Legislation

Declaration of assets under the Lokpal Act explained

A Bill to amend the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha yesterday.  The Bill makes amendments in relation to the declaration of assets of public servants, and will apply retrospectively. Declaration of assets under the Lokpal Act, 2013 The Lokpal Act, 2013 provides for a mechanism to inquire into corruption related allegations against public servants.  The Act defines public servants to include the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Members of Parliament, central government and Public Sector Undertakings employees, and trustees and officials of NGOs that receive foreign contribution above Rs 10 lakhs a year, and those getting a certain amount of government funding. [A June 2016 notification set this amount at Rs. 1 crore.] The Lokpal Act mandates public servants to declare their assets and liabilities, and that of their spouses and dependent children.  Such declarations must be filed by July 31st every year.  They must also be published on the website of the Ministry by August 31st. 2014 amendments proposed to the Lokpal Act In December 2014, a Bill to amend the 2013 Act was introduced in Lok Sabha.  Among other things, the Bill sought to modify the provision related to declaration of assets by public servants.  The Bill required that the public servant’s declaration contain information of all his assets, including: (i) movable and immovable property owned, inherited, acquired, or held on lease in his or another’s name; and (ii) debts and liabilities incurred directly or indirectly by him.  The Bill also said that declaration requirements for public servants under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (for MPs), All India Services Act, 1951 (for senior civil servants), etc. would also apply. The Standing Committee that examined this Bill, in 2015, had recommended that the public servants should declare the assets and liabilities to their Competent Authority.  For example, for an MP, the competent authority would be the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  Such declarations should then be forwarded to the Lokpal to keep in a fiduciary capacity.  Both these authorities would be competent to review the returns filed by the public servants.  In light of such double scrutiny, the Committee recommended that public disclosure of such assets and liabilities would not be necessary. Further, the Committee also noted that family members of public servants are not obliged to disclose assets acquired through their own income. These disclosures may be in violation of Article 21 (right to privacy) or 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.  However, the public servant must declare assets and liabilities of his dependents, and those acquired by him in the name of another.  This Bill is currently pending in Lok Sabha. The 2016 Bill and its position on declaration of assets The Amendment Bill, that was introduced and passed by Lok Sabha yesterday, replaces the provision under the Lokpal Act, 2013 related to the declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants.  While the new provision also mandates public servants to declare their assets and liabilities, it does not specify the manner of such declaration.  The Bill states that the form and manner of such declarations to be made by public servants will be prescribed by the central government.  Therefore, if passed by Parliament, the effect of the amendments will be the following:

  1. Trustees and officers of certain NGOs will continue to be regarded as public servants for the purposes of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and the Lokpal Act, 2013. There is no differentiation in the treatment of government servants and trustees of NGOs.
  2. The requirement for declaring assets and liabilities will continue to be applicable.
  3. However, the Act will no longer require assets and liabilities of spouses and dependent children of public servants to be declared. It also removes the mandatory disclosure on the Ministry’s website.
  4. That said, the details of the disclosure to be made will be notified by the central government.
  5. It is not clear whether the earlier notification will automatically lapse, or whether it needs to be rescinded in light of the new amendments.

These implications will apply only if the Bill is passed by Rajya Sabha and gets the President’s assent before July 31, 2016.

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code: All you need to know

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today.  Last week, Lok Sabha passed the Code with changes recommended by the Joint Parliamentary Committee that examined the Code.[1],[2]  We present answers to some of the frequently asked questions in relation to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016. Why do we need a new law?Time resolve insolvency1 As of 2015, insolvency resolution in India took 4.3 years on an average.  This is higher when compared to other countries such as United Kingdom (1 year) and United States of America (1.5 years).  Figure 1 provides a comparison of the time to resolve insolvency for various countries.  These delays are caused due to time taken to resolve cases in courts, and confusion due to a lack of clarity about the current bankruptcy framework. What does the current Code aim to do? The 2016 Code applies to companies and individuals.  It provides for a time-bound process to resolve insolvency.  When a default in repayment occurs, creditors gain control over debtor’s assets and must take decisions to resolve insolvency within a 180-day period.  To ensure an uninterrupted resolution process, the Code also provides immunity to debtors from resolution claims of creditors during this period. The Code also consolidates provisions of the current legislative framework to form a common forum for debtors and creditors of all classes to resolve insolvency. Who facilitates the insolvency resolution under the Code? The Code creates various institutions to facilitate resolution of insolvency.  These are as follows:

  • Insolvency Professionals: A specialised cadre of licensed professionals is proposed to be created. These professionals will administer the resolution process, manage the assets of the debtor, and provide information for creditors to assist them in decision making.
  • Insolvency Professional Agencies: The insolvency professionals will be registered with insolvency professional agencies. The agencies conduct examinations to certify the insolvency professionals and enforce a code of conduct for their performance.
  • Information Utilities: Creditors will report financial information of the debt owed to them by the debtor. Such information will include records of debt, liabilities and defaults.
  • Adjudicating authorities: The proceedings of the resolution process will be adjudicated by the National Companies Law Tribunal (NCLT), for companies; and the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT), for individuals. The duties of the authorities will include approval to initiate the resolution process, appoint the insolvency professional, and approve the final decision of creditors.
  • Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board: The Board will regulate insolvency professionals, insolvency professional agencies and information utilities set up under the Code.  The Board will consist of representatives of Reserve Bank of India, and the Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs and Law.

