Thursday, April 17, 2014

Delhi to make helmets must for women

Women travelling on two-wheelers in the city may soon have to wear a helmet by law. The transport department has proposed to amend the law that exempts them from wearing protective gear after a direction from Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung last month.

The exemption had been granted on religious grounds after protests by Sikh women. Later, in the wake of increasing road fatalities involving women, the Sheila Dikshit government continued to resist attempts to make helmets mandatory. The transport department has now proposed to amend rule 115 of the Act, which allows this exemption.

A proposal making it mandatory for women travelling on two-wheelers to wear helmets has been sent to the Election Commission for approval, pending which the transport department will come out with a notification. A month after the notification, the rule will become applicable, said sources.

Official said helmets were being made mandatory for all women two-wheeler riders because of safety concerns. "Though the exemption had been allowed for Sikh men and women, there have been reports of increasing number of accidents where women were injured or died due to not wearing a helmet," the official said.

The issue had also come in the Delhi high court last year where the government said it did not intend to change the law in deference to religious sentiments.

The new policy cites the increasing number of two-wheeler accidents taking place, as high as two riders dying every day. It goes on to say that wearing helmets will help save lives. Senior officials said that the move also comes after recommendations of the Delhi Commission for Women as well as the traffic police, which cited data that showed 63 women had died in two-wheeler accidents in 2013, up from 42 the previous year.
According to department officials, head injuries are the major cause of death, injury and disability. "Many of these head injuries could have been prevented or their severity reduced through the use of helmets," added the official. The ministry of road transport and highways had two months ago also written to the L-G, recommending that Delhi do away with the exemption to women on wearing helmets.

Said Delhi transport commissioner Gyanesh Bharti, "The policy has been sent to the Election Commission for approval. Once the notification comes out, a month will be given to people to come up with suggestions and objections. We will implement the policy only after due process."

SC allows CAG to audit accounts of private firms

 The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) could audit the account books of private companies which were doing business using national wealth or natural resources on a revenue-sharing basis with the government.

Though the judgment came in a case related to telecom service providers doing business using spectrum on a revenue-sharing basis, it will have vital impact also on private companies engaged in natural gas extraction and coal mining on the basis of production-sharing contracts (PSC) with the government.

"When nation's wealth, like spectrum, is being dealt with either by the Union, state or its instrumentalities or even the private parties, like service providers, they are accountable to the people and to Parliament. Parliamentary democracy also envisages the accountability of the council of ministers to the legislature," a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Vikramjit Sen said.

The verdict comes at a critical time when the apex court is dealing with 2G spectrum scam, coal block allocation irregularities and also hearing arguments on MP Gurudas Dasgupta's petition alleging that Reliance Industries Ltd and the Union petroleum ministry were hand-in-glove to give the private party 'windfall profit' causing loss to the exchequer.

Private companies have resisted the demand for scrutiny by CAG on the ground that the auditor's remit was limited to public entities.

Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Radhakrishnan said the court was of the firm belief that CAG must audit the accounts of private firms because "instances are not rare where even the executive, at times, acts hand-in-glove with licence providers, who deal with the natural resources, hence, necessity of parliamentary control over the resources".

Dismissing petitions by Association of Unified Tele Services Providers and Cellular Operators Association of India, the bench said, "CAG's examination of the accounts of service providers in a revenue sharing contract is extremely important to ascertain whether there is an unlawful gain to the service provider and an unlawful loss to the Union of India, because the revenue generated out of that has to be credited to the Consolidated Fund of India."

Justices Radhakrishnan and Sen said such audit by CAG was important when the executive dealt with natural resources, like spectrum, which actually belonged to the people of India.

"Parliament should know how the nation's wealth has been dealt with by the executive and even by the UAS licence holders and the quantum of revenue generated out of the use of the spectrum and whether the same has been properly assessed, collected and accounted for by the Union and the licence holders," the bench said.

The court rejected the telecom service providers' argument that CAG could not be given unhindered access to account books and could look into only those relating to revenue sharing. It said revenue share receivable by the Union being a receipt payable into the Consolidated Fund, the CAG was entitled to seek the records relatable to such revenue receipts.

"We are of the view that unless the underlying records which are in the exclusive custody of the service providers are examined, it would not be possible to ascertain whether the Union of India, as per the agreement, has received its full and complete share of revenue, by way of licence fee and spectrum charges," the bench said.

Clarifying that such scrutiny by CAG did not amount to statutory audit of accounts of private companies, the bench said, "Service providers are bound to provide all the records and documents called for by the CAG so as to ascertain whether the Union of India is getting its full share of revenue."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mirzapur court to maintain register of missing documents

AHMEDABAD: To deal with the increasing problem of missing case papers at the Ahmedabad district court, the Bar association and the judges have decided to keep a register, in which the lawyers will have to record their case numbers.

The Ahmedabad District Bar Association on Wednesday put a notice on the campus that henceforth a register will be kept by the registrar in the administrative branch of the court, and the lawyers are required to request the officials to find their case papers that are not traceable. This register will be operated under the supervision of a district judge, and the lawyers will be informed after their case papers are found.

Advocate Jigar Pandya, a member of the Bar association, said that due to the present sitting arrangement of judges and deployment of new and inexperienced court staff, the case papers in many cases have gone missing. At the time of hearing, the lawyers come up for arguments but the court staff cannot place case papers before the judicial officer. Another Bar member said that the problem has become so acute that some litigants have filed complaints before the Bar Council of Gujarat against the lawyers for the delay in court proceedings. "It is shameful for us that we have to admit such mistakes in the open, but we have to resolve this issue. For this, the Bar and the bench have come together now," he said.

Pawar under Bombay HC scanner - Land allot

There might be more trouble for NCP chief and Union minister Sharad Pawar. The Bombay high court on Tuesday asked the state how it could have given land meant for cattle grazing to an educational trust headed by Pawar.

The HC had issued notice to the state government after a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a farmer Jyotiram Jadhav questioned the government's decision to allot land reserved for cattle-grazing in a village near Baramati in Pune district to an educational trust Vidya Prathisthan headed by Pawar.

Assistant government Molina thakur had filed an affidavit on Tuesday justifying the allotment. The state said it had relied on a circular of 1983 which permits the state to give land to educational institutes, dispensaries or any other philanthropic use.

But the HC said, after observing that the Supreme Court has held that cattle land must be secured too, how a cattle feeding ground could be given. Such land cannot be allotted for any other use, the bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka said.

Thakur said the allotment was made in 2006-07 and the school has already come up and was functioning. She said she would have to verify whether the allotment was made before the SC ruling or after. The counsel for Sharad Pawar said he would like to go through the state's affidavit and also make its submission.

The PIL alleged that no rules were followed by the state and the collector in Oune district as no auction was held. The collector has now power to allot land valued over Rs 2.5 lakh. It said the land measuring over two hectare in a village Waghalwadi was allotted in 2009. Pawar is one of the respondents to the PIL as chairperson of the trust.

"If you want to allot the land then you must adopt transparent and fair means, otherwise people would not know whether the land is available for allotment," the bench said.

The high court adjourned the hearing to June 23.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

SC recognizes transgenders as 'third gender'

 In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday created the "third gender" status for hijras or transgenders. Earlier, they were forced to write male or female against their gender.

The SC asked the Centre to treat transgender as socially and economically backward.

The apex court said that transgenders will be allowed admission in educational institutions and given employment on the basis that they belonged to the third gender category.

The SC said absence of law recognizing hijras as third gender could not be continued as a ground to discriminate them in availing equal opportunities in education and employment.

This is for the first time that the third gender has got a formal recognition. The third gender people will be considered as OBCs, the SC said.

The SC said they will be given educational and employment reservation as OBCs.

The apex court also said states and the Centre will devise social welfare schemes for third gender community and run a public awareness campaign to erase social stigma.

The SC said the states must construct special public toilets and departments to look into their special medical issues.

The SC also added that if a person surgically changes his/her sex, then he or she is entitled to her changed sex and can not be discriminated.

The apex court expressed concern over transgenders being harasssed and discriminated in the society and passed a slew of directions for their social welfare.

The apex court said that trangenders were respected earlier in the society but situation has changed and they now face discrimination and harassment.

It said that section 377 of IPC is being misused by police and other authorities against them and their social and economic condition is far from satisfactory.

The bench clarified that its verdict pertains only to eunuchs and not other sections of society like gay, lesbian and bisexuals who are also considered under the umbrella term 'transgender'.

The bench said they are part and parcel of the society and the government must take steps to bring them in the main stream of society.

The apex court passed the order on a PIL filed by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) urging the court to give separate identity to transgenders by recognising them as third category of gender.

Welcoming the Supreme Court decision, Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, transgender rights activist said, "the progress of the country is dependent upon human rights of the people and we are very happy with the judgment as the Supreme court has 
given us those rights."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rape trials: Law panel, SC

Law Commission of India has doubted the efficacy of the Supreme Court's suggestion that a magistrate record a rape survivor's statement instead of police and said it would not only hamper investigation but also negate fair trial to the accused.

A bench headed by Justice Gyan Sudha Misra had last year taken suo motu cognizance of inordinate delay in the trial of rape cases and said setting up of fast-track courts would not achieve the desired result as long as trial procedures were not changed to dispense speedy justice.

The bench had also asked the government why the Criminal Procedure Code be not drastically amended to allow a magistrate to straight away record statements of all witnesses in sexual assault cases and keep them in sealed cover. "Thereafter, the same be treated as evidence at the stage of trial which may be put to test by subjecting it to cross-examination," it had said.

The Law Commission headed by Justice A P Shah lauded the apex court's keenness to fast track trial in rape cases and minimizing harassment caused to rape victims due to repeated recording of statements during investigation and trial.

But it said, "The amendments sought to be proposed by the Supreme Court may lead to certain difficulties and may not achieve the desired results." The commission said recording of statement by police opens up various possibilities to obtain information about the accused during investigation.

It also clarified that recording a rape survivor and other witnesses' statements by a magistrate under Section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code in no way improved its evidentiary value in comparison to statements recorded by police under Section 161 of the code.

The commission pointed out four pitfalls in substituting the rape survivor's statement to police with that recorded by the magistrate:

* The police will not be able to make any investigation with regard to crucial aspects like details of the accused, what forensic evidence to look for as the statement would be kept in sealed cover

* Police will find it difficult to investigate the case without regularly speaking to the rape survivor to elicit the complete version

* Every discovery of new evidence during investigation would require the police to take the rape survivor to the magistrate for fresh recording of statement, which would actually delay the process

* Police not speaking to the survivor regularly would actually slow down investigation into various possibilities.

The commission also focused on fair trial, a right guaranteed to an accused. "The basic tenets of criminal trial requires that all evidence taken in the course of trial should be taken in the presence of the accused. This is to ensure fairness of trial and to permit the accused or his advocate to point out the demeanor of the witness to the court," it said.

The commission also said police records a rape survivor's statement after questioning her for hours to ensure that all details of the incident are on record. A magistrate was not equipped with the abilities of an investigating officer to achieve the same result while recording her statement, it said.

"If the rape survivor's statement is recorded by the magistrate and kept in sealed cover and not given to the accused before framing of charges, and the accused is made to advance arguments on charge, it would drastically reduce his chances of being discharged, even if genuine circumstances arise in his favour," it said.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

US to soon allow spouse of H-1B visa holder to work in America

 The US will soon come out with a series of policy initiatives and changes in the existing rules including allowing the spouses of H-1B visas to work in America.

In a statement, the White House said that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon publish several proposed rules that will make the US more attractive to talented foreign entrepreneurs and other high-skill immigrants who will contribute substantially to the US economy, create jobs, and enhance American innovative competitiveness.

"These proposed regulations include rules authorizing employment for spouses of certain high-skill workers on H-1B visas, as well as enhancing opportunities for outstanding professors and researchers," it said in a statement.

"These measures build on continuing DHS efforts to streamline, eliminate inefficiency, and increase the transparency of the existing immigration system, such as by the launch of Entrepreneur Pathways, an online resource center that gives immigrant entrepreneurs an intuitive way to navigate opportunities to start and grow a business," it said.

From the statement, it appears that spouses of H-1B visas are unlikely to get a blanket approval to work in the US. Only certain category of spouses of H-1B visa holders - mainly from the science and tech category, are likely to get the nod.

The White House also said the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are launching a new collaboration to empower entrepreneurial scientists and address the critical gap between fundamental research and the development of a commercial entity.

The H-1B work visas for highly skilled professionals have been most beneficial from IT sector professionals from India.

As per the Congressional mandated cap, US Citizenship and Immigration Services can allocate a maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas for the fiscal year 2015 beginning October 1, 2014.

Academic researchers and entrepreneurs who receive Small Business Innovation Research funding from NIH will be eligible to pilot a new version of the NSF Innovation Corps programme that is specially tailored for biomedical technologies.

This intensive, mentor-driven experience is changing the way that NSF-funded researchers think about the commercialization process, the White House said.

NIH will also help scale up I-Corps by augmenting existing NIH-funded programs, such as the NIH Centers for Accelerated Innovation (NCAI), that focus on promising technologies developed by academic researchers.

"Faculty and students who participate in these new I-Corps programs will receive mentorship opportunities, entrepreneurial training, and modest funding to enable them to move their ideas from the lab to the market," it said.

The White House said fostering entrepreneurs and strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems are vital elements of USAID's newly launched US Global Development Lab (The Lab).

A new USAID Research and Innovation Fellowships Program will send more than 60 young US leaders in science and technology to universities, NGOs, and companies in 12 developing countries this year, it added.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Kejriwal govt’s FIR against Moily, Ambani illegal, solicitor general Parasaran tells Centre

The decision of the AAP government in Delhi filing an FIR against petroleum minister M Veerappa Moily on the gas pricing issue is against the principles of federalism, a senior law officer has said but cautioned against any action by the lieutenant governor on it. 

In his opinion given to the government, solicitor general Mohan Parasaran has said the "course of action" adopted by the Arvind Kejriwal government is against the federal structure of the country. 

His opinion was sought by the Centre which is working on a way to end the controversy. 

But he has cautioned that the Delhi lieutenant governor should not take steps to get the FIR against Moily, former petroleum minister Murli Deora and Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, declared as "non est" (non-existent). 

Instead, either the Centre should file an original suit in the Supreme Court or the affected parties should approach the high court for remedy. 

Parasaran said a state government does not have policing powers over the Centre, its functionaries or the Union Cabinet. 

He said the decision of the then Delhi government to order registration of the FIR on a policy decision of the Centre will not be a "healthy precedent" and poses threat to the federal structure. 

Parasaran said these issues relating to Centre-state relations have been settled in the Supreme Court in a number of cases. 

In February this year, the Delhi government had ordered filing of criminal cases against Moily, Deora, Ambani and others following complaints of irregularities in pricing of natural gas in Krishna Godavari basin. 

The then chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had said the anti-corruption branch of the state government will probe the matter based on a complaint filed by former Cabinet secretary TSR Subrmanian, former Navy chief Admiral AH Tahiliani and eminent lawyer Kamini Jaiswal besides a former expenditure secretary.

Monday, March 31, 2014

SC does away with disparity in pensions of HC judges

The Supreme Court on Monday removed a 60-year-old disparity in computation of pension for two categories of high court judges - those appointed from judicial service from lower courts and others from among advocates.

Judges appointed from subordinate courts on retirement get pension for the entire period of service, including the time they worked as judicial officers, even if their tenure as a high court Judge was for three years.

Advocates appointed as HC judges, say a decade before reaching the retirement age of 62 years, had their pension computed taking into account their period of service as only 10 years.

A bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana erased this disparity between those who get elevated from trial courts and those from among advocates.

"The experience and knowledge gained by a successful lawyer at the Bar can never be considered to be less important from any point of view in comparison to the experience gained by a judicial officer. If the service of a judicial officer is counted for fixation of pension, there is no valid reason as to why the experience at the Bar cannot be treated as equivalent for the same purpose," said Justice Sathasivam, who authored the verdict.

He added, "The fixation of higher pension to the judges drawn from subordinate judiciary who have served for shorter period in contradistinction to judges drawn from the Bar who have served for longer period with less pension is highly discriminatory and breach of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution."

Such disparity in pension affected the image of judiciary, the apex court admitted and cited this as a prime reason why many successful lawyers were shunning the offer of judgeship.

"When pensions are meager because of the shorter service, lawyers who attain distinction in the profession may not, because of this anomaly, accept the office of judgeship. When capable lawyers do not show inclination towards judgeship, the quality of justice declines," the bench said.

The court said "one rank one pension must be the norm in respect of a constitutional office". It said, "When a civil servant retires from service, the family pension is fixed at a higher rate whereas in the case of the high court, it is fixed at a lower rate. No discrimination can be made in the matter of payment of family pension."

Allowing petitions seeking parity in pension for HC judges, the bench said, "We accept the petitioners' claim and declare that for pensionary benefits, 10 years practice as an advocate be added as a qualifying service for judges elevated from the Bar." The court added 10 years service to this category of judges because the Constitution provides that a lawyer becomes eligible to be appointed as an HC judge if he has 10 years experience.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

SC commutes Devinderpal Singh Bhullar's death sentence to life imprisonment

The Supreme Court on Monday commuted the death sentence of 1993 Delhi bomb blast case convict and Khalistani terrorist Devinderpal Singh Bhullar to life term on the ground of delay in deciding his mercy plea and his medical condition. 

A four-judge bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam granted life to Bhullar on the ground of delay on the part of the government in deciding his mercy plea and also on the basis of his present medical condition. 

The bench, also comprising justices R M Lodha, H L Dattu and S J Mukhopadhaya, passed the order on a curative petition filed by Bhullar's wife Navneet Kaur. 

She pleaded before the court to relook into its verdict, in which Bhullar's plea for commuting the sentence was rejected, in view of its recent judgment where it was held that delay in deciding mercy plea can be a ground for commutation of death penalty. 

Bhullar was convicted and awarded death penalty for triggering a bomb blast in New Delhi in September 1993, which killed nine persons and injured 25 others, including then Youth Congress president M S Bitta. 

The Centre had earlier on March 27 told the court that it had no problem with commutation of Bhullar's death sentence to life term. 

It had said that the petition in this regard has to be allowed in view of the court's January 21 verdict that delay in deciding mercy pleas can be a ground for such relief. 

The bench had on January 31 stayed Bhullar's execution and had agreed to review its judgment by which it had rejected the 1993 Delhi bomb blast convict's plea to commute his death sentence to life term. 

It had issued notice to the Centre and Delhi government on a curative petition and had also directed the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), where Bhullar is being treated, to file a medical report on the condition of the death row convict who is alleged to be suffering from mental illness. 

The apex court had on January 21 said that inordinate and inexplicable delay by government in deciding mercy plea of death row convicts can be a ground for commuting their sentence. 

The apex court had on March 26, 2002 dismissed Bhullar's appeal against the death sentence awarded by a trial court in August 2001 and endorsed by the Delhi high court in 2002. 

He had filed a review petition which was also dismissed on December 17, 2002. Bhullar had then moved a curative petition which too had been rejected by the apex court on March 12, 2003. 

Bhullar, meanwhile, had filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003. 

The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea on May 14, 2011. Citing the delay, he had again moved the apex court for commutation of the death sentence but his plea was rejected. 

The apex court on January 21 had held inordinate delay by government in deciding mercy plea of death row convicts can be a ground for commuting their sentence and had granted life to 15 condemned prisoners including four aides of forest brigand Veerappan. 

In the landmark judgment, the court had held that prolonging execution of death sentence has a "dehumanising effect" on condemned prisoners who have to face the "agony" of waiting for years under the shadow of death during the pendency of their mercy plea.