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Posts Tagged ‘Lok Sabha’

16वीं लोकसभा- मौके हैं तो मुश्किलें भी

May 20th, 2014 No comments

हम सबने यह देखा है कि भारतीय संसदीय इतिहास में 15वीं लोकसभा का कार्यकाल सबसे निराशाजनक में से एक रहा। कमोबेश निर्धारित समय का 40 फीसद बाधित रहा। पूर्ण लोकसभा के कार्यकाल में सबसे कम बिल पारित हुए। इससे न केवल सरकार के विधायी कार्य गंभीर रूप से बाधित हुए बल्कि अपने निर्वाचिकों का प्रतिनिधित्व करते हुए हमारे सांसद सरकार को जवाबदेह बनाने के मौके से भी वंचित रहे। अक्सर बाधित रहने, पेपर स्प्रे कांड, कार्यवाही का वाकआउट और लोकसभा अध्यक्ष द्वारा बार-बार व्यवस्था बनाए रखने की मनुहार करते रहने वाकयों के लिए 15वीं लोकसभा याद की जाती रही। अब जब 15वीं लोकसभा अपने कार्यकाल की समाप्ति की ओर पहुंच चुकी है, तो ऐसा लगता है कि यह महत्वपूर्ण संस्था अपनी साख और विश्वसनीयता खोती दिख रही है। ऐसे में 16वीं लोकसभा से इसकी साख और विश्वसनीयता बरकरार रखने की लोगों की अपेक्षाएं और आकांक्षाएं ज्यादा बढ़ जाती हैं।

विधायी एजेंडा

राज्यसभा में मौजूदा समय में 60 बिल लंबित हैं। इनमें राइट्स ऑफ पर्सन्स विद डिसएबिलिटीज बिल भी शामिल है। लोगों को विशिष्ट पहचान संख्या जारी करने के लिए स्थापित किए जाने वाले राष्ट्रीय पहचान प्राधिकरण संबंधी नेशनल आइडेंटीफिकेशन अथॉरिटी ऑफ इंडिया बिल और भ्रष्टाचार को रोकने के लिए भ्रष्टाचार निरोधक (संशोधन) बिल भी लंबित हैं। इनमें से कई बिलों के अपने खास महत्व हैं और ये बड़ी संख्या में लोगों को प्रभावित करते हैं। नई गठित लोकसभा को इन बिलों को पारित करने को अपनी प्राथमिकता में लेना होगा।

इसके अतिरिक्त भ्रष्टाचार को रोकने संबंधी बिलों का एक पूरा समूह है जिसे पूर्व की लोकसभा में सिरे नहीं चढ़ाया जा सका। भ्रष्टाचार से निपटने के लिए संसद में पेश किए गए इन नौ बिलों में से केवल तीन ही दोनों सदनों से पारित किए जा सके हैं। बचे हुए छह बिल सिटिजन चार्टर, इलेक्ट्रॉनिक सर्विस डिलीवरी, बेनामी ट्रांजैक्शन, सरकारी खरीदफरोख्त, ज्युडिशियल स्टैंडर्ड और प्रीवेंशन ऑफ ब्राइबेरी ऑफ फॉरेन ऑफिशियल लैप्स हो चुके हैं। वित्तीय और आर्थिक क्षेत्रों से जुड़े कुछ अहम बिल जैसे जीएसटी बिल, डायरेक्ट कोड बिल, माइक्रोफाइनेंस बिल और माइंस व मिनरल्स बिल पिछली लोकसभा से नहीं पारित कराए जा सके।

