Rethinking the No Detention Policy

September 19th, 2017 No comments

In India, children in the age group of 6-14 years have the right to free and compulsory elementary education in a neighbourhood school under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.  This covers primary (classes 1-5) and upper primary (classes 6-8) levels, which collectively constitute elementary education.

Amongst several provisions focused on elementary education, the Act provides for the No Detention Policy.  Under this, no child will be detained till the completion of elementary education in class 8.  The RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, introduced recently, revisits the No Detention Policy.  In light of this, we discuss the No Detention Policy and issues affecting the implementation of RTE.

What is the No Detention Policy?

The rationale for the No Detention Policy or automatic promotion to the next class is minimising dropouts, making learning joyful, and removing the fear of failure in exams.[1]  The evaluation mechanism under the Policy is the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) for holistic assessments (e.g., paper-pencil test, drawing and reading pictures, and expressing orally) as opposed to the traditional system of examinations.  CCE does not mean no evaluation, but it means an evaluation of a different kind from the traditional system of examinations.

What does the RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017 propose to do?

The Bill proposes a ‘regular examination’ which will be held in class 5 and class 8 at the end of every academic year.[2]  In the event that a child fails these examinations, he will be given remedial instruction and the opportunity for a re-examination.

If he fails in the re-examination, the central or state governments may choose: (i) to not detain the child at all, or (ii) to detain the child in class 5, class 8, or in both classes.  This is in contrast to the current Policy where a child cannot be detained until the completion of class 8.

Conversation around the No Detention Policy

Following the implementation of the No Detention Policy, experts have recommended rolling it back partially or fully.  The reasons for this reconsideration include: (i) the lack of preparedness of the education system to support the Policy, (ii) automatic promotion disincentivising children from working hard, (iii) low accountability of teachers, (iv) low learning outcomes, and (iii) the lack of proper implementation of CCE and its integration with teacher training.1,[3],[4]

In 2015, all the states were asked to share their views on the No Detention Policy.  Most of the states suggested modifications to the Policy in its current form.

What do the numbers say?

Consequent to the enactment of RTE, enrolment has been 100% at the primary level (see Figure 1).  While enrolment has been universal (100%) at the primary level, low transition of students from one class to another at progressively higher levels has been noted.  This has resulted in high dropouts at the secondary education level, with the highest dropout rate being 17% at the class 10 level (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Enrolment in elementary education (2005-2014)

Figure 1

Sources:  Education Statistics at a Glance, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2016; PRS.
Note: Enrolment over 100 % as seen in primary education signifies that children below and above the age of six are being enrolled at the primary education level.

 

One of the reasons for low dropouts at the elementary level may be the obligation to automatically promote and not detain children under the No Detention Policy.  However, there is no such obligation on the government to provide for the same post class 9 i.e., in secondary education.  The reasons which explain the rise in dropouts at the secondary level include domestic activities for girls and economic activities for boys, reasons common to both include financial constraints and lack of interest in education.[5]

 

Figure 2: Dropout rates in school education (2014-15)

Figure 2 (1)
Sources:  Flash Statistics, District Information System for Education, 2015-16; PRS.

 

How does RTE ensure quality education?

Based on the high enrolment and low dropout rates in elementary education, it can be inferred that children are being retained in schools for longer.  However, there have been some adverse observations regarding the learning outcomes of such children.  For example, the Economic Survey 2015-16 pointed out that only about 42% of students in class 5 (in government schools) are able to read a class 2 text.  This number has in fact declined from 57% in 2007.[6]  The National Achievement Survey (2015) for class 5 has also revealed that performance of students, on an average, had gone down from the previous round of the survey conducted in 2014.[7]

Key reasons attributed to low learning levels are with regard to teacher training and high vacancies.7,[8],[9] Against a total of 19 lakh teacher positions sanctioned under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2011-12, only 12 lakh were filled.  Further, approximately 4.5 lakh untrained teachers were operating in 19 states.  Teacher training institutes such as District Institutes of Education and Training are also experiencing high vacancies with regard to trainers who train teachers.[10]  

It has also been noted that the presence of contract/temporary teachers, instead of permanent teachers, contributes to the deterioration of quality of education.  In fact, experts have recommended that to ensure quality secondary education, the reliance on contract/temporary teachers must be done away with.  Instead, fully qualified teachers with salary and benefits must be hired.[11]  It has also been recommended that teachers should not be burdened with ancillary tasks of supervising cooking and serving of mid-day meals.10

The RTE Act, 2009 sought to ensure that teachers acquire minimum qualifications for their appointment, within five years of its enactment (i.e. till March 31, 2015).  Earlier this year, another Bill was introduced in Parliament to amend this provision under the Act.  The Bill seeks to extend this deadline until 2019.

In sum, currently there are two Bills seeking to amend the RTE Act, which are pending in Parliament.  It remains to be seen, how they impact the implementation of the Act going forward.

[1]  “Report of CABE Sub Committee on Assessment on implementation of CCE and no detention provision”, 2015, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/AssmntCCE.pdf

[2] The RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017.

[3] Change in No-Detention Policy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, March 9, 2017, Press Information Bureau.

[4] Unstarred question no. 1789, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Rajya Sabha, December 1, 2016.

[5] “Key Indicators of Social Consumption in India: Education”, NSS 71st Round, 2014, http://mail.mospi.gov.in/index.php/catalog/160/related_materials

[6]  Economic Survey 2015-16, Ministry of Finance, http://indiabudget.nic.in/budget2016-2017/es2014-15/echapter-vol2.pdf

[7]  National Achievement Survey, Class V (Cycle 3) Subject Wise Reports, 2014, http://www.ncert.nic.in/departments/nie/esd/pdf/NationalReport_subjectwise.pdf

[8] “253rd Report: Demands for Grants 2013-14, Demand No. 57”, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, April 26, 2013, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/253.pdf

[9]  “285th Report: Action Taken Report on 250th Report on Demands for Grants 2016-17”, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, December 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/285.pdf

[10]  “283rd Report: The Implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Mid-Day-Meal Scheme’, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, December 15, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/283.pdf

[11]  “Report of the CABE Committee on Girls’ education and common school system”, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2005, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/Girls%20Education.pdf

Malnutrition in India: The National Nutrition Strategy explained

September 8th, 2017 No comments

In the recent past, there has been a renewed discussion around nutrition in India.  A few months ago, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released the National Health Policy, 2017.[1]  It highlighted the negative impact of malnutrition on the population’s productivity, and its contribution to mortality rates in the country.  In light of the long term effects of malnutrition, across generations, the NITI Aayog released the National Nutrition Strategy this week.  This post presents the current status of malnutrition in India and measures proposed by this Strategy.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition indicates that children are either too short for their age or too thin.[2]  Children whose height is below the average for their age are considered to be stunted.  Similarly, children whose weight is below the average for their age are considered thin for their height or wasted.  Together, the stunted and wasted children are considered to be underweight – indicating a lack of proper nutritional intake and inadequate care post childbirth.

What is the extent of malnutrition in India?

India’s performance on key malnutrition indicators is poor according to national and international studies.  According to UNICEF, India was at the 10th spot among countries with the highest number of underweight children, and at the 17th spot for the highest number of stunted children in the world.[3]

Malnutrition affects chances of survival for children, increases their susceptibility to illness, reduces their ability to learn, and makes them less productive in later life.[4]   It is estimated that malnutrition is a contributing factor in about one-third of all deaths of children under the age of 5.[5]  Figure 1 looks at the key statistics on malnutrition for children in India.

Figure 1: Malnutrition in children under 5 years (2005-06 and 2015-16)

NFHS Survey

Sources: National Family Health Survey 3 & 4; PRS.

Over the decade between 2005 and 2015, there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of underweight children in India, mainly on account of an improvement in stunting.  While the percentage of stunted children under 5 reduced from 48% in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16, there has been a rise in the percentage of children who are wasted from 19.8% to 21% during this period.[6],[7]  A high increase in the incidence of wasting was noted in Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Sikkim.[8]

The prevalence of underweight children was found to be higher in rural areas (38%) than urban areas (29%). According to WHO, infants weighing less than 2.5 Kg are 20 times more likely to die than heavier babies.2  In India, the national average weight at birth is less than 2.5 Kg for 19% of the children.  The incidence of low birth-weight babies varied across different states, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh witnessing the highest number of underweight childbirths at 23%.[9]

Further, more than half of India’s children are anaemic (58%), indicating an inadequate amount of haemoglobin in the blood.  This is caused by a nutritional deficiency of iron and other essential minerals, and vitamins in the body.2

Is malnutrition witnessed only among children?

