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The Law Commission on why the Act should remain as it is
Contempt of Courts Act
- The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 is one of the most powerful statutes in the country
- It gives the constitutional courts wide powers to restrict an individual’s fundamental right to personal liberty for “scandalising the court” or for “wilful disobedience” of any judgment, writ, direction or order
Offence of “scandalizing the court”
- The offence of “scandalizing the court” continues in India even though it was abolished as an offence in England and Wales long ago.
- On March 8, 2018, the Department of Justice wrote to the Law Commission of India, asking it to examine an amendment to the Act to remove “scandalizing the court” as a ground for contempt and restrict contempt to only “wilful disobedience” of directions/judgments of the court.
Law Commission Report
- To delete the provision relating to ‘criminal contempt’ inter alia ‘scandalizing of courts’ will have no impact on the power of the Superior Courts to punish for contempt (including criminal contempt) in view of their inherent constitutional powers, as these powers are independent of statutory provisions”
- The Law Commission informed the government that the 1971 Act was a good influence
- In fact, the statute, by laying down procedure, restricts the vast authority of the courts in wielding contempt powers
- The 1971 Act contains “adequate safeguards to exclude instances which may not amount to criminal contempt” as defined under Section 2(c) of the Act 1971
- The Commission said the statute has stood the test of judicial scrutiny for about five decades
- It empowers the High Court to act if someone is in contempt of the subordinate courts.
- Diluting the Act would expose the subordinate judiciary to acts of contempt of court.
The proposal to bring the BCCI under the RTI reflects rising public expectation
What has happened?
The Lodha Committee recommended that the board be treated as a public authority under the RTI Act, and the Supreme Court wanted the Law Commission to examine this suggestion. The Central Information Commission favoured the idea
A Public body
BCCI is a private body that needs no financial help from the government, it is being increasingly recognised that it performs significant public functions.
Not working in a transparent manner
- Over the years, the popular expectation that India’s cash-rich and commercially successful apex cricket body will have to make itself more transparent and accountable has been rising
- In recent years, especially against the backdrop of the betting scandal that hit the Indian Premier League tournament a few years ago, the view that the cricket board is functioning in an opaque manner and not entirely in the game’s interest has gained ground
- The Supreme Court’s intervention led to the constitution of the Justice R.M. Lodha Committee, which recommended sweeping reforms in the board’s structure and the rules governing its administration
- The monopolistic nature of the power exercised by BCCI, the de facto recognition afforded by the Government, the impact of the Board’s actions/decisions on the fundamental rights of the players, umpires and the citizenry in general
- The board gets no financial help directly, but the commission has argued that the tax and duty exemptions and land concessions it got would amount to indirect financing by the state.
A National Sports Federation (NSF)?
- The Union government has on different occasions maintained that the BCCI is a ‘national sports federation’ and, therefore, an entity that falls under the RTI Act’s ambit.
- However, the BCCI is not one of the national federations listed on the website of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports
- It is unlikely that by bringing BCCI under RTI would affect its autonomy
- In fact, as a complement to the structural revamp, it may redound to the game’s interest
Supreme Court says it is a travesty of justice for the resources of the legal system to be consumed by an avalanche of misdirected public interest petitions
What has happened?
The Supreme Court on Thursday ridiculed the Loya PIL petitions as a case in point of how public interest litigation has become an “industry of vested interests” rather than a powerful tool to espouse the cause of the marginalized and oppressed
- It was time for the judiciary to do a reality check on the advent of PIL petitions which flooded the courts
- The essential aspect of a genuine PIL petition was that the “person who moves the court has no personal interest in the outcome of the proceedings, apart from a general standing as a citizen before the court.”
- The judgment said PIL had now become a façade for people hungry for publicity or those who wanted to settle personal, business or political scores. The true face of the litigant behind the façade was seldom unravelled
- Judicial process would be reduced to a charade if nothing is done to close the floodgates of PILs
Discussions likely to continue at the Home Secretary-level
What has happened?
The failure of Britain and India to sign a key memorandum of understanding on the return of illegal migrants during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on Wednesday has been greeted with surprise, as the agreement was seen as a key element of the visit.
What India wants?
Better Visa access for professionals and students
The point of contention
- Britain wants India to step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the U.K
- Britain’s expectations on these issues were beyond the level India was willing to commit to
Discussions on this issue are expected to continue at Home Secretary level next month.
Current situation in Britain: It is tightening immigration rules
What is Windrush Generation?
- People who came from African and Caribbean countries under a rule allowing freedom of movement within the Commonwealth in the year 1948 on the ship named HMT Empire Windrush
- Minors travelled on their parents’ documents and some never registered for a passport as they did not intend to travel abroad
- These passengers on board the Windrush were invited to come to Britain after World War Two, to assist with labour shortages by the government
- They were never asked for any documents proving their status and weren’t given any documents from the authorities
- So now they are being asked to leave the UK due to lack of any document
The bigger picture
- The British government is facing wider questions around its treatment of Commonwealth citizens, particularly as it pegs the Commonwealth as a route for post-Brexit trade to flourish
- The Windrush issue and the Indian [illegal returns memo] issue have suggested that Britain is going in the direction of restricted access to people
Overpopulation in Ranthambore forces the big cats to often move to the adjacent wildlife reserve
What has happened?
The birth of two tiger cubs in the Kailadevi wildlife sanctuary of Rajasthan’s Karauli district recently has gladdened wildlife enthusiasts across the country, but it also points to a space crunch in the wildlife habitats which has forced the big cats to move out of the main area of Ranthambore National Park on their own.
- Forest authorities say overpopulation of tigers in Ranthambore National Park had led to territorial disputes, because of which the big cats were making frequent movements to the adjacent Kailadevi wildlife reserve, which had a size of 676 sq. km
- Kailadevi’s area has been officially included in about 400 sq. km area of Sawai Madhopur district’s Ranthambore to develop it as a national park with more than 1,000 sq. km area
Lacking support system
- The migration of tigers was a “clear indication” that Ranthambore lacked the basic support system for being administered as a designated tiger reserve. The national park had insufficient forest staff
- However, the birth of tiger cubs in Kailadevi had proved that tigers could live along with the villagers and their livestock in a habitat which did not offer much of the natural prey base of sambar, spotted deer, wild boar, etc.
India risks its national security withlow allocations to defence spending
What has happened?
For a developing country that is committed to enhancing the quality of life of its citizens, defence is usually the last thing on the nation’s mind. Yet, no government that is committed to such a cause can ignore the existing physical and psychological security threats.
The defence budget is increasingly looked at as a means to provide incremental resources to other sectors, since procedural delays prevent its optimum and timely expenditure.
In February, the Army transparently deposed before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and stated two pertinent things
- 68% of its equipment was in the vintage category, and
- With the new budget allocation of 1.47% of GDP, the sustenance of at least 24 capital projects is in jeopardy.
Exhausted entire budget
- Army received Rs. 268.2 billion for modernisation as against its demand for Rs. 445.7 billion
- With the Doklam crisis and the necessity of mobilising the Siliguri-based Corps, along with other priority resources from many other sectors to make up existing deficiencies and optimise the Corps’ capability, the Army expended almost its entire allocation of the transportation budget
- In January, it had no money to even hire vehicles.
- Understanding of national security at the bureaucratic and decision-making levels remains low
- With huge bureaucratic controls, and a Defence Ministry with no military presence, the comprehension of priorities itself remains suspect
- If decisions are timely and procedures for acquisition are fast-tracked
- The financial support should be sufficient with systems which do not call for a lapse of financial resources, once allotted
- Without higher allocation, the armed forces may be unable to reach even the first level of transformation they seek
- Not just higher allocation, management of expenditure also needs a complete revamp
What has happened?
The new permanent higher defence management committee headed by the National Security Adviser can help improve India’s defence planning in the long term, but may end up having no noticeable impact if the present government does not return to power in 2019, several military sources and observers say.
Plan of action
- A government notification on Wednesday said the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) would prepare a draft national security strategy, develop a capability development plan and work on defence diplomacy issues and improving defence manufacturing in India
- The DPC will submit its reports to the Defence Minister
The notification listed four sub-committees of the DPC.
- One will look at policy and strategy
- The second will work on plans and capability development
- The third on defence diplomacy
- The fourth on defence manufacturing ecosystem
Members of these sub-committees will be decided by the DPC
- Most observers said the DPC would be able to make no visible impact during the tenure of this government
- If the next government is a different one, they will dump this committee
- This the first time the NSA would be having such a direct role in planning India’s security strategy
Low NREGA wages
What has happened?
The NREGA was enacted in 2005 “for the enhancement of livelihood security of the households in rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work….”
Lowest ever NREGA wages
- The decision to not implement the Mahendra Dev Committee’s recommendations led to the lowest ever NREGA wage increase until 2017, with five states receiving an increase of only a rupee
- A year later, the wages hit a new low after the Nagesh Singh Committee’s report was turned down
The two Committees
Mahendra Dev Committee
- In 2014, the seven-member Mahendra Dev Committee instituted by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) recommended that workers should be paid either the minimum wage fixed by the state or NREGA wage, whichever was higher
- It also recommended that the annual revision of NREGA wages should be based on Consumer Price Index-Rural (CPI-R), which reflects the current consumption pattern of rural households, and not on the CPI for Agricultural Labourers (CPI-AL), which is based on a 35-year-old consumption basket
Nagesh Singh Committee
- In 2016, the government instituted another committee to study the issue
- This 12-member panel, headed by MoRD Additional Secretary Nagesh Singh, came out with a toned-down version of the Mahendra Dev report in July 2017
- The panel recommended that “there is no compelling reason” to align NREGA wages with minimum wages of states
Argument against this
A sole member wrote a dissent note in which he reminded the panel of the Supreme Court’s order that “MGNREGA work is the last recourse while seeking work”, and that lower payment would push the worker and his family into “sub-human existence”
The Finance Ministry’s view
- The Finance Ministry, however, argued that moving to CPI-R was “not advisable at this stage”.
- Since the implementation of the National Food Security Act (2013), prices of food items have reduced
- CPI-AL gives 70% weightage to food and tobacco, while CPI-R gives only 59% weightage to food items, with the remaining weightage given to expenses incurred on education, transport, health
- The Finance Ministry’s said that these “miscellaneous items” such as “health, transport and communication, recreation, education” under CPI-R “may not represent the demand of NREGA workers” and, moreover, such a move would lead to a bigger fiscal burden.