Patna High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Patna High Court: A Division bench of Sanjay Karol, CJ and S. Kumar, J., addressed two crucial issues revolving around the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Issues raised for consideration:

  • Whether guidelines of the NITI Aayog to the Chief Secretaries of the State governments are in nature of advisory communication or did it make it mandatory on the State government to engage CSOs/NGOs/voluntary organizations into the realm of relief operations?
  • Whether the civil society organizations have a right to be involved in relief operations during the times of crisis and disaster management, for ensuring the reach of relief to each needy person, especially in light of the Covid-19 response strategies issued by the international organizations, including the WHO and endorsed by the United Nations?

Advocate Parul Prasad by way of Public Interest Litigation brought to the Court’s notice the following issue:

“rights of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) to aid and supplement the efforts of the State in providing relief to the needy during the pandemic.”

Petitioner submitted that due to the sheer size and population of the State of Bihar and continued government efforts, they were unable to reach each and every person in need.

Adding to the above, petitioner stated that in the interest of the rights of persons in need that a large number of voluntary organizations, CSOs and NGOs who were genuinely interested in helping out and were in an excellent position to assist the State Government, be engaged in the relief operations.

Petitioner prayed for the following reliefs:

  • Direction to the State of Bihar to follow directions and guidelines of the NITI Aayog for allowing representatives of the CSOs and NGOs to aid and supplement the efforts of the State in extending help for the needy during the pandemic.
  • Directions to permit the representatives of CSOs and NGOs to accompany State officials to ensure transparency in the distribution of relief materials provided by the CSOs.
  • Directions for the appointment of Nodal Officers at State and District levels to coordinate and regulate the work with CSOs & NGOs.
  • Directions to the State to ensure that arrangement of food and essential articles are made for Orphanages, Old Age Homes and Shelter Homes for the disabled, at the earliest.

NITI Aayog’s Directions: Advisory in nature

Chief Secretary of Bihar maintained that any direction by the NITI Aayog on the involvement of and taking help from CSOs were entirely advisory in nature and were only meant as a suggestion to supplement the State effort.

An explainer of Court’s opinion

  • Letter of NITI Aayog for involving CSOs and NGOs and whether it was binding on the State?

NITI Aayog acts as the quintessential platform of the Government of India to bring States to act together in the national interest, and thereby fosters Cooperative Federalism.

Role of NITI Aayog

Role of NITI Aayog is that of think tank limited to giving directions and policy inputs which means that such directions/recommendations can be acceptable to the Central Government or State Government or may not be acceptable to the Central Government or State Government.

Ground Realities of the State

Bench stated that it is inclined to accept the State’s view that has repeatedly asserted that communication or guidelines issued by NITI Aayog are purely advisory in nature and leave in the open to the State to adapt their own policies keeping in view the ground realities of the State.

Nature of NITI Aayog’s letters: Advisory 

Further, the Supreme Court’s decision in Poonam Verma v. Delhi Development Authority, (2007) 13 SCC 154 was cited, wherein the Court held that the guidelines by their very nature did not fall into the category of legislation, direct, subordinate or ancillary and therefore were advisory in nature.

The above position was also followed by the Supreme Court in its recent decision of Praneeth K v. UGC, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 592, where the communication at issue was a letter of UGC directing universities to compulsorily conduct final examinations by a fixed date. The advisory nature of the guidelines issued by the UGC was vehemently argued before the Court. However, stating that guidelines/directions become binding when issued in exercise of statutory powers vested in the authority, it was held that the universities were mandated to adopt the guidelines.

In the instant matter, there was nothing in NITI Aayog’s letter that would show that it comes in the exercise of a statutory authority vested in the NITI Aayog.

“…it is the stand of the NITI Aayog itself that the letter to the state government was advisory in nature and not binding on the state government.”

Hence, Bench agreed with the State that they are free to formulate their own policy with respect to the engagement of CSOs and NGOs.

  • Whether the CSOs and NGOs have an enforceable right against the State to be engaged in relief operations.

Every person has a right to receive effective help, which ensures to them a right to life and livelihood guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

In times of disaster, civil society has always stepped in to provide relief and assistance and has always worked towards ensuring the socio-economic rights of the most vulnerable.

Therefore, it is a matter of significance that a continued relationship of mutual trust exists between the State and these organizations in providing help to the needy.

The role of the civil Society in helping vulnerable groups and persons in need cannot be undermined.

Supreme Court in its decision of Public Union for Civil Liberties v. State of T.N., (2004) 12 SCC 381 acknowledged the above stand.

Further, the guidelines of the WHO in its Covid-19 preparedness strategies, direct all countries to establish national strategies and implement National Action Plans, and one of the core pillars of the plans highlights the need for coordination and planning efforts, which included interventions by NGOs and CSOs.

Good Governance and Salus Populi (Est) Suprema Lex

Good governance directly flows from this concept of governance and consists of ensuring the rule of law, effectiveness and accountability in governance processes.

In the Supreme Court’s decision of Manoj Narula v. Union of India, (2014) 9 SCC 1, the maxim, Salus Populi (est) suprema lex was invoked to stress that in a democracy, it was the public interest that is at the heart of good governance.

In a plethora of cases, the Apex Court has recognized the role of civil society in ensuring good governance in the country. Over the years the Court has directed the State to engage the civil society organizations in their efforts to ensure the utmost welfare of numerous vulnerable groups.

Bench reiterated the Supreme Court’s sentiment in Public Union for Civil Liberties v. State of T.N., (2004) 12 SCC 381, where the Court was pleased to point out that in many situations, the NGOs had a better position to reach out to the needy than the State itself and therefore the sate ought to leverage such services of the Civil Society.

Role of the Civil Society in a democracy cannot be understated to address the miseries brought about by the pandemic, but however, a coordinated effort of all functionaries is paramount.

Decision

For the State’s consideration, the High Court laid down the following directions for enforcement to the extent possible:

  • Actively interact and coordinate with NITI Ayog ensuring implementation of principles of good governance.
  • Allow CSOs and NGOs to conduct relief operations. Civil Society forms the fourth institution of democracy.
  •  Integrate the participation of CSOs and NGOs as part of the policy framework formulated by the State.
  • Strive to form policies that allow CSOs and NGOs to work in direct partnership with the State, especially socioeconomic welfare policies, such as those directed towards child education and nutrition, juvenile justice, women’s rights, transgender rights, etc.
  • Accountability of all institutions essential. Formulate SOPs, guidelines and codes of conduct to be adopted by the State as well as CSOs and NGOs in their performance of welfare and relief operations.
  • Leverage the information and knowledge-bases of CSOs and NGOs.
  • Create publicly accessible repositories of recognized CSOs and NGOs, maybe even organized in terms of their area of efforts and involve them in relevant projects.
  • Conduct regular consultations at every stage of relief work, with relevant CSOs and NGOs working at the ground level and are versed with the needs of the people.
  • Create a website/other online platforms for interaction with non-state actors, and as a forum for data and information sharing with the various stakeholders.
  • Have a regular dialogue, collaboration and coordination with CSOs and NGOs at all stages- of policy/ scheme formation, implementation and monitoring results.

While parting with its decision, Court stated that it hopes and expects that the State itself makes optimum use of all the aid and assistance being extended by all the organizations and by engaging them to ensure that relief reaches the maximum number of persons, including the farthest corners of Bihar.

In view of the above, the petition was disposed of. [Parul Prasad v. State of Bihar, Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No. 5609 of 2020, decided on 09-09-2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

NITI Aayog is organised a National Consultation titled “Realizing the vision of population stabilization: leaving no one behind” .

The consultative meeting was organised in partnership with Population Foundation of India (PFI).

Some of the key recommendations are as follows:

  1. Increasing the basket of contraceptive choices, with greater focus on spacing methods and helping women make informed choices about delaying pregnancy and spacing between children.
  2. Addressing social determinants of health such as age at marriage and sex-selective practices.
  3. Strengthening quality of care, including counseling services, managing side effects and family planning support.
  4. Increasing budgetary allocations for family planning, to align with the unmet needs of India’s young people who constitute nearly 30 per cent of our population.
  5. Addressing existing socio-cultural barriers towards contraception by investing extensively in innovative behaviour-change communication strategies.
  6. Treating population stabilisation and family planning as a national priority, fostering inter-departmental convergence and ensuring multisectoral participation and integration.

India, with a current population size of 1.37 billion, has the second largest population in the world. We are also at a stage where birth rates are falling but the population continues to grow due to the fact that more than 30 per cent of the population is young and in the reproductive age group. Nearly 30 million currently married women in the age group of 15-49 years within this critical cohort of young people have unmet needs in family planning, which limit theirability to delay or avoid pregnancy by not having access or the agency to use contraception. Family planning is considered universally as the smartest development investment. For India to realize its sustainable development goals and economic aspirations, it is important to ensure that people have informed access to contraception and quality family planning services.


NITI Aayog

[Press Release dt. 19-12-2019]

[Source: PIB]

Appointments & TransfersNews

The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has approved the following:

1. The ACC has approved the appointment of Shri Arvind Kumar,  IPS (AM:84), Special Director, Intelligence Bureau as Director, Intelligence Bureau vice Shri Rajiv Jain on completion of his tenure on 30-06-2019 for a tenure of two years from the date of assumption of charge of the post or until further orders, whichever is earlier.

2. The ACC has approved the appointment of Shri Samant Kumar Goel, IPS (PB:84), Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat (SR) as Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) vice Shri A.K. Dhasmana on completion of his tenure on 29-06-2019 for a tenure of two years from the date of assumption of charge of the post, or until further orders, whichever is earlier.

3. The ACC has approved the extension of tenure of Shri Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog for a further period of two years beyond 30-06-2019 i.e. up to 30-06-2021, on the same terms and conditions, as approved earlier.


[Press Release dt. 26-06-2019]

[Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions]

Hot Off The PressNews

A Task Force on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for India’s Economic Transformation was constituted on 24th August 2017 which submitted its report on 19th January 2018. It has recommended for an Inter-Ministerial National Artificial Intelligence Mission to act as a nodal agency for coordinating AI related activities in India.

