[op-ed snap] Beacons curb: Red, blue, ordinary

Context:

  1. Union Cabinet has decided to disallow the use of the red beacon on vehicles on India’s roads
  2. Starting May 1, only vehicles on emergency services, such as ambulances, fire trucks and police cars, will be permitted the use of a beacon — from now, a blue-coloured one

Amendment needed:

  1. For this, the Central Motor Vehicles Rules of 1989 are to be amended
  2. This will help Central and State governments lose the power to nominate categories of persons for the red-beacon distinction

What more needs to be done to end VIP culture:

  1. To meaningfully begin to dismantle India’s VIP culture, doing away with status symbols such as red beacons is not enough
  2. This accessory is just one category among privileges that maintain a colonial-era hangover, by publicly enforcing a subject-ruler separation
  3. From pat-downs avoided at the security gate at an airport to a freer pass at the toll-gate on a highway, there are numerous ways in which the culture of entitlement is asserted
  4. Power of official proximity is experienced by citizens most intimately while accessing government services- from getting a bed at a state hospital, or a seat for one’s child in school, to cutting the waiting time for, say, a passport or an Aadhaar identity proof
  5. To refresh Indian democracy, the state needs to stop protecting MPs who coast along on “don’t you know who I am” bullying
  6. The State must also reform procedures and work culture to provide a level playing field to citizens to get what is theirs by right

 

SC refers anti-defection law issue to larger Bench

  1. Q: Will the anti-defection law apply to expelled members of either Houses of Parliament or Legislative Assemblies?
  2. G. Viswanathan versus Hon’ble Speaker, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly: In this case, 21 years ago, the Supreme Court had concluded that a legislator expelled from his party shall be deemed to have “voluntarily given up” his membership of that party who got him elected and nominated him to the House
  3. This legal fiction of deeming him to continue in the party post-election as an “unattached member” makes him therefore vulnerable to disqualification from the House on the ground of defection under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) of the Constitution
  4. Issue: Under the Viswanathan judgment, the expelled legislator would still be susceptible to the “whims and fancies” of the leaders of the party which threw him out despite the fact that subsequently, after his expulsion, he had gone ahead and formed his own political party
  5. Recent issue: In August 2016, the Supreme Court refrained from adjudicating the constitutional question in expelled Samajwadi Party leaders Amar Singh and Jaya Pradha’s case
  6. The court had then found the issue ‘infructuous’ as both leaders had by that time completed their tenure in Parliament
  7. But Mr. Singh, whose political career has come a full circle with his re-induction into the Samajwadi Party and has a tenure in Parliament till July 2022, returned to the Supreme Court
  8. Q now: He asked the court to take a second look at the question of status of an expelled legislator with regards to the Tenth Schedule and lay down the law
  9. He contended that the application of Tenth Schedule to an expelled legislator is violative of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
  10. Question still alive: SC observed that the fate of expelled legislators and the Sword of Damocles that hangs over them “remains to be dealt with as the same has not been answered with the efflux of time… the question remains alive today”
  11. Controversial: At the centre of the controversy is the Supreme Court’s interpretation of paragraph 2(1) of the Tenth Schedule in the Viswanathan judgment of 1996
  12. The court held that even if a member was thrown out or expelled from the party, for the purposes of the Tenth Schedule he would not cease to be a member of the political party that had set him up as a candidate for the election
  13. He would continue to belong to that political party even if he was treated as “unattached”
  14. The court had held that the act of voluntarily giving up the membership of the political party may be either “express or implied”
  15. When a person who has been thrown out or expelled from the party which set him up as as a candidate and got elected, joins another [new] party, it will certainly amount to his voluntarily giving up the membership of the political party which had set him up as a candidate for election as such member

The questions now referred to a larger bench are:

  1. Status in either House of Parliament or the State Legislatures of a member expelled by his party?
  2. Will the provisions of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution apply to such a member?
  3. Was the view taken in G. Viswanathan’s case as regards expelled MPs and MLAs in harmony with the Tenth Schedule correct?
  4. Is the decision in G. Viswanathan’s case that expelled legislators must be “deemed to continue” to belong to the party which threw them out correct?
  5. Can explanation (a) to paragraph 2(1) of the Tenth Schedule be extended to include Members of the two Houses of Parliament who are expelled from their parties?
  6. When an expelled MP or MLA either joins another political party or forms his own party, can it be said that he had voluntarily given up his membership of the party in view of the legal fiction created by Explanation (a) to paragraph 2 (1) of the Tenth Schedule ?
  7. What is the status of an ”unattached” Member in either House of Parliament or in the State Legislatures ?

Note4students:

Note the contentious issue in Vishvanathan judgement and the need for reform. Also prepare the topic of anti-defection law for prelims as well as mains.

[op-ed snap] Money bills and others

Context:

  1. The government faced a major embarrassment in the Rajya Sabha as five amendments moved by the Opposition to the Finance Bill, 2017, were adopted with a significant margin
  2. The five amendments — three moved by Congress member Digvijaya Singh and two by Sitaram Yechury of CPM — dented the very tradition of legislative consensus on a budget
  3. Yet the democratic and moral loss proved to be merely temporary
  4. The Lok Sabha, as a popularly elected House, negatived these motions because the constitution vests the final powers over such a bill in it
  5. The power is unimpeachable

Finance Bill:

  1. The practice of innovating many other laws and of dubbing these as a Finance Bill is being questioned as constitutionally improper
  2. The question is two-fold: One, an omnibus Finance Bill violates canons of constitutional propriety
  3. Second, the bill as enacted is itself unconstitutional
  4. Any formal accusation of constitutional impropriety must take seriously political arithmetic (availability of votes necessary to pass the bill) as well as moral mathematics (politically the right governance thing to do)
  5. The constitution counts as final the Speaker’s ruling to certify a bill as a Finance Bill
  6. But, undeniably, the practice of amending other laws as money bills is on a high growth curve, since the government feels that its governance programme is unreasonably restricted in the Upper House
  7. Although considered as a compelling political ground, the democratic propriety of the emerging practice of constitutional governance remains contested