No.  Among adults, 23% of women and 20% of men are considered undernourished in India.  On the other hand, 21% of women and 19% of men are overweight or obese.  The simultaneous occurrence of over nutrition and under-nutrition indicates that adults in India are suffering from a dual burden of malnutrition (abnormal thinness and obesity).  This implies that about 56% of women and 61% of men are at normal weight for their height.

What does the National Nutrition Strategy propose?

Various government initiatives have been launched over the years which seek to improve the nutrition status in the country.  These include the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the National Health Mission, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Matritva Sahyog Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and the National Food Security Mission, among others.  However, concerns regarding malnutrition have persisted despite improvements over the years.  It is in this context that the National Nutrition Strategy has been released.  Key features of the Strategy include:8

  • The Strategy aims to reduce all forms of malnutrition by 2030, with a focus on the most vulnerable and critical age groups. The Strategy also aims to assist in achieving the targets identified as part of the Sustainable Development Goals related to nutrition and health.
  • The Strategy aims to launch a National Nutrition Mission, similar to the National Health Mission. This is to enable integration of nutrition-related interventions cutting across sectors like women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, and rural development.
  • A decentralised approach will be promoted with greater flexibility and decision making at the state, district and local levels. Further, the Strategy aims to strengthen the ownership of Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies over nutrition initiatives.  This is to enable decentralised planning and local innovation along with accountability for nutrition outcomes.
  • The Strategy proposes to launch interventions with a focus on improving healthcare and nutrition among children. These interventions will include: (i) promotion of breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, (ii) universal access to infant and young child care (including ICDS and crèches), (iii) enhanced care, referrals and management of severely undernourished and sick children, (iv) bi-annual vitamin A supplements for children in the age group of 9 months to 5 years, and (v) micro-nutrient supplements and bi-annual de-worming for children.
  • Measures to improve maternal care and nutrition include: (i) supplementary nutritional support during pregnancy and lactation, (ii) health and nutrition counselling, (iii) adequate consumption of iodised salt and screening of severe anaemia, and (iv) institutional childbirth, lactation management and improved post-natal care.
  • Governance reforms envisaged in the Strategy include: (i) convergence of state and district implementation plans for ICDS, NHM and Swachh Bharat, (ii) focus on the most vulnerable communities in districts with the highest levels of child malnutrition, and (iii) service delivery models based on evidence of impact.

[1] National Health Policy, 2017, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 16, 2017, http://mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=4275

[2] Nutrition in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2005-06, http://rchiips.org/nfhs/nutrition_report_for_website_18sep09.pdf

[3] Unstarred Question No. 2759, Lok Sabha, Answered on March 17, 2017, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU2759.pdf

[4] Helping India Combat Persistently High Rates of Malnutrition, The World Bank, May 13, 2013, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/05/13/helping-india-combat-persistently-high-rates-of-malnutrition

[5] Unstarred Question No. 4902, Lok Sabha, Answered on December 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU4902.pdf

[6] National Family Health Survey – 3, 2005-6, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/India.pdf

[7] National Family Health Survey – 4 , 2015-16, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, http://rchiips.org/NFHS/pdf/NFHS4/India.pdf

[8] National Nutrition Strategy, 2017, NITI Aayog, September 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Nutrition_Strategy_Booklet.pdf

[9] Rapid Survey On Children, Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2013-14, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20National%20Report%202013-14%20Final.pdf

Safety in Indian Railways

August 24th, 2017 No comments

Safety has been one of the biggest concerns in the Indian Railways system.  While the number of accidents have gone down over the last few years, the number still remains over 100 accidents a year.  In light of the recent train accidents in Uttar Pradesh (UP), we present some details around accidents and safety in the Indian Railways.

Causes of rail accidents

The number of rail accidents has declined from 325 in 2003-04 to 106 in 2015-16.[1]  The number of rail accidents as per the cause are shown in the graph below.  In 2015-16, majority of the accidents were caused due to derailments (60%), followed by accidents at level crossings (33%).1  In the last decade, accidents caused due to both these causes have reduced by about half.  According to news reports, the recent railway accidents in UP were caused due to derailment of coaches.

1

Derailments

Between 2003-04 and 2015-16, derailments were the second highest reason for casualties.2  The Standing Committee on Railways, when examining the safety in railways, had noted that one of the reasons for derailments is defect in the track or coaches.  Of the total track length of 1,14,907 kms in the country, 4,500 kms should be renewed annually.2  However, in 2015-16, of the 5,000 km of track length due for renewal, only 2,700 km was targeted to be renewed.2  The Committee had recommended that Indian Railways should switch completely to the Linke Hoffman Busch (LHB) coaches as they do not pile upon each other during derailments and hence cause lesser casualties.2

Un-manned level crossings

Un-manned level crossings (UMLCs) continue to be the biggest cause of casualties in rail accidents.  Currently there are 14,440 UMLCs in the railway network.  In 2014-15, about 40% of the accidents occurred at UMLCs, and in 2015-16, about 28%.2  Between 2010 and 2013, the Ministry fell short of meeting their annual targets to eliminate UMLCs.  Further, the target of eliminating 1,352 UMLCs was reduced by about 50% to 730 in 2014-15, and 820 in 2015-16.2  Implementation of audio-visual warnings at level crossings has been recommended to warn road users about approaching trains.2  These may include Approaching Train Warning Systems, and Train Actuated Warning Systems.2  The Union Budget 2017-18 proposes to eliminate all unmanned level crossings on broad gauge lines by 2020.

Casualties and compensation

In the last few years, Railways has paid an average compensation of Rs 3.03 crore every year for accidents (see figure below).[2]

2

Note: Compensation paid during a year relates to the cases settled and not to accidents/casualties during that year.

Consequential train accidents

Accidents in railways may or may not have a significant impact on the overall system.  Consequential train accidents are those which have serious repercussions in terms of loss of human life or injury, damage to railway property or interruption to rail traffic.  These include collisions, derailments, fire in trains, and similar accidents that have serious repercussions in terms of casualties and damage to property.  These exclude cases of trespassing at unmanned railway crossings.

As seen in the figure below, the share of failure of railways staff is the biggest cause of consequential rail accidents.  The number of rail accidents due to failure of reasons other than the railway staff (sabotage) has increased in the last few years.

3

Accidents due to failure of railway staff

It has been noted that more than half of the accidents are due to lapses on the part of railway staff.2  Such lapses include carelessness in working, poor maintenance, adoption of short-cuts, and non-observance of laid down safety rules and procedures.  To address these issues, conducting a regular refresher course for each category of railway staff has been recommended.2

Accidents due to loco-pilots2,[3]

Accidents also occur due to signalling errors for which loco-pilots (train-operators) are responsible.  With rail traffic increasing, loco-pilots encounter a signal every few kilometres and have to constantly be on high alert.  Further, currently no technological support is available to the loco-pilots and they have to keep a vigilant watch on the signal and control the train accordingly.2  These Loco-pilots are over-worked as they have to be on duty beyond their stipulated working hours.  This work stress and fatigue puts the life of thousands of commuters at risk and affects the safety of train operations.2  It has been recommended that loco-pilots and other related running staff should be provided with sound working conditions, better medical facilities and other amenities to improve their performance.2

Actions taken by Railways with regard to the recent train accident

According to news reports, the recent accident of Utkal Express in UP resulted in 22 casualties and over 150 injuries.[4]  It has also been reported that following this incident, the Railways Ministry initiated action against certain officials (including a senior divisional engineer), and three senior officers (including a General Manager and a Railway Board Member).

