A number of RTI activists have called out the minister of state in the prime minister’s office, Jitendra Singh, for allegedly misleading the parliament on anti-corruption legislations. While the Prime Minister Narendra Modi never misses an opportunity to speak about the importance of transparency and accountability in public life, these activists insist the same has not been reflected in the submissions made by Singh, who has repeatedly made statements in both houses of parliament that have been found to be untrue.
With the Centre also not doing enough to either operationalise, amend or legislate the necessary transparency related laws, these activists are now hoping that the opposition will bring in a privilege motion against Singh to ensure that at least the two houses of parliament are not misled on the status of vital legislations.
Activists of Satark Nagrik Sangathan, Anjali Bharadwaj and Amrita Johri, recently told The Wire that opposition parties would be urged to bring a privilege motion against the minister for misleading the parliament on the status of several bills.
In case of the Whistleblower Protection Amendment Bill, they said while the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBP Act) was passed by parliament and received the assent of the president on May 9, 2014, it has not been operationalised till date.
“Instead of promulgating rules to operationalise the law, the government moved an amendment Bill in parliament in May 2015 which seeks to severely dilute the Act. On April 28, 2016, Singh, in reply to a question in parliament stated that the Whistle Blowers Protection Amendment Bill had been sent to a committee. However, in response to an RTI application, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat has stated on August 16, 2016, that the Bill is not pending with any parliamentary committee,” the activists said.
Thus, they said, it was a clear case of misleading the house.
Similarly, when it came to the Grievance Redress (GR) Bill, they said providing a legal framework for grievance redress was a commitment made in the sense of house resolution passed unanimously in parliament in August 2011. The Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, which was introduced in parliament in 2011, had the support of members of parliament across party lines. The Modi government repeatedly reiterated its commitment to re-introduce and pass the GR bill. In fact, in a communication on June 24, 2014, the PMO stated that passing the GR bill was “part of immediate thrust areas of the government”.
The rights activists said the minister concerned had submitted in parliament in December 2014, February 2015 and May 2015 that the government was “committed to bringing in a legislation for ensuring effective redressal of grievances of citizens related to non-delivery of entitled goods and services by the government.” In March 2016, however, in response to a question in Lok Sabha, the government made no reference to the legislation and instead stated that it had prepared a scheme known as Delivery of Services and Grievances Redressal Scheme, 2015. In reply to RTI applications, the concerned ministry denied a copy of the GR scheme stating that the scheme was still under consideration.
So in the case of this crucial legislation too, which is aimed at providing redress to people in a time-bound manner, the activists said the Centre reneged on its commitment before parliament.
The third instance pertained to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (LL Act) which was notified in the gazette in January 2014. Though it was notified, the Act was not operationalised despite the passage of almost three years.
As Bharadwaj said, “An amendment was required to ensure that in the absence of a recognised leader of the opposition, the leader of the single largest party in opposition is included in the selection panel for appointing the Lokpal. Instead of moving the single amendment and quickly operationalising the Act, the LL Act has been severely diluted through the passage of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas (Amendment) Act, 2016. The 2016 amendment has fundamentally diluted the Lokpal Act as it has done away with the statutory requirement of public servants to publicly disclose the assets of their spouses and dependent children.”
Singh has made false assurances in this case as well. Bharadwaj said, “During the debate in parliament on the amendment legislation on July 27 and 28, 2016, the concerned minister of state, Jitendra Singh had given an assurance that the Act will be referred to the standing committee.”
She said as per Rajya Sabha records, the minister had stated before the deputy chairman, “Sir, that is why we are sending it back to the standing committee and keeping up the spirit of the house, we expect that it will be done expeditiously, possibly before the next session of parliament.” To this, the deputy chairman had replied that “Yes; that is the only point. It should come back before the next session.”
However, it later turned out that the assurance was not truthful. “As per information available on the websites of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, it appears that the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas (Amendment) Act, 2016 has not yet been referred to any parliamentary standing committees,” said Bharadwaj.