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Posts Tagged ‘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 4 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)

An Analysis of the Deferred Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010

September 7th, 2010 1 comment

Given India’s anti-defection laws, the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 should have sailed through smoothly in the Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 26 in spite of opposition from many MPs who raised a number of pertinent issues. However, in a surprising turn of events the Bill faced opposition from Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao (along with other Opposition members).  It forced the Minister of Human Resource Development Shri Kapil Sibal to defer the consideration and passing of the Bill to the Winter session of Parliament.

Such an incidence raises the larger issue of whether an MP should follow the party line or be allowed to express his opinion which may be contrary to the party.  Last year, Vice President Hamid Ansari had expressed the view that there was a need to expand the scope for individual MPs to express their opinion on policy matters.  One of the ways this could be done, he felt, was by limiting the issuance of whips “to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as Money Bills or No-Confidence Motions.”  There are others who feel that MPs should not oppose the party line in the House since they represent the party in the Parliament. (See PRS note on The Anti-Defection Law: Intent and Impact).

The Educational Tribunals Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010, seeks to set up tribunals at the state and national level to adjudicate disputes related to higher education.  The disputes may be related to service matters of teachers; unfair practices of the higher educational institutions; affiliation of colleges; and statutory regulatory authorities.  The tribunals shall include judicial, academic and administrative members.  The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts over any matters that the tribunals are empowered to hear.  It also seeks to penalise any person who does not comply with the orders of the tribunals. (See the analysis of PRS on the Educational Tribunals Bill).

The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, which submitted its report on August 20, 2010.  Although the report expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of inputs from states and universities and made a number of recommendations on various provisions, the HRD Ministry rejected those suggestions.

Some of the key issues raised by the Standing Committee are as follows:

  • The Committee observed that no specific assessment about quantum of litigation has been carried out. It recommended that before setting up tribunals, the magnitude of cases and costs incurred in litigation should be assessed. A minimum court fee should be fixed to ensure viability of the tribunals.
  • The Committee pointed out that the status of existing tribunals is unclear. Also, since the number of educational institutions vary from state to state, the Committee felt that one educational tribunal per state cannot be made uniformly applicable.
  • The Committee stated that there is no clear rationale for fixing a minimum age limit of 55 years for members of the tribunals. It recommended that competent people with adequate knowledge and experience, irrespective of age, should be considered.
  • In case there is a vacancy in the chairperson’s post, other two members shall hear cases in the state educational tribunals. However, this leaves the possibility of cases being heard without a judicial member (since chairperson is the only judicial member). The Committee pointed out that a recent Supreme Court judgment states that every two-member bench of the tribunal should always have a judicial member. Also, whenever any larger or special benches are constituted, the number of technical members should not exceed the judicial member. The Committee were of the view that certain provisions of the Bill violate the Supreme Court judgment and should be re-thought.
  • The Committee recommends that the term “unfair practice” should be defined in the Bill so that it is not open to interpretation by the courts.
  • The Selection Committee to recommend panel for national tribunal includes the Chief Justice of India and Secretaries, Higher Education, Law and Justice, Medical Education and Personnel and Training as members. The Committee recommended that there should be adequate representation of the academia in the Selection Committee.
  • The Committee proposed that the government needs to identify the lacunae of the existing tribunal systems and ensure that orders of the tribunals have some force.

Parliament’s Recommendations on the Nuclear Liability Bill – Why the “and”?

August 20th, 2010 No comments

In law, the addition or deletion a single punctuation or a single word can have a major impact on the effect of that law.  One such example can be seen from the recommended changes in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 by Parliament’s Standing Committee.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010.  The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, which submitted its report on the Bill yesterday (August 18, 2010).  The Committee has made a number of recommendations regarding certain clauses in the Bill (See summary here).  One of these may have the effect of diluting the provision currently in the Bill.  The main recommendations pertain to:

  • Preventing the entry of private operators.
  • Allowing the government to increase the total liability for a nuclear incident by notification, but not decrease it.
  • Increasing the liability of the operator to Rs 1,500 crore from Rs 500 crore.
  • Increasing the time limit for claiming compensation to 20 years from 10 years.
  • Changing the provision giving operators a right of recourse against persons actually responsible for causing damage.

Clause 17 of the Bill which gives operators a right of recourse against those actually causing damage had been opposed as it was felt that it was not strong enough to hold suppliers liable in case the damage was caused by them.  Clause 17 gave a right of recourse under three conditions.  The exact clause is reproduced below:

The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where —

(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;

(b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee;

(c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.

Under this clause, a right of recourse exists when (a) there is a contract giving such a right, or (b) the supplier acts deliberately or in a grossly negligent manner to cause nuclear damage, or (c) a person causes nuclear damage with the intent to do so.  If any of the three cases can be proved by the operator, he has a right of recourse.

