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FAQs on the Lok Pal Bill Standing Committee

August 23rd, 2011 6 comments

We wrote an FAQ on the Lok Pal Bill for Rediff.  http://www.rediff.com/news/special/special-parliamentary-committee-cannot-study-lokpal-bill-in-10-days/20110822.htm

The Lok Pal Bill has been referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.  In this FAQ, we explain the process of these Committees.

What is the role of such standing committees?

The system of departmentally related standing committees was instituted by Parliament in 1993.  Currently, there are 24 such committees, organised on the lines of departments and ministries.  For example, there are committees on finance, on home affairs, on defence etc.  These standing committees examine Bills that are referred to them.  They also examine the expenditure plans of ministries in the Union Budget.  In addition, they may examine the working of the departments and various schemes of the government.

How is the membership of these committees decided?

Each committee has 31 members: 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.  Parties are allocated seats based on their strength in Parliament.  The final membership is decided based on the MP’s area of interest as well as their party’s decision on allocating the seats.

Who chairs the committees?

Of the 24 committees, 16 are administered by Lok Sabha and eight by Rajya Sabha.  The Chairperson is from the respective House.  Political parties are allocated the chairs based on their strength in Parliament.  Some committees such as home affairs, finance and external affairs are customarily chaired by a senior member of an opposition party.

What will the Standing Committee do with the Lok Pal Bill?

The Committee has invited comments and suggestions from the public on the Bill.  Comments can be sent to Mr. KP Singh, Director, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 201, Second Floor, Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi -110001.  These may also be emailed to kpsingh@sansad.nic.in or rs-cpers@sansad.nic.in.  The Committee will examine the written memoranda.  They will also invite some experts and stakeholders for oral evidence.  Based on its examination, the committee will prepare a report with its recommendations on the various provisions of the Bill.  This report will be tabled in Parliament.

Is the report decided by voting?

No.  The committee tries to form a consensus while preparing the report.  However, if some members do not agree on any point, they may add a dissent note.  For example, the committee on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill had dissent notes written by MPs from the left parties.  The Women’s Reservation Bill also had dissent notes from a couple of members.

Are the committee’s recommendations binding?

No.  The Committee system was formed recognising that Parliament does not have the time for detailed examination and public feedback on all bills.  Parliament, therefore, delegates this task to the committee which reports back with its recommendations.  It is the role of all MPs in each House of Parliament to examine the recommendations and move suitable amendments.  Following this, Parliament can vote on these amendments, and finalise the Bill.

Can you give examples when the Committee’s work has resulted in significant changes?

There are many such instances.  For example, the standing committee on science and technology examined the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill.  The committee made several recommendations, some of which increased the potential liability of suppliers of nuclear equipment in case of an accident.  All the recommendations were accepted.  Similarly, the Seeds Bill, which is currently pending in Rajya Sabha has seen several major recommendations by the Committee on Agriculture.  The government has agreed to move amendments that accept many of these recommendations.

Are all Bills referred to Standing Committees?

Most Bills are referred to such committees but this is not a mandatory requirement before passing a Bill.  In some cases, if a Bill is not referred to a committee and passed by one House, the other House may constitute a select committee for detailed examination.  Some recent examples include such select committees formed by the Rajya Sabha on the Prevention of Torture Bill, the Wakf Amendment Bill, and the Commercial Divisions of High Courts Bill.  There are also some instances when a Bill may be passed without the committee process.

Is it a good idea to bypass the committee process?

In general, this process provides a platform for various stakeholders to provide their inputs.  In the Lok Pal case, a few influential groups such as the India Against Corruption (IAC) and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) have voiced their views.  However, there may be other points of views of persons who do not have similar access to the media.  The Standing Committee provides equal opportunity to everyone to write in their memoranda.  It also allows parliamentarians to devote a significant amount of time to understand the nuances of a Bill and make suitable modifications.  Thus, the standing committee system is an opportunity to strengthen legislation in an informed and participatory manner.

Is it feasible to compress this process within 10 days and get the Lok Pal Bill passed within the current session of Parliament?

