Inputs for Draft National Education Policy, 2016

Concerned about the deteriorating quality of education and the abysmal learning outcomes, especially in the government school system, Common Cause has been engaging with a large number of like-minded partners to make the RTE Act a reality. It has submitted its comments on the Draft National Education Policy, 2016, pursuant to the public notice issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The comments/ suggestions were mainly about primary and secondary education and are divided in two sections, general and specific. They can be accessed here. An acknowledgement letter has been received from the Ministry.

 Comments on the Draft RTI Rules 2017

Common Cause has submitted its comments on the Draft RTI Rules 2017, pursuant to the public notice issued by the Department of Personnel & Training on March 31, 2017. Common Cause has been a vociferous advocate of citizens’ Right to Information, having previously made representations before the Supreme Court and the DoPT for a robust, transparent and accountable system of information access and disclosure.

Our comments are categorized into general and specific.  We have stated that several provisions of the RTI Act are not being properly implemented due to the absence of rules. Therefore, the DoPT ought to frame rules on the mentioned issues through public consultation. Some of these pertain to compliance with Section 4 (of RTI Act), accessing information about private bodies, setting up of information and facilitation centres to provide assistance to persons seeking information, time frames for disposal of appeals and complaints among others.

 The specific suggestions deal with the specific variations in the Draft Rules from the spirit of the RTI Act.  One of these is the proposed Rule which says that “the proceedings pending before the commission shall abate on the death of the appellant”.

 We have proposed the deletion of this Rule on the ground that provision of abatement of appeal after death, will increase the risk and possibility that applicant is killed in order to prevent information coming into domain after commission’s order. We have instead suggested that the proceedings pending before it should be decided on merits, with reference to the information sought upon the death of the applicant. We have also proposed that the legal heir of an applicant should be allowed to represent on his/her behalf in the proceedings of the second appeal.  

The Commission should also order for suo-moto disclosure of the information if information sought by an applicant is not furnished and has larger public interest attached to it and/or falls in pro-active disclosure category.  Details can be accessed here.

Comments on Draft bill on Passive Euthanasia

Common Cause has submitted its comments on the Medical Treatment of Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2016, pursuant to the public notice issued by the Department of Health and Family Welfare on June 6, 2016.

As a litigant in Common Cause Vs UOI (WP (C) 215 of 2005), Common Cause has been involved in researching medical and ethical aspects of the issue and hence, the enclosed are our considered views. We believe that the Government has a good opportunity to take advantage of the arguments and proceedings of the case in order to draft a modern legislation suited to the realities of new advancements in medical sciences and the changing nature of medical ethics and patient rights globally. The comments can be accessed here.

Representation to the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill 2013

Common Cause made a representation to the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill 2013 first at the Parliament Annexe on July 7, 2015, followed by a written response via email. Common Cause has also been part of the civil society deliberations on the subject and we support the written submission made by the Federation of Apartment Owners Association (FAOA) in spirit. The gist of these deliberations is contained in the FAOA Chairman’s letter to the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi.

We at Common Cause believe that the legislation has far reaching consequences for the ordinary citizen whose life’s earnings are at stake. And therefore any unintended ambiguity or lack of clarity in the text might allow the unscrupulous among builders to use the law against the very citizens whose interests it aims to protect.

In addition to the FAOA submissions, Common Cause response noted that the Bill must include measures which will encourage flat/ house owners in running their own affairs on cooperative basis and in the spirit of participatory democracy. This will only happen when the builders exit after completing the project and hand over the reins to the owners’ associations without exception. It also suggested that the new law needs to protect the interests of the consumers from an unregulated industry and therefore every effort must be made to ensure that it is in agreement with the competition law and that it does not allow the builders to use any ambiguity in the rules and regulations which may go against the consumers and which are followed by different state governments.

Common Cause also suggested to the Rajya Sabha Committee that in the spirit of Prime Minister’s Swachchh Bharat Mission, every housing society must include service areas like toilets, drinking water and clean waiting facilities for the service staff like maids, servants, guards and drivers before receiving the completion certificate which should be made mandatory before occupation begins. Its suggestions included clearly defining the term Builder-Buyer Agreement (or contract) unambiguously and capping of the escrow account at 95% all over the country and non-negotiable.

According to the suggestions made by Common Cause, the progress of every housing project must be uploaded on the website for the buyers to see but it must not be general or vague in nature. The buyer must be able to locale the progress of his/ her unit/ floor. It also suggested that for rampant violations criminality must be established and the builders/ construction companies must not be let off with financial penalties alone. In cases of gross violations the licences must be cancelled. The builders not fulfilling their agreement to buyers must be treated as cheating which attracts criminal proceedings.

Comments on Draft Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (Amendment) Bill, 2014

Common Cause has been urging the Ministry of Mines to adopt a transparent system of competitive bidding/auction for the grant of mining leases in areas of known mineralization.

After the lapse of the MMDR Amendment Bill of 2011, which had sought to streamline the regulatory framework for exploration and attribution of minerals, the Ministry of Mines formulated the Draft Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (Amendment) Bill, 2014. Though limited in scope, the Bill seeks to address the core concerns of the regulatory regime and would be a giant step forward if the proposed legislation succeeds in instituting a transparent and equitable regulatory regime for the development and exploitation of the nation’s mineral wealth.

Some of the features of the draft Bill are as follows: a)The bill classifies minerals into two categories Notified minerals (iron ore, manganese, bauxite, limestone) and non notified minerals (all others). b) The bill prescribes for competitive bidding by auction as the method to be followed for allocation of mining leases for notified minerals. There will not be any RPs or PLs issued for such minerals. c) For non notified minerals, combined PL cum ML will be granted via competitive bidding. d) The Central Government will decide the terms and conditions for auction of minerals. e) The bill seeks to create a “District Mineral Foundation” in all districts affected by mining. This will be funded by additional levy on all miners and will be related to royalty. f) The rate of additional levy will be prescribed by central government. Illegal mining will be made cognizable offence. g) Special courts can be setup for trial of offences under the act if felt necessary by the State government. h) The central Government will frame rules to prescribe timelines for various stages in processing application for grant of mining lease and its renewal.

Subsequently, in response to a Public Notice, inviting comments/suggestions from the stakeholders on this draft Bill, Common Cause on Dec 10, 2014 has submitted its comments and suggestions to the Ministry of Mines.

Response to I&B Ministry on Large Scale Advertisements

Our PIL filed in 2003 seeking to curb self-congratulatory government advertisements in the print media had fallen off the radar of the Supreme Court. An application for interim directions was filed in November 2012 along with a compilation of self-congratulatory advertisements by several state governments. This had the effect of reviving the interest in the petition. Reprimanded at the hearing on January 15, 2014, the Union of India finally filed its counter affidavit. The Court pronounced its judgment on April 24, 2014, rejecting the contention that within the budgetary grants voted by the legislature, the government was free to issue advertisements in accordance with the established policy. The Court also constituted a three-member panel to draw up objective guidelines for regulating government advertisements.

Subsequently a public notice was issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, inviting suggestions for framing of guidelines for publicly funded government advertisement campaigns pursuant to the abovementioned judgment of the Supreme Court. In response to this, Common Cause submitted its proposition for the proposed guidelines on June 19, 2014. Subsequently a supplementary proposition on the subject was submitted before the Joint Secretary (P&A), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on July 11, 2014

Grant and Renewal of Mining Leases in the State of Odisha

As per the law laid down by the Apex Court in the 2G Spectrum Case and the subsequent Presidential Reference, the attribution of a national resource to any commercial entity must be made in a transparent and equitable manner. As such, even for the first renewal of a mining lease, the consideration should be determined through open auction. The Society took up this issue in its letter addressed to the Chief Minister of Odisha, dated June 13, 2014 to press for the adoption of competitive bidding for the grant/renewal of mining leases in compliance of the interim directions issued by the Supreme Court in our PIL on May 16, 2014.

This was followed by a generic proposal to the Union Minister for Mines for extending the system of competitive bidding for grant/renewal of mining leases in favour of private commercial entities across the country.

A copy of this proposal was marked to Shri Anup Pujari, Secretary, Ministry of Mines. In response, Shri Pujari sought an early meeting with the Director to discuss the important policy issues raised in the said letter. In the meeting held on June 18, Shri Pujari and his colleagues took great pains to elaborate the constraints within which the Government as a delegatee of Parliament is bound to act. The main points that emerged from the Ministry’s presentation are summarized here.

