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Are there enough regulatory safeguards against nuclear power?

October 30th, 2012 No comments

The protests against the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam have intensified over the recent weeks.  The Kudankulam plant is expected to provide 2 GW of electricity annually.  However, activists concerned about the risks of nuclear energy are demanding that the plant be shut down.  The safety of nuclear power plants is a technical matter.  In this blog post we discuss the present mechanism to regulate nuclear energy and the legislative proposals to amend this mechanism.

Atomic materials and atomic energy are governed by the Atomic Energy Act, 1962.  The Act empowers the central government to produce, develop and use atomic energy.  At present, nuclear safety is regulated by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).  Some of the drawbacks of the present mechanism are discussed below.

Key issues under the present nuclear safety regulatory mechanism

The AERB is not empowered to operate as an independent operator.  The AERB was established by the government through a notification and not through an Act of Parliament.  Its powers and functions are therefore amendable by the Department of Atomic Energy through executive orders.  The parliamentary oversight exercised upon such executive action is lower than the parliamentary oversight over statutes. 1

Furthermore, the Atomic Energy Commission that sets out the atomic energy policy, and oversees the functioning of the AERB, is headed by the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy.  This raises a conflict of interest, as the Department exercises administrative control over NPCIL that operates nuclear power plants.

It is pertinent to note that various committee reports, including a CAG Report in 2011, had highlighted the drawbacks in the present regulatory mechanisms and recommended the establishment of a statutory regulator.  A summary of the Report may be accessed here.

Proposed mechanism

Following the Fukushima nuclear incident in 2011, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 was introduced in Parliament to replace the AERB.

The Bill establishes the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) to regulate nuclear safety, and a Nuclear Safety Council to oversee nuclear safety policies that the NSRA issues.  Under the Bill, all activities related to nuclear power and nuclear materials may only be carried out under a licence issued by the NSRA.

Extent of powers and independence of the NSRA

The Bill establishes the NSRA as a statutory authority that is empowered to issue nuclear safety policies and regulations.  The Nuclear Safety Council established under the Bill to oversee these policies includes the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy.  The conflict of interest that exists under the present mechanism may thus continue under the proposed regulatory system.

The Bill provides that members of the NSRA can be removed by an order of the central government without a judicial inquiry.  This may affect the independence of the members of the NSRA.  This process is at variance with enactments that establish other regulatory authorities such as TRAI and the Competition Commission of India.  These enactments require a judicial inquiry prior to the removal of a member if it is alleged that he has acquired interest that is prejudicial to the functions of the authority.

The proposed legislation also empowers the government to exclude strategic facilities from the ambit of the NSRA.  The government can decide whether these facilities should be brought under the jurisdiction of another regulatory authority.

These and other issues arising from the Bill are discussed here.


 

Are we closer to a law on privacy?

October 19th, 2012 2 comments

On October 16, the Group of Experts on Privacy, Chaired by Mr. A. P. Shah, submitted its Report to the Planning Commission.  The Expert Group was appointed to set out the principles that Indian privacy law should abide by.   Even though privacy has been held to be a fundamental right as long back as in 1962, India does not have a law that specifies safeguards to privacy.  Moreover, recent government initiatives, such as the UID, involve collection of personal information and storage in electronic form.  The absence of a law on privacy increases the risk to infringement of the fundamental right.

In this blog we list the recommendations made by the expert group, discuss the status of the right to privacy in India, and why there is a need for an enactment.

Recommendations of the Expert Group on Privacy

  • The Expert Group recommended that the new legislation on privacy should ensure that safeguards are technology neutral.  This means that the enactment should provide protections that are applicable to information, regardless of the manner in which it is stored: digital or physical form.
  • The new legislation should protect all types of privacy, such as bodily privacy (DNA and physical privacy); privacy against surveillance (unauthorised interception, audio and video surveillance); and data protection.
  • The safeguards under the Bill should apply to both government and private sector entities.
  • There should be an office of a ‘Privacy Commissioner’ at both the central and regional level.
  • There should be Self-Regulating Organisations set up by the industry.  These organisations would develop a baseline legal framework that protects and enforces an individual’s right to privacy.  The standards developed by the organisations would have to be approved by the Commissioner.
  • The legislation should ensure that entities that collect and process data would be accountable for these processes and the use to which the data is put.  This, according to the Group, would ensure that the privacy of the data subject is guaranteed.

Present status of the Right to Privacy

While the Supreme Court has held privacy to be a fundamental right, it is restricted to certain aspects of a person’s life.  These aspects include the privacy of one’s home, family, marriage, motherhood, procreation and child-rearing.  Therefore, to claim privacy in any other aspect, individuals have to substantiate these are ‘private’ and should not be subjected to state or private interference.  For instance, in 1996 petitioners had to argue before the Court that the right to speak privately over the telephone was a fundamental right.

Risks to privacy

Government departments collect data under various legislations.  For instance, under the Passport Act, 1967 and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 persons have to give details of their address, date of birth etc.  These enactments do not provide safeguards against access and use of the information by third parties.  Similarly, information regarding ownership of property and taxes paid are publicly available on the MCD website.

Furthermore, recent government initiatives may increase the risk to infringement of privacy as personal information, previously only available in physical form, will now be available electronically.  Initiatives such as the National e-Governance Plan, introduced in 2006 and Aadhaar would require maintenance of information in electronic form.  The Aadhaar initiative aims at setting up a system for identifying beneficiaries of government sponsored schemes.  Under the initiative, biometric details of the beneficiaries, such as retina scan and fingerprints, are collected and stored by the government.  The government has also introduced a Bill in Parliament creating a right to electronic service delivery.  As per news reports, a draft DNA Profiling Bill is also in the pipeline.

 

Explaining FDI in Broadcasting

September 20th, 2012 1 comment

On September 14, 2012 the government announced a new FDI policy for the broadcasting sector.  Under the policy, FDI up to 74% has been allowed in broadcasting infrastructure services.  Previously the maximum level of FDI permitted in most infrastructure services in the sector was 49% through automatic route.

There could be three reasons for the increase in FDI in the sector.  First, the broadcasting sector is moving towards an addressable (digital) network.  As per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), this upgradation could cost Rs 40,000 crore.  Second, the increase in FDI was mandated because a higher FDI was allowed for telecommunication services, which too are utilised for broadcast purposes.  In telecommunications 74% FDI is allowed under the approval route.  Third, within the broadcasting sector, there was disparity in FDI allowed on the basis of the mode of delivery.  These issues were referred to by TRAI in detail in its recommendations of 2008 and 2010.

Recent history of FDI in broadcasting services

In 2008 and 2010 TRAI had recommended an increase in the level of FDI permitted.  A comparison of recommendations and the new policy is provided below.

 

As noted in the table, FDI in services that relate to establishing infrastructure, like setting up transmission hubs and providing services to the customers, is now at 49% under automatic route and 74% with government approval.  FDI in media houses, on the other hand, have a different level of FDI permitted.

TRAI’s recommendations on the two aspects of FDI in broadcasting

Digitisation of cable television network:  The Cable Televisions Networks Act, 1995 was amended in 2011 to require cable television networks to be digitised.  By October 31, 2012 all cable subscriptions in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are required to be digitised.  The time frame for digitisation for the entire country is December 31, 2014.   However, this requires investment to establish infrastructure.

As per the TRAI 2010 report, there are a large number of multi-system operators (who receive broadcasting signals and transmit them further to the cable operator or on their own).  As per the regulator, this has led to increased fragmentation of the industry, sub-optimal funding and poor services.  Smaller cable operators do not have the resources to provide set-top boxes and enjoy economies of scale.  As per news reports, the announcement of higher FDI permission would enable the TV distribution industry to meet the October 31 deadline for mandatory digitisation in the four metros.

