Electricity is one of the most critical components which is essential for the growth of the economy and social development of a nation. All the laws relating to electricity in India are dealt primarily with by the Electricity Act, 2003. On the date of April 17, 2020, the Ministry of Power (MoP) introduced the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 with some policy modifications to The Electricity Act of 2003. The other amendments that were previously proposed to be made in the year 2014 & 2018, but neither of them was passed in the parliament and thus, failed to become the law.
Recently, the central government has proposed a new bill in the house that seeks to promote green power and takes a step further in promoting ease of doing business and enhancing the sustainability of the power sector. In addition to that, this amendment bill will change various provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003 and further address critical issues on the same line.
The Act had been the statutory standards which administer the laws regarding the generation, distribution, and trading of the produced electricity. This Act also aimed to license the distribution of electricity distribution in rural areas and bring in a licensing regime for urban areas. In order to address some recurring issues, and to promote further commercial incentive for private players to enter the market in the generation, distribution and transmission of electricity, with some policy modifications, this Bill is introduced.
The bill is termed as progressive in nature as it aims to touch on the issue of the environment by better electricity production and filling the various gaps in the mechanism.
A detailed analysis of this bill will require us to go through each and every aspect of the key features and the same is done in this article.
Understanding the rationale behind the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020
First, there were certain ambiguities in the Electricity Act, 2003 that needed attention. Secondly, the rationale behind the amendment stands on two pillars that are: a) the Issues relating to the weakening commercial and investment activities in relation to the electricity sector, b) Transparency and accountability in respect to the interest of consumers. In respect to the commercial and investment activities, there are major structural issues like the inefficiencies both financial and operational in relation to the generation of power, political intervention and low customer participation. The amendment seeks to rectify all problems under one umbrella.
Analysing the key features of the Bill
An interesting development that the new bill has brought is the proposal to set up a National Selection Committee. Although, the central government may be looking in another direction with the old Selection committee that is constituted for each state. The change they are looking to bring is to reorganize these state selection committees into national selection committees. In addition to that, with the new change, it would be presided over by the new CJI of the High Court of the specific state.
Direct Benefit Transfer
Direct benefit transfer is a mechanism that will ensure a change in subsidy mechanism where the subsidy is provided to those who are in need directly. The records for the same are maintained by the state government. This will benefit in a two-fold way wherein the state government has the transparency in the direct benefit transfer and the distribution companies by ensuring the amount received as to the beneficiaries.
Cost Reflective Tariff
The main reason that this is added is because of the sheer futile attempts of the commissions in establishing the tariffs that were determined. This further resulted in the problem of cost escalation. By the virtue of this new amendment, this problem is solved. Under this amendment, a 60 day period is adopted in order for the determination of tariff. In case this deadline is exceeded, such failure would lead to automatic acceptance of tariff.
National Renewable Energy Policy
As of 2016 India has ratified the Paris Agreement and is actively working towards the benefit of the environment. The same effort is taken under this new amendment as a means to the promotion of electricity through renewable sources. This amendment specifies a bar which needs to be followed to generate electricity from renewable sources especially hydropower. This initiative signifies the progressive nature of the amendment and a visionary view that is going to prosper the environmental sphere and also contribute towards the Nationally Determined Contributions(NDCs).
Establishment of Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority (ECEA)
Under the new amendment, an establishment of a new authority can be observed which would be headed by a retired judge of the High Court. The main purpose of this authority is to deal with the very specific performance of contracts that are related to sale or purchase of power. The need for this authority was because the other two authorities namely the: Central Electricity Regulatory Commission and Electricity Regulatory Commissions, cannot enforce decrees. For the establishment of the Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority a new Chapter – XA containing Sections 109 A to 109 N was inserted.
Security Mechanism for Payment
The 2003 Act doesn’t have any security instrument for dispatch of power which has been a critical issue as it has generated a ton of unpaid dues causing an atmosphere of insecurity in the industry. For this very purpose, the new amendment has taken it upon itself to deal with the security mechanism by providing an adequate framework. This provides a secure nexus between the generation and transmission stage in the electric sector. A reference to this can be found in the text of the bill as: ‘no electricity shall be scheduled or dispatched under such contract unless adequate security of payment as agreed upon by the parties to the contract, has been provided’.
Under the old act, the fundamental problem was open access. It was granted to the consumers however two charges namely charges for intra-state transmission and interstate transmission of power were not accounted under it. The new amendment act aims to change that, additionally, a reference can be made to the point that this amendment also reduces open access surcharge and cross-subsidies.
A new and dynamic change in the policy is introduced by the amendment as the power to facilitate and allow cross border trade of electricity is now provided to the hands of the central government. The government’s attitude towards a trade surplus or deficit is unknown as a clear stand is not provided on this. However, predictions are made that there would be more purchases of electricity from the cross border in the coming years.
National Load Despatch Centre (NLDC)
The Electricity Act, 2003 provides for the load dispatch centres at central, state and regional level. Their function is of optimum scheduling and dispatch of electricity in their areas or jurisdictions. Under the same, the Central Government is responsible for prescribing the functions of NLDC. Through this amendment bill, the centre includes few new functions in the list which are: (1) Monitoring of Grid Operations, (2) exercising the supervision and control over the inter-regional and interstate transmission network, (3) carrying out real-time operations of the national grid.
This Bill also gives the power to the NLDC to issue directions for ensuring the stability of grid operations and the security of the National Grid. These directions so made by the NLDC will be binding on the entities involved in it which are, generators, regional & state dispatch centres.
In order to ensure strict compliance of the provisions of the Electricity Act and orders of the Commissions, section 142 and section 146 of the Electricity Act are proposed to be amended to provide for higher penalties.
Previously, under Section 142, Penalty for non-compliance with the directions of the Appropriate Commission was upto Rs. 1,00,00 which was to be increased under this bill to Rs. 1,00,00,000 and for Additional per day penalty in case of continuing non-compliance was to be increased from Rs. 6000 to Rs. 1,00,000. Similarly, under Section 146 the penalty for non-compliance of orders or directions under the Electricity Act was increased from upto Rs. 1,00,000 to upto Rs. 1,00,00,000 and Additional per day penalty in case of continuing non-compliance was increased from Rs. 5000 to Rs. 1,00,000.
Distribution of sub-licence and franchise
The Amendment Bill proposes that distribution licensees, with the permission of the relevant State Commission, can recognise and authorise a person as “distribution sub-licensee” which is different from the “franchisee” model already available under the Electricity Act to distribute electricity on its behalf in a particular area within its area. However, the original distribution licensee will remain the licensee and will ultimately be held responsible for ensuring the quality of the distribution of electricity in its area of supply. It is also proposed that such distribution of sub-licensee is not required to obtain a separate license under Section 14 of the Act.
The enabling provisions also have been made under the bill to address the situations to deal with the issues in sections 126, 135, and 164 under the Electricity Act, 2003, when a distribution licensee proposes to undertake distribution of electricity for a specific area within his area of supply through another person. By the amendment of this system, the distribution companies will give the franchise to private companies to sell electricity to consumers as a way to increase private participation.
Penalty for failure to comply with the Renewable Purchase Obligation
Under the Amendment, the penalty for failure to comply with the RPO is increased. The Bill proposes a penalty of Rs. 0.50/kWh for the shortfall in purchase in the first year of default, and if such default continues for the second successive year, then the penalty is proposed to be increased to Rs. 1 /kWh and consecutively thereafter Rs. 2/kWh.
Enhancement of Powers of the Appellate Tribunals for Electricity
Appellate Tribunals for Electricity (herein referred as APTEL) is proposed in the amendment to have the powers similar to that of the High Court to deal with the willful disobedience of persons and entities under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The numbers of the members at the APTEL have also been proposed to be increased by the Amendment. It is proposed that the Appeal against the orders of Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority shall be appealable before the APTEL.
Here, we must analyse article 109 A(2) as follows:
‘109 A (2): Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or any other law in force, the Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority shall have the sole authority and jurisdiction to adjudicate upon matters regarding performance of obligations under a contract related to sale, purchase or transmission of electricity, provided that it shall not have any jurisdiction over any matter related to regulation or determination of tariff or any dispute involving tariff.’
One important observation must be made here that the amendment proposed does not distance itself from the Electricity Regulatory Commissions that are currently working in lieu of the act. Even now we can see that there is no relevant shift in the power of these ERCs (Electricity Regulatory Commissions) as the matters relating to tariff, adjudication of disputes still fall in their ambit. A plain and simple reference to this was made above which is the premise of the argument. This can in turn lead to the overlap of jurisdiction cause confusion and havoc which should be prevented at all costs.
The Principle Act has primacy over the state action and the Act cannot infringe on institutional and policy making decisions of any of the state government. The institutional structure which is prevailing should not be rearranged as the initiatives made by the state to ensure the growth of the local and regional development of electricity will be obstructed. With the central government banking on making use of a pool of central generating stations and electricity resources, the development which is done at the state level will take a backseat as the state will not be able to take initiatives to promote renewable energy resources.
The Organisation ECEA as per us does not fit into the governance structure as it goes against the Concurrent jurisdiction. Secondly, it will render the SERC useless and disempower them.
As this Amendment defines two entities, that is, (i) Distribution sub-licensee and (ii) franchisee. The Amendment Bill does not provide for any distinction between the roles of these two and its area of operation. It appears that this provision is left open for interpretation. As the Rules between these two are not defined, the proposed model may result in failure.
The determination of the Tariff should meet the social policy objectives and should not result in tariff shock. Further, the Proposed Amendment delinks (State Electricity Regulatory Commissions) SERCs discretion to change the Tariff setting for customers on the basis of load, consumption, voltage etc. The State governments should be mandated under the Bill to transfer the subsidy amount directly to the DISCOMs so that the consumers would be able to receive their bills post deduction of the subsidy amount. A monitoring and enforcement mechanism should be in place to ensure timely transfer of subsidy into the accounts of the consumers. The Implementation of the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBTs) can be highly challenging for the government as the electricity unlike LPG is not always consumed by the consumer under whom the connection is registered.
The role of the states’ in the consultative framework of the Act should be strengthened to ensure that RPO (Renewable Purchase Obligation) for every state is determined based on its energy portfolio and ability to add Renewable Energy capacity. Given the limitations of hydro as an energy source, policy measures and guidelines should be outlined for Hydro Purchase Obligations instead of giving them only the statutory status.
Opposition to the bill
Many of the prominent stakeholders are raising their voice in opposition to this bill and it is quintessential to understand why this is happening. At the front are the farmer unions and the consumer groups followed by employees and engineers. We can see a wave of opposition from various states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar etc. The reason for this opposition is quite simple, they view it as an attempt to move towards privatization. The state governments are against it as they are losing their long retained autonomy. Employee unions are not satisfied due to the privatisation of DISCOMs and the gaping holes in the payment-security mechanisms.
The long argument that has been running for years is that it seeks to empower the ‘haves’ and take away from the ‘have nots’ This has caused a huge discomfort to the consumers and the farmers as public monopolies are replaced. Moreover, due to COVID-19, it has also been argued that this is the worst time that this bill could have come into light as there is no time for a proper scrutiny of the same. This agenda cannot and must not be pushed in a time of crisis without proper debate.
One other major issue that must be highlighted here is that nature and the spirit of the subject matter which should not be ignored at any cost. Electricity is a concurrent subject and this amendment can cause a series of tussles between the union and the state. In addition to that, it goes against the spirit of what the constitution makers have laid down for us. There is a fundamental reason that we must understand why electricity needs to be in the concurrent list. We must consider that each state has its specific resources and to categorise it as one nation would hinder the whole process.
The amendment bill brings the needed changes and adapts to the ongoing time. The whole outlook of electricity laws will be relooked and the gaping whole will be filled in. Now, it is for the union to pass the bill and embark upon the new and ravishing journey of implementing the changes proposed. The amendments that are proposed hold a concrete long term nature which are destined to have a good impact on both the economy and the environment as the tariff and subsidies will help support the financial crunch and the green power will benefit the environment.
The view taken by the legislators has indeed moved in a direction to fulfill the current needs. However, the critiques mentioned in this article should also be taken into account to further avoid any jurisdictional problems at the most. The confusion of jurisdiction is one that would cause huge problems in implementation and make the process tedious. However, the bill shows a progressive nature and further moves in a positive direction.
Under the new amendment, an establishment of a new authority can be observed which would be headed by a retired judge of the High Court. The main purpose of this authority is to deal with the very specific performance of contracts that are related to sale or purchase of power.
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Unlocking the reality of preventive detention laws in India
Criminal laws act as a tool to prosecute criminals and also to prevent or reduce the risk of an anticipated future harm. Such measures enable the state to criminalize conduct at an early stage in order to allow the authorities to take action, to incapacitate suspected future wrong doers, keeping them behind the bars for an extended period and all this is done in the garb of public protection and security. Classical theories of jurisprudence comprehend the relationship between states and citizens. A citizen’s obligation to obey to the sovereign is a tacit form of consent and in return the state owes a deemed duty to protect the citizens from hazards, threats and any form of violence. With this rationale, the state proceeds towards fostering in itself the power the prevent an individual or a group from committing any harm. Broadly, preventive detention is a measure if it is created to avert or reduce the frequency or impact of an unacceptable risk or harm.
MEANING OF DETENTION
There is no universally accepted definition of preventive detention but in general sense preventive detention means to detain a person in order to prevent him from committing any possible future crime. There is another similar type of detention called ‘administrative detention’ which is more often used in civil law countries and on the other hand preventive detention’ is more often used in common law countries. The major difference between two types of detention is that in a former case detention is a tool for administration and on the other hand in the later case detention is a tool to prevent a ‘potential threat’.
There is also a third type of detention, ‘punitive detention’ the main purpose of which is to punish the person for an offence committed only after a trial and conviction in a court of law. As the name suggests the major difference between punitive detention and preventive detention is that one talks about punishment and other about prevention.
CONSTITUTIONAL PARADOX OF PREVENTIVE DETENTION LAWS IN INDIA
India chose to be a democratic country with inherent values of human rights embedded in our Constitution. However, the irony lies in the fact that the Constitution makers still chose to grant exemption to prevention detention laws when once they were victims of the same despotic laws.
Under Entry 9 the Union list, Parliament has the absolute power to enact laws with regard to preventive detention for reasons connected with security, defence and foreign affairs of India. Under Entry 3 of the Concurrent, both the state and the central government have been vested with the powers of enactment of such laws which related to the maintenance of public order, maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community etc. Preventive detention finds place in Constitution and that too under Fundamental Rights. Article 22(3) provides that: “if the person who has been arrested or detained under preventive detention laws then the protection against arrest and detention provided under Article22 (1) and 22 (2) shall not be available to that person.” This is why article 22(3) cannot be said as the fundamental right but a fundamental danger to the liberty of a person.
The Criminal Procedure Code of India also provides for Preventive detention under Section 151 as: “A police officer knowing of a design to commit any cognizable offence may arrest, without orders from a Magistrate and without a warrant, the person so designing, if it appears to such officer that the commission of the offence cannot be otherwise prevented.”
In Union of India v Paul Nanickan and Anr, the Supreme Court of India stated: “the object of preventive detention is not to punish a man for having done something but to intercept him, before he does it, and to prevent him from doing it. No offence is proved, nor any charge formulated; and the justification for such detention is suspicion or reasonable probability and not criminal conviction, which can only be warranted by legal evidence.”
The main purpose for inserting preventive detention laws was to prevent the commission of a crime which are prejudicial to law and order of a state but it has failed miserably to serve its purpose and on the other hand is proving to be a tool to curtail the liberty of an individual.
Clause (3) of Article 22 is the main escape that outrightly exempts the applicability of rights of an arrested person as conferred by Article 22. Preventive detention thus allows detention without legal trial. At the same time, the constitution provides safeguards in case of misuse of preventive detention laws.
JURISPRUDENCE OF PREVENTIVE DETENTION LAWS VIA THE INDIAN JUDICIARY
The first case in post-independent India where the constitutionality of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 was questioned was the AK Gopalan Vs State of Madras. The court gave a green flag to the Preventive Detention Act because of the presence of the explicit provisions of Article 22(5). Although the petitioner made a good attempt by challenging the law in violation of Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Later, PDA lapsed in 1969 and Parliament enacted the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) two years later. The infamous emergency of 1970s exercised MISA as a political weapon to curb political criticism and dissent. MISA expired in 1978 but paved way for the birth of another preventive detention law which is National Security Act (NSA) which is in effect today. Simultaneously, in 1967 the government enacted Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to restrict the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression, freedom to assembly peaceably without arms and to form associations. UAPA has undergone half a dozen amendments since then and is currently also recognized as a terror law.
It is pertinent to note that, the law in India allows detention of individuals in order to prevent act that may threaten ‘national security’ or ‘public order’. But the author wants to argue that neither the constitution nor the preventive laws expressly define what amounts to national security or public order or what possibly are the range of acts that may fall under these categories of offences. This deficiency on the fundamental clarity poses a challenge on the legality of these laws. The courts have justified preventive detention orders and given some direction in this regard in the case of Ram Manohar Lohia v. State of Bihar, wherein the court differentiated the concepts pf ‘security of state, public order and law and order’. The Court concluded that law and order represent the largest circle within which there is a smaller circle of public order and the smallest circle is the security of the state. So, it can be seen that what may affect law and order might not affect public order, similarly what may affect public order might not affect security of state.
