The Indian Express

Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Agarwal raised a point about the 12 famous Rajya Sabha MPs who almost never grace the house with their presence. These include Sachin Tendulkar, actors Rekha and Rupa Ganguly, and Mary Kom. “If they have no interest they should resign, others will come,” said Agarwal, to the Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien. (The Indian Express, March 31). This issue has been reported several times, notably four months ago, when only 23 MPs showed up on a working day when a minimum of 25 out of 245 members are required to start proceedings.

It is worth noting that besides the immense prestige of being a Member of Parliament in the world’s largest democracy, these nominated candidates are very generously compensated. They get housing in central Delhi, 34 single air journeys for free anywhere within India, access to clubs, cars and medical allowances, not counting far more undefined areas of benefit, like proximity to some of the most powerful individuals in India. This is by virtue of being exceptional stars in their own chosen fields. The Rajya Sabha MP status for people in the arts is seen as a retirement reward after a distinguished career. Even if they don’t have the wherewithal to change legislation and remain mute spectators during proceedings, it’s not too much to expect them to show up occasionally in Parliament.

After all, could it happen that Tendulkar wouldn’t have gone to a stadium if he was scheduled to play cricket? According to reports, actor Mithun Chakraborty has attended Parliament for three days in two years. If a commitment has been made, disregarding it so completely is patently disrespectful to the House. Somewhere, it sends the message that celebrity is such an important idea, maybe even more so than running the nation.

Celebrities occupying different rungs on the scale of idolatry — the Twitter world, or Big Boss, TV and movie stars, or dotcom millionaires — are without a doubt the biggest influencers for young Indians. The professional making it to the business pages of newspapers has far greater capital among the youth than what a politician or religious leader can muster up. One may wonder if a PR-contrived lifestyle, conveying the right amount of melodrama via Instagram and Facebook justifies such adulation, but contemporary celebs receive a far more flattering reception than their counterparts holding government office. But the movie star MPs in any case fill our magazines and news feed for their wardrobes and their colourful personas. Let the hallowed halls of Parliament be reserved for people who are 100 per cent committed to treating politics like the serious business it is.

In the West, the stars who are in a position to make a real difference to public opinion take their roles seriously and are able to affect change. Leonardo DiCaprio brought the focus to climate change while Bono drew attention to famine in Africa. When Shah Rukh Khan says that the show Koffee with Karan has become boring because people are scared to say anything controversial since the atmosphere in India has changed, it should lead to a more thoughtful debate. These successful, alternate voices, hopefully immune to the murkier issues that arise with power are more important than ever, when political parties seem so radical and polarised. In these times, just to question the hand that feeds you is a big responsibility.

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The Indian Express

Balanced Constitutionalism: Courts and Legislatures in India and the United Kingdom Balanced Constitutionalism: Courts and Legislatures in India and the United Kingdom

Name: Balanced Constitutionalism: Courts and Legislatures in India and the United Kingdom

Author: Chintan Chandrachud

Punlisher: Oxford University Press

352 pages

Price: Rs 995

Judicial review of legislation is a delicate and difficult function. The rationale for its exercise, in essence, is to protect the fundamental rights of the people. Judicial review is exercised by courts in the UK by issuing a declaration of incompatibility of the impugned legislation with the UK Human Rights Act 1998. Parliament is given an opportunity to usher legislation in conformity with the Human Rights Act.

In India, when legislation is adjudged to be in contravention of fundamental rights or other constitutional guarantees provided in the Constitution, it is struck down and declared null and void. Chintan Chandrachud in his book, Balanced Constitutionalism, analyses and compares the exercise of judicial review in both countries with admirable industry and insight.

Years ago, in the Federalist, the great American jurist Alexander Hamilton stated that “a Constitution is in fact, and must be, regarded by the judges as a fundamental law” and the judiciary’s conclusion that certain legislation is unconstitutional does not “suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people declared in the constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter, rather than the former”. Hamilton’s perception is not shared widely in the UK and in India. The author sheds luminous light on the speed of political response to strike-downs in India and the speed of political responses to declarations of incompatibility in the UK. A useful comparison is made on the basis of facts and figures assiduously compiled.

Chandrachud opines that declarations of incompatibility are responded to in every case in the UK, whereas fundamental rights amendments and the Ninth Schedule amendments are invoked in India in only a small fraction of the cases. According to the author, the most common reaction of the Indian Parliament and the government to a judgment striking down primary legislation is to do nothing at all. Other factors such as the level of publicity of the judgment, reputational ramifications for the government, and capacity of the issue to capture the public imagination, are likely to influence governments in both jurisdictions to hasten or delay the response. The author does not accept the claim that the Westminster Parliament is able to revise judicial understandings of rights more quickly than the Indian Parliament. He concludes that available evidence suggests that when it wishes to do so, the Indian Parliament responds more swiftly to judgments striking down legislation than the Westminster Parliament responds to declarations of incompatibility. This section in the book is most interesting and also provocative.

