Sunday, August 7, 2016

Time to reform Rajya Sabha election process

This article was first published on GNLU's only student run online magazine - Jury's Out.
In May 2014, the BJP won a historic victory in the general elections and managed to secure a single party majority in the Lok Sabha, a feat which hadn’t taken place for atleast the two preceding decades. However, despite the overwhelming majority of BJP’s National Democratic Alliance in the Lok Sabha, the government has not been able to achieve some of its major legislative objectives such as passing the Goods and Services Tax Act, because India’s bicameral legislative system requires any bill to pass not just the Lok Sabha but Rajya Sabha (the House of States), as well. Despite its poor showing in the 2014 general election Congress remained the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha and along with the other parties could muster enough votes to block government bills.
Thus, when elections were held for 57 Rajya Sabha seats earlier in June this year, one would have expected keenly contested polls with each side hoping to maximise their numbers.
However, this could not be further from the truth. Of the 57 MPs chosen, 30 i.e. more than half were elected unopposed from eight states. Even in the states where elections were conducted, most states had just one more candidate than the number of seats up for grabs. In Uttar Pradesh for example, there were 12 candidates vying for 11 seats which is in stark contrast to the 2012 legislative assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. In those elections there were 6839 candidates contesting for just 403 constituencies and not a single constituency had less than 6 candidates in the fray.
The reason for the apparent apathy with regard to the Rajya Sabha elections is because the Rajya Sabha MPs are elected by the Members of the Legislative Assembly of each state using the single transferable vote system. Since the parties know how many MLAs they have in each assembly they are content to divide up the Rajya Sabha seats in the same proportion rather than putting up candidates and vying to get other party MLAs’ support as well.
This has led to a situation where any party leader can get elected to the Rajya Sabha regardless of his relationship with the state he is contesting from. In the present round of elections, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu whose entire political career has been from Maharashtra, has been elected unopposed from Andhra Pradesh. Another minister, Venkaiha Naidu is from Andhra Pradesh but previously represented Karnataka in the Rajya Sabha and has just been elected from Rajasthan in 2016. Similarly, veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani who has spent his entire career in Mumbai or Delhi has been elected unopposed from Bihar on an RJD ticket, a party he just joined.

The use of Rajya Sabha by political parties in this manner completely defeats the original intention of the framers of the Constitution. They intended that MLAs would send local leaders to the Upper House to represent the view of the state while debating central legislation.
The obvious question that arises is that; why don’t local MLAs refuse to vote for outsiders parachuted in by the party high command. With the possibility of a local rebellion the party big wigs would have hesitated from putting up candidates with no local background. In 2003, the Parliament amended the Representation of People’s Act to base the Rajya Sabha elections on an open ballot system rather than closed or secret ballot. This means that the way each MLA votes is now public knowledge and any MLA voting in defiance of the party whip can face action from the party as the Janta Dal (Secular) MLAs are finding out in this election cycle.

Furthermore, the same amendment also removed the requirement that a candidate for Rajya Sabha elections be an elector in the State which he seeks to represent. Though prior to 2003, some MPs did anyway represent states they did not have any relation to, the most prominent example being former PM Manmohan Singh as a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, yet this requirement at least tried to ensure that the Rajya Sabha representatives be from the State they represent. Following the removal of this provision, the abuse has only grown. The interests of the people of the states they are supposed to represent have been sacrificed to make Rajya Sabha an avenue for political parties to get their senior and/or unelectable leaders into the Parliament, real quick.
If we truly desire that Rajya Sabha serve the purpose of giving states a voice in the affairs of the Centre it would be prudent to overhaul the system of Rajya Sabha elections. Step one should be the roll back of the 2003 amendments. Following that, India would be wise to consider a complete overhaul in the days to come. Strict residence requirements for candidates, direct elections with the state divided up into larger constituencies or even whole state as one constituency (similar to Senate elections in the US) are all ideas which may give results more in line with the intended purpose of the Rajya Sabha.

Monday, July 4, 2016

No film should require clearances from three courts for release...

