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Posts Tagged ‘parliament’

The NAC Communal Violence Bill: Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence

June 9th, 2011 6 comments

The National Advisory Committee has recently come out with a Communal Violence Bill.  The Bill is intended to prevent acts of violence, or incitement to violence directed at people by virtue of their membership to any “group”.  An existing Bill titled the “Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005” pending in the Rajya Sabha (analysis here).  The main features of the NAC Bill are explained below:

The Bill makes illegal acts which result in injury to persons or property, if such acts are directed against persons on the basis of their affiliation to any group, and if such an act destroys the secular fabric of the nation.  Such acts include sexual assault, hate propaganda, torture and organized communal violence.

It makes public servants punishable for failing to discharge their stated duties in an unbiased manner.  In addition, public servants have duties such as the duty to provide protection to victims of communal violence and also have to take steps to prevent the outbreak of communal violence.

The Bill establishes a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation to prevent acts of communal violence, incitement to communal violence, containing the spread of communal violence, and monitoring investigations into acts of communal violence.  The Authority can also inquire into and investigate acts of communal violence by itself.  The Bill also provides for the setting up of State Authorities for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation.

The central or state government has been given the authority to intercept any messages or transmissions if it feels that it might lead to communal violence.  This power is subject to existing procedures which have to be complied with for intercepting messages and transmissions.

Importantly, if public officers are liable to be prosecuted for offences under the Bill, and prior sanction is required for such prosecution, the state government has to grant or refuse sanction within 30 days.  If not, then sanction will be deemed to have been granted.

The Bill also allows the states to set up one or more Human Rights Defender of Justice and Reparations’ in every district.  The Human Rights defender will ensure that those affected by communal and targeted violence are able to access their rights under existing laws.

Apart from these, the Bill also establishes state and district-level authorities for assessing compensation for victims of communal violence.  States also have numerous obligations towards victims, such as the establishment of relief camps, ensuring proper facilities, medical provisions and clothing for those within such camps, etc.  The states government also has the obligation to create conditions which allow the return of victims of communal violence to the place of their ordinary residence.

 

Does the judiciary “make laws”?

April 20th, 2011 3 comments

A recent case before the Supreme Court has once again highlighted the issue of judicial decisions potentially replacing/ amending legislation enacted by Parliament.  The case importantly pertains to the judiciary’s interpretation of existing law concerning itself.  The eventual outcome of the case would presumably have important implications for the way the higher judiciary interprets laws, which according to some amounts to the judiciary “legislating” rather than interpreting laws.

 

This assertion has often been substantiated by citing cases such as Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997) where the Supreme Court actually laid down the law pertaining to sexual discrimination at workplaces in the absence of a law governing the same.  In numerous other cases, courts have laid down policy guidelines, or have issued administrative directions to governmental departments.

 

In the recent case of Suraz India Trust v. Union of India, a petition has been filed asking the court to reconsider its own judgements regarding the manner of appointment and transfer of judges.  It has been contended that through its judgements in 1994 and 1998 (Advocate on Record Association v. Union of India and Special Reference No. 1 of 1998) the Supreme Court has virtually amended Constitutional provisions, even though amendments to the Constitution can only be done by Parliament.  This question arises since the Constitution provides for the appointment and transfer of judges by the government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.  The two Supreme Court judgements however gave the primary power of appointment and transfer of judges to the judiciary itself.

 

Importantly, one specific question which has been raised is whether the judgements referred to above really amount to amending the relevant provisions of the Constitution.  Another question raised which is relevant to this discussion is whether the interpretation by courts can actually make provisions in the Constitution redundant.

