Compulsory voting in India

November 17th, 2014 11 comments

Compulsory voting at elections to local bodies in Gujarat

Last week, the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009 received the Governor’s assent.  The Act introduces an ‘obligation to vote’ at the municipal corporation, municipality and Panchayat levels in the state of Gujarat.  To this end, the Act amends three laws related to administration at the local bodies- the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949; the Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963 and; the Gujarat Panchayats Act, 1993.

Following the amendments, it shall now be the duty of a qualified voter to cast his vote at elections to each of these bodies.  This includes the right to exercise the NOTA option.  The Act empowers an election officer to serve a voter notice on the grounds that he appears to have failed to vote at the election.  The voter is then required to provide sufficient reasons within a period of one month, failing which he is declared as a “defaulter voter” by an order. The defaulter voter has the option of challenging this order before a designated appellate officer, whose decision will be final.

At this stage, it is unclear what the consequences for being a default voter may be, as the penalties for the same are to be prescribed in the Rules.  Typically, any disadvantage or penalty to be suffered by an individual for violating a provision of law is prescribed in the parent act itself, and not left to delegated legislation.  The Act carves out exemptions for certain individuals from voting if (i) he is rendered physically incapable due to illness etc.; (ii) he is not present in the state of Gujarat on the date of election; or (iii) for any other reasons to be laid down in the Rules.

The previous Governor had withheld her assent on the Bill for several reasons.  The Governor had stated that compulsory voting violated Article 21 of the Constitution and the principles of individual liberty that permits an individual not to vote.  She had also pointed out that the Bill was silent on the government’s duty to create an enabling environment for the voter to cast his vote.  This included updating of electoral rolls, timely distribution of voter ID cards to all individuals and ensuring easy access to polling stations.

Right to vote in India

Many democratic governments consider participating in national elections a right of citizenship.  In India, the right to vote is provided by the Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, subject to certain disqualifications.  Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18.  Further, Section 62 of the Representation of Peoples Act (RoPA), 1951 states that every person who is in the electoral roll of that constituency will be entitled to vote.  Thus, the Constitution and the RoPA make it clear that every individual above the age of 18, whose name is in the electoral rolls, and does not attract any of the disqualifications under the Act, may cast his vote.  This is a non discriminatory, voluntary system of voting.

In1951, during the discussion on the People’s Representation Bill in Parliament, the idea of including compulsory voting was mooted by a Member.  However, it was rejected by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on account of practical difficulties.  Over the decades, of the various committees that have discussed electoral reforms, the Dinesh Goswami Committee (1990) briefly examined the issue of compulsory voting.  One of the members of the committee had suggested that the only effective remedy for low voter turn outs was introducing the system of compulsory voting.  This idea was rejected on the grounds that there were practical difficulties involved in its implementation.

In July 2004, the Compulsory Voting Bill, 2004 was introduced as a Private Member Bill by Mr. Bachi Singh Rawat, a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.  The Bill proposed to make it compulsory for every eligible voter to vote and provided for exemption only in certain cases, like that of illness etc.  Arguments mooted against the Bill included that of remoteness of polling booths, difficulties faced by certain classes of people like daily wage labourers, nomadic groups, disabled, pregnant women etc. in casting their vote.  The Bill did not receive the support of the House and was not passed.

Another Private Member Bill related to Compulsory Voting was introduced by Mr. JP Agarwal, Member of Parliament, in 2009.  Besides making voting mandatory, this Bill also cast the duty upon the state to ensure large number of polling booths at convenient places, and special arrangements for senior citizens, persons with physical disability and pregnant women.  The then Law Minister, Mr. Moily argued that if compulsory voting was introduced, Parliament would reflect, more accurately, the will of the electorate.  However, he also stated that active participation in a democratic set up must be voluntary, and not coerced.

Compulsory voting in other countries

A number of countries around the world make it mandatory for citizens to vote.  For example, Australia mandates compulsory voting at the national level.  The penalty for violation includes an explanation for not voting and a fine.  It may be noted that the voter turnout in Australia has usually been above 90%, since 1924.  Several countries in South America including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia also have a provision for compulsory voting.  Certain other countries like The Netherlands in 1970 and Austria more recently, repealed such legal requirements after they had been in force for decades.  Other democracies like the UK, USA, Germany, Italy and France have a system of voluntary voting.  Typically, over the last few elections, Italy has had a voter turnout of over 80%, while the USA has a voter turnout of about 50%.