However, the state is trying to normalize preventive detention under the umbrella of ‘national security’ and invoking judicial remedies in preventive detention cases becomes a rare option. The Apex Court has also mistakenly made a dangerous viewpoint in the case of Union of India Vs Dimple Happy Dhakkad where the accused were already arrested under the regular criminal process but were also subject to the preventive detention order under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Act, 1974 (COFEPOSA) as the case involved gold smuggling. Bail applications were rejected twice, The Apex Court very narrowly failed to consider the pre-existing detention of the accused when they were already languishing in jail for 2 months before the preventive detention order. The Supreme Court relied completely on the doctrine of the ‘subjective satisfaction’ of the detaining authority. The author undoubtedly admits the limitations of judicial review in detention orders but at the same time our Apex Court has itself widened the horizons of judicial review in arbitrary detention orders. The judiciary as in ADM Jabalpur has transformed itself to completely outlaw its tragic effect of fundamental freedoms and constitutionalism and overruled in the landmark Puttaswamy judgment. Moreover, the court in the case of Prabhu Dayal Deorah Vs. D.M Kamrup have rightfully assented to test the grounds on which the detention orders are passed on the lines of arbitrariness and vagueness. In another case of Bhawarlal Ganeshmalji v. State of Tamil Nadu, the court created a judicial requirement that the allegation must have a ‘live link’ with the present situation to justify the need of preventive detention.
It is significant to substantiate the recent judgment of Allahabad High Court in the Habeas Corpus case of NuzhatPerween Vs State of Uttar Pradesh. Briefly stating the facts of this case, Dr. Kafeel Khan (son of Nuzhat Perween) gave a public speech in Aligarh Muslim University. It was alleged that his speech incited feelings of communal disharmony and also lead to violent protests by some groups of students. A preventive detention order was passed against him to maintain public order in the district and he was put behind the bars. He applied for the bail and the bail was granted. What happens next is the episode which actually happens in our system. The executive did not enforce the bail order. When the court passed a second order to release Dr. Khan, the state claimed that the order was notified later and they have taken a preventive detention order authorized by the District Magistrate, Aligarh. When this matter reached the constitutional High Court of Allahabad, it took six months for a decision to be made. The inordinate delay is in itself a violation of the fundamental liberty of a person whose crime is a mere allegation. The petitioner mentioned that he did not have adequate material and thus his right to effective representation against is detention is violated. The Court agreed with this argument because the petitioner was given the CD of his speech but was given any means to play his disc. He was neither supplied the main transcript which was the primary basis for his preventive detention. Next, the court was asked to determine the contents of his speech as to whether it is of such a nature that a reasonable person could apprehend any disturbance to public order. The state correctly claimed that it is not open for the courts to wear the shoes of the preventive detention authority and the court cannot substitute their opinion in place of the ‘subjective satisfaction of the detaining authority’.
However, the court walked one step ahead and contradicting the above doctrine stated that ‘The expression “subjective satisfaction” means the satisfaction of a reasonable man that can be arrived at on the basis of some material which satisfies a rational man. It does not refer to whim or caprice of the authority concerned.’ In line with this principle of judicial scrutiny in the detention authority, the court noted that the speech delivered by the detenu was presented in parts by the police and not holistically. The speech is in no way against the maintenance of public order and therefore the closure of examining record as suggested would be nothing but a licence to allow the executives to act at their whims or caprice. This would be against the fundamentals of our constitutional values and provisions.
In the recent bail order of the Delhi High Court in the case of Devangana Kalita Vs State of NCT of Delhi the court strongly observed that the state in its anxiety to suppress dissent has blurred the line of constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity. The Court uprightly confronted Section 43D(5) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Quoting the court ‘The making of inflammatory speeches, organising chakkajams, and such like actions are not uncommon when there is widespread opposition to Governmental or Parliamentary actions Even if we assume for the sake of argument, without expressing any view thereon, that in the present case inflammatory speeches, chakkajams, instigation of women protesters and other actions, to which the appellant is alleged to have been party, crossed the line of peaceful protests permissible under our Constitutional guarantee, that however would yet not amount to commission of a ‘terrorist act’ or a ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘act preparatory’ to the commission of a terrorist act as understood under the UAPA’
In the latest 2019 amendment, individuals can also be designated as ‘terrorist’ by way of Section 35. Not just that, under Section 43D(5), bail can be denied by relying upon the prosecution documents even though they are inadmissible in courts. This archaic provision has been affirmed by the Apex Court of the country in the case of National Investigation Agency Vs. Zahoor Ahmed Shah Watali. This is the point of concern.
The tragic death of Father Stan Swamy is one such harshest reality of UAPA who was languishing in jail at the age of 84, a man who fought for the rights of the tribals and is applauded by the world. Many other renowned educators and activists like Professor Sudha Bhardwaj, Tamil Poet Varvara Rao etchave been detained under this law in the controversial ElgaarParishad and Bhima Koregaon case. Student activists have been put behind the bars for more than a year only because they dissent from those in power. The dissenting opinion of Hon’ble Justice DY Chandrachud in the Romila Thapar Case enlightens the current scenario of the arbitrariness of these laws. The complexity is embedded in Article 22 which guarantees protection against arrest and detention, yet it provides exception for preventive detention laws and our so called ‘democratic governments’ have time and again enacted preventive detention laws like MISA, UAPA, TADA, POTA, NSA etc. to curb voice raised against them.
All these legislations outlaw the fundamental rights coupled with the basic human rights. Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies the rule of fair hearing in every circumstance and this has been recognized as the basic human tenant. The state, under the misconception of protecting the security of the country, has actually put the country in a state of turmoil. Where at one instance Arnab Goswami is granted bail in 24 hours,
Father Stan Swamy was denied medical bail every time he knocked the doors of the court. The question is who actually are we protecting under these arbitrary preventive detention laws. The answer is none. We are actually protecting the state from dissent.
The constitutional courts of the country must remind themselves the crucial judgment if Maneka Gandhi Vs. Union of India which has expanded the horizons of Article 21 and the court also heard a batch of petitions challenging the National Security Act. In the case of A.K. Roy Vs Union of India upheld the validity of the Act by completely relying on Article 22 (3)(b). After this judgment, preventive detention laws have never been tested constitutionally and this settled proposition is proving to be very unsettling now. The author argues and concludes by stating that the narrowed interpretations of Article 22 have ceased to exist when the Apex Court re-affirmed due process into the constitution and the State cannot rely on this provision anymore while putting people behind the bars for months without giving them adequate legal representation. The judiciary must uphold constitutionalism of the constitution.
It is pertinent to note that the law in India allows detention of individuals in order to prevent acts that may threaten ‘national security’ or ‘public order’. But the author wants to argue that neither the Constitution nor the preventive laws expressly define what amounts to national security or public order or what possibly are the range of acts that may fall under these categories of offences. This deficiency on the fundamental clarity poses a challenge on the legality of these laws. The courts have justified preventive detention orders and given some direction in this regard.
SC RIGHTLY OVERTURNS TWO BOMBAY HC JUDGEMENTS ON POCSO
In a most significant turn of events, we saw how just recently on November 18, 2021, the Apex Court in Attorney General for India v. Satish and another in Criminal Appeal No. 1410 of 2021 (@ Special Leave Petition (CRL) No. 925 of 2021) and connected appeals, held that touching a child with sexual intent even through clothing is an offence of sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act thus setting aside two separate decisions of the Bombay High Court passed on January 15 and January 19 that made skin-to-skin physical contact a necessary condition to hold someone guilty of sexual assault. The Court directed the convicted persons top surrender within four weeks to undergo the remaining sentence of three years and five years awarded to them by a special POCSO court in 2020. It may be recalled that Attorney General KK Venugopal was the first to file an appeal against one of the High Court judgments in question. Later, we saw how the Maharashtra government followed by the National Commission for Women also filed appeals. Even the accused were represented in the case and the court appointed senior advocate Siddharth Dave to assist in the matter as amicus curiae.
While underscoring the detrimental effect of allowing such an interpretation, a Bench of Justice UU Lalit, Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Bela M Trivedi said that, “Restricting the interpretation of the words “touch” or “physical contact” to “skin-to-skin contact” would not only be a narrow and pedantic interpretation of the provision contained in Section 7 of the POCSO Act, but it would lead to an absurd interpretation of the said provision.” Through two separate but concurring views, Justice Bela M Trivedi writing for herself and Justice UU Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat traced the origin of the words “touch” and “physical contact” and noted that “skin-to-skin” contact was never intended to be incorporated by Parliament while enacting the POCSO Act in 2012.
To start with, it is first and foremost pointed out by the Bench in para 2 after granting leave as stated in para 1 that, “The four Appeals filed by the appellants – Attorney General for India, by the National Commission for Women, by the State of Maharashtra and by the appellant-accused Satish respectively, arising out of the Judgment and Order dated 19.01.2021 passed in Criminal Appeal No. 161 of 2020 by the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, Nagpur Bench, and the Appeal filed by the Appellant-State of Maharashtra, arising out of the Judgment and Order dated 15.01.2021 passed in the Criminal Appeal No. 445 of 2020 by the same Nagpur Bench, encompass similar contextual legal issues, and therefore, permit us this analogous adjudication.”
