Blogs

The right to petition Parliament

What is petitioning? Petitioning is a formal process that involves sending a written appeal to Parliament. The public can petition Parliament to make MPs aware of their opinion and/ or to request action. Who petitions and how? Anyone can petition Parliament. The only requirement is that petitions be submitted in the prescribed format, in either Hindi or English, and signed by the petitioner. In the case of Lok Sabha, the petition is normally required to be countersigned by an MP. According to the Rules of Lok Sabha, "This practice is based on the principle that petitions are normally presented by members in their capacity as elected representatives of the people, and that they have to take full responsibility for the statements made therein and answer questions on them in the House, if any, are raised." Petitions can be sent to either House in respect of:

  • Any Bills/ other matters that are pending before the House
  • Any matter of general public interest relating to the work of the Central Government

The petition should not raise matters that are currently sub-judice or for which remedy is already available under an existing law of the Central Government. Petition formats can be accessed at: Lok SabhaRajya Sabha What happens to the petition once it has been submitted? Once submitted, the petition may either be tabled in the House or presented by an MP on behalf of the petitioner. These are then examined by the Committee on Petitions. The Committee may choose to circulate the petition and undertake consultations before presenting its report (For instance, the Petition praying for development of Railway network in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and other Himalayan States). It may also invite comments from the concerned Ministries. The recommendations of the Committee are then presented in the form of a report to the House. Previous reports can be accessed at the relevant committee pages on the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha websites.

Allegations against Justice Soumitra Sen: Inquiry Committee Report

On December 1, 2010, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha.  The Bill revamps the present system of inquiry into complaints against judges.  The case of Justice Sen was the one of the more recent instances where the integrity of judges has been called into question.

A motion was moved by 58 members of the Rajya Sabha for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen, (a Judge of the Calcutta High Court) on grounds of misappropriation of funds. The Chairman, Rajya Sabha constituted an Inquiry Committee on March 20, 2009 to look into the matter. The Committee comprising Hon’ble Justice B. Sudershan Reddy (Chairman), Hon’ble Justice T.S.Thakur and Shri Fali S. Nariman submitted its report on September 10, 2010.

Charges framed in the Motion

The two charges which led to an investigation into alleged misconduct of Justice Soumitra Sen were:

  • Misappropriation of large sums of money, which he had received in his capacity as Receiver appointed by the High Court of Calcutta; and
  • Misrepresentation of facts with regard to the misappropriation of money before the High Court of Calcutta

 

General observations of the Committee on the case:

  • Justice Sen’s assertion that he had the right to remain silent during the investigations was fallacious.
  • He did not cooperate with the Court proceedings; was not present for hearings, did not furnish information requested by the Court and did not provide any evidence in his defence.

 

Facts and Findings of the investigation by the Committee:

a. During the period he was an Advocate:

  • Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984. A Receiver appointed by the High Court has the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods.
  • As required by the High Court, the Receiver should file and submit for passing,     his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court. However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule both as an Advocate and a Judge.
  • The High Court requires the Receiver to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission. However, the Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank.
  • A total sum of Rs 33,22,800 was transferred in these accounts from the sale of proceeds of the goods which was not accounted for either when Justice Sen was an Advocate or when he was made a High Court Judge.
  • Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Committee found this claim to be false as well.
  • The Committee concluded that this was a case of misappropriation of funds as both of the Receiver’s bank accounts were closed with a nil balance without any investments being made on behalf of the High Court.

b. During the period he was a Judge:

  • Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The committee noted that Justice Sen’s actions were, “an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver’s funds”.
  • After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds.

Conclusion

Based on the findings on the two charges the Inquiry Committee was of the opinion that Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court is guilty of “misbehaviour”.