What compulsory voting would mean

Those in favour of compulsory voting assert that a high turnout is important for a proper democratic mandate and the functioning of democracy.  They also argue that people who know they will have to vote will take politics more seriously and start to take a more active role.  Further, citizens who live in a democratic state have a duty to vote, which is an essential part of that democracy.

However, some others have argued that compulsory voting may be in violation of the fundamental rights of liberty and expression that are guaranteed to citizens in a democratic state.  In this context, it has been stated that every individual should be able to choose whether or not he or she wants to vote.  It is unclear whether the constitutional right to vote may be interpreted to include the right to not vote.  If challenged, it will up to the superior courts to examine whether compulsory voting violates the Constitution.

[A version of this post appeared in the Sakal Times on November 16, 2014]

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Rajya Sabha extends sitting hours, changes timing of Question Hour

November 14th, 2014 3 comments

Recently the Chairman of Rajya Sabha issued a direction to extend the sitting hours and change the timing of Question Hour in the Upper House. Beginning with the Winter Session, which starts on November 24, Rajya Sabha will meet from 11 am to 6 pm, an hour more than its typical sitting hours. Question Hour will be scheduled from 12 pm to 1 pm, which was earlier held in the first hour of meeting.

Members of Parliament (MPs), in addition to their legislative capacity, play an important role to keep the government accountable. One mechanism for them to hold the government responsible for its policies and actions is Question Hour in Parliament. During Question Hour, MPs raise questions to Ministers on various policy matters and decisions.

Currently, all MPs can submit up to ten questions for every day that Parliament is in Session. Of these, 250 Questions are picked up by a random ballot to be answered each day that Parliament meets. While 230 Questions are answered in writing by Ministries, 20 Questions are scheduled to be answered orally by Ministers on the floor of the House. When a Question is answered orally by a Minister, MPs are also able to ask him/her two Supplementary Questions as a follow up to the response given. Therefore the proper functioning of Question Hour allows Parliament to be effective in its accountability function.

Over the years Question Hour has become a major casualty to disruptions in Parliament. The last decade has seen a decline in the number of questions answered orally on the floor of the House. Rajya Sabha had tried to address this problem in 2011, when Question Hour was shifted to be held from 2 pm to 3 pm, but this was discontinued within a few days.

Percentage of Questions Answered Orally

The 2014 Budget Session saw both Houses of Parliament work for over hundred percent of their scheduled sitting time. However, while Question Hour functioned for 87% of its scheduled time in Lok Sabha, it functioned for only 40% of its scheduled time in Rajya Sabha. In 13 of the 27 sittings of the 2014 Budget Session, Question Hour in Rajya Sabha was adjourned within a few minutes due to disruptions.

It was as a result of these increasing disruptions in the Upper House that the change in timing of the Question Hour and extension of its hours of sitting were proposed. While the Rules of Procedures of Rajya Sabha designate the first hour of sitting for Question Hour, they also allow the Chairman of the House to direct otherwise. It is using this Rule that the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Mr. Hamid Ansari, issued directions for the Question Hour to be shifted to noon.

It now remains to be seen whether this change in timing of Question Hour in the Upper House will be sufficient to allow for its smoother functioning.

Sources:

M.N. Kaul and S.L. Shakdher, Practice and Procedure of Parliament, Lok Sabha Secretariat, 6th Edition, 2009

Rajya Sabha Rules of Procedure, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 2010

 

Strengthening Democracy: The Need For Recorded Voting

November 14th, 2014 No comments

On 12th November, 2014, the Chief Minister of the newly formed government in Maharashtra won a confidence vote in the Maharashtra State Assembly. This trust vote was done by a voice vote, the outcome of which was contested by opposition parties. In this context, M.R. Madhavan discusses the need for recorded voting in our legislatures and ideas for how this change can be brought about.

