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Pre-legislative scrutiny: How can citizens be more actively involved?

December 18th, 2010 1 comment

In recent public discourse over lobbying, two issues that have underscored the debate are:

  1. Greater transparency in the policymaking process, and
  2. Equality of access for all stakeholders in engaging with the process.

There is a need to build linkages between citizens and the policy making process, especially by strengthening scrutiny before a Bill is introduced in Parliament. Currently, there is no process established to ensure pre-legislative scrutiny by the citizenry.

Other democracies incorporate several measures to enhance public engagement in the pre-legislative process. These include:

  • Making all Bills available in the public domain for a stipulated period before introducing them in the legislature. This includes, publishing these Bills in forms (language, medium etc) that are accessible to the general public.
  • Making a report or Green paper on the legislative priorities addressed by the Bill available for citizens.
  • Forming adhoc committees to scrutinise the Bill before it is piloted in the House.
  • Having Standing Committees examine the Bill before introducing it in the House.
  • Providing a financial memorandum for each Bill, which specifies the budgetary allocation for the process/bodies created by the Bill.
  • Creating online fora for discussion. For the sections of the stakeholders who have limited access to the internet, efforts are made to proactively consult them through other media.
  • Expanding the purview of citizens’ right to petition their representatives with legislative proposals.

There are several instances, in the last few years itself, wherein civil society groups have played an active role in the development of pre-legislative scrutiny in India.

  • Public consultation with cross-section of stakeholders when drafting a Bill: The Right to Information Act is seen as a landmark legislation when highlighting the role of civil society actors in the drafting of a Bill.  It also serves as a prime example for how it the movement mobilised widespread public opinion for the Bill, bringing together different sections of the citizenry.
  • Public feedback on draft Bills: In several cases, after a Bill has been drafted the concerned ministry or public body publishes the Bill, inviting public comments. The Right to Education Bill, the National Identification Authority Bill and the Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill 2009 are recent cases in point. These announcements are made through advertisements published in newspapers and other media. For instance, the government has recently proposed to amend the rules of the RTI and has invited public feedback on the rules by December 27.
  • Engaging with legislators: It is important to expand engagement with lawmakers after the Bill has been introduced in Parliament, as they will determine what the law will finally contain.  This is done by approaching individual legislators or members of the committee which is likely to examine the legislation. Standing Committees invite feedback on the Bill through newspaper advertisements.  For instance, the Standing Committee examining the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill heard testimonies from journalists, civil society groups, thinktanks, public bodies and government departments.

The role of the media and channelising the potential of the internet are other key approaches that need to be explored. Other examples and channels of engagement with the legislative process are illustrated in the PRS Primer on Engaging with Policymakers

Summary: Civil Liability for Nuclear damage Bill, 2010

May 25th, 2010 3 comments

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on may 7, 2010.  The following is PRS’s summary of the Bill (The Bill summary and the Bill along with related media articles can also be accessed on the PRS Website):

The main features of the Bill are:

a. It defines nuclear incidents and nuclear damage, nuclear fuel, material and nuclear installations, and also operators of nuclear installations.

b. It lays down who will be liable for nuclear damage, and the financial limit of the liability for a nuclear incident.

c. It creates authorities who will assess claims and distribute compensation in cases of nuclear damage. It also specifies who can claim compensation for nuclear damage, and how compensation can be claimed and distributed.

d. It specifies penalties for not complying with the provisions of the Bill, or any directions issued under it.

Nuclear damage means (a) loss of life or injury to a person, or loss of, or damage to property caused by a nuclear incident (b) economic loss arising out of such damage to person or property, (c) costs of measures to repair the damage caused to the environment, and (d) costs of preventive measures.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has to notify a nuclear incident within 15 days from the date of a nuclear incident occurring.

The operator of a nuclear installation will be liable for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident in that installation or if he is in charge of nuclear material. If more than one operator is liable for nuclear damage, all operators shall be jointly, and also individually liable to pay compensation for the damage. The Bill also provides certain exceptions to an operator’s liability.

The operator has a right of recourse against the supplier and other individuals responsible for the damage under certain conditions.

The Bill states that the total liability for a nuclear incident shall not exceed 300 million Special Drawing Rights (Approximately Rs 2100 crore at current exchange rates).

Within this amount, the liability of the operator shall be Rs 500 crore. If the liability exceeds Rs 500 crore, the central government shall be liable for the amount exceeding Rs 500 crore (up to SDR 300 million). If damage is caused in a nuclear installation owned by the central government, the government will be solely liable.

