Legislation

Alternate proposal to the National Food Security Bill

According to news reports, the Prime Minister recently chaired a meeting with ministers to discuss an alternative plan (“Plan B”) for the National Food Security Bill, 2011 (hereinafter “Bill”).  The Bill is currently pending with the Standing Committee of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.  It seeks to deliver food and nutritional security by providing specific entitlements to certain groups.  The alternative proposal aims to give greater flexibility to states and may bind the centre to a higher food subsidy burden than estimates provided in the Bill.  It suggests changes to the classification of beneficiaries and the percentage of the national population to be covered by the Bill, among others. Classification of beneficiaries The Bill classifies the population into three groups: priority, general and excluded.  Individuals in the priority and general groups would receive 7 kg and 3 kg of foodgrain per person per month respectively at subsidized prices. Plan B suggests doing away with the priority-general distinction.  It classifies the population on the basis of 2 categories: included and excluded.  Those entitled to benefits under the included category will receive a uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month. Coverage of population Experts have suggested that the Bill will extend entitlements to roughly 64% of the total population.  Under the Bill, the central government is responsible for determining the percentage of people in each state who will be entitled to benefits under priority and general groups. Plan B suggests extending benefits to 67% of the total population (33% excluded), up from 64% in the Bill.  The Ministry has outlined two options to figure out the number of people in each state that should be included within this 67%.  The first option envisages a uniform exclusion of 33% in each state irrespective of their poverty level.  The second option envisages exclusion of 33% of the national population, which would imply a different proportion excluded in each state depending on their level of prosperity. The Ministry has worked out a criterion to determine the proportion of the population to be included in each state.  The criterion is pegged to a monthly per capita expenditure of Rs 1,215 in rural areas and Rs 1,502 in urban areas based on the 2009-10 NSSO survey. Thus, persons spending less than Rs 40 in rural areas and Rs 50 in urban areas per day will be entitled to foodgrains under the alternative being considered now. Financial estimates Newspaper reports have indicated that the revised proposal will add Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 crore per year to the current food subsidy estimate of Rs 1.1 lakh crore.  According to some experts, the total cost of the Bill could range anywhere between Rs 2 lakh crore to Rs 3.5 lakh crore (see here and here).

Law prohibiting sexual offences against children sparks controversy over age of consent

The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed by both Houses of Parliament on May 22.  The legislation defines various types of sexual offences against children and provides penalties for such acts. According to a report commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, about 53% of the children interviewed reported some form of sexual abuse.  The law has been viewed as a welcome step by most activists since it is gender neutral (both male and female children are covered), it clearly defines the offences and includes some child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences.  However, the issue of age of consent has generated some controversy.  Age of consent refers to the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person. Before this law was passed, the age of consent was considered to be 16 years (except if the woman was married to the accused, in which case it may be lower).  Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any sexual intercourse with a woman who is below the age of 16 years is considered to be “rape”.  The consent of the person is irrelevant. This post provides a snapshot of the key provisions of the Act, the debate surrounding the controversial provision and a comparison of the related law in other countries. Key provisions of the Act

  • The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children from offences such as sexual assault, penetrative sexual assault and sexual harassment.  It also penalises a person for using a child for pornographic purposes.
  • The Act states that a person commits “sexual assault” if he touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of a child with sexual intent without penetration.
  • The Act treats an offence as “aggravated” if it is committed by a person in a position of authority or trust such as a member of the security forces, a police officer or a public servant.
  • It specifies penalties for the offences and provides a mechanism for reporting and trial of such offences.

Debate over the age of consent After introduction, the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development.  The Committee submitted its report on December 21, 2011 (see here and here for PRS Bill Summary and  Standing Committee Summary, respectively).  Taking into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee, the Parliament decided to amend certain provisions of the Bill before passing it. The Bill stated that if a person is accused of “sexual assault” or “penetrative sexual assault” of a child between 16 and 18 years of age, it would be considered whether the consent of the child was taken by the accused.   This provision was deleted from the Bill that was passed. The Bill (as passed) states that any person below the age of 18 years shall be considered a child.  It prohibits a person from engaging in any type of sexual activity with a child.  However, the implication of this law is not clear in cases where both parties are below 18 years (see here and here for debate on the Bill in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha). The increase in the age of consent to 18 years sparked a debate among experts and activists. Proponents of increasing the age of consent argued that if a victim is between 16 and 18 years of age, the focus of a sexual assault case would be on proving whether he or she consented to the act or not.  The entire trial process including cross-examination of the victim would focus on the conduct of the victim rather than that of the accused (see here and here). Opponents of increasing the age of consent pointed out that since this Act criminalises any sexual activity with persons under the age of 18 years (even if consensual), the police may misuse it to harass young couples or parents may use this law to control older children’s sexual behaviour (see here and here).  International comparison In most countries, the age of consent varies between 13 and 18 years.  The table below lists the age of consent and the corresponding law in some selected countries. 

