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Archive for April, 2014

EU bans imports of Alphonso mangoes: Is India’s biosecurity mechanism rigorous enough?

April 29th, 2014 2 comments

Recent news reports indicate that the European Union (EU) has banned imports of Alphonso mangoes and four vegetables from India due to the presence of harmful pests and a lack of certification before export.  The ban will be effective between May 1, 2014 and December 2015.  It has been suggested that the ban could impact the export of nearly 16 million mangoes from India, the market for which is worth nearly £6 million a year in a country like the United Kingdom. In this context, it may be useful to examine the regulation of agricultural biosecurity in India, particularly with respect to imports and exports of such agricultural produce.

Currently, two laws, the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1914 and the Livestock Importation Act, 1898, regulate the import and export of plants and animals with a view to control pests and diseases.  Under the laws, the authorities ensure that infectious diseases and pests do not cause widespread damage to the environment, crops, agricultural produce and human beings, i.e. the agricultural biosecurity of a country.  Common examples of pests and diseases have been the Banana bunchy top virus which stunts banana plants and stops production of fruit while another is the Avian Influenza, which caused extensive death of poultry and led to human deaths as well.

Under the existing Acts, different government departments and government-approved bodies are responsible for regulating imports and certifying exports to ensure that there are no threats to agricultural biosecurity.  The Department of Agriculture keeps a check on pests and diseases arising from plants and related produce, such as mangoes and vegetables, while the Department of Animal Husbandry monitors diseases relating to animals and meat products.  The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) certifies exports of different commodities related to plants and animals.  Various government committees have highlighted the ineffectiveness of the existing system due to its piecemeal approach and have recommended an integrated system to handle biosecurity issues.  It has also been suggested that the existing laws have not kept up with developments in agriculture and are inadequate to deal with the emergence of trans-boundary diseases that pose threats to human, animal and plant safety.

The Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, 2013, pending in Parliament seeks to replace these laws and establish a national authority, the Agricultural Biosecurity Authority of India (ABAI), to regulate biosecurity issues related to plants and animals.  ABAI shall be responsible for: (i) regulating the import and export of plants, animals and related products, (ii) implementing quarantine measures in case of the existence of pests, (iii) regulating the inter-state spread of pests and diseases relating to plants and animals, and (iv) undertaking regular surveillance of pests and diseases.  Under the Bill, exports of plants, animals and related products will only be allowed once ABAI has issued a sanitary or phytosanitary certificate in accordance with the destination country’s requirements. The penalty for exporting goods without adequate certification from ABAI is imprisonment upto two years and and a fine of Rs 2 lakh. The proposed ABAI will also meet India’s obligations to promote research and prevent pests and diseases under the International Plant Protection Convention and the Office International des Epizooties. A PRS analysis of various aspects of the Bill can be found here.

The Bill will lapse with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.  It remains to be seen how the incoming government in the 16th Lok Sabha will approach biosecurity issues to prevent incidents like the EU ban on imports of Indian fruits and vegetables in the future.

Ordinances promulgated during different Lok Sabhas

April 21st, 2014 3 comments

Recently, the President repromulgated the Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, which expands the Securities and Exchange Board Act’s (SEBI) powers related to search and seizure and permits SEBI to enter into consent settlements.  The President also promulgated the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014, which establishes special courts for the trial of offences against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  With the promulgation of these two Ordinances, a total of 25 Ordinances have been promulgated during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha so far.

Ordinances are temporary laws which can be issued by the President when Parliament is not in session.  Ordinances are issued by the President based on the advice of the Union Cabinet. The purpose of Ordinances is to allow governments to take immediate legislative action if circumstances make it necessary to do so at a time when Parliament is not in session.

Often though Ordinances are used by governments to pass legislation which is currently pending in Parliament, as was the case with the Food Security Ordinance last year. Governments also take the Ordinance route to address matters of public concern as was the case with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which was issued in response to the protests surrounding the Delhi gang rape incident.

