Legislative vacuum and the Bhopal Gas tragedy

Rohit - June 10, 2010 3 Comments

Our Constitution provides protection against laws imposing criminal liability for actions committed prior to the enactment of the law. Article 20 (1) under the Part III (Fundamental Rights), reads: 20. (1) No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence. Thus, the maximum penalty that can be imposed on an offender cannot exceed those specified by the laws at the time. In the context of the Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only relevant law specifying criminal liability for such incidents. The CBI, acting on behalf of the victims, filed charges against the accused under section 304 of the IPC (See Note 1). Section 304 deals with punishment for culpable homicide and requires intention of causing death. By a judgment dated September 13, 1996, the Supreme Court held that there was no material to show that “any of the accused had a knowledge that by operating the plant on that fateful night whereat such dangerous and highly volatile substance like MIC was stored they had the knowledge that by this very act itself they were likely to cause death of any human being.” The Supreme Court thus directed that the charges be re-framed under section 304A of the IPC (See Note 2). Section 304A deals with causing death by negligence and prescribes a maximum punishment of two years along with a fine. Consequently, the criminal liability of the accused lay outlined by section 304A of the IPC and they were tried accordingly. Civil liability, on the other hand, was adjudged by the Courts and allocated to the victims by way of monetary compensation. Soon after the Bhopal Gas tragedy, the Government proposed and passed a series of laws regulating the environment, prescribing safeguards and specifying penalties. These laws, among other things, filled the legislative lacunae that existed at the time of the incident. Given the current provisions (See Note 3), a Bhopal like incident will be tried in the National Green Tribunal (once operationalized) and most likely, under the provisions of the the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The criminal liability provisions of the Act (See Note 4) prescribe a maximum penalty of five years along with a fine of one lakh rupees. Further, if an offence is committed by a company, every person directly in charge and responsible will be deemed guilty, unless he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such an offence.

The civil liability will continue to be adjudged by the Courts and in proportion to the extent of damage unless specified separately by an Act of Parliament.

Notes 1) IPC, Section 304. Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, Or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death. 2) IPC, Section 304A. Causing death by negligence Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. 3) Major laws passed since 1984: 1986 - The Environment (Protection) Act authorized the central government to take measures to protect and improve environmental quality, set standards and inspect industrial units. It also laid down penalties for contravention of its provisions. 1991 - The Public Liability Insurance Act provided for public liability - insurance for the purpose of providing immediate relief to the persons affected by an accident while handling hazardous substances. 1997 - The National Environment Appellate Authority Act established to an appellate authority to hear appeals with respect to restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes are disallowed, subject to safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. 2009 - The National Green Tribunal Act, yet to be notified, provides for the establishment of a tribunal for expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and for giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property. This Act also repeals the National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997. 4) Criminal liability provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 Section 15. Penalty for contravention of the provisions of the Act (1) Whoever fails to comply with or contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, or the rules made or orders or directions issued thereunder, shall, in respect of each such failure or contravention, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both, and in case the failure or contravention continues, with additional fine which may extend to five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction for the first such failure or contravention. (2) If the failure or contravention referred to in sub-section (1) continues beyond a period of one year after the date of conviction, the offender shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years. Section 16. Offences by Companies (1) Where any offence under this Act has been committed by a company, every person who, at the time the offence was committed, was directly in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly: Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such person liable to any punishment provided in this Act, if he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence.

Disruptions in Parliament

Rohit - March 9, 2010 4 Comments

Indiscipline and disruptions in Parliament are much talked about issues.  Not only are disruptions a waste of Parliament's valuable time, these significantly taint the image of this esteemed institution.  Commotion in Rajya Sabha over the introduction of Women's Reservation Bill and the subsequent suspension of 7 MPs has brought this issue back to the forefront.  We thought it might be useful to research and highlight instances in the past when the House had had to deal with similar situations. According to the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette of the Rajya Sabha, "The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it.  In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House." Mild offences are punished by admonition or reprimand (reprimand being the more serious of the two).  Withdrawal from the House is demanded in the case of gross misconduct. 'Persistent and wilful obstructions' lead the Chairman to name and subsequently move a motion for suspension of the member.  A member can be suspended, at the maximum, for the remainder of the session only. In an extreme case of misconduct, the House may expel a member from the House. According to a comment in the above rule book, "The purpose of expulsion is not so much disciplinary as remedial, not so much to punish members as to rid the House of persons who are unfit for membership." There have been several instances in the past when the Parliament has exercised its right to punish members. We pulled together a few instances: Rajya Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
3-Sep-62 Shri Godey Murahari was suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 Septemebr 1962. He was removed by the Marshal of the House
25-Jul-66 Shri Raj Narain and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July 1966, by the Leader of the House (Shri M.C. Chagla) and adopted by the House. After they refused to withdraw, they were removed by the Marshal of the House. Next day, the Chairman expressed his distress and leaders of parties expressed their regret at the incident
12-Aug-71 The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (Shri Om Mehta) moved a motion on 12 August 1971, for the suspension of Shri Raj Narain for the remainder of the session. The motion was adopted. Shri Raj Narain, on refusing to withdraw, was removed by the Marshal of the House
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
Expulsion – All instances (three in total)
15-Nov-76 Shri Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November 1976 on the basis of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities. The Committee found his conduct derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members and inconsistent with the standards which the House expects from its members
23-Dec-05 Dr. Chhattrapal Singh Lodha was expelled on 23 December 2005, for his conduct being derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the Code of Conduct, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation contained in the Seventh Report of the Committee on Ethics
21-Mar-06 Dr. Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21 March 2006, for his gross misconduct which brought the House and its members into disrepute and contravened the Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics contained in its Eighth Report
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette

Lok Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
15-Mar-89 Commotion in the House over the Thakkar Commission report (Report of Justice Thakkar Commission of Inquiry on the Assassination of the Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi; revelations published in Indian Express before report tabled in Parliament) led to 63 MPs being suspended for a week. An opposition member belonging to the Janata Group (Syed Shahabuddin) who had not been suspended, submitted that he also be treated as suspended and walked out of the House. Three other members (GM Banatwalla, MS Gill and Shaminder Singh) also walked out in protest.
20-Jul-89 Demand for resignation of Govt. because of the adverse remarks made against it by the CAG in his report on Defence Services for the year 1988-89 saw commotion in the House. Satyagopal Misra dislodged microphone placed before the Chair and threw it in the pit of the House. (Sheila Dikshit was the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs). No member was suspended.
Source: Subhash Kashyap, Parliamentary Procedure (Second Edition)