According to news reports (see here and here), the Cabinet approved four Bills for discussion in Parliament. The Bills cleared for consideration and passing are: the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010 and the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010. It cleared the Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012 for introduction in Parliament. In this post, we discuss the key provisions of the Bills and the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (HRD). The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010 The Bill was introduced on April 19, 2010 in the Rajya Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on November 23, 2010. The government had attempted to pass it in the Winter session twice. However, the Opposition raised the issue of conflict of interest. The Rules of the Ethics Committee state that a MP has to declare his personal or pecuniary interest in a matter, which is under discussion in the Rajya Sabha. The MPs contended that the HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, could not pilot the Bill without declaring his interest. They argued that his son was the lawyer for a music company which is party to a legal dispute with TV broadcasters to which the amendment would apply (see here for debate on the issue in Parliament). The Copyright Act, 1957 defines the rights of authors of creative works such as books, plays, music, and films. Two key amendments proposed in the Bill are: - Copyright in a film currently rests with the producer for 60 years. The Bill vests copyright in a director as well. - The Bill makes special provisions for those whose work is used in films or sound recordings (e.g. lyricists or composers). Rights to royalties from such works, when used in media other than films or sound recordings, shall rest with the creator of the work. (See here for PRS analysis of the Bill) Key recommendations of the Standing Committee: (a) Drop the provision that makes the principal director the author of a film along with the producer; and (b) Keep the provisions for compulsory licensing in line with the terms of international agreements. (See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary) The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010 The Bill was introduced on May 3, 2010 in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on August 12, 2011. This Bill is part of the government’s attempt to reform the higher education sector. The key objective is to provide an effective means of quality assurance in higher education. Presently, accreditation is voluntary. Higher educational institutions are accredited by two autonomous bodies set up by the University Grants Commission and the All India Council of Technical Education. The Bill makes it mandatory for each institution and every programme to get accredited by an accreditation agency. The agencies have to be registered with the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority. Only non-profit, government controlled bodies are eligible to register as accreditation agencies. (See here for PRS analysis of the Bill) The Standing Committee made some recommendations: (a) assessment for accreditation should start after two batches of students have passed out of the institution; (b) there should be specific provisions for medical education; and (c) registration to accreditation agencies should initially be granted for five years (could be extended to 10 years). (See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary) The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010 The Bill was introduced on December 7, 2010 in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled
its report on December 8, 2011. The Indian Penal Code covers criminal acts that outrage or insult the 'modesty' of women. It does not cover situations which could create a hostile or difficult environment for women at the work place. The Supreme Court in 1997 (Vishaka judgment) laid down guidelines to protect women from sexual harassment. This Bill defines sexual harassment and provides a mechanism for redressing complaints. The protection against sexual harassment is applicable to all women at the workplace. However, the Bill does not cover domestic workers working at home. (See here for PRS analysis of the Bill) The Standing Committee recommendations addressed issues of gender neutrality, inclusion of domestic workers and the modified definition of sexual harassment. (See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary) The Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012 The Bill was cleared by the Cabinet and is likely to be introduced in Parliament this session. It seeks to provide for the establishment and incorporation of Universities for Research and Innovation. These universities shall be hubs of education, research and innovation. Although an official copy of the Bill is not yet available, newspaper reports suggest that this is an omnibus law under which innovation universities (focused on specific research areas such as environment, astrophysics and urban planning) shall be established. In India, a university can only be set up through an Act of Parliament or state legislature. The Planning Commission’s Working Group on Higher Education report stated that these universities could be funded by the private sector as well. The government aims to create 14 innovation universities, which would be world class.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.