By Sonakshi Samtani:
The UPA has been mired in various scams and controversies throughout its rule. It has passed some very important bills in the last year though. Populist pre-election gimmick or not, it surely has been widely appreciated. Here’s a brief look at 4 of the most important bills:
1. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013: A piece of legislation providing for the amendment of Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. It pertains to laws on sexual offences and was originally an ordinance, passed in the wake of the Dec 16 gang rape protests. Under this new Act, certain acts are now classified as offences – Acid attacks or attempts to acid attacks, stalking, voyeurism, etc. The definition of rape now includes acts beyond vaginal penetration
However, it is problematic that the offences of voyeurism, stalking and rape are not gender neutral and according to this law, only a man can commit these offences on women. This raises serious questions on how the laws are not taking into account that men could also be physically violated. This actually prevents the law from doing any right to the society’s perception of men and women’s sexuality, on the other hand, it further corrupts it.
Full text of the Act.
2. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act, 2013: It is a complex piece of legislation that has found takers and opponents alike. India had been functioning with the ancient Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and all its shortcomings for a very long time now. The earlier law allowed forced acquisitions and failed to provide for rehabilitation to those displaced. In addition to that, the ambiguity of the urgency clause in the previous law led to unaccounted acquisitions and low rates of compensation and shaped the requirement for a new land acquisition law that considered the interests of land-owners equally.
The new act tries to meet all these shortcomings and aims to provide a more holistic legislation. This act provides for compensation of up to four times the market value in rural areas and two times in urban areas. Moreover, it is now mandatory to obtain the consent of the land owners. It also provides for leasing of land to developers, hence providing for a regular income by the way of lease rent. It restricts the acquisition of multi-crop agricultural land to 5% in a district and also provide certain provisions for rehabilitation of the land owners.
However, there are multiple contentions over this act too, since it is believed to discourage foreign investors due to the new restrictions. Moreover, the cost of industrial establishments might go up by multiple times. It is also criticized for not providing adequate protection to small land-owners and marginal farmers.
Though there are drawbacks to this bill but it cannot be denied that it it a progressive step from the draconian Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
3. Right to Information Act: It might be difficult to consider how beneficial the RTI has actually been after Rahul Gandhi almost chanted ‘RTI’ and ‘Women Empowerment’ in his seemingly endless interview with Arnab Goswami, but the fact remains that RTI has given to this country what no other piece of legislation could ever provide, that is a chance to know how the government actually functions. The RTI applications cannot be easily ignored and every application essentially opens a file in the government records and needs to be answered in a fixed span of time. While the UPA government has had a very corrupt record, the loopholes in budgets were made known through the provisions that RTI provides. The achievement of the UPA-II government in this regard has been the consistency in the processing of RTI applications and having a stable mechanism in place for the second term as well.
At this juncture, we need more awareness about the RTI and the process involved in filing an RTI, so that more and more people can come forward and make use of it.
4. National Food Security Act: This is another act passed in 2013 that has been widely debated for its hurried implementation and numerous loopholes in framework. It aims at providing subsidized food to about 67% of the country’s population. 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population are expected to receive 5 kg of wheat, rice and coarse cereals at Rs. 3. Rs. 2 and Rs. 1 respectively. Moreover, pregnant women and lactating mothers are entitled to free meals.
However, opponents contend that a food subsidy raise from Rs. 90,000 crore to Rs. 1,30,000 crore doesn’t ensure smooth functioning of the ration shops and the leakages in PDS. Moreover, such a high budget allocation would make it difficult to maintain the current fiscal deficit at 4.8% of the GDP.
Nonetheless, it is a step is in the right direction. However, it is advisable that the government rework the criterion for deciding the beneficiaries and reform the PDS system to avoid leakages. This could also help reduce the budget allocation to the program.