Prashant Bhushan

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Prashant Bhushan
Born (1956-06-23) 23 June 1956 (age 58)
Residence Noida
Alma mater Allahabad University
Occupation Lawyer
Known for Anti-corruption activism
Political party
Aam Aadmi Party

Prashant Bhushan is an Indian lawyer, activist and politician. He is noted for his use of public interest litigation (PIL) to support a number of causes related to corruption, environmental protection and human rights. He was a prominent member of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, which supported Anna Hazare's campaign for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill. After a split in IAC, he helped form the Aam Aadmi Party, and now serves on its National Executive.

Early life[edit]

Prashant Bhushan is the oldest of the four children of Shashi Bhushan and Kumud Bhushan. His father is a lawyer-activist and a former Union Law Minister in the Morarji Desai government.[1]

Prashant Bhushan enrolled as a mechanical engineering student at IIT Madras in 1977, but quit after one semester. According to him, he was more interested in physics than engineering, and he was homesick.[2] He then enrolled in a two-year BSc programme with philosophy, economics and political science in his hometown of Allahabad. He became interested in law during 1974–76, when his father represented Raj Narain, on whose petition the Allahabad High Court set aside Indira Gandhi's election.[3] Prashant Bhushan attended the hearings in Allahabad and the Supreme Court, and wrote a book titled The case that shook India (1978). He studied law for three years at Allahabad University, while informally continuing study of philosophy and physics. He still wanted to become a philosopher, and enrolled at Princeton to study philosophy and economics. He did not complete the course, leaving because he believed that the academics were "playing intellectual games without really improving anything". He continued his law studies after coming back to India, and passed the final exam in 1983.[4]

Legal activism[edit]

Bhushan was drawn to public activism, influenced by his father. His main areas of interest have been human rights, environmental protection and accountability of the public servants. He is associated with various organisations including the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and Transparency International (India).[5] He is also the convenor of the Working Committee of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms.[6]

Bhushan states that he has taken up about 500 cases dealing with "good causes". His family background allowed him to work on a pro-bono basis for such cases: according to him, he spends only 25 per cent of his time on paid cases, charging 5 per cent of what other lawyers charge. He has criticised the other professional lawyers as "amoral", and claims that he never takes up a case unless he feels that his client is "morally right". His critics have accused him of being a self-righteous publicity-seeker who pursues sensationalist cases, and an anarchist.[1]

In 1983, at behest of Vandana Shiva, Bhushan fought his first public interest case against limestone quarrying in the Doon Valley, which was alleged to be damaging the environment. Subsequently, Bhushan became a member of PUCL, a human rights organisation, ultimately becoming president of its Delhi chapter. His first Supreme Court case was on the issue of compensation to the Bhopal disaster victims, on behalf of the Bhopal Mahila Sahayog Sanghathan.[citation needed]

Judicial accountability[edit]

Bhushan says that he envisages a transparent and honest legal system, where people can negotiate their own cases without the need of any lawyers. In 1990, he and his father formed the Committee on Judicial Accountability (CJA) to fight corruption in the judiciary. The organisation comprised some lawyers and ex-judges. Prashant Bhushan started focusing more on this issue in 1993, after the Supreme Court Justice V. Ramaswami was not impeached by parliament on corruption charges. In 2007, the Bhushans expanded CJA to include citizens and form the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform (CJAR).[7]

In 2009, Prashant Bhushan represented activist Subhash Aggarwal, asking for the Supreme Court and High Court judges to be brought under RTI. The judges were forced to declare their assets and post it on the court websites.[3]

In a 2009 interview, Bhushan alleged that at least half of the 16 former Chief Justices in the Supreme Court were corrupt. The lawyer Harish Salve filed a contempt case against him in 2010, and the Supreme Court asked Bhushan to apologise. In response, Bhushan submitted an explanation stating why he felt those judges were corrupt.[3][8] The Bhushans noted the difficulty of getting documentary evidence because judges are immune from investigation.[9] Krishna Iyer, a former Supreme Court judge, said that either the Bhushans should be punished for making "false charges" or an independent authority should be set up to scrutinise their allegations.[10]

He also campaigned against P. D. Dinakaran, the Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court.[11] Dinakaran was later forced to resign.[citation needed]

Bhushan has recommended amendment to the Contempt of Court Act clause, stating that some of its clauses effectively prevent the press from exposing the corruption in the judiciary. He has also opposed the rule which prevents people from registering a First Information Report against a judge without the permission of the Chief Justice of India.[12]

Kashmir issue[edit]

