Workers – Not To Be Toyed With ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                            December 01, ‎2011

Labour law concerns the inequality of bargaini...

Labour law concerns the inequality of bargaining power between employers and workers (Photo: Wikipedia)

Workers – Not To Be Toyed With !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – A retiring High Court Chief Justice is paid a High Court Judge’s pension. The mistake is rectified– but not before a 15 year court battle.

An Indian Institute of Technology professor invokes his Right to Information– to know why his gratuity is withheld.

After a Japanese executive kicks a worker and tosses the turban of another one, 3,000 employees at a Gurgaon plant form a union– prompting dismissals. Protest brings brutal thrashing from Haryana police in full view of news cameras.

Fired en masse, 362 union-led newspaper employees spend 20 months in Delhi High Court without relief– only to start afresh before a labour tribunal.

Tens of thousands of farmers persuaded to borrow for modern tools, chemicals and seed incur a crop of debt they cannot cope with– and end their lives.

Hired on merit, a scheduled tribe teacher harassed at work goes to the Central Administrative Tribunal, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court– her battle and hounding cut short by her death in the premature delivery of a stillborn.

Those are some glimpses of what India’s so-called strong labour laws are doing for– and to– some of its officially counted 400 million workforce Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls ‘toiling masses’.

Labour and Employment Ministry officials say India has 154 labour laws to ensure welfare of roughly 30 million organised workers and 370 million unorganised workers, including some 250 million farmers and farm hands.

Set up 36 years ago to research labour issues, V V Giri National Labour Institute has yet to produce a comprehensive study of workplace disputes, their causes and outcomes– that might have shown the way to reform.

As in instances cited at the outset, those guilty of making life miserable for some of India’s workmen and women seldom suffer personal consequences under the law.

That, experts acknowledge, defeats right there a key purpose of any legal system– to deter crime by instilling the fear of law in potential offenders.

“Where we fail is in punishing our crooks or offenders,” says former Calcutta High Court Chief Justice D S Tewatia, stressing the urgency of reforms to remedy the situation.

Knowing, for instance, that the worst consequence of denying employees’ wages is having to pay after 10 or 15 years, employers may take such recourse capriciously at the slightest pretext or even without any.

Quite unlike elsewhere in the civilised world, employers in India do not face jail or hefty punitive damages that may make them behave.

In the United States, for instance, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was given more than 24 years in prison for fraud and conspiracy involving more than US40 billion dollars debt, thousands of lost livelihoods and duped clients.

Before sentencing, an outraged Enron employee of 17 years, Kevin Hyatt, had asked the judge to ‘send a message’ to other corporate executives by giving Skilling the maximum sentence.

About labour legislation in India, a Western expert observes with an almost audible smirk, ”these laws are of little broad significance. They have long been circumvented in practice in most areas of the economy.”

Such laws as Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923, Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970, Industrial Disputes Act 1947, Factories Act 1948 and Minimum Wages Act 1948 provide imprisonment for violators.

But strangely the option to invoke those provisions is controlled by government officials.

Headquarters of the International Labour Organ...

International Labour Organisation – Presiding (United Nations Photo)

For any harassment they inflict on employees, employers cannot be prosecuted on those counts without express sanction of labour inspectors or commissioners.

Here are some examples:

– Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923 section 18A(2): No prosecution under this section shall be instituted except by or with the previous sanction of a Commissioner.

– Industrial Disputes Act 1947 Section 34(1): No Court shall take cognisance of any offence punishable under this Act or of the abetment of any such offence, save on complaint made by or under the authority of the appropriate government.

How that works out on the ground was indicated when Lok Sabha Members Sunil Khan, Basudeb Acharia, Amitava Nandy and Gurudas Das Gupta drew attention to labour law violations some years ago.

The Labour Ministry gave data on the violations handled in 2003-04 and 2004-05 by the Central Industrial Relations Machinery headed by the Chief Labour Commissioner.

Of 9,826 and 9,538 disputes received under the IDA, for instance, 3,533 and 3,583 were settled while ”FOC– failure of conciliation–reports (were) submitted” in 4,276 and 2,743 disputes respectively.

The Ministry gave no account of how many violators, if any, went to jail.

“The Ministry and its machinery should be protecting labour– not employers,” was how Acharia, a Communist Marxist MP from Bankura, West Bengal, put it.

Asked then if he knew of any case in which an industrialist has had to go behind bars for breaking labour laws, Acharia said, “not one.”

As it is, given poverty and unemployment on one hand and the state of law and courts obtaining on the other, employees find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

The reverse appears to hold for affluent industrialists. Matters are filed in courts where they take years before it is time for appeals and more years.

How workmen or women survive without wages or relief may be hard to grasp for authorities not familiar with such hardship.

Thus it is that workers lose jobs while employers keep running industries and establishments– unmindful of consequences not in evidence. There is little to deter employers’ misconduct.

A published source says even West Bengal, the left bastion, saw 274 lockouts in 2000, more than half– 143– declared to reduce workforce on “the pretext of loss of economic viability.”

Short of sound laws and implementation, half measures abound.

The Institute of Company Secretaries of India proposed some time ago requiring independent professional assurance from practising company secretaries on labour law compliance.

But critics stress the importance of sound labour laws and effective enforcement.

Experts point out how professional auditors have for decades approved accounts without raising an eyebrow– while Swiss numbered accounts of Indians have grown.

Given such facts or data, it may appear natural that workers representatives agitate to rectify things.

Strangely, it is employers’ associations which have been demanding greater facility to hire and fire employees, a Labour Ministry statement noted some time ago.

“The employers have been vehemently pressing for labour reforms on the plea that these are necessary for making Indian industry globally competitive and for attracting more of foreign direct investment.

“The existing laws, it is contended by employers, slow down growth and job creation. They say that under the existing labour laws the churning of new skills is slower; companies lose cost cutting flexibility and ability to bounce out of recession quickly.

“The employers further contend that Labour Market will become more flexible with the amendments; more workers can be hired legitimately and can ask for better benefits including better work conditions, safety standards, welfare measures and health benefits,” the statement said.

Some of these arguments are backed by such institutions as the World Bank.

But critics ask how governments reconcile promises to workers of more jobs with bigger pay packets and better work conditions with promises held out to foreign investors of abundant cheap and skilled labour.

English: Official Portrait released by the Off...