Role of judiciary:

  1. A procedural and a substantive argument has been made in favour of constitutionality
  2. The procedural argument is that the constitution vests the power in each House of Parliament to determine its own procedure and Parliament remains autonomous of judicial control and review
  3. While the matter is over when the Speaker rules that a bill is a Money Bill, strong constitutional reasons exist for judicial deference to the autonomy of parliament and for maintaining that the Supreme Court should only come in sparingly
  4. And so far, all political parties seem to have evolved a convention ascribing the judiciary a most marginal role in matters of internal procedures of parliament

Is the power absolute?

  1. The question confronting our constitutional future is whether this power is absolute, especially given its adverse impact on the freedom of effective parliamentary deliberation and participation in governance
  2. The Supreme Court may not, for too long, resist an invitation to consider this question, if the habit of tagging major legislative proposals as money bills continues
  3. The court has, in the past, restricted legislative discretion (for example, the legislative power to govern by re-promulgation of ordinances)
  4. The substantive argument entails that certain policy matters cannot await a consensus among the ruling and opposition parties, especially when all parties are united to strong action, say, in matters of national security and defence and combating the menace of “black” money
  5. Mere difference of opinion on how these policy goals are to be attained may not be allowed to obstruct the pursuit of the goals
  6. If the goals are honestly held, so it is argued, the difference over the means should not be allowed to build into a situation of constitutional logjam or a political veto
  7. Moreover, since all legislation is a social experiment, it can be changed suitably if democratic experience so dictates

Cons of the movement:

  1. Attractive as the argument is, it is also dangerous
  2. Indirectly, it removes the rationale for bicameral legislatures, especially when they are considered as obstacles to a popularly elected government
  3. Directly, respect for the citizen’s right to democracy stands endangered
  4. This respect is enshrined in the constitution and now stands judicially enunciated in the doctrine of its basic structure
  5. The Supreme Court has also declared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Right to Development as binding principles for interpreting the Constitution
  6. The certification of a Money Bill may not constitutionally foreclose the Rajya Sabha’s collective right to deliberate legislative change

Note4Students:

All citizens should be guided by a basic truth: The constitution is not a political tactic, rather, all such tactics must be judged by standards broadly enunciated in it. Important op-ed to develop understanding of Finance Bill beyond the polity book.

Can’t ban MPs from other professions: SC

  1. Petition: Beedi or liquor barons eventually become MPs and sit on committees to influence the destiny of their businesses & this is a serious conflict of interest
  2. Many legislators who doubled up as advocates were even retainers of big corporate bodies’ entities
  3. It thus giving rise to a situation of conflict of interest between their constitutional duties as legislator and lawyer meant to vouchsafe the private interests of their clients
  4. The restriction imposed on public servants and judges against engaging in other professions should apply to lawmakers
  5. With 543 Lok Sabha MPs representing more than 1.3 billion people, a Member of Parliament on an average represents more than 2.25 million people
  6. Similarly, a Rajya Sabha MP is the voice of his State in Parliament and, as such, has a very important role in our federal political system
  7. The primary role of an MP is as a legislator
  8. Thus, MPs must attend Parliament every day and dedicate themselves full-time for the welfare of people
  9. SC verdict: Found no merit in a petition to ban legislators from practising other professions, especially law
  10. There are doctors who became IAS officials and engineers who are diplomats
  11. Petitioner has a valid point, but the court cannot not frame policies

Note4students:

Note the arguments by petitioner and the SC. Can be used in mains. As a conflict of interest point it can be used in GS2 (governance etc) or GS4 (ethics) papers.

[op-ed snap] Do we need a presidential system?

Context:

There are three views on the question that do we need a Presidential system?

Perspective 1: The surrender to the authority of one individual, as in the presidential system, is dangerous for democracy

  1. A switchover to the presidential system is not possible under our present constitutional scheme because of the ‘basic structure’ doctrine propounded by the Supreme Court in 1973 which has been accepted by the political class without reservation
  2. There was an abortive attempt during the Emergency by Indira Gandhi’s government to have it overturned
  3. The Constituent Assembly had made an informed choice after considering both the British model and the American model and after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had drawn up a balance sheet of their merits and demerits
  4. To alter the informed choice made by the Constituent Assembly would violate the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution
  5. A presidential system centralises power in one individual unlike the parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister is the first among equals
  6. The surrender to the authority of one individual, as in the presidential system, is dangerous for democracy
  7. The over-centralisation of power in one individual is something we have to guard against
  8. Those who argue in favour of a presidential system often state that the safeguards and checks are in place: that a powerful President can be stalled by a powerful legislature
  9. But if the legislature is dominated by the same party to which the President belongs, a charismatic President or a “strong President” may prevent any move from the legislature
  10. On the other hand, if the legislature is dominated by a party opposed to the President’s party and decides to checkmate him, it could lead to a stalemate in governance because both the President and the legislature would have democratic legitimacy
  11. A diverse country like India cannot function without consensus-building
  12. The “winner takes it all” approach, which is a necessary consequence of the presidential system, is likely to lead to a situation where the views of an individual can ride roughshod over the interests of different segments
  13. Those who speak in favour of a presidential system have only the Centre in mind.
  14. They have not thought of the logical consequence, which is that we will have to move simultaneously to a “gubernatorial” form in the States
  15. A switch at the Centre will also require a change in the States. Are we ready for that?