The Committee on Restructuring of Railways had noted that currently each Railway zone (headed by a General Manager) is responsible for operation, management, and development of the railway system under its jurisdiction.[5]  However, the power to make financial decisions does not rest with the zones and hence they do not possess enough autonomy to generate their own revenue, or take independent decisions.5

While the zones prepare their annual budget, the Railway Board provides the annual financial budget outlay for each of them.  As a result of such budgetary control, the GM’s powers have been reduced leaving them with little independence in planning their operations.5

The Committee recommended that the General Managers must be fully empowered to take all necessary decisions independent of the Railway Board.5  Zonal Railways should also have full power for expenditure and re-appropriations and sanctions.  This will make each Zonal Railway accountable for its transport output, profitability and safety under its jurisdiction.

Under-investment in railways leading to accidents

In 2012, a Committee headed by Mr. Anil Kakodkar had estimated that the total financial cost of implementing safety measures over the five-year period (2012-17) was likely be around Rs one lakh crore.  In the Union Budget 2017-18, the creation of a Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was proposed for passenger safety.  It will have a corpus of Rs one lakh crore, which will be built over a five-year period (Rs 20,000 crore per year).

The Standing Committee on Railways had noted that slow expansion of rail network has put undue burden on the existing infrastructure leading to severe congestion and safety compromises.2  Since independence, while the rail network has increased by 23%, passenger and freight traffic over this network has increased by 1,344% and 1,642% respectively.2  This suggests that railway lines are severely congested.  Further, under-investment in the sector has resulted in congested routes, inability to add new trains, reduction of train speeds, and more rail accidents.2  Therefore, avoiding such accidents in the future would also require significant investments towards capital and maintenance of rail infrastructure.2

Tags: railways, safety, accidents, finances, derailment, casualty, passengers, train

[1] Railways Year Book 2015-16, Ministry of Railways, http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/stat_econ/IRSP_2015-16/Year_Book_Eng/8.pdf.

[2] “12th Report: Safety and security in Railways”, Standing Committee on Railways, December 14, 2016, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Railways/16_Railways_12.pdf.

[3] Report of High Level Safety Review Committee, Ministry of Railways, February 17, 2012.

[4] “Utkal Express derailment: Four railway officials suspended as death toll rises to 22”, The Indian Express, August 20, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/utkal-express-train-derailment-four-railway-officers-suspended-suresh-prabhu-muzaffarnagar-22-dead-4805532/.

[5] Report of the Committee for Mobilization of Resources for Major Railway Projects and Restructuring of Railway Ministry and Railway Board, Ministry of Railways, June 2015, http://www.indianrailways.gov.in/railwayboard/uploads/directorate/HLSRC/FINAL_FILE_Final.pdf.

Following the elections of the Vice President of India

August 5th, 2017 No comments

The elections for the next Vice-President of India are underway today.  The current Vice President Dr. Hamid Ansari will complete his second five-year term on August 10, which is in a few days.  While the BJP-led NDA’s candidate is Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, Dr. Gopalkrishna Gandhi is the joint candidate fronted by 18 opposition parties led by the INC.  In this post, we take a closer look at the constitutional mandate and role of the Vice-President of India and how the elections for the post will play out today.

Constitutional mandate as Vice President

The Vice-President is the second-highest constitutional office in India.  He acts as the President in the absence of the incumbent President, and is the ex officio Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  As an indication of his bipartisanship and apolitical character, the Vice-President does not hold membership of any political party or any other office of profit.   Further, given his constitutional stature, the statements given by the Vice President assume national significance.  The outgoing Vice President’s statements on issues like press freedom and welfare of minority communities led to several media debates and attracted widespread attention.

Vice-President’s role as Chairman of the Rajya Sabha

As Chairman of Rajya Sabha, the Vice President is the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure for all house-related matters.  His rulings constitute binding precedent.  He also determines whether a Rajya Sabha member stands to be disqualified on grounds of defection.  Such powers make him an important stakeholder in the functioning of our parliamentary democracy.

The Vice President is also vested with powers to improve the functioning of the Upper House.  There have been several instances where the current Vice President has used his powers to address issues ranging from improving the productivity of question hour, reducing prolonged disruptions, maintaining decorum in the House, to facilitating discussion on issues of national importance.

Addressing disruptions: In March 2010, the Vice President ordered seven MPs to be evicted from the House for causing disruptions during the discussion and passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill.  More recently, in December 2015, the Vice President called for an all-party meeting during the last leg of the then ongoing Winter Session to discuss the matter of continuous disruptions in the House.  The remaining three days of the session after the all-party meet recorded 79% productivity, while the House had recorded overall productivity of 51% that session.

Functioning of Question Hour: In another instance, in November 2014, the Vice President issued a direction to conduct question hour from 12 noon to 1 pm instead of the originally allocated first hour of the day.  This was seen as an attempt to address the issue of low productivity of question hour mostly due to disruptions at the start of the day. However, question hour productivity has not shown any significant improvement yet, with continuing disruptions.

Parliamentary Privilege: Parliamentary privilege refers to rights and immunity enjoyed by Parliament and MPs, which may be necessary to effectively discharge their constitutional functions.  When disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law. The Chairman is the guardian of these privileges and can also issue warrants to execute the orders of the House, where necessary.  In 1967, one person was held to be in contempt of Rajya Sabha for throwing leaflets from the visitors’ gallery of the House.  The then Vice President, in accordance with the resolution of the House, had sentenced the person to simple imprisonment, till the conclusion of that session.

The Chairman’s consent is required to raise a question of breach of privilege.  He also has the discretion whether to refer it to the Privileges Committee, and whether to accept the committee’s recommendations.  In October 2015, the current Vice President had referred the matter of a member’s controversial “terrorists in Parliament” remark to the Privileges Committee upon receiving complaints from several opposition MPs.

Role in Parliamentary Committees and other institutions

Parliamentary committees review proposed laws, oversee activities of the executive, and scrutinise government’s expenditure.  The Vice President nominates members to various Parliamentary Committees, appoints their Chairmen and issues directions to them.  The Vice President also nominates members of the Rajya Sabha on various bodies such as the Haj Committee, the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, Courts of several universities such as JNU, etc. He is also on the three-member Committee which nominates the Chairman of the Press Council of India.

So, how is the Vice President elected?

Unlike Presidential elections, MLAs do not have a vote in these elections.  Dr. B R Ambedkar had explained why during the constituent assembly debates: “The President is the Head of the State and his powers extend both to the administration by the centre as well as of the states… But when we come to the Vice-President, his normal functions are merely to preside over the Council of States.  It is only on a rare occasion, and that too for a temporary period, that he may be called upon to assume the duties of a President”.

Therefore, the Electoral College for the Vice- Presidential elections consists of all 790 MPs.  The elections are conducted using the system of single transferable voting that results in (approximately) proportional representation.  The voting is done through secret ballot implying that parties cannot issue whips to their MPs and anti-defection laws do not apply.

Each voter has one vote with the same value of 1.  Every voter can mark as many preferences, as there are candidates contesting the election.  It is necessary for at least the first preference to be marked.  A candidate needs to win a required number of votes (or the quota) to be elected.  If no one achieves the required quota after the first round of counting the first preference votes, the candidate with the lowest votes is eliminated.  His votes are then transferred to the second preference mentioned (if any) on the votes he received.  If no one achieves the required quota again, the process is repeated till either:

  1. a candidate achieves the required quota, or
  2. all candidates, except one, are eliminated.

The upcoming Vice Presidential elections

Let us now determine the quota required for victory in today’s election. The total value of votes of the electoral college is divided by two, and one is added (to ensure a majority) to the quotient to determine the quota. Hence, the quota is calculated as:

Quota    = 790/2 + 1 = 395 + 1= 396

The candidate who gets 396 votes will win the election.  If no candidate gets to this mark, the second and further preferences may be counted until the mark is reached or all candidates, but one, are eliminated.

We know the number of seats held by each party in Parliament. Let us assume that all MPs vote along their party line.  The position of the NDA and UPA is depicted in the figure below at the two ends of the chart.  All other major parties and independents are marked in the middle.

VP quota

We observe that, while the BJP falls short of the quota by 58 votes, the shortfall can be overcome if NDA allies TDP, Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal, LJP and PDP support its candidate.

With the voting taking place this morning, the outcome and results will become clear by later today.  It is hoped that the new Vice President will uphold the twin constitutional mandates as the second highest constitutional functionary and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, just as his distinguished predecessors have done.

