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Archive for July 2015

A new book tells the untold stories behind Bollywood music, with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs. The authors tell Sonia Sarkar that they tried not to pick the most obvious songs
he boat rocks gently on the rippling waters of the Ganges. Rajesh Khanna, with a glass in hand, looks at Sharmila Tagore as a silhouette of the Howrah Bridge looms behind them. Chingari koi bhadkey, he sings, as the notes play with the waves.
For most viewers, the song from the 1978 film Amar Prem has been a symbol of the Calcutta landmark – the iconic Howrah Bridge. The director of the film, Shakti Samanta, wanted a boat song for his film – and the bridge as the backdrop.
“[But] the song was shot in a boat rocking on a meadow in Natraj Studios, Bombay, and later montaged with the Calcutta skyline against the Howrah Bridge as the backdrop,” says a new book that traces the history of songs.
The book Gaata Rahe Mera Dil by two music lovers – Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal – tells the untold stories of Bollywood music with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs.
“We have tried to capture the history of each song,” Bangalore-based engineer Balaji Vittal says. “But we didn’t want to make it a technical discourse.”
For Hindi film and music lovers, the two gathered the stories that played behind the songs. For instance, few would have known that director Dev Anand had initially approached S.D. Burman to compose the music for his 1971 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
The authors write that the film – with hippies smoking pot – was too “trippy” for Burman senior, and the film’s music was finally composed by his son, R.D. Burman.
Dev Anand’s first draft of the film had Jasbir (Zeenat Aman) falling in love with Prashant (Dev Anand), not knowing that he was her brother. “It was only after SD’s insistence that this was dropped. According to Dev Anand, Pancham [R.D. Burman] created the tunes in two weeks flat.”
Song sung blue – and not so blue

A new book tells the untold stories behind Bollywood music, with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs. The authors tell Sonia Sarkar that they tried not to pick the most obvious songs

NOTE FOR NOTE: (Clockwise from above) Stills from iconic Bollywood songs Yeh kahan aa gaye hum (Silsila); Chingari koi bhadkey (Amar Prem); and Dum maaro dum (Hare Rama Hare Krishna) 

The boat rocks gently on the rippling waters of the Ganges. Rajesh Khanna, with a glass in hand, looks at Sharmila Tagore as a silhouette of the Howrah Bridge looms behind them. Chingari koi bhadkey, he sings, as the notes play with the waves.
For most viewers, the song from the 1978 film Amar Prem has been a symbol of the Calcutta landmark – the iconic Howrah Bridge. The director of the film, Shakti Samanta, wanted a boat song for his film – and the bridge as the backdrop.
“[But] the song was shot in a boat rocking on a meadow in Natraj Studios, Bombay, and later montaged with the Calcutta skyline against the Howrah Bridge as the backdrop,” says a new book that traces the history of songs.
The book Gaata Rahe Mera Dil by two music lovers – Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal – tells the untold stories of Bollywood music with a list of 50 classic Hindi film songs.
“We have tried to capture the history of each song,” Bangalore-based engineer Balaji Vittal says. “But we didn’t want to make it a technical discourse.”
For Hindi film and music lovers, the two gathered the stories that played behind the songs. For instance, few would have known that director Dev Anand had initially approached S.D. Burman to compose the music for his 1971 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
The authors write that the film – with hippies smoking pot – was too “trippy” for Burman senior, and the film’s music was finally composed by his son, R.D. Burman.
Dev Anand’s first draft of the film had Jasbir (Zeenat Aman) falling in love with Prashant (Dev Anand), not knowing that he was her brother. “It was only after SD’s insistence that this was dropped. According to Dev Anand, Pancham [R.D. Burman] created the tunes in two weeks flat.”

