The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 passed – Children in India get a new Law

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, has been passed by the Lok Sabha today, 22nd May, 2012. The Bill was earlier passed by the Rajya Sabha on 10th May, 2012.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 has been drafted to strengthen the legal provisions for the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation. For the first time, a special law has been passed to address the issue of sexual offences against children.

 Sexual offences are currently covered under different sections of IPC. The IPC does not provide for all types of sexual offences against children and, more importantly, does not distinguish between adult and child victims.

 The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children under the age of 18 years from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. These offences have been clearly defined for the first time in law. The Act provides for stringent punishments, which have been graded as per the gravity of the offence. The punishments range from simple to rigorous imprisonment of varying periods. There is also provision for fine, which is to be decided by the Court.

An offence is treated as “aggravated” when committed by a person in a position of trust or authority of child such as a member of security forces, police officer, public servant, etc.

 Punishments for Offences covered in the Act are:

  1. Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 3) –  Not less than seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 4)
  2.  Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 5) –­ Not less than ten years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 6)
  3. Sexual Assault (Section 7) – Not less than three years which may extend to five years, and fine  (Section 8 )
  4. Aggravated Sexual Assault (Section 9) – Not less than five years which may extend to seven years, and fine (Section 10)
  5. Sexual Harassment of the Child (Section 11) – Three years and fine (Section 12)
  6. Use of Child for Pornographic Purposes (Section 13) –  Five years and fine and in the event of subsequent conviction, seven years and fine (Section 14 (1))

The Act provides for the establishment of Special Courts for trial of offences under the Act, keeping the best interest of the child as of paramount importance at every stage of the judicial process. The Act incorporates child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences. These include:

  1. Recording the statement of the child at the residence of the child or at the place of his choice, preferably by a woman police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector
  2. No child to be detained in the police station in the night for any reason.
  3. Police officer to not be in uniform while recording the statement of the child
  4. The statement of the child to be recorded as spoken by the child
  5. Assistance of an interpreter or translator or an expert as per the need of the child
  6. Assistance of special educator or any person familiar with the manner of communication  of the child in case child is disabled
  7. Medical examination of the child to be conducted in the presence of the parent of the child or any other person in whom the child has trust or confidence.
  8. In case the victim is a girl child, the medical examination shall be conducted by a woman doctor.
  9. Frequent breaks for the child during trial
  10. Child not to be called repeatedly to testify
  11. No aggressive questioning or character assassination of the child
  12. In-camera trial of cases

The Act recognizes that the intent to commit an offence, even when unsuccessful for whatever reason, needs to be penalized. The attempt to commit an offence under the Act has been made liable for punishment for upto half the punishment prescribed for the commission of the offence. The Act also provides for punishment for abetment of the offence, which is the same as for the commission of the offence. This would cover trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

For the more heinous offences of Penetrative Sexual Assault, Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault, Sexual Assault and Aggravated Sexual Assault, the burden of proof is shifted on the accused. This provision has been made keeping in view the greater vulnerability and innocence of children. At the same time, to prevent misuse of the law, punishment has been provided for making false complaint or proving false information with malicious intent. Such punishment has been kept relatively light (six months) to encourage reporting. If false complaint is made against a child, punishment is higher (one year).

The media has been barred from disclosing the identity of the child without the permission of the Special Court. The punishment for breaching this provision by media may be from six months to one year.

For speedy trial, the Act provides for the evidence of the child to be recorded within a period of 30 days. Also, the Special Court is to complete the trial within a period of one year, as far as possible.

To provide for relief and rehabilitation of the child, as soon as the complaint is made to the Special Juvenile Police Unit (SJPU) or local police, these will make immediate arrangements to give the child, care and protection such as admitting the child into shelter home or to the nearest hospital within twenty-four hours of the report. The SJPU or the local police are also required to report the matter to the Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours of recording the complaint, for long term rehabilitation of the child.

The Act casts a duty on the Central and State Governments to spread awareness through media including the television, radio and the print media at regular intervals to make the general public, children as well as their parents and guardians aware of the provisions of this Act.

The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCRs) have been made the designated authority to monitor the implementation of the Act.

  1.  SCR summary-Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill
  2. SCR Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill 2011
  3. Children  sexual offences
  4. Bill Summary – The Protection of children from sexual harassment Bill, 2011
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Parts of hostile witness’s evidence can be used: Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: Judges should not treat as totally erased the evidence tendered by a witness whom the prosecution terms as hostile during a trial, the Supreme Court has said. “It is a settled legal proposition that the evidence of a prosecution witness cannot be rejected in toto merely because the prosecution chose to treat him as hostile and cross-examined him,” the apex court bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Dipak Misra said Monday.

“The evidence of such witnesses cannot be treated as effaced or washed off the record altogether but the same can be accepted to the extent that their version is found to be dependable on a careful scrutiny thereof,” Justice Chauhan said.

The judges said that “the law can be summarised to the effect that the evidence of a hostile witness cannot be discarded as a whole, and relevant parts thereof which are admissible in law, can be used by the prosecution or the defence”.  The court said this while upholding the Allahabad High Court’s verdict by which it reversed the acquittal of Ramesh Harijan in a case of rape and causing the death of a minor child in Uttar Pradesh in 1996.

The high court by its March 23, 2007 order reversed the acquittal decision of an additional district and session judge in Basti district Feb 2, 1999. The apex court said “even if a major portion of the evidence is found to be deficient, in case residue is sufficient to prove guilt of an accused, it is the duty of the court to separate the grain from chaff. Falsity of particular material witness or material particular would not ruin it from the beginning to end”.

“The maxim falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one, false in all) has no application in India and the witness cannot be branded as a liar. In case this maxim is applied in all the cases it is to be feared that administration of criminal justice would come to a dead stop,” the court said. The judgment said “it has to be appraised in each case as to what extent the evidence is worthy of credence, and merely because in some respects the court considers the same to be insufficient or unworthy of reliance, it does not necessarily follow as a matter of law that it must be disregarded in all respects as well”.

Referring to the evidence tendered by three hostile witnesses in Harijan’s case, the apex court said: “Undoubtedly, there may be some exaggeration in the evidence of the prosecution witnesses… however, it is the duty of the court to unravel the truth under all circumstances.”

“A reasonable doubt is not an imaginary trivial or merely possible doubt, but a fair doubt based upon reason and common sense”, the apex court said, upholding the high court’s verdict setting aside the acquittal of Harijan by the trial court. In Harijan’s case, the five-year-old victim was first buried by her family under the belief that she died of paralysis. But her body was later exhumed and sexual assault and death due to shock was confirmed in a medical test.

Judicial propriety in an age of scandal

 

Judicial propriety in an age of scandal

Judicial propriety in an age of scandal

ARGHYA SENGUPTA IN THE HINDU

Why Justice Dalveer Bhandari‘s election to the International Court of Justice while serving as a judge of the Supreme Court of India is an unhealthy development

Justice Dalveer Bhandari, a judge of the Supreme Court of India, was elected a fortnight ago by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, to serve as a Member of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). He defeated the Filipino nominee, Justice Florentino Feliciano, by a handsome margin and now has a six-year first term at the World Court. Justice Bhandari is undoubtedly a fine judge with considerable expertise in international law. His legal acumen, keen intellect and a sense of justice, especially for the poor and homeless that shines through in his domestic judgments, are qualities that make him an ideal representative of India, itself a beacon of democracy and human rights in the developing world. That India has made a good choice is not in doubt; whether it could have made a better choice, as some have suggested, is contestable though ultimately a moot point. The key issue that arises in this context relates to the fact that Justice Bhandari’s nomination by the Government of India and eventual election to the ICJ took place while he continued to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court of India. This raises grave and disturbing issues regarding the independence of the judiciary in India and points to the lowered standards of propriety in the highest echelons of governance.

Judiciary & government

The independence of the judiciary is a significant legal principle in India, ever since it was held to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Since then it has been used on several occasions by the Supreme Court most notably to judicially lay down norms regarding the appointment of judges, transfer of judges between High Courts and administratively with regard to claiming exemption for the office of the Chief Justice of India from the purview of the Right to Information Act and formulating an internal code of conduct for appropriate judicial behaviour. The extensive (and sometimes unwarranted) usage of judicial independence as a legal principle has however blighted its primary status as a normative principle of good governance which promotes impartiality, a key facet of fair adjudication. The judiciary must not only be independent of the co-ordinate wings of government as well as the parties before the case, but must also be seen to be so. The slightest doubt in the public mind of excessive proximity between the judiciary and the government, which is the largest litigant before it, may lead to significant apprehensions of a lack of impartiality thereby questioning the legitimacy of the entire adjudicatory setup. As the Supreme Court of India itself likes repeating in its judgments, “Judges, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion.”

