Monday, January 26, 2015

Website on Death Penalty in India

The Death Penalty Research Project at National Law University, Delhi has launched a website on the death penalty in India --

The site aims to host extensive and comprehensive resources on the death penalty in India. We hope that the site in its current form is a decent start and that we will add a lot more in the coming months.

In the interest of full disclosure, the project was a proposal I made to the University, which in turn has provided extensive financial and logistical support.

The project has interviewed all prisoners sentenced to death in India, tracked and interviewed their families and also met their trail court defense lawyers. The idea is to understand the socio-economic profile of people sentenced to death in India and also get a sense of their experience with the criminal justice system. While the report of our research is in the final stages, our work is meant to be a foundation that others can build on. A lot remains to be understood about the administration of death penalty in India and we do hope that our empirical experience can contribute to future efforts. We hope to publish the report by March 2015.

As far as the website is concerned, a few particular links that might be of interest to readers:

Judges Discourse:
Current Prisoner Information (State-wise):
Timeline on the Death Penalty in India:
Student Researcher Narratives from Fieldwork:
Executions since Independence:
Some Prominent Executions:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Delhi High Court on the Appointment of a Leader of Opposition

Guest Post: Vasujith Ram

Last year, LAOT carried three blog posts, debating whether a recognized Leader of Opposition (LoP) has to be appointed irrespective of the number of seats the party in opposition has won. They are here:

On 14th January this year, the Delhi High Court in the case of Imran Ali v Union of India delivered its judgment in the light of a PIL seeking the appointment of an LoP. The petitioner contended that the CVC Act, 2003, the RTI Act, 2005, etc. provide that the LoP shall be a part of the committee in deciding matters of appointment – and hence a LoP would have to be appointed. The Court responded that the statutes only refer to the involvement of a LoP, assuming that a LoP exists, but nowhere do they refer to the appointment of a LoP. Moreover, the ASG stated (as noted previously on this blog here) that the statutes themselves provide that a) the leader of the single largest party shall be deemed to be the LoP for the purpose of the act; and b) the appointments made under the statutes would not be invalid due to vacancies in the selection committee.
A further contention was that Rule 121 of the Directions by the Speaker [issued] under Rule 389 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha was “wrongly” invoked to deny the appointment of an LoP. The context of this argument is that the Salary and Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Act, 1977 provides that an LoP is the leader of a party that is a) in opposition with the greatest numerical strength, and b) recognized by the Speaker – and Rule 121 refers to the recognition of a Parliamentary party. The Court’s response was against that even if it was “wrongly” invoked, the provisions still do not mandate that a LoP should be appointed. Furthermore, the ASG’s stand, affirmed by the Court, was that the Leaders and Chief Whips of Recognised Parties and Groups in Parliament (Facilities) Act, 1998 provides that only a party with at least 54 seats is recognized (again, noted previously on this blog here).
There were indubitably other arguments (see the above-mentioned blogs) that were not raised before the Court. Therefore, rightly, the Court (in a rare decision) held:
“…since the said dismissal is owing to the petitioner having been unable to make out a case and since the petition was filed in public interest, we clarify that the dismissal of this petition would not constitute a precedent in an appropriate and properly framed and argued matter, even if claiming the same reliefs.”
It is also pertinent to note that other important questions such as the judicial review of the Speaker’s decision was not decided by the Court. Since the petition was not entertained, the Court refrained from answering the said question.
(Vasujith Ram is a student of the National University of Juridical Sciences)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

V.R. Krishna Iyer: A Long Life in Law and Politics -- A Biographical Essay

In this essay, I review Krishna Iyer's life and career in politics and law.

Among other things, I examine his time as a senior minister in India's first communist state government. I also attempt to evaluate Krishna Iyer's appointment to the Supreme Court, the cases he decided, and his mixed record during the Emergency.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lawyers of Delhi

The Pathe' film archive has wonderful clips from Delhi in 1947. I came across this silent clip on the courts in Delhi in 1947, to my knowledge, the only visual documentation that we have of the period. Most of the lawyers pictured here are refugees.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Ordinance Raj

The Narendra Modi Government has promulgated eight ordinances since coming to power last May. Readers may be aware of Shubhankar Dam's excellent recent book, Presidential Legislation in India: The Law and Practice of Ordinances (Cambridge University Press, 2014).  In this interview, Dam answers questions on the recent controversy, by speaking at length on the validity of justifications offered for the promulgation of ordinances.  In an accompanying article, I give the necessary factual details of the controversy, which is still unraveling.  A report today speculates about dissensions within the Cabinet on the need for these ordinances.   In a sense, Dam is correct in suggesting that the blame for the 'inevitability of ordinance raj' must lie with India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.  How else can one explain the resort to ordinance by the Rajasthan Government, which does not face the problem of lack of majority in the Upper House, like the Modi Government at the Centre?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Academy on International Trade Law and Policy in New Delhi

The Centre for WTO Studies, in partnership with the World Trade Institute, Berne is launching the 2nd WTI – CWS Joint Academy on International Trade Law and Policy in New Delhi, from May 25 – June 19, 2015.  Taught by distinguished academics and practitioners from India and abroad, the course will equip participants with theoretical and practical insights into various issues relating to international trade. Open to law students and legal professionals in India.

Financial benefits include refund of the course fees to student participants successfully completing the course. The Call for Apps. and the App. Form for the can be downloaded from Last date is March 15, 2015.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tracking Media Prominence of the Supreme Court

One of the things an outsider notices about the Indian judiciary is how much it is covered in the news. A bevy of news cameras seem permanently stationed outside the Court complex to give reporters an appropriately judicial backdrop and a chance to interview advocates as they leave the Court. Seemingly every day newspapers run an article, and sometimes several, about the Court's latest pronouncements. Some time ago - perhaps 2011 or 2012 - I did a Google News search and was struck to find that in prominent newspapers there were more articles that contained the words supreme court than those that referenced either parliament or the prime minister. Let me show you a couple of graphs to illustrate, unpack them, and then comment on some of the changes in the prominence of the judiciary in relation to the other branches of government in the media that they seem to indicate.

First, a note on sources. Although I originally did searches about article frequency on Google News some years ago I can't seem to find this Google feature anymore. Instead, the above graphs are generated from searches entirely on Factiva (which requires a subscription).  Using Factiva, I did a series of searches. For example, I searched from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2012 in the Hindu for the words "Supreme Court". It came back with 6110 hits where there were articles in the Hindu that included these two words. I did the same for "Parliament" generating 4438 hits and then finally for "Manmohan Singh" retrieving 3309 hits. I repeated this for every year between 1998 and 2014 in both the Hindu and in the Times of India. To create the Prime Minister results, for the years 1998-2003 I searched "Vajpayee" for 2004-2013 "Manmohan Singh" and for 2014 "Narendra Modi".

Now there are clear flaws to the above methodology, which I adopted mostly to save time as I just wanted a gist of these relationships. I'll point out the two most blatant. (1) In election years, where there was a transition in power, I should have divided the year between the two governments and tracked who was Prime Minister accordingly. (2) The searches involving Parliament and Prime Minister are under-inclusive. I didn't want to use "Prime Minister" as a search term because it returns articles that reference the British or Japanese Prime Minister, but not the Indian, thus over-inflating the result. However, there are certainly a number of articles that reference the Indian Prime Minister's Office without naming the Prime Minister. These, and similar situations, will be missed in the above results. Also, the returns for Parliament would be higher if I included searches for "Lok Sabha" and "Rajya Sabha".  Particularly in election years the reference to "Lok Sabha" spikes well above references to Parliament, while in other years it's below. Many articles reference both the words "Lok Sabha" and "Parliament" or "Rajya Sabha" and "Parliament". One can avoid this duplication effect with appropriate multiple searches, but I decided for this exercise it just took too much time. The point of the above graphs is not to say this branch of government of that branch of government is covered most, but instead track trends in relative coverage over time.

One thing I find reassuring in terms of methodology is that both graphs broadly tell a similar story. From 1998 to about 2003 the Supreme Court was the least covered of the three search terms in both the Hindu and the Times of India. From 2003 to 2013 it becomes the most covered. In 2014, in both graphs "Narendra Modi" becomes the most written about.

Now what, if anything, of use can we glean from these graphs. Well, at the very least it indicates media interest in the different search terms. It's more questionable though if such data is any indication of the power or relative activity of Parliament, the Prime Minister, or the Supreme Court. For example, there could be a lot of coverage of Parliament because of a corruption scandal that is discrediting the institution or because it is passing a series of laws and programs that is giving it new popularity. It is interesting to note though that the relative rise of coverage about the Supreme Court corresponded with Manmohan Singh being Prime Minister - a PM who was not particularly adept with the media and who had to vie with the power of Sonia Gandhi, who exercised control mostly out of the limelight. The increased coverage of the Prime Minister in the media may correspond with an increased ability of the Prime Minister to shape a media narrative in their favor when it comes to future institutional clashes, but then again it may not.

For now, I will take the safe academic answer to the meaning of this data, which is that we won't really know what it is a good predictor of until we have more data. Factiva does not go back further historically for these publications, and while 16 years is not an unsubstantial amount of time, it really does not allow us to read too much into the data with much certainty although it should not stop us from hypothesizing.