विधान

An overview of the Sexual Harassment Bill passed by Parliament

Recently, the Parliament passed a law that addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2010, drew on the 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court (known as the Vishaka judgment) to codify measures that employers need to take to address sexual harassment at the work place. (See PRS analysis of the Bill here). The Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2011.  It incorporated many of the amendments recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development that examined the Bill.  The Rajya Sabha passed it on February 27, 2013 without any new amendments (see Bill as passed by Parliament). We compare the key provisions of the Bill, the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill that was passed by Parliament (for a detailed comparison, see here).

Bill as introduced Standing Committee recommendations Bill as passed by Parliament

Clause 2: Status of domestic workers

Excludes domestic workers from the protection of the Bill. The definition should include (i)  domestic workers; and (ii) situations involving ‘victimization’; Includes domestic worker. Does not include victimisation.

Clause 4: Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)

The committee shall include 4 members: a senior woman employee, two or more employees and one member from an NGO committed to the cause of women. The strength of ICC should be increased from 4 to at least 5 (or an odd number) to facilitate decisions in cases where the bench is divided. Disqualifies a member if (a) he has been convicted of an offence or an inquiry is pending against him or (b) he is found guilty in disciplinary proceedings or a disciplinary proceeding is pending against him.
Members may not engage in any paid employment outside the office. Barring paid employment outside the office goes against NGO members who may be employed elsewhere. This clause must be edited. Deletes the provision that disallows NGO members to engage in paid employment outside.  NGO members to be paid fees or allowances.

Clause 6: Constitution and jurisdiction of Local Complaints Committee (LCC)

An LCC is required to be constituted in every district and additional LLCs at block level.  At the block level the additional LCC will address complaints where the complainant does not have recourse to an ICC or where the complaint is against the employer. The functions of the district level and the block level LCCs are not delineated clearly. It is also unclear whether the block level LCCs are temporary committees constituted for dealing with specific cases. Instead of creating additional LCCs at the block level, the District level LCC may be allowed to handle cases. A local member from the block may be co-opted as a member to aid the LCC in its task. Accepted.

Clause 10: Conciliation

The ICC/ LCC shall provide for conciliation if requested by the complainant.  Otherwise, it shall initiate an inquiry. Distinction should be made between minor and major offences. Conciliation should be allowed only for minor offences. Adds a proviso that monetary settlement shall not be the basis on which conciliation is made.

Clause 11: Inquiry into Complaint

ICC/LCC shall proceed to make inquiry into a complaint in such manner as may be prescribed. No suggestion. Inquiries will be conducted in accordance with service rules or in such manner as may be prescribed.For domestic workers, the LCC shall forward the complaint to the police within seven days if a prima facie case exists.  The case shall be registered under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).
Sources: The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010; the Standing Committee on HRD Report on the Bill; the Sexual Harassment at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012; PRS.

 

Verma Committee on the Sexual Harassment Bill

The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha yesterday.  Prior to this, no legislation specifically addressed the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.  In 1997, the Supreme Court issued directions in Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan to deal with the issue.  The Supreme Court had also recommended that steps be taken to enact a law on the subject.  The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2010 and was passed by the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012.  In order to protect women from harassment, the Bill establishes a mechanism for redressal of complaints related to harassment. Recently, the Verma Committee in its Report on Amendments to Criminal Laws had made recommendations on the Sexual Harassment Bill.  In this blog we discuss some of the key issues raised by the Verma Committee with regard to the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. Internal Committee:  The Bill requires the establishment of a committee within organisations to inquire into complaints of sexual harassment.  The Committee shall comprise four members: three would be employees of the organisation; and the fourth, a member of an NGO committed to the cause of women.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that in-house dealing of the complaints would dissuade women from filing complaints.  It recommended that a separate Employment Tribunal outside the organisation be established to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment. Requirement for conciliation:  Once a complaint is made, the Bill requires the complainant to attempt conciliation and settle the matter.  Only in the event a settlement cannot be reached, the internal committee of the organisation would inquire into the matter.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that this is in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment.  It noted that in sexual harassment cases, an attempt to conciliate compromises the dignity of the woman. Action during pendency of the case:  As per the Bill, a woman may approach the internal committee to seek a transfer for herself or the respondent or a leave to the complainant.  The Verma Committee had recommended that till the disposal of the case, the complainant and the respondent should not be compelled to work together. False complaints: The Bill allows the employer to penalise false or malicious complaints as per their service rules.  The Committee was of the opinion that this provision was open to abuse. A PRS analysis of the Bill may be accessed here.

