Miscellaneous

Is prior sanction always required to prosecute army officers under AFSPA?

The Supreme Court passed its  judgment in General Officer Commanding (Army) vs. CBI on May 01, 2012.  The case addressed the issue of need for sanction to prosecute Army officers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The case dealt with two instances of alleged fake encounters.  Five people were killed by the Army in Assam in a counter insurgency operation in 1994.  Another five people were killed in Jammu and Kashmir in March, 2000 in an encounter. In both cases, it was alleged that the Army officers had staged fake encounters.  In both instances, the CBI was directed to investigate the matter.  CBI claimed that the people who were killed were indeed victims of fake encounters.  The CBI moved the court to initiate prosecution against the accused Army officers. The officers claimed that they could only be prosecuted with the prior sanction (permission) of the central government.  The officers relied on provisions of the AFSPA,1958 and the Armed Forces J & K (Special Powers) Act, 1990 to support their claim.  (See Notes for the relevant clauses)  These provide that legal proceedings cannot be instituted against an officer unless sanction is granted by the central government. It must be noted that Army officers can be tried either before criminal courts or through court-martial (as prescribed under Sections 125 of the Army Act, 1950).  The Army officers had appealed that both procedures require prior sanction of the government. The judgment touches upon various issues.  Some of these have been discussed in more detail below:

  • Is prior sanction required to prosecute Army officers for 'any' act committed in the line of duty?
  • At what stage is sanction required?
  • Is sanction required for court-martial?

Is prior sanction required to prosecute army officers for 'any' act committed in the line of duty? The judgment reiterated an earlier ruling.  It held that sanction would not be required in 'all' cases to prosecute an official.  The officer only enjoys immunity from prosecution in cases when he has ‘acted in exercise of powers conferred under the Act’.  There should be 'reasonable nexus' between the action and the duties of the official. The Court cited the following example to highlight this point:  If in a raid, an officer is attacked and he retaliates, his actions can be linked to a 'lawful discharge of duty'.  Even if there were some miscalculations in the retaliation, his actions cannot be labeled to have some personal motive. The Court held that the AFSPA, or the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, empowers the central government to ascertain if an action is 'reasonably connected with the discharge of official duty' and is not a misuse of authority.  The courts have no jurisdiction in the matter.  In making a decision, the government must make an objective assessment of the exigencies leading to the officer’s actions. At what stage is sanction required? The Court ruled that under the AFSPA, or the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, sanction is mandatory.  But, the need to seek sanction would only arise at the time of cognizance of the offence.  Cognizance is the stage when the prosecution begins.  Sanction is therefore not required during investigation. Is sanction required for court-martial? The Court ruled that there is no requirement of sanction under the Army Act, 1950.  Hence, if the Army chooses, it can prosecute the accused through court-martial instead of going through the criminal court. The Court noted that the case had been delayed for over a decade and prescribed a time bound course of action.  It asked the Army to decide on either of the two options - court martial or criminal court - within the next eight weeks.  If the Army decides on proceedings before the criminal court, the government will have three months to determine to grant or withhold sanction. Notes Section 6 of the AFSPA, 1958: "6. Protection to persons acting under Act – No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act." Section 7 of the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, 1990: "7. Protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act. No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act."

Supreme Court upholds 25% reservation in private schools

In a landmark judgment on April 12, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the provision in the Right to Education Act, 2009 that makes it mandatory for all schools (government and private) except private, unaided minority schools to reserve 25% of their seats for children belonging to “weaker section and disadvantaged group”.  The verdict was given by a three-judge bench namely Justice S.H. Kapadia (CJI), Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan.  However, the judgment was not unanimous.  Justice Radhakrishnan gave a dissenting view to the majority judgment. According to news reports (here and here), some school associations are planning to file review petitions against the Supreme Court order (under Article 137 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court may review any judgment or order made by it.  A review petition may be filed if there is (a) discovery of new evidence, (b) an error apparent on the face of the record, or (c) any other sufficient reason). In this post, we summarise the views of the judges. Background of the petition The 86th (Constitutional Amendment) Act, 2002 added Article 21A to the Constitution which makes it mandatory for the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children from the age of six to 14 years (fundamental right).  The Parliament enacted the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 to give effect to this amendment. The Act provides that children between the ages of six and 14 years have the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school.  It also lays down the minimum norms that each school has to follow in order to get legal recognition.  The Act required government schools to provide free and compulsory education to all admitted children. Similarly, aided schools have to provide free and compulsory education proportionate to the funding received, subject to a minimum of 25%. However, controversy erupted over Section 12(1)(c) and (2) of the Act, which required private, unaided schools to admit at least 25% of students from SCs, STs, low-income and other disadvantaged or weaker groups.  The Act stated that these schools shall be reimbursed for either their tuition charge or the per-student expenditure in government schools, whichever is lower.  After the Act was notified on April 1, 2010, the Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan filed a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of this provision on the ground that it impinged on their right to run educational institutions without government interference. Summary of the judgment Majority The Act is constitutionally valid and shall apply to (a) government controlled schools, (b) aided schools (including minority administered schools), and (c) unaided, non-minority schools.  The reasons are given below: First, Article 21A makes it obligatory on the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children between 6 and 14 years of age.  However, the manner in which the obligation shall be discharged is left to the State to determine by law.  Therefore, the State has the freedom to decide whether it shall fulfill its obligation through its own schools, aided schools or unaided schools.  The 2009 Act is “child centric” and not “institution centric”.  The main question was whether the Act violates Article 19(1)(g) which gives every citizen the right to practice a profession or carry out any occupation, trade or business.  However, the Constitution provides that Article 19(1)(g) may be circumscribed by Article 19(6), which allow reasonable restriction over this right in the interest of the general public.  The Court stated that since “education” is recognized as a charitable activity [see TMA Pai Foundation vs State of Karnataka (2002) 8 SCC 481] reasonable restriction may apply. Second, the Act places a burden on the State as well as parents/guardians to ensure that every child has the right to education.  Thus, the right to education “envisages a reciprocal agreement between the State and the parents and it places an affirmative burden on all stakeholders in our civil society.”  The private, unaided schools supplement the primary obligation of the State to provide for free and compulsory education to the specified category of students. Third, TMA Pai and P.A. Inamdar judgments hold that the right to establish and administer educational institutions fall within Article 19(1)(g).  It includes right to admit students and set up reasonable fee structure.  However, these principles were applied in the context of professional/higher education where merit and excellence have to be given due weightage.  This does not apply to a child seeking admission in Class I.  Also, Section 12(1)(c) of the Act seeks to remove financial obstacle.  Therefore, the 2009 Act should be read with Article 19(6) which provides for reasonable restriction on Article 19(1)(g).  However, the government should clarify the position with regard to boarding schools and orphanages. The Court also ruled that the 2009 Act shall not apply to unaided, minority schools since they are protected by Article 30(1) (all minorities have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice).  This right of the minorities is not circumscribed by reasonable restriction as is the case under Article 19(1)(g). Dissenting judgment Article 21A casts an obligation on the State to provide free and compulsory education to children of the age of 6 to 14 years.  The obligation is not on unaided non-minority and minority educational institutions.  Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act can be operationalised only on the principles of voluntariness, autonomy and consensus for unaided schools and not on compulsion or threat of non-recognition.  The reasons for such a judgment are given below: First, Article 21A says that the “State shall provide” not “provide for”.  Therefore, the constitutional obligation is on the State and not on non-state actors to provide free and compulsory education to a specified category of children.  Also, under Article 51A(k) of the Constitution, parents or guardians have a duty to provide opportunities for education to their children but not a constitutional obligation. Second, each citizen has the fundamental right to establish and run an educational institution “investing his own capital” under Article 19(1)(g).  This right can be curtailed in the interest of the general public by imposing reasonable restrictions.  Citizens do not have any constitutional obligation to start an educational institution.  Therefore, according to judgments of TMA Pai and PA Inamdar, they do not have any constitutional obligation to share seats with the State or adhere to a fee structure determined by the State.  Compelling them to do so would amount to nationalization of seats and would constitute serious infringement on the autonomy of the institutions. Rights guaranteed to the unaided non-minority and minority educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g) and Article 30(1) can only be curtailed through a constitutional amendment (for example, insertion of Article 15(5) that allows reservation of seats in private educational institutions). Third, no distinction can be drawn between unaided minority and non-minority schools with regard to appropriation of quota by the State. Other issues related to the 2009 Act Apart from the issue of reservation, the RTE Act raises other issues such as lack of accountability of government schools and lack of focus on learning outcomes even though a number of studies have pointed to low levels of learning among school children.  (For a detailed analysis, please see PRS Brief on the Bill).

