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The price of a bag: Too low to argue or too high against a right?

A burning issue that has gathered attention in the past few years in the consumer rights’ litigation is that of ‘unfair trade practices’. According to Section 2(47) of the COPRA 2019 (which is pari materia to definition of unfair trade practices in COPRA 1986), the term ‘unfair trade practices’ means ‘a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or for the provision of any service, adopts any unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice including any of the following practices’. The legislation mentions several practices as unfair trade practices, one of which is of our concern in this article.

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INTRODUCTION C onsumer rights have been a prominent issue of discussion since 1991. In 1991, the New Economic Policy, also known as the Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization Policy, was introduced. This policy brought with itself a wider range of products and a competitive market structure, benefiting the end-user with lowest price and maximum quality. It wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that the concept of ‘caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware) was turned to ‘caveat venditor’ (let the seller beware).

With the increase in consumer rights litigation, there was a pressing need to amend laws and increase awareness around consumer rights amongst the common public. To ensure this, several programs were run and the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (“COPRA 2019”) was put in place.

A burning issue that has gathered attention in the past few years in the consumer rights’ litigation is that of ‘unfair trade practices’. According to Section 2(47) of the COPRA 2019 (which is pari materia to definition of unfair trade practices in COPRA 1986), the term ‘unfair trade practices’ means “a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or for the provision of any service, adopts any unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice including any of the following practices”. The legislation mentions several practices as unfair trade practices, one of which is of our concern in this article.

The definition of unfair trade practices includes an act which “materially misleads the public concerning the price at which a product or like products or goods or services, have been or are, ordinarily sold or provided, and, for this purpose, a representation as to price shall be deemed to refer to the price at which the product or goods or services has or have been sold by sellers or provided by suppliers generally in the relevant market unless it is clearly specified to be the price at which the product has been sold or services have been provided by the person by whom or on whose behalf the representation is made…”

A new debate that has arisen in the arena of unfair trade practices is that of charging the consumers for the shopping bag provided by the retailer in stores. While this may sound like a small issue, considering that a bag provided by the retailers/stores cost somewhere around Rs. 3/- to Rs. 5/-, however, the matter doesn’t revolve around the cost. Rather, it circles the idea of consumer awareness and consumer rights.

This matter has been raised at several instances by consumers before several competent authorities, like District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“DCDRC”), State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“SCDRC”) and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“NCDRC”).

JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS

In the celebrated case of Big Bazaar (Future Retail Ltd.) v. Ashok Kumar [2020 SCC OnLine NCDRC 495], a revision petition was filed under Section 58(1)(b) of the COPRA 2019. In the present case, the consumer was charged for the carry bag without giving him prior notice or intimation of the cost and thus, he was given no chance to make a choice.

 In this case, the bench of Dinesh Singh (Presiding Member) said that “It also cannot be that carry bags of (undisclosed) specifications and of price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co. are so forced on the consumer.

Such notice or information at the time of making payment not only causes embarrassment and harassment to the consumer and burdens him with additional cost but also affects his unfettered right to make an informed choice of patronizing or not patronizing a particular outlet at the initial stage itself and before making his selection of goods for purchase.”

The Commission observed that “…arbitrarily and highhandedly deviating from its past practice, deviating from the normal, not giving adequate prominent prior notice or information to the consumer before he makes his choice of patronizing the retail outlet, and before he makes his selection for purchase, imposing the additional cost of ‘carry bags’ at the time of making payment, after the selection has been made, forcing carry bags without disclosing their salient specifications at price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co., putting the consumer to embarrassment and harassment, burdening the consumer with additional cost, in such way and manner, is decidedly unfair and deceptive.”

In a nutshell, the Commission clearly expressed that, “Consumer has the right to know, before he exercises his choice to patronize a particular retail outlet, and before he makes his selection of goods for purchase, that additional cost will be charged for carry bags, and also the right to know the salient specifications and price of the carry bags.”

In another order in case of Big Bazaar (Future Retail Ltd.) and Ors. v. Somanshu Sharma and Ors. [MANU/SF/0025/2020] by the Chandigarh DRC, the Commission heard the question of charging amount for carry bag. In the case of], the retailer took the refuge of Rule 10 of the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 which states that “Explicit pricing of carry bags.- No carry bags shall be made available free of cost by retailers to consumers. The concerned municipal authority may by notification determine the minimum price for carry bags depending upon their quality and size which covers their material and waste management costs in order to encourage their re-use so as to minimize plastic waste generation.”

In response to this, the Commission observed that the purpose behind the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 is to reduce the usage of plastic in order to save the environment. The commission cited Section 36(5) of the Sale of Goods Act, 1930 and said that it was the duty of the seller to provide the goods to the buyer in a deliverable state and shall be responsible to bear any costs involved in the same. Thus, it is the responsibility of the seller to provide the goods in deliverable state without levying additional cost on the consumer.

Furthermore, the policy of the retailer was that the customer cannot carry their own bags having goods/items bought from other shops. According to the commission, this act of not allowing the customer to bring their own carry bags equated to deficiency in service and unfair trade practice.

In the case of Dinesh Parshad Raturi v. Bata India Limited [MANU/ SF/0005/2019], the retailer charged the customer a sum of Rs. 3/- for the carry bag and claimed before the court that it was done in an attempt to extend environmental safety. Furthermore, the bag bore the logo of the company along with its tagline. In this case, the Chandigarh SCDRC ruled against Bata India Ltd. by stating that the Respondent used the complainant as an advertising agent since the bag had the particulars of the Respondent company, and that such practice is not permissible.

The commission also observed that, “6. Per this evidence brought on record, we record a firm finding that there is unfair trade practice on the part of Opposite Party in compelling the complainant to purchase the carry bag worth Rs. 3/- and if the Opposite Party is a environmental activist, he should have given the same to the complainant free of cost. It was for gain of OP. By employing unfair trade practice, OP is minting lot of money from all customers.”

Another case whereby a similar question was dealt with is Baglekar Akash Kumar vs. More Megastore Retail Limited [MANU/ OT/0005/2021], wherein District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission-II, Hyderabad stated in clear words that a consumer has the right to know any additional cost payable by him for carry bag and the price of the same before he exercises his choice of buying goods from the said retailer. Additionally, if the customer is made to buy a carry bag bearing the retailer’s logo, without prior notice of patronization and price of carry bag, it is equivalent to unfair trade practices as mentioned under Section 2(47) of the COPRA 2019.

The Commission also stated, while ruling against the retailer, that “22. … the opposite party is selling the plastic bags having their Company Logo due to which Acts of them, they are using the complainants as tool of their Advertisement that leads to adoption of un-fair-trade practice apart from deceptive nature of services and committal of spurious acts that should be highly objectionable…”

CONCLUSION

In light of the law and the above-mentioned judgments, it can be construed that the consumer has a right to receive the goods in a deliverable condition from the retailer and if any cost is involved for the purchase of the carry bag, then it is the duty of the retailer to give the consumer prior notice of the same. Additionally, the retailer cannot charge the consumer for a carry bag bearing the name and/or logo of the retailer, as it has been noted in several judgments that the same would amount of advertising at the cost of the consumer.

If the retailer indulges in any of the above acts, then such act would be termed as an unfair trade practice under the COPRA 2019. Through these judgements, the consumer forums have given a wider definition of unfair trade practices. While this expansion of the scope will certainly aid the consumers in realizing their rights, the same has been taken in bad taste by the retailers.

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Analysing WhatsApp privacy policy through the lens of Competition Law

In January this year, WhatsApp announced its revised privacy policy that would impact the user interactions with business accounts, including those which may be using Facebook’s hosting services. Will this be in contravention of abuse of dominance under Section 4 of the Competition Act?

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WhatsApp, in January 2021 announced its revised privacy policy which would impact the user interactions with business accounts, including those which may be using Facebook’s hosting services. The text of the notification reported in the Media read as follows:

WhatsApp is updating its terms and privacy policy. Key updates include more information about:

WhatsApp’s service and how we process your data.

How businesses can use Facebook-hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats.

How we partner with Facebook to offer integrations across the Facebook Company Products

By tapping AGREE, you accept the new terms and privacy policy, which take effect on February 8, 2021. After this date, you will need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account and would like more information.

This updated privacy policy presented users with the option of either mandatorily accept the privacy policy of greater data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook in its entirety or being unable to use the platform after 15th May 2021. This had arisen a huge debate throughout the world concerning protection of the privacy of individuals as well as the abuse of data sharing by the technologically giant companies.

WhatsApp on January 13 2021 published a blog post as a response and clarified through it that the updated privacy policy did not apply to personal chats or communications i.e. with friends, families, or relatives, but applied only to communications with business accounts via the WhatsApp platform. According to the blog, “But whether you communicate with a business by phone, email, or WhatsApp, it can see what you’re saying and may use that information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook.”

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) relying on these media reports and the concern of potential harm to the competition framework in the country, decided to take suo moto cognizance of the matter In Re: Updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for WhatsApp Users, and seek a response from both WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook about the said privacy update. Similar issue was discussed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, however, in this article, I shall restrict the analysis only from the angle of Competition Law and discuss the order of the Competition Commission of India which held WhatsApp and Facebook prima facie in violation of abuse of dominance under Sec 4 of the Competition Act, 2002 and hence, ordered the DG (Director General) investigation into the said matter.

PAST ENQUIRIES

In 2016, WhatsApp had announced similar privacy and data sharing policy with Facebook, wherein WhatsApp would share some user data with Facebook for several purposes like target advertising. Targeted advertising is a form of online advertising that focuses on the specific traits, interests, and preferences of a consumer. Advertisers discover this information by tracking the activity of the user or collecting specific data from the user on the Internet. This privacy policy was challenged before the Competition Commission of India In Re: Shri Vinod Kumar Gupta v. WhatsApp Inc. Case No. 99 of 2016, (hereinafter referred as Vinod Gupta case) for alleged abuse of dominance of WhatsApp in the relevant market for instant messaging services using consumer communication apps through smartphones in India under Sec 4 of the Competition Act. However, the Commission then had held in favour of WhatsApp on the grounds that it had provided its users the option of opting out from the sharing of user account information with Facebook within 30 days of agreeing to the updated privacy policy. The Commission held that, “We are therefore, of the view that it is always open to the existing users of “WhatsApp” who do not want their information to be shared with “Facebook” to opt for deletion of their account…….”

Additionally, in 2020, WhatsApp was again brought before the CCI In Re: Harshita Chawal v. WhatsApp Inc. Case No. 15 of 2020, (Hereinafter referred to as the Harshita Chawla Case) for anti-competitive conduct by integrating its payment option (WhatsApp Pay) into its user application. The Commission even then had held in favour of WhatsApp on the grounds that mere installation of WhatsApp messenger does not coerce the user to use WhatsApp Pay exclusively or to influence the consumer choice implicitly in any other manner. The Commission in this case did not discuss the allegations of data sharing with Facebook, as there was a lack of specific information and evidence provided by the Informant.