Diversity in television services:  FDI in transmitting signals from India to a satellite hub for further transmission (up-linking services) has not been changed.  This varies on the basis of the nature of the channel.  For non-news channels, FDI up to 100% with government approval was allowed even under the previous policy.  However, the FDI limit for news channels is 26% with government approval.

In 2008 TRAI had recommended that this be increased to 49%.  However, it reviewed its position in 2010.  It argued that since FM and up-linking of news channels had the ability to influence the public, the existing FDI level of 26% was acceptable.  It also relied upon the level of FDI permitted in the press, stating that parity had to be maintained between the two modes of broadcast.  Under the new policy the level of FDI permitted in these sectors has not been changed.

Cabinet approves Bill to amend law on rape

August 2nd, 2012 No comments

According to a recent press release, the Cabinet has approved a proposal to introduce a Bill in Parliament to amend the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).  While the draft Bill is currently not available, its highlights are specified in the press release.  As per the press release, the Bill aims to make rape laws gender neutral.  The key features specified are:

  • Substituting the word “rape” with “sexual assault”;
  • Increasing the age of consent 16 to 18 years;
  • Excluding sexual intercourse between a married couple from the definition of rape, where the wife’s consent has not been obtained and the wife is at least 16 years of age.

Present Law

According to section 375 of the IPC, an allegation of rape has to satisfy the following criteria:

  • sexual intercourse between a man with a woman in the following circumstances: (a) against the will of the woman; (b) without her consent; (c) under duress; (d) consent obtained by fraud; (e) consent obtained by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication.
  • If the woman is below the age of 16 years, sexual intercourse is deemed to amount to rape.  Even if the woman has consented, it would be considered rape under the law.
  • There is however, an exception to this definition of rape.  Un-consented sexual intercourse between a man and his wife would not amount to rape if the wife is 16 years or older.

This definition of rape does not include use of other body parts or foreign objects by the offender upon the victim’s body.  Such offences are classified as “use of criminal force to outrage the modesty of a woman” (see here) and are punishable with two years imprisonment or fine or both.  Rape, on the other hand, is punishable with imprisonment for seven years to a life term.

Proposals to amend the law on rape

Through an order in 1999, the Supreme Court had directed the Law Commission to review the law on rape (Sakshi vs. Union of India).  The Law Commission had in its 172nd Report, dated March 25, 2000 made recommendations to amend the law to widen the definition of rape.  In its report, the Commission had recommended that rape be substituted by sexual assault as an offence.  Such assault included the use of any object for penetration.  It further recognised that there was an increase in the incidence of sexual assaults against boys.  The Report recommended the widening of the definition of rape to include circumstances where both men and women could be perpetrators and victims of sexual assault.[1]   Amendments to the law on the basis of these recommendations are still awaited.

The High Court of Delhi has recognised the need to amend the laws on rape.  It observed that the law did not adequately safeguard victims against sexual assaults which were included by the Law Commission within the scope of rape.  It was observed that the definition should be widened to include instances of sexual assault which may not satisfy the penile-vaginal penetration required under the existing law.

The 2010 draft Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, attempted to redefine rape.  The draft provisions substitute the offence of rape with “sexual assault”.  Sexual assault is defined as penetration of the vagina, the anus or urethra or mouth of any woman, by a man, with (i) any part of his body; or (ii) any object manipulated by such man under the following circumstances: (a) against the will of the woman; (b) without her consent; (c) under duress; (d) consent obtained by fraud; (e) consent obtained by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication; and (f) when the woman is below the age of 18.

Variation between proposals

The existing legal provisions, the Law Commission Report, the 2010 Bill and the recent press release are similar in that they provide an exception to marital rape.  Under the law, un-consented sexual intercourse is not an offence if the wife is above a certain age.  (Under the existing law the wife has to be over 16 years’ of age and as per press release she has to be more than 18 years old.)  This is at variance with the proposal of the National Commission of Women (NCW).   An amendment to the IPC recommended by the NCW deleted the exemption granted to un-consented sex between a man and his wife if she was more than 16 years old.  It therefore criminalised marital rape.

