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An Overview of Fast Track Courts

December 31st, 2012 5 comments

Recently, Delhi witnessed large scale protests by various groups demanding stricter punishment and speedier trial in cases of sexual assault against women.  In light of the protests, the central government has constituted a Commission (headed by Justice Verma) to suggest possible amendments in the criminal law to ensure speedier disposal of cases relating to sexual assault.  Though the Supreme Court, in 1986, had recognised speedy trial to be a fundamental right, India continues to have a high number of pending cases.

In 2012, the net pendency in High Courts and subordinate courts decreased by over 6 lakh cases. However, there is still a substantial backlog of cases across various courts in the country.  As per the latest information given by the Ministry of Law and Justice, there are 43.2 lakh cases pending in the High Courts and 2.69 crore cases pending in the district courts.[1]

After the recent gang-rape of a 23 year old girl, the Delhi High Court directed the state government to establish five Fast Track Courts (FTCs) for the expeditious adjudication of cases relating to sexual assault.   According to a news report, other states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have also begun the process of establishing FTCs for rape cases.  In this blog, we look at the status of pending cases in various courts in the country, the number of vacancies of judges and the status of FTCs in the country.

Vacancies in the High Courts and the Subordinate Courts

One of the reasons for the long delay in the disposal of cases is the high number of vacancies in position for judges in the High Courts and the District Courts of the country.  As of December 1, 2012, the working strength of the High Court judges was 613 as against the sanctioned strength of 895 judges.  This reflects a 32% vacancy of judges across various High Courts in the country.  The highest number of vacancies is in the Allahabad High Court with a working strength of 86 judges against the sanctioned strength of 160 judges (i.e. vacancy of 74 judges).   The situation is not much better at the subordinate level.  As on September 30, 2011, the sanctioned strength of judges at the subordinate level was 18,123 judges as against a working strength of 14,287 judges (i.e. 21% vacancy).  The highest vacancy is in Gujarat with 794 vacancies of judges, followed by Bihar with 690 vacancies.

Fast Track Courts

The 11th Finance Commission had recommended a scheme for the establishment of 1734 FTCs for the expeditious disposal of cases pending in the lower courts.  In this regard, the Commission had allocated Rs 500 crore.   FTCs were to be established by the state governments in consultation with the respective High Courts.  An average of five FTCs were to be established in each district of the country.  The judges for these FTCs were appointed on an adhoc basis.  The judges were selected by the High Courts of the respective states.  There are primarily three sources of recruitment.  First, by promoting members from amongst the eligible judicial officers; second, by appointing retired High Court judges and third, from amongst members of the Bar of the respective state.

FTCs were initially established for a period of five years (2000-2005).  However, in 2005, the Supreme Court[2] directed the central government to continue with the FTC scheme, which was extended until 2010-2011.  The government discontinued the FTC scheme in March 2011.  Though the central government stopped giving financial assistance to the states for establishing FTCs, the state governments could establish FTCs from their own funds.  The decision of the central government not to finance the FTCs beyond 2011 was challenged in the Supreme Court.  In 2012, the Court upheld the decision of the central government.[3]  It held that the state governments have the liberty to decide whether they want to continue with the scheme or not.  However, if they decide to continue then the FTCs have to be made a permanent feature.

As of September 3, 2012, some states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala decided to continue with the FTC scheme.  However, some states such as Haryana and Chhattisgarh decided to discontinue it. Other states such as Delhi and Karnataka have decided to continue the FTC scheme only till 2013.[4]

Table 1: Number of Fast Track Courts and the pending cases in FTCs                     (As on March 31, 2011)

State No of FTC No of cases transferred until March 31, 2011 Pending cases
Arunachal Pradesh 3 4,162 2,502
Bihar` 179 2,39,278 80,173
Assam 20 72,191 16,380
West Bengal 109 1,46,083 32,180
Goa 5 5,096 1,079
Punjab 15 58,570 12,223
Jharkhand 38 1,10,027 22,238
Gujarat 61 5,37.636 1,03,340
Chattisgarh 25 9,4670 18,095
Meghalaya 3 1,031 188
Rajasthan 83 1,49,447 26,423
Himachal Pradesh 9 40,126 6,699
Karnataka 87 2,18,402 34,335
Andhra Pradesh 108 2,36,928 36,975
Nagaland 2 845 129
Kerala 38 1,09,160 13,793
Mizoram 3 18,68 233
Haryana 6 38,359 4,769
Madhya Pradesh 84 3,60,602 43,239
UP 153 4,64,775 53,117
Maharashtra 51 4,23,518 41,899
Tamil Nadu 49 4,11,957 40,621
Uttarakhand 20 98,797 9006
Orissa 35 66,199 5,758
Manipur 2 3,059 198
Tripura 3 5,812 221
Total 1192 3898598 6,05,813