संसद को मजबूती

हमारे प्रतिनिधि लोकतंत्र में चुने गए प्रतिनिधि अपने मतदाताओं के प्रति जवाबदेह होते हैं। अपने वर्तमान स्वरूप में एंटी डिफेक्शन लॉ हमारे लोकतंत्र की स्वत: स्फूर्त प्रक्रिया चेक एंड बैलेंस को कमजोर करता है। इस बिल का मकसद सरकार की अस्थिरता को कम करना था, लेकिन यह सांसदों के उनके निर्वाचकों के हितों की आवाज उठाने की स्वतंत्रता को सीमित करता दिखता है। 15वीं लोकसभा में करीब एक चौथाई बिल 30 मिनट के भीतर ही पारित हो गए जिसका आशय यह है कि व्यावहारिक रूप से इनको लेकर कोई बहस नहीं हुई। 25 फीसद से कम बिलों पर तीन घंटे से अधिक की बहस हुई। यह संकेत देता है कि महत्वपूर्ण मसलों से संबंधी बिल अक्सर अपर्याप्त बहस और समझ के ही पारित हो रहे हैं। नई लोकसभा को अपने सांसदों को उचित मौके और पर्याप्त समय देना चाहिए जिससे वे किसी बिल को लेकर अपनी राय जाहिर कर सकें और बिल को पारित करने से पहले उसके विभिन्न प्रावधानों के निहितार्थ सामने आ सकें। अधिकांश बिल ध्वनिमत से पारित हो जाते हैं। इसमें किसी को यह पता नहीं चलता कि इस पर प्रत्येक सांसद ने कैसे और किस तरह वोट किया। किसी बिल पर सांसदों द्वारा किए गए वोट को सार्वजनिक किया जाना चाहिए। इससे सांसदों और संसद की कार्यशैली में बहुत बड़ी पारदर्शिता और जवाबदेही लायी जा सकती है। कुछ अन्य सीमाएं भी अस्तित्व में हैं जो संसद को ज्यादा प्रभावी होने के आड़े आती हैं। इनमें सांसदों को उनके संसदीय उत्तरदायित्व निभाने के लिए रिसर्च की अपर्याप्त मदद, एक कमजोर कमेटी प्रणाली जिसकी कार्यप्रणाली पारदर्शी नहीं है, विधायी जांच और फीडबैक से पहले की प्रक्रिया की कमी, सदन में मामलों को उठाने के लिए सांसदों के पास पर्याप्त समय की अनुपलब्धता आदि शामिल हैं। इन बाधाओं को दूर करके नई गठित लोकसभा के सदस्य अपना उत्तरदायित्व प्रभावी तरीके से संपन्न कर पाएंगे।

संसद उन कुछ चुनिंदा संस्थाओं में है जिसे हमारे पूर्वजों ने इस भरोसे के साथ हमें सौंपा है जिस पर हम तर्कसंगत तरीके से गर्व कर सकें। 16वीं लोकसभा के हमारे प्रतिनिधियों के पास अब उस दायित्व को पूरा करने के लिए वह मौका और चुनौती है जिसकी मदद से हम सब अधिक विचारात्मक और सृजनात्मक लोकतंत्र की ओर आगे बढ़ सकें।

- This article was published in Dainik Jagran on May 18, 2014.

Status of Legislation in the 15th Lok Sabha

August 19th, 2013 No comments

The ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament is being widely viewed as the ‘make or break’ session for passing legislation before the end of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. Hanging in balance are numerous important Bills, which will lapse if not passed before the upcoming 2014 national elections.

Data indicates that the current Lok Sabha has passed the least number of Bills in comparison to other comparable Lok Sabhas. The allocated time to be spent on legislation in the Monsoon Session is also below the time recommended for discussion and passing of Bills by the Business Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha. Eight out of a total of 16 sittings of the Monsoon Session have finished with only 15 percent of the total time spent productively.

Success rate of the 15th Lok Sabha in passing legislation

India’s first Lok Sabha (1952-1957)  passed a total of 333 Bills in its five year tenure. Since then, every Lok Sabha which has completed over three years of its full term has passed an average of 317 Bills. Where a Lok Sabha has lasted for less than 3 years, it has passed an average of 77 Bills. This includes the 6th, 9th, 11th and 12th Lok Sabhas. The ongoing 15th Lok Sabha, which is in the fifth year of its tenure, has passed only 151 Bills (This includes the two Bills passed in the Monsoon Session as of August 18, 2013).

In terms of parliamentary sessions, Lok Sabhas that have lasted over three years have had an average of fifteen sessions. The 15th Lok Sabha has finished thirteen parliamentary sessions with the fourteenth (Monsoon Session) currently underway.

Bills Passed by Lok Sabhas

Legislative business accomplished in the 15th Lok Sabha

For the 15th Lok Sabha, a comparison of the government’s legislative agenda at the beginning of a parliamentary session with the actual number of Bills introduced and passed at the end of the session shows that: (i) on average, government has a success rate of getting 39 percent of Bills passed; and (ii) on average, 60 percent success rate in getting Bills introduced.

