POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
1.1. NATIONAL CONSUMER DISPUTES REDRESSAL COMMISSION
Why in News?
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had ordered a hospital in Mumbai to pay Rs 12,000 to a patient who had contracted HIV 20 years ago after blood transfusion.
Based on the data revealed by The National Aids Control Organisation, in India, at least 2,234 people are reported to have been infected with HIV while getting blood transfusions in the last 17 months.
It is a quasi-judicial commission set up in 1988 under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986.
The commission is headed by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court of India.
Section 21 of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 posits that the National Consumer shall have jurisdiction:
To entertain a complaint valued more than one crore.
It also has Appellate and Revisional jurisdiction from the orders of State Commissions or the District fora as the case may be.
Section 23 of the Act provides that person aggrieved by an order of NCDRC, may Appeal to Supreme Court of India within a period of 30 days.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986
It is a benevolent social legislation that lays down the rights of the consumers and provides for promotion and protection of the rights of the consumers.
The Act mandates establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at the Centre as well as in each State and District, with a view to promoting consumer awareness.
The Central Council is headed by Union Minster In-charge of the Dept. of Consumer Affairs and the State Councils by the Minister In-charge of the Consumer Affairs in the State Governments.
It also provides for a 3-tier structure of the National and State Commissions and District Forums for speedy resolution of consumer disputes.
1.2. PRESIDENT REJECTS THREE BILLS PASSED BY MANIPUR
Why in news?
Recently, President Pranab Mukherjee returned three bills the Manipur Assembly had passed on August 31, 2015.
Since last year Manipur has been experiencing various forms of agitations in connection with these bills.
The contentious bills are the Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015, the Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Manipur Protection of Peoples Bill, 2015.
Experts will now re-examine the first two bills for a “reasonable conclusion” and in the case of the third bill, legal and constitutional experts will re-examine it for a “new legislation taking into consideration all aspects of the hill and valley people of Manipur.”
Manipur merged with India on October 15, 1949. Before the merger, entry into the State was regulated by a permit system, which was later abolished.
This permit system known as Inner Line Permit (ILP) was introduced by the British colonial government to protect its commercial interests. Later, it was used as an instrument to protect the tribal people and their cultures.
Since Manipur is not officially a tribal state, there are constitutional challenges to implementing the ILP system.
As per the Bill, “Manipur people means persons of Manipur whose names are in the National Register of Citizens, 1951, Census report 1951 and village directory of 1951 and their descendants who have contributed to the collective social, cultural and economic life of Manipur.”
This census is considered to be flawed as the census exercise that year did not cover the entire State. The infrastructure at that time was not enough and many people were left out in the process. So as per the bill many of the hill people (the Kukis and the Nagas) could have found themselves declared non-Manipuris.
There is a lingering apprehension among the hill people that the state government would use the bills as a strategic political ploy to gain control over their land.
The unwillingness on the part of the state government to implement the Sixth Schedule in the hill areas has exacerbated the concerns of the tribal people.
People of the hill areas were not consulted in the process of drafting the bills
Note: For details please refer to September 2015 Current Affairs
1.3. MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT: PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE REVIEW
The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for polls is under review by a Parliamentary Committee.
Parliamentary Standing Committee will also suggest ways to check distribution of cash and freebies during the elections after an in depth study and interactions with stakeholders.
The move comes after it took cognizance of the cancellation of polls in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur constituencies in Tamil Nadu recently following evidence of use of money and gifts to influence the voters.
The central government appoints observers for a poll bound state to check such activities. But at times things can be beyond their control for the fact that they are outsiders and may not know the local ways of distribution of cash, freebies and other irregularities.
Panel had last year tabled its report in both Houses of Parliament which favoured holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
The Panel had, in an earlier report submitted three years ago, recommended reducing the time between enforcement of the model code and the day of polling which is yet to be implemented by Government.
What is MCC?
It is a set of guidelines laid down by the Election Commission to govern the conduct of political parties and candidates in the run-up to an election.
It is intended to provide a level playing field for all political parties, to keep the campaign fair and healthy, avoid clashes and conflicts between parties, and ensure peace and order.
