We wrote an FAQ on the Lok Pal Bill for Rediff. http://www.rediff.com/news/special/special-parliamentary-committee-cannot-study-lokpal-bill-in-10-days/20110822.htm The Lok Pal Bill has been referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice. In this FAQ, we explain the process of these Committees. What is the role of such standing committees? The system of departmentally related standing committees was instituted by Parliament in 1993. Currently, there are 24 such committees, organised on the lines of departments and ministries. For example, there are committees on finance, on home affairs, on defence etc. These standing committees examine Bills that are referred to them. They also examine the expenditure plans of ministries in the Union Budget. In addition, they may examine the working of the departments and various schemes of the government. How is the membership of these committees decided? Each committee has 31 members: 21 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha. Parties are allocated seats based on their strength in Parliament. The final membership is decided based on the MP’s area of interest as well as their party’s decision on allocating the seats. Who chairs the committees? Of the 24 committees, 16 are administered by Lok Sabha and eight by Rajya Sabha. The Chairperson is from the respective House. Political parties are allocated the chairs based on their strength in Parliament. Some committees such as home affairs, finance and external affairs are customarily chaired by a senior member of an opposition party. What will the Standing Committee do with the Lok Pal Bill? The Committee has invited comments and suggestions from the public on the Bill. Comments can be sent to Mr. KP Singh, Director, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 201, Second Floor, Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi -110001. These may also be emailed to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Committee will examine the written memoranda. They will also invite some experts and stakeholders for oral evidence. Based on its examination, the committee will prepare a report with its recommendations on the various provisions of the Bill. This report will be tabled in Parliament. Is the report decided by voting? No. The committee tries to form a consensus while preparing the report. However, if some members do not agree on any point, they may add a dissent note. For example, the committee on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill had dissent notes written by MPs from the left parties. The Women’s Reservation Bill also had dissent notes from a couple of members. Are the committee’s recommendations binding? No. The Committee system was formed recognising that Parliament does not have the time for detailed examination and public feedback on all bills. Parliament, therefore, delegates this task to the committee which reports back with its recommendations. It is the role of all MPs in each House of Parliament to examine the recommendations and move suitable amendments. Following this, Parliament can vote on these amendments, and finalise the Bill. Can you give examples when the Committee’s work has resulted in significant changes? There are many such instances. For example, the standing committee on science and technology examined the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill. The committee made several recommendations, some of which increased the potential liability of suppliers of nuclear equipment in case of an accident. All the recommendations were accepted. Similarly, the Seeds Bill, which is currently pending in Rajya Sabha has seen several major recommendations by the Committee on Agriculture. The government has agreed to move amendments that accept many of these recommendations. Are all Bills referred to Standing Committees? Most Bills are referred to such committees but this is not a mandatory requirement before passing a Bill. In some cases, if a Bill is not referred to a committee and passed by one House, the other House may constitute a select committee for detailed examination. Some recent examples include such select committees formed by the Rajya Sabha on the Prevention of Torture Bill, the Wakf Amendment Bill, and the Commercial Divisions of High Courts Bill. There are also some instances when a Bill may be passed without the committee process. Is it a good idea to bypass the committee process? In general, this process provides a platform for various stakeholders to provide their inputs. In the Lok Pal case, a few influential groups such as the India Against Corruption (IAC) and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) have voiced their views. However, there may be other points of views of persons who do not have similar access to the media. The Standing Committee provides equal opportunity to everyone to write in their memoranda. It also allows parliamentarians to devote a significant amount of time to understand the nuances of a Bill and make suitable modifications. Thus, the standing committee system is an opportunity to strengthen legislation in an informed and participatory manner. Is it feasible to compress this process within 10 days and get the Lok Pal Bill passed within the current session of Parliament? There should be sufficient time for citizens to provide inputs to the committee. The committee has to examine the different points of view and find suitable provisions to achieve the final objectives. For example, there are divergent views on the role of Lok Pal, its constitution, its jurisdiction etc. The Committee has to understand the implications of the various proposals and then make its recommendations. It has been given three months to do so. Typically, most committees ask for an extension and take six to eight months. It is not practical to expect this process to be over within 10 days. Should civil society demand that the government issue a whip and pass the Jan Lok Pal Bill? Everyone has the right to make any demand. However, the government is duty bound to follow the Constitution. Our Constitution has envisaged a Parliamentary system. Each MP is expected to make up their minds on each proposal based on their perception of national interest and people’s will. Indeed, one may say that the best way to ensure a representative system is to remove the anti-defection law, minimise the use of whips, and let MPs vote their conscience. That may give us a more accountable government.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.