Cost of stalling legislation
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a petition filed by the Delhi Commission for Women against the release of the juvenile convict in the December 16 gang-rape case. “We share your concern, but our hands are tied by the existing law. There has to be a clear legislative sanction to extend the detention period beyond three years. Under the present law, detention cannot be extended beyond three years,” the apex court said. With the Supreme Court rejecting the plea against release of the juvenile convict, the parents of the December 16 gang-rape victim said that the courts have failed them and asked how many such cases will it take for the laws to change. Despite their heartfelt anguish, it’s a harsh indictment on the courts. The blame will be better apportioned on our Parliament. Earlier this year, the Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had tabled a comprehensive bill that seeks to lower the juvenile age from 18 to 16 for “heinous” offenses. Once passed through Parliament, the proposed law will make it possible for law enforcement agencies to try children between 16 and 18 years under the Indian Penal Code. If they are found guilty of serious crimes, they will lodge them in regular prisons instead of juvenile reform homes. Suffice to say, due to the successive logjams in the Rajya Sabha, there has been no serious discussion on the matter. Without a requisite change in the law, there is nothing much the courts can do to alter the course of justice. Despite its flaws, the bill could have given solace to the victim’s parents. It is imperative to note that the court’s role is only limited to interpreting the law of the land. Under pressure after massive public protests against the juvenile convict’s release, political parties have agreed to discuss the amended Juvenile Justice Bill on Tuesday. However, besides the amended legislation on juvenile justice, there are many other important bills pending that could be taken up for discussion in the current Winter Session. Among them is the Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill.
The Whistleblower’s Protection Act, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha in February 2014, is yet to be operationalised because the current ruling dispensation has been slow to frame the rules necessary for its implementation. The Whistleblowers Protection Bill came about after a sustained outrage and campaign after the deaths of Satyendra Dubey and Shanmugam Manjunath. In 2003, Dubey, an Indian Engineering Services officer, had written to the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, exposing massive corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral project. Soon after this letter was written, he was shot dead on the streets of Gaya. In 2005, Manjunath, an Indian Oil Corporation officer, was killed after he sealed a petrol pump in Lakhimpur Kheri (UP) for selling adulterated petrol. Since 2007, more than 40 people have been murdered for accessing crucial official documents under the Right to Information. Activists constantly face threats and harassment. The nexus of corruption ties together businessmen, contractors, criminals, politicians, bureaucrats and even the judiciary. They all receive their share of kickbacks from public money and work to protect this nexus. An honest official, who wishes to expose this corruption, faces a possible backlash from such powers. And yet one scam after another has been exposed by these whistleblowers, often at great risk to their lives.
Let’s not forget the goods and services tax (GST) Bill. The most ambitious indirect tax reform will not see the light of day due to the soap opera being played out in Parliament. One can attribute blame to a lot of factors and players. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the ruling NDA government to pass the Bill. The buck stops with the government. The “stalling” of legislation by opposition parties is fair game. It is finally incumbent on the ruling party to take up the mantle and find a way to propel its legislation process.