Legal reforms promised in BJP, Congress and CPI(M) manifestos | Explained

As polling for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections begins, The Hindu decodes the judicial reforms proposed in the election manifestos and the contrasting positions adopted on contentious legal issues

Updated - May 09, 2024 12:08 pm IST

Published - April 18, 2024 02:55 pm IST

File photo: A voter casts his votes for the District Development Council elections, at a polling station in Shamshabad Budam district, central Kashmir, Saturday, Nov, 28 2020.

File photo: A voter casts his votes for the District Development Council elections, at a polling station in Shamshabad Budam district, central Kashmir, Saturday, Nov, 28 2020. | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

The first phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections is all set to begin. In the last few days, the three major political parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have released their manifestos outlining the promises they are set to deliver on if elected to power. Although not legally enforceable, election manifestos have the potential to shape political narratives by outlining a party’s approach to governance and policymaking.

From repealing the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), implementing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to restoring Article 370 of the Constitution, and recognising civil unions between LGBTQIA+ couples — the poll manifestos offer ambitious initiatives in shaping the country’s legal landscape. They however also reflect a divergence in views on some contentious legal policies.

Here are the key legal and judicial reforms encapsulated in the manifestos.

The BJP manifesto

Uniform Civil Code

The party has reiterated its stand to draw a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) by referring to Article 44 of the Constitution which mandates that the state “shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” The provision is a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV of the Constitution), which although not enforceable, play a pivotal role in the country’s governance.

“BJP believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time Bharat adopts a Uniform Civil Code, which protects the rights of all women, and the BJP reiterates its stand to draw a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with the modern times,” the manifesto states.

In February, Uttarakhand became the first State to implement a UCC. The Code was passed by the State Assembly on February 7 before receiving the President’s assent on February 13.

Simultaneous elections

The manifesto states that a High Powered Committee to examine the issues of conducting simultaneous elections has been established and that the BJP will work towards implementing its recommendations. The committee, headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind submitted its report on March 14 backing the proposal. The creation of a common electoral roll for all levels of elections has also been recommended.

New criminal laws

The BJP has expressed its commitment to the effective implementation of the Bhartiya Nyay Sanhita which aims to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC). On December 12, 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah introduced three revised criminal law Bills in the Lok Sabha after withdrawing the previous versions, introduced in August of that year. The new laws are slated to come into force from July 1 this year.

“We have enacted Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita to ensure security as well as justice delivery for our citizens. We are committed to its effective implementation through training, online certificate courses, new curriculum in universities and law schools, and many additional measures”, the manifesto stipulates.

National Litigation Policy

The formulation of a National Litigation Policy has been pitched to expedite the resolution of pending cases, lower judicial expenses and decrease government-related litigation.

CAA

The CAA which the BJP hails as an important political achievement also finds mention in the manifesto. Four years after the Parliament passed the law, the Ministry of Home Affairs notified the rules to implement it on March 11. Notably, the Supreme Court is currently hearing a batch of petitions challenging the law and the recently notified rules.

The manifesto says, “We have taken the historic step of enacting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and will implement it to confer citizenship to all eligible persons.” It however has no reference to a National Register of Citizens (NRC) which was one of the prominent poll promises in the party’s 2019 manifesto.  

Also Read:Who will benefit from the new CAA Rules? | Explained

The Congress manifesto

No reference to CAA or NRC

There is no explicit reference to the contentious CAA or the NRC in the manifesto.

Reform of personal laws

The Congress has promised to “encourage” the reform of personal laws. Such changes are to be undertaken with the participation and consent of the communities concerned. Although there is no mention of what these reforms will be, the party has said that all laws and rules that unreasonably interfere with personal freedom will be repealed.

“Congress will ensure that, like every citizen, minorities have the freedom of choice of dress, food, language and personal laws”, the manifesto states.

Separating the Supreme Court’s appellate and constitutional functions

The party intends to introduce constitutional amendments to bifurcate the Supreme Court into a Constitutional Court and a Court of Appeal. The Constitutional Court will comprise the seven senior-most judges and will adjudicate upon cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution and “other cases of legal significance or national importance”. On the other hand, the Court of Appeal will sit in three-judge bench combinations and hear appeals from the High Courts and the Central tribunals. 

The establishment of a separate Constitutional Court is often pitched as a solution to improve the disposal rate of pending cases and fulfil the apex Court’s primary function as a constitutional authority. The proposal has previously received support from the Law Commission of India.

Also Read:Should India have regional benches of the Supreme Court?

National Judicial Commission

Accusing the ruling dispensation of “misgovernance, weaponisation of the laws, misuse of investigating agencies and abuse of executive powers”, the Congress has asserted the need to safeguard the independence of the judiciary. For this, it plans to establish a National Judicial Commission (NJC) in consultation with the Supreme Court and the Chief Justices of the High Courts. 

“The composition of the NJC will be decided in consultation with the Supreme Court. The NJC will be responsible for the selection and appointment of judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court,” the manifesto states.

In 2014, the BJP government set up a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) to regulate judicial appointments. However, the NJAC Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 for being violative of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Judicial vacancies and infrastructural reforms

The party also claims to fill up all vacancies in the High Courts and the Supreme Court within three years of its coming into power. It promises to facilitate judicial inclusivity by appointing more women and persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes as judges of the higher judiciary.

“We will allocate sufficient funds for augmenting the physical and technical infrastructure of the judiciary and for the modernisation and maintenance of the infrastructure,” the manifesto says.

Judicial Complaints Commission 

To augment judicial accountability, the party proposes the setting up of a Judicial Complaints Commission comprising retired judges of the Supreme Court and former Chief Justices of the High Courts to investigate complaints of misconduct against judges in the higher judiciary. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was a prior legislative attempt to lay down judicial standards and introduce less cumbersome processes for the removal of judges. It was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2010 by then Law (and Justice) Minister Salman Khurshid but eventually lapsed.

Recognition of LGBTQIA+ rights

The Congress aims to enact a law to recognise civil unions between couples belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. Additionally, it promises a constitutional amendment to include sexual orientation as a ground for non-discrimination under Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. In December 2023, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against legalising same-sex marriage in India while underscoring that it is a policy issue that is to be dealt with by the Parliament.  

Electoral transparency

In a move to address concerns over the reliability of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), the party has proposed a hybrid system that uses both EVMs as well as ballot papers. It plans to do this by having the voter first press the button on an EVM, and then also deposit a machine-generated voting slip into the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) unit. The electronic vote tally will then be matched against the VVPAT slip tally. This, the Congress argues, will provide a robust audit trail and allow for any disputes or discrepancies to be quickly identified and resolved. The Supreme Court is currently hearing a batch of petitions seeking cross-verification of the votes cast through EVMs with VVPAT slips.

Legal guarantee for MSP

The manifesto also promises to give a “legal guarantee of minimum support prices (MSP) announced by the government every year, as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission”. The National Commission on Farmers, headed by MS Swaminathan, recommended in its revised national draft policy that the MSP should be “at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production”. Further, the party intends to make the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) a statutory body.

Reservations

The Congress has promised to pass a constitutional amendment to raise the 50% legal ceiling on caste-based reservations as propounded by the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992). The reservation of 10% in jobs and educational institutions for economically weaker sections (EWS) will also be implemented for all castes and communities without discrimination.

The party also intends to expedite the implementation of one-third reservation for women in Lok Sabha and assemblies by 2029 and 2025 (States which will go to polls that year) respectively. To do so, it plans to revoke the “sinister” provision of the women’s reservation law — the Constitution (106th Amendment) Act that was passed by the Parliament last year and allowed the 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies to come into effect only after 2029. Additionally, 50% of central government jobs will be reserved for women starting in 2025.

Also Read:What will hold up women’s reservation Bill? | Explained

The CPI(M) manifesto

Revoking “draconian” laws

Terming laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, (UAPA), the National Security Act, 1980, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2022, (PMLA) as “draconian”, the party vows to scrap them to protect the “democratic rights of the people” and strengthen the “autonomy of independent institutions”. It also plans to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, (AFSPA) except in border areas.

The manifesto also proposes the abolition of the death penalty, the withdrawal of the new criminal laws and the release of those arrested under various laws brought in over the past 10 years of the BJP government.

Scrapping CAA

Underscoring that it is committed to revoking the CAA, the CPI(M) has pledged to fight for an “uncompromising adherence to the principle that religion is separated from politics, the State, the government and administration.” It has also opposed the law for being “highly discriminatory” by linking citizenship with religion.

“The notification of the Rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA), on the eve of elections is a dangerous step designed to polarize the electorate.....The Kerala LDF government headed by the CPI(M) was the first in the country to adopt a resolution that it would not be implemented in Kerala. To bypass the opposition of state governments, the notified rules deprive state government representation in the panels to decide citizenship registration except as invitees. This is another assault on the constitution”, the manifesto says.

Judicial reforms

Like the Congress, the party believes that an NJC comprising representatives from the judiciary, executive, legislature and Bar will ensure judicial accountability by overseeing appointments, transfers and omissions by judges. It also plans to introduce reforms to provide speedy delivery of justice and expedite the filling up of judicial vacancies.

Other reforms include— i. Public declaration of assets by judges is to be made mandatory. ii. Ensuring adequate representation and diversity in the judiciary at all levels.

Restoration of J&K’s statehood

With regards to Jammu & Kashmir, the party promises the restoration of Articles 35A and 370 of the Constitution and the immediate holding of elections to the State assembly. It also intends to give regional autonomy to Ladakh.

Referring to the Supreme Court’s verdict upholding the abrogation of Article 370, the manifesto says, “The verdict has serious consequences for all states in the country where President’s rule can be imposed and its boundaries altered or statehood dissolved in the absence of an elected legislative assembly with the concurrence of the Governor.”

Rights of minorities

The party plans to enforce the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 by setting up mandatory special courts in accordance with Section 14 of the Act in each district. It also promises to enact the Prevention of Atrocities Against Minorities Act to curb “the continuing attacks on minorities including Christians” and introduce a law on hate speech.

Further, the implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities report has also been proposed. The report recommended Scheduled Caste reservation for Dalits who converted to Christianity and Islam.

Similar to the Congress’ position on LGBTQIA+ rights, the CPI(M) plans to recognise civil unions and grant inheritance rights. It also intends to formulate a comprehensive anti-discriminatory bill covering the LGBTQIA+ community. Amendments to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 have also been proposed to address the concerns raised by the community.

Privacy and combating state surveillance

The party has vowed to scrap the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 by pointing out that it strengthens “digital authoritarianism” by empowering State agencies with broad powers for surveilling citizens and enabling big businesses to utilise citizens’ data for their profit. It plans to replace the Act with a new legislation that meets the standards of privacy that have been laid down in the Supreme Court’s Puttaswamy judgment. It will also bring in a new law to establish an independent constitutional authority to oversee violations of privacy by the government and private businesses.

Importantly, the manifesto promises to roll back the “draconian provisions” of the Telecommunication Act, 2023 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Rules) that permit a “Fact Check Unit” of the Union Government to identify “fake or false or misleading” online content “related to the business of the Central Government” and demand its removal. Recently, a division Bench of the Bombay High Court delivered a split verdict on the constitutionality of the IT Rules.

Also Read:‘Censorship’ or ‘right to authentic information’?: The Bombay HC’s split verdict on Centre’s Fact-Check Unit | Explained

Independence of the Election Commission

To safeguard the independence of the apex electoral body, the CPI(M) has proposed amending the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service And Term of Office) Act, 2023 to provide for members of the Commission to be appointed by the President on the advice of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and Chief Justice of Supreme Court. Last month, the Supreme Court refused to stay the legislation by pointing out that such a relief “would lead to chaos and virtual constitutional breakdown” in the wake of the upcoming general elections.

Election Commissioners must be legally debarred from enjoying any office after their retirement either under the Government or as a Governor or member of a legislature, the manifesto adds.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.