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)
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.
The issue of honour killing grabbed headlines with the death of Nirupama Pathak, a Delhi-based journalist, who was alleged to have been killed by her family because she was pregnant and was planning to marry a person outside her caste. This was followed by two more cases of suspected honour killing (see here and here) in the capital. While incidences of honour killing are a rarity in the capital, such incidences are common in the northern states of India such as Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The basic reason behind honour killings is the idea that a family’s honour is tied to a woman’s chastity. Thus, a wide range of causes can trigger honour killing such as marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, having unapproved relationships, refusing an arranged marriage or even rape. In India, honour killings take place if a couple marries outside their caste or religion. Khap panchayats also oppose and mete out punishments to couples who marry within the same gotra (lineage) or transgress other societal norms. A recent judgement by a sessions court in Karnal for the first time awarded the death penalty to five men for murdering a young couple who had married against the diktats of a khap panchayat. It gave life sentence to a member of the khap panchayat who declared the marriage invalid and was present when the killing took place. On June 22, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the centre and eight states to explain the steps taken to prevent honour killing. Taking a cautious approach the government rejected Law Minister, M. Veerappa Moily’s proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code and rein in the khap panchayats (caste based extra constitutional bodies). It however decided to constitute a Group of Ministers to consult the states and look into the scope for enacting a special law that would treat honour killing as a social evil. Experts are divided over the proposed honour killing law. Some experts argue that the existing laws are sufficient to deter honour killing, if implemented properly while others feel that more stringent and specific provisions are required to tackle the menace of honour killings.
|Existing Penalties under Indian Penal Code:
|Arguments favouring new law||Arguments against new law|
|Sources: “Define honour killing as ‘heinous crime’: Experts”, Hindustan Times, May 12, 2010; “Legal experts divided over proposed honour killing law,” Indian Express, Feb 16, 2010; “Legal Tangle,” Indian Express, July 10, 2010; and “Honour Killing: Govt defers decision on Khap Bill,” Indian Express, July 8, 2010; “Honour Killing: Govt considers special law,” Indian Express, July 9, 2010.|
Meanwhile, khap panchayats are up in arms defending their stance against same gotra marriage. They have demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 disallowing same gotra marriage. While condemning honour killings, some politicians such as Naveen Jindal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda have extended support to the demands of the khap panchayats. It remains to be seen if India is effectively able to address this tug of war between tradition and modernity.
The shortage of skilled man-power is a cause for concern in most sectors in India. Experts acknowledge that the present higher education system in India is not equipped to address this problem without some changes in the basic structure. Official records show that the gross enrollment ratio in higher education is only 11 per cent while the National Knowledge Commission says only seven per cent of the population between the age group of 18-24 enters higher education. Even those who have access are not ensured of quality. Despite having over 300 universities, not a single Indian university is listed in the top 100 universities of the world. Present Regulatory framework The present system of higher education is governed by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is the apex body responsible for coordination, determination and maintenance of standards, and release of grants. Various professional councils are responsible for recognition of courses, promotion of professional institutions and providing grants to undergraduate programmes. Some of the prominent councils include All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Bar Council of India (BCI). The Central Advisory Board of Education coordinates between the centre and the states. Universities in India can be established by an Act of Parliament or state legislatures such as Delhi University, Calcutta University and Himachal Pradesh University. Both government-aided and unaided colleges are affiliated with a university. The central government can also declare an institution to be a deemed university based on recommendation of the University Grants Commission. There are about 130 deemed universities and includes universities such as Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and Birla Institute of Technology. Such universities are allowed to set their own syllabus, admission criteria and fees. Some prominent institutions are also classified as institutions of national importance. Reforms in Higher Education There have been calls to revamp the regulatory structure, make efforts to attract talented faculty, and increase spending on education from about 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to about 6%. Presently, the allocation for higher education is at a measly 0.7% of GDP. From time to time government appointed various expert bodies to suggest reforms in the education sector. The two most recent recommendations were made by the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) formed in 2005 under the chairmanship of Mr Sam Pitroda and the Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, formed in 2008 under the chairmanship of Shri Yashpal.
|Key Recommendations of NKC||Key Recommendations of Yashpal Committee|
|Sources: The Report to the Nation, 2006-09, NKC; Yashpal Committee Report, 2009; PRS|
The Draft NCHER Bill, 2010 In response to the reports, the government drafted a Bill on higher education and put it in the public domain. The draft National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010 seeks to establish the National Commission for Higher Education and Research whose members shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the selection committee (include Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Speaker). The Commission shall take measures to promote autonomy of higher education and for facilitating access, inclusion and opportunities to all. It may specify norms for grant of authorisation to a university, develop a national curriculum framework, specify requirement of academic quality for awarding a degree, specify minimum eligibility conditions for appointment of Vice Chancellors, maintain a national registry, and encourage universities to become self regulatory. Vice Chancellors shall be appointed on the recommendation of a collegium of eminent personalities. The national registry shall be maintained with the names of persons eligible for appointment as Vice Chancellor or head of institution of national importance. Any person can appeal a decision of the Commission to the National Educational Tribunal. (For opinions by some experts on the Bill, click here and here.) Other Bills that are in the pipeline include The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010; the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) (Amendment) Bill, 2010; and the Innovation Universities Bill, 2010.
Census 2011 or the 15th National Census, a gigantic exercise to capture the socio-economic and cultural profile of India’s population, began on April 1, 2010. India undertakes this exercise every 10 years through the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner in the Ministry of Home Affairs. The census documents details of a billion plus population on diverse subjects such as demography, literacy, fertility and mortality and provides primary data at village, town and ward level. The first census ever to take place in India was in 1872 and the last one was held in 2001. The Census of India Act, 1948 lays down the rules and regulations pertaining to conduct of a census. The Act makes it obligatory for the public to answer all the questions faithfully while guaranteeing the confidentiality of the information. The last census was held in 2001, which revealed that India’s population was about 1.03 billion. Statistical data related to literacy rate, sex-ratio, urban-rural distribution, religious composition, SC/ST population and so on were captured by Census 2001. Features of Census 2011 Census process: India uses the canvasser method for collecting census data. Under this method, the canvasser approaches every household and records the answer on the schedules himself after ascertaining the particulars from the head of the household or other knowledgeable persons in the household. The full detail of the methodology is available here. National Population Register (NPR): It would be a register or database of residents of the country. The government states that such a database would facilitate better targeting of the benefits and services under government schemes and programmes; improve planning and help strengthen the security of the country. The register is being created under the provisions of the Citizenship Act and Rules. NPR process: Basic details such as name, date of birth and sex shall be gathered by visiting each household of a resident of the country. A database shall be created with addition of biometric information such as photograph, 10 fingerprints and probably Iris information for all persons aged 15 years and above. The list shall be sent to the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) for de-duplication and issue of UID Numbers. The cleaned database along with the UID Number would form the National Population Register. There was a controversy over whether Census 2011 should capture caste data. Since India last collected caste data in 1931, proponents argued that up-to-date, reliable caste data was essential to target welfare schemes towards various backward castes. Opponents however contended that this would perpetuate the caste system. The government finally decided not to include caste as one of the parameters in the 2011 census. Table 1: Schedule of Census 2011
|April 1||New Delhi (NDMC area), West Bengal, Assam, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Goa, Meghalaya, Bihar, Jharkhand|
|April 7||Kerala, Lakshadweep, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim|
|April 15||Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Chandigarh|
|April 21||Gujarat, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu|
|April 26||Tripura, Andhra Pradesh|
|May 1||Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Punjab, Uttaranchal, Maharashtra|
|May 7||Madhya Pradesh|
|May 15||J & K, Manipur, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh|
|June 1||Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Nagaland|
The row over Bt Brinjal, a genetically modified version of the plant, provoked the government into imposing a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of the plant in India. The debate has revolved around issues of economic efficacy, human health, consumer choice and farmers’ rights. Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, made public his views on the subject, a gist of which is given below:
- The Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC) report recommended commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal but qualified it by stating that since the issue has important policy implications at the national level, the government should take a final view on the matter.
- Most of the state governments have expressed concern and have sought to ban the use of Bt Brinjal, or all GM crops.
- Pesticides have harmful effect on human health and Bt technology is one way of reducing pesticide use. However, other routes such as non-pesticide pest management can be explored. For example, about 6 lakh farmers in Andhra Pradesh practice non-pesticide pest management over an area of about 20 lakh acres.