JPC vs PAC

By Chakshu Rai and Anirudh Burman What is the difference between a JPC and a PAC? A structured committee system was introduced in 1993 to provide for greater scrutiny of government functioning by Parliament. Most committees of Parliament include MPs from both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is an ad-hoc body. It is set up for a specific object and duration. Joint committees are set up by a motion passed in one house of Parliament and agreed to by the other. The details regarding membership and subjects are also decided by Parliament. For example, the motion to constitute a JPC on the stock market scam (2001) and pesticide residues in soft drinks (2003) was moved by the government in the Lok Sabha. The motion on the stock market scam constituted a JPC of 30 members of which 20 were from the Lok Sabha and 10 were from the Rajya Sabha. The motion to constitute the JPC on pesticides included 10 members from the Lok Sabha and 5 from the Rajya Sabha. The terms of reference for the JPC on the stock market scam asked the committee to look into financial irregularities, to fix responsibility on persons and institutions for the scam, to identify regulatory loopholes and also to make suitable recommendations. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), however, is constituted every year. Its main duty is to ascertain how the money granted (budget) by Parliament has been spent by the government. The PAC scrutinises the accounts of the government on the basis of CAG reports. The composition and functions of the committee are governed by parliamentary procedures. The PAC can consist of 15 to 22 members. Not more than 15 members can be from the Lok Sabha, and the representation from the Rajya Sabha cannot exceed 7 members. A minister cannot be a member of the PAC. What can a JPC do that a PAC cannot? The PAC examines cases involving losses and financial irregularities. Its examination is usually limited to the scrutiny of CAG reports and issues raised by the reports. The committee expresses no opinion on points of general policy, but it is within PAC’s jurisdiction to point out whether there has been waste in carrying out that policy. The mandate of a JPC depends on the motion constituting it. This need not be limited to the scrutiny of government finances. How many JPCs have we had so far? Although a number of joint committees have been formed since Independence, four major JPCs have been formed to investigate significant issues that have caused controversy. These are: (1) Joint Committee on Bofors Contracts; (2) Joint Committee to enquire into irregularities in securities and banking transactions; (3) Joint Committee on stock-market scam; and (4) Joint Committee on pesticide residues in and safety standards for soft drinks. How effective have JPCs been? Is the government bound by their recommendations? JPC recommendations have persuasive value but the committee cannot force the government to take any action on the basis of its report. The government may decide to launch fresh investigations on the basis of a JPC report. However, the discretion to do so rests entirely with the government. The government is required to report on the follow-up action taken on the basis of the recommendations of the JPC and other committees. The committees then submit ‘Action Taken Reports’ in Parliament on the basis of the government’s reply. These reports can be discussed in Parliament and the government can be questioned on the basis of the same. How effective is the PAC process? Between 2005 and 2010, the PAC has prepared 54 reports and examined ministries that have cumulatively received around 80% of the budgetary allocations in the last five financial years. Since it is not possible to examine every CAG audit finding in a formal manner, ministries have to submit Action Taken Notes to the PAC on all audit paragraphs. A 2009-10 report of the PAC, however, noted that there were 4,934 audit paragraphs still pending with various ministries. What can the JPC or the PAC find in the 2G case that is not already known, that the CAG and the Trai have not already said? The JPC or the PAC can only look at the documents and examine ministry officials who testify before the committee. The parliamentary committees can arrive at independent conclusions based on the documents placed before them. Members of the committee can also place dissent notes if they do not agree with the majority. Can Raja be tried and the telecom licences cancelled on basis of a JPC report or do we need a CBI report as well? Prosecution of individuals and cancellation of licences are executive functions and can only be initiated by the government. A JPC report can recommend the prosecution of a particular person or the cancellation of certain licences. However, the government can disagree with the JPC’s findings and refuse to take such action. How much of Parliament time have we lost already and how many critical Bills are stuck? The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are supposed to work daily for six hours and five hours, respectively. The Lok Sabha has worked for five hours and forty five minutes and Rajya Sabha has worked for an hour and twenty five minutes in the past 12 days. Some important Bills that are listed for consideration and passing in Parliament are the Seeds Bill, 2004; the Commercial Division of High Courts Bill, 2009; and the Amendment to the Right to Education Act, 2010. Bills listed for introduction include the National Identification Authority Bill, 2010; the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment in Workplace Bill, 2010; the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010; Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill; and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. This article appeared in Financial Express.

CWG Investigations: What is being done?

The 2010 Commonwealth Games may have ended on October 14th, but the controversy surrounding the organising of the games is far from over. In Parliament, the Opposition has called for a Joint-Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to be formed to investigate suspected financial irregularities in the organising of the Games[1]. In a statement in Parliament on Tuesday, Minister for Youth Affairs & Sports M.S. Gill commented that “All irregularities will be examined and the guilty will not be spared”[2]. In July 2010, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) found irregularities in 14 Games related construction projects[3]. It has been reported that officials from the CVC now believe total misappropriation of Games Funds could be between Rs 5000 crore and Rs 8000 crore [4]. So what is being done about it? Currently, six different government organisations are conducting independent inquiries into financial irregularities, corruption, and mismanagement of the Games: the High Level (Shunglu) Commission, CVC, CAG, CBI, Income Tax Department, and Enforcement Directorate (ED).  With so many government organisations involved, it can be difficult to decipher the big picture. Here is a breakdown of what each organisation is doing: High Level Commission (Shunglu Commission): The Commission was appointed by the Prime Minister on October 15th[5]. It is chaired by V.K. Shunglu, former Comptroller and Auditor General of India, who has been given the status equivalent to a Supreme Court Judge[6]. The Commission has a broad mandate to investigate all matters regarding the Games, specifically:[7]

  • Roles and responsibilities of signatories to Host City Contract
  • Planning and execution of development projects and contracts
  • Effectiveness of organisational structure and governance for agencies involved
  • Managerial weaknesses
  • All financial aspects of the event, including wrongdoing
  • Coordination issues amongst agencies
  • Role of advisors and consultants to Organising Committee
  • Overall impact of the games
  • Lessons learnt for the future

A report from the Commission detailing its findings is expected by mid January. Central Vigilance Commission (CVC): The CVC first found financial irregularities in 14 Games projects in July 2010.  Subsequently, it asked the CBI to register a corruption case against MCD officials in connection with a tender issued for a Games project[8]. In total, the CVC has found irregularities in 38 games related projects, under the following departments and agencies:[9]

  • Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports: 6
  • Delhi Development Authority: 6
  • Public Works Department: 6
  • Municipal Corporation of Delhi: 5
  • Central Public Works Department: 4
  • Organising Committee: 3
  • New Delhi Municipal Council: 3
  • Government of Delhi: 2
  • Department of Commerce: 1
  • Indian Meteorological Department: 1
  • RITES: 1

The CVC has directed the above agencies to respond to queries regarding the irregularities and has directed the CBI to begin a Preliminary Inquiry into them [10]. The CVC will report its findings to the Shunglu Commission. Income Tax Department: The I-T Department is investigating tenders and awards of contracts for Games related works, as well as tax evasion [11]. It has conducted raids in offices of over 30 business firms and individuals [12]. Enforcement Directorate (ED): The ED is proceeding against Organising Committee officials for violations of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) for projects involving venue development and overlays contracts awarded by the Organising Committee. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI): It has been reported that the CBI had received over 300 complaints of corruption in Games projects by August 2010[13]. It is verifying these claims and investigating matters highlighted by the CVC. Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG): In August 2009, the CAG published a report entitled Preparedness for the XIX Commonwealth Games highlighting the lack of preparedness for the Games and its escalating cost.  The CAG is conducting a detailed audit of the Games that is expected to be published in March 2011[14]. Given that CAG reports are tabled in Parliament, the March 2011 report will be critical to the Parliamentary debate on the Games. Two members of the Organising Committee, the Joint Director and the Deputy Director General, were arrested by the CBI this past Monday.  However, Given that the report of the Shunglu Commssion is due in January 2011, the CAG audit will follow two months later, and the current Opposition demand for a JPC remains unresolved, it may be some time before significant details are made public.


[1] http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/BJP-to-press-fo... [2] http://www.thehindu.com/news/article890174.ece [3] ttp://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/news-by-industry/et-cetera/CVC-finds-irregularities-in-several-CWG-projects/articleshow/6229429.cms [4] http://www.deccanherald.com/content/105830/cwg-fraud-may-touch-rs.html [5] http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/games-over-pm-orders-probe-i... [6] http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/CWG-probe-Shung... [7] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=66561 [8] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/CWG-construction-CVC-asks-... [9] http://www.hindustantimes.com/specials/sports/cwg-2010/22-more-CWG-works... [10] http://www.indianexpress.com/news/Claiming-fraud---favour-in-Games-renta... [11]http://www.indianexpress.com/news/it-dept-collects-cwg-works-related-doc... [12] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article837892.ece [13] http://www.indianexpress.com/news/cbi-has-over-300-complaints-regarding-... [14] http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/CAG-starts-Comm...