It is this test of judicial independence as a normative principle that Justice Bhandari’s actions fail to satisfy. From available records, Justice Bhandari’s candidacy was accepted by the Ministry of External Affairs after a recommendation to this effect in January 2012 by the Indian Chapter of the Permanent Council of Arbitration, whose advice in this matter, the government has traditionally honoured. From that time, up to the election at the United Nations in April, Justice Bhandari continued as a serving Supreme Court judge, hearing cases (from the Supreme Court causelist record, he heard cases till the 9th of April) and being party to delivered judgments (the last recorded judgment thus far being delivered on the 27th of April, authored by Justice Dipak Misra, his brother Judge on the Bench).

Though his resignation is not a matter of public record yet (the website of the Supreme Court continues to show him as a serving judge at the time of writing of this piece), it is believed that it became effective only on his election to the ICJ. During the same time, as the Ministry of External Affairs’ response to a RTI petition on 8th February 2012 shows, the government was actively lobbying for his candidature in the United Nations, speaking on his behalf to various member states. Even if it is assumed that Justice Bhandari had little or no contact with the government in this process, the very fact that the government, a regular litigant in Justice Bhandari’s courtroom was actively espousing his cause outside it, is gravely problematic in terms of judicial independence conceptualised as a principle of good governance leading to impartiality.

Unheeded lessons from the past

It is not however the case that Justice Bhandari’s failure to resign as a judge of the Supreme Court prior to the government making him its official nominee for election to the ICJ is an isolated incident of judicial independence being imperilled at the altar of individual ambition. Justice Subba Rao’s acceptance of his candidature for President of India by the opposition parties when he was Chief Justice of India is the most egregious example of the independence of the judiciary being threatened by a single individual. Equally pertinently in the present context, the election of the last Indian to serve on the ICJ, the then Chief Justice of India, R.S. Pathak (who incidentally relinquished office as Chief Justice only subsequent to his election to the ICJ), was marred by strong claims that Justice Pathak’s appointment was part of a quid pro quo involving Union Carbide Corporation, the Government of India and the Supreme Court with the Pathak Court endorsing a deeply flawed settlement in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy. It is disappointing that Justice Bhandari as an upright individual and a learned judge failed to pay adequate heed to these lessons of history and relinquish his judicial office before accepting a nomination by the Government of India.

What is equally disappointing is the lack of public outcry regarding this issue. When Justice Subba Rao accepted the candidature for President made to him by the opposition parties while still in office, a man no less than Motilal Setalvad, India’s first Attorney General, issued a statement to the press strongly condemning the Chief Justice’s decision, saying that “he has set at naught traditions which have governed the judiciary in our country for over a century.” Justice Pathak’s nomination to the ICJ was the subject of several scathing indictments, including by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Krishna Iyer who wrote of “the beholdenness of the candidate [Pathak] to the litigant government for getting the great office for him.” As far as Justice Bhandari’s nomination is concerned, except a public interest petition challenging it as a violation of judicial independence, there has been a seemingly all-pervading public silence. Even the petition itself, though well-intentioned, was misguided, seeking redress from the Supreme Court in a matter which was characterised by impropriety rather than illegality of a type a judicial order could rectify. Justifiably, the Court refused to entertain it.

Importance of propriety

In an age of multi-billion rupee scandals, endemic corruption and food shortages caused by governmental apathy and inaction, the impropriety of a judge failing to resign at an appropriate time may intuitively seem trivial. But as with most questions of impropriety, though its effects may not be immediately apparent, they are the portents of an insidious decline in the standards and values that define institutions.

For the Supreme Court of India, judicial independence has been the cornerstone of its functioning from the time of its inception. Despite a few challenging periods, the Court, the Bar and the conscientious members of the political classes have always striven to fiercely guard the independence of the judiciary from any potential threats. The Bhandari episode is however a bellwether of a possibly developing relationship of cosiness between government and the judiciary, accompanied by a general public indifference, bordering on acquiescence, of such a relationship.

The government’s decision to nominate a sitting judge before whom it continued to appear as a litigant, Justice Bhandari’s decision to not resign when the government was lobbying for him, and most crucially public acceptance of such an unholy nexus are warning signs that ought to be heeded. While the return of an Indian to the World Court after an absence of two decades rightfully gives cause for celebration, it provides an equally significant opportunity for introspection, that the cherished principle of judicial independence, responsible in the first place for the high esteem in which the Indian judiciary and its judges are held on the world stage, does not itself fall into desuetude in the process.

