In the summer of 2004 the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) took charge of the government of India. With the Congress as its leading party, Sonia Gandhi as the UPA chairperson, and Dr Manmohan Singh as the 13th Prime Minister of India, the UPA began what was to be a ten year long rule. The coalition now faces another Lok Sabha election, and the focus this time in bound to be on the question: What did the UPA do? Here are a few laws the UPA government passed which in many ways transformed the country.
Right to Information Act, 2005: This right enabled citizens to question the government and keep a check on state power. People can ask questions to their government and no government can deny an answer to them. This law opened the government and its activities to the people. Today RTI has become a weapon in the hands of common citizens to fight for their rights. People started asking for information from local bodies that directly impact their lives. According to a study the largest portion of total RTI applications (39%) are filed at Panchayats, Municipal Departments and other Civic Bodies, whereas 29% of all applications are filed at Government Ministries and department level offices. Another study on RTI states that during the year 2011-12 a total of 20.27 lakh (2.02 million) RTI applications were submitted to public authorities under the Central Government and in the 9 States included in this study. People have started seeking information on Ration supplies, BPL-ration cards, human rights, distribution of school uniform, PDS, etc. Villages are rural areas have benifited the most from the RTI Act. The RTI Act of India has been recognized as the second best in a survey of information laws in 95 countries in which developed countries like the US and the UK ranked far behind developing nations.
Right to Education Act, 2009: The Right to Education Act of 2009 ensured every child between the age group of 6-14 years will get free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school. Approximately 22 crore children fall under the age group 6-14 in India, out of which 92 lakh children either drop out from school or never attendany educational institution. These children were ensured elementary education by local and state governments. Nearly 99% Enrolment at the Primary Level today is an indicator of the successful implementing the Right to Education Act. Education is vital for any county to compete in the 21st century, and the UPA government recognized this need. RTE is a powerful weapon to curb corruption and create an educated India for a better future. It has helped bring children from all sections of society to schools and empowered them with hope.
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2012: Before this law, land acquisition was done according to laws made under British rule in 1894. This long awaited bill was finally passed by the UPA government. This Act ensures that the owner of the land gets adequate compensation when his land is taken over. This law requires the consent of no less than 70 per cent of those whose land is sought to be acquired. This Bill has given more power to Gram Sabhas as no land can be acquired in Scheduled Areas without the consent of the Gram Sabha. This Act clearly says that no one shall be dispossessed until and unless all payments are made and alternative sites for the resettlement and rehabilitation have been prepared.
Indian Companies Act, 2013: The Government of India passed this Act to succeed the Companies Act of 1956. New concepts such as one-person company, small company, dormant company, class action suits, registered values and corporate social responsibility have been included in this Act. This law also highlights the importance of Corporate-Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. The law states that 2% of a company’s average net profit should be spent on Corporate Social Responsibility. This law has many features which will help control fraud and malpractices in private sector operations. In an attempt to bring gender equilibrium, the Act has asked companies to have at least one women director on board. In addition, the law states that if any company wants to windup its operations then it has to pay 2 years’ salary to its employees. The most significant feature of this Act is that it comes with 470 clauses and 33 new definitions which are easy to understand.
Strengthening the Law for Women Safety: The UPA government has been sensitive to the issue of women’s safety in India. The government has amended existing Criminal Law. The law maintains life imprisonment for rape as the maximum sentence, yet sets down the death penalty for repeat offenders and for those whose victims are left in a “vegetative state”. The new law has been more sensitive towards the safety of women in public places, and it defines stalking and voyeurism as crimes with punishments of up to seven years. The most important component of this Act is that now the police will be held responsible if they fail to register case, and hospitals will be held responsible if they fail to treat a victim properly.
Lokpal and Lokayukta Act: The Lokpal Bill was also one of the most eagerly awaited Bills for the last few years. This Bill was the culmination of massive popular demand from various sections of society. At the end of 2013 the Lokpal Bill finally came into being and became a reality. The Prime Minister has been brought under the purview of the Lokpal. The state governments have to institute Lokayuktas within one year from the date of commencement of the Act. The Lokpal Act says that all anti-corruption inquiry should be completed within 60 days, and the investigation has to be completed within 6 months. In addition to this the Lokpal can initiate prosecution through its Prosecution Wing before the Special Court and the trial has to be completed within two years. This Act will play a decisive role in the fight against corruption.
Food Security Act: The UPA government has made sure that no Indian will remain hungry anymore. This Act has also made special provision for children. For children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, this Act provides an age-appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local Anganwadi. Along with this, it says that every pregnant and lactating mother is entitled to a free meal at the local Anganwadi (during pregnancy and six months after child birth), as well as maternity benefits of Rs.6000 in installments. This Act makes it mandatory for all PDS-related records to be in the public domain. This Act will help create a healthy India and a better future. It will facilitate the emergence of a malnutrition-free India and help decrease infant mortality and maternal death.
Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2012: The Parliament passed this bill in February 2014. This law is designed to regulate street vendors in public areas and protect their rights. It says that all street vendors will be accommodated in a designated vending zone. According to this Act, all street vendors above fourteen years of age will be granted a certificate of vending. This Act will give opportunity to street vendors to carry on their businesses with dignity and respect.