Parliament and the Lok Pal Agitiation

admin_2 - September 26, 2011 1 Comment

The following piece by C V Madhukar appeared in the September,2011 issue of Governance Now magazine. The debate in Parliament in response to the recent Anna Hazare led agitation demanding a strong Lok Pal Bill was a fine hour for the institution of Parliament.  What was even more important about the debate is that it was watched by thousands of people across the country many of whom have lost faith in the ability of our MPs to coherently articulate their point of view on substantive issues. Of course, in many cases some of these impressions about our MPs are largely formed by what the media channels tend to project, and without a full appreciation of what actually happens in Parliament.  There is now a greater awareness about an important institutional mechanism called the standing committee, and other nuances about the law making process. The Lok Pal agitation brought out another important aspect of our democracy.  There are still many in India who believe that peaceful protest is a powerful way to communicate the expectations of people to the government. Our elected representatives are prepared to respond collectively when such protests are held.  There is a negotiated settlement possible between the agitating citizens and our political establishment within the broad construct of our Constitution.  All of this means that the safety valves in our democracy are still somewhat functional, despite its many shortcomings. But the way the whole Lok Pal episode has played out so far raises a number of important questions about the functioning of our political parties and our Parliamentary system.  A fundamental question is the extent to which our elected MPs are able to ‘represent’ the concerns of the people in Parliament.  It has been obvious for some time now, that corruption at various levels has been a concern for many.  For months before the showdown in August, there have been public expressions of the disenchantment of the people about this problem.  Even though several MPs would say privately that it is time for them to do something about it as elected representatives, they were unable to come together in a way to show the people that they were serious about the issue, or that they could collectively do something significant about the problem.  The government was trying in its own way to grapple with the problem, and was unable to seize the initiative, expect for a last minute effort to find a graceful way out of the immediate problem on hand. In our governance system as outlined in our Constitution, the primary and most important institution to hold the government accountable is the Parliament.  To perform this role, the Parliament has a number of institutional mechanisms that have evolved over the years.  The creation of the CAG as a Constitutional body that provides inputs to Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament, the question hour in Parliament are some of the ways in which the government is held to account.  Clearly all of these mechanisms together are unable to adequately do the work of overseeing the government that our MPs have been tasked with.  But it is one thing for our MPs to be effective in their role holding the government to account, and a very different thing to come across collectively as being responsive to the concerns of the people. For our MPs to play their representation role more convincingly and meaningfully there are certain issues that need to be addressed.  A major concern is about how our political parties are structured, where MPs are bound by tight party discipline. In a system where the party leadership decides who gets the party ticket to contest the next election, there is a natural incentive for MPs to toe the party line, even within their party forums.  This is often at the cost of their personal conviction about certain issues, and may sometimes be against what the citizens could want their representatives to do. Add to this the party whip system, under which each MP has to vote along the party line or face the risk of losing his seat in Parliament.  And then of course, if some MP decides to take a stand on some issue, he needs to do all the research work on his own because our elected representatives have no staff with this capability.  This deadly cocktail of negative incentives, just makes it very easy for the MP to mostly just follow the party line.  If the representation function were to be taken somewhat seriously, these issues need to be addressed. The 2004 World Development Report of the World Bank was focussed on accountability.  An important idea in the report was that it was too costly and inefficient for people to vote a government in and wait till the next election to hold the government accountable by voting it out for the poor governance it provides.  That is the reason it is essential for governments and citizens to develop ways in which processes can be developed by which the government can be held accountable even during its tenure. The myriad efforts by government such as social audits, monitoring and evaluation efforts within government departments, efforts by Parliament to hold the government accountable, efforts of civil society groups, are all ways of holding the government to account.  But over and above accountability, in an age of growing aspirations and increasing transparency, our MPs must find new ways of asserting their views and those people that they seek to represent in our Parliament.  This is an age which expects our politicians to be responsive, but in a responsible way. Even as the Lok Pal Bill is being deliberated upon in the standing committee, civil society groups continue to watch how MPs will come out on this Bill.  There are plenty of other opportunities where MPs and Parliament can take the initiative, including electoral reforms, funding of elections, black money, etc.  It remains to be seen whether our MPs will lead on these issues from the front, or will choose to be led by others. This will determine whether in the perception of the public the collective stock of our MPs will rise or continue to deplete in the months ahead.