There should be sufficient time for citizens to provide inputs to the committee.  The committee has to examine the different points of view and find suitable provisions to achieve the final objectives.  For example, there are divergent views on the role of Lok Pal, its constitution, its jurisdiction etc.  The Committee has to understand the implications of the various proposals and then make its recommendations.  It has been given three months to do so.  Typically, most committees ask for an extension and take six to eight months.  It is not practical to expect this process to be over within 10 days.

Should civil society demand that the government issue a whip and pass the Jan Lok Pal Bill?

Everyone has the right to make any demand.  However, the government is duty bound to follow the Constitution.  Our Constitution has envisaged a Parliamentary system.  Each MP is expected to make up their minds on each proposal based on their perception of national interest and people’s will.  Indeed, one may say that the best way to ensure a representative system is to remove the anti-defection law, minimise the use of whips, and let MPs vote their conscience.  That may give us a more accountable government.

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Major differences between Lok Pal Bill, 2011 and Jan Lok Pal Bill (Anna version)

August 20th, 2011 8 comments

We wrote a piece for ibnlive.com on the major differences between the government’s Lok Pal Bill, 2011 and the Jan Lok Pal Bill drafted by Anna Hazare’s group.  The note is reproduced below.

 

The streets are witnessing a demand that the government’s Lok Pal Bill be replaced by the Jan Lok Pal Bill (JLP) as drafted by the team led by Anna Hazare.  There are several significant differences between the two bills.  In this note, we describe the some of these differences. (See here for more on the Lok Pal Bill).

 

First, there is a divergence on the jurisdiction of the Lok Pal.  Both bills include ministers, MPs for any action outside Parliament, and Group A officers (and equivalent) of the government.  The government bill includes the prime minister after he demits office whereas the JLP includes a sitting prime minister.  The JLP includes any act of an MP in respect of a speech or vote in Parliament (which is now protected by Article 105 of the Constitution).  The JLP includes judges; the government bill excludes them.  The JLP includes all government officials, while the government bill does not include junior (below Group A) officials.  The government bill also includes officers of NGOs who receive government funds or any funds from the public; JLP does not cover NGOs.

 

Second, the two Bills differ on the composition.  The government bill has a chairperson and upto 8 members; at least half the members must have a judicial background.  The JLP has a chairperson and 10 members, of which 4 have a judicial background.

 

Third, the process of selecting the Lok Pal members is different.  The JLP has a two stage process.  A search committee will shortlist potential candidates.  The search committee will have 10 members; five of these would have retired as Chief Justice of India, Chief Election Commissioner or Comptroller and Auditor General; they will select the other five from civil society.   The Lok Pal chairperson and members will be selected from this shortlist by a selection committee.  The selection committee consists of the prime minister, the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, two supreme court judges, two high court chief justices, the chief election commissioner, the comptroller and auditor general, and all previous Lok Pal chairpersons.

 

The government bill has a simpler process.  The selection will be made by a committee consisting of the prime minister, the leaders of opposition in both Houses of Parliament, a supreme court judge, a high court chief justice, an eminent jurist, and an eminent person in public life.  The selection committee may, at its discretion, appoint a search committee to shortlist candidates.

 

Fourth, there are some differences in the qualifications of a member of the Lok Pal.  The JLP requires a judicial member to have held judicial office for 10 years or been a high court or supreme court advocate for 15 years.  The government bill requires the judicial member to be a supreme court judge or a high court chief justice.  For other members, the government bill requires at least 25 years experience in anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance or finance.  The JLP has a lower age limit of 45 years, and disqualifies anyone who has been in government service in the previous two years.

 

Fifth, the process for removal of Lok Pal members is different.  The government bill permits the president to make a reference to the Supreme Court for an inquiry, followed by removal if the member is found to be biased or corrupt.  The reference may be made by the president (a) on his own, (a) on a petition signed by 100 MPs, or (c) on a petition by a citizen if the President is then satisfied that it should be referred.  The President may also remove any member for insolvency, infirmity of mind or body, or engaging in paid employment.

 

The JLP has a different process. The process starts with a complaint by any person to the Supreme Court.  If the court finds misbehaviour, infirmity of mind or body, insolvency or paid employment, it may recommend his removal to the President.

 

Sixth, the offences covered by the Bills vary.  The government bill deals only with offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.  The JLP, in addition, includes offences by public servants under the Indian Penal Code, victimization of whistleblowers and repeated violation of citizen’s charter.

