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The age factor

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PUBLISHED IN THE FRONTLINE

The appointment of three new judges to the Supreme Court reopens the debate on the need to appoint judges when they are younger.

The newly appointed judges of the Supreme Court (from left) Justices S.J. Mukhopadhaya, J.S. Khehar and Ranjana Desai.

A FEW weeks ago, the Supreme Court of India’s collegium, consisting of the Chief Justice and four most senior judges, cleared the names of three High Court judges for appointment to the Supreme Court. Once the collegium’s binding recommendation was accepted by the President, the new judges, Justices S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Ranjana Desai and J.S. Khehar, were sworn in to the court on September 13. This new slate of appointments will be worth noting for several reasons. Not insignificantly, this is the first set of Supreme Court appointments made by the present Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia, since he took over the office from Justice K.G. Balakrishnan in May 2010. One of the new judges is a woman – only the fifth woman among 196 judges appointed to the Supreme Court in its history spanning over six decades, and this is the first time two women judges will serve on the Supreme Court at the same time. The new appointments offer a telling glimpse into the trend of Supreme Court appointments during the last decade.

A total of 10 judges retire from the Supreme Court during Justice Kapadia’s term, including seven this year. (Justices B. Sudershan Reddy, V.S. Sirpurkar and H.S. Bedi have already retired, and the others to retire, in the order of retirement, are Justices Mukundakam Sharma, Markandey Katju, J.M. Panchal and R.V. Raveendran. Justices Cyriac Joseph, A.K. Ganguly, and Deepak Verma, in that order, will retire next year during Justice Kapadia’s term). This is the first time seven judges retire from the court in one year. In 2000, during Chief Justice A.S. Anand’s term, six judges retired and, one, Justice M. Srinivasan, passed away, creating seven vacancies that year. The vacancies this year also occur against the backdrop of a larger debate concerning many vacancies in High Courts.

But what does the appointment of the three new judges to the Supreme Court say about the candidates typically selected to the highest constitutional court of India? For one, the three judges are, on average, quite old. Two of them, S.J. Mukhopadhaya and Ranjana Desai, are over 61 years old. The retirement age of High Court judges is 62, and both these judges had less than a year left to retire from their respective High Courts. Since Supreme Court judges retire at the age of 65, both will serve terms of less than four years in the Supreme Court. Is this adequate? Forget for a moment that judges on the Supreme Court of the United States serve in office for life, and forget that judges of the South African constitutional court serve fixed non-renewable 15-year terms, but consider that in India most judges of High Courts serve at least 10-15 years in office, if not more.

For a constitutional court of the stature of the Indian Supreme Court to retain its coherence as an institution, to maintain consistency and predictability in the articulation and application of constitutional norms, it is essential that its judges be given more satisfactory tenures. That is not to say that judges of repute and learning such as Justices Mukhopadhaya and Ranjana Desai should not be appointed to the court: the only contention is that they should have been appointed earlier, or once appointed they should be given fixed but longer terms.

 

At present, the average age of the three new judges to be appointed is over 60.7 years. In fact, of the 38 Chief Justices of India, only three – Justices Harilal Kania, B.K. Mukherjea, and M.N. Venkatachaliah – made appointments of judges who had an average age higher than this (Table 1 illustrates that the average age of appointment to the court during the tenure of these three Chief Justices of India was over 61 years of age).

Interestingly, this is in keeping with the trend of appointment of older judges, on average, to the Supreme Court.

Youngest judges

The data tell us that the youngest Supreme Court judges in the country’s history were appointed in the 1970s. One of the finest judges the Supreme Court has ever seen, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, was only 51 years old when he was appointed to it. The fact that he served close to 14 years in office, a term longer than his tenure as a High Court judge in Gujarat, perhaps had something to do with the stature he attained in the court and the status he achieved as a judge. But even before him, many judges in the 1950s were appointed to the court at age 55 or younger (B.P. Sinha, Syed Jaffer Imam, P.B. Gajendragadkar, A.K. Sarkar, K. Subba Rao, K.N. Wanchoo, M. Hidayatullah, and J.C. Shah). Some of these names are amongst the most well known in India’s legal circles.

As the court’s most prolific dissenter, Justice K. Subba Rao went on to herald the demise of the “Gopalan era” in the court. According to one estimate, he wrote as many as 53 dissenting opinions, that is, opinions in which he disagreed with the majority view. In A.K. Gopalan vs Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27, the Supreme Court had held that the constitutionality of a law would have to be tested on the basis of the object of the law itself and not by the incidental effect the law would have on other fundamental freedoms. In a series of cases decided in the 1960s ( Kochuni vs Madras, AIR 1960 SC 1080; Kharak Singh vs U.P., AIR 1963 SC 1295; and Maharashtra vs Prabhakar, AIR 1966 SC 424), Justice Subba Rao expressed considerable doubt over the court’s “object” approach to constitutional analysis, an approach which was soon replaced by the “effects” test in R.C. Cooper vs Union, (1970) 1 SCC 248. Of a similar stature, opinions written by Justices Gajendragadkar and Hidayatullah still elicit adulation in classrooms and admiration in courtrooms. It is not implausible to posit that their age and lengthy terms in office gave them an edge – an occasion to define themselves on the court, and then to define the jurisprudence and docket of the court itself.

