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Explained: The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016

December 15th, 2017 No comments

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 has been listed for passage during the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament.  This Bill was introduced in the Monsoon Session last year and referred to the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, which tabled its report earlier this year.  The Bill seeks to recognise transgender persons, and confer anti-discriminatory rights and entitlements related to education, employment, health, and welfare measures.  This post explains key provisions of the Bill and certain issues for consideration.

Self-identification and obtaining a Certificate of Identity

The Bill provides for ‘self-perceived gender identity’ i.e. persons can determine their gender on their own.  This is in line with a Supreme Court judgement (2014) which held that the self determination of one’s gender is part of the fundamental right to dignity, freedom and personal autonomy guaranteed under the Constitution.[1]

Along with the provision on ‘self-perceived gender identity’, the Bill also provides for a screening process to obtain a Certificate of Identity.  This Certificate will certify the person as ‘transgender’.  An application for obtaining such a Certificate will be referred to a District Screening Committee which will comprise five members including a medical officer, psychologist or psychiatrist, and a representative of the transgender community.

The Bill therefore allows individuals to self-identify their gender, but at the same time they must also undergo the screening process to get certified, and as a result be identified as a ‘transgender’.  In this context, it is unclear how these two provisions of self-perceived gender identity and an external screening process will reconcile with each other.  The Standing Committee has also upheld both these processes of self-identification and the external screening process to get certified.  In addition, the Committee recommended that the Bill should provide for a mechanism for appeal against the decisions of the District Screening Committee.

Since, the Bill provides certain entitlements to transgender persons for their inclusion and participation in society, it can be argued that there must be an objective criteria to verify the eligibility of these applicants for them to receive benefits targeted for transgender persons.

Status of transgender persons under existing laws

Currently, several criminal and civil laws recognise two categories of gender i.e. man and woman.  These include laws such as Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) and Hindu Succession Act, 1956.  Now, the Bill seeks to recognise a third gender i.e. ‘transgender’.  However, the Bill does not clarify how transgender persons will be treated under certain existing laws.

For example, under NREGA, priority is given to women workers (at least one-third of the beneficiaries are to be women) if they have registered and requested for work under the Act. Similarly, under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, there are different eligibility criteria for males and females to adopt a girl child.  In this context, the applicability of such laws to a ‘transgender’ person is not stated in the Bill.  The Standing Committee has recommended recognising transgender persons’ right to marriage, partnership, divorce and adoption, as governed by their personal laws or other relevant legislation.

In addition, the penalties for similar offences may also vary because of the application of different laws based on gender identity.  For example, under the IPC, sexual offences related to women attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, which is higher than that specified for sexual abuse against a transgender person under the Bill (up to two years).[2]

Who is a transgender person?

As per international standards, ‘transgender’ is an umbrella term that includes persons whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to them at birth.[3], [4]   For example, a person born as a man may identify with the opposite gender, i.e., as a woman.[5]  In addition to this sense of mismatch, the definition provided under the Bill also lists further criteria to be defined as a transgender person.  These additional criteria include being (i) ‘neither wholly male nor female’, or (ii) ‘a combination of male or female’, or (iii) ‘neither male nor female’.

The Supreme Court, the Expert Committee of the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare, and the recent Standing Committee report all define ‘transgender persons’ based on the mismatch only.1,[5],[6]  Therefore, the definition provided under the Bill does not clarify if simply proving a mismatch is enough (as is the norm internationally) or whether the additional listed criteria ought to be fulfilled as well.

Offences and penalties

The Bill specifies certain offences which include: (i) compelling transgender persons to beg or do forced or bonded labour, and (ii) physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic abuse.  These offences will attract imprisonment between six months and two years, in addition to a fine.

The Standing Committee recommended graded punishment for different offences, and suggested that those involving physical and sexual assault should attract higher punishment.   It further stated that the Bill must also specifically recognise and provide appropriate penalties for violence faced by transgender persons from officials in educational institutions, healthcare institutions, police stations, etc.

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[1]. National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India [(2014) 5 SCC 438]; Article 21, Constitution of India.

[2].  Sections 354, 354A, 354B, 375, Indian Penal Code, 1860.

[3].  Guidelines related to Transgender persons, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/transgender.pdf.