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The Monsoon Session of Parliament was scheduled to have a total of 16 sitting days between August 5-30, 2013. Of the 43 Bills listed for consideration and passage, 32 are Bills pending from previous sessions. As of August 18, 2013, the Rajya Sabha had passed a total of five Bills while the Lok Sabha had passed none. Of the 25 Bills listed for introduction, ten have been introduced so far.

The Budget Session of Parliament earlier this year saw the passage of only two Bills, apart from the appropriation Bills,  of the 38 listed for passing. These were the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill.

Time allocated for legislation in the Monsoon Session

The Lok Sabha is scheduled to meet for six hours and the Rajya Sabha for five hours every day.  Both houses have a question hour and a zero hour at the beginning of the day, which leaves four hours for legislative business in the Lok Sabha and three hours in the Rajya Sabha. However, both Houses can decide to meet for a longer duration. For example, Rajya Sabha has decided to meet till 6:00 PM every day in the Monsoon Session as against the normal working hours of the House until 5:00 PM.

The Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of both Houses recommends the time that should be allocated for discussion on each Bill. This session’s legislative agenda includes a total of 43 Bills to be passed by Parliament.  So far, 30 of the Bills have been allocated time by the BAC, adding up to a total of 78 hours of discussion before passing.

If the Lok Sabha was to discuss and debate the 30 Bills for roughly the same time as was recommended by the BAC, it would need a minimum of 20 working days.  In addition, extra working days would need to be allocated to discuss and debate the remaining 13 Bills.

With eight sitting days left and not a single Bill being passed by the Lok Sabha, it is unclear how the Lok Sabha will be able to make up the time to pass Bills with thorough debate.

 

House of Lost Opportunities

May 2nd, 2013 No comments

The last few days have seen repeated disruptions in Parliament. In an Opinion Editorial published in the Indian Express, Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research discusses the impact of the current disruptions on Parliament. His analysis points to how disruptions are an opportunity lost  to hold the government accountable and to deliberate on significant legislative and policy issues.

The second half of the budget session commenced last week with hardly any business transacted due to disruptions on different issues. This is not new. The 15th Lok Sabha has seen entire parliamentary sessions lost without any work being done. As it nears the end of its term, Parliament’s productive time stands at 70 per cent, which is significantly lower than that of previous Lok Sabhas.

As disruptions in Parliament have become routine, public reaction to such disruptions has also become predictable. Figures depicting the quantum of taxpayers’ money lost every hour that Parliament does not function start doing the rounds, and the cry for docking the salary of disrupting members of Parliament becomes louder. What does not get adequate attention is the opportunity lost for holding the government accountable and deliberating on important legislative and policy issues.

MPs are required to keep the government in check and oversee its functioning. One of the ways in which they do so is by asking ministers questions about the work done by their ministries. Ministers respond to such questions during the first hour of Parliament, which is known as question hour. During this hour, 20 questions are slotted for oral responses by ministers. Based on the response, MPs can cross-question and corner the minister by asking supplementary questions. On certain occasions, they are also able to extract assurances from the minister to take action on certain issues. When question hour is disrupted, not only are these opportunities lost, it also leads to ineffective scrutiny of the work done by the various ministries of the government. Last week, some of the questions that could not be orally answered related to four-laning of highways, performance of public sector steel companies, supply of food grains for welfare schemes, and generic versions of cancer drugs. In 2012, out of the 146 hours allocated for question hour in both Houses of Parliament, roughly only 57 hours were utilised. Since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, approximately 43 per cent of the allocated time has been spent on question hour.

When Parliament is disrupted regularly, its capacity to make laws is affected. Excluding routine financial legislation, since 2009, the government had planned to introduce 390 bills. So far, it has been able to introduce only 187 of them. It had also planned to have 365 bills scrutinised and passed by Parliament. So far, 96 of them have received parliamentary approval. Disruptions in Parliament also eat into the time available for discussing a bill in the house. In Lok Sabha, roughly 35 per cent of bills were passed with an hour or less of debate, a case being the sexual harassment bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha in September of last year in 16 minutes. Some would argue that since parliamentary committees scrutinise most bills in detail, there is no harm done if the bills are not debated in the House. However scrutiny of a bill behind closed doors is hardly a substitute for spirited debates on the merits and demerits of a bill on the floor of the House. Currently there are 115 bills awaiting parliamentary scrutiny and approval. Important social and economic legislation is currently pending before Parliament. The food security bill, the land acquisition bill, the companies and the goods and services tax bill are just a few of them.