Labour & Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge (Photo: Wikipedia)

At a conference in New Delhi, WB experts spoke of better work contracts.

Asked who will fix a contract if an employer breaks it, the experts promptly replied: the Courts.

Asked if it was fair for employees to have to go through years of litigation for wages of their work, the experts conceded the incongruity of the situation and spoke of judicial reforms.

They argued that reforms would follow in the legal system as pressure builds up. But that, critics say, is like putting the cart before the horse, especially considering some recent trends in labour-related adjudication and judicial orders.

On the other hand, experts say it is important to note that the associations seeking to change the rules are made up of industrialists who are themselves often subsidised by taxpayers in any number of ways.

Apart from receiving concessions in tax and costs of land and other public resources, many have been notorious in building up lakhs of crores of rupees of India’s Non Performing Assets– a euphemism for unrepaid loans.

Unlike tens of thousands of debt-ridden farmers who end their life unable to face the ignominy, no one appears to have heard of NPA defaulters making such choices.

Experts agree that the government must strike a balance. Citizens must not only be proclaimed to be equal, they must also be treated as equals. Just as workers must work, so must employers manage properly and pay wages.

Any failures or abuses, including manipulation of unions, must lead to consequences, they say.

Laws and fora must be put in place or firmed up to deliver justice in time– not at leisure, experts say.

UNI MJ TBA RP 1454

Related articles

Whither Reform ? Time To Audit Law-making ? – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                        February 19, 2006

Whither Reform ? Time To Audit Law-making ?

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

English: Parliament building in New Delhi (San...

Where Laws Are Made – Sansad Bhavan or Parliament Building (Photo: Wikipedia)

New Delhi (UNI) – Pendency went up 25 per cent – to 30 million cases – as authorities spent 2005 computerising courts, equipping judges with laptops, promoting arbitration and legal literacy and planning nyayalayas across rural India– all the while deferring reforms mostly to 2006. Maybe !

The year had begun with a call in the presence of a senior Supreme Court judge to curtail lawyers’ fees and sieve out those who do not conform to the expectations of a noble calling.
About same time, President A P J Abdul Kalam was questioning a bid to transfer a high court chief justice whose concern over judicious conduct had 25 brother judges attempting a ‘strike.’
And Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj was announcing moves to strengthen the Judge’s Inquiry Act and a Bill to appoint a Lokpal to ensure accountability in executive, legislature and judiciary– the three key branches of governance.
Those events marked the very first week of 2005.
If such straws in the wind– and a new left-backed United Progressive Alliance at helm– produced hopes of real reforms in delivery of justice and rule of law blowing in soon– the wait did not end with the year.
The Right To Information Act, 2005 which came into force on October 12– cited by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh among key achievements– is seen by experts as a valuable tool to expose corruption.
Legal redress or remedy which include compensating victims and punishing culprits is another matter.
Media ‘stings’ which showed some Members of Parliament virtually vending the privilege of raising questions in the House or spending on development were a rude reminder that accountability was not really round the corner.
Their expulsions notwithstanding, the ‘exposed’ MPs are knocking on the doors of courts for justice.
It refreshes memories of one of the most controversial Supreme Court judgements that the Indian Constitution gives MPs taking bribes an immunity from prosecution ”if they have actually spoken or voted in the House pursuant to the bribe taken by them.”
That judgement allowed the acquittal of four Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs who had voted for the Narasimha Rao Government 12 years ago in return for bribes.
Then Law Commission Chairman B P Jeevan Reddy suggested making bribe-taking legislators liable for prosecution.
”Nothing… should bar the prosecution of a Member of Parliament under the Prevention of Corruption Act… if they take money for voting in Parliament.”
Asked about it eleven years later at a news conference in January 2005, the Law Minister acknowledged that steps were yet to be taken to preclude such interpretation– as, indeed, they yet are.
Lokpal to check corruption in public offices itself was conceived four decades ago but is still nowhere in sight. Tired of waiting, activists have announced a People’s Lokpal.
Efforts on Lokpal or to strengthen the law to discipline errant senior judges remain under way.
By proclaiming 2005 as the Year of Excellence in Judiciary and pronouncing the institution ‘clean’– close on the heels of allegedly scandalous behaviour involving some senior judges– then Chief Justice of India Ramesh Chandra Lahoti helped underscore accountability as well as transparency.
Bhardwaj insists that any disciplinary action against senior judges be taken only by their peers and to that end the Judges’ Inquiry Act 1968 needs strengthening.
The Act provides to impeach an errant judge– a step rendered ineffective due to partisan politics the only time it was invoked against Supreme Court Judge V Ramaswamy who had been dubbed ”guilty of wilful and gross misuses of office…”
Authorities have no other way to effectively discipline senior Judges. An in-house mechanism has been adopted in absence of any legislative provisions. But experts say such a mechanism suffers from opacity and uncertainty.
Three years ago, within hours of taking office as CJI, Justice Gopal Ballav Pattanaik stressed in a television interview more powers to tackle corruption in judiciary.
Just a week before, his predecessor, Justice Bhupinder Nath Kirpal had called for ”robust safeguards” to minimise fears of corruption and incompetence in a judiciary appointing itself.
He said, ”the members of the judiciary are also Indian citizens who come from the same aggregate as those in the legislature and the administration, and therefore, there are also instances where corruption and incompetence have also pervaded the judicial establishment that cannot be denied.”
In December 2001, then CJI, Justice Sam Piroj Bharucha told a lawyers’ group in Kerala that ”more than 80 per cent of the Judges in this country, across the board, are honest and incorruptible.
”It is that smaller percentage that brings the entire judiciary into disrepute. To make it known that the judiciary does not tolerate corruption in its ranks, it is requisite that corrupt Judges should be investigated and dismissed from service.”
In December 1989, on the eve of retiring as CJI, Justice E S Venkataramaiah told an interviewer that ”judiciary in India has deteriorated in standards because some of the judges are willing to be influenced by lavish parties and whisky bottles.”
However, concern and disquiet voiced over the years has yet to produce a remedy.
The Law Minister suggests ‘formalising’ the in-house mechanism– leaving the task of ensuring accountability still with judges but making clear provisions for punitive measures such as suspension or resignation of errant judges.
With that in mind, India’s Central and State Law Ministers met at Simla in June 2005 and decided to set up a National Judicial Council to ensure judicial accountability.
Such measures may not find favour with some judges.
On the other hand, legislators and the executive– not to mention the judiciary– owe the citizens a transparent and accountable system of justice.
In a broader context, accountability was emphasised by Justice Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal seven months before he became the 36th CJI.
Speaking at the launch of a legal literacy mission by Prime Minister Singh, Justice Sabharwal said, ”We need to set examples of accountability in our governance.”
Three months ago, the Law Commission received a reference on the Judges’ Inquiry Act. This month, the Commission submitted to the Law Minister ”a comprehensive study” on ”the procedure for removal of the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.”
As it is, on one hand, judges cannot be disciplined unless their peers so choose– on the other they cannot be criticised without risking six months in jail under the court’s contempt power.
A long-awaited reform has been to allow truth as a defence against the contempt power which ends up silencing, at least discouraging, even fair, healthy and well-meaning criticism.
Last February, a Bill to ”further liberalise the scope to permit a defence of justification by truth on satisfaction as to bona fides of the plea and it being in public interest” was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
Just two days before the year ended did the Manmohan Singh Cabinet approve a ”proposal to proceed further in Parliament (on) the Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Bill 2004.”
An even more basic issue is judges’ strength. Not only it is known to be lower in India than elsewhere, it is further undermined by many vacancies and possible quality issues. Delayed judicial appointments contribute to delayed justice, even though authorities know years before vacancies arise and can set up a pool from which judges are assigned without delay.
So far as making lawyers accountable to litigants is concerned, the Advocate’s Act remains where it was.
Apart from complaints of incompetence, inefficiency and indifference, ethical issues are a major concern in the legal profession.
Lawyers who should look out for clients’ interests, are at times known to mislead them– treating cases as milch cows prolonged through adjournments for years– or even colluding with clients’ opponents.
Victims can complain to statutory Bar Councils. But the Councils are not always prompt in responding, nor can they help litigants recover any losses caused due to members’ misconduct.
One practical remedy might be for courts to keep for litigants’ reference a lawyers’ roster along with any record of complaints of misconduct against each– whether resolved or pending.
As it is, the authorities have not even dusted Law Commission findings since protesting lawyers clashed with police on Parliament Street a few years ago.
Here is an undergraduate textbook extract on the reality of Equality Before Law in actual practice during the erstwhile British rule:
”The principle of equality before law was violated when laws became complicated and beyond the grasp of uneducated poor masses.
They had to engage lawyers who charged excessive fees and preferred to work for the rich. In addition, the prevalence of corruption in the administrative machinery and the police worked against the rights of the masses.”
More than 57 years after the British quit India, the call to simplify the language of laws of the land was given by Prime Minister Singh at the launch of the country’s first nationwide legal literacy mission in March 2005.
”The complex legal language of our statutes acts as a hurdle to legal literacy… compounded by the intricacies of legal language in judicial pronouncements,” Dr Singh told law professionals.
”An attempt should be made to simplify the language of the law so that any one who reads judgements and laws can easily understand their true meaning.”
In November, the cold-blooded killing of Indian Oil Corporation officer Manjunath Shanmugam, who blew the whistle on corrupt petrol outlets, underscored once again the crying need in India for law to protect whistleblowers– insiders who expose corrupt or abusive organisations or employers.
Such laws have existed in and served other advanced societies for decades.
In India, a study was made by the Law Commission and a Draft Bill put together and placed in Parliament more than three years ago.
It was before the MPs when National Highway Authority officer Satyendra Dubey lost his life in November 2003, not to mention when Shanmugam lost his– two years later.
As it is, critics say, officials who appear to find protection in Indian jurisprudence are the sort who acquiesce in or connive at violations.
In case after case– whether petrol pump distribution scam, St Kitts affair, Hawala scam, Bofors scandal or many more– bureaucrat after bureaucrat and politician after politician has found acquittal or escape.
It is dramatically exemplified in manifestations of justice that hit consumers of New Delhi’s municipal and housing services this winter.
Law abiding citizens hailed the drive ordered by the Delhi High Court, urging impartiality and wondering whether– and why– law spared pre-2000 violations or officials on whose watch violations took shape.
Published accounts say three-fourths– perhaps more– of the Capital’s 36,00,000 buildings are illegal. Yet municipal authorities have taken note of only 200,000 of them and acted against barely a thousand.
The ongoing drive targets a mere 18,299 cases detected since 2000.
The court also has ordered the city to ”fix responsibility” and initiate major penalty against engineers and officials ”who allowed or took no notice” of such constructions.
If punitive action has been taken, it has not been made public.
Critics say city bulldozers have been ‘discrete,’ steering wide clear of homes of India’s bigwigs or affluent– entire unauthorised neighbourhoods or localities !
Critics advocate punishing officials who let violations occur and such agencies as the Delhi Development Authority whose policies or actions– why lottery ? for instance– have encouraged and stoked speculation in housing.
They say it all reflects the state of rule of law in India.
Here are some more reflections of it:
– Hundreds of thousands of undertrials have been in custody– many for years, even longer than their convictions might have required them to spend in jail. Why legal attention remains denied is not clear given huge sums spent year after year on legal aid for needy. Former Law Minister Jana Krishnamurthi saw it as a serious flaw that must not be allowed.
– An Indian Society of International Law inaugurated in August 1959 by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru might have been a guiding force, helping inform and shape public opinion on global law. In 2005, it was sued by its Treasurer over violations of domestic norms.
– The Bar Council of India disclosed two years ago that 131 high court judges– one in four– across India have kin practising in the same court– an arrangement or coincidence forbidden under the law for fear of promoting unfairness in justice. The Council campaigned for transfer of 131 HC judges– in vain.
– But 2005 saw a High Court Chief Justice transferred twice in seven months, each time reportedly on brother judges’ complaints. In February, Justice B K Roy was transferred to Gauhati HC after he had asked some Punjab and Haryana HC judges why they took complimentary membership of an exclusive club, and in September, to the Sikkim HC, after he tried to improve access to justice in the Northeast by assigning Judges to benches in states neighbouring Assam.
– Despite scam after sordid scam sapping public interest, legislators have neither enacted Lokpal nor discarded it as a bad idea unfit for Indian society in the 40 years since it was recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission set up under Morarji Desai in 1966.
– In November 1996, the Supreme Court found that former Petroleum Minister Satish Sharma favoured 15 petrol pump allottees and fined him Rs 50,00,000. Another Bench overruled this in August 1999. Two years later, an expert group led by Justice Reddy reviewed both orders and said it was ”absolutely essential” and ”urgent” to enact a law making public servants liable– with exemplary damages– for loss caused to the State by their mala fide actions. Last April, the Central Bureau of Investigation explained its failure to file chargesheet in the 15 cases citing a government decision ”not to grant sanction” to prosecute Sharma.
– In 30 years, the Lalit Narain Mishra murder case has been transferred to nine judges, and of seven accused, the statement of only two recorded. A Parliamentary report dubs it ”a classic case” which ”epitomises the lethargic pace at which the Indian legal system operates.”
”We must realise,” Justice Sabharwal said in his Law Day speech in November ”that the end of law must be justice. Law and justice cannot afford to remain distant neighbours. There must be harmony between law and justice.
”We must, in all seriousness, ask ourselves… how far we have been able to fulfil the mission of law to deliver justice and to what extent we have succeeded in using law as a vehicle for ensuring social justice to the large masses of people in the country.”
Experts concede that not just justice, legislation– the process of enacting laws of the land– also suffers from delays.
They say the terribly slow pace of legislating reforms is as constricting and agonising to the society as delay in adjudication is to an individual victim.
In India, the process also suffers from near absence of public participation in so-called public debate– often confined to hearing select speakers in one forum or another with hardly any audience input.
Those are just some of the serious questions that need to be faced. ”It is also perhaps a most ignored aspect of public interest issues by Indian research and scholarship,” a Delhi University Law teacher acknowledges.
Experts concede what is needed is a thorough but quick audit or study of legislative function– to see how it can be made effective in dealing with the needs of transparency, accountability and law in the society.
UNI MJ PK GC1148

Jailing Corrupt Politician, Officer Or Judge ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                   April 9, 2011

English: Hon. Anna Hazare in Nanded , Maharastra .

Anna Hazare (Photo: Wikipedia)

Jailing Corrupt Politician, Officer Or Judge !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – With a 72-year-old fasting for five days, the government today announced a panel to draft within 83 days a Bill for Lok Pal– 45 years after it was conceived to regulate Indian governance.

Anna Hazare broke his fast amid euphoria at authorities yielding on an issue government after government has dodged for decades without discarding the idea outright.

The announcement listed ten members, five each representing the United Progressive Alliance government and the activists, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as chairman and former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, as co-chairman.
”The Joint Drafting Committee shall complete its work latest by 30th June, 2011,” the announcement by the Law and Justice Ministry said.
The members include Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Water Resources and Minority Minister Salman Khursheed on one hand, and septuagenarian Hazare, Justice N Santosh Hedge, advocate Prashant Bhushan and activist Arvind Kejriwal on the other.
Dr Moily has been named convenor.
Experts hailed the development but were cautious about expectations.
”What we have witnessed over the past week is anger, real anger of people, reflecting injustices that have been building and must be redressed and the guilty punished,” said former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah. ”This anger must be properly channelised for national and public good.”
A document titled Salient Features of Jan Lok Pal Bill circulated by activists who pitched their camp at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday spelt out some of the ideas they brought to root out corrupt.
– Creating an institution called Lok Pal at the centre and Lokayukta in each State so ”completely transparent” that any complaint against even its own members is investigated and a guilty ”officer dismissed within two months;”
– ”Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the governments” so that ”no minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations;”
– Giving Lok Pal complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician;
– Recovering any public exchequer or government loss caused by a corrupt act from the perpetrator at the time of conviction;
– Imposing financial penalty on officers guilty of not doing ”any work” of a citizen in prescribed time and giving it to complainant as compensation;
– Ensuring cases against corrupt do not linger– giving a year for investgation and another year for trial– so that ”corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years;”
– Lok Pal members to be selected by citizens, besides judges and constitutional authorities– not politicians– through ”a completely transparent and participatory process” to preclude induction of corrupt or weak individuals;
– Merging anti-corruption agencies– vigilance commissioners and anti-corrupt investigators– into Lok Pal;
– Requiring Lok Pal to provide protection to those victimized for raising their voice against corruption.
Activists say citizens denied ration or voter cards or passports could turn to a Lok Pal as could those having difficulty lodging complaints with police, for instance.
Anyone with complaints about, say, the quality of roads or abuse of public parks or other works could also request investigation into possible corruption by elected  or other officials. ”The guilty will go to jail within two years.”
Although Lok Pal, as a political ombudsman was conceived 45 years ago, it is still nowhere around.
”We have been misled completely,” Gandhian Satyagraha Brigade spokesman Shambhu Dutta Sharma, who, too, has been campaigning for a Lok Pal said of government failure to pass a law. ”We cannot trust any longer.”
The concept of Lok Pal– inspired by Sweden’s ombudsman– grew out of an interim report on redressal of citizens’ grievances submitted in 1966 by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai.
Two years later, the Lok Pal and the Lok Ayuktas Bill, 1968 was introduced in the 4th Lok Sabha, when late Mrs Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister.
It was considered by a joint committee of the two Houses of Parliament and passed by the Lok Sabha in 1969. It was pending in the Rajya Sabha when the Lok Sabha was dissolved. The bill lapsed.
Resistance to the bill appears manifest in the fact that even after being tabled seven more times– in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001– it has never again been put to vote.
While authorities did not enact a Lok Pal they certainly did not reject it– possibly because doing so might have placed on them the onus to find a substitute.
Indeed, in 2007, a second Administrative Reforms Commission recommended appointing a national ombudsman called Rashtriya Lok Ayukta instead of Lok Pal.
Critics say corruption in public life has been sinking lower and lower, compounded by a virtually unaccountable governance.
Agencies or institutions once created in public interest appear to have become part of the problem instead of being instrumental in finding solutions.
The past year or so has seen unprecedented– in sheer size– allegations of financial irregularities levelled at the UPA government.
Public mind has been disillusioned by one scam after another whether it is 2G– underselling mobile phone licences at public cost notionally estimated at Rs 1.75 lakh crores– or Rs 70,000 crore extravagance in organising Commonwealth games.
”Hopefully,” Justice Shah said, ”there will be a proper bill. But at the same time before any Bill is put to vote there must be a thorough public debate about it in which citizens not just experts or authoritative figures should be heard on their opinions, questions, concerns and suggestions. No doubt we need a strong Lok Pal, but we also need a strong executive, legislature and judiciary.”
For rule of law to find a sound footing in India, the nation must attend to a lot more legislative reform, experts acknowledge.
UNI MJ SK 2308

Soumya Vishwanathan’s Employer Fined Rs 250 – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                              March 26, 2009

Soumya Vishwanathan’s Employer Fined Rs 250

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Four months after a woman journalist was found shot in her car in the dead of night, her employer paid a Re 250 fine for breaking the Capital’s work hour norms.

TV journalist Soumya VishwanathanShot in dead of night (Photo: Mid-day.com)

The quantum of fine for the sort of violation incurred in Soumya Vishwanathan being at work till 3 am, some half an hour from a killer bullet, was set in the 1950s, shortly after India gained freedom.

Section 14 of the Delhi Shops and Establishments Act 1954 outlaws any establishment allowing women to work between 9 pm and 7 am in summer and, 8 pm and 8 am, in winter.

”Any contravention… shall on conviction, be punished with fine which shall not be less than twenty-five rupees and which may extend to two hundred and fifty rupees,” Section 40 of the Act says.

Indian governance– no matter the political label– has let it remain, notwithstanding the fall in Rupee’s buying capacity, the changing values or conditions, the state of security and the level of law and enforcement half a century thence.

”It’s one of the outdated provisions,” V V Giri National Labour Institute researcher Sanjay Upadhyaya acknowledged in an interview with United News of India Special Correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani.

On September 30, 2008, Ms Vishwanathan, 26, left her place of work at 03:02 am, say police, who got word of the incident at 3.41 am.

Greeting the news of the arrest of her alleged killers some six months later her mother, Madhavi Vishwanathan, remarked: ”It’s unfortunate that another murder had to take place.” She was referring to the murder of Jigisha Ghosh, 28, killed last week returning home from work.

The Soumya Vishwanathan murder sparked a debate over a young woman driving home from work unescorted at such hours.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s reported remark that ”one should not be adventurous” shocked even admirers of a woman CM. It contorted a serious issue, critics said.

”The girl is being blamed for driving home late after work,” fumed Sudha Sundararaman of All India Democratic Women Association.

She said the Chief Minister should instead be ”finding out how this happened and looking at ways to strengthen the city’s security set-up.”

Angry netizens pointed out that a chief minister responsible for law and order must make the city safe and secure for residents.

One, G Sriniwasan, remarked: If Shiela has her Z security removed and has to work to earn a living possibly she will change her tone.

Chief Minister of Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit (Photo: Wikipedia)

Ms Dikshit acknowledged in a published interview that ”travelling at three in the morning is not a safe thing for anybody to do… even for boys.” She said, ”Companies employing young girls and boys 24 hours for that matter should provide escort for the safety of our girls and boys.”

Section 14 says ”no young person, or woman shall be allowed or required to work whether as an employee or otherwise in any establishment between 9 pm and 7 am during the summer season and between 8 pm and 8 am during the winter season.”

The Delhi government exempts employers who make workplaces ”secure and safe” for employees and provide them ”door to door pick-up and drop facility.”

Two weeks after the murder, New Delhi newspapers published her ‘Appeal’ reminding employers of exemption available ”subject to the safety and security of the women.”

But in a society where jobs are scarce and law enforcement scarcer– barely six per cent conviction rate for even heinous crimes– what happens when an employer does not obtain exemption ?

The city’s Shops and Establishments Chief Inspector filed a complaint naming the employer, Managing Director Aroon Purie, and the establishment, M/s TV Today Network, as accused no. 1 and no. 2.

K R Verma submitted that Ms Vishwanathan, working as producer with ”the aforesaid Management/Employer, met with an accident on her way home after leaving from work at 3.02.54 AM.”

The work attendance sheet showed that late Ms Vishwanathan and some other women employees ”worked during the hours prohibited under the Act,” the complaint said.

It said the management having ”not been granted any exemption” for Section 14, ”the employer committed an offence by violating the provision… and is liable to be punished” under section 40.

It prayed ”that the accused be summoned, tried and… punished according to law.” A lawyer for Purie urged the court to ”dispense with” his client’s personal appearance, saying he was ”falsely implicated” and ”impleaded for malafide reasons.”

Advocate Sushil Dutt Salwan pointed out that his client was ”a Padma Vibhushan Awardee” and ”not involved” in the company’s day to day administrative affairs.

On February 19, before Special Metropolitan Magistrate Javed Aslam at Karkardooma, the accusation was explained to a company executive, Puneet Jain, to which he pleaded guilty voluntarily.

Each accused was fined Rs 250 which was paid.

But if penalty is intended to deter violations then a Re 250 fine in 2009, specially when it is not reported by mass media, amounts to little, experts acknowledge.

The order is not even on the internet notwithstanding Rs 854 crore of Indian taxpayer money the Law and Justice Ministry is spending on computerising courts and judgements or orders.

In a newspaper interview as early as December 2002, Verma’s predecessor, M K Gaur, had warned that call centres faced prosecution unless they complied with law.

Incidents involving women employees returning home from call centres at odd hours show the inadequacy of deterrence at work.

Experts agree there is dire need for clear laws, with strong deterrence in terms of mandatory punishment not just for violations, but for any lapse in enforcement at any level.

The 1954 Act regulating work hours, pay and so on is one of two dozen laws on matters ranging from minimum wage to gratuity the city’s understaffed Labour Department enforces.

While commercial activity has mushroomed, hogging even space meant for homes and street traffic, law or its rule have yet to catch up.

The Department neither knows how many units do business in the National Capital Territory– having stopped counting two decades ago– nor makes inspections provided in law to catch offenders.

Asked by UNI in September 2008– just weeks before the murder– how many shop owners were prosecuted under the Act in the last three years, the Department replied: ”Nil.” But experts indicate more bad news– a trend gradually excluding more and more employees from the protective coverage of labour laws.

Upadhyaya cites the ”reversal” of a theory of notional extension of employers’ premises upheld in Supreme Court Judge S Jafer Imam’s judgement of April 28, 1958.

Recent apex court judgements– September 1996 and November 2006– do not appear to subscribe to the principle, he says, stressing the need for a ”more worker centric” approach by judiciary.

UNI MJ

Chinese Help Sought For Sailors’ Release – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                             October 8, 2008

 

Chinese Help Sought For Sailors’ Release

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – The Chinese authorities were urged by an Indian woman today to help secure release of a Hong Kong-registered chemical tanker and its 22 crew members seized by Somali pirates in the Aden Gulf 24 days ago.

English:

(Photo: Wikipedia)

They said they would see what can be done to expedite matters, Seema Goyal, wife of Stolt Valor’s Captain, Prabhat Goyal, said in a telephone interview while she was on her way to Dehradun to be with her children.

Mrs Goyal met China’s Charge d’affaires in New Delhi, Ambassador Zhang Yan being away travelling.

The Japanese-owned tanker flying the Hong Kong flag was on way to Mumbai from Houston in the United States when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.

The pirates demanded $6 million– subsequently pared down to $2 million– for letting the ship sail.

The tanker is carrying phosphoric acid and lubricant oil for end-users, including Kandla-based Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited.’ Besides 18 Indians, the crew includes a Russian, a Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.

Nine of 22 hostage crew members on board have taken ill waiting for freedom from Somali captors holding out for the ransom, relatives say.

The hostages have been running low on water and food.

On Monday, Mrs Goyal met a Japanese Embassy official in New Delhi in an effort to build up pressure on the ship’s Japanese owners to secure a quick end to the crisis.

Mrs Goyal and other members of the group have been meeting Indian authorities– ministers, senior bureaucrats, politicians– to bring home the urgency of securing the sailors’ release.

Experts say much of the initiative in the matter rests with authorities in Hong Kong, where the ship is registered, or Japan, where the owners belong.

On Tuesday, Mrs Goyal addressed a rally of seafarers unions in Mumbai and was handed a petition for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging steps to ensure hostages’ safe return and preclude such acts.

UNI MJ MIR HT2137

Ex-Hostage’s Wife Wants Laws Against Piracy Business ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                       July 6, 2011

 

Ex-Hostage’s Wife Wants Laws Against Piracy Business !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Indian authorities were urged today to enact clear laws– as well as enforce them– to regulate merchant seafaring, including hiring of sailors and allowing or requiring armed guard to protect vessels against pirates.

Gulf of Aden

Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

”Otherwise this piracy business will go on thriving,” Sampa Arya, whose husband Sandeep Arya was among Indian sailors aboard merchant vessel Suez released after a reported US$2.1 million payoff to Somali pirates, told journalists.

The racket has grown 177 per cent in just one last year, Mrs Arya claimed, drawing presumably on internet data.

She was accompanied by relatives of six Indian sailors in the captivity of Somali pirates aboard another merchant vessel called Iceberg.

The seamen captive aboard MV Iceberg: Jaswinder Singh of Haryana, Dhiraj Tiwari, Ganesh Mohite and Swapnil Jadhav of Maharashtra, Santosh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh and Shah Ji Kumar Purshotanam of Kerala.

Former Subedar Major Purshotam Tiwari said his son and five others from India were hostage for the past 16 months. He had sought the help of the Shipping, External Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence Ministries as well as the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Bihar. He had even drawn the attention of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil, all without much avail.

Mrs Arya criticised what she suggested was a ”passive” government approach to the issue of sailors taken hostage for ransom.

The reported US$2.1 million came from MV Suez owner Abdul M Mathar of Egypt and a welfare trust run by former Pakistani Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney who also helped negotiate.

”It was with Ansar Burney’s help that we managed to negotiate with the pirates,” an Indian online outlet quoted Mathar as saying.

Experts say Somalis have been targeting mostly ships flying Flags of Convenience, which typically have budget constraints, are ill-equipped, and thus easier to overwhelm.

Merchant ship owners often register their vessels in a foreign sovereign State to reduce operating costs and avoid regulations in force in their own countries.

English: GULF OF ADEN (March 22, 2009) The Amp...

Counter piracy effort – Amphibious assault ship USS Boxer and aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transit the Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

The term Flag of Convenience in use over half a century pertains to the civil ensign a ship flies to indicate its country of registration under the laws of which it operates.

The idea caught on and by the late 1960s Liberia surpassed Britain as the world’s largest shipping register.

More than a dozen States currently operating ‘open registries’ are reported to have sub-standard regulations.

More than half of the world’s merchant ships are registered under Flags of Convenience, with Panamanian, Liberian and Marshallese registries accounting for almost 40 per cent of the world fleet in deadweight tonnage.

A key criticism of the system is it lets shipowners be legally anonymous and difficult to prosecute in civil and criminal actions.

Such ships are also alleged to be engaged in crime ranging from illegal fishing to terrorism, offer substandard wages and working conditions and targeted for special enforcement by countries they visit.

But given the level of unemployment and state of regulation in developing countries such as India finding sailors is hardly a problem.

Complicating the situation over the past half a dozen years has been the Gulf of Aden, where a war-torn Somalia, without a functioning government since 1991, has turned into a hotbed of piracy.

Article 101 of Law of the Sea convention 1982 defines piracy as any illegal act of violence or detention or depredation committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship on the high seas against another ship or persons or property on board such ship.

But experts say it does not cover all cases of piracy.

”The Somali situation does not seem to strictly qualify as piracy under the Law of the Sea convention 1982,” says former additional director general of Shipping and nautical adviser J S Gill, adding that the wording ”may hamper charging a person as a pirate.”

A former chairman of the Delhi branch of the Company of Master Mariners of India, Capt Gill sees piracy as an exigency that ought to be linked to insurance, since it is underwriters who must eventually make good any losses to vessels or cargo.

Mariners interviewed say Somali activity has spawned a whole new mostly-Western industry for insuring vessels at risk with ever-increasing premiums.

That and other factors such as the data intelligence Somalis seem to possess or lawyers quick to rise to their defence on arrest suggest a new dimension– of an ‘organised under-world.’

Far from being sea pirates hunting for victims, they sometimes seem well-informed about their potential targets to the point of knowing for instance the cargo on board and the exact number of hands a vessel set out with, seafarers say.

Capt Gill who was present at the news conference said sailors in such captivity were often found to have taken employment through unlicensed agents.

”While the government may not be strictlly legally responsible for their employment they deserve basic humanitarian assistance as any citizen working abroad.

”Many victims or relatives,” Capt Gill said, ”do not know that the Director General, Shipping is statutorily entrusted to look out for Indian seamen in distress, irrespective of the source of their appointment, and must be persisted with.

”I believe the DG, Shipping and the MEA regularly press Embassies of the Flag States of the pirated ships.”

Mrs Arya stressed setting up a central agency to regulate seamen’s recruitment so as to help Indian aspirants steer clear of ships flying flags of convenience.

Experts say India has Shipping Masters at various ports supervising employment of merchant seamen and officers, but the system has eroded over the decades to a point that many seamen now find work without referring to it.

UNI MJ RSA 2240

9 Hostages Sick Aboard Seized Ship – Kin – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                October 7, 2008

9 Hostages Sick Aboard Seized Ship: Kin

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – As many as nine of 22 hostage crew members aboard Stolt Valor have taken ill waiting for freedom from Somali captors holding out for a $2 million ransom, relatives said tonight.

The hostages, 18 of them Indian, have been running low on water and food in the captivity of Somali pirates who seized their Chemical tanker in the gulf of Aden on September 15.

Somali pirates in the 21st century (Photo: somaliareport.com)

Somali pirates in the 21st century (Photo: somaliareport.com)

In a telephone interview from Mumbai, Seema Goyal, wife of the tanker’s Captain, Prabhat Goyal, indicated ”no tangible headway” in the 23-day-old crisis.

She is visiting the key port city meeting Shipping officials– including Shipping Director General and Nautical Advisor M M Saggi– and addressing sailors’ unions and ”gathering support.”

Mrs Goyal, who addressed a rally organised by several seafarers unions, was handed over a petition for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging steps to ensure hostages’ safe return and preclude such acts.

On Tuesday, she met a Japanese Embassy official in New Delhi in an effort to build up pressure on the ship’s Japanese owners to secure a quick end to the crisis.

The Japanese-owned tanker flying the Hong Kong flag was on way to Mumbai from Houston in the United States when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.

The tanker is carrying phosphoric acid and lubricant oil for end-users, including Kandla-based Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited.’

Besides 18 Indians, the crew includes a Russian, a Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.

Mrs Goyal and other members of the group have been meeting Indian authorities– ministers, senior bureaucrats, politicians– to bring home the urgency of securing the sailors’ release.

They held a candle light vigil on Saturday night drawing attention to the seafarers’ plight.

The pirates had demanded $6 million– subsequently pared down to $2 million– for letting the ship sail.

Experts say much of the initiative in the matter rests with authorities in Hong Kong, where the ship is registered, or Japan, where the owners belong.

UNI MJ PK AS2221

 

 

Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims : New Law Mag – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                      September 26, 2007

Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims: New Law Mag

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Professional negligence insurance for lawyers and other such issues are highlighted in a new legal magazine, Halsbury’s Law Monthly, unveiled by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan last evening.

When an advocate fails to provide competent services to his or her client (Photo: ethics-lawyer.com)

Insurance is intended to discourage practices and ways that hurt clients’ interests without much of a hope for them to recover losses, unless they have the stomach for protracted litigation– against their lawyer.

A Monthly piece stresses making professional negligence insurance mandatory in India, pointing out that it will make lawyers more vigilant and protect the clients’ interests.

Such measure can insure lawyers against claims for damages from clients who think the service received was not worth the fee given.

Speaking after unveiling a large-sized display of the magazine cover, Justice Balakrishnan spoke highly of the authoritative and reliable output of LexisNexis group which includes Butterworths, one of the largest legal publishers with over 180 years of history.

He said the publications were known for bringing out material which was a good source of reference professionals would like to possess and hoped the new magazine would live up to the publisher’s reputation.

”I hope the Monthly will maintain the high standards of Halsbury’s,” Justice Balakrishnan said.

LexisNexis’s Asia managing director John Atkinson told participants that the new venture would focus on such up and coming areas as outsourcing, retail, corporate and cyber laws and intellectual property.

The new publication is the publisher’s first in collaboration with Cybermedia, which already puts out nearly a dozen magazines.

LexisNexis also publish Halsbury’s Laws, The Malayan Law Journal, Mallal’s Digest, Laws of Malaysia, Hong Kong Cases and CaseBase.

Aalok Wadhwa, its managing director for India, said the magazine would orient readers to the growing potential of the corporate legal world in the current socio-economic environment.

In remarks afterwards, Atkinson told UNI that the group’s publications and efforts aim at promoting transparency and efficiency in legal affairs.

He cited how LexisNexis has implemented electronic-filing and electronic-service projects in some parts of the world, such as Colorado and Delaware.

”And it works. We’d certainly like to offer it in India.” Such efforts benefit not just courts, but also law firms by giving them prompt access to data, he said.

Asked whether the Monthly will focus on problems of access to justice or of corruption, Atkinson said initially the magazine expected to focus on such areas as the corporate law, which is a growing entity.

As for what he dubbed ”underlying problems,” he said the magazine has an editorial Board, mostly made up of lawyers, which will take such decisions.

Asked how the Butterworths have been roping in Judges to write for them, Atkinson said it was done as anywhere in the world, by first identifying a subject and then finding out who has the specific experience in that field of law and ask them.

A book assignment usually takes a couple of years to complete, and writers are only paid royalty from sales, he said.

UNI MJ

Consumer Activists For Fight Against Female Foeticide – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                                         April 22, 2002

Consumer Activists For Fight Against Female Foeticide

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Consumer experts have condemned female foeticide as a ‘social evil’ and misuse of technology and sought to involve women against doctors and others who engage in anti-consumer conduct.

India’s endangered gender ?  (Photo: Link)   

Participants at a three-day workshop that ended in New Delhi last evening also recommended women taking leadership in fighting against consumer interest violations by banks, airlines, communications, food and other industries and vendors.

They also came down heavily on an increasing tendency among doctors to resort to too many referrals which end up costing– and sometimes confusing– the patient, organisers said.

On foeticide, the participants strongly condemned such ”unprecedented” practice of sex-determination tests ”taking place… in some parts of the country,” a spokesman for Civic Rights Society, a lawyers group which organised the event, said.

Experts reported that the use of ”mobile machines” in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh despite an eight-year-old law against using diagnostic methods to determine the sex of the foetus– the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994– was promoting a new social evil, spokesman S Kumar said.

They said that to know the sex of an unborn child with a view to destroying the female child was a social evil linked to the evil of dowry.

“It was strongly felt that the doctors were also to be blamed in this practice as it is they who were instrumental in misusing the medical technology,” Kumar said.

The workshop inaugurated by British High Commissioner Rob Young was aimed at training women leaders to defend consumer rights. It heard judges, lawyers and medical and other experts’ call for empowering women in the area of consumer rights.

Although India has among the largest numbers of consumers in the world and a law has been enacted and even a Ministry appointed for their protection, speakers bemoaned that exercise of consumer rights in the country is still in infancy.

They said that given the levels of illiteracy, poverty and ignorance, Indian consumers continued to suffer exploitation– women, who do much of the buying of daily household necessities, silently bearing the brunt of it.

Senior Supreme Court Judge G B Pattanaik, noting that women were ”intimately associated” with 90 per cent of products and services and knew their quality and worth, held it was appropriate that women lead the fight for consumer rights.

He said this was especially so given the prevalence in India of such factors as the limited purchasing power, the perennial shortage of goods and an economic planning guided by principle of social justice.

Delhi High Court Chief Justice S B Sinha said women’s special role was recognised even under the Consumer Protection Act which provided ”that one of the Judges in the Consumer Forum should be a woman.”

Justice Sinha said, ”That provision has been made evidently with a view that the lady-judge would understand the day-to-day problems of household purchase whether product or service.”

With medical profession having been brought under the Act, women who– together with children– are a major health care consumer must develop awareness of quality, safety and cost of services they get, he said, adding that women could also help ensure food safety and avoid health hazards.

The participants deprecated doctors’ tendency to take recourse to increasing referral service subjecting patients to heavy costs, some of which could perhaps be avoided if doctors updated their knowledge and skills, the organisers said.

They said one speaker narrated how two different doctors gave two different opinions on the same ailment.

Earlier, in his inaugural address, the British Diplomat noted that women as consumers were the most vulnerable, but hastened to add that opportunities were growing for them to assert themselves.

Consumer movement across the globe has citizens influencing decisions once considered not their concern, such as adding a terminal at London’s Heathrow Airport or dumping an oil platform in the North Sea, he said.

The participants also voiced themselves against frequent strikes afflicting various industry and service sectors and sought steps for protection of consumer interests against these.

UNI MJ MM GR1016

House Panel: Legal Aid Or Eyewash ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                           June 22, 2006

House Panel: Legal Aid Or Eyewash !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – India’s poor litigants see legal aid provided to them by an authority set up eleven years ago as ”mere eyewash,” a parliamentary panel has reported.

”Poor litigants feel that legal aid being provided to them is mere eyewash,” according to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice.

E M Sudarsana Natchiappan (Photo: NoCorruption)

The National Legal Services Authority was set up in 1995 under the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 to provide ”free and competent” legal services to the needy.

The views of the Committee headed by EM Sudarsana Natchiappan are contained in its latest Report on the Law and Justice Ministry’s 2006-07 Demands for Grants.

The Committee said the programme lacked proper planning and suffered from paucity of funds and failure at the level of states to utilise even the grants made.

It said, ”the actual benefit of this scheme is not gaining access to poor litigants” and the programme is ”confined to high profile areas or capital cities only.”

The NALSA’s goal, according to the Committee, was to ensure that no Indian citizen is denied opportunity to secure justice because of economic or other disabilities.

Experts call it a tall order considering the high litigation costs– unbridled lawyers’ fees and protracted court processes– which a vast many Indians find hard to afford.

The NALSA’S budget to achieve it all in 2004-05, for instance, was Rs 5.98 crores– raised in 2005-06 to Rs ten crores and sought to be maintained thereat this year.

To be eligible for legal aid, the annual income limit fixed by the central government for cases before the Supreme Court is Rs 50,000. Fourteen states have to catch up with even that.

Over the past decade, the Authority claims to have aided 8.25 million individuals, besides holding 4,86,000 Lok Adalats or conciliation courts nationwide and settling 18.3 million cases.

But critics say that tells little about the sort of cases in which the Authority helped individuals, the quality of legal aid or the outcome.

Nor does it tell the plight of citizens who are neither eligible for legal aid nor can afford legal recourse on their own– with no limits enforced on lawyers’ fees or duration of proceedings.

As in ordinary cases, in aided cases, too, the quality of lawyering is a key issue, only perhaps more so given the ‘meagre’ fees NALSA advocates supposedly get, critics say.

The Committee noted that counsels engaged for the poor under the legal aid programme ”are paid meagerly” and ”good and reputed lawyers do not come forward to take up the cases. Even Senior Advocates do not take up such cases.”

”As a result,” the Committee said, ”the poor litigants feel that legal aid being provided to them is mere eyewash.”

The Committee recommended ”reasonably” enhancing the fee structure– and standardising it nationwide– so as to draw experienced and competent lawyers to legal aid.

The Committee was ”given to understand that the government has been providing adequate funds to NALSA from year to year. However, there has not been total utilisation of the allocated grants.”

Some years ago, the Committee had suggested ”hundred percent central funding for implementing NALSA and also to ensure that the central grants released to the State Governments are utilised fully.”

But the government says NALSA has yet to submit a consolidated scheme for its consideration covering all its plans and programmes ”for formulating a Centrally Sponsored Scheme and seeking due approval.”

In what it calls a ‘vision document,’ NALSA has listed sections of Indian population it hopes to empower through legal literacy– knowledge of the law and the confidence to use this knowledge.

They include children, the elderly, workers, women, victims of mental or other disabilities, floods, tsunamis, drought, insurgency, Devadasi or other trafficking and those stigmatised by such conditions as Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

The Committee took note of it but said ”certain grey areas need to be addressed by the Ministry.

”One such problem relates to lack of proper planning. Moreover, non-utilisation of grants by the States Legal Services Authorities is another area of concern.”

It asked the Ministry to ”effectively monitor” utilisation of funds and implementation of NALSA’s schemes and programmes.

”Constraints of funds should not come in the way of successful implementation of the scheme,” it stressed.

Experts discount the value of sheer legal literacy unless it is accompanied by reforms that make adjudication more responsive to the litigants’ needs.

UNI MJ RP BD1051