Karnataka Goondas Act - A note on Legislative Competence

Posted by Nehaa Chaudhari at Aug 28, 2014 10:00 PM |
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A couple of weeks ago, we had an insightful guest post by Nehaa Chaudhari on amendments to Karnataka's Goondas Act, a draconian legislation which seeks to allow preventive detention for some types of copyright violations. Today, we have a follow up post on that, that argues that the recent amendments are unconstitutional.

This was published in Spicy IP on August 28, 2014. This post is authored by Nehaa Chaudhari and Amulya Purushothama. Nehaa works on intellectual property/openness law and policy and the Centre for Internet and Society, while Amulya is a fifth year law student at Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad.

The recent amendments to the Karnataka Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-Offenders, Gamblers, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Slum Gamblers Act, 1985 (“the Karnataka Goondas Act”/ “the Act”/ “the Goondas Act”) bring within the ambit of the Act offences under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 and the Information Technology Act, 2000. Digital offenders and audio and video pirates, can now be punished and can be preventively detained under the new Act seemingly in order to protect public order. [See previous post examining this here]

Without prejudice to other concerns with this legislation including inter alia the use of preventive detention itself, provisions dealing with ‘expulsion from areas’ and the wide range of ‘offences’ that the Act seeks to cover, this article argues that those recent amendments that make audio and video piracy offences under the Act are unconstitutional, for want of legislative competence.

Union and State Lists

Article 246 of the Constitution empowers the Parliament and State Legislatures to legislate. Categories on which the Parliament may legislate have been laid out in List I (Union List) of the Seventh Schedule; on which the State Legislatures may formulate laws have been laid out in List II (State List) of the Seventh Schedule and on which either may legislate have been enumerated in List III (Concurrent List) of the Seventh Schedule. The power of the Parliament to formulate laws on matters in the Union List is exclusive and notwithstanding the powers of the Parliament itself and of the State Legislature with reference to the Concurrent List and of the State Legislature with reference to the State List. This exclusive power of the Parliament was also upheld in the now famous Hoechst Pharma Case.

Public Order is set out as a subject matter upon which the State Legislature can enact laws under Entry 1 of the State List. Entry 49 of the Union List enumerates Patents, Inventions and Designs; Copyright; Trademarks and Merchandise Works as matters upon which the Parliament can exclusively legislate.

Pith and Substance and Incidental Encroachment

The competence of any legislature to formulate laws is adjudged on the basis of what is known as the pith and substance doctrine. In this instance it means checking whether the substance or the essence of the Goondas Act has to deal with maintaining of public order. If this were to be the case, the incidental trenching upon matters beyond its competence as Kartar Singh put it (in this instance provisions dealing with audio and video piracy) is not all together forbidden.

However, this argument doesn’t stand. As required by the Hoechst Pharma Case, the infringement/encroachment has to be necessarily incidental to effective legislation by the state with respect to matters under List II. The newly introduced offences dealing with audio and video pirates are not necessarily incidental to pursuing the intention behind the Goondas Act as a whole (proceeding with the assumption that this intention is justified), which is to maintain public order and to provide for preventive detention of persons (bootleggers, drug offenders, gamblers, goondas, immoral traffic offenders) who are recognized by the Act as antisocial elements, particularly since there is no logical link between these particular offences and the maintenance of public order.

It would be worthwhile here to understand what exactly is meant by public order in the State List. The phrase was properly defined in the case of Indrajit Barua where the Delhi High Court held that for an illegal activity to qualify as threatening the public order, it must affect the community or the public at large. It was held that there was a difference between law and order and public order and that this difference was rooted in the degree and extent of … impact upon society. The Bombay High Court in the Nathwani case held that public order is the absence of public disorder involving breaches of local significance in contradistinction to national upheavals , such as revolution civil war . The Supreme Court in Ramlila Maidan incident even held that if public order is disturbed it must lead to public disorder… whereas every breach of peace might not always lead to public disorder.

It is therefore, patently clear that offences under the Copyright Act, 1957 do not affect public order as understood in the legal sense simply because these offences while unlawful would not cause public disorder as has been envisioned by the court. Ergo, it follows that the true character of these amendments to the law, is not to preserve public order.

Even if it could somehow be proven that the offences added to the Act were a matter of public order, as held by the cases of Prof. Yashpal and Kerala State Electricity Board, when an entry is in general terms in List II (Entry 1- Public Order) and in more specific terms in List I (Entry 49 Patents, Copyright et al.), the entry in List I takes effect regardless of the entry in List II.

Furthermore, in this instance, the infringement on a matter under the Union List is not merely incidental, as the purpose sought by the Goondas Act, and the methods it adopts (preventive detention), stand in direct contradiction to the purpose of the Copyright Act, 1957. Copyright laws were enacted to incentivize innovation and to protect the intellectual property rights of individuals. In furtherance of this, offences under the Copyright Act, 1957 are punishable with imprisonment up to 3 years, the police have the power to seize infringing copies, the courts have the power to order the destruction of these copies. And there also exist fair-dealing provisions that need to be accounted for. A provision that allows preventive detention for copyright infringement is therefore not only disproportionate, but also incongruous in this context, leading to absurdities defeating the purpose of the legislation. Furthermore, this amendment amounts to an addition to the Copyright Act, 1957 in an indirect manner. Therefore in the guise of an incidental provision, the state legislature has altered the nature of the Act, and therefore engaged in a colourable exercise of power.

Therefore, subject to other reservations that one has with this legislation, due to a lack of legislative competence, at the very least, the amendments dealing with audio and video piracy should be repealed, applying the doctrine of severability expounded in Abdul QuaderR.M.D Chamarbaugwala and KihotoHollohan.

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