As per the press release, this exemption has been retained in the proposed Bill.  Furthermore, as per the release, while the age of consent for sexual intercourse will be increased to 18 years, for the purpose of marital sex, the age of consent would be 16 years.


[1] Review of Rape Laws, Law Commission of India, 172nd Report, paragraph 3.1.2,  “375.  Sexual Assault:  Sexual assault means –

(a) penetrating  the  vagina (which term shall include the labia majora), the  anus  or  urethra  of  any person with –

i)      any part of the body of another person or

ii)   an object manipulated by another person except  where  such penetration is carried out for

proper hygienic or medical purposes;

(b) manipulating any  part  of  the  body  of  another person  so  as  to cause penetration of the vagina (which term shall include the labia  majora),  the anus or the urethra of the offender by any part of  the other person’s body;

(c) introducing any part of the penis of a person into the mouth of another person;

(d)    engaging in cunnilingus or fellatio; or

(e) continuing  sexual  assault  as defined in clauses

(a) to (d) above in circumstances falling  under  any  of  the  six following descriptions:

Exception:  Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under sixteen  years  of  age,  is  not sexual assault.”

Rules on blocking of content on the internet to be discussed

May 11th, 2012 1 comment

In April last year the government had notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011  (IT Rules) under the Information Technology Act, 2000.  The IT Rules are listed for discussion in Rajya Sabha today in pursuance of a motion moved by Mr.  P. Rajeeve [CPI(M)].  The motion seeks to annul these Rules and recommends that Lok Sabha also concur with the motion.

The IT Rules require intermediaries (internet service providers, blogging sites like Blogger and WordPress, and cyber cafés) to take certain action.  Intermediaries are required to enter into agreements with their users prohibiting publication of certain content.  Content that cannot be published includes anything that is ‘harmful to minors in any way’, ‘blasphemous’, ‘encouraging money laundering’ etc.  This raises three issues.

Some of the categories of content prohibited for publication are ambiguous and undefined.  For instance, ‘grossly harmful’ and ‘blasphemous’ content are not defined.

Publication of certain content prohibited under the IT Rules, is currently not an offences under other laws.  Their publication is in fact allowed in other forms of media, such as newspapers.  Newspapers are bound by Press Council Norms.  These Norms do not prohibit publication of all the content specified under the IT Rules.  For instance, while these Norms require newspapers to show respect to all religions and their gods, they do not prohibit publication of blasphemy.  However, under the IT Rules blasphemy is prohibited.  This might lead to a situation, where articles that may be published in newspapers legally, may not be reproduced on the internet for example in the e-paper or on the newspaper’s website.

Prohibition of publication of certain content under the IT Rules may also violate the right to freedom of speech.  Under Article 19(2) of the Constitution restrictions on the right to freedom of speech may be imposed in the interest of the State’s sovereignty, integrity, security and friendly relations with other States, public order, morality, decency, contempt of court, and for protection against defamation.  The content prohibited under the IT Rules may not meet the requirement of Article 19(2).  This may impinge on the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Further, anyone can complain against such content to the intermediary.  The intermediary is required to remove content if it falls within the description specified in the IT Rules.  In the event the intermediary decides not to remove the content, it may be held liable.   This could lead to a situation where, in order to minimise the risk of liability, the intermediary may block more content than it is required.  This may imply adverse consequences for freedom of expression on the internet.

PRS’s detailed analysis of the IT Rules may be accessed here.

TRAI’s recommendations on auction of spectrum

April 27th, 2012 No comments

TRAI released its recommendations on auction of spectrum on April 23, 2012.   The recommendations are in pursuance of the Supreme Court order cancelling 122 telecom licences.  The cancellation was ordered on grounds of procedural irregularities and arbitrariness in the first-cum-first-serve policy for allocation of spectrum.   The recommendations, if adopted by the Department of Telecommunications, would change various aspects of the present telecom policy, including (a) relationship between a telecom licence and spectrum; (b) procedure for allocation of spectrum; (c) pricing of spectrum; (d)  limits on spectrum allocation; and (e) use of spectrum.

