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Strengthening Democracy: The Need For Recorded Voting

On 12th November, 2014, the Chief Minister of the newly formed government in Maharashtra won a confidence vote in the Maharashtra State Assembly. This trust vote was done by a voice vote, the outcome of which was contested by opposition parties. In this context, M.R. Madhavan discusses the need for recorded voting in our legislatures and ideas for how this change can be brought about.

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Empowering parliamentarians

The 15th Lok Sabha recently concluded with the worst track record on a number of indicators. In the first of a four part series in Livemint, MR Madhavan of PRS Legislative Research discusses whether one can hope for an improvement in the performance of Parliament once the 16th Lok Sabha assembles in a couple of months.

The recently concluded 15th Lok Sabha performed poorly on many parameters: few sittings, low number of Bills passed and a significant proportion passed without deliberation, the higher proportion of time wasted on disruption etc. As the 16th Lok Sabha assembles in a couple of months, the big question is whether one can hope for an improvement in its performance.

The recently concluded 15th Lok Sabha performed poorly on many parameters: few sittings, low number of Bills passed and a significant proportion passed without deliberation, the higher proportion of time wasted on disruption etc. As the 16th Lok Sabha assembles in a couple of months, the big question is whether one can hope for an improvement in its performance.

Are there structural factors that led to the low effectiveness of Parliament in the last five years? If that is true, one can then look at ways to address these factors. Two aspects come to mind immediately: the anti-defection law and the lack of recorded voting. There are three other, key, functions of Parliament that merit attention: making laws, holding the government to account for its actions and policies, and the power of the purse.

The anti-defection law was made by inserting the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution in 1985 to combat “the evil of political defections”. The provisions require every member of Parliament (MP) and of state legislative assemblies or councils (MLA or MLC) to abide by the party’s command on voting or abstaining on every vote. If a legislator fails to do so, he may be disqualified from his membership to the legislature.

The provisions apply not only to votes that affect the stability of the government, i.e., no-confidence motions and money Bills. They are applicable to all votes. Also, they are applicable to members of Rajya Sabha and legislative councils, who have no say in the formation of the government.

The effect is that each member is converted into a mere number at the beck and call of the party leadership. This goes against the basis of a representative democracy in which the elected representative is expected to act in public interest (as understood by him) which would usually be a combination of his ideology, political party membership and constituency interests. Instead, the current system forces him to blindly obey the instructions of the party leadership.

This system weakens the checks and balances inherent in parliamentary democracy. The government can get any of its policies and Bills approved by issuing a whip to its party members and through backroom deals with the leadership of other political parties. It does not need to convince individual MPs of the merits of the proposals. Thus, our system strips the incentive for an MP to understand and think through any issue, as he has to finally just obey the party. For example, in December 2012, the government had to face a vote on permitting foreign direct investment in the retail sector. The members of all political parties voted (or abstained) on party lines. Contrast this with a system without the anti-defection law such as the British Parliament, in which, the prime minister was unable to win the vote in the House of Commons on going to war in Syria, despite the government having a comfortable majority.

The irony is that the anti-defection law does not appear to be very effective in preventing defections that lead to the fall of the government. During the confidence motion in 2008, about 20 MPs defied the party whip. Also, this provision does not apply when the party leadership decides to change its affiliation—as the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and Trinamool Congress did in the last two years—for a mass-defection from the coalition. Furthermore, the anti-defection law breaks the link between the elected representative and his electors. Citizens vote for their candidates on a combination of the person and the party—this is evident from the discussions on “winnability” of various candidates and the care with which parties allocate the tickets for elections.

The elected representative is accountable to his voters for his actions, and this accountability is enforced when he contests for re-election from the constituency. However, the anti-defection law provides him with an excuse for his stand on any issue—that he had to obey the party’s diktat. Compare this to the system in other democracies, such as that seen in the electoral debates in the US, where candidates have to justify their past actions on various legislative votes, often those taken decades earlier.

