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Retired Supreme Court Justice, Santosh Hegde recently had occasion to make pertinent observations concerning good governance while speaking at an annual RTI lecture. The theme for this year’s lecture was ‘Is good governance the right of a citizen in democracy‘. The event was organised by the Moneylife Foundation at the BSE International Convention Hall in Mumbai on Saturday evening.
In his lecture, Justice Hegde observed,
“A dictatorship that delivers basic needs to the citizens is no doubt better than a dictatorship that does not, but it is not good governance.”
Similarly, he opined that regular elections by itself would not translate to good governance. He went on to add that a rule of law that is transparent, but unjust is certainly not good governance. Justice Hegde made the observations while referring to a resource book titled ‘Good Governance’ published in 2004 by ‘Action Aid,’ an organisation working for the cause of good governance.
On what good governance entails
Justice Hegde began his speech by recalling his experience as a Lokayukta (Ombudsman) in Karnataka, observing that the same had prompted him to select the topic of good governance as a right of the citizen.
“I saw sufferings of poor people on the actions and inactions on the part of the government. I want to bring to your notice how maladministration affected three pillars of democracy. The functioning of all three pillars of Constitution has become questionable,” he stated.
Justice Hegde noted that the Constitution of India contemplated an independent legislature, executive and judiciary. However, over the years, for the reasons well-known, the legislature and bureaucracy seem to have merged into one group like the conjoined twins, one supported by other, he remarked. Commenting on the Executive wing, he said
“Over the years political dominance in the guise of representing people’s will has overshadowed the importance of bureaucracy. This dominance is not resisted by many in the bureaucracy. On the contrary, many willingly or meekly submitted to this dominance because of which good governance has suffered.”
“Good governance can be provided by public servants only if they realise that they are not masters of the people, but they are only servants of the people and that they owe a duty to the people. For this, they will have to follow certain principles of ‘Raj Dharma.’”
Justice Hegde also spoke of how bureaucrats are made corrupt or subservient to political masters by way of transfers. He opined,
“Transferring officials is not and should not be prerogative of political bosses. It is the most potent weapon by which you can control the honest bureaucrat or reward dishonest one. I strongly believe that the power of transfer should be vested with bureaucracy itself and politicians should not have any role to play in it.”
On why it is important that the executive remain independent, he observed,
“If our constitutional organs like executive is independent and honest, there could be no political corruption and vice versa. If there is corruption, then it is because of the collective greed of the elected representatives and bureaucracy.”
Justice Hegde said that with such tremendous growth in corruption, it was expected from the lawmakers to make stricter anti-corruption laws. However, he pointed out that this did not happen. To illustrate, he recounted the Lok Sabha proceedings of 2008 to amend the country’s Anti-Corruption law.
“In December 2008, while approving 17 laws in 12 minutes, Lok Sabha approved amendments to Prevention of Corruption Act, which literally nullified the powers of the prosecuting agency. Thank God, these bills did not become a law…
….I ask a question to lawmakers – since 1947 to December 2008, has corruption reduced so that it became necessary for the law to be diluted rather than making it stringent?“
Notably, Justice Hegde also registered his objection to efforts made to dilute the RTI Act, in this regard, he commented,
“Transparency and accountability are other factors which make or mar good governance. Unfortunately, both are lacking in spite of the Right to Information Act.”
As he concluded his address, Justice Hegde highlighted that good governance is our fundamental right and collective voice for it will have its own effect.
“If one reads the assurances given to the citizens of this country in Constitution of India, it is clear that good governance, even if it does not come under the Part III of the Constitution, is certainly a basic right contemplated under the Constitution,” he said.
During his lecture, Justice Hegde also paid tribute to IDIA Founder and Professor, Shamnad Basheer, who passed away in a tragic accident last month.
On how to curb needless litigation
A panel discussion following Justice Hegde’s address also touched upon matters such as the ways in which needless litigation should be curbed. The discussion panel comprised of Justice Hegde, former Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi, economist, and professor Reetika Khera. The discussion was moderated by Sucheta Dalal, Founder, and Trustee of the Moneylife Foundation.
During the discussion, Shailesh Gandhi said that speedy justice is a fundamental right and judicial delays can be avoided if all the positions of judges are filled up. It will enable the courts in India to decide at least 50 lakh more cases every year, Gandhi said.
In view of this, Justice Hegde noted that in the current system, half of the litigations are nothing but speculations with a consideration that there will be another court in the hierarchy to further hear them.
“Let us understand the shortcomings in the system and change it. We need to stop litigation in such cases at the second stage itself. There is no question for going to the third court or High Court and delay the process. Let the minds of people be adjusted in such a manner,” Justice Hegde suggested.
Economist Reetika Khera, while commenting on whether technology helps to reduce corruption in Public Distribution System (PDS) said,
“Our experience with technology is not as pessimistic as it is being pointed out. Even today, it is in the minds of people that Aadhar is good as it helps the poor. However, technology is not equipped to deal with the problem but in some cases opening new ways of corruption.”
After Moneylife founder Sucheta Dalal pointed out that the government is the biggest litigant in the courts of India, Justice Hegde said,
“Beyond judiciary, it is a cumulative effect which starts from the administrative side. When they make a mistake, it goes to court. It is evident as Article 226 was hardly used during the earlier days of independence. You can count today’s number (of writ petitions) and see how much it has grown up.”
“Litigation is like a disease, the ailment is not only to be treated (adjudicated), but in some cases, it should be prevented as well.”