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PUCL Bulletin, October 2006

Organisational initiatives: Taking the benefits to the people

-- By Y P Chhibbar

The Government of India has taken some steps through enactments in the Parliament for improving the welfare of labour, enhancing employment in rural areas, introducing transparency in government functioning, strengthening the legal support to under trial prisoners, and for protecting children from economic abuse. There is always a possibility that such steps may become pieces of decoration in the ‘Constitutional Museum’ of the country if no follow-up action is taken.

The bureaucracy cannot be expected to undertake any such initiatives because this “steel frame”, as it was described by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, has actually become a steel chain girdling the life of the common people. The PUCL General Secretary wrote to all State branches to initiate steps and evolve programmes so that the benefit of such enactments may reach the target population. It would be fruitful to reproduce these initiatives of the PUCL so that individual members of the organisation and also other readers of the PUCL Bulletin may become aware of them and may take steps for their fruition whenever possible.

1. A Crime against Labour Cell is to be established in every district under the district judge. These cells will look into complaints registered by labourers. The cell will be a part of a nation wide network under the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987. Activists can help labourers to register complaints and to pursue them.

2. The National Rural Employment Act came into force on February 2, 2006 in certain selected districts of each State. Activists can help the unemployed in the rural areas to take advantage of the scheme by informing them and by supporting their efforts. It was reported in the newspapers that in some States the exploiting private contractors were spreading rumours to the effect that through these schemes the government was preparing lists of unemployed people to send them to Iraq! Informed activists can see through such games.

3. The Right to Information Act 2005 was notified on June 15, 2005. A skeletal machinery has been created for its successful working. Though there are controversies regarding its rumoured amendment but still there are immense possibilities for checking corruption and moving towards transparency by innovative steps in various fields for procuring information. The threat of Right to Information is like the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of bureaucracy. Shri Prabhakar Sinha and Shri Ramashrya Prasad have written very helpful booklets on this law which can be used by Activists.

4. The Parliament has amended Section 436 of Cr.P.C. by adding a Section ‘A’ to it making mandatory for courts to release on a personal bond with or without sureties, a person detained for up to 1-˝ of the period of imprisonment specified under law (not applicable to those where capital punishment is one of the punishments). Every branch of the PUCL or individual Activists may identify such under trial prisoners and help them to take advantage of the new amendment.

The full text of the new Section 436 A is as follows:
Maximum Period for which an Under Trial Prisoner can be Detained Where a person has, during the period of investigation, inquiry or trial under this Code of an offence under any law (not being an offence for which the punishment of death has been specified as one of the punishments under that law) undergone detention for a period extending up to one-half of the maximum period of imprisonment specified for that offence under that law, he shall be released by the Court on his personal bond with or without sureties:

Provided that the Court may, after hearing the Public Prosecutor and for reasons to be recorded by it in writing, order the continued detention of such person for a period longer than one-half of the said period or release him on bail instead of the personal bond with or without sureties:

Provided further that no such person shall be, in any case detained during the period of investigation, inquiry or trial for more than the maximum period of imprisonment provided for the said offence under that law.

Explanation: In computing the period of detention under this section for granting bail the period of detention passed due to delay in proceeding caused by the accused shall be excluded.

5. The Parliament has amended the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 and has imposed a ban on the employment of children below 14 years of age, to be effective from October 10, 2006. A notification has been issued and the Penalties prescribed are a fine up to Rs 20,000/- and imprisonment up to 2 years to be imposed on the employer. It would be in the fitness things that the members of the PUCL comply with this law. State Council or State Executive should resolve and see that no member of the Council or the Executive employs any person below the age of 14 years at home or at her/his place of work, to begin with. As a second step efforts should be under to see that all members of the PUCL in the State follow suit.

Office bearers of the branches of the PUCL, individual members of the PUCL, or other activists can take advantage of these initiatives taken by the Parliament and the government so that benefits may percolate to individual beneficiaries.

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014