Bills in the bin

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Most of the private member bills introduced in legislature fail to turn into a law for want of numbers. That does not mean the bills lack importance. Kashmir Life reports about some bills that could have been great pieces of law.

Every legislator is not fortunate enough to actually become a lawmaker. Private member bills that are most likely to become laws this season pertain to the salaries and allowances of the lawmakers and the pensions of the predecessors. In fact the government has also introduced a bill to do away with the anomalies in the salaries of presiding officers of the twin legislative bodies.
At the same time, however, there were a number of bills aimed at amending the existing laws that would make a visible shift in the policy making. But in all cases, the bills fell flat either for want of numbers or simply on the assurances that the government representative made on floor of the house.

CIVIL LIBERTIES
Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid and Choudhary Zulfikar Ali had moved two amendments in the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act, 1997. Both of them wanted the recommendations made by the SHRC be made binding on the state government. Besides, Sheikh suggested that SHRC sub-offices be opened in Rajouri, Kupwara, Baramulla and Islamabad.
In support of the amendments, Sheikh told the house that SHRC came into being in response to the widespread complaints of human rights abuse by security and paramilitary forces. “The most affected part of the state during militancy is the valley of Kashmir. Naturally more than seventy percent of human rights abuse cases arise from the valley.” Sheikh said in a statement. “But the irony is that though sub-offices of SHRC have been opened at three places in Jammu division and no such office has been established in the valley. People residing in far off places like Tangdar, Kalaroos, Kupwara, Gurez and Kargil have to reach Srinagar or Jammu to lodge a complaint of human rights abuse. At most of the times the security forces do not allow them to reach Srinagar for lodging a complaint and resultantly the act has not achieved the purpose for which it was enacted”.
Choudhary insisted that the recommendations be made a binding. These, he said, are being “thrown in the dustbin by the government”. But both the amendments fell because they lacked numbers. Government upheld the position that SHRC is barely a body that can made recommendations which may or may not be acceptable to government.

PUBLIC SAFETY ACT
A bill aimed at amending the Public Safety Act was the most vital piece of legislation that Basharat Bukhari laid on table. Seeking three changes in the existing law, Bukhari termed Public Safety Act as the “most misused law” insisting that “the present turmoil and turbulence in the state owes much of its origin to the misuse, abuse and overuse of this law”.
In his statement of objects and reasons, the first time legislator to the assembly said though the act provides for maximum period of detention of two years but in practice people have been, and are being, detained for as long a period as fourteen years. “No civilized state believing in rule of law can afford to have a provision like section 10(a) of the act which provides that the order of detention can not be deemed to be invalid even if the grounds of such detention are vague, nonexistent, not relevant and not connected with the person to be detained”. In other words, Bukhari said, “it means that a person can even be detained on nonexistent, vague, irrelevant grounds or even if the concerned person is not connected at all. A democratic set up cannot afford to have such a law”.
Law and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ali M Sagar opposed the change saying PSA is a must. “The MLA should not be angry. It is about running the affairs of the state. When PDP was in power, it never thought of amending the Act, which is necessary for running the State,” Sagar said. He, however, suggest Bukhari to present a list of the cases, where the act has gone harsh against the persons. “If there is one case under your notice where PSA has been slapped on an innocent person, give me the list,” Sagar told Bukhari, adding, “PSA is must for running the affairs in the State. It is not a joke”. Since January 2008, a total of 554 stand booked under PSA but right now there are only 253 people including senior separatists leaders who are detained under this law.

TRANSFER OF PROPERTY ACT
NC legislator Mir Saifullah introduced an amendment in J&K Transfer of Property Act, 1977. The amendment was aimed at undoing the changes that the last coalition government effected in the law by permitting mortgaging and sale of the state land to the “corporations managed and owned by the government of India”. The amendment came at a time when the state was unable to manage the financial closure of the Baglihar power project.
Mir said that during 2003-04, the coalition government amended clause (h) of section 140 of TPA by permitting “any financial institution or corporations managed and owned by the government of India” to own land thus giving them a status enjoyed by the permanent residents of the J&K. “The recent case of leasing out some land in the state to non-residents has created chaos and confusion and has aroused sentiments of common masses  of the state. It has been proposed in the bill to bring the law to the position as it stood prior to enactment of 2003-04”.
Law minister was appreciative of the concern of Mir. But he requested him to withdraw the amendment because the state government is planning to bring in the change itself.

PANCHAYAT RAJ ACT
It was another beautiful piece of legislation that Mir Saifullah sought to introduce. Seeking a fundamental change in sub-section (3) of Section 45, Mir’s argument was plain and simple: “The elections to Panchayats were held for the basic purpose to decentralize the powers to the basic unit of the village Panchayats and the Panchayats’ should work for the overall development of the state. In the Panchayat Raj Act, up to the block level people are involved in the development process, but at the district level, the bar has been kept and the process / ability of the Panchayats remains infractous. This is the major drawback in the act that at the district level government has been empowered to nominate the chairman thereby rendering the process of the whole Panchayat election useless”.
In other words he meant that ministers should not head the district development boards. Instead they should be elected representatives on the same pattern as that of Panchayat’s at various levels. His party managed to get him the amendment withdrawn with an assurance that it would be looked into at a later stage.

SALARIES OF LAWMAKERS
Nazir Gurezi of NC introduced two pieces of amendments – one to increase the pensions of the former lawmakers and another to hike the salaries and allowances of the lawmakers. He made it very clear in his speech that “how you think that a lawmaker with barely Rs. 20,000 salary and such a massive movement and requirements of funds can be honest”. In his formal statement, Gurezi talked in detail about the hike in the salaries of the employees, the judges and other services.
“Responsibilities of legislators can legitimately be defined as more demanding than anybody else holding a public office”, Gurezi said in his statement. “Given the nature of their job, they have to be on toes tossing between various offices spread across the length and breadth of the state. They invariably have to manage their residences at three or even more places”. He said the lawmakers lack the adequate infrastructure and proper salary package so that they are able to travel and solve the issue of their electors.
Gurezi, whose bill was welcomed by one and all cutting across party lines, wants the basic package to be hiked from twenty thousand rupees to thirty thousand rupees. Besides, he wants every legislator should get a constituency allowance of Rs. 30,000 per month, Rs. 20,000 as office maintenance allowance, Rs. 20,000 as sumptuary allowance and another five thousand rupees for telephone charges. If the government would have accepted the suggestion, every MLA currently getting Rs. 42,000 plus some allowances would now get over Rs. 105 thousands a month. Though he withdrew the bill on government assurance, insiders tell Kashmir Life that the government is planning a hike in lawmakers’ package in coming days – a windfall in waiting.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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