As per news reports, the union government has filed a Presidential Reference in relation to the 2G judgment. In this judgment the Supreme Court had cancelled 122 2G licences granting access to spectrum and had ordered their re-allocation by means of an auction. It also held that use of first cum first serve policy (FCFS) to allocate natural resources was unconstitutional. It had held that natural resources should be allocated through auctions. As per the news report, the Presidential Reference seeks clarity on whether the Supreme Court could interfere with policy decisions. This issue has been discussed in a number of cases. For instance, the Supreme Court in Directorate of Film Festivals v. Gaurav Ashwin Jain held that Courts cannot act as an appellate authority to examine the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of a policy. It further held that Courts cannot act as advisors to the executive on policy matters which the executive is entitled to formulate. It stated that the Court could review whether the policy violates fundamental rights, or is opposed to a Constitutional or any statutory provision, or is manifestly arbitrary. It further stated that legality of the policy, and not the wisdom or soundness of the policy, is the subject of judicial review. In Suresh Seth vs. Commissioner, Indore Municipal Corporation a three judge bench of the Court observed that, “this Court cannot issue any direction to the Legislature to make any particular kind of enactment. Under our constitutional scheme Parliament and Legislative Assemblies exercise sovereign power or authority to enact laws and no outside power or authority can issue a direction to enact a particular piece of legislation.” In the present case it may be argued that whereas the Court was empowered to declare a policy such as FCFS as unconstitutional, it did not have the jurisdiction to direct auctioning of spectrum and other natural resources. The Presidential Reference may conclusively determine the Court’s jurisdiction in this regard. However, it has been urged by a few experts that this Presidential Reference amounts to an appeal against the decision of the Court. They have argued that this could be done only through a Review Petition (which has already been admitted by the Court). The advisory jurisdiction of the Court invoked through Presidential References, is governed by Article 143 of the Constitution. Under Article 143 of the Constitution of India, the President is empowered to refer to the Supreme Court any matter of law or fact. The opinion of the Court may be sought in relation to issues that have arisen or are likely to arise. A Presidential Reference may be made in matters that are of public importance and where it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court. The Court may refuse to answer all or any of the queries raised in the Reference. A Presidential Reference thus requires that the opinion of the Court on the issue should not have been already obtained or decided by the Court. In the Gujarat Election Case the Supreme Court took note of Presidential References that were appellate in nature. Thus, a Presidential Reference cannot be adopted as a means to review or appeal the judgment of the Supreme Court. Against judgments of the Court the mechanisms of review is the only option. This position was also argued by Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman in the Cauvery Water Case, where the Court refused to give an opinion. Whether the Court had the authority to determine a policy, such as FCFS, as unconstitutional is not disputed. However, there are conflicting judgments on the extent to which a Court can interfere with the executive domain. It would be interesting to see whether the Court would give its opinion on this issue. In the event it does, it may bring higher level of clarity to the relationship between the executive and the judiciary.
 AIR 2007 SC 1640
 (2002) 8 SCC 237
 (1993) Supp 1 SCC 96(II)
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.