Sources:  Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.498, March 3, 2012; PRS



[1].  Rajya Sabha Starred Question no 231 dated December 10, 2012.

[2].  Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2005) 3 SCR 103.

[3].  Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2012) 6 SCC 502.

[4].  Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question no 2388 dated September 3, 2012.

Status of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission

December 7th, 2012 No comments

On November 28, 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General submitted its report on the implementation of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).  According to the report most of the projects initiated under JNNURM have not been completed.  For instance with respect to urban infrastructure projects, only 231 projects out of the 1298 sanctioned projects have been completed.  Similarly, with respect to housing projects, only 22 of the 1517 projects have been completed.  Some of the other key recommendations of the report are:

  •  Some of the reasons for the delay in completing the projects include: (i) delay in acquiring land; (ii) deficiency in preparation of projects; and (iii) non-identification of beneficiaries which increased the risk of ineligible beneficiaries getting the benefits.
  •  A total allocation of Rs 66,084 crore had been made by the Planning Commission.  However, against this total allocation, the central government had made an allocation of only Rs 37,070 out of which until March 30, 2011 only Rs 32,934 had been released.
  • There was a delay in releasing these funds to the states.  A large portion of the funds was released only in the last quarter and more particularly in March.
  • The JNNURM guidelines were deficient as they did not provide adequate guidance to the states on the method of parking the funds and utilization of interest.

The need and objectives of JNNURM

According to the 2011 census India’s urban population has increased from 286 million in 2001 to 377 million in 2011 .  With the increase in urban population, there is a requirement to improve the urban infrastructure and improve the service delivery mechanisms.  With these specific objectives in mind, the central government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission 2005-2006.  The aim of the Mission is to encourage reforms and fast track planned development of identified cities (such as cities with a population of more than 1 million as per the 2001 census).  JNNURM has two main components namely : (i) Urban Infrastructure and Governance  and (ii) Urban Infrastructure Development for Small and Medium Towns.

The duration of JNNURM was from 2005-06 to 2011-12. However, as the projects have not been completed the Government has extended its duration until March 2014.

Funds for JNNURM

The funds for JNNURM are provided through the Additional Central Assistance.  This implies that the funds are provided as grants to the states directly from the centre.   In the 2012 Union Budget, the central government has allocated Rs 12,522 crore for JNNURM. This represents around 10 % of the total central assistance through the different schemes to states and union territories in 2012-13.

As on June 30 2012, 554 projects at a total cost of Rs 62,253 crore have been sanctioned under the Urban Infrastructure and Governance sub-mission of JNNURM.   The table below shows the status of the sanctioned JNNURM  projects in the different states.

State wise status of the projects under JNNURM                 (as on August 6, 2012)

Name of State Total Allocation (Rs Lakh) Number of sanctioned projects Completed Projects
Andhra Pradesh 2,11,845 52 18
Arunachal Pradesh 10,740 3 NA
Assam 27,320 2 NA
Bihar 59,241 8 NA
Chandigarh 27,087 3 NA
Chattisgarh 24,803 1 NA
Delhi 2,82,318 23 4
Goa 12,094 2 NA
Gujarat 2,57,881 72 40
Haryana 32,332 4 NA
Himachal Pradesh 13,066 5 NA
Jammu & Kashmir 48,836 5 NA
Jharkhand 94,120 5 NA
Karnataka 1,52,459 47 22
Kerala 67,476 11 NA
Madhya Pradesh 1,32,850 23 7
Maharashtra 5,50,555 80 21
Manipur 15,287 3 NA
Meghalaya 15,668 2 NA
Mizoram 14,822 4 NA
Nagaland 11,628 3 NA
Orissa 32,235 5 NA
Punjab 70,775 6 1
Puducherry 20,680 2 NA
Rajasthan 74,869 13 2
Sikkim 10,613 2 NA
Tamil Nadu 2,25,066 48 12
Tripura 14,018 2 NA
Uttar Pradesh 2,76,941 33 4
Uttarakhand 40,534 14 NA
West Bengal 3,21,840 69 15

Source: Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission; PRS.