Financing urban development

June 30th, 2017 No comments

India’s urban population has grown by 32% from 2001 to 2011 as compared to 18% growth in total population of the country.[1]  As per Census 2011, 31% of the country’s population (377 million people) live in cities, and contribute to 63% of the country’s GDP.[2]  The urban population is projected to grow up to 600 million by 2031.2  With increasing urban population, the need for providing better infrastructure and services in cities is increasing.[3]  The government has introduced several schemes to address different urban issues.  These include the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities Mission, Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Housing for All (Urban) (PMAY-U), and Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).

Last week the Ministry of Urban Development released the next batch of winners under the Smart Cities Mission.[4]  This takes the number of smart cities to 90.  The government has also announced a few policies and released data indicators to help with the implementation of the urban schemes.  In light of all this, we discuss how the new schemes are changing the mandate of urban development, the fiscal challenge of implementing such schemes, and the policies that are trying to address some of these challenges.

Urbanisation in India

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), launched in 2005, was one of the first urban development schemes implemented by the central government.  Under JnNURM, the central government specified certain mandatory and optional reforms for cities, and provided assistance to the state governments and cities that were linked to the implementation of these reforms.  JnNURM focused on improving urban infrastructure and service delivery, community participation, and accountability of city governments towards citizens.

In comparison, the new urban schemes move beyond the mandate that was set by JnNURM.  While AMRUT captures most of the objectives under JnNURM, the other schemes seek to address issues around sanitation (through Swachh Bharat), affordable housing (through PMAY-U), and technology innovation (through Smart Cities).  Further, the new schemes seek to decentralize the planning process to the city and state level, by giving them more decision making powers.2  So, while earlier, majority of the funding came from the central and state governments, now, a significant share of the funding needs to be raised by the cities themselves.

For example, under the Smart Cities Mission, the total cost of projects proposed by the 60 smart cities (winners from the earlier rounds) is Rs 1.3 lakh crore.[5]  About 42% of this amount will come from central and state funding towards the Mission, and the rest will be raised by the cities.[6]

The new schemes suggest that cities may raise these funds through: (i) their own resources such as collection of user fees, land monetization, property taxes, etc., (ii) finance mechanisms such as municipal bonds, (iii) leveraging borrowings from financial institutions, and (iv) the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).[7]

In 2011, an Expert Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (HPEC) had projected that creation of the required urban infrastructure would translate into an investment of Rs 97,500 crore to Rs 1,95,000 crore annually.[8]  The current urban schemes are investing around Rs 32,500 crore annually.

Financial capacity of cities

Currently, the different sources of revenue that municipal corporations have access to include: (i) tax revenue (property tax, tax on electricity, toll tax, entertainment tax), (ii) non-tax revenue (user charges, building permission fees, sale and hire charges), (iii) grants-in-aid (from state and central governments), and (iv) debt (loans borrowed from financial institutions and banks, and municipal bonds).

While cities are now required to raise more financing for urban projects, they do not have the required fiscal and technical capacity.8,[9]  The HPEC had observed that cities in India are among the weakest in the world, both in terms of capacity to raise resources and financial autonomy.  Even though cities have been getting higher allocations from the centre and states, their own tax bases are narrow.8  Further, several taxes that cities can levy are still mandated by the state government.  Because of their poor governance and financial situation, cities also find it difficult to access external financing.8,7

In order to help cities improve their finances, the government has introduced a few policies, and released a few indicators.  Some of these are discussed below:

Policy proposals and data indicators

Value Capture Financing (VCF):  The VCF policy framework was introduced by the Ministry of Urban Development in February 2017.[10]  VCF is a principle that states that people benefiting from public investments in infrastructure should pay for it.  Currently when governments invest in roads, airports and industries in an area, private property owners in that area benefit from it.  However, governments recover only a limited value from such investments, constraining their ability to make further public investments elsewhere.  VCF helps in capturing a part of the increment in the value of land due to such investments, and use it to fund new infrastructure projects.

The different instruments of VCF include: land value tax, fee for changing land use, betterment levy, development charges, transfer of development rights, and land pooling systems.10  For example, Karnataka uses certain value capture methods to fund its mass transit projects.  The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), and City and Industrial Development Corporation Limited (CIDCO) have used betterment levy (tax levied on land that has gained in value because of public infrastructure investments) to finance infrastructure projects.

Municipal bonds:  Municipal bonds are bonds issued by urban local bodies (municipal corporations or entities owned by municipal bodies) to raise money for financing specific projects such as infrastructure projects.  The Securities and Exchange Board of India regulations (2015) regarding municipal bonds provide that, to issue such bonds, municipalities must: (i) not have negative net worth in any of the three preceding financial years, and (ii) not have defaulted in any loan repayments in the last one year.[11]  Therefore, a city’s performance in the bond market depends on its fiscal performance.  One of the ways to determine a city’s financial health is through credit ratings.

Credit rating of cities:  In September 2016, the Ministry of Urban Development started assigning cities with credit ratings.[12]  These credit ratings were assigned based on assets and liabilities of the cities, revenue streams, resources available for capital investments, accounting practices, and other governance practices.

Of the total 20 ratings ranging from AAA to D, BBB is the ‘Investment Grade’ rating and cities rated below BBB need to undertake necessary interventions to improve their ratings for obtaining positive response to the Municipal Bonds to be issued.  By March 2017, 94 cities were assigned credit ratings, 55 of which got ‘investment grade’ ratings.[13]

Credit ratings indicate what projects might be more lucrative for investments.  This, in turn, helps investors decide where to invest and determine the terms of such investments (based on the expected returns).

Earlier this month, the Pune Municipal Corporation raised Rs 200 crore through the sale of municipal bonds, to finance water supply projects under the Smart Cities Mission.[14]  The city had received an AA+ credit rating (second highest rating) in the recent credit rankings assigned by the central government.

Other than credit ratings, the Ministry of Urban Development has also come up with other data indicators around cities such as the Swachh Bharat rankings, and the City Liveability Index (measuring mobility, access to healthcare and education, employment opportunities, etc).  These rankings seek to foster a sense of competition across cities, and also help them map their performances year on year.

Some financing mechanisms, such as municipal bonds, have been around in India for the last two decades, but cities haven’t been able to make much use of them.  It remains to be seen whether the introduction of indicators such as credit ratings helps the municipal bond market take off.  While these mechanisms may improve the finances of cities, the question is would more funding solve the cities’ problems.  Or would it require municipal government to take a different approach to problem solving.

[1] Census of India, 2011.

[2] Mission Statement and Guidelines, Smart Cities, Ministry of Urban Development, June 2015, http://smartcities.gov.in/writereaddata/SmartCityGuidelines.pdf.

[3] Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services, March, 2011, The High Powered Expert Committee for estimating the investment requirements for urban infrastructure services, http://icrier.org/pdf/FinalReport-hpec.pdf.

[4] “30 more smart cities announced; takes the total to 90 so far”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, June 23, 2017.

[5]  Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Urban Development, last accessed on June 30, 2017, http://smartcities.gov.in/content/.

[6] Smart City Plans, Last accessed in June 2017.

[7] “Financing of Smart Cities”, Smart Cities Mission, Ministry of Urban Development, http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/Financing%20of%20Smart%20Cities.pdf.

[8] “Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services”, March, 2011, The High Powered Expert Committee for estimating the investment requirements for urban infrastructure services, http://icrier.org/pdf/FinalReport-hpec.pdf.

[9] Fourteenth Finance Commission, Ministry of Finance, February 2015, http://finmin.nic.in/14fincomm/14fcrengVol1.pdf.

[10] Value Capture Finance Policy Framework, Ministry of Urban Development, February 2017, http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/5901982d9e461VCFPolicyFrameworkFINAL.pdf.

[11] Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue and Listing of Debt Securities by Municipalities) Regulations, 2015, Securities and Exchange Board of India, July 15, 2015, http://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/attachdocs/1436964571729.pdf.

[12] “Credit rating of cities under urban reforms begins”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, September 6, 2016.

[13] “Credit Rating of Urban Local Bodies gain Momentum”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Urban Development, March 26, 2017.

[14] “Pune civic body raises Rs200 crore via municipal bonds”, LiveMint, June 19, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Money/JOOzaSTKnC6k1EZGeFh8LJ/Pune-civic-body-raises-Rs200-crore-via-municipal-bonds.html.

Road to Raisina: How the President of India will be elected

June 20th, 2017 No comments

Yesterday, the BJP announced its candidate for the upcoming election of the President, which is scheduled to be held on July 17.  In light of this, we take a look at the manner in which the election to the office of the President is conducted, given his role and relevance in the Constitutional framework.

In his report to the Constituent Assembly, Jawaharlal Nehru had explained, “we did not want to make the President a mere figurehead like the French President.  We did not give him any real power but we have made his position one of great authority and dignity.”  His comment sums up the role of the President as intended by our Constitution framers.  The Constituent Assembly was clear to emphasise that real executive power would be exercised by the government elected directly by citizens.  It is for this reason that, in performing his duties, the President functions on the aid and advise of the government.

However, it is also the President who is regarded as the Head of the State, and takes the oath to ‘protect and defend the Constitution and law’ (Article 60 of the Constitution).  In order to elect a figure head who would embody the higher ideals and values of the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly decided upon an indirect method for the election of the President.

The President is elected by an Electoral College.  While deciding on who would make up the electoral college, the Constituent Assembly had debated several ideas.  Dr. B.R Ambedkar noted that the powers of the President extend both to the administration of the centre as well as to that of the states.  Hence, in the election of the President, not only should Members of Parliament (MPs) play a part, but Members of the state legislative assemblies (MLAs) should also have a voice.  Further, in relation to the centre, some members suggested that the college should comprise only members of the Lok Sabha since they are directly elected by the people.  However, others argued that members of Rajya Sabha must be included as well since they are elected by members of directly elected state assemblies.  Consequently, the Electoral College comprises all 776 MPs from both houses, and 4120 MLAs from all states.  Note that MLCs of states with legislative councils are not part of the Electoral College.

Another aspect that was discussed by the Constituent Assembly was that of the balance of representation between the centre and the states in the Electoral College.  The questions of how the votes of MPs and MLAs should be regarded, and if there should be a consideration of weightage of votes were raised.  Eventually, it was decided that a ‘system of Proportional Representation’ would be adopted, and voting would be conducted according to the ‘single transferable vote system’.

Under the system of proportional representation, the total weightage of all MLA votes equals the total value of that of the MPs.  However, the weightage of the votes of the MLAs varies on the basis of the population of their respective states.  For example, the vote of an MLA from Uttar Pradesh would be given higher weightage than the vote of an MLA from a less populous state like Sikkim.

Under the single transferable vote system, every voter has one vote and can mark preferences against contesting candidates.  To win the election, candidates need to secure a certain quota of votes.  A detailed explanation of how this system plays out is captured in the infographic below.

IGSources: Constitution of India; ECI Handbook; PRS.

Coming to the Presidential election to be held next month, the quota of votes required to be secured by the winning candidate is 5,49,452 votes.  The distribution of the vote-share of various political parties as per their strength in Parliament and state assemblies looks like this:

 

  • As shown in the infographic, the NDA and its allies approximately have 48% of the vote share.
  • This includes parties like the BJP, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal, among others.

 

 

 

Note that the last date for filing nominations is June 28th.  In the next few days, political parties will be working across party lines to build consensus and secure the required votes for their projected candidates.

[The infographic on the process of elections was created by Jagriti Arora, currently an Intern at PRS.]

Overview of the Legal Issues around Aadhaar

June 10th, 2017 No comments

Yesterday, the Supreme Court delivered its first verdict in a series of legal challenges that have been made against the Aadhaar project.[1]  In the present matter, the court was examining whether a provision of the Finance Act, 2017 that made Aadhaar mandatory for filing of income tax returns and applying for Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards was constitutionally valid.  The court has upheld the validity of this provision, subject to a few qualifications.  Below, we discuss the background of the Aadhaar project, why the courts have stepped in to examine its legality, and some aspects of the recent judgement.

What is Aadhaar about, and how is it being used?

Earlier, various identity proofs were required for access to governments benefits, subsidies and services, such as a ration card, driving license or voter id.  However, as these proofs could be easily duplicated or forged, there was leakage of benefits and subsidies to ineligible beneficiaries.  The Aadhaar project was initiated in 2009 to address these problems.  It was envisaged as a biometric-based unique identity number that could help identify eligible persons.  It was thought to be a more reliable identity proof, because it sought to authenticate a person’s identity based on their unique biometrics, like fingerprints and iris scans.1

In 2016, Parliament enacted the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 to provide legislative backing to the project.  This Act allowed Aadhaar to be used for authentication purposes by the central and state government, as well as by private bodies and persons.[2]

Under its provisions, government has been issuing various notifications making Aadhaar mandatory for government projects, such as LPG subsidies and Mid-Day Meal scheme.[3]  In addition, in 2017, Parliament passed the Finance Act to amend the Income Tax Act, 1961, and made Aadhaar mandatory for filing of income tax returns, and applying for PAN.[4]

What is the information collected under Aadhaar?

To obtain an Aadhaar number, a person is required to submit their : (i) biometric information (photograph, 10 fingerprints, scans of both irises), and (ii) demographic information (name, date of birth, gender, residential address) to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).[5]  The Aadhaar number, the demographic and biometric information (called identity information) is together stored in the Central Identities Data Repository.  In addition, every time a person’s identity is authenticated using Aadhaar, information related to the authentication request is recorded as well.

How is this information protected?

While India does not have a comprehensive law on privacy and data security, the Aadhaar Act, 2016 has some protections.  For example, it prohibits UIDAI and its officers from sharing a person’s identity information and authentication records with anyone.  It also forbids a person authenticating another person’s identity from collecting or using their information without their consent.  Other protections include prohibitions against publicly displaying a person’s Aadhaar number and sharing of a person’s fingerprints and iris scans with anyone.  Note that there are penalties prescribed for violation of these provisions as well.[6]

However, the Act permits information be disclosed in the interest of national security and on the order of a court.[7]

The UIDAI authority has been made responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Aadhaar database, and for laying down the security protocols for its protection.[8]

Why did the courts step in?

Even as Aadhaar is being rolled out, with about 111 crore of the 125 crore population already on the database, there are several important constitutional and legal questions around the unique identity project.[9][10]  While yesterday’s judgement addresses one of these issues, other questions remain unresolved.  A description of the key legal questions is provided below.

Privacy:  It has been argued that the collection of identity data without adequate safeguards interferes with the fundamental right to privacy protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.  Article 21 guarantees right to life and personal liberty.  In August 2015, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court passed an order stating that a larger bench must be formed to decide the questions of: (i) whether right to privacy is a fundamental right, and (ii) whether Aadhaar violates this right.[11]  However, the court has not set up a larger bench to hear these petitions till June 2017.[12]

Mandatory vs voluntary:  Another question before the court is whether Aadhaar can be made mandatory for those government benefits and services, that citizens are entitled to under law.  In 2015, the Supreme Court passed some interim orders stating that: (i) Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for providing citizens with benefits and entitlements, and (ii) it can only be used for seven schemes including PDS distribution of foodgrains and kerosene, LPG distribution scheme, MGNREGA wage payments, and Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana.11

Subsequently, Parliament enacted the Aadhaar Act, 2016, and the government has been issuing notifications under it to make Aadhaar mandatory for various schemes.3  In light of this, more petitions have been filed challenging these notifications.[13]  Judgements on these petitions are awaited as well.

Linking Aadhaar with PAN:  In 2017, after Parliament made Aadhaar mandatory for filing of tax returns and applying for PAN under the Income Tax Act, 1961, fresh petitions were filed in the Supreme Court.  The new provision stated that if a person failed to link their PAN with the Aadhaar number by a date notified by the central government, their PAN will be invalidated.  The government said this will decrease the problem of multiple PAN cards obtained under fictitious names and consequent tax fraud and tax evasion, because Aadhaar will ensure proper identification.1,[14]  However, the petitioners argued that this may interfere with a person’s fundamental rights, such as their right to practice any profession, trade or business and right to equality.  It is this question that has been addressed in the new judgement.1

Money Bill:  The fourth question is related to the manner in which the Aadhaar Act, 2016 was passed by Parliament.  The Act was passed as a Money Bill.  A Money Bill only needs to be passed by Lok Sabha, while Rajya Sabha may make non-binding recommendations on it.  In case of the Aadhaar Act, Rajya Sabha made some recommendations that were rejected by Lok Sabha.  It has been argued before the courts that the Aadhaar Act does not qualify as a Money Bill because it contains provisions unrelated to government taxation and expenditure.13,[15]

What has the judgement held?

The Supreme Court has held that the new provision of the Income Tax Act that makes Aadhaar mandatory for income tax assessees is not in violation of the fundamental right to equality, or the fundamental right to practice one’s profession or trade.  The petitioners had argued that the new provision discriminates between individual and non-individual assessees (e.g. companies or firms), because it only seeks to address tax fraud by individuals.  They had also contended that Aadhaar could not address the problem of tax fraud through duplicate PANs because there was evidence to show that people had multiple Aadhaar numbers as well.  The court rejected these arguments (as well as arguments related to freedom to carry on business), stating that Aadhaar is perceived as the best method of eliminating duplicate PANs, and therefore there is reasonable rationale behind linking the PAN database with Aadhaar.1

The court decided not to examine questions related to human dignity and privacy, on the ground that issues affecting Article 21 will be examined by a larger bench to be set up by the court.  However, it granted relief to people, who have not enrolled for Aadhaar, by stating that their PAN cards cannot be invalidated till the time when the matter is finally decided by such a bench.

This, in effect, means that the debate around constitutionality and legality of the Aadhaar project will remain ongoing till a judgement is finally pronounced on whether Aadhaar is in violation of right to privacy under Article 21.

[1] Binoy Viswam vs Union of India, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 247 of 2017, http://www.sci.gov.in/pdf/jud/wc24717_Sign.pdf.

[2] Sections 7, 8 and 57, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.

[3] Unstarred Question No. 4126, Lok Sabha, March 27, 2017; Unstarred Question No. 1209, Lok Sabha, February 9, 2017; S.O. 371 (E), Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, February 8, 2017, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/Magazine/Document/1_211_1_aadhaar-notification.pdf; S.O. 369 (E), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, February 8, 2017, http://www.egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2017/174076.pdf.

[4] The Finance Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-finance-bill-2017-4681/.

[5] Regulations 3 and 4, Aadhaar (Enrolment and Update) Regulations, 2016.

[6] Sections 28-47, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.

[7] Section 33, Section 23, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.

[8] Section 23, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.

[9] “UIDAI achieves 111 crore mark on Aadhaar generation; Unique identity covers over 99 percent adult residents of India”, Press Information Bureau, January 27, 2017.

[10] Justice K. Puttaswamy (Retd) and Another vs Union of India and Others, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012; Jairam Ramesh vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 231 of 2016; S.G. Vombatkere and Another vs Union of India and Others, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) 797/ 2016; “Aadhaar: What are the pending cases before the Supreme Court”, Indian Express, May 31, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/aadhaar-what-are-the-pending-cases-before-the-supreme-court/.

[11] Justice K. Puttaswamy (Retd) and Another vs Union of India and Others, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012, September 23, 2013, August 11, 2015, October 15, 2015.

[12] “The Aadhaar/ PAN Judgement”, Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy Blog, https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/the-aadhaarpan-judgment/.

[13] “Aadhaar: What are the pending cases before the Supreme Court”, Indian Express, May 31, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/aadhaar-what-are-the-pending-cases-before-the-supreme-court/.

[14] Uncorrected Lok Sabha Debates, March 22, 2017, Pg. 240, http://164.100.47.193/newdebate/16/11/22032017/Fullday.pdf.

[15] Jairam Ramesh vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 231 of 2016.

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The financial health of Air India

May 31st, 2017 No comments

Recently there have been news reports about the NITI Aayog submitting its recommendations on improving the financial health of Air India to the Ministry of Finance.[1],[2]  The Civil Aviation Ministers have also mentioned that the Ministry will soon propose a roadmap for the rejuvenation of the national airline.  While the NITI Aayog report is not out in the public domain yet, we present a few details on the financial health of the airline.

Finances of Air India

In 2015-16, Air India earned a revenue of Rs 20,526 crore and registered losses of Rs 3,837 crore.  As of March 31, 2015, the total debt of Air India was at Rs 51,367 crore.[3]  This includes Rs 22,574 crore outstanding on account of aircraft loans.  The figure below shows the losses incurred by Air India in the last few years (2007-16).

image(1)

According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, reasons for Air India’s losses include: (i) the adverse impact of exchange rate variation due to the weakening of Indian Rupee, (ii) high interest burden, (iii) increase in competition, especially from low cost carriers, and (iv) high fuel prices.[4]  The National Transport Development Policy Committee (NTDPC), in its report in 2013, had observed that with the increase in the number of airlines in the market, Air India has been struggling to make a transition from a monopoly market to a competitive one.[5]  These struggles have been primarily regarding improving its efficiency, and competing with the private airlines.

Turnaround Plan and Financial Restructuring

In order to bail out the company, the government had approved the Turnaround Plan (TAP) and Financial Restructuring Plan (FRP) of Air India in April 2012.[6]  Under the plans, the government would infuse equity into Air India subject to meeting certain milestones such as Pay Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation), on time performance, fleet utilisation, yield factor (average fare paid per mile, per passenger), and rationalisation of the emolument structure of employees.7  The equity infusion included financial support towards the repayment of the principal, as well as the interest payments on the government loans for aircraft acquisition.  Under the TAP/FRP, the central government was to infuse Rs 30,231 crore till 2020-21.  As of 2016-17, the Ministry has infused an equity amount of Rs 24,745 crore.[7]

In 2017-18, the Ministry has allocated Rs 1,800 crore towards Air India which is 67% of the Ministry’s total budget for the year.[8]  However, this amount is 30% lower than the TAP commitment of Rs 2,587 crore.3  In 2016-17, while Air India had sought and equity infusion of Rs 3,901 crore, the government approved Rs 2,465 crore as the equity infusion.[9]  The Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture examining the 2017-18 budget estimates noted that reducing the equity infusion in Air India might adversely affect the financial situation of the company.[10]  It recommended that the government must allocate the amount committed under TAP.  The Ministry had also observed that due to reduction of equity infusion, Air India has to arrange funds through borrowing which costs additional amount of interest to be paid by the government.[11]

As per the Ministry, Air India has achieved most of the targets set out in TAP.[12]  Despite running into losses, it achieved an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16.[13]  Air India’s performance in some of the segments are provided in the table below.

Table 1: Air India’s performance

2011-12 2014-15
Overall Network On Time Performance (measures adherence to time schedule) 68.2% 72.7%
Passenger Load Factor (measures capacity utilisation of the airline) 67.9% 73.7%
Network Yield achieved (in Rs/ RPKM)* 3.74 4.35
Number of Revenue Passengers (in million) 13.4 16.9
Operating Loss (in Rs crore) 5,139 2,171

* Note: RPKM or Revenue Passenger Kilometre performed refers to number of seats for which the carrier has earned revenue.

Sources: Lok Sabha Questions; PRS.

The NTDPC had observed that with its excessive and unproductive manpower, failure to invest in the technology required to keep it competitive, and poor operations, Air India’s future looks risky.  It had also questioned the rationale for a national airline.  It had suggested that the government must frame a decisive policy with regard to Air India, and clarify its future accordingly.5  It had recommended that Air India’s liabilities should be written off and be dealt with separately, and the airline should be run on complete operational and financial autonomy.5

Need for competitive framework in the sector

With the entrance of several private players in the market, the domestic aviation market has grown significantly in the last decade.  The market share of an airline is directly related to its capacity share in the market.  While private carriers have added capacity in the domestic market, the capacity induction (adding more aircrafts) of Air India has not kept up with the private carriers.  This has resulted in decrease in market share of Air India from 17% in 2008-09 to 14% in 2016-17.[14]

The Committee looking at the competitive framework of the civil aviation sector had observed that the national carrier gets preferential treatment through access to government funding, and flying rights.[15]  It had recommended that competitive neutrality should be ensured between private carriers and the national carrier, which could be achieved by removing the regulations that provide such preferential treatment to Air India.  The NTDPC had also noted that the presence of a state-owned enterprise should not distort the market for other private players.6  It had recommended that the Ministry should consider developing regulations that improve the overall financial health of the airline sector.

While Air India’s performance has improved following the TAP, along with the equity infusion from government, its debt still remains high and has been gradually increasing.  In light of this, it remains to be seen what the government will propose with regard to the rejuvenation of the national airline, and ensure a competitive and fair market for all the players in the airline market.

[1] “Govt to prepare Air India revival plan within 3 months, amid calls for privatization”, Livemint, May 31, 2017, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/0koi5Hyidj1gVD3wOWTruM/Govt-says-all-options-open-for-Air-India-revival.html.

[2] “Air India selloff: Fixing airline’s future is more important than past”, Financial Express, May 31, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/why-fixing-air-indias-future-more-important-than-past/693777/.

[3] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 382, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=28931&lsno=16.

[4] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 353, Ministry of Civil Aviation, November 17, 2016, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=40733&lsno=16.

[5] “Volume 3, Chapter 3: Civil Aviation”, India Transport Report: Moving India to 2032, National Transport Development Policy Committee, June 17, 2014, http://planningcommission.nic.in/sectors/NTDPC/volume3_p1/civil_v3_p1.pdf.

[6] “Government Approves Financial Restructuring and Turn Around Plan of Air India”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), April 12, 2012, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=82231.

[7] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 472, Ministry of Civil Aviation, April 6, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51752&lsno=16.

[8] Notes on Demands for Grants 2017-18, Demand no 9, Ministry of Civil Aviation, http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/eb/sbe9.pdf.

[9] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 4809, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 30, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=51108&lsno=16.

[10] “244th report: Demand for Grants (2017-18) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, March 17, 2017, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Transport,%20Tourism%20and%20Culture/244.pdf.

[11] “218th report: Demand for Grants (2015-16) of Ministry of Civil Aviation”, Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, April 28, 2015.

[12] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 307, Ministry of Civil Aviation, February 25, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/7/AU307.pdf.

[13] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 1566, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 9, 2017, http://www.loksabha.nic.in/Members/QResult16.aspx?qref=47532.

[14] Lok Sabha Questions, Unstarred question no 312, Ministry of Civil Aviation, March 23, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=49742&lsno=16.

[15] Report of the Committee Constituted for examination of the recommendations made in the Study Report on Competitive Framework of Civil Aviation Sector in India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, June 2012, http://civilaviation.gov.in/sites/default/files/moca_001870_0.pdf.

GST rates and anti-profiteering

May 24th, 2017 No comments

Over the last two months, the centre and over 15 states have passed laws to levy the Goods and Services Tax (GST).  Under these laws, tax rates recommended by the GST Council will be notified by the government.  The Council met in Srinagar last week to approve rates for various items.  Following this decision, the government has indicated that it may invoke provisions under the GST laws to monitor prices of goods and services.[1]  This will be done by setting up an anti-profiteering authority to ensure that reduction in tax rates under GST results in a fall in prices of goods and services.  In this context, we look at the rates approved by the GST Council, and the role of the proposed authority to ensure that prices of various items do not increase under GST.

Q. What are the tax rates that have been approved by the Council?

The Council has classified various items under five different tax rates: (i) 5%, (ii) 12%, (iii) 18%, (iv) 28%, and (v) 28% with an additional GST compensation cess (see Table 1).[2],[3],[4]  While tax rates for most of the goods and services have been approved by the Council, rates for some remaining items such as biscuits, textiles, footwear, and precious metals are expected to be decided in its next meeting on June 3, 2017.

Table 1: Tax rates for goods and services as approved by the GST Council

 

5% 12% 18% 28%

28% + Cess

Goods o Tea and Coffee

o Medicines

o Edible Oils

o Butter and Cheese

o Sanitary Napkins

o Mobile Phones

o Dry Fruits

o Tractors

o Agarbatti

o Toothpaste

o Soap Bars

o Computers

o Chocolate

o Shampoo

o Washing Machine

o Air Conditioner (AC)

o Aerated Drinks + 12% Cess

o Small Cars + 1% or 3% Cess (depending on petrol or diesel engine)

o Big Cars + 15% Cess

Services o Transport by rail

o Air transport by economy class

o Air transport by business class

o Non-AC Restaurant without liquor license

o Restaurant with liquor license

o AC Restaurant

o Other services not specified under any other rate (such as telecommunication and financial services)

o Entertainment (such as cinemas and theme parks)

o Gambling

o Restaurants in 5 star hotels

Source: GST Council Press Release, Central Board for Excise and Customs.

 

Q. Will GST apply on all goods and services?

No, certain items such as alcohol for human consumption, and petroleum products such as petrol, diesel and natural gas will be exempt under GST.  In addition to these, the GST Council has also classified certain items under the 0% tax rate, implying that GST will not be levied on them.  This list includes items of daily use such as wheat, rice, milk, eggs, fresh vegetables, meat and fish.  Some services such as education and healthcare will also be exempt under GST.

Q. How will GST impact prices of goods and services?

GST subsumes various indirect taxes and seeks to reduce cascading of taxes (tax on tax).  With greater efficiency in the supply of products, enhanced flow of tax credits, removal of border check posts, and changes in tax rates, prices of goods and services may come down.[5],[6],[7]  Mr Arun Jaitley recently stated that the Council has classified several items under lower tax rates, when compared to the current system.[8]

However, since some tax rates such as VAT currently vary across states, the real impact of GST rates on prices may become clear only after its roll-out.  For example, at present VAT rates on smart phones range between 5-15% across states.  Under GST they will be taxed at 12%.[9]  As a result while phones may become marginally cheaper in some states, their prices may go up in some others.

Q. What happens if tax rates come down but companies don’t reduce prices?

Few people such as the Union Revenue Secretary and Finance Ministers of Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir have expressed concerns that companies may not lower their prices despite a fall in tax rates, in order to increase their profits.  The Revenue Secretary also stated that the government had received reports of few businesses increasing their product prices in anticipation of GST.[10]

To take care of such cases, the GST laws contain a provision which allows the centre to constitute an anti-profiteering authority.  The authority will ensure that a reduction in tax rates under GST is passed on to the consumers.  Specific powers and functions of the authority will be specified by the GST Council.[11],[12]

Q. Are there any existing mechanisms to regulate pricing of products?

Various laws have been enacted over the years to control the pricing of essential items, or check for unfair market practices.  For example, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 controls the price of certain necessary items such as medicines, food items and fertilisers.[13]

Parliament has also created statutory authorities like the Competition Commission of India to check against unfair trade practices such as cartelisation by businesses to inflate prices of goods.  Regulators, such as the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, are also responsible for regulating prices for items in their sectors.

Q. Could there be some challenges in implementing this mechanism?

To fulfil its mandate, the anti-profiteering authority could get involved in determining prices of various items.  This may even require going through the balance sheets and finances of various companies.  Some argue that this is against the idea of prices being determined by market forces of demand and supply.[14]

Another aspect to consider here is that the price of items is dependent on a combination of factors, in addition to applicable taxes.  These include the cost of raw material, technology used by businesses, distribution channels, or competition in the market.

Imagine a case where the GST rate on a category of cars has come down from the current levels, but rising global prices of raw material such as steel have forced a manufacturer to increase prices.  Given the mandate of the authority to ensure passing of lower tax rates to consumers, will it also consider the impact of rising input costs deciding the price of an item?  Since factor costs keep fluctuating, in some cases the authority may find it difficult to evaluate the pricing decision of a business.

Q. Have other countries tried to introduce similar anti-profiteering frameworks?

Some countries such as Malaysia have in the past introduced laws to check if companies were making unreasonably high profits after the roll-out of GST.[15]  While the law was supposed to remain in force for a limited period, the deadline has been extended a few times.  In Australia, during the roll out of GST in the early 2000s, an existing authority was entrusted with the role of taking action against businesses that unreasonably increased prices.[16]  The authority also put in place a strategy to raise consumer awareness about the available recourse in cases of price exploitation.

With rates for various items being approved, and the government considering a mechanism to ensure that any inflationary impact is minimised, the focus now shifts to the implementation of GST.  This includes operationalisation of the GST Network, and notification of rules relating to registration under GST and payment of tax.  The weeks ahead will be crucial for the authorities and various taxpayers in the country to ensure that GST is successfully rolled out from July 1, 2017.

