As per news reports, the union government has filed a Presidential Reference in relation to the 2G judgment. In this judgment the Supreme Court had cancelled 122 2G licences granting access to spectrum and had ordered their re-allocation by means of an auction. It also held that use of first cum first serve policy (FCFS) to allocate natural resources was unconstitutional. It had held that natural resources should be allocated through auctions. As per the news report, the Presidential Reference seeks clarity on whether the Supreme Court could interfere with policy decisions. This issue has been discussed in a number of cases. For instance, the Supreme Court in Directorate of Film Festivals v. Gaurav Ashwin Jain held that Courts cannot act as an appellate authority to examine the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of a policy. It further held that Courts cannot act as advisors to the executive on policy matters which the executive is entitled to formulate. It stated that the Court could review whether the policy violates fundamental rights, or is opposed to a Constitutional or any statutory provision, or is manifestly arbitrary. It further stated that legality of the policy, and not the wisdom or soundness of the policy, is the subject of judicial review. In Suresh Seth vs. Commissioner, Indore Municipal Corporation a three judge bench of the Court observed that, “this Court cannot issue any direction to the Legislature to make any particular kind of enactment. Under our constitutional scheme Parliament and Legislative Assemblies exercise sovereign power or authority to enact laws and no outside power or authority can issue a direction to enact a particular piece of legislation.” In the present case it may be argued that whereas the Court was empowered to declare a policy such as FCFS as unconstitutional, it did not have the jurisdiction to direct auctioning of spectrum and other natural resources. The Presidential Reference may conclusively determine the Court’s jurisdiction in this regard. However, it has been urged by a few experts that this Presidential Reference amounts to an appeal against the decision of the Court. They have argued that this could be done only through a Review Petition (which has already been admitted by the Court). The advisory jurisdiction of the Court invoked through Presidential References, is governed by Article 143 of the Constitution. Under Article 143 of the Constitution of India, the President is empowered to refer to the Supreme Court any matter of law or fact. The opinion of the Court may be sought in relation to issues that have arisen or are likely to arise. A Presidential Reference may be made in matters that are of public importance and where it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court. The Court may refuse to answer all or any of the queries raised in the Reference. A Presidential Reference thus requires that the opinion of the Court on the issue should not have been already obtained or decided by the Court. In the Gujarat Election Case the Supreme Court took note of Presidential References that were appellate in nature. Thus, a Presidential Reference cannot be adopted as a means to review or appeal the judgment of the Supreme Court. Against judgments of the Court the mechanisms of review is the only option. This position was also argued by Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman in the Cauvery Water Case, where the Court refused to give an opinion. Whether the Court had the authority to determine a policy, such as FCFS, as unconstitutional is not disputed. However, there are conflicting judgments on the extent to which a Court can interfere with the executive domain. It would be interesting to see whether the Court would give its opinion on this issue. In the event it does, it may bring higher level of clarity to the relationship between the executive and the judiciary.
One of our earlier posts (read here) tackled the question of whether the Public Accounts Committee could summon ministers or not. According to a direction of the speaker, a Minister cannot be summoned by a financial committee. There are no specific procedures for the Joint Parliamentary Committees mentioned in the rules. However, according to the Directions by the Speaker general rules applicable to Committees shall apply to all Committees, though specific directions can be given for some committees (read here). In other words, the general directions for all committees would be the same, unless a specific direction was given relating to a particular committee. In the Joint Committee of Stock Market Scam and Matters relating there to, a specific request was made to the Speaker, Lok Sabha by the Chairman, JPC on 20th May, 2002 for permitting the Committee to call for written information on certain points from the Minister of Finance and Minister of External Affairs. The Speaker accorded the necessary permission on 1st June, 2002. Consequently, the Minister of Finance (Shri Jaswant Singh), the Minister of External Affairs (Shri Yashwant Sinha) and the former Finance and External Affairs ministers (Shri P. Chidambaram and Dr. Manmohan Singh respectively) testified before the Committee. Read the text of the report here.
In the aftermath of the 2G scam, there has been a great deal of discussion on how Parliamentary Committees can be used for scrutinising the functioning of the government. Committee Reports are generally put in the public domain, but how transparent are the internal workings of the Committees themselves? As one measure of transparency, minutes of Parliamentary Committee meetings are included in Committee reports. The meetings themselves, however, are held behind closed doors. A number of other democracies allow in-person public viewing of some (if not all) Committee meetings. Several of these offer live webcasts of meetings as well. See options in Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, and the United Kingdom.
A Committee has been set up to examine appropriateness of procedures followed by the Department of Telecommunications in issuance of licences and allocation of spectrum during the period 2001-2009. The Committee will be chaired by retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice (Retd.) Shri Shivraj V. Patil. According to news reports the Committee is scheduled to submit its report by the first week of January 2011. The Terms of Reference (TOR) of the Committee have been listed as: 1. To study the circumstances and developments in the Telecom sector that led to the formulation of the New Telecom Policy 1999 and subsequently, introduction of 4th Cellular Telecom Mobile Service (CMTS) licence in 2001. 2. To examine the internal (intra-departmental) procedures adopted by DoT during the period 2001-2009 for: a. Issue of telecom access service licences, and b. Allocation of spectrum to all telecom access services licencees during the above period. 3. To examine whether these procedures were in accordance with existing policies and directions of DoT/Government. 4. To examine whether these procedures were followed consistently and if not, identify specific instances of: a. Deviation from laid down procedures; b. Inappropriate application of laid down procedures; c. Violation of underlying principles of laid down procedures. 5. To examine whether the procedures adopted were fair and transparent and were in keeping with the principles of natural justice and if not, identify the specific instances of lack of fairness and transparency. 6. To identify the deficiencies, if any, in the procedures as formulated and identify the public officials responsible for such deficiencies. 7. To identify the shortcomings and lapses, if any, in the implementation of the laid down procedures and identify the public officials responsible for such lapses. 8. To suggest remedial measures to avoid in future: a. Deficiencies in formulation of procedures; and b. Lapses in implementation of laid-down procedures.