Relationship between telecom licences and spectrum

Previously, under the Telecom Policy 1994 (updated in 1999), spectrum was tied in with telecom licences.  Since 2003, licence conditions provided for award of two blocks of 6.2 MHz of spectrum for GSM technology and two blocks of 5 MHz for CDMA technology.  As per the government’s decision of January 17, 2008 (as explained in TRAI’s consultation paper, see page 3 paragraph 7) additional spectrum would be awarded on the basis of increment in the number of subscribers.  Service providers had to pay a licence fee (on obtaining the licence), an annual licence fee and a spectrum usage charge determined on the basis of their adjusted gross revenue.

TRAI has recommended that telecom licences and spectrum should be de-linked.  The service provider would thus pay separately for the value of the licence and the spectrum.  With this formulation an entity that does not hold a licence, but is eligible to secure one, may also procure spectrum.  This would help in avoiding situations where licence holders have to wait to secure spectrum or offer wire line services in the absence of spectrum.

Procedure for allocation of spectrum

TRAI has recommended that spectrum be auctioned by means of a simultaneous multiple round ascending auction (SMRA).  This means that the service providers would bid for spectrum in different blocks simultaneously.  In the first round of auction a reserve price (base price) set by the government is used.

Reserve price for auction and payment mechanism

A reserve price indicates the minimum amount the bidder must pay to win the object.  In case it is too low, it may reduce the gains made by the seller and lead to a sub-optimal sale.  If it is too high, it may reduce the number of bidders and the probability of the good not being sold.

Various countries have adopted a reserve price of 0.5 times the final price.  TRAI has recommended that the reserve price should be 0.8 times the expected winning bid.  It has also recommended that telecom companies pay 67% to 75% of the final price in installments over 10 years, depending on the spectrum band.

TRAI has reasoned that a higher price would reduce the possibility of further sales upon bidders securing spectrum.  However, this may lead to fewer bidders and ultimately fewer service providers.  It is argued in news reports that this may increase investments to be made by the service providers and eventually an increase in tariffs.

Spectrum blocks and caps

TRAI has recommended that the spectrum cap should be determined on the basis of market share.  A service provider can now secure a maximum of 50% of spectrum assigned in each band in each service area.  However, a service provider cannot hold more than 25% of the total spectrum assigned in all the bands across the country.

As per the January 2008 decision, additional spectrum could be awarded to telecom companies when they reached incremental slabs of subscribers.  This could extend to two blocks of 1 MHz for GSM technology, and two blocks of 1.25 MHz for CDMA, for each slab of subscribers.

TRAI has recommended that spectrum should be auctioned in blocks of 1.25 MHz.  Each auction would at least offer 5 MHz of spectrum at a time.  Smaller blocks would ensure that service providers who are nearing the spectrum cap may secure spectrum without exceeding the cap.  However, experts have argued that 1.25 MHz block may be too limited for launching services.  Also, TRAI in the recommendation has noted that a minimum of 5 MHz of contiguous spectrum is required to launch efficient services with new technologies.

Use of spectrum

TRAI has recommended that the use of spectrum should be liberalised.  This implies that spectrum should be technology neutral.  Telecom companies would now be free to launch services with any technology of their choice.

Presidential Reference in the 2G case

April 12th, 2012 2 comments

As per news reports, the union government has filed a Presidential Reference in relation to the 2G judgment.  In this judgment the Supreme Court had cancelled 122 2G licences granting access to spectrum and had ordered their re-allocation by means of an auction.  It also held that use of first cum first serve policy (FCFS) to allocate natural resources was unconstitutional.  It had held that natural resources should be allocated through auctions.