What is the procedure to resolve insolvency in the Code? The Code proposes the following steps to resolve insolvency:

  • Initiation: When a default occurs, the resolution process may be initiated by the debtor or creditor. The insolvency professional administers the process.  The professional provides financial information of the debtor from the information utilities to the creditor and manage the debtor’s assets.  This process lasts for 180 days and any legal action against the debtor is prohibited during this period.
  • Decision to resolve insolvency: A committee consisting of the financial creditors who lent money to the debtor will be formed by the insolvency professional. The creditors committee will take a decision regarding the future of the outstanding debt owed to them.  They may choose to revive the debt owed to them by changing the repayment schedule, or sell (liquidate) the assets of the debtor to repay the debts owed to them.  If a decision is not taken in 180 days, the debtor’s assets go into liquidation.
  • Liquidation: If the debtor goes into liquidation, an insolvency professional administers the liquidation process. Proceeds from the sale of the debtor’s assets are distributed in the following order of precedence: i) insolvency resolution costs, including the remuneration to the insolvency professional, ii) secured creditors, whose loans are backed by collateral, dues to workers, other employees, iii) unsecured creditors, iv) dues to government, v) priority shareholders and vi) equity shareholders.

What are some issues in the Code that require consideration?

  • The Bankruptcy Board (regulator) will regulate insolvency professional agencies (IPAs), which will further regulate insolvency professionals (IPs).  The rationale behind multiple IPAs overseeing the functioning of their member IPs, instead of a single regulator is unclear. The presence of multiple IPAs  operating simultaneously could enable competition in the sector. However, this may also lead to a conflict of interest between the regulatory and competitive goals of the IPAs.  This structure of regulation varies from the current practice where the regulator directly regulates its registered professionals.  For example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (which regulates chartered accountants) is directly responsible for regulating its registered members.
  • The Code provides an order of priority to distribute assets during liquidation. It is unclear why: (i) secured creditors will receive their entire outstanding amount, rather than up to their collateral value, (ii) unsecured creditors have priority over trade creditors, and (iii) government dues will be repaid after unsecured creditors.
  • The smooth functioning of the Code depends on the functioning of new entities such as insolvency professionals, insolvency professional agencies and information utilities.  These entities will have to evolve over time for the proper functioning of the system.  In addition, the NCLT, which will adjudicate corporate insolvency has not been constituted as yet, and the DRTs are overloaded with pending cases.

 


 

  1. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/media/Bankruptcy/Bankruptcy%20Code%20as%20passed%20by%20LS.pdf.
  2. Report of the Joint Committee on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015, April 28, 2016, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Joint%20Committee%20on%20Insolvency%20and%20Bankruptcy%20Code,%202015/16_Joint_Committee_o n_Insolvency_and_Bankruptcy_Code_2015_1.pdf

A version of this blog appeared in the Business Standard on May 7, 2016.

The Juvenile Justice Bill, 2015: All you need to know

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 is currently pending in Rajya Sabha and was listed for passage in the current Winter session of Parliament.  The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha after incorporating certain amendments, in May 2015.  Here is all you need to know about the Bill and key issues associated with it.  A PRS analysis of the statistics on incidence of crimes by children and conviction rates is available here.

Table 1: Juveniles between 16-18 years apprehended under IPC  
Crime

2003

2013

Burglary

1,160

2,117

Rape

293

1,388

Kidnapping/abduction

156

933

Robbery

165

880

Murder

328

845

Other offences

11,839

19,641

Total

13,941

25,804

Note: Other offences include cheating, rioting, etc.  Sources: Juveniles in conflict with law, Crime in India 2013, National Crime Records Bureau; PRS.  

