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Tibetan Self Immolations

April 23, 2012
  • More than 30 self-immolations have occurred in China since early 2011, beginning with an incident outside the Kirti monastery March 16, 2011, when Tibetan Buddhist monk Rigzin Phuntsog set himself on fire while shouting slogans calling for a free Tibet.
  • The use of self-immolation as a political tool is not unprecedented in Asia or elsewhere, but it had been unusual in recent Tibetan activism. In an isolated incident, a monk from the Kirti monastery self-immolated in February 2009 amid protests after the government canceled prayer ceremonies that were part of the Tibetan New Year celebration.
  • Several factors could have led Rigzin to decide to use self-immolation as his means of protest. His action coincided with the height of the Arab Spring, during which international media tied the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor to the downfall of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. It also occurred in the midst of the Jasmine gatherings in China, when the government was particularly sensitive about any form of political protest. These events would have given self-immolation a new political context.
  • Furthermore, self-immolation only requires the participation of one person (or in some cases a few people), whereas organized public demonstrations require planning and coordination. And given the graphic and painful nature of the personal sacrifice, self-immolation is a way to attract significant attention to a cause without harming others.
  • In some sense, the self-immolations and other suicides of ethnic Tibetans in Eastern Tibet do not pose a fundamental threat to China. They are not organized acts of militant resistance, but individual acts with minimal physical effects to anyone but the actor.
  • Western powers have not yet taken a strong overt interest in the self-immolations or the continued crackdown by Chinese authorities. But Beijing has seen foreign pressure build over its management of internal ethnic and social issues in the past and does not want to face that kind of pressure again.


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Judges Impeachment Procedure and Justice Soumitra Sen’s Case

December 11, 2011

While the Parliament was proceeding with the motion for impeaching Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court for “misconduct” and “misappropriation of funds” in the capacity of a court receiver, the last minute resignation of Justice Sen rendered impeachment proceedings ‘infructuous’.

Earlier, on August 18, 2011, Justice Soumitra Sen become the first judge to be impeached by Rajya Sabha. The Upper House had  approved the motion with the  overwhelming majority of 189 votes in favour and 17 against.

The Lok Sabha, before which the impeachment business was listed on September 5, 2011, dropped it after a ‘sense of the House’ was taken when Law Minister conveyed to it information about Justice Sen’s last-minute resignation on Sept 1.

Here is an explaination on the process of impeachment and the facts of  Justice Soumitra Sen case.

Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) has been successfully impeached.

What is the legal framework regarding impeachment of judges?

The Constitution has measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary from executive action.  This helps judges give judicial decisions in a free and fair manner without any inducements.

The Constitution also provides checks against misbehaviour by judges.  Article 124 (4) states that “A judge of a Supreme Court shall not be removed from his office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each house of parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority  of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House present and voting has to be presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity”

Similar provisions exist in Article 217 clause 1 (b) for the removal of Judge of a High Court.

 The detailed process is laid down in the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.

How is the motion initiated?  What is the process after that?

A motion has to be moved by either 100 Lok Sabha members of Parliament or 50 Rajya Sabha MPs.  If the motion is admitted, the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha constitutes an inquiry committee.

The committee has three members: a Supreme Court judge, a High Court Chief Justice, and an eminent jurist.  The Committee frames charges and asks the judge to give a written response.

The judge also has the right to examine witnesses.  After the inquiry, the committee determines whether the charges are valid or not.  It then submits its report.

What happens then?

If the inquiry committee finds that the judge is not guilty, then there is no further action.  If they find him guilty, then the House of Parliament which initiated the motion may consider continuing with the motion.

The motion is debated.  The judge (or his representative) has the right to represent his case.  After that, the motion is voted upon.  If there is two-thirds support of those voting, and majority support of the total strength of the House, it is considered to have passed.  The process is then repeated in the other House.

After that, the Houses send an address to the President asking that the judge be removed from office.

Has this process taken place earlier?

Yes, there has been one such case.  Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court faced such a motion.  The inquiry committee found that the charges against him were valid.  However, the motion to impeach him did not gather the required support in Lok Sabha.

What are the charges against the Justice Sen?

There are two charges.  He is accused of misappropriating large sums of money which he received as a receiver appointed by the Calcutta High Court.  He is also accused of misrepresenting facts in this regard to the High Court.

What is the charge of misappropriation?  What did the inquiry committee conclude?

Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case, where certain money belonging to SAIL was stuck in a 1983 dispute,  by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984.  As a Receiver, Justice Sen had the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods.

The Receiver is required to file and submit for passing, his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court.  However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule.  As a Receiver, Justice Sen was required to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission.