I. FACTUAL MATRIX IN CASE OF THE ACCUSED-SATISH
In hindsight, the Bench then recalls in para 3 that, “The Extra Joint Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur (hereinafter referred to as the Special Court) vide the Judgment and Order dated 5th February, 2020 passed in the Special Child Protection Case No. 28/2017 convicted and sentenced the accused-Satish for the offences under Sections 342, 354 and 363 of the Indian Penal Code (for short ‘IPC’) and Section 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (For short POCSO Act). Being aggrieved by the same, the accused-Satish had preferred an appeal being Criminal Appeal No. 161 of 2020 in the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, Nagpur Bench. By the Judgment and Order dated 19th January, 2021, the High Court disposed of the said appeal by acquitting the accused for the offence under Section 8 of the POCSO Act, and convicting him for the offence under Sections 342 and 354 of the IPC. The accused was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of one year and to pay fine of Rs. 500/- in default thereof to suffer R.I. for one month for the offence under Section 354 and to undergo imprisonment for a period of six months and to pay fine of Rs. 500/-, in default thereof to suffer R.I. for one month for the offence under Section 342 of IPC.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 4 that, “The case of the prosecution before the Special Court as emerging from the record was that the informant happened to be the mother of the victim aged about 12 years. The accused-Satish was residing in the same area where she was residing i.e. Deepak Nagar, Nagpur. On 14.12.2016 at about 11.30 a.m., the victim had gone out to obtain guava. Since she did not return back for a long time, the informant-mother went in search of the victim. At that time, one lady Sau Divya Uikey who was staying nearby, told her that the neighbouring person (the accused) had taken her daughter along with him to his house. The informant, therefore, went to the house of the accused. The accused at that time came down from the first floor of his house. The informant having made inquiry about her daughter, the accused told her that she was not there in his house. The informant, however, barged into the house of the accused to search her daughter as she heard the shouts coming from a room situated on the first floor. She went to the first floor and found that the door of the room was bolted from outside. She opened the door and found her daughter who was crying in the room. On making inquiry as to what had happened, her daughter told her that the accused had asked her to come with him and told her that he would give her a guava. He took her to his house. He then pressed her breast and tried to remove her salwar. At that time, the victim tried to shout but the accused pressed her mouth. The accused thereafter left the room and bolted the door from outside. The informant, on having learnt such facts, went to the Police Station along with her daughter to lodge the complaint. The said complaint was registered as Crime No. 405/2016 at Police Station Gittikhadan, Nagpur. It was further case of the prosecution that when the police rushed to the spot, they saw that the accused was trying to commit suicide by hanging himself. He, therefore, was sent to the hospital for treatment. The spot panchanama was drawn and the statement of the victim was got recorded under Section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure before the Magistrate. After the completion of the investigation, the charge-sheet was filed in the Special Court, Nagpur against the accused. The Special Court after appreciating the evidence on record, passed the Judgment and Order of conviction and sentence as stated hereinabove.”
Briefly stated, the Bench then recollects in para 5 that, “The High Court in the appeal filed by the accused-Satish acquitted the accused for the offence under Section 8 of the POCSO Act and convicted him for the minor offence under Sections 342 and 354 of IPC by making following observations:
“18 . Evidently, it is not the case of the prosecution that the appellant removed her top and pressed her breast. The punishment provided for offence of ‘sexual assault’ is imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine. Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offence, in the opinion of this Court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required. The act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific details as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of ‘sexual assault’. It would certainly fall within the definition of the offence under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code.”
As a fallout, the Bench then reveals in para 6 that, “The above observations/findings made by the High Court, have caused the Attorney General for India, the National Commission for Women and the State of Maharashtra to file the appeals before this Court. The accused has also filed the appeal challenging his conviction for the offences under Section 354 and 342 of the IPC.”
Be it noted, the Bench then holds in para 40 that, “In the light of the afore-discussed legal position, if the findings recorded by the High Court are appreciated, it clearly emerges that the High Court fell into error in case of the accused-Satish in holding him guilty for the minor offences under Sections 342 and 354 of IPC and acquitting him for the offence under Section 8 of the POCSO Act. The High Court while specifically accepting the consistent versions of the victim and her mother i.e. informant about the accused having taken the victim to his house, having pressed the breast of the victim, having attempted to remove her salwar and pressing her mouth, had committed gross error in holding that the act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years in absence of any specific details as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hands inside the top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of sexual assault, and would fall within the definition of offence under Section 354 of the IPC. The High Court further erred in holding that there was no offence since there was no direct physical contact i.e. “skin to skin” with sexual intent.”
It cannot be glossed over that the Bench then observes in para 41 that, “The interpretation of Section 7 at the instance of the High Court on the premise of the principle of “ejusdem generis” is also thoroughly misconceived. It may be noted that the principle of “ejusdem generis” should be applied only as an aid to the construction of the statute. It should not be applied where it would defeat the very legislative intent. As per the settled legal position, if the specific words used in the section exhaust a class, it has to be construed that the legislative intent was to use the general word beyond the class denoted by the specific words. So far as Section 7 of the POCSO Act is concerned, the first part thereof exhausts a class of act of sexual assault using specific words, and the other part uses the general act beyond the class denoted by the specific words. In other words, whoever, with sexual intent touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person, would be committing an offence of “sexual assault”. Similarly, whoever does any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration, would also be committing the offence of “sexual assault” under Section 7 of the POCSO Act. In view of the discussion made earlier, the prosecution was not required to prove a “skin to skin” contact for the purpose of proving the charge of sexual assault under Section 7 of the Act.”
Quite significantly, the Bench then holds in para 42 that, “The surrounding circumstances like the accused having taken the victim to his house, the accused having lied to the mother of the victim that the victim was not in his house, the mother having found her daughter in the room on the first floor of the house of the accused and the victim having narrated the incident to her mother, were proved by the prosecution, rather the said facts had remained unchallenged at the instance of the accused. Such basic facts having been proved by the prosecution, the Court was entitled to raise the statutory presumption about the culpable mental state of the accused as permitted to be raised under Section 30 of the said Act. The said presumption has not been rebutted by the accused, by proving that he had no such mental state. The allegation of sexual intent as contemplated under Section 7 of the Act, therefore, had also stood proved by the prosecution. The Court, therefore, is of the opinion that the prosecution had duly proved not only the sexual intent on the part of the accused but had also proved the alleged acts that he had pressed the breast of the victim, attempted to remove her salwar and had also exercised force by pressing her mouth. All these acts were the acts of “sexual assault” as contemplated under section 7, punishable under Section 8 of the POCSO Act.”
II. FACTUAL MATRIX IN THE CASE OF THE ACCUSED-LIBNUS
Of course, the Bench then lays bare in para 7 that, “The Additional Sessions Judge, Gadchiroli (hereinafter referred to as the Special Court) vide the judgment and order dated 5th October, 2020 passed in the Special POCSO case no. 07/2019 convicted and sentenced the accused-Libnus s/o Fransis Kujur for the offences punishable under Section 448 and 354-A (1)(i) of IPC and Sections 8 and 10 read with section 9 (m) and 12 of the POCSO Act. Being aggrieved by the same, the accused-Libnus had preferred an appeal being Criminal Appeal No. 445 of 2020 in the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, Nagpur Bench. Vide the Judgment and Order dated 15th January, 2021, the High Court maintained the conviction of the accused for the offences under Sections 448 and 354-A(1)(i) of the IPC read with Section 12 of the POCSO Act and set aside the conviction of the accused for the offences under Sections 8 and 10 of the POCSO Act. The High Court considering the nature of the alleged acts and the punishment provided for the alleged offences, modified the sentence imposed by the Special Court to the extent he had already undergone, and directed to set him free.”
In this context, it would be instructive to note that the Bench then mentions in para 43 that, “So far as the case of the other accused-Libnus is concerned, the High Court vide its impugned judgment and order, while maintaining the conviction of the accused for the offences punishable under sections 448 and 354-A(1)(i) of the IPC read with Section 12 of the POCSO Act, has acquitted the accused for the offence under Sections 8 and 10 of the POCSO Act. Pertinently the High Court while recording the finding that the prosecution had established that the accused had entered into the house of the prosecutrix with the intention to outrage her modesty, also held that the acts “holding the hands of the prosecutrix” or “opened the zip of the pant” did not fit in the definition of sexual assault. In the opinion of the Court, the High Court had fallen into a grave error in recording such findings. When the alleged acts of entering the house of the prosecutrix with sexual intent to outrage her modesty, of holding her hands and opening the zip of his pant showing his penis, are held to be established by the prosecution, there was no reason for the High Court not to treat such acts as the acts of “sexual assault” within the meaning of Section 7 of the POCSO Act. The High Court appears to have been swayed away by the minimum punishment of five years prescribed for the offence of “aggravated sexual assault” under Section 10 of the POCSO Act as the age of the prosecutrix was five years and the sexual assault if committed on the victim who is below 12 years is required to be treated as the “aggravated sexual assault” as per Section 9(m) of the Act. However, neither the term of minimum punishment nor the age of the victim could be a ground to allow the accused to escape from the clutches of Section 7 of the POCSO Act. The alleged acts of the accused in entering the house of the prosecutrix with sexual intent to outrage her modesty, holding her hands and unzipping his pant showing his penis to the prosecutrix having been held to be proved by the prosecution, they would certainly be the acts falling within the purview of the “sexual assault” as contemplated in the second part of Section 7 i.e. “……… or does any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration”. The Court, therefore, has no hesitation in holding that the accused-Libnus had committed an offence of “sexual assault” within the meaning of Section 7 of the POCSO Act and the prosecutrix being below the age of 12 years, he had committed an offence of “aggravated sexual assault” as contemplated under Section 9(m) of the said Act, liable to be punished with the imprisonment for a term not less than five years under Section 10 of the POCSO Act. In that view of the matter, the judgment and order of the High Court insofar as it has set aside the conviction of the accused-Libnus for the offences under Section 8 and 10 of the POCSO Act is liable to be set aside, and the judgment and order of conviction and sentence passed by the Special Court is required to be restored.”
As a corollary, the Bench then observes in para 44 that, “In the aforesaid premises, the judgments and orders dated 19.01.2021 and 15.01.2021 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, Nagpur Bench, at Nagpur in Criminal Appeal No. 161 of 2020 and Criminal Appeal No. 445 of 2020 respectively are hereby quashed and set aside; and the judgments and orders dated 05.02.2020 and 05.10.2020 passed by the Extra Joint Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur in Special Child Protection Case No. 28 of 2017 and by the Special Court, Gadchiroli in POCSO Case No. 07/2019 are restored.”
It is worth noting that the Bench then holds in para 45 that, “Accordingly, the accused-Satish is hereby convicted for the offences punishable under Section 8 of the POCSO Act and under Sections 342, 354 and 363 of the IPC. He is directed to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of three years and to pay fine of Rs.500/- and in default thereof to suffer simple imprisonment for a period of one month for the offence under Section 8 of the POCSO Act. Since he has been sentenced for the major offence under Section 8 of the POCSO Act, no separate sentence is imposed upon him for the other offences under the IPC.”
What is also worth noting is that the Bench then also holds in para 46 that, “The accused-Libnus s/o Fransis Kujur is hereby convicted for the offences punishable under Sections 354-A (1)(i) and 448 of the IPC as also for the offences under Sections 8, 12 and 10 read with Section 9(m) of the POCSO Act. He is directed to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of five years for the offence under Section 10 of the POCSO Act and to pay fine of Rs. 25,000/- (Rupees twenty five thousand only) and in default thereof to suffer simple imprisonment for a period of six months. Since he has been sentenced for the major offence under Section 10 of the POCSO Act, no separate sentence is being imposed upon him for the other offences under the IPC and the POCSO Act.”
Furthermore, the Bench then directs in para 47 that, “Both accused – Satish and Libnus are directed to surrender themselves before the concerned Special Courts, within four weeks from today.”
It cannot be glossed over that the Bench then holds in para 48 that, “Before parting, it may be noted that in the case of the accused-Libnus, the State of Maharashtra while filing the Appeal before this Court had not produced the certified copy of the judgment of the High Court, however, had produced a copy of a certified copy, wherein the High Court had recorded acquittal of the accused for the offence under Sections 8, 10 and 12 of the POCSO Act, while maintaining his conviction under Sections 448 and 354-A(1)(i) of the IPC, whereas in the copy of the impugned judgment of the High Court downloaded by the respondent-accused produced on record by the learned Advocate for the accused, the High Court had recorded the conviction of the accused for the offence under Sections 448 and 354-A(1)(i) of the IPC read with Section 12 of the POCSO Act. There being a discrepancy in the said two copies of the impugned judgment of the High Court, the learned Advocate for the respondent-accused had filed an I.A. bringing to the notice of the Court about such discrepancy. The Court, therefore, had vide its order dated 27.10.2021 directed the Registrar of the High Court to send the certified copy of the decision of the High court dated 15.01.2021 passed in Criminal Appeal No. 445 of 2020. Accordingly, the Assistant Registrar of the High Court of Bombay, Nagpur Bench, has sent the certified copy of the said judgment.”
Most astonishing is what is then stated by the Bench in para 49 that, “It is very surprising to note that the Registry of High Court of Bombay, Nagpur Bench, has certified the copy of the impugned judgment by affixing the stamp on the back side of every page of the judgment which is blank. The said copy of the judgment appears to have been downloaded from the website and, therefore, does not bear even the signature or the name of the concerned judge at the end of the judgment. The certificate that the said copy is a true copy of the judgment, is also not written at the foot of the judgment as contemplated in Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act. Such a practice, if followed by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, may allow the miscreants to manipulate or commit mischief in the judicial orders which are used as the public documents having great significance in the judicial proceedings. The Registrar General of the Bombay High Court, therefore, is directed to look into the matter and ensure that proper procedure for preparing the certified copies of the judgments/orders of the Court in accordance with law is followed.”
It then notes in para 50 that, “All the five appeals stand disposed of accordingly.”
Finally, the Bench then holds in para 51 that, “It will be failure on our part if we do not extend gratitude of appreciation for the enormous assistance rendered by learned senior Advocate Siddhartha Dave, learned Amicus Curiae Siddharth Luthra, learned Senior Advocate appearing on behalf of the accused through Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, Ms Geeta Luthra, learned Senior Advocate appearing for National Women Commission and all other advocates who have appeared in the matter.
The initiative taken by the learned Attorney General for India Mr KK Venugopal in filing the appeal with all sense of expressing his concern in the cause also deserve to be appreciated.”
It must be mentioned that Justice Ravindra S Bhat in his separate but concurring judgment said that, “The reasoning in the High Court’s judgment quite insensitively trivializes – indeed legitimizes – an entire range of unacceptable behaviour which undermines a child’s dignity and autonomy, through unwanted intrusions.”
While cautioning Judges in interpreting provisions of the law, Justice Bhat said that, “It is no part of any Judge’s duty to strain the plain words of a statute, beyond recognition and to the point of its destruction, thereby denying the cry of the times that children desperately need the assurance of a law designed to protect their autonomy and dignity, as POCSO does.”
On a concluding note, it must be said that all the Judges must always strictly adhere to what the Apex Court three Judge Bench in this extremely commendable, cogent, courageous and convincing judgment has laid down so clearly. It is clearly laid down that skin-to-skin touch is not must to judge POCSO offence. What is essential is sexual intent. If sexual intent is there then that is sufficient to convict the accused! We thus see that the Apex Court has in this notable case decisively rejected the narrow interpretation of sexual assault against children and rightly held that unacceptable behavior cannot be trivialized. Very rightly so!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate
Biomedical Waste Disposal: An Analysis
Biomedical waste is composed of animal and human waste, treatment equipment, for instance, syringes, needles, and the other different kinds of amenities in the process of research and treatment (Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016). Adequate biomedical waste management concerning the proper rules and regulations were consistently overlooked for years, specifically in a developing country like India.
India, the second most populated country worldwide after China and the world’s second worst-hit country by COVID-19 officially, and unofficially it is undoubtedly the worst affected. India now has 20.7 million confirmed cases of the deadly Covid-19 virus. However, the recovery rate among Indian population is also very remarkably high. The administration has also taken rigorous steps to tackle Covid-19, but this has resulted in piles of Bio-medical waste. According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, approximately 4527 tons of bio-medical waste was generated in December 2020. This has unduly pressurised the waste management system of country. Lack of resources has further added to this problem of waste management. India faced severe consequences during the second wave of COVID-19 and responding to which the medical system is also overburdened. These critical conditions have also posed a challenge in the administration to manage the bio-medical waste generated in treating the patients found positive with Covid-19. The country has a total of 238,170 healthcare facilities, out of which 87,267 are bedded while the remaining 151,208 are non-bedded healthcare facilities (HCFs) generating BMW. According to a study, improper management and disposal of bio-medical waste could expose freely roaming animals and humans with diseases like Covid-19. Thus, it becomes imperative to think for effective management strategies and spare some resources to manage bio-medical waste.
Untreated and improperly managed BMW is a potential source of infection. Millions of contaminated personal protection equipment (PPE) (e.g., facemasks and gloves) would end up as wastes, which, if improperly managed, can pose environmental and health threats. In a recent study (Kampf et al., 2020) finds that the coronavirus can survive on material surfaces (e.g., metals, glass, and plastics) for up to 9 days. Such threats may be ameliorated in developed countries where green and sustainable waste management strategies, capable of containing such viruses, are practiced. However, the threats would be much higher in developing countries that have poor waste management strategies. In many developing countries, solid wastes are dumped in the open and in poorly managed landfills where waste pickers without wearing proper PPE would scavenge for recyclable materials (World Bank, 2019).
Thus, it is the right time to call upon the policymakers to ponder this problem, which could become an uphill climb later if not given due attention.
IMMEDIATE ACTION AND FUTURE POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS:
The lockdown had led to enhancement in the origination of the food and packaging waste from the domestic households, which should be disseminated as per the current waste accumulation rules. The occurrence of the collection of biodegradable waste could be modified according to the locality. However, the recyclable waste could be reduced according to the accessibility of the people as well as the trucks. As they should be helped to accumulate them in the sealed bags for a longer tenure. There would be more generation of infectious waste and toxic waste if more heed is given to sanitary products and other health care products. So, it is very much necessary that it should be accumulated in double lined sealed bags with a particular symbol. The food packaging and the other waste should be handled with possible care and caution as it should be carried in a double layered compostable bag.
There would be less charge on the management of the hazardous waste as more waste from the households is being compensated by the smaller number of wastes from the restaurants, eateries and the other complexes. It is necessary to be conscious for the exposure of the waste as long as it exposes the pathogen to spread. The people living at their home required to be more prudent as there is a need of dissemination of the waste. The propagation of the same should be done through advertisements, newspapers or other source of media.
Few Policy recommendations deliberately made for the policymakers which might assist a system to tackle the pandemic:
a) Identification of the key role: This is the prime duty of the government to recognize the part which has to be played by sanitation workers. For instance, UK government has specifically given key worker status to their workers as the government would be fulfilling all the requirements of their family during the COVID crises so they could continue their services.
b) Formulation of the Global Common Platform of Knowledge: It is very much necessary to formulate a platform as well as foundation of knowledge so that the people should gain the know how of handling the waste as they could curb themselves in need of the hour.
c) Pervasive standardization of the coding: The universal standards for the color coding are very much significant for disseminating the bio medical waste. As it would provide assistance to the identification of the type and the characteristic of the waste. Proper training to the workers in the regard would also be very much helpful.
d) Technology Based Solutions: To deliver the high quality by products, it is very much necessary to emphasize the gasification, hydrothermal, and carbonization kind of techniques. Additionally, there should be investment of research into it.
e) Implementations of the principals from circular economy: To reduce the amount food wasted, re-utilization of the food waste and nutrient recycling are the major fundamentals of the circular economy in the food system and should be executed both at producer as well as consumer level. Furthermore, the circular-based models’ execution would assist in deviation of the accumulated waste from the disposal sites to the recyclable plants; however, it would also help in declining the generation of the waste in the initial place.
f) Propagation Regarding Circular economy: People are not knowing about the methodology behind the circular economy so it is the dire need to aware people regarding the concept of circular economy. The fabrication of the recyclable products would, for instance, bioplastic and biodegradable products should be highly promoted as well rewarded.
g) Moving from awareness to Action: Just by propagating the general public regrading the same would not help rather they should be highly motivated to implement all the schemes practically. Media campaigning would really assist in effecting the people’s behavior and would also assist in the transformation of their musings to converting the economy into a greener one.
Cyber crime regulation
The criminal abuse of information technology and the necessary legal response are issues that have been discussed ever since technology was introduced. Over the years, various solutions have been implemented at the national and regional levels. One of the reasons why the topic remains challenging is the constant technical development, as well as the changing methods and ways in which the offences are committed. The reliance on traditional theories, could not help combat cybercrime, and new laws and enforcement measures are required to address them. The Information Technology Act 2000 and amendments thereafter were not drafted with an eye on the level of involvement of computers that we see today in crimes. The legislation lacks when combating new age computer crimes.
DIFFERENCE OF CYBER LEGISLATION FROM CONVENTIONAL LAWS & LEGISLATIONS:
Computer crimes are ‘inherently different’ from other criminalities, and therefore they constitute a new category of criminal conduct. Nonetheless, the traditional laws were drafted long before the appearance of computers, and were drafted without any prediction of the involvement of computers. Therefore, the inadequacy of traditional criminal law in cyber context, the various reactions to computer crimes of individual states, to protect the financial interests, and to enhance the national security it is imperative to have/ to enact a new statute to keep up with the developments of technology and related crimes.
4 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS:
This brings to considering the four aspects:
Do we need cyber-specific legislation to regulate cybercrime?
If we do need this specific legislation, what adequate and systematic approaches can this legislation take to determine and regulate cybercrime?
What principles are sufficient and appropriate to determine jurisdiction over cybercrime?
What is the function and influence of the Convention on Cybercrime in shaping appropriate legislation and fostering international cooperation against cybercrime?
PROBLEMS FACED IN COMBATING CYBERCRIME
The Technology Era we are in and risks associated with it requires developing various strategies aimed at reducing the risk posed by cyber wrongdoing, and legislation is an indispensable part of their strategy. For effective legislation in tackling cyber wrongdoing, especially when it comes to combating cybercrime below mentioned issues/ problems needs attention.
The first problem faced by criminal law systems is that existing criminal offences fail to cover the newly emerged forms of cyber wrongdoing.
The second problem is that even where there are cyber-specific offences on the statute books, the transitional nature of cybercrime can blur their scope. ‘Criminal sanction is the most drastic of the State’s institutional tools for regulating the conduct of individuals,’ thus the scope of criminal law must intentionally be limited. However, criminal provisions with such ‘intentionally’ limited scope soon become outdated when faced with the rapid evolution of cybercrime. Developments in computers themselves can serve as an example. In the field of cybercrime legislation, the concept of the computer undeniably enjoys a central position;
The third aspect is that the transnational nature of cybercrime confounds traditional principles of jurisdiction. Not only is there an issue of which country has the authority to prosecute, but also the question of which country has priority to prosecute if more than one country claims jurisdiction. Stories are often reported in newspapers in which an actor from country A commits cybercrime in country B by hacking into a computer located in country C. In such a case, which country has the jurisdiction to prosecute the actor and bring them to trial?
Lastly, cybercrime also presents problems at the international level. Namely, cross-border cybercrime manifests the inconsistencies of laws and regulations across state boundaries. Cybercrime is national: making it an offence by nature something which national legislation should govern. However, it also has international consequences: a country’s position as regards cyber laws or lack of cyber laws can have a considerable impact on other countries.
Cybercrime often has an international dimension. For example, emails with illegal content, illegal financial transactions etc often pass through a number of countries during the transfer from sender to recipient, or illegal content is stored outside the country. Within cybercrime investigations, close cooperation between the countries involved is very important. The existing mutual legal assistance agreements (with some states) are based on formal, complex and often time-consuming procedures, and in addition often do not cover computer-specific investigations. Setting up procedures for quick response to incidents, as well as requests for international cooperation, is therefore vital.
EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION: (AT NATIONAL LEVEL AND INTERNATIONAL LEVEL)
1. Each State party shall consider analysing, in consultation with relevant experts, trends with respect to cyber crimes in its territory, as well as the circumstances in which such offences are committed.
2. The States parties shall consider disseminating statistics and analysis concerning cyber crimes with a view to developing, to the extent possible, common definitions, standards and methodologies, including best practices to prevent and combat such offences, and share them with one another and through international and regional organizations.
3. Each State party shall consider monitoring its policies and practical measures to combat cyber crimes, as well as assessing their effectiveness.
COOPERATION BETWEEN LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES:
In a National Context:
At times, several agencies are involved in dealing with a single cybercrime or incident and therefore it becomes imperative that a close cooperation and coordination is maintained between different agencies involved in such a case, with the aim of increasing the efficiency of law enforcement action to combat the cyber offences.
AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL
State parties shall cooperate closely with one another, acting according to their respective domestic legal and administrative systems, with the aim of increasing the efficiency of law enforcement action to combat the cyber offences. For example, State parties shall take effective measures aimed at:
a) strengthening or, where necessary, establishing channels of communication between their competent authorities, agencies and services to ensure secure and rapid exchange of information about all aspects of the offences covered by this Convention, including, if the States parties concerned deem it appropriate, links with other criminal activities;
b) cooperation with other States parties in conducting investigations in relation to the offences covered by this Convention for the purpose of establishing:
i) the identity, whereabouts, and activities of persons suspected of involvement in such offences or the whereabouts of other persons involved;
ii) the movement of proceeds of offences or property derived from the commission of such offences;
iii) the movement of property, instruments, equipment, or other means used or intended for use in the commission of such offences;
c) transferring items that were used to commit offences, including instruments of offence; items that were acquired as a result of offences or as a reward for them, or items that the offender received in exchange for items acquired in this way; and items that may serve as evidence in a criminal case;
The range of technology-enabled crime is always evolving, both as a function of technological change and in terms of social interaction with new technologies. With each preceding year, new trends in computer crime and cybercrime continue to be discovered in the 21st century. The first decade of the new millennium was dominated by new, highly sophisticated methods of committing crimes, such as “phishing”, and “botnet attacks”, and the emerging use of technology that is more difficult for law enforcement to handle and investigate, such as “voice-over-IP(VoIP) communication” and “cloud computing”. It is not only the methods that changed, but also the impact. As offenders became able to automate attacks, the number of offences increased. Responding to the growing challenges and nuances, it is high time that India enacts separate cybercrime legislation on high priority keeping in mind, at the national level, the limited coverage of traditional criminal provisions, the transitional nature of cybercrime, and the conflicts arising from jurisdictional issues are the main problems and At the international level, the inconsistencies among national legislations and non-existence of specific global treaty which need attention. The legislation should cover aspects related to newage cyber crimes, punishments, jurisdiction and cross border understanding on combating cybercrime for ensuring a safe, secure, resilient, vibrant, & trusted cyberspace.