Lokpal Bill: Cabinet accepts key suggestions of the Select Committee

In the run up to the Budget session of Parliament, the Cabinet has decided to accept some of the key recommendations of the Select Committee on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011.  The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, was referred to a Select Committee by the Rajya Sabha.  The Select Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill a year later in November 2012.  At the Cabinet meeting held on January 31, 2013, the government has accepted some of these recommendations (see here for PRS comparison of the Bill, Select Committee recommendations and the approved amendments). Key approved amendments Lokayuktas: One of the most contentious issues in the Lokpal debate has been the establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level.  The Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha gave a detailed structure of the Lokayuktas.  However, the Committee was of the opinion that while each state has to set up a Lokayukta within a year of the Act coming into force, the nature and type of the Lokayuktas should be decided by the states.  The Cabinet has agreed with the suggestion of the Committee. Inclusion of NGOs: Currently, “public servant” is defined in the Indian Penal Code to include government officials, judges, employees of universities, Members of Parliament, Ministers etc. The Bill expanded this definition by bringing societies and trusts which receive donations from the public (over a specified annual income) and, organizations which receive foreign donations (over Rs 10 lakh a year) within the purview of the Lokpal.  The Committee had however objected to the inclusion of organisations that receive donations from the public on the ground that bodies such as a rotary club or a resident’s welfare association may also be covered under the Lokpal. Bringing such entities within the Lokpal’s purview would make it unmanageable.  The Cabinet decided not to accept this recommendation stating that this view had been accepted by the Standing Committee while examining the version of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha.  However, the government has exempted trusts or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act. Procedure of inquiry and investigation:  A key recommendation of the Committee was to allow the Lokpal to directly order an investigation if a prima facie case existed (based on the complaint received).  The Cabinet has accepted this suggestion but suggested that the Lokpal should, before deciding that a prima facie case exists, call the public servant for a hearing.  An investigation should be ordered only after hearing the public servant.  Also, the Cabinet has not accepted the recommendation of the Committee that a public servant should be allowed a hearing only at the end of the investigation before filing the charge-sheet and not at any of the previous stages of the inquiry.  Power to grant sanction:  One of the key reasons cited for delays in prosecuting corrupt public officials is the requirement of a sanction from the government before a public servant can be prosecuted.  The Bill shifts the power to grant sanction from the government to the Lokpal.  It states that the investigation report shall be considered by a 3-member Lokpal bench before filing a charge-sheet or initiating disciplinary proceedings against the public servant.  The Committee recommended that at this point both the competent authority (to whom the public servant is responsible) and the concerned public servant should be given a hearing.  This has been accepted by the Cabinet. Reforms of CBI:  There are divergent views over the role and independence of the CBI.  The Committee made several recommendations for strengthening the CBI.  They include:  (a) the appointment of the Director of CBI will be through a collegium comprising of the PM, Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India; (b) the power of superintendence over CBI in relation to Lok Pal referred cases shall vest in the Lokpal; (c) CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal will be transferred with the approval of the Lokpal; and (d) for cases referred by the Lokpal, the CBI may appoint a panel of advocates (other than government advocates) with the consent of the Lok pal.  All the recommendations regarding the CBI has been accepted by the Cabinet except one that requires the approval of the Lokpal to transfer officers of CBI investigating cases referred by the Lokpal. Eligibility of Lokpal member:  According to the Bill, any person connected with a political party cannot be a member of the Lokpal.  The Committee’s recommendation was to change the term connected to affiliated to remove any ambiguity about the meaning.  This suggestion was accepted by the government. Now the interesting question is what happens if the Rajya Sabha passes the Bill with these amendments.  The Bill will have to go back to the Lok Sabha for its approval since new amendments were added by the Rajya Sabha.  If the Lok Sabha passes these amendments, the office of the Lokpal may finally see the light of day.  (See here for PRS analysis of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011).

