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 But if there is a belief that the Bill introduced in Parliiament will be withdrawn to introduce another Bill on the same subject as drafted by NGOs, then history suggests that the probability of that happening is close to zero.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)

An Analysis of the Deferred Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010

Given India’s anti-defection laws, the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 should have sailed through smoothly in the Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 26 in spite of opposition from many MPs who raised a number of pertinent issues. However, in a surprising turn of events the Bill faced opposition from Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao (along with other Opposition members).  It forced the Minister of Human Resource Development Shri Kapil Sibal to defer the consideration and passing of the Bill to the Winter session of Parliament. Such an incidence raises the larger issue of whether an MP should follow the party line or be allowed to express his opinion which may be contrary to the party.  Last year, Vice President Hamid Ansari had expressed the view that there was a need to expand the scope for individual MPs to express their opinion on policy matters.  One of the ways this could be done, he felt, was by limiting the issuance of whips “to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as Money Bills or No-Confidence Motions.”  There are others who feel that MPs should not oppose the party line in the House since they represent the party in the Parliament. (See PRS note on The Anti-Defection Law: Intent and Impact). The Educational Tribunals Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010, seeks to set up tribunals at the state and national level to adjudicate disputes related to higher education.  The disputes may be related to service matters of teachers; unfair practices of the higher educational institutions; affiliation of colleges; and statutory regulatory authorities.  The tribunals shall include judicial, academic and administrative members.  The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts over any matters that the tribunals are empowered to hear.  It also seeks to penalise any person who does not comply with the orders of the tribunals. (See the analysis of PRS on the Educational Tribunals Bill). The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, which submitted its report on August 20, 2010.  Although the report expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of inputs from states and universities and made a number of recommendations on various provisions, the HRD Ministry rejected those suggestions. Some of the key issues raised by the Standing Committee are as follows:

  • The Committee observed that no specific assessment about quantum of litigation has been carried out. It recommended that before setting up tribunals, the magnitude of cases and costs incurred in litigation should be assessed. A minimum court fee should be fixed to ensure viability of the tribunals.
  • The Committee pointed out that the status of existing tribunals is unclear. Also, since the number of educational institutions vary from state to state, the Committee felt that one educational tribunal per state cannot be made uniformly applicable.
  • The Committee stated that there is no clear rationale for fixing a minimum age limit of 55 years for members of the tribunals. It recommended that competent people with adequate knowledge and experience, irrespective of age, should be considered.
  • In case there is a vacancy in the chairperson’s post, other two members shall hear cases in the state educational tribunals. However, this leaves the possibility of cases being heard without a judicial member (since chairperson is the only judicial member). The Committee pointed out that a recent Supreme Court judgment states that every two-member bench of the tribunal should always have a judicial member. Also, whenever any larger or special benches are constituted, the number of technical members should not exceed the judicial member. The Committee were of the view that certain provisions of the Bill violate the Supreme Court judgment and should be re-thought.
  • The Committee recommends that the term “unfair practice” should be defined in the Bill so that it is not open to interpretation by the courts.
  • The Selection Committee to recommend panel for national tribunal includes the Chief Justice of India and Secretaries, Higher Education, Law and Justice, Medical Education and Personnel and Training as members. The Committee recommended that there should be adequate representation of the academia in the Selection Committee.
  • The Committee proposed that the government needs to identify the lacunae of the existing tribunal systems and ensure that orders of the tribunals have some force.

Digging on the right side of the law

The recent order of the ministry of environment and forests (MoE&F) rejecting the application for grant of forest clearance to the Orissa Mining Company (the Vedanta project) has raised a number of important questions. The order cited the company’s non-compliance with a number of laws. But the Vedanta case is just one example. There are several projects in the country where similar issues are relevant. The question really is, are the multiple laws that are applicable in such cases in harmony with each other or are they working at cross purposes? In a sector such as mining, doing business is inherently complicated. There are at least four broad aspects that need to be addressed—obtaining mining licences, securing environmental clearances, acquiring land, and rehabilitation of people affected by such projects. We take a look at each of the four broad areas, to understand how the applicable laws interact with one another. Obtaining mining licences Doing business in the mining sector first entails obtaining a licence for activities such as prospecting and mining. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, lays down the framework for any prospecting, leasing or mining activity to be carried out for specified minerals, and the licences that need to be obtained. The Act allows the central government to frame the rules and conditions applicable both for grant of licences and for the actual activity carried out by enterprises. The licensing authority for mining activities is the state government. Securing environment clearances Environmental clearances for industrial activities are governed by a number of laws. Most activities require clearances under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Additionally, for activities in forest areas, clearance is also required under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Acts pertaining to wildlife protection, bio-diversity and the quality of air and water may also be applicable. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, enables the central government to take measures for “protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution”. These measures may include (among others) (a) laying down standards for the quality of the environment, (b) areas in which industries or operations may not be carried out, or carried out subject to certain safeguards. The rules framed under the Act make it compulsory for all new projects to take prior environmental clearance. For a specified category of activities clearance has to be obtained from the MoE&F, while for others, clearance has to be obtained from State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs). The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, prohibits state governments and other authorities from any unauthorised change in the status of areas declared to be reserved forests, and any diversion of forests for non-forest purposes. It prohibits felling of trees within forest areas. Any such action has to be undertaken with the prior permission of the central government. To divert any forest area for non-forest purposes, state governments have to submit formal proposals to the Centre. State governments also have to show proposals for compensatory afforestation. Acquiring land for the project Acquiring land for projects has become increasingly contentious in recent years. The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 appears to have outlived its utility, which led the UPA-1 to introduce a Bill in the Parliament to bring a new legal framework to facilitate land acquisition. The Bill tried to address several critical aspects of land acquisition. It tried to redefine ‘public purpose’ somewhat more strictly than in the existing Act. ‘Public purpose’ was redefined to include defence purposes, infrastructure projects or for any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land has already been purchased. For acquisitions by companies, the Bill mandated that 70% of the land will have to be acquired directly from the land owners at market prices and that the government would step in under the Act to acquire the remaining 30% for the project. The Bill also aimed to provide for cases resulting in large-scale displacement. It stated that in such cases a social impact assessment study must be conducted. Tribals, forest dwellers and those with tenancy rights were also made eligible for compensation. It also mandated that the intended use of the land being acquired and the current market value of the land would have to be considered for determining compensation. The Bill lapsed when the Lok Sabha was dissolved in 2009. It is not known when the government proposes to reintroduce a Bill in the Parliament to address this issue of land acquisition. Rights of project-affected people When large projects are planned and land is acquired for those, people are often displaced from the project areas and need to be rehabilitated appropriately. The UPA-1 had introduced a Bill in the Parliament to create a legal framework for rehabilitation of project-affected people. However, the proposed Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007, lapsed when the Lok Sabha was dissolved before the last general elections. But the UPA-1 government managed to pass a highly contested Bill that recognised the rights of scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act passed in 2006 focuses on the rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and traditional forest dwellers. The Act seeks to recognise and vest forest rights in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes with respect to forest land and their habitat. The Act mentions 13 separate rights given to forest dwellers. These include (a) living in the forest for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood, (b) right to own, use or dispose of minor forest produce, (c) right to protect and conserve any community resource that they have been traditionally protecting and (d) individual and community rights of habitat for primitive tribal groups. These rights have to be formally recorded/recognised by state governments. The Act also prevents any modification of forest rights or the resettlement of forest dwellers unless the Gram Sabha of the village consents to the proposal in writing. There are additional requirements to be met if developmental activities are to be undertaken in tribal dominated areas (defined as Scheduled Areas in the Constitution). The Panchayat (Extension into Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, extends the part of the Constitution providing for Panchayati Raj in rural areas to Scheduled Areas. The Act requires that government authorities consult the Panchayat or the Gram Sabha before acquiring land for development projects and for rehabilitating persons affected by such projects. At a conceptual level, there is no apparent contradiction in the applicable laws and each of the laws mentioned above appear to be necessary to ensure that there is fairness for all stakeholders involved. However, a distinction has to be made between the legal principles these laws seek to enforce, and procedural formalities that need to be complied with to be on the right side of the law. Also, a closer look at these individual laws and their implementation will reveal a number of loopholes that need to be plugged to ensure that the spirit and basic principles enshrined in each law are enforced efficiently. From the point of view of the company that intends to do business in India, all this adds up to a lot of time-consuming process. This is perhaps why the Doing Business index published annually by the World Bank group ranks India at 133 out of 183 counties in terms of ease of doing business. The challenge, going forward, is for us to strengthen processes that are fair to all stakeholders, but at the same time are not unduly burdensome on the company that seeks to make investments in the mining sector. By CV Madhukar and Anirudh Burman This was published as an article in Financial Express on September 2, 2010

Parliament’s Recommendations on the Nuclear Liability Bill – Why the “and”?

In law, the addition or deletion a single punctuation or a single word can have a major impact on the effect of that law.  One such example can be seen from the recommended changes in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 by Parliament’s Standing Committee. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010.  The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, which submitted its report on the Bill yesterday (August 18, 2010).  The Committee has made a number of recommendations regarding certain clauses in the Bill (See summary here).  One of these may have the effect of diluting the provision currently in the Bill.  The main recommendations pertain to:

  • Preventing the entry of private operators.
  • Allowing the government to increase the total liability for a nuclear incident by notification, but not decrease it.
  • Increasing the liability of the operator to Rs 1,500 crore from Rs 500 crore.
  • Increasing the time limit for claiming compensation to 20 years from 10 years.
  • Changing the provision giving operators a right of recourse against persons actually responsible for causing damage.

Clause 17 of the Bill which gives operators a right of recourse against those actually causing damage had been opposed as it was felt that it was not strong enough to hold suppliers liable in case the damage was caused by them.  Clause 17 gave a right of recourse under three conditions.  The exact clause is reproduced below: The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where — (a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; (b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee; (c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage. Under this clause, a right of recourse exists when (a) there is a contract giving such a right, or (b) the supplier acts deliberately or in a grossly negligent manner to cause nuclear damage, or (c) a person causes nuclear damage with the intent to do so.  If any of the three cases can be proved by the operator, he has a right of recourse. The Committee has stated that “Clause 17(b) gives escape route to the suppliers of nuclear materials, equipments, services of his employees as their willful act or gross negligence would be difficult to establish in a civil nuclear compensation case.” It recommended that Clause 17(b) should be modified to cover consequences “of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or service.” The Committee also recommended another change in Clause 17.  It recommended that clause 17(a) may end with “and”. This provision may dilute the right of recourse available to operators.  The modified clause 17 would read as: The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where — (a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; and, (b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.; (c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage. This implies that for Clauses 17(b) or (c) to be applicable, the condition specified in clause 17(a) has to be compulsorily satisfied.  Two examples highlight the consequence of the recommended change in Clause 17(a) of the Bill:

  1. A person X deliberately commits sabotage in a nuclear plant and causes damage.  Under the Bill, the operator has recourse under Clause 17(c).  If the recommendation regarding clause 17 is accepted, the operator may also have to also prove the existence of a pre-existing contract with X in addition to clause 17(c).
  2. If a supplier supplies defective equipment, but does not have a contract in writing stating that he will be liable for damage caused by defective equipment, the operator may not have a right of recourse against the supplier under 17(b).

The effect of the changes recommended by the committee may thus dilute the provision as it exists in the Bill.  The table below compares the position in the Bill and the position as per the Standing Committee’s recommendations:

Right of recourse - The Bill gives operators a right to recourse under three conditions:  (a) if there is a clear contract; (b) if the damage is caused by someone with intent to cause damage; (c) against suppliers if damage is caused by their wilful act or negligence. In the Bill the three conditions are separated by a semi-colon.  The Committee recommended that the semi-colon in clause 17(a) should be replaced by “and”. This might imply that all three conditions mentioned need to exist for an operator to have recourse.
Right to recourse against suppliers exists in cases of “willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier”. (Clause 17) The Committee felt that the right of recourse against suppliers is vague.  It recommended that recourse against the supplier should be strengthened.  The supplier is liable if an incident has occurred due to (i) defects, or (ii) sub-standard material, or (iii) gross negligence of the supplier of the material, equipment or services. The variance with the Convention continues to exist.

Issues related to MCI - how to regulate medical colleges and doctors?

The Medical Council of India (MCI) has seen a few major controversies over the past decade. In the latest incident, MCI President, Dr. Ketan Desai was arrested by the CBI on charges of accepting a bribe for granting recognition to Gyan Sagar Medical College in Punjab. Following this incident, the central government promulgated an ordinance dissolving the MCI and replacing it with a centrally nominated seven member board. The ordinance requires MCI to be re-constituted within one year of its dissolution in accordance with the provisions of the original Act. Background The Medical Council of India was first established in 1934 under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1933. This Act was repealed and replaced with a new Act in 1956. Under the 1956 Act, the objectives of MCI include:

  • Maintenance of standards in medical education through curriculum guidelines, inspections and permissions to start colleges, courses or increasing number of seats
  • Recognition of medical qualifications
  • Registration of doctors and maintenance of the All India Medical Register
  • Regulation of the medical profession by prescribing a code of conduct and taking action against erring doctors

Over the years, several committees, the most recent being the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) and the Yashpal Committee, have commented on the need for reforms in medical regulation in the country. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW) has recently released a draft of the National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) Bill for public feedback. (See http://mohfw.nic.in/nchrc-health.htm) Key issues in Medical Regulation Oversight Currently, separate regulatory bodies oversee the different healthcare disciplines. These include the Medical Council of India, the Indian Nursing Council, the Dental Council of India, the Rehabilitation Council of India and the Pharmacy Council of India. Each Council regulates both education and professional practice within its domain. The draft NCHRH Bill proposes to create an overarching body to subsume these councils into a single structure. This new body, christened the National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) is expected to encourage cross connectivity across these different health-care disciplines. Role of Councils Both the NKC and the Yashpal Committee make a case for separating regulation of medical education from that of profession. It is recommended that the current councils be divested of their education responsibilities and that these work solely towards regulation of professionals – prescribing a code of ethics, ensuring compliance, and facilitating continued medical education. In addition, it has been recommended that a national exit level examination be conducted. This exit examination should then serve the purpose of ‘occupational licensing’, unlike the prevalent registration system that automatically grants practice rights to graduating professionals. In effect, it is envisaged that the system be reconfigured on the lines of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, wherein the council restricts itself to regulating the profession, but has an indirect say in education through its requirements on the exit examination. A common national examination is also expected to ensure uniformity in quality across the country. Both committees also recommend enlisting independent accrediting agencies for periodically evaluating medical colleges on pre-defined criteria and making this information available to the public (including students). This is expected to bring more transparency into the system. Supervision of education – HRD vs. H&FW The Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) is proposing a National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) to regulate all university education. However, MoH&FW is of the opinion that Medical Education is a specialized field and needs focused attention, and hence should be regulated separately. However, it is worth noting that both the NKC and the Yashpal Committee recommend transferring education overseeing responsibilities to the NCHER. Internationally, different models exist across countries. In the US, the Higher Education Act, 1965 had transferred all education responsibilities to the Department of Education. In the UK, both medical education and profession continue to be regulated by the General Medical Council (the MCI counterpart), which is different from the regulator for Higher Education. Composition of Councils In 2007-08, MCI, when fully constituted, was a 129 member body. The Ministry in its draft NCHRH Bill makes a case for reducing this size. The argument advanced is that such a large size makes the council unwieldy in character and hence constrains reform. In 2007-08, 71% of the members in the committee were elected. These represented universities and doctors registered across the country. However, the Standing Committee on H&FW report (2006) points out that delays in conducting elections usually leads to several vacancies in this category, thereby reducing the actual percentage of elected members. MCI’s 2007-08 annual report mentions that at the time of publishing the report, 29 seats (32% of elected category) were vacant due to ‘various reasons like expiry of term, non-election of a member, non-existence of medical faculty of certain Universities’. In November 2001, the Delhi High Court set aside the election of Dr. Ketan Desai as President of the MCI, stating that he had been elected under a ‘flawed constitution’. The central government had failed to ensure timely conduct of elections to the MCI. As a result, a number of seats were lying vacant. The Court ordered that the MCI be reconstituted at the earliest and appointed an administrator to oversee the functioning of the MCI until this was done. Several countries like the UK are amending their laws to make council membership more broad-based by including ‘lay-members’/ non-doctors. The General Medical Council in the UK was recently reconstituted and it now comprises of 24 members - 12 ‘lay’ and 12 medical members. (See http://www.gmc-uk.org/about/council.asp) Way ahead According to latest news reports, the MoH&FW is currently revising the draft Bill. Let's wait and see how the actual legislation shapes up. Watch this space for further updates!

Amendments Proposed to Draft Direct Taxes Code

The draft Direct Taxes Code Bill seeks to consolidate and amend the law relating to all direct taxes and will replace the Income Tax Act, 1961.  The draft Bill, along with a discussion paper, was released for public comments in August 2009.[1] Following inputs received, the government proposed revisions to the draft Bill in June 2010. The table below summarises these revisions.  The government has not released the changes proposed in the form of a revised draft bill however, but as a new discussion paper.  The note is based on this discussion paper.[2] The Code had proposed a number changes in the current direct tax regime, such as a minimum alternate tax (MAT) on companies’ assets (currently imposed on book profits), and the taxation of certain types of personal savings at the time they are withdrawn by an investor.  Under the new amendments, some of these changes, such as MAT, have been reversed.  Personal savings in specified instruments (such as a public provident fund) will now continue to remain tax-free at all times.  The tax deduction on home loan interest payments, which was done away with by the Code, has now been restored. However, the discussion paper has not specified whether certain other changes proposed by the Code (such as a broadening of personal income tax slabs), will continue to apply.

