The loss-making Railways recently got a financial boost from the Supreme Court, which approved the Government’s decision to lease out spaces in its luggage compartments that ensured optimum revenue from the running of trains.
The Court’s verdict has come as a huge relief for the cash-starved railways that took a policy decision way back in the year 2000 to lease spaces in the Front Second Class Luggage Rake (FSLR) and Ventilated Parcel (VP) Van. Interestingly, the Indian Railways Act 1989 has no provision for leasing out spaces in compartment to a third party. It was this reason that prompted a grape trader from Karnataka to challenge the Railways’ move. The HC dismissed the petition that prompted an appeal by him in apex court.
Dealing with the law, the bench of Justices Vikramajit Sen (now retired) and Shiva Kirti Singh said, “While it may be both pragmatic and sagacious to auction FSLR and VP, it can be done with an objective of gathering optimum revenue.” However, while permitting the Railways to delegate its functions to a third party, the Court put a rider. It directed the lessee not to charge carriage prices in excess of those prescribed in the coaching tariff. Perishable goods are charged Rs 2.38 per kg on the Delhi-Karnataka route. The rates differ for different trains.
Making an exception for the Railways, the bench was impressed by the submission by Rail authorities that though Railways is a social vehicle aimed at public interest, it also is a commercial undertaking that must take steps to make its operations financially viable. The decision to lease out space was taken to buck the trend of long distance trains running empty parcel vans and luggage compartments.
The bench observed, “Railway tariff no doubt has to be realistic and keep pace with time and if the State so perceives, need not be a losing financial proposition.” The Court did not wish to interfere with the policy making power of the executive but asked the Railways to bear in mind that while delegating power to a third party (delegate or sub-delegate) it must lay down principles for guidance of the third party. In no case, howsoever, the Court said that public interest must suffer.
The Railways had assured the Court that the FSLR is the first compartment after the engine and only half of the space in the wagon is used for carrying luggage or parcel.
The VP van is an additional compartment that gets added to the train in place of a passenger bogey only when the occupancy in the train is thin. However, the Railways will not hesitate to add another wagon to meet general needs of the public, an affidavit filed by Railways disclosed.
No one would disagree with the Supreme Court’s observation that rape of and sexual assaults on infants and children below 10 years are a result of mental perversion. The court has suggested to Parliament to enact a separate law providing for harsher punishment for such offences. It also wants a separate definition of “child” in the context of the offence of rape. Courts are increasingly making suggestions concerning legislation to Parliament. This is not a good trend. The court has done well to state that it is not for it to direct Parliament to legislate on a particular issue in a particular way. But it has given its mind away by stating that it wants harsher punish-ment for child rapes. However, it is for Parliament to decide what laws it should frame. It is not appropriate for courts, which later may have to examine these
laws, to dictate what the law should be.
The issue came up before the court in a petition seeking chemical castration as an additional punishment for child rapists. There has been discussion of such punishment in the past few years. The J S Verma Committee which reviewed the laws relating to sexual crimes had categorically rejected the proposal for chemical castration, as it felt that it amounted to a violation of human rights. Such a punishment is retrograde and uncivilised. Sexual offences result not from high libido and a strong sexual urge but from the urge for power and domination. Castration does not address this problem at all and so is not a solution. In most countries where castration is prescribed for convicted offenders it is voluntary and administered on demand from the convicts. What is sought in India is mandatory castration as a punishment. This has arisen from moral and emotional outrage, which is very valid and justified, but cannot be the basis for law.
More stringent penalties cannot be a deterrent against crimes. It is the certainty of punishment and not its severity that can deter criminals. This has been proved by the increasing incidence of crimes for which penalties have been made more and more harsh. The system has been found to be incapable of handing out the punishment as prescribed now to those involved in crimes. The conviction rate in cases of sexual abuse of children is a dismal 1 per cent. An increase in the severity of punishment cannot change the situation, especially when the stricter punishment does not address the basic reasons for the crime. Effective implementation of existing laws through better prosecution and judicial action is a better option.
acing mounting expenditures, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) has decided to consider imposing a new ‘professional tax’ on residents from the next financial year.
The Standing Committee of the SDMC on Monday decided to put the ball in the court of the House, saying that a proposal for imposing professional tax will be deliberated by the House in the next budget session.
“We have not passed or rejected the Commissioner’s proposal. The House will decide on the matter,” said Standing Committee chairperson Radhey Shyam Sharma.
As per Article 276 of the Indian Constitution, State or local governments can impose taxes on professions, trades, callings and employments up to Rs.2,500 per person annually.
South Delhi Municipal Corporation officials said the exact rate of the professional tax has not been finalised yet, but its collection could net the corporation between Rs. 20 to Rs. 40 crore a year.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation is already collecting professional tax, and the SDMC will study that city’s experience before coming up with a detailed proposal. The tax will be collected from professionals, including doctors, lawyers and accountants.
During the budget session last year, the Commissioner had proposed a Rs.2,000 professional tax, but it was rejected by the ruling-BJP in the corporation.
This time, however, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation is anticipating a deficit and is trying to increase its revenue.