 

In its judgement on the 4th of April, the Supreme Court referred this case to the Chief Justice of India for further directions.  The outcome of this judgement could potentially require the Supreme Court to define the circumstances when it interprets law, and when it “legislates”.  An indication of the Supreme Court’s attitude concerning this issue may be gleaned from the recent speech of the Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia at the M.C. Setalvad lecture.  The CJI unambiguously stated that:

…In many PILs, the courts freely decree rules of conduct for government and public authorities which are akin to legislation. Such exercises have little judicial function in them. Its justification is that the other branches of government have failed or are indifferent to the solution of the problem. In such matters, I am of the opinion that the courts should be circumspect in understanding the thin line between law and governance...”

 

 

Lokpal – A ‘toothless’ tiger?

January 10th, 2011 3 comments

The union government is reportedly considering a legislation to create anti-corruption units both at the centre and the states.

Such institutions were first conceptualized by the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by Morarji Desai in its report published in 1966. It recommended the creation of two independent authorities – the Lokpal at the centre and the Lokayuktas in the states. The first Lokpal Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1968 but it lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha. Later Bills also met a similar fate.

Though the Lokpal could not be created as a national institution, the interest generated led to the enactment of various state legislations. Maharashtra became the first state to create a Lokayukta in 1972. Presently more than 50% of the states have Lokayuktas, though their powers, and consequently their functioning varies significantly across states.

Existing institutional framework

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are the two cornerstones of the existing institutional framework. However, the efficacy of the current system has been questioned. [1]

Though the CVC (set up in 1964) is an independent agency directly responsible to the Parliament, its role is advisory in nature. It relies on the CBI for investigation and only oversees the bureaucracy; Ministers and Members of Parliament are out of its purview. Thus, presently there is no authority (other than Parliament itself) with the mandate to oversee actions of political functionaries.

At the state level, similar vigilance and anti-corruption organisations exist, although the nature of these organisations varies across states.

Karnataka Lokayukta Act

The Karnataka Lokayukta is widely considered as the most active among the state anti-corruption units. [1] It was first set up in 1986 under the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984.

The Act was recently amended by the state government following the resignation of the Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde. Justice Hegde had been demanding additional powers for the Lokayukta – especially the power to investigate suo-motu. Following the amendment, the Lokayukta has been given the suo motu powers to investigate all public servants except the CM, Ministers, Legislators and those nominated by the government.

Following are the main provisions of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act:

  • The public servants who are covered by the Act include the CM, Ministers, Legislators and all officers of the state government including the heads of bodies and corporations established by any law of the state legislature.
  • The body is constituted for a term of five years and consists of one Lokayukta and one or more Upalokayuktas. All members must have been judges, with either the Supreme Court or some High Court.
  • Members are appointed on the advice of the CM in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, the Chairman of the Karnataka Legislative Council, the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, and the Leader of Opposition in both Houses.
  • Investigations involving the CM, Ministers, Legislators and those nominated by the government must be based on written complaints; other public servants can be investigated suo-motu.
  • Reports of  the Lokayukta are recommendatory. It does not have the power to prosecute.

The forthcoming Ordinance/ Bill

Given that a Lokpal Bill is on the anvil, it might be useful at this point to enumerate some metrics/ questions against which the legislation should be tested:

  • Should the Lokpal limit itself to political functionaries? Should CBI and CVC be brought under the Lokpal, thereby creating a single consolidated independent anti-corruption entity?
  • Should Lokpal be restricted to an advisory role? Should it have the power to prosecute?
  • Should it have suo-motu powers to investigate? Would a written complaint always be forthcoming, especially when the people being complained against occupy powerful positions?
  • What should be the composition of the body? Who should appoint members?
  • Should the Prime Minister be exempt from its purview?
  • Should prior permission from the Speaker or the Chairman of the House be required to initiate inquiry against Ministers/ MPs?

What do you think? Write in with your comments.

Notes:

[1] Report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), ‘Ethics in Governance’ (2007)

[2] Additional reading: An interview with the Karnataka Lokayukta

Mechanism of voting and recording of votes in Parliament

December 24th, 2010 7 comments

The convention for passing Bills in the Parliament is by orally communicating agreement or disagreement with the proposed motion (whether a Bill should be passed or not, for example). When a motion is put to vote the speaker says, ‘Those in the favour of the motion say Aye and those opposing it say No.’ According to the voice vote, the Speaker decides whether the Bill is accepted or negated by the House.