However, the Inquiry Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank .  A total sum of over Rs 33 lakh was transferred in these accounts from the sale of the goods which was unaccounted for.

Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Inquiry Committee found this claim to be false as well.

It was found that the amount transferred to Lynx India Ltd. had been made out of an account opened by Justice Sen in his own name.  The Committee concluded that (a) there was a large-scale diversion of fund, and (b) such diversion was in violation of the orders of the High Court.

The purpose for such diversion remains unexplained.

This action was done by him as an advocate? Are there any charges against him after he was appointed as a judge?

Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The Inquiry Committee noted that Justice Sen’s actions were, “an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver’s funds”.

After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds.

What about Justice Dinakaran’s case ?

Another such motion had been initiated against Justice PD Dinakaran but he  resigned as the Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court on July 19, 2011 a day ahead of the hearing of the three-member inquiry committee appointed by the Rajya Sabha Chairman .

The charges against the judge include land grabbing, accumulation of unaccounted assets, passing judicial order for extraneous considerations, following which his elevation to the Supreme Court was also stalled.

The committee, appointed by the Rajya Sabha Chairman in January 2010, was headed by Supreme Court judge Justice Aftab Alam and the then Karnataka High Court Chief Justice J S Khehar and senior advocate PP Rao.

How the Poverty Line is fixed in India?

December 11, 2011

 In September 2011, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court updating the official poverty line to Rs 965 per month in urban areas and Rs 781 in rural areas. This works out to Rs 32 and and Rs 26 per day, respectively. The perceived inadequacy of these figures has led to widespread discussion and criticism in the media. In light of the controversy, it may be worth looking at where the numbers come from in the first place.

Two Measures of the BPL Population

The official poverty line is determined by the Planning Commission, on the basis of data provided by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). NSSO data is based on a survey of consumer expenditure which takes place every five years. The most recent Planning Commission poverty estimates are for the year 2004-05.

In addition to Planning Commission efforts to determine the poverty line, the Ministry of Rural Development has conducted a BPL Census in 1992, 1997, 2002, and 2011 to identify poor households. The BPL Census is used to target families for assistance through various schemes of the central government. The 2011 BPL Census is being conducted along with a caste census, and is dubbed the Socio-Economic & Caste Census (SECC) 2011. Details on the methodology of SECC 2011 are available in this short Ministry of Rural Development circular.

Planning Commission Methodology

Rural and urban poverty lines were first defined in 1973-74 in terms of Per Capita Total Expenditure (PCTE). Consumption is measured in terms of a collection of goods and services known as reference Poverty Line Baskets (PLB). These PLB were determined separately for urban and rural areas and based on a per-day calorie intake of 2400 (rural) and 2100 (urban), each containing items such as food, clothing, fuel, rent, conveyance and entertainment, among others. The official poverty line is the national average expenditure per person incurred to obtain the goods in the PLB. Since 1973-74, prices for goods in the PLB have been periodically adjusted over time and across states to deduce the official poverty line.

Uniform Reference Period (URP) vs Mixed Reference Period (MRP)

Until 1993-94, consumption information collected by the NSSO was based on the Uniform Reference Period (URP), which measured consumption across a 30-day recall period. That is, survey respondents were asked about their consumption in the previous 30 days. From 1999-2000 onwards, the NSSO switched to a method known as the Mixed Reference Period (MRP). The MRP measures consumption of five low-frequency items (clothing, footwear, durables, education and institutional health expenditure) over the previous year, and all other items over the previous 30 days. That is to say, for the five items, survey respondents are asked about consumption in the previous one year. For the remaining items, they are asked about consumption in the previous 30 days.

Tendulkar Committee Report

In 2009, the Tendulkar Committee Report suggested several changes to the way poverty is measured. First, it recommended a shift away from basing the PLB in caloric intake and towards target nutritional outcomes instead. Second, it recommended that a uniform PLB be used for both rural and urban areas. In addition, it recommended a change in the way prices are adjusted, and called for an explicit provision in the PLB to account for private expenditure in health and education. For these reasons, the Tendulkar estimate of poverty for the years 1993-94 and 2004-05 is higher than the official estimate, regardless of whether one looks at URP or MRP figures. For example, while the official 1993-94 All-India poverty figure is 36 per cent (URP), applying the Tendulkar methodology yields a rate of 45.3 per cent. Similarly, the official 2004-05 poverty rate is 21.8 per cent (MRP) or 27.5 per cent (URP), while applying the the Tendulkar methodology brings the number to 37.2 per cent.

How media in India is regulated?

December 11, 2011

The media in India is mostly self-regulated. The existing bodies for regulation of media such as the Press Council of India, which is a statutory body, and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority, a self-regulatory organisation, issue standards which are more in the nature of guidelines.