Another major contribution made by Chandrachud is his analysis of the institutional environment in which constitutional remedies function. He explains that, at first glance, the declaration of incompatibility — a form of advice to the government — comes across as a weak remedy.

However, it is lent serious rigour by the institutions that function around it. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights seeks frequent reports from the government, so that ignorance of these declarations is simply not a realistic option. On the other hand, the European Court of Human Rights, which litigants may apply to in the event that a declaration is not complied with, makes it extremely difficult for the British government to reject such a declaration. Chandrachud explains that advisory remedies issued by Indian courts lack the same traction. He offers examples of cases in which such advice from the Supreme Court of India has been ignored — most notably, when its recommendations to amend the Criminal Procedure Code went unheeded.

The range of issues covered by the book is extraordinary. It is marked by commendable research of two of the most complex and highly influential constitutional systems from around the world. Above all, Chandrachud’s views are expressed lucidly and are balanced, without any touch of arrogance or didacticism. The true merit of the book is its erudition and clarity of thought and expression. I must confess that my understanding of the various facets of judicial review and the reality of its operation has greatly improved and I am less ignorant of the subject after reading Chandrachud’s masterpiece. Judicial review is primarily concerned with the protection of the fundamental rights of the people, “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker”. The subject is not the lawyers’ monopoly and paradise. All thinking citizens of our multi-religious, multi-culture nation shall benefit immensely by its reading. The book is “worthy reading” particularly for our judges exercising judicial review and also for lawyers invoking judicial review.

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Italy May Become The First Western Country To Offer Paid Menstrual Leave To Working Women

Working women in Italy, who experience painful period, may soon get paid menstrual leave if the Italian parliament decides on it.

The Italian parliament is discussing the matter and if everything goes well, it will allow companies to offer three paid days every month to women who go through menstrual pain.

getty images

Italy may become the first Western country to offer paid period leave if the motion is passed. Japan and Indonesia are already allowing their working women time off during those painful days every month.

getty images

Experts believe that it will allow women feel more comfortable. However, not everyone agrees. Many believe that the legislation may backfire on women leading companies to think twice before hiring them.


Parliament made irrelevant: Opposition

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament after the GST bills were passed Wednesday. Anil Sharma Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament after the GST bills were passed Wednesday. Anil Sharma

With the fate of the Finance Bill always apparent, the Opposition today charged the government with subverting democracy and violating “the basic spirit of Constitution” by trying to circumvent the jurisdiction and powers of Rajya Sabha. “The constitutional integrity has been seriously compromised… you [the government] have violated the basic spirit of the Constitution,” Tapan Kumar Sen of the CPM said. He said Rajya Sabha was becoming party to a “crime on the Constitution” by failing to prevent the government from passing the Finance Bill in the way it was being passed.

The Opposition was angry with the fact that the Finance Bill, which deals with all the new financial proposals at the start of the year, contained provisions to make far-reaching changes in a number of other legislation which would normally have been done through separate standalone bills. Incorporating them in the Finance Bill ensured that Rajya Sabha, which has no powers to change or amend a money bill, would have little or no say on these changes. “This is not a Finance Bill. This is much more than just a Finance Bill. This is actually an agenda for reducing the Parliament to complete irrelevance, both the Houses… The finance minister has really made a serious effort to finish off the spirit of democratic discourse, to finish off parliamentary democracy to not only reduce Rajya Sabha to irrelevance but also to reduce Lok Sabha to complete irrelevance,” Jairam Ramesh of the Congress said. His colleague Digvijaya Singh said the government had made a habit of converting all its uncomfortable legislation into money bills because its lack of majority in Rajya Sabha.

“There are 40 laws which are sought to be amended through provisions brought in this Finance Bill. Except three — part 7, part 10 and part 13 — all of them are ordinary bills and should not have been part of the Finance Bill. This means that the government has snatched away the right of Rajya Sabha to discuss and make amendments to all these laws,” Digvajaya said.

Digvijaya later moved three amendments to the Finance Bill. These were accepted by the House, thanks to the Opposition majority in Rajya Sabha. The amendments, a temporary setback to the government, are likely to be rejected by the Lok Sabha. Several Opposition members objected to the proposals making Aadhar mandatory for opening of bank accounts or filing income tax returns. K T S Tulsi alleged that the government had not given any serious thought to the possibilities of data theft. “It can jeopardise the privacy and security of citizens and no attention is being paid for safeguarding the data from hackers… Unless we can safeguard the data, only then can it be permitted to be used for the purpose for which the Act was enacted and only for the use of services,” he said.

Harivansh of the JD(U) said his party welcomed the efforts to reform the process of political funding but argued that the proposals made in the budget with this objective, and incorporated in the Finance Bill, were not enough. “There have been 40 committees to recommend actions to tackle black money but there has been no effective implementation. Similar is the case with political corruption. We would like the Congress and the BJP, being the two biggest parties which have run governments at the Centre, to come together on this and suggest measures that are acceptable to all,” he said.

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What ex-MPs get, what issues pension debate raises

The Supreme Court. (File Photo) The Supreme Court. (File Photo)

Last week, a public interest litigation challenging the validity of pension benefits to Members of Parliament came up before the Supreme Court. The court has asked the government and the secretariat of the two Houses of Parliament to give their replies on the issue. The apex court’s intervention drew sharp reactions in both Houses, and the Union Finance Minister made an unequivocal statement specifying that only Parliament has the competence to decide on the issue of entitlement and quantum of pension to MPs.

From May 2009 (beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha), ex-MPs have received a pension of Rs 20,000 per month. MPs who have served for more than 5 years receive an additional Rs 1,500 per month for every year they have been in Parliament in excess of 5 years. Ex-MPs can travel free in AC First Class of any train when travelling alone, and in AC Second Class with a companion, both for free. On the demise of an ex-MP, their spouse or dependent receives a family pension which is half of the pension to which the ex-MP was entitled. Ex-MPs are also entitled to receive medical treatment under the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS). Lastly, they can borrow books from the Parliament library by paying a security deposit of Rs 500.

However these benefits have not always been available to MPs. Article 106 of our Constitution gives Parliament the authority to decide the salaries and allowances of MPs. In 1954, when Parliament specified the salaries and allowances of MPs, the law did not have a provision for pension benefits for ex-MPs. More than 22 years later, the law was amended in 1976 to provide a pension of Rs 300 to ex-MPs. Under the law, an ex-MP who had served for more than 5 years was entitled to an additional pension of Rs 50 per month for each extra year served, but the total pension was capped at Rs 500 per month. Also, pension benefit were made available only to MPs who had served for at least 5 years.

While MPs’ monthly pension was revised over the years, the eligibility criterion of serving for a minimum 5 years remained in place until 2003, when the law was amended to remove this condition. It was estimated that by then, this provision had denied pension to approximately 764 Lok Sabha MPs and more than 200 Rajya Sabha MPs.

The other significant amendment to the law came in 2006. Until then, a deceased ex-MP’s spouse or dependents were entitled to receive only family pension for a limited time. The 2006 amendment gave them the security of family pension to the tune of half of the ex-MP’s entitled pension for life.

The current debate around the pension entitlements of MPs raises two significant questions.

First, should MPs as the highest legislators decide their own salaries, allowances and pensions by passing a law in Parliament? Does this not create a conflict of interest?

The law governing the emoluments of MPs provides for a Joint Committee of Parliament to recommend changes in their salary and allowances.

This Committee has been cognizant of this issue. The Committee had recommended in 2005-06 that the government should consider a permanent independent mechanism for recommending changes in the salaries and other benefits of MPs. This recommendation has been accepted by the government.

A similar structure exists in other countries. Since 2010, the salaries of MPs in the UK have been determined by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, a body that was set up in the wake of a scandal in which MPs were found padding their expenses and illegally claiming them from Parliament.

India is yet to set up the independent mechanism recommended by the Joint Committee of Parliament. In 2010, when the law was being amended to increase MPs’ salaries, Left MPs walked out of Rajya Sabha to register their protest. In 2015, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs proposed a 3-member, independent Emoluments Commission to recommend salaries and other allowances for MPs. In a press release, the Ministry said, “The setting up of an independent Emoluments Commission for recommending the salaries and allowances of the Members of Parliament will not only put to rest the public outcry and media criticism over MPs themselves deciding their salaries, it will also provide an appropriate opportunity to take into consideration the huge responsibilities and the important role they play in our representative democracy. It would ensure that recommendations on Parliamentary salary are reached in a fair, transparent and equitable way. Once there is consensus on setting up of the Commission, the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954 will suitably amended.”

The second, and more fundamental issue is whether the benefits that are provided to MPs are (i) adequate for them to perform their duties and, (ii) attractive enough for interested and committed individuals to join politics. This zooms the debate out into a far wider field, and opens up many related issues that concern the current nature and understanding of politics itself.

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GST debate: Who said what in Parliament today

New Delhi: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo / TV GRAB New Delhi: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo / TV GRAB

During the seven-hour marathon debate on four GST Bills on Wednesday in the Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley relieved the people of their fear of a sharp increase in prices of goods and commodities after the roll out of the GST. He said that the tax rates will be maintained as in the current levels so as not to have any inflationary impact. The minister also called the GST bill to be a revolutionary one that will help in the free movement of goods across the country. The four GST bills that were introduced in the Lok Sabha today were –Central GST, Integrated GST, Union Territory GST and the Compensation Law.

Initiating a discussion on the four GST bills in the Lok Sabha, the MPs raised various issues regarding the GST and criticised it during the parliament session. Here’s what the various MPs said on the GST bill today:

Congress leader Veerappa Moily: The country lost around Rs 1.5 lakh crore annually which totals to a loss of Rs 12 lakh crore due to years of delay in implementation of the GST due to the stiff opposition by the BJP when the UPA government was in power.

BJP MP Udit Raj: The GST would bring about uniformity in the tax system and be immensely beneficial to the 1.2 billion people of the country. The GST is a game changer.. It will lead to a corruption-free India.

AIADMK MP Venkatesh Babu: The GST is the biggest tax reform initiative post independence, but there were many challenges in its proper implementation. The Tamil Nadu government is fully committed for successful implementation of GST.

TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee: The GST will bring a single tax structure for the common people and small traders and it was West Bengal which ensured that no state government suffers financially due to the implementation of GST. The purpose of GST is to end multiplicity of taxes and its cascading effects and all benefits should be passed on to the common people.

Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD): Everybody said that the GST law will be a game-changer but “we (BJD) believe that it will be illusionary to expect too much from it”.”Claims that consumers will benefit is also illusionary,” we have a competition law in the country. Why is the anti-profiteering clause in the bill? I fail to understand this. This is a retrograde step”.

Anandrao (Shiv Sena): High tax will increase the burden of consumers and this needs to be looked into.

Jayadev Galla (TDP): The GST will benefit the consuming states, but add to the agony of other states, including Andhra Pradesh. We are going to loose Rs 2,000 crore. Andhra Pradesh is loosing because there is a reduction in duty.

Konda Vishweshwar Reddy (TRS): The GST Bill is like a main dish of Ugadi festival, which is “khatta (sour), meetha (sweet) and kadwa (bitter) in taste.”

Mohammed Salim (CPI-M): Are we replacing Parliament with the GST Council?The government claims to

bring far reaching changes “but are we not outsourcing the law- making process? Are we making the GST Council a clone of Parliament?


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MPs get footballs, Prasun Banerjee gifts one to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan

MP’s play football in Parliament Wednesday . Anil Sharma MP’s play football in Parliament Wednesday . Anil Sharma

Former footballer and Trinamool Congress member Prasun Banerjee took everybody by surprise in the Lok Sabha Wednesday morning as he walked up to the Speaker’s podium holding a football in his hands. For a moment, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan looked uncomfortable, as if wondering how to respond as Banerjee tried to pass the football to her. She waved at him to avoid accepting the unusual gift seconds after she had barely settled down in her chair as soon as the House had met. Her aide, as taken aback as she, took the football from Banerjee, placed it on a side of the table for a second and quickly passed it to one of the minders at the rear, who took it away. Banerjee’s gift marked the celebration of FIFA’s decision to hold its Under-17 World Cup in Kolkata later this year. Banerjee, an Arjuna Award winner, is a former captain of the India team.

“I decided to gift a football to our beloved Speaker — a small memento from a former football captain,” Banerjee said. The Speaker, for her part, distributed footballs to all MPs. It is part of a sports ministry drive, apparently the brainchild of Sports Minister Vijay Goel, to reach out to 11 million children in 15,000 schools in 29 states and “create football fever” across the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the FIFA event should serve as a catalyst for lifting the profile of the game in the country.

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Issue is moral, not legal

The finance minister has said that Parliament alone can decide who is entitled to pensions and the quantum; and he’s right. It is in the Constitution that public money can be spent only with the authority of Parliament. His comments came in the wake of the Supreme Court saying that the pension and perks to MPs seemed “prima facie” unreasonable and which is why the court sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission on a plea, curiously from an MP, seeking to scrap pension and perks. The court also believes that 80 per cent of national legislators are crorepatis. While that may be so, it is only right that Parliament alone has the powers in spending any money from the Consolidated Fund of India.

It is a different matter that the ethics of legislators voting themselves cushy perquisites and pension for life even for representing the people in just one five-year term is open to question. They are picked by the people and are not government servants who may spend a whole career in service and hence are eligible for lifetime pension. Why should the people pay for MPs and MLAs in eternity while they serve terms only at their will? The arguments over pay and perks need not extend to the larger theme of judicial activism, which has tended to place the judiciary, the legislature and the executive on a collision course. It is best that the separation of powers is respected by all three pillars of the society lest the rumblings begin again on how these edifices are being destroyed by activism or excesses on the part of any one of them.