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Law degree clause for women’s panel

New Delhi, July 2: Being a politician or association with a party may no longer be enough to become the chairperson or a member of the National Commission for Women.

Maneka Gandhi, the new women and child development minister, has finalised draft proposals under which a degree in law is a must to be eligible for posts in the apex women’s rights body.

This is the first time that such a requirement has been proposed for functionaries of the NCW which, since its inception, has been used to accommodate persons close to the party in power at the Centre.

Sources said the ministry would include two essential conditions under the rules of appointment in the proposed amendments to the NCW Act: the chairperson has to be an advocate with at least 10 years of experience in legal matters, and each member must have a law degree.

Under the 1990 NCW Act, “persons of ability, integrity and standing” and “women’s voluntary organisations” (including activists) could be nominated by the central government as chairperson or members. There is no mention of any educational qualification.

While the new appointees would also be chosen by the women and child development (WCD) ministry, sources explained why a law degree had been included in the draft amendments as an essential requirement.

“There are over a lakh pending cases with the NCW. It’s time that professionals took over the commission to ensure that there are no legal delays in providing the victims justice. The commission needs to become more than just a body that takes suo motu cognisance of issues related to celebrities,” said a senior official of the ministry.

The sources also said that since the proposed amendments give the commission the powers of a civil court, making each of its proceedings on a par with judicial proceedings, a background in law was considered essential.

Maneka, who sources say is pushing for the amendments to be tabled in Parliament’s budget session starting next week, plans to give the commission the powers of summoning any person for questioning and the right to call for the production of any documents and requisitioning any public records.

A new chapter, “Investigation”, has been introduced in the amendments to enable the commission to issue arrest warrants and impose a maximum of Rs 5,000 as fine on those who don’t appear despite summons.

The amendments also include a provision that insulates functionaries from legal proceedings for acts done in good faith.

“No prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against any member of the commission or any officer… in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of this act or any rules, regulations or orders made there under,” says the provision.

The sources said that Maneka, who is not too keen on political appointments, wants to change the system under which commission members are removed and appointed according to the demands of the party in power. While it is not clear if the new commission members would be apolitical or lawyers affiliated to the BJP, the changes that Maneka wants would at least narrow the field for politicians, the sources said.

Officials said that once the new NCW rules are initiated, the rules for the appointment of members to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) might also see similar changes.

Political appointments have been worrying the NDA government since it took over a month ago. Out of power for 10 years, the NDA government is now struggling to get rid off Congress appointees who are holding on to key posts in these panels.

While there is no law to force such members out of office, feelers have been sent to many to leave. But many haven’t taken the hint. NCW chairperson Mamata Sharma, whose tenure ends later this month, is still holding on to her post. NCPCR chairperson Kushal Singh has taken the ministry to court over alleged calls by officials asking her to quit.