The Companies Bill, 2009

All companies are currently governed by the Companies Act, 1956. The Act has been amended 24 times since then. Three committees were formed in the last ten years, chaired by Justice V B Eradi (2001), Naresh Chandra (2002) and J J Irani (2005) to look into various aspects of corporate governance and company law. The Companies Bill, 2009 incorporates some of these recommendations. Main features The major themes of the Bill are as follows: It moves a number of issues that are currently specified in the Act (and its schedules) to the Rules; this change will make the law more flexible, as changes can be made through government notification, and would not require an amendment bill in Parliament. On a number of issues, the Bill moves the onus of oversight towards shareholders and away from the government. It also requires a super-majority of 75 percent shareholder votes for certain decisions. The powers of creditors have been enhanced in cases where a company is in financial distress. It has new provisions regarding independent directors and auditors in order to strengthen corporate governance. Finally, the bill increases penalties, and provides for special courts. Types of companies The Bill provides for six types of companies. Public companies need to have at least seven shareholders, and private companies between two and 50 shareholders. Charitable companies should have at least one shareholder, may have only certain specified objectives, and may not distribute dividend. Three new types of companies have been defined, which have less stringent provisions. These are one-person companies, small companies (private companies with capital less than Rs 50 million and turnover below Rs 200 million), and dormant companies (formed for future projects, or no operations for two years). Corporate Governance The Bill defines the duties of directors and norms for composition of boards. The number of directors is capped at 12. At least one director should be resident in India for at least 183 days in a calendar year and at least a third of the board should consist of independent directors. The Bill also sets guidelines for auditors. Certain related persons such as creditors, debtors, shareholders and guarantors cannot be appointed as auditors. Certain services such as book-keeping, internal audit and management services may not be undertaken by the auditors. Removal of an auditor before completion of term requires approval of 75 percent of the shareholders. Adjudication The Bill provides for a National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to adjudicate disputes between companies and their stakeholders. It also establishes an Appellate Tribunal. The NCLT may ask the government to investigate the working of a company on an application made by 100 shareholders or those who hold 10 percent of the voting power. Arrangements All arrangements such as mergers, takeovers, debt split, share splits and reduction in share capital must be approved by 75 percent of creditors or shareholders, and sanctioned by the NCLT. Standing Committee’s Recommendations The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has submitted its report, and suggested several significant amendments. Corporate governance Substantive matters covered in various corporate governance guidelines should be contained in the Bill. These include: separation of offices of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; limiting the number of companies in which an individual may become director; attributes for independent directors; appointment of auditors. Delegated legislation The Committee noted that the Bill provided excessive scope for delegated legislation. Several substantive provisions were left for rule-making and the Ministry was asked to reconsider provisions made for excessive delegated legislation. The Ministry has agreed to make some changes to include the following provisions in the Act: the definition of small companies; the manner of subscribing names to the Memorandum of Association; the format of Memorandum of Association to be prescribed in the Schedule; the manner of conducting Extraordinary General Meetings; documents to be filed with the Registrar of Companies. The Committee recommended that provisions relating to independent directors in the Bill should be distinguished from other directors. There should be a clear expression of their mode of appointment, qualifications, extent of independence from management, roles, responsibilities, and liabilities. The Committee also recommended that the appointment process of independent Directors should be made independent of the company’s management. This should be done by constituting a panel to be maintained by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, out of which companies can choose their requirement of independent directors. Investor protection The Ministry, in response to the Committee’s concerns for ensuring protection of small investors and minority shareholders, indicated new proposals. These include: enhanced disclosure requirements at the time of incorporation; shareholder’s associations/groups enabled to take legal action in case of any fraudulent action by the company; directors of a company which has defaulted in payment of interest to depositors to be disqualified for future appointment as directors. The Ministry also made some suggestions on protection of minority shareholders/small investors, which the Committee accepted, including the source of promoter’s contribution to be disclosed in the Prospectus; stricter rules for bigger and solvent companies on acceptance of deposits from the public; return to be filed with Registrar in case of promoters/top ten shareholders stake changing beyond a limit. Corporate Delinquency Recommendations include: subsidiary companies not to have further subsidiaries; main objects for raising public offer should be mentioned on the first page of the prospectus; tenure of independent director should be provided in law; the office of the Chairman and the Managing Director/CEO should be separated. The Committee emphasised that the procedural defaults should be viewed in a different perspective from fraudulent practices. Shareholder democracy The Committee recommended that the system of proxy voting should be discontinued. It also stated that the quorum for company meetings should be higher than the proposed five members, and should be increased to a reasonable percentage. Foreign companies The Bill requires foreign companies having a place of business in India and with Indian shareholding to comply with certain provisions in the proposed Bill. The Committee observed that the Bill does not clearly explain the applicability of the Bill to foreign companies incorporated outside India with a place of business in India. It recommended that all such foreign companies should be brought within the ambit of the chapter dealing with foreign companies. Next steps The report of the Standing Committee indicates that the Ministry has accepted many of its recommendations. It is likely that the government will take up the Bill for consideration and passing during the winter session, which starts on 9th November. This article was published in PRAGATI on November 1, 2010

'Jack of all trades: How can MPs fulfil all their roles?'

At an event organised by the Hansard Society, a UK based political research and education charity, MPs spoke about what their role entails and the challenges the face in fulfilling their role.  It is striking to note the similarity between what our Parliamentarians have to share about the challenges they face in their roles as representative of the people and what the UK MPs have shared.

  • Management of their diary i.e. Time Management and prioritizing issues are important to the MP being able to do justice to his various roles
  • The MPs stated that the constituency expects action from them on issues which fall within the purview of the local Government and should have been taken up with the councillor. These could be issues related to public works, schools and the like.
  • Quite often the local councillor is unknown to the population and since the MP is easily recognizable, local issues are taken up with him. The MP is obliged to take up the issue because he cannot be seen to turn anyone away.
  • People assume that if you are not seen on the streets you aren't doing your job. Therefore constituency visits are deemed important and end up taking quite a bit of time, which could have been otherwise devoted to legislative work.
  • MPs with a thin majority tend to focus more on local issues for fear of not being able to retain their seat. They tend to try that much harder to address local issues, even with the knowledge that it is not their primary responsibility.
  • Some MPs felt that the committee work should be of foremost priority instead of just an additional responsibility for the MP, as it is at the committee level that all aspects of the legislation can be examined and worked on in detail.
  • MPs should be encouraged to specialize in subjects so that they develop their knowledge in there area of interest.

In general, there are three views the MP has to balance: The Party's, The Constituency's and his or her Personal views. For example the debate on Wind Farms for renewable energy which spoil the landscape, or immigration. These are subjects where the three views may be vary greatly from each other and the MP has to balance each of these. Ultimately, loyalty to party is a must, since the MP won on the party’s ticket, so the MP owes his/her allegiance to the Party and should endorse the Party’s views.

Three questions from Bangalore

The trust vote drama in Karnataka has hit the national headlines. The incumbent chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa appears to have won the first round. It remains to be seen how the BJP responds to the governor’s direction that a second trust vote be held by the 14th of this month. In the 225-member Karnataka assembly, the ruling BJP had a wafer-thin majority since the 2008 assembly elections. And it was not surprising to find that some political forces in the state felt that there was an opportunity to unseat the government. But what has transpired over the past few days has once again reminded citizens of the ugly side of politics. Leading up to the trust vote, the governor of Karnataka wrote a letter to the speaker of the Karnataka assembly asking that no MLAs be disqualified before the trust vote was conducted on the floor of the assembly. Subsequently, there have been a number of allegations about the conduct of the trust vote itself. The governor openly called the trust vote “farcical”, and wrote to the Centre asking that President’s Rule be imposed in the state, before he directed the government to prove its majority again. This phenomenon of trust votes is not uncommon in our dynamic political culture. Just before the 2009 general elections, the BJD and the BJP had differences over seat-sharing in Orissa. The BJP decided to withdraw support to the Naveen Patnaik government. The BJD passed the floor test by a voice vote. While the opposition claims that the process was not fair, the BJD leadership has maintained that there was no request for a division, which would have required recorded voting. The relatively small Goa assembly has seen a number of similar occurrences in the recent past, with governments changing as a result. But there are some critical issues that merit examination. In some recent trust votes, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have been exchanged. Of course, following the 2008 trust vote in the Lok Sabha on the India-US nuclear agreement, the infamous cash-for-votes scam broke out, with wads of cash being shown on the floor of the House. In the Karnataka trust vote, too, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have changed hands. The second issue is how some of these trust votes are managed on the floor of the House. Both the recent Orissa episode and the ongoing Karnataka one have been very contentious about the procedure that has been used to prove the majority. In both cases, the opposition alleged that they asked for a division, which would require a physical count of votes rather than just a voice vote, and in both cases a division was not held. A parallel issue which needs to be kept in mind is the governor’s power to ensure compliance with procedure in the state legislatures. The third issue that needs some discussion is whether the decision on defections should be judged by the speaker, usually a member of the ruling party or coalition, or by a neutral external body, such as the Election Commission. In the latest episode in Karnataka, the speaker has disqualified MLAs on the ground that they have voluntarily exited the party under which they were elected. In a 1994 case (Ravi S. Naik v. Union of India), the Supreme Court ruled that the words “voluntarily giving up membership” have a wider meaning. An inference can also be drawn from the conduct of the member that he has voluntarily given up the membership of his party. There is a huge paradox in the anti-defection law that was passed 25 years ago. While MLAs and MPs vote along party lines on ordinary legislation, they do not appear to be daunted by the consequences in the case of trust votes. So, in effect, the anti-defection law appears to be effective in controlling members of all parties on policy-making — which could in fact benefit from more open input from across party lines — but ineffective in several cases with regard to trust votes. Clearly, there is much more at stake for all concerned in trust votes, and therefore the scope for greater negotiation. Politics in our large and complex democracy is fiercely competitive. Dissidence is to be expected because there are too many people vying for too few of the top positions. While there are no perfect solutions, the only sustainable and meaningful approach is to encourage inner-party democracy so as to enable a selection process for positions of responsibility that is accepted as free and fair by all concerned. While the political uncertainty continues, the only certainty for India’s citizens is a very unhealthy politics for some time to come. - CV Madhukar This article was published in Indian Express on October 13, 2010

What we have Learned about our MPs and Parliament

This month, PRS Legislative Research is 5 years old! The objective when we started out was to make the legislative process in India better informed, more transparent and participatory.  From what started off as an idea, we believe we have made some progress towards our objective. -       About 250 MPs across political parties have reached out to PRS for inputs on a range of issues that have come up in Parliament.  In addition, there are a number of MPs who use PRS material for their preparation in Parliament, even though they have not contacted PRS for further inputs. -       PRS has increasingly become a resource for the media as well.  Over the past year, PRS has been cited on nearly 400 occasions by leading newspapers and websites as the source of information about legislation and Parliament. These are some of the milestones that we feel happy to have reached.  But I want to really share are some of the learnings that we have had over these years. The first thing that we have learned is that many of us carry so many wrong perceptions about our MPs. Most of us don’t know that more than 80 percent of our MPs have college degrees.  Most of us don’t know that the average attendance rate in Parliament is close to 80 percent in the past year.  Most of us don’t know that Parliament has worked for more than 90 percent of the scheduled time in recent sessions, despite the undesirable disruptions in Parliament. There is a lot that is wrong with our politics, but we hope that some of these facts throw light about some lesser known aspects about our MPs. Laws are made for the really long term! That seems obvious, when we see examples such as our Indian Penal Code which was made in 1860, and the Land Acquisition Act that has haunted our country in recent years was passed in 1894.  And these are just some examples.  The fact is that if we do not debate our laws when they are being made, and citizens do not engage and provide inputs to this process, then we will be stuck with any issues that these laws might have for the next 100 years or more.  So it is critical to get the laws as close to ‘right’ as possible when they are being passed. It is not obvious to most people that so many MPs put in significant effort to engage effectively in Parliament. Clearly, there is a selection bias, statistically speaking – I am talking of MPs who have reached out to us.  Despite this selection bias, the point is that there are a number of MPs who take their work in Parliament seriously, even though they know that much of the work they do in Parliament has almost no bearing on their re-election prospects.  (By the way, in most informal polls that I have done when I meet with groups of people, most do not know the role of an MP – even amongst some of the well educated groups.) Why do so many MPs still work hard to prepare for their work in Parliament, despite knowing that this work has no bearing on their re-election prospects? On this, we can only hypothesize.  There are many MPs who understand their role as legislators and take it very seriously.  There are MPs who feel that making a good point on an issue on the floor of Parliament is a way to establish their grasp of a certain issue to their colleagues in Parliament, but also to the larger world.  For some others, it is a signalling device to their party colleagues about their interest and expertise in a certain subject area.  And we have had MPs who have said, that they feel very good when other MPs, especially from other parties, compliment them for making a good point.  All of these sound like good positive reasons for many MPs to want to be well prepared to speak in Parliament. We have begun to appreciate that the role of the MP in Parliament is very challenging. I can point to at least three reasons, which are independent of how educated or capable an MP might be: (a) The range of subjects in Parliament is so wide that no individual, however intelligent, can be fully conversant with all the subjects being discussed.  (b) MPs have no research staff whatsoever, and are expected to do all of their preparatory work on their own, and (c) The constituency pressure on the MPs is often very high, making it difficult for them to pay adequate attention to their work in Parliament. We most certainly want more from our MPs and our Parliament. We want our MPs to meet for more days, find better ways to raise issues in Parliament than to disrupt proceedings, debate in more detail the laws that they pass.  But what we have learned is that we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water.  So, I am not suggesting that we can’t do better or that our MPs or our Parliament are perfect.  The only way we will have a better Parliament is if we engage.  And more people engage – from all walks of life.  Policy making is not the exclusive preserve of either the expert or the policy maker.  The policy process can be greatly strengthened if we participate in the process and ensure that our MPs know that we want effective laws to govern us and our children. Parliament can be made more effective by addressing some of the current bottlenecks. And some of these issues are not even difficult to fix.  For example, can we have more people in the committee staff to support the work of the standing committees in Parliament so they can cover more ground in any given year?  Can we have qualified research staff working for MPs so that they can go better prepared for Parliament?  (Our Legislative Assistants to MPs – LAMPs programme has shown that it is hugely rewarding for young legislative assistants and the MPs if such a platform is created.)  Can we have recorded voting on all legislative votes, instead of voice votes – the electronic button system is already in place to do this!  These are just some examples… and we at PRS have a laundry list of ideas for strengthening Parliament – with varying degrees of difficulty.  We have raised some of these issues in our Annual Conference of Effective Legislatures, and will continue to do so in the years ahead. A very BIG thanks to each of you for making PRS possible over these past five years… We hope that you will continue to bless and support us in the years ahead to help shape a more robust policy making process in India. PRS PRODUCTS The Legislative Briefs are our flagship product.  Each Brief analyses one Bill pending in Parliament.  These are no longer than 6 pages and are sent to all MPs.  We then get calls from MPs asking for more information/ clarification. Since earlier this year PRS has begun a Wednesday morning Policy Dialogue series exclusively for MPs.  These are widely attended by MPs across parties. PRS is the knowledge partner to brief MPs in the Thursday morning Bill briefing sessions organised by the Constitution Club. PRS has reached out to about 1000 journalists across the country, through journalist workshops and direct engagement. PRS has started the Legislative Assistants to MPs (LAMPs) programme as a pilot initiative.  Under the programme, participating MPs get a trained legislative assistant for a period of three Parliament sessions. PRS produces Primers to demystify Parliamentary process for citizens. These are widely used in our interactions with civil society groups. The Vital Stats series is a crisp two page document that often highlights interesting aspects of Parliament.  They are very popular with journalists. PRS has nearly 1000 fans on Facebook and 2000 followers on Twitter, including some MPs. PRS has a Session Alert at the beginning of each session of Parliament.  On the last day of each session, PRS releases two reports on the just concluded session: Parliament Session Wrap and Plan vs. Performance. PRS hosts an Annual Conference of Effective Legislatures each year to highlight certain aspects of the functioning of Parliament. PRS has compiled a free online database of all state laws across the country.  This effort www.lawsofindia.org is the first effort of its kind in India. The PRS website www.prsindia.org has become an important resource for anyone tracking the Indian Parliament both within the country and abroad.

NGOs and the legislative process

All stakeholders, including citizens, NGOs, etc. have an important role in the law making process. But for many stakeholders, the process is not obvious or easily explained. In PRS, we often receive a number of requests from NGOs about how it is that they can get Parliament to make changes in legislation and what would be productive ways in which citizens can make a difference in the law making process. To address this, PRS has developed a short Primer on "Engaging with Policy Makers: Ideas on Contributing to the Law Making Process", in which we have tried to explain the process of how a Bill becomes an Act and some of the opportunities for citizen groups to become part of the process. Sometimes, large parts of a Bill that is introduced in Parliament may not be agreeable to some groups. In such cases there is a tendency among NGOs to sometimes decide to redraft the Bill. To the extent that NGOs think of redrafting a Bill as a tactical negotiating position, they may have a point in trying to redraft legislation. To the extent that NGOs think of such redrafting as a way to keep the discourse alive on the most important issues in any legislation, such efforts are welcome and useful. But if there is a belief that the Bill introduced in Parliiament will be withdrawn to introduce another Bill on the same subject as drafted by NGOs, then history suggests that the probability of that happening is close to zero. This is not a comment on the quality of the Bill that may be drafted by the group of NGOs, but rather a result of a complex set of issues about lawmaking in India. Despite the odds, there are some recent examples in which NGOs were able to bring about significant changes to Bills in Parliament. The Right to Information Act stands out as one of the best examples in recent times. On the recently passed Right to Education Bill, NGOs were able to exert sufficient pressure to bring about changes in the Bill, and also get the government to bring in an amendment Bill to make further changes. In the Seeds Bill which was introduced in 2004, the Government appears to have agreed to bring about important changes thanks to the efforts of a number of farmer groups approaching the government directly, and through their local MPs and political parties. It would be useful if we can get more examples/ comments/ suggestions about how some NGOs were able to bring about these changes in Bills. This will help more people understand how their voices can be heard in the corridors of power.