Burman senior knew then that it was time for his son to take over his mantle. “SD used to take morning walks in Juhu where people upon recognising him, would say, ‘Look, that’s S.D. Burman’. One day, just after the release of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, he told RD, ‘Today people recognised me, not as S.D. Burman, but as R.D. Burman’s father.’ That’s how the Navketan baton was passed on from father to son.”
The book is a part of the “50-series” of the publisher, HarperCollins. When Bhattacharjee and Vittal were approached, they were writing their first book, The Man, The Music about R.D. Burman. The subject interested them, and soon they were on board.
The two began work in 2009. The toughest job of all, they say, was in shortlisting 50 songs. They first listed 100 songs, which they brought down to 75, then to 60 and finally to 50. “But we knew that the list should be representative of various genres, songs, composers, filmmakers and even decades. At the same time, the song should have lived on for at least 20 years in the memory of the people,” Calcutta-based Anirudha Bhattacharjee, who works with an IT company, says.
This book, which opens with a chapter about the contribution of K.L. Saigal to Hindi film music, covers a wide spectrum of Hindi music – from Chale pawan ki chal from the film Doctor (1941) to Aye ajnabee tu bhi kabhi awaaz de kahin se from Dil Se (1998).
The authors consciously tried not to pick up the most “obvious” songs. So instead of going with Awaara hoon – Raj Kapoor’s hit song from Awaara (1951), they choose Tere bina aag yeh chandni and Ghar aya mera pardesi from the film.
Some of the songs – like Chingaari – were selected because of their spectacular picturisation. Some others were picked because of the genre they represent, such as Jaidev’s Allah tero naam. The soulful Lata Mangeshkar song surprisingly never made it to the top of the charts when the film Hum Dono was released in 1961.
“But we kept it on our list because it is a bhajan, a different category of music,” Vittal says. “Also, we have tried to explain how Lata Mangeshkar steps in to join the chorus and steps out effortlessly and subtly in the song.”
Four songs of the Seventies’ superstar Rajesh Khanna figure in the book. But the authors list just one of Amitabh Bachchan’s many songs that became mega hits – Yeh kahan aa gaye hum (from Silsila, 1981).
“Rajesh Khanna dominated Bollywood from 1969 to 1973. All his movies had amazing music but music was never the USP of Bachchan’s movies,” Vittal says.
Through their list of 50, the authors trace the remarkable journey of Hindi film music, marked by changes in voice qualities, in the choice of instruments, in the style of singing and in recording techniques over the years.
The arrival of the disco era is celebrated with Pakistani singer Nazia Hassan’s foot-tapping hit Aap jaisa koi (Qurbani, 1980). The authors recall in the book how composer Biddu auditioned the London-based singer and recorded the song in a London studio.
The song became such a hit that 40,000 people gathered at the Mumbai airport one day. “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was arriving in the city. But the crowd had actually come to receive a 16-year-old whose flight had landed around the same time,” the book states.
Those who believe that S.D. Burman was unfairly overlooked by Filmfare Awards may be touched by a little nugget that the authors share about the composer. His song Poochhon na kaise maine rain bitaayi, sung by Manna Dey for Meri Surat Teri Aankhen (1963), was one of Burman’s favourite compositions.
“During the announcement of the Filmfare Award nominations for 1963, SD was hospitalised after an eye operation. When Manna went to meet him at the hospital and conveyed to him the news that the song had not been nominated, tears rolled down SD’s cheeks from under his eye patch.”
Lyricists have their stories to tell too. There is a real-life tale behind Indivar’s Kasme Vaade pyaar wafaa from the film Upkar (1967). According to Anandji of the Kalyanji-Anandji composer duo, a young banker employed with Barclays Bank in Tanzania had fallen in love with a girl in India. He gave her a 25-paise coin as a token of promise that he would return to marry her.
“I was on a tour to Africa and the young man asked me to convey to her his intent. When he returned to India, we received the girl’s wedding card. Indivar and I were in a car, wondering how to break the news to our friend, how much it would hurt him when he would hear the news of the girl’s marriage. I had fractured my leg and was in a slightly philosophical mood, probably because of the injury. Suddenly, I said, ‘ Yeh kasme vaade pyaar wafaa, sab baatein hain…’ Indivar said the lines could make a mukhra. We reached my house and created the entire mukhra.”
Vittal and Bhattacharjee’s ode to music is a treasure trove of memories. “It is for Bollywood lovers who have been intrigued by Bollywood’s music for generations,” Vittal stresses.