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Key highlights of the recently launched Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana

October 17th, 2014 11 comments

The Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana was launched last week, for the development of model villages.  Under the Yojana, Members of Parliament (MPs) will be responsible for developing the socio-economic and physical infrastructure of three villages each by 2019, and a total of eight villages each by 2024.

The first Adarsh Gram must be developed by 2016, and two more by 2019.  From 2019 to 2024, five more Adarsh Grams must be developed by each MP, one each year.  This implies that a total of 6,433 Adarsh Grams, of the 2,65,000 gram panchayats, will be created by 2024. Key features of the Yojana are outlined below.

Objectives

Key objectives of the Yojana include:

  1. The development of model villages, called Adarsh Grams, through the implementation of existing schemes, and certain new initiatives to be designed for the local context, which may vary from village to village.
  2. Creating models of local development which can be replicated in other villages.

Identification of villages

MPs can select any gram panchayat, other than their own village or that of their spouse, to be developed as an Adarsh Gram.  The village must have a population of 3000-5000 people if it is located in the plains, or 1000-3000 people if located in hilly areas.

Lok Sabha MPs can choose a village from their constituency, and Rajya Sabha MPs from the state from which they are elected.  Nominated members can choose a village from any district of the country.  MPs which represent urban constituencies can identify a village from a neighbouring rural constituency.

Funding

No new funds have been allocated for the Yojana.  Resources may be raised through:

  1. Funds from existing schemes, such as the Indira Awas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and Backward Regions Grant Fund, etc.,
  2. The Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS),
  3. The gram panchayat’s own revenue,
  4. Central and State Finance Commission Grants, and
  5. Corporate Social Responsibility funds.

Implementation

A Village Development Plan must be created for each Adarsh Gram.  While each village will develop a list of activities to be carried out, based on its own resources and requirements, possible activities have been listed in the guidelines for the scheme.  For example, Adarsh Grams can work towards providing universal access to basic healthcare facilities, promoting diversified livelihoods through agriculture related livelihoods and skill development, providing pension for all eligible families, housing for all, and promoting social forestry.

The table below outlines key functionaries at the national, state, district, and village level and their responsibilities.

Table 1: Roles and responsibilities of key functionaries

Level Functionary Key roles and responsibilities
National Member of Parliament
  • Identify the Adarsh Gram
  • Facilitate the planning process
  • Mobilise additional funds
  • Monitor the scheme
Two committees, headed by the Minister of Rural Development, and Secretary, Rural Development, respectively.*
  • Monitor the process of identification and planning
  • Review the implementation of the scheme
  • Identify bottlenecks in the scheme
  • Issue operational guidelines
  • Indicate specific resource support which each Ministry can provide
State A committee headed by the Chief Secretary
  • Supplement central guidelines for the scheme
  • Review Village Development Plans
  • Review implementation
  • Outline monitoring mechanisms
  • Design a grievance redressal mechanism for the scheme
District District Collector
  • Conduct the baseline survey
  • Facilitate the preparation of the Village Development Plan
  • Converge relevant schemes
  • Ensure grievance redressal
  • Monthly progress review of the scheme
Village Gram Panchayat and functionaries of schemes (at various levels)
  • Implement of the scheme
  • Identify common needs of the village
  • Leverage resources from various programmes
  • Ensure participation in the scheme

Note: *These committees will include members from other Ministries.

Sources: Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana Guidelines, Ministry of Rural Development; PRS

Monitoring

A web based monitoring system will be established to enable the MP and other stakeholders to monitor the scheme.  Outputs relating to physical and financial targets will be measured each quarter.  A mid-term evaluation and post-project evaluation will be conducted through an independent agency.

More information on the scheme is available in the guidelines for the scheme, here.

 

Removal of Governors: What does the law say?

June 19th, 2014 7 comments

In the last few weeks, after the 16th Lok Sabha election, there has been some debate around powers of the central government to remove Governors.  News reports have suggested that the central government is seeking resignations of Governors, who were appointed by the previous central government.  In this blog, we briefly look at the key constitutional provisions, the law laid down by the Supreme Court, and some recommendations made by different commissions that have examined this issue.

What does the Constitution say?