Who is a juvenile as recognised by law? In the Indian context, a juvenile or child is any person who is below the age of 18 years.  However, the Indian Penal Code specifies that a child cannot be charged for any crime until he has attained seven years of age. Why is there a need for a new Bill when a juvenile justice law already exists? The government introduced the Juvenile Justice Bill in August 2014 in Lok Sabha and gave various reasons to justify the need for a new law.  It said that the existing Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 was facing implementation issues and procedural delays with regard to adoption, etc.  Additionally, the government cited National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data to say that there has been an increase in crimes committed by juveniles, especially by those in the 16-18 years age group. NCRB data shows that the percentage of juvenile crimes, when seen in proportion to total crimes, has increased from 1% in 2003 to 1.2% in 2013.  During the same period, 16-18 year olds accused of crimes as a percentage of all juveniles accused of crimes increased from 54% to 66%.  However, the type of crimes committed by 16-18 year olds can be seen in table 1. What is the new Bill doing? Currently, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 provides the framework to deal with children who are in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection.  The Bill seeks to replace the existing 2000 Act and lays down the procedures to deal with both categories of children.  It highlights the two main bodies that will deal with these children, to be set up in each district: Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs).  It provides details regarding adoption processes and penalties applicable under the law.  The Bill provides for children between 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous crimes.  The three types of offences defined by the Bill are: (i) a heinous offence is an offence that attracts a minimum penalty of seven years imprisonment under any existing law, (ii) a serious offence is one that gets imprisonment between three to seven years and, (iii) a petty offence is penalized with up to three years imprisonment. Currently, how is a juvenile in conflict with law treated? How is that set to change? Under the 2000 Act, any child in conflict with law, regardless of the type of offence committed, may spend a maximum of three years in institutional care (special home, etc.)  The child cannot be given any penalty higher than three years, nor be tried as an adult and be sent to an adult jail.  The proposed Bill treats all children under the age of 18 years in a similar way, except for one departure.  It states that any 16-18 year old who commits a heinous offence may be tried as an adult.  The JJB shall assess the child’s mental and physical capacity, ability to understand consequences of the offence, etc.  On the basis of this assessment, a Children’s Court will determine whether the child is fit to be tried as an adult. What did the Standing Committee examining the Bill observe? One of the reasons cited for the introduction of the Bill is a spike in juvenile crime, as depicted by NCRB data.  The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development examining the Bill stated that NCRB data was misleading as it was based on FIRs and not actual convictions.  It also observed that the Bill violates some constitutional provisions and said that the approach towards juvenile offenders should be reformative and rehabilitative. The Bill as introduced posed certain constitutional violations to Article 14, 20(1) and 21.  These have been addressed by deletion of the relevant clause, at the time of passing the Bill in Lok Sabha. What does the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) say? What are the obligations on the signatory nations? The UNCRC was ratified by India in 1992 and the 2000 Act was consequently brought in to adhere to the standards set by the Convention.  The proposed Bill maintains this aim and seeks to improve implementation and procedural delays experienced by the 2000 Act.  The UNCRC states that signatory countries should treat every child under the age of 18 years in the same manner and not try them as adults.  While the 2000 Act complies with this requirement, the Bill does not.  However, many other countries who have also ratified the Convention try juveniles as adults, in case of certain crimes.  These countries include the UK, France, Germany, etc.  The United States is not a signatory to the UNCRC and also treats juveniles as adults in case of certain crimes. Under the Bill, what happens to a child who is found to be orphaned, abandoned or surrendered? The Bill addresses children in need of care and protection.  When a child is found to be orphaned, abandoned or surrendered he is brought before a Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours.  A social investigation report is conducted for the child, and the Committee decides to either send the child to a children’s home or any other facility it deems fit, or to declare the child to be free for adoption or foster care.  The Bill outlines the eligibility criteria for prospective parents.  It also details procedures for adoption, and introduces a provision for inter-country adoption, so that prospective parents living outside the country can adopt a child in India. Currently, the Guidelines Governing Adoption, 2015 under the 2000 Act, regulates adoptions.  Model Foster Care Guidelines have also recently been released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. What are the penalties for committing offences against children? Various penalties for committing offences against children are laid out in the Bill.  These include penalties for giving a child an intoxicating substance, selling or buying the child, cruelty against a child, etc. Issue to consider: The penalty for giving a child an intoxicating or narcotic substance is an imprisonment of seven years and a fine of up to one lakh rupees.  Comparatively, buying or selling a child will attract a penalty including imprisonment of five years and a fine of one lakh rupees. It remains to be seen if the Bill will be taken up for consideration in this session, and if its passage will address the issues surrounding children in conflict with the law.

