Thursday 18 April 2024

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Politics | Lok Sabha '98

I will remain with UF as long as UF remains : Khalap


Adv Ramakant Khalap, the sole MP of the Goa-based Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, entered the Parliament for the first time in 1996 and became the union minister of state for law and justice, with an independent charge. After I K Gujral took over as the prime minister, he was also given additional responsibility of Company Laws, getting impressed over his performance in the Deve Gowda government. His tenure became quite sensational since it was the time when judicial activism was at its peak, several top politicians were arrested under corruption charges and the era of liberalisation compelled the government to drastically change several age-old legislations in the country. SANDESH PRABHUDESAI spoke to him at length regarding his achievements, unfulfilled agenda and the his future political plans, if he gets re-elected.

Which are the major steps you took to reform the legal system in the country ?

The most important step, I feel, was the formation of the Law Reforms Commission set up under the chairmanship of Justice Jeevan Reddy, former chief justice of India, to study and propose reforms to all the existing laws in the country. With the economy being liberalised and also India becoming the WTO member, it has become necessary.

Besides this, steps are being taken to reform civil as well as criminal procedures, starting a system of alternate dispute redressal, setting up Lok Adalats for speedy justice, initiating process of disposing of around four crore long-pending cases all over the country in next one and a half year, amending the Notaries Act, 1954 for the first time, passing of the new Arbitration Law and initiating delimitation of constituencies.

I have also computerised all the high courts and the Supreme Court while making the whole legal system available on the INTERNET.

But you have failed to provide the common civil code to the whole nation, on the lines of the one you are having in your state of Goa....

It's not true. I began a nation-wide debate on the issue, due to which even the BJP today agrees that the common civil code should be formulated only after reaching a consensus among most of the political parties.

But the BJP also plans to tell the Law Commission to prepare a draft, incorporating good features from all the personal laws...

There is no substance in what the BJP is saying, because the Law Commission is already seized of the matter and its terms of reference also include aspect of personal laws.

Are you still hopeful of a consensus ?

Well, if not all, we can definitely have consensus on certain aspects and bring it into force, like we partially succeeded in bringing a few electoral reforms. Though no consensus could emerge on all the proposals, some have become the law today.

Which are the major electoral reforms remain to be brought in ?

We wanted to take up major reforms in the anti-defection act, the issue of state funding and prevention of criminals from entering the fray. But, unfortunately, no consensus could reach on all the three aspects. For example, every party agrees that a defector should be disqualified. But they are not positive on not providing any loophole, like the one we have now, allowing splits with one third members of the Parliamentary party's total strength.

What solution do you propose ?

A bill can be moved, providing for disqualification on the grounds of defections per say, without qualifying them. You then leave it to the House to decide.

But the Parliament always leaves some or the other loophole while making the law. Now you have barred criminals from contesting elections, but only those who are convicted. The "undertrials" are free to contest. How do you justify it ?

I don't justify it. On the contrary, I personally feel that any person, against whom lies a prima facie charge of heinous crime like dacoity, murder, involvement in scams or even a case under COFEPOSA, he needs to be kept out of the fray. But I must confess that it is not an easy thing to do, because the fundamental principles say that no person is criminal unless convicted. Does it mean that criminals would continue to remain in politics ?

That's the fear. The only solution is to reform the procedure of criminal trials in such a way that judgements are made available in the shortest possible period.

As a law minister of this country, you have experienced the most active days of the Indian judiciary. How do you describe it ?

The judicial activism was always looked upon with awe and scepticism. I even sounded a caution about overuse of the superactivity.

Was it misused ?

That fear is still there. The actual scope of power under the public interest litigation and the judicial activism has lost sight, resulting into encroaching of its rights upon other two wings of our democratic set up.

Is this the reason why you were planning to propose some amendments to the system of filing PIL ?

Not amendments. I said the Supreme Court should lay down proper parameters for filing the PIL, so that people know under what circumstances they can approach the courts while courts also would get guidelines about the extent to which they can pass orders.

When the judiciary is giving moral judgements on every aspect of the Indian democracy today, do you believe that the judiciary is fully clean?

Nothing can be absolutely clean and judiciary is not an exception to the rule. This has been even admitted by former chief justice Verma, who made attempts to have an in-house mechanism to check it. But the time has come, I feel, to evolve a new procedure for both the appointments and transfers of the judges as well as to deal with the aspect of disciplinary action. Parliamentary impeachment is not practicable. We need to have an independent body like a Judicial Commission to deal with such matters.

But, in the meanwhile, even the appointment of chief justice of this country's apex court became a controversy...

What can we do ? Today judges appoint the judges. The prime minister and the law minister are mere glorified postmen. We had no role to play into it. We had to accept the report submitted by the chief justice, whose report had given clean chit to Justice Punchhi after investigating into the allegations made against him. That's why I propose a forum like the judicial commission.

What do you feel about the BJP's suggestion that the face of Indian constitution should be changed and we should accept the Presidential system ?

The country must wait and watch the evolution through which we are passing. As long as the coalition governments work effectively with the Common Minimum Programme and does not become a chronic crisis, we should not think of the Presidential form of elections. In a situation where we are ridden with disparities like caste, creed, religion and language, one person cannot emerge as a national leader, who can carry entire population with him.

Is it true that you were trying to seek an election alliance with the BJP to get elected, which can also give you a ministerial berth, if the BJP comes to power ?

It's totally false. I am with the UF and will remain with the UF. I am not that class of politicians who jump sides for petty gains like the ministerial positions. Isn't it a defection, which is banned under Constitution of India ?

But UF is not a political party...

Still it's a defection. I will remain with the UF, as long as the UF remains.

But the UF has already split...

To some extent. It's still in power and its major components are still there.

But if the BJP comes to power tomorrow while the UF splits, would you like to join the BJP government ?

Well, I will see the common minimum programme of the BJP-led government before taking a decision. But, I think, it will be the UF government once again, to be supported by the Congress. is now on Telegram & also Youtube. Kindly subscribe for free & remain updated.

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