||This article may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail that may only interest a specific audience. (October 2013)|
|Born||23 June 1956|
|Known for||anti corruption activism|
|Political party||Aam Admi Party|
Prashant Bhushan (born 1956) is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India and a social activist. Bhushan is notable for filling Public Interest Litigation for social awareness and exposing corruption cases. He was prominent in Team Anna, which supported Anna Hazare in his anti-corruption campaign.
Birth and education
Prashant Bhushan is the son of Shanti Bhushan, who was Union Minister for Law in the government of Morarji Desai between 1977 and 1979. Bhushan dropped out of studying electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras after a semester. He then studied first economics and then philosophy of science at Princeton University but left before graduating and returned to India where he received a law degree from Allahabad University.
Bhushan began practising as an advocate in the Supreme Court of India in 1983, specialising in Public Interest Litigation. His main areas of interest have been Human Rights, the Environment and ensuring that public servants are accountable. He is associated with various organisations including the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), People's Union for Civil Liberties, Committee on Judicial Accountability and Transparency International (India). As of 2012 Bhushan was the convenor of the Working Committee of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms.
Centre for Public Interest Litigation
Bhushan has acted as an advocate for the CPIL on several occasions, an example being in October 1997, when the Delhi High Court heard a CPIL petition over the award of contracts to Enron and Reliance Industries to develop the Panna-Mukta oilfield, and issued notices to the involved companies and government organisations.
CPIL won a major victory in 2003 when the Supreme Court restrained the Union government from privatising Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum without the approval of Parliament. As counsel for the CPIL, Rajinder Sachar and Bhushan argued that the only way to disinvest in the companies would be to repeal or amend the Acts by which they were nationalised in the 1970s.
Shanti and Prashant Bhushan were counsel for the CPIL when it sought a direction from the Supreme Court that Dalits who had converted to Christianity should be entitled to the same reservation they had enjoyed as members of Scheduled Castes. The Union government said this was purely a legislative matter but in February 2005 the Supreme Court decided to again review the constitutional issue.
In February 2005 Bhushan and Anil B. Divan were counsel for CPIL seeking quashing of the CVC Act, 2003, which requires the Central Bureau of Invesitgation (CBI) to obtain permission from the Union government before registering corruption cases against senior bureaucrats. Bhushan argued that the act violated the basic rights of citizens and was counter to the rule of law. The Supreme Court referred the question to a constitution bench of five judges.
Bhushan represented the CPIL in a petition asking for the removal of Neera Yadav from office as Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh for alleged corruption. Yadav had been named in five CBI corruption cases and 23 departmental proceedings. In October 2005 the Supreme Court directed the Mulayam Singh state government to remove her from her position. The case became the first in which an Indian Administrative Service officer in Uttar Pradesh was convicted of corruption.
In 2006, Bhushan represented the CPIL in a petition alleging that Pepsico and Coca-Cola were failing to warn the public of harmful ingredients in their beverages, and were luring young children through misleading advertising.
In 2007, Bhushan filed a petition on behalf of the CPIL with the Delhi High Court to investigate whether there had been kickbacks in the 2005 Scorpene submarine deal. The High Court took a strong line with the investigating agency, saying "We feel dissatisfied with that you've done so far. If you've tried to shield someone, then we will come down very heavily on you".
Prashant Bhushan acted for the CPIL when it took the lead in filing a suit against the Government of India for irregularities in a major award of spectrum for 2G mobile telephones. The CPIL petition alleged that the government had lost $15.53 billion by issuing spectrum in 2008 based on 2001 prices, and by not following a competitive bidding process.
In September 2011 Bhushan presented evidence that appeared to disprove the claim by the CBI that Dayanidhi Maran, the former telecom minister, had not applied undue pressure to the owner of Aircel to sell to the Maxis group of Malaysia. Bhushan said the CBI's investigation had been "less than honest".
In January 2012 Bhushan questioned why the CBI had failed to lay charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act against companies such as Essar Group and Loop Mobile despite strong evidence against them. In February 2012 the Supreme Court declared the allocation of spectrum had been illegal.