Food security: some food for thought

The right to food and food security have been widely discussed in the media.  The National Food Security Bill, 2011, which makes the right to food a legal right, is currently pending in Parliament.  The Bill seeks to deliver food security by providing specific entitlements to certain groups of individuals through the Targeted Public Distribution System, a large-scale subsidised foodgrain distribution system.  The Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution presented its report on the Food Security Bill on January 17, 2013.  It made recommendations on key issues such as the categorisation of beneficiaries, cash transfers and cost sharing between the centre and states. A comparison of the Bill and Committee’s recommendations are given below.

Issue

Food Security Bill

Standing Committee’s Recommendations

Who will get food security?  75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population (to be divided into priority and general categories). Of these, at least 46% of the rural and 28% of urban populations will be priority (the rest will be general). Uniform category: Priority, general and other categories shall be collapsed into ‘included’ and ‘excluded’ categories.Included category shall extend to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population.
How will they be identified? The centre shall prescribe guidelines for identifying households; states shall identify the specific households. The centre should clearly define criteria for exclusion and consult with states to create inclusion criteria.
What will they get?  Priority:7 kg foodgrains/person/month (at Rs 3/kg for wheat, Rs 2/kg for rice, Rs 1/kg for coarse grains).General: 3 kg foodgrains/person/ month (at 50% of MSP). Included: 5 kg foodgrains/person/month (at subsidised prices).  Pulses, sugar, etc., should be provided in addition to foodgrains.
Reforms to TPDS Doorstep delivery of foodgrains to ration shops, use of information technology, etc. Implement specific IT reforms, for e.g. CCTV cameras in godowns, use of internet, and GPS tracking of vehicles carrying foodgrains.  Evaluate implementation of TPDS every 5 yrs.
Cost-sharing between centre and states Costs will be shared between centre and states. Mechanism for cost-sharing will be determined by the centre. Finance Commission and states should be consulted regarding additional expenditure to be borne by states to implement the Bill.
Cash Transfers Schemes such as cash transfer and food coupons shall be introduced in lieu of foodgrains. Cash transfers should not be introduced at this time. Adequate banking infrastructure needs to be set up before introduction.
Time limit for implementation The Act shall come into force on a date specified by the centre. States to be provided reasonable time limit i.e., 1 year, after which Act will come into force.

To access the Bill, a detailed comparison of the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill, and other relevant reports relevant, see here.

Shortage of doctors may hit rural healthcare delivery

Recently, the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare submitted its report to the Parliament on the National Commission for Human Resource for Health Bill, 2011.  The objective of the Bill is to “ensure adequate availability of human resources in the health sector in all states”.  It seeks to set up the National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH), National Board for Health Education (NBHE), and the National Evaluation and Assessment Council (NEAC) in order to determine and regulate standards of health education in the country.  It separates regulation of the education sector from that of professions such as law, medicine and nursing, and establishes professional councils at the national and state levels to regulate the professions. See here for PRS Bill Summary. The Standing Committee recommended that this Bill be withdrawn and a revised Bill be introduced in Parliament after consulting stakeholders.  It felt that concerns of the professional councils such as the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India were not adequately addressed.  Also, it noted that the powers and functions of the NCHRH and the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (to be established under the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 to regulate the higher education sector in the country) were overlapping in many areas.  Finally, it also expressed concern over the acute shortage of qualified health workers in the country as well as variations among states and rural and urban areas.  As per the 2001 Census, the estimated density of all health workers (qualified and unqualified) is about 20% less than the World Health Organisation’s norm of 2.5 health workers per 1000 population. See here for PRS Standing Committee Summary. Shortfall of health workers in rural areas Public health care in rural areas is provided through a multi-tier network.  At the lowest level, there are sub health-centres for every population of 5,000 in the plains and 3,000 in hilly areas.  The next level consists of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) for every population of 30,000 in the plains and 20,000 in the hills.  Generally, each PHC caters to a cluster of Gram Panchayats.  PHCs are required to have one medical officer and 14 other staff, including one Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM).  There are Community Health Centres (CHCs) for every population of 1,20,000 in the plains and 80,000 in hilly areas.  These sub health centres, PHCs and CHCs are linked to district hospitals.  As on March 2011, there are 14,8124 sub health centres, 23,887 PHCs and 4809 CHCs in the country.[i]  Sub-Health Centres and Primary Health Centres

