Archive

Archive for November, 2011

Creation of New States

November 29th, 2011 1 comment

The Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly recently passed a resolution calling for the division of Uttar Pradesh [U.P] into four States. But the procedure for formation of new States laid down in Article 3 of the Constitution provides that a State has no say over the formation of new States beyond communicating its views to Parliament.

Article 3 assigns to Parliament the power to enact legislation for the formation of new States. Parliament may create new States in a number of ways, namely by (i) separating territory from any State, (ii) uniting two or more States, (iii) uniting parts of States and (iv) uniting any territory to a part of any State. Parliament’s power under Article 3 extends to increasing or diminishing the area of any State and altering the boundaries or name of any State.

Two checks constrain Parliament’s power to enact legislation for the formation of new States. Firstly, a bill calling for formation of new States may be introduced in either House of Parliament only on the recommendation of the President. Secondly, such a bill must be referred by the President to the concerned State Legislature for expressing its views to Parliament if it contains provisions which affect the areas, boundaries or name of that State.

As can be seen, the only role that the U.P. State Legislature [the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council] will play in any future formation of new States is when the President calls for its views to be placed before Parliament. Parliament will not be bound by these views in the process of enacting legislation for the formation of new States.

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.

Anatomy of a Central Scheme: Understanding Accountability in MNREGA

November 9th, 2011 1 comment

Over the last couple of weeks, MNREGA is back in the spotlight. The Union Minister for Rural Development wrote to certain states regarding potential misuse of funds, and it was announced that rural development schemes are open to CAG audit.  In large schemes like MNREGA, officials at all levels of government – central, state, district, block, panchayat – have roles to play. This can make it difficult to locate the responsible authority in case implementation issues arise.

We list the responsibilities of different government agencies involved in implementation of MNREGA in the Table below.

Stakeholder Responsibilities
Gram Sabha (a) recommending works; (b) conducting social audits on implementation every six months; and (c) functioning as a forum for sharing information.
Gram Panchayat (a) planning works; (b) receiving applications for registration; (c) verifying applications; (d) registering households; (e) issuing job cards, (f) receiving applications for employment; (g) issuing detailed receipts; (h) allotting employment within 15 days of application; (i) executing works; (j) maintaining records; (k) convening Gram Sabha for social audit; and (l) monitoring implementation at the village level.
Intermediate Panchayat (a) consolidating Gram Panchayat plans into a Block plan and (b) monitoring and supervision at the block level.
Programme Officer (PO) (a) ensuring work to applicants within 15 days; (b) scrutinising Gram Panchayat annual development plans; (c) consolidating proposals into a Block plan and submitting to intermediate panchayat; (d) matching employment opportunities with demand for work at the Block level; (e) monitoring and supervising implementation; (f) disposing of complaints; (g) ensuring that Gram Sabha conducts social audits; and (h) payment of unemployment allowance.
District Panchayat (a) finalizing district plans and labour budget; and (b) monitoring and supervising at district level.
District Programme Coordinator (DPC) (a) ensuring that the scheme is implemented according to the Act at the district level; (b) information dissemination; (c) training; (d) consolidating block plans into a district plan; (e) ensuring that administrative and technical approval for projects are obtained on time; (f) release and utilisation of funds; (g) ensuring monitoring of works; (h) muster roll verifications; and (i) submitting monthly progress reports.
State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC) (a) advising the state government on implementation; (b) evaluate and monitor implementation; (c) determining the “preferred works” to be taken up; (d) recommending the proposal of works to be submitted to the state government; and (e) prepare an annual report to the state legislature.
State Government (a) wide communication of the scheme; (b) setting up the SEGC; (c) setting up a State Employment Guarantee Fund; (d) ensuring that dedicated personnel are in place for implementation, including Gram Rozgar Sahayak, Programme Officer, and technical staff; (e) ensuring state share of the scheme budget is released on time; (f) delegation of financial and administrative powers to the DPC and Programme Officer if necessary; (g) training; (h) establishing a network of professional agencies for technical support and quality control; (i) regular review, monitoring, and evaluation of processes and outcomes; and (j) ensuring accountability and transparency.
Central Employment Guarantee Council (a) advising the central government on MNREGA matters; (b) monitoring and evaluating implementation of the Act; and (c) preparing annual reports on implementation and submitting them to Parliament.
Ministry of Rural Development (a) ensuring resource support to states and the CEGC; (b) regular review, monitoring, and evaluation of processes and outcomes;  (c) maintaining and operating the MIS to capture and track data on critical aspects of implementation; (d) assessing the utilization of resources through a set of performance indicators; (e) supporting innovations that help in improving processes towards the achievement of the objectives of the Act; (f) support the use of Information Technology (IT) to increase the efficiency and transparency of the processes as well as improve interface with the public;  and (g) ensuring that the implementation of NREGA at all levels is sought to be made transparent and accountable to the public..
Source: Operational Guidelines, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Ministry of Rural Development.


Tags:

RTI rejections

November 1st, 2011 2 comments

The Right to Information Act, 2005, contains several exemptions which enable public authorities to deny requests for information. RTI Annual Return Reports for 2005-2010 give detailed information on use of these exemptions to reject RTI requests.

Exemptions to requests for information under the Act are primarily embodied in three sections – section 8, section 11, and section 24. Section 8 lists nine specific exemptions ranging from sovereignty of India to trade secrets. Sec 11 provides protection to confidential third party information. Sec 24 exempts certain security and intelligence organizations from the purview of the Act.

Of these, sections 8(1)(j), 8(1)(d) and 8(1)(e) are respectively the three most frequently invoked exemptions for the period 2005-2010, cumulatively amounting to almost three-fourths of all exemptions invoked.

 

orange

Section 8(1)(j) provides protection to personal information of individuals from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked over 30,000 times during 2005-2010, which amounts to almost 40% of all invocations of exemptions. Among ministries, the Finance Ministry has invoked this sub-section the most, followed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Section 8(1)(d) provides protection to trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked almost 15,000 times during 2005-2010, which constitutes 18% of all invocations of exemptions. As with sec 8(1)(j), the Finance Ministry has utilized this exemption the most, followed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

Section 8(1)(e) provides protection to information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked 11,639 times during 2005-2010, which accounts for almost 15% of all invocations of exemptions. The Finance Ministry has invoked this exemption more than any other ministry, both overall and for each individual year during 2005-2010. The Finance Ministry accounts for more than 50% of all invocations of this exemption, having invoked it over 6000 times. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is second, with a little over 1000 invocations of this exemption.

Ministry-wise Rejections

As discussed above, Finance Ministry has a large number of rejections, perhaps because of the larger number of requests that it receives.  It is also possible that the Finance Ministry receives a larger number of requests related to private and confidential information (such as Income Tax returns) as well as those which are held in a fiduciary capacity (such as details of accounts in nationalised banks).  Adjusted for the number of requests received, the Finance Ministry tops the rejection rate at 24%, followed by the Prime Minister’s Office (12%) and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (11%).
blue

Tags: