Kaushiki's blog

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).

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).

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.

 

Standing Committee's recommendations on the Whistleblower's Bill

The government is considering a number of measures to tackle corruption such as the formation of the office of the Lokpal or Ombudsman to investigate corruption cases, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 that requires judges to declare their assets, lays down enforceable standards of conduct for judges, and establishes a process for removal of the Supreme Court and High Court judges (see PRS Analysis) and the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, 2010. In 2004, following the death of whistleblower Satyendra Dubey, the government issued a notification laying down certain guidelines for whistleblowing and protecting whistleblowers.  It introduced the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, 2010 in August 2010 to give statutory backing to the 2004 government resolution.  Commonly known as the Whistleblower’s Bill, it seeks to protect whistleblowers i.e. persons making a public interest disclosure related to an act of corruption, misuse of power or criminal offence by a public servant.  It designates the Central and State Vigilance Commissions to receive disclosures from whistleblowers and lays down safeguards for protection of whistleblowers (see PRS Analysis). The Bill was referred to the Departmentally related Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.  The Committee presented its report on June 9, 2011. Key recommendations of the Standing Committee

  • § The Bill seeks to establish a mechanism to register complaints on any allegation of corruption or wilful misuse of power by a public servant.  The Committee broadly agreed with the provisions of the Bill but hoped that the government would consider the recommendations and adopt them wherever found appropriate.
  • § The Bill covers any complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; wilful misuse of power, and a criminal offence by a public servant.  The Committee suggested that the scope of the Bill may be widened to include offences such as maladministration and human rights violations.  Specifically, the Bill should cover accrual of wrongful gain to a third party.  Also, the definition of “public servant” in the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 could be adopted for this Bill.
  • § The Committee proposed that the defence forces and intelligence organisations should be included within the ambit of the Bill.  There could be reasonable exceptions based on operational needs of the forces.  Alternately, a separate authority could be set up for these exempted agencies.  It added that the Bill should cover members of the Council of Ministers, the judiciary (including higher judiciary) and regulatory authorities.
  • § The Bill states that a public interest disclosure can be made only to the Central or State Vigilance Commissions (VCs).  The Committee is of the opinion that this may restrict access especially to population in remote areas.  It recommended that the Rules should provide for a smooth and convenient system.  The Committee added that if there are multiple points at which complaints can be made, the identity of the complainant should be strictly protected.
  • § The Bill does not allow anonymous complaints.  The Committee however suggested that if the anonymous complaints have supporting documents that substantiates the claims, the VCs can investigate it.  It also advised that an alternative mechanism could be set up within or outside the Bill for inquiring into anonymous complaints.
  • § The Committee recommended that there should be a foolproof mechanism to ensure that the identity of the complainant is not compromised with at any cost.  This is especially important because without such a mechanism it would deter prospective complainants due to fear of harassment and victimisation.
  • § The Bill allows the VCs to reveal the identity of the complainant to the head of the organisation if it is necessary to do so.  The Committee recommended that the identity of the complainant should not be revealed to the head of the organisation without the written consent of the complainant.
  • § The Committee felt that undue burden should not be placed on the complainant to provide proof to substantiate his case.  As long as he is able to make out a prima facie case, the VCs should follow up on the case.
  • § The Committee is of the view that the VCs should inform the complainant about the outcome of the complaint.  Also, the VCs should give reasons if it decides to dismiss a complaint and the complainant should be given a reasonable hearing if he is not satisfied with the dismissal.
  • § The Committee proposed that there should be a time limit for conducting discreet inquiry by the VCs, for inquiry by the head of the organisation and for taking action on the recommendations of the VCs.  The authority would have to give reasons in writing if it wants the time limit to be extended.  There should also be some mechanism to ensure that the directions of the VC are not avoided to protect the wrongdoer.
  • § The Bill states that the VCs shall not entertain any complaints made five years after the action.  However, the Committee is not convinced that this restriction should be prescribed.  If at all there has to be a time limit, exceptions should be made in case of complaints which prima facie reveal offences of a grave nature.
  • § The Committee recommended that the term “victimisation” should be defined and the whistleblower should be provided with sufficient protection to protect him from violence.  Also, witnesses and other persons who support the whistleblower should be accorded the same protection.
  • § The Committee strongly recommended that there should be a mechanism to ensure that the orders of the VCs are complied with. Stringent action should be taken against any person who does not comply with the order.
  • § The Committee felt that the penalty for frivolous or malafide complaints was too high and should be substantially reduced.  Also, while deciding whether a disclosure is frivolous, the intention of the complainant should be examined rather than the outcome of the inquiry.  The complainant should also have the right to appeal to the High Court.

