1. New powers for aviation regulators
Hardeep Puri says the changes were necessary for the growth of the sector
- The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 17, was passed by Parliament on Tuesday after a heated discussion in Rajya Sabha over privatisation of airports. The Upper House passed the Bill by a voice vote.
- The Bill gives statutory powers to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security and the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said the changes were necessary for the growth of the sector. The Bill empowers the DGCA to levy enhanced penalties of upto ₹1 crore, from the existing ₹10 lakh, on airlines, airports and other aviation entities.
- The amendments also address several regulatory shortcomings that were highlighted by aviation watchdogs of the United Nations and the U.S. — the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the Federal Aviation Authority — during their audits on safety and security in the Indian aviation ecosystem. The changes include recognising regulatory bodies such as the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security and the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, which were set up through various government notifications but did not have a defined role under the parent Act, as well as air navigation services.
- During the discussion, Congress MP K.C. Venugopal hit out at the government over the privatisation of six airports that had been given to the Adani Group. He demanded an inquiry into the matter, saying it was “crony capitalism”. “Airports Authority of India has become AAA — Airports Authority of Adani,” Mr. Venugopal alleged. BJP MP G.V.L Narasimha Rao responded by saying the “real crony capitalism” was prevalent in the UPA government’s tenure in the 2G spectrum and coal block auctions.
- Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi said as a former pilot he understood the problems facing the civil aviation sector. He said there was need to do away with the entire Aircraft Act, 1934. On the impending sale of Air India, Mr. Trivedi said: “If Air India was not there, the private sector wouldn’t be there. So please don’t sell Air India”.
- Former Civil Aviation Minister and NCP MP Praful Patel said the Bill was important as the aviation sector grows, the regulations have to be in line with international requirements. However, he said it was not clear how these regulators would be appointed. He also said there was a need to increase the number of airports in the country, citing the examples of the pending Jewar and Navi Mumbai airport projects that were approved in 2007 and 2005 respectively.
- On the issue of privatisation, Mr. Puri cited the example of Delhi and Mumbai airport being privatised in 2006, leading to the AAI getting ₹29,000 crore in revenue that helped in developing airports in the country. He said the six airports that were awarded in 2018 accounted for 9% of traffic, while Delhi and Mumbai accounted for 33% of traffic and earnings. He also said that for Air India, the choice was not between privatisation and non-privatisation, but between “privatisation and closing down”.
- On COVID-19, Mr. Puri said domestic air traffic would return to pre-pandemic level by year-end.
|The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 aims to enable the three regulatory Aviation bodies to become more effective, which will, in turn, increase the level of security and safety in the aircraft operations of the nation.|
Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020: Key Features
The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 proposes to convert three existing regulatory bodies under the Civil Aviation Ministry into statutory bodies under the Aircraft Act, 1934.
The three regulatory bodies include:
1. Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)
2. Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)
3. Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB)
The three authorities will then be headed by a Director-General, who will be appointed by the central government. The central government will also be empowered to issue directions to these authorities on concerned matters.
Functions of the three authorities
DGCA: It will carry out regulatory and safety oversight functions concerning matters under the Bill.
BCAS: The authority will discharge regulatory oversight functions related to civil aviation security.
AAIB: The body will carry out investigations related to aircraft accidents and incidents.
Under the Act, the central government may make rules on several matters including registration of aircraft, regulating air transport services, the prohibition of flight over any specified area. The amendment bill adds the regulation of air navigation services to this list.
The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 also proposes to allow the centre to empower the Director General or any other authorised officer to issue directions and make rules on certain matters including inspection of aircraft, conditions under which an aircraft may be flown and measures to safeguard civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference.
The bill also proposes the appointment of designated officers, not below the rank of Deputy Secretary to adjudicate penalties under the Bill. Those concerned have the option of appealing against the designated officer’s order to an appellate officer. The appeals, however, must be filed within 30 days of receiving the order.
The Aircraft Act, 1934 mandates penalty for the following offences:
(i) Carrying explosives, arms or any other dangerous goods aboard an aircraft
(ii) Contravening any rules notified under the Act
(iii) Constructing buildings or structures within the specified radius around an aerodrome reference point.
The Aircraft Act, 1934 proposes penalty including imprisonment up to two years or fine up to Rs 10 lakh or both for the above-listed offences. The amendment bill proposes to raise the maximum limit of the fine for the offenses from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore.
Further, the Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 allows the central government to cancel licences, certificates or approvals granted to an individual under the Act if the person contravenes any of the act’s provisions. The licences include those issued for the operation, repair and maintenance of aircraft, the establishment of an air transport service and the establishment of aerodromes.
The bill also proposes the compounding of certain offences under the Act including flying to cause danger to any person or property, contravention to any directions issued by the Director General of the regulatory bodies. The offences may be compounded by the Director General as prescribed by the centre. However, compounding of offences will not be allowed in case of repeat offences.
Further, the bill proposes that only courts equivalent or superior to a magistrate of the first class or metropolitan magistrate may hear the offences under the Act.
|The aircraft belonging to the Indian Air Force, Navy or the Army will be exempted from the provisions of the Aircraft Act. The amendment bill expands the exemption to include aircraft belonging to any other armed force of the nation. However, the aircraft belonging to any other armed force, which currently fall under the Act’s regulation will continue to do so until orders by the centre.|
The International Civil Aviation Organisation had conducted an audit in 2012 and 2015, which highlighted the need to amend the Act to give due recognition to the regulatory bodies and enhance the maximum limit of the penalties and empower the department officers to impose financial penalties for violations of the legal provisions.
2. Essential Commodities Bill passed
- The Lok Sabha passed the Essential Commodities Amendment Bill by a voice vote on Tuesday evening. The Bill proposes to deregulate the production, storage, movement and sale of several foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, edible oils and onions, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances.
- With thousands of farmers rising up in protest against the Bill in Punjab, one of the allies of the ruling BJP, the Shiromani Akali Dal MP and president Sukhbir Singh Badal, expressed concerns and misgivings about the proposed legislation during the debate in the House.
- He questioned the manner in which the Bill was brought without consultation with farmers’ organisations. Punjab farmers were the worst affected, he said.
- The Bill is meant to replace an ordinance promulgated in June, in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown.
- It says stock limits can only be imposed if retail prices surge 50% above the average in the case of non-perishables and 100% in the case of perishables.
This Bill replaces the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. Therefore please refer to our legislative brief on the Agriculture Ordinances, 2020.
Highlights of the Ordinance
- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 allows intra-state and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce beyond the physical premises of APMC markets. State governments are prohibited from levying any market fee, cess or levy outside APMC areas.
- The Farmers Agreement Ordinance creates a framework for contract farming through an agreement between a farmer and a buyer prior to the production or rearing of any farm produce. It provides for a three-level dispute settlement mechanism: the conciliation board, Sub-Divisional Magistrate and Appellate Authority.
- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 allows the central government to regulate the supply of certain food items only under extraordinary circumstances (such as war and famine). Stock limits may be imposed on agricultural produce only if there is a steep price rise.
Key Issues and Analysis
- The three Ordinances aim to increase the availability of buyers for farmers’ produce, by allowing them to trade freely without any license or stock limit, so that an increase in competition among them results in better prices for farmers. While the Ordinances aim to liberalise trade and increase the number of buyers, de-regulation alone may not be sufficient to attract more buyers.
- The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018-19) noted that availability of a transparent, easily accessible, and efficient marketing platform is a pre-requisite to ensure remunerative prices for farmers. Most farmers lack access to government procurement facilities and APMC markets. It noted that small rural markets can emerge as a viable alternative for agricultural marketing if they are provided with adequate infrastructure facilities.
- The Standing Committee also recommended that the Gramin Agricultural Markets scheme (which aims to improve infrastructure and civic facilities in 22,000 Gramin Haats across the country) should be made a fully funded central scheme and scaled to ensure presence of a Haat in each panchayat of the country.
PART A: HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ORDINANCE
Agricultural markets in India are mainly regulated by state Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws. APMCs were set up with the objective of ensuring fair trade between buyers and sellers for effective price discovery of farmers’ produce. APMCs can: (i) regulate the trade of farmers’ produce by providing licenses to buyers, commission agents, and private markets, (ii) levy market fees or any other charges on such trade, and (iii) provide necessary infrastructure within their markets to facilitate the trade.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018-19) observed that the APMC laws are not implemented in their true sense and need to be reformed urgently. Issues identified by the Committee include: (i) most APMCs have a limited number of traders operating, which leads to cartelization and reduces competition, and (ii) undue deductions in the form of commission charges and market fees. Traders, commission agents, and other functionaries organise themselves into associations, which do not allow easy entry of new persons into market yards, stifling competition. The Acts are highly restrictive in promotion of multiple channels of marketing (such as more buyers, private markets, direct sale to businesses and retail consumers, and online transactions) and competition in the system.
During 2017-18, the central government released the model APMC and contract farming Acts to allow restriction-free trade of farmers’ produce, promote competition through multiple marketing channels, and promote farming under pre-agreed contracts. The Standing Committee (2018-19) noted that states have not implemented several of the reforms suggested in the model Acts. It recommended that the central government constitute a Committee of Agriculture Ministers of all states to arrive at a consensus and design a legal framework for agricultural marketing. A High Powered Committee of seven Chief Ministers was set up in July 2019 to discuss, among other things: (i) adoption and time-bound implementation of model Acts by states, and (ii) changes to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 (which provides for control of production, supply, and trade of essential commodities) for attracting private investment in agricultural marketing and infrastructure.
The central government promulgated three Ordinances on June 5, 2020: (i) the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, (ii) the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, and (iii) the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. The Ordinances collectively seek to (i) facilitate barrier-free trade of farmers’ produce outside the markets notified under the various state APMC laws, (ii) define a framework for contract farming, and (iii) impose stock limits on agricultural produce only if there is a sharp increase in retail prices. The three Ordinances together aim to increase opportunities for farmers to enter long term sale contracts, increase availability of buyers, and permits buyers to purchase farm produce in bulk.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020
- Trade of farmers’ produce: The Ordinance allows intra-state and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce outside: (i) the physical premises of market yards run by market committees formed under the state APMC Acts and (ii) other markets notified under the state APMC Acts. Such trade can be conducted in an ‘outside trade area’, i.e., any place of production, collection, and aggregation of farmers’ produce including: (i) farm gates, (ii) factory premises, (iii) warehouses, (iv) silos, and (v) cold storages.
- Electronic trading: The Ordinance permits the electronic trading of scheduled farmers’ produce (agricultural produce regulated under any state APMC Act) in the specified trade area. An electronic trading and transaction platform may be set up to facilitate the direct and online buying and selling of such produce through electronic devices and internet. The following entities may establish and operate such platforms: (i) companies, partnership firms, or registered societies, having permanent account number under the Income Tax Act, 1961 or any other document notified by the central government, and (ii) a farmer producer organisation or agricultural cooperative society.
- Market fee abolished: The Ordinance prohibits state governments from levying any market fee, cess or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for trade of farmers’ produce conducted in an ‘outside trade area’.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020
- Farming agreement: The Ordinance provides for a farming agreement between a farmer and a buyer prior to the production or rearing of any farm produce. The minimum period of an agreement will be one crop season, or one production cycle of livestock. The maximum period is five years, unless the production cycle is more than five years.
- Pricing of farming produce: The price of farming produce should be mentioned in the agreement. For prices subjected to variation, a guaranteed price for the produce and a clear reference for any additional amount above the guaranteed price must be specified in the agreement. Further, the process of price determination must be mentioned in the agreement.
- Dispute Settlement: A farming agreement must provide for a conciliation board as well as a conciliation process for settlement of disputes. The Board should have a fair and balanced representation of parties to the agreement. At first, all disputes must be referred to the board for resolution. If the dispute remains unresolved by the Board after thirty days, parties may approach the Sub-divisional Magistrate for resolution. Parties will have a right to appeal to an Appellate Authority (presided by collector or additional collector) against decisions of the Magistrate. Both the Magistrate and Appellate Authority will be required to dispose of a dispute within thirty days from the receipt of application. The Magistrate or the Appellate Authority may impose certain penalties on the party contravening the agreement. However, no action can be taken against the agricultural land of farmer for recovery of any dues.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020
- Regulation of food items: The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowers the central government to designate certain commodities (such as food items, fertilizers, and petroleum products) as essential commodities. The central government may regulate or prohibit the production, supply, distribution, trade, and commerce of such essential commodities. The Ordinance provides that the central government may regulate the supply of certain food items including cereals, pulses, potatoes, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils, only under extraordinary circumstances. These include: (i) war, (ii) famine, (iii) extraordinary price rise and (iv) natural calamity of grave nature.
- Stock limit: The Ordinance requires that imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce must be based on price rise. A stock limit may be imposed only if there is: (i) a 100% increase in retail price of horticultural produce; and (ii) a 50% increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items. The increase will be calculated over the price prevailing immediately preceding twelve months, or the average retail price of the last five years, whichever is lower.
3. Kashmir has grassroots democracy: India
We remain committed to upholding all human rights despite cross-border terrorism, it tells UNHRC
- India on Tuesday made an indirect reference to Pakistan’s involvement in fomenting terrorism in Kashmir and said despite such challenges, grassroots-level democracy has flourished in the volatile region.
- Speaking at the 45th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Permanent Representative of india Indra Mani Pandey expressed regret after High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in her “Global Human Rights Update” referred to the law and order in Kashmir where a partial lockdown remains in place more than a year since India ended the special status under Article 370 of the region.
- Mr. Pandey said India remained committed to upholding “all human rights”.
- “We regret that the High Commissioner in her oral update made a reference to the situation in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In this context, I would like to underline that, since the changes made in August 2019, people in Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir have been enjoying the same fundamental rights as people in other parts of India,” Mr. Pandey said.
- He argued that the decision to end the special status of the region under Article 370 had brought grassroots democracy to the citizens and safeguarded human rights.
- “We have been able to revive grassroots democracy and provide a new momentum to social and economic development, despite the challenge posed by COVID-19 pandemic and persistent attempts by one country to infiltrate terrorists to derail this process,” said Mr. Pandey without naming Pakistan.
- Earlier on Monday, Ms. Bachelet referred to the continued tension in Kashmir.
- She said “incidents of military and police violence against civilians continue, including use of pellet guns, as well as incidents related to militancy”.
- Ms. Bachelet was one of the earliest to point out the difficulties created by the communication lockdown that was imposed just before Kashmir’s special status was ended on August 5, 2019.
- The human rights session is crucial as it indicates the agenda before the U.N. General Assembly which will convene later this month.
- The High Commissioner welcomed some of the initiatives of the government of India at the political front but insisted for greater political liberty in the volatile region.
- “While I welcome the release of some political and community leaders, hundreds of people remain in arbitrary detention, with many habeas corpus petitions still pending — including those of many of Jammu and Kashmir’s political leaders,” said Ms. Bachelet.
- She also referred to the hostilities between India and Pakistan and urged for peace between the two South Asian neighbours in the context of the tension over Jammu and Kashmir and said, “My office is committed to continuing its engagement with both India and Pakistan, to uphold the rights of the Kashmiri people — which is the best way to prevent further tensions and conflict.”
- Ms. Bachelet also referred to several other global hot spots for human rights including Hong Kong where a new National Security Law has increased concern over the civil liberties of the citizens.