[1] After fixing rates, GST Council to now focus on price behaviour of companies, The Hindustan Times, Ma 22, 2017, http://www.hindustantimes.com/business-news/after-fixing-rates-gst-council-to-now-focus-on-price-behaviour-of-companies/story-fRsAFsfEofPxMe2IXnXIMN.html.

[2] GST Rate Schedule for Goods, Central Board of Excise and Customs, GST Council, May 18, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/chapter-wise-rate-wise-gst-schedule-18.05.2017.pdf.

[3] GST Compensation Cess Rates for different supplies, GST Council, Central Board of Excise and Customs, May 18, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/gst-compensation-cess-rates-18.05.2017.pdf.

[4] Schedule of GST Rates for Services as approved by GST Council, GST Council, Central Board of Excise and Customs, May 19, 2017, http://www.cbec.gov.in/resources//htdocs-cbec/gst/Schedule%20of%20GST%20rates%20for%20services.pdf.

[5] GST rate impact: Here’s how the new tax can carry a greater punch, The Financial Express, May 24, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/economy/gst-rate-impact-heres-how-the-new-tax-can-carry-a-greater-punch/682762/.

[6] “So far, the GST Council has got it right”, The Hindu Business Line, May 22, 2017, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/the-gst-council-has-got-it-right/article9709906.ece.

[7] “GST to cut inflation by 2%, create buoyancy in economy: Hasmukh Adhia”, The Times of India, May 21, 2017, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/gst-to-cut-inflation-by-2-create-buoyancy-in-economy-hasmukh-adhia/articleshow/58772448.cms.

[8] GST rate: New tax to reduce prices of most goods, from milk, coal to FMCG goods, The Financial Express, May 19, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/economy/gst-rate-new-tax-to-reduce-prices-of-most-goods-from-milk-coal-to-fmcg-goods/675722/.

[9] “Goods and Services Tax (GST) will lead to lower tax burden in several commodities including packaged cement, Medicaments, Smart phones, and medical devices, including surgical instruments”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 23, 2017.

[10] “GST Townhall: Main concern is consumer education, says Adhia”, Live Mint, May 24, 2017.

[11] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/GST,%202017/Central%20GST%20Act,%202017.pdf.

[12] Rajasthan Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Madhya Pradesh Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Uttar Pradesh Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; Maharashtra Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017.

[13] The Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

[14] “GST rollout: Anti-profiteering law could be the new face of tax terror”, The Financial Express, May 23, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/gst-rollout-anti-profiteering-law-could-be-the-new-face-of-tax-terror/680850/.

[15] Price Control Anti-Profiteering Act 2011, Malaysia.

[16] ACCC oversight of pricing responses to the introduction of the new tax system, Australia Competition and Consumer Commission, January 2003, https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/GST%20final%20report.pdf.

Non-tax proposals in the Finance Bill, 2017

March 22nd, 2017 No comments

The Finance Bill, 2017 is being discussed in Lok Sabha today.  Generally, the Finance Bill is passed as a Money Bill since it gives effect to tax changes proposed in the Union Budget.  A Money Bill is defined in Article 110 of the Constitution as one which only contains provisions related to taxation, borrowings by the government, or expenditure from Consolidated Fund of India.  A Money Bill only needs the approval of Lok Sabha, and is sent to Rajya Sabha for its recommendations.  It is deemed to be passed by Rajya Sabha if it does not pass the Bill within 14 calendar days.

In addition to tax changes, the Finance Bill, 2017 proposes to amend several laws such the Securities Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 and the Payment and Settlements Act, 2007 to make structural changes such as creating a payments regulator and changing the composition of the Securities Appellate Tribunal.  This week, some amendments to the Finance Bill were circulated.  We discuss the provisions of the Bill, and the proposed amendments.

Certain Tribunals to be replaced

Amendments to the Finance Bill seek to replace certain Tribunals and transfer their functions to existing Tribunals.  The rationale behind replacing these Tribunals is unclear.  For example, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) will replace the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal.  It is unclear if TDSAT, which primarily deals with issues related to telecom disputes, will have the expertise to adjudicate matters related to the pricing of airport services.  Similarly, it is unclear if the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, which will replace the Competition Appellate Tribunal, will have the expertise to deal with matters related to anti-competitive practices.

Terms of service of Tribunal members to be determined by central government

The amendments propose that the central government may make rules to provide for the terms of service including appointments, term of office, salaries and allowances, and removal for Chairpersons and other members of Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and other authorities.  The amendments also cap the age of retirement for Chairpersons and Vice-Chairpersons.  Currently, these terms are specified in the laws establishing these Tribunals.

One may argue that allowing the government to determine the appointment, reappointment and removal of members could affect the independent functioning of the Tribunals.  There could be conflict of interest if the government were to be a litigant before a Tribunal as well as determine the appointment of its members and presiding officers.

The Supreme Court in 2014, while examining a case related to the National Tax Tribunal, had held that Appellate Tribunals have similar powers and functions as that of High Courts, and hence matters related to their members’ appointment and reappointment must be free from executive involvement.[i]  The list of Tribunals under this amendment includes several Tribunals before which the central government could be a party to disputes, such as those related to income tax, railways, administrative matters, and the armed forces Tribunal.

Note that a Bill to establish uniform conditions of service for the chairpersons and members of some Tribunals has been pending in Parliament since 2014.

Inclusion of technical members in the Securities Appellate Tribunal 

The composition of the Securities Appellate Tribunal established under the SEBI Act is being changed by the Finance Bill.  Currently, the Tribunal consists of a Presiding Officer and two other members appointed by the central government.  This composition is to be changed to: a Presiding Officer, and a number of judicial and technical members, as notified by the central government.

Creation of a Payments Regulatory Board

Recently, the Ratan Watal Committee under the Finance Ministry had recommended creating a statutory Payments Regulatory Board to oversee the payments systems in light of increase in digital payments.  The Finance Bill, 2017 seeks to give effect to this recommendation by creating a Payments Regulatory Board chaired by the RBI Governor and including members nominated by the central government.  This Board will replace the existing Board for Regulation and Supervision of Payment and Settlement Systems.

Political funding

The Finance Bill, 2017 proposes to make changes related to how donations may be made to political parties, and maintaining the anonymity of donors.

Currently, for donations below Rs 20,000, details of donors do not have to be disclosed by political parties.  Further, there are no restrictions on the amount of cash donations that may be received by political parties from a person.  The Finance Bill has proposed to set this limit at Rs 2,000.  The Bill also introduces a new mode of donating to political parties, i.e. through electoral bonds.  These bonds will be issued by banks, which may be bought through cheque or electronic means.  The only difference between cheque payment (above Rs 20,000) and electoral bonds may be that the identity of the donor will be anonymous in the case of electoral bonds.

Regarding donations by companies to political parties, the proposed amendments to the Finance Bill remove the: (i) existing limit of contributions that a company may make to political parties which currently is 7.5% of net profit of the last three financial years, (ii) requirement of a company to disclose the name of the parties to which a contribution has been made.  In addition, the Bill also proposes that contributions to parties will have to be made only through a cheque, bank draft, electronic means, or any other instrument notified by the central government.

Aadhaar mandatory for PAN and Income Tax

Amendments to the Finance Bill, 2017 make it mandatory for every person to quote their Aadhaar number after July 1, 2017 when: (i) applying for a Permanent Account Number (PAN), or (ii) filing their Income Tax returns.  Persons who do not have an Aadhaar will be required to quote their Aadhaar enrolment number indicating that an application to obtain Aadhaar has been filed.

Every person holding a PAN on July 1, 2017 will be required to provide the authorities with his Aadhaar number by a date and in a manner notified by the central government.  Failure to provide this number would result in the PAN being invalidated.

The Finance Bill, 2017 is making structural changes to some laws.  Parliamentary committees allow for a forum for detailed scrutiny, deliberations and public consultation on proposed laws.  The opportunity to build rigour into the law-making process is lost if such legislative changes are not examined by committees

[i] Madras Bar Association vs. Union of India, Transfer Case No. 150 of 2006, Supreme Court of India, September 25, 2014 (para 89).