 

NAC's Draft Food Security Bill: A Hit or Miss?

On June 3, 2011, the National Advisory Council (NAC) posted the draft of the National Food Security Bill on its website and has asked for public feed back on the Bill by June 12, 2011. Key Features of the Draft National Food Security Bill, 2011 -          Every person shall have the right of access to sufficient and safe food either directly or by purchasing the food. -          The central and state government shall share the financial cost of procuring, storing and distributing food grains to the population entitled to it. -          There are special provisions for pregnant and lactating mothers, children in the 0-6 age group, destitute persons, homeless persons and disaster affected persons.  The appropriate government shall take immediate steps to provide relief to persons living in starvation. -          The state government shall provide all children upto class 8 freshly cooked meal in all schools run by local bodies and the government.  It shall also provide mid-day meals to children who are admitted under the 25% quota for children belonging to disadvantaged groups in unaided private schools -          Each household shall be categorised into priority and general in rural and urban areas. -          Each individual in the priority group households shall be entitled to at least 7kg of grain every month at a maximum price of Rs 3/kg for rice, Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 1/kg for millets. -          Each individual in the general group households shall be entitled to 4kg of grain per month at 50 per cent of the Minimum Support Price for paddy, wheat and millet. -          The state government can exclude certain persons who fulfil the exclusion criteria in rural and urban areas.  However, it has to cover at least 90% of the population in rural areas and 50% of the population in urban areas. -          The Bill lays down norms for procurement, storage and distribution of food grains under the Public Distribution System.  It also gives detailed norms for Fair Price Shops, ration cards, and monitoring the system. -          It seeks to set up a National Food Commission and State Food Commission in each state.  The Commission shall inquire into complaints on denial of entitlement, advise central and state governments and monitor the schemes.  Each district shall have a District Grievance Redressal Officer. -          The Bill includes penalties for dereliction of duty by public servants, which includes deduction of penalty from the salary of the public servant. -          Any person deprived of his entitlement to food shall be entitled to compensation from the appropriate government. -          The Gram Sabhas should conduct social audits of all schemes under this Act. The Back Story to the Bill The Right to Food Campaign In April 2001, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Rajasthan had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Government of India, Food Corporation of India, and six state governments. The petition contended that the right to food was a fundamental right under “the right to life” provided by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Although no final judgment has been given, the Supreme Court has issued several interim orders in the case.  Among the most significant of theses is the conversion of eight centrally sponsored schemes into legal entitlements, including the Public Distribution System (PDS), Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, also known as “Mid-Day Meals scheme”, and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), among others. Some orders by the Court in the area of food security include:

  • BPL families are entitled to 35kg of foodgrains at a subsidised price.
  • State governments are to implement the Mid-Day Meals scheme by providing every child in government schools and government assisted primary schools with a prepared mid-day-meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days.
  • Six priority groups have been identified who are entitled to the Antyodaya card.  The card entitles the people to 35 kg of grain per month, at Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice.

On May 8, 2002, the Supreme Court appointed two Commissioners for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the interim orders.  The Commissioners have submitted a number of reports highlighting the issues of concern on the implementation of the interim orders and making detailed recommendations. Government Initiatives One of the key commitments made by both UPA I and UPA II was on food security whereby it proposed to enact a legislation that would entitle every BPL family in both rural and urban areas to 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg.  However, the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC has differences with the central government on the contours of the legislation.  The basic issues on which there are divergent views include (a) coverage under the Bill; (b) method to be adopted to ensure food security; (c) the amount of food grain required; and (d) the impact on the food subsidy burden. On October 23, 2010, the NAC made certain recommendations on the National Food Security Bill.  The Bill seeks to address nutritional deficiencies in the population. Some of its key recommendations are:

  • § Legal entitlements to subsidised food grains should be extended to at least 75% of the population – 90% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas.
  • § The priority households (46% in rural areas and 28% in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 35kgs at Rs 1 per kg for millets, Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 3 for rice.  Rural coverage can be adjusted state-wise based on the Planning Commission’s 2004-05 poverty estimates.
  • § The general households (44% in rural areas and 22% in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 20kgs at a price that does not exceed 50% of the current Minimum Support Price (the price at which the government buys food grains from the producer) for millets, wheat and rice.
  • § Government should specify criteria for categorisation of population into priority and general households.  Full coverage of food entitlements should be extended to all by March 31, 2014.
  • § Need for enabling provisions to revitalise agriculture, diversifying the commodities available under the Public Distribution System (PDS), ensuring universal access to safe water and proper sanitation, universalising primary health care, and extending nutritional and health support to adolescent girls.

