Monday, July 23, 2007

PRS Legislative Research : An excellent resource on the Indian Parliament's legislative output and functioning

While hunting for a specific post in the archives of this blog, I began to classify the types of blog posts that I found there, and realised that very few posts have actually focused on legislation, or on the functioning of Parliament. Tarunabh's recent post about the Broadcast Regulation Bill is quite an exception. The bulk of posts on our blog have focused upon judicial decisions, while the posts which generated the greatest debates involved those focusing on particular Supreme Court decisions. In this, the posts on this blog reflect larger trends in Indian legal scholarship, as well as in Indian legal education, where the focus invariably is on courts.

Looking back at my own legal education in India, I have to accept that a focus on judicial decisions, particularly those of the Indian Supreme Court, was the predominant feature of much of the curriculum. There were no courses on Legislative Drafting (though my batch was fortunate enough to have one offered as an optional course, even as, reflecting the perceived practical utility of such a course, there were few takers for the course). Most of us were briefly exposed to the stages of enactment of a Bill when we dealt with the constitutional provisions in this respect, but this was done very cursorily, and I suspect that most law students do not have a good understanding of exactly what happens in the process by which a Bill becomes a duly enacted statute. The mandatory course on Statutory Interpretation that I studied focused more on the perspective of practicing lawyers and judges who have to interpret enacted statutes. A cursory glance at the present curriculum adopted at NLS, Bangalore and NALSAR, Hyderabad indicates that not much has changed since the mid-1990s in this respect.

This is indeed unfortunate, because, as all of us are aware, legislative activity accounts for some of the most important developments in our legal system. Academics who focus on India's legal system have long pointed to the large number of obsolete laws on our statutory rolls. Attention has also been drawn towards the fact that even recent statutes have problems embedded in the language in which they are drafted, as well as their inherent structure. Yet, this has not been accompanied by rigorous thinking (and teaching) about the kind of changes we should be incorporating in our drafting methods. The one Indian legal academic that I am aware of who focused on these questions extensively in his writings is P.M. Bakshi (at least some of his scholarship is available in the pages of the Journal of the Indian Law Institute).

In some respects, this is a malaise which affects many countries which adopted the common law system. Fellow graduate students from civil law jurisdictions would often point out to me that their legal education focused extensively upon legislative activity, and that several of them underwent extensive training in legislative drafting. Academics from civil law jurisdictions also tend to focus upon legislative reform, and legislative developments quite extensively and naturally. In some other common law systems, however, the situation is not as bad as in India, and law schools in particular have made efforts to focus on the issues highlighted here.

Reverting to the situation in India, research and teaching focusing on legislation is hampered by the fact that we do not have the tools to conduct proper research or develop teaching modules around the issue. For those interested in this isssue, some hope is now at hand. I recently came across the excellent website of the PRS Legislative Research team. Here, from their website, is some information about the team and their mission:

"PRS Legislative Research is an independent research initiative that aims to strengthen the legislative debate by making it better informed, more transparent and participatory. PRS is the first initiative of its kind in India. India is on the threshold of a major leap forward. At this juncture, it is critical to get a robust process of law making into place – a process which not only deepens that quality of deliberation in Parliament, but also welcomes inputs from those outside government

What we do:

PRS produces easy to understand 4-6 pages long Legislative Briefs on a range of Bills. These Briefs are sent to all MPs in both houses of Parliament, about 1200 NGOs across the country, and the top 500 companies. We also email our Briefs to more than 600 people in the media.

The Post Session Summary is a synopsis of all the legislative business that has been transacted in a Parliament session. The Pre-Session Alert is a summary of the legislative business that is likely to be transacted in the forthcoming session of Parliament. One page Bill Summary is a unique offering from
PRS. Often Bills introduced in Parliament are long and complex. PRS summarises the contents of the Bill into one page, so the busy user can get a quick snapshot of the main features of a Bill. Feedback from stakeholders on Bills is critical. PRS will send your inputs and suggestions in Your Opinion Matters to the relevant government agencies. PRS also takes up Commissioned Research projects on issues pertaining to legislation and Parliament. "

The website of PRS has different sections which provide links to the full text of the following:

Bills Pending in Parliament
Recent Acts
Draft Bills
Bills Passed

For many of the specific entries, PRS provides short and helpful 'Legislative Briefs' which allow readers to get a quick sense of the proposed law. The archives date back to 2004, allowing researchers and students to study some of the most significant laws passed in recent years. In a section called "Vital Stats", the website provides interesting analysis of statistical data, which enables readers to monitor the activity of Parliament and get a sense of, for instance, the attendance record of MPs. The main page of the website also has a useful section which tracks news stories related to laws and disputes about laws, broadly defined. As of today, the website features legislative briefs about important bills such as the Competition Amendment Bill and the Microfinance Bill.

Some members of the Core team of PRS have been reaching out to mainstream publications to air their research findings. Indeed, reports by MR Madhavan and Priya Parker (on the Maintenance of Parents Bill, 2007) that appeared in newspapers and online magazines have been featured on our blog as well. Clearly, the members of PRS are seeking to highlight these issues and cause national opinion to focus upon the often pressing issues that they work upon.

I for one will be revisiting this website often to get a sense of important policy changes that are being proposed in Parliament. I suspect the site will be very useful to law students, scholars and practitioners in general.

1 comment:

Dilip said...

Arun,

Very useful post. Many thanks for pointing out this website - it is truly a goldmine of info.