The present order

The general approach of the CCI is that before passing the order of investigation to the DG under Sec 26(1) of the Competition Act, the CCI, in most cases, relies on the information produced by the Informant in forming a prima facie opinion. In its previous orders, the CCI relied on the information provided by the informant, the market analysis, statistics, and market data while deciding in favour of WhatsApp, this time it simply relied on media reports and took a suo moto cognizance of the matter. This is, however not the first time that the CCI has taken a suo moto cognizance of contravention of the competition law. In Re: Alleged anti-competitive conduct by Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL) in implementing discount control policy vis-à-vis dealers, Suo Moto Case No. 01 of 2019, wherein it had received an anonymous mail and on that basis, the CCI took suo moto cognizance of the matter against Maruti Suzuki. This demonstrates the evolving approach of the CCI while taking up matters by giving more importance to harm to the competition framework rather than the procedural requirements.

In the present matter, while presenting its contentions, WhatsApp relied on the previous approach of the CCI in its decisional practice in the Harshita Chawla Case, Vinod Kumar Case, and also in the case of XYZ v. Alphabet Inc. Case No. 07 of 2020, and contended that allegations against data sharing, data localizations cannot be looked in under the Competition Law. However, in this order, the CCI observed that in digital markets, unreasonable data collection and sharing thereof may grant competitive advantage to the dominant players and may result in exploitative as well as exclusionary effects, which is a subject matter of examination under competition law. This shows the evolving approach of the CCI while taking up matters related to the digital economy wherein consumer data is the most important consideration and can severely impact the dominance of an enterprise and its conduct in the market. This is also in consonance with the global decisional practices under antitrust laws wherein the competition regulators across the globe are considering the non-price competition factors involved in the dominant conduct of the enterprise in the market. The European Commission in Microsoft/LinkedIn merger case, Case Comp/ M.8124, had noted that although privacy concerns fell under data protection laws, it could be seen as a non-price competition factor in merger control assessments to the extent that consumers saw it as a significant factor in the quality of the services offered.

WhatsApp also contended that the privacy policy update has not been implemented yet and has been postponed to 15th May, 2021, hence, the CCI taking up the matter is premature. The CCI observed that the conduct has already taken place and the deadline of 15th May 2021 is just for acceptance to the updated terms. Sec 33 of the Competition Act also empowers the commission to intervene in the acts which are in contravention of Sec 3,4, or 6 of the Competition Act, if such acts are about to be committed. The CCI in its interim order In Re: Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) v. Make My Trip India Pvt. Ltd. (MMT) and others, Case No. 14 of 2019 and Case No. 01 of 2020, had observed, that in digital markets which have a winner takes all potential, the likely outcome of any impugned conduct cannot be ignored till the conduct takes place in actual. Early redressal of such conduct and eliminating the same at its earliest is of utmost importance. The CCI also observed that, “Network effects coupled with even small actions by the platforms may exclude and marginalize rivals, and further strengthen these effects that may be difficult to dilute at a later stage. Any remedy at that stage will be too little and too late as the suppliers’ side of the market, i.e. the franchisee service providers, can be potentially eliminated due to the alleged anticompetitive conduct.” Hence, in digital markets, a slightly different approach than traditional markets is required and the conduct should be analyzed on its merits and its potential harm to the competition.

ANALYSIS

The CCI in this order has touched upon many aspects of abuse of dominance in the digital markets. Digital markets involve structural risks such as network effects, walled gardens, locked-in effects, increased switching costs to alternate platforms, etc. CCI held WhatsApp to be dominant in the relevant market for OTT messaging apps through smartphones in India, which was arrived on the basis of its previous orders in the Harshita Chawla and Vinod Sharma Case. This new privacy policy of WhatsApp removed the option of “opt-out” to the users which it provided in the Vinod Sharma Case and hence, this approach of “take it or leave” leaves no option for the users but to mandatorily accept the new policy to continue using the services of WhatsApp. WhatsApp is in the position to mandate such policies due to the network effects it has acquired. A communication network/platform gets more valuable as more users join it, thereby benefiting from network effects. Hence, the popularity or the value of WhatsApp for a user increases even more as his/her friends, family, and relatives register on the network. This has helped WhatsApp to strengthen its position and limit its substitutability with other similar platforms. The users tend to get locked-in in the ecosystem with less incentive to switch to any alternate network.

According to the Working Paper of the University of Cambridge on Big data for Big Business (March, 2014), the lock-in effect refers to a situation where consumers become dependent on a single manufacturer or supplier for a specific service and cannot move to another without substantial costs. Lock-in trends impact the level of competition in an industry, especially those in which network effects exist. If products are incompatible, switching costs, and network effects bind customers to vendors, locking-in not only customers but also markets to early choices. Even when efficient options are available, customers find themselves hindered by lock-in, giving vendors lucrative ex-post market power over the same buyer.

The CCI also analyzed the presence of such network effects from the fact that despite downloads of the rival apps like Signal and Telegram increased after WhatsApp announced its privacy policy, the user base of WhatsApp did not suffer any significant impact. Hence, on these lines and aspects, the CCI ordered a DG investigation against WhatsApp and Facebook for the alleged abuse of dominance under Sec 4 of the Competition Act.

CONCLUSION

As it was recently said by the CCI Chairperson Ashok Kumar Gupta that, “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work for digital markets and a nuanced assessment of cases based on facts is the need of the hour”. This order of the CCI opens up a new dimension for adjudication the matters that involve big data and the big data companies. Today, though the users might feel that they are able to use the tech services for free, but in this era of digital markets, nothing comes for free. These tech giants are able to access the data of the users and adapt their policies in consonance with such user data. The user data acts like one of the most crucial asset of these tech giant companies. In the words of one former Amazon employee who worked on the Prime team, “It was never about the US$ 79, it was really about changing people’s mentality so they wouldn’t shop anywhere else. (CCI Report on Market Study on the Telecom Sector in India, 20.01.2021). Hence, it becomes evident that the tech giant companies are constantly involved in capturing the user’s time, attention, and data and leaves them with almost no incentive to leave the platform. For example, once a user registers himself/herself on Amazon, the user can access Amazon Prime for visual entertainment, Amazon Kindle for reading, Amazon Music for music, Online Shopping, etc. and finally, there remains no incentive for the user to go anywhere else for availing these services.

As rightly observed by the CCI, cross-linking and integration of user data can further strengthen data advantage besides safeguarding and reinforcing the market power of dominant firms. Finally, the CCI observed that, for Facebook, the processing of data collected from WhatsApp can be a means to supplement the consumer profiling that it does through direct data collection on its platform, by allowing it to track users and their communication behaviour across a vast number of locations and devices outside the Facebook platform. Therefore, the impugned data sharing provision may have exclusionary effects also in the display advertising market which has the potential to undermine the competitive process and creates further barriers to market entry besides leveraging, in violation of the provisions of Section 4(2)(c) and (e) of the Act.

Though this order does not conclude and hold WhatsApp and Facebook in contravention of abuse of dominance under Sec 4 of the Competition Act, it definitely sets the stage for an evolution in the competition analysis framework in India.

This updated privacy policy presented users with the option of either mandatorily accept the privacy policy of greater data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook in its entirety or being unable to use the platform after 15th May 2021. This had arisen a huge debate throughout the world concerning protection of the privacy of individuals as well as the abuse of data sharing by the technologically giant companies.

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ADDITIONAL DISTRICT JUDGE HAS JURISDICTION TO ENTERTAIN A PETITION FILED UNDER SECTION 34 OF ARBITRATION AND CONCILIATION ACT: KERALA HC

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While setting all the speculation to rest on whether an Additional District Judge has jurisdiction under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 or not, the Kerala High Court has just recently on 9 April 2021 in a latest, learned, laudable and landmark judgment titled Kasim VK vs M Ashraf in Arb.A.No. 37 of 2020 held in no uncertain terms that an Additional District Judge has jurisdiction to entertain a petition filed under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. The two Judge Bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Justice CT Ravikumar and Justice K Haripal observed that, “Principal District Judge can only be considered first among equals and the Additional District Judge is in no way considered to be inferior to the Principal District Judge.” The Kerala High Court observed thus while dismissing an Arbitration Appeal.

To start with, Justice K Haripal who has authored this judgment for himself and Justice CT Ravikumar sets the ball rolling by first and foremost pointing out in para 1 that, “Whether an Additional District Court has jurisdiction to entertain a petition touching the matters falling under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act; Can a party to an arbitration dispute challenge the jurisdiction of the Arbitrator for the first time before the court in a petition filed under Section 34 of the Act, are the two questions posed for consideration in this appeal.”

As we see, the Bench then puts forth in para 2 that, “This is an appeal preferred under Section 37 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, hereinafter referred to as the Act, challenging the correctness of the order of the III Additional District Judge, Kozhikode in OP(Arbitration) No.270/2018. That was a petition filed by the appellant before the District Court, under Section 34 of the Act seeking to set aside the award of the Arbitrator, dated 29.09.2018.”

While elaborating on the facts of the case, the Bench then envisages in para 3 that, “It is the common case that the appellant and the respondent were partners in M/s.Shalimar Jewellery, a partnership concern dealing in the sale of gold. The partnership agreement was executed on 28.10.2013. Before the execution of that agreement, there were three partners in the firm, the appellant, the respondent and one V.K. Moidu. When Moidu chose to move out, the agreement dated 28.10.2013 was brought in existence. During the course of business the appellant and the respondent could not move on and thus, by a lawyer notice, the respondent notified the appellant his intention to dissolve the partnership. Thus he informed that the partnership stood dissolved with effect from 01.05.2015. In the matter of settlement of accounts the partners could not reach a consensus and that led to the appointment of two Arbitrators at the instance of the parties. The appellant nominated Sri. K. Aravindakshan as Arbitrator who dismissed the claim of the respondent. On the other hand, one Sri. Abdulla Manapurath was nominated by the respondent as Arbitrator who found that, at the time of dissolution of the partnership, 6481.580 grams of gold was the stockin-trade, the value of which was estimated to be Rs.1,91,85,476.80/- and thus the respondent was found entitled half of the said amount, i.e. Rs.95,92,738.40/-. In the light of divergent finding of the respective Arbitrators, both the Arbitrators jointly nominated Adv. Sri. A.K. Rajeev as the third Arbitrator, who, after taking evidence, passed an award to the effect that the respondent is entitled to claim Rs.1,13,77,405/- with interest at the rate of 11% on Rs.87,03,427/-. Aggrieved by the said award of the third umpire, the appellant moved the District Court with the above stated Original Petition under Section 34 of the Act. By the impugned order, on 02.03.2020, the learned III Additional District Judge dismissed the petition. Aggrieved by the same, the appellant has moved this Court under Section 37 of the Act.”