Regulating real estate: the 2013 Bill and recent developments

Yesterday, Cabinet approved amendments to the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013, which is currently pending in Parliament. In this context, the blog post outlines key features and issues related to the Bill, and certain changes which were approved by Cabinet. What is the current status of the Bill? The Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in August 2013.  It was then referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development, which submitted its report in February 2014.  The Bill has not been discussed in Parliament as yet, and is currently pending in Rajya Sabha. As mentioned above, Cabinet approved certain changes to the Bill yesterday.  However, a comprehensive list of these changes is not available in the public domain yet. What are the key features of the Bill? The Bill regulates transactions between buyers and promoters (sellers) of residential real estate projects.  It establishes state level regulatory authorities called Real Estate Regulatory Authorities (RERAs) in order to do so.  Residential real estate projects, with some exceptions, need to be registered with RERAs, and their details must be uploaded on the website of the RERA.  This implies that promoters cannot book or offer these projects for sale without registering them with RERAs.  Real estate agents dealing in these projects also need to register with RERAs.  The Bill also establishes state level appellate tribunals called Real Estate Appellate Tribunals.  Decisions of RERAs can be challenged before these tribunals. The Bill outlines the duties of promoters, buyers, and real estate agents.  For example, the Bill requires that promoters keep 70% of the amount collected from buyers for a project, in a separate bank account. This amount must only be used for construction of that project.  The state government can alter this amount to less than 70%.  The Bill also provides for penalties for the breach of certain provisions of the Bill. What are some of the issues to consider? A few key issues to consider in the Bill are related to the following: (i) certain states have already enacted laws to regulate real estate; (ii) commercial real estate has not been included within the ambit of the Bill; (iii) certain smaller sized projects have not been covered under the Bill; and (iv)  70% of the amount collected from buyers must be kept in an escrow account. Firstly, at present, certain states, such as West Bengal and Maharashtra, have already enacted laws to regulate real estate.  So, any central law on real estate that is subsequently enacted will override provisions of state laws if they are inconsistent with the central law.  For example, while this Bill (introduced at the centre) requires that 70% of the amount collected from buyers be kept in a separate account and be used only for construction of that project, the Maharashtra law requires that the entire amount collected from buyers be used only for purposes collected. Secondly, while the Bill seeks to regulate residential real estate, commercial real estate has been excluded from its ambit.  The Standing Committee has also pointed out that commercial and industrial real estate should be regulated by the Bill. Thirdly, registration with RERAs is not required for projects that: (i) are less than 1000 square metres, or (ii) entail the construction of less than 12 apartments, or (iii) entail renovation/repair/re-development without re-allotment or marketing of the project.  The Standing Committee has pointed out that the exclusion of projects, smaller than 1,000 square meters or 12 apartments, from the purview of RERAs could lead to the exclusion of a number of small housing projects.  Instead, it has suggested that only projects that are smaller than 100 square meters or three apartments need not register with the RERA. Finally, the Bill mandates that 70% of the amount collected from buyers of a project be used only for construction of that project.  Typically, the project cost of a real estate project includes the cost of land and the cost of construction.  In certain cases, the cost of construction could be less than 70% and the cost of land more than 30% of the total amount collected.  This implies that part of the funds collected could remain unutilised, necessitating some financing from other sources.  Consequently, this could raise the project cost. The Standing Committee made certain other recommendations in relation to the Bill.  It suggested that all real estate agents be registered with RERAs; and that a new provision be inserted to allow RERAs to give directions to state governments to establish a single window system for providing clearances for projects.  Additionally, a time limit should be specified for state and local authorities to issue completion certificates for projects. What were the changes to the Bill approved by Cabinet yesterday? A comprehensive list of amendments is not in the public domain yet.  However, a press release of the government, published by the Press Information Bureau, indicates the following changes have been made: firstly, the application of the Bill has been extended to cover commercial real estate, in addition to residential real estate; and secondly, the amount to be kept in an escrow account has been reduced from 70% of the amount collected from buyers to 50%. For more information, please see the PRS Legislative Brief on the Bill, available here.  You can also watch a PRS video on the Bill here.

A background to Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000

A few minutes ago, the Supreme Court delivered a  judgement striking down Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.  This was in response to a PIL that challenged the constitutionality of this provision.  In light of this, we present a background to Section 66 A and the recent developments leading up to its challenge before the Court.  What does the Information Technology Act, 2000 provide for? The Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 provides for legal recognition for transactions through electronic communication, also known as e-commerce.  The Act also penalizes various forms of cyber crime.  The Act was amended in 2009 to insert a new section, Section 66A which was said to address cases of cyber crime with the advent of technology and the internet. What does Section 66(A) of the IT Act say? Section 66(A) of the Act criminalises the sending of offensive messages through a computer or other communication devices.  Under this provision, any person who by means of a computer or communication device sends any information that is:

  1. grossly offensive;
  2. false and meant for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will;
  3. meant to deceive or mislead the recipient about the origin of such messages, etc, shall be punishable with imprisonment up to three years and with fine

Over the past few years, incidents related to comments,  sharing of information, or thoughts expressed by an individual to a wider audience on the internet have attracted criminal penalties under Section 66(A).  This has led to discussion and debate on the ambit of the Section and its applicability to such actions. What have been the major developments in context of this Section? In the recent past, a few arrests were made under Section 66(A) on the basis of social media posts directed at notable personalities, including politicians.  These  were alleged to be offensive in nature.  In November 2012, there were various reports of alleged misuse of the law, and the penalties imposed were said to be disproportionate to the offence.  Thereafter, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court, challenging this provision on grounds of unconstitutionality.  It was said to impinge upon the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. How has the government responded so far? Subsequently, the central government issued guidelines for the purposes of Section 66(A).  These guidelines clarified that prior approval of the Deputy Commissioner or Inspector General of Police was required before a police officer or police station could register a complaint under Section 66(A).  In May 2013, the Supreme Court (in relation to the above PIL) also passed an order saying that such approval was necessary before any arrest is to be made.  Since matters related to police and public order are dealt with by respective state governments, a Supreme Court order was required for these guidelines to be applicable across the country.  However, no changes have been made to Section 66 A itself.  Has there been any legislative movement with regard to Section 66(A)? A Private Member Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha in 2013 to amend Section 66(A) of the IT Act.  The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill stated that most of the offences that Section 66(A) dealt with were already covered by the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860. This had resulted in dual penalties for the same offence.  According to the Bill, there were also inconsistencies between the two laws in relation to the duration of imprisonment for the same offence.  The offence of threatening someone with injury through email attracts imprisonment of two years under the IPC and three years under the IT Act.  The Bill was eventually withdrawn. In the same year, a Private Members resolution was also moved in Parliament.  The resolution proposed to make four changes: (i) bring Section 66(A) in line with the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution; (ii) restrict the application of the provision to communication between two persons; (iii) precisely define the offence covered; and (iv) reduce the penalty and make the offence a non-cognizable one (which means no arrest could be made without a court order).  However, the resolution was also withdrawn. Meanwhile, how has the PIL proceeded? According to news reports, the Supreme Court  in February, 2015 had stated that the constitutional validity of the provision would be tested, in relation to the PIL before it.  The government argued that they were open to amend/change the provision as the intention was not to suppress freedom of speech and expression, but only deal with cyber crime.  The issues being examined by the Court relate to the powers of the police to decide what is abusive, causes annoyance, etc,. instead of the examination of the offence by the judiciary .  This is pertinent because this offence is a cognizable one, attracting a penalty of at least three years imprisonment.  The law is also said to be ambiguous on the issue of what would constitute information that is “grossly offensive,” as no guidelines have been provided for the same.  This lack of clarity could lead to increased litigation. The judgement is not available in the public domain yet. It remains to be seen on what the reasoning of the Supreme Court was, in its decision to strike down Section 66A, today.

