I wrote about Baijayant Jay Panda, Lok Sabha MP from Kendrapara,Odisha, in an earlier post in connection with his efforts to maintain the freedom of expression of India’s internet denizens. Late last year, he had moved a Private Members’ Bill for the Lok Sabha to consider and review proposed amendments in Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (2000) that would safeguard the right to free of expression in India. Panda is back in the news again; this time he has filed 3 Private Members’ Bills in the Lok Sabha, all closely related to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA), that if passed will go a long way in the fight against illiberalism in the Indian society and will significantly alter the quality of India’s public life thereby giving the goal of good governance a shot in the arms.
Writing in a business newspaper, Panda rightly diagnoses “the perverse trend of criminalisation of politics and the inability of the criminal justice system to conduct timely and effective prosecution of offenders” as one of the key causes of India’s pathetic standards in public life.
The goal of each one of these three bills in Panda’s own words is thus:
“My first Bill proposes to amend ROPA to remove the exception that allows MPs and MLAs/MLCs to continue in the legislature even after conviction. The second would set up fast-track courts for speedy trial (within 90 days) of criminal cases against all elected representatives. It would bring all MPs, MLAs/MLCs and members of panchayats and municipalities established under the state panchayati raj legislation under the Bill’s ambit. The third would amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to enable independent and effective prosecution.”
In a simple and short article, Panda has managed to bring out the justification for each one of these bills. This article is a must read; not just for its clear, simple and direct approach to attempting to provide a legislative solution to what is at the root of India’s scam a day image, but also to get inspired and find some cheer in today’s corruption ridden gloomy environment brought about by India’s eminent scoundrels who continue looting the country in their capacity of leaders of political parties, government agencies, government departments and every single public office they lay their sights upon.
Like Panda, I hope that “enough public support can be drummed up, (so that) the government would be compelled to pass legislation to that effect”. It will certainly be a test for the media if they will rise to the occasion and provide the support this bill needs; just as they did with all the attention that was showered on the Lokpal Bill. For my part, I have submitted a Wikipedia page on The Representation of the People Act (RoPA), 1951 that should be available soon pending review. The absence of a Wikipedia page on this very important piece of legislation is surprising given India’s status as the largest democracy in the world. Also, given the serious lack of propriety amongst many of India’s public servants, it is quite surprising to note that there is nothing in India that even remotely resembles a Committee on Standards in Public Life such as the one in UK that serves to “ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life”.