5 Jun 2016

Penalty on telephone companies for call-drops illegal: Supreme Court

Upholding the grievance of the telephone companies challenging the validity of the regulations, the Supreme Court in its recent decision Cellular Operators Association of India v. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Civil Appeal No. 5017/2016 (decision dated 11.05.2016] has set aside these regulations citing lack of legal basis for enacting them. The Court even repelled the argument of "public interest" canvassed by the Government of India to justify these regulations being of the view that legal and constitutional rights cannot be undone solely by citing public interest.

The relevant legal observations of the Court are as under;
32. We find that it is not necessary to go in detail into many of the submissions made on either side as to the technical difficulties which may or may not lead to call drops. This is for the reason that even if we accept the demarcation of the cause of call drops to be what the learned Attorney General says it is, the Impugned Regulation must be held to be manifestly arbitrary and an unreasonable restriction on the appellants’ fundamental rights to carry on business. According to the learned Attorney General, the cause for call drops is twofold – one owing to the fault of the consumer, and the other owing to the fault of the service provider. And, for this dichotomy, he has referred to the technical paper dated 13.11.2015, which shows that an average of 36.9% can be call drops owing to the fault of the consumer. If this is so, the Impugned Regulation’s very basis is destroyed: the Regulation is based on the fact that the service provider is 100% at fault. This becomes clear from a reading of the text of the said Regulation together with the Explanatory Memorandum set out hereinabove. This being the case, it is clear that the service provider is made to pay for call drops that may not be attributable to his fault, and the consumer receives compensation for a call drop that may be attributable to the fault of the consumer himself, and that makes the Impugned Regulation a regulation framed without intelligent care and deliberation.
33. But it was said that the aforesaid Regulation should be read down to mean that it would apply only when the fault is that of the service provider. We are afraid that such a course is not open to us in law, for it is well settled that the doctrine of reading down would apply only when general words used in a statute or regulation can be confined in a particular manner so as not to infringe a constitutional right. ...
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39. We were then told that the Impugned Regulation was framed keeping in mind the small consumer, that is, a person who has a pre-paid SIM Card with an average balance of Rs.10/- at a time, and that the Regulation goes a long way to compensate such person. The motive for the Regulation may well be what the Attorney General says it is, but that does not make it immune from Article 14 and the twin tests of Article 19(6). The Authority framing the Regulation must ensure that its means are as pure as its ends – only then will regulations made by it pass constitutional muster.
40. We were also told that huge profits were made by the service providers, and that the amount they would have to pay would not even be a flea bite compared to the profits they make, viewed in the background that they are not pouring in enough funds for infrastructure development. This was stoutly resisted by the appellants, pointing out that the so called huge profits earned is misleading, as the figure of net debt is far greater than that of revenue earned, and that huge sums had been pumped in for infrastructure development. Without going into the factual controversy thus presented, there are two answers to this submission. First and foremost, whether the service providers make profits or losses cannot be said to be relevant for determining whether the Impugned Regulation is otherwise arbitrary or unreasonable. If the Attorney General were correct, then the converse proposition would also be true – namely, that even if all the service providers were suffering huge losses, then such regulation, since it makes them fork out crores of rupees and add to their losses, would have to be held to be unconstitutional. Assuming that six out of the twelve service providers make profits, and the other six make losses, the Impugned Regulation cannot be held to be constitutional so far as those making a profit, and unconstitutional qua those making losses. And what if the same service provider makes a profit in one year and a loss in the succeeding year. Is the Impugned Regulation unconstitutional in the first year and constitutional in the succeeding year? Obviously not. Secondly, it is always open to the Authority, with the vast powers given to it under the TRAI Act, to ensure, in a reasonable and non-arbitrary manner, that service providers provide the necessary funds for infrastructure development and deal with them so as to protect the interest of the consumer. Consequently, this submission is also without substance.
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45. In view of the aforesaid, it is clear that the Quality of Service Regulations and the Consumer Regulations must be read together as part of a single scheme in order to test the reasonableness thereof. The countervailing advantage to service providers by way of the allowance of 2% average call drops per month, which has been granted under the 2009 Quality of Service Regulations, could not have been ignored by the Impugned Regulation so as to affect the fundamental rights of the appellants, and having been so ignored, would render the Impugned Regulation manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable.
46. Secondly, no facts have been shown to us which would indicate that a particular area would be filled with call drops thanks to the fault on the part of the service providers in which consumers would be severely inconvenienced. The mere ipse dixit of the learned Attorney General, without any facts being pleaded to this effect, cannot possibly make an unconstitutional regulation constitutional. We, therefore, hold that a strict penal liability laid down on the erroneous basis that the fault is entirely with the service provider is manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable. Also, the payment of such penalty to a consumer who may himself be at fault, and which gives an unjustifiable windfall to such consumer, is also manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable. In the circumstances, it is not necessary to go into the appellants’ submissions that call drops take place because of four reasons, three of which are not attributable to the fault of the service provider, which includes sealing and shutting down towers by municipal authorities over upon they have no control, or whether they are attributable to only two causes, as suggested by the Attorney General, being network related causes or user related causes. Equally, it is not necessary to determine finally as to whether the reason for a call drop can technologically be found out and whether it is a network related reason or a user related reason.
