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.
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.
In the last decade, some schemes have been recast as statutory entitlements – right to employment, right to education and right to food. Whereas schemes were dependent on annual budgetary allocations, there rights are now justiciable, and it would be obligatory for Parliament to allocate sufficient resources in the budget. Some of these rights also entail expenditure by state governments, with the implication that state legislatures will have to provide sufficient funds in their budgets. Importantly, the amounts required are a significant proportion of the total budget. There has been little debate on the core constitutional issue of whether any Parliament can pre-empt the role of resource allocation by future Parliaments. Whereas a future Parliament can address this issue by amending the Act, such power is not available to state legislatures. Through these Acts, Parliament is effectively constraining the spending preferences of states as expressed through their budgets passed by their respective legislative assemblies. I have discussed these issues in my column in Pragati published on August 16, 2013.
In an Indian express editorial, Mandira Kala discusses the Bills, addressing corruption and good governance, pending in Parliament. She discusses what their fate may be given that the Monsoon session is widely being viewed as a make or break session for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. The monsoon session of Parliament started on a stormy note last week. Question hour was disrupted on most days and only one government bill was passed. There are 11 days left in the session and more than 40 bills pending for parliamentary approval. With the 15th Lok Sabha drawing to an end, this session is being viewed as a "make or break" session for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. Since 2010, there has been much debate in Parliament on corruption and an important part of the government's legislative agenda was the introduction of nine bills in the Lok Sabha to address corruption and improve governance through effective delivery of public services. Three of these bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are currently pending before the Rajya Sabha. These include legislation to address corruption in public office, enforce standards and accountability in the judiciary, and protect whistleblowers. The government has proposed amendments to each of these bills that the Rajya Sabha will have to consider and pass. If the Rajya Sabha passes these bills with amendments, they will be sent back to the Lok Sabha for approval. It is difficult to assess in what timeframe these bills will become law, given that both Houses need to agree on the amendments. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill creates a process for receiving and investigating corruption complaints against public officials, including the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, and prosecuting these in a timebound manner. The government amendments include allowing states the flexibility to determine their respective Lokayuktas and giving the Lokpal power of superintendence over the CBI, if the case has been referred by him. A mechanism to protect whistleblowers and create a process for receiving and investigating complaints of corruption or wilful misuse of discretion against a public servant are proposed under the Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2010. The amendments proposed by the government prohibit whistleblowing if the disclosure of information affects the sovereignty of the country and its strategic, scientific and economic interest. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards and establishes processes for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. The bill is not listed in the government's legislative agenda for the monsoon session and media reports suggest that the government intends to make amendments to it. In the arena of strengthening governance and effective delivery of public services, there are three bills currently pending in Parliament. The Citizens' Charter Bill confers the right to timebound delivery of goods and services on every citizen and creates a mechanism for redressing complaints on such matters. The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill mandates that Central and state governments shall deliver public services electronically no later than eight years from the enactment of the law. The parliamentary standing committee had highlighted that the Citizens' Charter Bill and Electronic Delivery of Services Bill have an inherent overlap, which the government would have to resolve. While the former is listed for passing in this session, the government plans to withdraw the latter and replace it with a new bill. This new bill is not part of the list that is up for consideration and passing this session. To create a reliable method of identifying individuals to facilitate their access to benefits and services the National Identification Authority of India Bill was introduced in Parliament to provide unique identification numbers ("aadhaar") to residents of India. This bill has not been listed for parliamentary approval during this session. Two other pending bills do not find place in the government's legislative agenda for the session either. These include legislation that curbs the holding and transfer of benami property and regulates the procurement process in government departments to ensure transparency, accountability and probity. The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill, which imposes penalties on Indian companies and individuals who bribe officials of a foreign government or international agency, is listed for passing this session. Each of these nine bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha. If they are not passed by both Houses before the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved in 2014, no matter where they are in the legislative process, the bills will lapse. This implies that the entire legislative process will have to start all over again, if and when there is political will to legislate on these issues in the 16th Lok Sabha. The challenges in getting legislation passed by Parliament are many, given that its overall productive time, especially time spent on legislation, is decreasing. Typically, Parliament spends about 25 per cent of its time debating legislation, but in the past few years this average has declined to 15 per cent. While the time lost by the House due to frequent adjournments is difficult to make up, parliamentarians will have to cautious about passing bills without the rigours of parliamentary debate. It is uncertain what the trajectory of the anti-corruption legislation in Parliament will be — enacted as law or resigned to a pool of lapsed legislation.