The verses of the Quran follow me from every corner of the house as I walk up to Adnan Sami’s living room in his sprawling duplex apartment at Lokhandwala in Mumbai. “This is the background music of the house,” the composer-cum-singer says. “I like to greet anyone who comes to my house with a lot of positivity and peace. Also, I want the house to be blessed with the verses of God.”

Sami, 45, needs the blessings. His Bollywood debut – the song Bhar do jholi which he sang for Salman Khan’s new release Bajrangi Bhaijaan – has kicked up a storm. Reports say that the music label EMI Pakistan, which holds the rights to the song sung by the Sabri Brothers of Pakistan, has sent a legal notice to Sami, Khan and the music company, T-Series, for using the song in the film.

But Sami denies having received a legal notice. “Music director Pritam along with the filmmakers have made it clear that this qawwali has been inspired by and recreated from an old folk qawwali,” he says.

The controversy, he adds, is uncalled for. “Pakistanis want to create problems because I am involved in it. They just look for bahanaas (excuses) to irk me.”

Indeed, sections of Pakistanis have often created problems for Sami. In 2013, he was attacked when he recorded an azaan (Call to Prayer).

“Many raised objections saying that only the muezzins of mosques were authorised to sing it. I told them, if I can sing much better than the muezzins, I will do it,” an agitated Sami says.

The controversies hurt him because his father, Arshad Sami Khan, was from Pakistan, while his mother, Naureen, was from Jammu. Khan served as a diplomat in 14 countries and was close to former Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“As a kid, I used to play with Pinky (Benazir Bhutto),” he says. In his living room, there is a framed photograph of Benazir with a signed message.

Sami’s father, who was the aide-de-comp (A.D.C.) to three Presidents, wrote a book titled, “Three Presidents and an Aide – Life, Power and Politics,” which was published in India and was released by former Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral in 2008.

“Pakistan was too scared to publish it,” Sami says.

Since his father was posted in different countries, Sami was studying in a boarding school in Rugby in United Kingdom. Then he studied Journalism & Political Science from the University of London and later completed LLB degree from the prestigious Kings College in London.

Sami’s father introduced him to jazz and Hindustani classical music. He introduced him to ‘Raag Durga’ and ‘Raag Darbaari’ too. Sami was introduced to various music instruments at an early age of five and he began to learn the santoor from Pandit Shivkumar Sharma while he used to visit India during his school vacations and adapted it to the piano. He is the first musician to play Indian classical music on the keyboard. He also got the title of the fastest man on the keyboard.

Sami’s younger brother, Junaid Sami Khan, is a businessman in Houston in the US but Sami was always inclined to music. His family’s wide circle of friends brought him in touch with musicians from Bollywood. While he was living in London, he met music director R.D. Burman and singer Asha Bhonsle, who were visiting the city for a concert.

He recalls that he was playing the keyboard at a friend’s house, where Burman and Bhonsle were present, and surprised the musician. “He couldn’t believe that I was playing the keyboard. So I played for him again,” Sami says. “You’ll be a composer one day,” Bhonsle told him.

And that happened. His first formal album titled, “The One &Only,” was an Indian classical album on the piano accompanied by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain was released in 1989 and his first vocal solo album “Raag Time” was released in 1991.

It was such a coincidence that Bhonsle sang for Pakistani movie, Sargam, for which he composed music in 1991. But then the film censor board of Pakistan did not allow the release of the film because an Indian singer did the playback. So the songs were re-recorded with a Pakistani singer, Hadiqa Kiyani. But he teamed up with Bhonsle a decade later and released a collection of love songs in an album titled, ‘Kabhi to Nazar Milao’ in India.

