New Delhi: In its meeting on Thursday, the Union cabinet took a slew of decisions on the legality of homosexuality, a possible amendment to the law on organ transplants, and cleared several measures to limit hoarding of commodities and a bonus for certain railway staff.

Neutral stand: Union law minister Veerappa Moily. Ramesh Pathania/Mint

The cabinet gave its tacit approval to the Delhi high court’s July order decriminalizing homosexuality, leaving it to the Supreme Court to decide on the “correctness" of the lower court’s order.

Law minister M. Veerappa Moily said in the meeting that the Centre should not take a clear stand on the issue as it is a sensitive and controversial one. According to a minister who was present at the meeting, Moily said religious groups would be upset if the government backed the high court decision—to decriminalize section 377—while a number of NGOs want to go ahead with it.

To prevent hoarding of commodities, the cabinet extended certain key Union government orders with regard to pulses, paddy, edible oilseeds, sugar and rice so that state governments can continue fighting hoarding of these commodities using the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. These orders include setting stock limits and licensing requirements so that rising prices of these commodities can be kept under control.

Further, it approved the proposal of the railway ministry to pay a productivity-linked bonus (PLB) for fiscal year 2008-09 for all eligible non-gazetted railway employees (excluding those belonging to the railway police force). “The bonus equivalent to 75 days of wages is expected to benefit over 1.3 million employees," said Soni. Costing around Rs890 crore, this will be the highest PLB ever paid by the railways, said a statement issued by the Press Information Bureau.

The Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994, can now be amended as the cabinet approved a change in the statute.

“Cabinet has approved the proposals of the ministry of health and family welfare to amend the provisions of the Act and also for imposing stringent penalties on persons or hospitals violating the provisions," Soni said.

Despite putting in place a regulatory mechanism for human organ transplants, there have been reports about thriving human organ trade in India and the subsequent exploitation of economically weaker sections of society, she said.

Besides, the cabinet has approached attorney general G.E. Vahanvati to assist the Supreme Court in arriving at a view on whether the Delhi high court order on article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, was appropriate.

The Delhi high court had ruled on 2 July that anti-gay provisions of article 377 that criminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender be struck down, thus challenging a 147-year-old law.

Hailing the government decision, Charles Gilks, country co-ordinator (India) for United Nations Programs on HIV/AIDS said: “Let us be clear exactly what removing the coercive and penal laws suppressing homosexuals’ rights means—free discussion can be had with people who are at much higher risks of HIV infection...."

The cabinet also approved setting up of eight new National Institutes of Technology (NITs) for technical education in Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Goa, Pudducherry, Sikkim, Delhi and Uttrakhand. The process of setting them will start in this fiscal itself and will cater to the needs of states and Union territories that currently don’t have NITs. Half the seats in these NITs have to be filled with locals.

PTI and Liz Mathew also contributed to this story.