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 4 that, “We heard Adv. Sri. B. Krishnan for the appellant and Adv. Sri. Mohammed Nias for the respondent. The records leading to the award and the order passed by the learned Additional District Judge were also summoned and perused.”

To say the least, the Bench then notes in para 5 that, “The point arising for consideration is whether the appellant could make out valid reasons for interference under Section 37 of the Act.”

Be it noted, the Bench then observes in para 6 that, “As mentioned earlier, it is the common case that both the appellant and the respondent were partners of a partnership firm by name M/s.Shalimar Jewellery doing business in gold at Nadapuram in Kozhikode district. The partnership agreement was executed on 28.10.2013 in continuation of the earlier business run by the parties themselves along with one V.K. Moidu. Clause 17 of the partnership agreement reads thus:-

“17. Any dispute or difference of opinion that may arise between the partners or their heirs or their legal representatives with regard to this partnership agreement or any other matter relating to this firm shall be mutually discussed and settled. If not settled, the dispute shall be referred to two arbitrators by common agreement of the partners. Where these arbitrators are themselves divided in opinion, the matters may further be referred to an umpire chosen by the said arbitrators.”

It is on the strength of the above clause in the agreement that the appellant and the respondent had nominated their respective Arbitrators. But divergent awards were passed by the Arbitrators, which necessitated the appointment of a third umpire and that was how the impugned award had come into existence.”

Furthermore, the Bench then envisages in para 7 that, “The impugned order indicates that even though the appellant had challenged the award with numerous contentions, at the time of argument he confined to one ground only namely, that the dispute is not capable of settlement by arbitration. The learned Additional District Judge considered this aspect and basing on the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in M/s. V.H. Patel & Company and others v. Hirubhai Himabhai Patel and others [(2000) 4 SCC 368] and also A. Ayyasami v. Parasasivam and others [(2016) 10 SCC 386] ruled against the appellant and held that a dispute on the dissolution of a partnership is capable of being adjudicated by the Arbitrator and ultimately the petition was dismissed.”

It is worthwhile to mention that para 12 then stipulates that, “The preamble of the Act makes it amply clear that the Parliament enacted the statute almost on the same lines as the Model Law which was drafted by United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, UNCITRAL. Under the 1940 Act, an Arbitrator had no power to decide on his own jurisdiction. But Section 16 of the Act of 1996 is a recognition of the doctrine of competence-competence meaning that the Arbitral Tribunal can rule on its own jurisdiction. The crux of the arbitration process is the autonomy of the disputing parties with minimum judicial intervention. Once the Arbitral Tribunal, after hearing parties, gives a decision that the arbitration agreement exists between the parties, then by virtue of sub-section (5) of Section 16, the tribunal is bound to proceed with the arbitration matter and make the award and the validity of the order can be assailed by the aggrieved party only by filing objections against the award under Section 34.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 13 that, “It is the requirement of the law that respondent must state his objections with regard to the jurisdiction of the Arbitrator before filing the statement of defence. However, the respondent may be allowed to raise objection to the jurisdiction of the Arbitrator even subsequent to the filing of the defence statement provided he can show good reasons to the Arbitrator for raising such an objection at a belated stage. In this connection, it is apposite to extract the following paragraphs from the decision reported in Gas Authority of India Limited and another v. Keti Constructions (I) Ltd. and others [(2007) 5 SCC 38]:-

“24. The whole object and scheme of the Act is to secure an expeditious resolution of disputes. Therefore, where a party raises a plea that the Arbitral Tribunal has not been properly constituted or has no jurisdiction, it must do so at the threshold before the Arbitral Tribunal so that remedial measures may be immediately taken and time and expense involved in hearing of the matter before the Arbitral Tribunal which may ultimately be found to be either not properly constituted or lacking in jurisdiction, in proceedings for setting aside the award, may be avoided. The commentary on Model Law clearly illustrates the aforesaid legal position.

25. Where a party has received notice and he does not raise a plea of lack of jurisdiction before the Arbitral Tribunal, he must make out a strong case why he did not do so if he chooses to move a petition for setting aside the award under Section 34(2)(a)(v) of the Act on the ground that the composition of the Arbitral Tribunal was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties. If plea of jurisdiction is not taken before the Arbitrator as provided in Section 16 of the Act, such a plea cannot be permitted to be raised in proceedings under Section 34 of the Act for setting aside the award, unless good reasons are shown.”

The above dictum is a complete answer to the argument raised by the appellant touching want of jurisdiction of the Arbitrator. At the risk of repetition, we may point out that the appellant has no dispute regarding the validity of the agreement, nor he had raised such a contention before the two Arbitrators chosen by the parties and also before the third umpire. In the circumstances, he is estopped from raising such a belated plea in a petition filed under Section 34 of the Act.”

While citing yet another relevant case law, the Bench then observes in para 14 that, “We have also come across the decision of a learned Single Judge of the Bombay High Court, reported in Yogendra N. Thakkar v. Vinay Balse and another [2018 KHC 5034], where the learned Judge has ruled, basing on the decision of the Hon’ble Apex Court in V.H. Patel & Company, quoted supra, that the power of dissolution of the partnership firm under Section 44(g) of the Indian Partnership Act on just and equitable grounds also is an action in personam and not in rem. We concur with the above view expressed by the learned Single Judge of the Bombay High Court.”

Of course, the Bench then hastens to add in para 15 that, “We have already referred to clause 17 of the agreement executed between the parties. It is quite patent that the said clause is very wide and the intention of the parties is to settle the dispute through arbitration, in the event it could be settled through mediation. Section 44 of the Partnership Act also does not impose any taboo or cause any restriction which prevents dissolution of partnership through arbitration. In other words, there is no inherent lack of jurisdiction in the matter of considering the question of dissolving the partnership through arbitration.”

To be sure, the Bench then points out in para 16 that, “During the course of argument, the learned counsel for the appellant also disputed the jurisdiction of the Additional District Judge in entertaining a petition under Section 34 of the Act. Referring to Section 2(e) of the Act, he said that ‘court’ means only principal civil court of original jurisdiction in a district and, therefore, the Additional District Judge has no jurisdiction to entertain the petition. In this connection, he placed strong reliance on Sree Gurudeva Charitable and Educational Trust, quoted supra. But we have no doubt in our mind that such an argument cannot be accepted in right earnest. Firstly, the decision in Sree Gurudeva Charitable and Educational Trust, was rendered in the context of Section 92 of the Civil Procedure Code and has turned up on its own facts. We are not called upon to make any opinion on the correctness of the said decision. Secondly, Section 2(1) (e) of the Act reads thus:

“2. Definitions.- (1) In this Part, unless the context otherwise requires,-

(e) “Court” means—(i) in the case of an arbitration other than international commercial arbitration, the principal Civil Court of original jurisdiction in a district, and includes the High Court in exercise of its ordinary original civil jurisdiction, having jurisdiction to decide the questions forming the subject-matter of the arbitration if the same had been the subject-matter of a suit, but does not include any Civil Court of a grade inferior to such principal Civil Court, or any Court of Small Causes;

(ii) in the case of international commercial arbitration, the High Court in exercise of its ordinary original civil jurisdiction, having jurisdiction to decide the questions forming the subject-matter of the arbitration if the same had been the subject-matter of a suit, and in other cases, a High Court having jurisdiction to hear appeals from decrees of Courts subordinate to that High Court.”

Most remarkably, the Bench then also points out in para 17 that, “A close reading of this provision will not impel us to adopt the argument raised by the learned counsel. The said provision enables the principal civil court of original jurisdiction in a district as the court having jurisdiction to decide the question forming the subject matter of arbitration; such a court does not include any civil court of a grade inferior to such a court or any Court of Small Causes. The latter limb of Section 2(1)(e) of the Act makes it abundantly clear that the definition of the ‘court’ does not include ‘any civil court of a grade inferior to such principal Civil Court, or any Court of Small Causes’. To put it in other words, legislature has not thought of excluding courts exercising identical or co-equal powers from the definition. In no stretch of imagination an Additional District Judge can be inferior to such principal civil court. A court is inferior to another court, when an appeal lies from the former to the latter. An inferior court must be construed to mean judicially inferior and has appellate jurisdiction. A court is an inferior court for the purpose of the prohibition in the provision whenever its jurisdiction is limited. The Additional District Judge enjoys an equal, concurrent jurisdiction with the District Judge. His powers are identical and co-equal with the Principal District Judge. Both are manned by officers in the category of District Judge. The Principal District Judge cannot revise an order passed by any Additional District Judge. District Court is the ‘court’ for the purposes of execution of the award and considering the matters under the Arbitration Act, it is important to note that the Principal District Judge has no appellate jurisdiction or revisional jurisdiction over the Additional District Judge. For all practical purposes, if there are more than one district court in a district, the Principal District Judge can only be considered first among equals and the Additional District Judge is in no way considered to be inferior to the Principal District Judge.”

Quite pertinently, the Bench then states in para 18 that, “When a similar contention, that an Additional District Judge has no jurisdiction to entertain an application under Section 9 of the Act, was raised, in Globsyn Technologies Ltd. v. Eskaaycee Infosys [2004 (2) ALT 174 : MANU/AP/0970/2003] the High Court of Andhra Pradesh ruled thus:-

“12. The short question that falls for consideration is as to whether the Court of the learned VI-Additional District Judge is a Civil Court of a grade inferior to the Principal Civil Court. The Court of the Principal District Judge and the Court of VI Additional District Judge are of equal grade. The Court of the learned VI-Additional District Judge is not a court of a grade inferior to the Court of the Principal District Judge. The expression “Court of a grade inferior” is required to be understood in its proper context.

13. The dictionary meaning of inferior is “lower in any respect, subordinate, a person who is lower in rank or station”. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, inferior means “one who, in relation to another, has less power and is below him; one who is bound to obey another. The term may denote any Court subordinate to the chief appellate Tribunal in the particular judicial system [eg. Trial Court]; but it is also commonly used as the designation of a Court special, limited or statutory jurisdiction”.

14. I find it difficult to accept the submission of the learned Additional Advocate General that the Court of the learned VI Additional District Judge at Visakhapatnam is a Court of a grade inferior to the Principal District Judge’s Court. ……..””

While continuing in a similar vein, the Bench then also states in para 19 that, “A Division Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court also considered the same question pointedly in Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board and another v. ANSALDO Energia, S.P.A. and another [AIR 2008 M.P. 328]. After making an elaborate survey of authorities taken by various High Courts on the point, approving the dictum in Globsyn, mentioned supra, it was held that, the Additional District Judge has jurisdiction to entertain a petition filed under Section 34 of the Act. We are in respectful agreement with the above finding.”

Most significantly, the Bench then quite rightly points out in para 20 that, “In the context of the Kerala Civil Courts Act also such an argument of the learned counsel cannot hold good. Section 2 of the Civil Courts Act provides three category of positions namely, the court of a District Judge, the court of a Subordinate Judge and the court of a Munsiff. Section 3 provides for establishment of district court. Going by sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the Civil Courts Act, the Government shall establish a district court for each district and a Judge shall be appointed to such court. Section 4 provides for appointment of Additional District Judges. Under sub-section (1) of Section 4 when the state of business pending before a district court so requires, one or more Additional District Judges may be appointed to that court for such period as it deemed necessary. Sub-section (2) of Section 4 says that an Additional District Judge shall discharge all or any of the functions of the District Judge under this Act in respect of all matters which the District Judge may assign to him, or which under the provision of Section 7 may be instituted before him and in the discharge of those functions he shall exercise the same powers as the District Judge. When such additional district courts are established and Additional District Judges are appointed, sub-section (2) of Section 4 of the Civil Courts Act empowers the Additional District Judges so appointed with powers to discharge all the functions of the District Judges. It is very specific when it is provided that the Additional District Judge shall exercise the same powers as the District Judge. That is why it is stated that Principal District Judge is only first among equals among the District Judges in a district. In the circumstance, there is no jurisdictional error in Additional District Judges hearing petitions filed under the Act.”

Adding more to it, the Bench then states in para 21 that, “Arguments were also addressed stating that the award was given in total disregard of the time frame provided under Section 29-A of the Act. According to the learned counsel, the award is hit by subclause (4) of Section 29A of the Act. We are unable to subscribe this argument also. It is evident from the paper book produced by the learned counsel and also the records that, when two Arbitrators appointed by the parties had given divergent views, appointment of a third umpire became necessary. Accordingly, both the Arbitrators together, by letter dated 15.05.2017, nominated Sri.A.K. Rajeev, Advocate, Vadakara as the third umpire. The proceeding paper indicates that he had taken up the matter on 19.05.2017 and the impugned award was passed on 29.09.2018. No doubt such an award was not passed within a period of twelve months as provided under Section 29-A(1) of the Act. All the same, sub-clause (3) of Section 29-A provides that the parties may, by consent, extend the period specified in sub-section (1) for making award for a further period not exceeding six months. Referring to paragraph 8 of the impugned award, the learned counsel for the respondent submitted that the third umpire proceeded with the matter, as consented by the parties, under sub-section (3) of Section 29-A. Relevant portion of the award indicates that, ‘there was some delay in proceeding with the matter partly attributable to his personal inconvenience and also due to the delay and laches on the part of the parties in submitting their statements and documents before him’.

Please read concluding on thedailyguardian.com

The claimant filed his statement along with the documents only on 02.04.2018 whereas the respondent filed his statement on 09.05.2018. It is further stated that on 09.05.2018, that is before the expiry of twelve months starting from 15.05.2017, both the parties were requested by him to extend their cooperation to complete the proceedings and make the award as early as possible and at any rate on or before 15.10.2018. According to him, they accepted and agreed for the same and cooperated with him for completing the arbitration proceedings. In other words, taking the date of commencement of the proceedings as 15.05.2017, before the expiry of twelve months both the parties consented to extend the period specified in sub-section (1) of Section 29-A for making the award and the award was passed on 29.09.2018 within a further period of six months from the date of giving the consent. Sitting in this jurisdiction, we do not find any reason to disbelieve the version of the Arbitrator and to strike off the proceedings under sub-section (4) of Section 29-A of the Act.”

For the sake of clarity, the Bench then states in para 22 that, “This is not a regular appeal as provided under Order XLI CPC or Section 5 of the High Court Act, but an appeal under Section 37 of the Act. While considering an application under Section 34 of the Act, the District Court has only supervisory jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of this Court under Section 37, at the tapering end of the proceedings, is still narrow and thin.”

Quite aptly, the Bench then observes in para 23 that, “It is the settled proposition of law that an Arbitrator is a Judge chosen by the parties and his decision is final. The court is not expected to appraise evidence as done by a regular court of appeal. In a case where the award contains reasons, interference would not be available within the jurisdiction of the court unless reasons are totally perverse or the award is based on wrong proposition of law. An error apparent on the face of the records would not imply closer scrutiny of the merits of documents and materials on record. Once it is found that the view of the Arbitrator is a plausible one, the court will refrain from interfering in the matter.”

It cannot be glossed over that the Bench then states in para 24 that, “In the decision reported in P.R. Shah, Shares & Stock Brokers (P) Ltd. v. B.H.H. Securities (P) Ltd. (2012 (1) SCC 594 the Apex Court held that a court under Section 34(2) of the Act does not sit in appeal over the award of an Arbitral Tribunal by re-assessing or re-appreciating the evidence. An award can be challenged only under the grounds mentioned in Section 34(2) of the Act. In the absence of any ground under Section 34(2) of the Act, it is not possible to re-examine the facts to find out whether any different decision can be arrived at. Similarly, in Sutlej Construction Ltd. v. Union Territory of Chandigarh [(2018) 1 SCC 718], while commenting against an order passed under Section 34 of the Act, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the Judge ought to have restrained himself from getting into the meanderings of evidence appreciation and acting like a second appellate court.”

No doubt, the Bench then seeks to point out in para 25 that, “Coming down to the jurisdiction under Section 37, it is clear that the court cannot travel beyond the restrictions laid down under Section 34 of the Act. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that the Court cannot undertake an independent assessment of the merits of the award and must only ascertain that the exercise of power under Section 34 has not exceeded the scope of the provisions; in case an arbitral award has been confirmed by the court under Section 34, in an appeal under Section 37 the appellate court must be extremely cautious and slow in disturbing such concurrent findings.”

Finally, the Bench then holds in para 26 that, “We have considered the contentions of the parties bearing in mind the restrictions imposed by the statute and also the caution sounded by the Apex Court. On an overall consideration of the entire circumstances, we are sure that the learned Additional District Judge has considered the award in proper perspective and reached a correct conclusion. We are of the definite view that overwhelming reasons are not made out warranting interference in appeal. Point is answered accordingly and the appeal is dismissed. No costs. Before parting with, we once again record our deep appreciation for the erudite and enlightening arguments raised before this Court by the learned counsel for the appellant as also the learned counsel for the respondent.”

In essence, the two Judge Bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Justice K Haripal and Justice CT Ravikumar in their 26-page painstaking brilliant, brief and balanced judgment make the picture pretty clear on whether Additional District Judge has jurisdiction to entertain a petition filed under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. The Additional District Judge has jurisdiction to entertain a petition filed under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act and there is nothing wrong in doing so as this is permitted in law. Para 17 and para 20 explains this quite elaborately, explicitly, eloquently and elegantly and form the real backbone of this judgment which is par excellence.

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MORE AMMUNITION IN HANDS OF ARMED FORCES: PAKISTAN’S NEW LAW CURBS RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH

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An experiment that has completely failed, the vision of great leaders is futile for the nation for which it was separated from India. Once it was dreamt that nation would be on parity with its big brother India but the present picture is devastating. The nation is harbouring death squads, leaders of the nation turn into a vendor of delusion, on the world map the nation is now undoubtedly recognised as a heaven for terrorists, the conundrum on the Kashmir, the recent failure on weather war and a goof-up reports, the creeping failures, the recent development is the shocking and utterly unreasonable step from the legislatures of the nation and there is not an iota of doubt that democracy is just a misnomer that is not anymore existing in the nation. The nation about which I am talking is now clear to you, it is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which is a democratic setup atleast as per the constitution of Pakistan but on the ground, it is a failed experiment. The latest development that will give you goosebumps is regarding the step of Pakistani legislatures and a clear violation of International law norms and basic human rights envisaged under Article 19 of UDHR.

A TOOL TO CURB FREE SPEECH: SHATTERING DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN

If you think people not responding to your WhatsApp messages and leaving you with blue ticks is an offence, think again. There are people in Pakistan who believe that making memes should be made illegal and criticism should be a criminal offence. If your mind thinking what about the right to free speech and expression don’t worry about it Pakistani legislatures tried every single attempt to curb it. Pakistan’s new bill criminalizes military criticism with two-year imprisonment coupled with a fine of five thousand Pakistani Rupees. The proposed bill already approved and passed by a panel of national assembly-the lower house of the country’s parliament. By approving this bill, the national assembly panel has approved the amendment in the country’s Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code 198, sanctioning punishment to those who ridicule armed forces through intended criticism. Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2020 proposes to amend Section 500 of the Pakistani Penal Code (PPC) which envisaged the punishment for defamation. As per the report, the amendment proposes “punishment for international ridiculing of the armed forces etc. Whosoever intentionally ridicules, brings into disrepute or defames the armed forces of Pakistan or a member thereof, shall be guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or a fine which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees or both.”

The legislation will curb free speech and even constructive criticism against the army by anyone. It is a major question that is unanswered by legislators as to how they will define what will come under intentional criticism and what will not? It is again to be decided by the sole discretion of concerned authority that can lead to abuse of powers.

THE UNREASONABLE REASONING: WHY PROPOSED AMENDMENT IS UNACCEPTABLE

The proposed amendment has faced criticism in Pakistan itself by the opposition leaders. But, the reasoning tabled by the legislature presenting the bill was completely unreasonable and against the rule of law if we need a comparative aspect to analyze the law. The law is fundamentally a gross error and a step by the legislatures to completely curb down the criticism against the military in any way even if it’s a constructive one.

As per the constitution of Pakistan Article 19 already covered the freedom of speech etc. and the instant subject matter is already covered in the aforesaid article. Article 19 is a fundamental right and such rights cannot be taken by the government except is some conditions laid under the Article. Already, the aspect is covered under the Article and hence the proposed criminal amendment bill is futile. The key to catch here is that in the present time there is no law and any issue arises on the said aspect the discretion is on the judiciary to interpret Article 19 but if the proposed amendment comes into effect, then the criticism of the army is a crime and it curbs freedom of speech which violates Article 19 of the constitution as it is not a reasonable exception provided therein in Article 19. The ridiculous step of legislature once again a cause of mockery and high trolling of Pakistan in their won country as well as in the global arena. The law is for the society and not supposed to against the society but there is an exception which is Pakistan as in past also we have seen some absurd and shocking developments.

The proposed amendment is also violating the International law norms and conventions as it is violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19 that envisaged the concept of Freedom of speech and expression The only contention to justify the proposed amendment is that it is a reasonable exception to Article 19 of Constitution of Pakistan but the case is it is not the reasonable one. So here, what legislatures have done simply forcing their justification to uphold their will over the choice of the people of Pakistan. Pakistan is known for this democratic setup has witness arrest in past when the military coup was there in the nation so it is not a very abnormal step but it is an unacceptable and unfavourable step of the current regime of the nation. But what the people can do there, simply nothing if you raise the voice you will be killed or if you survive then you need to exile from there. Simply it is a life without freedom but the nation portrayed itself as a life full of freedom. There is an urgent need to ponder upon it.

One of the basic universal human rights is freedom of speech and expression that is available to all of us. Free speech is a necessary precondition to the enjoyment of other rights, such as the right to vote, free assembly and freedom of association, and is essential to ensure press freedom. The newest development in Pakistan is completely a shocking one but these abnormal things are normal in Pakistan. A Parliamentarian from the ruling party in Pakistan introduced legislation that would punish criticisms of the military in the country. With the advent of the new development in Pakistan, it is clear that the democratic setup in-country is just a rubber stamp but the actual power vests in the hand of the Army. According to the report, the bill is proposed to prevent hatred and disrespectful behaviour against the armed forces. It is pertinent to note here that already military in Pakistan has accused of different allegations against everyone who worked opposite to their interest. According to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, the country ranked 144 out of 180. Pakistan’s military has been accused of pursuing journalists and other members of Pakistan’s civil society who are thought to be acting against them in any way. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), the international organization that publishes the annual World Press Freedom Index (WPFI), commented on the state of press freedom in Pakistan and the role played by the country’s military in curtailing it. RSF noted, “[t]he influence of this military ‘establishment,’ which cannot stand independent journalism, has increased dramatically since Imran Khan became prime minister in July 2018.” Different instances depict where the country stands in terms of freedom to free speech and why the proposed law is just unreasonable. The murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, the killing of activist Karima Baloch, turned Balochistan into the land of missing people and a hotspot for every plausible crime ranging from murder, extortion to rape and many more instances. The list is continuous and so long if I need to put it up but the crux is that behind all this the reason for murders is directly or indirectly has a nexus with raising the voice against atrocities of the Pakistani military. The new legislation is a tool for adding more fuel and ammunition legally in the hands of the Pakistani Army. It is already too strong in the Pakistani setup.

FINAL WORDS

In summation, the proposed amendment is new ammunition in hands of the Army to curb down the expression, voices, dissents and even constructive criticism by anyone including journalists as well. It needs to be noted that the only justification given by the legislature behind this amendment is to curb down the incidents of defamation against the armed force but is for curbing down the right to free speech. This amendment would make it illegal to ask reasonable questions about the military’s alleged involvement in civilian affairs, which is important in Pakistan because the threat of the democratic project being derailed is still present. The proposed amendment is already heavily criticised in Pakistan as the Minister of the ruling party indirectly passed a criticism as “Absolutely ridiculous to criminalise criticism.’

The finality as if the bill converts into law will depend on the subject to approval by the National Assembly and the Senate (upper house of the Parliament). If it gets passed by the upper house then once again free speech gets curbed by the red tape in Pakistan and the seldom exercised right will just turn into a new misnomer in the nation. Parliament must ensure that this bill is either abandoned or dismissed in the interests of democracy.  It is imperative that civil societies across the globe are vigilant in defending the freedom of expression. This is necessary for the enhancement of people’s lives and the creation and maintenance of strong, healthy democratic societies. But in Pakistan all these are just words, it is a hub of global terrorism as proved by UN report.

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Specious jury of social media

Our generation has got a new instrument in its hands: The instrument goes by many names and gets a new name every few years. That instrument drives its life from the majestic power of the Internet, and it has no brain of its own; it works as per the command of the user’s brain. Whenever a piece of news comes out, without verifying the veracity of the same, that user is either fuelled by rage or becomes a part of the herd being led by some learned jurymen of social media.

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It is very often that the so-called learned, educated, liberal jury of social media comes to the rescue of oppressed, who at the end of the proper trial comes out to be a perpetrator in the best-case scenario. This article which I am writing may attract undue criticism from self-acclaimed crusaders of liberalism but I must write in contempt of this jury of social media working behind screens, destroying reputations since its inception. To every coin, there are two sides: one is to be praised while the other should be buried fathoms below the ground.

Our generation has got a new instrument in our hands from an early age; the instrument goes by many names and gets a new name every few years. That instrument drives its life from the majestic power of internet, and it has no brain of its own; it works as per the command of the user’s brain. Whenever a piece of news comes out; without verifying the veracity of the same, that user is either fuelled by rage or becomes a part of the herd being led by some learned jurymen of social media.

There have been countless posts which went viral on the internet. Many of them have led to reforms and are to be applauded, they form the bright side of the coin. The other side of the coin, which is not so bright, is run by the learned jurymen of social media and is committed towards spreading either hatred or misrepresenting the facts to catalyse a conclusion which would not have reached if the facts were analysed in toto with an application of mind.

One of the fresh examples of misadventures of this brigade is Sarvjeet Singh Bedi, who was falsely accused by a Jasleen Kaur of molesting him at a traffic signal in Tilak Nagar, Delhi in August 2015; trial went on for 4 years during which she migrated to Canada while accused suffered the wrath of social media which inevitably led to social boycott however some people came forward to his rescue once trial commenced. Thankfully, in the October of 2019, he was acquitted of those charges. The fallibility of social media verdicts is that those people who shared such unverified claim of harassment suffer no consequences, and neither the one who made false accusations with the intent to harm his reputation through the massive reach of social media.

There is another recent case where a 17-year-old boy committed suicide in Gurugram after a girl made serious allegations against him on Instagram. When they checked his Instagram account, they were surprised to see that the minor girl had made serious allegations against him without any evidence. The girl had levelled false allegations against him due to which he faced social ostracization and was trolled by several others with a mammoth of hate messages. He probably unable to deal with them and went under depression, the father has alleged in his complaint.

This has now been a trend on social media, where many start sharing unverified or unproved bits of information; this inevitably leads to the defamation of the accused, who may even not be guilty. This is a disrespect of law and courts, but things haven’t stopped at it. Those social media jurymen are now at the throat of the judiciary, trying to mount pressure upon the Hon’ble Courts to bend down to their demands and their definition of justice, which I without any hesitation say, is flawed at its every corner.

Latest attempt to demean the judiciary can be seen at various social media platforms where it is being discussed that the Hon’ble Gauhati High Court granted divorce in Bhaskar Das v. Renu Das; Mat.App. 20/2019 just because women refused to wear ‘sakha and sindoor’. Those who are sharing or commenting upon this, have they even bothered to go through the text of the judgment? Judgments are not read or analysed in pieces, they are to be gone through in whole to understand the context and meaning of every word.

Let me assist the jurymen of social media on the text of the judgment, as an amicus.

Firstly, the women had filed a fake against her husband, his widowed step-mother and his sisters under section Section 498(A) of Indian Penal Code. The husband and his family members were compelled to apply for pre-arrest bail because of the said criminal case filed by the wife. He along with his family members were acquitted by the trial court. At this juncture, it is pertinent to mention that the Hon’ble Supreme Court in a recent judgment being Rani Narasimha Sastri vs. Rani Suneela Rani, 2019 SCC Online SC 1595 has held that filing of criminal cases like case under Sections 498(A) IPC etc. against the husband and the family members and which are subsequently dismissed/rejected by the Family Court, is sufficient to be construed as an act of cruelty by the wife. The fake complaint, even if considered in isolation, is a very valid ground for the decree of divorce to be passed.

In the background of the complaint filed under section 498(A), the husband contended that the wife compelled him to execute a written agreement to the effect that the couple will stay in a separate rental house together away family members were not to be permitted to come and visit them. The wife categorically admitted in her cross-examination about the presence of the said clause in the said agreement (It is shown below in cross-examination).

Secondly, let us see what the women said in her cross-examination. I’ll mention the relevant piece for the sake of brevity:

-That I am not wearing/putting sindoor right now because I don’t consider him as my husband.

– That it is not a fact that we entered into an agreement after the F.I.R.

-That I have objection regarding divorce in this case as because either he come to Dibrugarh to live with me or otherwise fulfil my demand i.e. monetary demand, only then I will divorce him.”

This shows that she removed her sakha and sindoor as a mark for her desire to end the marriage.

From the last point which I mentioned in cross-examination para, it looks like extortion is going on through filing of fake cases against her husband. When she in her cross-examination, and evidence states it clearly that her removing sakha and sindoor is the symbol of her unwillingness to continue in a marital relation with her husband; there remain no gaps in her intention of getting separated from her husband, and the same was considered was the court as a corroborating evidence not as the primary evidence for granting of the divorce. A fake case under Section 498(A) of Indian Penal Code is enough for the divorce to be granted.

Further perusal of the judgment will inform you of her conduct of separating her husband from his family and not even allowing them to visit him, which she has categorically admitted. It is noteworthy that the widowed step-mother of her husband has no personal source of income and she is a senior citizen and is dependent; therefore, the husband is bound by Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to provide for his mother, and the attempt to keep her away from him with no visitation rights is cruelty, at the very least even if we ignore her stopping her husband to perform his statutory obligations.

She has also filed a case against him under Sections 471/420 of Indian Penal Code, 1860, which are still pending before the court.

She appears to be determined, armed with legal counsel, to extort money out of her husband and make him suffer unreasonably, her evidence and cross-examination stands tall proof of her wicked conduct.

When she herself is admitting in cross-examination that she took off her sakha and sindoor as she no longer considers him her husband, there is no space for the interpretation in that statement for courts. Hon’ble High Court simply referred to this statement of hers in order to corroborate their decision of allowing the appeal.

This is a classic case of misuse of laws by disgruntled wife against the husband; and the social media jury’s reaction of condemning the Hon’ble Judges is a classic example of ‘scandalising of court’, by bringing down the courts respect in eyes of common men and women.

Rhea Chakraborty’s media trial is another example of negative examples of over-active jury of social media. The actress has not yet even been tried by the Hon’ble Court let alone convicted and the whole social media led by a few jurymen went on to assail the reputation of actress and subjected her to mental stress and trauma. This cannot be allowed to happen; people must understand that there is no absolute right of freedom of speech and expression, it is subject to just and reasonable restrictions. The matter is currently sub-judice so it would not be proper for me to comment anymore on it.

I can only hope that this practice of social media will be depreciated in future, and learned jurymen of social media are sacked from their self-claimed judicial roles.

Social media is a place which can be used for much more than spreading hate and misinformation against the Hon’ble Court or some innocent person.

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Analysis of Insurance (Amendment) Act 2021: Effects and implications

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INTRODUCTION

On 1st of February when the Union Budget was presented by Hon’ble Finance Minister, it was made official that the Foreign Direct Investment in the insurance sector will increase to 74% from 49%. While concluding the speech respected finance minister also mentioned that it is proposed to amend the Insurance Act of 1938. This was indicative that such changes were to be brought by the way of amendment only. The said was complied with when on 18th March the Insurance (Amendment) Act 2021 (which was a bill then) got a nod from the Rajya Sabha and has been in effect from the 1st April, 2021.

With the change in composition of FDI limit certain additional regulatory changes were also announced under the new framework which includes A. Foreign ownership and control would be allowed with safeguards; B. The majority of directors on the Board and key management persons would be required to be resident Indians; C. 50% of directors would need to be independent directors; D. a specified percentage of profits of the insurance company would have to be retained as a general reserve.

HISTORY OF ADVENT OF FDI IN INSURANCE SECTOR

India first opened up the insurance sector in the year 2000 under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government when it allowed private sector firms to set up insurance companies and allowed FDI of 26 per cent. After that, for a long time, there were demands from the industry to further increase this cap to 49 per cent. After many deliberations the amendment of 2015 raised the cap from 26 per cent to 49 per cent.

The amendments of 2015 and 2021 are an enabling amendment that gives companies access to foreign capital if they need it. It is an important shift in stance as the increase in the FDI cap means insurance companies can now be foreign owned and controlled as against the current situation wherein they are only Indian owned and controlled. This will give a foreign company the right to appoint a majority of directors, control the management and the policy decisions taken.

This decision is also a result of COVID-19 Impact on the GDP, and by increasing the FDI in insurance sector government aims at getting a influx of foreign capital in the economy in order to uplift the GDP of the country.

CHANGES BROUGHT BY THE AMENDMENT

The amendments introduced by the 2021 Amendment Act are as follows:

• Firstly, change is brought in section 2, clause (7A), for sub-clause (b) which has been substituted as:

“(b) in which the aggregate holdings of equity shares by foreign investors including portfolio investors, do not exceed seventy-four per cent. of the paid-up equity capital of such Indian insurance company, and the foreign investment in which shall be subject to such conditions and manner, as may be prescribed;”

The amended provision states that limit of foreign investment allowed in Indian insurance companies shall not exceed 74% (previously 49%), and foreign investment in insurance companies shall be “subject to such conditions and manner, as may be prescribed.”

• Secondly, the explanation to Section 27 clause 7 which states the provision which stipulated the requirement for an insurance company incorporated in India to hold assets in trust where at least: (i) 33% capital is owned by investors domiciled outside India, or (ii) 33% of the members of the governing body are domiciled outside India, now stands omitted;

• Thirdly, In section 114 of the principal Act, in sub-section (2), for clause (aaa), the following clause shall be substituted, namely:

“(aaa) the conditions and manner of foreign investment under sub-clause (b) of clause (7A) of section 2;”.

The requirement for the insurance company to be Indian owned and controlled has been omitted, and it has been stipulated that the conditions and manner of foreign investment shall be as prescribed.

IMPACT ON INDIAN INSURANCE COMPANIES

India has more than 60 insurance companies specialising in life insurance, non-life insurance and health insurance. The number of state-owned firms are only six and the remaining are in the private sector. A higher FDI limit will help insurance companies access foreign capital to meet their growth requirements. Insurance is a capital intensive business. Simply put, as an insurance company sells more policies and collects premiums from policy holders, it needs higher capital to ensure that it is able to meet the future claims.

The insurance regulator, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), mandates that insurers should maintain a solvency ratio of at least 150 per cent. Solvency ratio is the excess of assets over liabilities. Insurance is a long gestation business. It takes companies 7-10 years to breakeven and start becoming profitable. Allowing FDI upto 74 per cent could see more interest from foreign insurance companies who specialise in this business and who bring the so-called ‘patient’ capital.

In addition, the government will prescribe a specific percentage of the profits that will have to be treated as general reserve.

This will ensure that reserves will be available to meet the claims of policy holders regardless of a foreign investors’ own financial condition, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Thursday in her reply to the debate on the bill in Rajya Sabha. It will also mean that the government will ensure that only a part of the profit can be repatriated to the foreign promoter and there is sufficient money available with the insurance company to pay every claim.

The government has also reiterated that the provision of Section 27E of the insurance act will continue to be applicable. This means that no insurance company, irrespective of its foreign shareholding, can directly or indirectly invest the money of the policy holders outside India. The insurance companies will also have to ensure that 50 per cent of the directors are independent directors so that insurance companies follow all Indian laws.

WAY FORWARD

The Amendment Act of 2021 has been introduced with the sole motive to increase FDI per cent in the insurance sector for this the Insurance Act, 1938 was amended accordingly, however the onus now lies upon the Regulator which is IRDA. The IRDAI may also prescribe conditions/restrictions with respect to matters such as related party transactions, and payment of dividend by an insurance company having majority foreign investment. However, the extent to which these conditions will be made applicable to insurance companies remains to be seen.

In generally, Higher FDI limits could see more global insurance firms and their best practices entering India. This could mean higher competition and better pricing of insurance products. Policy holders will get a wide choice, access to more innovative products and a better customer service and claims settlement experience. Therefore the amendment brings the new horizons in the insurance sector which the companies will thrive to achieve and benefit the economy.

The government will prescribe a specific percentage of the profits that will have to be treated as general reserve.

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Legally Speaking

Police personnel cannot be appointed jail superintendent, says Uttarakhand HC

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In a significant judgement pertaining to prisoners rights and affecting them directly, the Uttarakhand High Court has in a latest, landmark, laudable and learned judgement titled Sanjeev Kumar Akash v. State of Uttarakhand & Ors in Writ Petition (PIL) No. 25 of 2021 delivered on 12 April 2021 has held that police personnel cannot be appointed as Jail Superintendent. A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma observed that we have come to the age of “Reformation and Rehabilitation of Prisoners”. It held that the purpose of police is very different from that of Jail Superintendents and as a natural corollary, their trainings and psyche are poles apart. Hence the former cannot possess the position of the latter.

To start with, Chief Justice Sri Raghvendra Singh Chauhan who has authored this notable judgment for a Bench comprising of himself and Justice Alok Kumar Verma of the Uttarakhand High Court sets the ball rolling by first and foremost pointing out in para 1 that, “Mr. Sanjeev Kumar Akash, the petitioner, has filed the present Public Interest Litigation in order to challenge the order dated 12.02.2021, passed by the Secretary, Department of Home, the respondent no. 2, whereby the Officers of the Police Department have been given the additional charge of the office of the Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail at Sitarganj, Haldwani, Haridwar, Dehradun and Roorkee. The petitioner has further challenged the consequential order dated 12.02.2021, passed by the Inspector General of Prisons, the respondent no. 3, whereby the Officers of the Police Department have been transferred, and posted with the additional charge of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail at various prisons in the State of Uttarakhand.”

While elaborating on the facts of the case, the Bench then enunciates in para 2 that, “Briefly stated, the facts of the case are that, as per the structure in the Department of Prison in the State of Uttarakhand, there are three sanctioned posts of Senior Superintendent of Jail, and nine sanctioned posts of Superintendent of Jail. Out of the nine sanctioned posts of Superintendent of Jail, four posts are to be filled up by way of direct recruitment, and five posts are to be filled up by way of promotion from the post of Jailor. Presently, one post of Senior Superintendent of Jail, and four posts of Superintendent of Jail, have been filled up. Therefore, currently two posts of Senior Superintendent of Jail, and five posts of Superintendent of Jail are lying vacant. According to the State Government, considering the difficulties faced in running the Jails properly, it has taken a conscious decision to give additional charge of Senior Superintendent of Jail, and Superintendent of Jail, to officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS). Hence, the present Public Interest Litigation before this Court.”

On the one hand, the Bench first dwells on the petitioner’s contentions in para 3 stating that, “Ms. Kamini Jaiswal, the learned Senior Counsel for the petitioner, has raised the following contentions before this Court :-

Firstly, that the job responsibility and the training of the Police Officers, and those of the Officers of the Jail Administration, stand on different plains. The duty of the Police Officers is preventive and penal, and spans the arena of investigation, prevention and protection, and maintenance of law and order. On the other hand, with the emerging modern trends in penology and theories of punishment, the fundamental duty of the Officers of the Department of Jail is the protection, the reformation, and the rehabilitation of the prisoners. Since the job responsibilities are of different nature, the psychological makeup, the thinking, the conduct of the Police Officers and the Jail Officers, perforce, has to be quite different. Whereas, generally a Police Officer sees an offender as a culprit, as a person who has violated the law, and thus deserves to be condemned and punished, the Officers of the Department of Prison see prisoners as human beings, who have erred, who need to be reformed, who need to be rehabilitated, and brought back as productive members of the society. Thus, the very philosophy behind the interaction between a Police Officer and an offender, and the interaction between a Jail Officer and the prisoner, stand on a different footing. Therefore, one cannot be confused with the other.

Secondly, keeping this distinction in mind, even law has bifurcated these two services into two different classes; the laws have empowered them differently. Therefore, to confuse these two classes would be violative of the fundamental philosophy, which govern these two different services.

Thirdly, this bifurcation of the two departments, and the philosophy behind working of the two departments, is not unique to India. But has universal application throughout the world. According to the learned Senior Counsel, the United Nations has issued “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners”, better known as “the Nelson Mandela Rules”. These Rules prescribe the “good principles and practice in the treatment of prisoners and prison management”. Rules 74 to 82 deal with “Institutional Personnel”. Rule 74 provides for “careful selection of every grade of the personnel”. It emphasises “on their integrity, humanity, professional capacity, and personal suitability for the work that the proper administration of prisons depends”. Rule 74(3) further stresses on the need for appointment of prison personnel “on a full-time basis”. Rule 75(2) states that “before entering on duty, all prison staff shall be provided with training tailored to their general and specific duties, which shall be reflective of contemporary evidence-based best practice in penal sciences”. Rule 76 further states that the training referred to in Rule 75(2) shall include, at a minimum, training on “rights and duties of prison staff in the exercise of their functions, including respecting the human dignity of all prisoners, and the prohibition of certain conduct, in particular torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment.” Rule 79 further states that “the Prison Director (Superintendent of Jail in India) shall devote his or her entire working time to official duties, and shall not be appointed on a part-time basis. He or she shall reside on the premises of the prison or in its immediate vicinity.”