 

Seventh, the government bill provides for an investigation wing under the Lok Pal.  The JLP states that the CBI will be under the Lok Pal while investigating corruption cases.

 

Eighth, the government bill provides for a prosecution wing of the Lok Pal.  In the JLP, the CBI’s prosecution wing will conduct this function.

 

Ninth, the process for prosecution is different.  In the government bill, the Lok Pal may initiate prosecution in a special court.  A copy of the report is to be sent to the competent authority.  No prior sanction is required.  In the JLP, prosecution of the prime minister, ministers, MPs and judges of supreme court and high courts may be initiated only with the permission of a 7-judge bench of the Lok Pal.

 

Tenth, the JLP deals with grievance redressal of citizens, in addition to the process for prosecuting corruption cases.  It requires every public authority to publish citizen’s charters listing its commitments to citizens.  The government bill does not deal with grievance redressal.

 

Given the widespread media coverage and public discussions, it is important that citizens understand the differences and nuances.  This may be a good opportunity to enact a law which includes the better provisions of each of these two bills.

 

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FAQ on the process of impeachment of judges

August 17th, 2011 2 comments

Parliament is expected to take up a motion for impeaching Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court.  We wrote an FAQ on the process of impeachment and the facts of this case for Rediff. See: http://www.rediff.com/news/report/faq-on-impeachment-of-judges/20110816.htm

The full text is reproduced below.

What is the importance of Parliament’s discussion on the Justice Sen issue?

The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to discuss a motion for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court.  Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) has been successfully impeached.

What is the legal framework regarding impeachment of judges?

The Constitution has measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary from executive action.  This helps judges give judicial decisions in a free and fair manner without any inducements.

The Constitution also provides checks against misbehaviour by judges.  It states that a judge may be removed only through a motion in Parliament with a two thirds support in each House.  The process is laid down in the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.

How is the motion initiated?  What is the process after that?

A motion has to be moved by either 100 Lok Sabha members of Parliament or 50 Rajya Sabha MPs.  If the motion is admitted, the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha constitutes an inquiry committee.

The committee has three members: a Supreme Court judge, a High Court Chief Justice, and an eminent jurist.  The Committee frames charges and asks the judge to give a written response.

The judge also has the right to examine witnesses.  After the inquiry, the committee determines whether the charges are valid or not.  It then submits its report.

What happens then?

If the inquiry committee finds that the judge is not guilty, then there is no further action.  If they find him guilty, then the House of Parliament which initiated the motion may consider continuing with the motion.

The motion is debated.  The judge (or his representative) has the right to represent his case.  After that, the motion is voted upon.  If there is two-thirds support of those voting, and majority support of the total strength of the House, it is considered to have passed.  The process is then repeated in the other House.

After that, the Houses send an address to the President asking that the judge be removed from office.

Has this process taken place earlier?

Yes, there has been one such case.  Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court faced such a motion.  The inquiry committee found that the charges against him were valid.  However, the motion to impeach him did not gather the required support in Lok Sabha.

What are the charges against the Justice Sen?

There are two charges.  He is accused of misappropriating large sums of money which he received as a receiver appointed by the Calcutta High Court.  He is also accused of misrepresenting facts in this regard to the High Court.

What is the charge of misappropriation?  What did the inquiry committee conclude?

Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984. As a Receiver, Justice Sen had the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods.

The Receiver is required to file and submit for passing, his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court.  However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule.  As a Receiver, Justice Sen was required to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission.

However, the Inquiry Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank.  A total sum of over Rs 33 lakh was transferred in these accounts from the sale of the goods which was unaccounted for.

Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Inquiry Committee found this claim to be false as well.

It was found that the amount transferred to Lynx India Ltd. had been made out of an account opened by Justice Sen in his own name.  The Committee concluded that (a) there was a large-scale diversion of fund, and (b) such diversion was in violation of the orders of the High Court.

The purpose for such diversion remains unexplained.

This action was done by him as an advocate? Are there any charges against him after he was appointed as a judge?

Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The Inquiry Committee noted that Justice Sen’s actions were, “an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver’s funds”.

After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds.

Is there any other case?  What is the status?