  • § Among the states, Chhattisgarh has the highest vacancy of doctors at 71%, followed byWest Bengal(44%),Maharashtra(37%), and Uttar Pradesh (36%). On the other hand, Rajasthan (0.4%), Andhra Pradesh (3%) and Kerala (7%) have the lowest vacancies in PHCs.
  • § Nine states do not have any doctor vacancies at all at the PHC level. These states includeBihar, Jharkhand andPunjab.
  • § Ten states have vacancy in case of ANMs.  These are: Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,Gujarat,Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
  • § The overall vacancy for ANMs in the country is 5% while for doctors it is 24%.
Table 1: State-wise comparison of vacancy in PHCs
 

Doctors at PHCs

ANM at PHCs and Sub-Centres

State Sanctioned post Vacancy % of vacancy Sanctioned post Vacancy % of vacancy
 Chhattisgarh 1482 1058 71 6394 964 15
 West Bengal 1807 801 44 10,356 NA 0
 Maharashtra 3618 1326 37 21,122 0 0
 Uttar Pradesh 4509 1648 36 25,190 2726 11
 Mizoram 57 20 35 388 0 0
 Madhya Pradesh 1238 424 34 11,904 0 0
 Gujarat 1123 345 31 7248 817 11
 Andaman & Nicobar Isld 40 12 30 214 0 0
 Odisha 725 200 28 7442 0 0
 Tamil Nadu 2326 622 27 9910 136 1
 Himachal Pradesh 582 131 22 2213 528 24
 Uttarakhand 299 65 22 2077 0 0
 Manipur 240 48 20 984 323 33
 Haryana 651 121 19 5420 386 7
 Sikkim 48 9 19 219 0 0
 Meghalaya 127 23 18 667 0 0
 Delhi 22 3 14 43 0 0
 Goa 46 5 11 260 20 8
 Karnataka 2310 221 10 11,180 0 0
 Kerala 1204 82 7 4232 59 1
 Andhra Pradesh 2424 76 3 24,523 2876 12
 Rajasthan 1478 6 0.4 14,348 0 0
 Arunachal Pradesh  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Assam  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Bihar 2078  0 NA NA NA 0
 Chandigarh 0 0 NA 17 0 0
 Dadra & Nagar Haveli 6 0 NA 40 0 0
 Daman & Diu 3  0 NA 26 0 0
 Jammu & Kashmir 750  0 NA 2282 0 0
 Jharkhand 330  0 NA 4288 0 0
 Lakshadweep 4  0 NA NA NA 0
 Nagaland  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Puducherry 37 0 NA 72 0 0
 Punjab 487 0 NA 4044 0 0
 Tripura  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 India 30,051 7,246 24 1,77,103 8,835 5
Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.Note: The data for all states is as of March 2011 except for some states where data is as of 2010.  For doctors, these states are Bihar, UP, Mizoram and Delhi.  For ANMs, these states are Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.
 
