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Some Important Anti-Corruption Bills in Parliament

November 23rd, 2012 1 comment

Listed below are some key Bills pending in Parliament that are expected to address various aspects of corruption in India. These Bills need to be scrutinized carefully by both lawmakers and citizens alike, so as the strengthen them. Citizen groups can engage in a variety of ways to get their views heard, which have been described in the primer on Engaging with Policy Makers.

Some of these anti-corruption Bills are listed in the current Winter Session for consideration and passing. These are marked in red below. (The full list of all Bills being considered in the Winter Session can be accessed here.)

Each Bill below has been hyperlinked to a page which has the text of the Bill, the report of the Standing Committee, PRS analysis, and other relevant documents, all in one place. Spreading this message to a number of interested people will be a very useful contribution by all those interested in building greater engagement of people with what happens in Parliament.

 

Bill

Date of introduction

Status

Brief description

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) December 22, 2011 Passed by Lok Sabha on 27 Dec 2011. Report of Rajya Sabha Select Committee submitted on November 23, 2012. It seeks to establish the office of the Lok Pal at the centre and Lokayuktas in states for inquiring into complaints against certain public servants.The Bill once passed shall be applicable to states if they give their consent to its application.
The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) August 26, 2010 Passed by Lok Sabha on December 27, 2011. Pending in Rajya Sabha It seeks to protect whistleblowers (person making a disclosure related to acts of corruption, misuse of power or criminal offence).Under the Bill any person including a public servant may make such a disclosure to the Central or State Vigilance Commission.The identity of the complainant shall not be disclosed.
The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill, 2011 August 18, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on June 26, 2012 The Bill prohibits all persons from entering into benami transactions (property transactions in the name of another person).Any benami property shall be confiscated by the central government.It seeks to replace the existing Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988.
The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) March 25, 2011 Standing Committee  submitted its Report on March 29, 2012 Indiais a signatory to the UN Convention against corruption. The Bill is necessary for India to ratify the Convention.The Bill makes it an offence to accept or offer a bribe to foreign public officials and officials of public international organizations in order to obtain or retain international business
The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 December 20, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on August 28, 2012 It requires every public authority to publish a citizen charter within six months of commencement of the Act.The charter should detail the goods and services to be provided and the timeline for their delivery.
The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 December 27, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on August 30, 2012 The Bill requires all public authorities to deliver all public services electronically within a maximum period of eight years.There are two exceptions to this requirement: (a) service which cannot be delivered electronically; and (b) services that the public authorities in consultation with the respective Central and State EDS Commissions decide not to deliver electronically.
The Prevention of Money-Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2011 (Listed for passing) December 27, 2011 Standing Committee submitted its Report on May 9, 2012 The Bill Amends the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.This Bill widens the definition of offences under money laundering to include activities like concealment, acquisition, possession and use of proceeds of crime.It provides for the provisional attachment and confiscation of property (for a maximum period of 180 days).
The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 December 3, 2010 Standing Committee  submitted its Report on December 13,  2011 The Bill seeks to establish the National Identification Authority of India to issue unique identification numbers (called ‘Aadhaar’) to residents ofIndia.Every person residing inIndia(regardless of citizenship) is entitled to obtain an Aadhaar number after furnishing the required information.The number shall serve as an identity proof.  But not as a citizenship proof.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 December 1, 2010 Passed by Lok Sabha on March 29, 2012; Pending in Rajya Sabha It replaces the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.  It provides for enforceable standards for the conduct of High Court and Supreme Court judges.The Bill requires judges and their spouses and children to declare their assets and liabilities.  It also establishes a process for the removal of judges of Supreme Court and High Court
The Public Procurement Bill, 2012 May 14, 2012 Standing Committee Report pending The Bill seeks to regulate and ensure transparency in the procurement process.  It applies to procurement processes above Rs 50 lakh.The procuring entity shall adhere to certain standards such as (a) ensuring efficiency and economy; and (b) provide fair and equitable treatment to bidders.

Sources: Respective Bills, PRS Legislative Research

 

 

How to move beyond disruptions in Parliament

March 3rd, 2011 2 comments

The demand for a JPC has been accepted by the government. But disruptions in Parliament continue to plague its functioning. The speaker of Lok Sabha and the chairman of Rajya Sabha routinely ask the members who rush into the well to return to their seats, but if the members do not heed their pleas, the House is adjourned. This kind of behaviour by MPs, and the reaction of the House’s presiding officers, raises some very fundamental questions.

