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Archive for September, 2010

NGOs and the legislative process

September 23rd, 2010 2 comments

All stakeholders, including citizens, NGOs, etc. have an important role in the law making process. But for many stakeholders, the process is not obvious or easily explained.

In PRS, we often receive a number of requests from NGOs about how it is that they can get Parliament to make changes in legislation and what would be productive ways in which citizens can make a difference in the law making process. To address this, PRS has developed a short Primer on “Engaging with Policy Makers: Ideas on Contributing to the Law Making Process”, in which we have tried to explain the process of how a Bill becomes an Act and some of the opportunities for citizen groups to become part of the process.

Sometimes, large parts of a Bill that is introduced in Parliament may not be agreeable to some groups. In such cases there is a tendency among NGOs to sometimes decide to redraft the Bill.

To the extent that NGOs think of redrafting a Bill as a tactical negotiating position, they may have a point in trying to redraft legislation. To the extent that NGOs think of such redrafting as a way to keep the discourse alive on the most important issues in any legislation, such efforts are welcome and useful. But if there is a belief that the Bill introduced in Parliiament will be withdrawn to introduce another Bill on the same subject as drafted by NGOs, then history suggests that the probability of that happening is close to zero. This is not a comment on the quality of the Bill that may be drafted by the group of NGOs, but rather a result of a complex set of issues about lawmaking in India.

Despite the odds, there are some recent examples in which NGOs were able to bring about significant changes to Bills in Parliament. The Right to Information Act stands out as one of the best examples in recent times. On the recently passed Right to Education Bill, NGOs were able to exert sufficient pressure to bring about changes in the Bill, and also get the government to bring in an amendment Bill to make further changes. In the Seeds Bill which was introduced in 2004, the Government appears to have agreed to bring about important changes thanks to the efforts of a number of farmer groups approaching the government directly, and through their local MPs and political parties.

It would be useful if we can get more examples/ comments/ suggestions about how some NGOs were able to bring about these changes in Bills. This will help more people understand how their voices can be heard in the corridors of power.

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Land Acquisition: Public realm, private gain

September 8th, 2010 4 comments

One of the most politically contentious issues in recent times has been the government’s right to acquire land for ‘public purpose’.  Increasingly, farmers are refusing to part with their land without adequate compensation, the most recent example being the agitation in Uttar Pradesh over the acquisition of land for the Yamuna Express Highway.

Presently, land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act, an archaic law passed more than a century ago in 1894.  According to the Act, the government has the right to acquire private land without the consent of the land owners if the land is acquired for a “public purpose” project (such as development of towns and village sites, building of schools, hospitals and housing and state run corporations).  The land owners get only the current price value of the land as compensation.  The key provision that has triggered most of the discontent is the one that allows the government to acquire land for private companies if it is for a “public purpose” project.  This has led to conflict over issues of compensation, rehabilitation of displaced people and the type of land that is being acquired.

The UPA government introduced the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill in conjunction with the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill on December 6, 2007 in the Lok Sabha and referred them to the Standing Committee on Rural Development for scrutiny.  The Committee submitted its report on October 21, 2008 but the Bills lapsed at the end of the 14th Lok Sabha.  The government is planning to introduce revised versions of the Bills.  The following paragraphs discuss the lapsed Bills to give some idea of the government’s perspective on the issue while analysing the lacunae in the Bills.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 redefined “public purpose” to allow land acquisition only for defence purposes, infrastructure projects, or any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land had already been purchased from willing sellers through the free market.  It prohibited land acquisition for companies unless they had already purchased 70% of the required land.  The Bill also made it mandatory for the government to conduct a social impact assessment if land acquisition resulted in displacement of 400 families in the plains or 200 families in the hills or tribal areas.  The compensation was to be extended to tribals and individuals with tenancy rights under state laws.  The compensation was based on many factors such as market rates, the intended use of the land, and the value of standing crop.  A Land Acquisition Compensation Disputes Settlement Authority was to be established to adjudicate disputes.

The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 sought to provide for benefits and compensation to people displaced by land acquisition or any other involuntary displacements.  The Bill created project-specific authorities to formulate, implement and monitor the rehabilitation process.  It also outlined minimum benefits for displaced families such as land, house, monetary compensation, skill training and preference for jobs.  A grievance redressal system was also provided for.

Although the Bills were a step in the right direction, many issues still remained unresolved.  Since the Land Acquisition Bill barred the civil courts from entertaining any disputes related to land acquisition, it was unclear whether there was a mechanism by which a person could challenge the qualification of a project as “public purpose”.  Unlike the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005, the Bill did not specify the type of land that could be acquired (such as waste and barren lands).  The Bill made special provision for land taken in the case of ‘urgency’.  However, it did not define the term urgency, which could lead to confusion and misuse of the term.