Tags:

FAQ on the process of impeachment of judges

admin_2 - August 17, 2011 2 Comments

Parliament is expected to take up a motion for impeaching Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court.  We wrote an FAQ on the process of impeachment and the facts of this case for Rediff. See: http://www.rediff.com/news/report/faq-on-impeachment-of-judges/20110816.htm The full text is reproduced below. What is the importance of Parliament's discussion on the Justice Sen issue? The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to discuss a motion for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court.  Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) has been successfully impeached. What is the legal framework regarding impeachment of judges? The Constitution has measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary from executive action.  This helps judges give judicial decisions in a free and fair manner without any inducements. The Constitution also provides checks against misbehaviour by judges.  It states that a judge may be removed only through a motion in Parliament with a two thirds support in each House.  The process is laid down in the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. How is the motion initiated?  What is the process after that? A motion has to be moved by either 100 Lok Sabha members of Parliament or 50 Rajya Sabha MPs.  If the motion is admitted, the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha constitutes an inquiry committee. The committee has three members: a Supreme Court judge, a High Court Chief Justice, and an eminent jurist.  The Committee frames charges and asks the judge to give a written response. The judge also has the right to examine witnesses.  After the inquiry, the committee determines whether the charges are valid or not.  It then submits its report. What happens then? If the inquiry committee finds that the judge is not guilty, then there is no further action.  If they find him guilty, then the House of Parliament which initiated the motion may consider continuing with the motion. The motion is debated.  The judge (or his representative) has the right to represent his case.  After that, the motion is voted upon.  If there is two-thirds support of those voting, and majority support of the total strength of the House, it is considered to have passed.  The process is then repeated in the other House. After that, the Houses send an address to the President asking that the judge be removed from office. Has this process taken place earlier? Yes, there has been one such case.  Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court faced such a motion.  The inquiry committee found that the charges against him were valid.  However, the motion to impeach him did not gather the required support in Lok Sabha. What are the charges against the Justice Sen? There are two charges.  He is accused of misappropriating large sums of money which he received as a receiver appointed by the Calcutta High Court.  He is also accused of misrepresenting facts in this regard to the High Court. What is the charge of misappropriation?  What did the inquiry committee conclude? Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984. As a Receiver, Justice Sen had the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods. The Receiver is required to file and submit for passing, his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court.  However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule.  As a Receiver, Justice Sen was required to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission. However, the Inquiry Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank.  A total sum of over Rs 33 lakh was transferred in these accounts from the sale of the goods which was unaccounted for. Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Inquiry Committee found this claim to be false as well. It was found that the amount transferred to Lynx India Ltd. had been made out of an account opened by Justice Sen in his own name.  The Committee concluded that (a) there was a large-scale diversion of fund, and (b) such diversion was in violation of the orders of the High Court. The purpose for such diversion remains unexplained. This action was done by him as an advocate? Are there any charges against him after he was appointed as a judge? Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The Inquiry Committee noted that Justice Sen's actions were, "an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver's funds". After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds. Is there any other case?  What is the status? Another such motion has been initiated against Chief Justice Dinakaran of Sikkim High Court.  An Inquiry Committee is looking investigating the issue.  However, Mr Dinakaran has reportedly sent in his resignation to the President.  If the resignation is accepted, then the motion to remove him will become ineffective.  