[4].  Standards of Care, 7th Version, The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, https://s3.amazonaws.com/amo_hub_content/Association140/files/Standards%20of%20Care%20V7%20-%202011%20WPATH%20(2)(1).pdf.

[5].  Report of the Expert Committee on the Issues relating to Transgender Persons, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, January 27, 2014, http://socialjustice.nic.in/writereaddata/UploadFile/Binder2.pdf.

[6]. Report no.43, The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, July 21, 2017, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Social%20Justice%20&%20Empowerment/16_Social_Justice_And_Empowerment_43.pdf.

The FRDI Bill: Bail-In provisions explained

December 7th, 2017 2 comments

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha during Monsoon Session 2017.  The Bill is currently being examined by a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament.  It seeks to establish a Resolution Corporation which will monitor the risk faced by financial firms such as banks and insurance companies, and resolve them in case of failure.  For FAQs explaining the regulatory framework under the Bill, please see here.

Over the last few days, there has been some discussion around provisions of the Bill which allow for cancellation or writing down of liabilities of a financial firm (known as bail-in).[1],[2]  There are concerns that these provisions may put depositors in an unfavourable position in case a bank fails. In this context, we explain the bail-in process below.

What is bail-in?

The Bill specifies various tools to resolve a failing financial firm which include transferring its assets and liabilities, merging it with another firm, or liquidating it.  One of these methods allows for a financial firm on the verge of failure to be rescued by internally restructuring its debt.  This method is known as bail-in.

Bail-in differs from a bail-out which involves funds being infused by external sources to resolve a firm.  This includes a failing firm being rescued by the government.

How does it work?

Under bail-in, the Resolution Corporation can internally restructure the firm’s debt by: (i) cancelling liabilities that the firm owes to its creditors, or (ii) converting its liabilities into any other instrument (e.g., converting debt into equity), among others.[3]

Bail-in may be used in cases where it is necessary to continue the services of the firm, but the option of selling it is not feasible.[4]  This method allows for losses to be absorbed and consequently enables the firm to carry on business for a reasonable time period while maintaining market confidence.3  The Bill allows the Resolution Corporation to either resolve a firm by only using bail-in, or use bail-in as part of a larger resolution scheme in combination with other resolution methods like a merger or acquisition.

Do the current laws in India allow for bail-in? What happens to bank deposits in case of failure?

Current laws governing resolution of financial firms do not contain provisions for a bail in.  If a bank fails, it may either be merged with another bank or liquidated.

In case of bank deposits, amounts up to one lakh rupees are insured by the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC).  In the absence of the bank having sufficient resources to repay deposits above this amount, depositors will lose their money.  The DICGC Act, 1961 originally insured deposits up to Rs 1,500 and permitted the DICGC to increase this amount with the approval of the central government.  The current insured amount of one lakh rupees was fixed in May 1993.[5]  The Bill has a similar provision which allows the Resolution Corporation to set the insured amount in consultation with the RBI.

Does the Bill specify safeguards for creditors, including depositors?

The Bill specifies that the power of the Corporation while using bail-in to resolve a firm will be limited.  There are certain safeguards which seek to protect creditors and ensure continuity of critical functions of the firm. Order of priority under liquidation

When resolving a firm through bail-in, the Corporation will have to ensure that none of the creditors (including bank depositors) receive less than what they would have been entitled to receive if the firm was to be liquidated.[6],[7]

Further, the Bill allows a liability to be cancelled or converted under bail-in only if the creditor has given his consent to do so in the contract governing such debt.  The terms and conditions of bank deposits will determine whether the bail-in clause can be applied to them.

Do other countries contain similar provisions?

After the global financial crisis in 2008, several countries such as the US and those across Europe developed specialised resolution capabilities.  This was aimed at preventing another crisis and sought to strengthen mechanisms for monitoring and resolving sick financial firms.

The Financial Stability Board, an international body comprising G20 countries (including India), recommended that countries should allow resolution of firms by bail-in under their jurisdiction.  The European Union also issued a directive proposing a structure for member countries to follow while framing their respective resolution laws.  This directive suggested that countries should include bail-in among their resolution tools.  Countries such as UK and Germany have provided for bail-in under their laws.  However, this method has rarely been used.7,[8]  One of the rare instances was in 2013, when bail-in was used to resolve a bank in Cyprus.