Community Health Centres
  • § A CHC is required to be manned by four medical specialists (surgeon, physician, gynaecologist and paediatrician) and 21 paramedical and other staff.
  • § As of March 2011, overall there is a 39% vacancy of medical specialists in CHCs.  Out of the sanctioned posts, 56% of surgeons, 47% of gynaecologists, 59% of physicians and 49% of paediatricians were vacant.
  • States such as Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Haryana have a high rate of vacancies at the CHC level.
Table 2: Vacancies in CHCs of medical specialists
  Surgeons Gynaecologists Physicians Paediatricians
State

% of vacancy

 Andaman & NicobarIsland 100 100 100 100
 Andhra Pradesh 74 0 45 3
 Arunachal Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Assam NA NA NA NA
 Bihar 41 44 60 38
 Chandigarh 50 40 50 100
 Chhattisgarh 85 85 90 84
 Dadra & Nagar Haveli 0 0 0 0
 Daman & Diu 0 100 0 100
 Delhi 0 0 0 0
 Goa 20 20 67 66
 Gujarat 77 73 0 91
 Haryana 71 80 94 85
 Himachal Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Jammu & Kashmir 34 34 53 63
 Jharkhand 45 0 81 61
 Karnataka 33 NA NA NA
 Kerala NA NA NA NA
 Lakshadweep 0 0 100 0
 Madhya Pradesh 78 69 76 58
 Maharashtra 21 0 34 0
 Manipur 100 94 94 87
 Meghalaya 50 NA 100 50
 Mizoram NA NA NA NA
 Nagaland NA NA NA NA
 Odisha 44 45 62 41
 Puducherry 0 0 100 NA
 Punjab 16 36 40 48
 Rajasthan 57% 46 49 24
 Sikkim NA NA NA NA
 Tamil Nadu 0 0 0 0
 Tripura NA NA NA NA
 Uttar Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Uttarakhand 69 63 74 40
 West Bengal 0 57 0 78
 India 56 47 59 49
Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.

[i].  “Rural Healthcare System in India”, National Rural Health Mission (available here).  

Some Important Anti-Corruption Bills in Parliament

Listed below are some key Bills pending in Parliament that are expected to address various aspects of corruption in India. These Bills need to be scrutinized carefully by both lawmakers and citizens alike, so as the strengthen them. Citizen groups can engage in a variety of ways to get their views heard, which have been described in the primer on Engaging with Policy Makers. Some of these anti-corruption Bills are listed in the current Winter Session for consideration and passing. These are marked in red below. (The full list of all Bills being considered in the Winter Session can be accessed here.) Each Bill below has been hyperlinked to a page which has the text of the Bill, the report of the Standing Committee, PRS analysis, and other relevant documents, all in one place. Spreading this message to a number of interested people will be a very useful contribution by all those interested in building greater engagement of people with what happens in Parliament.  