Presidential Reference in the 2G case

As per news reports, the union government has filed a Presidential Reference in relation to the 2G judgment.  In this judgment the Supreme Court had cancelled 122 2G licences granting access to spectrum and had ordered their re-allocation by means of an auction.  It also held that use of first cum first serve policy (FCFS) to allocate natural resources was unconstitutional.  It had held that natural resources should be allocated through auctions. As per the news report, the Presidential Reference seeks clarity on whether the Supreme Court could interfere with policy decisions.  This issue has been discussed in a number of cases.  For instance, the Supreme Court in Directorate of Film Festivals v. Gaurav Ashwin Jain[1] held that Courts cannot act as an appellate authority to examine the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of a policy.  It further held that Courts cannot act as advisors to the executive on policy matters which the executive is entitled to formulate.  It stated that the Court could review whether the policy violates fundamental rights, or is opposed to a Constitutional or any statutory provision, or is manifestly arbitrary.  It further stated that legality of the policy, and not the wisdom or soundness of the policy, is the subject of judicial review.  In Suresh Seth vs. Commissioner, Indore Municipal Corporation[2] a three judge bench of the Court observed that, “this Court cannot issue any direction to the Legislature to make any particular kind of enactment.  Under our constitutional scheme Parliament and Legislative Assemblies exercise sovereign power or authority to enact laws and no outside power or authority can issue a direction to enact a particular piece of legislation.” In the present case it may be argued that whereas the Court was empowered to declare a policy such as FCFS as unconstitutional, it did not have the jurisdiction to direct auctioning of spectrum and other natural resources.  The Presidential Reference may conclusively determine the Court’s jurisdiction in this regard.  However, it has been urged by a few experts that this Presidential Reference amounts to an appeal against the decision of the Court.  They have argued that this could be done only through a Review Petition (which has already been admitted by the Court). The advisory jurisdiction of the Court invoked through Presidential References, is governed by Article 143 of the Constitution.  Under Article 143 of the Constitution of India, the President is empowered to refer to the Supreme Court any matter of law or fact.  The opinion of the Court may be sought in relation to issues that have arisen or are likely to arise.  A Presidential Reference may be made in matters that are of public importance and where it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court.  The Court may refuse to answer all or any of the queries raised in the Reference. A Presidential Reference thus requires that the opinion of the Court on the issue should not have been already obtained or decided by the Court.  In the Gujarat Election Case[3] the Supreme Court took note of Presidential References that were appellate in nature.  Thus, a Presidential Reference cannot be adopted as a means to review or appeal the judgment of the Supreme Court.  Against judgments of the Court the mechanisms of review is the only option.  This position was also argued by Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman in the Cauvery Water Case[4], where the Court refused to give an opinion. Whether the Court had the authority to determine a policy, such as FCFS, as unconstitutional is not disputed.  However, there are conflicting judgments on the extent to which a Court can interfere with the executive domain.    It would be interesting to see whether the Court would give its opinion on this issue.  In the event it does, it may bring higher level of clarity to the relationship between the executive and the judiciary.