In the above context, a representation addressed to Shri Anup Pujari, Secretary, Ministry of Mines on July 3, 2014 focused on the issue that on account of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Sandur Manganese Mines case which relies on the authority of State of Assam Vs Om Prakash Mehta (1973) that the MMDR Act and the MC Rules contain the complete code in respect of the grant or renewal of prospecting licences and mining leases, and holds that it is not open to the State government to adopt criteria that are de hors to the MMDR Act and the MC Rules and that the exercise has to be done strictly in accordance with the statutory provisions (para 28).

A second letter dated November 5, 2014 was addressed to Shri Anup Pujari, requesting that Common Cause be informed about the decisions taken in the matter and the time-frame for their implementation in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment in the Coal Block Allocation case, wherein it was reported that the government was contemplating the auction of the first set of 31 mining leases in non-coal sectors in areas where state exploration agencies have already established the estimates of mineralization.

Actionable evidence of corruption in high places

Shri Prashant Bhushan had written to the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation in January 2013, requesting them to act on the unrebutted documentary evidence of corruption against Shri Virbhadra Singh, former Union Minister of Steel and the incumbent Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The Society has followed it up with letters to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and the Director, CBI and urged them to discharge their statutory responsibilities as apex anti-corruption bodies.

Regulation of Multi-Level Marketing Schemes

Common Cause has greatly been exercised over the unchecked fraudulent operations of the so called direct selling and network/multi-level marketing (MLM) companies, which entrap millions of unwary members of the public by holding out prospects of quick enrichment. Once enrolled as distributors/business associates, they are incentivized to prey on unsuspecting relatives and social acquaintances to extend the ‘downline’, which sustains the cash flow to the top of the pyramid. In aggregate terms, such operation cause great detriment to the economic health of the nation.

The verdict of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Geminitech Marketing Private Ltd, Amway India Enterprises & Others Vs State of A.P. and Others has brought out the inherent illegality of the operations of MLM companies. In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister on July 16, 2012, COMMON CAUSE has hoped that the mandate of the proposed central regulatory authority to regulate multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes would be derived from this basic premise. The authority should be adequately empowered to be able to ensure that the law is implemented in its true spirit and that no MLM company, whose business model is dependent on enrollment of members into its scheme, is allowed to carry on its operations.

In this context the following letters have been addressed to various authorities for ensuring a concerted action for bringing to book the MLM companies, which thrive on the enrolment of a hierarchy of distributors.

Letters have also been sent to Shri Rajiv Agarwal, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, requesting an opportunity to present the views of CC before the Inter Ministerial Committee and to Dr. Arvind Mayaram, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Finance, Department of Economic Affairs, requesting him to discuss the issues raised by CC in the forthcoming meeting of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) to be held on August 24, 2012.

In a letter addressed to Shri Pankaj Agarwala, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs on November 30, 2012, the Director has pointed out that some media reports have indicated that the Inter Ministerial Committee constituted by the Department of Consumer Affairs had submitted its recommendations to the Government and if it was so, the recommendations may please be shared with Common Cause.

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs, with the approval of the Ministry of Finance, circulated model rules, which provide a blueprint for operationalising the intent and purpose of the Banning Act of 1978. Their adoption by state governments should go a long way in strengthening the capacity of state agencies to fight the menace of fraudulent money circulation schemes.

In another line of action, we filed a slew of RTI applications to seek information on the operations of MLM Companies in India which had come to adverse notice of the enforcement agencies. We are in the process of extracting sensitive information in this regard from a secretive Reserve Bank of India.

The Director, Common Cause had a meeting with Mr. Keshav Desiraju, Secretary Consumer Affairs, on October 15, 2014 in a bid to enlist the support of his Ministry to block the concerted efforts orchestrated by the Direct Selling lobby to legitimise the operations of Amway and such like companies. As a prelude to the meeting, a letter was addressed to Mr. Desiraju following which an assurance was made by him that a final decision on the regulation of the direct selling industry will only be made after extensive stakeholder consultations and appraisal of international best practices.

Exploitation of Children by begging mafia

COMMON CAUSE has drawn attention to the rampant exploitation of infants by professional beggars and begging mafia all over the country in a series of letters addressed to the Chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR); Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Women & Child Development; Chairperson, Central Social Welfare Board and the Minister for Social Welfare, Women & Child Development, Department of Social Welfare, Govt. of NCT of Delhi. Some photographic evidence gathered by the organization on the subject, was also sent as corroborative evidence.

Submissions before Rajya Sabha Select Committee on Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013

Common Cause endorses the suggestions of the Flat & Apartment Owners’ Association on the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013. In addition, both oral and written submissions on the draft bill were made before the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill 2013 on July 7 and July 9, 2015 respectively.

Initiative for making the Right to Education a reality

Common Cause and Good Earth Education Foundation organized a brainstorming session on February 18, 2014 with Pratham and others having expertise in the domain of universal education to explore the advocacy options available to civil society for improving the abysmal learning outcomes in the government school system. These have been highlighted in Annual Status of Education Reports brought out by Pratham and other independent assessments too have corroborated this. The feasibility of seeking judicial intervention for effectuating the right to free and compulsory elementary education is being considered. An appropriate strategy for securing the desired improvement in the outcomes will be evolved after a wider consultation.

We have had a series of meetings with Video Volunteers, who under their campaign “Pass ya Fail” have shared about 60 videos with us. These videos cover approximately 60-70 districts of Bihar, Jharkhand and UP. These videos document lack of access to clean drinking water, separate toilets for girls and boys, proper mid-day meals and safe buildings, libraries and playgrounds. Common Cause in association with Video Volunteers is working on evolving an effective strategy for advocacy and legal interventions.

To prevent the incidence of drop outs, a preventive approach has been institutionalized in place of the earlier curative approach of rehabilitation, in the state of Karnataka. We are liasoning with CIVIC (Citizens Voluntary Initiative for the City), an organisation based in Bangalore, to explore if similar amendments can be brought about in the RTE Act or RTE Rules of other states to prevent the high incidence of school drop outs.

Initiatives for Police Reforms:

In a writ petition filed by Prakash Singh, Common Cause and another, the Supreme Court gave seven time bound directions on police reforms. Six of these related to policing and internal security at the state level and the seventh, to the establishment of a National Security Commission by the Union Government. The Supreme Court directions on state level policing and internal security also find a parallel in the provisions of the Model Police Act (MPA).

The endeavour of Common Cause has been to facilitate the emergence of a national consensus for expeditious implementation of the directions of the Supreme Court and for the enactment of contemporary police laws inspired by the MPA and the formulations of the Second Administration Reforms Commission.

Against this background, Common Cause organized a seminar on “Making our Police Effective & People-friendly” on July 4, 2009 which was an attempt to enlarge the ambit of the ongoing discourse on Police Reforms in order to put the people centre stage. The conclusion arrived at in the seminar was that a combination of positive developments in the recent past have provided a credible base for comprehensive reforms to transform the police forces into effective and citizen-friendly organizations committed to upholding the rule of law and to rid them of their colonial mindsets.

Hence, by way of follow up, intensive efforts were made to harness the consonance in the prescriptions mentioned above in order to hasten the required reforms and make a tangible impact on the ground. As a part of this endeavour, Common Cause addressed an appeal to all Members of Parliament, drawing their attention to the recommendations of the Soli Sorabjee Committee and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission on the subject.

The RTI Act was used to seek some vital information on the subject.

Common Cause began a campaign for enactment of a new legislation meeting the contemporary needs of policing in the states and the UTs. A letter addressed to Shri P. Chidambaram, Union Home Minister, on August 11, 2009, requested him to adopt the legislative framework recommended by the Police Act Drafting Committee to enact a new Police Act for the Union Territories. It was pointed out that this initiative would also enhance the capacity of the Union Government to induce the states to review and reform their police laws to meet contemporary needs.

Also letters  were addressed to all MPs whose Delhi addresses were available, (more than 600 in number) to solicit their support in enacting a new Police Act, on lines of the Model Police Act, 2006 and the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.

A delegation of Common Cause, comprising Shri Prakash Singh, Shri K.K Jaswal and Shri Sarvesh Sharma met Shri G.K. Pillai, Union Home Secretary, on August 27, 2009 to urge him to revive the process of enactment of the MPA, 2006, incorporating the citizen-centric modifications suggested by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.

Meanwhile, the Union Home Ministry issued administrative instructions for implementing various directives of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh’s case as applicable to the Union Territories. These measures were designed to insulate the police from political pulls and pressures while enhancing their public accountability.

