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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

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

Judicial activism Of corrupt individuals, media trial and justice

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Supreme Court of India - Central Wing

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PUBLISHED IN GREATER KASHMIR

The recent past has witnessed a good measure of writs, orders and directions from the Supreme Court of India which could be termed classical examples of Judicial Activism, an expression used invariably to connote meaning when courts pronounce on matters which usually and in the ordinary course of things do not fall within their well defined areas of operation or jurisdiction. Legally the courts in these matters may not be lacking jurisdiction totally, but as a matter of practice which over a long period of time has hardened into an unwritten rule, the courts do not interfere in such matters as are best left to the discretion or powers of the Executive or Legislature.
There might have been instances of judicial activism in the country in the past but then the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers was never lost sight of. The Supreme Court of India while dealing with various matters and while giving new dimensions to the concept of rule of law and taking the concept of rule of law to higher legal heights had always refrained from making pronouncements on matters of public policy followed by the executive. Thus the often spoken about doctrine-of-separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and parliament was respected and clearly kept in mind.
Without going into finer details as to what could be termed as judicial activism or pure judicial functioning and not trying to lay down lines of distinction between the two, let us come straight way to the recent unusual decisions or directions of Supreme Court which have once again brought the debate to the fore. All this started when in the recent past Mr. Subramanium Swami approached the Supreme Court of India seeking directions on to CBI to probe in to the 2 G Scam. In his petition Mr. Swami maintained that he had written to the Prime Minister of India to grant sanction for the prosecution of Mr. Raja the then Telecom Minister but the Prime Minister did not grant the same, he further said that he had written to the Prime Minister in this connection in November, 2008. Till then no FIR was lodged in 2G Scam. One wonders as to how the Prime Minister could grant sanction to prosecute Mr. Raja merely on the petition of Mr. Swami. However, an FIR was lodged in 2G Scam in October, 2009 and the Supreme Court started to monitor investigation into the case. What followed is history.
The accused in 2G Scam where subjected to media trial on the one hand and on the other hand the Supreme Court of India while monitoring the investigation acted in a method and manner, that gave rise to many legal ponderables, for instance that one of the cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence, ‘an accused is presumed to be innocent till his guilt is proved beyond doubt at the trial of the case’ was given a burial and an impression was created that whatever the investigating agency comes forthwith is the gospel truth and that as if the guilt of the accused was already proved, so much so that the concession of bail to the accused persons was also denied to them. Though the case even if proved, does not carry death penalty not even life imprisonment as punishment. In thousands of cases across the country which are heinous in nature and where the allegations are grave, but do not carry death penalty as punishment accused are enjoying the benefit of bail because in the legal system in this country bail and not jail is the rule, especially at the pre-trial stage. However, in the case under discussion again the cardinal principal of law relating to bail that (bail is not to be with held as a matter of punishment) was given a good bye. That the accused is presumed to be innocent and the presumption of innocence is in favour of the accused till proved guilty beyond any shadow of doubt and he has right to remain on bail as a presumable innocent person, all this and many other principles of criminal jurisprudence and criminal justice system received a burial.
Any one belonging to legal profession with even slight understanding of the criminal jurisprudence and criminal justice system, can safely say that in the heat and dust created by such cases as 2G Scam, the courts of the country have allowed the long respected cardinal principles of criminal justice system to become a causality and in fact have made these so.

 

A pertinent question stares one in his or her eye that as to what purpose of law and justice is served by keeping Kalanmozi in continued judicial custody, would she flee justice if she was allowed bail? Women are allowed bail even in cases which involve death penalty or life imprisonment as punishment. Kalanmozi is an ML P. and very well known person in her own rights and has very strong roots in society. Therefore, there is no reason in law to withhold her bail.
Another disturbing instance is Hassan Ali’s case, why is he still in jail, when the allegations against him are failing apart in spite of what the investigating agency had to publicize about him and in spite of very strong observations of the Supreme Court in his case. He was put to media trial much before his actual trial in a court of law would start and people were given to believe that Hassan Ali is involved in money laundering in a big way and that he is the king pin in the matter of stashing black money in foreign banks. He was publicized to be owing Rupees Seventy Two Thousands crores of income tax to the country by the investigating agency and in a rush perhaps the Supreme Court not only formed a S.I.T. to investigate the black money stashed in foreign banks but also at one point in time observed that why shouldn’t the government invoke terror laws against him. His bail was cancelled and he was jailed. His rights which the Constitution gives him were violated by the very judiciary which is supposed to protect tire fundamental rights of the citizens, which includes the accused persons also.
(The author is advocate J&K High Court)

ORIGIN: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2011/Sep/15/judicial-activism-83.asp

Why the land acquisition bill is flawed

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Cropped from image of Jairam Ramesh the Indian...

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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

 


 

Reprieve from death

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T.S. SUBRAMANIAN IN THE FRONTLINE

DEATH CONVICTS IN THE RAJIV GANDHI ASSASSINATION CASE

The delay of over 11 years by the President to decide the mercy pleas of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers dominates the debate on the issue.

WHY was there a delay of more than 11 years before the President of India decided on August 11 to reject the clemency petitions of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, who had been sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case? The question came to the fore after it became known that the President had rejected their petitions. Officials of the Central Prison, Vellore, subsequently decided to hang them on September 9, but on August 30 the Madras High Court stayed their execution.

The Supreme Court reconfirmed the death sentences awarded to Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan in October 1999. On April 24, 2000, M. Fathima Beevi, Governor of Tamil Nadu then, commuted the death sentence awarded to Nalini, wife of Murugan, on the grounds that she was a woman and had a daughter; but she rejected the clemency petitions of the other three. The three sent separate clemency petitions to the President on April 26, pleading that they had undergone solitary imprisonment for eight years, which alone could be a mitigating factor for commuting their death sentences. The President’s decision came after 11 years and four months.

Following this, Vaiko, leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and N. Chandrasekaran, advocate, filed petitions on behalf of the trio in the Madras High Court. Senior Advocates Ram Jethmalani, R. Vaigai and Colin Gonsalves, who appeared for Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan respectively on August 30 before a Division Bench comprising Justices C. Nagappan and M. Sathyanarayanan, argued that the 11-year delay made the death penalty illegal and unconstitutional. The sentence of death after the three had spent 20 years in jail was “unjust and inhuman”, they said.

“Unless the delay is properly explained or justified,” Jethmalani argued, “it makes the death penalty immoral, illegal and, according to me, unconstitutional.” He told the judges: “You must start with the assumption that more than two years’ delay is, prima facie, wrong.” Jethmalani quoted from various Supreme Court and High Court judgments, including the apex court’s ruling in the Chinnappa Reddy case, to argue that the 11-year delay could be the sole ground for commuting the death sentence.

Vaigai and Gonslaves argued that the delay was “unconscionable”. By no yardstick could a government sit on a mercy petition for so many years. The delay made the execution of death sentence unconstitutional, Gonslaves argued. He said Article 21 of the Constitution made it mandatory that no person should be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Taking 11 years to dispose of the mercy petitions was not a procedure established by law, he said.

The arguments were heard in a courtroom packed with a couple of hundred advocates. The judges said in their brief order that the main contention raised in all the writ petitions was the delay in the disposal of the mercy petitions. “Since the matter involves consideration of question of law, the petitions are admitted and there shall be an order of interim injunction. Counter by eight weeks.” Additional Solicitor-General M. Ravindran and Advocate-General A. Navaneethakrishnan took notice for the Union government and the State government.

Assembly resolution

As news of the stay spread, the several hundred advocates gathered on the High Court premises rejoiced. Arputhammal, mother of Perarivalan, thanked Jethmalani with clasped hands as a beaming Vaiko stood by. There was more rejoicing when news came in on the same day that the Tamil Nadu Assembly had passed unanimously a resolution urging President Pratibha Patil to reconsider the clemency petitions.

The President should take into account the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu and the opinions of the political parties, the resolution said. The Congress members did not oppose the resolution. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) members were not present in the House.

The resolution, piloted by Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, marked a significant change in the ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam‘s (AIADMK) stand. Only the previous day had she told the Assembly that as Chief Minister she had no powers to stop the executions after the President had rejected the mercy petitions. This had been made clear in a Union Home Ministry Communication dated March 5, 1991, which said: “In case of death sentences where a petition for grant of pardon, etc., has earlier been rejected by the President of India in exercise of his powers under Article 72 of the Constitution of India, it would not be open for the Government of a State to seek to exercise similar powers under Article 161 in respect of the same case. However, if there is a change of circumstances or if any new material is available, the condemned person himself or anyone on his behalf may make a fresh application to the President for reconsideration of the earlier order. Once the President has rejected a mercy petition, all future applications in this behalf should be addressed to and would be dealt with by the President of India.”

Jayalalithaa also accused the DMK of adopting “double standards” and enacting “a deceitful drama”. Several political parties, Arputhammal and DMK president M. Karunanidhi had appealed to her to stop the executions. Jayalalithaa recalled that it was under Karunanidhi’s chief ministership in 2000 that the State Cabinet recommended rejection of the mercy petitions of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. (The Cabinet took the decision on April 19, 2000, and the Governor, accepting its advice, passed the order on April 24.) If, after recommending the rejection of the mercy petitions of the three to the Governor, “Mr. Karunanidhi issues a statement that their lives should be saved, people of Tamil Nadu should ponder whether it is not tantamount to adopting double standards and performing a drama?” Jayalalithaa said.

Karunanidhi, however, turned the tables on Jayalalithaa. He said that on April 27, 2000, an AIADMK member opposed in the Assembly even the commutation of the death sentence awarded to Nalini. Jayalalithaa, too, had objected to the commutation. In a statement published in the AIADMK party organ Namadhu MGR (Our MGR) on October 23, 2008, she had attacked the delay in executing the death sentences awarded to the trio.

Karunanidhi said: “The three persons have spent more than 20 years in jail, which is virtually tantamount to death sentences. So the DMK wants the [death] sentence to be reconsidered. Since Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan have spent more than 20 years in prison, it should be treated as if they had fully undergone the punishment awarded to them and they should be freed. The DMK appeals to the Centre to take steps in this direction.”

The assassination case

On May 21, 1991, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur near Chennai by Dhanu, a belt-bomb assassin belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). After a meticulous investigation, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headed by D.R. Karthikeyan charge-sheeted 41 people in the case. The SIT said the LTTE was behind the assassination. Of the 41 accused, three were absconding and could not be tried. They were the LTTE chief V. Prabakaran, its intelligence wing chief Pottu Amman, and deputy chief of the LTTE women’s intelligence wing, Akila. Twelve among the 41 died, and so charges against them abated. The remaining 26 stood trial in the designated court at Poonamallee near Chennai. In his judgemnt delivered on January 28, 1998, the designated judge, V. Navaneetham, pronounced all 26 guilty under Section 102-B (murder) read with Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA.

The charge against Prabakaran was that he ordered the assassination. Pottu Amman conspired with Prabakaran to carry it out. The charge against Akila was that she, in tandem with them, planned the assassination and arranged for its execution. Dhanu, an LTTE cadre, was to carry out the assassination along with Subha. Sivarajan, LTTE intelligence wing member, led the nine-member assissination squad, which reached Kodiakkarai in Tamil Nadu from the Jaffna peninsula on May 1. Sivarajan and Subha committed suicide at Konankunte, near Bangalore, on August 19, 1991, when cornered by the SIT.