In response, the Prime Minister set up an Expert Committee under Dr C. Rangarajan to examine the Bill and make recommendations.  The Rangarajan Committee submitted its report in January 2011.  It stated that it would not be possible to implement the NAC recommendations because of lack of availability of food grains and huge subsidy implications.  It was in favour of restricting entitlements of Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice to households falling below the Tendulkar Committee poverty line plus 10 per cent of the BPL population.  This is equivalent to 48 per cent of the rural and 28 per cent of the urban population, which is about the same as the NAC categorisation for priority households. The NAC however criticised the Rangarajan Committee’s stand and proceeded with the task of drafting an appropriate legislation.  It finally posted the draft of the National Food Security Bill on its website and has asked for public feedback. Divergent Perspectives The draft has been critiqued by various experts.  A group of distinguished economists wrote an open letter to Mrs Sonia Gandhi opposing the NAC’s draft on the grounds that it legalises the PDS even though there is a large body of evidence of the inefficiency of the system (see Wadhwa Committee reports and Planning Commission report).  The economists contended that in addition to reforming the PDS, other alternate models of subsidy delivery should be examined such as direct cash transfers or food stamps.  The system of direct cash transfer through food coupons was also outlined in the Economic Survey of 2009-10.  It stated that the system would be less prone to corruption since it would cut down government’s involvement in procuring, storing and distributing food grains. However, there are divergent views on direct cash transfer too.  Some experts such as the economist and member of NAC, Prof Jean Dreze contend that food entitlement is better because it is inflation proof and it gets consumed more wisely than cash which can be easily misspent.  Others are of the view that cash transfer has the potential for providing economic and food security to the poor. The ball is now in the government’s court.  According to news reports, the government may finalise the Bill soon and introduce it in the forthcoming monsoon session of Parliament.

The Lok Pal story

This article was published in the Indian Express on April 8, 2011
Dodging the Drafts

By Kaushiki Sanyal and C.V. Madhukar

Social activist, Anna Hazare’s fast unto death for the enactment of a strong Lok Pal Bill has provided an impetus to examine not only the Bill proposed by civil society activists but suggestions made by various experts.

The idea of establishing an authority where the citizen can seek redress against administrative acts of the government was first mooted in 1963 during a debate on Demands for Grants for the Law Ministry. Under the existing system, a citizen can either move court or seek other remedies such as petitioning his Member of Parliament. However, these remedies are limited because they maybe too cumbersome or specific grievances may not be addressed. Also, the laws that penalise corrupt officials do not have provision to redress specific grievances of citizens. Currently, corrupt public officials can be penalised under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Both these laws require the investigating agency to get prior sanction of the central or state government before it can initiate the prosecution process in a court.

The office of the Lok Pal or an Ombudsman seeks to provide a forum for citizens to complain against public officials. The Lok Pal would inquire into such complaints and provide some redressal to citizens. The basic idea of the institution of Lok Pal was borrowed from the concept of Ombudsman in countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, U.K. and New Zealand. Presently, about 140 countries have the office of the Ombudsman. In Sweden, Denmark and Finland, the office of the Ombudsman can redress citizens’ grievances by either directly receiving complaints from the public or suo moto. However, in the UK, the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner can receive complaints only through Members of Parliament (to whom the citizen can complain). Sweden and Finland also have the power to prosecute erring public servants.

The first Lok Pal Bill in India was introduced in 1968, which lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. The Bill was introduced seven more times in Parliament, the last time in 2001. Each time it lapsed except in 1985 when it was withdrawn.

Several commissions have examined the need for a Lok Pal and suggested ways to make it effective, without violating Constitutional principles. They include: the First Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) of 1966, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of 2002 and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007. The Lok Pal Bills that were introduced were referred to various Parliamentary committees (the last three Bills were referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs).