Land Acquisition: An overview of proposed amendments to the law

On March 10, Lok Sabha passed a Bill to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.  The Bill is now pending in Rajya Sabha.  This blog briefly outlines the context and the major legislative changes to the land acquisition law. I. Context Land acquisition, unlike the purchase of land, is the forcible take-over of privately owned land by the government.  Land is acquired for projects which serve a ‘public purpose’.  These include government projects, public-private partnership projects, and private projects.  Currently, what qualifies as ‘public purpose’ has been defined to include defence projects, infrastructure projects, and projects related to housing for the poor, among others. Till 2014, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 regulated the process of land acquisition.  While the 1894 Act provided compensation to land owners, it did not provide for rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) to displaced families.  These were some of the reasons provided by the government to justify the need for a new legislation to regulate the process of land acquisition.  Additionally, the Supreme Court had also pointed out issues with determination of fair compensation, and what constitutes public purpose, etc., in the 1894 Act.  To this end, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 was passed by Parliament, in 2013. II. Current legislative framework for land acquisition The 2013 Act brought in several changes to the process of land acquisition in the country.   Firstly, it increased the compensation provided to land owners, from 1.3 times the price of land to 2 times the price of land in urban areas, and 2-4 times the price of land in rural areas.  Secondly, unlike the earlier Act which did not provide rehabilitation and resettlement, the 2013 Act provided R&R to land owners as well as those families which did not own land, but were dependent on the land for their livelihood.  The Act permits states to provide higher compensation and R&R. Thirdly, unlike the previous Act, it mandated that a Social Impact Assessment be conducted for all projects, except those for which land was required urgently.  An SIA assesses certain aspects of the acquisition such as whether the project serves a public purpose, whether the minimum area that is required is being acquired, and the social impact of the acquisition.  Fourthly, it also mandated that the consent of 80% of land owners be obtained for private projects, and the consent of 70% of land owners be obtained for public-private partnership projects.  However, consent of land owners is not required for government projects.   The 2013 Act also made certain other changes to the process of land acquisition, including prohibiting the acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land, except in certain cases where the limit may be specified by the government. III. Promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the 2013 Act In addition to the 2013 Act, there are certain other laws which govern land acquisition in particular sectors, such as the National Highways Act, 1956 and the Railways Act, 1989.  The 2013 Act required that the compensation and R&R provisions of 13 such laws be brought in consonance with it, within a year of its enactment, (that is, by January 1, 2015) through a notification.  Since this was not done by the required date, the government issued an Ordinance (as Parliament was not in session) to extend the compensation and R&R provisions of the 2013 Act to these 13 laws.  However, the Ordinance also made other changes to the 2013 Act. The Ordinance was promulgated on December 31, 2014 and will lapse on April 5, 2015 if not passed as a law by Parliament.  Thus, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 has been introduced in Parliament to replace the Ordinance.  The Bill has been passed by Lok Sabha, with certain changes, and is pending in Rajya Sabha.  The next section outlines the major changes the Bill (as passed by Lok Sabha) proposes to make to 2013 Act. IV. Changes proposed by the 2015 Bill to the 2013 Act Some of the major changes proposed by the 2015 Bill (as passed by Lok Sabha) relate to provisions such as obtaining the consent of land owners; conducting an SIA; return of unutilised land; inclusion of private entities; and commission of offences by the government. Certain exemptions for five categories of projects: As mentioned above, the 2013 Act requires that the consent of 80% of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for private projects, and the consent of 70% of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for public-private partnership projects.  The Bill exempts five categories of projects from this provision of the 2013 Act.  These five categories are: (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing, (iv) industrial corridors (set up by the government/government undertakings, up to 1 km on either side of the road/railway), and (v) infrastructure projects. The Bill also allows the government to exempt these five categories of projects from: (i) the requirement of a Social Impact Assessment, and (ii) the limits that apply for acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land, through issuing a notification.  Before issuing this notification, the government must ensure that the extent of land being acquired is in keeping with the minimum land required for such a project. The government has stated that these exemptions are being made in order to expedite the process of land acquisition in these specific areas.  However, the opponents of the Bill have pointed out that these five exempted categories could cover a majority of projects for which land can be acquired, and consent and SIA will not apply for these projects. Return of unutilised land: Secondly, the Bill changes the time period after which unutilised, acquired land must be returned.  The 2013 Act states that if land acquired under it remains unutilised for five years, it must be returned to the original owners or the land bank.  The Bill changes this to state that the period after which unutilised land will need to be returned will be the later of: (i) five years, or (ii) any period specified at the time of setting up the project. Acquisition of land for private entities: Under the 2013 Act, as mentioned above, land can be acquired for the government, a public-private partnership, or a private company, if the acquisition serves a public purpose.  The third major change the Bill seeks to make is that it changes the term ‘private company’ to ‘private entity’.  This implies that land may now be acquired for a proprietorship, partnership, corporation, non-profit organisation, or other entity, in addition to a private company, if the project serves a public purpose. Offences by the government: Fourthly, under the 2013 Act, if an offence is committed by a government department, the head of the department will be held guilty unless he can show that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.  The Bill removes this section.  It adds a provision to state that if an offence is committed by a government employee, he can be prosecuted only with the prior sanction of the government. Acquisition of land for private hospitals and educational institutions: While the 2013 Act excluded acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions, the Bill sought to include these two within its scope.  However, the Lok Sabha removed this provision of the Bill.  Thus, in its present form, the Bill does not include the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions. Other changes proposed in Lok Sabha: In addition to removing social infrastructure from one of the five exempted categories of projects, clarifying the definition of industrial corridors, and removing the provision related to acquisition for private hospitals and private educational institutions, the Lok Sabha made a few other changes to the Bill, prior to passing it.  These include: (i) employment must be provided to ‘one member of an affected family of farm labour’ as a part of the R&R award, in addition to the current provision which specifies that one member of an affected family must be provided employment as a part of R&R; (ii) hearings of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authority to address grievances related to compensation be held in the district where land is being acquired; and (iii) a survey of wasteland must be conducted and records of these land must be maintained. For more details on the 2015 Bill, see the PRS Bill page, here. A version of this blog appeared on rediff.com on February 27, 2015. 