This brings us to a related issue—we do not have records of how MPs voted on most issues. Most motions are decided by a voice vote, with the Speaker determining whether the majority supported or rejected the motion. Though any member can challenge this decision and demand a division (recorded vote), it is rarely done. Of the 175 Bills passed in the 15th Lok Sabha (not counting Constitutional Amendment Bills), only 11 had a recorded vote. This implies that citizens do not know whether their MPs were even present in the House during the vote. This is an easy fix as every seat is provided with a voting machine. Indeed, in the British Parliament, where MPs have to physically walk out into the lobbies for their votes to be recorded, most Bills see such action.

To sum up, we need two reforms urgently: repeal the anti-defection law, and require that all Bills be passed only through recorded voting.

M.R. Madhavan is president of PRS Legislative Research.

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Outlawing corruption

In an Indian express editorial, Mandira Kala discusses the Bills, addressing corruption and good governance, pending in Parliament.  She discusses what their fate may be given that the Monsoon session is widely being viewed as a make or break session  for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament.

The monsoon session of Parliament started on a stormy note last week. Question hour was disrupted on most days and only one government bill was passed. There are 11 days left in the session and more than 40 bills pending for parliamentary approval. With the 15th Lok Sabha drawing to an end, this session is being viewed as a “make or break” session for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. Since 2010, there has been much debate in Parliament on corruption and an important part of the government’s legislative agenda was the introduction of nine bills in the Lok Sabha to address corruption and improve governance through effective delivery of public services.

Three of these bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are currently pending before the Rajya Sabha. These include legislation to address corruption in public office, enforce standards and accountability in the judiciary, and protect whistleblowers. The government has proposed amendments to each of these bills that the Rajya Sabha will have to consider and pass. If the Rajya Sabha passes these bills with amendments, they will be sent back to the Lok Sabha for approval. It is difficult to assess in what timeframe these bills will become law, given that both Houses need to agree on the amendments.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill creates a process for receiving and investigating corruption complaints against public officials, including the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, and prosecuting these in a timebound manner. The government amendments include allowing states the flexibility to determine their respective Lokayuktas and giving the Lokpal power of superintendence over the CBI, if the case has been referred by him. A mechanism to protect whistleblowers and create a process for receiving and investigating complaints of corruption or wilful misuse of discretion against a public servant are proposed under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill, 2010. The amendments proposed by the government prohibit whistleblowing if the disclosure of information affects the sovereignty of the country and its strategic, scientific and economic interest. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards and establishes processes for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. The bill is not listed in the government’s legislative agenda for the monsoon session and media reports suggest that the government intends to make amendments to it.

In the arena of strengthening governance and effective delivery of public services, there are three bills currently pending in Parliament. The Citizens’ Charter Bill confers the right to timebound delivery of goods and services on every citizen and creates a mechanism for redressing complaints on such matters. The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill mandates that Central and state governments shall deliver public services electronically no later than eight years from the enactment of the law. The parliamentary standing committee had highlighted that the Citizens’ Charter Bill and Electronic Delivery of Services Bill have an inherent overlap, which the government would have to resolve. While the former is listed for passing in this session, the government plans to withdraw the latter and replace it with a new bill. This new bill is not part of the list that is up for consideration and passing this session.

To create a reliable method of identifying individuals to facilitate their access to benefits and services the National Identification Authority of India Bill was introduced in Parliament to provide unique identification numbers (“aadhaar”) to residents of India. This bill has not been listed for parliamentary approval during this session. Two other pending bills do not find place in the government’s legislative agenda for the session either. These include legislation that curbs the holding and transfer of benami property and regulates the procurement process in government departments to ensure transparency, accountability and probity. The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill, which imposes penalties on Indian companies and individuals who bribe officials of a foreign government or international agency, is listed for passing this session.

Each of these nine bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha. If they are not passed by both Houses before the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved in 2014, no matter where they are in the legislative process, the bills will lapse. This implies that the entire legislative process will have to start all over again, if and when there is political will to legislate on these issues in the 16th Lok Sabha.

The challenges in getting legislation passed by Parliament are many, given that its overall productive time, especially time spent on legislation, is decreasing. Typically, Parliament spends about 25 per cent of its time debating legislation, but in the past few years this average has declined to 15 per cent. While the time lost by the House due to frequent adjournments is difficult to make up, parliamentarians will have to cautious about passing bills without the rigours of parliamentary debate. It is uncertain what the trajectory of the anti-corruption legislation in Parliament will be — enacted as law or resigned to a pool of lapsed legislation.

Reason and ordinance: The National Food Security Bill

Sakshi of PRS Legislative Research discusses the government’s ordinance-making power in the context of the National Food Security Ordinance in an Indian Express opinion editorial.

On Wednesday, the Union cabinet approved the food security ordinance. The government has already introduced a National Food Security Bill in Parliament in December 2011. Parliamentary consideration on the bill has been initiated with the standing committee submitting its recommendations and the government proposing amendments to the law. After being listed on several occasions for discussion, members of Parliament began debating the bill in the last few days of the 2013 budget session. In spite of all this, the government has chosen to promulgate an ordinance.

In all likelihood, Parliament will reconvene in a few weeks for the monsoon session. In this context, it would be useful to understand the ordinance-making power of government and its usage in the recent past. Under the Constitution, the power to make laws rests with the legislature. The executive has been given the power to make laws when Parliament is not in session and “immediate action” is necessary. In such scenarios, the president can issue an ordinance on the advice of the executive, to have the same effect as an act of Parliament. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court was confronted with a case where a state government repeatedly re-promulgated ordinances that had lapsed in previous assembly sessions. This led the SC to examine the ordinance-making power of government. The SC reasserted the constitutional principle that the primary law-making power rests with the legislature and not the executive. The executive is only given the legislative power to issue an ordinance to meet an “emergent situation”. Such a situation arose in 2011 when, given that students were awaiting their degrees on the completion of their course, the government issued an ordinance to grant IIIT-Kancheepuram the status of an institute of national importance so that students could be awarded their degrees.

Data over the last 60 years indicates that the highest number of ordinances, 34, were passed in 1993. Over the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2013), there have been 16 ordinances, indicating a decline in the number of ordinances being issued every year.

Once an ordinance is framed, it is to be laid before Parliament within six weeks of its first sitting. Parliament is empowered to either choose to pass the ordinance as law or let it lapse. Once the ordinance is laid in Parliament, the government introduces a bill addressing the same issue. This is typically accompanied by a memorandum tabled by the government, explaining the emergent circumstances that required the issue of an ordinance. Thereafter, the bill follows the regular law-making process. If Parliament does not approve the ordinance, it ceases to exist. The drafters of the Constitution created this check on the law-making power of the executive to reinforce the notion that law-making will remain the prerogative of the legislature.

Earlier this year, in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape, public pressure led the government to appoint a three-member committee under the late Justice J.S. Verma to suggest changes to laws relating to crimes against women. An amendment bill had already been pending in Parliament. In spite of this, the government brought in the Criminal Law Ordinance, giving effect to some of the committee’s recommendations. Once Parliament reconvened, the government introduced a fresh bill replacing the ordinance, seeking to create more stringent provisions on matters related to sexual offences. It passed muster in both Houses.

While the Criminal Law Ordinance is an illustration of an ordinance successfully passing through Parliament, there are examples of ordinances that have lapsed because they were not approved by Parliament. In 2004, a week after the winter session ended, the government issued an ordinance to give the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority statutory powers as a regulator. Due to political opposition, the ordinance lapsed and, subsequently, the bill lapsed at the end of the 14th Lok Sabha. The government re-introduced it as a bill in 2011, which is currently pending in Parliament.

Although the government has used its power to issue a food security ordinance, the law guaranteeing this right will have to stand scrutiny in Parliament. What remains to be seen is how Parliament debates the right to food in the upcoming monsoon session. That should give us some food for thought.

For an analysis of the National Food Security Bill, refer to Sakshi’s blog post here.

House of Lost Opportunities

The last few days have seen repeated disruptions in Parliament. In an Opinion Editorial published in the Indian Express, Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research discusses the impact of the current disruptions on Parliament. His analysis points to how disruptions are an opportunity lost  to hold the government accountable and to deliberate on significant legislative and policy issues.

The second half of the budget session commenced last week with hardly any business transacted due to disruptions on different issues. This is not new. The 15th Lok Sabha has seen entire parliamentary sessions lost without any work being done. As it nears the end of its term, Parliament’s productive time stands at 70 per cent, which is significantly lower than that of previous Lok Sabhas.

As disruptions in Parliament have become routine, public reaction to such disruptions has also become predictable. Figures depicting the quantum of taxpayers’ money lost every hour that Parliament does not function start doing the rounds, and the cry for docking the salary of disrupting members of Parliament becomes louder. What does not get adequate attention is the opportunity lost for holding the government accountable and deliberating on important legislative and policy issues.

MPs are required to keep the government in check and oversee its functioning. One of the ways in which they do so is by asking ministers questions about the work done by their ministries. Ministers respond to such questions during the first hour of Parliament, which is known as question hour. During this hour, 20 questions are slotted for oral responses by ministers. Based on the response, MPs can cross-question and corner the minister by asking supplementary questions. On certain occasions, they are also able to extract assurances from the minister to take action on certain issues. When question hour is disrupted, not only are these opportunities lost, it also leads to ineffective scrutiny of the work done by the various ministries of the government. Last week, some of the questions that could not be orally answered related to four-laning of highways, performance of public sector steel companies, supply of food grains for welfare schemes, and generic versions of cancer drugs. In 2012, out of the 146 hours allocated for question hour in both Houses of Parliament, roughly only 57 hours were utilised. Since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, approximately 43 per cent of the allocated time has been spent on question hour.

When Parliament is disrupted regularly, its capacity to make laws is affected. Excluding routine financial legislation, since 2009, the government had planned to introduce 390 bills. So far, it has been able to introduce only 187 of them. It had also planned to have 365 bills scrutinised and passed by Parliament. So far, 96 of them have received parliamentary approval. Disruptions in Parliament also eat into the time available for discussing a bill in the house. In Lok Sabha, roughly 35 per cent of bills were passed with an hour or less of debate, a case being the sexual harassment bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha in September of last year in 16 minutes. Some would argue that since parliamentary committees scrutinise most bills in detail, there is no harm done if the bills are not debated in the House. However scrutiny of a bill behind closed doors is hardly a substitute for spirited debates on the merits and demerits of a bill on the floor of the House. Currently there are 115 bills awaiting parliamentary scrutiny and approval. Important social and economic legislation is currently pending before Parliament. The food security bill, the land acquisition bill, the companies and the goods and services tax bill are just a few of them.

Out of the laundry list of pending bills, some are political and may be stuck in Parliament till consensus around them can be built. But there are a number of bills that are administrative in nature, and have no political undercurrents and are possibly not coming up for discussion because of the limited time that is available for legislative debate on account of frequent disruptions.

In September 1997, to celebrate the golden jubilee of the country’s Independence, a special session of Parliament was convened. At this special session, MPs had resolved to preserve and enhance the dignity of Parliament by adhering to the rules of procedure of Parliament relating to the orderly conduct of parliamentary proceedings. Last year, Parliament completed 60 years since its first sitting. To mark the occasion, another special session of both Houses was convened, where MPs had resolved to uphold the dignity, sanctity and supremacy of Parliament. Ensuring that the proceedings of both Houses run smoothly so that Parliament can discharge its responsibility effectively is the best way of ensuring its supremacy. The question that needs to be asked is whether our members of Parliament are ready to stand by the resolutions that they voluntarily adopted.

Verma Committee on the Sexual Harassment Bill

February 28th, 2013 3 comments

The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha yesterday.  Prior to this, no legislation specifically addressed the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.  In 1997, the Supreme Court issued directions in Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan to deal with the issue.  The Supreme Court had also recommended that steps be taken to enact a law on the subject.  The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2010 and was passed by the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012.  In order to protect women from harassment, the Bill establishes a mechanism for redressal of complaints related to harassment.

Recently, the Verma Committee in its Report on Amendments to Criminal Laws had made recommendations on the Sexual Harassment Bill.  In this blog we discuss some of the key issues raised by the Verma Committee with regard to the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Internal Committee:  The Bill requires the establishment of a committee within organisations to inquire into complaints of sexual harassment.  The Committee shall comprise four members: three would be employees of the organisation; and the fourth, a member of an NGO committed to the cause of women.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that in-house dealing of the complaints would dissuade women from filing complaints.  It recommended that a separate Employment Tribunal outside the organisation be established to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment.

Requirement for conciliation:  Once a complaint is made, the Bill requires the complainant to attempt conciliation and settle the matter.  Only in the event a settlement cannot be reached, the internal committee of the organisation would inquire into the matter.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that this is in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment.  It noted that in sexual harassment cases, an attempt to conciliate compromises the dignity of the woman.

Action during pendency of the case:  As per the Bill, a woman may approach the internal committee to seek a transfer for herself or the respondent or a leave to the complainant.  The Verma Committee had recommended that till the disposal of the case, the complainant and the respondent should not be compelled to work together.

False complaints: The Bill allows the employer to penalise false or malicious complaints as per their service rules.  The Committee was of the opinion that this provision was open to abuse.

A PRS analysis of the Bill may be accessed here.

Maharashtra passes Bill to regulate property transactions

(Authored by Anil Nair)

The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly recently passed the Maharashtra Housing (Regulation and Development) Bill.  This is the first such Bill to be passed by any state, which sets up a housing regulator to regulate property transactions.  The Bill seeks to set up a Housing Regulatory Authority to provide for relief to flat purchasers against sundry abuses, malpractices and difficulties related to the construction, sale, management and transfer of flats.

According to news reports, the government felt that existing laws were not effective in protecting the interests of the flat purchasers and allowed the promoters to avoid statutory obligations imposed on them.  The Maharashtra Ownership Flats (Regulation of the promotion of construction, sale, management and transfer) Act, 1963 did not provide for an effective implementing arm for its various statutory provisions, as the buyers could only approach consumer forum or civil court for acts of omission or commission regarding its provisions.

The current Bill passed by the Maharashtra Assembly proposes to repeal the 1963 Act.  As per the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, the Regulatory Authority will strive to encourage growth and promotion of a healthy, transparent, efficient and competitive real estate market.  The Bill specifies several conditions to be fulfilled by the developer to further transparency and fairness.  All projects proposing to develop more than four flats or of land area exceeding 250 square meters have to submit and update details of the project on the website of the Housing Regulatory Authority.  Developers would be required to disclose detailed information regarding the project including:

  • building-wise time schedule of completion of each phase of the project,
  • time schedule for connecting the project with the municipal services such as sewerage, water supply, electricity, drainage etc.,
  • nature of fixtures and fittings with regard to the flooring and sanitary fittings including the brand or the price range if the items are unbranded.

Failure to give possession of the flat on the agreed date would require repayment of the full amount paid by the buyer with interest.  The Authority would also be empowered to penalise the developer up to an amount of one crore rupees for non-compliance with provisions in the Bill.  Among other initiatives to assist the real estate industry, the Housing Regulatory Authority would promote rating of projects and of promoters, by the association of promoters, to improve the confidence level of investors and consumers through self-regulation. The full text of the Bill is available on the Government of Maharashtra website.

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Constitutionality of Parliamentary Secretaries

(Authored by Anil Nair)

Many states in the Indian Union have instituted the post of Parliamentary Secretary.  A Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State and has the same entitlements and is assigned to a government department.  Manipur, HP, Mizoram, Assam, Rajasthan, Punjab, Goa are some of the states where MLAs have been appointed Parliament Secretaries by the Government.

PILs filed in various High Courts on the matter have argued that the appointment of Parliament Secretaries is ultra vires the 91st Amendment of the Indian Constitution which introduced Article 164 (1A) to the Constitution.  Article 164 (1A) provides for limiting the number of ministers in the state cabinets.  The total number of ministers including the Chief Minister, has to be within 15 per cent of the total number of members of the legislative assembly of the state.  Article 164 (1A) was inserted in the Constitution on the recommendation of the National Commission for Review of the Working of the Constitution headed by former Chief Justice of India, M.N. Venkatachaliah on misuse and drainage of public money to put a ban on over-sized cabinet.

Various High Courts have deemed the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries unconstitutional and have ruled against such appointments often in the past.

In 2009, in the case of Adv. Aires Rodrigues vs The State of Goa and others (as cited in Anami Narayan Roy vs. Union of India), a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court discussed the impact of arbitrary State action relating to appointment of Parliament Secretaries in Goa.  It held that appointing Parliamentary Secretaries of the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister is in violation to Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution and set aside the appointment of two Parliamentary Secretaries in the state government.

In 2005, in Citizen Rights Protection Forum vs Union of India and Others (decided on 18 August, 2005), the Himachal Pradesh High Court quashed the appointment of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliament Secretaries.  It held that ‘(Parliamentary Secretaries) are usurpers of public office since their appointments did not owe their origin to any constitutional or legal provision, they having been appointed by person(s) not vested with the power of appointment’.

Recently, newspapers have reported that the Rajasthan High Court issued notices to thirteen Parliamentary Secretaries in a petition challenging their appointments.

Similarly, there have been news reports that the Punjab High Court has asked the state governments in Punjab and Haryana to provide information on appointment of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries in the states.  Punjab and Haryana have appointed 20 and 11 Chief Parliamentary Secretaries respectively. The High Court has ordered the two states to submit details about the entitlements, facilities and powers given to the Chief Parliamentary Secretaries.

National Telecom Policy 2012

The National Telecom Policy was adopted by the cabinet on May 31, 2012.  It was released in public domain later in June.  Among other things, the policy aims to provide a single licence framework, un-bundle spectrum from licences, and liberalise spectrum.

Previously, the central government had decided to unbundle spectrum and licenses for all future licences on January 29, 2011.  TRAI too in its recommendation dated May 11, 2010 and April 23, 2012 sought to de-link spectrum from licences.  The Supreme Court in the 2G judgment had held that spectrum should not be allocated on a first-cum-first-serve basis and should instead be auctioned.  In the April 23 recommendations, TRAI has detailed the mechanism for auctioning spectrum.

TRAI has also recommended moving to a unified licence framework under which a single licence would be required to provide any telecom service.  It has also recommended that spectrum should be liberalised so that any technology could be used to exploit it.

The new policy is in line with the government decisions and TRAI recommendations discussed above.  The policy also aims to achieve higher connectivity and quality of telecommunication services.  Its key features are detailed below.

  • Licensing:  Presently, as per the 2003 Amendment to the 1999 Telecom Policy, there are two forms of licences – Unified Service Licence (to provide any telegraph service in various geographical areas) and Unified Access Service Licence (to provide basic and cellular services in defined service areas).  The new policy targets simplification of licensing framework by establishing a unified license for all telecom services and conversion to a single-license system for the entire country.  It also seeks to remove roaming charges.
  • Spectrum:  As of now spectrum bands are reserved on the basis of technology that may be used to exploit them.  For instance, the 900 and 1800 bands are reserved for GSM technology and 800 for use of CDMA technology.  The new policy seeks to liberalise spectrum.  Further, spectrum would be de-linked from all future licenses.  Spectrum would be refarmed so that it is available to be used for new technology.  The policy aims to move to a system where spectrum can be pooled, shared and traded.  Periodic audits of spectrum usage would be conducted to ensure efficient utilization of spectrum.  The policy aims at making 300 MHz of additional spectrum available for mobile telecom services by the year 2017 and another 200 MHz by 2020.
  • Connectivity: The policy aims to increase rural tele-density from the current level of approximately 39% to 70% by 2017, and 100% by 2020.  It seeks to provide 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by 2020 at a minimum 2 Mbps download speed.  Higher download speeds of 100 Mbps would be made available on demand.  Broadband access to all village panchayats would be made available by 2014 and to all villages by 2020.  The policy aims to recognise telecom, including broadband connectivity, as a basic necessity like education and health, and work towards the ‘Right to Broadband’.
  • Promotion of domestic industry: The policy seeks to incentivise and give preference to domestic telecom products in procurements that (i) have security implications for India; or (ii) are for the government’s own use.  It also seeks to establish a Telecom Finance Corporation to mobilise and channelise finances for telecom projects.
  • Legislations: The policy seeks to review the TRAI Act to remove impediments to effective functioning of TRAI.  It also seeks to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.  The need to review the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 was also recognised in the 1999 Telecom Policy.