As per the news report, the Presidential Reference seeks clarity on whether the Supreme Court could interfere with policy decisions.  This issue has been discussed in a number of cases.  For instance, the Supreme Court in Directorate of Film Festivals v. Gaurav Ashwin Jain[1] held that Courts cannot act as an appellate authority to examine the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of a policy.  It further held that Courts cannot act as advisors to the executive on policy matters which the executive is entitled to formulate.  It stated that the Court could review whether the policy violates fundamental rights, or is opposed to a Constitutional or any statutory provision, or is manifestly arbitrary.  It further stated that legality of the policy, and not the wisdom or soundness of the policy, is the subject of judicial review.  In Suresh Seth vs. Commissioner, Indore Municipal Corporation[2] a three judge bench of the Court observed that, “this Court cannot issue any direction to the Legislature to make any particular kind of enactment.  Under our constitutional scheme Parliament and Legislative Assemblies exercise sovereign power or authority to enact laws and no outside power or authority can issue a direction to enact a particular piece of legislation.

In the present case it may be argued that whereas the Court was empowered to declare a policy such as FCFS as unconstitutional, it did not have the jurisdiction to direct auctioning of spectrum and other natural resources.  The Presidential Reference may conclusively determine the Court’s jurisdiction in this regard.  However, it has been urged by a few experts that this Presidential Reference amounts to an appeal against the decision of the Court.  They have argued that this could be done only through a Review Petition (which has already been admitted by the Court).

The advisory jurisdiction of the Court invoked through Presidential References, is governed by Article 143 of the Constitution.  Under Article 143 of the Constitution of India, the President is empowered to refer to the Supreme Court any matter of law or fact.  The opinion of the Court may be sought in relation to issues that have arisen or are likely to arise.  A Presidential Reference may be made in matters that are of public importance and where it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court.  The Court may refuse to answer all or any of the queries raised in the Reference.

A Presidential Reference thus requires that the opinion of the Court on the issue should not have been already obtained or decided by the Court.  In the Gujarat Election Case[3] the Supreme Court took note of Presidential References that were appellate in nature.  Thus, a Presidential Reference cannot be adopted as a means to review or appeal the judgment of the Supreme Court.  Against judgments of the Court the mechanisms of review is the only option.  This position was also argued by Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman in the Cauvery Water Case[4], where the Court refused to give an opinion.

Whether the Court had the authority to determine a policy, such as FCFS, as unconstitutional is not disputed.  However, there are conflicting judgments on the extent to which a Court can interfere with the executive domain.    It would be interesting to see whether the Court would give its opinion on this issue.  In the event it does, it may bring higher level of clarity to the relationship between the executive and the judiciary.


[1] AIR 2007 SC 1640

[2] AIR2006SC767

[3] (2002) 8 SCC 237

[4] (1993) Supp 1 SCC 96(II)

Requirement of Sanction

February 1st, 2012 4 comments

Criminal laws in India by way of “sanctions” allow for protective discrimination in favour of public officials.[1]  Under various laws, sanctions are required to investigate and prosecute public officials.  Over the past 15 years these provisions of law have been revisited by the judiciary and the legislature.  Recently the Supreme Court in the Subramanian Swamy Case has suggested the concept of a deemed sanction.  We look at the history of the requirement of sanction under criminal laws.

Requirement of sanction to investigate certain public servants of the union government was introduced through a government notification[2].   The Criminal Procedure Code 1973 and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 provide that to prosecute a public servant, permission or sanction has to be secured from the government (central or state) for which the official works.

Arguments that are often advanced in favour of such sanctions are that these ensure that (a) frivolous and vexatious cases are not filed, (b) public officials are not harassed, and (c) the efficacy of administrative machinery is not tampered with.  Further, the requirement of sanction to investigate was also defended by the government before the Supreme Court in certain cases.  In Vineet Narain vs. Union of India 1997[3], the government had argued that the CBI may not have the requisite expertise to determine whether the evidence was sufficient for filing a prima facie case.  It was also argued that the Act instituting the CBI, Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946 (DSPE Act), granted the power of superintendence, and therefore direction, of the CBI to the central government.   The Court in this case struck down the requirement of sanction to investigate.  It held that “supervision” by the government could not extend to control over CBI’s investigations.  As for prosecution, the Court affixed a time frame of three months to grant sanction.  However, there was no clarity on what was to be done if sanction was not granted within such time.