  • Gujarat at 55.55% has the highest number of completed projects, while Uttar Pradesh at 12.24% has the lowest number of completed projects.
  • Out of the larger states, Delhi and Maharashtra at 17% and 26% have a comparatively low rate of completed projects.
  • Maharashtra has the highest number of sanctioned projects, while the North Eastern states, Chattisgarh and Puducherry have the lowest number of sanctioned projects.

FAQ on Civil Aviation

October 22nd, 2012 1 comment

According to a press release, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is considering abolishing the development fee being levied at the Delhi and Mumbai airports.  The Ministry has already asked the Kolkata and Chennai airports not to levy a development fee.  According to the Ministry, this is being done to make air travel more affordable.  Currently, development fee charged at the Delhi Airport ranges from Rs 200 to Rs 1300.  At the Mumbai airport, the fee ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 600.

It is pertinent to note that though, the Ministry has proposed abolishing the development fee, the airport operators may still levy a user development fee.  In this blog we discuss some of the aspects of development fee and user development fee.

What is a development fee and a user development fee?

Development Fee (DF) is primarily intended to fund the establishment or upgradation of an airport.  It is intended to bridge the gap between the cost of the project and the finance available with the airport operator.  Currently only the Mumbai and Delhi Airports levy a DF. However, there are other types of tariffs, such as a user development fee (UDF), which may be levied by the airports. UDF is generally regarded as a revenue enhancing measure.  It is levied by the airport operators to meet operational expenditure

Section 22 A of the Airports Authority Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) gives the Airport Authority of India (AAI) the power to levy and collect a development fee on embarking passengers.  The Act provides that the development fee can be utilised only for: (a) funding or financing the upgradation of the airport; (b) establishing a new airport in lieu of the airport at which is levied; and (c) investing in shares of a private airport in lieu of an existing airport .

Unlike DF,  UDF is not levied and collected under the Airport Authority of India Act but under Rule 89 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. Under the Aircraft Rules, UDF may be levied and collected by either the AAI or the private operator.   According to the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority, UDF is levied to ensure that the airport operators can get a fair return on their investments.

What is the role of the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority?

In 2008, the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) was established to regulate aeronautical tariffs.  Among others, AERA’s functions include determining the amount of DF and UDF for major airports.  In case of non-major airports, the UDF shall be determined by the central government.

What has been the role of the Supreme Court?

In 2009, the central government permitted the Mumbai and Delhi Airports to levy a DF.  The rate of was prescribed by the central government and not by AERA.  In 2011, the Supreme Court held that this levy of DF was illegal.  The Court based its decision on two grounds.

Firstly, the court held that the rate of DF has to be determined by the AERA and not the central government.  Secondly, the Court held that the power to levy the fee lies with the Airport Authority as the development fee can only be utilised for the performance of the purpose specified in the Act.  The court held that while the Airport Authority can utilise the development fee for any of the functions prescribed in the Act, it can assign the power to levy a development fee to a private operator only for funding or financing the upgradation or expansion of the airport.

Can private operators collect a development fee and a user development fee?

In 2003, the government amended the Airport Authority of India Act to allow the AAI with the prior permission of the central government to: (i) to lease the premises of airports to private entities to undertake some of the functions of the AAI; (ii) levy and collect a development fee on the embarking passengers at a rate that may be prescribed.

Till 2011, the power to collect the development fee lay only with the Airport Authority.  However with the notification of the Airports Authority of India (Major Airports) Development Fees Rules, 2011, private operators have also been permitted to collect the development fee.

 

Clear signal for FDI in Civil Aviation

September 19th, 2012 2 comments

On September 14, 2012, the central government announced that foreign airlines would now be allowed to invest up to 49% in domestic airlines.  Under the policy announced by the government, the ceiling of 49% foreign investment includes foreign direct investment and foreign institutional investment.  Prior to investing in a domestic airline, foreign airlines would have to take approval of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.  Additionally, the applicant will also be required to seek security clearance from the Home Ministry.

In 2000, the government first permitted foreign direct investment up to 40% in the domestic airline sector.  However, no foreign airline was allowed to invest either directly or indirectly in the domestic airlines industry.  Non Resident Indians were permitted to invest up to 100%. Furthermore, the foreign investor was required to take prior approval of the government before making the investment.  Subsequently, the central government eased the foreign investment norms in this sector.  As of April 2012, foreign direct investment is permitted in all civil aviation sectors.  The Civil Aviation sector in India includes airports, scheduled and non-scheduled domestic passenger airlines, helicopter services / seaplane services, ground handling Services, maintenance and repair organizations, flying training institutes, and technical training institutions.  Foreign airlines were not permitted to invest either directly or indirectly in domestic passenger airlines.  However, they are permitted to invest in cargo companies and helicopter companies.

Investment by foreign airlines in the domestic airline industry has been a long standing demand of domestic airlines.  According to the Report of the Working Group on Civil Aviation for formulation of twelfth five year plan (2012-17), India is currently the 9th largest civil aviation market in the world.  Between 2008 and 2011, passenger traffic (domestic and international) and freight traffic increased by a compounded annual growth rate of 7% and 11% respectively. The traffic growth (passenger and freight) at 18% exceeded the growth rate seen in China (9.7%) and Brazil (7.5%), and was higher than the global growth rate of 3.8%.

According to the Centre for Civil Aviation, until February 2012, India had the second highest domestic air traffic growth.   However, due to the crisis faced by Air India and Kingfisher, the passenger numbers have declined in June-July 2012.  India was the only major domestic market that failed to show an expansion in demand in June 2012, as compared to the previous year.  Despite the rapid growth, the financial performance of airlines in India has been poor. According to the Report of the Working Group on Civil Aviation, the industry is expected to have a debt burden of approximately USD 20 billion in 2011-2012.  According to the same report, during the period 2007-2010 India’s airlines suffered an accumulated loss of Rs 26,000 crores.

According to the government, investment by foreign airlines shall bring in the much needed funds and expertise required by the domestic industry.  However, as per to some analysts, foreign investment alone cannot solve the problem.  According to them, the major cost impacting the growth of the industry is the high cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel.  As per the press release by the government on June 6, 2012,  ATF accounts for 40% of the operating cost of Indian carriers.  In comparison, fuel constitutes only 20% of the cost for international carriers. ATF in India is priced, on an average, 60% higher than international prices.  This is due to the high rate of taxation imposed on ATF by some states.  In most states, the VAT on ATF is around 25-30%.

Report of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir

May 25th, 2012 2 comments

The central government appointed the J&K Interlocutors Group on October 13, 2010.  The Group submitted the Report to the Home Ministry earlier this year.  The Report was made public by the Home Ministry on May 24, 2012.

It may be noted that under Article 370 of the Constitution special status has been granted to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.  The power of the Parliament to legislate is restricted to defence, external affairs, communication and central elections.  However, the President may with the concurrence of the state government extend other central laws to the state.  Furthermore, in 1952, an agreement known as the Delhi Agreement was entered into between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the central government.  The Agreement too provided that the state government shall have sovereignty on all subjects except for matters specified above.  However, since then some central laws relating to other subjects such as environment have been made applicable to the state.

This blog post divides the recommendation into two broad headings: political; and socio-economic.  It also looks at the roadmap proposed by the Group to achieve these recommendations.

Political recommendations:

  • The Group recommended that a Constitutional Committee (CC) should be set up to review all the central Acts that have been extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir since 1952.  The CC should come out with its findings within six months.  According to the Group, the CC should review whether, and to what extent, the application of central acts to the state has led to an erosion of the state’s special status.
  • The word ‘Temporary’ in Article 370 should be replaced with ‘Special’ which has been used for certain states such as Assam, Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh[1].
  • Central laws shall only be made applicable to the state if they relate to the country’s security or a vital economic interest, especially in the areas of energy and water resources.
  • Currently, the Governor is appointed by the President.  The Group recommended that the state government shall give three names for consideration for the position to the President.  However, the Governor shall finally be appointed by the President.
  • Separate Regional Councils for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh should be created and certain legislative, executive and financial powers should be devolved to them.  The subjects that could be transferred to the Regional Council include prison reforms, public health, roads and bridges and fisheries.

