Misusing power

THE SHAH Commission, which went into the excesses of the Emergency (1975-77), warned us against the subversion of the administrative setup for personal ends. When it found that highhanded and arbitrary actions had been carried out with impunity during the Emergency - detentions without trial, raids on business houses, opening of old income tax cases and fabrication of police records - the Commission said: ``Without the awareness of what is right and a desire to act according to what is right, there may be no realisation of what is wrong''.

This is precisely what happened soon after the Emergency when the Janata Government came to power. It took revenge on Indira Gandhi and her party. The Congress(I), which ousted the Janata Party, rewarded those who had gone berserk during the Emergency. Over the years, the dividing line between right and wrong, moral and immoral has ceased to exist. The BJP Government has no compunction about behaving in a similar manner.

Some among the rulers, who suffered during the Emergency, should have learnt a lesson. But their actions reflect the same misuse of the government machinery, the same harassment of opponents and the same motivated action against critics. For example, the treatment meted out to the Tehelka outfit and the First Global Stockbroking Private Limited. The latter's only fault was that it had invested money in Tehelka. The troubles of both began the day the Tehelka tapes were shown on TV networks, exposing corruption in high places.

The Government formally constituted the Venkataswami Commission to probe the matter but informally unleashed all agencies to ensure that those who had exposed corruption did not get a minute's rest. Raids and searches were conducted relentlessly on some pretext or the other. The agencies lost their sense of proportion when the Commission said that the tapes were genuine and undoctored. Why both Tehelka and First Global have been harassed and hounded after the pronouncement is understandable only on one count: officers concerned have been asked to fix those who have exposed corruption. All the action involved - conducting scores of raids, asking for documents going back to a long time or going over the same points of investigation again and again - suggests vendetta, not a bona fide examination. First Global, which has no editorial interest in Tehelka, has had its business closed, its properties attached and the travel of its executives barred. The owner of Outlook, a leading English weekly, who printed an interview by a Secretary to the Government of India in the PMO, has been hauled over the coals. His offices all over the country have been raided. Even his residence was not spared. Every paper was demanded and scrutinised. The editor wrote a letter to the Prime Minister drawing his attention to the harassment but it was in vain. Statutorily, the owner was to get the status report within two months. More than six months have gone by without any official word. The purpose is to warn the owner that the sword of Damocles is still hanging over his head.

Obviously, there is a message to the media in it: You will be made to pay if you criticise the Government. This is precisely what Sanjay Gandhi did to those who came in his way during the Emergency. The Government does not seem to realise the bad name it is getting in the process. The real issue was not related to the two parties arraigned but to the corruption exposed through the Tehelka tapes. The politician who uses a public servant for political purposes and the public servant who allows himself to be used are both debasing themselves and doing a signal disservice to the country.

The Venkataswami Commission has been sitting for many months probing the case. The delay is causing havoc. The Government said the Commission had been given four months to finish the job. What could the Commission do when the Government took its own time to allot accommodation to the judge, to employ staff, etc? During those days I ran into Mr. Justice Venkataswami at some place and asked him if he would be able to finish the job within four months, he said he would do so provided necessary facilities were made available to him. Apparently, he has felt handicapped.

Take the case of press freedom. This is about Mr. Satish Kumar, editor of MazdoorMorcha from Faridabad. It is the same story of flagrant misuse of executive authority. The editor was arrested to silence the paper that had criticised administrative officials by name, especially the local Superintendent of Police. The FIR against the editor was registered at the unearthly hour of 3-15 a.m. It was vague in wording and charged nine owners and publishers of local papers. No names were mentioned. One of the nine was Mr. Satish Kumar, the real target. He was denied bail and remanded to police custody. The Sessions Court rejected the appeal. The High Court posted the case on a date three months later. The Supreme Court directed the High Court to dispose of the case within a week. Only then was he released on bail. Still he stayed in jail for seven weeks. The administration saw to it that the paper would not come out in his absence.

A team appointed by the Editors Guild of India has criticised the extent to which the administration went to harass the editor and to keep the paper suspended. The team, in its report, has said: ``If the allegations against the administration were false, the law provides legal procedures for redress which were not attempted''. In any case, such misuse of authority to silence the press cannot be condoned. The report has also pointed out how an instance like what happened to MazdoorMorcha tends to inhibit journalists in doing their duty to report valid cases of corruption and misuse of authority.

The moral component must take its legitimate and rightful place in every decision-making process. Those in high places are the custodians of a nation's ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals. Against such expectations, how small do people who stoop to harass those connected with the media look? And how does an ordinary person afford the resources to fight the Government?

Take the Tehri dam issue. Mr. Sundarlal Bahuguna, who has fought the battle against the dam, is awaiting the Supreme Court's decision on the two cases pending before it. ``They should not have flooded the city before the two cases were decided. This is gross violation of human rights'', he said as water from the Tehri dam enters his kutiya. His application is also pending before the National Human Rights Commission.

The Government says it has doubly checked the project parameters and made suitable changes. This may be correct but what about the rehabilitation of the people unsettled? Learning from the Narmada project, the Government has given an undertaking that the place for rehabilitation will be developed - with houses, shopping complex - before uprooting the people. The undertaking remains unfulfilled generally for the Narmada oustees and particularly for the Tehri people. Only a pittance of Rs. 40,000 has been given to those whose land has been requisitioned for the reservoir.

Ms. Bimla Devi, wife of Mr. Bahuguna, complains that instead of being sympathetic to the residents of Tehri and compensating them adequately, the authorities are using all kinds of pressure. A report by Vimal Bhai and Preeti Sampat, two human rights activists, says there has been no participation of affected people in the process of rehabilitation. The package offered is unjust and inadequate. But then it is the same story of every dam in India. According to a report, at least 75 per cent of some four crore people displaced for large dams in the country over the past decades have not been resettled properly. They are still waiting.

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