In 2011, at a press conference in Varanasi, Bhushan stated that he wanted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to be revoked in Jammu and Kashmir. He added that the government should try to persuade the people of the Kashmir valley to align with India but that they should be allowed to separate if they wish to do so.[13] On 12 October 2011, he was attacked by the members of Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena inside the Supreme Court complex, for these remarks. The group accused him of trying to break up India. He was dragged out of his chair, and repeatedly kicked and punched.[3][14] Bhushan described his attackers as having a "fascist mindset" and stood by his statements.[15] Several politicians and activists condemend the attack on Bhushan, while some others criticised him. The Shiv Sena called for a police case to be registered against Bhushan, accusing him of supporting the anti-national elements.[16] Anna Hazare distanced the IAC team from his remarks, saying that these are his personal views.[17]

Bhushan re-iterated his views on Kashmir in 2014. A fringe organisation called "Hindu Raksha Dal" attacked the office of the Aam Aadmi Party over his remarks.[citation needed]

Government accountability[edit]

In 1990, Bhushan wrote a book Bofors, the selling of a nation (1990) on the Bofors scandal.[4] 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.[18] In October 1997, Bhushan represented CPIL in the Delhi High Court for a petition over the award of contracts to Enron and Reliance Industries to develop the Panna-Mukta oilfield. The court issued notices to the involved companies and government organisations.[19] In 1998, as counsel for Arun Kumar Aggarwal, he initiated a PIL 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.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23]

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 Investigation (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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27] The case became the first in which an Indian Administrative Service officer in Uttar Pradesh was convicted of corruption.[28]

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.[29] The same year, Bhushan also 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.[30]

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".[31]

Bhushan filed a PIL protesting against the appointment of P.J. Thomas's appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner, after Thomas had been charged in the palmolein scam. In March 2011, SC struck down the appointment.[3]

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.[32] The Supreme Court asked the CBI to probe the irregularities in the auction of 2G spectrum. The inquiry resulted in the resignation of the telecom minister A. Raja, who was later arrested along with others including the DMK MP Kanimozhi, officials of Unitech wireless and officials of Reliance ADAG.[3] 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".[33] 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.[34] In February 2012 the Supreme Court declared the allocation of spectrum had been illegal.[35]

In 2012, Bhushan filed a PIL seeking cancelation of coal block allocations by the government on the grounds that certain companies had been illegally favoured by the politicians. In response to the PIL, the Supreme Court (SC) scrutinised coal block allocation since 1993. Bhushan also filed a PIL against illegal iron ore extraction in Goa, which led to the Supreme Court halting all the mining operations in the state.[3]

Based on his PIL, SC raised questions on the functioning of the civil aviation ministry during 2004–2008. Under scrutiny were the purchase of 111 aircraft for Rs. 700 billion to benefit foreign aircraft manufacturers; several aircraft taken on-lease costing thousands of crores of rupees; and bilateral rights given to foreign airlines without any reciprocal benefit to Air India while the company itself was asked to give up profitable routes and timings to benefit private airlines.[3]

He successfully challenged the Prime Minister and Home Minister's decision to appoint PJ Thomas as the head of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).[1] Acting on his PIL, SC directed the CVC to apprise it of actions taken on complaints by whistleblowers in the country.[3]

Some other widely discussed cases in which he has appeared relate to the disposal of the Dabhol Power Station after the Enron bankruptcy, Right to Information Act and Mauritius Double Taxation. He also appeared in a case in which candidates for election to public office were required to disclose their assets and any criminal convictions.[5]

A PIL filed in the Supreme Court by Prashant Bhushan, challenged the grant of pan-India licence to Reliance Jio by the Government of India. The PIL alleged that RJIL was allowed to provide voice telephony along with its 4G data service, by paying an additional fees of just INR16580 million (US$280 million) which was arbitrary and unreasonable, and contributed to a loss of INR228420 million (US$3.8 billion) to the exchequer.[36][37]

Naxalism[edit]

Prashant Bhushan has criticised the use of violence against the Naxal insurgents in the tribal-dominated areas. He has alleged that the actual intention of the Operation Green Hunt was to clear the tribal lands for mining operations and industrialisation. According to him, the rapid industrialisation has led to "destructive development" in the tribal areas through pollution and displacement of people.[38]

After the April 2010 Maoist attack in Dantewada, which led to the death of 76 policemen, he stated that such "retaliation" was expected because the government had declared the anti-Naxal operations as a war. He stated that to de-escalate the situation, the government should suspend the armed operations against the Naxals, and instead focus on providing food and infrastructure to the tribals.[39]

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.[40]

Death penalty[edit]

Bhushan is against death penalty, and spoke against the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, who was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.[41] He also signed a petition seeking presidential clemency for Afzal Guru, who was convicted for the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.[42] Along with Nitya Ramakrishnan, he was the counsel for the four people accused of the attack.[43] The four were found guilty on 16 December 2002.[44]

Other issues[edit]

