The issue of honour killing grabbed headlines with the death of Nirupama Pathak, a Delhi-based journalist, who was alleged to have been killed by her family because she was pregnant and was planning to marry a person outside her caste. This was followed by two more cases of suspected honour killing (see here and here) in the capital. While incidences of honour killing are a rarity in the capital, such incidences are common in the northern states of India such as Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The basic reason behind honour killings is the idea that a family’s honour is tied to a woman’s chastity. Thus, a wide range of causes can trigger honour killing such as marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, having unapproved relationships, refusing an arranged marriage or even rape. In India, honour killings take place if a couple marries outside their caste or religion. Khap panchayats also oppose and mete out punishments to couples who marry within the same gotra (lineage) or transgress other societal norms. A recent judgement by a sessions court in Karnal for the first time awarded the death penalty to five men for murdering a young couple who had married against the diktats of a khap panchayat. It gave life sentence to a member of the khap panchayat who declared the marriage invalid and was present when the killing took place. On June 22, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the centre and eight states to explain the steps taken to prevent honour killing. Taking a cautious approach the government rejected Law Minister, M. Veerappa Moily’s proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code and rein in the khap panchayats (caste based extra constitutional bodies). It however decided to constitute a Group of Ministers to consult the states and look into the scope for enacting a special law that would treat honour killing as a social evil. Experts are divided over the proposed honour killing law. Some experts argue that the existing laws are sufficient to deter honour killing, if implemented properly while others feel that more stringent and specific provisions are required to tackle the menace of honour killings.
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|Arguments favouring new law||Arguments against new law|
|Sources: “Define honour killing as ‘heinous crime’: Experts”, Hindustan Times, May 12, 2010; “Legal experts divided over proposed honour killing law,” Indian Express, Feb 16, 2010; “Legal Tangle,” Indian Express, July 10, 2010; and “Honour Killing: Govt defers decision on Khap Bill,” Indian Express, July 8, 2010; “Honour Killing: Govt considers special law,” Indian Express, July 9, 2010.|
Meanwhile, khap panchayats are up in arms defending their stance against same gotra marriage. They have demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 disallowing same gotra marriage. While condemning honour killings, some politicians such as Naveen Jindal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda have extended support to the demands of the khap panchayats. It remains to be seen if India is effectively able to address this tug of war between tradition and modernity.
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.