Every well-functioning institution has a set of rules that are designed to ensure its effective functioning. Thus our Parliament is governed by detailed rules meant to enable the smooth functioning of both Houses. The speaker is endowed with enormous powers to enforce discipline. For a variety of reasons, the speaker may choose not to use the measures at her disposal. But such a lack of enforcement of rules makes the rulebook irrelevant, and gives the impression that any group of MPs can hold Parliament to ransom. And all this is to the detriment of the institution, and a weakening of the authority of and respect for the office of speaker.

There have been suggestions to move Question Hour to a later time. But that may turn out to be a mere band-aid if core issues remain unaddressed. The real question is this: Do MPs feel that there is adequate opportunity for them to raise issues they are concerned about? Do they feel there is enough opportunity for them to oversee the work of the government, or to be effective as policy-makers? If the answer is yes, then there is a strong case for the rulebook to be used effectively to discipline disrupting MPs. But if there is a general acknowledgement that there is not enough opportunity for MPs to raise issues, then there is a need to change the rules of the House.

Many of the rules that are currently in the book were framed at a time when Parliament met for an average of 140 days a year. They were also mostly framed at a time when there were just a handful of political parties, and Lok Sabha TV did not telecast Parliament proceedings live and countrywide. But since then some things have obviously changed, which have also altered the incentive structure for some MPs, and thus how they behave in Parliament. And our rules of procedure have not woken up to this changed environment.

It would be naïve not to acknowledge that “politics” plays a big role in why MPs disrupt proceedings. In a healthy democracy, it is to be expected that parties might opportunistically exploit whatever chances may become available to them. But that would become a very costly habit indeed if the proceedings of the House are brought to a standstill every so often, and no solution is found to change this behaviour.

At another level, it can be argued that disruptions are actually symptomatic of a larger problem of effectiveness. Instead of just looking at the issue of disruptions in isolation, there is a need to take a fresh look at the multiple roles of Parliament, the changes in the internal make-up of Parliament, the changes in India’s external environment, and the changes in citizens’ expectations from their representatives. This will result in a more comprehensive solution and will help build systems that will increase the effectiveness of the institution in every possible way.

The idea is not to attempt to solve problems that are intensely political in nature, by throwing technocratic solutions at them. So perhaps an appropriate thing would be to first find a way to collectively acknowledge and articulate the frustration of several MPs, of the presiding officers, and of millions of people across the country. This will take us an important step forward.

It would indeed be a terrible collective failure if Parliament cannot find a way out of the mess it appears to be in, and other arms of our governance system feel the need to step in to stem the decline. There is no time to waste, not on the floor of the House, and certainly not in finding a solution to Parliament’s ongoing paralysis. Fortunately, we will also be able to learn from the experiences of any number of other well-functioning parliaments around the world. It is hoped that the speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairman come together soon to find a viable process that will bring in the changes urgently needed to enable Parliament to become a more effective institution.

This post appeared as an article in the Indian Express on March 3, 2011 as ‘Speaking out of turn‘.

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PRS workshop for engaging MLAs across India

January 28th, 2011 No comments

There are a little over 4000 MLAs across all states in India.  For the citizen, a law passed by his state legislature is as relevant and important as one passed by Parliament.  And MLAs also have no research support available to them to understand and reflect on policy issues before voting for them in the state assembly.  To make matters worse, the sittings in many state assemblies are abysmally low as can be seen from this graph showing some states.

For a while now, several MPs have been urging PRS to initiate some work with MLAs.  We started a Policy Guide series some months ago — essentially a 2-page note on policy issues of contemporary relevance that would be useful for MLAs.  We started sending these out to MLAs in several states, and some MLAs called PRS back for more information and research.

As a way to increase the engagement, PRS decided to hold a workshop for MLAs.  For this, we partnered with Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and held our first workshop for MLAs from Jan 3-6, 2011.  In the first edition of the workshop, we had 44 MLAs participating from a dozen states across India.  The response was overwhelmingly positive (see short videos of MLA feedback here), with requests from MLAs to hold more such workshops for other MLAs as well.  Several also wanted longer duration workshops on important policy issues.  We see this as a small beginning for a sustained engagement with our MLAs.

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What information do we have on the functioning of state legislatures?

December 20th, 2010 No comments

Most legislative assemblies make Parliament look like a paragon of virtue

A COUPLE of days ago, an MLA from Orissa made news for climbing on to the speaker’s table in the assembly. Not so long ago, television screens beamed images of Karnataka MLAs snacking and sleeping all night in the assembly. But these are only indicative of the incidents of the raucous behaviour of several MLAs in the recent past across the country. And the poor behaviour of some MLAs is only one aspect of the pitiable state of several of our state legislatures. The other aspect of our state legislatures that goes largely unnoticed is how poorly the secretariats of legislatures are equipped and how several systems that are seen as essential in Parliament are nonexistent in states.