- Safety is a concern since the kind of tests that have been done is not specific or stringent enough to detect toxins. Also, tests have only been carried out by the developers of the product, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco). (The results of the biosafety tests are available on the GEAC website).
- There is no large-scale public funded biotechnology effort toward agriculture, which could compete with Mahyco. Monsanto is the main producer of Bt Brinjal, and Mahyco is owned to the extent of 26% by Monsanto.
- While two government owned agricultural universities -- University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore – have produced Bt Brinjal along with Mahyco, doubts have been raised about how Bt related research in these universities have been funded.
- There are apprehensions that there will be diversity loss in the variety of Brinjal if Bt Brinjal is introduced, and this fear cannot be glossed over.
- While Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal are not comparable, the introduction of Bt Cotton in India has made India the second largest grower of cotton in the world. Over 90% of cotton farmers in India cultivate Bt Cotton. Many farmers support Bt Cotton on economic grounds but some did express doubts.
- The Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur has developed a Bt cotton variety (Bikaneri Nerma) whose seeds can be kept by farmers for planting during the next season. The Director of the Institute while expressing support for Bt Brinjal has mentioned that resistance development is a serious issue. Therefore, more tests that are well-designed, widely-accepted and independently conducted are necessary.
- The GEAC process has been questioned by Dr P.M. Bhargava, the Supreme Court nominee on GEAC. He opposed the recommendation on the ground that all necessary tests had not been carried out before coming to a decision. The 2006 committee of the GEAC had asked for several tests to be conducted which were not taken into account by the second expert committee. All GEAC reports (including additional tests) of tests conducted with regard to Bt Brinjal are in the public domain.
- There is some evidence that the GEAC not followed global regulatory norms of which India is a party. For example, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development etc.
- Some international scientists have raised doubts about Bt Brinjal and the way the tests were conducted.
- Many Indian scientists have supported commercialization of Bt Brinjal such as Dr G. Padmanabhan of the Indian Institute of Science; Dr Deepak Pental, Vice Chancellor of Delhi University; and Dr Raj Bhatnagar of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi. However, even they have mentioned the need for a statutory body with regulatory powers and R&D capabilities to govern all aspects of GM crops.
- The Indian Council of Agricultural research and a number of farmer’s groups have come out in support of the move to introduce Bt Brinjal.
In order to understand the process followed by GEAC before giving the green signal to Bt Brinjal, we have made a timeline in which the plant was approved and the bodies involved in the process.
|2000-2005||Scientific tests carried out by Mahyco on Bt Brinjal|
|2006||Mahyco submits bio-safety data to GEAC (regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests). Seeks permission for large scale trials.|
|Supreme Court stops ongoing field trials of GM crops due to a PIL filed by civil society representatives.|
|2007||The expert committee 1 set up by GEAC, submits its report. Recommends seven more studies on bio-safety be repeated for reconfirmation of data generated during confined multi-location trials but approves large scale trials.|
|Supreme Court lifts ban on GM crop field trials subject to conditions such as isolation distance etc.|
|As per GEAC direction, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR) takes up the responsibility of large scale trails of Mahyco's Bt Brinjal trials at 10 research institutions across the country in 2007 and 11 in 2008.|
|2009||Jan: IIVR submits the results of the large scale trails. Due to concerns raised by several stakeholders, GEAC constitutes another expert committee to look into adequacy of biosafety data generated as well as the concerns raised by all stakeholders.|
|Oct 8: Expert-committee 2 submits its report. States benefits of Bt Brinjal far outweigh the perceived and projected risks.|
|Oct 14: GEAC approves the environmental release of Bt Brinjal containing the event EE1 (with one dissent note from P.M. Bhargava).|
|Oct 15: Jairam Ramesh announces a nationwide consultation in January and February of 2010 pending a final decision on this issue.|
|2010||Jan 13 to Feb 6: Public meetings were organized on the Bt Brinjal issue. The summary of the consultations is available on the Ministry’s website.|
|Many states announce ban on commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal including Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.|
|Feb 9: Jairam Ramesh decides to halt the commercialization of Bt Brinjal.|