In the 1960s, Justice S.M. Sikri was the only judge appointed to the court at age 55, but as the Chief Justice of India he went on to preside over the most significant case in India’s constitutional history, where, as part of the majority, he and six other judges held that our Constitution had a “basic structure”, one which could not be altered or destroyed by constitutional amendment. In the 1970s, too, several judges were appointed to the court at age 55 or younger (Y.V. Chandrachud, P.N. Bhagwati, M. Fazl Ali, R.S. Pathak, O. Chinnappa Reddy, A.P. Sen and E.S. Venkataramiah). Many of these judges left a lasting mark on the jurisprudence of the court.

However, starting with the 1980s, in 30 years, only four judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court at age 55 or younger: Sabyasachi Mukherjee, A.S. Anand, S.P. Bharucha and K.G. Balakrishnan, each of whom went on to become Chief Justice of India. In fact, the data tell us that the oldest judges were appointed to the Supreme Court in the last two decades, that is, between 1990 and 2009. The average age of appointment during 2000-2009 was 59.7 years and during 1990-1999 it was 59.8 years – higher than the average of any previous decade. Justice Kapadia’s three appointments tend to fit this paradigm. In fact, one wonders if appointees to the Supreme Court today would not have been even older had the retirement age in High Courts been 65. If this were so the court’s collegium would have had even older High Court judges to choose from, judges who would potentially go on to serve only a few months in the Supreme Court.

That is not to say older judges cannot mould the jurisprudence of the court in a comparatively shorter but influential cameo innings. Chief Justice M. Patanjali Sastri, one of the first members of the court, was 61 years old when the Supreme Court of India came into being. Similarly, appointed at the relatively late age of 59, Justices Vivian Bose and H.R. Khanna each indelibly altered the trajectory of the court’s jurisprudence. In the famous Anwar Ali Sarkar case, Justice Bose was perhaps the first judge to use the phrase “reasonable, just and fair”, prescient words which would resonate in the court’s opinions decades later in the Maneka Gandhi case (1978) and beyond. Justice Khanna’s dissent in the habeas corpus case served as a moral compass for a court that tried desperately to atone for the wrongs it committed during the Emergency. Imagine a court where the Sastris, the Boses and the Khannas, or for that matter the Mukhopadhayas and the Desais serve not three to six years in office but 10 to 15 years – how much more beneficial that would be for the court and for our system.

Next, of the three new judges being appointed to the Supreme Court, two (Mukhopadhaya and Khehar) were High Court Chief Justices. There is nothing surprising about this either. In the early years, at least half the judges of the Supreme Court were typically amongst those who were not High Court Chief Justices. This began to show signs of change starting with the end of Justice A.M. Ahmadi’s tenure as Chief Justice of India (1994-1997) when an unprecedented 17 sitting Supreme Court judges (or 73 per cent of the court) were former High Court Chief Justices. This trend reached its zenith by the end of Justice R.C. Lahoti’s term as Chief Justice (2004-05), when an overwhelming 20 sitting Supreme Court judges (or 95 per cent of the court) were former High Court Chief Justices.

CHIEF JUSTICE OF India, Justice S.H. Kapadia. The number of judges retiring during his term will be 10. Of them, three have already retired and four more will retire this year.

For this reason, the fact that two of Chief Justice Kapadia’s new appointees are High Court Chief Justices is not surprising. (In fact, Justice Khehar served as Chief Justice of not one but two High Courts in succession (Uttarakhand and then Karnataka), a trend which has increasingly been seen in the court starting with the 1990s. The overwhelming dominance of High Court Chief Justices in the Supreme Court adds a few years to the average age of the court – after all, only the oldest judges in the country, those who have served the longest terms in the High Courts and risen to positions of seniority, are transferred to other High Courts as Chief Justices.

Neither, perhaps, is it surprising that the only Kapadia appointment to the court not to have been a High Court Chief Justice, Justice Ranjana Desai, is a woman. Only two (Sujata Manohar and Gyan Sudha Misra) of the four women who were appointed to the court before this, previously served as the Chief Justice of a High Court. Justices M. Fathima Beevi and Ruma Pal were not, and neither is Justice Ranjana Desai, although, to be fair, she was the most senior associate justice in the Bombay High Court.

P.N. BHAGAWATI, former Chief Justice of India. He was only 51 years old when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. He served close to 14 years in office and this perhaps had something to do with the stature he attained in the court and the status he achieved as a judge.

What do Chief Justice Kapadia’s appointments tell us about the Supreme Court itself? The appointment of the fifth woman justice of the court must be welcomed. Now there is only one other constituency that has a smaller claim to the court than women – “bar judges”. Since 1950, only four judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court directly from the bar, that is, without having served as a judge in a High Court. Starting with the 1960s, one such judge was appointed in every decade – S.M. Sikri in the 1960s, S. Chandra Roy in the 1970s, Kuldip Singh in the 1980s, and Santosh Hegde in the 1990s.

The 2000-09 decade was the only one since the 1950s when a judge was not appointed to the Supreme Court directly from the bar. The appointment of Justice Ranjana Desai to the court now means that women finally have a stronger claim to the court than the court’s own bar. However, the fact remains that where S.M. Sikri, a bar judge, served as the Chief Justice of India (during the historic Basic Structure hearings, no less), not a single woman has become the Chief Justice of India.

S.M. SIKRI. In the 1960s he was the only judge to be appointed at age 55, and the only one in that decade to be appointed directly from the bar. He went on to serve as Chief Justice of India and presided over the historic case on the “basic structure” of the Constitution.

Despite these statistical inferences, the three new selections for appointment to the Supreme Court must be welcomed, even as we look to see how the Chief Justice of India populates the remaining six vacancies during his tenure.

Abhinav Chandrachud is the author of Due Process of Law (EBC 2011), and, starting this Fall, a research fellow at Stanford Law School.

ORIGIN: http://www.frontline.in/stories/20111021282104900.htm

We don’t want to bleed anymore

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PUBLISHED IN ZEE NEWS INDIA

When the general secretary of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi walked into the RML Hospital premises on September 07 after the Delhi High Court blast, slogans were shouted against him. And so were against other politicians who came to empathise with the victims and their families. This in many ways is symbolic of the growing frustration of the general public with those who govern them and the apathy with which they are treated.

India has been attacked again and again. Sample this – On March 12, 1993, Mumbai serial bombings shook the financial capital of the country killing more than 250 people. The main accused, Dawood Ibrahim is yet to be extradited to India from Pakistan. On December 13, 2001, more than a dozen people, including five gunmen, were killed in an attack on Parliament. On September 24, 2002, terrorists attacked Akshardham temple in Gujarat. In August 2003, two taxis packed with explosives blew up in Mumbai at crowded areas killing more than 50 people.

In October 2005, three bombs placed in Delhi markets, crowded with Diwali shoppers killed around 62 people and injured hundreds. In July 2006, seven bombs placed on Mumbai’s local trains killed over 200 people. Eight serial blasts rocked Jaipur in a span of 12 minutes in May 2008. On November 26, 2008, attacks on ten locations in Mumbai left more than 180 dead. Pakistani national, Ajmal Kasab has been sentenced to death with an appeal pending before the Supreme Court.

The list, sadly, goes on…

The Ram Pradhan Committee formed after 26/11 attacks to look into the lapses and recommend measures to stop further attacks, called for radical transformation of the police force. In spite of its recommendations, the beat constable is still unequipped, CCTV cameras still do not work and the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad established in 2004 is reportedly working at some 30 percent of the strength as compared to the numbers sanctioned by the government.

National Intelligence Grid was given approval by the Union Cabinet in June this year, months after the idea was first mooted. The project aimed at facilitating information-sharing among law enforcement agencies to combat terror was apparently delayed because of objections from other ministries, especially that of defence and finance, as they felt that the home ministry would have an unlimited access to all the information.

National Counter Terrorism Council (NCTC), an umbrella body to fight terror is also in the pipeline. Not sure when it will see the light of the day.

Delhi Chief Minister, after the High Court blast, had remarked that “multiplicity of agencies” created functional problem in combating terror and solving cases. To which the Home Minister P Chidambaram had replied that no single body can alone handle internal and external intelligence, policing and counter-terrorism. How often have we heard the government talk in different languages? And if statements like these do no create confusion in the minds of the citizens then what does?

On May 25, 2011, a blast took place at the Delhi High Court car park. Nonetheless it did nothing to wake up the authorities.

Home Minister recently said that Af-Pak was the epicentre of terror and that home-grown terror modules are fertilised from outside. And to a foreign television channel he said, “As far as cross-border terrorism is concerned, we have to continue to put pressure on Pakistan.”
The Indian Mujahideen gained notoriety in 2008 after taking responsibility for blasts in Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi and Assam, even though it had been active since 2003. As per intelligence reports, the IM is being controlled from across the border. It was also reported recently that militants trying to infiltrate into India by June had exceeded the figures of 2010.

In this scenario what good are the photo-ops between SM Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar, especially if the perpetrators of 26/11 cannot be brought to book? Yes, we cannot change our neighbours but we can certainly change the way we talk to them. Yes, trade and commerce are important issues, but not at the cost of losing innocent lives.

P Chidambram, was supposedly pulled back when he decided to tighten the noose around the Maoists, due to pressures from certain quarters and certain political parties. After the Batkal encounter case in Delhi, senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, decided to visit Azamgarh. The Afzal Guru hanging case has long been in the public domain for the people to read between the lines. Isn’t it time we stop the policy of appeasement and vote-banks at the cost of bloodshed?

Congress leader Renuka Chowdhry said in a recent television debate, “Do you think that the terrorists will stop if we have a CCTV? What do you do when terrorists are ready to die?” After the serial blasts in Mumbai in July, Prithviraj Chavan, CM of Maharashtra lamented, “Terror groups are active and are able to strike at will.” Instead of statements like these, we need our leaders to send out a stern message to all terror groups that India will go after them in hot pursuit. And we also need a strong anti-terror law in place.

We have generic information about impending attacks but are we in a position to have specific and actionable and preventive attacks. Do our intelligence agencies depend too much on technical intelligence? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed the same concern at a recent event when he said that security establishment needed to improve its, “human intelligence capabilities”.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley said in a television interview, post the Delhi HC blast, “The most dangerous thing is that in the last six or so blasts, the cases are by and large unsolved.”

Think over this – On December 7, 2010, a bomb went off at a Varanasi ghat killing a two-year old girl with no arrests made in the case so far. On December 19, 2010, gunmen on motorbikes shot at a tourist bus injuring two persons. It was considered to be IM’s handiwork. The case is unsolved. On July 13, 2011, triple blasts in Mumbai killed 21 persons, with IM being the prime suspect. ATS is investigating, with an arrest only very recently. On April 6, 2011, two blasts took place in Maligaon in Assam which killed 7 persons. Investigation is on, ULFA are the main suspects. Inspite of some arrests, it is said that the main culprit is still in the run. And the very recent May 25, 2011, Delhi High Court car park blast with no casualties. It too remains unsolved. And add to it the 7/11 blast again at Delhi HC – not much headway in this case either.

Yes, it is a cause for alarm if cases of terror attacks are unsolved for a long period of time.

Amidst all these spare a thought for the victims of the bomb blasts – past and present and if I may add with a dread – the future. The citizens don’t want to be saluted anymore for their so called resilience and die-hard-spirit – what they want is to live in peace and dignity. And anyways what choice do they have than to get up and get going the next day?

Yes, maybe terror attacks all over the world cannot be prevented all the time. Nonetheless, it is important for the government and the intelligence agencies of the day to be perceived as trying to do their best.

 

ORIGIN: http://zeenews.india.com/news/world/we-don-t-want-to-bleed-anymore_734644.html

Renting and service tax

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PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU BUSINESS LINE

The plenary power of Parliament to legislate in determining relevance of service tax is subject to the Constitution.

 In Budget 2010, the Government used its Brahmastra and amended the Finance Act, 1994, levying service tax on renting of property. To ensure that the weapon was truly effective, the levy was made retrospective, with effect from June 1, 2007.

This measure was to counter the opinion — given twice — of the Delhi High Court, in Home Solution Retail, that the pure act of renting wouldn’t amount to a taxable service, since there is no value-addition involved.

It also sent signals to the Supreme Court, before whom a petition on that issue was pending, that the power of the Government to levy a tax under the Constitution is extremely wide. A bevy of petitions before the Mumbai High Court were disposed off recently, disagreeing with the opinion of the Delhi High Court.

MUMBAI HIGH COURT DECISION

In Retailers Association of India Vs Union of India and Ors, the Mumbai High Court reconsidered the constitutional validity of a service tax on rentals.

It noticed that the Supreme Court had an occasion to consider similar petitions in four landmark cases against the Union of India — Tamil Nadu Kalyana Mandapam, Gujarat Ambuja Cement, All India Federation of Tax Practitioners and Association of Leasing and Financial Services Companies. Considering a plethora of other Apex Court decisions, the Mumbai High Court held that the legislative basis that has been adopted by the Parliament in subjecting taxable services involved in the renting of property to the charge of service tax cannot be questioned.

The assumption by a legislative body, that an element of service is involved in the renting of immovable property is certainly not an assumption which can be regarded by the Court as being so manifestly perverse as to lead to an inference that the Parliament had treated as a service, an item which in no rational sense could be regarded as involving service.

But more significantly, even if the Court were to proceed on the basis, suggested by the petitioners, that no element of service is involved, that would not make the legislation beyond the legislative competence of Parliament.

As long as the legislation doesn’t trench upon a field which has been reserved to the State legislatures, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the law must be treated as valid and within the purview of the field set apart for Parliament.

The petitioners were also irked by the retrospective application of the law. The Mumbai High Court was of the opinion that Parliament has the plenary power to enact legislation on the fields, which are set out in List I and List III of the Seventh Schedule.

RETROSPECTIVE APPLICATION

The plenary power of Parliament to legislate can extend to enacting legislation both with prospective and with retrospective effect. That, however, is subject to the mandate of Article 14 of the Constitution, which states that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

The Mumbai High Court agreed with the decision of the Supreme Court held in Bakhtawar Trust Vs M. D. Narayan, wherein it was held that it is open to the legislature to alter the law retrospectively, provided the alteration is made in such a manner that it would be no more possible for the Court to arrive at the same verdict.

BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT

The decision of the Mumbai High Court follows the pattern of a host of High Courts, agreeing to disagree with the logic of the Delhi High Court in Home Solution Retail — the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Shubh Timb Steels, Orissa High Court in Utkal Builders and the Ahmedabad High Court in Cinemax India.

These decisions, along with the fact that renting of immovable property is not in the initial list of negative services, would be food for thought for the Supreme Court.

While all the developments post-Home India point to validating the levy, the Supreme Court could think of constitutional precedents and judicial cases to rule that the tax is applicable only from 2010 onwards, and not 2007.