The First ARC report recommended that two independent authorities be created to redress grievances: first, a Lok Pal, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of Ministers or secretaries of government at the centre and the state; and second, a Lokayukta in each state and at the centre, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of other officials. Both these authorities should be independent of the executive, judiciary and legislature and shall be appointed by the President on advice of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution urged that the Constitution should provide for the appointment of the Lok Pal and Lokayuktas in the states but suggested that the Prime Minister should be kept out of the purview of the authority.
The Second Administrative Commission, formed in 2005, also recommended that the office of the Lok Pal be established without delay. It was in favour of including Ministers, Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament. However, it wanted to keep the Prime Minister outside the Lok Pal’s ambit. The ARC also recommended that a reasonable time-limit for investigation of different types of cases should be fixed.

The 1996, 1998 and 2001 Bill covered Prime Minister and MPs. The Standing Committee examining the 1998 Bill recommended that the government examine two basic issues before going forward with the Bill: first, MPs are deemed to be public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. If they are also brought under the purview of Lok Pal it may be “tantamount to double jeopardy”; and second, subjecting MPs to an outside disciplinary authority may affect supremacy of Parliament.

The 2001 Bill was also referred to the Standing Committee, which accepted that the Prime Minister and MPs should be included in the Bill. It further recommended that a separate legislation be enacted to ensure accountability of the judiciary. It however stated that the Bill did not address public grievances but focussed on corruption in high places.

The states have been more successful in establishing the Lokayuktas. So far 18 states have enacted legislation to set up the office of Lokayukta. While Karnataka Lokayukta is often hailed as a successful case, several other states have had limited success in combating corruption since all of them are recommendatory bodies with limited powers to enforce their findings.

A Group of Ministers is looking into ways to tackle corruption, including the establishment of a Lok Pal. A public debate on the issues raised by various committees would help iron out the weaknesses of any proposed legislation.

This article was published in the Indian Express on April 8, 2011

FAQ: What is Lok Pal Bill? Why the ruckus over it?

The Lok Pal (anti-corruption body) Bill has generated widespread interest in the past few days.

The Bill is an attempt by the government, under massive pressure due to corruption charges, to gain some of its lost ground. However, civil rights activists, including Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, have termed the draft legislation as weak and demanded that fifty per cent of the members in the committee drafting the bill should be from the public.

But the common man appears to be in the dark about the scope of the proposed bill.

Here's an FAQ on the controversial bill.

What is the controversy between the government and Anna Hazare about?

Anna Hazare and other civil society activists have proposed a draft Lok Pal Bill to tackle the menace of corruption. The Prime Minister formed a sub-committee of the Group of Ministers to discuss the issue with these activists. However, these two groups were unable to reach an agreement on the provisions of the Lok Pal Bill. According to the government, the activists demanded that the government should accept the Bill drafted by them without any changes.

What steps has the government taken to enact the Lok Pal Bill?

In January 2011, the government has formed a Group of Ministers chaired by Shri Pranab Mukherjee to suggest measures to tackle corruption, including examination of the proposal of a Lok Pal Bill.

What is the purpose of the office of Lok Pal?

The office of the Lok Pal is the Indian version of the office of an Ombudsman who is appointed to inquire into complaints made by citizens against public officials. The Lok Pal is a forum where the citizen can send a complaint against a public official, which would then be inquired into and the citizen would be provided some redressal.

What are issues that have generated debate on the Lok Pal Bill?

There are diverging views on issues such as the inclusion of the office of the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, inclusion of judges, and powers of the Lok Pal. Some experts contend that all public officials should be accountable while others feel that the autonomy and privilege of Parliament require the Prime Minister, Ministers, and Members of Parliament to be accountable only to Parliament.

Have there been other attempts to establish the institution of Lok Pal at the central level?

Yes. The Lok Pal Bill has been introduced eight times in the Lok Sabha (1968, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001). However, each time the Lok Sabha was dissolved before the Bill could be passed, except in 1985 when it was withdrawn.

Have any expert commissions made recommendations on the office of Lok Pal?

Yes, a number of commissions have made various recommendations regarding the necessity of the office of the Lok Pal, its composition, powers and functions, and jurisdiction. The commissions, which dealt with the Lok Pal include the First Administrative Reforms Commission of 1966, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of 2002 and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007. The Lok Pal Bills that were introduced were referred to various Parliamentary committees (the last three Bills were referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs).

What are the present laws that deal with corruption of public officials in India?

Public servants (such as government employees, judges, armed forces, and Members of Parliament) can be prosecuted for corruption under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. However, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the 1988 Act require the investigating agency (such as the CBI) to get prior sanction of the central or state government before it can initiate the prosecution process in a court.