Out of the laundry list of pending bills, some are political and may be stuck in Parliament till consensus around them can be built. But there are a number of bills that are administrative in nature, and have no political undercurrents and are possibly not coming up for discussion because of the limited time that is available for legislative debate on account of frequent disruptions.

In September 1997, to celebrate the golden jubilee of the country’s Independence, a special session of Parliament was convened. At this special session, MPs had resolved to preserve and enhance the dignity of Parliament by adhering to the rules of procedure of Parliament relating to the orderly conduct of parliamentary proceedings. Last year, Parliament completed 60 years since its first sitting. To mark the occasion, another special session of both Houses was convened, where MPs had resolved to uphold the dignity, sanctity and supremacy of Parliament. Ensuring that the proceedings of both Houses run smoothly so that Parliament can discharge its responsibility effectively is the best way of ensuring its supremacy. The question that needs to be asked is whether our members of Parliament are ready to stand by the resolutions that they voluntarily adopted.

Lokpal Bill: Cabinet accepts key suggestions of the Select Committee

February 5th, 2013 1 comment

In the run up to the Budget session of Parliament, the Cabinet has decided to accept some of the key recommendations of the Select Committee on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011.  The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, was referred to a Select Committee by the Rajya Sabha.  The Select Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill a year later in November 2012.  At the Cabinet meeting held on January 31, 2013, the government has accepted some of these recommendations (see here for PRS comparison of the Bill, Select Committee recommendations and the approved amendments).

Key approved amendments

Lokayuktas: One of the most contentious issues in the Lokpal debate has been the establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level.  The Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha gave a detailed structure of the Lokayuktas.  However, the Committee was of the opinion that while each state has to set up a Lokayukta within a year of the Act coming into force, the nature and type of the Lokayuktas should be decided by the states.  The Cabinet has agreed with the suggestion of the Committee.

Inclusion of NGOs: Currently, “public servant” is defined in the Indian Penal Code to include government officials, judges, employees of universities, Members of Parliament, Ministers etc. The Bill expanded this definition by bringing societies and trusts which receive donations from the public (over a specified annual income) and, organizations which receive foreign donations (over Rs 10 lakh a year) within the purview of the Lokpal.  The Committee had however objected to the inclusion of organisations that receive donations from the public on the ground that bodies such as a rotary club or a resident’s welfare association may also be covered under the Lokpal. Bringing such entities within the Lokpal’s purview would make it unmanageable.  The Cabinet decided not to accept this recommendation stating that this view had been accepted by the Standing Committee while examining the version of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha.  However, the government has exempted trusts or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act.

Procedure of inquiry and investigation:  A key recommendation of the Committee was to allow the Lokpal to directly order an investigation if a prima facie case existed (based on the complaint received).  The Cabinet has accepted this suggestion but suggested that the Lokpal should, before deciding that a prima facie case exists, call the public servant for a hearing.  An investigation should be ordered only after hearing the public servant.  Also, the Cabinet has not accepted the recommendation of the Committee that a public servant should be allowed a hearing only at the end of the investigation before filing the charge-sheet and not at any of the previous stages of the inquiry.

 Power to grant sanction:  One of the key reasons cited for delays in prosecuting corrupt public officials is the requirement of a sanction from the government before a public servant can be prosecuted.  The Bill shifts the power to grant sanction from the government to the Lokpal.  It states that the investigation report shall be considered by a 3-member Lokpal bench before filing a charge-sheet or initiating disciplinary proceedings against the public servant.  The Committee recommended that at this point both the competent authority (to whom the public servant is responsible) and the concerned public servant should be given a hearing.  This has been accepted by the Cabinet.

Reforms of CBI:  There are divergent views over the role and independence of the CBI.  The Committee made several recommendations for strengthening the CBI.  They include:  (a) the appointment of the Director of CBI will be through a collegium comprising of the PM, Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India; (b) the power of superintendence over CBI in relation to Lok Pal referred cases shall vest in the Lokpal; (c) CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal will be transferred with the approval of the Lokpal; and (d) for cases referred by the Lokpal, the CBI may appoint a panel of advocates (other than government advocates) with the consent of the Lok pal.  All the recommendations regarding the CBI has been accepted by the Cabinet except one that requires the approval of the Lokpal to transfer officers of CBI investigating cases referred by the Lokpal.