These are challenging times for chit fund operators. A scam involving the Saradha group allegedly conning customers under the guise of a chit fund, has raised serious questions for the industry. With a reported 10,000 chit funds in the country handling over Rs 30,000 crore annually, chit fund proponents maintain that these funds are an important financial tool. The scam has also sparked responses from both the centre and states: the Finance Ministry, Ministry of Corporate Affairs and SEBI have all promised to act and the West Bengal Assembly has passed The West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, with Odisha and Haryana considering similar legislation. What is a chit fund? A chit fund is a type of saving scheme where a specified number of subscribers contribute payments in instalment over a defined period. Each subscriber is entitled to a prize amount determined by lot, auction or tender depending on the nature of the chit fund. Typically the prize amount is the entire pool of contribution minus a discount which is redistributed to subscribers as a dividend. For example, consider an auction-type chit fund with 50 subscribers contributing Rs 100 every month. The monthly pool is Rs 5,000 and this is auctioned out every month. The winning bid, say Rs 1000, would be the discount and be distributed among the subscribers. The winning bidder would then receive Rs 4,000 (Rs 5,000 – 1,000) while the rest of subscribers would receive Rs 20 (1000/50). Winners cannot enter the auction again and will be liable for the monthly subscription as the process is repeated for the duration of the scheme. The company managing the chit fund (foreman) would retain a commission from the prize amount every month. Collectively, the subscribers to a chit fund are referred to as a chit group and a chit fund company may run many such groups. What are the laws governing chit funds? Classifying them as contracts, the Supreme Court has read chit funds as being part of the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution; hence both the centre and state can frame legislation regarding chit funds. States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala had enacted legislation (e.g The Kerala Chitties Act, 1975 and The Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961) for regulating chit funds. Chit Funds Act, 1982 In 1982, the Ministry of Finance enacted the Chit Funds Act to regulate the sector. Under the Act, the central government can choose to notify the Act in different states on different dates; if the Act is notified in a state, then the state act would be repealed[i]. States are responsible for notifying rules and have the power to exempt certain chit funds from the provisions of the Act. Last year the central government, notified the Act in Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala and Nagaland. Under the Act, all chit funds require previous sanction from the state government. The capital requirement for establishing chit funds is Rs 1 lakh and at least 10% of profits should be transferred to a reserve fund. The amount of discount (i.e. the bid) is capped at 40% of the total chit fund value. States may appoint a Registrar who would be responsible for regulation, inspection and dispute settlement in the sector. Any grievances over decisions made by the Registrar can be subject to appeals directed to the state government. Chit fund managers are required to deposit the entire value of the chit fund (can be done in 50% cash and 50% bank guarantee) with the Registrar for the duration of the chit cycle. Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 The Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 defines and prohibits any illegal chit fund schemes (e.g. schemes where auction winners are not liable to future payments). Again, the responsibility for enforcing the provisions of this Act lies with the state government. Reports suggest that the government is discussing amendments to this Bill in the wake of the chit fund scam. West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013 Last month the West Bengal Assembly passed the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013. This was a direct response to the chit fund scam in West Bengal. While not regulating chit funds directly, the Act regulates and restricts financial establishments to curb any unscrupulous activity with regards to deposits. Chit funds are specifically included under the definition of deposits. The state government will appoint a competent authority to conduct investigations. What is the role of RBI and SEBI? The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the regulator for banks and other non banking financial companies (NBFCs) but does not regulate the chit fund business. While chit funds accept deposits, the term ‘deposit’ as defined under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 does not include subscriptions to chits. However the RBI can provide guidance to state governments on regulatory aspects like creating rules or exempting certain chit funds. As the regulator of the securities market, SEBI regulates collective investment schemes. But the SEBI Act, 1992 specifically excludes chit funds from their definition of collective investment schemes. In the recent case with Sarada Group, the SEBI investigation discovered that Sarada were, in effect, operating a collective investment scheme without SEBI’s approval.
In today's Opinion piece, in the Indian Express, we discuss how enacting hasty new legislation in response to public events may not be the answer. The recent spot fixing controversy in the Indian Premier League has brought the issue of betting in sports back into the limelight. As a result, public debate around betting, and steps that need to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such events, is gaining traction. The government's response to this incident has been somewhat predictable. The minister of state for sports has reportedly stated that his ministry is committed to putting in place new legislation to deal with the menace of fixing in sports. This approach to law making points towards a growing trend of initiating policy and legislative decisions as a reaction to public events. This is not something new. The Mumbai terror attack in 2008 was the catalyst for the enactment of the National Investigation Agency Act, and the brutal rape and murder of a young girl in Delhi led to the overhaul of India's penal code to ensure stricter penalties for crimes against women. Both these bills were passed without effective scrutiny, as they were not referred to a parliamentary standing committee for examination. Events in the country may, on occasion, highlight gaps in our policy and legislative framework. However, they often point out the ineffectiveness of existing laws and the lack of proper implementation. And that is not always a result of not having enough laws in the country. There are more than a 1,000 Central laws and over 15,000 state laws. The problem lies with our law-making process, which is ad hoc in nature. It is geared towards churning out legislation that is not entirely evidence based and does not take the feedback of different stakeholders into account. In its reports, the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution had observed that "our legislative enactments betray clear marks of hasty drafting and absence of Parliament scrutiny from the point of view of both the implementers and the affected persons and groups". Take, for example, the Gram Nyayalaya Act, which establishes village courts to provide people with easy access to justice and reduce the case law burden on the court system. Structured feedback from villagers, whom this act is trying to empower, prior to introducing the bill in Parliament would have given valuable insights about implementation challenges. A comprehensive study to examine the impact that village courts would have in reducing pendency in the judicial system would have provided hard numbers to substantiate what types of cases should be adjudicated by the village courts. A detailed financial analysis of the cost implications for the Central and the state governments for implementing the law would have helped policymakers decide on the scale and effectiveness of implementation. In the absence of these studies, there is no way to measure whether the law has been effective in giving villagers easy access to justice and in reducing the burden on the judicial system. The importance of stakeholder consultation was recently stressed by the parliamentary committee examining the land acquisition bill. In its report on the bill, the committee recommended that, "before bringing in any bill in future, the government should ensure wider, effective and timely consultations with all relevant and stakeholders so that all related issues are addressed adequately." Rajya Sabha MP N.K. Singh, while testifying before the parliamentary standing committee on the National Food Security Bill, had drawn the attention of the committee towards the need for an accurate financial memorandum accompanying the bill, to "avoid serious consequences in the implementation of the bill." The National Advisory Council has also suggested a process of pre-legislative scrutiny of bills and delegated legislation. In its approach paper, the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission had suggested that delegated legislation should also be published in draft form to elicit feedback and that a cost benefit analysis of the delegated legislation should be appended to the draft. New laws can have a significant impact on the lives of people, so it is important that our law-makers enact "effective laws". For this to happen our law-making process needs to evolve. While there will always be public pressure for new laws, the solution lies in ensuring that the law-making process is robust, consultative and deliberative. The solution to addressing policy opportunities does not always lie in making new laws but in ensuring that whatever law is enacted is well thought out and designed to be effective.
The 15th Lok Sabha is close to the end of its tenure. A key legislation that proposes major reforms in food security was listed for discussion in Parliament. The National Food Security Bill, 2011 has been scrutinised by a Standing Committee. In January, we compared the Standing Committee's recommendations with the provisions of the Bill. Since then, amendments to the Bill have been introduced in Parliament. Debates on the Bill have revolved around the method of delivering food security, the identification of beneficiaries and the financial implications of the Bill. Method of delivery The Bill aims to make the right to food a statutory right. It proposes to use the existing Public Distribution System (PDS) to deliver foodgrain to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population. However, the Bill also allows for cash transfers and food coupons in lieu of grains as mechanisms to deliver food security. While the PDS is known to suffer from leakages as high as 40%, cash transfers and food coupons are known to expose recipients to volatility and price inflation. Each method of delivery would have its own implications, financial and otherwise. The table below compares these methods of delivery.[i] [table id=7 /]
Recently, the Parliament passed a law that addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the work place. The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2010, drew on the 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court (known as the Vishaka judgment) to codify measures that employers need to take to address sexual harassment at the work place. (See PRS analysis of the Bill here). The Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2011. It incorporated many of the amendments recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development that examined the Bill. The Rajya Sabha passed it on February 27, 2013 without any new amendments (see Bill as passed by Parliament). We compare the key provisions of the Bill, the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill that was passed by Parliament (for a detailed comparison, see here).
|Bill as introduced||Standing Committee recommendations||Bill as passed by Parliament|
Clause 2: Status of domestic workers
|Excludes domestic workers from the protection of the Bill.||The definition should include (i) domestic workers; and (ii) situations involving ‘victimization’;||Includes domestic worker. Does not include victimisation.|
Clause 4: Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)
|The committee shall include 4 members: a senior woman employee, two or more employees and one member from an NGO committed to the cause of women.||The strength of ICC should be increased from 4 to at least 5 (or an odd number) to facilitate decisions in cases where the bench is divided.||Disqualifies a member if (a) he has been convicted of an offence or an inquiry is pending against him or (b) he is found guilty in disciplinary proceedings or a disciplinary proceeding is pending against him.|
|Members may not engage in any paid employment outside the office.||Barring paid employment outside the office goes against NGO members who may be employed elsewhere. This clause must be edited.||Deletes the provision that disallows NGO members to engage in paid employment outside. NGO members to be paid fees or allowances.|
Clause 6: Constitution and jurisdiction of Local Complaints Committee (LCC)
|An LCC is required to be constituted in every district and additional LLCs at block level. At the block level the additional LCC will address complaints where the complainant does not have recourse to an ICC or where the complaint is against the employer.||The functions of the district level and the block level LCCs are not delineated clearly. It is also unclear whether the block level LCCs are temporary committees constituted for dealing with specific cases. Instead of creating additional LCCs at the block level, the District level LCC may be allowed to handle cases. A local member from the block may be co-opted as a member to aid the LCC in its task.||Accepted.|
Clause 10: Conciliation
|The ICC/ LCC shall provide for conciliation if requested by the complainant. Otherwise, it shall initiate an inquiry.||Distinction should be made between minor and major offences. Conciliation should be allowed only for minor offences.||Adds a proviso that monetary settlement shall not be the basis on which conciliation is made.|
Clause 11: Inquiry into Complaint
|ICC/LCC shall proceed to make inquiry into a complaint in such manner as may be prescribed.||No suggestion.||Inquiries will be conducted in accordance with service rules or in such manner as may be prescribed.For domestic workers, the LCC shall forward the complaint to the police within seven days if a prima facie case exists. The case shall be registered under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).|
|Sources: The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010; the Standing Committee on HRD Report on the Bill; the Sexual Harassment at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012; PRS.|
The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha yesterday. Prior to this, no legislation specifically addressed the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. In 1997, the Supreme Court issued directions in Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan to deal with the issue. The Supreme Court had also recommended that steps be taken to enact a law on the subject. The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2010 and was passed by the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012. In order to protect women from harassment, the Bill establishes a mechanism for redressal of complaints related to harassment. Recently, the Verma Committee in its Report on Amendments to Criminal Laws had made recommendations on the Sexual Harassment Bill. In this blog we discuss some of the key issues raised by the Verma Committee with regard to the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. Internal Committee: The Bill requires the establishment of a committee within organisations to inquire into complaints of sexual harassment. The Committee shall comprise four members: three would be employees of the organisation; and the fourth, a member of an NGO committed to the cause of women. The Verma Committee was of the opinion that in-house dealing of the complaints would dissuade women from filing complaints. It recommended that a separate Employment Tribunal outside the organisation be established to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment. Requirement for conciliation: Once a complaint is made, the Bill requires the complainant to attempt conciliation and settle the matter. Only in the event a settlement cannot be reached, the internal committee of the organisation would inquire into the matter. The Verma Committee was of the opinion that this is in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment. It noted that in sexual harassment cases, an attempt to conciliate compromises the dignity of the woman. Action during pendency of the case: As per the Bill, a woman may approach the internal committee to seek a transfer for herself or the respondent or a leave to the complainant. The Verma Committee had recommended that till the disposal of the case, the complainant and the respondent should not be compelled to work together. False complaints: The Bill allows the employer to penalise false or malicious complaints as per their service rules. The Committee was of the opinion that this provision was open to abuse. A PRS analysis of the Bill may be accessed here.
In the run up to the Budget session of Parliament, the Cabinet has decided to accept some of the key recommendations of the Select Committee on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011. The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, was referred to a Select Committee by the Rajya Sabha. The Select Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill a year later in November 2012. At the Cabinet meeting held on January 31, 2013, the government has accepted some of these recommendations (see here for PRS comparison of the Bill, Select Committee recommendations and the approved amendments). Key approved amendments Lokayuktas: One of the most contentious issues in the Lokpal debate has been the establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level. The Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha gave a detailed structure of the Lokayuktas. However, the Committee was of the opinion that while each state has to set up a Lokayukta within a year of the Act coming into force, the nature and type of the Lokayuktas should be decided by the states. The Cabinet has agreed with the suggestion of the Committee. Inclusion of NGOs: Currently, “public servant” is defined in the Indian Penal Code to include government officials, judges, employees of universities, Members of Parliament, Ministers etc. The Bill expanded this definition by bringing societies and trusts which receive donations from the public (over a specified annual income) and, organizations which receive foreign donations (over Rs 10 lakh a year) within the purview of the Lokpal. The Committee had however objected to the inclusion of organisations that receive donations from the public on the ground that bodies such as a rotary club or a resident’s welfare association may also be covered under the Lokpal. Bringing such entities within the Lokpal’s purview would make it unmanageable. The Cabinet decided not to accept this recommendation stating that this view had been accepted by the Standing Committee while examining the version of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha. However, the government has exempted trusts or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act. Procedure of inquiry and investigation: A key recommendation of the Committee was to allow the Lokpal to directly order an investigation if a prima facie case existed (based on the complaint received). The Cabinet has accepted this suggestion but suggested that the Lokpal should, before deciding that a prima facie case exists, call the public servant for a hearing. An investigation should be ordered only after hearing the public servant. Also, the Cabinet has not accepted the recommendation of the Committee that a public servant should be allowed a hearing only at the end of the investigation before filing the charge-sheet and not at any of the previous stages of the inquiry. Power to grant sanction: One of the key reasons cited for delays in prosecuting corrupt public officials is the requirement of a sanction from the government before a public servant can be prosecuted. The Bill shifts the power to grant sanction from the government to the Lokpal. It states that the investigation report shall be considered by a 3-member Lokpal bench before filing a charge-sheet or initiating disciplinary proceedings against the public servant. The Committee recommended that at this point both the competent authority (to whom the public servant is responsible) and the concerned public servant should be given a hearing. This has been accepted by the Cabinet. Reforms of CBI: There are divergent views over the role and independence of the CBI. The Committee made several recommendations for strengthening the CBI. They include: (a) the appointment of the Director of CBI will be through a collegium comprising of the PM, Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India; (b) the power of superintendence over CBI in relation to Lok Pal referred cases shall vest in the Lokpal; (c) CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal will be transferred with the approval of the Lokpal; and (d) for cases referred by the Lokpal, the CBI may appoint a panel of advocates (other than government advocates) with the consent of the Lok pal. All the recommendations regarding the CBI has been accepted by the Cabinet except one that requires the approval of the Lokpal to transfer officers of CBI investigating cases referred by the Lokpal. Eligibility of Lokpal member: According to the Bill, any person connected with a political party cannot be a member of the Lokpal. The Committee’s recommendation was to change the term connected to affiliated to remove any ambiguity about the meaning. This suggestion was accepted by the government. Now the interesting question is what happens if the Rajya Sabha passes the Bill with these amendments. The Bill will have to go back to the Lok Sabha for its approval since new amendments were added by the Rajya Sabha. If the Lok Sabha passes these amendments, the office of the Lokpal may finally see the light of day. (See here for PRS analysis of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011).