Following that judgment, the DSPE Act was amended in 2003, specifically requiring the CBI to secure a sanction before it investigated certain public servants.  More recently, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011 that is pending before the Rajya Sabha, removed the requirement of sanction to investigate and prosecute public servants in relation to corruption.

Recently, Mr. Subramanian Swamy approached the Supreme Court for directions on his request for sanction to prosecute Mr. A Raja in relation to the 2G Scam.  As per the Supreme Court, judgment in Subramanian Swamy vs. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Anr, Mr. Swamy’s request was pending with the department for over 16 months.  The Supreme Court held that denial of a timely decision on grant of sanction is a violation of due process of law (Right to equality before law read with Right to life and personal liberty).  The Court reiterated the three month time frame for granting sanctions.  It suggested that Parliament consider that in case the decision is not taken within three months, sanction would be deemed to be granted.  The prosecution would then be responsible for filing the charge sheet within 15 days of the expiry of this period.


[1] Subramanian Swamy vs. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Anr. Civil Appeal No. 1193 of 2012 dated January 31, 2012

[2] Single Directive, No. 4.7.3

[3] AIR 1998 SC 889

Regulation of media in India – A brief overview

November 16th, 2011 No comments

Media in India is mostly self-regulated.  The existing bodies for regulation of media such as the Press Council of India which is a statutory body and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory organization, issue standards which are more in the nature of guidelines.  Recently, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, former Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. M. Katju, has argued that television and radio need to be brought within the scope of the Press Council of India or a similar regulatory body.  We discuss the present model of regulation of different forms of media.

This note was first published at Rediff.

1. What is the Press Council of India (PCI)?

The PCI was established under the PCI Act of 1978 for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.

2. What is the composition of the PCI and who appoints the members?

The PCI consists of a chairman and 28 other members.  The Chairman is selected by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a member elected by the PCI.

The members consist of members of the three Lok Sabha members, two members of the Rajya Sabha , six editors of newspapers, seven working journalists other than editors of newspapers,  six persons in the business of managing newspapers, one person who is engaged in the business of managing news agencies, and three persons with special knowledge of public life.

3. What are its functions?

The functions of the PCI include among others (i) helping newspapers maintain their independence; (ii) build a code of conduct for journalists and news agencies; (iii) help maintain “high standards of public taste” and foster responsibility among citizens; and (iv) review developments likely to restrict flow of news.

4. What are its powers?

The PCI has the power to receive complaints of violation of the journalistic ethics, or professional misconduct by an editor or journalist.  The PCI is responsible for enquiring in to complaints received.  It may summon witnesses and take evidence under oath, demand copies of public records to be submitted, even issue warnings and admonish the newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.  It can even require any newspaper to publish details of the inquiry.  Decisions of the PCI are final and cannot be appealed before a court of law.

5. What are the limitations on the powers of the PCI?

The powers of the PCI are restricted in two ways. (1) The PCI has limited powers of enforcing the guidelines issued.  It cannot penalize newspapers, news agencies, editors and journalists for violation of the guidelines.  (2) The PCI only overviews the functioning of press media.  That is, it can enforce standards upon newspapers, journals, magazines and other forms of print media.  It does not have the power to review the functioning of the electronic media like radio, television and internet media.

6. Are there other bodies that review television or radio?

For screening films including short films, documentaries, television shows and advertisements in theaters or broadcasting via television the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sanction is required.  The role of the CBFC is limited to controlling content of movies and television shows, etc.  Unlike the PCI, it does not have the power to issue guidelines in relation to standards of news and journalistic conduct.