Eligibility of Lokpal member:  According to the Bill, any person connected with a political party cannot be a member of the Lokpal.  The Committee’s recommendation was to change the term connected to affiliated to remove any ambiguity about the meaning.  This suggestion was accepted by the government.

Now the interesting question is what happens if the Rajya Sabha passes the Bill with these amendments.  The Bill will have to go back to the Lok Sabha for its approval since new amendments were added by the Rajya Sabha.  If the Lok Sabha passes these amendments, the office of the Lokpal may finally see the light of day.  (See here for PRS analysis of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011).

Lapses in the process of drug approval in India

May 29th, 2012 1 comment

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare tabled a Report in Parliament on May 8, 2012, on the functioning of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO).  CDSCO is the agency mandated with the regulation of drugs and cosmetics in India.  The Report covers various aspects of drug regulation including organizational structure and strength of CDSCO, approval of new drugs, and banning of drugs, among others.

Following the Report, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare has constituted a Committee to look into the procedure for drug regulation.  The Committee is expected to make its submissions within a period of two months.

This post focuses on irregularities in the approval of new drugs by CDSCO.  It discusses the regulations relating to drug approval and the Standing Committee’s observations on the working of CDSCO.

Approval of new drugs

Drugs are regulated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945 [Rules].  The CDSCO, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is the authority that approves new drugs for manufacture and import.  State Drug Authorities are the licensing authorities for marketing drugs.

New Drugs are defined as:

  • drugs that have not been used in the country before,
  • drugs that have been approved by a Licensing Authority but are now being marketed for different purposes, and
  • fixed dose combinations of two or more drugs that have been individually approved before but are proposed to be combined in a fixed ratio that has not been approved.

The Rules require an applicant for a new drug to conduct clinical trials in India to determine the drug’s safety and efficacy.  These trials are necessary for both domestically manufactured and imported drugs.  However, the authority can exempt a drug from the requirement of local and clinical trials in the public interest based on data available in other countries.

Observations and recommendations of the Committee

The Committee found that a total of 31 new drugs were approved between January 2008 and October 2010 without conducting clinical trials on Indian patients.  The Report mentioned that drug manufacturers, CDSCO officials and medical experts colluded to approve drugs in violation of laws.  Following are some of the Report’s findings:

  • Under the Rules, the Drugs Controller General (India) (DCGI), the head of CDSCO, can clear sites of clinical trials after ensuring that major ethnic groups are enrolled in these trials to have a truly representative sample.  This rule was violated by the DCGI when sites for clinical trials were approved without ensuring diversity.  The Committee recommended that the DCGI approve sites for trials only if they cover patients from major ethnic backgrounds.
  •  The Report found that certain actions by experts were in violation of the Code of Ethics of the Medical Council of India.  A review of expert opinions revealed that several medical expert recommendations had been given as personal opinions rather than on the basis of scientific data.  Additionally, many expert opinions were written by what the Report calls ‘the invisible hands’ of drug manufacturers.  The Committee recommended that CDSCO formulate a clear set of written guidelines on the selection process of experts with emphasis on expertise in the area of drugs.
  •  The Rules ban the import and marketing of any drug whose use is prohibited in the country of origin.  CDSCO violated this rule by approving certain Fixed Dose Combination drugs for clinical trials without considering the drugs’ regulatory status in their respective country of origin.  Drugs such as Deanxit and Buclizine, which have been prohibited for sale and use in their countries of origin, Denmark and Belgium, respectively, were approved for clinical trials.  The Committee recommended an inquiry into the unlawful approval of these drugs.
  • The Rules require animal studies to be conducted for approval of a drug for use by women of reproductive age.  CDSCO violated this rule in approving Letrozole for treating female infertility.  Globally the drug has only been used as an anti-cancer drug for use among post-menopausal women.  The drug has not been permitted for use among women of reproductive age because of side effects.  The Committee recommended that responsibility be fixed for unlawfully approving Letrozole.
  •  Rules require Post-marketing Safety Update Reports (PSURs) on drugs to be submitted to CDSCO.  PSURs are used to collect information on adverse effects of drugs on Indian patients as a result of ethnic differences.  When asked by the Committee to furnish PSURs on 42 randomly selected new drugs, the Ministry was able to submit PSURs for only 8 drugs.  The Report contended that this action reflected a poor follow-up of side effects on Indian patients.  The Committee recommended that manufacturers of new drugs be warned about suspension of marketing approval unless they comply with mandatory rules on PSURs.

