संविधान

आर्म्स एक्ट, 1959 में संशोधन

हाल ही में लोकसभा में  आर्म्स (संशोधन) बिल, 2019 पेश किया गया और इस शीतकालीन सत्र में बिल को पारित किया जाना अधिसूचित है। बिल आर्म्स एक्ट, 1959 में संशोधन करता है जोकि भारत में हथियारों के रेगुलेशन से संबंधित है। आर्म्स की परिभाषा में बंदूकें, तलवार, एंटी एयरक्राफ्ट मिसाइलें शामिल हैं। बिल के उद्देश्य और कारणों के कथन में कहा गया है कि कानून प्रवर्तन एजेंसियों ने गैर कानूनी हथियारों को रखने और आपराधिक गतिविधियों के बीच बढ़ते संबंध का संकेत दिया है। कोई व्यक्ति कितनी लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूकें रख सकता है, बिल उस संख्या को कम करता है, साथ ही एक्ट के अंतर्गत कुछ अपराधों की सजा बढ़ाता है। बिल में अपराधों की नई श्रेणियों को भी प्रस्तावित किया गया है। इस पोस्ट में हम बिल के मुख्य प्रावधानों को स्पष्ट कर रहे हैं। 

एक व्यक्ति को कितनी बंदूकों रखने की अनुमति है?

आर्म्स एक्ट, 1959 के अंतर्गत एक व्यक्ति को तीन लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूकें रखने की अनुमति है। बिल इसे कम करके एक बंदूक करता है। इसमें उत्तराधिकार या विरासत के आधार पर मिलने वाला लाइसेंस भी शामिल है। बिल एक साल की समय सीमा प्रदान करता है जिस दौरान अतिरिक्त बंदूकों को निकटवर्ती पुलिस स्टेशन के ऑफिसर-इन-चार्ज या निर्दिष्ट लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूक डीलर के पास जमा करना होगा। बिल बंदूकों के लाइसेंस की वैधता की अवधि को बढ़ाकर तीन से पांच वर्ष करता है। 

उल्लेखनीय है कि 2017 में आर्म्स एक्ट, 1959 के अंतर्गत भारत में 63,219 बंदूकें जब्त की गईं। इनमें से सिर्फ 3,525 (5.5%) लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूकें थीं। इसके अतिरिक्त 2017 में एक्ट के अंतर्गत बंदूकों से संबंधित 36,292 मामले पंजीकृत किए गए जिनमें से 419 (1.1%) मामले लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूकों के थे। [1] यह प्रवृत्ति निर्दिष्ट अपराधों के स्तर पर भी कायम थी, जहां सिर्फ 8.5अपराधों में लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूकों का इस्तेमाल किया गया था। [2]

मौजूदा अपराधों में क्या बदलाव किए गए हैं?

वर्तमान में एक्ट लाइसेंस के बिना बंदूकों की मैन्यूफैक्चरिंग, बिक्री, इस्तेमाल, ट्रांसफर, परिवर्तन, टेस्टिंग या प्रूफिंग पर प्रतिबंध लगाता है। इसके अतिरिक्त बिल गैर लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूकों को हासिल करने या खरीदने तथा लाइसेंस के बिना एक श्रेणी की बंदूकों को दूसरी श्रेणी में बदलने पर प्रतिबंध लगाता है। इसमें बंदूकों के प्रदर्शन को बढ़ाने के लिए किए गए संशोधन भी शामिल हैं। 

बिल अनेक मौजूदा अपराधों से संबंधित सजा में संशोधन भी प्रस्तावित करता है। उदाहरण के लिए एक्ट में निम्नलिखित के संबंध में सजा निर्दिष्ट है: (iगैर लाइसेंसशुदा हथियार की मैन्यूफैक्चरिंग, खरीद, बिक्री, ट्रांसफर, परिवर्तन सहित अन्य क्रियाकलाप, (ii) लाइसेंस के बिना बंदूकों को छोटा करना या उनमें परिवर्तन, और (iiiप्रतिबंधित बंदूकों का आयात या निर्यात। इन अपराधों के लिए तीन से सात वर्ष की सजा है, साथ ही जुर्माना भी भरना पड़ता है। बिल इसके लिए सात वर्ष से लेकर अधिकतम आजीवन कारावास तक की सजा का प्रावधान करता है जिसके साथ जुर्माना भी भरना पड़ेगा।

एक्ट लाइसेंस के बिना प्रतिबंधित बंदूकों (जैसे ऑटोमैटिक और सेमी-ऑटोमैटिक असॉल्ट राइफल्स) से डील करने पर सात से लेकर आजीवन कारावास तक की कैद और जुर्माने का प्रावधान करता है। बिल ने न्यूनतम सजा को सात वर्ष से 10 वर्ष कर दिया है। इसके अतिरिक्त जिन मामलों में प्रतिबंधित हथियारों के इस्तेमाल से किसी व्यक्ति की मृत्यु हो जाती है, उस स्थिति में अपराधी को मृत्यु दंड का प्रावधान था। बिल में इस सजा को मृत्यु दंड या आजीवन कारावास किया गया है, जिसके साथ जुर्माना भी भरना पड़ेगा।

क्या नए अपराधों को प्रस्तावित किया गया है?

बिल कुठ नए अपराधों को जोड़ता है। जैसे पुलिस या सशस्त्र बलों से जबरन हथियार लेना बिल के अंतर्गत अपराध है। ऐसा करने पर 10 साल से लेकर आजीवन कारावास तक की सजा, साथ ही जुर्माने का प्रावधान है। इसके अतिरिक्त लापरवाही से बंदूकों के इस्तेमाल पर सजा निर्धारित करता है, जैसे शादियों या धार्मिक आयोजनों में गोलीबारी करना, जिससे मानव जीवन या दूसरों की व्यक्तिगत सुरक्षा खतरे में पड़ती है। ऐसे मामले पर दो साल तक की सजा होगी, या एक लाख रुपए तक का जुर्माना भरना पड़ेगा, या दोनों सजाएं भुगतनी पड़ेंगी। 

बिल अवैध तस्करी की परिभाषा भी जोड़ता है। इसमें भारत में या उससे बाहर उन बंदूकों या एम्यूनिशन का व्यापार, उन्हें हासिल करना तथा उनकी बिक्री करना शामिल है जो एक्ट में चिन्हित नहीं हैं या एक्ट के प्रावधानों का उल्लंघन करते हैं। बिल अवैध तस्करी के लिए 10 वर्ष से आजीवन कारावास तक की सजा का प्रावधान करता है, साथ ही जुर्माना भी भरना पड़ेगा।

क्या बिल संगठित अपराध के मुद्दे को उठाता है?

बिल संगठित अपराध की परिभाषा भी प्रस्तावित करता है। संगठित अपराध का अर्थ है, सिंडिकेट के सदस्य के रूप में या उसकी ओर से किसी व्यक्ति द्वारा आर्थिक या दूसरे लाभ लेने के लिए गैर कानूनी तरीकों को अपनाकर, जैसे हिंसा का प्रयोग करके या जबरदस्ती, गैर कानूनी कार्य करना। संगठित आपराधिक सिंडिकेट का अर्थ है, संगठित अपराध करने वाले दो या उससे अधिक लोग। बिल संगठित आपराधिक सिंडिकेट के सदस्यों के लिए कड़ी सजा का प्रस्ताव रखता है। उदाहरण के लिए गैर लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूक रखने पर किसी व्यक्ति को न्यूनतम सात साल की कैद हो सकती है जिसे आजीवन कारावास तक बढ़ाया जा सकता है और जुर्माना भी भरना पड़ सकता है। हालांकि सिंडिकेट के सदस्य द्वारा गैर लाइसेंसशुदा बंदूक रखने पर 10 वर्ष से लेकर आजीवन कारावास की सजा हो सकती है और जुर्माना भरना पड़ सकता है। यह सजा उन गैर सदस्यों पर भी लागू होगी जिन्होंने सिंडिकेट की तरफ से एक्ट के प्रावधानों का उल्लंघन किया है।

 

[1] Crime in India 2017, National Crime Records Bureau, October 21, 2019,  http://ncrb.gov.in/StatPublications/CII/CII2017/pdfs/CII2017-Full.pdf.

Key amendments proposed to the Constitution Amendment Bill on GST

Yesterday, the government circulated certain official amendments to the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 on GST.  The Bill is currently pending in Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha in May 2015.  It was then referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha which submitted its report in July 2015.  With the Bill listed for passage this week, we explain key provisions in the Bill, and the amendments proposed. What is the GST? Currently, indirect taxes are imposed on goods and services.  These include excise duty, sales tax, service tax, octroi, customs duty etc.  Some of these taxes are levied by the centre and some by the states.  For taxes imposed by states, the tax rates may vary across different states.  Also, goods and services are taxed differently. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a value added tax levied across goods and services at the point of consumption.  The idea of a GST regime is to subsume most indirect taxes under a single taxation regime.  This is expected to help broaden the tax base, increase tax compliance, and reduce economic distortions caused by inter-state variations in taxes. What does the 2014 Bill on GST do? The 2014 Bill amends the Constitution to give concurrent powers to Parliament and state legislatures to levy a Goods and Services tax (GST).  This implies that the centre will levy a central GST (CGST), while states will be permitted to levy a state GST (SGST).  For goods and services that pass through several states, or imports, the centre will levy another tax, the Integrated GST (IGST). Alcohol for human consumption has been kept out of the purview of GST.  Further, GST will be levied on 5 types of petroleum products at a later date, to be decided by the GST Council.  The Council is a body comprising of Finance Ministers of the centre and all states (including Delhi and Puducherry).  This body will make recommendations in relation to the implementation of GST, including the rates, principles of levy, etc.  The Council is also to decide the modalities for resolution of disputes that arise out of its recommendations. States may be given compensation for any revenue losses they may face from the introduction of the GST regime.  Such compensation may be provided for a period of up to five years. Further, the centre may levy an additional tax, up to 1%, in the course of interstate trade.  The revenues from the levy of this tax will be given to the state from where the good originates.  Expert bodies like the Select Committee and the Arvind Subramanian Committee have observed that this provision could lead to cascading of taxes (as tax on tax will be levied).[i]  It also distorts the creation of a national market, as a product made in one state and sold in another would be more expensive than one made and sold within the same state. What are the key changes proposed by the 2016 amendments? The amendments propose three key changes to the 2014 Bill.  They relate to (i) additional tax up to 1%; (ii) compensation to states; and (iii) dispute resolution by the GST Council.

  • Additional tax up to 1% on interstate trade: The amendments delete the provision.
  • Compensation to states: The amendments state that Parliament shall, by law, provide for compensation to states for any loss of revenues, for a period which may extend to five years. This would be based on the recommendations of the GST Council.  This implies that (i) Parliament must provide compensation; and (ii) compensation cannot be provided for more than five years, but allows Parliament to decide a shorter time period.  The 2014 Bill used the term ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’.   The Select Committee had recommended that compensation should be provided for a period of five years.  This recommendation has not been addressed by the 2016 amendments.
  • Dispute resolution: The GST Council shall establish a mechanism to adjudicate any dispute arising out of its recommendations. Disputes can be between: (a) the centre vs. one or more states; (b) the centre and states vs. one or more states; (c) state vs. state.  This implies that there will be a standing mechanism to resolve disputes.

These amendments will be taken up for discussion with the Bill in Rajya Sabha this week.  The Bill requires a special majority for its passage as it is a Constitution Amendment Bill (that is at least 50% majority of the total membership in the House, and 2/3rds majority of all members present and voting).  If the Bill is passed with amendments, it will have to be sent back to Lok Sabha for consideration and passage.  After its passage in Parliament, at least 50% state legislatures will have to pass resolutions to ratify the Bill. Once the constitutional framework is in place, the centre will have to pass simple laws to levy CGST and IGST.  Similarly, all states will have to pass a simple law on SGST.  These laws will specify the rates of the GST to be levied, the goods and services that will be included, the threshold of the turnover of businesses to be included, etc.  Note that the Arvind Subramanian Committee, set up by the Finance Ministry, recommended the rates of GST that may be levied.  The table below details the bands of rates proposed.

Table 1: Rates of GST recommended by Expert Committee headed by Arvind Subramanian
Type of rate Rate Details
Revenue Neutral Rate 15% Single rate which maintains revenue at current levels.
Standard Rate 17-18% Too be applied to most goods and services
Lower rates 12% To be applied to certain goods consumed by the poor
Demerit rate 40% To be applied on luxury cars, aerated beverages, paan masala, and tobacco
Source: Arvind Subramanian Committee Report (2015)

Several other measures related to the back end infrastructure for registration and reporting of GST, administrative officials related to GST, etc. will also have to be put in place, before GST can be rolled out. [For further details on the full list of amendments, please see here.  For other details on the GST Bill, please see here.]

Money Bills vs. Other Bills

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015 was introduced in Lok Sabha yesterday, as a Money Bill [Clarification: This is as per news reports.*  The text of the Bill does not indicate that it is a Money Bill].  In this context, we briefly outline the various types of Bills in Parliament, and highlight the key differences between Money Bills and Financial Bills. What are the different types of Bills? There are four types of Bills, namely (i) Constitution Amendment Bills; (ii) Money Bills; (iii) Financial Bills; and (iv) Ordinary Bills. What are the features of each of these Bills?

  • Constitution Amendment Bills[i]: These are Bills which seek to amend the Constitution.
  • Money Bills[ii]: A Bill is said to be a Money Bill if it only contains provisions related to taxation, borrowing of money by the government, expenditure from or receipt to the Consolidated Fund of India. Bills that only contain provisions that are incidental to these matters would also be regarded as Money Bills.[iii]
  • Financial Bills[iv]: A Bill that contains some provisions related to taxation and expenditure, and additionally contains provisions related to any other matter is called a Financial Bill. Therefore, if a Bill merely involves expenditure by the government, and addresses other issues, it will be a financial bill.
  • Ordinary Bills[v]: All other Bills are called ordinary bills.

How are these bills passed?

  • Constitution Amendment Bills1: A Constitution Amendment Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament. It would require a simple majority of the total membership of that House, and a two thirds majority of all members present and voting.  Further, if the Bill relates to matters like the election of the President and Governor, executive and legislative powers of the centre and states, the judiciary, etc., it must be ratified by at least half of the state legislatures.
  • Money Bills[vi]: A Money Bill may only be introduced in Lok Sabha, on the recommendation of the President. It must be passed in Lok Sabha by a simple majority of all members present and voting.  Following this, it may be sent to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations, which Lok Sabha may reject if it chooses to.  If such recommendations are not given within 14 days, it will deemed to be passed by Parliament.
  • Financial Bills4: A Financial Bill may only be introduced in Lok Sabha, on the recommendation of the President. The Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament, after the President has recommended that it be taken up for consideration in each House.
  • Ordinary Bills5: An Ordinary Bill may be introduced in either House of Parliament. It must be passed by both Houses by a simple majority of all members present and voting.

How is a Money Bill different from a financial bill? While all Money Bills are Financial Bills, all Financial Bills are not Money Bills.  For example, the Finance Bill which only contains provisions related to tax proposals would be a Money Bill.  However, a Bill that contains some provisions related to taxation or expenditure, but also covers other matters would be considered as a Financial Bill.  The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, which establishes funds under the Public Account of India and states, was introduced as a Financial Bill.[vii] Secondly, as highlighted above, the procedure for the passage of the two bills varies significantly.  The Rajya Sabha has no power to reject or amend a Money Bill.  However, a Financial Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament. Who decides if a Bill is a Money Bill? The Speaker certifies a Bill as a Money Bill, and the Speaker’s decision is final.[viii]  Also, the Constitution states that parliamentary proceedings as well as officers responsible for the conduct of business (such as the Speaker) may not be questioned by any Court.[ix]


  [i]. Article 368, Constitution of India. [ii]. Article 110, Constitution of India. [iii]. Article 110 (1), Constitution of India. [iv]. Article 117, Constitution of India. [v]. Article 107, Constitution of India. [vi]. Article 109, Constitution of India. [vii]. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, introduced in Lok Sabha on May 8, 2015, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-compensatory-afforestations-fund-bill-2015-3782/. [viii]. Article 110 (3), Constitution of India. [ix]. Article 122, Constitution of India. [*Note: See Economic Times, Financial Express, The Hindu Business LineNDTV ,etc.]

Rethinking judicial appointments: Collegium vs. Commission

Earlier today, the Supreme Court struck down the two Acts that created an independent body for the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. One of the Acts amended the Constitution to replace the method of appointment of judges by a collegium system with that of an independent commission, called the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).  The composition of the NJAC would include: (i) the Chief Justice of India (Chairperson) (ii) two other senior most judges of the Supreme Court, (iii) the Union Law Minister, and (iv) two eminent persons to be nominated by the Prime Minister, the CJI and the Leader of Opposition of the Lok Sabha.  The other Act laid down the processes in relation to such appointments. Both Acts were passed by Parliament in August 2014, and received Presidential assent in December 2014.  Following this, a batch of petitions that had been filed in Supreme Court challenging the two Bills on grounds of unconstitutionality, was referred to a five judge bench.  It was contended that the presence of executive members in the NJAC violated the independence of the judiciary. In its judgement today, the Court held that the executive involvement in appointment of judges impinges upon the independence of the judiciary.  This violates the principle of separation of powers between the executive and judiciary, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.  In this context, we examine the proposals around the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. Appointment of judges before the introduction of the NJAC The method of appointment of the Chief Justice of India, SC and HC judges was laid down in the Constitution.[i]  The Constitution stated that the President shall make these appointments after consulting with the Chief Justice of India and other SC and HC judges as he considers necessary.  Between the years 1982-1999, the issue of method of appointment of judges was examined and reinterpreted by the Supreme Court.  Since then, a collegium, consisting of the Chief Justice of India and 4 other senior most SC judges, made recommendations for persons to be appointed as SC and HC judges, to the President.[ii] Recommendations of various bodies for setting up an independent appointments commission Over the decades, several high level Commissions have examined this method of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.  They have suggested that an independent body be set up to make recommendations for such appointments.  However, they differed in the representation of the judiciary, legislature and executive in making such appointments.  These are summarised below. Table 1: Comparison of various recommendations on the composition of a proposed appointments body

Recommendatory Body Suggested composition
2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) Judiciary : CJI; [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state] Executive : Vice-President (Chairperson), PM, Law Minister, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state] Legislature: Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leaders of Opposition from both Houses of Parliament. Other: No representative.
National Advisory Council (2005) Judiciary: CJI; [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state] Executive: Vice-President (Chairman), PM (or nominee), Law Minister, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state] Legislature: Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition from both Houses of Parliament. Other: No representative.
NCRWC (2002) Judiciary :CJI (Chairman), two senior most SC judges Executive: Union Law Minister Legislature: No representative Other: one eminent person
Law Commission (1987) Judiciary : CJI (Chairman), three senior most SC judges, immediate predecessor of the CJI, three senior most CJs of HCs, [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state] Executive: Law Minister, Attorney General of India, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state] Legislature: No representative Other: One Law academic

Sources: 121st Report of the Law Commission, 1987; Report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), 2002; A Consultation Paper on Superior Judiciary, NCRWC, 2001;  A National Judicial Commission-Report for discussion in the National Advisory Council, 2005; Fourth Report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), ‘Ethics in Governance’, 2007; PRS. It may be noted that the Law Commission, in its 2008 and 2009 reports, suggested that Government should seek a reconsideration of the judgments in the Three Judges cases.  In the alternative, Parliament should pass a law restoring the primacy of the CJI, while ensuring that the executive played a role in making judicial appointments. Appointments process in different countries                   Internationally, there are varied methods for making appointments of judges to the higher judiciary.  The method of appointment of judges to the highest court, in some jurisdictions, is outlined in Table 2. Table 2: Appointment of judges to the highest court in different jurisdictions

Country Method of Appointment to the highest court Who is involved in making the appointments
UK SC judges are appointed by a five-person selection commission. It consists of the SC President, his deputy, and one member each appointed by the JACs of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.[iii]  (The JACs comprise lay persons, members of the judiciary and the Bar and make appointments of judges of lower courts.)
Canada Appointments are made by the Governor in Council.[iv] A selection panel comprising five MPs (from the government and the opposition) reviews list of nominees and submits 3 names to the Prime Minister.[v]
USA Appointments are made by the President. Supreme Court Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate.[vi]
Germany Appointments are made by election. Half the members of the Federal Constitutional Court are elected by the executive and half by the legislature.[vii]
France Appointments are made by the President. President receives proposals for appointments from Conseil Superieur de la Magistrature.[viii]

Sources: Constitutional Reform Act, 2005; Canada Supreme Court Act, 1985; Constitution of the United States of America; Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany; Constitution of France; PRS. In delivering its judgment that strikes down the setting up of an NJAC, the Court has stated that it would schedule hearings from November 3, 2015 regarding ways in which the collegium system can be strengthened.

 
[i] Article 124, Constitution of India (Prior to 2015 Amendments)
[ii] S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India, AIR 1982, SC 149; S.C. Advocates on Record Association vs. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 268; In re: Special Reference, AIR 1999 SC 1.
[iii].  Schedule 8, Constitutional Reform Act, 2005.
[iv].  Section 4(2), Supreme Court Act (RSC, 1985).
[v].  Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the retirement of Justice Morris Fish, http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2013/04/23/statement-prime-minister-canada-retirement-justice-morris-fish.
[vi].  Article II, Section 2, The Constitution of the United States of America.
[vii].  Article 94 (1), Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany.

Compulsory voting in India

Compulsory voting at elections to local bodies in Gujarat Last week, the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009 received the Governor’s assent.  The Act introduces an ‘obligation to vote’ at the municipal corporation, municipality and Panchayat levels in the state of Gujarat.  To this end, the Act amends three laws related to administration at the local bodies- the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949; the Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963 and; the Gujarat Panchayats Act, 1993. Following the amendments, it shall now be the duty of a qualified voter to cast his vote at elections to each of these bodies.  This includes the right to exercise the NOTA option.  The Act empowers an election officer to serve a voter notice on the grounds that he appears to have failed to vote at the election.  The voter is then required to provide sufficient reasons within a period of one month, failing which he is declared as a “defaulter voter” by an order. The defaulter voter has the option of challenging this order before a designated appellate officer, whose decision will be final. At this stage, it is unclear what the consequences for being a default voter may be, as the penalties for the same are to be prescribed in the Rules.  Typically, any disadvantage or penalty to be suffered by an individual for violating a provision of law is prescribed in the parent act itself, and not left to delegated legislation.  The Act carves out exemptions for certain individuals from voting if (i) he is rendered physically incapable due to illness etc.; (ii) he is not present in the state of Gujarat on the date of election; or (iii) for any other reasons to be laid down in the Rules. The previous Governor had withheld her assent on the Bill for several reasons.  The Governor had stated that compulsory voting violated Article 21 of the Constitution and the principles of individual liberty that permits an individual not to vote.  She had also pointed out that the Bill was silent on the government’s duty to create an enabling environment for the voter to cast his vote.  This included updating of electoral rolls, timely distribution of voter ID cards to all individuals and ensuring easy access to polling stations. Right to vote in India Many democratic governments consider participating in national elections a right of citizenship.  In India, the right to vote is provided by the Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, subject to certain disqualifications.  Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18.  Further, Section 62 of the Representation of Peoples Act (RoPA), 1951 states that every person who is in the electoral roll of that constituency will be entitled to vote.  Thus, the Constitution and the RoPA make it clear that every individual above the age of 18, whose name is in the electoral rolls, and does not attract any of the disqualifications under the Act, may cast his vote.  This is a non discriminatory, voluntary system of voting. In1951, during the discussion on the People’s Representation Bill in Parliament, the idea of including compulsory voting was mooted by a Member.  However, it was rejected by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on account of practical difficulties.  Over the decades, of the various committees that have discussed electoral reforms, the Dinesh Goswami Committee (1990) briefly examined the issue of compulsory voting.  One of the members of the committee had suggested that the only effective remedy for low voter turn outs was introducing the system of compulsory voting.  This idea was rejected on the grounds that there were practical difficulties involved in its implementation. In July 2004, the Compulsory Voting Bill, 2004 was introduced as a Private Member Bill by Mr. Bachi Singh Rawat, a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.  The Bill proposed to make it compulsory for every eligible voter to vote and provided for exemption only in certain cases, like that of illness etc.  Arguments mooted against the Bill included that of remoteness of polling booths, difficulties faced by certain classes of people like daily wage labourers, nomadic groups, disabled, pregnant women etc. in casting their vote.  The Bill did not receive the support of the House and was not passed. Another Private Member Bill related to Compulsory Voting was introduced by Mr. JP Agarwal, Member of Parliament, in 2009.  Besides making voting mandatory, this Bill also cast the duty upon the state to ensure large number of polling booths at convenient places, and special arrangements for senior citizens, persons with physical disability and pregnant women.  The then Law Minister, Mr. Moily argued that if compulsory voting was introduced, Parliament would reflect, more accurately, the will of the electorate.  However, he also stated that active participation in a democratic set up must be voluntary, and not coerced. Compulsory voting in other countries A number of countries around the world make it mandatory for citizens to vote.  For example, Australia mandates compulsory voting at the national level.  The penalty for violation includes an explanation for not voting and a fine.  It may be noted that the voter turnout in Australia has usually been above 90%, since 1924.  Several countries in South America including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia also have a provision for compulsory voting.  Certain other countries like The Netherlands in 1970 and Austria more recently, repealed such legal requirements after they had been in force for decades.  Other democracies like the UK, USA, Germany, Italy and France have a system of voluntary voting.  Typically, over the last few elections, Italy has had a voter turnout of over 80%, while the USA has a voter turnout of about 50%. What compulsory voting would mean Those in favour of compulsory voting assert that a high turnout is important for a proper democratic mandate and the functioning of democracy.  They also argue that people who know they will have to vote will take politics more seriously and start to take a more active role.  Further, citizens who live in a democratic state have a duty to vote, which is an essential part of that democracy. However, some others have argued that compulsory voting may be in violation of the fundamental rights of liberty and expression that are guaranteed to citizens in a democratic state.  In this context, it has been stated that every individual should be able to choose whether or not he or she wants to vote.  It is unclear whether the constitutional right to vote may be interpreted to include the right to not vote.  If challenged, it will up to the superior courts to examine whether compulsory voting violates the Constitution. [A version of this post appeared in the Sakal Times on November 16, 2014]

Removal of Governors: What does the law say?

In the last few weeks, after the 16th Lok Sabha election, there has been some debate around powers of the central government to remove Governors.  News reports have suggested that the central government is seeking resignations of Governors, who were appointed by the previous central government.  In this blog, we briefly look at the key constitutional provisions, the law laid down by the Supreme Court, and some recommendations made by different commissions that have examined this issue. What does the Constitution say? As per Article 155 and Article 156 of the Constitution, a Governor of a state is an appointee of the President, and he or she holds office “during the pleasure of the President”.  If a Governor continues to enjoy the “pleasure of the President”, he or she can be in office for a term of five years.  Because the President is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers under Article 74 of the Constitution, in effect it is the central government that appoints and removes the Governors. “Pleasure of the President” merely refers to this will and wish of the central government. The Supreme Court’s interpretation In 2010, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court interpreted these provisions and laid down some binding principles (B.P. Singhal v. Union of India). In this case, the newly elected central government had removed the Governors of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Goa in July, 2004 after the 14th Lok Sabha election. When these removals were challenged, the Supreme Court held:

  1. The President, in effect the central government, has the power to remove a Governor at any time without giving him or her any reason, and without granting an opportunity to be heard.
  2. However, this power cannot be exercised in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner.  The power of removing Governors should only be exercised in rare and exceptional circumstances for valid and compelling reasons.
  3. The mere reason that a Governor is at variance with the policies and ideologies of the central government, or that the central government has lost confidence in him or her, is not sufficient to remove a Governor.  Thus, a change in central government cannot be a ground for removal of Governors, or to appoint more favourable persons to this post.
  4. A decision to remove a Governor can be challenged in a court of law.  In such cases, first the petitioner will have to make a prima facie case of arbitrariness or bad faith on part of the central government.  If a prima facie case is established, the court can require the central government to produce the materials on the basis of which the decision was made in order to verify the presence of compelling reasons.

In summary, this means that the central government enjoys the power to remove Governors of the different states, as long as it does not act arbitrarily, without reason, or in bad faith. Recommendations of Various Commissions Three important commissions have examined this issue. The Sarkaria Commission (1988) recommended that Governors must not be removed before completion of their five year tenure, except in rare and compelling circumstances.  This was meant to provide Governors with a measure of security of tenure, so that they could carry out their duties without fear or favour.  If such rare and compelling circumstances did exist, the Commission said that the procedure of removal must allow the Governors an opportunity to explain their conduct, and the central government must give fair consideration to such explanation.  It was further recommended that Governors should be informed of the grounds of their removal. The Venkatachaliah Commission (2002) similarly recommended that ordinarily Governors should be allowed to complete their five year term.  If they have to be removed before completion of their term, the central government should do so only after consultation with the Chief Minister. The Punchhi Commission (2010) suggested that the phrase “during the pleasure of the President” should be deleted from the Constitution, because a Governor should not be removed at the will of the central government; instead he or she should be removed only by a resolution of the state legislature. The above recommendations however were never made into law by Parliament.  Therefore, they are not binding on the central government.

Ordinances promulgated during different Lok Sabhas

Recently, the President repromulgated the Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, which expands the Securities and Exchange Board Act’s (SEBI) powers related to search and seizure and permits SEBI to enter into consent settlements.  The President also promulgated the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014, which establishes special courts for the trial of offences against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  With the promulgation of these two Ordinances, a total of 25 Ordinances have been promulgated during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha so far. Ordinances are temporary laws which can be issued by the President when Parliament is not in session.  Ordinances are issued by the President based on the advice of the Union Cabinet. The purpose of Ordinances is to allow governments to take immediate legislative action if circumstances make it necessary to do so at a time when Parliament is not in session. Often though Ordinances are used by governments to pass legislation which is currently pending in Parliament, as was the case with the Food Security Ordinance last year. Governments also take the Ordinance route to address matters of public concern as was the case with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which was issued in response to the protests surrounding the Delhi gang rape incident. Since the beginning of the first Lok Sabha in 1952, 637 Ordinances have been promulgated. The graph below gives a breakdown of the number of Bills passed by each Lok Sabha since 1952, as well as the number of Ordinances promulgated during each Lok Sabha. Ordinances Ordinance Making Power of the President The President has been empowered to promulgate Ordinances based on the advice of the central government under Article 123 of the Constitution. This legislative power is available to the President only when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session to enact laws.  Additionally, the President cannot promulgate an Ordinance unless he ‘is satisfied’ that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action’. Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. They also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both Houses. History of Ordinances Ordinances were incorporated into the Constitution from Section 42 and 43 of the Government of India Act, 1935, which authorised the then Governor General to promulgate Ordinances ‘if circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action’. Interestingly, most democracies including Britain, the United States of America, Australia and Canada do not have provisions similar to that of Ordinances in the Indian Constitution. The reason for an absence of such a provision is because legislatures in these countries meet year long. Ordinances became part of the Indian Constitution after much debate and discussion. Some Members of the Constituent Assembly emphasised that the Ordinance making power of the President was extraordinary and issuing of Ordinances could be interpreted as against constitutional morality. Some Members felt that Ordinances were a hindrance to personal freedom and a relic of foreign rule. Others argued that Ordinances should be left as a provision to be used only in the case of emergencies, for example, in the breakdown of State machinery. As a safeguard, Members argued that the provision that a session of Parliament must be held within 6 months of passing an Ordinance be added. Repromulgation of Ordinances Ordinances are only temporary laws as they must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. However, governments have promulgated some ordinances multiple times. For example, The Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 was recently repromulgated for the third time during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha. Repromulgation of Ordinances raises questions about the legislative authority of the Parliament as the highest law making body. In the 1986 Supreme Court judgment of D.C. Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar, where the court was examining a case where a state government (under the authority of the Governor) continued to re-promulgate Ordinances, the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed: “The power to promulgate an Ordinance is essentially a power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be "perverted to serve political ends". It is contrary to all democratic norms that the Executive should have the power to make a law, but in order to meet an emergent situation, this power is conferred on the Governor and an Ordinance issued by the Governor in exercise of this power must, therefore, of necessity be limited in point of time.” Repromulgation

