The Monsoon Session of Parliament begins tomorrow and will continue till August 10, 2018. It is scheduled to have 18 sittings during this period. This post outlines what is in store in the upcoming session.
The session has a packed legislative agenda. Presently, there are 68 Bills pending in Parliament. Of these, 25 have been listed for consideration and passage. In addition, 18 new Bills have been listed for introduction, consideration, and passage. This implies that Parliament has the task of discussing and deliberating 43 Bills listed for passage in an 18-day sitting period. Key among them include the Bills that are going to replace the six Ordinances currently in force. The government is going to prioritize the passage of these six Bills to ensure that the Ordinances do not lapse.
Besides the heavy legislative agenda, the session will also witness the election of a new Deputy Chairman for the Upper House. Former Deputy Chairman, P.J. Kurien’s term ended on July 1, 2018. The upcoming election has generated keen interest, and will be closely watched. The role of the Deputy Chairman is significant, as he quite frequently oversees the proceedings of the House. The Deputy Chairman is responsible for maintaining order in the house and ensuring its smooth functioning. The preceding Budget Session was the least productive since 2000 due to disruptions. Rajya Sabha spent only 2 hours and 31 minutes discussing legislative business, of which 3 minutes were spent on government Bills. In this context, the role of the Deputy Chairman is important in ensuring productivity of the house.
Another key player in ensuring productivity of Parliament is the Speaker of the Lower House. In Budget Session 2018, the Speaker was unable to admit a no confidence motion. This failure was based on her inability to bring the house in order. Repeated disruptions led to the passage of only two Bills in Lok Sabha. The same session also saw disruptions by certain MPs demanding special category status for Andhra Pradesh. Between the last session and the upcoming session, a key development includes the resignation of five YRSC members, reducing the strength of MPs from Andhra Pradesh to 20. In light of this, one has to wait to see whether the demand for special category status for Andhra Pradesh will be raised again.
Coming to the legislative agenda, of the six Bills that aim to replace Ordinances, key include: (i) the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, (ii) the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, (iii) the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and (iv) the Commercial Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2018. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill aims to confiscate the properties of people who have absconded the country in order to avoid facing prosecution for economic offences. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha in March 2018. Subsequently, an Ordinance was promulgated on April 21, 2018. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill increases the punishment for rape of women, and introduces death penalty for rape of minor girls below the age of 12. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill aims to address existing challenges in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. It amends the Code to include homebuyers as financial creditors in the insolvency resolution process.
There are some Bills that have been passed by one house but are pending in the other, and some that are pending in both the houses. These cut across various sectors, including social reform, education, health, consumer affairs, and transport. Some key reformative legislation currently pending include the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, and the Triple Talaq Bill. The Triple Talaq Bill, passed on the day of introduction in Lok Sabha, is pending in Rajya Sabha. When introduced in Rajya Sabha, the opposition introduced a motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. In the forthcoming session, it remains to be seen whether the Bill will be sent to a Select Committee for detailed scrutiny or will be passed without reference to a Committee. Other pending legislation include the the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, the RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 and the Specific Relief (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
Of the 18 new Bills listed for introduction, all have been listed for consideration and passage as well. These include the Trafficking of Persons Bill, 2018, the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, and amendments to the RTI Act. Since they have been listed for passage, it remains to be seen whether these Bills are scheduled to be scrutinized by a Parliamentary Committee. In the 16th Lok Sabha, only 28% of the Bills introduced in Lok Sabha have been referred to Committees. This number is low in comparison to 60% and 71% of the introduced Bills being referred to Committees in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, respectively. Committees ensure that Bills are closely examined. This facilitates informed deliberation on the Bill, and strengthens the legislative process.
Besides taking up the legislative agenda, an important function of Parliament is to discuss issues of national importance and hold the government accountable. In the previous session, the issue of irregularities in the banking sector was repeatedly listed for discussion. However, due to disruptions, it was not taken up. Budget Session 2018 saw the lowest number of non- legislative debates since the beginning of the 16th Lok Sabha. In the upcoming session, it is likely that members will raise various issues for discussion. It remains to be seen whether Parliament will function smoothly in order to power through its agenda, and fulfil its obligation to hold the government accountable.
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.