[1] AIR 2007 SC 1640
[2] AIR2006SC767
[3] (2002) 8 SCC 237
[4] (1993) Supp 1 SCC 96(II)

The Arms Act - Mandatory death penalty declared unconstitutional

The Arms Act, 1959 governs matters related to acquisition, possession, manufacture, sale, transportation, import and export of arms and ammunition. It defines a specific class of ‘prohibited’ arms and ammunitions, restricts their use and prescribes penalties for contravention of its provisions. Section 7 of the Act forbids the manufacture, sale, and use of prohibited arms and ammunition unless it has been specially authorised by the central government.1  Section 27(3) prescribes that any contravention of Section 7 that results in the death of any person 'shall be punishable with death'.2 Section 27(3) of the Act was challenged in the Supreme Court in 2006 in State of Punjab vs. Dalbir Singh.  The final verdict in the case was pronounced last week.  The judgment not only affects the Act in question but may have important implications for criminal law in the country. Legislative history of Section 27 When the law was first enacted, Section 27 provided that possession of any arms or ammunition with intent to use the same for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment up to seven years and/ or a fine. This section was amended in 1988 to provide for enhanced punishments in the context of escalating terrorist and anti-national activities.  In particular, section 27(3) was inserted to provide for mandatory death penalty. The Judgment The Supreme Court judgment says that Section 27(3) is very 'widely worded'.  Any act (including use, acquisition, possession, manufacture or sale) done in contravention of Section 7 that results in death of a person will attract mandatory death penalty.  Thus, even if an accidental or unintentional use results in death, a mandatory death penalty must be imposed. The bench quotes relevant sections of an earlier judgment delivered in 1983, in Mithu vs. State of Punjab.  In this case, the court had looked into the constitutional validity of mandatory death sentence.  The final verdict had ruled that a provision of law which deprives the Court of its discretion, and disregards the circumstances in which the offence was committed, can only be regarded as 'harsh, unjust and unfair'. The judgment goes on to say that the concept of a 'just, fair and reasonable' law has been read into the guarantees under Article 14 (Equality before law) and Article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.  A law that imposes an irreversible penalty such as death is 'repugnant to the concept of right and reason'.  Therefore, Section 27 (3) of the Arms Act, 1959 is unconstitutional. Section 27(3) is also unconstitutional in that it deprives the judiciary from discharging its duty of judicial review by barring it from using the power of discretion in the sentencing procedure. What happens now? Under Article 13 of the Constitution, laws inconsistent with the Constitution shall be null and void.  Therefore, Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959 shall now stand amended.  Courts shall have the discretion to impose a lesser sentence. It is noteworthy that the Home Minister had also introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha on the 12th of December, 2011 to amend the Arms Act, 1959.  The Bill seeks to remove the words ‘shall be punishable with death’ and replace these with ‘shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine’.  This Bill is currently being scrutinized by the Standing Committee. Notes: 1) Section 7 of the Arms Act, 1959: “7. Prohibition of acquisition or possession, or of manufacture or sale, of prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition.  No person shall -- (a) acquire, have in his possession or carry; or (b) use, manufacture, sell, transfer, convert, repair, test or prove; or (c) expose or offer for sale or transfer or have in his possession for sale, transfer, conversion, repair, test or proof; any prohibited  arms  or  prohibited ammunition unless he has been specially authorised by the Central Government in this behalf.” 2) Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959: “27(3) Whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition or does any act in contravention of section 7 and such use or act results in the death of any other person, shall be punishable with death.” Sources: Arms Act, 1959;  Supreme Court judgment