(Arghya Sengupta is a Stipendiary Lecturer in Administrative Law at the University of Oxford and the founder of the think-tank, The Pre-Legislative Briefing Service.)

Of mines, minerals and tribal rights

The proposed liberalisation of the mining and minerals sector is an assault on the rightful owners of the land and its resources.

Tribal and indigenous communities across the world have been asserting their rights to the mineral wealth often found under the land they own or possess or have traditional rights to. They have been historically denied even a share of that huge wealth, leave alone legal rights of ownership. Under the contemporary deregulated neo-liberal policy framework, the exploitation and plunder of natural resources, including minerals, by domestic corporates and multinational mining companies has intensified. But the resistance by affected communities across the world has also grown and is reflected, over the years, in the establishment of an international framework through ILO and U.N. Conventions, which recognise in varying degrees the rights of indigenous and tribal communities to ownership, control and management of land and resources traditionally held by them either individually or as a community; the right to a decisive role in decision making for development needs in their areas; and the right to prior, free and informed consent to any projects in their areas. While these are encouraging advances won by the struggles and immense sacrifices of tribal communities, what is important is their translation into legal instruments in member countries. The issue has immediate relevance for India, as the UPA government has introduced a Mining and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2011 (MMDRA), which is presently before the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Promoting privatisation

In India, ownership of minerals lies with the State. However, the Central government which has control over all major minerals like iron ore, bauxite, copper, coal and most State governments which have control over minor minerals like sand, stone, granite, etc., have promoted privatisation through leasing mines to private companies apart from handing over captive mines of iron ore and bauxite to steel and aluminium corporates like the Tatas and Birlas. According to a recent report compiled for the industry by Ernst and Young, of the 4.9 lakh hectares of land given out in mining leases in 23 States by the end of 2009, 95 per cent of the leases comprising 70 per cent of the land were given to private companies.

The MMRDA Bill aims to further deregularise and liberalise the mining sector and encourage privatisation based on the recommendations of the Hoda Committee. It introduces the concept of high technology reconnaissance, prospecting and exploration licences, and easy terms of conversion to mining leases to encourage the entry of FDI and foreign companies. It also gives weightage, in the allocation of leases, to a set of criteria which favour such companies and also allows them activity on much larger tracts of land than previously. This has adverse implications for equity, the environment and growth.

While these aspects need comprehensive analysis, here we focus on those provisions, which claim to address the rights of tribal communities. There is a provision that makes it mandatory for coal mining companies to give funds amounting to 26 per cent of the profits. For other major minerals, an annual amount, which is the equivalent of the royalty paid in the financial year, must be given. While the principle of mandatory payment by companies is necessary, the problem in the MMRDA is that these funds are to be under the control of a district mineral foundation dominated by mine owners and the bureaucracy with a nominal representation of local communities. Interestingly, in the U.S. where the Federal Government had set up trusts to manage funds paid by companies using the land on reserves owned by Native Indians, the government was recently forced to pay a compensation of $1.2 billion to 41 Native American communities for “mismanagement of the assets” of the trust and is expected to have to pay another $3.4 billion in a similar case. When the affected people do not have a decisive say in the management of such funds, as in the case of the proposed district mineral foundation in the MMRDA Bill, “mismanagement” is inevitable. Also, rates of royalties in India are notoriously low. Until recently, for example, the royalty for one tonne of iron ore fixed by the Central government for Orissa was just Rs. 26. With a low extraction cost of only Rs. 250 to 300 per tonne and a high market price around Rs. 7,000 a tonne, mining companies made huge profits. While royalty rates have been recently increased, it is still a pittance compared to the profits companies make.

Patron-client relationship

The very premise of the scheme replicates the patron-client relationship, which has reduced tribal communities into recipients of charity, instead of recognition as owners of the land and its resources. The related provisions of the Bill constitute an outright assault on the constitutional rights given to the tribal communities, in particular in Fifth Schedule areas.