Ordinances by governments
 
Thanks to Vinayak Rajesekhar for helping with research on this blog post.

Model Code of Conduct and the 2014 General Elections

Recently, the Election Commission has recommended postponing certain policy decisions of the government related to natural gas pricing, and notifying ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats, by invoking the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).  It has also censured several candidates for violating the MCC.  In light of these recent events, we outline the key features of the MCC below. What is the Model Code of Conduct and who does it apply to? The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures. The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.  Thus, for the general elections this year, the MCC came into force on March 5, 2014, when the election schedule was announced, and will operate till May 16, 2014, when the final results will be announced. How has the Model Code of Conduct evolved over time? According to the Press Information Bureau, a form of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.  It was a set of instructions to political parties regarding election meetings, speeches, slogans, etc. In the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the MCC was circulated to recognised parties, and state governments sought feedback from the parties.  The MCC was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections. In 1979, the Election Commission added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.  In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include guidelines regarding election manifestos, which it has included in the MCC for the 2014 general elections. What are the key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct? The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, party in power, and election manifestos.  Major provisions of the MCC are outlined below.

  • General Conduct:  Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work.  Activities such as:  (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes,  (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports,  (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
  • Meetings:  Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
  • Processions:  If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash.  Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
  • Polling day:  All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges.  These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
  • Polling booths:  Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
  • Observers:  The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
  • Party in power:  The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power.  Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.  The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.  Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc.   Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.
  • Election manifestos:  Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

Is the Model Code of Conduct legally binding? The MCC is not enforceable by law.  However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding; stating that elections must be completed within a relatively short time (close to 45 days),  and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law. On the other hand, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding.  In a report on electoral reforms, the Standing Committee observed that most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above.  It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Ordinance making powers of the Executive in India

In light of the decision of the union cabinet to promulgate an Ordinance to uphold provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1951, this blog examines the Ordinance making power of the Executive in India.  The Ordinance allows legislators (Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies) to retain membership of the legislature even after conviction, if (a)     an appeal against the conviction is filed before a court within 90 days and (b)     the appeal is stayed by the court. However, the Ordinance will only be promulgated after it receives the assent of the President. I. Separation of powers between the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary In India, the central and state legislatures are responsible for law making, the central and state governments are responsible for the implementation of laws and the judiciary (Supreme Court, High Courts and lower courts) interprets these laws. However, there are several overlaps in the functions and powers of the three institutions.  For example, the President has certain legislative and judicial functions and the legislature can delegate some of its functions to the executive in the form of subordinate legislation. II. Ordinance making powers of the President Article 123 of the Constitution grants the President certain law making powers to promulgate Ordinances when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session and hence it is not possible to enact laws in the Parliament.[i] An Ordinance may relate to any subject that the Parliament has the power to legislate on. Conversely, it has the same limitations as the Parliament to legislate, given the distribution of powers between the Union, State and Concurrent Lists. Thus, the following limitations exist with regard to the Ordinance making power of the executive: i.   Legislature is not in session: The President can only promulgate an Ordinance when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session. ii.   Immediate action is required: The President cannot promulgate an Ordinance unless he is satisfied that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action’[ii]. iii.   Parliamentary approval during session: Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate.  They will also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both the Houses.   Figure 1 shows the number of Ordinances that have been promulgated in India since 1990.  The largest number of Ordinances was promulgated in 1993, and there has been a decline in the number of Ordinance promulgated since then.  However, the past year has seen a rise in the number of Ordinances promulgated.            Figure 1: Number of national Ordinances promulgated in India since 1990 Ordinances PromulgatedSource: Ministry of Law and Justice; Agnihotri, VK (2009) ‘The Ordinance: Legislation by the Executive in India when the Parliament is not in Session’; PRS Legislative Research III. Ordinance making powers of the Governor Just as the President of India is constitutionally mandated to issue Ordinances under Article 123, the Governor of a state can issue Ordinances under Article 213, when the state legislative assembly (or either of the two Houses in states with bicameral legislatures) is not in session.  The powers of the President and the Governor are broadly comparable with respect to Ordinance making.  However, the Governor cannot issue an Ordinance without instructions from the President in three cases where the assent of the President would have been required to pass a similar Bill.[iii] IV. Key debates relating to the Ordinance making powers of the Executive There has been significant debate surrounding the Ordinance making power of the President (and Governor).  Constitutionally, important issues that have been raised include judicial review of the Ordinance making powers of the executive; the necessity for ‘immediate action’ while promulgating an Ordinance; and the granting of Ordinance making powers to the executive, given the principle of separation of powers. Table 1 provides a brief historical overview of the manner in which the debate on the Ordinance making powers of the executive has evolved in India post independence. Table 1: Key debates on the President's Ordinance making power