As per Article 155 and Article 156 of the Constitution, a Governor of a state is an appointee of the President, and he or she holds office “during the pleasure of the President”.  If a Governor continues to enjoy the “pleasure of the President”, he or she can be in office for a term of five years.  Because the President is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers under Article 74 of the Constitution, in effect it is the central government that appoints and removes the Governors. “Pleasure of the President” merely refers to this will and wish of the central government.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation

In 2010, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court interpreted these provisions and laid down some binding principles (B.P. Singhal v. Union of India). In this case, the newly elected central government had removed the Governors of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Goa in July, 2004 after the 14th Lok Sabha election. When these removals were challenged, the Supreme Court held:

  1. The President, in effect the central government, has the power to remove a Governor at any time without giving him or her any reason, and without granting an opportunity to be heard.
  2. However, this power cannot be exercised in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner.  The power of removing Governors should only be exercised in rare and exceptional circumstances for valid and compelling reasons.
  3. The mere reason that a Governor is at variance with the policies and ideologies of the central government, or that the central government has lost confidence in him or her, is not sufficient to remove a Governor.  Thus, a change in central government cannot be a ground for removal of Governors, or to appoint more favourable persons to this post.
  4. A decision to remove a Governor can be challenged in a court of law.  In such cases, first the petitioner will have to make a prima facie case of arbitrariness or bad faith on part of the central government.  If a prima facie case is established, the court can require the central government to produce the materials on the basis of which the decision was made in order to verify the presence of compelling reasons.

In summary, this means that the central government enjoys the power to remove Governors of the different states, as long as it does not act arbitrarily, without reason, or in bad faith.

Recommendations of Various Commissions

Three important commissions have examined this issue.

The Sarkaria Commission (1988) recommended that Governors must not be removed before completion of their five year tenure, except in rare and compelling circumstances.  This was meant to provide Governors with a measure of security of tenure, so that they could carry out their duties without fear or favour.  If such rare and compelling circumstances did exist, the Commission said that the procedure of removal must allow the Governors an opportunity to explain their conduct, and the central government must give fair consideration to such explanation.  It was further recommended that Governors should be informed of the grounds of their removal.

The Venkatachaliah Commission (2002) similarly recommended that ordinarily Governors should be allowed to complete their five year term.  If they have to be removed before completion of their term, the central government should do so only after consultation with the Chief Minister.

The Punchhi Commission (2010) suggested that the phrase “during the pleasure of the President” should be deleted from the Constitution, because a Governor should not be removed at the will of the central government; instead he or she should be removed only by a resolution of the state legislature.

The above recommendations however were never made into law by Parliament.  Therefore, they are not binding on the central government.

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Legislative performance of State Assemblies

May 27th, 2014 2 comments

As the dust settles around the 16th Lok Sabha, attention must now shift to the state assemblies, some of which have been newly constituted like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and the few that will go into elections in the next few months like Maharashtra and Haryana. There are 30 state legislative assemblies not including the newly formed state of Seemandhara. In our federal structure, laws framed by the state assemblies are no less important and deserve the same diligence and debate as laws made by Parliament.

A brief look in to the performance of some of our state assemblies reveals that these institutions which form the cornerstones of our democracy need some serious attention.

State Assemblies: business hours

The current Haryana Legislative Assembly that comes to the end of its five year term in October this year has held 10 sessions since 2009 till March 2014, meeting for a total of 54 days – an average of 11 days per year.

In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 69 days each year from 2009 to 2014. Among state assemblies, only Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh sat for fewer days than Haryana. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days per year, while Tamil Nadu Assembly sat for 44 days.

In its previous term, the Gujarat Legislative Assembly sat for a total of 157 days – an average of 31 days each year. Similarly, the current Goa Legislative Assembly sat for 24 days in 2012 and for 39 days in 2013. Over the last 10 years, the Assembly sat for an average of 26 days a year.  It recorded the highest number of sitting days in the last 10 years, at 39 days.

Law making in the states

In most states, Bills are passed with little or no discussion. Most Bills are introduced and passed on the last day of each session, which gives Members hardly any opportunity to examine or discuss legislation in detail. Unlike Parliament, where most Bills are referred to a department related standing committee which studies the Bill in greater detail, in most states such committees are non-existent.  The exceptions are Kerala which has constituted subject committees for this purpose and states like Goa and Himachal Pradesh where Select Committees are constituted for important Bills.