The Bill gives legal sanction to the arbitrary rights of governments, both at the Centre and the States, to give different types of licences and leases from reconnaissance to exploration, prospecting and finally extraction without any procedure for even consulting, leave alone taking the consent of tribal communities. The only reference to “consultation” (not consent), is for the grant of licences for minor minerals (but not major) in Fifth and Sixth Schedule areas where “the gram sabha or the District council, as the case may be shall be consulted.” Thus even the provisions under other laws such as the Panchayat Extension (to Schedule Areas) Act (PESAA), which mandates consultation with the gram sabhas, are violated by the complete absence of any consultative process prior to the granting of lease for major minerals, which are the main sites of tribal deprivation. In another provision for notification of giving leases in forest areas and wildlife areas, the State government has to “take all necessary permissions from the owners of the land and those having occupation rights.” Thus an unwarranted differentiation is made between the rights of tribal communities in Fifth Schedule non-forest areas and forest areas. However even in the case of forest areas there is no provision for what would happen in case the owner does not give permission.

In Fifth Schedule areas, the law prohibits transfer of tribal held land to non-tribals. Different States have also enacted such laws like 70/1 in Andhra Pradesh, the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act in Jharkhand. None of the mining companies that gets leases is owned by adivasis. Presumably this was the reason why in the Samata case, the Supreme Court held that sale, transfers and even leases of tribal land to non-tribals are illegal. It directed that governments should consider a mechanism to include cooperative societies of tribal communities for mining operations. The Bill overrides the Samata judgment. Tribal cooperatives have been disqualified in the list of those eligible to get a lease for mining of major minerals, which can only be companies registered under the relevant laws. It is only for minor minerals and small deposits in the Fifth and Sixth Schedule areas that the State government “may” (not “shall”) consider tribal cooperatives for getting the lease. An earlier draft of the Bill in 2010 had included a provision for a guaranteed stake of tribal communities in mining companies. The provision had said “the company”… “will allot free shares equal to 26 per cent through the promoters quota.” South African law under the Broadbased Black Economic Empowerment Act has a provision of mandatory sale of 26 per cent shares in all mining companies to “historically socially disadvantaged sections.” But in India, caving in to pressure from mining lobbies, the earlier provision has been replaced with a token allotment of “one share per member of the affected family.”

There are other issues such as compensation and compensatory jobs in lieu of lost livelihood which are inadequate and also ambiguous. With cuts in permanent jobs and widespread contractual and casual work in the mining sector, the promise of employment to land losers cannot be taken at its face value. Seen together with the pending Land Acquisition Bill which specifically excludes the issue of leasing tribal land, this Bill not only buries the ownership rights of tribal communities but facilitates the easy entry of international and domestic corporates to Fifth Schedule and tribal-dominated mineral-rich areas to plunder the natural resources of our country. India, which is a signatory to many international conventions on the protection of tribal rights, is violating these conventions and adding to the burden of historical injustice. The Bill, in its present form, should and must be opposed and resisted. Concerned movements should work together for an alternative model which will recognise the ownership and other rights of tribal communities in mining in Fifth Schedule and tribal areas through effective legal mechanisms.

(Brinda Karat is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India – Marxist.)

Media cannot reject regulation

Media cannot reject regulation

Media cannot reject regulation

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU IN THE HINDU

If red lines can be drawn for the legal and medical professions, why should it be any different for profit-making newspapers and TV channels?

I have not read the Private Member’s Bill on media regulation that Meenakshi Natarajan was scheduled to move in Parliament last week so I am not in a position to comment upon it, but I am certainly of the opinion that the media (both print and electronic) needs to be regulated. Since my ideas on this issue have generated some controversy they need to be clarified.

I want regulation of the media, not control. The difference between the two is that in control there is no freedom, in regulation there is freedom but subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. The media has become very powerful in India and can strongly impact people’s lives. Hence it must be regulated in the public interest.

The media people keep harping on Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression. But they deliberately overlook or underplay Article 19 (2) which says that the above right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, State security, public order, decency, morality or in relation to defamation or incitement to an offence.

Not absolute

Thus, while there should be freedom for the media and not control over it, this freedom must be exercised in a manner not to adversely affect the security of the state, public order, morality, etc. No right can be absolute, every right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest. The reason for this is that human beings are social creatures. No one can live in isolation, everyone has to live in society. And so an individual should not exercise her freedom in a manner so as to harm others or society, otherwise she will find it difficult to survive.

Media people often talk of self-regulation. But media houses are owned by businessmen who want profit. There is nothing wrong in making profits, but this must be coupled with social responsibilities. Media owners cannot say that they should be allowed to make profits even if the rest of society suffers. Such an attitude is self-destructive, and it is the media owners who will suffer in the long run if they do not correct themselves now. The way much of the media has been behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous. Yellow journalism, cheap sensationalism, highlighting frivolous issues (like lives of film stars and cricketers) and superstitions and damaging people and reputations, while neglecting or underplaying serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers’ suicides, health care, education, dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc., are hallmarks of much of the media today. Astrology, cricket (the opium of the Indian masses), babas befooling the public, etc., are a common sight on Television channels.