Have the state governments been more successful in setting up bodies to redress public grievances against administrative acts?

So far 18 state governments have enacted legislation to set up the office of Lokayukta and Uplokayukta (deputy Lokayukta). The 18 states are: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.

Which other countries have the office of the Ombudsman for grievances?
Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, Burkina Faso and the United Kingdom are some of the countries which have the office of an Ombudsman.

The article was published on rediff.com on April 5, 2011

Do we need the MPLAD Scheme

Bihar became the first state to scrap the MLA Local Area Development Fund scheme (MLALAD).  According to news reports, Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s Chief Minister, is planning to replace it with the CM Area Development Programme, which would be implemented at the District level.  The schemes would be selected by a district selection committee headed by the minister-in-charge and MLAs and MLCs of that district as members.  The implementation shall rest with a body of engineers, headed by Engineer-in-chief.  The district magistrates would only monitor implementation and contractors would be chosen through open tendering in which a representative of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) would be present.  The state government would allocate funds as per requirement. The MPLAD and MLALAD scheme was introduced in December 1993 by former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao to enable legislators to execute small works of a local nature to meet the urgent needs of their constituents.  Under the scheme, each legislator may identify projects and sanction upto Rs 2 crore per year for public works in their constituencies.  The scheme was mooted after MPs demanded that they should be able to recommend certain development projects in their constituencies.  The projects include assets building such as drinking water facilities, primary education, public health sanitation and roads.  The initial amount allocated was Rs 5 lakh per year to each MP. It has however not been smooth sailing for the scheme.  Besides the many implementation lapses (as pointed out by the Standing Committee on Finance in 1998-1199, the CAG and the Planning Commission), the constitutionality of the scheme has been questioned by various scholars and experts. In 2002, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution recommended immediate discontinuation of the MPLAD scheme on the ground that it was inconsistent with the spirit of federalism and distribution of powers between the centre and the state.  Former MP, Era Sezhiyan in a booklet titled ‘MPLADS – Concept, Confusion and Contradictions’ also opposed the scheme and recommended that it be scrapped since it ran contrary to the Constitutional provisions which envisaged separate roles for the Executive and Legislature.  However, the Committee on MPLADS in its 13th Report and its 15th Report stated that there was nothing wrong with the scheme per se except some procedural infirmities and recommended among other things a change of nomenclature to the Scheme for Local Area Development.  The debate continued with the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission’s report on “Ethics in Governance” taking a firm stand against the scheme arguing that it seriously erodes the notion of separation of powers, as the legislator directly becomes the executive.  However, in response to a Writ Petition that challenged the constitutionality of the MPLAD scheme as ultra vires of the Constitution of India, in May 2010, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that there was no violation of the concept of separation of powers because the role of an MP in this case is recommendatory and the actual work is carried out by the Panchayats and Municipalities which belong to the executive organ.  There are checks and balances in place through the guidelines which have to be adhered to and the fact that each MP is ultimately responsible to the Parliament. Meanwhile, some MPs are pushing for hiking the amount allocated under the scheme to Rs 5 crore.  However, no decision has been reached yet.  The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has suggested that a single parliamentary committee be formed comprising of members of both Houses of Parliament to monitor MPLAD schemes. While the question of constitutionality of the MPLAD scheme may have been put to rest by the Supreme Court ruling, other issues related to implementation of the scheme still remain.  Unless problems such as poor utilisation of funds, irregular sanction of works, delay in completion of works are tackled in an efficient manner, the efficacy of the scheme will remain in doubt.

Legislative Commitments in President's Speech

The Budget Session of Parliament began with President Pratibha Patil’s address to a joint session of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.  The session will continue till April 21, 2011 with a recess from March 17 to April 3, 2011.  The Railways Budget was presented and the Economic Survey was released on February 25.  The Union Budget will be presented on February 28, 2011. The agenda for government Bills includes 31 pending Bills for consideration and passing.  Three new Bills are listed for introduction, consideration and passing.  The government plans to introduce 32 new Bills. The President made certain commitments on legislation for the Budget Session.  We list the commitments made in the speech and the status of implementation.