Countries

Age of consent

Law

US Varies from state to state between 16 and 18 years.  In some states, the difference in age between the two parties is taken into account.  This can vary between 2-4 years. Different state laws
UK 16 years Sexual Offences Act, 2003
Germany 14 years (16 years if the accused is a person responsible for the child’s upbringing, education or care). German Criminal Code
France 15 years French Criminal Code
Sweden 15 years (18 years if the child is the accused person’s offspring or he is responsible for upbringing of the child). Swedish Penal Code
Malaysia 16 years for both males and females. Malaysian Penal Code; Child Act 2001
China No information about consent.  Sex with a girl below 14 years is considered rape.  Sodomy of a child (male or female) below 14 years is an offence. Criminal Law of China, 1997
Canada 16 years Criminal Code of Canada
Brazil 14 years Brazilian Penal Code 2009
Australia Varies between 16 and 17 years among different states and territorial jurisdictions.  In two states, a person may engage in sexual activity with a minor if he is two years older than the child.  In such cases the child has to be at least 10 years old. Australian Criminal laws
India 18 years. Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act, 2012

Lapses in the process of drug approval in India

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare tabled a Report in Parliament on May 8, 2012, on the functioning of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO).  CDSCO is the agency mandated with the regulation of drugs and cosmetics in India.  The Report covers various aspects of drug regulation including organizational structure and strength of CDSCO, approval of new drugs, and banning of drugs, among others. Following the Report, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare has constituted a Committee to look into the procedure for drug regulation.  The Committee is expected to make its submissions within a period of two months. This post focuses on irregularities in the approval of new drugs by CDSCO.  It discusses the regulations relating to drug approval and the Standing Committee's observations on the working of CDSCO. Approval of new drugs Drugs are regulated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945 [Rules].  The CDSCO, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is the authority that approves new drugs for manufacture and import.  State Drug Authorities are the licensing authorities for marketing drugs. New Drugs are defined as:

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

The Rules require an applicant for a new drug to conduct clinical trials in India to determine the drug’s safety and efficacy.  These trials are necessary for both domestically manufactured and imported drugs.  However, the authority can exempt a drug from the requirement of local and clinical trials in the public interest based on data available in other countries. Observations and recommendations of the Committee The Committee found that a total of 31 new drugs were approved between January 2008 and October 2010 without conducting clinical trials on Indian patients.  The Report mentioned that drug manufacturers, CDSCO officials and medical experts colluded to approve drugs in violation of laws.  Following are some of the Report’s findings:

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

 

Changes recommended by the Standing Committee on Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011

(Co-authored by Sana Gangwani and Pallavi Bedi) The Standing Committee Report on the Land Acquisition and R&R Bill, 2011 was tabled in the Lok Sabha on May 17, 2012. The major changes to the Bill recommended by the Committee include:

  • Land may not be acquired for use by private companies and PPPs.
  • The role of the local governments should be expanded and made more participatory in the acquisition and R&R process. The role of Gram Sabhas should not be limited to consultation, but their consent should be obtained at different stages.
  • The Clause giving wide discretion to the government in notifying any project as infrastructure project should be deleted.
  • Threshold for R&R provisions should be fixed by the states and not the central government since sale and purchase of land is a state subject in the Constitution (Item 18, State List).
  • There should be a restriction on the acquisition of agricultural land.  The limit on the acquisition of such land should be fixed by the state governments.

For a detailed comparison of the Bill with the recommendations of the Standing Committee see here.