(Khushbu Jain is advocate practicing in Supreme Court and Partner of law firm Ark Legal)
Differential pricing of products in India: An analysis
The Department of Legal Metrology (DLM), Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) are the primary regulatory authorities of domestic/foreign packaged, pre-packaged, or food items in India.
Maximum Retail Price (MRP) is a concept pertaining to sale/retail of products in specific markets, such as that of India, where merchandise is transferred from the manufacturer to the retailer with the highest retail price printed on the packaged/pre-packaged product.
The Department of Legal Metrology (DLM), Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) are the primary regulatory authorities of domestic/foreign packaged, pre-packaged, or food items in India. They set the parameters these products shall adhere to and are responsible for its compliance through manufacturers and relevant entities.
The labelling requirements for packaged commodities in India are governed by the aforementioned authorities under the following legislations/rules/regulations:
i. The Legal Metrology Act (LMA), 2009;
ii. The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules (LMPCR), 2011;
iii. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006; and
iv. Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011.
However, the labelling requirements in India vary in different states, such as certain states require specifying the statutory warning in the local language, etc., including differential requirements for retail and wholesale packages.
2. Dual Pricing Regulations under LMA / LMPCR
A. LMA, 2009 supersedes SWM Act, 1976
The LMA, 2009 came into effect from 1st April, 2011, and was introduced to replace the Standards of Weights and Measures Act (SWM), 1976 with the purpose of establishing and enforcing standards of weights and measures or incidental aspects in India. A vital branch of this Act is the LMPCR, 2011 that deal with packaged goods and provide inter alia the method in which declarations are to be made on a product in compliance of its provisions.
Section 3 of the LMA, 2009 provides for its overriding effect on any other law in force at the relevant time, thereby effectively superseding the SWM, 1976. In this regard, the Authority for Advance Rulings has further, in the case of M/s Xerox India Ltd. v. The Commissioner of Customs, reiterated that “the Standards of Weight and Measures Act, 1976 was being repealed and substituted by the Legal Metrology Act, 2009 with effect from 1st March, 2011”.
However, it has to be noted here that the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 shall override the provisions of the LMPCR, 2016 in respect of the standard quantity and/or the retail price of any essential commodity.
B. Advisories issued in respect of dual pricing regulations in consonance with the LMA/LMPCR
Furthermore, in the interest of the consumers, an advisory was issued to the following entities:
The Controllers of Legal Metrology of all States/UTs to enforce provisions related to overcharging and dual MRP; and
To all State Governments to ensure all declarations, including MRP, on all medical devices, however, only the manufacturer/importer/packer has the right to decide the MRP and not the retail seller.
3. Dual / differential pricing via various locations/channels
A. Instances where Differential/Dual-pricing was prohibited:
i. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs proposed an amendment to the LMA in 2017 and added Section 18(2A), which strictly prohibited the manufacturers/packers/importers to declare different prices on identical pre-packaged commodities. It was found to be in consonance with Section 2(1)(c) of the Act, wherein, a consumer could report charges on products that are in excess of those fixed by law or displayed on the goods, i.e. the MRP.
ii. Further, Explanation (2) to Section 4A of the Central Excise Duty Act, 1944 holds differential retail pricing to be valid. However, the case of Solidaire India Ltd. v. Fairgrowth Financial Services effectively concurred the prohibition of dual-pricing while holding that “for all those acts which begin with a non-obstante clause are special acts… In the event of a conflict, the LMA, 2017 shall prevail.”
iii. The Consumer Forum, in a complaint against Pepsi Co filed by five students of NLSIU through their Legal Aid Cell, held in their order dated 1st April, 2011 that “differential pricing amounts to unfair practice,.. and is bad in law”. The forum reiterated that the printing of different MRPs for the same material without any modification in its contents/quantity by a manufacturer not only is an unfair trade practice but also amounts to deficiency in service thereby further providing the retailers to gain extravagant profits and curtailing the customer’s right to an informed choice.
B. Instances where dual-pricing was permitted
While there is no legal proposition to have different MRPs for the same product, there is no explicit prohibition to it under the LMA/LMPCR as well. The 2017 amendment to the LMA, no doubt, prohibits dual pricing, however, the same has been enforced in the light of various exit gates, such as, conformity with law, larger national interest, delivery of services, comfortable environment, etc. Other sufficient grounds for upholding the validity of dual-pricing have been evolved by the Courts of India through a series of judgments.
The controversial evolution of the law relating to dual-pricing can be seen as follows:
i. In Pallavi Refractories v. Singhreni Colleries (prior to the enactment of the LMA, 2009), dual-pricing was held to be in accordance with law, on the grounds of serving ‘larger public interest’.
ii. In Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages v. Siddarth Manchanda & Ors., it was observed that “the guilty party took the advantage of the said law, and hence justified its acts of selling the same commodity, under different MRPs, on the pretext that, Section 18(1) of Legal Metrology Act, 2009, mandated just the mention of MRP. Nowhere, was this mentioned that there cannot be a dual fixation of price on the commodity. The company here, justifies its very act of selling its Diet Coke Cane, and Rs. 60/- in Wave Cinema, which was available just for Rs.30/- at Easy Day. Holding that under LM rules of 2009, the only requirement was to have the MRP printed on every pre-packaged commodity, it was not at all prohibited to declare more than M.R.P. for the same Coca Cola Can, to be sold at different places, for different class of consumers. Hence, there was no unfair practice indulged, the suit being dismissed”.
iii. The Supreme Court of India, in a case has upheld dual pricing in hotels and restaurants. The Court relied on the rationale that a consumer prima facie enters the premises of hotels and restaurants, obviously not to purchase a commodity like a water bottle, but to enjoy the ambience, the environment of the said enterprise. Also, even if the consumer ends up buying a water bottle, it is not merely a sale of good, instead it is a combined sale of good and sale of service, which basically remains outside the scope of Legal Metrology Act, 2017.
iv. In pursuance of the above principle laid down by the Supreme Court, the Consumer Forum in the case of Vijay Gopal v. KFC Restaurants observed that:
“In view of the law laid down by the Supreme Court that there can be dual-pricing of the very same product to be sold at different outlets, the sale of water bottle and Frooti to the complainant for Rs.40 and s. 70 at KFC at Himayat Nagar branch as against Rs.20 and Rs. 35 sold in the general market cannot be said to be illegal”.
However, the Department of Legal Metrology, in pursuance of the forum’s order, clarified that ‘dual-pricing was permissible only in restaurants’, and that they considered food outlets in multiplexes as shops and not restaurants, wherefore, dual-pricing by shops which sell food items in multiplexes was not permissible.
Differential / Dual Pricing via E-commerce companies/websites
The retailers often via their online channels offer the goods at a discounted rate, as compared to the offline route. This may be done presuming that there might be a condition when, an online sale saves various costs of marketing and transportation, which have to be paid in an offline sale. Further, while dealing with different set of customers and durations of time, a commodity priced at Rs. X, may be sold to an affluent customer in summer, but the same price is reduced to Rs. X-20%, when no longer that affluent customer generates a demand in winter. Hence, a stock clearance sale is a perfect example to compliment this.
Regulatory Statutes/Rules and Compliances:
i. E-commerce has been brought under the ambit of the LMPCR vide its amendment rules dated 23rd June, 2017. The declarations under Rule 6(1) of the LMPCR have been made mandatory for all e-commerce websites to be made, except for the date of manufacture, on the digital and electronic media used for e-commerce transactions.
i. The responsibility of correctness of such declarations has been vested with the manufacturer, seller, dealer or importer and not on the e-commerce entity.
iii. A specific mention has been made in the rules that no person shall declare different MRPs (dual-MRP) on an identical pre-packaged commodity for different outlets.
iv. Among other declarations, e-commerce websites were mandatorily required to display the MRP inclusive of all taxes (only one MRP in accordance with the LMPCR, 2017).
The Rules shift the responsibility of compliance from the e-commerce entity to manufacturers and sellers, if the e-commerce entity fulfills the following conditions:
The function of the e-commerce entity is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information made available by the manufacturer or seller or dealer or importer is transmitted or temporarily stored or hosted;
The entity does not initiate the transmission or select the receiver of the transmission, or select or modify the information contained in the transmission; or
The entity observes due diligence while discharging its duty as an intermediary under the Information Technology Act, 2000, and also observes such other guidelines as the federal government may prescribe.
In Travel Agents Association of India v. Lufthansa German Airlines & Ors., the court completely upheld the dual pricing of the tickets, via the different channels, owing to the fact, that online sale doesn’t impose any additional charges of advertising and marketing, whereas the sale of tickets via agents, led to incurring of additional costs by the company, like payment of commission, advertising and marketing, the burden of which, ultimately fell on the shoulders of the consumer. The company was also free to decide, as to what channel of sale, it wanted to opt for.