The charge sheet said Nalini, an Indian national and wife of Murugan, accompanied Sivarajan, Dhanu, Subha and Haribabu to the assassination site. Murugan, a Sri Lankan Tamil and LTTE intelligence wing cadre, acted as a conduit between Sivarajan and Nalini’s family. According to the charge sheet, Murugan knew that Rajiv Gandhi was the target; Santhan, also a member of the LTTE intelligence arm, was a member of the squad; and Perarivalan, an Indian citizen, helped Sivarajan and Murugan in planning and executing the conspiracy. He bought two battery cells on Sivarajan’s instructions and gave them to him. They were used by Dhanu in her belt-bomb. Perarivalan also bought a battery to operate an illegal wireless set, which was installed in Vijayan’s (another accused in the case) house to send messages to Pottu Amman. Perarivalan bought the Kodak film used by Haribabu, photographer, to film the assassination. Haribabu died in the blast.

After the designated court awarded death sentences to all the 26 accused, they appealed in the Supreme Court. On May 11, 1999, Justices K.T. Thomas, D.P. Wadhwa and Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri confirmed the death sentences awarded to Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan but “altered” the death sentences awarded to Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran to life imprisonment.

Justice Thomas disagreed with Justices Wadhwa and Quadri on confirming the death sentence awarded to Nalini. In his dissenting judgment, Justice Thomas said, “She became an obedient participant without doing dominant role. She was persistently brainwashed by A-3 [Murugan] who became her husband and then the father of her child…. She realised only at Sriperumbudur that Dhanu was going to kill Rajiv Gandhi. But she would not have dared to retreat from the scene because she was tucked into the tentacles of the conspiracy…. She knew how Sivarajan and Santhan had liquidated those who did not stand by them…” ( Frontline, November 5, 1999). Justice Thomas added that it could not be overlooked that she was the mother of a little girl who was born in captivity. Since the death sentence had been confirmed on the father Murugan and the child had to be saved from “imposed orphanhood”, the judge said, “the sentence passed on her is altered to one of imprisonment for life”.

Of the 19 other accused, the judges absolved 18 of taking part in the conspiracy. Although the judges confirmed the sentences awarded to them by the lower court under the Arms Act, the Explosive Substances Act, the Passport Act, and so on, they were freed because they had already served out their terms. S. Shanmugavadivelu, who was charged only under TADA, was acquitted.

Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan filed petitions in the Supreme Court, seeking a review of the death sentences awarded to them. On October 8, 1999, Justices Thomas, Wadhwa and Quadri reconfirmed the death sentences. Justice Thomas, who gave the dissenting judgment with regard to Nalini, said her review petition “should be allowed and her sentence should be altered to imprisonment for life”.

After the Supreme Court ruling in October 1999, Fathima Beevi accepted the recommendation of the Karunanidhi Cabinet in April 2000 to commute the death sentence awarded to Nalini to imprisonment for life. Congress president Sonia Gandhi met President K.R. Narayanan and conveyed her family’s view that Nalini’s life should be spared. “It is my personal feeling, keeping in mind a child’s need for a mother,” Sonia Gandhi said ( Frontline, May 26, 2000). Fathima Beevi rejected the petitions of Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. They sent clemency petitions to the President on April 26, 2000. President Pratibha Patil’s rejection of the petitions led to protests across Tamil Nadu.

SOURCE: http://www.frontline.in/stories/20110923281912700.htm

Justices delayed: SC down, Judge vacancies pile up

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SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

MANEESH CHIBBER in INDIAN EXPRESS

At a time when the collegium system of appointment of Judges is under attack, the Supreme Court — with over 50,000 cases pending before it — will soon be working at less than 75 per cent of its total sanctioned strength of Judges. By October 15, seven Judges of the apex court will retire, the largest number of retirements in a single year since Independence.

And that’s just the position in the country’s highest court. The biggest court in India, Allahabad High Court, has been functioning with just 62 of its total 160 approved strength of Judges, as reported by The Indian Express (nine more will join tomorrow). The Gujarat HC, with a sanctioned strength of 42, has 18 vacancies; while Punjab and Haryana HC has just 43 Judges, against a sanctioned strength of 68.