Perspective 2: Changing to a presidential system is the best way of ensuring a democracy that works

  1. Our parliamentary system is a perversity only the British could have devised: to vote for a legislature in order to form the executive
  2. It has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield executive power
  3. There is no genuine separation of powers: the legislature cannot truly hold the executive accountable since the government wields the majority in the House
  4. The parliamentary system does not permit the existence of a legislature distinct from the executive, applying its collective mind freely to the nation’s laws
  5. For 25 years till 2014, our system has also produced coalition governments which have been obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance
  6. It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions, since withdrawal of support can bring governments down
  7. The parliamentary system has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants but not necessarily which parties or policies
  8. Voters who want to see, say, Narendra Modi as Prime Minister or Mamata Banerjee as Chief Minister, have to vote for an MP they may not care for, merely because he belongs to Mr. Modi’s or Ms. Banerjee’s party
  9. India’s many challenges require political arrangements that permit decisive action, whereas ours increasingly promote drift and indecision
  10. We must have a system of government whose leaders can focus on governance rather than on staying in power
  11. A system of directly elected chief executives at all levels – panchayat chiefs, town mayors, Chief Ministers (or Governors) and a national President – elected for a fixed term of office, invulnerable to the whims of the legislature, and with clearly defined authority in their respective domains – would permit India to deal more efficiently with its critical economic and social challenges
  12. Cabinet posts would not be limited to those who are electable rather than those who are able
  13. At the end of a fixed period of time — say the same five years we currently accord to our Lok Sabha — the public would be able to judge the individual on performance in improving the lives of Indians, rather than on political skill at keeping a government in office
  14. The fear that an elected President could become a Caesar is ill-founded since the President’s power would be balanced by directly elected chief executives in the States
  15. In any case, the Emergency demonstrated that even a parliamentary system can be distorted to permit autocratic rule. Dictatorship is not the result of a particular type of governmental system
  16. Indeed, the President would have to work with Parliament to get his budget through or to pass specific Bills
  17. India’s fragmented polity, with dozens of political parties in the fray, makes a U.S.-style two-party gridlock in Parliament impossible
  18. Any politician with aspirations to rule India as President will have to win the support of people beyond his or her home turf; he or she will have to reach out to different groups, interests, and minorities
  19. And since the directly elected President will not have coalition partners to blame for his or her inaction, a presidential term will have to be justified in terms of results, and accountability will be direct and personal

Perspective 3: Rather than change the system, why not reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral processes?

  1. In the American system, the President appoints his officers; they have limited tenure and their offices are confirmed by the Senate (Upper House)
  2. Then, we have the Latin American model, where some Constitutions give Presidents a term often amounting to a life tenure like in Cuba
  3. There are plenty of models to choose from and there are arguments against each
  4. So, which system is being argued for when the votaries of change seek a shift to the presidential system?
  5. Our Rajya Sabha cannot be compared to the U.S. Senate where each state has its own Constitution and has the power to change it
  6. The relationship between the states and the federal government is extraordinary; as is the status of their courts and the manner of appointment of judges
  7. Merely stating that a change to the presidential system is needed does not mean much
  8. The Indian debate currently is not focussed on the kind of presidential system envisaged
  9. What is the term we are seeking for the President? Should he/she be re-elected? If so, for how many terms? Then, who decides the change? Parliament? All this requires a massive amendment to the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution
  10. There is also the matter of separation of powers. In the U.S., the President, who is also the Supreme Commander, has the power to veto the Congress. Does India need this?
  11. The manner of removing the U.S. President through impeachment is a very complex process. There is also the possibility of aggregating more powers to the President
  12. There are ideas going around about reforming the electoral processes to make democracy more robust
  13. From limiting expenditure of political parties and deciding the ceiling on the expenditure, to holding simultaneous elections, declaring the results for a combination of booths instead of constituencies — I think it is advisable to debate this and ensure that the gaping loopholes in the electoral processes are speedily plugged
  14. The present parliamentary system has been tried and tested for nearly 70 years. Rather than change the system, why not reform thoroughly and cleanse the electoral processes?

Note4Students:

The op-ed holds three different perspectives on the debatable topic that should we shift from Parliamentary to Presidential system. Important for mains. For prelims- prepare basic differences between the two systems from your polity book.

Lok Sabha clears amended Enemy Property Bill

  1. The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016 was passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha
  2. It amends the Enemy Property Act, 1968
  3. Heirs of those who migrated to Pakistan and China during Partition will have no claim over the properties left behind in India
  4. Enemy property: Refers to any property belonging to, held or managed on behalf of an enemy, an enemy subject or an enemy firm
  5. The government has vested these properties in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India, an office instituted under the Central government
  6. After the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, the Enemy Property Act was enacted in 1968, which regulates such properties and lists the Custodian’s powers
  7. The purpose of the Bill is to clarify the 1968 Act
  8. Inheritance law will not be applicable on Enemy Property

Note4students:

Note the key features, enemy property definition for prelims. Features of laws can be asked in mains.

The amendments to the bill were brought in after heirs of Raja Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan laid claims to his properties spread across Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The matter is before the Supreme Court.

Ban lawmakers from practising other professions: plea in SC

  1. News: A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking to ban legislators from practising other professions, including as advocates
  2. The restriction imposed on public servants and judges against engaging in other professions should apply to lawmakers
  3. Conflict of interest: Many legislators who double up as advocates are even retainers of big corporate bodies entities
  4. It thus gives rise to a situation of conflict of interest between their constitutional duties as a legislator and a lawyer meant to vouchsafe the private interests of their client
  5. Many lawmakers hold corporate retainership and defend their lawbreaker clients in courts
  6. It is not only immoral, unethical but also violation of the Rule 49 of the Bar Council of India Rules
  7. We cannot curb corruption without having a uniform policy relating to conflict of interest and restricting our legislators to practice other professions as similar to the restriction imposed on public servants and members of the judiciary
  8. MPs: With 543 Lok Sabha MPs representing more than 1.3 billion people, a Member of Parliament on an average represents more than 2.25 million people
  9. Similarly, a Rajya Sabha MP is the voice of his State in Parliament, and as such, has a very important role in our federal political system
  10. The primary role of an MP is as a legislator. Thus, MPs must attend Parliament every day and dedicate themselves full time for the welfare of people
  11. Many senior advocates like Ram Jethmalani and K.T.S. Tulsi, who are Rajya Sabha MPs, are also practising advocates

Note4students:

Note the new issue raised here, the conflict of interest, rationale for such reform. Important for mains.

With India at 148th in number of women MPs, UN official moots quotas

  1. Source: The rankings of all 193 United Nations member countries released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women
  2. It placed India at number 148
  3. Women made up 11.8 per cent of the Lok Sabha where 64 were elected to the 542-member house and 11 per cent of the Rajya Sabha with 27 of the 245 members
  4. India ranked 88 in the number of women Ministers with five or 18.5 per cent in the cabinet
  5. Key positions: A positive development is a move away from shunting women to “soft” Ministries like women’s affairs and instead placing them in important ministries
  6. Sumitra Mahajan is the Speaker and Sushma Swaraj is the External Affairs Minister
  7. Also Uma Bharti is the Water Resources Minister and Nirmala Sitharaman has independent charge of Commerce and Industry
  8. Problems: Women politicians were held back by a number of problems, including the lack of finance for campaigns and stereotyping.
  9. They also faced bullying online and physically, harassment and hostile treatment by the media
  10. Need to work it out: The percentage of women in parliaments worldwide barely ticked up from 22.6 per cent in 2015 to 23.3 per cent in 2016
  11. India’s percentage is about half the world tally
  12. At the current rate of progress, it would take 50 years for the number of women to equal that of men in legislative bodies
  13. Quota: IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong backed up the call for reservations for women suggesting that quotas for them could speed up the process for achieving gender equality
  14. The most progress in increasing their ranks in parliament is achieved in countries with quotas
  15. Quota in India: A constitutional amendment bill to reserve 33 per cent of Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats for women was first proposed in 1996 but has failed in the last 20 years to make headway
  16. In the latest attempt, it passed the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but lapsed when the last Lok Sabha ended its term in 2014 without taking it up
  17. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal (United) and Samajwadi Party have been leading the opposition to the constitutional amendment
  18. Rwanda: Rwanda ranked first in the number of women parliamentarians with 61.3 per cent in the lower house, followed by Bolivia with 53.1 per cent and Cuba 48.9 per cent
  19. South Asia: Nepal ranked 48 with 29.6 per cent of the lower house seats held by women; Pakistan ranked 89 with 20.6 per cent (but with no Ministers); Bangladesh was 91st with 20.3 per cent, and Sri Lanka lagged at 179th place with 5.8 per cent
  20. Bulgaria, France and Nicaragua tied for the first rank for the number of women ministers with 52.9 per cent each

Note4students:

Very important piece of data. Can be quoted in a mains answer or an essay. Not the key facts, challenges for women in holding key posts, way forward.

[op-ed snap] What exactly is a money bill?

Context:

  1. The SC will begin hearing final arguments next month on a writ petition challenging the validity of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial & Other Subsidies, Benefits & Services) Act, 2016 — or the Aadhaar Act
  2. The proceeding primarily questions the legality behind the Union government’s move in introducing the Aadhaar Act as a money bill
  3. The government had the law enacted by securing a simple majority in the Lok Sabha while rendering redundant any opposition to the legislation in the Upper House of Parliament

Imperils liberties:

  1. During preliminary hearings, the Supreme Court has suggested that it isn’t entirely convinced of the merits of Mr. Ramesh’s petition
  2. A closer examination will only show that the introduction of the Aadhaar Act as a money bill contravenes the bare text of the Constitution

Aadhaar:

  1. Originally, Aadhaar was conceived as a scheme to provide to every Indian a unique identity number, with a purported view to enabling a fair and equitable distribution of benefits and subsidies
  2. There is little doubt that the scheme’s introduction, with no prior legislative backing, was a flagrant wrong, and was completely unjustifiable as a measure of democratic governance
  3. For this Mr. Ramesh’s party, the Congress, must take full responsibility
  4. But, when a draft of a statute was eventually introduced in the Rajya Sabha, in December 2010, it was done so as an ordinary bill
  5. This meant that both Houses of Parliament had to provide their imprimatur to the bill for it to become law
  6. A parliamentary standing committee released a detailed report differing with the government of the time over critical aspects of the bill, particularly its treatment of concerns over privacy and protection of data security
  7. In the meantime, given that the Aadhaar project was being implemented even without statutory support, public interest petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the project’s legitimacy
  8. In these cases, the court issued a series of interim orders prohibiting the state from making Aadhaar mandatory, while permitting its use only for a set of limited governmental schemes

Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial & Other Subsidies, Benefits & Services) Bill, 2016:

  1. In March 2016, the Union government withdrew the earlier bill, and introduced, in its place, as a money bill, a new draft legislation, titled the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial & Other Subsidies, Benefits & Services) Bill, 2016
  2. This categorisation was extraordinary because a money bill, under India’s constitutional design, requires only the Lok Sabha’s affirmation for it to turn into law
  3. Right on cue, within days of the bill’s introduction, the Lower House, in complete disregard of the Rajya Sabha’s protestations, passed the legislation, as Act No. 18 of 2016
  4. This law, Mr. Ramesh now argues, is patently illegal, because its classification as a money bill infringes the Constitution’s mandates

Money Bill:

  1. A money bill is defined by Article 110 of the Constitution
  2. It is a draft law that contains only provisions that deal with all or any of the matters listed therein
  3. These comprise a set of seven features, broadly including items such as the imposition or regulation of a tax; the regulation of the borrowing of money by the Government of India; the withdrawal of money from the Consolidated Fund of India; and so forth
  4. In the event a proposed legislation contains other features, ones that are not merely incidental to the items specifically outlined, such a draft law cannot be classified as a money bill
  5. Article 110 further clarifies that in cases where a dispute arises over whether a bill is a money bill or not, the Lok Sabha Speaker’s decision on the issue shall be considered final

Flawed counterpoint:

  1. The government’s response to Mr. Ramesh’s claim is predicated on two prongs: that the Speaker’s decision to classify draft legislation as a money bill is immune from judicial review
  2. And in any event, the Aadhaar Bill fulfilled all the constitutional requirements of a money bill
  3. A careful examination of these arguments will, however, show us that the government is wrong on both counts

Judicial review of Money Bill:

  1. To be fair, the assertion that the Speaker’s decision is beyond judicial review finds support in the Supreme Court’s judgment in Mohd. Saeed Siddiqui v. State of UP (2014)
  2. Here, a three-judge bench had ruled, in the context of State legislatures, that a Speaker’s decision to classify a draft statute as a money bill, was not judicially reviewable, even if the classification was incorrect
  3. This is because the error in question, the court ruled, constituted nothing more than a mere procedural irregularity
  4. But there are significant problems with this view. Chief among them is the wording of Article 110, which vests no unbridled discretion in the Speaker
  5. The provision requires that a bill conform to the criteria prescribed in it for it to be classified as a money bill
  6. Where a bill intends to legislate on matters beyond the features delineated in Article 110, it must be treated as an ordinary draft statute

Challenging the judgment:

  1. There are other flaws too in the judgment
  2. Most notably, it brushes aside the verdict of a Constitution Bench in Raja Ram Pal v. Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha (2007), where the court had ruled that clauses that attach finality to a determination of an issue do not altogether oust the court’s jurisdiction
  3. The bench held, there are numerous circumstances where the court can review parliamentary pronouncements
  4. These would include instances where a Speaker’s choice is grossly illegal, or disregards basic constitutional mandates, or, worse still, where the Speaker’s decision is riddled with perversities, or is arrived at through dishonest intentions

What Aadhaar Act shows:

  1. A simple reading of the Aadhaar Act would show us that its contents go far beyond the features enumerated in Article 110
  2. If anything, it is the provisions in the legislation that pertain to the Consolidated Fund and its use that are incidental to the Act’s core purpose — which, quite evidently, is to ensure, the creation of a framework for maintaining a central database of biometric information collected from citizens
  3. Ordinarily, a draft legislation is classified as a money bill when it provides for funds to be made available to the executive to carry out specific tasks
  4. In the case of the Aadhaar Act, such provisions are manifestly absent
  5. The Speaker’s decision to confirm the government’s classification is, therefore, an error that is not merely procedural in nature but one that constitutes, in substance, an unmitigated flouting of Article 110

Totalitarian impulse:

  1. Aadhaar has brought out to plain sight the worryingly totalitarian impulses of our state
  2. The government has argued, with some force, that Indian citizens possess no fundamental right to privacy
  3. This argument, however, is predicated on judgments of the Supreme Court that have little contemporary relevance, and that have, in any event, been overlooked in several subsequent cases where the court has clarified the extent of the liberties that the Constitution guarantees

Right to privacy:

  1. Privacy is important not merely because it advances the cause of equality and freedom but also because it is, in and of itself, a treasurable value
  2. A failure to protect privacy adequately can have disastrous consequences that affect our abilities to determine for ourselves how we want to live our lives
  3. And the Aadhaar Act hits at the core of this value
  4. It permits the creation of a database of not only biometric information but also various other private data, without so much as bothering about safeguards that need to be installed to ensure their security
  5. We scarcely need to stretch our imaginations to wonder what the government — and other agencies to which this information can be shared without any regulatory checks — can do with all this material

Note4Students:

A very important issue regarding Aadhar Act. Revise the topics- Right to Privacy and Article 110.

[op-ed snap] Proposed Lok Sabha bill to prevent extravagant and wasteful expenditure in weddings: Pros and Cons

Context:

  1. Congress MP Ranjeet Ranjan, wife of Bihar MP Pappu Yadav, has proposed a bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to introduce a limit on the number of guests one can invite and dishes that can be served in weddings
  2. The aim is to “prevent extravagant and wasteful expenditure” in weddings and for more well-to-do citizens to contribute towards the weddings of girls from poorer families
  3. It may be taken up as a private member’s Bill in the upcoming Lok Sabha session

The Bill:

  1. The bill states that if a family spends above Rs 5 lakh on a wedding, it should contribute 10% of that amount for marriages of girls from poor families
  2. The idea is that families intending to spend over Rs 5 lakh should declare the proposed expenditure and 10% of that amount would be claimed and deposited in a welfare fund to be set up by the government to facilitate marriages of poor girls

Purpose:

  1. The purpose of this Bill is to prohibit extravagant and wasteful expenditure on marriages
  2. And to enforce simpler solemnisation

The spirit of the Bill:

  1. Well-intentioned
  2. An “enforcement” on how to solemnise a wedding is not democratic in nature
  3. A legal fix for a social issue is a hard sell in pragmatic situations, as it proposes to regulate a strictly private affair of citizens

Pros of the Bill:

  1. The intention behind it is undoubtedly a noble one as a government welfare fund, provided it stays free of corruption and mishandling
  2. It could provide some relief to low income families in doing social justice to their key life events
  3. It will encourage simplicity as it is fair to say that wasteful expenditure is common in weddings as they are treated as high-visibility, public events for displays of prosperity and ‘class’, which perpetuates a negative social pressure of spending more for a quick-burning show value
  4. Such a trend amounts to a social malaise in the ever-inflating balloon of wedding expenses, as the money can be invested in better, beneficial causes
  5. By the virtue of legality, it would automatically ease some pressure of the paying parties – usually the bride’s family – who could possibly be under pressure to acquiesce to the baseline of standards set by the groom’s family and hence spend beyond the comfort levels

Cons of the Bill:

  1. It will be seen as unnecessary and unwarranted government interference in private affairs
  2. The mandatory 10% contribution could be perceived as yet another tax levied on the citizenry, especially as the cap is set to 5 lakhs — a very modest amount by existing urban middle class standards
  3. The law also exclusively targets weddings as occasions of “wasteful spending”
  4. What all gets counted in “wedding expenses” is a slippery slope as there are several cash and gift exchanges take place between families, in addition to the amounts set aside for ceremony venues and meal arrangements
  5. The enforcement of the law would also be extremely tricky as it is likely to result in complications of tracking undeclared and undervalued expenses and thus evasion of the de facto 10% payment
  6. The scope for loopholes is huge as such a bill could likely result in families organising celebratory by-events that are strictly not the wedding ceremony but fit in the ambit of pomp and show around the solemn main occasion
  7. For instance, how would weddings be distinguished from engagements and wedding receptions held at an earlier or later date?

The established perception of show-off weddings in a community oriented country calls for a passionate public awareness campaign, rather than an overzealous and somewhat unfair law. It is to be seen that if the 5 lakh limit does not apply on dowry, it will be but a futile exercise. Also, it will be an uphill task for the government to keep a record of the marriages taking place in the country, since registering marriages is not a part of the existing social culture.

Note4Students:

The bill tries to touch a very sensitive social issue. Thus it becomes important for prelims as well as mains. Few important bills were directly asked for critical evaluation in mains 2013, 2014, 2015.

Bill seeks to curb extravagant weddings

  1. In Lok Sabha: The Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill, 2016
  2. It is a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Congress MP Ranjeet Ranjan
  3. Purpose: To prohibit extravagant and wasteful expenditure on marriages and to enforce simpler solemnisation
  4. These days, marriages are more about showing off wealth and as a result, poor families are under tremendous social pressure to spend more
  5. Provisions: Seeks to put a limit on the number of guests to be invited and dishes to be served in weddings to check “show of wealth”
  6. Welfare Fund: If a family spends above ₹5 lakh on a wedding, it has to contribute 10% of the amount on marriages of girls from poor families
  7. After this proposed legislation comes into force, all marriages should be registered within 60 days of the solemnisation

Note4students:

A very important step indeed and needs to be followed as more info comes at hand. Also revise basics on introducing a bill in parliament, difference between private member’s bill and government bill etc.

High Court to hear plea on Article 174 compliance in Goa

  1. Context: A petition filed in the Bombay High Court at Goa under Article 226 of the Constitution
  2. Petition: Seeking directions to the Goa government to comply with the mandate of Article 174 of the Constitution by either summoning a session or dissolving the Goa Legislative Assembly
  3. Arguments by the petitioner: There has been no proposal by the government to convene a session of the Legislative Assembly as required under the Constitution
  4. A Government which defies the Constitution or does not follow the constitutional mandate cannot continue in office even for a moment and requires to be dismissed
  5. According to Article 174 of the Constitution, it was the duty of the Governor to summon the House and that six months should not intervene between its previous sitting and the next
  6. The Supreme Court has held that Article 174 was mandatory, unless the Assembly is dissolved or kept under suspended animation in exercise of power under Article 356
  7. If the Chief Minister refuses to recommend convening of the Assembly session, the Governor has powers to dissolve the Assembly under Article 174(2) (b) of the Constitution

Note4students:

The petition is not important as such but the points here are a good revision of polity basics. Do revise from your polity book the related articles.

[op-ed snap] Rolling back Ordinance Raj

Context:

  1. The Supreme Court recognised the power to make ordinances has been abused to subvert the democratic process
  2. A failure of a legislature to confirm an ordinance, therefore, in the court’s ruling, was fatal both to the validity of the law, and also, unless public interest otherwise demanded, to the rights and liabilities that may have accrued from such a law
  3. According to Justice Chandrachud, the authority to issue ordinances is not an absolute entrustment, but is “conditional upon a satisfaction that circumstances exist rendering it necessary to take immediate action”
  4. In other words, ordinances are not immune from judicial challenge

Aim of Ordinance:

  1. The founders’ aim was always to impose a separation of power between the three recognised wings of government
  2. In this arrangement, the legislature (Parliament at the Centre, and the Assemblies and the Councils in the States) is tasked with the primary job of making laws
  3. The executive’s role is to administer the country by enforcing these laws
  4. The judiciary interprets the laws, sees if they are being followed, and, where required, reviews them to ensure that they are constitutionally compliant
  5. The executive’s power to issue ordinances, therefore, goes against this general grain of command; for it acts neither as a check nor as a balance on the authority exercised by the other branches of government.

Only an exceptional measure:

  1. It’s equally clear even from the bare text of the Constitution that the authority to issue ordinances is to be used only to meet the emergent demands of extraordinary situations
  2. Article 123, which defines the ordinance-making power of the Union executive, states that when both Houses of Parliament are not in session, if the President is satisfied that “circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such Ordinance as the circumstances appear to him to require”
  3. It further provides that any ordinance shall have the same force and effect as a statute of Parliament, provided it is laid before both Houses
  4. What’s more, the ordinance so made will “cease to operate at the expiration of six weeks from the reassembly of Parliament”, or if Parliament at any time before the conclusion of the period passes resolutions disapproving of the ordinance
  5. In nearly identical terms, Article 213 of the Constitution places on the Governor, acting on the advice of the Council of Ministers of his State, the power to pass ordinances on subjects of State authority

In practice:

  1. In practice, however, ordinances have scarcely been used as a purely exceptional measure
  2. Most recently, the Central executive had issued an ordinance in 2014, which it subsequently repromulgated three times without approval, to overturn significant benefits guaranteed by the land acquisition law enacted by Parliament in 2013
  3. Their aim clearly was to bypass the democratic requirements of argument and deliberation, and to overcome numerical shortcomings that they faced in the Rajya Sabha
  4. What the government was doing, therefore, was to use its ordinance-making power as virtually an alternative tool of legislation

Ordinances subject to scrutiny:

  1. Justice Chandrachud ruled that Court can investigate to see if there has been either a fraud or an abuse of power committed by the executive
  2. In the final analysis, the court’s verdict has to be seen as placing a vital check on what has until now been a power rampantly abused by the executive

Note4Students:

Note down the points in this op-ed for Mains as well as Prelims. Polity questions in Prelims demand an in-depth reading.

President bats for simultaneous polls, backs demonetisation

  1. Context: President Pranab Mukherjee’s Republic Day eve address to the nation
  2. Simultaneous elections: He batted strongly for simultaneous elections to Parliament and Assemblies
  3. Asked the Election Commission to carry forward the idea of simultaneous polls in consultation with political parties
  4. Demonetisation: Also backed the demonetisation drive
  5. It may have led to temporary slowdown in economy but will bring more transparency in the system
  6. Argumentative Indian: Also asserted that the country’s strength lies in is pluralism and diversity and that India has traditionally celebrated the argumentative” Indian; not the “intolerant” Indian
  7. Democracy: Underlined the strengths of Indian democracy but cautioned against disruptions in Parliament and State Assemblies
  8. We have a noisy democracy. Yet, we need more and not less of democracy
  9. It is right time to acknowledge that systems are not perfect and those imperfections have to be recognised and rectified
  10. Pluralism: We have to work harder because our pluralistic culture and tolerance are still being put to test by vested interests
  11. Reason and moderation should be our guide in dealing with such situations

Note4students: All the major issues highlighted here are important topics for mains. Also keep note of good statements as few seen above for essay and keep revising them. It gives you an edge.

Supreme Court revives hearing on Andhra Pradesh bifurcation

  1. Context: Bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into AP and Telangana
  2. Supreme Court: What better “index” to ascertain whether a State is to be divided or not other than public demand
  3. The observation came from a Bench of SC while reviving a bunch of petitions filed by leading Telugu politicians across parties, challenging the bifurcation of the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh in 2014
  4. They had wanted the apex court to declare the bifurcation as an illegal and unconstitutional act
  5. However, SC had, then, refused to stay the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act of 2014, leading to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the formation of new State Telangana
  6. Arguments of petitioners against bifurcation: There should be a “federal index” for State formation. The Centre cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over the federal structure of democracy and divide States into bits
  7. Proper consultations were not held between the Centre and erstwhile State authorities
  8. Telangana lost 140 of its villages due to the bifurcation, and this was not the first time the people had experienced the sufferings of bifurcation and new State formations. The first time was when Andhra was separated from Madras
  9. The Centre had introduced the Bill when it was rejected by the Andhra Pradesh State Legislature
  10. The bifurcation is a violation of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution

Note4students:

There was a question on bifurcation of states in Mains 2016, on linguistic basis though. Keep track of the issue and the arguments as it develops.

SC refuses plea on alleged dilution of whistleblower law

  1. Supreme Court: Refused to examine a petition alleging dilution in the Whistleblower Protection Act
  2. It sought interim measures to protect whisteblowers who expose corruption in public administration and governance
  3. It said that Parliament is already seized with the law and the judiciary would be encroaching on the legislature’s turf by entertaining allegations now
  4. Change of tone: The tone of the court hearing was in complete contrast to the earlier hearing in January 2016, when the apex court had pressed the Centre to put in place a fool-proof interim mechanism to receive complaints and protect the lives of whistleblowers till the law was enacted

Note4students:

The issues around this act are important from mains PoV.

[op-ed snap] The ordinance overreach

The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance:

  1. The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance was first promulgated on January 7, 2016, with the ostensible objective of plugging loopholes in the principal act
  2. To ensure that the enemy properties worth thousands of crore do not revert to the legal heirs
  3. A concomitant effort has been made to frustrate the judgment of the SC in the case of Raja Amir Mohammad Khan of Mahmudabad who won a long and arduous legal battle for his properties

Ordinance under Article 123 of the Constitution:

  1. The Ordinance states that the Constitution shall cease to operate at the expiry of six weeks from the reassembly of the Parliament
  2. It may also cease to operate before the expiry of the period of six weeks if a resolution disapproving it is passed by Parliament
  3. The aspect that requires thoughtful consideration is an attempt by the government to nullify the judgment, decree or order of any Court by inserting Section 8A (1) in the ordinance
  4. Section 8A (1) empowers the custodian to dispose of “enemy properties” whether by sale or otherwise notwithstanding any judgment, decree or order of any court, tribunal or authority

Note4Students:

The op-ed is a must read for details on the Enemy Property Act. Note down b2b points for a good long answer.