Pricing & Labelling Regulations under FSSA, 2006
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is an autonomous body established under the Ministry of Health & Welfare, Government of India. It was constituted under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006, which is a consolidating statute in relation to food safety and regulation in India, and is responsible for the protection and promotion of public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety.
The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011 (LMPCR) were prescribed in order to regulate pre-packaged commodities. Under the said rules, pre-packaged commodities are required to comply with certain mandatory labeling requirements with respect to net quantity, MRP and Customer care information. With a view to encourage ease of business operations, amendments in packaged commodity rules were further notified in 2017, harmonizing the labeling provisions related to Food products with the Regulations as laid down under the Food Safety & Standard Regulations (FSSR), 2017.
Registration, Licensing and Labelling under FSSA:
Registration and Licensing
Section 31(1) & (2) of the FSSA mandates (Navneet Jindal v. Akash Restaurants and Foods) the licensing/registration of every Food Business Operator with the FSSAI. The procedure and requirements of such licensing/registration is regulated by the Food Safety & Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations, 2011. A person not following this rule could be punished with imprisonment of 6 months or a penalty of upto Rs. 5 lacks.
Registration is meant for petty food manufacturers/businesses that include petty retailers, hawkers, itinerant vendors, a temporary stall holder, or a small/cottage scale industry with an annual turnover of upto Rs. 12 Lakhs, beyond which a license is to be acquired, depending on the size of the business operation.
B. Labelling Guidelines
Certain information pertaining to the pre-packaged food is mandatorily to be mentioned on the product label, including for multi-piece packages, such as the list of ingredients; additives; manufacturer’s details; date of manufacture and expiration; etc. In addition to these labelling guidelines, food products falling under the category of health supplements, Nutraceuticals, food for special dietary use, food for special medical purpose, functional food and novel food are also required to comply with FSSAI (Health Supplements, Nutraceuticals, Food for Special Dietary Use, Food for Special Medical Purpose, Functional Food and Novel Food) Regulations, 2016.
Although the interplay between the FSSA and Legal Metrology Act is smooth, some rules under LMPCR are not applicable to certain packages even if they satisfy all other criteria. These conditions are:
The package is sold by weight or measure and amounts to less than 10 ml or 10 grams (provided the product is not tobacco);
Package contains fast food items and is packed by hotels/restaurant/similar body;
Contains scheduled drugs and non-scheduled drugs covered by the Drugs (Price Control) Order, 1995;
Agricultural farm produce in packages above 50 kgs; or
A thread which is sold in the form of the coil to handloom weavers.
Moreover, the declarations required to me made under the LMPCR, in case of food items, have been aligned with those to be made under FSSAI, except for those three required under Legal Metrology viz. MRP, Net-quantity, and Consumer Care details.
Dual Pricing/MRP under FSSAI
In the case of Navneet Jindal v. Akash Restaurants and Foods, the Court explicitly declared dual/excess pricing to be illegal and licensing to be mandatory. In this regard, it observed that“the intention of legislature to enact the FSSA 2006 and the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011..Rule 18(2) makes it very clear that no retail dealer or any other person including manufacturer, packer, importer and whole-sale dealer shall make any sale of any commodity in packed form at a price exceeding the retail sale price thereof.” Thereby, since the eateries sold at a mall by the respondents in that case weren’t a hotel/restaurant, it was concurred that no commodity could be sold at a price exceeding the MRP or retail sale price, as defined under Rule 2(m) of the LMPCR, 2011, and that the respondents could not unethically thus derive the special benefits of service provided by restaurants. Printing of dual MRPs was thus deemed to be an unfair trade practice.
In the opinion of the Commission, the intention of the legislature from the very inception was to prohibit dual pricing and thereby to restrict pricing practices beyond the prescribed MRP. This intention deeply clarified by the amendment made in the Rules vide [no. GSR 629 (E) dated 23.06.2017 w.e.f. 01.01.2018] vide which Rule (2-A) as under:-
Unless otherwise specifically provided under any other law, no manufacturer or packer or importer shall declare different maximum retail prices on an identical pre-packaged commodity by adopting restrictive trade practices or unfair trade practices as defined under clause (nnn) or clause (r) of sub-section (1) of Section 2 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (68 of 1986). “
Moreover, a direction was issued by the Court to ensure that no food business is being run without a license under the provisions of Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses), Regulations, 2011 and in case it is found that there is violation of the FSSA 2006 and Regulations, an appropriate action shall be taken under intimation to the Commission.
Herein, this article was sought to provide answers to a prominent issue of whether differential/dual pricing is a valid practice in furtherance of the Legal Metrology Act, 2009 and the Rules pertinent to it. It may be inferred from the above information and authorities that dual-pricing has neither been specifically prohibited nor held to be valid.
Identical commodities cannot be tagged with differential pricing at various locations, except when specifically permitted via the above judgments. Further, the registration of petty businesses has been mandated under the FSSA, 2006 and the rules corresponding to it, whereas a license is to be obtained depending upon the size of the business.
Dual pricing regulations have evolved through the LMPCR and various judgments, which is indicative of the fact that the intention of the legislature was to put a ban on dual pricing so as to protect the interests of the consumers. However, certain exemptions have been given to service providers such as restaurants and hotels via various judicial forums.
Finally, while noting that single-brand retailers have been statutorily exempted from making such declarations pertaining to MRPs, relying on the fundamental concept of MRP, e-commerce companies or retailers may charge any price which is not in excess of the declared MRP on the said packaged commodity.
AMENDMENT: UCC TO BE CHANGED FROM DPSP TO FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT
No one in our country, our political leaders or individuals, have ever concentrated their efforts towards defining the Uniform Civil Code, All we know is that some common law covering issues relating to marriage, succession and property is called Uniform Civil Code but what these laws would be is anyone’s guess. Now, what does our Constitution say about Uniform Civil Code? In article 44, our constitution clearly specifies the UCC: “The State shall endeavor to secure the citizen a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India” The constitution is thus, very clear that unless a uniform civil code is followed, integration cannot be imbibed. However, the fact is that it is only a “directives principle” laid down in the constitution and as Article 37 of the Constitution itself makes clear, the directive principles “shall not be enforceable by any court” Nevertheless, they are “fundamental in the governance of the country”. This shows that although our constitution itself believes that a Uniform Civil Code should be implemented in some manner, it does not make this implementation mandatory and hence, it is time that an amendment should be made making UCC a mandatory action to be taken by the country.
WHY IS UCC IMPORTANT?
The human rights of women in India have always been associated with the personal laws which involve social institutions like marriage and family; Indeed, it is the personal laws which lay down the legal contours of the status of women in these social institutions. UCC
as envisaged under our Indian Constitution is time and again hailed to be the miraculous cure for all the social problems faced by the Indian women which has recently been reiterated in the case of Shayara Bano, wherein a 35 year old Muslim woman calls to ban the practice of triple talaq and declare it as unconstitutional. The practices of polygamy and halala have also been brought under the judicial scanner, This has once again raised the question that whether UCC will be the magic solution in weeding out such practices which are being considered as oppressive and anti-women not only by people belonging to other religion but even group of people belonging to the same religion?
The principle of UCC essentially involves the question of secularism. Secularism is a principle which needs to be analysed at great length. However, due to the different family laws, they are treated differently based on their religion. In my opinion, to some extent, this goes against the underlying principles of the Indian Constitution, also Due to the various family laws, there is an ambiguity amongst people, which leads to differentiation between them on the basis of their religion. Having a uniform civil code (UCC) will mean that all these different laws will be replaced by a new law which will be applicable for all, irrespective of their religion.
The country has already suffered a lot in the absence of a uniform code for all. It is rather a pity that the longest and most elaborately written constitution in the history of mankind, the Indian constitution is responsible for creation of erosion in society. The society has been fragmented in the name of religions, sects and sex and even at present, in India, there are different laws governing rights related to personal matters or laws like marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance for different communities. The laws governing inheritance or divorce among Hindus are thus, very different from those pertaining to Muslims or Christians and so on; In India, most family law is determined by the religion of the parties concerned Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists come under Hindu law, whereas Muslims and Christians have their own laws. Further, The various divorce laws prevalent in India at present are also inexplicable and indifferent on some matter of dissent of marriage such as—Parsi law requires a three year period of separation and it could serve as a ground both for judicial separation or divorce, while Indian Divorce Act provides for a period of two year separation and makes it a ground for judicial separation only and it is to say that each law suffers from some deficiencies and identical matters show differences. Also, Only Hindus can adopt a child in the sense of affiliating him or her legally and confer on the child rights of property Others cannot adopt even if they want to do so. They have to take recourse to the Guardian and Wards Act, but guardianship over a child falls far short of conferring the legal status of a son on the ward.
National identity will be more secure and human resources much better utilised. It will add to the country’s growth and development; Indian Divorce Act, Christian Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act , Shariat Act are unnecessary complications. A Uniform Civil Code embodies justice and there should be no compromise on it. One nation should have one civil code. It is now 70 years since the Constitution came into force. It is high time there was a decisive step towards a common civil code. If not now, then when?
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