Recently, the chairman of the Press Council of India, former judge of the Supreme Court, M Katju, has argued that television and radio need to be brought within the scope of the Press Council of India or a similar regulatory body.

Here is an FAQ on the present model of regulation of different forms of media.

What is the Press Council of India?

The PCI was established under the PCI Act of 1978 for the purpose of preserving the freedom of the press and of maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.

What is the composition of the PCI and who appoints the members?

The PCI consists of a chairman and 28 other members. The chairman is selected by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a member elected by the PCI.

The members consist of three Lok Sabha members, two members of the Rajya Sabha, six editors of newspapers, seven working journalists other than editors of newspapers, six persons in the business of managing newspapers, one person who is engaged in the business of managing news agencies, and three persons with special knowledge of public life.

What are its functions?

The functions of the PCI include among others (i) helping newspapers maintain their independence; (ii) build a code of conduct for journalists and news agencies; (iii) help maintain “high standards of public taste” and foster responsibility among citizens; and (iv) review developments likely to restrict flow of news.

Author – Harsimran Kalra. The author is a researcher at the New Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research

All About AFSPA (Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958)

December 11, 2011

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, or AFSPA, as it is commonly known, has been a subject of intense discussion and debate. AFSPA has been in force in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir, and the ‘draconian’ law has been the reason of wide protests.

What is the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act?

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) was preceded by the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958. The Ordinance gave the armed forces certain special powers in the ‘disturbed areas’ of Manipur and Assam.

It was replaced by AFSPA on September 11, 1958. Currently, AFSPA is applicable to the seven states of the North-East, i.e. Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.

AFSPA empowers the governor of the state, or the central government to declare any part of the state as a ‘disturbed area’, if in its opinion there exists a dangerous situation in the said area which makes it necessary to deploy armed forces in the region.

When did the act cover Jammu and Kashmir?

In the backdrop of the growing insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government issued a similar enactment known as the The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990.

It empowers the governor or the Central government to declare any part of the state as a ‘disturbed area’ if in its opinion special powers are required to prevent (a) terrorist acts aimed at overthrowing the government, striking terror in the people, or affecting the harmony of different sections of the peop#8804 or (b) activities which disrupt the sovereignty of India, or cause insult to the national flag, anthem or India’s Constitution.

What are the special powers given to army officials?

Under Section 4 of the AFSPA, an authorised officer in a disturbed area enjoys certain powers. The authorised officer has the power to open fire at any individual even if it results in death if the individual violates laws which prohibit (a) the assembly of five or more persons; or (b) carrying of weapons. However, the officer has to give a warning before opening fire.

The authorised officer has also been given the power to (a) arrest without a warrant; and (b) seize and search without any warrant any premise in order to make an arrest or recovery of hostages, arms and ammunitions.

Individuals who have been taken into custody have to be handed over to the nearest police station as soon as possible.

Prosecution of an authorised officer requires prior permission of the Central government.

What has been the role of the judiciary?

There were questions about the constitutionality of AFSPA, given that law and order is a state subject. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA in a 1998 judgement (Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India).

In this judgement, the Supreme Court arrived at certain conclusions including (a) a suo-motto declaration can be made by the Central government, however, it is desirable that the state government should be consulted by the central government before making the declaration; (b) AFSPA does not confer arbitrary powers to declare an area as a ‘disturbed area’; (c) the declaration has to be for a limited duration and there should be a periodic review of the declaration 6 months have expired; (d) while exercising the powers conferred upon him by AFSPA, the authorised officer should use minimal force necessary for effective action, and (e) the authorised officer should strictly follow the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ issued by the army.

Has there been any review of the Act?

On November 19, 2004, the Central government appointed a five member committee headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy to review the provisions of the act in the north eastern states.

The committee submitted its report in 2005, which included the following recommendations:

(a) AFSPA should be repealed and appropriate provisions should be inserted in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967;

(b) The Unlawful Activities Act should be modified to clearly specify the powers of the armed forces and paramilitary forces and

(c) grievance cells should be set up in each district where the armed forces are deployed.

The 5th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission on public order has also recommended the repeal of the AFSPA.

These recommendations have not been implemented.

What is the present status of the Act?

In Manipur, Irom Sharmila has been on an indefinite fast for 11 years, seeking the repeal of the act in Manipur. Till date, the government has not agreed to this demand.

Recently, the Jammu and Kashmir government has asked for some parts of the state to be removed from the list of ‘disturbed areas’. However, the army has opposed this and according to news reports, a compromise formula is being framed to be discussed at the meeting of the unified command (the highest decision making body on the security affairs of the state).

At the time or writing this post, the matter was still under consideration.

Authored by – Pallavi Bedi for  PRS Legislative Research

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