Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) and Stanford Law School (SLS), US co-organised a programme on 'Global Poverty, Corruption and Law - India Field Study'. Hosted by O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU), the 5-day joint study exercise included field visits, sessions and deliberations with India's 3 pillars of democracy - the Judiciary, the Legislative and the Executive; and the Civil Society. Participants also visited Nuh district in Haryana, identified by NITI Aayog as the backward district in the country and interacted with the field staff and representatives of the SM Sehgal Foundation.
"India is a complex country and to get an opportunity to explore it in this manner has been an amazing experience," says Stanford Law School Professor Erik G Jensen, Professor of the Practice of Law, Director of the Rule of Law Program at Stanford Law School, Stanford University, USA.
This joint programme on poverty, corruption and law intends to gather insight into an interdisciplinary and comparative conversation about the mechanics of the world's two largest democracies - India and the United States.
In order to understand and fathom the many intricacies in context of the Indian democratic system, the students from Stanford Law School visited various institutions like the NITI Aayog, Central Vigilance Commission, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Parliament, District Courts of Delhi and Haryana and attended intense interactive sessions with judges of the Supreme Court of India, Acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, members of political parties, officials, government functionaries, activists and civil society leaders.
While speaking on the joint programme, Professor (Dr.) C Raj Kumar, Founding Vice-Chancellor, JGU, observed that the programme in its entirety is crucial in helping develop an understanding of the functioning of the world's largest democracy, and how corruption as a problem has serious implications for both protecting the rule of law and ensuring access to justice in India. Prof. Raj Kumar, during a personal interaction with delegates from Stanford remarked, "India is one of those countries where after you visit, you are never the same again. It is one of those countries where contradictions, contrasts and complexities are a part of the Indian experience. This programme will give a sense of some challenges and issues we face as a democracy and we as a democracy are planning to address."
The programme was conducted under the auspices of the Centre for Post Graduate Legal Studies at the Jindal Global Law School. It offered an exciting exploration of the legal, political, historic, economic and social constructions of issues surrounding inequalities, human rights, and access to justice, poverty and corruption.
As part of the joint exercise, a conference on 'Poverty, Corruption and Law: Conceptions, Expectations and Law' was organised on day 5 of the programme.
Expounding the theme of the programme and the seminar, Prof. Dabiru Sridhar Patnaik, Director, Centre for Post Graduate Legal Studies said, "The Conference is part of the joint programme on Global Poverty, Corruption and Law: India Field Study that covers all the three pillars of Indian Democracy to understand the process of law making, law implementation and interpretation in India and the varied legal and policy challenges in relation to nexus between poverty alleviation and corruption that India faces and the institutional measures that are being taken up to tackle the problem. So the seminar is an idea to invite multidisciplinary and comparative perspectives on corruption and rule of law in India and USA to develop awareness, knowledge and critical thinking on the issues and challenges on matters of poverty, corruption and human rights." Articulating on the inter-relationship between poverty, corruption and law, Professor Patnaik said that all three go hand in hand. "The only way to reduce the disparities between the rich and the poor can be through a transparent governance system and creation of a rule of law society which puts in a system of checks and balances to check corruption and helps in alleviating poverty and allied issues," he noted.
Describing the conference as opportune and relevant Professor Erik G. Jensen, Professor of the Practice of Law, Director of the Rule of Law Program at Stanford Law School remarked, "India seems to be a land of contradiction. While data reveal that there has been reduction in poverty in India, country's contribution to global poverty is still significant. The Conference, I am sure, would help us explore deeper connections between poverty and corruption in India.
The World Bank predicts that extreme poverty will be reduced to three per cent or less by 2030 and that it could end, probably during the next 30 years. This
will largely depend on continuous economic growth in India, new economic growth in Africa along with technology solutions and expansions of remittances," said Professor Jensen.
Elaborating on the experiences gathered from various field visits Prof. Jensen said "Throughout the field visits we had been fortunate to have focused on the intersections between poverty and corruption. During the process we emphasised on understanding the policies of the government, including the public distribution system, literacy levels, right to information and citizens' access to basic resources."
Professor YSR Murthy, Registrar, JGU and Executive Director, Centre for Human Rights Studies, JGLS observed, "There is a deep connect between poverty reduction and development and one of the best ways to understand this connect is by employing human rights approach."
Mr. Richard Mahapatra, Managing Editor, Down to Earth, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, observed, "Data shows that there has been not a single mention of 'poverty' in 06 months in the language of policy makers. However, the phrase 'New India' has been used over 6000 times during the same period." Areas which are abundant in natural resources are largely inhabited by the poor, and while the area does contribute to the nation's economic growth, no attention is directed on the socio-economic growth of these inhabitants. "Under the Poverty Eradication Programme, the Indian government has spent about Rs. 65,000 crores to develop 150 poverty stricken districts. But till date, there is no noticeable progress so far, as these areas continue to be underdeveloped," he said.
Professor Sridhar Madabhushanam, Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission, New Delhi, observed, "We need to create Para Legal Training Centres to create awareness about government policies among Indian populace. Universities can play a big role in this regard."
"Fixing accountability and responsibilities, would bring in drastic change, which is not happening," he added.
Professor Sudarshan, Professor and Dean, JSGP, observed, "The rule of law in a democracy cannot thrive without curbing corruption. Unfortunately, despite multiple attempts we have not been able to create a robust office of Lokpal in our country."
Dr. Dinsha Mistree, Fellow, Rule of Law Programme; Lecturer in Law, Stanford Law School, Stanford University, USA, while doing a comparative analysis of anti-corruption steps taken in Brazil and South Korea, observed, "India needs to tackle corruption at the level of bureaucracy in a sustained and systematic manner. This 'grand corruption' is one of the biggest challenges India as a country is facing."
The five-day joint programme consisted of a diverse range of thinkers and practitioners to reflect on poverty, corruption and human rights. The programme adopted an innovative pedagogical and institutional design of interactions covering a range of methods - historical, comparative, sociological, political, philosophical, legal and empirical - to explore challenges in the theory and practice of corruption, poverty and human rights. This programme was part of an evolving research agenda between partner institutions of JGU and is expected to be a melting pot of ideas on corruption free and rule of law society and its institutions, and likely to determine the course of future discussions and debate on the subject.