Requirement of Sanction

Criminal laws in India by way of “sanctions” allow for protective discrimination in favour of public officials.[1]  Under various laws, sanctions are required to investigate and prosecute public officials.  Over the past 15 years these provisions of law have been revisited by the judiciary and the legislature.  Recently the Supreme Court in the Subramanian Swamy Case has suggested the concept of a deemed sanction.  We look at the history of the requirement of sanction under criminal laws. Requirement of sanction to investigate certain public servants of the union government was introduced through a government notification[2].   The Criminal Procedure Code 1973 and the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 provide that to prosecute a public servant, permission or sanction has to be secured from the government (central or state) for which the official works. Arguments that are often advanced in favour of such sanctions are that these ensure that (a) frivolous and vexatious cases are not filed, (b) public officials are not harassed, and (c) the efficacy of administrative machinery is not tampered with.  Further, the requirement of sanction to investigate was also defended by the government before the Supreme Court in certain cases.  In Vineet Narain vs. Union of India 1997[3], the government had argued that the CBI may not have the requisite expertise to determine whether the evidence was sufficient for filing a prima facie case.  It was also argued that the Act instituting the CBI, Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946 (DSPE Act), granted the power of superintendence, and therefore direction, of the CBI to the central government.   The Court in this case struck down the requirement of sanction to investigate.  It held that “supervision” by the government could not extend to control over CBI’s investigations.  As for prosecution, the Court affixed a time frame of three months to grant sanction.  However, there was no clarity on what was to be done if sanction was not granted within such time. Following that judgment, the DSPE Act was amended in 2003, specifically requiring the CBI to secure a sanction before it investigated certain public servants.  More recently, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011 that is pending before the Rajya Sabha, removed the requirement of sanction to investigate and prosecute public servants in relation to corruption. Recently, Mr. Subramanian Swamy approached the Supreme Court for directions on his request for sanction to prosecute Mr. A Raja in relation to the 2G Scam.  As per the Supreme Court, judgment in Subramanian Swamy vs. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Anr, Mr. Swamy’s request was pending with the department for over 16 months.  The Supreme Court held that denial of a timely decision on grant of sanction is a violation of due process of law (Right to equality before law read with Right to life and personal liberty).  The Court reiterated the three month time frame for granting sanctions.  It suggested that Parliament consider that in case the decision is not taken within three months, sanction would be deemed to be granted.  The prosecution would then be responsible for filing the charge sheet within 15 days of the expiry of this period.


[1] Subramanian Swamy vs. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Anr. Civil Appeal No. 1193 of 2012 dated January 31, 2012
[2] Single Directive, No. 4.7.3
[3] AIR 1998 SC 889

Two Law Commission Notes on Khap and Dowry Cases

Report on Khap Panchayats The Law Commission has drafted a consultation paper on caste panchayats.    A draft legislation titled “The Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011” has been attached to the consultation paper. The Bill prohibits people from congregating together to condemn a legal marriage on the ground that the said marriage has brought dishonour to the caste or community.     Every member of such a group shall be punished with imprisonment of a minimum term of 6 months and a maximum term of 1 year.   The member may also be liable to a fine of up to Rs 10,000. Under our criminal justice system, the presumption is that the accused person is innocent until proven guilty.   This Bill reverses this presumption.   It provides that if an accused person participated in an unlawful assembly, then it will be presumed that the accused intended to commit an offence under the Bill. The Commission has invited public comments on the consultation paper within 4 weeks.   The comments can be sent by post or email to lci-dla@nic.in.    A copy of the consultation paper is available at http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/cp-Honour%20Killing.pdf. Report on compounding of offences including Sec 498A of IPC (harassment for dowry) The Law Commission has also submitted its report on ‘Compounding of (IPC) Offences.    Compoundable offences are offences which allow the parties to enter into a private compromise.   The Supreme Court in some recent cases had asked the Law Commission to identify more offences which could be treated as compoundable.   Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure lists the offences which are compoundable.  Currently under the section there are 56 compoundable offences.   Certain offences can be compounded only with the prior permission of the court. The Commission has recommended that Section 498A of the IPC (cruelty against a married woman by her husband or relatives) should be made compoundable with the permission of the Court.   It has recommended that the magistrate should give a hearing to the woman and then permit or refuse the compounding of the offence.  This has been recommended to ensure that woman is not coerced into compounding the offence. The other IPC offences that the Commission has recommended should be made compoundable include (a) Section 324 (simple hurt); (b) Section 147 (rioting); (c) Section 380 (theft in dwelling house); (d) Section 384 (extortion) and  (e) Section 385 (extortion by threat  to person). A copy of the report is available at http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report237.pdf  

Anatomy of a Central Scheme: Understanding Accountability in MNREGA

Over the last couple of weeks, MNREGA is back in the spotlight. The Union Minister for Rural Development wrote to certain states regarding potential misuse of funds, and it was announced that rural development schemes are open to CAG audit.  In large schemes like MNREGA, officials at all levels of government - central, state, district, block, panchayat - have roles to play. This can make it difficult to locate the responsible authority in case implementation issues arise. We list the responsibilities of different government agencies involved in implementation of MNREGA in the Table below.