The Bill allows the central government to create two authorities by notification:

a. Claims Commissioner: The Claims Commissioner will have certain powers of a civil court. Once a nuclear incident is notified, the Commissioner will invite applications for claiming compensation.

b. Nuclear Damage Claims Commission: If the central government thinks that with regard to a nuclear incident (a) the amount of compensation may exceed Rs 500 crore, or (b) it is necessary that claims will be heard by the Commission and not the Claims Commissioner, or (c) that it is in public interest, it can establish a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission. The Commission shall have the same powers as that of a Claims Commissioner.

An application for claiming compensation can be made by (a) person sustaining the injury, (b) owner of the damaged property, (c) legal representative of a deceased person, or (d) an authorised agent. An application can be made within three years from the date of the person having knowledge of nuclear damage. This right to make an application is however exhausted after a period of ten years from the date of the notification of the nuclear incident.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010. The main features of the Bill are:

a. It defines nuclear incidents and nuclear damage, nuclear fuel, material and nuclear installations, and also operators of nuclear installations.

b. It lays down who will be liable for nuclear damage, and the financial limit of the liability for a nuclear incident.

c. It creates authorities who will assess claims and distribute compensation in cases of nuclear damage. It also specifies who can claim compensation for nuclear damage, and how compensation can be claimed and distributed.

d. It specifies penalties for not complying with the provisions of the Bill, or any directions issued under it.

§ Nuclear damage means (a) loss of life or injury to a person, or loss of, or damage to property caused by a nuclear incident (b) economic loss arising out of such damage to person or property, (c) costs of measures to repair the damage caused to the environment, and (d) costs of preventive measures.

§ The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has to notify a nuclear incident within 15 days from the date of a nuclear incident occurring.

§ The operator of a nuclear installation will be liable for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident in that installation or if he is in charge of nuclear material. If more than one operator is liable for nuclear damage, all operators shall be jointly, and also individually liable to pay compensation for the damage. The Bill also provides certain exceptions to an operator’s liability.

§ The operator has a right of recourse against the supplier and other individuals responsible for the damage under certain conditions.

§ The Bill states that the total liability for a nuclear incident shall not exceed 300 million Special Drawing Rights (Approximately Rs 2100 crore at current exchange rates).

§ Within this amount, the liability of the operator shall be Rs 500 crore. If the liability exceeds Rs 500 crore, the central government shall be liable for the amount exceeding Rs 500 crore (up to SDR 300 million). If damage is caused in a nuclear installation owned by the central government, the government will be solely liable.

§ The Bill allows the central government to create two authorities by notification:

a. Claims Commissioner: The Claims Commissioner will have certain powers of a civil court. Once a nuclear incident is notified, the Commissioner will invite applications for claiming compensation.

b. Nuclear Damage Claims Commission: If the central government thinks that with regard to a nuclear incident (a) the amount of compensation may exceed Rs 500 crore, or (b) it is necessary that claims will be heard by the Commission and not the Claims Commissioner, or (c) that it is in public interest, it can establish a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission. The Commission shall have the same powers as that of a Claims Commissioner.

An application for claiming compensation can be made by (a) person sustaining the injury, (b) owner of the damaged property, (c) legal representative of a deceased person, or (d) an authorised agent. An application can be made within three years from the date of the person having knowledge of nuclear damage. This right to make an application is however exhausted after a period of ten years from the date of the notification of the nuclear incident.

How is a law enacted in Parliament?

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Because of the interest in the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, we’ve received a number of queries about the process by which a bill becomes an Act.

We have a more comprehensive primer on the subject, but here’s the process in brief:

• The ministry drafts a text of the proposed law, which is called a ‘Bill’, after calling comments from other ministries, and even from the public.  The draft is revised to incorporate such inputs and is then vetted by the Law Ministry. It is then presented to the Cabinet for approval.

• After the Cabinet approves the Bill, it is introduced in Parliament. In Parliament, it goes through three Readings in both Houses.

• During the First Reading the Bill is introduced. The introduction of a Bill may be opposed and the matter may be put to a vote in the House.

• After a Bill has been introduced, the Bill may be referred to the concerned Departmentally Related Standing Committee for examination.

• The Standing Committee considers the broad objectives and the specific clauses of the Bill referred to it and may invite public comments on a Bill. It then submits its recommendations in the form of a report to Parliament.

• In the Second Reading (Consideration), the Bill is scrutinized thoroughly. Each clause of the Bill is discussed and may be accepted, amended or rejected. The government, or any MP, may introduce amendments to the Bill.  However, the government is not bound to accept the Committee’s recommendations.

• During the Third Reading (Passing), the House votes on the redrafted Bill.

• If the Bill is passed in one House, it is then sent to the other House, where it goes through the second and third readings.

• After both Houses of Parliament pass a Bill, it is presented to the President for assent.   He/She has the right to seek information and clarification about the Bill, and may return it to Parliament for reconsideration. (If both Houses pass the Bill again, the President has to assent)

• After the President gives assent, the Bill is notified as an Act.