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48. In the present case, also, a mandatory penalty is payable by the service provider for call drops that may take place which are not due to its fault, and may be due to the fault of the recipient of the penalty, which is violative of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g).
49. The reason given in the Explanatory Memorandum for compensating the consumer is that the compensation given is only notional. The very notion that only notional compensation is awarded, is also entirely without basis. A consumer may well suffer a call drop after 3 or 4 seconds in a voice call. Whereas the consumer is charged only 4 or 5 paise for such dropped call, the service provider has to pay a sum of rupee one to the said consumer. This cannot be called notional at all. It is also not clear as to why the Authority decided to limit compensation to three call drops per day or how it arrived at the figure of Re.1 to compensate inconvenience caused to the consumer. It is equally unclear as to why the calling party alone is provided compensation because, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, inconvenience is suffered due to the interruption of a call, and such inconvenience is suffered both by the calling party and the person who receives the call. The receiving party can legitimately claim that his inconvenience when a call drops, is as great as that of the calling party. And the receiving party may need to make the second call, in which case he receives nothing, and the calling party receives Re.1 for the additional expense made by the receiving party. All this betrays a complete lack of intelligent care and deliberation in framing such a regulation by the Authority, rendering the Impugned Regulation manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable.
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53. Viewed at from a slightly different angle it is clear that if an individual consumer were to go to the consumer forum for compensation for call drops, he would have to prove that the call drop took place due to the fault of the service provider. He would further have to prove that he has suffered a monetary loss for which he has to be compensated, which the Explanatory Memorandum itself says is impossible to compute. Thus, the Impugned Regulation completely avoids the adjudicatory process, and legislatively lays down a penal consequence to a service provider for a call drop taking place without the consumer being able to prove that he is not himself responsible for such call drop and without proof of any actual monetary loss. Whereas individual consumers, either before the Consumer Forum, or in a dispute as a group with service providers before the TRAI, would fail in an action to recover compensation for call drops, yet a statutory penalty is laid down, applicable legislatively, and without any adjudication. This again makes the Impugned Regulation manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable.
In the wake of these legal challenges, the Supreme Court further went on to observe that it was expedient if the Parliament enacted another legislation whereby transparency could be
attained in making of sub-ordinate legislation such as these regulations. On this count the Court observed as under;
74. We find that, subject to certain well defined exceptions, it would be a healthy functioning of our democracy if all subordinate legislation were to be “transparent" in the manner pointed out above. Since it is beyond the scope of this judgment to deal with subordinate legislation generally, and in particular with statutes which provide for rule making and regulation making without any added requirement of transparency, we would exhort Parliament to take up this issue and frame a legislation along the lines of the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act (with certain well defined exceptions) by which all subordinate legislation is subject to a transparent process by which due consultations with all stakeholders are held, and the rule or regulation making power is exercised after due consideration of all stakeholders’ submissions, together with an explanatory memorandum which broadly takes into account what they have said and the reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with them. Not only would such legislation reduce arbitrariness in subordinate legislation making, but it would also conduce to openness in governance. It would also ensure the redressal, partial or otherwise, of grievances of the concerned stakeholders prior to the making of subordinate legislation. This would obviate, in many cases, the need for persons to approach courts to strike down subordinate legislation on the ground of such legislation being manifestly arbitrary or unreasonable.
One hopes that policy-makers will take heed for its not just the end which is important but also the means to the end which require justification. Penalty for call-drops, even if found to be a legitimate medium to ensure better telecom services, would need to be legislated in a more rational manner which is compliant with the legal and constitutional limitations.

Assimilate disabled in the mainstream of the nation's life: Supreme Court

Noting its disdain over the neglect of the disabled, the Supreme Court in its recent decision in a public interest litigation has implored one and all to create awareness and set an environment where even the disabled can enjoy their human rights. Reflecting its views in Jeeja Ghosh v. Union of India [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 98/2012] [decision dated 12.05.2016] the Court was concerned with the petition filed by noted disabled activity Jeeja Ghosh challenging the alarmingly unacceptable behaviour of an airlines which deboarded her from the aircraft on account of her disability. Imposing a fine of 10 lakhs in Spicejet airlines for their perceived inhuman treatment, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish at the ill-treatment and called upon one and all to ensure that even the disabled are brought within the mainstream of society. 

Some of the notable observations of the Supreme Court are as under;
36) The rights that are guaranteed to differently abled persons under the Act, 1995 are founded on the sound principle of human dignity which is the core value of human right and is treated as a significant facet of right to life and liberty. Such a right, now treated as human right of the persons who are disabled, has it roots in Article 21 of the Constitution. Jurisprudentially, three types of models for determining the content of the constitutional value of human dignity are recognised. These are: (i) Theological Models, (ii) Philosophical Models, and (iii) Constitutional Models. Legal scholars were called upon to determine the theological basis of human dignity as a constitutional value and as a constitutional right. Philosophers also came out with their views justifying human dignity as core human value. Legal understanding is influenced by theological and philosophical views, though these two are not identical. Aquinas and Kant discussed the jurisprudential aspects of human dignity based on the aforesaid philosophies. Over a period of time, human dignity has found its way through constitutionalism, whether written or unwritten. Even right to equality is interpreted based on the value of human dignity. Insofar as India is concerned, we are not even required to take shelter under theological or philosophical theories. We have a written Constitution which guarantees human rights that are contained in Part III with the caption “Fundamental Rights”. One such right enshrined in Article 21 is right to life and liberty. Right to life is given a purposeful meaning by this Court to include right to live with dignity. It is the purposive interpretation which has been adopted by this Court to give a content of the right to human dignity as the fulfillment of the constitutional value enshrined in Article 21. Thus, human dignity is a constitutional value and a constitutional goal.
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38) We should, therefore, keep in mind that CAR instructions have also been issued keeping in view the spirit of human dignity enshrined in Article 21 and the right that are to be ensured to such persons. The underlying message in all these provisions is the acknowledgment that human rights are individual and have a definite linkage to human development, both sharing common vision and with a common purpose. Respect for human rights is the root for human development and realisation of full potential of each individual, which in turn leads to the augmentation of human resources with progress of the nation. Empowerment of the people through human development is the aim of human rights.
39) In international human rights law, equality is founded upon two complementary principles: non-discrimination and reasonable differentiation. The principle of non-discrimination seeks to ensure that all persons can equally enjoy and exercise all their rights and freedoms. Discrimination occurs due to arbitrary denial of opportunities for equal participation. For example, when public facilities and services are set on standards out of the reach of persons with disabilities, it leads to exclusion and denial of rights. Equality not only implies preventing discrimination (example, the protection of individuals against unfavourable treatment by introducing anti-discrimination laws), but goes beyond in remedying discrimination against groups suffering systematic discrimination in society. In concrete terms, it means embracing the notion of positive rights, affirmative action and reasonable accommodation. The move from the patronising and paternalistic approach to persons with disabilities represented by the medical model to viewing them as members of the community with equal rights has also been reflected in the evolution of international standards relating specifically to disabilities, as well as in moves to place the rights of persons with disabilities within the category of universal human rights. {See – Report of United Nations Consultative Expert Group Meeting on International Norms and Standards Relating to Disability 10-2-2001}.
40) Earlier the traditional approaches to disability have depicted it as health and welfare issue, to be addressed through care provided to persons with disabilities, from a charitable point of view. The disabled persons are viewed as abnormal, deserving of pity and are, and not as individuals who are entitled to enjoy the same opportunities to live a full and satisfying life as other members of society. This resulted in marginalising the disabled persons and their exclusion both from the mainstream of the society and enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Disability tends to be couched within a medical and welfare framework, identifying people with disabilities as ill, different from their non-disabled peers, and in need of care. Because the emphasis is on the medical needs of people with disabilities, there is a corresponding neglect of their wider social needs, which has resulted in severe isolation for people with disabilities and their families.
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42) All these rights conferred upon such persons send an eloquent message that there is no question of sympathising with such persons and extending them medical or other help. What is to be borne in mind is that they are also human beings and they have to grow as normal persons and are to be extended all facilities in this behalf. The subject of the rights of persons with disabilities should be approached from human rights perspective, which recognised that persons with disabilities were entitled to enjoy the full range of internationally guaranteed rights and freedoms without discrimination on the ground of disability. This creates an obligation on the part of the State to take positive measures to ensure that in reality persons with disabilities get enabled to exercise those rights. There should be insistence on the full measure of general human rights guarantees in the case of persons with disabilities, as well as developing specific instruments that refine and given detailed contextual content of those general guarantees. There should be a full recognition of the fact that persons with disability were integral part of the community, equal in dignity and entitled to enjoy the same human rights and freedoms as others. It is a sad commentary that this perceptions has not sunk in the mind and souls of those who are not concerned with the enforcement of these rights. The persons suffering from mental or physical disability experience and encounter nonpareil form of discrimination.They are not looked down by people. However, they are not accepted in the main stream either even when people sympathies with them. Most common, their lives are handicapped by social, cultural and attitudinal barriers which hamper their full participation and enjoyment of equal rights and opportunities. This is the worst form of discrimination which disabled feel as their grievance  is that others do not understand them.
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45) It is the common experience of several persons with disabilities that they are unable to lead a full life due to societal barriers and discrimination faced by them in employment, access to public spaces, transportation etc. Persons with disability are most neglected lot not only in the society but also in the family. More often they are an object of pity. There are hardly any meaningful attempts to assimilate them in the mainstream of the nation's life. The apathy towards their problems is so pervasive that even the number of disabled persons existing in the country is not well documented.
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47) On our finding that respondent No.3 acted in a callous manner, and in the process violated Rules, 1937 and CAR, 2008 guidelines resulting in mental and physical suffering experienced by Jeeja Ghosh and also unreasonable discrimination against her, we award a sum of 10,00,000 as ₹ damages to be payable to her by respondent No.3 within a period of two months from today. This petition stands allowed and disposed of in the aforesaid terms.
48) We would like to conclude this judgment by observing that to most disabled persons, the society they live in is a closed door which has been locked and the key to which has been thrown away by the others. Helen Keller has described this phenomena in the following words:
“Some people see a closed door and turn away. Others see a closed door, try the knob and if it doesn't open, they turn away. Still others see a closed door, try the knob and if it doesn't work, they find a key and if the key doesn't fit, they turn way. A rare few see a closed door, try the knob, if it doesn't open and they find a key and if it doesn't fit, they make one!”
These rare persons we have to find out.

