From AFSPA to Sedition to Defamation: Constitutional and Legal Tweaks Promised in Congress Manifesto
The Congress has promised setting up of National Judicial Commission comprising judges, jurists and parliamentarians for the appointment of judges.
Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh display copies of their party's election manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in New Delhi. (Image: Reuters)
New Delhi: The Congress on Tuesday released its manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls, making a slew of promises, including giving Rs 72,000 each to five crore poor families under the 'Nyay' scheme, filling up 22 lakh government vacancies, bringing a separate budget for farmers and fixing a single moderate GST rate.
The 55-page document titled 'Hum Nibhayenge' (We will deliver) focused on addressing the issues of joblessness, farm distress, safety of women and boosting the rural economy, with stress on building a narrative on "real issues" faced by people.
Among other things, it also promised legal amendments on AFSPA, sedition and defamation. Here’s a look at the key constitutional and legal changes promised by the Congress in its manifesto:
- The Congress has promised setting up of National Judicial Commission comprising judges, jurists and parliamentarians for the appointment of judges. However, a similar scheme by the NDA government was struck down by the Supreme Court as it was found to be violative of the separation of powers. The details of this scheme would be crucial as it will have to keep the earlier Supreme Court judgment of NJAC in mind.
- The Congress said it will overhaul the system and set up ‘Court of Appeal’ which shall be a court between the High Court and Supreme Court, freeing the apex court to hear matters only of constitutional importance.
- The Congress manifesto talks about omitting Section 124A (Sedition). The law has been controversial for its draconian use against the freedom of speech and expression. Recently, Kanhaiya Kumar and other students of JNU were charged with sedition. Interestingly, the manifesto says ‘omit’ and not ‘scrape’. It needs to be seen whether the law is completely scraped or a rephrased and better version of law is implemented.
- The manifesto also promises to do away with Section 499 which makes defamation a criminal offence. The Congress says that defamation shall only be a civil offence. Many journalists and activists have argued that criminal defamation is antithetical to free speech and journalism.
- The manifesto promises to fix retirement age for judges in tribunals and judicial members in commission.
- The manifesto says that Congress shall amend the Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958 to balance it with the rights of the citizens and check on disproportionate use of power.
- It’s been promised that the Electoral Bond scheme will be scraped as it unduly favours the ruling party.
- The Congress also promised full statehood to Puducherry. It also promises to amend National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1951 clarify that the Lieutenant Governor in Delhi will only work on the aid and advice of the council of ministers of the state.
- The Congress also talks about greater devolution of powers to the state governments. It refers to shifting some subjects of concurrent list to the state, without specifying the details. The Congress also promises to devolve more funds, functions to Panchayats and municipalities.
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