The issue of judges declaring their assets assumes importance in light of recent allegations and inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing by judges (read our post on the report of the Committee set up to examine allegations of wrongdoing by Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court). The Delhi High Court also gave a judgement recently, requiring judges of the Supreme Court to declare their assets. The Bill on judicial accountability (read summary here) requires judges to declare their assets to a specified authority within 30 days of them taking their oath of office. The assets of spouses and dependents is also required to be disclosed. The Bill also states that the assets declared will be put up on the website of the relevant court.
The winter session has come to an end, but parliamentary committees continue to meet to discuss important issues. Some of them are:
- Lok Sabha Committee on Ethics | 21 Dec 2010 | Agenda: Adding to procedure of Lok Sabha, rules to incorporate a committee on ethics, specify its functions and procedures to be followed by the committee
- Lok Sabha Committee on Empowerment of Women | 21 Dec 2010 | Agenda: Informal interaction with with NGO Shakti Vahini on the subject Honour Killings and other forms of violence against Women
- Committee on Water Resources | 21 Dec 2010 | Agenda: Evidence of the representatives of the Ministry of Water Resources on The Dam Safety Bill, 2010
- Committee on Information Technology | 20 Dec 2010 | Agenda: Briefing meeting with the officials of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the subject, Issues related to Paid News
- Committee on Finance | 21 Dec 2010 | Agenda: 1. Oral hearing of the representatives of (i) Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and (ii) US India Business Council (USIBC) on the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008’. 2. Further oral evidence of representatives of Ministry of Finance (Department of Revenue) and Enforcement Directorate on ‘Tax exemptions and related matters in respect of IPL/BCCI’
The Public Accounts Committee examines how the Government spends public money. It examines the amount granted by the Parliament and the amount actually spent. A Speaker in the past, has passed a direction which specifies clearly that a Minister cannot be summoned by the Financial Committees. This has been incorporated in a document titled "Directions by the Speaker" available here. The actual text of the direction reads - "99. (1) The Committee on Estimates or the Committee on Public Accounts or the Committee on Public Undertakings may call officials to give evidence in connection with the examination of the estimates and accounts, respectively, relating to a particular Ministry or Undertaking. But a Minister shall not be called before the Committee either to give evidence or for consultation in connection with the examination of estimates or accounts by the Committee." -Co-authored by Chakshu
The following is a comparison of the rules regarding the transparency of MPs' private interests in India and South Africa. In India, conflict of interest amongst MPs has been debated extensively in the recent past. The primary check on preventing potential conflicts is that all MPs must declare their assets and liabilities to the concerned Speaker (Lok Sabha) or Chairman (Rajya Sabha). The Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee maintains a register of these interests (no such register exists for Lok Sabha MPs). Details in the Register of Members' Interests include: remunerative directorship, regular remunerated activity, shareholding of controlling nature, paid consultancy, and professional engagement. This material, however, is not put in the public domain. An interesting comparison is the Parliament of South Africa, where the Register of Members Interests' (consisting of MPs from both upper and lower house) is made public. Financial interests of MPs, remuneration from employment outside of Parliament, directorships, consultancies, property details, pensions, etc., are all made public (see latest register here).
The Andhra Pradesh government issued an Ordinance on October 15, 2010, which stipulated conditions for the microfinance activities in the State. This Ordinance was ratified two months later on December 15, 2010 by the lower house of the Andhra Pradesh assembly. The key features of the Bill are: •All MFIs should be registered with the district authority. •No person should be a member of more than one SHG. •All MFIs shall make public the rate of interest charged by them on the loans extended. •There would be a penalty on the use of coercive action by the MFIs. •Any person who contravenes any provision of the Ordinance shall be punishable with imprisonment for a period of 6 months or a fine up to the amount of Rs 10,000, or both. The State assembly accepted most of the features from the earlier Ordinance in the Bill. However, the demand for a cap on the interest rates charged by the MFIs for the loans extended to the SHGs was rejected during the ratification.
The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister recently remarked that the Rajya Sabha should be abolished. This is not a new thought. In 1954 and 1973, resolutions were moved in the Lok Sabha seeking to abolish the Rajya Sabha. Both these resolutions were unsuccessful. Attempts to abolish the Rajya Sabha have also been made by introducing private member bills in the Lok Sabha. These private member bills seeking constitutional amendment were introduced in 1971, 1972, 1975 and 1981. None of these Bills was passed by the Lok Sabha.
Reuters news agency has reported that the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly has approved legislation to regulate the microfinance sector. The Assembly ratified an earlier ordinance curbing operations by MFI lenders. The ordinance took effect in October in response to news reports on suicides among borrowers. http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-53571720101215
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 1, 2010. The Bill was introduced by the Shri M. Veerappa Moily, the Minister of Law and Justice. The Bill seeks to (a) lay down judicial standards, (b) provide for the accountability of judges, and (c) establish mechanisms for investigating individual complaints for misbehaviour or incapacity of a judge of the Supreme Court or High Courts. It also provides a mechanism for the removal of judges. Find the main features of the Bill explained here.
News agencies have reported that the newly elected NDA Government has decided in its cabinet meeting to scrap the existing allocation of funds for Local Area Development scheme for Bihar MLAs and MLCs. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/nitish-govt-to-scrap-fund-allocation-for-mlas-mlcs/723368/