Bill

Date of introduction

Status

Brief description

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) December 22, 2011 Passed by Lok Sabha on 27 Dec 2011. Report of Rajya Sabha Select Committee submitted on November 23, 2012. It seeks to establish the office of the Lok Pal at the centre and Lokayuktas in states for inquiring into complaints against certain public servants.The Bill once passed shall be applicable to states if they give their consent to its application.
The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) August 26, 2010 Passed by Lok Sabha on December 27, 2011. Pending in Rajya Sabha It seeks to protect whistleblowers (person making a disclosure related to acts of corruption, misuse of power or criminal offence).Under the Bill any person including a public servant may make such a disclosure to the Central or State Vigilance Commission.The identity of the complainant shall not be disclosed.
The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill, 2011 August 18, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on June 26, 2012 The Bill prohibits all persons from entering into benami transactions (property transactions in the name of another person).Any benami property shall be confiscated by the central government.It seeks to replace the existing Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988.
The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) March 25, 2011 Standing Committee  submitted its Report on March 29, 2012 Indiais a signatory to the UN Convention against corruption. The Bill is necessary for India to ratify the Convention.The Bill makes it an offence to accept or offer a bribe to foreign public officials and officials of public international organizations in order to obtain or retain international business
The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 December 20, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on August 28, 2012 It requires every public authority to publish a citizen charter within six months of commencement of the Act.The charter should detail the goods and services to be provided and the timeline for their delivery.
The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 December 27, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on August 30, 2012 The Bill requires all public authorities to deliver all public services electronically within a maximum period of eight years.There are two exceptions to this requirement: (a) service which cannot be delivered electronically; and (b) services that the public authorities in consultation with the respective Central and State EDS Commissions decide not to deliver electronically.
The Prevention of Money-Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) December 27, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on May 9, 2012 The Bill Amends the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.This Bill widens the definition of offences under money laundering to include activities like concealment, acquisition, possession and use of proceeds of crime.It provides for the provisional attachment and confiscation of property (for a maximum period of 180 days).
The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 December 3, 2010 Standing Committee  submitted its Report on December 13,  2011 The Bill seeks to establish the National Identification Authority of India to issue unique identification numbers (called ‘Aadhaar’) to residents ofIndia.Every person residing inIndia(regardless of citizenship) is entitled to obtain an Aadhaar number after furnishing the required information.The number shall serve as an identity proof.  But not as a citizenship proof.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 December 1, 2010 Passed by Lok Sabha on March 29, 2012; Pending in Rajya Sabha It replaces the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.  It provides for enforceable standards for the conduct of High Court and Supreme Court judges.The Bill requires judges and their spouses and children to declare their assets and liabilities.  It also establishes a process for the removal of judges of Supreme Court and High Court
The Public Procurement Bill, 2012 May 14, 2012 Standing Committee Report pending The Bill seeks to regulate and ensure transparency in the procurement process.  It applies to procurement processes above Rs 50 lakh.The procuring entity shall adhere to certain standards such as (a) ensuring efficiency and economy; and (b) provide fair and equitable treatment to bidders.

Sources: Respective Bills, PRS Legislative Research    

Are there enough regulatory safeguards against nuclear power?

The protests against the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam have intensified over the recent weeks.  The Kudankulam plant is expected to provide 2 GW of electricity annually.  However, activists concerned about the risks of nuclear energy are demanding that the plant be shut down.  The safety of nuclear power plants is a technical matter.  In this blog post we discuss the present mechanism to regulate nuclear energy and the legislative proposals to amend this mechanism. Atomic materials and atomic energy are governed by the Atomic Energy Act, 1962.  The Act empowers the central government to produce, develop and use atomic energy.  At present, nuclear safety is regulated by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).  Some of the drawbacks of the present mechanism are discussed below. Key issues under the present nuclear safety regulatory mechanism The AERB is not empowered to operate as an independent operator.  The AERB was established by the government through a notification and not through an Act of Parliament.  Its powers and functions are therefore amendable by the Department of Atomic Energy through executive orders.  The parliamentary oversight exercised upon such executive action is lower than the parliamentary oversight over statutes. [1. The executive action or the Rules are in force from the date of their notification.  They are to be tabled before Parliament mandatorily.  However, an executive action is discussed and put to vote in Parliament only if an objection is raised by a Member of Parliament.  The executive orders may be reviewed by the committee on sub-ordinate legislation.  However, this committee has to oversee a large volume of rules and regulations.  For instance, there were 1264 statutory notifications that were tabled before the Rajya Sabha in 2011-12.] Furthermore, the Atomic Energy Commission that sets out the atomic energy policy, and oversees the functioning of the AERB, is headed by the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy.  This raises a conflict of interest, as the Department exercises administrative control over NPCIL that operates nuclear power plants. It is pertinent to note that various committee reports, including a CAG Report in 2011, had highlighted the drawbacks in the present regulatory mechanisms and recommended the establishment of a statutory regulator.  A summary of the Report may be accessed here. Proposed mechanism Following the Fukushima nuclear incident in 2011, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 was introduced in Parliament to replace the AERB. The Bill establishes the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) to regulate nuclear safety, and a Nuclear Safety Council to oversee nuclear safety policies that the NSRA issues.  Under the Bill, all activities related to nuclear power and nuclear materials may only be carried out under a licence issued by the NSRA. Extent of powers and independence of the NSRA The Bill establishes the NSRA as a statutory authority that is empowered to issue nuclear safety policies and regulations.  The Nuclear Safety Council established under the Bill to oversee these policies includes the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy.  The conflict of interest that exists under the present mechanism may thus continue under the proposed regulatory system. The Bill provides that members of the NSRA can be removed by an order of the central government without a judicial inquiry.  This may affect the independence of the members of the NSRA.  This process is at variance with enactments that establish other regulatory authorities such as TRAI and the Competition Commission of India.  These enactments require a judicial inquiry prior to the removal of a member if it is alleged that he has acquired interest that is prejudicial to the functions of the authority. The proposed legislation also empowers the government to exclude strategic facilities from the ambit of the NSRA.  The government can decide whether these facilities should be brought under the jurisdiction of another regulatory authority. These and other issues arising from the Bill are discussed here.


 

Will the changes to the Contract Labour Act benefit workers?

A change in the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 may be in the pipeline.  According to news reports, the government may amend the 1970 Act to safeguard the interest of contract workers.  The proposal is to bring parity between permanent and contractual workers in wages and other benefits. The Contract Labour Act, 1970 regulates the employment of contract labour in establishments which employ 20 or more workmen.  It excludes any establishment whose work is intermittent or casual in nature.  The appropriate government may require establishments to provide canteens, rest rooms and first aid facilities to contract labourers.  The contractor shall be responsible for payment of wages to each worker employed by him.  There are penalties listed for contravening the Act. According to the Report of the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), more than 90% of the workforce is part of the unorganised sector.  Contract labour is found in certain activities in the unorganized sector such as in stone quarrying, beedi rolling, rice shelling and brick kiln.  The Commission recommended some measures to protect the workers in the unorganized sector such as ensuring minimum conditions of work, minimum level of social security and improved credit flow to the non-agricultural sector. The Report of the Working Group on “Labour Laws and other Regulations” for the 12th Five Year Plan, also proposed that the 1970 Act should be amended.  The amendment should ensure that in case of contract labour performing work similar to that performed by permanent workers, they should be entitled to the same wage rates, holidays, hours of work and social security provisions.  Furthermore, whenever a contract worker is engaged through a contractor, the contract agreement between the employer and the contractor should clearly indicate the wages and other benefits to be paid by the contractor. However, other experts such as Bibek Debroy, Kaushik Basu and Rajeev Dehejia have recommended broad reforms in India’s labour laws to allow for more flexibility in the labour market.  According to them, these laws protect only a small portion of workers in the organized sector.

Are we closer to a law on privacy?

On October 16, the Group of Experts on Privacy, Chaired by Mr. A. P. Shah, submitted its Report to the Planning Commission.  The Expert Group was appointed to set out the principles that Indian privacy law should abide by.   Even though privacy has been held to be a fundamental right as long back as in 1962, India does not have a law that specifies safeguards to privacy.  Moreover, recent government initiatives, such as the UID, involve collection of personal information and storage in electronic form.  The absence of a law on privacy increases the risk to infringement of the fundamental right. In this blog we list the recommendations made by the expert group, discuss the status of the right to privacy in India, and why there is a need for an enactment. Recommendations of the Expert Group on Privacy

  • The Expert Group recommended that the new legislation on privacy should ensure that safeguards are technology neutral.  This means that the enactment should provide protections that are applicable to information, regardless of the manner in which it is stored: digital or physical form.
  • The new legislation should protect all types of privacy, such as bodily privacy (DNA and physical privacy); privacy against surveillance (unauthorised interception, audio and video surveillance); and data protection.
  • The safeguards under the Bill should apply to both government and private sector entities.
  • There should be an office of a ‘Privacy Commissioner’ at both the central and regional level.
  • There should be Self-Regulating Organisations set up by the industry.  These organisations would develop a baseline legal framework that protects and enforces an individual’s right to privacy.  The standards developed by the organisations would have to be approved by the Commissioner.
  • The legislation should ensure that entities that collect and process data would be accountable for these processes and the use to which the data is put.  This, according to the Group, would ensure that the privacy of the data subject is guaranteed.