EU bans imports of Alphonso mangoes: Is India's biosecurity mechanism rigorous enough?

Recent news reports indicate that the European Union (EU) has banned imports of Alphonso mangoes and four vegetables from India due to the presence of harmful pests and a lack of certification before export.  The ban will be effective between May 1, 2014 and December 2015.  It has been suggested that the ban could impact the export of nearly 16 million mangoes from India, the market for which is worth nearly £6 million a year in a country like the United Kingdom. In this context, it may be useful to examine the regulation of agricultural biosecurity in India, particularly with respect to imports and exports of such agricultural produce. Currently, two laws, the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1914 and the Livestock Importation Act, 1898, regulate the import and export of plants and animals with a view to control pests and diseases.  Under the laws, the authorities ensure that infectious diseases and pests do not cause widespread damage to the environment, crops, agricultural produce and human beings, i.e. the agricultural biosecurity of a country.  Common examples of pests and diseases have been the Banana bunchy top virus which stunts banana plants and stops production of fruit while another is the Avian Influenza, which caused extensive death of poultry and led to human deaths as well. Under the existing Acts, different government departments and government-approved bodies are responsible for regulating imports and certifying exports to ensure that there are no threats to agricultural biosecurity.  The Department of Agriculture keeps a check on pests and diseases arising from plants and related produce, such as mangoes and vegetables, while the Department of Animal Husbandry monitors diseases relating to animals and meat products.  The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) certifies exports of different commodities related to plants and animals.  Various government committees have highlighted the ineffectiveness of the existing system due to its piecemeal approach and have recommended an integrated system to handle biosecurity issues.  It has also been suggested that the existing laws have not kept up with developments in agriculture and are inadequate to deal with the emergence of trans-boundary diseases that pose threats to human, animal and plant safety. The Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, 2013, pending in Parliament seeks to replace these laws and establish a national authority, the Agricultural Biosecurity Authority of India (ABAI), to regulate biosecurity issues related to plants and animals.  ABAI shall be responsible for: (i) regulating the import and export of plants, animals and related products, (ii) implementing quarantine measures in case of the existence of pests, (iii) regulating the inter-state spread of pests and diseases relating to plants and animals, and (iv) undertaking regular surveillance of pests and diseases.  Under the Bill, exports of plants, animals and related products will only be allowed once ABAI has issued a sanitary or phytosanitary certificate in accordance with the destination country’s requirements. The penalty for exporting goods without adequate certification from ABAI is imprisonment upto two years and and a fine of Rs 2 lakh. The proposed ABAI will also meet India’s obligations to promote research and prevent pests and diseases under the International Plant Protection Convention and the Office International des Epizooties. A PRS analysis of various aspects of the Bill can be found here. The Bill will lapse with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.  It remains to be seen how the incoming government in the 16th Lok Sabha will approach biosecurity issues to prevent incidents like the EU ban on imports of Indian fruits and vegetables in the future.

