We wrote a piece for ibnlive.com on the major differences between the government’s Lok Pal Bill, 2011 and the Jan Lok Pal Bill drafted by Anna Hazare’s group. The note is reproduced below. The streets are witnessing a demand that the government’s Lok Pal Bill be replaced by the Jan Lok Pal Bill (JLP) as drafted by the team led by Anna Hazare. There are several significant differences between the two bills. In this note, we describe the some of these differences. (See here for more on the Lok Pal Bill). First, there is a divergence on the jurisdiction of the Lok Pal. Both bills include ministers, MPs for any action outside Parliament, and Group A officers (and equivalent) of the government. The government bill includes the prime minister after he demits office whereas the JLP includes a sitting prime minister. The JLP includes any act of an MP in respect of a speech or vote in Parliament (which is now protected by Article 105 of the Constitution). The JLP includes judges; the government bill excludes them. The JLP includes all government officials, while the government bill does not include junior (below Group A) officials. The government bill also includes officers of NGOs who receive government funds or any funds from the public; JLP does not cover NGOs. Second, the two Bills differ on the composition. The government bill has a chairperson and upto 8 members; at least half the members must have a judicial background. The JLP has a chairperson and 10 members, of which 4 have a judicial background. Third, the process of selecting the Lok Pal members is different. The JLP has a two stage process. A search committee will shortlist potential candidates. The search committee will have 10 members; five of these would have retired as Chief Justice of India, Chief Election Commissioner or Comptroller and Auditor General; they will select the other five from civil society. The Lok Pal chairperson and members will be selected from this shortlist by a selection committee. The selection committee consists of the prime minister, the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, two supreme court judges, two high court chief justices, the chief election commissioner, the comptroller and auditor general, and all previous Lok Pal chairpersons. The government bill has a simpler process. The selection will be made by a committee consisting of the prime minister, the leaders of opposition in both Houses of Parliament, a supreme court judge, a high court chief justice, an eminent jurist, and an eminent person in public life. The selection committee may, at its discretion, appoint a search committee to shortlist candidates. Fourth, there are some differences in the qualifications of a member of the Lok Pal. The JLP requires a judicial member to have held judicial office for 10 years or been a high court or supreme court advocate for 15 years. The government bill requires the judicial member to be a supreme court judge or a high court chief justice. For other members, the government bill requires at least 25 years experience in anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance or finance. The JLP has a lower age limit of 45 years, and disqualifies anyone who has been in government service in the previous two years. Fifth, the process for removal of Lok Pal members is different. The government bill permits the president to make a reference to the Supreme Court for an inquiry, followed by removal if the member is found to be biased or corrupt. The reference may be made by the president (a) on his own, (a) on a petition signed by 100 MPs, or (c) on a petition by a citizen if the President is then satisfied that it should be referred. The President may also remove any member for insolvency, infirmity of mind or body, or engaging in paid employment. The JLP has a different process. The process starts with a complaint by any person to the Supreme Court. If the court finds misbehaviour, infirmity of mind or body, insolvency or paid employment, it may recommend his removal to the President. Sixth, the offences covered by the Bills vary. The government bill deals only with offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The JLP, in addition, includes offences by public servants under the Indian Penal Code, victimization of whistleblowers and repeated violation of citizen’s charter. Seventh, the government bill provides for an investigation wing under the Lok Pal. The JLP states that the CBI will be under the Lok Pal while investigating corruption cases. Eighth, the government bill provides for a prosecution wing of the Lok Pal. In the JLP, the CBI’s prosecution wing will conduct this function. Ninth, the process for prosecution is different. In the government bill, the Lok Pal may initiate prosecution in a special court. A copy of the report is to be sent to the competent authority. No prior sanction is required. In the JLP, prosecution of the prime minister, ministers, MPs and judges of supreme court and high courts may be initiated only with the permission of a 7-judge bench of the Lok Pal. Tenth, the JLP deals with grievance redressal of citizens, in addition to the process for prosecuting corruption cases. It requires every public authority to publish citizen’s charters listing its commitments to citizens. The government bill does not deal with grievance redressal. Given the widespread media coverage and public discussions, it is important that citizens understand the differences and nuances. This may be a good opportunity to enact a law which includes the better provisions of each of these two bills.
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.