 

(The author is a Bangalore-based chartered accountant.)

ORIGIN: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/mentor/article2506762.ece?homepage=true

Will court rulings on PF affect you?

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SONU IYER IN LIVE MINT

Are you a member of the Indian Provident Fund (PF)? Do you contribute 12% of your basic salary every month into the PF? Is your CTC (cost to company) divided into basic salary and various allowances such as conveyance allowance, asset allowance, education allowance and special allowance? Are you an HR manager in a company where you handle the above set of employees? If your answer is yes for any of these questions, then you may find this article useful.

After the specific inclusion of international workers in the Provident Fund Scheme in October 2008 and then further amendments in September 2010, the recent Madhya Pradesh and Madras high court rulings are the latest to add to the woes of employees and HR directors/chief financial officers of many companies.

Very briefly, the high courts have held that various allowances such as conveyance allowance and special allowance form part of basic wages for calculation of PF contribution.

Reinforcing existing law

What needs to be considered here is whether the high court rulings have laid down some new principles or are these more a way of reinforcement the existing law. To understand this, let us discuss the concept of PF contribution and basic wages in greater detail.

Under the Provident Fund Act, an employer is required to contribute 12% of the basic wages, dearness allowance and retaining allowance (if any) paid to the employees to the Provident Fund and Pension Scheme. The employee is required to match the contribution made by the employer.

Basic wages are defined to mean all emoluments in accordance with the terms of the contract of employment and which are paid or payable in cash, but does not include cash value of any food concession, dearness allowance, house rent allowance, overtime allowance, bonus, commission or any other similar allowance and presents made by the employer.Thus, the definition of basic wages in the Provident Fund Act seems to suggest the intention of including all cash emoluments unless the same is specifically excluded.

On this topic, the Supreme Court of India has ruled that any payment, which is universally, necessarily and ordinarily paid to all across the board is included in basic wages.

The Supreme Court has also mentioned that a payment that is specifically made to those who avail of an opportunity such as an overtime allowance is not to be included in basic wages. Also, any payment by way of special incentive or work or which is based upon contingencies is excluded.

Therefore, it is fair to say that the high court rulings only serve to reinforce the above principles laid down by the Supreme Court earlier. Subsequent to the high court rulings, the PF head office has issued internal directions to regional offices (available in the public domain) that the rulings of high courts may be utilized by the regional offices as per the merits of the case as and when similar situations arise in the field offices.

The concerns

This has caused apprehension among the employer community. Whether this would lead to increased PF audit activity? Whether employers would be asked to pay contribution on such allowances retrospectively? Whether this would lead to increased cost of PF in case of international workers and have an impact on their business plan?

The major concern here is of the employees who are worried since this would reduce their take-home salary drastically. In the current CTC structure which is generally followed in most companies, if both the employer’s and the employee’s share of additional contribution is deducted from the CTC, there will be a major impact on the employee’s take-home salary. While there will be some tax saving on the employer’s portion of contribution as the same is non-taxable, the deduction of the employee’s contribution under section 80C of the Income-tax Act will be limited to Rs1 lakh annually.

The way out: But the situation does not seem to be so bleak. Particularly, in case of local employees, the Provident Fund Scheme does provide a cap. There is merit in saying that employer’s and employee’s contribution to the Provident Fund Scheme can be limited to the base of Rs6,500 per month. However, if the employee so chooses, he may opt to make an additional contribution. Therefore, in respect of local employees, the employer can still take a position of limiting monthly contribution to the base of Rs6,500.

Still to be examined

Also, the generally accepted principle of not contributing on special allowance and certain other allowance on the basis of certain old PF circulars may also be examined. The argument that the earlier PF audits did not impose any requirement to contribute on such allowance may also be brought up.

For international workers, this needs to be examined differently as the limit of Rs6,500 per month does not apply to them. For international workers, what needs to be analysed is whether the test of universality needs to be applied for the company as a whole (including local employees) or for the international worker population only. Also, what needs an analysis is whether it can be argued that allowances paid to expatriate employees during the period of assignment can be considered as contingent as these are paid only while they are away from their home country and thus excluded from the scope of basic wages.

The writer is tax partner, Ernst & Young.

ORIGIN: http://www.livemint.com/2011/09/12215809/Will-court-rulings-on-PF-affec.html?h=B

Why the land acquisition bill is flawed

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GOPAL KRISHNA IN REDIFF NEWS

The Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 argues for a perfect land market, unrestrained urbanisation and industrialization, says activist Gopal Krishna.

On September 7, Jairam Ramesh introduced the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 in the Lok Sabha within six days of the end of the public comment period on the bill that is to replace a 116 year old colonial law. This bill argues for a perfect land market, unrestrained urbanisation and industrialisation.

It sounds strange that rural development ministry is working for urban development as if latter is unquestionably the pre-condition for the well being of rural people and their ecosystem. Will the prime minister reveal the role of urban development ministry if what rural development ministry is doing is indeed its mandate?