Relying on the Nelson Mandela Rules, the learned Senior Counsel has emphasised that the Superintendents of Jail are required to undergo a particular training, which will inculcate a sense of dignity of all the prisoners, will make them humane, and sensitise them to the plight of the prisoners, to their families, and to the prison conditions. The learned Senior Counsel has further stressed on the need for appointing the Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail on a full-time basis, rather than on a part-time basis.

Fourthly, referring to the Uttar Pradesh Jail (Group A and B) Service Rules, 1982 (for short “the Rules, 1982”), the learned Senior Counsel has submitted that Rule 3(k) defines the post of “Superintendent, District Jail” to mean “the whole-time Superintendent, Jail appointed in accordance with the 1982 Rules”. According to Rule 5(6) of the Rules, 1982, the post of Superintendent of District Jail is to be filled up fifty percent by direct recruitment, and fifty percent by promotion from amongst the regularly appointed Deputy Superintendents/Jailors with a minimum of five years’ service as Deputy Superintendents, or Jailors or both. Moreover, Rule 14 deals with “determination of vacancies”. Rule 15 deals with the “procedure for direct recruitment”. Rule 16 deals with the “procedure for recruitment by promotion to the post of Superintendent, District Jail”. Therefore, according to the learned Senior Counsel, the procedure for making an appointment to the post of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail is clearly prescribed by Rules 14, 15 and 16 of the Rules, 1982. These Rules do not permit ad-hoc appointment of Police personnel on the post of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail. Therefore, the impugned orders are clearly in violation of the Rules, 1982.

Fifthly, even the Code of Criminal Procedure, prevents the keeping of an undertrial prisoner in police custody beyond a stipulated period of time. According to Section 167 of Cr.P.C, an accused cannot be detained in police custody beyond a period of fifteen days. In case the investigation is not completed within a period of ninety days, for offences punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of not less than ten years, the offender would have to be granted bail under Section 167(2)(a)(i) Cr.P.C. Therefore, even the Cr.P.C. does not envisage keeping of undertrial prisoners in police custody for too long a period. Even otherwise, while keeping an offender in judicial custody, he/she cannot be kept beyond a period of sixty days or ninety days in case the investigation were not completed within the stipulated period of time. Moreover, in case the investigation were to be completed within the stipulated period of sixty days or ninety days, and in case bail were not granted by a competent Court, an undertrial is required to be kept in judicial custody. But, by appointing police personnel as Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail, for all practical purposes, the custody is suddenly changed from a judicial one to a police one. Therefore, the learned Senior Counsel submits that the impugned orders violate the letter and the spirit of Section 167 Cr.P.C.

Lastly, despite the fact that a prisoner loses the freedom of movement, he/she continues to enjoy the other fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Therefore, Article 21 of the Constitution of India, guaranteeing protection of Life and personal liberty, continues to shine even in the dark corners of a prison cell. According to the learned Senior Counsel, once a procedure has been established by law that too a procedure backed by certain penological philosophy- it cannot be violated by the State. Therefore, the State is legally bound to implement the service rules as contained in the Rules, 1982, to implement the requirements of Cr.P.C, to implement the constitutional philosophy, as embodied in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, and to implement the “Nelson Mandela Rules”. Hence, according to the learned Senior Counsel, the impugned orders deserve to be set-aside by this Court.”

On the other hand, the Bench then further states about the States contention in para 4 wherein it is put forth that, “On the other hand, Mr. Anil Kumar Bisht, the learned Additional Chief Standing Counsel for the State, has raised the following counter-contentions before this Court :-

Firstly, in the order dated 17.11.2006, issued by the Principal Secretary, Uttaranchal Administration, it was clearly mentioned that the Inspector General of Prisons would either be the Secretary, Home, or IAS officers, or of equivalent posts. Similarly, Additional Inspector General of Prisons would be from the post of Additional Secretary, Home/Joint Secretary, Home, or from PCS Cadre. In fact, even presently, the post of the Inspector General of Prisons is occupied by a person belonging to the IPS cadre. Therefore, the appointment of police personnel to the post of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail can certainly be made from Police Officers.

Secondly, considering the fact that presently there are two posts of Senior Superintendent of Jail, and five posts of Superintendent of Jail, which are lying vacant, considering the fact that direct recruitment to these posts would require some time, considering the fact that there is no one in the post of Jailors, who has completed five years of required service for being promoted to the post of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail, the State is justified in making Police Officers incharge of these two posts on a temporary basis. Therefore, the learned counsel has supported the impugned orders.”

As a corollary, the Bench then brings out in para 5 that, “In rejoinder, Ms. Kamini Jaiswal, the learned Senior Counsel for the petitioner, has pleaded that the letter dated 17.11.2006 does not support the case of the State. For, while the post of Inspector General of Prisons and Additional Inspector General of Prisons may be permitted to be filled up from IPS Officers, the post of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail is covered by the Rules, 1982. Once the Rules, 1982 have been promulgated, they cannot be diluted by a mere letter issued by the Principal Secretary. In fact, the appointment to the post of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail has to be strictly in accordance with the Rules, 1982.”

Needless to say, the Bench then after hearing the learned counsel and perusing the impugned orders as stated in para 6, it is then brought out in para 7 that, “Prisons are as ancient as human civilization. Initially, prisons were created as detention centres for detaining those who were threat to the political power. According to the Bhagavata Purana, an ancient text on the life of Lord Krishna, his parents, Devaki and Vasudeva, were imprisoned by Kansa, the King of Mathura. However, over the centuries, prisons were constructed for the purpose of punishing those, who violate the law. Soon the purpose of prisons was changed from detention to punishment. In ancient Athens, Socrates was imprisoned for punishing him for having corrupted the minds of the youth. Long imprisonment sentences catered to the retributory and deterrent theories of punishment.”

Quite alarmingly, the Bench then observes in para 11 that, “In 1835, Lord Macaulay presented a note to the Legislative Council in India as he was shocked by the horrifying and inhumane conditions prevalent in the Indian jails. The next year, on 02.01.1836, Lord William Bentick constituted a “Prison Discipline Committee”. The report of this Committee, submitted to Lord Auckland in 1838, revealed the rampant corruption, the laxity in discipline, and the abuse of men and women, who were imprisoned. However, surprisingly, the Committee rejected the thought of reforming the criminals.”

Going ahead, the Bench then further observes in para 12 that, “Over the years, the “Conference of Experts” held in 1877, and the “Fourth Jail Commission” in 1888, recommended that there should be a uniformity in all the Jails functioning in British India. Since Indians were seen as subjects and not as citizens, since the Britishers saw themselves as the Ruler, they recommended rigorous prison sentences, and even punishments within the confines of the Jails, such as whipping and solitary confinement, and keeping the prisoners in gunny clothing. The outcome of the recommendations of the “Conference of Experts” and the “Fourth Jail Commission” was the enactment of the “Prisons Act of 1894”. The Prisons Act, 1894 continues to govern most of the Jails even today.”

Needless to say, it is quite baffling that why no new Prisons Act has been passed even after 127 years till now? Why our lawmakers care a damn for the prisons? Why they never acted till now to meet the conditions of prisons to the present circumstances and now that of 1894 or 1895?

In this context, it has to be mentioned that the Bench then elucidates in para 13 stating that, “The “All India Jail Committee (1919-1920)” for the first time recommended the reformation and rehabilitation of offenders as one of the objectives of the prison administration. The Committee spoke about the adequate training of the prison staff, and about the separation of executive/custodial, ministerial and technical staff in prison service. The Committee believed that a different sort of training needs to be provided to the prison staff, than the training being provided to the police staff.”

Furthermore, the Bench then mentions in para 14 that, “After independence, a number of Committees have been constituted, beginning with the Jail recommendations made by Dr. W.C. Reckless, a U.N. Expert on Correctional Work. While submitting his report on “Jail Administration in India”, he advocated the reformative theory of punishment; he emphasised on specialized training of correctional personnel; he stressed on the need for a cadre of properly trained personnel staff.”

While underscoring the dire need to ameliorate the condition of prisons and prisoners, the Bench then states in para 15 that, “In 1972, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, appointed a “Working Group on Prisons”. In its report submitted in 1973, the Committee again emphasised the need for proper training of prison personnel. It also stressed that “prison administration should be treated as an integral part of the social defence components of national planning process”. Thus, the very basis for prison administration was to protect, reform and rehabilitate the prison population. Moreover, the prison population is not a population to be neglected. But it is a population, which needs to be encouraged to be productive. Therefore, skill upgradation is a sine qua non.”

While continuing in a similar vein, the Bench then observes in para 16 that, “In 1980, the Government of India constituted an “All India Committee on Jail Reforms” under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Mr. Justice A. N. Mulla. The Mulla Committee submitted 658 recommendations. According to the Committee, prisons in the country shall endeavour to reform and reassimilate offenders in the social milieu by giving them appropriate correctional treatment. One of the most important recommendations is that “prison services shall be developed as a professional career service. The State shall endeavour to develop a well-organized prison cadre based on appropriate job requirements, sound training and proper promotional avenues. The efficient functioning of prisons depends, undoubtedly, upon the personal qualities, educational qualifications, professional competence and character of prison personnel. The status, emoluments and other service conditions of prison personnel should commensurate with their job requirements and responsibilities. An All-India Service, namely the ‘Indian Prisons and Correctional Service’ shall be constituted to induct better qualified and talented persons at higher echelons. Proper training of prison personnel shall be developed at the ‘national, regional and State levels’.”

Quite significantly, the Bench then lays bare in para 17 that, “On 17.07.2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India had written to the Principal Secretary (Prison)/Secretary (Home) (In-charge of Prisons) – All State Governments / UTs DGs/ IGs incharge of prisons- All State Governments / UTs, wherein it had emphasised the large number of judgments delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court with regard to the prison administration and the jail system prevalent in India. It had further made certain recommendations as under:-

(i) Establishing well equipped training infrastructure in the State, with adequate skilled and well qualified instructional staff, to cater to the normal needs of basic and in-service training for the prison staff in different discipline.

(ii) Creating adequate posts for prison staff as per norms in different categories, commensurate with operational needs of safe custody, reformation, rehabilitation, health care, legal assistance etc.

(iii) Filling up all the vacancies, presently running up to 17.58% (in 2006) within time bound frame and ensure proper cadre management through timely trainings, promotions, recruitments etc.”

While dwelling on the yeoman role of the Apex Court, the Bench then puts forth in para 18 that, “Over the decades, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has rushed to the rescue of the prisoners. The Apex Court has not only given the protection of Article 21 of the Constitution of India to the prisoners, but has also emphasised on the penological philosophy of reformation, and rehabilitation of the prisoners. It has, thus, stressed on the need for having a well-trained prison staff, who would cater to the needs of the prisoners on a full-time basis.”