General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR)

The issue of the General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR) has dominated the news recently and there are fears that GAAR will discourage foreign investment in India.  However, tax avoidance can hinder public finance objectives and it is in this context GAAR was introduced in this year’s Budget.  Last week, the Finance Minister pushed back the implementation of GAAR by a year. What is GAAR? GAAR was first introduced in the Direct Taxes Code Bill 2010.  The original proposal gave the Commissioner of Income Tax the authority to declare any arrangement or transaction by a taxpayer as ‘impermissible’ if he believed the main purpose of the arrangement was to obtain a tax benefit.  The 2012-13 Finance Bill (Bill), that was passed by Parliament yesterday, defines ‘impermissible avoidance arrangements’ as an arrangement that satisfies one of four tests.  Under these tests, an agreement would be an ‘impermissible avoidance arrangement’ if it  (i) creates rights and obligations not normally created between parties dealing at arm’s length, (ii) results in misuse or abuse of provisions of tax laws, (iii) is carried out in a way not normally employed for bona fide purpose or (iv) lacks commercial substance.

As per the Bill, arrangements which lack commercial substance could involve round trip financing, an accommodating party and elements that have the effect of offsetting or cancelling each other.  A transaction that disguises the value, location, source, ownership or control of funds would also be deemed to lack commercial substance. The Bill as introduced also presumed that obtaining a tax benefit was the main purpose of an arrangement unless the taxpayer could prove otherwise. Why? GAAR was introduced to address tax avoidance and ensure that those in different tax brackets are taxed the correct amount.  In many instances of tax avoidance, arrangements may take place with the sole intention of gaining a tax advantage while complying with the law.  This is when the doctrine of ‘substance over form’ may apply.  ‘Substance over form’ is where real intention of parties and the purpose of an arrangement is taken into account rather than just the nomenclature of the arrangement.  Many countries, like Canada and South Africa, have codified the doctrine of ‘substance over form’ through a GAAR – type ruling. Issues with GAARcommon criticism of GAAR is that it provides discretion and authority to the tax administration which can be misused.  The Standing Committee responded to GAAR in their report on the Direct Taxes Code Bill in March, 2012. They suggested that the provisions should ensure that taxpayers entering genuinely valid arrangements are not harassed.  They recommended that the onus should be on tax authorities, not the taxpayer, to prove tax avoidance.  In addition, the committee suggested an independent body to act as the approving panel to ensure impartiality.  They also recommended that the assessing officer be designated in the code to reduce harassment and unwarranted litigation. GAAR Amendments On May 8, 2012 the Finance Minister amended the GAAR provisions following the Standing Committee’s recommendations.  The main change was to delay the implementation of GAAR by a year to “provide more time to both taxpayers and the tax administration to address all related issues”.  GAAR will now apply on income earned in 2013-14 and thereafter.  In addition, the Finance Minister removed the burden upon the taxpayer to prove that the main purpose of an alleged impermissible arrangement was not to obtain tax benefit.  These amendments were approved with the passing of the Bill. In his speech, the Finance Minister stated that a Committee had also been formed under the Chairmanship of the Director General of Income Tax.  The Committee will suggest rules, guidelines and safeguards for implementation of GAAR.  The Committee is expected to submit its recommendations by May 31, 2012 after holding discussions with various stakeholders in the debate.

