On ‘conflict of interest’ among India’s cabinet ministers

In this piece for livemint, Doug and I make reference to the need to take ‘conflict of interest’ of politicians and policymakers seriously. So while there are rules that restrict legislators from holding ‘offices of profit’ under the state and central government, there is no rule that restricts them from having direct financial stakes in companies. A couple of examples to illustrate – and since I draw only from the recent public disclosure by cabinet ministers, this is surely just a snapshot.

Take everyone’s favourite target (entirely justifiably so, of course) Sharad Pawar’s voluntary disclosure, for instance which shows Pawar’s stakes in over twenty different companies – including ones involved in mining and agro-industries, including some owned by his family – that may have a bearing on his role as Minister for Agriculture in the Union Cabinet. His involvement with Indian Premier League as BCCI honcho and stakes in the Pune and Bangalore teams is already well known – and his recent interventions to object to proposals bringing BCCI under RTI were stridently vocal and successful.

Another example – Mr. S. Jagatahrakshan, the current Minister of State in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, has disclosed that his son and daughter own shares worth over INR 3.2 crore in Pranav Communications Pvt Ltd., a media company with interests in licences from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting! Possibly an unfair insinuation – but this minister’s assets grew by 1092% from INR 6 crore in 2009 to INR 70 crore as per the latest disclosure.

Clearly, politicians have a right to secure their livelihood and insisting that neither they nor their families have profitable investments is probably not fair. But how can we ensure that such cabinet ministers carry out their ministerial functions impartially and in the best intrests of the country?

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