1. Is the government empowered to intercept communication between two individuals? Answer: Yes. The Central and the State government can intercept communication. Letters, telephone (mobiles and landlines) and internet communication (e mails, chats etc.) can be intercepted by the government. Interception of:
2. Under what circumstances can the government intercept communication? Answer: The circumstances under which communication can be intercepted by the government are:
3. Are there any safeguards that have been built into the interception process? Answer: The Supreme Court in the case of PUCL Vs Union of India observed that the right to have telephone conservation in the privacy of one’s home or office is part of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, which cannot be curtailed except according to the procedure established by law. Elaborating the scope of Section 5 (2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1882 the Court clarified that this section does not confer unguided and unbridled power on investigating agencies to invade a person’s privacy. The court laid down the following safeguards: a. Tapping of telephones is prohibited without an authorizing order from the Home Secretary, Government of India or the Home Secretary of the concerned State Government b. The order, unless it is renewed shall cease to have authority at the end of two months from the date of issue. Though the order may be renewed, it cannot remain in operation beyond six months. c. Telephone tapping or interception of communications must be limited to the address (es) specified in the order or to address (es) likely to be used by a person specified in the order. d. All copies of the intercepted material must be destroyed as soon as their retention is not necessary under the terms of Section 5 (2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1882. e. In an urgent case, this power may be delegated to an officer of the Home Department, Government of India or the Home Department of the State government, who is not below the rank of Joint Secretary. Copy of this order should be sent to the concerned Review Committee within one week of passing of the order. f. This Review Committee shall consist of the Cabinet Secretary, Law Secretary and the Secretary Telecommunications at the Central Government. At the state level, the Committee shall comprise of Chief Secretary, Law Secretary and another member (other than the Home Secretary) appointed by the State Government. The Committee shall on its own, within two months of the passing of an order under Section 5 (2) investigate whether its passing is relevant. If an order is in existence, the Committee should find out whether there has been a contravention of the provisions of Section 5 (2). If the Review Committee on investigation concludes that provisions of Section 5 (2) have been contravened, it shall direct destruction of the copies of the intercepted material. In pursuance of the Supreme Court judgement the Indian Telegraph (First Amendment) Rules, 1999 were framed and notified on 16.02.1999. A similar notification titled, the Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information Rules, 2009 were notified on October 27, 2009. [see page 18] 4. Are there any other known cases of telephone tapping of politicians? Answer: In 2005, Shri Amar Singh alleged that his telephones were tapped by private individuals. The case against them is currently pending in the Tis Hazari court in Delhi. 5. Are there any statistics about the number of telephones being tapped by the government? Answer: Currently no such statistics are publicly available. In a similar context, in the UK (where the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 governs this particular subject) a Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner states that a total of 5344 warrants were issued for interception of communication in 2008.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.