If a member is not happy with a voice vote, it can be challenged and a division can be asked for. The procedure for division entails the Speaker to announce for the lobbies of Parliament to be cleared. Then the division bell rings continuously for three and a half minutes and so do many connected bells all through Parliament House and Parliament House Annexe. MPs come from all sides into the chamber and the doors are closed. The votes are recorded by the Automatic Vote Recording Equipment.

For example, in the Winter Session of the Parliament, four appropriation bills (financial Bills) were passed by voice vote amidst the interruptions from the opposition and two bills i.e. The Orissa (Alteration of Name) Bill, 2010 and The Constitution (One Hundred and Thirteenth Amendment) Bill, 2010 (Amendment of Eighth Schedule) were passed through division. For these Bills the voting took place together. The votes recorded were: 298 ayes and 0 noes.

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

PAC seeks comment on 2G and 3G spectrum allocation

December 23rd, 2010 No comments

The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has invited suggestions on “Recent Developments in the Telecom Sector including allocation of 2G and 3G Spectrum”.

Comments are invited from experts, associations, individuals, organisations and institutions interested in the matter.

Comments have to be sent in to: Director (PAC&CS), Lok Sabha Secretariat, Room No. 401, Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi – 110001 (Ph.: 23034401, 23035236), e-mail: compac@sansad.nic.in. Comments have to be sent in within 15 days.

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.

Can Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) summon ministers?

December 21st, 2010 No comments

One of our earlier posts (read here) tackled the question of whether the Public Accounts Committee could summon ministers or not. According to a direction of the speaker, a Minister cannot be summoned by a financial committee.

There are no specific procedures for the Joint Parliamentary Committees mentioned in the rules. However, according to the Directions by the Speaker general rules applicable to Committees shall apply to all Committees, though specific directions can be given for some committees (read here).  In other words, the general directions for all committees would be the same, unless a specific direction was given relating to a particular committee.

In the Joint Committee of Stock Market Scam and Matters relating there to, a specific request was made to the Speaker, Lok Sabha by the Chairman, JPC on 20th May, 2002 for permitting the Committee to call for written information on certain points from the Minister of Finance and Minister of External Affairs. The Speaker accorded the necessary permission on 1st June, 2002.

Consequently, the Minister of Finance (Shri Jaswant Singh), the Minister of External Affairs (Shri Yashwant Sinha) and the former Finance and External Affairs ministers (Shri P. Chidambaram and Dr. Manmohan Singh respectively) testified before the Committee. Read the text of the report here.

Transparency of Committees: International Comparison

December 21st, 2010 No comments

In the aftermath of the 2G scam, there has been a great deal of discussion on how Parliamentary Committees can be used for scrutinising the functioning of the government.  Committee Reports are generally put in the public domain, but how transparent are the internal workings of the Committees themselves?

As one measure of transparency, minutes of Parliamentary Committee meetings are included in Committee reports. The meetings themselves, however, are held behind closed doors.

A number of other democracies allow in-person public viewing of some (if not all) Committee meetings.  Several of these offer live webcasts of meetings as well. See options in Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, and the United Kingdom.

How many reports has PAC tabled since 1952?

December 20th, 2010 1 comment
Around 1400 reports have been tabled by the PAC since the first Lok Sabha till end of 14th Lok Sabha.

In terms of absolute numbers, the largest number of reports were tabled during the 5th Lok Sabha (1971-77).  However, in terms of the average number of reports presented in the duration of a single Lok Sabha, the 6th Lok Sabha is the highest.

The fewest number of PAC reports were tabled during the 1st Lok Sabha (25 reports over all and 5 reports on an average per year).