Will Ramesh explain as to whether what he said as secretary, economic affairs, Indian National Congress remains relevant or not? Ramesh, a representative “of a generation that was created by public investment” and as a key player in developing India‘s 1991 economic reforms said in 2001 that “in 1715 they (India) accounted for 25 percent of world industrial output, so it’s always been an industrial nation in that sense of the term.”

Caught in the time warp and frozen with the contested develop-mentality, corporate fund driven political parties and NGOs are out to decisively put the State and the natural resources on sale unmindful of its cognitive and ecological cost and intergenerational inequity that it promotes almost forever. Both ruling parties and most of the opposition parties are hand in glove in this regard.

These anti-citizen entities are acting as if present and future citizens, gram sabhas, panchayats and zilla parishads do not matter. Their responses to enactment of Special Economic Zone Act, 2005 and its implementation is a case in point.

The Special Economic Zones and land acquisition by companies are about generating financial wealth with naked political patronage at the cost of natural and human wealth. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 has been useful for it. It is indeed “painfully evident that the basic law has become archaic”. It used to be said that company is an artifact of law, it now appears that law such as this is an artifact of companies. Every act of privatisation of the government through legislations like these is quite painful too.

If that is not the case why should State use its sovereign power to acquire land for companies either partially or fully in the name of industrial and urban development or legislate to facilitate the same? If ‘development’ wasn’t a notorious and negative word why has a benign and positive word ‘sustainable’ pre-fixed to it unmindful of this the bill cites developmental imperatives with the assumption of its innocence.

The argument of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs that acquisition of land for industrial and urban development is a necessity — is driven by corporate funding of ruling and opposition parties since 2003 when the ban on company donations was lifted. Clause 59 of the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 deals with the provision of ‘penalty for obstructing acquisition of land’ seems to be about punishing the protesters and dissenters.

It reads: “Whoever willfully obstructs any person in doing any of the acts authorised by section 9 or section 15, or willfully fills up, destroys, damages or displaces any trench or mark made under section 15, shall, on conviction before a magistrate, be liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding one month, or to fine not exceeding five hundred rupees, or to both.” Ramesh argues that this is required because “Land markets in India are imperfect.”

Is it a coincidence that Ramesh who is also a member of the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues has introduced UID provision in Section 10 and 36 of the Land Titling Bill, 2011?

Will CCEA and CCUIDAI reveal all the proposed legislations that are aimed at creating property based democracy?

Can parliament, all its standing committees, state governments and state’s legislative bodies ever exchange notes to unearth the legislative web being woven at the behest of transnational financial institutions before it is too late?

In the backdrop of such unanswered questions, the 70-page LARR Bill has 74 Sections and 3 schedules in its English version to deal with the grievance accumulated since 1894. Clause 69 of the bill deals with the ‘Return of Unutilised Land’.

It reads: “(1) The land acquired under this Act shall not be transferred to any other purpose except for a public purpose, and after obtaining the prior approval of the appropriate government, and any change in purpose made in violation of this provision shall be void and shall render such land and structures attached to it liable to be reverted to the land owner.

(2) When any land or part thereof, acquired under this act remains unutilised for a period of five years from the date of taking over the possession, the same shall return to the land owner by reversion;

(3) The appropriate government shall return the unutilised land or part thereof, as the case may be, to the original owner of the land from whom it was acquired subject to the refund of one fourth of the amount of compensation paid to him along with the interest on such amount at such rate, as may be specified by the appropriate government, from the date of payment of compensation to him till the refund of such amount; and

(4) The person to whom the land is returned being the owner of the land shall be entitled to all such title and rights in relation to such land from which he has been divested on the acquisition of such land.”

Dr Usha Ramanathan, a noted jurist, asks, “What happens when they (the displaced) are unable to buy it back” when the unutilised land is returned. This section permits the transfer of land for another public purpose. This particular clause is not acceptable and has to be removed from the draft bill. Unmindful of widespread concern in the academia and among citizens, the bill has been approved in a tearing hurry by the Union Cabinet which gives rise to valid questions about player behind the curtain in the backdrop of declaration of assets by billionaire ministers.

Schedule I of the bill deals with “compensation for land owners”, Schedule II deals with the “list of rehabilitation and resettlement entitlements for all the affected families (both land owners and the families whose livelihood is primarily dependent on land acquired) in addition to those provided in Schedule I and Schedule III deal with “provision of infrastructural amenities” for resettlement of populations “to minimise the trauma involved in displacement.”

Referring to schedule II, Ramaswamy R Iyer, former secretary, union water resources aptly concludes that “The principle of ‘land for land’ has been abandoned” because it is applied for irrigation projects alone that too with a provision that is inferior to the ones made for the displaced in the Sardar Sarovar Project. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs appears to be under undue influence from the funders of ruling political parties both at the centre and the states to exclude projects for power, mining, flood management, SEZ, urban development and several other ‘multi-purpose’ projects that cause displacement. So far neither the ministry nor the CCEA has responded to it.

The bill fails to address the question of transfer of agricultural land to non-agricultural use and the implications for food security although it does refer to multi-cropped irrigated land but it is hardly sufficient. It seems to be pursuing the path of regressive Bihar Agriculture Land (Conversion for Non Agriculture Purposes) Act, 2010 which is facing bitter opposition especially in cases where widely acknowledged and awarded fertile lands are being acquired for hazardous asbestos factories amidst paid news journalism and studied silence of opposition parties in the state.

