Anna’s House of Cards
by Sandhya Jain on 26 Apr 2011 17 Comments

One thing is truly shocking about the Mayawati Government’s allotment of two 10,000 sq. metre farmhouse plots to Supreme Court lawyer Shanti Bhushan and his son Jayant, and it is amazing that no political party or civil society activist has taken note of it. The Rashtriya Lok Dal of Mr Ajit Singh, and the Samajwadi Party of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, which draw their strength from middle farmer beneficiaries of zamindari abolition are especially culpable in this respect.


By offering farmlands to non-farmers (different from open market purchases), the Uttar Pradesh Government is willfully reinventing a class of absentee farmers who will neither live on nor themselves till the soil. This is a savage blow to the Indian farmer who has suffered centuries of exploitation under successive foreign invaders, and was often even alienated from his land under an oppressive revenue system. This is why independent India abolished the zamindari system and tax on farm incomes, tried to fragment monopoly farms, and supported the rise of the middle peasantry.   


Today, Ms Mayawati is inviting the rich to buy farms that could have been offered to landless farm labourers, or cooperatives of farmers who would themselves till the soil. That these persons were lured purely by greed can be seen from former Additional Solicitor-General Vikas Singh’s plea to the Allahabad High Court to cancel the allotments as he was unhappy with the plot given to him. He claimed (at this stage) that the price of each plot – Rs 3.5 crore, of which allottees had to pay just 10 percent at the time of allotment, and the rest in 16 installments – is less than a quarter of the market rate. Two Delhi-based doctors also filed cases when they did not get a plot.


This article is not about (under)pricing or allocation by discretion rather than lottery or auction. It is, as Mr Prashant Bhushan has cogently argued elsewhere, about adoption of “policies by which natural resources and public assets (mineral resources, oil and gas, land, spectrum, and so on) have been allowed to be privatised without transparency or a process of public auctioning. Almost overnight, hundreds of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) have been signed by governments with private corporations, leasing out large tracts of land rich in mineral resources, forests and water… [and] take away and sell the resources by paying the government a royalty, which is usually less than 1 per cent of the value of the resources (The Hindu, April 15, 2011)


The fact that hyper-affluent professionals – including self-righteous civil society activists – are astride the freebie bandwagon has discredited the coercively created joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill. This exposé follows allegations that Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant Bhushan were involved in ‘fixing’ a judge on behalf of a political party; and that a Commission appointed by the Maharashtra Government found irregularities in Anna Hazare’s Hind Swaraj Trust.


Matters began unravelling for the anti-corruption crusaders on 12 April, when Congress leader Digvijay Singh demanded that the Bill cover NGOs and corporates, and that social activists in the committee declare their assets. Congress leaders were enraged when Hazare began shooting his mouth off, saying that citizens vote for Rs 100 or a sari or a bottle of liquor, hence he will not contest elections. Hazare also made strident demands for telecasting and video-graphing the joint committee meetings, and told HRD minister Kapil Sibal to quit the drafting committee if he felt the bill would not solve all problems. The party hit back in its inimitable way, and Anna shot off another letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi pleading against attack by slander. Her renewed support has alerted the party and government to the dangers of the extra-constitutional measures proposed by Anna and Co., and that they consider themselves above accountability.


Realizing the fight is now open, the civil society activists have dug their heels in, insisting the Bhushan duo will not quit the drafting committee. But Justice Santosh Hegde is uneasy at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory finding that the CD allegedly involving the senior Bhushan is not tampered with, and is trying to quit the panel on the plea that he does not like the “vilification campaign”. He was under severe pressure to remain on board at the time of writing this article. [On Saturday, he decided to stay]


As apprehensions spread regarding the proposed draconian legislation being foisted upon the nation, some advocates moved the Supreme Court, challenging inclusion of five civil society members in the committee, and pleading for quashing the 8 April notification setting up the drafting panel for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The advocates claim that inclusion of civil society members in the committee is constitutionally flawed as a parliamentary committee must comprise only of Members of Parliament.


Advocate M.L. Sharma says a committee formed to draft a bill must be governed by the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. Rule 253 of the Conduct of Business Rules requires the Speaker of the House to constitute a committee, and not the Government. Any such committee must comprise members of the House; civil society members can only offer inputs. Moreover, Provision of Article 53 read with Article 74, 77, and 78 of Constitution give the power of notification to the President of India, not to the Government.


A similar petition has been filed in the Allahabad High Court by advocate Ashok Pande and social activist Dr Nutan Thakur. Matters are coming to a boil as the Attorney General has been issued notice to appear on May 16 to explain how and why the drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill was formed.


There is prima facie merit in these petitions. And it seems inconceivable that the seasoned Union Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee (chairman), former law minister Shanti Bhushan (co-chair), and other committee members like law minister Veerappa Moily, HRD minister Kapil Sibal, home minister P Chidambaram, water resources minister Salman Khurshid, retired Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde and Prashant Bhushan [barring Mukherjee, all famed legal luminaries] would not know the law. Only Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal are not lawyers.


So what is the agenda of the (lawyer) civilian activists, for which they took the risk of trampling over everyone, and even superseding the Constitution? Who gave them the confidence that they could get away with it? Will they?


The writer is Editor, 

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