Sunday, March 19, 2006

Colouring the walls....

Come election time and our elected reps suddenly start remembering us! They shower us with so much love and affection that in a moment of weakness, on election day, we tick the wrong symbol and rue the decision for the next five years! This show of love and affection extends to even their painting our walls for us, although peppering them with colourful poll graffiti!! In fact overzealous party workers even “reserve” wall space several weeks before the elections are announced. And only during the elections, can we see our beloved Amma and Dr.Kalaignar sharing the same wall space!!

But why am I writing about this?? Well, yesterday’s
Hindu carried a news item showing Corporation workers removing poll campaign material from the walls of the Ripon buildings! They plan to video graph the walls with poll graffiti and posters before whitewashing and send the bills to the respective candidates/parties. However, they will be doing this only for “public” buildings!! The general public will have to fend for themselves as far as their “private” walls are concerned. Either they can give consent to the parties for using their walls or refuse it. And if they still find their walls splashed with political campaign material without their permission, they will have to complain to the police. But how many of us will refuse permission to any party to “paint” our walls, especially when it's accompanied by some gentle coercion?!!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

An office of profit

The expression “office of profit” has suddenly become very significant to many of us, thanks to the Jaya Bachchan controversy. The gist of the facts is that Jaya Bachchan was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh as a Samajwadi Party candidate. The UP government also appointed her as Chairperson of the UP Film Development Council (UPFDC). Madan Mohan, a Congress candidate from Kanpur, who was defeated by Jaya Bachchan, filed a complaint with the Election Commission (EC) that she is holding an office of profit as Chairperson of UPFDC and should be disqualified. The EC issued a notice to Jaya Bachchan and after getting her representation, recommended her disqualification as MP to the President.

So, what is an office of profit? Article 102(1)(a) of the Constitution provides that a person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament, if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder. Parliament has specifically enacted the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, which exempts holders of certain offices under the government from disqualification. However, the expression office of profit per se has not been defined, giving rise to various interpretations. The best legal brains in the country have been afforded quality media time to analyse this and surprisingly, many of their views seem to match the party they represent!!

While Jaya Bachchan has vehemently denied that she has received any remuneration from UPFDC, some experts argue that the disqualification is incurred irrespective of whether any remuneration is drawn or not. It is sufficient if the position carries a remuneration and the fact of its being drawn or not, is inconsequential!! While not venturing into the merits of the issue, it is amusing to see what happened subsequent to the recommendation of the EC to the President. In a last ditch effort, the Samajwadi Party rallied behind its MP and introduced the State Legislature (Prevention of Disqualification Amendment) Bill, 2006, which was passed by voice vote couple of days ago. If the Bill receives the UP Governor’s assent, 79 posts of chairmen, deputy chairmen and directors of various corporations and PSUs will no longer be regarded as offices of profit!! Not surprisingly, the post of Chairperson of UPFDC figures in the list. Further, the word “allowances” payable to incumbents will be replaced by the word “honorarium”.

Ignoring the issue as to whether Mrs.Bachchan is holding an office of profit or not, it is rather disgusting to see this attitude of our elected members to amend the law if they don’t like it or is inconvenient to them. The famous quote of Mr.Bumble in Oliver Twist that “the law is an ass” does sound so true. Members of Parliament are supposedly elected to serve the people. But more often than not, they tend to serve themselves and to such an extent that, it is more an office “for” profit!! However, we shouldn’t be too biased in our views. If we look at it from the viewpoint of politicians, they can serve the people only if they remain in office. So, what’s wrong in changing the law a little bit to enable them to cling on to office? They are quite justified, aren’t they???

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Entrance exams and politics...

Come March-April of every year and we find class 12 students burning the proverbial “midnight oil” preparing for, and writing, the Board exams. And such of those who opted for the science stream, have the added pain of preparing for the ubiquitous entrance exams. With enough pressure from teachers, parents and peers alike, the last thing the poor students need is politicians poking their nose and meddling with the entrance exams. Unfortunately, the professional courses entrance exams in Tamil Nadu have been mired in controversy every year with politicians taking an active role in worsening the scenario. While the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court have passed several decisions in the past, which ought to have set the controversies at rest, they stubbornly refuse to die down.

The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Admission in Professional Courses Act, 2006, was passed by the Tamil Nadu legislative Assembly on January 27 of this year, being the last day of session for this Assembly. The said legislation abolished the Common Entrance Test (CET) insofar as State Board students were concerned. However, students studying in CBSE and other Boards will have to take the CET. The ostensible reason for this move is to provide the rural candidates a level playing field as they are at a disadvantage writing the CET. Being an election year, the real reason for this legislation is not far for anyone to see. While our Amma’s political opponents were momentarily stunned by this development, it didn’t take them long to claim that they had always wanted the CET abolished. The students, especially the ones studying in CBSE schools, were left in a state of uncertainty over their future.

Expectedly, the constitutional validity of the legislation was challenged before the Madras High Court. One political party, which is part of the opposition in the State, did not want to be left behind and filed a petition to implead itself in the proceedings in support of the state government!! After hearing elaborate arguments, the First Bench of the Madras High Court struck down the new legislation as unconstitutional and directed the state government to hold entrance exams for all students including those studying in the State Board. The court rejected the argument that rural students were affected by CBSE students and pointed out that the rural students would be affected more by urban students from the State Board and abolition of CET was not the answer. The political party, which supported the government, made an about turn and demanded the Chief Minister's resignation on moral grounds. Going one up over your opposition alone seems to be the consideration for these fellows and the students, once again, find themselves pawns in their game.

The state government has now chosen to appeal against the decision before the Supreme Court. And the students (and their parents) are again left to wait and watch the outcome anxiously. Having represented a leading professional institution from south Tamil Nadu in a similar case last year, it was rather painful to see these kids in court with a wistful look in their faces. The court is no place for them (unless of course they choose to become lawyers!). But do our politicians care two hoots about it?? They continue playing these political games at our expense and we continue hoping to see a politician who will rise above politics…