The current Haryana Assembly has passed 129 Bills, all of which were passed on the same day as they were introduced. Upto 23 Bills were passed on a single day, which left hardly any time for substantial discussion.

In the twelfth Gujarat Assembly, over 90% of all Bills were passed on the same day as they were introduced. In the Budget Session of 2011, 31 Bills were passed of which 21 were introduced and passed within three sitting days.

Of the 40 Bills passed by the Goa Assembly till May 2013, three Bills were referred to Select Committees. Excluding Appropriation Bills, the Assembly passed 32 Bills, which were taken up together for discussion and passing in five days. Almost all Bills were passed within three days of introduction. On average, each Bill was discussed for four minutes.

In 2012, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed a total of 39 Bills, including Appropriation Bills.  Most Bills were passed on the same day they were introduced in the Assembly.  In 2011, a total of 23 Bills were passed. On average, five Members participated in the discussions on each Bill. In 2012, the Delhi Legislative Assembly passed 11 Bills. Only one of the 11 Bills was discussed for more than 10 minutes. The performance of the Chhattisgarh and Bihar Vidhan Sabhas follow the same pattern.

Over the last few years, some assemblies such as Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana have taken some positive steps which include setting up subject committees and permitting live telecast of Assembly proceedings.

Every legislator- in Parliament and the states – is accountable to his voter. Weak democratic institutions deprive legislators of their right to oversee the government as enshrined in the Constitution. Inadequate number of sitting days, lack of discussion on Bills, and passing of the Budget and demands for grants without discussion are symptoms of institutional ennui and do not do justice to the enormous import of these legislative bodies.

Serious thought and public debate is needed to reinvigorate these ‘temples of democracy’ and provide elected representatives with the opportunity to exercise their right to legislative scrutiny, hold government to account, and represent their constituents.

16वीं लोकसभा- मौके हैं तो मुश्किलें भी

May 20th, 2014 1 comment

हम सबने यह देखा है कि भारतीय संसदीय इतिहास में 15वीं लोकसभा का कार्यकाल सबसे निराशाजनक में से एक रहा। कमोबेश निर्धारित समय का 40 फीसद बाधित रहा। पूर्ण लोकसभा के कार्यकाल में सबसे कम बिल पारित हुए। इससे न केवल सरकार के विधायी कार्य गंभीर रूप से बाधित हुए बल्कि अपने निर्वाचिकों का प्रतिनिधित्व करते हुए हमारे सांसद सरकार को जवाबदेह बनाने के मौके से भी वंचित रहे। अक्सर बाधित रहने, पेपर स्प्रे कांड, कार्यवाही का वाकआउट और लोकसभा अध्यक्ष द्वारा बार-बार व्यवस्था बनाए रखने की मनुहार करते रहने वाकयों के लिए 15वीं लोकसभा याद की जाती रही। अब जब 15वीं लोकसभा अपने कार्यकाल की समाप्ति की ओर पहुंच चुकी है, तो ऐसा लगता है कि यह महत्वपूर्ण संस्था अपनी साख और विश्वसनीयता खोती दिख रही है। ऐसे में 16वीं लोकसभा से इसकी साख और विश्वसनीयता बरकरार रखने की लोगों की अपेक्षाएं और आकांक्षाएं ज्यादा बढ़ जाती हैं।

विधायी एजेंडा

राज्यसभा में मौजूदा समय में 60 बिल लंबित हैं। इनमें राइट्स ऑफ पर्सन्स विद डिसएबिलिटीज बिल भी शामिल है। लोगों को विशिष्ट पहचान संख्या जारी करने के लिए स्थापित किए जाने वाले राष्ट्रीय पहचान प्राधिकरण संबंधी नेशनल आइडेंटीफिकेशन अथॉरिटी ऑफ इंडिया बिल और भ्रष्टाचार को रोकने के लिए भ्रष्टाचार निरोधक (संशोधन) बिल भी लंबित हैं। इनमें से कई बिलों के अपने खास महत्व हैं और ये बड़ी संख्या में लोगों को प्रभावित करते हैं। नई गठित लोकसभा को इन बिलों को पारित करने को अपनी प्राथमिकता में लेना होगा।