In the meeting of Committee of Secretaries held on 8th February, 2018, NITI Aayog was tasked with formulation of a National Strategy Plan for AI in consultation with Ministries and Departments concerned, academia and private sector. NITI Aayog has prepared and placed on its website on 4th June 2018 a discussion paper on National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence identifying following five sectors to be focused upon: Healthcare, Agriculture, Education, Smart Cities and Infrastructure, Smart Mobility and Transportation.

In order to create a policy framework and to develop the ecosystem for Artificial Intelligence, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, has constituted four committees covering all the aspects of AI. These Committees are:

  1. Committee on platforms and data for AI
  2. Committee on leveraging AI for identifying National Missions in key sectors
  3. Committee on mapping technological capabilities, key policy enablers, skilling, re-skilling and R&D
  4. Committee on cybersecurity, safety, legal and ethical issues.

Ministry of Commerce & Industry

Business NewsNews

As per recommendation of 14th Finance Commission, the States have access to additional borrowing limits subject to fulfillment of conditions. Fiscal deficit of all States will be anchored to an annual limit of 3 % of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). The States will be eligible for flexibility of 0.25 % over and above this for any given year for which the borrowing limits are to be fixed if their debt-GSDP ratio is less than or equal to 25 % in the preceding year. States will be further eligible for an additional borrowing limit of 0.25 % of GSDP in a given year for which the borrowing limits are to be fixed if the interest payments are less than or equal to 10 % of the revenue receipts in the preceding year. The flexibility in availing the additional limit under either of the two options or both will be available to a State only if there is no revenue deficit in the year in which borrowing limits are to be fixed and the immediately preceding year.

During the 4th Meeting of Governing Council of NITI Aayog, some States pointed-out that permission accorded by Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, to eligible States were sometimes delayed due to bunching of proposals received from different States at different intervals into one consolidated approval.  The UOI, keeping in view its policy for cooperative federalism, has henceforth decided to simplify the process of approval of such additional borrowing limits requested by States. It will process each proposal along with complete information independently as and when it is received in contrast to the earlier process of bunching all proposals into a single proposal.

This simplification process is in continuation of the Governments’ reform through simplified consent mechanism, which mandated States to have their borrowing calendar for as per their cash flow projections based on Governments’ consent conveyed to them. It is expected that this will further enhance transparency and predictability in the borrowing calendar and boost capital expenditure in eligible States.

Ministry of Finance

NewsTreaties/Conventions/International Agreements

Aiming to foster growth for India’s nascent artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) ecosystem, NITI Aayog and Google have come together to work on a range of initiatives to help build the AI ecosystem across the country and. To focus on training, hackathons, mentoring startups, and providing research grants, a Statement of Intent (SoI) was signed to this effect by NITI Aayog and Google. The NITI Aayog has been entrusted to setup a national programme to conduct research and development in frontier technologies such as AI. In furtherance of this mandate, NITI Aayog has been developing India’s national strategy on AI along with the National Data and Analytics Portal to enable the wide deployment and use of AI. Artificial Intelligence is going to disrupt the way business is done and India, in particular, is uniquely poised in utilising AI to innovate for social and inclusive good. India is embracing future technologies such as machine learning and AI to augment its capacity in healthcare, improve outcomes in education, develop innovative governance systems for our citizens and improve overall economic productivity of the nation. This partnership with Google will unlock massive training initiatives, support startups and encourage AI research through PhD scholarships, all of which contributes to the larger idea of a technologically-empowered New India. Under the aegis of this program, Google will train and incubate Indian AI startups in an accelerator program. These startups will be mentored and coached by Google and its affiliates to enable them to better leverage AI in their respective business models. To help bolster the research ecosystem, one of the initiatives includes funding Indian researchers, scholars and university faculty for conducting AI-based research. Further, Google will also bring its online training courses on AI to students, graduates and engineers to numerous cities across India, in the form of study groups and developer-run courses. NITI Aayog and Google will organize a AI/ML hackathon that will be focused on solving key challenges within agriculture, education, healthcare, financial inclusion, transportation/mobility and more. This hackathon may use Kaggle, a global platform, to help facilitate international participation into these planned hackathon challenges. Google through the NITI Aayog, will conduct hands-on training programs that aim to sensitise policymakers and technical experts in governments about relevant AI tools, and how they can be used to streamline governance.

Google and NITI Aayog will work on the following initiatives

  • Organise trainings for relevant government functionaries to introduce them to open source AI tools with the goal of enabling more effective governance.
  • Awarding grants and scholarships to researchers, scholars and university faculty conducting cutting edge research in the field of AI/ML in India.
  • Organising AI/ML study jams for students and developers based on Google’s Machine Learning Crash Course (MLCC) on the fundamentals of machine learning.
  • Incubating Indian AI/ML startups in a program where they will be mentored by Google to better leverage AI in their respective business models.
  • Organise a hackathon focused on using AI/ML and open data sets to solve key challenges within agriculture, education, healthcare, etc. in India

[Press Release no. 1531504]

NITI Aayog