Quite pertinently, the Bench then observes in para 19 that, “Recently, in the case of Inhuman Conditions In 1382 Prisons, In re [(2018) 18 SCC 777], keeping in mind the dire necessity of reforming in prison administration, and the prison management, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has constituted a Supreme Court Committee on “Prison Reforms” consisting of : (i) Hon’ble Mr Justice Amitava Roy, a former Judge of the Supreme Court as its Chairperson, (ii) Inspector General of Police, Bureau of Police Research and Development as its Member, and (iii) Director General (Prisons) Tihar Jail, New Delhi as its Member.

The Committee has made the following recommendations with regard to the staffing patterns in the jails:

“RECRUITMENT OF STAFF

The Hon’ble Court may issue following directions in this regard:-

(a) All State Governments will hold special recruitment drives to fill up the existing vacancies in different ranks with the following timelines.

(i) In case of regular recruitment against permanent vacancies, the recruitment process should start within three months and should be completed within one year in the maximum.

(ii) All promotional vacancies should be filled up within six months”.”

Of immense significance is what is then stated in para 20 that, “At the International level, the United Nations has issued the “Nelson Mandela Rules”, which deal with the “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners”.

Please read concluding on thedailyguardian.com

As mentioned hereinabove, these Rules prescribe the accepted good principles, and practices in the treatment of prisoners and prison management. Rules 74 to 82 deal with “Institutional Personnel”.”

On these Rules, it is first and foremost stated in para 21 that, “Rule 74 is as under :-

“Rule 74

1. The prison administration shall provide for the careful selection of every grade of the personnel, since it is on their integrity, humanity, professional capacity and personal suitability for the work that the proper administration of prisons depends.

2. The prison administration shall constantly seek to awaken and maintain in the minds both of the personnel and of the public the conviction that this work is a social service of great importance, and to this end all appropriate means of informing the public should be used.

3. To secure the foregoing ends, personnel shall be appointed on a full-time basis as professional prison staff and have civil service status with security of tenure subject only to good conduct, efficiency and physical fitness. Salaries shall be adequate to attract and retain suitable men and women; employment benefits and conditions of service shall be favourable in view of the exacting nature of the work.””

As we see, the Bench then states in para 22 that, “Rule 75 is as under :-

“Rule 75

1. All prison staff shall possess an adequate standard of education and shall be given the ability and means to carry out their duties in a professional manner.

2. Before entering on duty, all prison staff shall be provided with training tailored to their general and specific duties, which shall be reflective of contemporary evidence-based best practice in penal sciences. Only those candidates who successfully pass the theoretical and practical tests at the end of such training shall be allowed to enter the prison service.

3. The prison administration shall ensure the continuous provision of in service training courses with a view to maintaining and improving the knowledge and professional capacity of its personnel, after entering on duty and during their career.””

As we progress, we see that the Bench then observes in para 23 that, “Rule 76 is as under :-

“Rule 76

1. Training referred to in paragraph 2 of rule 75 shall include, at a minimum, training on:

(a) Relevant national legislation, regulations and policies, as well as applicable international and regional instruments, the provisions of which must guide the work and interactions of prison staff with inmates;

(b) Rights and duties of prison staff in the exercise of their functions, including respecting the human dignity of all prisoners and the prohibition of certain conduct, in particular torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

(c) Security and safety, including the concept of dynamic security, the use of force and instruments of restraint, and the management of violent offenders, with due consideration of preventive and defusing techniques, such as negotiation and mediation;

(d) First aid, the psychosocial needs of prisoners and the corresponding dynamics in prison settings, as well as social care and assistance, including early detection of mental health issues.

2. Prison staff who are in charge of working with certain categories of prisoners, or who are assigned other specialized functions, shall receive training that has a corresponding focus.””

Not stopping, the Bench then adds in para 24 that, “Rule 79 is as under :-

“Rule 79

1. The prison director should be adequately qualified for his or her task by character, administrative ability, suitable training and experience.

2. The prison director shall devote his or her entire working time to official duties and shall not be appointed on a part-time basis. He or she shall reside on the premises of the prison or in its immediate vicinity.

3. When two or more prisons are under the authority of one director, he or she shall visit each of them at frequent intervals. A responsible resident official shall be in charge of each of these prisons.””

Be it noted, the Bench then hastens to add in para 25 that, “Since India is a member of the United Nations, these Rules are equally binding on the country. Therefore, neither these Rules, nor the recommendations of the various Committees, nor the letter issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India dated 17.07.2009, can possibly be ignored by the State.”

What’s more, the Bench then observes in para 26 that, “All these recommendations, and Rules are in conformity with the great transformation, which has occurred in the theory of punishment : from the theory of “Retribution And Deterrence”, we have come to the age of “Reformation and Rehabilitation of Prisoners”. These Committee recommendation and the Nelson Rules emphasize the need for carefully selecting the prison personnel, for providing rigorous training, both prior to their joining the service, and subsequent thereto, of the appointment being a full-time, regular appointment. It is only when these factors are inculcated in the prison administration that the prison system succeeds in protecting, reforming and rehabilitating the prisoners. Otherwise, it is a self-defeating proposition.”

Quite remarkably, the Bench then waxes eloquent to hold in para 27 that, “Needless to say, the purpose of the Police is not to reform, or to rehabilitate, but to prevent the occurrence of crime, and to punish the criminals. Therefore, the very training of a police personnel is carried out with a different purpose in mind, and with different goals prescribed by law. Thus, there is a vast difference in the philosophy that permeates the police administration, and the jail administration. Hence, even their training and the psychology of the police personnel and prison personnel are poles apart.”

No less remarkable is what is then divulged in para 28 that, “Keeping the differences in two systems, the Rules, 1982 clearly provide that the post of Superintendent, District Jail should necessarily has to be filled up in accordance with the Rules, 1982. Rule 5(6) of the Rules, 1982 is as under :-

“5(6) Superintendents, District Jails. – (i) 50 per cent of posts in the cadre by direct recruitment through the Commission.

(ii) 50 per cent of post in the cadre by promotion through the Commission from amongst regularly appointed Deputy Superintendents/Jailors with a minimum of 5 years services as Deputy Superintendents of Jailors or both.””

In the same vein, the Bench then points out in para 29 that, “Rule 14 of the Rules, 1982 is as under :-

“14. Determination of vacancies.- The appointing authority shall determine and intimate to the Commission the number of vacancies on the posts of Superintendents, District Jails to be filled during the year of recruitment as also the number of vacancies to be reserved for candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other categories under Rule 6.””

Going forward, the Bench then envisages in para 30 that, “Rule 15 of the Rules, 1982 is as under :-

“15. Procedure for direct recruitment.- (1) Application for permission to appear in the competitive examination for direct recruitment shall be invited by the Commission in the prescribed form which may be obtained from the Secretary to the Commission on payment, if any.

(2) No candidate shall be admitted to the examination unless he holds a certificate of admission, issued by the Commission.

(3) After the results of the written examination have been received and tabulated the Commission shall, having regard to the need for securing due representation of the candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and others under Rule 6, summon for interview such number of candidates as, on the result of the written examination, have come up to the standard fixed by the Commission in this respect. The marks awarded to each candidate at the interview shall be added to the marks obtained by him in the written examination.

(4) The Commission shall prepare a list of candidates in order of their proficiency as disclosed by the aggregate of-marks obtained by each candidate at the written examination and interview and recommend such number of candidates as they consider fit for appointment. If two or more candidate obtain equal marks in the aggregate, the name of the candidate obtaining higher marks in the written examination shall be placed higher in the list. The number of names in the list shall be larger but not larger by more than 25 percent of the number of vacancies. The Commission shall forward the list to the appointing authority.

Note. – The syllabus and rules for the competitive examination shall be such as may be prescribed by the Commission from time to time.”

Also, still ahead, the Bench then states in para 31 that, “Rule 16 of the Rules, 1982 is as under :- “16. Procedure for recruitment by promotion to the post of Superintendent, District Jail.- Recruitment by promotion to the post of Superintendent of District Jail shall be made on the basis of seniority subject to the rejection of the unfit in accordance with the Uttar Pradesh Promotion by Selection in Consultation with Public Service Commission (Procedure) Rules, 1970 as amended from time to time.””

Most significantly, the Bench then minces no words to state it upfront in para 32 that, “A bare perusal of these Rules of 1982 clearly reveals that the post of Superintendent of Jail necessarily has to be filled up either by direct recruitment (fifty percent), or by promotion (fifty percent). The Rules do not permit an ad-hoc appointment from any other service, much less the police service. Therefore, the post can be filled up either directly from candidates from the open market, or from the post of Deputy Superintendents/Jailors having a work experience of minimum of five years. Hence, the appointment of the police personnel, by the impugned orders, is clearly illegal.”

Equally significant is what is then pointed out in para 33 that, “Although the learned counsel for the State has tried to support the impugned orders ostensibly on the ground that the Inspector General of Prisons and the Additional Inspector General of Prisons can be appointed from the IPS cadre, the said argument is clearly untenable. For, once the Rules, 1982, which deal with Group A and B services, clearly provide a procedure for determination of vacancy, and selection and promotion for filling up the post, the said Rules cannot be deviated from. After all, it is a settled position of law that once a procedure has been established by law, it cannot be circumvented from. Therefore, merely because the post of Inspector General of Prisons, and Additional Inspector General of Prisons can be filled up from persons belonging to the IPS cadre, it does not empower the State to fill up the post of the lower echelons by posting police personnel on the post of Senior Superintendent/Superintendent of Jail.”

As a consequence, the Bench then holds in para 34 that, “For the reasons stated above, the impugned order dated 12.02.2021 passed by the Secretary, Department of Home, respondent no. 2, and the consequential order dated 12.02.2021, passed by the Inspector General of Prisons, respondent no. 3, are hereby set-aside. The State is directed to immediately fill up the posts of Senior Superintendent and Superintendent of Jail either through direct recruitment, or through promotion. Since the Rules permit ad-hoc promotion as a temporary measure, even ad-hoc promotions may be granted by the State till regular promotions are made. The said exercise shall be carried out as expeditiously as possible and preferably within one month from the date of receiving the certified copy of this judgment.” Finally, it is then held in para 35 that, “The Writ Petition is, hereby, allowed.”

No doubt, words cannot be adequate to describe the brilliance with which this judgment is written which is par excellence and substantiating them with relevant Rules followed in India and simultaneously backing them up with rules at international level as for instance the Nelson Mandela Rules issued by UN already dwelt in detail above dealing with the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners. It is now abundantly and manifestly clear from the aforesaid discussion that we had on the ruling by a two Judge Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma that police personnel cannot be appointed as jail superintendents.

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

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