Supreme Court rejects plea to direct authorities to publish draft laws in public domain

While disposing of the petition, the Court, however, found merit in the prayer to have laws published in regional languages.

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ON Tuesday, a Supreme Court division bench comprising Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Bela M. Trivedi, in the case of Ashwini Upadhyay versus Union Of India, disposed of a writ petition that sought direction to the Parliament and state legislatures to publish draft laws on websites and in the public domain, in public interest, at least 60 days before they are tabled. The petition also prayed for directions to publish the text of draft bills in all languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for the petitioner, made two principal submissions. Firstly, he submitted that a critical legislative process by way of publishing draft legislation on public forums needs to be created to help the “consultative framework”. He explained that it is often found that there are ‘tweaks’ that are necessary for legislation once they come through, and such a ‘consultative process’ would assist the Parliament and state assemblies through inputs from citizens.

Sankaranarayanan referred to the possibility of the Union Law Secretary not having all the information while drafting a Bill. He gave the example of a Code of Practice on Consultation that is operational in the United Kingdom. A pre-consultative process is vital to ensure greater transparency, Sankaranarayanan contended.

At the conclusion of the contentions of Sankaranarayanan, the division bench observed, “Every bill must be preceded by advance uploading on public domain”. The bench expressed its dilemma on whether such a direction should be ‘directive’ or ‘mandatory’, considering that a ‘directive’ is likely to be violated and a ‘mandate’ would create a new line of jurisprudence.

The bench noted that although not mandatory, legislative devices consist of consultative committees at the level of the House, such as the Standing Committee, which enables the members to have inputs coming from the other strata of the society. The bench laid emphasis on the existence of certain legislation that contemplate public participation, including town planning legislation and environmental impact assessment. The CJI further observed that certain enactments exist where secrecy and confidentiality are to be maintained. “It is extremely difficult to pass any operative direction”, the bench remarked.

Secondly, Sankaranarayanan pointed out that a large part of the legislation is published in either Hindi or English languages. He submitted that people should have the facility to be aware of legislation that govern their conduct and their day-to-day life. Agreeing with Sankaranarayanan’s second submission, the court noted that the laws should be made available in all local and regional languages.

Disposing off the petition, in respect of the first prayer on producing executive bills in the public domain, the court left the matter to executive authorities to take stock of the situation, and said, “It would not be proper on our part to entertain a prayer to direct the government at the central or state level to publish draft legislations.

Finding merits in the second prayer on publishing laws in regional languages, the court expressed hope that the prayer is looked into by all the concerned authorities, and appropriate steps be taken.

Click here to view the Supreme Court’s full order.

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