One of the main tasks of the Parliament is to frame laws through debate and discussion on the floor of the House. However, there have been repeated instances where Bills introduced by the government have been passed without substantive discussion (For news reports, click here and here). Even where Bills are debated extensively, occasions where the government introduces changes in the Bill directly as a response to Parliamentary debate are hard to find.
One recent exception is the list of amendments introduced to the National Green Tribunal Bill, 2010 by the Minister for Environment and Forests directly in response to issues raised on the floor of the House.
The National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009 aims to set up specialised environmental courts in the country. It will hear initial complaints as well as appeals from decisions of authorities under various environmental laws. The Tribunal shall consist of both judicial and expert members. Expert members have to possess technical qualifications and expertise, and also practical experience.
The Tribunal shall hear only ‘substantial question relating to the environment’. Substantial questions are those which (a) affect the community at large, and not just individuals or groups of individuals, or (b) cause significant damage to the environment and property, or (c) cause harm to public health which is broadly measurable.
PRS in its analysis of the original (unamended) Bill, had raised the following issues (for detailed analysis, clickhere) :
In the debate on the Bill in the Lok Sabha on April 21, 2010 a number of MPs raised substantive issues with respect to the Bill. Some of the issues raised were (From the news article quoted above):
1. The Bill fell short on parameters of “scope, efficiency, and access to justice”.
2. Setting up five benches while barring the jurisdiction of courts will “create huge distance for the poor community members and tribals to seek justice”.
3. Offenses under the Wildlife Protection Act and the Wildlife Protection Act will not be heard by the Tribunal.
4. “Section 15 puts an embargo against [persons] other than retired Judge of Supreme Court or Chief Justices of High Court. The other clause puts 15 years of administrative experience, which would open the path for packing the Tribunal with bureaucrats of the kind who did not enforce the environment related laws in their time in service.”
The Minister acknowledged the contribution of the members by stating that: “The members have made important suggestions. Even though their exact demands may not be part of the official amendments moved by the government… but I am open to their suggestions…I will remove all objectionable clauses or sections in the proposed law and keep the window of discussion open.”
The Minister’s response
In response to these issues, the Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh introduced 10 amendments to the Bill on April 30, 2010. Though not all the issues raised were addressed, a number of changes were made. In addition, the Minister also assured the House that issues regarding access would be addressed by the government by following a “circuit” approach for the benches of the Tribunal i.e. the benches would travel around the area within their jurisdiction to hear complaints. (To read the response, click here, page 15250)
Some of the main amendments are:
1. Now any aggrieved person can can approach the Tribunal. Earlier limited access was provided.
2. The whole Act will be operational by notification at the same time. Different provisions will not be enforced separately at different points of time.
3. There is a procedure for direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the judgement of the Tribunal.
4. The number of expert and judicial members is clearly specified.
In addition, the Minister also assured that the Selection Committee for picking the members of the Tribunal will be transparent and will ensure that members are not “a parking place for retired civil servants”.
Discussion on the first no-confidence motion of the 17th Lok Sabha began today. No-confidence motions and confidence motions are trust votes, used to test or demonstrate the support of Lok Sabha for the government in power. Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that the government is collectively responsible to Lok Sabha. This means that the government must always enjoy the support of a majority of the members of Lok Sabha. Trust votes are used to examine this support. The government resigns if a majority of members support a no-confidence motion, or reject a confidence motion.
So far, 28 no-confidence motions (including the one being discussed today) and 11 confidence motions have been discussed. Over the years, the number of such motions has reduced. The mid-1960s and mid-1970s saw more no-confidence motions, whereas the 1990s saw more confidence motions.
Figure 1: Trust votes in Parliament
Note: *Term shorter than 5 years; **6-year term.
Source: Statistical Handbook 2021, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; PRS.
The no-confidence motion being discussed today was moved on July 26, 2023. A motion of no-confidence is moved with the support of at least 50 members. The Speaker has the discretion to allot time for discussion of the motion. The Rules of Procedure state that the motion must be discussed within 10 days of being introduced. This year, the no-confidence motion was discussed 13 calendar days after introduction. Since the introduction of the no-confidence motion on July 26, 12 Bills have been introduced and 18 Bills have been passed by Lok Sabha. In the past, on four occasions, the discussion on no-confidence motions began seven days after their introduction. On these occasions, Bills and other important issues were debated before the discussion on the no-confidence motion began.
Figure 2: Members rise in support of the motion of no-confidence in Lok Sabha