Cabinet clears four Bills piloted by the Ministry of HRD

According to news reports (see here and here), the Cabinet approved four Bills for discussion in Parliament.  The Bills cleared for consideration and passing are: the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010 and the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010.  It cleared the Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012 for introduction in Parliament. In this post, we discuss the key provisions of the Bills and the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (HRD). The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010 The Bill was introduced on April 19, 2010 in the Rajya Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on November 23, 2010.  The government had attempted to pass it in the Winter session twice.  However, the Opposition raised the issue of conflict of interest.  The Rules of the Ethics Committee state that a MP has to declare his personal or pecuniary interest in a matter, which is under discussion in the Rajya Sabha.  The MPs contended that the HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, could not pilot the Bill without declaring his interest.  They argued that his son was the lawyer for a music company which is party to a legal dispute with TV broadcasters to which the amendment would apply (see here for debate on the issue in Parliament). The Copyright Act, 1957 defines the rights of authors of creative works such as books, plays, music, and films.  Two key amendments proposed in the Bill are: -          Copyright in a film currently rests with the producer for 60 years.  The Bill vests copyright in a director as well. -          The Bill makes special provisions for those whose work is used in films or sound recordings (e.g. lyricists or composers).  Rights to royalties from such works, when used in media other than films or sound recordings, shall rest with the creator of the work. (See here for PRS analysis of the Bill) Key recommendations of the Standing Committee: (a) Drop the provision that makes the principal director the author of a film along with the producer; and (b) Keep the provisions for compulsory licensing in line with the terms of international agreements. (See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary) The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010 The Bill was introduced on May 3, 2010 in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on August 12, 2011.  This Bill is part of the government’s attempt to reform the higher education sector.   The key objective is to provide an effective means of quality assurance in higher education. Presently, accreditation is voluntary.  Higher educational institutions are accredited by two autonomous bodies set up by the University Grants Commission and the All India Council of Technical Education.  The Bill makes it mandatory for each institution and every programme to get accredited by an accreditation agency.  The agencies have to be registered with the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority.  Only non-profit, government controlled bodies are eligible to register as accreditation agencies. (See here for PRS analysis of the Bill) The Standing Committee made some recommendations: (a) assessment for accreditation should start after two batches of students have passed out of the institution; (b) there should be specific provisions for medical education; and (c) registration to accreditation agencies should initially be granted for five years (could be extended to 10 years).   (See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary) The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010 The Bill was introduced on December 7, 2010 in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on December 8, 2011. The Indian Penal Code covers criminal acts that outrage or insult the 'modesty' of women.  It does not cover situations which could create a hostile or difficult environment for women at the work place.  The Supreme Court in 1997 (Vishaka judgment) laid down guidelines to protect women from sexual harassment.  This Bill defines sexual harassment and provides a mechanism for redressing complaints.  The protection against sexual harassment is applicable to all women at the workplace.  However, the Bill does not cover domestic workers working at home. (See here for PRS analysis of the Bill) The Standing Committee recommendations addressed issues of gender neutrality, inclusion of domestic workers and the modified definition of sexual harassment. (See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary) The Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012 The Bill was cleared by the Cabinet and is likely to be introduced in Parliament this session.  It seeks to provide for the establishment and incorporation of Universities for Research and Innovation.  These universities shall be hubs of education, research and innovation. Although an official copy of the Bill is not yet available, newspaper reports suggest that this is an omnibus law under which innovation universities (focused on specific research areas such as environment, astrophysics and urban planning) shall be established.  In India, a university can only be set up through an Act of Parliament or state legislature.  The Planning Commission’s Working Group on Higher Education report stated that these universities could be funded by the private sector as well.  The government aims to create 14 innovation universities, which would be world class.

B.Tech students from new IITs may not get their degrees on time

The first batch of B.Tech students will pass out in the next couple of months from six new IITs but they will not get their degrees unless Parliament passes an Amendment Bill.  M.Tech students who completed their course in IIT Hyderabad last year have not yet been awarded their degrees. The Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2010 is listed for consideration and passing in the Rajya Sabha on April 30, 2012 along with the National Institutes of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2010.  Both Bills were passed in the Lok Sabha in 2011Both Bills confer the status of institutions of national importance to a number of new institutions, which implies that they have the power to award degrees (other technical institutions have to be affiliated with a university to be able to award degrees).  These institutions cannot award degrees until Rajya Sabha also passes the Bill, the President gives assent and the central government brings it into effect through a notification. Power to grant degrees The Ministry of HRD established six new Indian Institutes Technology (IITs) in 2008 and two in 2009.  It also established five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs).  However, they are still awaiting for the power to be recognised as degree granting institutions.  Entry 64 of the Union List states that only Parliament can declare an institution to be an institution of national importance (see here and here).  Also, the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 states that the right to confer degrees can be exercised only by a university, deemed university or any institution specially empowered by an Act of Parliament to do so. According to news reports, students of the new IISERs who passed out in 2011 have not received their degrees because of the legislative delay.  Similar problems were reported by students in IIT-Benaras Hindu University.  The students of the new IITs, which were set up in 2008 would be passing out this year.  It is likely that they would face similar problems.  In fact, IIT-Hyderabad is already in the news for not being able to award degree to its Masters students. Highlights of the Bills The Institute of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2010 amends the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961, which declares certain Institutes of Technology to be institutions of national importance by adding eight new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in Bhubaneshwar, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Indore, Jodhpur, Mandi, Patna, Ropar.  It also seeks to integrate the Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) within the ambit of the Act.  All these institutions shall be declared as institutions of national importance (see here for a Bill Summary). The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which raised a few issues with regard to lack of clarity about the zone in which IIT-BHU shall be operating, the need to preserve the autonomy of the IITs and the need to fulfil qualitative parameters before the new IITs could transform into institutes of national importance (see here for the Standing Committee Report and a Summary). The National Institutes of Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2010 amends the National Institutes of Technology Act, 2007 to add a schedule of five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) (established in Kolkata, Pune, Mohali, Bhopal and Thiruvananthapuram).  These institutions shall be declared to be institutions of national importance.  Currently, there are 20 institutions listed as institutions of national importance under the 2007 Act (see here for a Bill Summary). The Standing Committee Report on the Bill made a few recommendations: (a) the composition of the Board of Governors should be made more expert specific in with the mandate of IISERs; (b) IISER Council should have less number of Secretaries, and (c) details of the inter-disciplinary knowledge regime should strive toward flexibility and freedom in research (see here for the Standing Committee Report and a Summary).

The Piracy Bill, 2012

The Piracy Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on April 24, 2012.  According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons, there has been a significant increase in attacks by pirates, particularly in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.  This has affected security of maritime traffic and personnel plying between Asia, Europe and Africa.  Moreover, enhanced naval presence in the Gulf of Aden is now causing pirates to shift operations close to India’s Exclusive Economic Zone.   As a result, a number of Somali pirates are presently in the custody of Indian police authorities. However, since piracy as a crime is not included in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), this has led to problems in prosecution. The Piracy Bill intends to fill this gap and provide clarity in the law. The Bill, if passed by Parliament, would extend to the entire Exclusive Economic Zone of India (EEZ).  Under international law, EEZ is a seazone over which a country has special rights for exploration and use of marine resources.  It stretches outward from the coast, up to 200 nautical miles into the sea. The Bill defines 'piracy' as any illegal act of violence or detention for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft on high seas or at a place outside the jurisdiction of any State.  This definition is akin to the definition of piracy laid down under the 'United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea'. The Bill seeks to punish piracy with imprisonment for life.  In cases where piracy leads to death, it may be punished with death.  It also provides that if arms, ammunition are recovered from the possession of the accused, or if there is evidence of threat of violence, the burden of proof for proving innocence would shift to the accused. The Bill empowers the government to set up designated courts for speedy trial of offences and authorizes the court to prosecute the accused regardless of his/ her nationality.  It also provides for extradition. You can access the Bill text here.

Lok Pal Bill: The Standing Committee's Views

There are indications that the Lok Pal Bill, 2011 is likely to be taken up for consideration and passing during the current Winter session of Parliament.  The Bill was introduced on Aug 4, 2011 in the Lok Sabha after a prolonged agitation led by Anna Hazare (see PRS analysis of the Bill).  It was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (see PRS note on Committee Systems).  The Committee submitted its report on December 9, 2011.  The report includes 10 dissent notes from 17 MPs. (a)    Kirti Azad, Bal Apte, D.B. Chandre Gowda, Harin Pathak, Arjun Ram Meghwal, and Madhusudan Yadav. (b)   Ram Jethmalani (c)    Ram Vilas Paswan (d)   Shailendra Kumar (e)    Prasanta Kumar Majumdar (f)     Pinaki Misra (g)    A. Sampath (h)    S. Semmalai (i)      Meenakshi Natrajan, P.T. Thomas, and Deepa Dasmunshi (j)     Vijay Bahadur Singh Presently, the government and the Opposition are in the process of formulating their stands on various key issues such as inclusion of the Prime Minister, the lower bureaucracy and the role of the Central Investigation Bureau.  We provide a broad overview of the views of the members of the Committee on various key issues. Unanimity on issues On some issues, there was unanimity among the Committee members:

  • Constitutional status for Lokpal.
  • Immunity from prosecution for the MPs for any vote and speech in the House
  • Exclusion of judiciary from the ambit of the Lokpal.
  • Qualification of chairperson and Lok Pal members.
  • Selection process of Lok Pal members.
  • Lokpal should not have the powers to tap phones.

Dissent on issues Certain members of the Committee dissented on specific issues.  In Table 1, we list the issues and the reason for the dissent. Table 1: Recommendation of Standing Committee and dissent by individual MPs

Issues Standing Committee recommendations Points of dissent Dissenting MPs
Inclusion of Prime Minister Committee left the decision to Parliament stating that there are pros and cons to each view. -     PM should be included.  -     PM should be brought under the Lok Pal with some exceptions for national security, foreign policy, atomic energy etc. -     The decision to investigate or prosecute the PM should be taken by the Lok Pal with 3/4th majority. -  Prasanta Kumar Majumdar, A. Sampath.  -  Kirti Azad etc, Shailendra Kumar, Pinaki Misra.      
Grievance redressal mechanism Enact separate law for a grievance redressal mechanism. Include in the Lok Pal Bill. Kirti Azad etc, Ram Jethmalani, Shailendra Kumar.
Inclusion of bureaucracy Include Group B officers in addition to Group A. -     Include all groups of govt employees.  -     Include Group ‘C’. -     Do not include bureaucrats. -     Kirti Azad etc, A. Sampath.  -     Meenakshi Natrajan etc, Shailendra Kumar, Prasanta Kumar. Majumdar, Pinaki Misra, Vijay Bahadur Singh. -     Ram Vilas Paswan.
Lokayukta Single, central law to deal with Lok Pal and state Lokayuktas to ensure uniformity in prosecution of public servants. States should retain power to constitute Lokayuktas. -     S. Semmalai.
Private NGOs, media and corporate Include all entities with specified level of govt control or which receive specified amount of public donations or foreign donations above Rs 10 lakh. No private organsiations should be included. - Kirti Azad etc., Ram Vilas Paswan.
Composition of search and selection committees Selection Committee: In addition to PM and Speaker, it should include the Chief Justice of India, an eminent Indian unanimously nominated by the CAG, CEC and UPSC chairman and only Leader of Opposition of Lok Sabha.  Search Committee: Mandatory to constitute. Minimum 7 members with 50% members from SC/ST, OBC, minorities and women.   Selection Committee: PM, Minister, LoPs of both Houses, two judges and CVC. Search Committee: CJI, CAG, CEC, Cabinet Secretary, judges of Supreme Court and High Courts.  Selection Committee: PM, LoP in the Lok Sabha, one judge of SC and one Chief Justice of a HC, CVC, CEC and CAG. Search Committee: 10 members out of which 5 should be from civil society and 5 should be retired Chief Justice, CVC, CAG and CEC.  Half the members to be from SC/STs, OBCs, minorities or women. -  Kirti Azad etc.  -  Shailendra Kumar.
Removal of Lok Pal In addition to petitioning the President, a citizen should be allowed to approach the Supreme Court directly with a complaint.  If admitted, it would be heard by a 5 judge bench.  If President does not refer a citizen’s petition, he should give reasons. Investigation should be conducted by an independent complaint authority.  Heavy fines should be imposed in case of a false or frivolous complaint. Instead of the President, the Supreme Court should have power to suspend a member pending inquiry.    - Shailendra Kumar.
Role of CVC and CBI CVC should investigate Group C and D employees.  Instead of Lok Pal’s investigation wing, the CBI should investigate cases after inquiry by the Lok Pal.  CBI to have autonomy over its investigation.  Lok Pal shall exercise general supervision over CBI. CBI should be under the control of the Lok Pal.  The CBI Director should be appointed by the Lok Pal’s selection committee. The CVC should be under Lok Pal and the SVCs under the state Lokayuktas. -  Ram Jethmalani, Shailendra Kumar.  -  A. Sampath. -  Meenakshi Natrajan etc.
False and frivolous complaints Term of imprisonment should be maximum six months.  Amount of fine should not exceed Rs 25,000.  Specifically provide for complaints made in good faith in line with the Indian Penal Code. The term of imprisonment should not exceed 30 days. - Kirti Azad etc.
Article 311 Article 311 of the Constitution should be amended or replaced with a statute. The procedure adopted by the disciplinary authority should conform to Article 311. - Kirti Azad etc, Meenakshi Natrajan etc.   
Finance Lok Pal Bill states that all expenses of the Lok Pal shall be charged to the Consolidated Fund of India (no need for Lok Sabha clearance).  The Committee did not make any recommendation with regard to finances of the Lok Pal. Lok Pal’s expenses should be cleared by the Parliament.  Lok Pal should present its budget directly to Parliament rather than through a ministry. -  Kirti Azad etc.  -  Shailendra Kumar.
Sources: The Lok Pal Bill, 2011; the Department Related Standing Committee Report on the Lok Pal Bill, 2011 and PRS.

 

FAQs on the Lok Pal Bill Standing Committee

We wrote an FAQ on the Lok Pal Bill for Rediff.  http://www.rediff.com/news/special/special-parliamentary-committee-canno... The Lok Pal Bill has been referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.  In this FAQ, we explain the process of these Committees. What is the role of such standing committees? The system of departmentally related standing committees was instituted by Parliament in 1993.  Currently, there are 24 such committees, organised on the lines of departments and ministries.  For example, there are committees on finance, on home affairs, on defence etc.  These standing committees examine Bills that are referred to them.  They also examine the expenditure plans of ministries in the Union Budget.  In addition, they may examine the working of the departments and various schemes of the government. How is the membership of these committees decided? Each committee has 31 members: 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha.  Parties are allocated seats based on their strength in Parliament.  The final membership is decided based on the MP’s area of interest as well as their party’s decision on allocating the seats. Who chairs the committees? Of the 24 committees, 16 are administered by Lok Sabha and eight by Rajya Sabha.  The Chairperson is from the respective House.  Political parties are allocated the chairs based on their strength in Parliament.  Some committees such as home affairs, finance and external affairs are customarily chaired by a senior member of an opposition party. What will the Standing Committee do with the Lok Pal Bill? The Committee has invited comments and suggestions from the public on the Bill.  Comments can be sent to Mr. KP Singh, Director, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 201, Second Floor, Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi -110001.  These may also be emailed to kpsingh@sansad.nic.in or rs-cpers@sansad.nic.in.  The Committee will examine the written memoranda.  They will also invite some experts and stakeholders for oral evidence.  Based on its examination, the committee will prepare a report with its recommendations on the various provisions of the Bill.  This report will be tabled in Parliament. Is the report decided by voting? No.  The committee tries to form a consensus while preparing the report.  However, if some members do not agree on any point, they may add a dissent note.  For example, the committee on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill had dissent notes written by MPs from the left parties.  The Women’s Reservation Bill also had dissent notes from a couple of members. Are the committee’s recommendations binding? No.  The Committee system was formed recognising that Parliament does not have the time for detailed examination and public feedback on all bills.  Parliament, therefore, delegates this task to the committee which reports back with its recommendations.  It is the role of all MPs in each House of Parliament to examine the recommendations and move suitable amendments.  Following this, Parliament can vote on these amendments, and finalise the Bill. Can you give examples when the Committee’s work has resulted in significant changes? There are many such instances.  For example, the standing committee on science and technology examined the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill.  The committee made several recommendations, some of which increased the potential liability of suppliers of nuclear equipment in case of an accident.  All the recommendations were accepted.  Similarly, the Seeds Bill, which is currently pending in Rajya Sabha has seen several major recommendations by the Committee on Agriculture.  The government has agreed to move amendments that accept many of these recommendations. Are all Bills referred to Standing Committees? Most Bills are referred to such committees but this is not a mandatory requirement before passing a Bill.  In some cases, if a Bill is not referred to a committee and passed by one House, the other House may constitute a select committee for detailed examination.  Some recent examples include such select committees formed by the Rajya Sabha on the Prevention of Torture Bill, the Wakf Amendment Bill, and the Commercial Divisions of High Courts Bill.  There are also some instances when a Bill may be passed without the committee process. Is it a good idea to bypass the committee process? In general, this process provides a platform for various stakeholders to provide their inputs.  In the Lok Pal case, a few influential groups such as the India Against Corruption (IAC) and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) have voiced their views.  However, there may be other points of views of persons who do not have similar access to the media.  The Standing Committee provides equal opportunity to everyone to write in their memoranda.  It also allows parliamentarians to devote a significant amount of time to understand the nuances of a Bill and make suitable modifications.  Thus, the standing committee system is an opportunity to strengthen legislation in an informed and participatory manner. Is it feasible to compress this process within 10 days and get the Lok Pal Bill passed within the current session of Parliament? There should be sufficient time for citizens to provide inputs to the committee.  The committee has to examine the different points of view and find suitable provisions to achieve the final objectives.  For example, there are divergent views on the role of Lok Pal, its constitution, its jurisdiction etc.  The Committee has to understand the implications of the various proposals and then make its recommendations.  It has been given three months to do so.  Typically, most committees ask for an extension and take six to eight months.  It is not practical to expect this process to be over within 10 days. Should civil society demand that the government issue a whip and pass the Jan Lok Pal Bill? Everyone has the right to make any demand.  However, the government is duty bound to follow the Constitution.  Our Constitution has envisaged a Parliamentary system.  Each MP is expected to make up their minds on each proposal based on their perception of national interest and people’s will.  Indeed, one may say that the best way to ensure a representative system is to remove the anti-defection law, minimise the use of whips, and let MPs vote their conscience.  That may give us a more accountable government.