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The Indian National Congress today released its Manifesto for the next five years, ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections.
While, the main focus appears to be on employment, the Manifesto also reveals how the Congress party wants to change the laws in India.
From repealing Sedition laws to introducing a National Judicial Commission, here is how the party promises to change things if they come into power.
The Congress aims to introduce a Bill to amend the Constitution to make the Supreme Court a Constitutional Court that will hear and decide cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution and other cases of legal significance or national importance.
In the same vein, it calls for the establishment of Courts of Appeal to hear appeals from judgments and orders of the High Courts. The Court of Appeal will sit in multiple Benches of 3 judges each in 6 locations, the Congress envisions.
It also calls for a National Judicial Commission (NJC) to appoint judges to the higher judiciary. As per the Manifesto,
“the NJC will be comprised of judges, jurists and parliamentarians and will be serviced by a secretariat. Names of suitable candidates will be placed in the public domain and the reasons for selection will be published to ensure that the entire process is transparent.”
It is also envisioned that once the NJC is in place, all vacancies in the Supreme Court and the High Courts will be filled within two months. A tall order, given how many vacancies there have been for so long in the High Courts.
Other judicial reforms include:
Change of Laws
Most significantly, like the CPI M, the Congress aims to omit Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises defamation. It also aims to strike down the offence of Sedition contained in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code from the statute books.
Other changes in laws include:
In a swipe against the ruling BJP government, the Congress promises in its Manifesto to restore the dignity, authority and autonomy of independent institutions while making them accountable to Parliament.
It also calls for an amendment to the Anti-Defection Law by providing that Members of Parliament who disobey the party’s whipper withdraw allegiance shall be instantly disqualified. Such a member will also be disqualified for two years,
Significantly, the Congress promises to introduce the requirement of public consultation before a Bill is introduced in Parliament.
On the Aadhaar Act, the Congress promises to restrict its use to subsidies, benefits and services provided by the government. Identification other than biometrics will also be allowed.
Anti-Corruption and Transparency
While pledging to uphold the anti-corruption laws, the Congress also pledges to investigate the circumstances under which a number of scamsters were allowed to leave the country, and to take determined steps to bring them back and face legal proceedings.
A review of the Right to Information Act, 2005 is also called for. The Manifesto states that provisions that dilute the Act will be omitted, and new provisions to strengthen the legislation will be put in place.
Press and Media Censorship
In the age of fake news and compromised media organizations, the Congress aims to amend the Press Council of India Act, 1978 to strengthen the system of self-regulation, protect the freedom of journalists, uphold editorial independence and guard against government interference. Also called for is:
The Congress promises to pass the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to provide for reservation of 33 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women.
Interestingly, it also aims to repeal any provision of law that prohibits night shifts for women.
Also called for is a comprehensive review of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, 2013 and extension of the Act to all workplaces.
Protection of Minorities
Amendments to the Constitution to provide for reservation in promotion as well as in private higher educational institutions for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes also figures in the Congress Manifesto.
In the background of attacks on minorities in the recent past, the Manifesto states,
“We will pass a new law in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha to prevent and punish hate crimes such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The law will contain provisions to compensate the victims and to hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence.”
Some of the other changes to Indian laws envisioned by the Manifesto include:
Read the Congress Manifesto: