In a recent unorthodox move, the Lok Sabha passed an amendment on the Lokpal and Lokayukta bill, 2013, extending the deadline indefinitely for government employees and NGOs to declare their assets. A surprise move which came up after a delegation of MPs met the Prime Minister on July 25th with regards to the now earlier deadline of 31st July.
Under the Act, Public Servants include government employees, NGOs and Parliamentarians. With this latest extension, the declaration has been delayed five times and is now awaiting a new date for a deadline from the Centre. In the meanwhile, the amendment will be studied by a Standing Committee which is expected to give a report before the next session of Parliament.
In all this, the Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Bannerjee was quick to point out that the latest amendment was “favouring” the NGOs by exempting them from the declaration deadline. According to him, very few NGOs are involved in charitable work. He went on to say, “We have NGOs and trusts running media houses… We are not going to spare or bail out any NGOs”.
It is interesting to note that while the government has asked NGOs to declare assets and in many cases penalised some of the organisations for funds coming in from abroad, has also changed the rules of Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act (2010) to allow foreign shareholding companies to donate to political parties in the country. This change came in during the Budget session of the parliament earlier this year. Minister of State (Home) Kiren Rijiju told The Hindu that the amendment, which was cleared by the Lok Sabha in the recently concluded Budget session, will ensure that “donations made by such [foreign shareholding] companies to entities including political parties will not attract provisions of the FCRA, 2010.”
These recent moves by the government, complicit with the opposition, point towards a worrying reality. A reality wherein the elected public servants are actively changing the laws to bring in more money and power into their hands while at the same time reducing the accountability that is expected from them. These changes highlight a missing moral/ethical benchmark to which the political system of our country should at least aspire to, seeing the lofty beginings and high moral ground each take for themselves.
At such moments, I’m reminded of the words of the Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Many years past, we tamed our destinies, as a country, to step into freedom, a moment forever associated with the words of “Tryst with Destiny”.
I lament such a destiny which has forced us to be in servitude of a political class which makes it a point to reiterate the very excesses of the governance from whom we fought to win our freedom.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar