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Review: SC directs states to immediately start the identification process of ‘Street Children’ in the country

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In this roundup of court judgements, we look at Constitutional Courts’ remarks & directions about free and fair elections, rehabilitation of street children, and vacancies and burden on State/District Consumer Forums.

Supreme Court: Directs Tripura authorities to ensure free & fair elections, peaceful campaigning.

In a plea by the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), the Supreme Court held that it is the responsibility of the Tripura police authorities to ensure that no political party is prevented from exercising their rights in accordance with law for political campaigning in a peaceful manner.

The apex court was hearing a petition was filed by AITC and its Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev alleging violence against its members in Tripura and seeking protection for them for the upcoming municipal polls, due to be held on 25 November 2021. The petitioners tabulated in the synopsis, incidents of violence that have allegedly taken place against them on 22 October 2021, when a team of AITC leaders and workers were in midst of public contact proceedings. Though FIR was registered, no arrests have been made, the petitioners stated.

The petitioners argued that the AITC members have been prevented from the right of an electoral campaign because of actual and threatened violence.

The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath passed an interim order directing the Tripura police authorities to consider the nature of threats that have been averred in the petition so that appropriate arrangements are made to ensure maintenance of law and order.

The bench also called for an affidavit by the Home Secretary of Tripura explaining the steps taken in pursuance to the present order to ensure that elections in Tripura shall remain free and fair. The Court has directed the DGP and the Home Secretary to file a joint report of compliance.

The matter has been posted for further hearing after two weeks.

Supreme Court: Directs States to immediately start identification process; 15-20 lakh street children in the country estimates NCPCR.

In a suo moto case, the Supreme Court directed all the District Magistrates/ Collectors of all the state governments/UTs to take steps for care and protection of children in street situations prepared by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2020.

The court was hearing about the children who are adversely affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic by losing either one or both the parents. This has led to increased incidents of child trafficking, especially of the girl child.

The apex court had earlier directed the state governments/UTs to file a status report on the rehabilitation of children on the streets (exacerbated by the pandemic), within a period of two weeks.

A study conducted by NGO ‘Save the Children’ mapped about 2 lakh children in 10 cities of Lucknow, Kanpur, Chandoli and Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, Pune and Nasik in Maharashtra, Kolkata and Howrah in West Bengal and Delhi, whose rights to protection, education, health, shelter, sanitation have not been addressed so far. The Amicus Curiae also pointed out that “hardly any steps have been taken” to ensure these children get their rights.

It was also brought to the court’s notice that there are about 70,000 children in the streets of Delhi alone. Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for NCPCR submitted that in his estimate, the number of such children might be to the tune of 15-20 lakhs across the entire country. 

The Additional Solicitor General also pointed out other states are yet to identify and upload the required information on the portal. Further, the ASG highlighted that many states do not cooperate in meetings with NCPCR officials.

Upon considering all submissions by the Amicus Curiae and ASG, the supreme court directed the state governments/UTs to take steps for care and protection of children in street situations prepared by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2020.

The Bench also directed the Secretary, Women and Child Welfare Departments of each state government/ UT to be made the nodal officer ensures that all DMs and Collectors take prompt action for the implementation of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 2.0 of NCPCR.

Supreme Court: Legislative Impact Assessment Study recommends revision of pecuniary jurisdiction to reduce the burden on District Consumer Forums.

In an earlier order, the Supreme Court had directed the Union Government to carry out a legislative impact study with respect to the Consumer Protection Act 2019 within 4 weeks. The order was primarily concerned with filling up the vacancies in the State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commissions. 

The study was carried out in the context that the new Act i.e. Consumer Protection Act (COPRA) 2019 that expanded the jurisdiction of the consumer fora, resulting in litigation shifting to the consumer fora, apart from variation in the pecuniary jurisdiction by increasing the jurisdiction of the state and district fora.

In pursuance, the Central Government has filed an affidavit containing the Legislative Impact Assessment (LIA) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The LIA was conducted by the Centre for Consumer Affairs, India Institute for Public Administration, New Delhi.