Tags:

JPC vs PAC

admin_2 - December 2, 2010 1 Comment

By Chakshu Rai and Anirudh Burman What is the difference between a JPC and a PAC? A structured committee system was introduced in 1993 to provide for greater scrutiny of government functioning by Parliament. Most committees of Parliament include MPs from both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is an ad-hoc body. It is set up for a specific object and duration. Joint committees are set up by a motion passed in one house of Parliament and agreed to by the other. The details regarding membership and subjects are also decided by Parliament. For example, the motion to constitute a JPC on the stock market scam (2001) and pesticide residues in soft drinks (2003) was moved by the government in the Lok Sabha. The motion on the stock market scam constituted a JPC of 30 members of which 20 were from the Lok Sabha and 10 were from the Rajya Sabha. The motion to constitute the JPC on pesticides included 10 members from the Lok Sabha and 5 from the Rajya Sabha. The terms of reference for the JPC on the stock market scam asked the committee to look into financial irregularities, to fix responsibility on persons and institutions for the scam, to identify regulatory loopholes and also to make suitable recommendations. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), however, is constituted every year. Its main duty is to ascertain how the money granted (budget) by Parliament has been spent by the government. The PAC scrutinises the accounts of the government on the basis of CAG reports. The composition and functions of the committee are governed by parliamentary procedures. The PAC can consist of 15 to 22 members. Not more than 15 members can be from the Lok Sabha, and the representation from the Rajya Sabha cannot exceed 7 members. A minister cannot be a member of the PAC. What can a JPC do that a PAC cannot? The PAC examines cases involving losses and financial irregularities. Its examination is usually limited to the scrutiny of CAG reports and issues raised by the reports. The committee expresses no opinion on points of general policy, but it is within PAC’s jurisdiction to point out whether there has been waste in carrying out that policy. The mandate of a JPC depends on the motion constituting it. This need not be limited to the scrutiny of government finances. How many JPCs have we had so far? Although a number of joint committees have been formed since Independence, four major JPCs have been formed to investigate significant issues that have caused controversy. These are: (1) Joint Committee on Bofors Contracts; (2) Joint Committee to enquire into irregularities in securities and banking transactions; (3) Joint Committee on stock-market scam; and (4) Joint Committee on pesticide residues in and safety standards for soft drinks. How effective have JPCs been? Is the government bound by their recommendations? JPC recommendations have persuasive value but the committee cannot force the government to take any action on the basis of its report. The government may decide to launch fresh investigations on the basis of a JPC report. However, the discretion to do so rests entirely with the government. The government is required to report on the follow-up action taken on the basis of the recommendations of the JPC and other committees. The committees then submit ‘Action Taken Reports’ in Parliament on the basis of the government’s reply. These reports can be discussed in Parliament and the government can be questioned on the basis of the same. How effective is the PAC process? Between 2005 and 2010, the PAC has prepared 54 reports and examined ministries that have cumulatively received around 80% of the budgetary allocations in the last five financial years. Since it is not possible to examine every CAG audit finding in a formal manner, ministries have to submit Action Taken Notes to the PAC on all audit paragraphs. A 2009-10 report of the PAC, however, noted that there were 4,934 audit paragraphs still pending with various ministries. What can the JPC or the PAC find in the 2G case that is not already known, that the CAG and the Trai have not already said? The JPC or the PAC can only look at the documents and examine ministry officials who testify before the committee. The parliamentary committees can arrive at independent conclusions based on the documents placed before them. Members of the committee can also place dissent notes if they do not agree with the majority. Can Raja be tried and the telecom licences cancelled on basis of a JPC report or do we need a CBI report as well? Prosecution of individuals and cancellation of licences are executive functions and can only be initiated by the government. A JPC report can recommend the prosecution of a particular person or the cancellation of certain licences. However, the government can disagree with the JPC’s findings and refuse to take such action. How much of Parliament time have we lost already and how many critical Bills are stuck? The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are supposed to work daily for six hours and five hours, respectively. The Lok Sabha has worked for five hours and forty five minutes and Rajya Sabha has worked for an hour and twenty five minutes in the past 12 days. Some important Bills that are listed for consideration and passing in Parliament are the Seeds Bill, 2004; the Commercial Division of High Courts Bill, 2009; and the Amendment to the Right to Education Act, 2010. Bills listed for introduction include the National Identification Authority Bill, 2010; the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment in Workplace Bill, 2010; the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010; Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill; and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. This article appeared in Financial Express.