Land acquisition process can take 50 months

The new Land Acquisition Bill has detailed a process for acquiring land.  The process could take up to 50 months.  This will increase the gestation period of projects.  The new time line and the attendant uncertainty at each step will have to be factored in by promoters of projects while computing the costs and feasibility. The details of the process are given in the Table below.  Some of the processes can be conducted concurrently with others. The processes which need to be done sequentially are shown in bold.  These add up to 50 months (not counting extensions). Time limits for various steps for Land Acquisition under the new Act

Process Section Time limit
Social Impact Assessment 4(1) last proviso 6 months
Appraisal of SIA by review committee 7(4) and 7(5) 2 months
Examination of land acquisition proposal and SIA by appropriate government 8 No time limit specified
SIA expert group appraisal to Preliminary notification 14 12 months but extendable by appropriate government
Preliminary notification to updating of land records 11(5) 2 months
Preliminary notification to objections 16(1) 60 days
Preliminary notification to R&R survey 17(1) Time limit to be prescribed in Rules
Preliminary notification under section 11 to Declaration under section 20 15 and 20(7) (inconsistency) 12 months (S15)12 months but extendable by appropriate government; also court stay period excluded (S20(7))
Time for compensation claims to be made 22(2) 30 days to 6 months
Declaration to Award 26 12 months but extendable by appropriate government
Correction of Award by Collector 34(1) 6 months
Award to Possession of land by collector  39(1) After ensuring compensation is paid (3 months) and monetary component of R&R paid (6 months).
Time for infrastructure entitlements under R&R 39(1) proviso 18 months after award

Source: PRS Total Time Limit (assuming no extensions): SIA (6 months) + Expert group appraisal (2 months) + Preliminary notification (12 months) + Declaration (12 months) + Award (12 months) + Possession (6 months) = 50 months.  

Enhancing SEBI’s Powers

Recently, there have been instances of certain collective investment schemes (CISs) attempting to circumvent regulatory oversight.  In addition, some market participants have not complied with Securities and Exchange Board of India's (SEBI) orders of payment of penalty and refund to investors. In August, the Securities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 (the SEBI Act, 1992), the Securities Contract (Regulation) Act, 1956 (SCRA, 1956) and the Depositories Act, 1996. The Bill replaced the Securities Laws (Amendments) Ordinance, 2013. The Bill makes the following key amendments: a) Definition of Collective Investment Schemes The SEBI Act, 1992 defines CISs as schemes in which the funds of investors are pooled, yield profits or income and are managed on behalf of investors.  It also exempts certain types of investments which are regulated by other authorities. The Bill introduces a proviso to the definition of CIS.  This proviso deems any scheme or arrangement to be a CIS if it meets all three of the following conditions: (a) funds are pooled, (b) it is not registered with SEBI, or it is not exempted by SEBI Act, 1992, and (c) it has a corpus of Rs 100 crore or more.  These provisions could potentially lead to some schemes not conventionally defined as CIS to fall under the definition. For instance, partnership firms operating in the investment business or real estate developers accepting customer advances could be termed as CISs. SEBI has been given the power to specify conditions under which any scheme or arrangement can be defined as a CIS. This raises the question of whether this is excessive delegation of legislative powers - usually the parent act defines the entities to be regulated and the details are entrusted to the regulator. b) Disgorgement (repayment) of unfair gains/ averted losses SEBI has in the past issued orders directing market participants to refund i) profits made or ii) losses averted, through unfair actions.  The Bill deems SEBI to have always had the power to direct a market participant to disgorge unfair gains made/losses averted, without approaching a court.  This power to order disgorgement without approaching a court is in contrast with the provisions of the recently passed Companies Bill, 2011 and the draft Indian Financial Code (IFC) which require an order from a court/tribunal for disgorgement of unfair gains. Further, the Bill specifies that the disgorged amount shall be credited to the Investor Education and Protection Fund (IEPF), and shall be used in accordance with SEBI regulations.  The Bill does not explicitly provide the first right on the disgorged funds to those who suffered wrongful losses due to the unfair actions, unlike the draft IFC. c) Investigation and prosecution The Bill empowers the SEBI chairman to authorise search and seizure operations on a suspect’s premises.  This does away with the current requirement of permission from a Judicial Magistrate.  This provision removes the usual safeguards regarding search and seizure as seen in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the recently passed Companies Bill, 2011 and the draft Indian Financial Code. The Bill also empowers an authorised SEBI officer to, without approaching a court, attach a person’s bank accounts and property and even arrest and detain the person in prison for non-compliance of a disgorgement order or penalty order.  Most regulators and authorities, with the exception of the Department of Income Tax, do not have powers to such an extent. d) Other Provisions of the Bill The Bill retrospectively validates consent guidelines issued by SEBI in 2007 under which SEBI can settle non-criminal cases through consent orders, i.e., parties can make out-of-court settlements through payment of fine/compensation.  The United States Securities and Exchange Commission settles over 90% of non-criminal cases by consent orders. The Bill retrospectively validates the exchange of information between SEBI and foreign securities regulators through MoUs. The Bill sets up special courts to try cases relating to offences under the SEBI Act, 1992. For a PRS summary of the Bill, here.