But it was during the shooting of ‘Sargam’, where Sami was also the lead actor, he met his first wife, Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiyar, who was paired with him. But ironically, his Pakistani connections have never worked. So this marriage didn’t work either.

“Within two years, we fell apart,” says Sami, who feels that his failed relationships helped him to compose superhit romantic numbers such as “Bheegi Bheegi raaton mein” and “Tera chehara jab nazar aayein.”

He was not allowed to meet their son, Azaan, for 10 years. But now they are in touch, and Azaan is even following in the footsteps of his father, having composed a song for the 2010 release Bumm Bumm Bole.

Sami stresses that he has the capacity to face pain. “I believe in the philosophy of turning the other cheek,” he says, pointing to his right cheek – once remarkably chubby, now even more remarkably chiselled.
I take the liberty to tell him that I liked him more in his earlier avatar. He laughs.

But Sami has gone through many failed relationships. In 2001, he married an Arab, Sabah Galadari but this marriage too ended in a divorce, a year-and-a-half later. He remarried her in 2008, only to divorce her for the second time in 2009. But a case of domestic violence was lodged against him by her.

She also claimed this 5.3 crore house, where we are sitting now, was being gifted to her by him and filed a legal suit. But ironically, the house has now been confiscated by the Enforcement Directorate on the ground that Sami cannot buy a house because he is a Pakistani. “I have put an appeal before the ED. Till the final verdict is out, I am allowed to stay here,” he says.

Sami was a Pakistani passport holder, but surrendered his passport in May. He had twice applied for Indian citizenship and been rejected. He has now applied for it again. “I have been staying in India for so many years. It’s my home now,” Sami, born on the Indian Independence Day, August 15 in 1969, says.

Sami talks incessantly. Some of his answers are 15 minute-long. I often interrupt him and nudge him to answer the next question.

As we talk, Sami, dressed in a black T’shirt with the image of Beethoven imprinted on it and a pair of blue jeans, gets up to get his pack of cigarettes. I notice, a collage of photographs with Amitabh Bachchan, Pandit Jasraj, Zakir Hussain adorn the walls of his living room. Besides the platinum records of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the handwritten manuscript of Rudwig Von Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, framed posters of the epic ‘Ben-Hur,’ romantic drama, ‘Casablanca’ and the science fiction, ‘Matrix’ along with the miniature celluloid reels of the films are also part of his classy collection.

He comes back with a pack of Marlboro and lights up one cigarette. He wears a platinum bracelet embedded with semi precious jewels including his birthstone, Peridot. A Rolex watch adorns his slim wrist.

“I have many Rolex watches but this is precious. This was a gift from my father,” he says while keeping the cigarette in between his fingers.

The fact that he lost 167 kilos over four-and-a-half years is known to anybody who has followed Sami. But he holds that he was not an obese child. “I was very active. I used to play rugby, polo, tennis and cricket in school. It was only in the 1990s, when I used to live just opposite Harrods in London, that I started putting on weight. I used to have my breakfast there every day,” says Sami, who now weighs 75 kilos.

His father nudged him towards losing weight. Once, in a London hotel room in 2007, after a doctor had warned him that his organs would pack up, his father voiced his worries. “I don’t want to face the pain of having to bury you,” his father said.

That was the turning point. Sami went to a nutritionist in Houston, where his father lived, and followed a strict diet. “I was on a high protein diet: no bread, no rice, no sugar, no alcohol. I could eat a horse, as long as it was barbequed or steamed,” he laughs.

After the weight loss, he met his current wife Roya Faryabi, who was a telecommunications engineer in Germany. “She was visiting Mumbai on a project. We met through common friends and clicked,” he says as Roya walks in to say hello.

It’s time to wrap up the conversation. Before I leave, he shows me a piano, one of the five he owns, in his bedroom. “Sometimes, I make music in my sleep. So I get up, put on my headphone and compose it on the piano,” he says. There’s music in every room, and, clearly, through day and night.

