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Can the Supreme Court ask the government to frame a law?

December 23rd, 2010 4 comments

In a recent case, the Supreme Court directed the appropriate government to enact a law by June 2011.  The case, Gainda Ram & Ors. V. MCD and Ors.[1], concerned the legal framework for regulating hawking in Delhi.  The judgement lays out the background to this case by stating that the regulation of hawking in Delhi had been proceeding under directions issued by the Supreme Court in previous cases, and was being implemented by municipal authorities such as the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC).

The NDMC and the MCD have also framed schemes to regulate hawkers as per a policy of the government framed in 2004.  However, since these schemes were not laid before Parliament, the Court held that these schemes cannot be called ‘law’ or drafted under the authority of any law.  The Court also stated that there is an urgent need to enact a legislation to regulate hawking, and the rights of street vendors.

It referred to a Bill which had been framed by the government, and stated that since the government has already taken the first step in the legislative process by drafting a Bill, the legislative process should be completed.  On the basis of this, and other reasons, it directed the government to enact a law by June 2011.  This judgement raises three issues:

  1. The government is not the law making body in India.  Enacting a law is the function of Parliament and state legislatures.
  2. Even if the Court were to address the correct authority, Courts in India have no authority to direct the legislature to frame a law, let alone specify a time-period.  This may be said to violate the basic principle of “separation of powers” which states that the executive, legislature and judiciary should function independently of each other.  Under the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court and the High Courts have the power to protect fundamental rights and to interpret law.  The Constitution does not give power to Courts to direct the framing of a law.
  3. Persons can be held in contempt of court for not following its directions.  In this case, it is not clear who would be held in contempt for not enacting a law by June 2011.  The Supreme Court can either hold the Speaker of the Parliament in contempt for not enacting a law by the specified date (it is uncertain whether the Court has this power since no such past instance has arisen). Or it can hold the concerned government official in contempt for not enacting the law within the time period specified (the government in this case, having no power to enact a law).

[1] Decided on October 8, 2010