In September 2009, the Union Home Secretary requested the Lt. Governor of Delhi to send a legislative proposal for amendments to the Delhi Police Act, 1978, in conformity with the Supreme Court directions and the provisions of the MPA. The Lt. Governor forwarded a draft “Delhi Police (Amendment) Bill, 2010” to the Union Home Ministry on February 23, 2010. The proposal was put in the public domain for comments.

After an independent study of the Amendment Bill, Common Cause and two other civil society organizations, which have been keenly interested in police reforms, viz. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Foundation for Restoration of National Values (FRNV), came to the conclusion that it is not feasible to overcome the inherent limitations of the Delhi Police Act, 1978 through the amendment route in order to convert it into a framework legislation capable of meeting the contemporary needs of policing in the context of a hostile security environment, mounting societal tensions and rapid urban expansion.

Against this backdrop, the three civil society organizations jointly drafted an alternate “Delhi Police Bill, 2010”. The Bill, based essentially on the Model Police Act, 2006, faithfully incorporated the directions of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh’s case and also took into account the relevant recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. On the other hand, those provisions of the Delhi Police Act, 1978, and the Amendment Bill, which sought to replicate the existing provisions of other specialized laws and codes were excluded in order to obviate potential conflicts or redundancy. This formulation reflected the deep desire of the citizens of India, and of many eminent organizations, corporate firms and civil activists, to improve the state and status of the police services across the country.

Common Cause, CHRI and FRNV transmitted their proposal to the Union Home Secretary on May 3, 2010 along with an Executive Summary of the proposed bill. Thereafter a delegation from these organizations called on the Union Home secretary on May 7, 2010 to present a copy of the draft Delhi Police Bill, 2010.

Another delegation of the three civil society organizations met with the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Shri Tejinder Khanna to apprise him of the deep concerns about the content and process of the proposed draft “ Delhi Police (Amendment) Bill, 2010 and also hand over a copy of the formulation prepared by these three organizations. A joint letter addressed to the Lt. Governor was sent on May 24, 2010 requesting him that broad-based consultations with the public are continued in earnest and the scope of “The Delhi Police (Amendment) Bill, 2010 is widened to include the formulation proposed by the three civil society organizations.

Finally, the relentless effort of Common Cause, FRNV and CHRI in pressing for a new police law for Delhi bore fruit and the Ministry of Home Affairs put up a Draft Bill for Delhi reflecting some of the propositions contained in the draft Delhi Police bill prepared and submitted by the three civil society organizations. However, this Bill was taken off the MHA website shortly afterwards and the whole exercise of reforming the Delhi Police Act was unceremoniously abandoned at the instance of the Delhi Police establishment.

Initiative for a new Police Law for Uttar Pradesh: Capitalizing on the experience of participation in the exercise of formulation of a progressive police law for the NCT of Delhi, CC had addressed a letter to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on February 14, 2011, offering the assistance of the coalition of civil society organizations in drafting a police law for UP incorporating the directives of the Supreme Court and the essential features of the Model Police Act. The first draft (Model Police Act, 2011 for UP) of such a formulation was also proposed for her consideration.

On August 24, 2012, a joint submission by CC, CHRI and FRNV was made before the Joint Director, Rajya Sabha, in response to an advertisement calling for written suggestions on the subject of “Functioning of Delhi Police”. Our view was that it was the primary duty of the State to secure the life, liberties and property of its citizens and therefore, the police needed to function not as a coercive force, but as a service committed to providing an environment within which every individual or group can realize and enjoy the fundamental freedoms and liberties given by our Constitution and the genius of our people can reach its optimal level. Such a police service alone would be able to address the contemporary and emerging needs of policing in a democracy. Accordingly, we suggested that the process of reform and modernization of the Delhi Police (and indeed of all other police services in the country) must include features like Performance Measurement, Internal Assessment, etc.

Joint submissions were made before the Justice J. S Verma Committee on January 5, 2013, underling the urgency of a comprehensive revamp of the criminal justice system, including policing. CC made additional submissions urging that the Committee should finalize its report after extensive stakeholder consultations and a public debate over its draft recommendations.

Apart from the above, Common Cause has been spearheading many other advocacy initiatives. It has made representations before high powered commissions and committees and held dialogues and consultations with institutions, government agencies and like minded civil society organisations. It has also been holding special events like conferences, seminars and workshops built around its advocacy initiatives. Details of these can be accessed at the Events section of the site.