Year

Legislative development

Key arguments

1970 RC Cooper vs. Union of India In RC Cooper vs. Union of India (1970) the Supreme Court, while examining the constitutionality of the Banking Companies (Acquisition of Undertakings) Ordinance, 1969 which sought to nationalise 14 of India’s largest commercial banks, held that the President’s decision could be challenged on the grounds that ‘immediate action’ was not required; and the Ordinance had been passed primarily to by-pass debate and discussion in the legislature.
1975 38th Constitutional Amendment Act Inserted a new clause (4) in Article 123 stating that the President’s satisfaction while promulgating an Ordinance was final and could not be questioned in any court on any ground.
1978 44th Constitutional Amendment Act Deleted clause (4) inserted by the 38th CAA and therefore reopened the possibility for the judicial review of the President’s decision to promulgate an Ordinance.
1980 AK Roy vs. Union of India In AK Roy vs. Union of India (1982) while examining the constitutionality of the National Security Ordinance, 1980, which sought to provide for preventive detention in certain cases, the Court argued that the President’s Ordinance making power is not beyond the scope of judicial review. However, it did not explore the issue further as there was insufficient evidence before it and the Ordinance was replaced by an Act. It also pointed out the need to exercise judicial review over the President’s decision only when there were substantial grounds to challenge the decision, and not at “every casual and passing challenge”.
1985 T Venkata Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh In T Venkata Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1985), while deliberating on the promulgation of the Andhra Pradesh Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Ordinance, 1984 which abolished certain village level posts, the Court reiterated that the Ordinance making power of the President and the Governor was a legislative power, comparable to the legislative power of the Parliament and state legislatures respectively. This implies that the motives behind the exercise of this power cannot be questioned, just as is the case with legislation by the Parliament and state legislatures.
1987 DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar It was argued in DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar (1987) the legislative power of the executive to promulgate Ordinances is to be used in exceptional circumstances and not as a substitute for the law making power of the legislature.  Here, the court was examining a case where a state government (under the authority of the Governor) continued to re-promulgate ordinances, that is, it repeatedly issued new Ordinances to replace the old ones, instead of laying them before the state legislature.  A total of 259 Ordinances were re-promulgated, some of them for as long as 14 years.  The Supreme Court argued that if Ordinance making was made a usual practice, creating an ‘Ordinance raj’ the courts could strike down re-promulgated Ordinances.
Source: Basu, DD (2010) Introduction to the Constitution of India; Singh, Mahendra P. (2008) VN Shukla's Constitution of India; PRS Legislative Research

  This year, the following 9 Ordinances have been promulgated:

  1. The Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  2. The Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Second Ordinance, 2013
  3. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Amendment) Second Ordinance, 2013
  4. The National Food Security Ordinance, 2013
  5. The Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  6. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  7. The Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Ordinance, 2013
  8. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  9. The Securities Laws (Amendment) Second Ordinance, 2013

Three of these Ordinances have been re-promulgated, i.e., a second Ordinance has been promulgated to replace an existing one.  This seems to be in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar.  


Notes: [i] With regard to issuing Ordinances as with other matters, the President acts on the advice of the Council of Ministers. While the Ordinance is promulgated in the name of the President and constitutionally to his satisfaction, in fact, it is promulgated on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
[ii] Article 123, Clause (1)
[iii]  (a) if a Bill containing the same provisions would have required the previous sanction of the President for introduction into the legislature; (b) if the Governor would have deemed it necessary to reserve a Bill containing the same provisions for the consideration of the President; and (c) if an Act of the legislature containing the same provisions would have been invalid unless it received the assent of the President.

Case not closed - Appointment of judges

Parliament is considering a proposal to change the process of appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts.  A Constitutional Amendment Bill has been introduced in Rajya Sabha that enables the formation of a Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC), and states that the composition and functions of the JAC will be detailed in a law enacted by Parliament.  The appointments will be made according to the recommendations of the JAC.  This body replaces the current process of “consultation” with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and other senior judges. An ordinary Bill has also been introduced in Rajya Sabha which seeks to establish the JAC.  The composition of the JAC will be the CJI, the next two judges of the Supreme Court in terms of seniority, the law minister and two eminent persons.  These two eminent persons will be selected by a collegium consisting of the CJI, the prime minister and the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.  In case of High Court Judges, the JAC will consult with the chief minister, the governor of the state and the Chief Justice of the High Court. The new system is widening the selection committee.  It includes representatives of the executive and senior judiciary, as well as two persons who are jointly selected by the executive (PM), judiciary (CJI), and the legislature (leader of opposition). However, it may be diluting some of the safeguards in the Constitution.  At a later date, the composition of the JAC can be amended by ordinary majority in Parliament.  [For example, they can drop the judicial members.]  This is a significantly lower bar than the current system which requires a change to the Constitution, i.e., have the support of two thirds of members of each House of Parliament, and half the state assemblies. The 120th Constitution Amendment Bill and the JAC Bill are listed for consideration and passing in Rajya Sabha today.  Given that these Bills propose fundamental changes to the process of appointments to key constitutional bodies, it is important that there be a wide debate.  The Rajya Sabha must refer these Bills to the Standing Committee for careful examination of various issues. I have written a piece on this issue in the Indian Express today.