 

Are measures to minimize conflict of interest of MPs adequate?

December 21st, 2010 2 comments

In India, one of the common threads that run through many of the corruption scandals is the issue of conflict of interest i.e. public officials taking policy decisions based on their personal interest.  For example, Shashi Tharoor in the IPL controversy or Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh Housing Society scam.

Many countries take measures to minimize conflict of interest of its MPs by regulating membership of parliamentarians in Committees, making it mandatory for them to declare pecuniary interest, and restricting employment both during and after completion of tenure.  For example, the US Senate has a detailed Code of Official Conduct that provides guidelines on conflict of interest.

India also has some measures in place to minimize conflict of interest.  These are codified in the Code of Conduct for Ministers, Code of Conduct for Members of the Rajya Sabha, Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and Handbook for Members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.  Every Rajya Sabha MP has to declare his or her interest (along with assets and liabilities).  He has to declare five pecuniary interests:  remunerative directorship, remunerated activity, majority shareholding, paid consultancy and professional engagement.  Lok Sabha MPs can object to another MP joining a parliamentary committee on grounds that he has personal, pecuniary or direct interest.  (For more details, see PRS note on Conflict of Interest Issues in Parliament).

On December 1, 2010, PRS held its annual Conference on Effective Legislatures.  One of the topics discussed was MPs and Conflict of Interest: Issues and Resolution.  Panelists included D Raja, Prakash Javdekar and Supriya Sule.  Issues such as requirement for transparency, expertise of legislators, election of honest legislators, and ethical media were discussed.  The issues that were raised during the discussion are summarised in the PRS Summary of Proceedings from the Conference.

From the states: Data on functioning of state legislatures

December 20th, 2010 No comments

Apropos Madhukar’s post on available information on the functioning of state legislatures, data on the number of days State Assemblies shows a mixed trend over the 2000 to 2010 period. However, most states uniformly under perform when it comes to number of days of sitting. (Spreadsheet with relevant data here)

As with Parliament, state assemblies are convened at the will of the executive. In comparison to the Lok Sabha, the state assemblies perform miserably. In any given year, most state assemblies do not sit for even half the number of the days clocked by the Lok Sabha.

Can Ministers be summoned by Public Accounts Committee?

December 16th, 2010 No comments

The Public Accounts Committee  examines how the Government spends public money. It examines the amount granted by the Parliament and the amount actually spent.

A Speaker in the past, has passed a direction which specifies clearly that a Minister cannot be summoned by the Financial Committees.  This has been incorporated in a document titled “Directions by the Speaker” available here.

The actual text of the direction reads -

“99. (1) The Committee on Estimates or the Committee on Public Accounts or the Committee on Public Undertakings may call officials to give evidence in connection with the examination of the estimates and accounts, respectively, relating to a particular Ministry or Undertaking. But a Minister shall not be called before the Committee either to give evidence or for consultation in connection with the examination of estimates or accounts by the Committee.”

-Co-authored by Chakshu

The right to petition Parliament

December 15th, 2010 3 comments

What is petitioning?

Petitioning is a formal process that involves sending a written appeal to Parliament. The public can petition Parliament to make MPs aware of their opinion and/ or to request action.

Who petitions and how?

Anyone can petition Parliament. The only requirement is that petitions be submitted in the prescribed format, in either Hindi or English, and signed by the petitioner.

In the case of Lok Sabha, the petition is normally required to be countersigned by an MP. According to the Rules of Lok Sabha, “This practice is based on the principle that petitions are normally presented by members in their capacity as elected representatives of the people, and that they have to take full responsibility for the statements made therein and answer questions on them in the House, if any, are raised.”

Petitions can be sent to either House in respect of:

  • Any Bills/ other matters that are pending before the House
  • Any matter of general public interest relating to the work of the Central Government

The petition should not raise matters that are currently sub-judice or for which remedy is already available under an existing law of the Central Government.

