Right to Information Act,
The campaign for the right to information was started by
a group of workers in a village in Rajasthan when they were not paid by the
government for work done during a famine.
They formed a citizen group, Mazdoor Kisan
Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). This
group was supported by several social activists and the press, and led
to the formation of the National Campaign for People’s Right to
Information (NCPRI) in 1996.
The NCPRI and Press Council of India formulated an
initial draft of a right to information law in 1996. The government introduced the Freedom of
Information Bill in 2002.
In August 2004, the NCPRI suggested a set of
amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, 2002. The National Advisory Council (NAC) endorsed
many of these proposals, and the government introduced the Right to Information
Bill in December 2004. The law was
enacted in 2005.
The RTI Act is an example of how citizens groups can significantly
affect government policy. This Primer explains the process by which a citizen
group can participate and become actively involved in the process of lawmaking. A number of cases have been
used to demonstrate the various ways in which civil society groups have been
able to engage with the legislative process.
Who makes laws?
In India, the lawmaking bodies are
Parliament at the central level and Legislative Assemblies and Councils at the state
level. Parliament consists of two Houses: the Lok Sabha, or
"House of the People," and the Rajya Sabha,
or "Council of States."
How is a law made?
The process of enacting a new
law can be broadly divided into four steps:
Step 1: The need for a new
law, or an amendment to an existing piece of legislation, is identified. This may
be done either by the government or by citizen groups who can raise public
awareness regarding the need for the law.
Sometimes individual Members of Parliament
(MPs) can introduce Bills in Parliament, known as private member Bills, as ways
to highlight the need for a law. While such
Bills are almost never passed into law, they can provide a framework or a
context within which the government can introduce its own legislation on the
Step 2: The concerned ministry drafts a text of the
proposed law, which is called a ‘Bill’. The
Bill is circulated to other relevant
ministries for inputs. Comments from the public on the proposed draft may also
be invited. The draft is revised to incorporate such inputs and is then vetted
by the Law Ministry. It is then
presented to the Cabinet for approval.
Step 3: After
the Cabinet approves the Bill, it is
introduced in Parliament. Under the
Indian political system, Parliament is the central legislative (or law making)
body. Every Bill
goes through three Readings
in both Houses before it becomes an Act.
the First Reading the Bill is
introduced. The introduction of a Bill may be opposed and the matter may be put to a
vote in the House. In August 2009, the
Law Minister withdrew the motion to introduce the Judges (Disclosure of Assets
and Liabilities) Bill as many MPs were opposed to the Bill,
on grounds that it violated the Constitution.
a Bill has been introduced, the Presiding
Officer of the concerned House (Speaker in case of the Lok
Sabha, Chairman in case of Rajya Sabha)
may refer the Bill to the concerned Departmentally
Related Standing Committee for examination.
The Standing Committee considers the broad objectives and the specific clauses
of the Bill referred to it and may invite
public comments on a Bill.
rare occasions, Bills which come under the ambit of a number of different
ministries, may be referred to a Joint Committee.
Committee then submits its recommendations in the form of a report to
Second Reading (Consideration), the
Bill is scrutinized thoroughly. Each clause of the Bill
is discussed and may be accepted, amended or rejected.
the Third Reading (Passing), the House votes on the
If the Bill is passed in one House, it is then sent to the
other House, where it goes through the second and third readings.
During the second reading,
the government, or any MP, may introduce amendments to the Bill, some of which may be based on recommendations
of the Standing Committee. However, the
government is not bound to accept the Committee’s recommendations.
Step 4: After both Houses of Parliament pass a Bill, it is presented to the President for assent. She has the right to seek information and
clarification about the Bill, and may
return it to Parliament for reconsideration.
(This may be done only once. If
both Houses pass the Bill again, the
President has to assent.)
Step 5: After the
President gives assent, the Bill is
notified as an Act. Subsequently, the Bill is brought into force and rules and regulations
to implement the Act are framed by the concerned ministry, and tabled in
Parliament. In some cases, if the
provisions in the Bill permit, the
ministry may bring the Act into force over a period of time rather than all at
once. For instance, various sections of
the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 were brought into force in three
different stages between August, 2006 and August, 2008. A number of sections of the Act have not yet
been brought into force as of date.
Is the above
process always followed?
This process is
almost always followed. However some
Bills may not be referred to a Standing Committee. Bills such as the SEZ Bill,
2005 and the National Investigation Agency Bill, 2008 were not sent to a
How is public
participation possible during the process of lawmaking?
Step 1: The role which can be played by citizen groups
before and while the Bill is being
The case of the Right
to Information Act cited on Page 1 is an example of citizen groups coming
forward to participate in legislative the process of lawmaking. Beginning with a movement started by a group
of citizens, the law eventually became operational in October 2005.
Step 2: When the government asks for public feedback
on a Bill
Even before a Bill has been drafted, the relevant ministry might
choose to advertise and seek inputs from experts and citizens. This, though, is a rare occurrence.
A New Police Act
Police Act dates back to 1861. The
government felt the need to update this Act.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had invited suggestions from individuals
and citizen groups which may be incorporated into a new Bill.
In some cases, the
concerned ministry drafts a new legislation and seeks public feedback before
sending it for Cabinet approval.
Draft Protection of Women against
Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill,
The Ministry of Women and Child Development had
prepared a Bill intended to provide for
the protection of women against sexual harassment in the workplace. The
ministry had put up a draft of the Bill
on its website and had invited comments.
Step 3: Engaging with Standing Committees.
After a Bill
has been introduced, it is usually referred to the concerned Standing Committee
which invites various stakeholders and experts for their suggestions.
another opportunity for civil society and the public to get involved in
legislation. Fifteen witnesses deposed before the Standing Committee on Rural
Development while it was preparing the report on the National Rural Employment
Guarantee Bill. All Standing Committee
meetings are closed door sessions which are not open to the general public or the
media. Citizens groups can approach the relevant
Committee to ask to be allowed to depose before it.
Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest
Rights) Bill, 2005
sought to recognise the rights of forest dwellers to land occupied by
them. The Bill
was referred to a joint committee of Parliament, since it involved issues
relevant to a number of ministries such as tribal affairs and environment. The committee received 109 written
submissions from organisations and individuals. In addition, 44 witnesses
deposed before it.
The Food Safety and Standards
The Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2005
seeks to consolidate several laws governing the food sector and establish a
single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards. The Standing Committee heard the views of a
number of stakeholders including citizen groups such as VOICE, New Delhi, and Gandhi Peace
The Maintenance and Welfare
of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill,
The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and
Senior Citizens Bill, 2007 seeks to make it a legal obligation for children and
heirs to provide maintenance to senior citizens.
The Standing Committee had received written
submissions and oral testimony from several groups as it discussed the Bill between May and July, 2007. Such groups included the All India Senior
Citizens Confederation, the Senior Citizens Service Forum and Age Care India,
etc. The Standing Committee submitted
its report in August 2007. The Bill was finally passed and enacted into law in
The government is not bound to accept the
recommendations made by the Standing Committee.
In the case of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the government
did not accept any of the Committee’s recommendations.
Even after the Standing Committee has finalised its
recommendations, there is scope to reach out to Members of Parliament and political
parties. There are a number of instances
in which political parties – allies in the ruling coalition or the opposition
parties – have been able to prevent a Bill
from being passed in Parliament or by forcing the government to make amendments
to the Bill before being passed.
The Pension Fund Regulatory
and Development Authority Bill, 2005
Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill
was introduced in Lok
Sabha in March 2005. The Bill
proposes a framework for the development and regulation of pension funds in India
in order to promote old age income security.
The Standing Committee presented its report in July 2005. The Committee was in agreement with most of
the provisions of the Bill. However, the Bill
was criticized by a number of trade unions and the Left Parties.
the opposition to the Bill, the
government deferred the discussion and vote on the Bill.
Subsequently, the PFRDA Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha.
the Bill is passed by both the Houses
and goes to the President.
rare cases, the President may ask Parliament to reconsider a Bill.
The Parliament (Prevention of
Disqualification) Bill, 2006
Article 102 of the Constitution prohibits
MPs from holding any office of profit, except that of a Minister or any office
specifically exempted. The Parliament
(Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959 lists offices which are exempted.
In 2006, several petitions were filed with the Election Commission that
a number of MPs were holding offices of profit.
The government introduced a Bill
in May 2006 exempting a number of posts (including those held by some sitting
MPs) from the definition of office of profit.
The Bill was passed by both
Houses and sent to the President for his assent.
The President returned the Bill,
seeking clarification on a number of issues, and asked Parliament to reconsider
it. Parliament passed the Bill again without any changes, following which the
President gave his assent. However, a
Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up to go into the issues relating to the
holding of offices of profit by MPs.
Step 5: After the President of India has assented to a Bill and it is notified as an Act.
Act is passed by Parliament, it can still be challenged in the courts on
grounds that it violates the provisions of the Constitution of India.
The AIIMS (Amendment) Act,
Parliament passed the AIIMS (Amendment) Act, 2007, which provided for the
retirement of the director of AIIMS at the age of 65.
The Act was
challenged in the Supreme Court by the then director of AIIMS, P. Venugopal
on grounds that the Act was discriminatory and was introduced specifically to
The Supreme Court
upheld this petition and struck down the Act. It also ordered the reinstatement of Dr. Venugopal
as director of the institution.
Step 6: When the rules and regulations to the Act
are being drafted.
government may ask the public for comments and suggestions before framing rules
and regulations under the Act.
The Food Safety and
Standards Act, 2006
The Food Safety
and Standards Authority of India has been set up under the Food Safety and
Standards Act, 2006 to regulate safety and hygiene standards for different
recently called for public comments on guidelines drafted by it. The guidelines were put up by the regulator
on its website.
During the process of drafting and the Bill being considered in Parliament, a variety of
stakeholders may be involved. The final
Act is usually a compromise between competing interests. Despite this, there is every reason for
concerned citizens and groups to make every effort possible to engage with the
process and ensure that they are able to make their voices heard.