The Delhi High Court has not helped further the cause of transparency in public life by staying the direction of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to permit examination of Class XII records of Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani. The High Court order was based on a petition filed by the CBSE which had claimed that the records were ‘personal information’.
It defies comprehension how someone’s educational qualifications can be ‘personal information’. The matter was raised earlier before a Metropolitan Magistrate who had also dismissed the petition with the argument that the ‘complainant (petitioner) may not have filed it if she was not a Central Minister’. The Magistrate had also noted ‘a great delay of 11 years’ in filing the complaint.
If one’s educational qualification falls in the category of ‘personal information’, then one’s criminal record should also be treated as ‘personal information’. After prolonged deliberations, the Election Commission of India has made it mandatory for aspirants to enter Parliament or a Legislature to make public all information about the prospective candidate including educational and criminal records.
The Election Commission has not taken it upon itself to scrutinise the accuracy of the particulars given by a candidate. It is left to the alert citizens to find through proper channels if the information given by a candidate is true or false.
The Metropolitan Magistrate’s argument that information about Smriti Irani’s educational records was being sought only because she is a Central Minister is also specious. People are interested in finding out the veracity of her claims only because she is an important public figure.
Forgery is fast becoming a norm rather than exception in India and is quite visible in educational fields. The Vyapam Scam of Madhya Pradesh Government can be cited as an example in which politicians, bureaucrats, judicial officers, police officers and free-lance racketeers joined hands for decades and destroyed careers of honest, hardworking youth. Smriti Irani’s stubborn resistance to her educational records being made public only confirms the suspicion that there may be something fishy about her educational claims. The Judiciary’s attitude can, at best, be described only as retrograde.
Election Commission has issued notice to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar for allegedly asking the voters of poll-bound Goa to take money from leaders of other parties but vote for BJP. Earlier a similar complaint was made against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Election Commission had never had sharp teeth. But T N Seshan, as Chief Election Commissioner, had converted Election Commission into a frightening scarecrow. Politicians and bureaucrats were then taking extra care to ensure that they did not transgress the Model Code of Conduct. Today Election Commission does not even scare the miscreants.
Decency and decorum in election campaigns are fast becoming part of history. Campaigners seem to be vying with each other to show their baser side in public speeches. During Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, Election Commission receives thousands of complaints of violation of Model Code of Conduct by candidates or other party leaders, some of the complaints being pretty serious. One does not recall if Election Commission has taken any serious action against the culprits.
There are certain laws giving some powers to Election Commission, but these are not enough. More importantly, Election Commission does not have its own workforce to enforce its orders even if it wants to take stern action in a case. It has to depend on the officers and employees of State and Central governments for carrying out its orders. They are put under the Election Commission during the operation of the Model Code of Conduct. After that they are at the mercy of their political bosses in the State or at the Centre.
There have been instances of some officers following Election Commission directives honestly and, thereby, displeasing the ruling party in the State. Such officers are harassed by the government of the State as soon as the period of Model Code of Conduct is over. On the other hand, the officers who please the political bosses in the State by making a mockery of the Election Commission guidelines are subsequently rewarded. Election Commission cannot do anything in either case.
Only a cynic can think of following Election Commission guidelines honestly if these do not suit the partisan interests of the ruling party in the State.