The Committee has stated that “Clause 17(b) gives escape route to the suppliers of nuclear materials, equipments, services of his employees as their willful act or gross negligence would be difficult to establish in a civil nuclear compensation case.”

It recommended that Clause 17(b) should be modified to cover consequences “of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or service.”

The Committee also recommended another change in Clause 17.  It recommended that clause 17(a) may end with “and”. This provision may dilute the right of recourse available to operators.  The modified clause 17 would read as:

The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where —

(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; and,

(b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.;

(c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.

This implies that for Clauses 17(b) or (c) to be applicable, the condition specified in clause 17(a) has to be compulsorily satisfied.  Two examples highlight the consequence of the recommended change in Clause 17(a) of the Bill:

  1. A person X deliberately commits sabotage in a nuclear plant and causes damage.  Under the Bill, the operator has recourse under Clause 17(c).  If the recommendation regarding clause 17 is accepted, the operator may also have to also prove the existence of a pre-existing contract with X in addition to clause 17(c).
  2. If a supplier supplies defective equipment, but does not have a contract in writing stating that he will be liable for damage caused by defective equipment, the operator may not have a right of recourse against the supplier under 17(b).

The effect of the changes recommended by the committee may thus dilute the provision as it exists in the Bill.  The table below compares the position in the Bill and the position as per the Standing Committee’s recommendations:

Right of recourse – The Bill gives operators a right to recourse under three conditions:  (a) if there is a clear contract; (b) if the damage is caused by someone with intent to cause damage; (c) against suppliers if damage is caused by their wilful act or negligence. In the Bill the three conditions are separated by a semi-colon.  The Committee recommended that the semi-colon in clause 17(a) should be replaced by “and”. This might imply that all three conditions mentioned need to exist for an operator to have recourse.
Right to recourse against suppliers exists in cases of “willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier”. (Clause 17) The Committee felt that the right of recourse against suppliers is vague.  It recommended that recourse against the supplier should be strengthened.  The supplier is liable if an incident has occurred due to (i) defects, or (ii) sub-standard material, or (iii) gross negligence of the supplier of the material, equipment or services. The variance with the Convention continues to exist.

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.

Discussion on budgets and functioning of Ministries

March 18th, 2010 3 comments

Parliament has announced the ministries whose Demands for Grants will be discussed in detail in the Lok Sabha (after April 12 when Parliament reconvenes).  They are:

Defence

Rural Development

Tribal Affairs

Water Resources

External Affairs

Road Transport and Highways

Together these ministries have asked Parliament for a total of  Rs 289,938 crore (Rs 175,772 crore for Defence alone) – which is slightly over a quarter of the total expenditure budgeted by the Central Government for 2010-11.

The Rajya Sabha does not discuss demands for grants but has announced a list of ministries whose functioning it will review after the recess.  They are:

Home Affairs

Tribal Affairs

Defence

Power

Chemicals and Fertilizers

Petroleum and Natural Gas

Youth affairs and Sports

Women and Child Development

Consumer affairs, Food and Public Distribution

Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation

Parliamentary performance this session

March 15th, 2010 1 comment

The Lok Sabha  adjourns today for a three-week recess.  The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to adjourned on March 18.  Here’s a brief look at the activity of Parliament this session (data till March 15):

Productive Hours: The session has witnessed more than its fair share of disruptions.  In the 14 sitting days, over 22 hours has been lost to interruptions in the Lok Sabha and over 26 hours in the Rajya Sabha.  The number of productive hours so far is 53 and 50 hours in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.

[Click here to compare with previous sessions.]

The session began with protests by the Opposition, putting pressure on the Government to schedule a debate on price rise.  After the presentation of the Budget, the protests revolved around the petroleum price hike.  The disruptions in the Rajya Sabha were on account of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which resulted in the suspension of seven MPs. On March 9 the Rajya Sabha was adjourned five times, before the passage of the Bill.

Legislative business: This session, the government had listed 63 Bills for introduction, 16 pending Bills for consideration and passing and 10 pending Bills for consideration and passing if their Standing Committee reports are submitted.

Other than financial business transacted, which includes passage of Demand for Grants and Appropriation Bills, the only legislation that has been passed so far is the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha also has passed one Bill that replaces an Ordinance – the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Bill. In the 14 sitting days, the House has spent 6 hours on legislative business.

Question Hour: Another important aspect of parliamentary business is the Question Hour.  Interestingly, the Lok Sabha rules were amended before the start of this session to ensure that the absence of MPs does not result in the collapse of Question Hour.  However, the amount of time spent on questions in both Houses this session has remained under 5 hours.

Ratifying Reservation

March 10th, 2010 6 comments

There have been articles in the media on the future passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill stating that the Bill will have to be ratified by state legislatures before it is signed into law by the President.  Our analysis indicates that ratification by state legislatures is not required.  We state the reasons below:

This Bill amends the Constitution.  It (a) amends Article 239AA,  Article 331, and Article 333, and  (b) inserts Article 330A, Article 332A, and Article 334A.  In doing so the Bill:

  • Seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies;
  • One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies;
  • Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies.