If this is the fate of a state government whose head keeps referring to Ram Manohar Lohia’s four tier governance, it is understandable why most of the socialist experiments become an exercise in sophistry. Instead of ensuring that private purchases of agricultural land be subject of state regulation from the point of view of land-use, water-use, soil health and food security, such legislations are indulging in a myopic exercise of according priority to creation of financial wealth at any non-financial cost and risks.

Section 2 of the LARR Bill deal with the definition of the expression “public purpose” includes- (i) the provision of land for strategic purposes relating to naval, military, air force and armed forces of the Union or any work vital to national security or defence of India or state police, safety of the people; (ii) the provision of land for infrastructure, industrialisation and urbanisation projects of the appropriate government, where the benefits largely accrue to the general public; (iii) the provision of village or urban sites, acquisition of land for the project affected people, planned development or improvement of village sites, provision of land for residential purpose to the poor, government administered educational and health schemes, (iv) the provision of land for any other purpose useful to the general public, including land for companies, for which at least 80 per cent of the project affected people have given their consent through a prior informed process; provided that where a private company after having purchased part of the land needed for a project, for public purpose, seeks the intervention of the appropriate government to acquire the balance of the land it shall be bound by rehabilitation and resettlement provisions of this Act for the land already acquired through private negotiations and it shall be bound by all provisions of this Act for the balance area sought to be acquired. (v) the provision of land for residential purposes to the poor or landless or to persons residing in areas affected by natural calamities, or to persons displaced or affected by reason of the implementation of any scheme undertaken by government, any local authority or a corporation owned or controlled by the State”. This definition of “public purpose” or common good to destroys “the distinction between private use and public use”.

In a text “Some notes on the Draft Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill 2011”, Ramanathan states that “The eminent domain power in India is not, and in any event should not be, so wide” wherein an inverted Robin Hood is created which takes from the poor to give to the rich.

The draconian black law of 1894 which is proposed to be replaced in the backdrop of massive bitter opposition to Special Economic Zones and environmentally damaging projects in Jaitapur, Haripur, Ghaziabad, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar and Goa where lessons have not been learnt from the bloodshed and violence in Nandigram and Singur.

The proposal to amend the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 in the aftermath of West Bengal’s denunciation of Haripur nuclear power project in the aftermath of Fukushima and abandonment of nuclear power projects in Germany, Japan and other countries is uncalled for. But strangely, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011 was introduced on September 7 itself without any public comments on the Bill. Both these Bills should be deferred till it provides for moratorium on acquisition of land for nuclear power projects.

Unlike in US, the Supreme Court of India observed, “The Act, which was enacted more than 116 years ago for facilitating the acquisition of land. However, in the recent years, the country has witnessed a new phenomena. Large tracts of land have been acquired in rural parts of the country in the name of development and transferred to private entrepreneurs, who have utilised the same for construction of multi-storied complexes, commercial centers and for setting up industrial units. Similarly, large scale acquisitions have been made on behalf of the companies by invoking the provisions contained in Part VII of the Act. The resultant effect of these acquisitions is that the land owners, who were doing agricultural operations and other ancillary activities in rural areas, have been deprived of the only source of their livelihood. Majority of them do not have any idea about their constitutional and legal rights, which can be enforced by availing the constitutional remedies under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution.”

If the bills are not sensitive to these observations in a context of corporate funding to political parties even if passed by the Parliament, they can be struck down by the apex court as contrary to the Preamble of our Constitution.

Admittedly, there is “asymmetry of power (and information) between those wanting to acquire the land and those whose lands are being acquired” but the role of futures markets in land within India and the land being acquired in African countries does not find any mention. Also “asymmetry of power and information” is acknowledged only to be ignored as if it’s a merely an exercise in lip-service. The bill ignores how acquisition of land affects acquisition of water as well. The ministry has failed to provide a white paper on the impact of 1894 Act since its enactment before independence and after independence. A compensation and rehabilitation regime is needed with “reference not to the nature of the project but to the nature of the impact.”

The parliamentary standing committee on rural development must ask for the status of the total land acquired and the total number of internally displaced persons till the introduction of the Bill in Parliament. Without such a paper and data, the ministry’s rush to get the bill passed is an act in haste which generations to come will repent and it will be considered a monumental failure of Ramesh if he does not undertake rigorous outreach before arriving at a research based decision.

Has his ministry bothered to send this bill to all the sarpanchs and mukhiyas of the country in their language to ascertain its implications and provide suggestions? The passage of the bill in its current shape must be deferred till this is done. The minister can check with his ministry, there is a precedent in this regard, a rural development minister had written such letters to sarpanchs.

This author was shown one such letter in a panchayat at a gram sabha meeting of Mendha Lekha, Dhanora tehsil in Gadchiroli district in July-August 2001. It would indeed be a sad commentary on the ministry and the standing committee headed by Sumitra Mahajan of Bhartiya Janata Party if they fail to genuinely reach out to villages before finalising the bill. The bill must factor in the provisions of Article 243 (G) of the Indian Constitution and Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996. It must desist from “forced industrialisation” and forced urbanisation.

