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Honour Killings: Are we prepared to tackle the problem?

The issue of honour killing grabbed headlines with the death of Nirupama Pathak, a Delhi-based journalist, who was alleged to have been killed by her family because she was pregnant and was planning to marry a person outside her caste.  This was followed by two more cases of suspected honour killing (see here and here) in the capital. While incidences of honour killing are a rarity in the capital, such incidences are common in the northern states of India such as Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.  The basic reason behind honour killings is the idea that a family’s honour is tied to a woman’s chastity.  Thus, a wide range of causes can trigger honour killing such as marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, having unapproved relationships, refusing an arranged marriage or even rape. In India, honour killings take place if a couple marries outside their caste or religionKhap panchayats also oppose and mete out punishments to couples who marry within the same gotra (lineage) or transgress other societal norms.  A recent judgement by a sessions court in Karnal for the first time awarded the death penalty to five men for murdering a young couple who had married against the diktats of a khap panchayat.  It gave life sentence to a member of the khap panchayat who declared the marriage invalid and was present when the killing took place. On June 22, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the centre and eight states to explain the steps taken to prevent honour killing.  Taking a cautious approach the government rejected Law Minister, M. Veerappa Moily’s proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code and rein in the khap panchayats (caste based extra constitutional bodies).  It however decided to constitute a Group of Ministers to consult the states and look into the scope for enacting a special law that would treat honour killing as a social evil. Experts are divided over the proposed honour killing law.  Some experts argue that the existing laws are sufficient to deter honour killing, if implemented properly while others feel that more stringent and specific provisions are required to tackle the menace of honour killings.

Existing Penalties under Indian Penal Code:
  • Sections 299-304: Penalises any person guilty of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder.  The punishment for murder is life sentence or death and fine.  The punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder is life imprisonment or imprisonment for upto 10 years and fine.
  • Section 307: Penalises attempt to murder with imprisonment for upto 10 years and a fine.  If a person is hurt, the penalty can extend to life imprisonment.
  • Section 308: Penalises attempt to commit culpable homicide by imprisonment for upto 3 years or with fine or with both.  If it causes hurt, the person shall be imprisoned for upto 7 years or fined or both.
  • Section 120A and B: Penalises any person who is a party to a criminal conspiracy.
  • Sections 107-116: Penalises persons for abetment of offences including murder and culpable homicide.
  • Section 34 and 35: Penalises criminal acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.
Arguments favouring new law Arguments against new law
  • Making the crime of honour killing a separate offence would help bring more clarity for law enforcement agencies.
  • One of the proposals is to amend the Indian Evidence Act to put the burden of proof on the accused.  Thus, the khap panchayat or the family members would be responsible for proving their innocence.
  • There would be joint liability under the proposed new law.  The khap panchayat (or any group ordering honour killings) and the person who carries out the killing would be jointly liable for punishment.
  • The existing penalty for the offence of murder is sufficient if they are implemented strictly and effectively.
  • A new set of laws would not deter honour killings because the basic issue is social sanction for acts committed to curtail same gotra marriage, inter-caste marriage, inter-religion marriage.
  • Need for creating awareness among traditional communities through education.
  • Holding khap panchayats  collectively accountable can be detrimental to members who do not support such killing.  Also, it could be misused for vindictive agendas.
Sources: “Define honour killing as ‘heinous crime’: Experts”, Hindustan Times, May 12, 2010; “Legal experts divided over proposed honour killing law,” Indian Express, Feb 16, 2010; “Legal Tangle,” Indian Express, July 10, 2010; and “Honour Killing: Govt defers decision on Khap Bill,” Indian Express, July 8, 2010; “Honour Killing: Govt considers special law,” Indian Express, July 9, 2010.

Meanwhile, khap panchayats are up in arms defending their stance against same gotra marriage.  They have demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 disallowing same gotra marriage.  While condemning honour killings, some politicians such as Naveen Jindal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda have extended support to the demands of the khap panchayats. It remains to be seen if India is effectively able to address this tug of war between tradition and modernity.

Parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies

"Parliamentary approval of the creation, mandate and powers of security agencies is a necessary but not sufficient condition for upholding the rule of law. A legal foundation increases the legitimacy both of the existence of these agencies and the (often exceptional) powers that they possess." Though mechanisms for ensuring accountability of the executive to the Parliament are in place for most aspects of government in India, such mechanisms are completely absent for the oversight of intelligence agencies. In India, various intelligence agencies such as the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Intelligence Bureau are creations of administrative orders, and are not subject to scrutiny by Parliament. This is in direct contrast to the practise of the Legislature's oversight of intelligence agencies in most countries.  Though different countries have different models of exercising such oversight, the common principle - that activities of intelligence agencies should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, remains uniform. In the US for example, both the House and the Senate have a Committee which exercises such scrutiny.  These are House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, established in 1977, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, created in 1976.  Both committees have broad powers over the intelligence community.  They oversee budgetary appropriations as well as legislation on this subject.  In addition, the House Committee can do something which the Senate can not:  “tactical intelligence and intelligence-related activities.”  This gives the Committee the power to look into actual tactical intelligence, and not just broader policy issues.  Intelligence agencies are also governed by a variety of laws which clearly lay out a charter of responsibilities, as well as specific exemptions allowing such agencies to do some things other government agencies ordinarily cannot. (For source, click here) In UK, the Intelligence Services Act of 1994 set up a similar framework for intelligence organisations in the UK, and also set up a mechanism for legislative oversight.  The Act set up a Committee which should consists mostly of Members of Parliament.  The members are appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the leader of opposition, and the Committee reports to the Prime Minister.  The Prime Minister is required to present the report of the Committee before Parliament. (For the Act, click here) Recently, the Committee has expressed concerns in its 2009-10 report over the fact that it is financially dependent on the Prime Minister's office, and that there could be a conflict of interest considering it is practically a part of   the government over which it is supposed to express oversight. (For the report, click here) A study titled "Making Intelligence Accountable: Legal Standards and Best Practice" captures the best components of Parliamentary oversight of intelligence bodies.  Some of these are:

  1. The entire intelligence community, including all ancillary departments and officials, should be covered by the mandate of one or more parliamentary oversight bodies.
  2. The mandate of a parliamentary oversight body might include some or all of the following (a) legality, (b) efficacy, (c) efficiency, (d) budgeting and accounting; (e) conformity with relevant human rights Conventions (f) policy/administrative aspects of the intelligence services.
  3. The recommendations and reports of the parliamentary oversight body should be (a) published; (b) debated in parliament; (c) monitored with regard to its implementation by the government and intelligence community.
  4. The resources and legal powers at the disposal of the parliamentary oversight body should match the scope of its mandate.
  5. Parliament should be responsible for appointing and, where necessary, removing members of a body exercising the oversight function in its name.
  6. Representation on parliamentary oversight bodies should be cross-party, preferably in accordance with the strengths of the political parties in parliament.
  7. Government ministers should be debarred from membership (and parliamentarians should be required to step down if they are appointed as ministers) or the independence of the committee will be compromised. The same applies to former members of agencies overseen.
  8. The oversight body should have the legal power to initiate investigations; Members of oversight bodies should have unrestricted access to all information which is necessary for executing their oversight tasks.
  9. The oversight body should have power to subpoena witnesses and to receive testimony under oath.
  10. The oversight body should take appropriate measures and steps in order to protect information from unauthorised disclosure.
  11. The committee should report to parliament at least yearly or as often as it deems necessary.
  12. The oversight body should have access to all relevant budget documents, provided that safeguards are in place to avoid leaking of classified information.

Petroleum pricing reform

Petroleum Secretary S Sundareshan, while addressing a press Conference on Friday, announced the government’s decision to deregulate prices of petrol. Petrol prices shall now be subject to periodic revisions based on fluctuations in market prices. An immediate hike of Rs. 3.50 per litre has already been affected. Prices of diesel shall be deregulated in stages while those of kerosene and LPG shall continue to be regulated by the government. For the moment, diesel has been hiked by Rs. 2 per litre, kerosene by Rs. 3 per litre and LPG by Rs. 35 per cylinder. Crude to retail: Pricing and under-recoveries India imports about 80% of its crude oil requirement.  Therefore, the cost of petroleum products in India is linked to international prices. The Indian barrel of crude cost $78 in March 2010. Once crude is refined, it is ready for retail. This retail product, is then taxed by the government (both Centre and State) before it is sold to consumers. Taxes are levied primarily for two reasons: to discourage consumption and as a source of revenue. Taxes in India are in line with several developed nations, with the notable exception of the US (See Note 1) Before the current hike, taxes and duties in Delhi accounted for around 48% of the retail price of petrol and 24% of the retail price of diesel. (Click Here for details) Ideally, the retail prices of petroleum products should then be determined as: Retail prices = Cost of production + taxes + profit margins However, in practice, the government indicates the price at which PSU oil companies sell petroleum products. Since these oil companies cannot control the cost of crude (the primary driver of the cost of production) or the taxes, the net result is an effect on their profit margins. In cases where the cost of production and taxes exceeds the prescribed retail price, the profit margins become negative. These negative profit margins are called ‘under-recoveries’. When international crude prices rose above $130 in 2008, under-recoveries reached an all-time high of Rs. 103,292 crore. Even at much lower prices in 2009-10 (averaging at $70 per barrel), under-recoveries totalled Rs. 46,051 crore. (See Note 2) The latest move is an effort to reduce these under-recoveries. The government cited the recommendations of the Kirit Parkih Committee while announcing its decision (Summary - Kirit Parikh Committee report). Any alternatives to price hike? As is evident from above, under-recoveries can also be reduced by decreasing taxes. In fact, one might argue that by both taxing the product and offering a subsidy, the government is complicating the situation. Usually whenever subsidization coexists with taxation, it serves the purpose of redistribution. For example, taxes might be collected universally but subsidy be granted to the weaker sections only. However, this is not the case in the current situation. What needs to be noted here is that these taxes are a very significant source of revenue. In fact, the total taxes paid by the oil sector to the central and state governments were around 3% of GDP in 2008-09 (See Note 3). Reducing taxes now might make it difficult for successive governments to raise taxation rates on petroleum products again. Moreover, though taxes are levied both by the Centre and the States, the subsidy is borne only by the Centre. Hence, the current arrangement is beneficial to the States. Possible future scenarios The opposition has voiced concerns that the hike in prices is likely to lead to even higher inflation and will further burden the consumer. The Chief Economic Advisor to the Finance Ministry, Dr. Kaushik Basu, however, told the media that these changes would have a beneficial effect on the economy. According to him,

"The (decontrol of petrol prices), coupled with price increase for LPG (cooking gas) and kerosene, will have an immediate positive impact on inflation. I expect an increase of 0.9 percentage points in the monthly Wholesale Price Index (WPI) inflation".

 

However, he added, that since the hike in fuel prices would push down fiscal and revenue deficit,

"they will exert a downward pressure on prices… More importantly, from now on, if there is a global shortage and the international price of crude rises, this signal will be transmitted to the Indian consumer. It will rationalise the way we spend money, the kinds and amount of energy we use, and the cars we manufacture. It is an important step in making India a more efficient, global player”.

It remains to be seen how the actual situation pans out. Notes 1) Share of tax in retail price (%)

Country Petrol Diesel
France 61% 46%
Germany 63% 47%
Italy 59% 43%
Spain 52% 38%
UK 64% 57%
Japan 48% 34%
Canada 32% 25%
USA 14% 16%
India (Del) 48% 24%

Source:  Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell, PRS (Data as of Feb, 2010) 2) Under-recoveries by oil companies (Rs Crore)

Year Petrol Diesel PDS Kerosene Domestic LPG Total
2004-05 150 2,154 9,480 8,362 20,146
2005-06 2,723 12,647 14,384 10,246 40,000
2006-07 2,027 18,776 17,883 10,701 49,387
2007-08 7,332 35,166 19,102 15,523 77,123
2008-09 5,181 52,286 28,225 17,600 103,292
2008-09 5,151 9,279 17,364 14,257 46,051

Source:  Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell, PRS 3) Contribution to Central and State taxes by Oil Sector (2008-09)

Category Rs (crore)
Sales tax 63,349
Excise duty 60,875
Corporate tax 12,031
Customs duty 6,299
Others (Centre) 5,093
Other (State) 4,937
Profit petroleum 4,710
Dividend 4,504
Total 1,61,798

Source:  Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell

Are laws covered by copyright?

The simple answer is yes. Under the Copyright Act, 1957, the government, and the government alone, can print its laws and issue copies of them.  If, for instance, a person, takes a copy of an Act, and puts it up on their website for others to download, it's technically a violation of copyright. The only way any person can do so, without infringing copyright, is to 'value-add' to the text of the Act, by say, adding their own commentary or notes. But simply reproducing the entire text of the Act, without comment, is an infringement of the copyright. Section 52 (1)(q) of the copyright Act, which covers 'fair use' of a copyrighted work says the following: 52 (1) The following acts shall not constitute an infringement of copyright, namely: (q) the reproduction or publication of- (i) any matter which has been published in any Official Gazette except an Act of a Legislature; (ii) any Act of a Legislature subject to the condition that such Act is reproduced or published together with any commentary thereon or any other original matter; (iii) the report of any committee, commission, council, board or other like body appointed by the Government if such report has been laid on the Table of the Legislature, unless the reproduction or publication of such report is prohibited by the Government; (iv) any judgement or order of a court, tribunal or other judicial authority, unless the reproduction or publication of such judgment or order is prohibited by the court, the tribunal or other judicial authority, as the case may be; So the text of an Act is copyrighted, but the rules produced under it, and published in the Gazette are not. This is odd, to put it politely. Why should the text of a law, one of the basic building blocks of  a modern state, not be freely available to anyone, without cost? (Even if you can make an argument that laws should be covered by copyright, shouldnt that copyright rest with Parliament, which 'creates' laws, rather than the government?) The Parliament Standing Committee on Human Resource Development is currently studying the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010, which has already achieved a certain amount of fame, for the changes it makes to the rights of lyricists and music composers.  But perhaps the Committee should also consider recommending an amendment to 52(1) of the Copyright Act, allowing not just laws, but all works funded by the government, and by extension the taxpayer, to be freely available to all.

Upcoming Committee Meetings in Parliament

Rajya Sabha June 23 and 24, 2010: Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests Agenda - The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 June 29, 2010: Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture Agenda - Duties, Responsibilities and Functions of Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Helicopter Operations in India Lok Sabha June 24: Committee on Subordinate Legislation (No agenda mentioned) June 25: Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Agenda - Adoption of Report on the subject "Reservation for and Employment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Punjab and Sind Bank and credit facilities provided by the Bank to them" June 29: Public Accounts Committee Agenda - Recent Developments in the Telecom Sector including allocation of 2G and 3G Spectrum

Civil Nuclear Liability and International Principles

The Civil Damage for Nuclear Liability Bill, 2010 has been criticised on many grounds (Also click here), including (a) capping liability for the operator, (b) fixing a low cap on the amount of liability of the operator, and (c) making the operator solely liable.  We summarise the main principles of civil nuclear liability mentioned in IAEA's Handbook on Nuclear Law: Strict Liability of the Operator: The operator is held liable regardless of fault.  Those claiming compensation do not need to prove negligence or any other type of fault on the part of the operator.  The operator is liable merely by virtue of the fact that damage has been caused. Legal channeling of liability on the operator: "The operator of a nuclear installation is exclusively liable for nuclear damage. No other person may be held liable, and the operator cannot be held liable under other legal provisions (e.g. tort law)...This concept is a feature of nuclear liability law unmatched in other fields of law."  The reason for this has been quoted in the Handbook as:

"...Firstly, it is desirable to avoid difficult and lengthy questions of complicated legal cross-actions to establish in individual cases who is legally liable. Secondly, such channelling obviates the necessity for all those who might be associated with construction or operation of a nuclear installation other than the operator himself to take out insurance also, and thus allows a concentration of the insurance capacity available.”

Limiting the amount of liability: "Limitation of liability in amount is clearly an advantage for the operator.  Legislators feel that unlimited liability, or very high liability amounts, would discourage people from engaging in nuclear related activities. Operators should not be exposed to financial burdens that could entail immediate bankruptcy....Whatever figure is established by the legislator will seem to be arbitrary, but, in the event of a nuclear catastrophe, the State will inevitably step in and pay additional compensation. Civil law is not designed to cope with catastrophes; these require special measures." Limitation of liability in time: "In all legal systems there is a time limit for the submission of claims. In many States the normal time limit in general tort law is 30 years. Claims for compensation for nuclear damage must be submitted within 30 years in the event of personal injury and within 10 years in the event of other damage. The 30 year period in the event of personal injury is due to the fact that radiation damage may be latent for a long time; other damage should be evident within the 10 year period." Insurance coverage: "The nuclear liability conventions require that the operator maintain insurance or provide other financial security covering its liability for nuclear damage in such amount, of such type and in such terms as the Installation State specifies....This ensures that the liability amount of the operator is always covered by an equal amount of money. The congruence principle is to the advantage both of the victims of a nuclear incident and of the operator. The victims have the assurance that their claims are financially covered, and the operator has funds available for compensation and does not need to convert assets into cash.

Legislative vacuum and the Bhopal Gas tragedy

Our Constitution provides protection against laws imposing criminal liability for actions committed prior to the enactment of the law. Article 20 (1) under the Part III (Fundamental Rights), reads: 20. (1) No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence. Thus, the maximum penalty that can be imposed on an offender cannot exceed those specified by the laws at the time. In the context of the Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only relevant law specifying criminal liability for such incidents. The CBI, acting on behalf of the victims, filed charges against the accused under section 304 of the IPC (See Note 1). Section 304 deals with punishment for culpable homicide and requires intention of causing death. By a judgment dated September 13, 1996, the Supreme Court held that there was no material to show that “any of the accused had a knowledge that by operating the plant on that fateful night whereat such dangerous and highly volatile substance like MIC was stored they had the knowledge that by this very act itself they were likely to cause death of any human being.” The Supreme Court thus directed that the charges be re-framed under section 304A of the IPC (See Note 2). Section 304A deals with causing death by negligence and prescribes a maximum punishment of two years along with a fine. Consequently, the criminal liability of the accused lay outlined by section 304A of the IPC and they were tried accordingly. Civil liability, on the other hand, was adjudged by the Courts and allocated to the victims by way of monetary compensation. Soon after the Bhopal Gas tragedy, the Government proposed and passed a series of laws regulating the environment, prescribing safeguards and specifying penalties. These laws, among other things, filled the legislative lacunae that existed at the time of the incident. Given the current provisions (See Note 3), a Bhopal like incident will be tried in the National Green Tribunal (once operationalized) and most likely, under the provisions of the the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The criminal liability provisions of the Act (See Note 4) prescribe a maximum penalty of five years along with a fine of one lakh rupees. Further, if an offence is committed by a company, every person directly in charge and responsible will be deemed guilty, unless he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such an offence.

The civil liability will continue to be adjudged by the Courts and in proportion to the extent of damage unless specified separately by an Act of Parliament.

Notes 1) IPC, Section 304. Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, Or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death. 2) IPC, Section 304A. Causing death by negligence Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. 3) Major laws passed since 1984: 1986 - The Environment (Protection) Act authorized the central government to take measures to protect and improve environmental quality, set standards and inspect industrial units. It also laid down penalties for contravention of its provisions. 1991 - The Public Liability Insurance Act provided for public liability - insurance for the purpose of providing immediate relief to the persons affected by an accident while handling hazardous substances. 1997 - The National Environment Appellate Authority Act established to an appellate authority to hear appeals with respect to restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes are disallowed, subject to safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. 2009 - The National Green Tribunal Act, yet to be notified, provides for the establishment of a tribunal for expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and for giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property. This Act also repeals the National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997. 4) Criminal liability provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 Section 15. Penalty for contravention of the provisions of the Act (1) Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, or the rules made or orders or directions issued thereunder, shall, in respect of each such failure or contravention, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both, and in case the failure or contravention continues, with additional fine which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction for the first such failure or contravention. (2) If the failure or contravention referred to in sub-section (1) continues beyond a period of one year after the date of conviction, the offender shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years. Section 16. Offences by Companies (1) Where any offence under this Act has been committed by a company, every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was directly in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly: Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such person liable to any punishment provided in this Act, if he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence.

Summary: Civil Liability for Nuclear damage Bill, 2010

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on may 7, 2010.  The following is PRS’s summary of the Bill (The Bill summary and the Bill along with related media articles can also be accessed on the PRS Website):

The main features of the Bill are:

a. It defines nuclear incidents and nuclear damage, nuclear fuel, material and nuclear installations, and also operators of nuclear installations.

b. It lays down who will be liable for nuclear damage, and the financial limit of the liability for a nuclear incident.

c. It creates authorities who will assess claims and distribute compensation in cases of nuclear damage. It also specifies who can claim compensation for nuclear damage, and how compensation can be claimed and distributed.

d. It specifies penalties for not complying with the provisions of the Bill, or any directions issued under it.