इसके अतिरिक्त भ्रष्टाचार को रोकने संबंधी बिलों का एक पूरा समूह है जिसे पूर्व की लोकसभा में सिरे नहीं चढ़ाया जा सका। भ्रष्टाचार से निपटने के लिए संसद में पेश किए गए इन नौ बिलों में से केवल तीन ही दोनों सदनों से पारित किए जा सके हैं। बचे हुए छह बिल सिटिजन चार्टर, इलेक्ट्रॉनिक सर्विस डिलीवरी, बेनामी ट्रांजैक्शन, सरकारी खरीदफरोख्त, ज्युडिशियल स्टैंडर्ड और प्रीवेंशन ऑफ ब्राइबेरी ऑफ फॉरेन ऑफिशियल लैप्स हो चुके हैं। वित्तीय और आर्थिक क्षेत्रों से जुड़े कुछ अहम बिल जैसे जीएसटी बिल, डायरेक्ट कोड बिल, माइक्रोफाइनेंस बिल और माइंस व मिनरल्स बिल पिछली लोकसभा से नहीं पारित कराए जा सके।

संसद को मजबूती

हमारे प्रतिनिधि लोकतंत्र में चुने गए प्रतिनिधि अपने मतदाताओं के प्रति जवाबदेह होते हैं। अपने वर्तमान स्वरूप में एंटी डिफेक्शन लॉ हमारे लोकतंत्र की स्वत: स्फूर्त प्रक्रिया चेक एंड बैलेंस को कमजोर करता है। इस बिल का मकसद सरकार की अस्थिरता को कम करना था, लेकिन यह सांसदों के उनके निर्वाचकों के हितों की आवाज उठाने की स्वतंत्रता को सीमित करता दिखता है। 15वीं लोकसभा में करीब एक चौथाई बिल 30 मिनट के भीतर ही पारित हो गए जिसका आशय यह है कि व्यावहारिक रूप से इनको लेकर कोई बहस नहीं हुई। 25 फीसद से कम बिलों पर तीन घंटे से अधिक की बहस हुई। यह संकेत देता है कि महत्वपूर्ण मसलों से संबंधी बिल अक्सर अपर्याप्त बहस और समझ के ही पारित हो रहे हैं। नई लोकसभा को अपने सांसदों को उचित मौके और पर्याप्त समय देना चाहिए जिससे वे किसी बिल को लेकर अपनी राय जाहिर कर सकें और बिल को पारित करने से पहले उसके विभिन्न प्रावधानों के निहितार्थ सामने आ सकें। अधिकांश बिल ध्वनिमत से पारित हो जाते हैं। इसमें किसी को यह पता नहीं चलता कि इस पर प्रत्येक सांसद ने कैसे और किस तरह वोट किया। किसी बिल पर सांसदों द्वारा किए गए वोट को सार्वजनिक किया जाना चाहिए। इससे सांसदों और संसद की कार्यशैली में बहुत बड़ी पारदर्शिता और जवाबदेही लायी जा सकती है। कुछ अन्य सीमाएं भी अस्तित्व में हैं जो संसद को ज्यादा प्रभावी होने के आड़े आती हैं। इनमें सांसदों को उनके संसदीय उत्तरदायित्व निभाने के लिए रिसर्च की अपर्याप्त मदद, एक कमजोर कमेटी प्रणाली जिसकी कार्यप्रणाली पारदर्शी नहीं है, विधायी जांच और फीडबैक से पहले की प्रक्रिया की कमी, सदन में मामलों को उठाने के लिए सांसदों के पास पर्याप्त समय की अनुपलब्धता आदि शामिल हैं। इन बाधाओं को दूर करके नई गठित लोकसभा के सदस्य अपना उत्तरदायित्व प्रभावी तरीके से संपन्न कर पाएंगे।

संसद उन कुछ चुनिंदा संस्थाओं में है जिसे हमारे पूर्वजों ने इस भरोसे के साथ हमें सौंपा है जिस पर हम तर्कसंगत तरीके से गर्व कर सकें। 16वीं लोकसभा के हमारे प्रतिनिधियों के पास अब उस दायित्व को पूरा करने के लिए वह मौका और चुनौती है जिसकी मदद से हम सब अधिक विचारात्मक और सृजनात्मक लोकतंत्र की ओर आगे बढ़ सकें।

- This article was published in Dainik Jagran on May 18, 2014.