One can give two exams at the same time: Supreme Court

A very interesting case came up before the Supreme Court recently. The Appellant before it cleared class 12 exam in 2002. He thereafter obtained a Bachelor's degree in 2005 and Master's degree in 2007. Thereafter he obtained another degree in 2011. However at this time his class 12 results were cancelled after nine years of having given the exam. The reason accorded for this punitive action was that the Appellant had simultaneously appeared in class 10 examination (in 2002) with another examination board and in view of the concerned authorities "it was not permissible for the appellant to appear in two examinations conducted by two different Boards simultaneously".

The Appellant challenged the order of cancellation at various forums, to be unsuccessful at all stages. In its decision in Kuldeep Kumar Pathak v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 2016 SC 251 the Supreme Court, however, overturned the rationale extended by the authorities. In a short and crisp decision the Court has pointed out that there are no regulations of the concerned examination board which prohibit a person from given two examinations at the same time and therefore there is no violation in having done so.
"6. Before us, Mr. Pradeep Kant, learned senior counsel for the appellant has made a neat legal argument. He submits that though the impugned judgment proceeds on the basis that appearing in two examinations simultaneously for the same year is violation of the Regulations of the Board, this reason given by the High Court is clearly unsustainable inasmuch as no such Regulation is shown by the Board which prohibited any such candidate to appear in two examinations in the same year. The learned senior counsel further argued that the impugned order passed by the respondents for confiscating his Certificate of Intermediate exam was, otherwise also, contrary to the principles of natural justice inasmuch as no show cause notice and opportunity of hearing was given to the appellant before passing such an order, which was passed belatedly after a period of nine years from the passing of the said examination by the appellant.
7. We are of the opinion that both the submissions of the learned senior counsel are valid in law and have to prevail. The High Court has been influenced by the argument of the respondents that simultaneous appearance in two examinations by the appellant in the same year was 'contrary to the Regulations'. However, no such Regulation has been mentioned either by the learned Single Judge or the Division Bench. Curiously, no such Regulation has been pointed out even by the respondents. On our specific query to the learned counsel for the respondents to this effect, he expressed his inability to show any such Regulation or any other rule or provision contained in the U.P. Intermediate Education Act, 1921 or Supplementary Regulations of 1976 framed under the aforesaid Act or in any other governing Regulations. Therefore, the entire foundation of the impugned judgment of the High Court is erroneous. 
8. It is also pertinent to note that the appellant's intermediate examination and result thereof was not in question before the U.P. Board. No illegality in the admission in that class has been pointed out by the respondents. The alleged charge of simultaneously appearing in two examinations, one of the U.P. Board and other of the Sanskrit Board, was with respect to Class X and equivalent examination which did not relate to admission in intermediate course. The only provision for canceling the said admission is contained in Regulation (1) of Chapter VI-B. It details the procedure for passing the order of punishment canceling intermediate results and, inter alia, prescribes that a committee consisting of three different members is to be constituted and entrusted with the responsibility of looking into and disposing of cases relating to unfair means and award appropriate penalty as specified in the Regulations itself. However, there is no allegation of any unfair means adopted by the appellant in the instant case and, therefore, that Regulation has no applicability. Even otherwise, no such committee was constituted. Therefore, having taken admission in Intermediate on the basis of past certificate issued by a separate Board, which was recognised, and not on the basis of the result of Class X of the U.P. Board, the appellant derived no advantage from his examination of the U.P. Board while seeking admission in Intermediate course. Thus, from any angle the matter is to be looked into, the impugned orders dated April 20, 2011 and May 10, 2011 passed by the respondents are null and void, apart from the fact that they are in violation of the principles of natural justice."