Three questions from Bangalore

admin_2 - October 15, 2010 2 Comments

The trust vote drama in Karnataka has hit the national headlines. The incumbent chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa appears to have won the first round. It remains to be seen how the BJP responds to the governor’s direction that a second trust vote be held by the 14th of this month. In the 225-member Karnataka assembly, the ruling BJP had a wafer-thin majority since the 2008 assembly elections. And it was not surprising to find that some political forces in the state felt that there was an opportunity to unseat the government. But what has transpired over the past few days has once again reminded citizens of the ugly side of politics. Leading up to the trust vote, the governor of Karnataka wrote a letter to the speaker of the Karnataka assembly asking that no MLAs be disqualified before the trust vote was conducted on the floor of the assembly. Subsequently, there have been a number of allegations about the conduct of the trust vote itself. The governor openly called the trust vote “farcical”, and wrote to the Centre asking that President’s Rule be imposed in the state, before he directed the government to prove its majority again. This phenomenon of trust votes is not uncommon in our dynamic political culture. Just before the 2009 general elections, the BJD and the BJP had differences over seat-sharing in Orissa. The BJP decided to withdraw support to the Naveen Patnaik government. The BJD passed the floor test by a voice vote. While the opposition claims that the process was not fair, the BJD leadership has maintained that there was no request for a division, which would have required recorded voting. The relatively small Goa assembly has seen a number of similar occurrences in the recent past, with governments changing as a result. But there are some critical issues that merit examination. In some recent trust votes, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have been exchanged. Of course, following the 2008 trust vote in the Lok Sabha on the India-US nuclear agreement, the infamous cash-for-votes scam broke out, with wads of cash being shown on the floor of the House. In the Karnataka trust vote, too, there have been allegations that large amounts of money have changed hands. The second issue is how some of these trust votes are managed on the floor of the House. Both the recent Orissa episode and the ongoing Karnataka one have been very contentious about the procedure that has been used to prove the majority. In both cases, the opposition alleged that they asked for a division, which would require a physical count of votes rather than just a voice vote, and in both cases a division was not held. A parallel issue which needs to be kept in mind is the governor’s power to ensure compliance with procedure in the state legislatures. The third issue that needs some discussion is whether the decision on defections should be judged by the speaker, usually a member of the ruling party or coalition, or by a neutral external body, such as the Election Commission. In the latest episode in Karnataka, the speaker has disqualified MLAs on the ground that they have voluntarily exited the party under which they were elected. In a 1994 case (Ravi S. Naik v. Union of India), the Supreme Court ruled that the words “voluntarily giving up membership” have a wider meaning. An inference can also be drawn from the conduct of the member that he has voluntarily given up the membership of his party. There is a huge paradox in the anti-defection law that was passed 25 years ago. While MLAs and MPs vote along party lines on ordinary legislation, they do not appear to be daunted by the consequences in the case of trust votes. So, in effect, the anti-defection law appears to be effective in controlling members of all parties on policy-making — which could in fact benefit from more open input from across party lines — but ineffective in several cases with regard to trust votes. Clearly, there is much more at stake for all concerned in trust votes, and therefore the scope for greater negotiation. Politics in our large and complex democracy is fiercely competitive. Dissidence is to be expected because there are too many people vying for too few of the top positions. While there are no perfect solutions, the only sustainable and meaningful approach is to encourage inner-party democracy so as to enable a selection process for positions of responsibility that is accepted as free and fair by all concerned. While the political uncertainty continues, the only certainty for India’s citizens is a very unhealthy politics for some time to come. - CV Madhukar This article was published in Indian Express on October 13, 2010

Tags:

What we have Learned about our MPs and Parliament

admin_2 - October 10, 2010 7 Comments
This month, PRS Legislative Research is 5 years old! The objective when we started out was to make the legislative process in India better informed, more transparent and participatory.  From what started off as an idea, we believe we have made some progress towards our objective. -       About 250 MPs across political parties have reached out to PRS for inputs on a range of issues that have come up in Parliament.  In addition, there are a number of MPs who use PRS material for their preparation in Parliament, even though they have not contacted PRS for further inputs. -       PRS has increasingly become a resource for the media as well.  Over the past year, PRS has been cited on nearly 400 occasions by leading newspapers and websites as the source of information about legislation and Parliament. These are some of the milestones that we feel happy to have reached.  But I want to really share are some of the learnings that we have had over these years. The first thing that we have learned is that many of us carry so many wrong perceptions about our MPs. Most of us don’t know that more than 80 percent of our MPs have college degrees.  Most of us don’t know that the average attendance rate in Parliament is close to 80 percent in the past year.  Most of us don’t know that Parliament has worked for more than 90 percent of the scheduled time in recent sessions, despite the undesirable disruptions in Parliament. There is a lot that is wrong with our politics, but we hope that some of these facts throw light about some lesser known aspects about our MPs. Laws are made for the really long term! That seems obvious, when we see examples such as our Indian Penal Code which was made in 1860, and the Land Acquisition Act that has haunted our country in recent years was passed in 1894.  And these are just some examples.  The fact is that if we do not debate our laws when they are being made, and citizens do not engage and provide inputs to this process, then we will be stuck with any issues that these laws might have for the next 100 years or more.  So it is critical to get the laws as close to ‘right’ as possible when they are being passed. It is not obvious to most people that so many MPs put in significant effort to engage effectively in Parliament. Clearly, there is a selection bias, statistically speaking – I am talking of MPs who have reached out to us.  Despite this selection bias, the point is that there are a number of MPs who take their work in Parliament seriously, even though they know that much of the work they do in Parliament has almost no bearing on their re-election prospects.  (By the way, in most informal polls that I have done when I meet with groups of people, most do not know the role of an MP – even amongst some of the well educated groups.) Why do so many MPs still work hard to prepare for their work in Parliament, despite knowing that this work has no bearing on their re-election prospects? On this, we can only hypothesize.  There are many MPs who understand their role as legislators and take it very seriously.  There are MPs who feel that making a good point on an issue on the floor of Parliament is a way to establish their grasp of a certain issue to their colleagues in Parliament, but also to the larger world.  For some others, it is a signalling device to their party colleagues about their interest and expertise in a certain subject area.  And we have had MPs who have said, that they feel very good when other MPs, especially from other parties, compliment them for making a good point.  All of these sound like good positive reasons for many MPs to want to be well prepared to speak in Parliament. We have begun to appreciate that the role of the MP in Parliament is very challenging. I can point to at least three reasons, which are independent of how educated or capable an MP might be: (a) The range of subjects in Parliament is so wide that no individual, however intelligent, can be fully conversant with all the subjects being discussed.  (b) MPs have no research staff whatsoever, and are expected to do all of their preparatory work on their own, and (c) The constituency pressure on the MPs is often very high, making it difficult for them to pay adequate attention to their work in Parliament. We most certainly want more from our MPs and our Parliament. We want our MPs to meet for more days, find better ways to raise issues in Parliament than to disrupt proceedings, debate in more detail the laws that they pass.  But what we have learned is that we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water.  So, I am not suggesting that we can’t do better or that our MPs or our Parliament are perfect.  The only way we will have a better Parliament is if we engage.  And more people engage – from all walks of life.  Policy making is not the exclusive preserve of either the expert or the policy maker.  The policy process can be greatly strengthened if we participate in the process and ensure that our MPs know that we want effective laws to govern us and our children. Parliament can be made more effective by addressing some of the current bottlenecks. And some of these issues are not even difficult to fix.  For example, can we have more people in the committee staff to support the work of the standing committees in Parliament so they can cover more ground in any given year?  Can we have qualified research staff working for MPs so that they can go better prepared for Parliament?  (Our Legislative Assistants to MPs – LAMPs programme has shown that it is hugely rewarding for young legislative assistants and the MPs if such a platform is created.)  Can we have recorded voting on all legislative votes, instead of voice votes – the electronic button system is already in place to do this!  These are just some examples… and we at PRS have a laundry list of ideas for strengthening Parliament – with varying degrees of difficulty.  We have raised some of these issues in our Annual Conference of Effective Legislatures, and will continue to do so in the years ahead. A very BIG thanks to each of you for making PRS possible over these past five years… We hope that you will continue to bless and support us in the years ahead to help shape a more robust policy making process in India. PRS PRODUCTS The Legislative Briefs are our flagship product.  Each Brief analyses one Bill pending in Parliament.  These are no longer than 6 pages and are sent to all MPs.  We then get calls from MPs asking for more information/ clarification. Since earlier this year PRS has begun a Wednesday morning Policy Dialogue series exclusively for MPs.  These are widely attended by MPs across parties. PRS is the knowledge partner to brief MPs in the Thursday morning Bill briefing sessions organised by the Constitution Club. PRS has reached out to about 1000 journalists across the country, through journalist workshops and direct engagement. PRS has started the Legislative Assistants to MPs (LAMPs) programme as a pilot initiative.  Under the programme, participating MPs get a trained legislative assistant for a period of three Parliament sessions. PRS produces Primers to demystify Parliamentary process for citizens. These are widely used in our interactions with civil society groups. The Vital Stats series is a crisp two page document that often highlights interesting aspects of Parliament.  They are very popular with journalists. PRS has nearly 1000 fans on Facebook and 2000 followers on Twitter, including some MPs. PRS has a Session Alert at the beginning of each session of Parliament.  On the last day of each session, PRS releases two reports on the just concluded session: Parliament Session Wrap and Plan vs. Performance. PRS hosts an Annual Conference of Effective Legislatures each year to highlight certain aspects of the functioning of Parliament. PRS has compiled a free online database of all state laws across the country.  This effort www.lawsofindia.org is the first effort of its kind in India. The PRS website www.prsindia.org has become an important resource for anyone tracking the Indian Parliament both within the country and abroad.
Tags:

Digging on the right side of the law

admin_2 - September 3, 2010 2 Comments

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

Tags:

MPs' salary hike: Do they have a case?

admin_2 - August 31, 2010 1 Comment

The Lok Sabha has passed the bill to revise the salary of members of parliament. Much of the debate in the media has been on the wealth of current MPs and the lack of accountability. It is important to focus as well on structural issues related to remunerating legislators. Under the bill, the base salary of MPs is being raised to Rs.50,000 from Rs.16,000 per month. The daily allowance paid to MPs when they attend parliament is being hiked to Rs.2,000 from Rs.1,000. The constituency allowance is being increased to Rs.45,000 per month from Rs.20,000 and office expenses (for staff, stationery and postage) to Rs.45,000 per month from Rs.20,000. Pension for former MPs will be Rs.20,000 per month instead of the present Rs.8,000. Other than these, MPs get accommodation in Delhi, which varies from a hostel in Vitthalbhai Patel House to two-bedroom flats and bungalows, all in central Delhi. MPs get reimbursement of electricity, water, telephone and internet charges. They (and their family) are also reimbursed for 34 one-way air tickets from their constituency to Delhi. In a parliamentary democracy, compensation for legislators should be sufficient to ensure their independence and autonomy. It should attract professionals who can devote their full time to legislative work. There should be a sufficient support system to enable legislators perform their duties effectively. There are mainly three issues that need to be resolved while fixing the compensation package for legislators. First, MPs fix their own salaries and allowances, which results in a conflict of interest. Second, every time the salary is revised upwards, there is an adverse media and public reaction. The outcome is that MPs' salaries are significantly lower than that for any other position of similar responsibility in the public or private sector. The low salaries may deter honest persons, without other income sources, from contesting elections. Third, reimbursements of office expenses are classified as 'allowances'. Thus, expenses for office staff, telephone charges, etc. are often seen as part of their compensation. Contrast this with the treatment for government or private sector employees. The costs of office support staff, rental, communication and travel costs are not counted as their salary or perks. The process in India is similar to that in some countries. The US Congress and the German Bundestag determine their own salaries. There are two alternative approaches seen in some other democracies. Some countries appoint an independent authority to determine salaries. Some others peg the salary to that of public officials. For example, New Zealand has a remuneration tribunal which is tasked to fix salaries based on being (a) fair relative to levels of remuneration elsewhere; (b) fair to person being remunerated and the taxpayer; (c) adequate to recruit and retain competent persons. In Canada, a commission is appointed after every general election and salaries are then indexed to the federal government's annual wage rate index. Australia has a remuneration authority that links the salary to that in the Principal Executive Office. In the UK, the Senior Salaries Review Board determines salaries, which are then voted upon by parliament. The Scottish parliament indexes its salaries to that of British MPs. In France, the salary of the legislator is the average of the highest and lowest paid official in the seniormost level of the government. There were two distinct themes during last week's Lok Sabha debate. Several MPs discussed structural issues. Some MPs - L.K. Advani, Ramachandra Dome, Sanjay Nirupam, Shailendra Singh and Pinaki Misra - suggested that the government establish an independent commission for determining salaries. Advani pointed out that a decision to that effect had been taken in an all-party meeting held by the Speaker in may 2005 and demanded that the government announce the formation of such a commission before the end of the current session of parliament. Some MPs - Dhananjay Singh, Sanjay Nirupam and Shailendra Kumar -- focussed on the need for support structures such as office space, research staff and assistants in the constituency. They felt that these would help MPs examine proposed laws and rules and monitor the work of the government. Nirupam and Misra suggested that MPs' salaries be linked to performance; salaries should be cut for any time lost due to disruption. Some MPs highlighted the need for pension and accommodation for former MPs. Sharad Yadav, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary requested that the pension be raised to Rs 25,000 per month. Yadav and Bwiswmuthiary also said that former MPs be allocated residential accommodation in Delhi. The bill will next be discussed in the Rajya Sabha. The government agreed that there is merit in forming an independent commission. It is however uncertain whether the government will accede to Advani's demand that the commission be announced in the next couple of days. - M.R. Madhavan This column has been published by IANS today.

Tags:

PRS ANALYSIS 2010: Competition on Legislative Analysis

admin_2 - August 2, 2010

To facilitate greater awareness generation and engagement of the youth, PRS conceptualised a legislative analysis competition - ANALYSIS. Being organized for the fourth year in succession, ANALYSIS is a national-level competition that encourages students to reflect on issues of national importance by analysing a proposed government Bill.  Participants are expected to produce a succinct three-page analysis of the Bill with MPs as the target audience. Entries will be evaluated by an eminent panel of judges from the fields of politics, law and the media. In the past years judges have included Justice Ruma Pal (former judge at the Supreme Court), Justice Y. K. Sabharwal (former Chief Justice of India), Prof.  N.R. Madhava Menon (Member – Commission on Centre State Relations), and Mr. Sam Pitroda (Advisor to Prime Minister on Public Information, Infrastructure and Innovation). The Competition is open to all post-graduate students or law students presently studying in any recognized institution in India.  (For further information on the Bills to be analysed, prize money and other details, click here) Over the past three years we have received high-quality entries from over a 100 colleges throughout the country.  We hope to receive incisive analyses this years as well.

Tags:

No Political parties in UP urban-local bodies

admin_2 - June 25, 2010

Indian Express published an article by PRS on the proposed Rules to disallow participation by political parties in urban local bodies (such as municipalities). Click here for the article

Tags:

Upcoming Committee Meetings in Parliament

admin_2 - June 23, 2010

Rajya Sabha June 23 and 24, 2010: Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests Agenda - The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 June 29, 2010: Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture Agenda - Duties, Responsibilities and Functions of Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Helicopter Operations in India Lok Sabha June 24: Committee on Subordinate Legislation (No agenda mentioned) June 25: Committee on Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Agenda - Adoption of Report on the subject "Reservation for and Employment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Punjab and Sind Bank and credit facilities provided by the Bank to them" June 29: Public Accounts Committee Agenda - Recent Developments in the Telecom Sector including allocation of 2G and 3G Spectrum

Tags: