Key legislations hit roadblock in 2011

New Delhi: Giving final shape to the Lokpal Bill, fine-tuning the Whistleblowers Bill and the Food Security Bill kept the Law Ministry busy in 2011, but these three legislations faced roadblocks in Parliament and their fate will be known in the new year.

A bill prepared in June and reworked in September on barring criminals from entering legislatures and Parliament also could not come up before Cabinet as the government wanted to take views of major political parties before taking a call.

Initially, the all-party meet was planned in October, but it could not take place.
The first major decision Salman Khurshid took after assuming charge as Law Minister last July was to accept the resignation of Gopal Subramanium as the Solicitor General.

Subramanium, perceived as the busiest law officer, tendered his resignation as he was upset over a government move to hire a private lawyer to represent the telecom ministry in the 2G scam case.

Between his resignation and the day it was accepted, Khurshid had replaced M Veerappa Moily as the law minister after a Cabinet reshuffle.

Three important legislations – The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, a bill to increase the retirement age of high court judges from 62 to 65 years and High Courts (Commercial Divisions) Bill – faced various roadblocks in Parliament.

In an embarrassment to the government, the Opposition recently forced it to defer a bill for constitution of commercial divisions in high courts, stating that it provides for speedy justice to the rich at the cost of the poor.

Conceding that there are deficiencies in the Commercial Division of High Courts Bill, 2010, Khurshid told Rajya Sabha, "There are certain aspects that require further consideration… We will be able to bring some new amendments… I seek only little more time now."

The bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha without discussion, seeks to set up divisions in the high courts for adjudicating commercial disputes and fast-tracking these cases. The bill was deferred after taking a sense of the House where UPA does not enjoy majority.

Yet another much-delayed bill which provides for a mechanism to investigate complaints against judges has been held up further in Parliament along with another measure which seeks to increase the retirement age of high court judges.

The discussion on the two bills – the Judicial Standards and Accountability and the Constitution (114th Amendment) Bill, 2010 – remained inconclusive in Lok Sabha on December 28 as the House was adjourned abruptly after uproar created by BJP which wanted voting on the two bills.

The two bills were not part of the agenda for December 29, the last day of the extended Winter session. The Constitution amendment bill requires that it be passed by a two-third majority of the members present which should not be less than half the strength of the house.

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010, which is an amended version of the one introduced last year, provides for a mechanism to investigate complaints against judges.

The 114th Constitution Amendment Bill seeks to raise the retirement age of High Court judges from the present 62 years to 65 years, bringing it on par with the retirement age of Supreme Court judges. The three Bills will now have to wait till the Monsoon session.

But a Law Ministry initiative started in January 2010 to reduce the number of undertrials in prisons was successful. The project continued throughout most part of 2011 with latest figures showing that 5.6 lakh undertrials released on bail, 77,940 discharged and 68,744 convicted.