Present status of the Right to Privacy While the Supreme Court has held privacy to be a fundamental right, it is restricted to certain aspects of a person’s life.  These aspects include the privacy of one’s home, family, marriage, motherhood, procreation and child-rearing.  Therefore, to claim privacy in any other aspect, individuals have to substantiate these are ‘private’ and should not be subjected to state or private interference.  For instance, in 1996 petitioners had to argue before the Court that the right to speak privately over the telephone was a fundamental right. Risks to privacy Government departments collect data under various legislations.  For instance, under the Passport Act, 1967 and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 persons have to give details of their address, date of birth etc.  These enactments do not provide safeguards against access and use of the information by third parties.  Similarly, information regarding ownership of property and taxes paid are publicly available on the MCD website. Furthermore, recent government initiatives may increase the risk to infringement of privacy as personal information, previously only available in physical form, will now be available electronically.  Initiatives such as the National e-Governance Plan, introduced in 2006 and Aadhaar would require maintenance of information in electronic form.  The Aadhaar initiative aims at setting up a system for identifying beneficiaries of government sponsored schemes.  Under the initiative, biometric details of the beneficiaries, such as retina scan and fingerprints, are collected and stored by the government.  The government has also introduced a Bill in Parliament creating a right to electronic service delivery.  As per news reports, a draft DNA Profiling Bill is also in the pipeline.  

N(I)AB-ing that environmental clearance

There has been much discussion about bringing the GDP growth on track and the need for expediting infrastructure projects in this regard. At the Planning Commission Meeting to approve the Twelfth Five Year Plan, last month, there were concerns about the  implementation of such  projects because of the delay in the grant of environment and forest clearances. In this context, there has been talk of setting up a singular body that will grant approvals for large infrastructure projects. News reports suggest that the government is considering forming a National Investment Approval Board (NIAB). The NIAB will be responsible for expediting the clearances for mega project proposals above a certain financial threshold. The Board would be headed by the Prime Minister and will have the authority to provide the ‘final decision’ on investment projects. According to news reports, the NIAB will be the final decision making body. The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) has raised concerns that this would create ambiguity in the current process of granting clearance for projects. While the formation of the NIAB is still being deliberated and discussed, it would be relevant to understand the process that the MoEF follows before granting clearance to a project and look at data on number of clearances granted and pending. The MoEF has developed certain processes to examine the potential environmental impact of new projects or expansion of existing projects. These are contained in the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. This notification empowers the Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) to review the environmental impact of projects. The EAC carries out a combination of these steps depending on the classification of the project:

  • Screening: To determine whether the project requires further study for preparing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
  • Scoping: Setting clear guidelines that state the environmental concerns identified in the project.
  • Public Consultation: To ascertain the concerns of the local persons affected by the environmental impacts of the project.
  • Appraisal: The EAC studies the application, final EIA report, and outcome of the public consultations and makes its recommendations to the MoEF.

The MoEF considers the grant of environmental clearance to development projects in terms of the provisions of EIA Notification, 2006. From July 13, 2011 to July 12, 2012 the MoEF has given environmental clearances to 209 development projects. For a sector wise break up see Table 1. Table 1: Number of Environment Clearances Accorded

Sector No.  of  projects accorded EC
Industry (Steel & Cement)

88

Thermal Power

29

River Valley and Hydro-electric

6

Coal Mining

29

Non-Coal Mining

25

National Highways

32

Total

209

Source: “Environmental Clearance accorded from 13.07.2011 to 12.07.2012”, MoEF A total of 593 proposals are pending for environmental clearance as on August 13, 2012.[i] It remains to be seen how the process of granting clearances as established by the MoEF will be reconciled with the expedited process of the NIAB.


[i] MoEF, Lok Sabha, Unstarred Question no. 637, August 13, 2012,