Nuclear damage means (a) loss of life or injury to a person, or loss of, or damage to property caused by a nuclear incident (b) economic loss arising out of such damage to person or property, (c) costs of measures to repair the damage caused to the environment, and (d) costs of preventive measures.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has to notify a nuclear incident within 15 days from the date of a nuclear incident occurring.

The operator of a nuclear installation will be liable for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident in that installation or if he is in charge of nuclear material. If more than one operator is liable for nuclear damage, all operators shall be jointly, and also individually liable to pay compensation for the damage. The Bill also provides certain exceptions to an operator’s liability.

The operator has a right of recourse against the supplier and other individuals responsible for the damage under certain conditions.

The Bill states that the total liability for a nuclear incident shall not exceed 300 million Special Drawing Rights (Approximately Rs 2100 crore at current exchange rates).

Within this amount, the liability of the operator shall be Rs 500 crore. If the liability exceeds Rs 500 crore, the central government shall be liable for the amount exceeding Rs 500 crore (up to SDR 300 million). If damage is caused in a nuclear installation owned by the central government, the government will be solely liable.

The Bill allows the central government to create two authorities by notification:

a. Claims Commissioner: The Claims Commissioner will have certain powers of a civil court. Once a nuclear incident is notified, the Commissioner will invite applications for claiming compensation.

b. Nuclear Damage Claims Commission: If the central government thinks that with regard to a nuclear incident (a) the amount of compensation may exceed Rs 500 crore, or (b) it is necessary that claims will be heard by the Commission and not the Claims Commissioner, or (c) that it is in public interest, it can establish a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission. The Commission shall have the same powers as that of a Claims Commissioner.

An application for claiming compensation can be made by (a) person sustaining the injury, (b) owner of the damaged property, (c) legal representative of a deceased person, or (d) an authorised agent. An application can be made within three years from the date of the person having knowledge of nuclear damage. This right to make an application is however exhausted after a period of ten years from the date of the notification of the nuclear incident.

he Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010. The main features of the Bill are:

a.

It defines nuclear incidents and nuclear damage, nuclear fuel, material and nuclear installations, and also operators of nuclear installations.

b.

It lays down who will be liable for nuclear damage, and the financial limit of the liability for a nuclear incident.

c.

It creates authorities who will assess claims and distribute compensation in cases of nuclear damage. It also specifies who can claim compensation for nuclear damage, and how compensation can be claimed and distributed.

d.

It specifies penalties for not complying with the provisions of the Bill, or any directions issued under it.

§

Nuclear damage means (a) loss of life or injury to a person, or loss of, or damage to property caused by a nuclear incident (b) economic loss arising out of such damage to person or property, (c) costs of measures to repair the damage caused to the environment, and (d) costs of preventive measures.

§

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has to notify a nuclear incident within 15 days from the date of a nuclear incident occurring.

§

The operator of a nuclear installation will be liable for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident in that installation or if he is in charge of nuclear material. If more than one operator is liable for nuclear damage, all operators shall be jointly, and also individually liable to pay compensation for the damage. The Bill also provides certain exceptions to an operator’s liability.

§

The operator has a right of recourse against the supplier and other individuals responsible for the damage under certain conditions.

§

The Bill states that the total liability for a nuclear incident shall not exceed 300 million Special Drawing Rights (Approximately Rs 2100 crore at current exchange rates).

§

Within this amount, the liability of the operator shall be Rs 500 crore. If the liability exceeds Rs 500 crore, the central government shall be liable for the amount exceeding Rs 500 crore (up to SDR 300 million). If damage is caused in a nuclear installation owned by the central government, the government will be solely liable.

§

The Bill allows the central government to create two authorities by notification:

a.

Claims Commissioner: The Claims Commissioner will have certain powers of a civil court. Once a nuclear incident is notified, the Commissioner will invite applications for claiming compensation.

b.

Nuclear Damage Claims Commission: If the central government thinks that with regard to a nuclear incident (a) the amount of compensation may exceed Rs 500 crore, or (b) it is necessary that claims will be heard by the Commission and not the Claims Commissioner, or (c) that it is in public interest, it can establish a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission. The Commission shall have the same powers as that of a Claims Commissioner.

