(Un)Constitutionality of the U.P. Ordinance on Conversion: The Puttaswamy Judgment-II

I have discussed the Puttaswamy Judgment here and its impact on Right to Privacy and liberty. In this post, I will be analysing the controversial ordinance passed by the Uttar Pradesh Government in the light of the Puttaswamy judgment. Recently, the UP Government has passed an ordinance called the “UP Prohibition of unlawful conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020”. This law has been given the colour of an ‘anti-conversion’ law.

“The Problem”: the Law

The law says that, in section 6, that “any marriage which was done for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice versa” shall be void. This means that if someone converts his/her religion to marry the other person, then that marriage is null and void, even after both the adults have given their consent for the marriage. Through this law, the state is ‘regulating’ marriage and the conscience of the citizens as well (which is a fundamental right under 25 of the constitution). The state is deciding what is right or wrong for its citizens. This questions the whole legitimacy of the social contract between the citizens and the state – the question that how much the state can regulate? Can the state regulate the private affairs of an individual? A person’s conscience is the most private thing available to her – therefore – is the state regulating our mind and our conscience and can they do it? This ordinance, unfortunately so, does it.

Further, section 8 of the Act states that any person who wants to convert shall ask to declare the same before the magistrate (‘DM’) ‘sixty days’ before. Then, the DM shall conduct an enquiry with the help of police to know the “real intention” for conversion. Giving such unfettered discretion to the DM or the police will increase arbitrary denial of conversion/free conscience. The executive authorities are not judicially trained to determine the ‘intention’ of the person and hence, this will increase the vast amount of violation of constitutional provisions such as liberty and right to conscience of an individual. The social scientists and theorists will help us in understanding the mentality of the officers (and the society) when it comes to converting to a minority religion. Every citizen has a “right to convert”- by exercising their freedom of conscience- under Article 25 of the Constitution. When a person chooses to change his/her religion then that person uses her conscience and she knows what is right or wrong for her. Hence, this regulation of a persons’ conscience must be unconstitutional.

Forceful conversions must be stopped as it goes against the ‘human will and conscience’ but putting so many barriers between those conversions which are not forceful is sheer violation of the rights of an individual. Converting for the sole purpose of marriage is the choice of the individual and the choice made by an individual must not be constrained through various provisions of the law. Here the law has to function according to the social realities and the reality is that the people who convert their religions for marriage are usually those couples who are performing inter-faith marriages. There is already so much fear of social exclusion, honour killing and persecution by the families which makes it difficult for an individual to make his/her free choice. Those who have the will to make his ‘free choice’ are forced to face the law which puts a blockade on their free choice.

Puttaswamy Judgment and individual’s Right to Choose

A person has freedom of conscience as a fundamental right because it protects that person’s right from the disdain of the majority society and legislature. A person who is converting to a minority religion faces the grave dangers of discrimination, life and liberty for a simple reason that his to-be-belief does not accord with the mainstream. Further, converting to a particular religion is an intimate choice of an individual and displaying that on the notice board of the DM and ‘taking permission’ from the authorities violates the ‘right to take an intimate decision about oneself’.  

The law on anti-conversion can be defended only by the Supreme Court’s problematic judgment in Rev Stainislaus v State of Madhya Pradesh which is a 1977 ruling delivered by five judges of the Supreme Court. The Court in that judgment said, “What is freedom for one is freedom for the other in equal measure and there can, therefore, be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one’s religion.” This goes against the heart of the liberal constitutional idea. The judgment, in turns, misreads a person’s right to religion and freedom of conscience. In his three-volume book on Constitutional law, jurist Seervai argues that the “Supreme Court’s judgement is clearly wrong, is productive of the greatest public mischief and ought to be overruled.” Further, he argues, Chief Justice A N Ray “mistakenly believed that if A deliberately set out to convert B by propagating A’s religion, that would impinge on B’s “freedom of conscience”. But…the precise opposite is true: A’s propagation of his religion with a view to its being accepted by B gives an opportunity for B to exercise his free choice of a religion.

Even in the constituent assembly, KM Munshi commented on the word ‘propagation’ and said:

“So long as religion is religion, conversion by the free exercise of the conscience has to be recognised. The word ‘propagate’ in this clause is nothing very much out of the way as some people think, nor is it fraught with dangerous consequences.”

When we propagate our religion to someone with a free mind, we are trying to persuade that person and in the consequence of it, that person uses his conscience to exercise his free choice whether she wants to convert or not. Hence, the state cannot restrict a person’s free choice to convert or not convert and the Supreme Court’s judgment in Stainislaus is ought to be overruled.

Further, the nine-judge bench in the Puttaswamy case held that “Privacy recognises the autonomy of the individual and the right of every person to make essential choices which affect the course of life.” (¶113) When a consenting adult agrees to marry another consenting adult, what they do is make an essential ‘intimate’ choice about their life which is protected by the Right to Privacy (Article 21). Similarly, when a person converts, for whatsoever reason like marriage, then that person exercises her right of freedom of conscience (Article 25)and right to make an essential choice. After the Puttaswamy judgment, the five judges ruling in Stainislaus deserve to be overruled as it is seriously flawed in its approach and it fails to recognise a person’s right to make intimate choices.

Conclusion

The UP Ordinance of 2020 invades an individual’s freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It goes against the heart of the Constitution. The state has no right in intruding into someone’s private life and the choices they make. In a constitutional democracy, the citizens must be left free to make their choices and they have autonomy over their conscience. Therefore, policing citizens over the matters of religion will badly hurt India’s secular fabric and citizens’ liberty and rights!

Guest Post: The PM CARES Fund: A Political Propaganda or a Genuine Attempt?

[This is a guest post by Charvi Devprakash]

Introduction

The Prime Minister of India tweeted, “It is my appeal to my fellow Indians, kindly contribute to the PM-CARES Fund” asking all of the citizens to do their part in creating a healthier India by contributing to the newly founded PM-CARES Fund (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund). Within a week, reports stated that the fund had managed to collect 65 billion rupees. And now, it is claimed that the fund has crossed the 100 billion dollars mark. 

Though this meant a huge achievement for the country as a whole, as aforementioned many of them began to question why there was another fund created when there already existed the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF). While some questioned its constitutional validity, others mocked the opaqueness of the fund. While on one hand where some of the citizens filed cases of Right to Information against the Prime Minister, on the other, some demanded the need for the fund to be scrutinized by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (“CAG”) as CAG is an independent body, free of the government’s influence. While the government fought the RTI petitions by calling the fund ‘not a public authority’, some companies wondered how the PM CARES Fund came under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but not the CM’s COVID Fund. 

Is the PM CARES Fund constitutionally valid?

Recently, in the case of Manohar Lal Sharma v. Narender Damodaran Modi & Ors, the Supreme Court was to hear public interest litigation (“PIL”) filed by one Manohar Lal Sharma on the matter of the constitutional validity of the PM CARES Fund. A bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices L Nageswara Rao and MM Shantanagoudar heard the PIL against the setting up of the PM CARES Fund through video-conferencing. The SC straight away dismissed this petition, thereby indicating that the PM CARES Fund was created in accordance with the constitutional principles. The petition intended to quash down the Fund as it is claimed to have not been formed under the constitutional guidelines as mentioned under Article 266 and 267 of the Constitution of India, 1950 that deal with the Consolidated and Contingency Fund of India respectively. 

However, here are some of the reasons how the constitutional validity of the fund could be challenged on other grounds as well. One could assail the Fund by focusing on the nature of the Fund and the requirement of the auditing to be done by the CAG as it is supposed to be a public fund and not private. Time and again, successive Central Governments have created funds like the PMNRF and PM CARES Fund under the umbrella of ‘private funds’, thereby encroaching upon and depriving the Indian citizens’ Right to Information. The petition could have also challenged the validity of the fund by bringing it within the bracket of the violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India as the PM CARES Fund demanded or rather received preferential treatment than the other NGOs or Trusts, that haven’t enjoyed such support in the past, pertaining to the exemptions received under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA).

The need for Transparency

India being a democracy, bestows upon all its citizens the Right to Information under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. The right to seek information and accountability from the Government strengthens and empowers the citizens. This freedom ensures that there is a good, transparent, accountable and responsive Government. Today, due to the various decisions taken by the Government, RTI is recognised as a fundamental tool to promote openness and responsibility within the Government. It puts people in a position of entitlement and power. 

In the case of SP Gupta v. Union of India, it was held that the people had the right to know about every public act and public transaction undertaken by public functionaries. Furthermore, in the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, the judgement of SP Gupta was extended to making Right to Information an indispensable human right necessary for making governance transparent and accountable. Adding on, in the case of State of UP v. Raj Narain, Justice Mathew expressed, 

“It is not in the interest of the public to cover with a veil of secrecy the common routine business the responsibility of officials to explain and to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.” 

Where the money is being utilised? When the taxpayers diligently and responsibly donate to a particular government body, the citizens have the right to know how the due amount is being utilized. Similarly, even in the present scenario, the citizens have a right to know, to what use is the money collected being put to, irrespective of the amount donated by each individual. This is precisely where the problem arose in the PM CARES Fund: the lack of transparency

Issue of representation and domination of one political party: The ruling party was quick enough to make a statement that the CAG will not be auditing this fund and that it will be those independent auditors who are appointed by the trust that would audit the funds. However, the committee members or the decision-makers of the fund are unrepresentative. Unlike the PMNRF that comprises the Prime Minister, President and the leader of the Opposition, PM CARES Fund only comprises the ruling party members. While the Prime Minister, in his official capacity, is the ex-officio chair of the Fund, he also has the power to nominate three members as ‘ex-officio trustees’, which in this case are the Finance Minister, Defence Minister and the Minister of Home Affairs, who all are from the same ruling party, thereby making the Fund/trust completely unaccountable and unrepresentative. Despite there not being a legal mandate for the Leader of the Opposition to be a committee member in any of these funds, it has been an unwritten ‘convention’ from centuries across countries to have the opposition party members in such funds in order to encourage opposing points of view. This makes the PM CARES Fund unrepresentative. 

The requirement of auditing by CAG: A fund this unrepresentative also makes the appointment of the independent auditors biased and unfair, which once again calls for an emphasis on CAG to audit this Fund. Although the auditors have to abide by certain set legal standards, the appointment of these auditors will be biased due to the unrepresentative nature of the committee, which might give the ruling party an upper hand in making decisions that are not completely justifiable or transparent. The same can be avoided if the committee is more representative with opposing views. The PMO has also refused to make the relevant documents of the Fund public as it does not come under the ambit of a public fund’, which means it is not controlled or substantially financed by the government and so does not come under the RTI Act. It also means that it cannot be scrutinized by government auditors like the CAG. However, the nomination of the committee members of the Fund speaks otherwise, indicating that the Fund is under complete control of the Government. Therefore, all of these actions of the Government call for the pressing need for ‘Transparency’. As aforementioned, no information has been catered to the donors of this charitable fund, as the fund is considered a ‘private trust’. This called for several RTI petitions being filed against the PMO and the government. However, most of them have been dismissed by the courts and the rest have been quashed down by the trust.

The CSR conflict and Cooperative Federalism

Another issue arising out of this fund is the preferential treatment given to the PM CARES Fund over other state government funds in terms of corporate social responsibility. An intriguing aspect here is that companies cannot file their donations towards state COVID funds under their CSR, while they can only file their donations under CSR if it is towards the PM CARES Fund. Many have questioned the validity of this clause. PM CARES Fund is the only state-owned charitable fund to have been included under CSR by amending the Indian Companies Act. Despite announcing this on a later date, the application of the amendment was retrospective in nature, thereby making all the prior corporate donations eligible under CSR. 

However, this move by the government has its own repercussions. Once the PM CARES Fund was made eligible for CSR funding, many top businesses like the TATA and Reliance donated millions of rupees as donations. This meant that it could lead to a great financial crunch among many other NGOs who majorly depended on such corporate donations. In light of the same, the Rajasthan Government filed a suit questioning as to why only PM CARES and not state COVID funds were made eligible for CSR funding. The only response was that the Union Government barred CM’s Relief Fund to be entitled to CSR donations. This is a blatant violation of Article 14 as this clearly acts as Preferential treatment towards the Central Government’s fund. This might also be an attempt to destabilize the democratic governance founded on the constitutional principle of ‘cooperative federalism’ (The need for Cooperative Federalism was highlighted previously on this blog here).

Cooperative federalism is the existence of a flexible relationship between the Centre and the states where both parties work together in harmony on subjects that concern both. This particular move of the Union on the matter of PM CARES Fund has proven to go against this principle. As a democracy believing in cooperative federalism, it is of paramount importance for the Centre to treat the states as equals and consult them on subjects that are of national concern such as the pandemic. Many state governments in the country became the target of a huge financial crunch as they had neither received the State’s GST collections nor were the residents of those states donating to the CM’s Relief Fund, merely because one could avail the CSR benefit by donating to the PM CARES Fund. This move by the Union is highly condemnable as this was the time for the state governments to be more self-reliant, financially as well as decisively and less dependent on the Centre, but that didn’t seem to happen in this scenario. If cooperative federalism was adopted and respected in its truest sense, then the entire situation would have looked quite different, with more harmonious inter-state and Centre-State relations.   

Conclusion/Suggestions

Looking at all the analysis made above, it is safe to assume that the PM CARES Fund is not only opaque and arbitrary in nature, but also discriminatory. Many NGOs and State COVID funds are at stake due to the revised provision made available to the general public in light of corporate social responsibility. To resolve this issue, some of the plausible suggestions could be:

  1. This turn of events must be put under scrutiny for being violative of Article 14 – as it creates differential treatment of two different subjects which falls under the same class of subjects.
  2. Courts must encourage and allow the PILs and the RTI applications for better transparency. Strict scrutiny of this fund must be done so as to ensure that the public’s trust is restored. 
  3. There is a pressing need for more transparency in the functionality of the fund and hence needs to be made more representative by including members from the opposition and other independent sectors.
  4. Indian Companies Act must be further amended to give the state-relief funds the same position as PM CARES Fund.
  5. Since this is a public-funded initiative, PM CARES Fund needs to come under the ambit of ‘public fund’. 

Therefore, the acceptance of these suggestions will only strengthen the citizens’ belief in the judiciary and will prove the independence of the Judiciary from the Legislature and the Executive. Lastly, COVID-19, is a global pandemic, having taken millions of lives already. This is not a time to put into action the nasty political propagandas, but a time for the entire nation to stay united and fight the virus, democratically.

[The author would like to thank Chaitanya Singh and the team of Constitutional Renaissance Blog for their valuable suggestions and comments.]

India’s Denotified Tribal Communities: A long drawn struggle towards getting recognized under the Indian Constitution

[This is a post by Minnah Abraham, Contributing Editor]

“My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Now since we are talking about lack of representation of certain sections in the political and administrative affairs of the country of India, with the previous article pulling in the shocking percentage ratio of women representatives in the parliament affairs hailing from north-eastern parts of India. 

This article will introduce you to the unrepresented and unrecognized section of the vast diaspora of India’s cultural population. The denotified and nomadic, semi-nomadic tribes of India, (Herein ‘NT-DNTs’) often known as Vimukta Jatis, were notified as ‘born criminals’ by the colonial British. Even so much to note that there was an Act for the same ‘Criminal Tribes Act, 1871’ (Herein ‘CTA 1871’) giving immense power to police to arrest and keep track of their movements. At the time of constituting the CTA 1871, a British official, T V Stephen’s comments upon introducing the said Bill, as quoted,

“people from time immemorial have been pursuing the caste system defined job-positions: weaving, carpentry and such were hereditary jobs. So there much have been hereditary criminals also who pursued their forefathers’ profession”

 The British found the criminal tribes as a convenient target at that time and by adopting a strategic approach of concentrated limited resources and efforts of police on visible targets enabled acting against these tribes with the police force in order to at least keep other criminal acts from happening in the tension-filled country.  

Now exploring the historical beginning which resorted to still keeping those tribes under the pretext of ‘Denotified’ even today, it can be blamed on post-liberalisation policies of independent India for these communities which further alienated them from their land and occupations. Although while repealing the CTA 1871, the assumption still persisted that northern India was inhabited by thugs and dacoits. Even though the communities may be considered as ‘Denotified’ since 1952, but they are regulated by Habitual Offenders Act, 1952, the Probation of Offenders Act 1958 and still invisible and voiceless as well as the unforgotten branding of criminals by the law of the land. This has led to stigmatisation and criminalisation of the Denotified communities, causing an occupational shift and often exclusion respectful work within the informal sector as well as forced entry into sex work, due to lack of reserved opportunities of employment and livelihood. A draft list of Denotified tribes, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes of India as given. Most states do not even acknowledge their presence, nor do have the proper listed records of these existing communities. Owing to their absence of valid certificate/acknowledgement or even the lack of basic identity proof have prevented them from availing basic facilities or entitlement schemes. 

The Indian Constitution

As prescribed in Article 38, in particular, pertaining to Directive Principles of State Policy, contain the fundamental principle for the governance of the country, impose on the State to promote and safeguard the welfare of its people as effectively in all sections of society i.e. socially, economically and politically, if striving towards a strong Nation with unassailable bedrock foundation of the national policy framework. 

Article 341 of the Constitution provide for the President to specify caste, races or tribes or any groups within those castes, races or tribes with respect to any State or UT, read with Article 342 to provide the specification of the tribal communities deemed to be for the purpose of the constitution to be scheduled tribes in relation to various States and UTs. A Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2008 entails upon the inclusion of the ‘Scheduled Denotified Tribes and Nomadic Tribes’ along with Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste wherever it is placed in the Constitution of India. However, not much information lies upon the status of the same. The same Bill recognises NT-DNTs to be legally safeguarded, represented and treated with special care under Article 15, 16, 46, 330, 332, 334, 335, 342 similar to how Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are represented and safeguarded by the Constitution, enjoying the benefits of reservation both in the work and educational institutions. What’s keeping the NT-DNTs from being included in the present Indian laws and lack of provisions for the overall upliftment of these communities? 

In Contrast with Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes: several notable committees were constituted and discussed on NT-DNTs, for instance, Lokur Committee suggested it would be in the best interest of these tribal communities to be distinguished from the list of SC/STs and treated exclusively with specially designed development schemes. Mandal Commission, upon the discussion on the same, suggested the categorization to be called ‘Depressed Backward Classes’ due to the severe exclusion from the Indian Society, either denied, prohibited and ever segregated under the pretext of the stigma of nomadism, ex-criminals and all sort of much lesser respected work profiles forced on them. Several Commissions and committee expressed such concerns before arriving at inclusivity solutions:

  • To evolve a criterion of definition and classification of Denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes
  • To identify the benefits of reservation to the Denotified, Nomadic and Semi- Nomadic Tribes.
  • To draw a comprehensive plan to secure and deliver fundamental rights to these communities
  • To develop a broad campaign for positive image building in the civil society about these communities.

Even the Planning Committee felt the need to uplift the NT-DNTs being the most backwards community of the country. The Renke Commission or the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes set up under the chairmanship of Balkrishna Sidram Renke by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment presented its report in 2008. Be that as it may, no attempt has been made so far. Nevertheless, the Union Cabinet has granted approval in 2014 for the constitution of Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Communities solely to ensure special strategies, designed and implemented effectively to reach these hard-to-reach DNT/NT/SNT as the question on the other hand question its genuineness of the ‘Development and Welfare Board’.

Concluding Remarks

Upon researching and reading articles on this subject matter, it was pertinent for the author to note that several attempts have been made to bring recognition and upliftment strategies for NT-DNTs but none that were seriously given consideration nor implementation of a proper legal provision in the place. Worse, those heterogeneous groups consisting of all menial work profiles such as dancers, snake charmer, juggler and similarly engaged in theatrics often seem like they are sacked or dismissed or left out while discussing tribal affairs and concerns. So as to state, there was a special provision that was made in the 3rd Five Year Plan for this community but discontinued without any valid reasons. Pandit Jawaharlal’s word on uplifting and development of the Denotified has not been taken up over the years till today. As evident, several committees constituted over the year has remarked the same provision i.e. separate legal reservation. Upon observing the plight of the current situation of the NT-DNTs, it is immensely material to introduce inclusivity and upliftment strategies for these communities in order to develop socially, economically as well as intellectually otherwise they will be marginalized further. Note to mention that these communities suffered greatly, or considerably worst hit with no ration card and work due to COVID 19 pandemic and proves worse case scenarios of a failed government in attending to its most weakened sections of Indian society. The benefits of the same will enable the country to prosper due to the massive contributions of its citizens, irrespective of caste, gender, sexuality or other classifications.

History of Article 326: Why did India choose Universal Adult Franchise?

Article 326 of the Indian Constitution states there every citizen of India who is not less than 18 years of age shall be entitled to be registered as a voter. The Constitution or any law made by the Parliament such as Representation of Peoples’ Act can restrict a citizen to be a registered as a voter only on the grounds of ‘non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practices’. But before the Constitution was enacted there were several reservations against Article 326 of the Constitution. In this article, the author will analyse the reasons which made the founding fathers choose a universal adult franchise over the limited franchise.

India’s History and the Committee Reports

When India attained independence in August 1947, the citizens were lacking basic standards of education and literacy. They were divided broadly into different classes, linguistic and religious groups. Ivor Jennings, a constitutional thinker, advised that India must create a limited franchise. Even the Report on Indian Constitutional Reform of 1918 recommended what Ivor Jennings advised- a limited franchise. It was in 1930 that the Report on Indian Statutory Commission recommended ‘an extension of the vote to correspond to growth in adult literacy. This was a colonial logic which was based on the assumption that only the educated masses can vote in a democracy. Even the Report of the Indian Franchise Committee which was published in 1932 recommended that uneducated and illiterate masses don’t have an informed ‘outlook towards public affairs and political participation’.

The Indian organisations such as the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League were mostly divided on issues of power in the colonial administration. It was the Motilal Nehru Committee of 1928 which responded to the Commission reports by demanding a Universal Franchise for free India. The logic of the Committee report was that the exclusion of those who are kept out of franchise will be harmed and they might ‘de-legitimise’ the democratically elected government as well because those in power will not be their ‘own‘ representatives. Even the Sapru Committee in 1945 advocated for Universal Adult Franchise. The Sapru Committee observed that the substantial changes can be made only if there is full responsibility accredited to the government. There must be a fear of getting voted out from power. If those in power will know that a certain section of the society will not decide their fate in the next election, then they will not work for the welfare of that section as those citizens are denied voting rights. Hence, the ‘Indian’ committees recommended for Universal Franchise as opposed to the committees made by the Englishmen.

 De Facto exclusion of Lower Caste

During the colonial period and even before that, the citizens belonging to the so-called lower castes were not allowed to attain education and they were forced to do odd-jobs. Education was for the elite and the ‘upper castes’. Dr B.R. Ambedkar aware of this fact pressed for inclusion of lower caste in the franchise as ‘qualifications based on education and property during colonial rule meant the de facto exclusion of the lower caste’. For Ambedkar, who negotiated with the colonial rulers, right to vote became a focal point as he believed that ‘suffrage could itself serve an instructive role and that participation in political life would bring about consciousness among the lower castes’. As L.T. Hobhouse says in his work 1911 text Liberalism that “the success of democracy depends on the response of the voters to the opportunities given to them. But, conversely, the opportunities must be given in order to call forth that response”. To Ambedkar, the right to vote was not a privilege but a right! He believed that if it is treated as a privilege then “political emancipation of the un-enfranchised will be entirely at the mercy of those that are enfranchised”.  For ‘lower caste’, first, education was denied and then, the franchise was denied because of education. Hence, if education was kept as a criterion then it would have been erroneous and arbitrary.