Stakeholder Responsibilities
Gram Sabha (a) recommending works; (b) conducting social audits on implementation every six months; and (c) functioning as a forum for sharing information.
Gram Panchayat (a) planning works; (b) receiving applications for registration; (c) verifying applications; (d) registering households; (e) issuing job cards, (f) receiving applications for employment; (g) issuing detailed receipts; (h) allotting employment within 15 days of application; (i) executing works; (j) maintaining records; (k) convening Gram Sabha for social audit; and (l) monitoring implementation at the village level.
Intermediate Panchayat (a) consolidating Gram Panchayat plans into a Block plan and (b) monitoring and supervision at the block level.
Programme Officer (PO) (a) ensuring work to applicants within 15 days; (b) scrutinising Gram Panchayat annual development plans; (c) consolidating proposals into a Block plan and submitting to intermediate panchayat; (d) matching employment opportunities with demand for work at the Block level; (e) monitoring and supervising implementation; (f) disposing of complaints; (g) ensuring that Gram Sabha conducts social audits; and (h) payment of unemployment allowance.
District Panchayat (a) finalizing district plans and labour budget; and (b) monitoring and supervising at district level.
District Programme Coordinator (DPC) (a) ensuring that the scheme is implemented according to the Act at the district level; (b) information dissemination; (c) training; (d) consolidating block plans into a district plan; (e) ensuring that administrative and technical approval for projects are obtained on time; (f) release and utilisation of funds; (g) ensuring monitoring of works; (h) muster roll verifications; and (i) submitting monthly progress reports.
State Employment Guarantee Council (SEGC) (a) advising the state government on implementation; (b) evaluate and monitor implementation; (c) determining the "preferred works" to be taken up; (d) recommending the proposal of works to be submitted to the state government; and (e) prepare an annual report to the state legislature.
State Government (a) wide communication of the scheme; (b) setting up the SEGC; (c) setting up a State Employment Guarantee Fund; (d) ensuring that dedicated personnel are in place for implementation, including Gram Rozgar Sahayak, Programme Officer, and technical staff; (e) ensuring state share of the scheme budget is released on time; (f) delegation of financial and administrative powers to the DPC and Programme Officer if necessary; (g) training; (h) establishing a network of professional agencies for technical support and quality control; (i) regular review, monitoring, and evaluation of processes and outcomes; and (j) ensuring accountability and transparency.
Central Employment Guarantee Council (a) advising the central government on MNREGA matters; (b) monitoring and evaluating implementation of the Act; and (c) preparing annual reports on implementation and submitting them to Parliament.
Ministry of Rural Development (a) ensuring resource support to states and the CEGC; (b) regular review, monitoring, and evaluation of processes and outcomes;  (c) maintaining and operating the MIS to capture and track data on critical aspects of implementation; (d) assessing the utilization of resources through a set of performance indicators; (e) supporting innovations that help in improving processes towards the achievement of the objectives of the Act; (f) support the use of Information Technology (IT) to increase the efficiency and transparency of the processes as well as improve interface with the public;  and (g) ensuring that the implementation of NREGA at all levels is sought to be made transparent and accountable to the public..
Source: Operational Guidelines, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Ministry of Rural Development.

RTI rejections

The Right to Information Act, 2005, contains several exemptions which enable public authorities to deny requests for information. RTI Annual Return Reports for 2005-2010 give detailed information on use of these exemptions to reject RTI requests. Exemptions to requests for information under the Act are primarily embodied in three sections – section 8, section 11, and section 24. Section 8 lists nine specific exemptions ranging from sovereignty of India to trade secrets. Sec 11 provides protection to confidential third party information. Sec 24 exempts certain security and intelligence organizations from the purview of the Act. Of these, sections 8(1)(j), 8(1)(d) and 8(1)(e) are respectively the three most frequently invoked exemptions for the period 2005-2010, cumulatively amounting to almost three-fourths of all exemptions invoked.   orange Section 8(1)(j) provides protection to personal information of individuals from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked over 30,000 times during 2005-2010, which amounts to almost 40% of all invocations of exemptions. Among ministries, the Finance Ministry has invoked this sub-section the most, followed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Section 8(1)(d) provides protection to trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked almost 15,000 times during 2005-2010, which constitutes 18% of all invocations of exemptions. As with sec 8(1)(j), the Finance Ministry has utilized this exemption the most, followed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. Section 8(1)(e) provides protection to information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked 11,639 times during 2005-2010, which accounts for almost 15% of all invocations of exemptions. The Finance Ministry has invoked this exemption more than any other ministry, both overall and for each individual year during 2005-2010. The Finance Ministry accounts for more than 50% of all invocations of this exemption, having invoked it over 6000 times. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is second, with a little over 1000 invocations of this exemption. Ministry-wise Rejections As discussed above, Finance Ministry has a large number of rejections, perhaps because of the larger number of requests that it receives.  It is also possible that the Finance Ministry receives a larger number of requests related to private and confidential information (such as Income Tax returns) as well as those which are held in a fiduciary capacity (such as details of accounts in nationalised banks).  Adjusted for the number of requests received, the Finance Ministry tops the rejection rate at 24%, followed by the Prime Minister's Office (12%) and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (11%). blue

Legislature versus Judiciary

The doctrine of separation of powers implies that each pillar of democracy – the executive, legislature and the judiciary – perform separate functions and act as separate entities.  The executive is vested with the power to make policy decisions and implement laws.  The legislature is empowered to issue enactments.  The judiciary is responsible for adjudicating disputes.  The doctrine is a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution[1] even though it is not specifically mentioned in its text.  Thus, no law may be passed and no amendment may be made to the Constitution deviating from the doctrine.  Different agencies impose checks and balances upon each other but may not transgress upon each other’s functions.  Thus, the judiciary exercises judicial review over executive and legislative action, and the legislature reviews the functioning of the executive. There have been some cases where the courts have issued laws and policy related orders through their judgements.  These include the Vishakha case where guidelines on sexual harassment were issued by the Supreme Court, the order of the Court directing the Centre to distribute food grains (2010) and the appointment of the Special Investigation Team to replace the High Level Committee established by the Centre for investigating black money deposits in Swiss Banks. In 1983 when Justice Bhagwati introduced public interest litigation in India, Justice Pathak in the same judgement warned against the “temptation of crossing into territory which properly pertains to the Legislature or to the Executive Government”[2].  Justice Katju in 2007 noted that, “Courts cannot create rights where none exist nor can they go on making orders which are incapable of enforcement or violative of other laws or settled legal principles. With a view to see that judicial activism does not become judicial adventurism the courts must act with caution and proper restraint. It needs to be remembered that courts cannot run the government. The judiciary should act only as an alarm bell; it should ensure that the executive has become alive to perform its duties.” [3] While there has been some discussion on the issue of activism by the judiciary, it must be noted that there are also instances of the legislature using its law making powers to reverse the outcome of some  judgements.  (M.J. Antony has referred to a few in his article in the Business Standard here.)  We discuss below some recent instances of the legislature overturning judicial pronouncements by passing laws with retrospective effect. On September 7, 2011 the Parliament passed the Customs Amendment and Validation Bill, 2011 which retrospectively validates all duties imposed and actions taken by certain customs officials who were not authorized under the Customs Act to do the stated acts.  Some of the duties imposed were in fact challenged before the Supreme Court in Commissioner of Customs vs. Sayed Ali in 2011[4].  The Supreme Court struck down the levy of duties since these were imposed by unauthorised officials.  By passing the Customs Bill, 2011 the Parliament circumvented the judgement and amended the Act to authorize certain officials to levy duties retrospectively, even those that had been held to be illegal by the SC. Another instance of the legislature overriding the decision of the Supreme Court was seen in the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2009 which was passed into an Act.  The Supreme Court had ruled that the price at which the Centre shall buy sugar from the mill shall include the statutory minimum price (SMP) and an additional amount of profits that the mills share with farmers.[5] The Amendment allowed the Centre to pay a fair and remunerative price (FRP) instead of the SMP.  It also did away with the requirement to pay the additional amount.  The amendment applied to all transactions for purchase of sugar by the Centre since 1974.  In effect, the amendment overruled the Court decision. The executive tried to sidestep the Apex Court decision through the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2010.  The Court had issued a writ to the Custodian of Enemy Property to return possession of certain properties to the legal heir of the owner.   Subsequently the Executive issued an Ordinance under which all properties that were divested from the Custodian in favour of legal heirs by a Court order were reverted to him.  The Ordinance lapsed and a Bill was introduced in the Parliament.  The Bill is currently being examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs. These examples highlight some instances where the legislature has acted to reverse judicial pronouncements.  The judiciary has also acted in several instances in the grey areas separating its role from that of the executive and the legislature.  The doctrine of separation of powers is not codified in the Indian constitution.  Indeed, it may be difficult to draw a strict line demarcating the separation.  However, it may be necessary for each pillar of the State to evolve a healthy convention that respects the domain of the others.  