Issue President’s Speech Current Status
Food Security The law will entitle statutorily every family, below poverty line, to food grains at highly subsidised prices.  Important inputs in this regard have been received from the National Advisory Council.  The states are being consulted as the success of the programme hinges critically on their commitment to reforms in the public distribution system. In 2010, an Expert Committee was set up by the Prime Minister under the chairmanship of Dr C. Rangarajan to examine the implications of the proposal of the National Advisory Council (NAC) and make recommendations.  The NAC had proposed that legal entitlement to subsidised foodgrains to be extended to at least 75% of the population.  The Rangarajan Committee Report, published in Jan 2011, raised some objections based on availability of foodgrains and subsidy implications.
Corruption A Group of Ministers formed to consider all measures, including legislative and administrative, to tackle corruption and improve tranparency.  The government plans to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption. The UPA government has formed a Group of Ministers under the chairmanship of Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister.  The GoM would recommend measures to end discretionary powers of ministers and summary dismissal of corrupt government officials.
  A Bill to give protection to whistleblowers have been introduced. The Public Interest Disclosure Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Aug 26, 2010.  The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice  (PRS analysis on the Bill).
Judicial Reforms High priority to be given to improving the delivery of justice  and reducing delays in the disposal of cases.  The details of the National Mission for Delivery of Justice to be finalised soon.  The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill has already been introduced in Parliament to enhance the accountability of the judiciary. The government plans to set up the National Mission for Delivery of Justice.  A blueprint of the mission is available on the Law Ministry’s website.  The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Dec 1, 2010.  The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.
Black Money The government has commissioned a multi-disciplinary study to understand the ramifications for national security and recommend a suitable framework to tackle the problem of black money.  India gained membership to the Financial Action Task Force in recognition of its anti-money laundering and anti-tax evasion measures. The Finance Minister stated that he could not reveal names of Indians who have money stashed abroad because of an absence of legal framework. Expert group set up to look into the issue.  The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 was amended in 2009 (PRS analysis on the Bill).
Mines The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act is proposed to be replaced by a new legislation, which will ensure that local communities benefit adequately from the development process. A draft Bill was formulated by a Group of Ministers in 2010.  It is now under legal vetting before it is taken to the Cabinet for its approval (Relevant documents available here).
Bills related to Women and Children Government introduced a constitutional amendment bill to provide reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures.  The Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha but is pending in the Lok Sabha.  The President hopes that it will be considered in the Lok Sabha at the earliest. The Bill was introduced on May 6, 2008 and referred to the Standing Committee which submitted its report on Dec 17, 2009.  The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on March 9, 2010.  However, it is pending in the Lok Sabha (PRS analysis on the Bill).  It is listed for consideration and passing in the Budget Session.
  Introduced the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill.  Proposal to introduce a bill regarding protection of children from sexual offences. The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment Bill was introduced on Dec 7, 2010.  The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee, which is scheduled to submit its report by June 30, 2011.  The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011 is listed for introduction in the Budget Session Alert.
Biotechnology A Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill is proposed to be introduced this session The Biotechnology Authority of India Bill, 2011 is listed for introduction in the Budget Session Alert.

Are measures to minimize conflict of interest of MPs adequate?

In India, one of the common threads that run through many of the corruption scandals is the issue of conflict of interest i.e. public officials taking policy decisions based on their personal interest.  For example, Shashi Tharoor in the IPL controversy or Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh Housing Society scam. Many countries take measures to minimize conflict of interest of its MPs by regulating membership of parliamentarians in Committees, making it mandatory for them to declare pecuniary interest, and restricting employment both during and after completion of tenure.  For example, the US Senate has a detailed Code of Official Conduct that provides guidelines on conflict of interest. India also has some measures in place to minimize conflict of interest.  These are codified in the Code of Conduct for Ministers, Code of Conduct for Members of the Rajya Sabha, Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and Handbook for Members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.  Every Rajya Sabha MP has to declare his or her interest (along with assets and liabilities).  He has to declare five pecuniary interests:  remunerative directorship, remunerated activity, majority shareholding, paid consultancy and professional engagement.  Lok Sabha MPs can object to another MP joining a parliamentary committee on grounds that he has personal, pecuniary or direct interest.  (For more details, see PRS note on Conflict of Interest Issues in Parliament). On December 1, 2010, PRS held its annual Conference on Effective Legislatures.  One of the topics discussed was MPs and Conflict of Interest: Issues and Resolution.  Panelists included D Raja, Prakash Javdekar and Supriya Sule.  Issues such as requirement for transparency, expertise of legislators, election of honest legislators, and ethical media were discussed.  The issues that were raised during the discussion are summarised in the PRS Summary of Proceedings from the Conference.