Free Press Journal

Noose tightening on fraudsters


Representational image

Disruption and adjournment is the new normal for Parliament. On the flimsiest of excuses, the honourable MPs troop into the well of the House, forcing a hapless presiding officer to adjourn the House. This has been the pattern since the Parliament reopened after the inter-session recess. The entire last week was washed out. On Monday too, similar scenes were witnessed in the two Houses, leading to the adjournment of the Lok Sabha for the entire day.

But the problem is that neither the MPs nor the people seem to be overly bothered by the routine disruptions and adjournments of the highest seat of law-making in the country. It should, under normal circumstances, have been  a matter of deep concern for the MPs that the people do not approve of their unseemly conduct. Ordinary people having come to expect the worst from the netas seem to be least concerned that MPs conduct themselves like unruly school children, disregarding the presiding officer, shouting at the top of their voice, displaying placards in the well of the House and generally indulging in loud and rowdy behavior. In fact, school children usually behave much better than our netas do as parliamentarians. Parliament was expected to be a place for debate, discussion and decision.

Instead, it has institutionalised raucousness and foul behavior, with no penal punishment for defying the Chair. The current stand-off, apparently, is over the demand for a debate over the Nirav Modi-PNB scam. The Opposition insists on an immediate and open-ended debate. The demand is legitimate. After all, the public sector bank has been defrauded by the high-profile jeweler who has since left the country and refuses to honour summons from the CBI and other agencies. On its part, the Government seeks to amplify the scope and ambit of the debate, wanting to discuss not just one bank scam but all others over the years. Quite clearly, the Opposition wants to score brownie points by focusing on only the Nirav Modi-PNB scam while the Government is keen to remind the Opposition of all the bank scams, some far bigger than the latest one, which have occurred under its watch.

Of course, neither side is blameless but the truth is that the current government, embarrassed by the flight of scamsters like Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, is actively engaged in putting in place foolproof safeguards to ensure that huge  costs are imposed on the fugitives. After all, neither following the Harshad Mehta scam nor after the Ketan Mehta scam did any government take strong legislative measures to prevent the escape of bank cheats. The report  the other day that borrowers of Rs 50 crores or more from banks would have to necessarily  furnish their passport details underlines the seriousness induced by the Nirav Modi case.

But probably the far more salutary is the proposed legislation, the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2017, which will force a re-think by bank cheats before they flee the country. The list of  economic offences is omnibus. These include the ones listed in the Indian Penal Code, the Prevention of Corruption Act, the SEBI Act, the Customs Act, the Companies Act, Limited Liability Partnership Act and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. Such offenders evading arrest or refusing to return to India will have their properties attached if within six weeks of the notice they fail to present themselves before the relevant authority.

Such offenders’ civil rights to challenge the attachment of assets in court will stand extinguished and after a stipulated period, their confiscated assets would be disposed of by an administrator to be appointed for the purpose. There is criticism in some sections that the proposed law denies the offenders the due process of law and it is too draconian as to even not spare the targeted assets which the proclaimed offender might own jointly  with members of the family or other entities. Of course, a legal challenge cannot be ruled out against certain provisions in the proposed law but, then, a responsive government cannot sit idly  by even as the Mallyas, Choksis and Modis loot and scoot from these shores. Judicial protection for such fraudsters has only emboldened others to default and flee the country.