Program and Advertisement Codes for regulating content broadcast on the television, are issued under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.  The District magistrate can seize the equipment of the cable operator in case he broadcasts programs that violate these Codes.

Certain standards have been prescribed for content accessible over the internet under the IT Rules 2011.  However, a regulatory body such as the PCI or the CBFC does not exist.  Complaints are addressed to the internet service provider or the host.

Radio Channels have to follow the same Programme and Advertisement Code as followed by All India Radio.  Private television and radio channels have to conform to conditions which are part of license agreements.  These include standards for broadcast of content.  Non-compliance may lead to suspension or revocation of license.

7. Is there a process of self regulation by television channels?

Today news channels are governed by mechanisms of self-regulation.  One such mechanism has been created by the News Broadcasters Association.  The NBA has devised a Code of Ethics to regulate television content.  The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), of the NBA, is empowered to warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval and fine the broadcaster a sum upto Rs. 1 lakh for violation of the Code.  Another such organization is the Broadcast Editors’ Association.

The Advertising Standards Council of India has also drawn up guidelines on content of advertisements.

These groups govern through agreements and do not have any statutory powers.

8. Is the government proposing to create a regulatory agency for television broadcasters?

In 2006 the government had prepared a Draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill, 2006.  The Bill made it mandatory to seek license for broadcasting any television or radio channel or program.  It also provides standards for regulation of content.  It is the duty of the body to ensure compliance with guidelines issued under the Bill.

Draft Policies on Telecom, Electronics and Information Technology: Some Issues

October 25th, 2011 5 comments

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology released three draft policies on telecommunications, information technology and electronics.  The Ministry has invited comments on the draft policies, which may be sent to epolicy2011@mit.gov.in.

These policies have the common goal of increasing revenues and increasing global market share.  However, the policies may be incompatible with the Direct Taxes Code Bill, 2010 (DTC) and India’s international obligations under the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT).  Below we discuss these policies within the scope of the GATT and the DTC.

The draft National Information Technology Policy, 2011 aims to formulate a fiscal structure to attract investment in the IT industry in tier II and III cities.  It also seeks to prepare SMEs for a competitive environment by providing fiscal benefits.  Similarly, the draft National Electronics Policy provides for fiscal incentives in manufacturing on account of infrastructure gaps relating to power, transportation etc. and to mitigate the relatively high cost of finance.  The draft policy also provides preferential market access for domestically manufactured or designed electronic products including mobile devices and SIM cards.  The draft National Telecom Policy seeks to provide fiscal incentives required by indigenous manufacturers of telecom products and R&D institutions.

The theme of the DTC was to remove distortions arising from incentives.  The detailed note annexed to the Bill states that “tax incentives are inefficient, distorting, iniquitous, impose greater compliance burden on the tax payer and on the administration, result in loss of revenue, create special interest groups, add to the complexity of the tax laws, and encourage tax avoidance and rent seeking behaviour.”  It further notes that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on finance had recommended removal of exemptions other than in exceptional cases.  As per the Department of Revenue, tax holidays should only be given in businesses with extremely high risks, lumpy investments and lengthy gestation periods.  The DTC also removes location-based incentives as these “lead to diversion of resources to areas where there is no comparative advantage”.  These also lead to tax evasion and avoidance, and huge administrative costs.  The proposals to provide fiscal incentives in all three draft policies contradict the direction of the direct tax reforms.

Article 3 of GATT provides that foreign products should be accorded the same treatment accorded to similar domestic products in respect of all laws, regulations and requirements affecting their internal sale, offering for sale, purchase, transportation, distribution and use.  The provisions in the draft electronics policy to secure preferential market access to products manufactured in India may contravene this Article.

In granting such fiscal and trade incentives, the policies may be contrary to the approach adopted in the DTC and India’s obligations under the GATT.  These draft policies will have to be reconciled with tax reforms and trade obligations.