Even to know the complete picture of how our legislatures function, you need data. And several state assemblies are notoriously poor at putting out data on the functioning of the institution or the MLAs. After one gets used to the quality of Parliament websites and the regularity of their updates, it would be shocking to see that there are some state legislatures that do not even have functional websites. It has been observed that some state legislatures are lagging behind by a couple of years in compiling the “resume of work” which summarises the work done in a session of the legislature. So the first bottleneck in several instances is the inability to access data of the assembly.

From the data we have managed to access, it is obvious that state assemblies meet for very few days a year. A case in point is the Punjab assembly which has met for an average of 19 days per year for a 10-year period between 1997 and 2007. Delhi was only marginally better averaging 21 days per year during the same period. Kerala has averaged some 50 days a year for several years now. Some states like Karnataka have legislated that they should meet for at least 60 days a year, but since passing that legislation in 2005, they have not managed to do so for even one year. I am not even accounting for the time lost due to disruptions. Bills are passed with little or no discussion in many state legislatures. While in Parliament, referring bills to the standing committees is the norm, most state legislatures do not have standing committees. The only examination of a bill, if any, happens on the floor of the House. And if data from the Delhi assembly is anything to go by, the average debate on a bill before is passed is a little over half hour. There are any number of instances where bills are introduced and passed in state assemblies on the same day -so there is not even a pretence of the need for MLAs to read, understand and deliberate on the provisions of legislation they are supposedly passing.

MLAs are often far more narrowly constituency-focused than MPs are. On average, MLAs have lower education levels than members of Parliament. There is no formal definition of a role of an MLA, and they mostly have no exposure to ideas such as the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature.
In one particularly revealing conversation with an MLA, he said, “At the time of elections, each of the contestants represents his party. But after the elections, the chiefministerbecomestheleader of all MLAs in the House. If an MLAneedssomeadditionalprojects/ favours for his constituency he needs to be in the good books of the chief minister and his cabinet ministers. So where is the question of taking on the chief minister on the floor of the House on any issue?” There are many aspects of state legislatures that point to a steady and visible decline of these important institutions. But beyond the frequent highlighting of theatrics by some MLAs, there is almost no public discourse on this issue. It is necessary to ensure that the legislatures run smoothly, and the speaker, as first among equals, has the biggest responsibility to ensure this. If there are rules and everyone knows that those rules will never be used to enforce discipline, then the rules will be broken, and repeatedly so. This practice needs to be urgently reviewed.

The larger question is whether our legislatures are the highest deliberating and policymaking bodies or whether they are being reduced to platforms for political theatrics. Policy can almost never be devoid of politics and public posturing. But if this means poor deliberation of critical policy issues and the woefully inadequate functioning of our legislatures, then we may need to come up with creative ways in which this problem can be addressed.

This article appeared in the Indian Express on December 20, 2010.

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NGOs and the legislative process

September 23rd, 2010 2 comments

All stakeholders, including citizens, NGOs, etc. have an important role in the law making process. But for many stakeholders, the process is not obvious or easily explained.

In PRS, we often receive a number of requests from NGOs about how it is that they can get Parliament to make changes in legislation and what would be productive ways in which citizens can make a difference in the law making process. To address this, PRS has developed a short Primer on “Engaging with Policy Makers: Ideas on Contributing to the Law Making Process”, in which we have tried to explain the process of how a Bill becomes an Act and some of the opportunities for citizen groups to become part of the process.

Sometimes, large parts of a Bill that is introduced in Parliament may not be agreeable to some groups. In such cases there is a tendency among NGOs to sometimes decide to redraft the Bill.

To the extent that NGOs think of redrafting a Bill as a tactical negotiating position, they may have a point in trying to redraft legislation. To the extent that NGOs think of such redrafting as a way to keep the discourse alive on the most important issues in any legislation, such efforts are welcome and useful. But if there is a belief that the Bill introduced in Parliiament will be withdrawn to introduce another Bill on the same subject as drafted by NGOs, then history suggests that the probability of that happening is close to zero. This is not a comment on the quality of the Bill that may be drafted by the group of NGOs, but rather a result of a complex set of issues about lawmaking in India.