Its main aim is to ensure that the ruling party, either at the Centre or in the states, does not misuse its official position to gain an unfair advantage in an election.
The Model Code of Conduct comes into force the moment an election is announced and remains in force till the results are declared.
It applies to all political parties, their candidates and polling agents, the government in power, and all government employees.
1.4. ELECTORAL REFORMS
The Election Commission of India sought amendment to RPA to include specific powers to postpone or countermand polls on the grounds of use of money power.
At present, there is no specific provision in the law to this effect and commission has to resort to extraordinary powers under Article 324 of constitution which, it feels should be used sparingly.
Clause 58 A empowers the Election Commission to cancel polls only if there is an evidence of booth-capturing or use of muscle power.
Thus, EC seeks a new clause ‘58 B’ in the Act for dealing with use of money power in elections or amendment to this effect in the existing clause ‘58A’.
1.5. SCRAPPING OF RAIL BUDGET
Why in News?
The NITI Aayog has submitted a 20-page note to the PMO arguing that the convention of presenting a separate railway budget every year be done away with.
Summary of NITI Aayog Note
Note says that railway budget had failed to be of use to the sector and had become a “mechanism to announce popular measures”.
Railway Budget has no concomitant focus on addressing Railways’ structural requirements, or funding needs.
The Railway Budget has led to ‘more Government’ without any increase in ‘Governance’.
At present, Rail finances are not as big as they used to be in 1924, when they were separated. It’s smaller than the Defence Budget.
Hence, report suggests scrapping railway budget exercise, and observes that the Railway Act of 1989 grants the “Central Government” the power to change tariffs without consulting Parliament.
The step will help depoliticize the Railways.
It would help the government to take decisions without losing track of commercial viability.
This will help in bringing more reforms to the sector by making Railways more agile and efficient.
It will also facilitate account reforms.
Indian Railways cannot afford to wait for annual changes through Railway Budget.
It needs to react more swiftly with greater flexibility to the rapid changes in the wider economy.
Even though it is a state monopoly it faces increasingly tough competition from roads and civil aviation.
There is no evidence to show that customer service would improve if the Railways became a part of the government.
If the budgets are merged, the Railways would move even further into the government, instead of moving further away from the government.
The government needs to be more fleet footed in the way it runs the railways, instead of focusing excessively on the spectacle of a separate budget.
A better option can be to allow zones to become corporations. Let manufacturing units compete with private players. Let the zones follow standard commercial accounting practices and attract investments.
In this process, the rail budget will become irrelevant and wither away automatically.
1.6. PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY ISSUE IN DELHI Why in News?
President has refused to give his consent to the amendment to the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to exempt the post of Parliamentary Secretary from the purview of ‘office-of-profit’.
Parliamentary Secretary in Other States
At present, the posts do exist in various states such as Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan.
Various petitions in the High Court have challenged the appointment of Parliament Secretary.
In June 2015, Calcutta HC quashed appointment of 24 Parliamentary Secretaries in West Bengal dubbing it unconstitutional.
Definition of Office of Profit ‘Office of profit’ is not defined in the Constitution. However, based on past judgments, the Election Commission has noted five below tests for what constitutes an office of profit:
Whether the government makes the appointment
Whether government has the right to remove or dismiss the holder.
Whether the government pays remuneration.
What the functions of the holder are.
Does the government exercise any control over the performance of these functions.
Similar actions were taken by the Bombay High Court, Himachal Pradesh High Court, etc.
What is the Issue All About?
In 2015, Delhi Govt. had appointed 21 parliamentary secretaries to six Ministers.
This post was not exempted from the definition of “Office of Profit”.
Delhi govt. brought an amendment to Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997, to make the position of Parliamentary Secretary exempt from definition of “Office of Profit”.
But the President has refused to give his consent to the amendment.
Due to the special status of Delhi as a Union Territory, a Bill passed by the Assembly is not considered an applicable “law” unless it is passed by the Delhi Lieutenant Governor and the President of India.
The Delhi govt. argues that as Parliamentary Secretaries are not eligible for any remuneration or perks from the government, the post should be exempt from the office of profit.
Under Article 102(1)(a) and Article 191(1)(a) of the Constitution, a person shall be disqualified as a member of Parliament or of a Legislative Assembly/Council if he holds an “Office of Profit” under the central or any state government (other than an office declared not to disqualify its holder by a law passed by the Parliament or state legislature).
Parliamentary Secretary’s post is also in contradiction to Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution which provides for limiting the number of Ministers in the State Cabinets to 15 per cent of the total number of members of the State Legislative Assembly because a Parliament Secretary holds the rank of Minister of State. (The limit is 10% for Delhi, owing to its special status)
Now, the Election Commission of India has to decide whether the terms and conditions of appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries constitute an “Office of Profit.”
The President’s decision cannot be challenged in any court as it is his executive power under the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court cannot interfere.
However, any decision taken by the ECI can be challenged before the Delhi High court by the aggrieved party. This means that the AAP can approach the court if the EC decides to disqualify the MLAs.
1.7. CREATIVITY VERSUS CENSORSHIP
Why in News?
The Central Board of Film Certification had asked makers of Bollywood film “Udta Punjab” to remove all references to Punjab.
Later, The Bombay High Court ordered that the film be granted a certificate in the ‘Adult’ category and allowed it to be screened with one cut and a disclaimer.
This incident renewed the ongoing debate with respect to balance between one’s Freedom of Speech, art of creativity versus censorship.
The reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) have been invoked often to curb free speech and expression.
Though these restrictions were never meant to include such things as whether people found something in poor taste, offensive or against the grain of social or political opinion.
In our country sentiments has been used routinely to seek curbs on all manner of creative expression - in books, music, art and film. Eg – Ban on Taslima Nasreen’s book in West Bengal.
In a mature democracy like ours, organs of the state should not be allowed to erase or alter creative work according to its anxieties or neuroses of the day.
There have been many efforts to secure the freedom of expression for example the G.D. Khosla report in 1969 recommended independent members on the Board, then called the Central Board of Film Censors.
Even if full autonomy of the Board is ensured, there is no guarantee that the institution would be any less scissor-happy.
Shyam Benegal Committee has offered a practical solution: CBFC should only certify a film and its scope should be restricted to categorizing the suitability of the film according to the intended audience group.
1.8. UNIVERSITY GRANTS COMMISSION (UGC)
Why in News?
Recently, T.S.R. Subramanian committee’s recommendation in the National Education Policy, recommended that the UGC Act should be allowed to lapse and replaced by a new National Higher Education Act.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) of India is a statutory body set up by the Union government in accordance to the UGC Act 1956 under HRD Ministry.
It has been mandated to initiate important decisions and dialogues which have an important bearing on the entire student population of the country
The three primary functions of UGC include
Overseeing distribution of grants to universities and colleges in India.
Providing scholarships/fellowships to beneficiaries, and
Monitoring conformity to its regulations by universities and colleges.
Issues with UGC
Instances of delay in fellowships have become a regular affair, placing underprivileged research scholars in problem.
It has failed in ensuring quality standards. According to QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, India ranks 24th in higher education system strength out of 50 countries.
Its policies suffer from two diametrically opposite issues: under- regulation and over-regulation.
To begin with, the UGC should resolve its many problems with respect to placements, and understaffing at the lower rungs.
It could then reinvent itself in line with the committee recommendation, retaining a leaner version of the commission as a nodal organization and creating a separate mechanism for disbursement of fellowships.
This will enable it to focus on the more relevant issue of quality education.
1.9. SPECIFIC RELIEF ACT
Why in News?
A Central government-appointed expert committee has submitted its report recommending changes to the Specific Relief Act 1963.
What is Specific Relief Act?
As per the act, in an event where the actual damage for not performing the contract cannot be measured or monetary compensation is not adequate, one party can ask the court to direct the other party to fulfill the requirements of the contract.
This is called specific performance of a contract.
This extends to infrastructure contracts, like construction of housing societies or sale and purchase of land.
Need for changes in the Act
There is a provision in the act which says that there will be no specific performance of those contracts where
Monetary compensation is sufficient,
The contract involves performance of a continuous duty which the court cannot supervise.
However, it is left to the court to decide whether specific performance should be given to a party asking for it. This gives rise to uncertainty in contracts.
