Seeds Bill Update
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The Seeds Bill was introduced in 2004, and is listed for discussion in Rajya Sabha this week. We had flagged some issues in our Legislative Brief. The Standing Committee had also made some recommendations (summary available here). These included the following: Farmers selling seeds had to meet the same quality requirements (on physical and genetic purity, minimum level of germination etc.) as seed companies. Second, seed inspectors had the power to enter and search without a warrant, unlike the requirements in the Criminal Procedure Code for the police. Third, the compensation mechanism for farmers was through consumer courts; some other Acts provide separate bodies to settle similar issues. The government has circulated a list of official amendments. These address most of the issues (tabulated here). One significant issue has not been addressed. The financial memorandum estimates that Rs 36 lakh would be required for the implementation of the Act during 2004-05 from the Consolidated Fund of India. The amount required by state governments to establish testing laboratories and appointing seed analysts and seed inspectors has not been estimated, which implies that the successful implementation of the bill will depend on adequate provision in state budgets.
The results of General Election 2019 were declared last week concluding the process for electing the 17th Lok Sabha. Immediately after the results, the previous Lok Sabha was dissolved. The next couple of days will witness several key events such as swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha. In the first session, the newly elected MPs will take their oaths, the Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha will be elected, and the President will address a joint sitting of Parliament. In this blog, we explain the process and significance of the events that will follow in the days to come.
Key Events in the First Session of the 17th Lok Sabha
The Bharatiya Janta Party has emerged as the single largest party and the leader of the party will be sworn-in as the Prime Minister. As per Article 75(1) of the Constitution, the other ministers are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The 91st Amendment to the Constitution limits the total size of the Council of Ministers to 15% of the total strength of the House (i.e., 81 Ministers). As per media reports, swearing-in of the Council of Ministers is scheduled for May 30, 2019.
How is the schedule for first session decided?
The 17th Lok Sabha will commence its first session in the first week of June. The exact date of commencement of the first session and the schedule of key events in the session, including the date of President’s address, is decided by the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs. This Committee will be set up after the swearing in of the Council of Ministers. The previous Lok Sabha had commenced on June 4, 2014 and its first session had six sitting days (June 4, 2014 to June 11, 2014).
Who presides over the first session?
Every proceeding of the House is presided by a Speaker. The Office of the Speaker becomes vacant immediately before the first meeting of a new Lok Sabha. Therefore, a temporary speaker, known as the pro-tem Speaker, is chosen from among the newly elected MPs. The pro-tem Speaker administers oath/affirmation to the newly elected members, and also presides over the sitting in which the new Speaker is elected. The office of the pro-tem Speaker ceases to exist when the new Speaker is elected.
How is the pro-tem speaker chosen?
Once the new government is elected, a list containing the names of the senior-most members of the House is prepared. The seniority is decided by total tenure as a member of either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. The Prime Minister then identifies a Member from the list who acts as the Speaker pro-tem. Three other members are also identified before whom other members may take oath/affirmation.
How is the new Speaker chosen?
Any member may give notice of a motion that another Member be chosen as the Speaker of the House. The motions are then moved and voted upon. After the results are announced, the Speaker-elect is felicitated by leaders of all political parties, including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. From then, the new Speaker takes over the proceedings of the House.
An understanding of the Constitution, the Rules of Procedure, and conventions of Parliament is considered a major asset for the Speaker. While this might indicate that a Speaker be one of the senior-most members of the House, this has not always been the norm. There have been occasions in the past where the Speaker of the House was a first-time MP. For instance, Mr. K.S. Hegde, the Speaker of the sixth Lok Sabha and Mr. Bal Ram Jakhar, the Speaker of the seventh Lok Sabha were both first time MPs
What is the role of the Speaker in the House?
The Speaker is central to the functioning of the legislature. The proceedings of the House are guided by the Rules of Procedure and the final authority for the interpretation and implementation of these rules rests with the Speaker. The Speaker is responsible for regulating the discussion in the House and maintaining order in the House. For instance, it is the Speaker’s discretion on whether to allow a member to raise a matter of public importance in the House. The Speaker can suspend a sitting member for obstructing the business of the House, or adjourn the House in case of major disorder.
The Speaker is also the chair of the Business Advisory Committee, which is responsible for deciding the business of the House and allocating time for the same. The Speaker also chairs the General Purposes Committee and the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha and appoints the chairpersons of other committees amongst the members. In the past, Speakers have also been instrumental in strengthening the Committee system. Mr. Shivraj Patil, the Speaker of the 10th Lok Sabha, played a key role in the initiation of 17 Departmental Standing Committees, therefore strengthening Parliament’s control over the functioning of different ministries of the government.
Since the Speaker represents the entire House, the office of the Speaker is vested with impartiality and independence. The Constitution and the Rules of Procedure have prescribed guidelines for the Speaker’s office to ensure such impartiality and independence. Dr. N. Sanjiva Reddy, the Speaker of the fourth Lok Sabha, formally resigned from his political party as he was of the opinion that the Speaker belongs to the whole House and should therefore remain impartial. As per Article 100 of the Constitution, the Speaker does not exercise vote on any matter being voted upon, in the first instance. However, in case there’s a tie during the voting, the Speaker exercises her vote.
What does the President’s Address entail?
The election of the Speaker is followed by the President’s Address. Article 87 of the Constitution requires the President to address both Houses at the beginning of the first session after each general election. The President also addresses both the Houses at the beginning of the first session of each year. The President’s address highlights the initiatives of the government from the previous year, and mentions the policy priorities for the upcoming year. After the address, the ruling party moves a Motion of Thanks to the President’s address in both Houses of Parliament. In the Motion of Thanks, MPs may move amendments to the motion, which are then put to vote.
The President of India, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind will address Parliament in this first session of the 17th Lok Sabha. During the 16th Lok Sabha, the first President’s address was held on June 9, 2014 and the last time he addressed Parliament was on January 31, 2019 (highlights of this address can be read here).
Sources: The Constitution of India; Rules and Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha; Handbook on the Working of Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; The website of Parliament of India, Lok Sabha; The website of Office of the Speaker, Lok Sabha.
The counting of votes for General Election 2019, which concluded on Sunday, will begin tomorrow, i.e., 23rd May at 8 AM. The election was conducted in 7 phases for 543 constituencies of Lok Sabha. The Election Commission of India (ECI) uses Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to conduct elections. Since 2000, ECI has conducted 113 assembly elections and three general elections using EVMs. Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was added to EVMs in 2013 to increase transparency and improve voter confidence in the system. The VVPAT system generates a printed paper slip bearing the name and election symbol of the candidate. On April 8, 2019, Supreme Court instructed the ECI that printed VVPAT slips from randomly selected five polling stations in each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency should be matched with EVMs. In this blog, we explain the election counting process in India.
Who is responsible for counting the votes?
The Returning Officer (RO) is responsible for conducting elections in a constituency, which also includes counting of votes. The RO is an officer of the government or a local authority nominated by the ECI for each constituency in consultation with the state government.
Where does the counting take place?
The RO decides the place where the votes will be counted for the parliamentary constituency. The date and time of counting is fixed by the ECI. Ideally counting of votes for a constituency should be done at one place, preferably at the Headquarter of the RO in that constituency. It should be performed under the direct supervision of the RO. However, each Parliamentary Constituency has multiple assembly segments. In this situation, counting can take place at different locations for various assembly segments under the direct supervision of an Assistant Returning Officer (ARO).
Layout of the Counting Hall
Page 431, Handbook for Returning Officer Document 23 Edition 1, Election Commission of India
Counting of votes for each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency is performed in a single hall. In each round of counting, votes from 14 EVMs are counted. In case of simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections, such as Odisha, the first seven tables are used for counting votes for assembly elections, and the rest for parliamentary elections.
In constituencies with a large number of candidates, it may not be possible to count votes for all candidates in a single hall without overcrowding it. In such a situation, the number of counting halls or tables can be increased with the prior permission of the ECI. A hall can also be used for counting votes of another assembly segment after the results of the first segment are declared. However, counting may be done for only one assembly segment in a hall at any point of time.
What is the counting process?
Counting is performed by counting supervisors appointed by the RO. Counting staff is appointed through a three stage randomisation process to ensure impartiality. Candidates along with their counting agents and election agents are also present in the counting hall.
Counting of votes begins with Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballots (ETPB) and Postal Ballots (PB). These votes are counted under the direct supervision of the RO. Counting of EVMs can start 30 minutes after the commencement of PB counting, even if all PBs have not been counted. At the end of each round of counting, the results from 14 EVMs are declared.
What is the process for counting VVPAT slips?
The ECI prescribes the process for randomly selecting one EVM for each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency for VVPAT matching. The verification of VVPAT paper slips is conducted inside a secured VVPAT Counting Booth in the counting hall with access to authorised personnel only. Any counting table in the hall can be converted into VVPAT Counting Booth after completing EVM vote counting. Parliamentary constituencies generally have between five and ten assembly segments.
The Supreme Court has decided that VVPAT slips of five randomly selected polling stations for each assembly segment shall be matched with the result shown in the respective EVMs. This implies that VVPAT paper slips need to be matched for about 25-50 machines for each parliamentary constituency. This process requires personal supervision of RO/ARO. The ECI has decided that the counting of five VVPATs will be done sequentially. The RO can declare the final result for the constituency after the VVPAT matching process has been completed.
What happens if there is a discrepancy between the VVPAT count and the EVM results?
In such a case, the printed paper slips count is taken as final. The ECI has not clarified whether there would be any further action (such as counting of all VVPATs in a constituency or assembly segment) if there is a discrepancy in the counts of one of the five VVPATs.
 N Chandrababu Naidu and Ors. v. Union of India and Anr WP(C). 273/2019 decided on April 8, 2019.