( A shorter version of the story is published in The Telegraph, July 19, 2015. The link: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150719/jsp/7days/story_32360.jsp)
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As more and more skeletons tumble out of the Vyapam scam closet, Sonia Sarkar turns the spotlight on people — mostly young men — who appear for examinations on behalf of others

SEAT DREAMS: A class at the coaching institute CatalyseR in Indore
Three years after Ashish Tripathi cleared a medical school entrance examination, he was still poring over question papers. Not for his own exams, but for others seeking to join medical colleges. Till last year, he’d taken the entrance exams four times on behalf of would-be doctors in examinations conducted by the Bihar Combined Entrance Competitive Examination Board.

“I earned around Rs 80,000 per exam,” confesses Tripathi, a student of King George’s Medical University, Lucknow. “Now I am too busy with my own classes to do this anymore,” he says.

That impersonators crack examinations for a fee is nothing new. But as more and more skeletons tumble out of the Rs 2,000-crore Vyapam scam closet, the spotlight once again is on these people – mostly young men – who are in the racket for a quick buck.

Reports suggest that over 300 impersonators appeared for entrance tests conducted over a decade by the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board or the Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal. Some 25 to 40 people linked with the scam have died in this period, some mysteriously. In this one week, there were four deaths.

Vyapam conducts entrance tests for a master’s in computer applications, pharmacy, nursing, animal husbandry and other courses. In 2013, after the scam hogged the headlines, it stopped conducting pre-medical and pre-engineering tests.

The police say that impersonators have been used in several other recruitment tests such as the Food Inspector Selection Test, Milk Federation Test, Subedar-Sub Inspector and Platoon Commander Selection Test and Police Constable Recruitment Test. Outsiders sat on behalf of aspirants for the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection exams and the State Bank of India Probationary Officers’ exam too.

Impersonators can be found across the country. Over 1,000 people were arrested in Bihar this year, and 150 last year, for appearing on behalf of candidates in the Bihar Police constable recruitment examination. In 2008, more than 18,000 constables were questioned after complaints of impersonation in UP Police recruitment tests conducted during 2004-06. In 2012 and 2013, 22 and 60 management graduates respectively of Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies were accused of clearing their entrance exams with the help of impersonators.

Police sources say that the modus operandi is fairly simple. The ring involves officials on examination boards, middlemen, students or others who are recruited by agents, and candidates “desperate” for a seat or a job. The recruited men are mostly in 22-28 years age group. A candidate never meets the impersonator.

“Everything is handled by the middlemen, right from identifying an aspirant to hiring the impersonator,” says Anand Rai, medical officer in the regional health and family welfare training centre in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Rai was among the people who exposed the Vyapam scam.

Some of the impersonators are people who have already cleared a tough test. “They know their subject very well, so it is easy for them to solve a paper,” a senior teacher at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College at Indore says.

Tripathi, for instance, cleared the medical test in the third attempt. “After three attempts, I became quite a pro at answering questions,” he says.

Some people who have not cleared an examination are recruited to sit for tests that are of lower levels. “An aspirant for the IAS, for instance, can pass a constable recruitment exam with ease. Just as someone preparing for the pre-medical test can clear the entrance exam for a pharmacy course,” a senior Delhi police official says.

Impersonators don’t appear for entrance tests in their own states, but in tests conducted elsewhere – so as to minimise the chances of being recognised. A large number of impersonators who appeared in exams conducted by Vyapam were from Kanpur and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and Kota in Rajasthan, cities which have a large concentration of medical and engineering students.

In the Vyapam scam, insiders say that 15 exam toppers from a Kanpur medical college took the tests on behalf of others.

“This is a chain system. Some senior students have done it in the past and earned good money. So they influenced their juniors too,” a teacher says.

At the helm of affairs, however, are officials on the boards conducting the competitive examinations. “These top officials work with the middlemen,” Rai says.