Article 368 regulates the procedure for amending the Constitution.  It states that the ratification of the state legislatures to a constitutional amendment is required in the following cases:

a. If there is a change in the provisions regarding elections to the post of the President of India.

b. If there is a change in the extent of the executive power of the centre or the state governments.

c. If there is any change in the provisions regarding the Union judiciary or the High Courts.

d. If the distribution of legislative powers between the centre and the states is affected.

e. If any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule is affected.

f. If the representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha is changed.

g. Lastly, if Article 368 itself is amended.

None of these provisions are attracted in the case of the Women’s Reservation Bill.  The Parliament recently extended the reservation of seats for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies by another ten years.  Article 334 was amended to state that such reservation “will cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution.”  The 109th Amendment Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and did not require the ratification of the states before being signed into law by the President.  It follows that if Bills amending provisions for reserving seats for SCs and STs don’t need ratification by state legislatures, a bill reserving seats for women does not need ratification either.

Thus Article 368 very clearly lays down situations in which state legislatures have to ratify a piece of legislation before it can receive the assent of the President.

Update on the Women’s Reservation Bill

February 9th, 2010 5 comments

Speaker Meira Kumar has urged political parties to arrive at a consensus on the women’s reservation bill.  The 2008 Bill has the following main features. 

1. It reserves one-third of all seats in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies within each state for women. 

2. There is quota-within-quota for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians. 

3. The reserved seats will be rotated after each general elections – thus after a cycle of three elections, all constituencies would have been reserved once.  This reservation will be operational for 15 years.

 This Bill has had a chequered history.  A similar Bill was introduced in 1996, 1998 and 1999 – all of which lapsed after the dissolution of the respective Lok Sabhas.  A Joint Parliamentary Committee chaired by Geeta Mukherjee examined the 1996 Bill and made seven recommendations.  Five of these have been included in the latest 2008 Bill.  These are (i) reservation for a period of 15 years; (ii) including sub-reservation for Anglo Indians; (iii) including reservation in cases where the state has less than three seats in Lok Sabha (or less than three seats for SCs/STs); (iv) including reservation for the Delhi assembly; and (v) changing “not less than one-third” to “as nearly as may be, one-third”.

 Two of the recommendations are not incorporated in the 2008 Bill.  The first is for reserving seats in Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils.  The second is for sub-reservation for OBC women after the Constitution extends reservation to OBCs.

The 2008 Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.  This Committee failed to reach a consensus in its final report.  The Committee has recommendedthat the Bill “be passed in Parliament and put in action without further delay.  Two members of the Committee, Virender Bhatia and Shailendra Kumar (both belonging to the Samajwadi Party) dissented stating that they were not against providing reservation to women but disagreed with the way this Bill was drafted.  They had three recommendations:  (i) every political party must distribute 20% of its tickets to women; (ii) even in the current form, reservation should not exceed 20% of seats; and (iii) there should be a quota for women belonging to OBCs and minorities.

The Standing committee considered two other methods of increasing representation.  One suggestion (part of election commission recommendations) was to requite political parties to nominate women for a minimum percentage of seats.  The committee felt that parties could bypass the spirit of the law by nominating women to losing seats.  The second recommendation was to create dual member constituencies, with women filling one of the two seats from those constituencies.  The Committee believed that this move could “result in women being reduced to a subservient status, which will defeat the very purpose of the Bill”.

It is interesting to note that the Committee did not reject the two recommendations of the Geeta Mukherjee Committee that are not reflected in the Bill.  The Committee concluded that the issue of reservations to Rajya Sabha and Legislative Councils needs to be examined thoroughly as the upper Houses play an equally important role under the Constitution.  Incidentally, it is not possible to reserve seats in Rajya Sabha given the current system of elections to that house (see Appendix below).

On the issue of  reservations to OBC women, the Committee said that “all other issues may be considered at an appropriate time by Government without any further delay at the present time in the passage of the Bill”.

Though the Bill does not have a consensus – it has been opposed by SP, RJD and JD(U) – most parties have publicly expressed their support for it.  The government will likely not find it difficult to muster two-third support in each House of Parliament were the Bill be taken up for consideration and passing.  It would be interesting to see whether the Bill is brought before Parliament in the upcoming Budget Session.

Appendix: Impossibility of Reservation in Rajya Sabha

Article 80of the Constitution specifies that members of state assemblies will elect Rajya Sabha MPs through single transferable vote.  This implies that the votes are first allocated to the most preferred candidate, and then to the next preferred candidate, and so on.  This system cannot accommodate the principle of reserving a certain number of seats for a particular group.  Currently, Rajya Sabha does not have reservation for SCs and STs.

Therefore, any system that provides reservation in Rajya Sabha implies that the Constitution must be amended to jettison the Single Transferable Vote system.