In all, data compiled by the government shows, of the total 895 posts of Judges sanctioned in the 21 HCs in the country, only 610 are currently filled — a gap of 285. This year, in fact, saw the highest number of posts falling vacant in HCs in a calendar year since 1990. However, only 41 new appointments have been made so far in 2011.

The subordinate judiciary is not much better placed. Data collected by the Supreme Court says that as of December 31, 2010, out of the sanctioned strength of 17,151 posts in states and Union Territories, 3,170 were vacant, with Bihar (389 vacancies), Gujarat (361), Uttar Pradesh (294) and Maharashtra (234) leading the list.

Even though the Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia has recommended three names — two HC Chief Justices and one Judge of Bombay HC — even if they are able to take oath by October 15, the number of vacancies in the apex court will still be six out of 31.

“Even though at every meeting of chief ministers and Chief Justices, the judiciary is requested to recommended names for elevation to the Bench at least three months before an anticipated vacancy, it is never done. Today, except for the Himachal Pradesh High Court, there is no court that is working at full strength. Though the sanctioned strength of the Jammu and Kashmir HC is 14, the court is functioning with just seven judges. In most cases, the HC collegium has not met even once in the last one year to recommend names,” said a senior government functionary.

Sikkim, the country’s smallest court with a sanctioned strength of three judges, has just one judge, who was designated Acting Chief Justice after the resignation of Justice P D Dinakaran last month.

The other HCs with a significant number of vacancies are Andhra Pradesh (16), Bombay (14), Calcutta (14), Rajasthan (13) and Chhattisgarh (12).

The highest number of appointments made in a single year was 110 in 2006 when Justice Y K Sabharwal was the CJI and H R Bhardwaj the Union law minister.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/justices-delayed-sc-down-judge-vacancies-pile-up/841693/2

Justice Bedi voices concern for subordinate judiciary

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SC RETIRED, JUSTICE HARJIT SINGH BEDI

The Supreme Court Bar Association on Friday organised a farewell function for Justice Harjit Singh Bedi whose official term in office ends on September 5.
Speaking on the occasion, Justice HS Bedi said that the last two decades of his judicial career have been very satisfying. He said that his association with the Bar, such as Chandigarh, Bombay, and the Supreme Court would be a memory that he will cherish forever.

During the speech, Justice HS Bedi commented on the persistent sniping that goes on at the judicial system. Justice Bedi stated, “the criticism is sometimes justified and it has to be accepted in that spirit but I find that some of the remarks are unnecessarily sweeping and uncharitable as my experience shows that for every bad Judge there are many good ones whose contributions are completely ignored.”

Blaming the pressures, under which the Judges of the lower judiciary have to function, Justice HS Bedi said that it was responsible for the Judges to avoid taking decisions in controversial matters.

“The subordinate judiciary is at the receiving end not only from the litigant, as one side has to lose, but also from the public, the politician, the media, from unscrupulous lawyers, and, more importantly, from its superiors in the judicial hierarchy. It is this fear in the lower judiciary that is, in many ways, responsible for the creation of excessive and avoidable litigation in the higher courts as subordinate Judges play safe and let Judges higher in the hierarchy take decisions in controversial matters,” Justice HS Bedi said.

Justice Bedi during his speech also commented on the assessment made on the level of corruption in the judiciary. “We have High Court and Supreme Court Judges making assessments about the extent of corruption in the judiciary and offering widely differing figures from 20% to 80%.  How they come about these figures is a mystery to me. Undoubtedly allegations of corruption leveled against a Judge must be strictly dealt with, and that is invariably the case,” Justice Bedi said.

Chief Justice SH Kapadia, speaking on the occasion said that Justice Bedi has been a distinguished colleague who by joining the higher judicial office had continued the family tradition as his father Justice Jagjit Singh Bedi was a distinguished Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The Chief Justice said that the judgments pronounced by Justice Bedi were always well structured and there was no element of judicial overreach. He said that his judgments and speeches were always appropriate and well balanced.

“He never crossed the lakshman rekha. His judgments indicate a very fine balance also between judicial activism and judicial restraint,” Chief Justice SH Kapadia said.