[1] Keshavananda Bharti vs. State of Kerala  AIR 1973 SC 1461
[2] Bandhua Mukti Morcha  AIR 1984 SC 802
[3] Aravali Golf Club vs. Chander Hass  (2008) 1 SCC (L&S) 289
[4] Supreme Court in Commissioner of Customs vs. Sayed Ali (2011) 3 SCC 537
[5] Mahalakshmi Mills vs. Union of India (2009) 16 SCC 569

N-power in India. How safe are our plants?

In the aftermath of the nuclear leaks in Japan, there have been concerns regarding the safety of nuclear power plants around the world. There are some proposals to change the regulatory framework in India to ensure the safety of these plants. We examine some of the issues in the current structure.   Which body looks at safety issues regarding nuclear power plants in the country?   The apex institution tasked to look at issues regarding nuclear safety is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The AERB was set up in 1983 to carry out regulatory and safety functions regarding nuclear and radiation facilities. The agency has to give clearances for establishing nuclear power plants and facilities.   It issues clearances for nuclear power projects in stages after safety reviews. The safety of setting up a nuclear plant in any given area is also assessed by the AERB. For example, it would have looked into the safety of setting up a nuclear power project in Jaitapur in Maharashtra.   AERB also reviews the safety mechanisms within existing nuclear plants and facilities. To do this, it requires nuclear facilities to report their compliance with safety regulations, and also makes periodic inspections.   Under the recently passed Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 the AERB is also the authority responsible for notifying when a nuclear incident takes place. Mechanisms for assessing and claiming compensation by victims will be initiated only after the nuclear incident is notified.   Why is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in the news?   Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced on March 29, 2011, "We will strengthen the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and make it a truly autonomous and independent regulatory authority."   This announcement came in the backdrop of the continuing crisis and high radiation levels at the Fukusima nuclear plant in Japan.   News reports opined that the lack of proper autonomy of Japan's nuclear regulator curbed its effectiveness. Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry regulates the nuclear power industry, and also promotes nuclear technology. These two aims work at cross-purposes. India's regulatory structure is similar to Japan in some respects.   What measures has the AERB taken post the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan?   Following the nuclear incident in Japan, a high-level committee under the chairmanship of a former AERB chairman has been set up to review the safety of Indian nuclear power plants.   The committee shall assess the capability of Indian nuclear power plants to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, floods, etc. The committee will review the adequacy of provisions for ensuring safety in case of such events.   Is there any issue in the current regulatory structure?   The AERB is a regulatory body, which derives administrative and financial support from the Department of Atomic Energy. It reports to the secreatry, DAE.   The DAE is also involved in the promotion of nuclear energy, and is also responsible for the functioning of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which operates most nuclear power plants in the country.     The DAE is thus responsible both for nuclear safety (through the AERB), as well as the operation of nuclear power plants (through NPCIL). This could be seen as a conflict of interest.   How does the system of independent regulators differ from this?   The telecom sector provides an example of an independent regulator.   The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India does not report to the Department of Telecommunications. The DoT is responsible for policy matters related to telecommunications, promoting private investment in telecom, and also has a stake in BSNL. Had TRAI reported to the DoT, there would have been a conflict of interest within the DoT.   What will the proposed legislation change?   Recent news reports have stated that a bill to create an independent regulatory body will be introduced in Parliament soon.   Though there is no draft bill available publicly, news reports state that an independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India will be created by the bill, and the authority will subsume the AERB within it.   This post first appeared as an article on rediff.com and can be accessed here.