Participatory Democracy and Adult Franchise

As Madhav Khosla in his book says “the apparent relationship between restrictions in the franchise and good governance had little truth”. A Parliament without any reform that is to say the inclusion of all sections of society is “not a blessing to anyone”. Democracy and participation are like Vikram and Betaal, where ‘democracy is solely about the expression of preferences at the ballot box’. Participation in an election is equivalent to the removal of isolation of a person because when a person casts her vote, she feels that her voice is being heard and she is there in the law-making process (through her representative) which will be governing her behaviour in a democratic society. ‘If democracy was about shaping the associations in one’s life, a limitation on suffrage would place the lower classes under the control of the powerful. It would mean that such classes would be deprived of the chance to shape interactions in their life.’ Putting limitations on suffrage is a form of coercion on someone’s right.

In Conclusion

Some members of the constituent assembly, like Thirumala Rao, considered universal adult franchise as ‘a dangerous weapon’ and Mahavir Tyagi considered it a ‘monstrous experiment’. K.T. Shah, a celebrated personality in the Assembly, stated that imposition of literacy as a requirement for the franchise would ‘ensure better governance’. But such a model will discourage the government from creating and spreading education and literacy among the illiterate classes as those classes might vote-out the government in the future elections if their demands are not met.

The Assembly ignored the idea of the limited franchise. The founding fathers chose universal adult franchise over limited franchise giving every citizen (who is above 18 years of age) a Right to Vote. A citizen has a right to express her opinion at the ballot box after every five years and choose their representatives. It is the most celebrated rights in the Indian Constitution which allow the marginalised and the ill-treated communities to choose the fate of their leaders. The country chose to tackle the issues of illiteracy among others by universal adult franchise!

[The author would like to thank Professor Madhav Khosla for his book “India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy” and the single quotes used in this article are from his book only.]

Hate Speech vs Free Speech: Where is the current strongest?

[This is a post by Diksha Dadu, Contributing Member]

In this blog, I will be focusing upon the legal provisions with respect to the concept of Hate Speech by critically analyzing Indian precedents and certain foreign judgments to differentiate between discussion and the advocacy of incitement acts which are considered prejudicial to maintenance of peace and harmony. Furthermore, I will be enunciating upon an effort to find a transformative yet harmonious approach in relation to hate speech on Freedom of Expression and examining the restriction thereof, followed by the conclusion.

Introduction

“…[T]hat the law shall be certain, and that it shall be just and shall move with the times.”Lord Reid, Judge as Law Maker

The disparity in jurisprudence on hate speech has been considered as remotely distant in Indian Constitutional Law while the terrain of free speech still remains a contested field. “Hate speech is termed as the speech that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence”, as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary. According to Article 19(1)(a), the right to freedom of speech and expression is granted to every citizen of democratic India. However, the constitution also provides for the reasonable restrictions against free speech in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence under Article 19(2) of The Constitution of India. The 2017 Law Commission Report, No. 267 recommended the introduction of new provisions within the penal code that specifically punish incitement to violence in addition to the existing ones while examining the scope of hate speech laws in India. Moreover, free speech is considered quintessential for every democracy to work efficiently. The doctrine of free speech has evolved as a bulwark against the state’s power to regulate speech. The liberal doctrine was a measure against the undemocratic power of the state.

Thus, this gives us an inference upon the reflection and attitude of our legislature and the juncture of decision making by the judiciary towards the issue of hate speech and the real extent of its reasonable restrictions thereof.

Hate Speech: Regulations and Legal Provisions in India 

In a democratic country like India which possess diverse communities of people, castes, creed, religions and languages as its unique nature, the principle of autonomy and free speech does not malign properly and wholly. This idiosyncratic nature of our Indian structure is one of the greatest challenges before the principle of autonomy and free speech principle. There is a constant battle of opinions to ensure that this liberty is not exercised to the detriment of any individual or the disadvantaged group or section of the society. 

As per the Indian Penal Code, the concept of hate speech constitutes under Section 153A, which is the offence of promoting communal disharmony or feelings of hatred between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, Section 153B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 categorizes the offence of promoting religious, racist, linguistic, community or caste hatred or incites any religious, caste or any other disharmony or enmity within India, through any speech either in written form or spoken, Section 298 also classifies the offence of uttering words with the deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person, Section 505 similarly criminalizes the act of delivering speeches that incite violence. As per the Representation of the People Act, 1951, Section 123(3A) also criminalizes hate speech of candidates contesting elections. 
In 2014, a Public Interest Litigation was filed before the Supreme Court of India seeking guidelines on hate speech during elections. It observed that hate speech attempts to marginalize individuals on the basis of their membership in a group which impacts such people socially by diminishing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, the Court observed, lays the groundwork for aggravated attacks on the vulnerable communities in the future. This weakens the ability of people to participate wholly in a democracy. It was further observed that the existing laws in India were sufficient to tackle hate speeches. The root of the problem is not the absence of laws but rather a lack of their effective execution, the Court reiterated.

Analysis of Hate Speech in India: Extent of Reasonable Restriction Principle and Position of State

The issue of the validity of hate speech laws and the extent of already existing hate speech laws has always been a heated debate in India. This issue has time and again raised before the legislature, court as well as the public. Under Article 19(2), the hate speech can be curtailed on the grounds of public order, incitement to offence and security of the State. In the infamous case of Ram Manohar Lohiya v. State of Bihar, the Apex Court observed that “One has to imagine three concentric circles. Law and order represent the largest circle within which is the next circle representing public order and the smallest circle represents the security of State. It is then easy to see that an act may affect law and order but not public order just as an act may affect public order but not the security of the State.” The standard approach applied for restricting Article 19(1)(a) is the highest when imposed in the interest of the security of the State. 

Further, the Supreme Court while upholding the constitutional validity of Section 295A IPC ruled that this section does not penalize every act of insult or attempt to ‘insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens but it penalizes only those acts of insults to or those varieties of attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens, which are perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class.’ It was held that if an act does not actually cause a breach of public order, its restriction ‘in the interest of public order’ will be deemed reasonable with respect to Article 19(2), since it has a much wider connotation than interest and maintenance of public order. 

In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the court observed that expression could only be restricted when discussion and advocacy amounted to incitement, however, when no ingredient in offence of inciting anybody to do anything which a reasonable man would then the tendency of being an immediate threat to public safety or tranquillity would diminish. Therefore, the context of speech plays a vital role in determining its legitimacy under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and that our commitment to freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered.

Hence, after analyzing the recent landmark decisions, it could be re-iterated that a speech protective regime has been followed in India. The main cause of action behind such a stance is the apprehension and fear of misuse of restrictive statutes by the State. Such a regime has been followed in the United States and the Courts therein are extremely cautious in restricting Article 19 of the Constitution to avoid vitriolic approaches from the public. Pluralism, tolerance, peace and non-discrimination have been termed non-derogatory values by the ECHR in ascertaining the extent of free speech allowed under the Convention.

Conclusion

Hate speech poses a complex situation against freedom of speech and expression. The constitutional approach to these challenges has been far from uniform as the boundaries between impermissible propagation of hatred and protected speech vary across jurisdictions. 

In a landmark judgment of Canada v Taylor, the constitutional validity of hate speech laws was challenged since it violated the right to freedom of speech and expression. It was held that hate and propaganda contribute little to the aspirations of Canadians or Canada in the quest for truth, the promotion of individual self‑development, or the protection and fostering of a vibrant democracy where the participation of all individuals is accepted and encouraged. The Supreme Court of Canada opined that hate speech laws are indeed a part of the global commitment to eradicate racism and communal disharmony. 

