitor to the offices and residences of ministers, secretaries to government and those in charge of important agencies. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has an online feed of every minute in his office at the state secretariat, although for understandable reasons, there is no sound track accompanying the visuals of what takes place in his cabin each day. Similar transparency would be desirable in the day to day functioning of key officials across the country. Citizens would like to watch their "sevaks" at work.
Although doubts are sometimes expressed about the value of some of the scenes shown, our Parliament deserves to be congratulated on having thrown its deliberations open to the public via Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha television. Similar openness needs to be extended to state Assemblies and finally panchayat and town council meetings as well. Coming to the judiciary, what is needed is a Supreme Court television network that would beam in real time every proceeding within the court, so that any citizen may access the same in the comfort and privacy of her or his home, rather than have to make the trek to the court to try and secure a pass to witness a proceeding. Similar facilities for online transmission need to get installed in the High Courts and lower courts, so that the public is able to witness for themselves the majesty and quality of every judicial proceeding. Similar transparency needs to dawn in the case of Parliamentary and Assembly committees as well. Such openness will hopefully become routine during the term of Prime Minister Modi, who has sought to use technology to ensure that the processes of decision-making be less opaque. Hopefully, by the time the next general election takes place in 2019, voters will be enabled to make their choices electronically wherever they may be. It is a travesty of democracy that a voter registered in Bangalore but working in Kolkata is unable to exercise his franchise unless making the long trip back to where the registration has taken place. This in an era when distances have been shrunk by technology such transparency should be welcome to every high official. However, CBI director Ranjit Sinha seems a trifle discomfited that Prashant Bhushan has made public what are claimed to be details of his roster of visitors. Indeed, Sinha wants action to be taken against the public-spirited individuals who apparently handed over information on his visitors to Bhushan. It was after all Sinha who in an earlier avatar found that Lalu Prasad Yadav was a twin of Acharya Vinoba Bhave in probity, no matter how huge the evidence to the contrary. Some within the CBI point to about 200 appointments made to that organisation since Sinha took over. Unkind souls even hint at a link between the 200 selections pointed out and interaction of the lucky nominees with a CBI Power Couple who are said to have secured for themselves much joy out of the recruitments. Perhaps Prashant Bhushan needs to examine the list of such appointments as well and ask for a probe. After all, what applies to Ceasar's wife should affix itself doubly on the CBI. Certainly, the CBI director's daily roster of visitors should be in the public domain.
The BJP came to power on the promise of transparency and accountability. Hopefully before the next 100 days, it is expected that several of the numerous hyper-corrupt elements within the Delhi establishment be outed and prosecuted. These worthies have secured immunity for themselves for too long, by indulging politicians across the spectrum, the opposition almost as much as the ruling side. In Prime Minister Modi, they should meet their nemesis.

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