Issue Income Tax Act, 1961 Draft Direct Taxes Code (August 09) Revisions Proposed (June 2010)
Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) MAT currently imposed at 18% of profits declared by companies to shareholders. To be imposed on assets rather than profits of companies.  Tax rate proposed at 2% (0.25% for banks) MAT to be imposed on book profit as is the case currently.  Rate not specified.
Personal Saving / retirement benefits Certain personal savings, such as public provident funds, are not taxed at all. Such savings to be taxed at the time of withdrawal by the investor. Such savings to remain tax-exempt at all stages, as is the case currently.
Income from House Property Taxable rent is higher of actual rent or ‘reasonable’ rent set by municipality(less specified deductions). Rent is nil for one self-occupied property. Taxable rent is higher of actual rent or 6% of cost /value set by municipality (less specified deductions). Rent is nil for one self-occupied property. Taxable rent is no longer presumed to be 6% in case of non-let out property. Tax deductions allowed on interest on loans taken to fund such property.
Interest on Home loans Interest on home loans is tax deductible Tax deductions on home loan interest not allowed. Tax deductions for interest on loans allowed, as is currently the case.
Capital Gains Long term and short term gains taxed at different rates. Distinction between long and short term capital gains removed and taxed at the applicable rate; Securities Transaction Tax done away with. Equity shares/mutual funds held for more than a year to be taxed at an applicable rate, after deduction of specified percentage of capital gains. No deductions allowed for investment assets held for less than a year. Securities Transaction tax to be ‘calibrated’ based on new regime. Income on securities trading of FIIs to be classified as capital gains and not business income.
Non-profit Organisations Applies to organizations set up for ‘charitable purposes’. Taxed (at 15% of surplus) only if expenditure is less than 85% of income. To apply to organizations carrying on ‘permitted welfare activities’. To be taxed at 15% of  income which remains unspent at the end of the year.  This surplus is to be calculated on the basis of cash accounting principles. Definition of ‘charitable purpose’ to be retained, as is the case currently. Exemption limit to be given and surplus in excess of this will be taxed.  Up to 15% of surplus / 10% of gross receipts can be carried forward; to be used within 3 years.
Units in Special Economic Zones Tax breaks allowed for developers of Special Economic Zones and units in such zones. Tax breaks to be done away with; developers currently availing of such benefits allowed to enjoy benefits for the term promised (‘grandfathering’). Grandfathering of exemptions allowed for units in SEZs as well as developers.
Non-resident Companies Companies are residents if they are Indian companies or are controlled and managed wholly out of India. Companies are resident if their place of control and management is situated wholly or partly in India, at any time in the year.  The Bill does not define ‘partly’ Companies are resident if ‘place of effective management’ is in India i.e. place where board make their decisions/ where officers or executives perform their functions.
Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements In case of conflict between provisions of the Act, and those in a tax agreement with another country, provisions which are more beneficial to the taxpayer shall apply The provision which comes into force at a later date shall prevail.  Thus provisions of the Code would override those of existing tax agreements. Provisions which more beneficial shall apply, as is the case currently.  However, tax agreements will not prevail if anti-avoidance rule is used, or in case of certain provisions which apply to foreign companies.
General Anti-Avoidance Rule No provision Commissioner of Income Tax can declare any arrangement by a taxpayer as ‘impermissible’, if in his judgement, its main purpose was to have obtained a tax benefit. CBDT to issue guidelines as to when GAAR can be invoked; GAAR to be invoked only in cases of tax avoidance beyond a specified limit; disputes can be taken to Dispute Resolution Panel.
Wealth Tax Charged at 1% of net wealth above Rs 15 lakh To be charged at 0.25% on net wealth above Rs 50 crore; scope of taxable wealth widened to cover financial assets. Wealth tax to be levied ‘broadly on same lines’ as Wealth Tax Act, 1957. Specified unproductive assets to be subject to wealth tax; nonprofit organizations to be exempt.  Tax rate and exemption limit not specified.
Source: Income Tax Act, 1961, Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill (August 2009), New Discussion Paper (June 2010), PRS

[1] See PRS Legislative Brief on Draft Direct Taxes Code (version of August 2009) at  http://prsindia.org/index.php?name=Sections&id=6 [2] Available at http://finmin.nic.in/Dtcode/index.html


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.

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.