However, ‘with every right comes responsibility’; and therein, is the need for a limitation on the right to freedom of speech and expression so as to prevent the destructive and regressive effect it could have. There is a massive need to revise and amend the existing anti-discrimination legislation with respect to hate speech without curtailing the freedom of speech and expression of people. Laws should be implemented in a non-selective, non-arbitrary and transparent manner, along the lines of golden principles of the constitution which should not be used to stifle dissent or the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Lastly, the fight against hate speech should not be pursued in isolation but with a harmonious holistic approach. Our constitutional history must be maligned with the traditional approaches along the lines of recent development and usage of hate speech laws, especially in terms of yellow journalism these days. With excessive interference of the media into the facts and evidence of the case has led the judiciary to negatively view such journalists as ‘thought intelligentsia’, which in turn impacts the justice delivery system as well. Therefore, a harmonious balance must be drawn while dealing with such matters and reasonable restrictions must be applied and followed strictly and not liberally in our diverse democratic country.

Case Study on State Assemblies of North East India: Need for Reservations for Women

[Editorial Note: Constitutional Renaissance’s Research on State assemblies of North East can be accessed here]

In this article, we conducted a research on the incumbent Members of Legislative Assembly (‘MLAs’) in eight states of North East (Assam, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Nagaland) as a sample data to analyse the number of women MLA in these regions, their family backgrounds, political parties and their income, whether they are from a relatively poor or rich background (click here to see our summarised research). This research tries to answer the question “whether women are proportionally represented in the State Assemblies according to their population in the state.” As the Tribune reports, ‘the Perception of Electoral Integrity Index gave India 40/100, under the Varieties of Democracy’s Female Rights Index, with India performing its lowest in political power. In the EIU’s Democracy Index (2019), India suffered a downfall in political participation from 7.22 to 6.67.’ Currently, in-state assembly elections, there is no proportional reservation for women, unlike in the third tier of government (Panchayats) where we have 33% reservation for women. Through this research, we will be proposing that there is a requirement for proportional reservation for women in the state assemblies and in Parliament to avoid ‘political lockout’ and to keep our democracy legitimate.

Liberal Constitution and ‘political lockout’

In liberal constitutions, like that of India, the state has an indispensable duty to protect the rights of the citizens and to ensure that the freedoms and civil liberties are not compromised at any cost. Although the denial of these civil liberties presents many stability problems for democracy. But ‘political lockout’ of a section of society out of power raises concerns with regard to the whole legitimacy of the democracy. That section of society could be Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes or women as well. In the words of Tarunabh Khaitan, political lockout means ‘when a group comprehensively loses any genuine prospects of garnering even a threshold level of political power at least some of the time, it has been ‘locked out’ of power’. We have always thought of political representation debate with regard to caste and religion. But keeping a whole group, which is women, out of politics may also repose serious threat to the legitimacy of the liberal order established by the Constitution. For instance, if a particular group is kept out of power for long and they are refused to participate in decisions which affect their lives, then that group will lose faith in the democracy as their interests are not fulfilled either represented in the law-making body. We have seen in the past when committees are formed for a particular purpose but they keep out a section of a society which are the most affected section, then it raises alarming concerns about that committee, to an extend delegitimizing it (for instance, see this). Through our research, we have found that women in north-east have been kept out of power for some time and they have been denied equal participation in the law-making process. In the northeast alone, out of 498 seats (MLAs) spread over eight different states, there are only 24 elected women representatives.

The research displays a lot of flustering concerns: about the legitimacy of democracy. Scholar Choudhary argues in his book that

‘the ambition of liberal constitutionalism is that a constitutional order must both be legitimate and must enjoy the allegiance of a sufficient number of its citizens.’

If a group, be it, women, any caste, any class, is kept out of power for some time then ‘that has the capacity to destabilise the constitutional settlement’. Through our research, we saw that the women who are in politics, and who become MLAs, are relatively richer to those women who do not get into politics. The data shows that all of the women MLAs who get elected are relatively richer with assets ranging from Rs. 1,49,77,798 (of a member from Tripura) to Rs. 1,86,28,851 (of a member from Assam). The plight of a woman who is not relatively rich and is not represented in the law-making process is so much that it might make the state assemblies illegitimate and no longer liberal as it does not represent democracy, rather a ‘plutocracy’. Plutocracy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income. A majority group, who is relatively poor, is kept out of power.

Research shows us that there are no single women in all the states who are ‘relatively poor’ as compared to others. The MLA with the lowest income among all of them is from Tripura (CPI(M) party) who has assets worth Rs. 7,05,142 (But we never know if this has increased after getting elected as an MLA). If a set of group, which has a defining characteristic that is relatively poor and not-men, is kept out of political power (even the minimum share of power), then ‘the guarantee of fair political opportunity has been compromised’ (see Tarun Khaitan’s research). If need to make a democracy legitimate of authority beyond the formal declaration of ‘free and fair elections’, we must address the issues of ‘political lockout’, under-representation and every group must get a chance to represent itself in the position of power.

As Geetika Dang, Research analyst from Brookings India put it ‘while Mizoram has never elected a female member Parliament [as also shown through our research even in the case of state assemblies], perhaps the starkest example of the lack of female representation comes from Nagaland that has failed to elect a single female MLA in 55 years of statehood. Rano Shaiza, a member of United Democratic Party, was the first and only woman in this state who was elected to Lok Sabha in 1977.’ Our research shows that currently in Mizoram and Nagaland there are no women MLAs in an area where the population of women is 5.41 lakhs and 9.53 lakhs respectively. There is no state in North East India which does not regularly make laws for women but the voices of the women are not heard in the halls of the legislature as there is no one to represent them. Further, the data from Manipur raises more alarming concerns as for 14.17 lakhs women, there is only one MLA.

We also found something interesting that out of these total 24 elected MLAs in the North East region, only 4 of them have some kind of political background. Rest of them did not have any sort of political background, neither their husbands nor their parents are in politics. This shows a positive trend that women are becoming independent and without any political support, they are standing up and coming into a profession which is termed as ‘dirty’ in common parlance (but we are not sure about their political connection through other connections).

Although, it is true that every woman in North-East have a right to vote guaranteed by the Constitution, but just formal declaration of equality cannot justify the inequality faced by women in the law-making process (or even in their share of political power). Hence, there is a need for a minimum reservation of seats for women in the legislative assemblies.

 Answering the ‘inequality’ in Representation: A ‘Localised’ Solution?

One of the methods to ensure women representation in North-East region is by making sure all the women come together to support other women, basically lobby the support. This needs to be done through the Gandhian methods of localising the issues and answering them through a bottoms-up approach. As Simi Malhotra, Director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia, said in a Development Seminar in 2019 that, “the paternalistic baggage of ethnicity, and hence the ethnic divide within the northeastern states, has been an impediment in this direction.  At the grassroots level, the women’s movement in the northeast and associated synergies and outlets of solidarity have to be explored.” But this casts another issue which is inevitable that only those women who are relatively richer will be able to organise women and get the support like how we see in national politics. Even the first generation politicians have strong economical backing. We hardly see any MP or MLA from a relatively poor background. As we have seen through our research that most of the women who are elected as MLAs are from an economically richer section of society.

Further, this, bottoms-up approach, is not an absolute guarantee that women will be represented in the assembly because keeping women out of politics is not just a problem of political parties who do not give chance to women, but also a constitutional and a social problem. The preamble uses the words ‘We the People’ gives ourselves this constitution, but if the ‘supreme document’ cannot guarantee a group minimum power in the political machinery, then the faith of that group would be shaken and hence, the problems need constitutional insurance/reservations.

‘Political Assurance’: Proportionate Reservation

Political empowerment of women is a necessity in eliminating gender inequality and discrimination. Political power is a (sort) of guarantee to the women which will ensure that the elected regime remains legitimate addressing all the issues related to women. If we look at the historical account of the efforts made to reserve seats for women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, we can trace a ‘background note’ by the Law Ministry which shows that efforts made to reserve seats for women in State Assemblies and House of People always failed due to lack of political consensus.

Again in 2008, Rajya Sabha’s Department related to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, public grievances, law and justice presented its 36th Report on The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008 in which the committee recommended for proportionate reservation for women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Further AIDMK member orally stated before the committee on the need for reservation for women.

Reservation for women is not a bounty but it is an honest recognition of their contribution to social development and to the society at large.

We have seen the justices of the High Court in the past few years (as well) making “misogynistic observations” in cases involving penal sections like Rape, Assault etc. It shows the mindset of the society towards the women that is horrific and has no place in the 21st century and it enhances the need for a political assurance as ‘there is no logic in saying that women are deficient in physical, mental and intellectual capabilities. Still, they have been forced to be earmarked as the weaker sections of the society. In fact, by keeping 50 per cent of the society weaker we have made the whole society weak. In such a situation, some compulsory legislative measures need to be taken for proportionate representation of the women in the State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha as well.’

The arguments against the reservation of women state that women empowerment cannot be done through such measures, instead, we need a societal change where everyone changes from within. But such ‘Gandhian’ bottom’s up approach fails in the long run as the people do not have an incentive to change their attitude and behaviour towards the other gender. Rather, constitutional insurances which guarantee formal equality accelerates the ‘process of change’ in the society as seen in the case and experiment of Reservation of 33% for women in Panchayati Raj. The Committee which recommended the reservation for women also observed that ‘the data shows that through 1/3rd reservation of seats for women in Panchayats and Nagarpalikas, they have been able to make meaningful contributions and that the actual representation of women in Panchayati Raj institutions has gone up to 42.3% i.e., beyond the reservation percentage.’

Impossibility of Reservation in Rajya Sabha: ‘Article 80 of the Constitution specifies that members of state assemblies will elect Rajya Sabha MPs through a single transferable vote.  This implies that the votes are first allocated to the most preferred candidate, and then to the next preferred candidate, and so on.  This system cannot accommodate the principle of reserving a certain number of seats for a particular group.  Currently, Rajya Sabha does not have a reservation for SCs and STs. Therefore, any system that provides reservation in Rajya Sabha implies that the Constitution must be amended to jettison the Single Transferable Vote system.’

Anyhow, leaving the Rajya Sabha aside, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution states and guarantees that every citizen must be secured of ‘equality of status and opportunity’. These commitments in the Preamble must be the objective of the legislature which they must seek to achieve while enacting an amendment for reservation of women. The data shows that the women are not represented equally in the Assemblies and there is a need for change, or else questions against the legitimacy of the democracy will strengthen. Equality for women is not just a game of mockery and gimmickry for ‘International women’s day’, but it is a continuous effort to eradicate various social, economic and political gaps between the genders.

This is a research conducted by Chaitanya Singh, Founder and Editor of Constitutional Renaissance Blog. The author would like to thank Ms Raksha Tripathy, Ms Sulagna Sarkar and Mr Yuvraj Ranolia for assisting in data analysis and research.

Understanding the Right to Privacy: The Puttaswamy Judgment-I

In 2017, the 9 judges of the Indian Supreme Court adjudicated a matter Puttaswamy v. Union of India (‘Puttaswamy’) and unanimously held that under the Indian Constitution, the Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. The Supreme Court declared that its previous judgments in MP Sharma (8 judges) and Kharak Singh (6 judges) are overruled as they did not recognise privacy as a fundamental right. Those judgments relied on the logic used in the A.K. Gopalan case which stated that every fundamental right to be read separately and individually. But that position got changed in R.C. Cooper v. Union of India, and subsequently in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, in which the Court held that fundamental rights cannot be read in water-tight compartments. In Cooper, the Court said that the fundamental rights ‘do not attempt to enunciate distinct rights’, rather they are interlinked. Hence, this article must be read in light of the principle enunciated in the Cooper case. In this article, I will try to highlight the reasoning behind Puttaswamy as to why the Court declared Right to Privacy as a fundamental right.

Understanding Right to Life and Dignity

Every human being by the virtue of her existence has a Right to Life which is a natural right guaranteed by the ‘Nature’. Further, this natural right to life is also guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 21 which elucidates that the ‘state’ shall not violate any person’s right to life and personal liberty without the procedure established by law. The Right to life is not just the right of a person’s physical body, but also over her mental being. In Golaknath case, Justice Rao observed that ‘Fundamental Rights are the modern name for what has been traditionally known as Natural Rights’ [The usage of the word ‘natural’ here is opposed to the societal opinion/understanding of the rights ‘as they are since time immemorial’, rather it is based on the transformative nature of rights which are always evolving]. These rights, including the right to life, cannot be excluded or separated from human existence. Hence, the rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution are the natural rights of every human being, which it aims to preserve.

Dignity, as an expression, finds its place in the Preamble of the Constitution as it states that ‘ensuring the dignity of every individual’. An individual is the focal point of the Constitution and human dignity weaves through the provisions of the Constitution. [Article 14: Guarantee against arbitrariness; Article 19: Individual Freedoms; Article 21: Life and personal liberty] The Court in the Francis Mullin case strongly observed that the fundamental rights must be interpreted to enhance the human dignity and ‘worth of the human person’. The Right to Life is not just animal existence and it is much more than just mere survival. On human dignity, the five-judges bench in M. Nagraj exposits that, “no exact definition of human dignity exists. It refers to the intrinsic value of every human being, which is to be respected. It cannot be taken away. Every human being has dignity by virtue of his existence.” Further, observing about dignity, it has been observed in Selvi’s Case that forcible intrusion into a person’s mental processes is also a violation of Human Dignity.

Privacy and Human Dignity

Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle distinguishes private life from public life. He distinguishes the spheres where the government can intervene and where it cannot; certainly as he observes that government cannot intervene in an individual’s privacy.  Individual’s private life is mainly for “private reflection, familial relations and self-determination” (refer to the constitutional database to read the hyperlinked article). The individual is sovereign over her mind and body. As Justice Chandrachud posits (Puttaswamy ¶32),

“If the reason for protecting privacy is the dignity of the individual, the rationale for its existence does not cease merely because the individual has to interact with others in the public arena.”

An individual has all the freedom and liberty over his body and mind and she must be set free from any kind of intrusion. Privacy, as a right, is important for an individual to exercise control over his or her personality. ‘Privacy ensures that a human being can lead a life of dignity by securing the inner recesses of the human personality from unwanted intrusion.’ (Puttaswamy ¶113) Life without dignity, privacy and liberty is no life as they are inalienable to a human being. No state can violate these rights as they exist even before the advent of the Constitution. The constitution is ‘not the sole repository of the right to life.’ India has signed and ratified UDHR and its Article 12 recognises the Right to Privacy which cannot be taken away by anyone.

 Further, the argument that the right to privacy is not available under the text of the Constitution is based on a primitive understanding of it. The Constitution is a transformative text which evolves over time and it cannot be viewed as a document ‘written in ink to replace one legal regime with another’. It is a document which rests on the goals enshrined in the Preamble and the aim is to realise those goals. The Constitution does not tells us what is a right or do we have a right or not? It only puts the limitations on the power of the state. It is not the source of liberty of man as liberty exists by the mere virtue of existence in the world.

Therefore, the right to privacy is a part of the liberty of an individual and privacy protects the individual’s autonomy and dignity. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ which everyone seeks is founded upon liberty and dignity of an individual. ‘Both are essential attributes of privacy which makes no distinction between the birthmarks of an individual.’ The guarantee of the right to privacy liberates the individual and helps her in realising her potential and autonomy.

In conclusion, while embracing the Supreme Court’s judgment in Puttaswamy v. Union of India, a paragraph from Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Comparative Constitutional Law (2015) is something to look forward to:

“The right to privacy can be both negatively and positively defined. The negative right to privacy entails the individuals are protected from unwanted intrusion by both the state and private actors into their private life, especially features that define their personal identity such as sexuality, religion and political affiliation, i.e., the inner core of a person’s private life….. The positive right to privacy entails an obligation of states to remove obstacles for an autonomous shaping of individual identities.”

[Note: There are certain reservations about the Court’s judgment with regard to ‘declaring Privacy as a Natural Right and not merely a Fundamental Right’. This has been argued here and here]

Protection of Animal rights under the Indian Constitution

[This is a post by Suvechha Sarkar, Contributing Member]

The whole world is under great threat as a result of the drastic climate change that has been happening for the last three decades. The global warming and the extinction of many animal and plant species have been something which could not be overlooked due to the adverse condition which we are facing in our day to day lives. The most threatened part of nature is that of the trees and animals. In the 21st century,  animal managers have been facing greater and bigger problems as compared to ever. They constantly have to keep up with their inventive and innovative sides.

In India, in the past 10 years, there has been a gradual rise in the number of cruelties against animals. It must be stated as the shame of humanity, especially in India where animals are being worshipped. There are provisions in the Indian Constitution, in the Indian Penal Code which lays down laws against the brutalities against animals but the question remains how strict the laws are.

Laws in India regarding the Rights and Welfare of animals

The Indian Constitution lays down some of the Animal Rights under the Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and the Directive Principles of State Policy. Apart from these the rest of the laws and punishments concerning animal rights are listed in Section 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, 1974, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

SECTION 428 OF INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860

The following act states that if someone causes any harm or mischief by killing or injuring any animal, by any means the value of which is ten rupees or more than that is entitled to maximum 2 years of imprisonment and may be entitled with fine or maybe with both.

SECTION 429 OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1872

Whoever causes any mischief by killing or injuring any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, ox, cow or bull or any other animal by any means, the value of which may be fifty rupees or more, the person will be entitled with a punishment of imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years or with fine or maybe both.

SECTION 154 OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE, 1973

A person can file for an FIR against the cruelties towards animals or protect the animal rights, in the nearest or local police station under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The person under fault will be punished accordingly considering the offence he committed falls under the cognizable or non-cognizable offence.

THE WILDLIFE PROTECTION ACT, 1972

Under this following act, injuries to both the trees and the wild animals are being prohibited (under Section 39). In the list of wild animals, it consists of all animals including the mammals, birds and the reptiles. For the case of reptiles and the birds, even their eggs fall under the protection of this Act. The punishment for the first offence under this act is imprisonment for three years or maybe a fine of twenty-five thousand rupees or maybe both. For the second offence under this following act, the imprisonment is for a term of seven years with a fine amount of ten thousand rupees.

THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS ACT, 1960

Under this following Act, the law states protect the animals from the cruelties like slaughtering, transportation, cruelty against a pet or not providing an animal with the needed living condition etc. The punishment for the first offence under this act is a fine of a maximum of fifty rupees and in the case of a second offence, the person can be punished with maximum three-month imprisonment or fine of minimum twenty-five rupees and a maximum of hundred rupees. In some cases, it can lead to both at the same time.

Animal rights and the Indian Constitution

Fundamental Rights

The fundamental rights stated in the Constitution of India (Part III) lays down the rights of every citizen of India irrespective of the caste, creed, colour, race, place or religion. The main question which can be raised is what rights do the animals have when it is not only the people who are living in this country. The only fundamental right which can be used for fighting towards the rights of animals is that of Article 21 which is the Right to Life. Article 21 states “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”

In the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors., the Supreme Court had introduced some of the animal rights under the following article thus expanding its scope on a large scale. The case was filed against the game of Jallikattu which involved the use of bulls. Across the years, the game had led to the death of many humans along with the concerns for the welfare of these bulls as during the ongoing of the game, they were injured with sticks, knives in order to win. It was in this case, the Supreme Court passed the order in favour of the Animal Welfare Board of India. As a result, the game was banned. The court stated that “Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution is the “Magna Carta of animal rights” and made several observations to safeguard the “life” of animals under Article 21.

Directive Principles of State Policy

The directive principles are enshrined in Part IV of the Indian Constitution. It consists of fifteen principles which are in no way enforceable in the court of law and in a way helps the states to formulate its laws and policies. Article 48 and Article 48A of the Indian Constitution lays down the principles concerning the welfare of the animals and their rights. The following article talks about the problems regarding the cow slaughter. India is a country where cows are worshipped by people of many religions and considered sacred on a separate level. It states that the farmers or the farms should take enough care of the farm animals especially the cattle. It is stated that the farms should put the effort into making the breed better.

This particular provision prohibiting the slaughter of cows had been a matter of hot debate among the Constituent Assembly members. It was argued if it could be added under the list of the fundamental rights or not but ultimately it was decided to be added to the directive principles since it was in contradiction with the Article 9 of the Indian Constitution which stated the Right to Religion. In the case of Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar (1959), the court dealt with the same problem. The judgement went in the favor of Article 9 observing that the banning of cow slaughter was next to impossible keeping in mind the diverse religious practices of the Indian citizen.

Fundamental Duties

The fundamental duties pertaining to the protection of animal rights are found in Article 51A, part IV of the Indian Constitution. Just like the directive principles of the State Policy, the fundamental duties are unenforceable in the Court of Law. Only two of the clauses in Article 51A of the Constitution consists of laws which are in concern of animal welfare. It is stated as follows:

“(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures;

(h) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”

Conclusion

There has been an increase in the reports of cases concerning animal abuse and cruelties. As the year 2020 is passing by inside the four walls of our rooms, it is becoming more evident how the caged animals might feel. From cases of poaching to trapping them cruelly in iron traps or ropes, thus injuring them, to the cases of beating the stray dogs or poisoning them, beating them to death, the existence of humanity is constantly being questioned. It is not only the duty of Law to protect the animals. It also depends on us who are sharing the planet with them.

At the present situation, millions of rabbits, mice and various other animals are being used for various scientific experiments. They tend to develop various problems which are not only associated with their physique but also their mind. We need to understand that it’s not only the humans who are affected under the cu=ircumstances of loneliness but also them. The experiments usually involve usage of various drugs over them or even cutting them open in various instances. Many organizations have already been protesting against it but the use of certain animals for experimentation is still legal in all countries. The law should be reformed so that this cruel practice can be stopped because at the end all lives matter, be it humans or animals. 

The Indian Laws are constantly developed for the protection of the animals and their welfare but unlike some other countries, the animal laws in our country are far less rigid and as a result, many people are getting away with their act of cruelty. More amendments should be brought in the Constitution of India listing Articles in the context of animal protection and rights. It is indeed a crucial moment for us to prove that humanity still exists among us and has not faded away.

“Publishing of notice of Intended Marriage”: A Privacy loophole under Special Marriage Act

[This is a post by Shreya Singh, Contributing Member.]

Marriage is considered as a sacred institution in India which is governed by codified personal laws. The Supreme Court of India has recently accepted a petition challenging the constitutionality of Section 6 under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 contending that the provision violates the Right to privacy, equality and non-discrimination vested in the Constitution of India. The Special Marriage Act, 1954 is distinct from other personal laws as it provides rules and regulations regarding marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party.

The Apex court has agreed to examine the provisions which obligate the Marriage Officer to publish a notice of an intended marriage allowing people to come forward and object the intended marriage within 30 days of the date of publication of the notice. The details include their names, date of birth, age, occupation, parents’ names and details, address, pin code, identity information, phone number, etc. which is a particular requirement of the Act. It also mentions that anyone can raise an objection to the marriage, and gives significant power to the marriage officer to investigate them as well.

The provision invades privacy and violates fundamental rights 

The right to privacy was recognised by the Supreme Court in the nine-judge bench landmark judgement in the case of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017). The Supreme court declared that right to privacy is a fundamental right and is an intrinsic part of the right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, contending that it is the responsibility of the sovereign State/Nation to protect the privacy of an individual. Therefore, the State must not intervene in the personal lives of the people and the choices made by them which includes a person’s decision of whom he/she should marry. On the contrary, the said provisions of the Special marriage act, 1954 obligates the marriage officer to put personal details of the couple in the public domain for other people to decide whether the potential solemnisation of marriage is acceptable or not. 

The notice of marriage not only invades the private lives and liberty of the individuals but also jeopardizes the marriage as it may endanger the life or limb of the couple due to parental interference. In the case of Lata Singh v State of UP (2006), a two-judge bench of the apex court, in the landmark judgement stated as follows:

“This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter, but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence.”