An application for claiming compensation can be made by (a) person sustaining the injury, (b) owner of the damaged property, (c) legal representative of a deceased person, or (d) an authorised agent. An application can be made within three years from the date of the person having knowledge of nuclear damage. This right to make an application is however exhausted after a period of ten years from the date of the notification of the nuclear incident.

Legislative debate: Influencing amendments to the Green Tribunal Bill, 2010

One of the main tasks of the Parliament is to frame laws through debate and discussion on the floor of the House.  However, there have been repeated instances where Bills introduced by the government have been passed without substantive discussion (For news reports, click here and here).  Even where Bills are debated extensively, occasions where the government introduces changes in the Bill directly as a response to Parliamentary debate are hard to find.

One recent exception is the list of amendments introduced to the National Green Tribunal Bill, 2010 by the Minister for Environment and Forests directly in response to issues raised on the floor of the House.

The Bill

The National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009 aims to set up specialised environmental courts in the country.  It will hear initial complaints as well as appeals from decisions of authorities under various environmental laws.  The Tribunal shall consist of both judicial and expert members.  Expert members have to possess technical qualifications and expertise, and also practical experience.

The Tribunal shall hear only ‘substantial question relating to the environment’.  Substantial questions are those which (a) affect the community at large, and not just individuals or groups of individuals, or (b) cause significant damage to the environment and property, or (c) cause harm to public health which is broadly measurable.

PRS in its analysis of the original (unamended) Bill, had raised the following issues (for detailed analysis, clickhere) :

  • The criteria to determine what a ‘substantial question related to the
    environment’ are open to interpretation.
  • The Bill may reduce access to justice in environmental matters by taking away the jurisdiction of civil courts.  All cases under laws mentioned in the Bill will now be handled by the Tribunal which will initially have benches at only five locations.
  • The Bill does not give the Tribunal jurisdiction over some laws related
    to the environment.
  • The qualifications of judicial members of the Tribunal are similar to that of the existing National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA).  The government has been unable to find qualified members for the NEAA for the past three years.  The Green Tribunal Bill gives an explicit option to the government to appoint members with administrative experience as expert members.
  • The Bill does not specify the minimum number of members the Tribunal and also does not mention of the composition of the Selection Committee for selecting members.

The Debate

In the debate on the Bill in the Lok Sabha on April 21, 2010 a number of MPs raised substantive issues with respect to the Bill.  Some of the issues raised were (From the news article quoted above):

1. The Bill fell short on parameters of “scope, efficiency, and access to justice”.

2. Setting up five benches while barring the jurisdiction of courts will “create huge distance for the poor community members and tribals to seek justice”.

3. Offenses under the Wildlife Protection Act and the Wildlife Protection Act will not be heard by the Tribunal.

4. “Section 15 puts an embargo against [persons] other than retired Judge of Supreme Court or Chief Justices of High Court. The other clause puts 15 years of administrative experience, which would open the path for packing the Tribunal with bureaucrats of the kind who did not enforce the environment related laws in their time in service.”

The Minister acknowledged the contribution of the members by stating that: “The members have made important suggestions. Even though their exact demands may not be part of the official amendments moved by the government… but I am open to their suggestions…I will remove all objectionable clauses or sections in the proposed law and keep the window of discussion open.”

The Minister’s response

In response to these issues, the Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh introduced 10 amendments to the Bill on April 30, 2010.  Though not all the issues raised were addressed, a number of changes were made.  In addition, the Minister also assured the House that issues regarding access would be addressed by the government by following a “circuit” approach for the benches of the Tribunal i.e. the benches would travel around the area within their jurisdiction to hear complaints. (To read the response, click here, page 15250)

Some of the main amendments are:

1.  Now any aggrieved person can can approach the Tribunal.  Earlier limited access was provided.

2. The whole Act will be operational by notification at the same time.  Different provisions will not be enforced separately at different points of time.

3. There is a procedure for direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the judgement of the Tribunal.

4. The number of expert and judicial members is clearly specified.

In addition, the Minister also assured that the Selection Committee for picking the members of the Tribunal will be transparent and will ensure that members are not “a parking place for retired civil servants”.