The biggest loop-hole in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill was the use of non-binding language.  Take for example Clause 25, which stated that “The Government may, by notification, declare any area…as a resettlement area.” Furthermore, Clause 36(1) stated that land for land “shall be allotted…if Government land is available.”  The government could effectively get away with not providing many of the benefits listed in the Bill.  Also, most of the safeguards and benefits were limited to families affected by large-scale displacements (400 or more families in the plains and 200 or more families in the hills and tribal areas).  The benefits for affected families in case of smaller scale displacements were not clearly spelt out.  Lastly, the Bill stated that compensation to displaced families should be borne by the requiring body (body which needs the land for its projects).  Who would bear the expenditure of rehabilitation in case of natural disasters remained ambiguous.

If India is to attain economic prosperity, the government needs to strike a balance between the need for development and protecting the rights of people whose land is being acquired.

Kaushiki Sanyal

The article was published in Sahara Time (Issue dated September 4, 2010, page 36)

An Analysis of the Deferred Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010

September 7th, 2010 1 comment

Given India’s anti-defection laws, the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 should have sailed through smoothly in the Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 26 in spite of opposition from many MPs who raised a number of pertinent issues. However, in a surprising turn of events the Bill faced opposition from Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao (along with other Opposition members).  It forced the Minister of Human Resource Development Shri Kapil Sibal to defer the consideration and passing of the Bill to the Winter session of Parliament.

Such an incidence raises the larger issue of whether an MP should follow the party line or be allowed to express his opinion which may be contrary to the party.  Last year, Vice President Hamid Ansari had expressed the view that there was a need to expand the scope for individual MPs to express their opinion on policy matters.  One of the ways this could be done, he felt, was by limiting the issuance of whips “to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as Money Bills or No-Confidence Motions.”  There are others who feel that MPs should not oppose the party line in the House since they represent the party in the Parliament. (See PRS note on The Anti-Defection Law: Intent and Impact).

The Educational Tribunals Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010, seeks to set up tribunals at the state and national level to adjudicate disputes related to higher education.  The disputes may be related to service matters of teachers; unfair practices of the higher educational institutions; affiliation of colleges; and statutory regulatory authorities.  The tribunals shall include judicial, academic and administrative members.  The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts over any matters that the tribunals are empowered to hear.  It also seeks to penalise any person who does not comply with the orders of the tribunals. (See the analysis of PRS on the Educational Tribunals Bill).

The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, which submitted its report on August 20, 2010.  Although the report expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of inputs from states and universities and made a number of recommendations on various provisions, the HRD Ministry rejected those suggestions.

Some of the key issues raised by the Standing Committee are as follows:

  • The Committee observed that no specific assessment about quantum of litigation has been carried out. It recommended that before setting up tribunals, the magnitude of cases and costs incurred in litigation should be assessed. A minimum court fee should be fixed to ensure viability of the tribunals.
  • The Committee pointed out that the status of existing tribunals is unclear. Also, since the number of educational institutions vary from state to state, the Committee felt that one educational tribunal per state cannot be made uniformly applicable.
  • The Committee stated that there is no clear rationale for fixing a minimum age limit of 55 years for members of the tribunals. It recommended that competent people with adequate knowledge and experience, irrespective of age, should be considered.
  • In case there is a vacancy in the chairperson’s post, other two members shall hear cases in the state educational tribunals. However, this leaves the possibility of cases being heard without a judicial member (since chairperson is the only judicial member). The Committee pointed out that a recent Supreme Court judgment states that every two-member bench of the tribunal should always have a judicial member. Also, whenever any larger or special benches are constituted, the number of technical members should not exceed the judicial member. The Committee were of the view that certain provisions of the Bill violate the Supreme Court judgment and should be re-thought.
  • The Committee recommends that the term “unfair practice” should be defined in the Bill so that it is not open to interpretation by the courts.
  • The Selection Committee to recommend panel for national tribunal includes the Chief Justice of India and Secretaries, Higher Education, Law and Justice, Medical Education and Personnel and Training as members. The Committee recommended that there should be adequate representation of the academia in the Selection Committee.
  • The Committee proposed that the government needs to identify the lacunae of the existing tribunal systems and ensure that orders of the tribunals have some force.

Digging on the right side of the law

September 3rd, 2010 2 comments

The recent order of the ministry of environment and forests (MoE&F) rejecting the application for grant of forest clearance to the Orissa Mining Company (the Vedanta project) has raised a number of important questions. The order cited the company’s non-compliance with a number of laws. But the Vedanta case is just one example. There are several projects in the country where similar issues are relevant. The question really is, are the multiple laws that are applicable in such cases in harmony with each other or are they working at cross purposes?

In a sector such as mining, doing business is inherently complicated. There are at least four broad aspects that need to be addressed—obtaining mining licences, securing environmental clearances, acquiring land, and rehabilitation of people affected by such projects. We take a look at each of the four broad areas, to understand how the applicable laws interact with one another.

Obtaining mining licences

Doing business in the mining sector first entails obtaining a licence for activities such as prospecting and mining. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, lays down the framework for any prospecting, leasing or mining activity to be carried out for specified minerals, and the licences that need to be obtained. The Act allows the central government to frame the rules and conditions applicable both for grant of licences and for the actual activity carried out by enterprises. The licensing authority for mining activities is the state government.

Securing environment clearances

Environmental clearances for industrial activities are governed by a number of laws. Most activities require clearances under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Additionally, for activities in forest areas, clearance is also required under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Acts pertaining to wildlife protection, bio-diversity and the quality of air and water may also be applicable.

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, enables the central government to take measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution”. These measures may include (among others) (a) laying down standards for the quality of the environment, (b) areas in which industries or operations may not be carried out, or carried out subject to certain safeguards.

The rules framed under the Act make it compulsory for all new projects to take prior environmental clearance. For a specified category of activities clearance has to be obtained from the MoE&F, while for others, clearance has to be obtained from State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs).

The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, prohibits state governments and other authorities from any unauthorised change in the status of areas declared to be reserved forests, and any diversion of forests for non-forest purposes. It prohibits felling of trees within forest areas. Any such action has to be undertaken with the prior permission of the central government. To divert any forest area for non-forest purposes, state governments have to submit formal proposals to the Centre. State governments also have to show proposals for compensatory afforestation.

Acquiring land for the project

Acquiring land for projects has become increasingly contentious in recent years. The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 appears to have outlived its utility, which led the UPA-1 to introduce a Bill in the Parliament to bring a new legal framework to facilitate land acquisition. The Bill tried to address several critical aspects of land acquisition. It tried to redefine ‘public purpose’ somewhat more strictly than in the existing Act. ‘Public purpose’ was redefined to include defence purposes, infrastructure projects or for any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land has already been purchased. For acquisitions by companies, the Bill mandated that 70% of the land will have to be acquired directly from the land owners at market prices and that the government would step in under the Act to acquire the remaining 30% for the project.

The Bill also aimed to provide for cases resulting in large-scale displacement. It stated that in such cases a social impact assessment study must be conducted. Tribals, forest dwellers and those with tenancy rights were also made eligible for compensation. It also mandated that the intended use of the land being acquired and the current market value of the land would have to be considered for determining compensation.

The Bill lapsed when the Lok Sabha was dissolved in 2009. It is not known when the government proposes to reintroduce a Bill in the Parliament to address this issue of land acquisition.

Rights of project-affected people

When large projects are planned and land is acquired for those, people are often displaced from the project areas and need to be rehabilitated appropriately. The UPA-1 had introduced a Bill in the Parliament to create a legal framework for rehabilitation of project-affected people. However, the proposed Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007, lapsed when the Lok Sabha was dissolved before the last general elections.

But the UPA-1 government managed to pass a highly contested Bill that recognised the rights of scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act passed in 2006 focuses on the rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and traditional forest dwellers. The Act seeks to recognise and vest forest rights in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes with respect to forest land and their habitat. The Act mentions 13 separate rights given to forest dwellers. These include (a) living in the forest for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood, (b) right to own, use or dispose of minor forest produce, (c) right to protect and conserve any community resource that they have been traditionally protecting and (d) individual and community rights of habitat for primitive tribal groups. These rights have to be formally recorded/recognised by state governments. The Act also prevents any modification of forest rights or the resettlement of forest dwellers unless the Gram Sabha of the village consents to the proposal in writing.

There are additional requirements to be met if developmental activities are to be undertaken in tribal dominated areas (defined as Scheduled Areas in the Constitution). The Panchayat (Extension into Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, extends the part of the Constitution providing for Panchayati Raj in rural areas to Scheduled Areas. The Act requires that government authorities consult the Panchayat or the Gram Sabha before acquiring land for development projects and for rehabilitating persons affected by such projects.

At a conceptual level, there is no apparent contradiction in the applicable laws and each of the laws mentioned above appear to be necessary to ensure that there is fairness for all stakeholders involved. However, a distinction has to be made between the legal principles these laws seek to enforce, and procedural formalities that need to be complied with to be on the right side of the law. Also, a closer look at these individual laws and their implementation will reveal a number of loopholes that need to be plugged to ensure that the spirit and basic principles enshrined in each law are enforced efficiently.

From the point of view of the company that intends to do business in India, all this adds up to a lot of time-consuming process. This is perhaps why the Doing Business index published annually by the World Bank group ranks India at 133 out of 183 counties in terms of ease of doing business. The challenge, going forward, is for us to strengthen processes that are fair to all stakeholders, but at the same time are not unduly burdensome on the company that seeks to make investments in the mining sector.

By CV Madhukar and Anirudh Burman

This was published as an article in Financial Express on September 2, 2010

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