The objective of the study is four-fold:

  • Evaluate the quantum of cases that will enhance with increased pecuniary jurisdiction in the tribunals at different levels.
  • Analyse the number of commissions required at the state and national levels to deal with the increase in the jurisdiction.
  • Examine reasons for a procedural delay in disposal of consumer complaints.
  • Suggest measures to make Consumer Commission more effective.

High pendency due to vacant positions: The Report notes that between the time 20 July 2020 and 30 August 2021, 90% of the cases filed in District Commissions were pending. The corresponding figures for the State and National Commission are 83.9% and 79.3%. The Report notes that low disposal and high pendency during the period July 2020 to August 2021 can be attributed to a large number of vacancies at the three-tier Consumer Commissions.

The report finds that 50.4% of the posts of members in State Commissions are lying vacant and 45.4% in the District Commissions. In sync with earlier court observations, the report also highlights the importance of filling up the vacancies to increase the functionality of these institutions.

Infrastructural deficits: The Report also notes that 54% of District Commissions have the inadequate infrastructure, 50% face financial crunch, 37% do not have adequate storage space.

Despite the existence of a scheme to provide funds for the construction of buildings by the Central Government, the Report notes that the State Government has not allotted the required space to construct the building and hence the Central Government has not released the money. Further, the existing buildings are in a poor state and have no funds for maintenance.

Further, it is noted that while one-time grant has been provided by the Central Government, regular budgets are not granted by the State government. The report recommends that a mechanism should be put in place so that the State Government releases the amount for office expenses.

Increased burden and revised jurisdiction: The burden of cases before the District Consumer Commissions is going to increase manifold by enhancing pecuniary jurisdiction under the ambit of COPRA, 2019. Timely disposal of complaints will require adequate infrastructure, manpower and expertise of members. The report recommends that the pecuniary jurisdiction should be revised as under:

  • District Commission: 50 Lakhs (presently it is up to Rs 1 crore)
  • State: 50 Lakhs to 2 Crores (Presently it is between Rs 1 crore to Rs 10 crores)
  • National: Beyond 2 Crores (Presently it is above Rs 10 crores)

In addition, the State Government must ensure additional benches for district commissions to deal with increased jurisdiction along with regional benches for State Commissions and National Commission. Moreover, the report also makes other notable recommendations with respect to the infrastructure, manpower and financial powers of the Commissions.

In connection to this issue, in the case regarding the inaction of the Governments in appointing President/Members/Staff of Districts/State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and inadequate infrastructure across India, the Supreme Court has warned that costs in the range of Rupees 1 to 2 lakhs will be imposed on States which fail to submit a status report within a week regarding the vacancies in State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission.

In its earlier directions also, the Supreme Court has expressed anguish at the continued inaction by the State in filling up vacancies at Districts/State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

Supreme Court: Compensation cannot be restricted to the value of illegally mined mineral; cost of restoration of environment also to be considered.

In the case Bajri Lease LoI Holders Welfare Society vs. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court observed that the compensation/ penalty to be paid by those indulging in illegal sand mining cannot be restricted to the value of the illegally-mined mineral. The cost of restoration of the environment, as well as the cost of ecological services, should be part of the compensation.

The apex court was hearing a case regarding rampant illegal sand mining in Rajasthan. To understand and address the issue, the court had directed the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to submit a report on the problems relating to sand mining that are faced by traders, consumers, transporters, the State and other stakeholders and recommend measures to stop illegal sand mining.

In its report, the CEC has recommended the imposition of an exemplary penalty of Rs.10 lakh per vehicle and Rs. 5 lakh per cubic metre of sand seized, which would be in addition to what has already been ordered/collected by the State agencies as compensation.

The court, however, noticed that the basis for imposition of exemplary penalty of Rs. 10 lakh per vehicle and Rs. 5 lakh per cubic metre of sand has not been stated by the CEC in its report.

Therefore, the apex court directed the CEC to follow the directions given by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in respect of imposition of penalty/ determining the scale of compensation for illegal mining and the provisions of the 2020 Sand Mining Guidelines and determine the penalty/ compensation afresh and submit a revised report within a period of 8 weeks.

Further, the bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai emphasised that the polluter is liable to pay the cost to the individual sufferers as well as the cost of reversing the damaged ecology.

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