This is required to deal with an uncertain future being manufactured by real estate, food and water companies to safeguard agricultural land from being grabbed by powerful national and transnational companies that can undermine parliament, state assemblies, gram sabhas, panchayats, zilla parishads and the government for good by depriving us of our food sovereignty. If our legislature can legislate on land use, water use, land acquisition, rehabilitation, resettlement and land titling with the memory of country’s past share in world trade, it will be acting to restore the sovereignty of our Parliament and ensure that companies of all ilk remain subservient to its legislative will.

ORIGIN: http://www.rediff.com/news/column/why-the-land-acquisition-bill-is-flawed/20110913.htm

 


 

HC notice to UT: Evolve fool-proof security system

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PUBLISHED IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

In wake of September 7 bomb blast in Delhi, PIL exposes lax security measures for entry into High Court

The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday issued notices to Chandigarh Administration on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking directions to Chandigarh Administration to evolve and install a fool-proof security system.

Suggestions were made to install a system with modern electronic gadgets, equipments and Closed-circuit television (CCTV) Cameras on the pattern of security systems installed in the Supreme Court of India.

The petition has been filed by Advocate H C Arora.

Referring to the security system in the High Court, the petitioner contended that “…The security system in the High Court is quite lax. Anybody can enter from gate number 1 after assuring that he needs to get an affidavit attested from an Oath Commissioner. Anybody pretending to be a government officer can get unrestricted entry through the gates.”

“Entry is at will after lunch for all visitors. Any mischievous element can enter the High Court premises after posing as an advocate by wearing a black coat and a white collar band.”It read, “Laxity in the security system can pose a serious threat to the life and liberty of innocent citizens, including lawyers and the staff of the High Court.”

The petitioner has sought that the security system shall be set up in due consultation with the High Court on administrative side and the High Court Bar Association, in wake of the bomb blast which took place in Delhi High Court.

SC security measures

* Permanent passes with photographs to permanent members of the Supreme Court Bar Association or to outside advocates, issued at the instance of the Bar Association.

* Temporary passes issued at the spot to outsider advocates, after establishing their identity based on voter identity card, or the Enrollment Card issued by concerned Bar Counsel.

* Temporary separate passes issued in a similar manner to litigants, on the basis of strict proof of their identity.

* Entry being allowed to petitioners in person, only for the particular Court Room where they have to appear or watch the proceedings of their own cases, where after they have to leave the premises of the Supreme Court

* Frisking of all visitors, except those with permanent passes, and staff of the Supreme Court of India

* CCTV Cameras keeping account of activities of all visitors to Supreme Court of India

* No entry of persons other than lawyers to the bar rooms.

Indian courts can try offences committed by Indian in foreign country, rules Bench

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High Court at Hyderabad, the main judicial bod...

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PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

But prior consent of Central government (under Section 188 Cr.P.C.) is required

A dowry or any other offence committed by an Indian husband against his wife in a foreign country can be tried by a court in India, the Supreme Court has held.

A three-judge Bench of Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice S.S. Nijjar said “the provisions of Indian Penal Code have been extended to offences committed by any citizen of India in any place within and beyond India by virtue of Section 4 thereof.”

The Bench, however said that offences committed by an Indian citizen in a foreign country would be amenable to provisions of IPC subject to the limitation imposed under Section 188 Cr.PC, viz seeking the prior consent of the Central government.

In the present case, the appellant Thota Venkateswarlu was married to Parvatha Reddy Suneetha in November 2005 as per Hindu traditions and customs in Ongole in Andhra Pradesh. At the time of marriage Rs. 12 lakh in cash, 45 sovereigns of gold and Rs. 50,000 as ‘Adapaduchu katnam’ was alleged to have been given to the husband, mother-in-law, and other relatives of the husband.

According to Suneetha, her husband left for Botswana in January 2006 and she later joined him. While in Botswana, she was allegedly severely ill-treated and various demands were made including a demand for additional dowry of Rs. 5 lakh. Unable to withstand the torture she sent a complaint to the Superintendent of Police, Ongole for dowry offences under IPC as well offences under the Dowry Prohibition Act.

The magistrate, to whom the complaint was forwarded took cognisance and issued summons to the husband and others, who were questioned on their arrival to India. While the Andhra Pradesh High Court quashed proceedings against the appellant’s mother and two others, it dismissed his plea. The present appeal by Venkateswaralu is directed against this order.

The appellant’s wife argued that part of the offence relating to dowry was committed in Indian soil and part of the offence was committed abroad. Hence the offence could be tried in Indian courts. However, the appellant argued that he could not be tried without the previous sanction from the Central government.

Writing the judgment Justice Kabir pointed out that it was clear that the case relating to the alleged dowry offences were committed outside India. But since part of the offence was committed in India, the court here could try the appellant and the High Court was correct in rejecting his plea to quash the proceedings. The Bench while asking the trial court to take up the case said, the trial would not proceed without the sanction of the Central government as envisaged in Section 188 Cr.P.C.