Monday, February 12, 2001,
Chandigarh, India



Listen to the President

THOUGH Justice Venkatachalaiah, Chairman of the Constitution Review Commission, has stated that the observations of the President on the eve of Republic Day are beyond the pale of discussion, the President had himself said at a function held last year to commemorate 50 years of the adoption of the Constitution, that it was necessary to consider whether the Constitution had failed or it was the failure of those who were expected to work it. Your exhortation (Jan. 29) — "Listen to the President" — entails a review of the ‘working of the Constitution’; and that is exactly what the commission has been set up for.

Admittedly, there are areas in which the Constitution has not been worked in the spirit intended by the founding fathers, thereby diluting some of its basic features. For instance, the ‘Rule of Law’ is a basic feature of our Constitution and Article 141 purports to safeguard it.

But frequent violations of this constitutional safeguard has virtually turned the ‘Rule of Law’ into a ‘Rule of Judges’.

Is it not desirable to amend the Constitution, at least to give some teeth to Article 141 and such other provisions, and protect the basic features of the Constitution.



Finding a cure: The position taken by the President that the fault is not with the Constitution but with those who are expected to work it appears to be correct. The founding fathers of the Constitution, gave to the country an instrument of governance which was perhaps the best option. However, with the passage of time loopholes are becoming all too evident. The prevailing chaos, political uncertainty, insecurity and corruption make it necessary to carry out a review to plug the loopholes. It may be recalled that the former Prime Minister, Mr Narasimah Rao and the then Home Minister, Mr Buta Singh, have been convicted of giving bribes to JMM MPs to save the Government from falling, but the bribe takers could not be punished because they enjoy constitutional immunity.

In our system the Executive is subordinate to the Legislature. Therefore, the quality of governance essentially depends upon the competence, qualifications and integrity of the chosen representatives. But the Constitution does not specify these essential ingredients, with the result that governance is increasingly passing into the hands of those who misuse power for their own benefit or the benefit of the party they represent. Known criminals get elected with the help of money or muscle power and occupy exalted positions in legislatures. Even the Election Commission is not in a position to prevent this.

The Prime Minister’s suggestion for a fixed term of legislatures possibly stems from the instability caused by fragmentation of political parties, pressures of coalition politics and huge funds required for holding elections. Further, lack of transparency and accountability in the receipt of funds by political parties from the corporate sector and business houses is a major source of corruption. These and other maladies need to be cured to make the electoral process more efficient, stable and less expensive.

As a voter, I am for a review of the Constitution to remove the maladies, but not for a fixed term of the legislature.

T. S. CHAWLA, MohaliTop



Harsh budget

THE Prime Minister’s indication that the budget this time will be harsh comes as a worry for the salaried class which is already feeling the pinch of the surcharge over and above the 30 per cent tax slab. This is the only category of tax payers that pays every pie of the tax. This class bears the brunt on three counts. First of all, the standard deduction or Rs 20,000 which is meant to meet his professional expenses is very low. It is the same for all persons drawing from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh annually (Rs 25,000 for less than Rs 1 lakh). Moderate expenses of such a person on telephone, electricity water, conveyance etc. exceed Rs 30,000 annually (Rs 50,000 in case he owns a car). His counterpart in business is allowed deduction according to expenses, apart from his ability to hide his income.

Secondly, tax relief under Sec. 88 has been the same for the last10 years or so. With the rise in prices and the addition of annual increments, the salary and the expenses increase every year but the rate of relief remains the same. Such a person was better off ten years ago on this count.

Thirdly, the ADA instalment which is released to offset the inflation is also taxable. Such a person first pays and then gets the compensation of which 34.5 per cent is deducted as tax. Now a 2 per cent increase in the surcharge has already been announced which means it will cross 40 per cent if things remain as they are.


Fly-ash menace

It is shocking to read the views of the Chief Engineer of the Bathinda Thermal Plant that pollution in the town has been caused by the increase in the number of vehicles and industries, and not because of the emission of fly-ash from the chimneys of the thermal plant.

The Chief Engineer should take a walk in the town with his glasses off, and also sea the mounds of fly-ash that is swept from the roofs of houses to ascertain where the pollution comes from. It will do him no good to keep his eyes closed to the health hazard faced by the residents of Bathinda.



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