Paid ‘news’ is the order of the day in some newspapers and channels where you have to pay to be in the news. One senior political leader told me things are so bad that politicians in some places pay money to journalists who attend their press conferences, and sometimes even to those who do not, to ensure favourable coverage. One TV channel owner told me that the latest Baba (who is dominating the scene nowadays) pays a huge amount for showing his meetings on TV. Madhu Kishwar, a very senior journalist herself, said on Rajya Sabha TV that many journalists are bribable and manipulable.

The media claims self-regulation. But by what logic? How can the News Broadcasters Association or the Broadcast Editors Association regulate TV channels driven by profit motive and high TRP ratings? Almost every section of society is regulated. Lawyers are a free profession, but their profession is regulated inasmuch as their licence can be suspended or cancelled by the Bar Council for professional misconduct. Similarly the licences of doctors, chartered accountants, etc., can be suspended/cancelled by their regulatory bodies. Judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. But the media claims that no action should be taken against it for violating journalistic ethics. Why? In a democracy everyone has to be accountable, but the media claims it should be accountable only to itself …The NBA and BEA claim self-regulation. Let me ask them: how many licences of TV channels have you suspended or cancelled till now? So far as we know, only one channel was awarded a fine, at which it withdrew from the body, and then was asked to come back. How many other punishments have you imposed? Let us have some details, instead of keeping everything secret. Let the meetings of the NBA and BEA be televised so as to ensure transparency and accountability (which Justice Verma has been advocating vociferously for the judiciary).

Let me quote from an article by Abhishek Upadhyaya, Editor, Special Projects, Dainik Bhaskar:

“It appears that the BEA was founded to collectively use intimidatory tactics in favour of a select few players after NBA failed to do so. The NBA is so weak, so feeble in its exercise of power that it can’t confront intimidation by its own members. The India TV case is an example of this. The NBA, in the past, had given notice to India TV for deceptively recreating a US-based policy analyst’s interview. It slapped a penalty of Rs 1 lakh on the channel which then walked out of the Association.

“The group of broadcasters found themselves completely helpless, couldn’t take any action and finally surrendered meekly before the channel. The offending channel issued a statement saying that its return has come after “fundamental issues raised by the channel against the disregard to NBA’s rules and guidelines were appreciated by the association’s directors…” The head of India TV, Rajat Sharma, then proceeded to join the board of NBA, and the channel’s managing editor, Vinod Kapri, returned to the Authority in the eminent editors’ panel!

“This was the turning point in the so-called self-regulation mechanism of electronic media. It became clear that all concerned had made an unwritten, oral understanding not to raise a finger on their own brethren in future. BEA was the next step in this direction, formed on 22 August, 2009 with a few electronic media editors in the driving seat. Since its inception this body has been irrationally screaming in the interest of a select few. The editors of this body announced some tender sops from time to time to publicise its good image and thwart any regulatory attempt in advance”.

Self-regulation

If the broadcast media claims self-regulation, then on the same logic everyone should be allowed self-regulation. Why then have laws at all, why have a law against theft, rape or murder? Why not abolish the Indian Penal Code and ask everyone to practise self-regulation? The very fact that there are laws proves that self-regulation is not sufficient, there must also be some external regulation and fear of punishment.

I may clarify here that I am not in favour of regulation of the media by the government but by an independent statutory authority like the Press Council of India. The Chairman of this body is not selected by the government but by a three-member selection committee consisting of (1) The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (who is the Vice-President of India) (2) The Speaker of the Lok Sabha and (3) One representative of the Press Council.

The Press Council has 28 members, of which 20 are from the Press, five members of Parliament, and 3 from other bodies (The Bar Council of India, UGC and Sahitya Academy). The decisions of the Press Council are taken by a majority vote. Therefore, I am not a dictator who can ride roughshod on the views of others. Several of my proposals were rejected by the majority, and I respected their verdict. If the electronic media also comes under the Press Council (which can be renamed the Media Council), representatives of the electronic media will also be on this body, which will be totally democratic. Why then are the electronic media people so furiously and fiercely opposing my proposal? Obviously because they want a free ride in India without any kind of regulation and freedom to do what they will. I would welcome a healthy debate on this issue.

(The author is chairman of the Press Council of India.)