Sanjeev, one such aspirant, was approached by an agent. He wanted to become a doctor, but had not cleared the entrance examinations. “I got calls from unknown people who promised me a seat in a medical college in Indore if I paid Rs 15 lakh. I refused. If the sum was not this high, perhaps I could have convinced my father to pay up,” he says.

Many of the pretenders and the aspirants are picked up from coaching institutes. The middlemen collect names and phone numbers of the aspirants and then call them. Sometimes, even the top managers of coaching institutes are involved, insiders say.

“There is a huge proliferation of coaching institutes in Indore. Coaching institutes want to show high success rates to attract more students. It iseasier to do this through the racketeers who work in tandem with the examination board,” says Mohit Yadav, CEO of the Krishna group of institutes – a coaching centre in Indore.

The middlemen zero in on the children of doctors, engineers and police officials. One, they have the money. And two, says Rai, “It is most likely that a doctor would want his or her child to become a doctor. It’s the same for engineers and police officials.”

The racketeers usually have access to candidates’ application forms. The candidate’s picture is replaced by that of the impersonator. The candidate is asked to keep his or her signature simple, so that the impersonator can copy it easily. After the test papers are submitted, officials on the examination board replace the photograph, putting the original back.

“Preparations start at least six months before the examinations. Spotting the aspirant and an impersonator, who is willing to take the risk, is a tedious job,” says a teacher at a coaching institute, who had been asked by one of the middlemen of Vyapam to introduce him to candidates “desperate” for a seat.

According to the insiders, for a seat for the SC/ST category, candidates have to shell out around Rs 7 lakh while the rate for a seat in the general category is around Rs 15 lakh. This money is paid to the racketeers, who then give the board officials their share, and Rs 20,000-30,000 to the agents. The official sitting at the examination board, whose job is to change roll numbers, and photographs, gets Rs 1 lakh.

Around Rs 2 lakh is paid to the impersonator, who gets half the sum before the exam, and the rest after the results are out, and if the candidate gets his seat. “There are occasions when the impersonator doesn’t receive the promised sum. But he cannot complain to anybody because he himself will get exposed,” Tripathi says.

As some cases started surfacing in 2009, measures were taken by MP’s examination board. In 2010, it started using biometric technology: thumb impressions and photographs of all those appearing for the exams had to be matched with those after the results were announced. “But fresh cases of impersonation came to light up to 2013,” an Indore police official says.

The heat is on, but Tripathi has had his share of excitement. He is now focused on his exams. And, no, he has no idea how those studying medicine in Bihar – thanks to him – are faring.

(Some names have been changed to protect identities)

Telegraph, July 12, 2015

– The Lalit Modi-Sushma Swaraj imbroglio has turned the spotlight on the need for a law to tackle conflict of interest.

As the latest controversy related to the minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, and former Indian Premier League boss, Lalit Modi, unfolds, there is a growing demand for a law on conflict of interest.

The question of conflict of interest in the latest case is pertinent. Swaraj’s husband Swaraj Kaushal and daughter Bansuri were till last year at least lawyers for Lalit Modi and yet Swaraj helped him obtain British travel papers to attend to his “ailing” wife in Portugal. Questions have been raised by Opposition leaders and legal experts on how Swaraj could use her office to grant a favour to “fugitive” Modi as her family members had professional links with him.

“It’s time to nail those who use their public office for private gains,” Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan says.
Experts say that conflict of interest is common in almost every sector — the judiciary, politics, health and medicine, media and even non-government organisations.

In 2011, the Supreme Court forced the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to reconstitute seven of the eight scientific panels it had set up. A public interest petition had revealed that as many as 18 members on these panels were employees of big food businesses.

Again, in January this year, in the Board of Control for Cricket in India versus Cricket Association of Bihar and others case, popularly known as the “IPL spot-fixing” case, the apex court talked at length about the conflict of interest that arose in N. Srinivasan’s duty as president of the BCCI and his interest as father-in-law of match-fixing accused Gurunath Meiyappan, who is also the owner of Chennai Super Kings.