Cultural, Economic and Social Recommendations:

  • There are 16 centrally sponsored schemes which are mostly funded by the centre.  However, most of the funds for these schemes have not been utilised properly.  The Group recommended that an effective system to monitor these schemes should be put in place.
  • An expert committee to review the state’s financial needs should be constituted.
  • The central government should tap the hydro-electricity potential of the state.  Till date only 15 per cent of the potential has been harnessed.  Additional hydro-electricity projects should be established for which the central government should meet the entire equity capital.
  • Industrial establishments and other buildings occupied by the security officers should be vacated.
  • Financial package of incentives on the pattern given to the North Eastern States should be given to the state.
  • The hilly, remote areas should be declared as special development zones.
  • The restrictions on the internet and mobile phones should be reviewed.

In order to fulfil these recommendations, the Interlocutor’s Group proposed the following roadmap:

  • The ‘stone pelters’ and political prisoners against whom no serious charges have been framed should be released.
  • There should an amendment and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990 and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978.
  • The state policy should provide for the return of Kashmiri Pandits.
  • A judicial commission to supervise the identification of bodies buried in the unmarked graves should be established.

The full report may be accessed here.

Sources:

[1] Article 371 provides certain ‘special provisions’ with respect to states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim

Changes recommended by the Standing Committee on Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011

May 18th, 2012 1 comment

(Co-authored by Sana Gangwani and Pallavi Bedi)

The Standing Committee Report on the Land Acquisition and R&R Bill, 2011 was tabled in the Lok Sabha on May 17, 2012.

The major changes to the Bill recommended by the Committee include:

  • Land may not be acquired for use by private companies and PPPs.
  • The role of the local governments should be expanded and made more participatory in the acquisition and R&R process. The role of Gram Sabhas should not be limited to consultation, but their consent should be obtained at different stages.
  • The Clause giving wide discretion to the government in notifying any project as infrastructure project should be deleted.
  • Threshold for R&R provisions should be fixed by the states and not the central government since sale and purchase of land is a state subject in the Constitution (Item 18, State List).
  • There should be a restriction on the acquisition of agricultural land.  The limit on the acquisition of such land should be fixed by the state governments.

For a detailed comparison of the Bill with the recommendations of the Standing Committee see here.

Two Law Commission Notes on Khap and Dowry Cases

January 24th, 2012 No comments

Report on Khap Panchayats

The Law Commission has drafted a consultation paper on caste panchayats.    A draft legislation titled “The Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011” has been attached to the consultation paper.

The Bill prohibits people from congregating together to condemn a legal marriage on the ground that the said marriage has brought dishonour to the caste or community.     Every member of such a group shall be punished with imprisonment of a minimum term of 6 months and a maximum term of 1 year.   The member may also be liable to a fine of up to Rs 10,000.

Under our criminal justice system, the presumption is that the accused person is innocent until proven guilty.   This Bill reverses this presumption.   It provides that if an accused person participated in an unlawful assembly, then it will be presumed that the accused intended to commit an offence under the Bill.

The Commission has invited public comments on the consultation paper within 4 weeks.   The comments can be sent by post or email to lci-dla@nic.in.    A copy of the consultation paper is available at http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/cp-Honour%20Killing.pdf.

Report on compounding of offences including Sec 498A of IPC (harassment for dowry)

The Law Commission has also submitted its report on ‘Compounding of (IPC) Offences.    Compoundable offences are offences which allow the parties to enter into a private compromise.   The Supreme Court in some recent cases had asked the Law Commission to identify more offences which could be treated as compoundable.   Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure lists the offences which are compoundable.  Currently under the section there are 56 compoundable offences.   Certain offences can be compounded only with the prior permission of the court.

The Commission has recommended that Section 498A of the IPC (cruelty against a married woman by her husband or relatives) should be made compoundable with the permission of the Court.   It has recommended that the magistrate should give a hearing to the woman and then permit or refuse the compounding of the offence.  This has been recommended to ensure that woman is not coerced into compounding the offence.

The other IPC offences that the Commission has recommended should be made compoundable include (a) Section 324 (simple hurt); (b) Section 147 (rioting); (c) Section 380 (theft in dwelling house); (d) Section 384 (extortion) and  (e) Section 385 (extortion by threat  to person).

A copy of the report is available at http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report237.pdf

 

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