Brief overview of the performance of the 12th Haryana Legislative Assembly

May 7th, 2014 1 comment

The term of the 12th Haryana Legislative Assembly ends in October this year.  We look at the work done by the 12th Haryana Assembly during its term from 2009 to 2014 to assess its performance on metrics such as the number of sittings, members’ attendance, and legislative business.

Performance of the Assembly

Since the beginning of its tenure, which commenced in October 2009, the Assembly has held ten sessions. Till March 2014, the Assembly had met for a total of 54 days – an average of 11 days per year.  In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 69 days each year from 2009 to 2014.  Among state assemblies, only Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh sat for fewer days than Haryana. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days per year , while Tamil Nadu Assembly sat for 44 days.

sitting days haryana

The average attendance among Haryana MLAs stood at 89% for the whole term, with six members registering 100% attendance.

 

 Attendance haryana

 

From the beginning of its term in 2009 till March 2014, the Assembly passed 129 Bills.  All Bills were discussed and passed on the same day as they were introduced. None of the Bills were referred to any Committee.

Participation in the general discussion on the Budget has recovered since 2012, when the Budget was discussed for around three hours with eight Members participating.. In 2013, discussion took place for eight hours and forty minutes with 31 members participating. In 2014, the Assembly discussed the Budget for four hours and fifty minutes with 21 Members participating.

 Budget discussion

Key laws passed by the 12th Assembly include the Haryana State Commission for Women Bill, the Haryana Prohibition of Ragging in Educational Institution Bill and the Punjab Agricultural Produces Markets (Haryana Amendment) Bill.

EU bans imports of Alphonso mangoes: Is India’s biosecurity mechanism rigorous enough?

April 29th, 2014 2 comments

Recent news reports indicate that the European Union (EU) has banned imports of Alphonso mangoes and four vegetables from India due to the presence of harmful pests and a lack of certification before export.  The ban will be effective between May 1, 2014 and December 2015.  It has been suggested that the ban could impact the export of nearly 16 million mangoes from India, the market for which is worth nearly £6 million a year in a country like the United Kingdom. In this context, it may be useful to examine the regulation of agricultural biosecurity in India, particularly with respect to imports and exports of such agricultural produce.

Currently, two laws, the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1914 and the Livestock Importation Act, 1898, regulate the import and export of plants and animals with a view to control pests and diseases.  Under the laws, the authorities ensure that infectious diseases and pests do not cause widespread damage to the environment, crops, agricultural produce and human beings, i.e. the agricultural biosecurity of a country.  Common examples of pests and diseases have been the Banana bunchy top virus which stunts banana plants and stops production of fruit while another is the Avian Influenza, which caused extensive death of poultry and led to human deaths as well.

Under the existing Acts, different government departments and government-approved bodies are responsible for regulating imports and certifying exports to ensure that there are no threats to agricultural biosecurity.  The Department of Agriculture keeps a check on pests and diseases arising from plants and related produce, such as mangoes and vegetables, while the Department of Animal Husbandry monitors diseases relating to animals and meat products.  The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) certifies exports of different commodities related to plants and animals.  Various government committees have highlighted the ineffectiveness of the existing system due to its piecemeal approach and have recommended an integrated system to handle biosecurity issues.  It has also been suggested that the existing laws have not kept up with developments in agriculture and are inadequate to deal with the emergence of trans-boundary diseases that pose threats to human, animal and plant safety.

The Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, 2013, pending in Parliament seeks to replace these laws and establish a national authority, the Agricultural Biosecurity Authority of India (ABAI), to regulate biosecurity issues related to plants and animals.  ABAI shall be responsible for: (i) regulating the import and export of plants, animals and related products, (ii) implementing quarantine measures in case of the existence of pests, (iii) regulating the inter-state spread of pests and diseases relating to plants and animals, and (iv) undertaking regular surveillance of pests and diseases.  Under the Bill, exports of plants, animals and related products will only be allowed once ABAI has issued a sanitary or phytosanitary certificate in accordance with the destination country’s requirements. The penalty for exporting goods without adequate certification from ABAI is imprisonment upto two years and and a fine of Rs 2 lakh. The proposed ABAI will also meet India’s obligations to promote research and prevent pests and diseases under the International Plant Protection Convention and the Office International des Epizooties. A PRS analysis of various aspects of the Bill can be found here.

The Bill will lapse with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.  It remains to be seen how the incoming government in the 16th Lok Sabha will approach biosecurity issues to prevent incidents like the EU ban on imports of Indian fruits and vegetables in the future.

Ordinances promulgated during different Lok Sabhas

April 21st, 2014 1 comment

Recently, the President repromulgated the Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, which expands the Securities and Exchange Board Act’s (SEBI) powers related to search and seizure and permits SEBI to enter into consent settlements.  The President also promulgated the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014, which establishes special courts for the trial of offences against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  With the promulgation of these two Ordinances, a total of 25 Ordinances have been promulgated during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha so far.

Ordinances are temporary laws which can be issued by the President when Parliament is not in session.  Ordinances are issued by the President based on the advice of the Union Cabinet. The purpose of Ordinances is to allow governments to take immediate legislative action if circumstances make it necessary to do so at a time when Parliament is not in session.

Often though Ordinances are used by governments to pass legislation which is currently pending in Parliament, as was the case with the Food Security Ordinance last year. Governments also take the Ordinance route to address matters of public concern as was the case with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which was issued in response to the protests surrounding the Delhi gang rape incident.

Since the beginning of the first Lok Sabha in 1952, 637 Ordinances have been promulgated. The graph below gives a breakdown of the number of Bills passed by each Lok Sabha since 1952, as well as the number of Ordinances promulgated during each Lok Sabha.

Ordinances

Ordinance Making Power of the President

The President has been empowered to promulgate Ordinances based on the advice of the central government under Article 123 of the Constitution. This legislative power is available to the President only when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session to enact laws.  Additionally, the President cannot promulgate an Ordinance unless he ‘is satisfied’ that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action’.

Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. They also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both Houses.

History of Ordinances

Ordinances were incorporated into the Constitution from Section 42 and 43 of the Government of India Act, 1935, which authorised the then Governor General to promulgate Ordinances ‘if circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action’. Interestingly, most democracies including Britain, the United States of America, Australia and Canada do not have provisions similar to that of Ordinances in the Indian Constitution. The reason for an absence of such a provision is because legislatures in these countries meet year long.

Ordinances became part of the Indian Constitution after much debate and discussion. Some Members of the Constituent Assembly emphasised that the Ordinance making power of the President was extraordinary and issuing of Ordinances could be interpreted as against constitutional morality. Some Members felt that Ordinances were a hindrance to personal freedom and a relic of foreign rule. Others argued that Ordinances should be left as a provision to be used only in the case of emergencies, for example, in the breakdown of State machinery. As a safeguard, Members argued that the provision that a session of Parliament must be held within 6 months of passing an Ordinance be added.

Repromulgation of Ordinances

Ordinances are only temporary laws as they must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. However, governments have promulgated some ordinances multiple times. For example, The Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 was recently repromulgated for the third time during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha. Repromulgation of Ordinances raises questions about the legislative authority of the Parliament as the highest law making body.

In the 1986 Supreme Court judgment of D.C. Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar, where the court was examining a case where a state government (under the authority of the Governor) continued to re-promulgate Ordinances, the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed:

“The power to promulgate an Ordinance is essentially a power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be “perverted to serve political ends”. It is contrary to all democratic norms that the Executive should have the power to make a law, but in order to meet an emergent situation, this power is conferred on the Governor and an Ordinance issued by the Governor in exercise of this power must, therefore, of necessity be limited in point of time.”

Repromulgation

Ordinances by governments
 
Thanks to Vinayak Rajesekhar for helping with research on this blog post.