O. P. Jindal Global University and Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, recently organized a joint conference on "Comparative Perspectives on Democratic Governance: Transparency and Accountability" December 3-4, 2012.
Former Supreme Court Judge, and current Chair of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, Justice A.K. Ganguly, in his Valedictory Address, said that India should be accurately described as a ‘constitutional democracy’ because the Constitution controls in great detail, all state institutions. He agreed with the former member of the Central Information Commission, that the Right to Information is crucial for citizen monitoring of state institutions and expressed concerns over that fact that some in the Judiciary regard themselves as beyond the purview of the right to information. Justice Ganguly claimed that all information commissions must necessarily have a person with judicial qualifications.
The delegates from the University of California provided perspectives from the USA, relating to the funding and management of elections, and legal restrictions on bribe-giving by US companies outside the USA, in return for favorable business deals. Professor Henry E. Brady, Dean, Goldman School of Public Policy, expressed his admiration for the independence and capacity of India’s Election Commission, and commended the former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi for his leadership role.
Addressing conference delegates, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi pointed out that all major institutions in India are in real need of reform, beginning with Parliament where disruption, not debate and dissent, is affecting people’s trust in parliament. Dr. Singhvi said that while India’s judiciary is independent and enormously creative there is a great deal that needs to be done to enhance judicial accountability and efficiency. The Press, according to him, which is rightly hailed as the Fourth Estate in a democracy, is in urgent need of reforms to ensure adherence to professional ethics and standards.
Dr. Ken Taymore and Senior Advocate Venkataramani focused, respectively, on rule of law challenges in ensuring good conduct of US corporations, and the importance of dharma in India. The conference addressed multiple forms and perceptions of corruption in India, ranging from petty bribes becoming a passport for marginalized people to having their identities and needs acknowledged to large-scale robbery of public resources for private gain.
Malini Parthasarathy, former Executive Editor at The Hindu and current Director, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, addressed the role of traditional print and electronic media and that of the new social media like Facebook and Twitter, and actions of civil society activist groups in both strengthening and undermining democratic governance.
This report was prepared by JGLS student, Shreyas Gupta