Land Acquisition: Public realm, private gain

One of the most politically contentious issues in recent times has been the government’s right to acquire land for ‘public purpose’.  Increasingly, farmers are refusing to part with their land without adequate compensation, the most recent example being the agitation in Uttar Pradesh over the acquisition of land for the Yamuna Express Highway. Presently, land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act, an archaic law passed more than a century ago in 1894.  According to the Act, the government has the right to acquire private land without the consent of the land owners if the land is acquired for a “public purpose” project (such as development of towns and village sites, building of schools, hospitals and housing and state run corporations).  The land owners get only the current price value of the land as compensation.  The key provision that has triggered most of the discontent is the one that allows the government to acquire land for private companies if it is for a “public purpose” project.  This has led to conflict over issues of compensation, rehabilitation of displaced people and the type of land that is being acquired. The UPA government introduced the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill in conjunction with the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill on December 6, 2007 in the Lok Sabha and referred them to the Standing Committee on Rural Development for scrutiny.  The Committee submitted its report on October 21, 2008 but the Bills lapsed at the end of the 14th Lok Sabha.  The government is planning to introduce revised versions of the Bills.  The following paragraphs discuss the lapsed Bills to give some idea of the government’s perspective on the issue while analysing the lacunae in the Bills. The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 redefined “public purpose” to allow land acquisition only for defence purposes, infrastructure projects, or any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land had already been purchased from willing sellers through the free market.  It prohibited land acquisition for companies unless they had already purchased 70% of the required land.  The Bill also made it mandatory for the government to conduct a social impact assessment if land acquisition resulted in displacement of 400 families in the plains or 200 families in the hills or tribal areas.  The compensation was to be extended to tribals and individuals with tenancy rights under state laws.  The compensation was based on many factors such as market rates, the intended use of the land, and the value of standing crop.  A Land Acquisition Compensation Disputes Settlement Authority was to be established to adjudicate disputes. The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 sought to provide for benefits and compensation to people displaced by land acquisition or any other involuntary displacements.  The Bill created project-specific authorities to formulate, implement and monitor the rehabilitation process.  It also outlined minimum benefits for displaced families such as land, house, monetary compensation, skill training and preference for jobs.  A grievance redressal system was also provided for. Although the Bills were a step in the right direction, many issues still remained unresolved.  Since the Land Acquisition Bill barred the civil courts from entertaining any disputes related to land acquisition, it was unclear whether there was a mechanism by which a person could challenge the qualification of a project as “public purpose”.  Unlike the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005, the Bill did not specify the type of land that could be acquired (such as waste and barren lands).  The Bill made special provision for land taken in the case of ‘urgency’.  However, it did not define the term urgency, which could lead to confusion and misuse of the term. The biggest loop-hole in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill was the use of non-binding language.  Take for example Clause 25, which stated that “The Government may, by notification, declare any area…as a resettlement area.” Furthermore, Clause 36(1) stated that land for land “shall be allotted…if Government land is available.”  The government could effectively get away with not providing many of the benefits listed in the Bill.  Also, most of the safeguards and benefits were limited to families affected by large-scale displacements (400 or more families in the plains and 200 or more families in the hills and tribal areas).  The benefits for affected families in case of smaller scale displacements were not clearly spelt out.  Lastly, the Bill stated that compensation to displaced families should be borne by the requiring body (body which needs the land for its projects).  Who would bear the expenditure of rehabilitation in case of natural disasters remained ambiguous. If India is to attain economic prosperity, the government needs to strike a balance between the need for development and protecting the rights of people whose land is being acquired. Kaushiki Sanyal The article was published in Sahara Time (Issue dated September 4, 2010, page 36)