A balancing Act- The Land Acquisition Bill

The Land Acquisition Bill is slated to be taken up for consideration and passing in the Lok Sabha today. The government had circulated an amendment list in the last session of Parliament. In a column in the Financial Express, MR Madhavan discusses the major features of the Land Acquisition Bill and the associated issues that Parliament may need to consider while deliberating on the Bill. Economic growth and job creation require efficient usage of land resources. It is important that a fair and transparent process for purchase and for acquisition of land is followed. For the purchase of land, a key concern is the authenticity of land titles, and the government has drafted a Land Titling Bill for this purpose. In the case of land acquisition, the following questions need to be addressed. What are the end-uses for which public interests will trump private property rights, and justify acquisition of land from a person who is not willing to part with it? What should be the process followed? Since there is no market mechanism of discovery of prices in these cases, how should compensation be computed? Is there a need to address non-land owners who may be displaced by the acquisition process? Does the acquisition process get completed in a reasonable amount of time, and is there finality to the acquisition? In sum, do both sides—the acquirer and the land owner—perceive the process to be fair? The current Bill addresses these questions in the following manner. It defines public purpose to include infrastructure projects (as defined by the finance ministry, with some exclusions); projects related to agriculture, agro-processing and cold storage; industrial corridors, mining activities, national investment and manufacturing zones; government administered or aided educational and research institutions; sports, healthcare, transport and space programmes. It also enables the government to include other infrastructural facilities to this list after tabling a notification in Parliament. The significant difference from the current Land Acquisition Act, 1894, is that land cannot be acquired for use by companies unless they satisfy any of the above end-uses. The Bill includes a requirement for consent of the land owners in some cases. If the land is acquired for use by a private company, 80% of land owners need to give consent. If it is for use by a public private partnership (PPP), 70% of the land owners have to agree to the acquisition. The rationale of having differential consent requirements based on ownership—including the lack of any such requirement if the land is for the use of the government or a public sector undertaking—is not clear. Why should a land owner, who is losing his land care, whether the intended project is to be executed by the government or a private company? The Bill specifies that the compensation will be computed in the following manner. Three factors are taken into account: the circle rate according to the Stamp Act; the average of the top 50% of sale deeds registered in the vicinity in the previous three years; the amount agreed upon, if any, in case of purchase by a private company or PPP. The higher of these three amounts is multiplied by a factor, which varies from 1 in urban areas to a number between 1 and 2 in rural areas, depending upon the distance from the urban centre. To this amount, the value of any fixed assets such as buildings, trees, irrigation channels etc is added. Finally, this figure is doubled (as solatium, i.e. compensation for the fact that the transaction was made with an unwilling seller). The justification given for the multiplier ranging from 1 to 2 is that many transactions are registered at a price significantly lower than the actual value in order to evade taxes—the moot question is whether such under-reporting is uniform across the country? The Bill states that all persons who are affected by the project should be rehabilitated and resettled (R&R). The R&R entitlements for each family includes a house, a one-time allowance, and choice of (a) employment for one person in the project, (b) one-time payment of R5 lakh, or (c) inflation adjusted annuity of R2,000 per month for 20 years. In addition, the resettlement areas should have infrastructure such as a school, post office, roads, drainage, drinking water, etc. The process has several steps. Every acquisition, regardless of size, needs a social impact assessment, which will be reviewed by an expert committee, and evaluated by the state government. Then a preliminary notification will be issued, land records will be updated, objections will be heard, rehabilitation and resettlement survey carried out, and a final declaration of acquisition issued. The owners can then claim compensation, the final award will be announced, and the possession of the land taken. The total time for this process can last up to 50 months. The big question is whether this time frame would hinder economic development and the viability of projects? The Bill provides for an Authority to adjudicate disputes related to measurement of land, compensation payable, R&R etc, with appeals to be heard by the High Court. There are several restrictions on the land acquired. The purpose for which land is acquired cannot be changed. If land is not used for five years, it would be transferred to a land bank or the original owners. Transfer of ownership needs prior permission, and in case of transfer in the first five years, 40% of capital gains have to be shared with the original owners. Recent cases of land acquisition have been followed by public protests, and the stalling of the acquisition. Whereas some of these may be driven by political agendas, the old Act was perceived to be unfair to land owners in several ways. The challenge for Parliament is to examine the new Bill and craft the law in such a way that it is fair (and perceived as such) to land owners, while making acquisition feasible and practical for projects that are required for economic development and other areas of public interest.