On 30 January 2011, there were protests organised by India against Corruption, who were demanding a Jan Lokpal Bill to provide independent oversight of politicians and bureaucrats in an attempt to limit corruption. Bhushan was among the many supporters in Delhi and thereafter the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, invited Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, Prashant and Shanti Bhushan and Kiran Bedi to meet with him regarding their demands. Hazare nominated Prashant Bhushan and his father Shanti as civil society members of the joint committee constituted in April 2011 to draft the Lokpal Bill. The Bharatiya Janata Party criticised Hazare's nomination of the Bhushans to the Lokpal committee. Ramdev also criticised inclusion of both father and son, calling it nepotism. Hazare defended the choice on the basis of the experience and ability of the two Bhushans. Soon after the committee began work, a CD was released that appeared to be a recording of conversation between Bhushan's father and Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party related to the 2G case that was being heard at the time. If genuine, the CD would discredit Shanti Bhushan. Prashant Bhushan stated that labs had shown the CD was doctored. He and Anna Hazare said its purpose seemed to be to stop or delay both the 2G hearings and the Lokpal committee. Later Singh claimed in a press conference that Bhushan telephoned him and tried to stop him from talking.
In May 2011 Bhushan said "The basic idea of an empowered Lokpal is that it will have full autonomy, independence from the government, power to investigate complaints of corruption and prosecute all public servants, among other. This principle is non-negotiable". He said that only the details were open for discussion. Later that month, Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal, a colleague on the committee, said that the government was breaking its word by attempting to limit the Lokpal's investigations to the conduct of MPs outside parliament and to a small number of senior civil servants. It would be unable to investigate the prime minister, senior judges, defence services and the conduct of MPs within parliament. A breakdown in the talks seemed inevitable.
In June 2011, Bhushan pointed out that key proposals made by Team Anna had been omitted from the latest government draft. These included the power to tap telephones and to recommend that public authorities change their work practices to make corruption less likely and to prevent victimisation of whistle blowers. The Lokpal should also be able to recommend cancellation of contracts and blacklisting of firms or people involved in corrupt practices. The Central Bureau of Investigation anti-corruption wing should come under the Lokpal and be independent of the central government.
That month Baba Ramdev began an "indefinite fast against corruption". Bhushan criticised Ramdev's decision to share his platform with leaders from the Hindutva organisations Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
On 4 August 2011 the government's version of the Lokpal bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha. Bhushan said the government's draft should be called the "Promotion of Corruption Bill 2011" or the "Protection of Corrupt Public Servants Bill 2011" and that the bill was designed to protect the corrupt and to deter complaints. On 10 August Bhushan said Team Anna demanded that this version be withdrawn. He said: "We are going to put forward our views, that how the Bill prepared by the government will encourage corruption instead of curbing it and will provide protection to the corrupt officials".
Following Hazare's detention for staging a demonstration, on 16 August 2011 Prashant Bhushan said that peaceful protests had been arranged across the country. He said the Delhi police had detained Hazare at the bidding of the cabinet: "There is no freedom for Delhi Police. It has become a puppet, an ornament in the hands of Central government". Later that month Anna Hazare began a hunger strike. Bhushan said the government could not postpone passing a proper Lokpal bill indefinitely. He reported that Anna Hazare had said he would fast until Hazare's draft Lokpal bill was introduced into parliament and passed, or that he would fast until death. On 28 August Hazare called off his fast. Two days later it was announced that Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan would have an informal meeting with Abhishek Singhvi, chairman of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice to discuss how the committee would proceed in reconciling the various draft anti-corruption laws, which could take several months.
In September 2011 Bhushan criticised the proposed National Judicial Oversight Committee. He said that inclusion of "brother judges" in the committee would prevent it acting impartially, and including two MPs in the committee would compromise judicial independence. Team Anna had proposed a 5-person committee independent of both the executive and the judiciary. In January 2012 Bhushan said in a press conference that Team Anna was working on a draft amendment to the constitution that would ensure the people had more say in the framing of laws. Bhushan and Hazare both opposed the Lokpal bill that was eventually introduced by the government, saying in February 2012 that it was very weak.