29 May 2016

Defamation rightly a crime in India: Supreme Court

Upholding the constitutional validity of provisions criminalizing defamation in India, the Supreme Court in a recent decision has upheld the need for the crime considering the social ethos and the constitutional position of "right of reputation" of individuals. 

Rejecting a number of petitions filed by renowned political figures (including Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal), the Supreme Court in its decision in Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, Writ Petition [Criminal] No. 184/2014] dated 13.05.2016 has accepted the Government's position that the criminal provisions are in the nature of "reasonable restrictions" and are "pedestaled on the doctrine of non-absoluteness of any fundamental right, cultural and social ethos, need and feel of the time, for every right engulfs and incorporates duty to respect other’s right and ensure mutual compatibility and conviviality of the individuals based on collective harmony and conceptual grace of eventual social order ..."

Before adverting to the conclusion of the Supreme Court in detail, it is critical to note some of the submissions of the Attorney General of India whose arguments may well reflect the Government's position on a number of aspects;
  • "freedom of speech as a right cannot be understood in isolation". On such premise, therefore, "it cannot be said that there is an unbridled right to free, much less defamatory speech"
  • "criminalization of defamation or damage to reputation is meant to subserve basic harmony in polity"
  • "right to reputation" is a constitutionally protected fundamental right and "A person’s reputation is an inseparable element of an individual’s personality and it cannot be allowed to be tarnished in the name of right to freedom of speech and expression because right to free speech does not mean right to offend."
  • "It is a misconception that injury to reputation can adequately be compensated in monetary terms. Reputation which encapsules self-respect, honour and dignity can never be compensated in terms of money."
The Supreme Court also took note of the submissions, albeit in great detail, made by other parties. 

On the role and position of a right to 'reputation' as central to an individual's identity and rights, the Supreme Court quoted Bhagawad Gita, Holi Quran, Holy Bible, William Shakespeare, Socrates, Aristotle, international covenants, etc. as they collectively "reflect the purpose and concern and recognize reputation as an inseparable right of an individual". In essence, the Supreme Court concluded that these covenants, 
"explicate that the individual honour and reputation is of great value to human existence being attached to dignity and all constitute an inalienable part of a complete human being. To put it differently, sans these values, no person or individual can conceive the idea of a real person, for absence of these aspects in life makes a person a non-person and an individual to be an entity only in existence perceived without individuality." [para 32]
The Supreme Court thereafter referred the various decisions of English, Canadian, South African courts, ECHR, and its own earlier decisions on the subject to declare that right to reputation constituted a fundamental right protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India in the following terms;
"... It is a nobility in itself for which a conscientious man would never barter it with all the tea of China or for that matter all the pearls of the sea. The said virtue has both horizontal and vertical qualities. When reputation is hurt, a man is half-dead. It is an honour which deserves to be equally preserved by the downtrodden and the privileged. The aroma of reputation is an excellence which cannot be allowed to be sullied with the passage of time. It is dear to life and on some occasions it is dearer than life. And that is why it has become an inseparable facet of Article 21 of the Constitution. No one would like to have his reputation dented, and it is perceived as an honour rather than popularity." [para 50]
The Supreme Court thereafter explained the rationale for criminalization of an act so as to lay down the test for examining the validity of the criminal provisions relating to defamation. It opined as under;
"82. The concept of crime is essentially concerned with social order. It is well known that man’s interests are best protected as a member of the community. Everyone owes certain duties to his fellow-men and at the same time has certain rights and privileges which he expects others to ensure for him. This sense of mutual respect and trust for the rights of others regulates the conduct of the members of society inter-se. Although most people believe in the principle of ‘live and let live’, yet there are a few who, for some reason or the other, deviate from this normal behavioural pattern and associate themselves with anti-social elements. This obviously imposes an obligation on the State to maintain normalcy in the society. This arduous task of protecting the law abiding citizens and punishing the law breakers vests with the State which performs it through the instrumentality of law. It is for this reason that Salmond has defined law as a ‘rule of action’ regulating the conduct of individuals in society. The conducts which are prohibited by the law in force at a given time and place are known as wrongful acts or crimes, whereas those which are permissible under the law are treated as lawful. The wrongdoer committing crime is punished for his guilt under the law of crime."
In this background, the concluded on the following legal position, rejecting the challenge in the petitions, inter alia in the following terms;
"88. From the aforesaid discussion, it is plain as day that the contention that the criminal offence meant to subserve the right of inter se private individuals but not any public or collective interest in totality is sans substance. ...
89. We have referred to this facet only to show that the submission so astutely canvassed by the learned counsel for the petitioners that treating defamation as a criminal offence can have no public interest and thereby it does not serve any social interest or collective value is sans substratum. We may hasten to clarify that creation of an offence may be for some different reason declared unconstitutional but it cannot be stated that the legislature cannot have a law to constitute an act or omission done by a person against the other as a crime. It depends on the legislative wisdom. Needless to say, such wisdom has to be in accord with constitutional wisdom and pass the test of constitutional challenge. If the law enacted is inconsistent with the constitutional provisions, it is the duty of the Court to test the law on the touchstone of Constitution."
The Court did not stop the analysis here. It went on to examine the scope of freedom of speech and expression, as another guaranteed fundamental right and thereafter undertook a balancing act between one individual's right to speech and another individual's right to reputation to opine as under;

"140. We are in respectful agreement with the aforesaid enunciation of law. Reputation being an inherent component of Article 21, we do not think it should be allowed to be sullied solely because another individual can have its freedom. It is not a restriction that has an inevitable consequence which impairs circulation of thought and ideas. In fact, it is control regard being had to another person’s right to go to Court and state that he has been wronged and abused. He can take recourse to a procedure recognized and accepted in law to retrieve and redeem his reputation. Therefore, the balance between the two rights needs to be struck. “Reputation” of one cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of the other’s right of free speech. The legislature in its wisdom has not thought it appropriate to abolish criminality of defamation in the obtaining social climate. ...
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149. ... Criticism and commentary on policies, enactments or opinions do not remotely constitute defamation. Disapproval is not defamation. The argument ignores the scope and ambit of the contours of what is criminal defamation. Bearing in mind the factual scenario, the Court has discussed about balancing of freedom of expression and “special interest”. The Court was not concerned with balancing of Article 19(1)(a) and the facet of Article 21 of the Constitution. Therefore, in the ultimate conclusion, we come to hold that applying the doctrine of balancing of fundamental rights, existence of defamation as a criminal offence is not beyond the boundary of Article 19(2) of the Constitution, especially when the word “defamation” has been used in the Constitution.
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163. We have referred to two concepts, namely, constitutional fraternity and the fundamental duty, as they constitute core constitutional values. Respect for the dignity of another is a constitutional norm. It would not amount to an overstatement if it is said that constitutional fraternity and the intrinsic value inhered in fundamental duty proclaim the constitutional assurance of mutual respect and concern for each other's dignity. The individual interest of each individual serves the collective interest and correspondingly the collective interest enhances the individual excellence. Action against the State is different than an action taken by one citizen against the other. The constitutional value helps in structuring the individual as well as the community interest. Individual interest is strongly established when constitutional values are respected. The Preamble balances different and divergent rights. Keeping in view the constitutional value, the legislature has not repealed Section 499 and kept the same alive as a criminal offence. The studied analysis from various spectrums, it is difficult to come to a conclusion that the existence of criminal defamation is absolutely obnoxious to freedom of speech and expression. As a prescription, it neither invites the frown of any of the Articles of the Constitution nor its very existence can be regarded as an unreasonable restriction."
This judgment is a very interesting appraisal on the positioning and status of various fundamental rights as also positioning of an individual's right in the larger social order. A must read for any student of constitutional law. 

24 Apr 2016

Unravelling 'Money Bills'

The recent introduction of Aadhar Bill [The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016] in the Parliament as a 'Money Bill' created quiet a furor and debate both on the floor of Parliament and outside. In this post we examine the nuances of Money Bill to unravel the shroud of mystery surrounding it. 

First and foremost, Money Bill is not a different species of law. Once passed it is like any other law passed by the Parliament. The only difference between a 'Money Bill' and ordinary 'Bill' is vis-a-vis the manner of its introduction on the floor of the Parliament and the special procedure for passing it in the house. Article 107 of the Constitution prescribes the "provisions as to the introduction and passing of Bills". Article 109 prescribes the "special procedure in respect of Money Bills" and Article 110 stipulates the "definition of Money Bills".

In terms of Article 110, a Bill qualifies as a 'Money Bill' "if it contains only provisions dealing with all or any of the" six matters or matters incidental to such six matters, which are the following;
"(a) the imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax;
(b) the regulation of the borrowing of money or the giving of any guarantee by the Government of India, or the amendment of the law with respect to any financial obligations undertaken or to be undertaken by the Government of India;
(c) the custody of the consolidated Fund or the Contingency Fund of India, the payment of moneys into or the withdrawal of moneys from any such Fund;
(d) the appropriation of moneys out of the consolidated Fund of India;
(e) the declaring of any expenditure to be expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund of India or the increasing of the amount of any such expenditure;
(f) the receipt of money on account of the Consolidated Fund of India or the public account of India or the custody or issue of such money or the audit of the accounts of the Union or of a State; or
(g) any matter incidental to any of the matters specified in sub clause (a) to (f)."
Besides the above positive traits of a 'Money Bill', there is an accompanying negative stipulation in Article 110 which states that "a Bill shall not be deemed to be a Money Bill by reason only that it provides for the imposition of fines or other pecuniary penalties, or for the demand or payment of fees for licences or fees for services rendered, or by reason that it provides for the imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax by any local authority or body for local purposes". 

The crux of the matter, however, is not the above. What is relevant is the fact that whether a Bill qualifies as a Money Bill or not is one to be tested on the basis of the objective facets set out about but based upon a subject satisfaction of the Speaker of Lok Sabha. The Constitution vide Article 110 on this count states that "if any question arises whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not, the decision of the Speaker of the House of the People thereon shall be final". In practice, therefore, one is required to hinge solely upon the subjective satisfaction of the Speaker of Lok Sabha. 

A question arises, why such differentiation between an ordinary bill and a money bill. The answer perhaps likes in the nature of representation between the constituents of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. As it is known, the member of Lok Sabha are directly represented by the citizens whereas the members of the Rajya Sabha are indirectly represented. While the Rajya Sabha equally constitutes the Parliament, the framers of the Constitution perhaps wanted that the nation's financial resources should be governed directly and exclusively by the elected members constituting the Lok Sabha. The Constitution therefore stipulates that a Money Bill can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha [Article 109(1)] and the Rajya Sabha only gets 14 days time to examine a Money Bill passed by the Lok Sabha. Technically the Rajya Sabha can make suggest changes to a Money Bill passed by the Lok Sabha but their acceptance is subject to exclusive discretion of the Rajya Sabha [Article 109(2)]. Similar stipulations exist for the State Legislatures. [Article 199 and 199].

The above discussion, practically implies, that once Speaker of the Lok Sabha declares that a bill is a Money Bill, the Rajya Sabha technically becomes just a place for discussion without any legislative competence. This is a big departure from the normal legislative practice and thus bound to raise issues. 

In a recently reported decision [Yogendra Kumar Jaiswal versus State of Bihar (2016) 3 SCC 183] the Supreme Court had an occasion to consider a similar issue i.e. a contention having been raised by the Appellant therein that the impugned legislation relating to prevention of corruption was not a Money Bill and thus not enacted properly. The Supreme Court considered the issue in detail and the judgments related to it but only to hold that once the Speaker of the Lower House had declared the Bill as a Money Bill, there was no further scope for examination. 

The legal position was examined by the Court in the following terms;
33.    First, we shall take up the issue pertaining to the introduction of the Bill as a money bill in the State legislature. Mr. Vinoo Bhagat, learned counsel appearing for some of the appellants, has laid emphasis on the said aspect. Article 199 of the Constitution, defines Money Bills. For our present purpose, sub-article (3) of Article 199 being relevant is reproduced below:-

“(3). If any question arises whether a Bill introduced in the Legislature of a State which has a Legislative Council is a Money Bill or not, the decision of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of such State thereon shall be final.”


We have extracted the same as we will be referring to the authorities as regards interpretation of the said sub-article.


34.    Placing reliance on Article 199, learned counsel would submit that the present Act which was introduced as a money bill has remotely any connection with the concept of money bill. It is urged by him that the State has made a Sisyphean endeavour to establish some connection. The High Court to repel the challenge had placed reliance upon Article 212 which stipulates that the validity of any proceedings in the Legislature of a State shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure.