This article was first published on GNLU's only student run online magazine - Jury's Out.
‘Udta Punjab’ which released in theatres on 17 June, fought a rather uphill battle to get there. After the much publicised showdown with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in the Bombay High Court, the film got an A certificate with only one cut but the filmmakers’ legal troubles were far from over. Advocate Wattan Sharma had filed a petition before the Punjab and Haryana High Court calling for a ban on the exhibition of the film in Punjab alleging that the film reflects negative branding of Punjab and Punjabis, while Human Rights Awareness Association, an NGO approached the Supreme Court as well. Udta Punjab is far from the first movie to have to defend itself before courts in the face of petitions calling for bans. It is very common for groups to file Public Interest Litigation calling for a film to be banned on a variety of grounds including the most common ones of being against Indian culture or hurting religious sentiments. In recent years, ‘Finding Fanny’, ‘PK’, ‘Delhi Belly’, ‘Ram-Leela’, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ and many others have been in this position.
No say for objectors within the certification process
The Cinematograph lays down the certification process that each film must go through before it can be exhibited at any cinema hall in India. First, a film is viewed by an “Examining Committee” formed by the regional officer of the CBFC office where it is submitted for certification. The Examining Committee decides which certificate is to be granted and decides the cuts to be made before it can be granted. If the Applicant is unsatisfied with the decision of the Examining Committee, the applicant may also request the Chairperson of the CBFC to refer any film to Revising Committee. The CBFC Chairperson can also refer the film to the Revising Committee on his own motion. The Revising Committee views the same film print shown to the Examining Committee without any changes and makes its own recommendations with regard to certificate and cuts. Both the Examining Committee and the Revising Committee can also refuse to grant any certification at all which in effect works as a ban on the film in India entirely since under the law, no film can be shown without a certificate. In 1981, the Act was amended and the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) was created, adding a further step to the process. Now, an applicant can approach the FCAT against an order of the CBFC refusing to grant a certificate, granting only an S or A or U/A certificate or ordering for cuts in the film.
However the crucial part here is that only the original applicant for the certificate can lodge such an appeal before the FCAT. Thus, other groups or individuals who are offended by the film and wish that the film not be given any certificate at all (and thereby be banned) cannot approach the FCAT with their grievances. Thus, they resort to filing writ petitions before the High Courts or the Supreme Court and attempt to get films banned.
Amendment required
The present situation creates a situation where groups offended by a film approach the High Courts or the Supreme Court and in some cases like ‘Udta Punjab’ even both or several High Courts. This not only places an additional burden on these constitutional courts which are already burdened with more serious civil and criminal appeals but also creates multiplicity of proceedings where the filmmakers have to get clearance from the CBFC as well as various courts before releasing a film. As happened with Ram Leela and Udta Pubnjab, prolonged delays in litigation can cast doubts about the planned release dates of the movies as well.
One amendment that could easily resolve these issues would be to allow any person or organization which has an objection to the release of any film in any state to approach the FCAT against the decision of the CBFC granting a certificate to that film. In such a scenario, the FCAT which is a specialized film tribunal will be able to address the appeals of the filmmakers as well as the other interested parties in a single proceeding and its decision shall be final. The FCAT is adequately equipped to handle other petitioners’ legal and constitutional arguments as well since the Cinematograph Act already requires that the chairperson of the FCAT be a retired High Court Judge or a person qualified to be appointed as a High Court Judge.
Adopting such a procedure shall reduce the uncertainty that the filmmakers face and shall also help them to reduce legal costs as they would have to defend themselves before a single forum rather than many. Finally the courts shall be rid of the burden of the film related petitions and shall be able to apply their time towards more pressing legal and constitutional matters. It is high time that the Parliament realises that the time of three of its constitutional courts need not be spent on the matter of release of a single film.
This article was first published on GNLU's only student run online magazine - Jury's Out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

European Oddity

What unit do you use to measure liquids? Ask any person in India and you shall get a single answer. “Litre” Be it any quantity, from small to ultra huge, liquids are invariably measured in litres and litres alone. From soft drink cans to huge tankers carrying water or fuel on the roads, however big or small the quantity, the only unit used is litre.
In school we have seen this chart -

Image from: 

But in real life we never really use decilitres or centilitres. Even in Singapore where metric system is used more than in India, for example centimetres are used to measure human height while most Indian stick to feet and inches, with regard to volume I never saw anybody use any unit other than litres.

In Europe however, dl or decilitres were just everywhere. The volume of all small beverages on offer was quoted either in decilitres or centilitres for really small quantities. Check out these pictures from Hungary.



This is a european oddity indeed!

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Last summer I went to Lansdowne, the beautiful hill station in Uttarakhand and absolutely loved it. I have written a travelogue of this visit for the GNLU magazine, Jury’s Out. Check it out here -

It was very pleasant even in the summer. I strongly recommend it to anyone planning a summer trip!