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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. 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.
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.