35.    Learned counsel for the appellants has drawn inspiration from a passage from Special Reference No. 1 of 1964, wherein it has been held that Article 212(1) lays down that the validity of any proceedings in the legislature of a State shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure and Article 212(2) confers immunity on the officers and members of the legislature in whom powers are vested by or under the Constitution for regulating procedure or the conduct of business, or for maintaining order, in the legislature from being subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers. The Court opined that Article 212(1) seems to make it possible for a citizen to call in question in the appropriate Court of law the validity of any proceedings inside the Legislative Chamber if his case is that the said proceedings suffer not from mere irregularity of procedure, but from an illegality. If the impugned procedure is illegal and unconstitutional, it would be open to be scrutinised in a Court of law, though such scrutiny is prohibited if the complaint against the procedure is not more than that the procedure was irregular. Thus, the said authority has made a distinction between illegality of procedure and irregularity of procedure.


36. Our attention has also been drawn to certain paragraphs from the Constitution Bench decision in Raja Ram Pal v. Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha and Others. In the said case, in paragraphs 360 and 366, it has been held thus:-


“360. The question of extent of judicial review of parliamentary matters has to be resolved with reference to the provision contained in Article 122(1) that corresponds to Article 212 referred to in M.S.M. Sharma v. Dr. Shree Krishna Sinha, AIR 1960 SC 1186 [Pandit Sharma (II)]. On a plain reading, Article 122(1) prohibits “the validity of any proceedings in Parliament” from being “called in question” in a court merely on the ground of “irregularity of procedure”. In other words, the procedural irregularities cannot be used by the court to undo or vitiate what happens within the four walls of the legislature. But then, “procedural irregularity” stands in stark contrast to “substantive illegality’ which cannot be found included in the former. We are of the considered view that this specific provision with regard to check on the role of the judicial organ vis-à-vis proceedings in Parliament uses language which is neither vague nor ambiguous and, therefore, must be treated as the constitutional mandate on the subject, rendering unnecessary search for an answer elsewhere or invocation of principles of harmonious construction.


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366. The touchstone upon which parliamentary actions within the four walls of the legislature were examined was both the constitutional as well as substantive law. The proceedings which may be tainted on account of substantive illegality or unconstitutionality, as opposed to those suffering from mere irregularity thus cannot be held protected from judicial scrutiny by Article 122(1) inasmuch as the broad principle laid down in Bradlaugh, (1884) 12 QBD 271 : 53 LJQB 290 : 50 LT 620, acknowledging exclusive cognizance of the legislature in England has no application to the system of governance provided by our Constitution wherein no organ is sovereign and each organ is amenable to constitutional checks and controls, in which scheme of things, this Court is entrusted with the duty to be watchdog of and guarantor of the Constitution.”


37.    In this regard, we may profitably refer to the authority in Mohd. Saeed Siddiqui v. State of Uttar Pradesh and another, wherein a three-Judge Bench while dealing with such a challenge, held that Article 212 precludes the courts from interfering with the presentation of a Bill for assent to the Governor on the ground of non-compliance with the procedure for passing Bills, or from otherwise questioning the Bills passed by the House, for proceedings inside the legislature cannot be called into question on the ground that they have not been carried on in accordance with the Rules of Business. Thereafter, the Court referring to Article 199(3) ruled that the decision of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly that the Bill in question was a Money Bill is final and the said decision cannot be disputed nor can the procedure of the State Legislature be questioned by virtue of Article 212. The Court took note of the decision in Raja Ram Pal (supra) wherein it has been held that the proceedings which may be tainted on account of substantive or gross irregularity or unconstitutionality are not protected from judicial scrutiny. Eventually, the Court repelled the challenge.


38.    In our considered opinion, the authorities cited by the learned counsel for the appellants do not render much assistance, for the introduction of a bill, as has been held in Mohd. Saeed Siddiqui (supra), comes within the concept of “irregularity” and it does come with the realm of substantiality. What has been held in the Special Reference No. 1 of 1964 (supra) has to be appositely understood. The factual matrix therein was totally different than the case at hand as we find that the present controversy is wholly covered by the pronouncement in Mohd. Saeed Siddiqui (supra) and hence, we unhesitatingly hold that there is no merit in the submission so assiduously urged by the learned counsel for the appellants.

The long and short of the above discussion is that while the Constitution makes elaborate stipulations over what constitutes and what does not constitute a 'Money Bill', in view of the decision of the Supreme Court that it is the prerogative of the Speaker, it appears that the provisions are to guide the Speaker on when a Bill should be declared a Money Bill for the Speaker's decision is final.