Since the beginning of the first Lok Sabha in 1952, 637 Ordinances have been promulgated. The graph below gives a breakdown of the number of Bills passed by each Lok Sabha since 1952, as well as the number of Ordinances promulgated during each Lok Sabha.

Ordinances

Ordinance Making Power of the President

The President has been empowered to promulgate Ordinances based on the advice of the central government under Article 123 of the Constitution. This legislative power is available to the President only when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session to enact laws.  Additionally, the President cannot promulgate an Ordinance unless he ‘is satisfied’ that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action’.

Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. They also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both Houses.

History of Ordinances

Ordinances were incorporated into the Constitution from Section 42 and 43 of the Government of India Act, 1935, which authorised the then Governor General to promulgate Ordinances ‘if circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action’. Interestingly, most democracies including Britain, the United States of America, Australia and Canada do not have provisions similar to that of Ordinances in the Indian Constitution. The reason for an absence of such a provision is because legislatures in these countries meet year long.

Ordinances became part of the Indian Constitution after much debate and discussion. Some Members of the Constituent Assembly emphasised that the Ordinance making power of the President was extraordinary and issuing of Ordinances could be interpreted as against constitutional morality. Some Members felt that Ordinances were a hindrance to personal freedom and a relic of foreign rule. Others argued that Ordinances should be left as a provision to be used only in the case of emergencies, for example, in the breakdown of State machinery. As a safeguard, Members argued that the provision that a session of Parliament must be held within 6 months of passing an Ordinance be added.

Repromulgation of Ordinances

Ordinances are only temporary laws as they must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. However, governments have promulgated some ordinances multiple times. For example, The Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 was recently repromulgated for the third time during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha. Repromulgation of Ordinances raises questions about the legislative authority of the Parliament as the highest law making body.

In the 1986 Supreme Court judgment of D.C. Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar, where the court was examining a case where a state government (under the authority of the Governor) continued to re-promulgate Ordinances, the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed:

“The power to promulgate an Ordinance is essentially a power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be “perverted to serve political ends”. It is contrary to all democratic norms that the Executive should have the power to make a law, but in order to meet an emergent situation, this power is conferred on the Governor and an Ordinance issued by the Governor in exercise of this power must, therefore, of necessity be limited in point of time.”

Repromulgation

Ordinances by governments
 
Thanks to Vinayak Rajesekhar for helping with research on this blog post.

Model Code of Conduct and the 2014 General Elections

April 14th, 2014 7 comments

Recently, the Election Commission has recommended postponing certain policy decisions of the government related to natural gas pricing, and notifying ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats, by invoking the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).  It has also censured several candidates for violating the MCC.  In light of these recent events, we outline the key features of the MCC below.

What is the Model Code of Conduct and who does it apply to?

The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures.

The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.  Thus, for the general elections this year, the MCC came into force on March 5, 2014, when the election schedule was announced, and will operate till May 16, 2014, when the final results will be announced.

How has the Model Code of Conduct evolved over time?

According to the Press Information Bureau, a form of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.  It was a set of instructions to political parties regarding election meetings, speeches, slogans, etc.

In the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the MCC was circulated to recognised parties, and state governments sought feedback from the parties.  The MCC was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections.

In 1979, the Election Commission added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.  In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include guidelines regarding election manifestos, which it has included in the MCC for the 2014 general elections.

What are the key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct?

The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, party in power, and election manifestos.  Major provisions of the MCC are outlined below.

  • General Conduct:  Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work.  Activities such as:  (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes,  (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports,  (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
  • Meetings:  Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
  • Processions:  If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash.  Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
  • Polling day:  All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges.  These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
  • Polling booths:  Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
  • Observers:  The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
  • Party in power:  The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power.  Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.  The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.  Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc.   Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.
  • Election manifestos:  Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

Is the Model Code of Conduct legally binding?

The MCC is not enforceable by law.  However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding; stating that elections must be completed within a relatively short time (close to 45 days),  and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.

On the other hand, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding.  In a report on electoral reforms, the Standing Committee observed that most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above.  It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.