Bhushan has acted on a wide variety of high-profile cases. In 1992 he initiated a petition in the high court of Karantaka alleging bribery in the Mangalore Power Company project. After seven years, this was eventually dismissed. In 1998, as counsel for Arun Kumar Aggarwal, he initiated a Public Interest Litigation against the Union Government of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for retaining SEBI chairman D.R. Mehta after his three-year term had expired. Prashant Bhushan and Nitya Ramakrishnan were appointed counsel for the four people accused of the attack on parliament on 13 December 2001. The four were found guilty on 16 December 2002.
Bhushan assisted the Narmada Bachao Andolan activists opposed to the Sardar Sarovar Dam. After six years of hearings, in October 2000 the Supreme court ruled to allow the massive project to recommence. Bhushan criticised the decision for having been made "without any evidence of the facts [being presented] before the judges". Bhushan defended novellist Arundhati Roy when she was charged with contempt of court for publicly criticising judges in the dam hearings. In March 2002 she was sentenced to one day in jail. According to Bhushan the judges were "just affronted by the fact that somebody has dared to criticise them". In April 2002 a constitutional bench ruled that the decisions of the Supreme Court could not be assailed, but someone who felt they had suffered a gross miscarriage' of justice could move a "curative" petition. Bhushan described this ruling as retrograde – a step backward. In February 2001 a criminal petition was filed with the Supreme Court of India accusing Medha Patkar, Prashant Bhushan and Arundhati Roy of contempt of court for having demonstrated in front of the Supreme court in protest against the judgement on the dam.
In 2003 Bhushan filed a petition against Akhand Pratap Singh, chief secretary of the Uttar Pradesh state government, challenging a decision to extend his tenure. The petition alleged that Singh had been voted "most corrupt officer" in 1997 by the UP IAS Officers Association. The state government had ignored requests to allow a CBI probe into graft charges. In November 2003 the petition was refused. In July 2005 Bhushan was a member of an independent panel investigating a possible scam involving a company that made a huge profit buying and reselling Mumbai Airport Centaur Hotel and the son in law of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In September 2005 Bhushan represented Common Cause, a social organisation, seeking to reopen the petrol-pump scam case against Satish Sharma, a former minister of petroleum in the Union government.
In February 2006, as counsel for Lok Sevak Sangh, Bhushan submitted to the Supreme Court that the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) might not be constitutionally valid. A TV channel had recently aired video of a sting in which it appeared that some MPs had taken bribes under the scheme. Bhushan said none of the normal controls were being applied, and the scheme was breeding corruption.
Some other widely discussed cases in which he has appeared relate to the Bofors scandal, disposal of the Dabhol Power Station after the Enron bankruptcy, Doon Valley Mining litigation, Right to Information Act and Mauritius Double Taxation. He appeared in a controversial case in which candidates for election to public office were required to disclose their assets and any criminal convictions.
Controversy and criticism
Bhushan has often been involved in controversy. He has been criticised by a variety of people including members of both the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Judicial Accountability and Contempt of Court Case
Prashant Bhushan mounted a persistent campaign against judicial immunity, and this influenced the decision in September 2009 that judges would declare their assets. Not long after, Bhushan asserted in an interview pubThe only scope for Lokpal investigations would be corruption by MPs outside parliament, and a small number of senior civil servants.lished by Tehelka magazine that "out of the last 16 to 17 Chief Justices, half have been corrupt". A lawyer, Harish Salve filed a charge of contempt of court against Bhushan and the editor of the magazine. In October 2009 Prashant Bhushan filed formal affidavit alleging that eight retired chief justices were corrupt. They noted the difficulty of getting documentary evidence because judges are immune from investigation. Justice Krishna Iyer, a former supreme court judge, said that either Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan should be punished for making "false charges" or an independent authority should be set up to scrutinise their allegations.
Kashmir plebiscite remarks
On 26 September 2011 Bhushan was asked for his opinion on Kashmir at a press conference in Varanasi. He said: "It is my personal opinion that no country or part of its territory can be governed without the wishes of the people with the help of army...I want that the situation be normalised, [the] Army be withdrawn, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act be also withdrawn and then try to persuade the people of Kashmir to stay with India. And yet, if the people want, then there could be a plebiscite, and if the people of the Valley want separation, they be allowed to separate".
On 12 October 2011, Bhushan was attacked and beaten up because of this statement. The incident happened while a Times Now news channel team was interviewing Bhushan. Three youths entered his chamber in the Supreme Court, dragged him from his chair, slapped and punched him. Two escaped. The third claimed to belong to an organisation called "Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena". He said: "We will break the heads of those who will try to break India". The incident was captured by the television crew.
Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena claimed responsibility for the attack. Six hours before the attack, the group had posted on Facebook: "God give us power to complete our mission." In a Facebook post afterwards they wrote "we hit prashant bhushan hard in his chamber in supreme court.if u will try to break my nation,i will break ur heads." [sic] P. Chidambaram, the Home Minister, condemned the attack. He dispatched a representative to the hospital where Bhushan had been taken for a check-up. Digvijaya Singh, General Secretary of Indian National Congress, said one of the attackers was a BJP youth worker, a charge that was immediately denied by the BJP. Bhushan described the activists as having a "fascist mindset" and stood by his statements.
The Shiv Sena called for Bhushan to be tried for his statements about Kashmir. Bal Thackeray, the leader of Shiv Sena, said "I praised the people who attacked him. No mercy should be shown to the people who advocate the division of the country". It was reported on 19 October 2011 that a court in Varanasi had accepted a complaint against Prashant Bhushan requesting a treason case. Anna Hazare said "Bhushan's statement (on Kashmir) is not the views of the team. He has never asked the team. These are his personal views". Hazare said "Our core committee will meet to decide on his continuing as a team member. After it meets. I will take a decision". In the event, Bhushan remained part of the team. In April 2012 Bhushan said that while Team Anna supported Raj Thackeray's initiative to subject party candidates for election to examinations, they did not support Thackeray's political views.
On 2 February 2010 the BJP government of Himachal Pradesh granted Prashant Bhushan's "Kumud Bhushan Educational Society" permission to buy 4.68 hectares (11.6 acres) of land in order to build an educational institution. The sale was controversial because only the state government can give permission for sale or change of status of tea garden land. Union minister Virbhadra Singh charged that the sale was illegal. However, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal rejected these charges in February 2012, defending the grant of relaxations to the educational trust, and countered that the Congress government had been giving land to Tibetans that belonged to Himachal Pradesh. Bhushan had put up two buildings on the site and was using them to run workshops on policy awareness. He said that the plantation was in disuse and most of the bushes had died, but he had planted new bushes. On 15 April 2011, Digvijay Singh alleged that the two Bhushans had failed to pay taxes due when they bought an investment property in Allahabad. Bhushan denied the charge, calling it a "very organised and concerted attempt to smear members of the civil society in the Lokpal drafting committee with allegations". On 9 January 2012 it was reported that Shanti Bhushan had been found guilty of evading stamp duty on the home he had bought in Allahabad. The Assistant of Stamp Duty in Allahabad said the property, which Shanti Bhushan had bought in 1965, had been grossly undervalued, as had the related taxes. Revised stamp duty, interest on arrears and a fine would be levied. Shanti Bhushan said ""This order of the Stamp Collector is totally illegal and contrary to the law.This order has been clearly made under political pressure".
In September 2011 Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi were being threatened with charges of breach of privilege for making derogatory remarks about MPs. Bhushan urged MPs to not be so sensitive to criticism, saying the law of defamation gave them enough protection. Attempts to use their privileges to suppress free speech and crticism would backfire by making people feel there was a serious problem in the way that parliament was functioning.
In February 2012 Bhushan surprised commentators by coming out in favour of the government's proposed National Counter Terrorism Council. In April 2012 Bhushan drew criticism from Congress leaders when he refused to act as a mediator in negotiating with Maoists who were holding a District Collector hostage. He appealed to the Maoists to release the Govt. officer without conditions. He also said that the government should investigate and address legitimate demands.
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