Despite the odds, there are some recent examples in which NGOs were able to bring about significant changes to Bills in Parliament. The Right to Information Act stands out as one of the best examples in recent times. On the recently passed Right to Education Bill, NGOs were able to exert sufficient pressure to bring about changes in the Bill, and also get the government to bring in an amendment Bill to make further changes. In the Seeds Bill which was introduced in 2004, the Government appears to have agreed to bring about important changes thanks to the efforts of a number of farmer groups approaching the government directly, and through their local MPs and political parties.

It would be useful if we can get more examples/ comments/ suggestions about how some NGOs were able to bring about these changes in Bills. This will help more people understand how their voices can be heard in the corridors of power.

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PRS seeks inputs on increasing outreach

April 1st, 2010 5 comments

We need your ideas and inputs.  Ideas on how we can inform many more people who are interested in policy about what they can access on the PRS website.

The mission of PRS is to strengthen the legislative process by making it better informed, more transparent and participatory.

The statement has three important components:

(a) Better informed: This implies that legislators and citizens need to be better informed about the implications of legislation.  For us in PRS, this implies producing easy-to-understand non-partisan analysis that can be made available to MPs and citizens.  This also includes our continual efforts to personally brief MPs and political parties on the details and implications of each Bill.

(b) Transparent: We mean that all proceedings of Parliament and the work of MPs in Parliament should be easily accessible to citizens.  In an operational sense, this includes the effort we put into creating the Bill Track section on our website where every Bill that is pending in Parliament can be accessed, and the current status of the Bill can be tracked.  It also includes the MP Track section in which we have up-to-date information about the engagement levels of MPs in Parliament.  We also have a twitter page www.twitter.com/prslegislative and a Facebook presence.

(c) Participatory: Which simply means that once citizens know the information, and would like to articulate a point of view, they should reach out to policy makers and get their point of view across to them.  To promote this, we have had a number of workshops with NGOs and have produced a primer on Engaging with Policy Makers.

These are just some examples of what we are doing in each of these three areas.  Our website has much more information.

But we are increasingly of the view that we need to reach out many more people who are interested in policy — even if it is sector specific.  We would be grateful for any ideas that you might have, which you can post as responses to this post.

If you also have specific ideas on what you like on our website and what can be better, do let us know.  Thanks, in advance.

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The Union Budget

March 1st, 2010 1 comment

The budget process is covered by live TV and extensively by most newspapers each year.  Most large companies have their own analysis of the budget.  Increasingly, there is an effort by civil society groups to analyse the budget to decipher the allocations to the social sector.  All of this is hugely important and indeed necessary for greater scrutiny and analysis by citizens across the country.

But we at PRS have often spoken about the role of Parliament in effectively scrutinising the government.  If there is anything that the Parliament must scrutinise carefully each year, it is the budget – because this is the way in which the government expresses its real priorities.  Even if the Parliament passes Bills on any subject – right to education, right to health, right to food, etc. – a good measure of the true willingness of the government to implement any of this can be seen by how much money it is willing to allocate to make things a reality.

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha spoke about the budget process (Times of India, Feb 27th) and has argued that the current process in India is archaic and is in urgent need of an overhaul.  He also points that Parliament has little power to change anything in the budget, and argues that this undermines the principles of our Parliamentary democracy.  We agree.

On our part, we have produced two documents to help readers understand the budget process better.  How to read the union budget and the Union Budget process can both be accessed from our website.  And we would greatly appreciate your comments on this and other posts on our blog.

Welcome to The PRS Blog!

February 6th, 2010 6 comments

The objective of this blog is to supplement the information provided on the PRS website, with more analysis, information, that might be useful for readers.  We expect to discuss issues about legislation and policy on some occasions and about the functioning of Parliament at other times.  Interesting Parliament trivia will also find their place on the blog from time to time.

The Parliament itself puts up significant amount of information on its website, making it relatively easy for anyone tracking the institution to access data.  But what we at PRS have tried to do is to add value to the information that we have accessed from Parliament, and make our products even more relevant to users.  We hope readers of this blog will share their views with us on a range of issues.

We know that a number of people both in India and abroad use our website as a resource on legislation and Parliament. Our somewhat tentative beginning on Twitter (www.twitter.com/prslegislative) is now being followed more widely.  Recent updates from Twitter will also be displayed on the Blog.

The only way in which our legislation will become better over time is when lots of people like us scrutinise issues in detail, engage with our law makers and ensure that the process takes into account the inputs of citizens from across the country.  As we prepare ourselves for the upcoming Budget session of Parliament, we expect to post on our blog quite regularly.  We hope you will find this useful in the weeks and months ahead!  Please spread the word about this new blog, and thank you for all your continued support.

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