Some cases of conflict of interest have been dealt with under the Prevention of Corruption Act but that is, clearly, not enough.

“For example, an official dealing with the files of any company or person is prohibited from receiving any favour in cash or kind from that company or person. However, there is no bar on such an official taking up a job with the particular company or person, after he or she retires. This needs to be addressed in a new law on conflict of interest,” Bhushan says.

In April this year, Congress MP E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan floated a private member’s bill in Parliament called The Prevention and Management of Conflict of Interest Bill, 2015, which covers the duty of an authority or a body and an individual holding public office. It also deals with restrictions on gifts, services and benefits accepted by a person in public office.

“The bill suggests that there should be an institution for the prevention and management of conflict of interest. Conflict of interest means the existence of conflict between the public duty of a public official and the private interest of that official, in which the latter could improperly influence the performance of official duties and responsibilities by the person. Also, if the private interest results in a breach of public trust, it would be called a conflict of interest,” Natchiappan says.
The bill also specifies that private interest means an interest that is of personal, financial, commercial or other benefit to a public official or the organisation to which he or she belongs.

Efforts to root out cases of conflict of interest in key areas have been made from time to time. The Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha in 2012 had advocated the maintenance of a register where members would have to declare their interests, to enhance openness and maintain propriety. The members were also asked to declare if he or she had any pecuniary interest in an issue being considered by the Lok Sabha or any of its committees. But that too has not been followed.

Though experts agree that a conflict of interest law is needed, critics of the private member’s bill say that it is inadequate in its scope. For example, the bill talks about a gift or personal benefit that is received as an incidence of the protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the responsibilities of office. Critics say that the term “protocol” should be preceded by the words, “officially declared”.

Former Union power secretary E.A.S. Sarma, who is part of an independent group called Alliance Against Conflict of Interest, says, “Also, the term ‘social obligations’ should be erased as it would provide a loophole. And the following clause may be added, ‘If the market value of the gift exceeds Rs 1,000, the person receiving it shall surrender it to the public authority concerned.’”

A conflict of interest law should also lay down penalties, points out Bhushan. “There should be proper provisions for penalty and imprisonment in such cases. Also, if found guilty after retirement, retirement benefits should be withdrawn,” Bhushan says.

Experts say that politicians should be covered by the conflict of interest law. “The definition of conflict of interest should be clear. Each sector has different visible conflicts of interest. Any action taken by an individual holding public office that affects public policy should be the first and foremost parameter of conflict of interest,” says Delhi-based independent researcher Radha Holla Bhar.

It’s not just politicians. Judges too should be covered by the law. Most judges take up the job of arbitration (usually for settling commercial disputes) after retirement. Since arbitration is mostly done by law firms owned by multinational companies, there could be a conflict of interest if the judges deal with the cases of these MNCs.

“If a judge knows a lawyer, who has the potential to get him a job of arbitration later, he might go soft on these cases related to the clients of those lawyers,” Bhushan says. “Arbitration is a lucrative job where they can earn around Rs 2 lakh a day, a sum that they earn in a month as a judge,” he says.

“The most glaring instance of conflict of interest in government is that regulatory powers are vested in the hands of the political executive. It is necessary to entrust regulation to independent quasi-judicial authorities whose selection should be through a transparent, objective procedure,” Sarma says.

He adds that there should be an independent commission to deal with these cases, where the members would need to disclose if they have any conflict of interest. And they should be barred from accepting favours from the executive after retirement.

Countries such as the US, Canada and Romania have conflict of interest laws. Plus, the UN Convention Against Corruption states that conflict of interest can lead to corruption and urges nations to “endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest”.

India ought to heed that advice and undertake serious steps to bring in a conflict of interest law. Otherwise cases of conflict of interest will continue to lead to corruption and generate furious controversy.