Uncertainty in contracts often means investors become vary of getting entangled in legal trouble. The government wants to ensure that there is ease of doing business, and the specific relief law is a hindrance.
The committee has recommended for specific performance to be made the rule and not an exception.
This would mean that even if contractual obligations cannot be met, the court could ask the parties to fulfill terms of the contract. Monetary compensation will be an alternative when contracts cannot be fulfilled.
It has also suggested guidelines to the courts for exercising discretion in these matters, in order to streamline how courts interpret the provisions.
It said that there was need to see whether intervention of courts in public works should be minimal
This will reduce uncertainty in projects for infrastructure or those involving huge public investments.
The recommendations are aimed to ensue that public works contracts happen without unnecessary delays.
1.10. DRAFT NATIONAL WATER FRAMEWORK BILL
What is it?
It provides an overarching national legal framework to manage water in a better and efficient way.
As water is a state subject, these guidelines will not be binding on states.
The guidelines are based on principles for protection, conservation, regulation and management of water as a vital and stressed natural resource
Why is it needed?
The water problem is escalating and we have witnessed acute drought situation in certain parts Also against a backdrop of climate change, the frequency of such situations may increase.
Highlights of draft bill
“Water for life”
It defines “water for life” as the “fundamental right of life of each human being” needed for basic purposes including drinking, cooking, sanitation, requirement of women etc.
It shall not be denied to anyone on the ground of inability to pay and would take precedence over all other uses, including agricultural, industrial and commercial.
The appropriate governments from time to time would determine this minimum water requirement.
Graded pricing system: The law wants to introduce “graded pricing system” for domestic water supply with
‘full cost recovery’ pricing for high-income groups
‘affordable pricing’ for middle-income,
‘certain quantum of free supply’ to the poor
Alternatively, a minimal quantum of water may be supplied free to all.
National water quality and footprint standards
A “binding” national water quality standards for every kind of use is proposed to be introduced.
A “binding” national water footprint standards for “every activity or product” are also sought to be evolved to reduce water footprint of all entities. For example -
Industries have to state their water footprint in their annual reports
Denial of water supply services beyond a threshold
penalties to discourage profligate use
Integrated river basin development and management plan
For rejuvenation of river systems by ensuring Aviral Dhara (continuous flow), Nirmal Dhara (unpolluted flow) and Swachh Kinara (clean and aesthetic river banks)
The establishment of “appropriate institutional arrangements” to deal with inter-state water disputes
The upper basin state to adopt a cautious approach while interventions in the inter-state rivers as none of the states in a basin “owns the river”
The state “at all levels” would hold water “in public trust” for the people.
1.11. SWACHH YUG CAMPAIGN
As part of its efforts to make villages located along Ganga open defecation-free, Government has launched a campaign 'Swachh Yug'.
It is a collaborative effort of three Union Ministries, to bring about behavioural change among people staying in villages along the river.
There are 5,169 villages located along Ganga falling under 1,651 gram panchayats in 52 districts of five states - UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal from where the river flows.
A nodal officer has been identified for each district to work on making area under their jurisdiction open defecation free (ODF) in a "mission mode" and clean through proper solid and liquid waste management.
In addition to monetary incentive offered under Swachh Bharat Mission, extensive interpersonal behaviour change communication training will be given to local trainers through network of virtual classrooms.
Ministries involved in campaign
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation – mission mode strategy to focus on cleanliness of village through proper solid and liquid waste management.
Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports under the coordination of the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, will enlist support of youth agencies like Bharat Scouts and Guides, Nehru Yuva Kendras and National Service Scheme.
Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
1.12. NEW PRINT MEDIA ADVERTISEMENT POLICY
Why in News?
Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has framed a New Print Media Advertisement Policy for Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP) with the objective to promote transparency and accountability in issuing of advertisements in print media.
Key Highlights of the New Policy
For the first time the policy introduces a New Marking System for newspapers to incentivize Newspapers who have better professional standing.
It includes circulation verification Procedure for empanelment of Newspapers/Journals with DAVP.
The policy also stipulates the empanelment procedure for Multi-Editions of a newspaper.
To promote equity based regional outreach, the policy emphasizes that the budget for all India release of advertisements shall be divided among states based on total circulation of newspapers in each State /Language.