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‘Antony may be clean, system isn’t’

You have stressed on an urgent need to break the existing criminal political nexus. How do you plan to achieve this?

A lot of frustration that the public today has with our political system can be traced to the gradually decreasing credibility of politicians and the biggest example of that is criminality in Indian politics. The most authentic estimate done by the Association for Democratic Reforms says, 76 MPs out of 543 have criminal cases are pending against them. Since 76 is a big number, therefore it can’t be ignored. Banning them is no solution, since in a democracy like ours, everyone has to have the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and MPs are no exception. They also deserve to be given a second chance. The problem lies with the judicial system of our country. Courts are so backlogged that it takes years to resolve such cases. We must find a quick option to resolve this problem. Since, the ratio of judges to population is low, so I suggest fast track courts must be introduced for criminal cases against elected officials. If that happens, these cases can be resolved within three months.


What do you have to say about the latest chopper scam issue?

It is one in a series of scams that has come out in recent years. It is unfortunate that even with someone like A K Antony, who has a reputation of being clean, you have a system that is non-transparent. Clearly, there is something wrong because in Italy arrests have been made already. After years of talking about reforming the system we still don’t have a system in place. Our system is unrealistic and encourages such non-transparent dealings.

You have submitted three bills in the Parliament – The Representation of People (Amendment) Bill 2013, Fast Track Courts for Elected Representatives Bill 2013 and The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2013.


What do you think will their fate be in the current session?


We need a lot of political reforms before putting these Bills into effect. These are private member bills and were passed in India earlier. But for for the last four decades, they have not been passed. It means that the entire responsibility of legislation is with the government. There is no law against it, and, it seems it has become a tradition to not pass private member bills. The policy that is followed across the world is that any member can bring in a Bill and if it gets enough support, it gets passed. Private member bills are often idealistic and if they get enough support and pressure is put on the government, they might just get passed.
 

What do you have to say about the issue of women’s safety?

Unfortunately, the issue of women’s safety in Delhi is not new. For at least two decades various discussions have been going on but somehow politicians never took it seriously until the incident of the recent gang-rape came up.

This is the second area in which I have seriously advocated for fast track courts. Also, we definitely need many thousands of new judges and proper infrastructure to help them operate. They need to operate in a fast track procedure where they cannot give more than three adjournments. Criminalisation of politics and attacks on women need to be prioritised under fast track courts quickly.


The BJD welcomed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, what are your views on it?

The ordinance is not fully in line with what Justice Verma recommended or what many other people are recommending. Some of the steps proposed are very good like thwe one which says that rape cases will be dealt only by a policewoman and not a male officer and that they will be required to file FIRs. Minor girls won’t have to face their attackers in court. They can give their testimony separately as they might get intimidated and scared.


What is your view on life-sentence as opposed to execution, after the Kasab and Afzal Guru cases?


There are many activists who have opposed death sentence on various grounds. We need to have a national debate on this and then decide. One of the reasons the country is outraged at the brutal rape and death of the 23-year old woman is that under normal circumstances, the perpretators are never given appropriate punishment. Our courts have laid down a guideline that death sentence should be implemented in extreme and unusually violent cases. That is reasonably a wise way of looking at things but the entire issue of death sentence needs to be seriously debated.


What do you have to say about Article 66-A, in background of the ban on Kashmiri all girls music band?


What I understand is that they were not banned. There was a fatwa issued against them and the girls themselves stopped practicing their music. Even though they were offered all kinds of support, they themselves said they didn’t want to anymore. Had they been prepared to stand up for their music, they could have been provided with protection. But if they are not ready to do so then it becomes a difficult issue. Article 66-A is something quite different as it is very vaguely worded. It equates threats of violence causing annoyance!

You cannot treat ‘causing annoyance’ as a crime. Freedom of speech must be practiced to an extent that it doesn’t violate someone else’s safety. Threatening to kill or kidnap has to be treated separately but causing annoyance and vaguely defining obscenity go against the spirit of a free democratic nation.


There have been constant protests from the Left Front against the Odisha government against its drive to remove local tribals from the site of the proposed POSCO steel plant project. What do you have to say on that?

This issue is very wrongly reported. The POSCO steel plant is not located in tribal part of the state. It is in fact located in a non-tribal area. Hence, the accusation holds wrong. There are allegations about land acquisitions not from the tribals but from other people. During the protests that took place a few weeks ago, the protesters were not agitating against their land being acquired, but against those who had voluntarily agreed for their land to be acquired with an attractive compensation package. Here we come to the issue of rights. If people are attracted by a compensation package where they are offered a job, house and get financial compensation and want to dispose off their land then how can someone else impose any restriction.

Land acquisition is a big issue for the country, not just for Odisha and not just for this project. A bill is now coming in the Parliament where we have to resolve the issue of what is fair for all concerned. The problem we have today is with overlapping laws. Virtually every individual almost or every village has a veto power over projects that may spread over thousands of hectares. Now that is not the meaning of democracy. If the proposal is agreeable by people for a compensation package, then the issue can be easily settled.


How has your experience been in BJD till now and how has it been working with Naveen Patnaik?


I have assisted Naveen babu from the beginning since he founded the BJD. It has been an interesting journey. He brought about a refreshing change in politics. Even after 14-15 years he continued to get re-elected time and again. His image and his personal charisma continue to remain very high. There has been a tremendous improvement in governance as well in the socio-economic sphere in the state. I am happy that I have been associated with the party and Naveen babu form day one.


What are your party’s views on the NCTC issue raised by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde?

This NCTC issue has been very wrongly reported. We are very much in favour of having NCTC. Our main objection was that we should not have a NCTC which is not accountable and which exists in countries that we don’t want to emulate.

Pakistan has agencies which are not accountable to anybody and which exist in vitiate the democratic process. There are other counters which are totalitarian and have this kind of NCTC which are not accountable to parliament and to anybody else. They can arrest and kill citizens without having to give a proper justification. Our suggestion was to have a NCTC based on the model followed in the US and UK, where there is some parliamentary supervision.
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