In the case of Shakti Vahini v. Union of India(2018), the Supreme court held that the right to choose a life partner is a fundamental right under Article 21 and does not require the consent of anyone else other than the two legally competent persons (adults) for the solemnisation of marriage. The disclosure of marriage between inter-faith/inter-caste couples can invite religious conflicts amongst both the communities and may lead to physical violence and honour killings. A prominent example of such violence is the Khaap Panchayat in western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi and the honour killings practised by them. The publishing of intended marriage mentioned in the Special Marriage Act may attract such communal conflicts and unfortunate blood-shed which will only create hatred amongst religious communities. 

It is observed that there is an inconsistency in the personal laws for the solemnisation of marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act,1955, does not demand a notice of intended marriage to be published which is contrary to the Special Marriage Act, 1954. This clearly proves the arbitrary nature of the laws and its failure in satisfying reasonable classification under Article 14 of the Constitution. The provision also violates Article 15 of the constitution of India as it promotes inequality in the society and discriminates people on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste and place of birth. 

Uniform Civil Code: Need of the hour 

The conflicting provisions in the personal laws have been a prominent issue in India. The conflicting requirements of multiple laws create unnecessary confusion in the judiciary and give rise to the arbitrary nature of judgements. The establishment of a Uniform Civil Code can bring relief to conflicts regarding the inconsistency of personal laws as it will apply equally to all the citizens of India regardless of their religion. It would help in bringing about a positive change in society by preventing communal violence and maintaining peace and harmony. 

Conclusion 

In India, marriage is hardly considered as a private affair between two consenting adults. It is believed in India that – “Marriage isn’t a union of two people; but the union of two communities/families”. Marriage is still a victim of patriarchy as it is driven by the notion that choosing a desired partner against the standards that have been set by society is unacceptable. The romanticisation of marriage being a topic of communal-union must not penetrate and affect the private lives and the choices made by individuals. 

There have been progressive decisions made by the state of Kerala regarding this issue as they have recently issued a circular to bring a halt to the publication of notice of marriage and this has been supported by high courts of Delhi and Rajasthan as well. The Supreme court must consider these progressive examples to make a rational decision and help in bringing about a significant change in Indian society. 

EIA Draft 2020 and Constitutional Concerns

[This is a post by Minnah AbrahamContributing Editor]

Introduction

Noting the several holes piercing right through EIA draft 2020, several concerns were immediately raised, questioning India’s obligations towards the larger interest of the general public, with its disturbing clauses, especially the removal of public consultations and the insertion of ‘post-facto clearance’. Not to mention that the draft was made to be available only in English and Hindi initially, which goes against the very principles of democracy, pertaining to the duty enshrined to the government to take the draft law to its people. This, however, is another concern, where a serious amendment is necessary in the Official Language Act for the government to issue draft laws and notices in regional languages. 

Coming back to the EIA Draft 2020, this draft law weakens India’s position toward environmental protection and upholding the Constitutional Article 48A, forsaking the duty of the State to protect, improve and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

EIA Draft 2020

The Environment Impact Assessment 2020 is condemned as supportive of ventures on the grounds that the draft permits post-facto clearance meaning the concerned authorities can affirm an undertaking with no adequate formalities. This further implies the onus of acceptance of infringement lies on the polluter and the polluter can look for clearance after it has started work and has just caused ecological damages. There are just about 40 distinct undertakings that are barred from the natural leeway and public discussion in this way shouldn’t be affirmed dependent on the assurance and climate wellbeing rules. The exception is material to: 

  • Those tasks that are sorted as key by the legislature. 
  • Citizens cannot approach data identified with these undertakings. 
  • Public Highway ventures and inland water squander ventures. 
  • Projects up to one lakh 50,000 square meters. 

The projects that are recorded under the B2 classification require scarcely the two-stage cycle to conclude whether to allow or dismiss the proposition. 

As indicated by the draft, just government authorities, delegates, and project defenders are permitted to report the infringement. This clause has removed the privilege of individuals to report an infringement, which in the past has caused significantly to prevent enterprises and specialists from going excessively far inconsistency with misuse.

Ex-post facto clearance is not a new term, as it has been an evading practice often manipulated to entertain illegal or corrupted activities. While the current law states that projects to obtain environmental clearance prior to any commencement of the activity, this new insertion of ‘Ex-post facto clearance’ provides an exception that violates the requirement of mandatory clearance. 

Detailing on ‘ease of doing business’ and Constitutional duties

The whole point of the EIA draft 2020 is the way out on how not to do an environmental impact assessment. The emphasis is on getting environmental clearance and assent. India is under a global commitment to conduct EIA(s). It is a scientific, legitimate, and social apparatus to evaluate the conceivable ecological results of proposed projects. The draft EIA warning has three fundamental destinations: firstly, to guarantee that most environmentally damaging consequences do not need an EIA; secondly, make wide special exceptional cases for EIAs, for example, higher thresholds; thirdly, guarantee that those (ventures) that require EIAs are not examined by either people in general or concerned authorities. There is no proof that every one of these provisions will help accomplish the financial position. The straightforward explanation is that significantly under the current EIA 2006 system, no project is ever dismissed. The ministry of environment’s history is 100% approved for all activities. 

The rundown of businesses permitted to start ventures without EIA clearance incorporates probably the most perilous and high effect enterprises, for example, creation of synthetics and acids, concrete plants, oil exploration, stream valley projects and mining, among others. It additionally expresses that huge solar-based parks, safeguard ventures and mechanical domains do not need to go through any EIA procedural cycle under the pretext of ‘national interest’.

The proposed draft additionally expresses that red classified projects, high limit high impact projects would now be able to begin inside 5 km of secured territories and environmentally delicate regions, which was prior confined to a 10km radius area. 

Common Society participation and citizen engagement in Environment Impact Assessment measure have been considered incredibly pivotal in environmental administration and democratic government. Nevertheless, the basic apparatus of public discussion has been pulled back from practically all categories of polluting and high impact undertaking projects. Aside from taking them off the pre-project consultation procedure, they have additionally been denied any part in taking the perception of any violation or raising a voice against a pollution-risky and violating industry.

The draft additionally expresses that in the event of specific undertakings that actually have public consultation norms applicable, just material ecological concerns can be shared, no other connected social effect or long-term wellbeing concerns. The SC decided in Rural Litigation & Entitlement vs. State of U.P that Article 21 of the Constitution states that no individual will be denied of his life or personal liberty in a 1983 stoppage of limestone mining in Doon Valley. Necessitates that when commercial activities obliterate environments and ecological processes on which life depends, commerce must stop, on the grounds that the coherence of life through the protection of the fundamental cycles of nature is a constitutional commitment. It is additionally a moral and civilisational commitment. 

Concluding remarks

Although the EIA draft 2020 was brought forth with keeping in mind ‘conditions and threshold on the undertaking of some project or expansion or modernization of such existing project’, it has clearly stated the draft imposes restrictions and limitation upon the common public and making way easier for commercial giants and industries to carry forth the projects without having to screen through regulatory and adequate procedures. 

This ‘anti-ecological’ law is backward and against the inherent constitutional right to information. In a nation where debasement and infringement of law are common, the draft is by all accounts changed and recharged to serve the personal stakes of elites by preventing the truth from getting environmental change. 

The EIA 2006 thought about assessments of individuals through open discussion before the last endorsement of an undertaking. Not exclusively did the new draft eliminate the privilege of public counsel on specific exercises yet additionally abbreviate the 30 days’ notice period for hearing and handling reactions to 20 days. 

The legislature has created a false fantasy that environmental laws are an obstacle to economic development, and the vast majority, including the courts, cheerfully have confidence in this so-called myth. More or less, the EIA Draft 2020 is not only mistaken at certain levels, yet in reality, it consists of a summary of all potential infringement one could envision vis-á-vis environmental administration in the nation. The simplicity of working together cannot just rule over worries of public wellbeing and environmental concerns.

The EIA draft 2020, once executed, would prompt a generous increment in deforestation, illegal mining, and development exercises in earth weak territories and left with no opportunity for individuals or activists to report the infringement. In fact, these are the occasions wherein governments ought to increase the environmental-conscious rules and guidelines for a safer, better tomorrow.