The policy as adopted can be accessed here.

Lessons from MLAs

December 20th, 2011 2 comments

Authored by Anil Nair and CV Madhukar

PRS just concluded a workshop for MLAs from 50+ from more than a dozen states.  What an AMAZING experience this was, even though this is the sixth such workshop we have held in this past year!

This three day workshop on ‘Mastering the Budget’ was designed to help MLAs understand how to work with budget documents and numbers, find trends, understand the most critical macro numbers to track, etc. The second day of the workshop was tailored to reflect on the big thematic issues that have an impact on state finances. The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, the Goods and Services Tax, the pattern of quantum of funds flow from the Centre to the state and local governments, the 13th Finance Commission, etc. The final day was devoted to doing an inter-state comparison of states on important budget parameters, and gleaning lessons from them.

The idea for this budget workshop germinated at a previous workshop held at IIM Bangalore. The participating MLAs requested PRS to organise a special session on ‘Mastering the Budget’. So this workshop was being organised as a result of their feedback. The choice of location was easy — this was held at the National Institute for Public Finance and Policy in Delhi, which is amongst India’s foremost institutions working on state budgets and public finance issues.

Invitations were sent out to MLAs in several states. Responses started coming in within a few days, with about 70 confirmations. But there is always an uncertainty on the participation until the very last minute because elected politicians have immense demands on their time, at least some of which are unpredictable. So it was heartening to see that more than 50 MLAs came to the workshop representing 15 states — Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Manipur.

The participants ranged from first time MLAs (about 50%), to a sitting Minister, a sitting Speaker, former Ministers, and senior leaders of political parties from some states. But the best part about the interaction in this workshop was that even on seemingly complex issues being discussed in the classroom, the MLAs were not mere recipients of ‘gyan’ that was being dished out. They had important questions to raise, and well articulated points of disagreement with the faculty, and brought in practical perspectives that might not have otherwise come up in the discussions. They went beyond the scope of the workshop to engage the economists on discussions on subjects like FDI in retail, state of India’s economy…

Based on our experience of several workshops with MLAs, we want to share some observations about the participating MLAs:

–         There are MLAs in every state who want to understand substantive policy issues, and are willing to invest time and energy to do so.

–         When the MLAs participate in these workshops, they choose to do so on their own, and are not compelled by anyone to do so.

–         The sessions almost always begin and end on time, even in the freezing cold mornings in the Delhi winter.

–         The MLAs are very engaged in the discussions, ask questions, and bring in their experiences into the classroom discussions.

–         They keep partylines completely out of the substantive classroom discussions, and in the rare event that some new participant mentions anything partisan, other participants quickly ask him to avoid making any such mentions.

In 2011, we have engaged with over 250 MLAs through these workshops and more. These workshops are just a starting point of what we hope will develop into a sustained, longer term engagement with MLAs on policy issues coming up in their states. In an important partnership with the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, PRS has already conducted two workshops  at the world class facilities at the ISB campus, and is planning to hold more in 2012.

Just as PRS engages with about 300 MPs in Parliament, the hope is that more MLAs will be able to derive value from the work of PRS in the years to come, thereby making their decisions better informed.

Some feedback from MLAs from our earlier workshops can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XlgKCp2bvs or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01kLLTVtJOU&feature=related or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA4NZqCj2xk&feature=related

 

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