Another such motion has been initiated against Chief Justice Dinakaran of Sikkim High Court.  An Inquiry Committee is looking investigating the issue.  However, Mr Dinakaran has reportedly sent in his resignation to the President.  If the resignation is accepted, then the motion to remove him will become ineffective.

 

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FAQ on Lok Pal Bill

August 11th, 2011 1 comment

We wrote an FAQ on the Lok Pal Bill for Rediff.  See http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-all-you-wanted-to-know-about-the-lokpal-bill/20110808.htm

The full text is reproduced below.

What is the purpose of the Lok Pal Bill?

The Bill seeks to establish an institution that will inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries.  It establishes the office of the Lok Pal for this purpose.

 

What is the composition of the Lok Pal?

The Lok Pal shall consist of a Chairperson and up to eight members.  The Chairperson, and at least half of the members have to be current or former judges of the Supreme Court or Chief Justices of High Courts.  The other members will have at least 25 years experience in matters related to anti-corruption policy, vigilance, public administration, finance, law and management.

 

Who selects the Lok Pal?

The Selection Committee consists of the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of Opposition in each House of Parliament, a Union Cabinet Minister, a sitting Supreme Court Judge, a sitting High Court Chief Justice, an eminent jurist, a person of eminence in public life.  The two judges on this Committee will be nominated by the Chief Justice of India.

 

Who comes under the jurisdiction of the Lok Pal?

There are seven categories of persons under the Lok Pal: (a) Prime Minister after demitting office; (b) current and former Ministers; (c) current and former MPs (d) all Group A officers of the central government; (e) all Group A equivalent officers or PSUs and other government bodies; (f) directors and officers of NGOs which receive government financing; (g) directors and officers of NGOs which receive funds from the public, and have annual income above a level to be notified by the government. The speech and vote of MPs in Parliament are exempt from the purview of the Lok Pal.

 

What are the major powers of the Lok Pal?

The Lok Pal has two major wings: investigation wing and prosecution wing.  The Lok Pal can ask the investigation wing to conduct preliminary investigation of any offence alleged to be committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.  It can then conduct an inquiry.  If the inquiry concludes that an offence was committed, the Lok Pal can recommend disciplinary action.  It can also file a case in the Special Court.

 

Does the Lok Pal need any prior sanction to initiate any action?

No.  The Bill states that the Lok Pal does not need prior sanction to inquire into an offence, or to initiate prosecution in the special court.

 

What are special courts under this Bill?

The central government is required to constitute special courts to hear and decide cases under this Bill.  The Lok Pal shall recommend the number of such courts.

 

What are the various time limits for conducting inquiry and trial?

All preliminary investigation or inquiry must be completed within 30 days of the complaints (and can be extended for a further three months, with written reasons).  The inquiry is to be completed within six months (extendable by six months).  The trial is to be completed within one year of filing the case.  This time may be extended by three months (and in further periods of three months each time) with written reasons, but the total time should not exceed two years.

 

How can the Lok Pal be removed from office?

The President may make a reference to the Supreme Court, (a) either on his own, or (b) if 100 MPs sign a petition, or (c) if a citizen makes a petition and the President is satisfied that it should be referred.  If the Supreme Court, after an inquiry, finds the charge of misbehaviour was valid against the Chairperson or a Member and recommends removal, he shall be removed by the President.

 

What are the provisions for the expenses of the Lok Pal?

The Bill provides that all expenses will be charged, i.e., the amount will be provided without requiring a vote in Parliament.  The Bill estimates recurring expenditure of Rs 100 crore per annum, and a non-recurring expenditure of Rs 50 crore.  It also estimates a further Rs 400 crore for a building.

 

What are the major differences from the Jan Lok Pal Bill drafted by Team-Anna?

There are several differences.  The composition of the Lok Pal and the selection process are different; the Jan Lok Pal draft included a search committee with civil society members to shortlist the eligible members of the Lok Pal.  The Lok Pal had jurisdiction over the PM, the judiciary and all public servants (only Group A officers in the government Bill); it included the speech and vote of MPs in Parliament; it did not include NGOs.  The Jan Lok Pal Bill provided that the investigation and prosecution wings of the CBI shall report to the Lok Pal for corruption cases.  It also had penalties ranging from six months to life imprisonment (under the government Bill, the maximum imprisonment is derived from the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and is 7 years).

 

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