Back2Basics:

Enemy Property:

  1. The Custodian of Enemy Property for India is an Indian government department that is empowered to appropriate property in India owned by Pakistani nationals
  2. After the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the Enemy Property Act was promulgated in 1968
  3. The act authorised the Central Government of India to appoint a custodian for enemy property for India and one or more deputy/assistant custodians as assistances
  4. The Enemy Property Act, 1968 provided that the Central Government through the Custodian of Enemy Property for India is in possession of enemy properties spread across many states in the country
  5. Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016 proposed to amend the Enemy Property Act, 1968
  6. The 2016 bill seeks to do the following:
  7. The Bill amends the Enemy Property Act, 1968, to vest all rights, titles and interests over enemy property in the Custodian for the Enemy Property for India
  8. The Bill declares transfer of enemy property by the enemy, conducted under the Act, to be void. This applies retrospectively to transfers that have occurred before or after 1968
  9. The Bill prohibits civil courts and other authorities from entertaining disputes related to enemy property
  10. The SC, in Union of India and Anr. v. Raja Mohd. Amir Mohd. Khan had held that, “the Respondent who was born in India and his Indian citizenship not being in question cannot by any stretch of imagination be held to be an enemy or enemy subject”

Union Budget likely to be tabled on February 1

  1. What: As part of a major overhaul of the budget process, the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA) recommended advancing the holding of the Budget Session from Jan 31
  2. It will be followed by the presentation of the Union Budget on Feb 1
  3. Both the address of the President and tabling of the Economic Survey are likely to take place on Jan 31
  4. The first phase of the Budget Session will run till Feb 9
  5. The CCPA, headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, made these recommendations to President Mukherjee
  6. Benefits: Early presentation of the Budget would mean that the entire exercise is over by March 31
  7. Also, expenditure as well as tax proposals will come into effect right from the beginning of the new fiscal, thereby ensuring better implementation
  8. Background: As per the earlier practice, the budgetary exercise was completed only by mid-May
  9. And with the monsoon arriving in June, most of the schemes and spendings by states did not take off until Oct, leaving just half-a-year for their implementation
  10. In Sept last year, ending a nearly a century-long practice, the Cabinet had decided to scrap a separate budget for the railways and merge it with the General Budget
  11. Earlier, the Budget approval process usually happened in two parts extending to the second or third week of May, hampering early implementation of schemes and spending programmes

Note4students:

A very useful article. Besides informing you of the budgetary changes and problems with earlier schedule, it also gives you a chance to revise the Cabinet Committees and Budget chapters from Laxmikanth. If you don’t have the book, click here.

SC widens boundaries of judicial review of ordinance

  1. What: In a blow to Ordinance Raj, a Constitution Bench of the SC widened the boundaries of judicial review
  2. Judgment: Now, it can examine whether the President or the Governor was spurred by an “oblique motive” to bypass the Legislature and promulgate an ordinance
  3. If the SC concludes that the President or the Governor was influenced by ulterior motives to promulgate the ordinance, such an act by the two constitutional authorities would amount to a fraud on their powers
  4. Justice Chandrachud observed that the SC would scrutinise whether the satisfaction of the President or the Governor to promulgate an ordinance was based on relevant material or whether it amounted to a “fraud on power or was actuated by an oblique motive”
  5. The seminal question that came up in reference before the seven-judge Constitution Bench led by CJI Thakur dealt with the constitutionality of seven successive re-promulgations of The Bihar Non-Government Sanskrit Schools (Taking Over of Management and Control) Ordinance of 1989
  6. The State govt had approached the SC after the HC of Patna declared that repeated re-promulgation of the ordinances was unconstitutional
  7. It relied on the D.C. Wadhwa judgment on the dos and don’ts of promulgation of ordinances by another Constitution Bench of the SC in 1986
  8. The SC held that “re-promulgation of ordinances is a fraud on the Constitution and a subversion of democratic legislative processes”
  9. It also said that “The requirement of laying an ordinance before Parliament or the State Legislature is a mandatory constitutional obligation cast upon the government”

Note4students:

This is a very important judgment from mains point of view. Add these to your ordinance notes.

Pranab against ordinance route to amend Enemy Property Act

  1. What: The ordinance to amend the 50-year-old Enemy Property Act was promulgated for the fifth time late on Thursday
  2. President Pranab Mukherjee expressed reservations on why the govt has been unable to clear the Amendment Bill in Parliament
  3. The ordinance was proclaimed, for the first time, on January 7 this year
  4. The Amendment Bill aims to make changes to the Enemy Property Act to guard against claims of succession or transfer of properties left by people who migrated to Pakistan and China after wars
  5. “Enemy property” refers to any property belonging to, held or managed on behalf of an enemy, an enemy subject or an enemy firm
  6. The govt has vested these properties in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India, under the Act in 1968, an office instituted under the Central govt

Note4students:

Revise the sections on ordinances from Laxmikanth.

Back2basics:

1. The Bill amends the Enemy Property Act, 1968, to vest all rights, titles and interests over enemy property in the Custodian.

2. The Bill declares transfer of enemy property by the enemy, conducted under the Act, to be void. This applies retrospectively to transfers that have occurred before or after 1968.

3. The Bill prohibits civil courts and other authorities from entertaining disputes related to enemy property.

President Mukherjee anguished over parliamentary paralysis

  1. President Pranab Mukherjee said the House is not a place for dharna and disruption which amounts to “gagging of majority” by the minority
  2. He told parliamentarians they are meant to discuss and transact business and not disrupt
  3. The sharp attack on parliamentary disruption comes in the midst of paralysis of Parliament for over a fortnight over the issue of demonetisation

Note4students:

Disruption of parliament is practiced by all parties, depending on who is in opposition. It indicates a trend where there is less discussion of issues. All Bills will now be passed in just a few days. This means the opposition is failing to perform its basic function of providing feedback to the govt and holding it accountable.



:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.







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