Statute panel to release papers for debate
By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, DEC. 29. The Chairman of the Constitution review panel, Mr. Justice M.N. Venkatachalaiah, today asserted that the Commission was not for ``tampering with the basic structure of the Constitution'' but would only review its working during the last 50 years.

Addressing presspersons after the fifth meeting of the Commission, Mr. Justice Venkatachalaiah had a dig at the critics for spreading ``misinformation'' that the Commission would tamper with the Constitution.

Dispelling the misgivings in this regard, the Chairman said ``I had accepted to head the Commission only on condition that there could not be any compromise on two issues: there should be no departure from the basic features of the Constitution and also parliamentary form of democracy. And so far the Commission has been proceeding with its work only on this premise''.

He said that at today's meeting a review of the progress made by the various subcommittees was made. So far consultation papers on seven areas were ready and these papers would be released on January 8, 2001 for generating a nationwide public debate and discussion. To a question whether the issue of Indian nationals of foreign origin holding important posts figured at the meeting, he said ``it was not discussed so far''. When it was pointed out to him that one of the members, Mr. P.A. Sangma had said that he would take up that issue, he said ``if it comes up, we will take it up''.

The seven papers that are finalised are: review of the working of the political parties in relation to elections and reforms options and review of election law and processes; `treaty-making power under the Constitution'; `liability of the State in Tort and Sovereign immunity'; `All India Judicial Service'; `immunity of Legislators-What do the words ``in respect of anything said or any vote given by him'' in Article 105 (2) signify?`` and `efficacy of Public Audit Systems in India: C & AG, reforming the institution'.

He said in all 20 papers in the 10 core areas would be prepared and the remaining 13 would be released by February 5. Asked whether the Commission would be able to complete its work within one year, he said the first meeting of the Commission was held on March 22 this year and one year should be reckoned from this date.

He said from February to March there would be debate and after getting the feedback and response, the Commission might need about a month to finalise its recommendations. Every endeavour would be made to complete the job by the end of March.

Mr. Justice Venkatachalaiah said the paper on `study on poverty alleviation' was also finalised and some more were before the expert advisory panel for approval.

Asked whether the impact of economic liberalisation on the poor was discussed, he answered in the affirmative and said ''world's 20 per cent of the population is controlling 87 per cent of incomes and consumption and what we are spending is just one per cent. How we are going to cope up in the changing economic scenario is a major area of concern and it is being discussed by the Commission``, he said.

Some of the highlights in the working paper on political parties and electoral reforms identified are: an ever- increasing scenario of weakening of ideologies and values; absence of inner- party democracy; absence of transparent means of funding and growing influence of regionalism, casteism, communalism and criminals on their functioning; code of conduct for Ministers/legislators incorporating seven principles of public life, viz. selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership;

Provision for automatic disqualification of a person found guilty of corrupt practices by a court; any person convicted of an offence by a court and sentenced to imprisonment for six months or more to be debarred from contesting elections; a person against whom charges were framed by the court to be disqualified from contesting elections

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