In 1990, he successfully got the criminal liability aspect in the Bhopal gas tragedy reopened by SC, by challenging the settlement in the case of compensation to the victims. This reopened the case against 90-year-old former Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation Warren Anderson.[3]

Bhushan assisted the Narmada Bachao Andolan activists opposed to the Sardar Sarovar Dam.[5] 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".[45] 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 Sardar Sarovar dam.[46] Bhushan defended 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".[47]

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.[48]

Bhushan is strongly anti-American and opposed the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement.[7] He is opposed to nuclear energy, and supported the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy against establishment of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.[49]

Himachal land controversy[edit]

Prashant Bhushan founded the Institute of Public Policy & Politics in Palampur, to educate the youth on public policy. The institute is managed under the Kumud Bhushan Education Society. The institute was built on 4.68 hectares (11.6 acres) of land in a tea plantation. The permission for the land purchase was given to the Society by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Himachal Pradesh. After the Indian National Congress came to power, the HP government issued a notice to the Society, stating that it had found "a number of discrepancies in the land use norms". The Congress accused the BJP of violating statutory provisions for extending favours to Bhushan's society. It also alleged that the BJP government had enabled the Society to purchase land worth 10's of millions of rupees for just a few hundred thousand rupees.[50] The former BJP Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal rejected these charges, defending the grant of relaxations to the educational trust.[51]

In a similar accusation, in 2011, the Congress leader 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".[52]

India Against Corruption[edit]

In 2011, there were a series of anti-corruption demonstrations in India, after high-profile cases like Commonwealth Games scam and Adarsh scam were highlighted in the media. In January 2011, a number of civilians came together under the banner of India Against Corruption (IAC) to demand the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill, an anti-corruption bill drafted by anti-corruption activists. The bill proposed the appointment of an independent body (Jan Lokpal) to investigate the corruption cases. Prashant Bhushan was one of the several activists who participated in the demonstrations.[53] In March, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) invited Hazare, the most prominent leader of the movement, for talks. Prashant Bhushan and his father Shanti Bhushan, along with Swami Agnivesh and Kiran Bedi, accompanied Hazare to the meeting.[54] Subsequently, in April 2011, Hazare nominated the Bhushans as members of the joint committee constituted to draft a final version of the Lokpal Bill.[55]

A few days after the committee began work, a CD was released that appeared to be a recording of conversation between Shanti Bhushan and Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party. The recording, related to 2G spectrum scam, would discredit Shanti Bhushan, if found to be genuine. Prashant Bhushan stated that labs had shown the CD was doctored, and that its purpose was to obstruct the anti-corruption movement.[56] Later, Singh claimed that Bhushan telephoned him and tried to stop him from talking, a charge which Bhushan denied.[57]

The committee met the government representatives several times to discuss the proposed bill. Prashant Bhushan stated that the Lokpal should have full autonomy and power to prosecute all public servants, and that this principle was non-negotiable.[58] The IAC activists disagreed with the government's attempt to keep the Prime Minister out of the Lokpal's purview. The government did not want the Lokpal to have the power to investigate the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary, the defence services, the CBI and the CVC and the conduct of MPs inside Parliament.[59] The government's draft of the bill also excluded several other Lokpal powers proposed by the IAC's draft such as the powers to tap phones.[60]

On 4 August 2011, the government's version of the Lokpal bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha. Prashant Bhushan and other IAC activists criticised the bill as weak, stating that it would provide protection to the corrupt officials.[61] Hazare staged a demonstration against the government's version of the bill, but was detained. The other IAC activists, including Prashant Bhushan, then organised peaceful protests across the country.[62] Following a hunger strike by Hazare and more failed negotiations with the government representatives, a section of IAC activists led by Kejriwal and Bhushan decided to enter politics to pass the bill themselves.

Aam Aadmi Party[edit]

Bhushan has long been a critic of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, and in 2008, he stated that he would vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party.[7] In 2012, he joined the Aam Aadmi Party, stating that the other political parties were corrupt.[3]

As part of AAP's campaign, Bhushan accused BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi of being corrupt and a "puppet" of Reliance Industries.[63] He also accused RSS of supporting terror activities, and criticised BJP for its links with the RSS.[64][65]

Personal life[edit]

Prashant Bhushan is married to Deepa Bhushan, a former lawyer. Deepa gave up her career, as she could not stand the "uncouth behaviour in the courts" and the long wait for the cases to be disposed off.[7] The couple have three sons. The family lives in Shanti Bhushan's house in Noida.[3]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bhushan, Prashant (1978). The case that shook India. Vikas Pub. House. p. 294. ISBN 0-7069-0594-6. 
  • Bhushan, Prashant (1990). Bofors, the selling of a nation. Vision Books. p. 275. ISBN 81-7094-066-4. 

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