Petition formats can be accessed at: Lok SabhaRajya Sabha

What happens to the petition once it has been submitted?

Once submitted, the petition may either be tabled in the House or presented by an MP on behalf of the petitioner. These are then examined by the Committee on Petitions.

The Committee may choose to circulate the petition and undertake consultations before presenting its report (For instance, the Petition praying for development of Railway network in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and other Himalayan States). It may also invite comments from the concerned Ministries. The recommendations of the Committee are then presented in the form of a report to the House.

Previous reports can be accessed at the relevant committee pages on the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha websites.

Land Acquisition: Public realm, private gain

September 8th, 2010 4 comments

One of the most politically contentious issues in recent times has been the government’s right to acquire land for ‘public purpose’.  Increasingly, farmers are refusing to part with their land without adequate compensation, the most recent example being the agitation in Uttar Pradesh over the acquisition of land for the Yamuna Express Highway.

Presently, land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act, an archaic law passed more than a century ago in 1894.  According to the Act, the government has the right to acquire private land without the consent of the land owners if the land is acquired for a “public purpose” project (such as development of towns and village sites, building of schools, hospitals and housing and state run corporations).  The land owners get only the current price value of the land as compensation.  The key provision that has triggered most of the discontent is the one that allows the government to acquire land for private companies if it is for a “public purpose” project.  This has led to conflict over issues of compensation, rehabilitation of displaced people and the type of land that is being acquired.

The UPA government introduced the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill in conjunction with the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill on December 6, 2007 in the Lok Sabha and referred them to the Standing Committee on Rural Development for scrutiny.  The Committee submitted its report on October 21, 2008 but the Bills lapsed at the end of the 14th Lok Sabha.  The government is planning to introduce revised versions of the Bills.  The following paragraphs discuss the lapsed Bills to give some idea of the government’s perspective on the issue while analysing the lacunae in the Bills.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 redefined “public purpose” to allow land acquisition only for defence purposes, infrastructure projects, or any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land had already been purchased from willing sellers through the free market.  It prohibited land acquisition for companies unless they had already purchased 70% of the required land.  The Bill also made it mandatory for the government to conduct a social impact assessment if land acquisition resulted in displacement of 400 families in the plains or 200 families in the hills or tribal areas.  The compensation was to be extended to tribals and individuals with tenancy rights under state laws.  The compensation was based on many factors such as market rates, the intended use of the land, and the value of standing crop.  A Land Acquisition Compensation Disputes Settlement Authority was to be established to adjudicate disputes.

The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 sought to provide for benefits and compensation to people displaced by land acquisition or any other involuntary displacements.  The Bill created project-specific authorities to formulate, implement and monitor the rehabilitation process.  It also outlined minimum benefits for displaced families such as land, house, monetary compensation, skill training and preference for jobs.  A grievance redressal system was also provided for.

Although the Bills were a step in the right direction, many issues still remained unresolved.  Since the Land Acquisition Bill barred the civil courts from entertaining any disputes related to land acquisition, it was unclear whether there was a mechanism by which a person could challenge the qualification of a project as “public purpose”.  Unlike the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005, the Bill did not specify the type of land that could be acquired (such as waste and barren lands).  The Bill made special provision for land taken in the case of ‘urgency’.  However, it did not define the term urgency, which could lead to confusion and misuse of the term.

The biggest loop-hole in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill was the use of non-binding language.  Take for example Clause 25, which stated that “The Government may, by notification, declare any area…as a resettlement area.” Furthermore, Clause 36(1) stated that land for land “shall be allotted…if Government land is available.”  The government could effectively get away with not providing many of the benefits listed in the Bill.  Also, most of the safeguards and benefits were limited to families affected by large-scale displacements (400 or more families in the plains and 200 or more families in the hills and tribal areas).  The benefits for affected families in case of smaller scale displacements were not clearly spelt out.  Lastly, the Bill stated that compensation to displaced families should be borne by the requiring body (body which needs the land for its projects).  Who would bear the expenditure of rehabilitation in case of natural disasters remained ambiguous.

If India is to attain economic prosperity, the government needs to strike a balance between the need for development and protecting the rights of people whose land is being acquired.

Kaushiki Sanyal

The article was published in Sahara Time (Issue dated September 4, 2010, page 36)