The Congress on Tuesday released its manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The manifesto has a chunk on partys vision to overhaul the existing judicial system in the country. The party is willing to review laws, rules and regulation, considered draconian; easing access to justice for common people, and finally, the party is confident that it will leave no stone unturned in order to protect and maintain the independence of the judiciary.
The Congress has promised to introduce a Bill "to amend the Constitution to make the Supreme Court a Constitutional Court that will hear and decide cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution and other cases of legal significance or national importance."
Currently, the Supreme Court adjudicates on cases that involve criminal and civil disputes of individuals. The apex court also resolves disputes that have ramifications on the interpretation of constitutional provision.
Although, the promise of a Constitutional Court sounds impressive, but how it is put into effect, is to be watched. The manifesto claims that he National Judicial Commission will be formed comprising judges, jurists and parliamentarians and it will be serviced by a secretariat. "Names of suitable candidates will be placed in the public domain and the reasons for selection will be published to ensure that the entire process is transparent," claimed the manifesto. The party claimed that once the NJC is in place, all vacancies in the Supreme Court and the High Courts will be filled within two months.
The Congress claims to "introduce a Bill to amend the Constitution to establish a Court of Appeal between the High Courts and the Supreme Court, to hear appeals from judgments and orders of High Courts." The Bill will certainly ease the access for justice to litigants who wish to appeal against judgments delivered by High Courts in their respective state. Currently, a litigant has no choice, but to follow up the case in Supreme Court. The process imposes a huge cost on the litigant.
According to the manifesto the "Court of Appeal will sit in multiple Benches of 3 judges in 6 locations." For example, a petitioner based in east, south, north-east etc., who wishes to appeal against a High Court verdict would not have to come to the Supreme Court. The litigant can approach the Court of Appeal in the jurisdiction of the concerned High Court.
Other judicial reforms
The manifesto talks about increased representation of women, SC, ST, OBC, minorities and other under-represented sections of society at all levels of the judiciary. The party promises to form Judicial Complaints Commission to investigate complaints of misconduct against judges and recommend suitable action to Parliament.
Omission of laws
The Congress aims to omit Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes defamation. The party also aims to strike down Section 124A that defines the offence of sedition, as it has been misused and has become redundant because of subsequent laws.
Other changes in laws:
Prevention of Torture Act to prohibit the use of third-degree methods during custody or interrogation and punish cases of torture, brutality or other police excesses;
Amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in order to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture.
The Congress promises to preserve the essence of independent institutions while making them accountable to Parliament. The party has called for an amendment to the Anti-Defection Law by providing that MPs who disobey the party's whip are instantly disqualified. The period of disqualification will be two years. The party promises to introduce the requirement of public consultation before a Bill is introduced in Parliament.
Anti-graft laws & transparency
The Congress pledges to investigate the circumstances leading to escape of scamsters from the country, and the party will take concrete steps to bring them back to face trial. The manifesto states that provisions that dilute the Right to Information Act will be omitted, and the Act will be further strengthened.
Censorship issues in press and media
The Congress aims to amend the Press Council of India Act, 1978 to strengthen the system of self-regulation, protect the freedom of journalists, uphold editorial independence, and guard against government interference. The reforms include:
* Amend the Press Council of India Act to empower the Council to deal with the menace of fake news and paid news.
* Pass a law to preserve the freedom of the Internet.
* Amendment in the Cinematograph Act, 1927 to restrict censorship of films to grounds of national security and obscenity.
The Congress promises to pass the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to provide 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. And, repeal any provision of law that prohibits night shifts for women. The party is determined to pass a comprehensive review of the sexual harassment of women at workplaces Act, 2013 and extension of the Act to all workplaces.
Protection of Minorities
Reservations in promotion in private higher educational institutions for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes to be introduced via amendments to the Constitution. Further ensuring the protection of minorities, the manifesto said: "We will pass a new law in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha to prevent and punish hate crimes such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The law will contain provisions to compensate the victims and to hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence."
Other changes in laws
Congress promises to pass a law to protect the personal data of all persons and uphold the right to privacy.
* Regulatory forbearance for micro and small enterprises. They will be exempt from all applicable laws and regulations (except the Minimum Wages Act and tax laws) for a period of 3 years from April 1, 2019 .
* Removing distortions in the implementation of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
* Enact and enforce a comprehensive Law on Doing Business in India that will incorporate the best business practices and rules.
* Withdraw the Transgender Bill, 2018, pending in Parliament. Instead, Congress will introduce a Bill that will be consistent with the judgment in the NALSA case. The new Bill will be drafted in consultation with the LGBTQIA+ community.
* Measures to ensure easy access to legal services and recourse to senior citizens especially in cases of neglect, abuse, abandonment, eviction and financial fraud.
* Pass a Model Police Act that the states will be advised to adopt and enact in the state legislature. Sumit Saxena
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