Among other laws, Justice A.P. Shah points to amendments made to Finance Act last year on political funding, says they only make the process ‘less transparent’.
New Delhi: Former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A.P. Shah has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the government’s proposed amendments to various legislations, including the Right to Information (RTI) Act, saying they were “ill-conceived”.
Writing on behalf of the Citizens Whistle Blowers Forum (CWBF), an organisation to fight corruption, Shah said if passed, the amendments to the RTI bill, Finance Act and Companies Act could lead to a spurt in corporate offences that may even “jeopardise national security”.
They pose a serious danger to the autonomy of the country, he adds.
Other members of the CWBF include Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhusan, activists Aruna Roy and E.A.S. Sarma (former IAS officers), and former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.
“The campaign against corruption can only become effective if there is a basic change in the mindset of government in favour of greater transparency and accountability through civil society participation,” said Shah, a former chief of the Law Commission of India.
“Can there be different sets of laws for the rich and powerful,” asked Shah, questioning the “delayed action” taken in the Satyam computers scam.
He also reiterated an earlier charge against PwC India, which was, in January this year, held guilty of involvement in the Satyam scam and barred from audits in India for two years. Shah cited its involvement in a “number of scams” to ask why it is still being awarded “lucrative government contracts”.
Amendments made to the Finance Act last year regarding political funding, he added, only render the process “less transparent”.
The Finance Act 2017 “will also drastically increase black money and corruption” since it does away with the 7.5 per cent ceiling on corporate donations for political funding and allows companies to not disclose their names while making donations, he said.
“This will also lead to the rise of shell companies and benami transactions to channelise undocumented money into the political and electoral process,” said Shah.
While the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2014 is yet to be brought into effect, amendments proposed in 2015 threaten to severely dilute the law, he said.
On the RTI Act, Shah said, by empowering the Centre and state governments to decide salaries and tenures of information commissioners the government “will severely compromise the independence and standing of information commissions”.
He also noted how, four years after the Lokpal Act was passed by Parliament, the ombudsman is yet to be appointed. While the Act required public servants as well as their families to declare their assets periodically, a proposal passed by Parliament exempted the families.
Shah also took up the case of public nominees being appointed to public sector units.
“The NDA government has shown utter callousness in dealing with the management of PSUs. At least 10 BJP spokespersons have been nominated to the boards of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, BHEL, NALCO and Cotton Corporation of India,” he added.
Shah wrote that this does not bode well for governance since these people are not fit to “discharge the duty of directors”.
He said the amendments to the Companies Act, 2013, should be put on hold with immediate effect, and an appeal filed against the bail granted to the owner of Satyam Computers and Price Waterhouse auditors to “restore public confidence that no one is above the rule of law”.
Lokpal and the Whistleblowers Act, he added, need to be operationalised immediately, and any PSU/government contracts with PwC terminated.