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[1] ‘Modi government’s FRDI bill may take away all your hard-earned money’, India Today, December  5, 2017, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/frdi-bill-banking-reforms-modi-government-india-parliament/1/1103422.html.

[2] ‘Bail-in doubts — on financial resolution legislation’, The Hindu, December 5, 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/bail-in-doubts/article21261606.ece.

[3] Section 52, The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017.

[4] Report of the Committee to Draft Code on Resolution of Financial Firms, September 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/FRDI%20Bill%20Drafting%20Committee%20Report.pdf.

[5] The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, 1961, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Publications/PDFs/dicgc_act.pdf.  s

[6] Section 55, The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017.

[7] The Bank of England’s approach to resolution, October 2014, Bank of England.

[8] Recovery and resolution, BaFin, Federal Financial Supervisory Authority of Germany, https://www.bafin.de/EN/Aufsicht/BankenFinanzdienstleister/Massnahmen/SanierungAbwicklung/sanierung_abwicklung_artikel_en.html.

The Anti-Defection Law Explained

December 6th, 2017 No comments

On Monday, December 4, the Chairman of Rajya Sabha disqualified two Members of Parliament (MPs) from the House under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution (better known as the anti-defection law) for having defected from their party.[1] These members were elected on a Janata Dal (United) ticket.  The Madras High Court is also hearing petitions filed by 18 MLAs who were disqualified by the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly in September 2017 under the anti-defection law.  Allegations of legislators defecting in violation of the law have been made in several other states including Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Nagaland, Telangana and Uttarakhand in recent years.[2]  In this context, we explain the anti-defection law.

What is the anti-defection law?

Aaya Ram Gaya Ram was a phrase that became popular in Indian politics after a Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice within the same day in 1967.  The anti-defection law sought to prevent such political defections which may be due to reward of office or other similar considerations.[3]

The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution in 1985. It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House. A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote. This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House.  The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.

Are there any exceptions under the law?

Yes, legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances. The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger. In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge, nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.

Various expert committees have recommended that rather than the Presiding Officer, the decision to disqualify a member should be made by the President (in case of MPs) or the Governor (in case of MLAs) on the advice of the Election Commission.[4] This would be similar to the process followed for disqualification in case the person holds an office of profit (i.e. the person holds an office under the central or state government which carries a remuneration, and has not been excluded in a list made by the legislature).

How has the law been interpreted by the Courts while deciding on related matters?

The Supreme Court has interpreted different provisions of the law.  We discuss some of these below.

The phrase ‘Voluntarily gives up his membership’ has a wider connotation than resignation

The law provides for a member to be disqualified if he ‘voluntarily gives up his membership’. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted that in the absence of a formal resignation by the member, the giving up of membership can be inferred by his conduct.[5] In other judgments, members who have publicly expressed opposition to their party or support for another party were deemed to have resigned.[6]

In the case of the two JD(U) MPs who were disqualified from Rajya Sabha on Monday, they were deemed to have ‘voluntarily given up their membership’ by engaging in anti-party activities which included criticizing the party on public forums on multiple occasions, and attending rallies organised by opposition parties in Bihar.[7]

Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review 

The law initially stated that the decision of the Presiding Officer is not subject to judicial review. This condition was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1992, thereby allowing appeals against the Presiding Officer’s decision in the High Court and Supreme Court.[8] However, it held that there may not be any judicial intervention until the Presiding Officer gives his order.

In 2015, the Hyderabad High Court, refused to intervene after hearing a petition which alleged that there had been delay by the Telangana Assembly Speaker in acting against a member under the anti-defection law.[9]

Is there a time limit within which the Presiding Officer has to decide?

The law does not specify a time-period for the Presiding Officer to decide on a disqualification plea. Given that courts can intervene only after the Presiding Officer has decided on the matter, the petitioner seeking disqualification has no option but to wait for this decision to be made.

There have been several cases where the Courts have expressed concern about the unnecessary delay in deciding such petitions.[10] In some cases this delay in decision making has resulted in members, who have defected from their parties, continuing to be members of the House. There have also been instances where opposition members have been appointed ministers in the government while still retaining the membership of their original parties in the legislature.[11]

In recent years, opposition MLAs in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have broken away in small groups gradually to join the ruling party. In some of these cases, more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party.

In these scenarios, the MLAs were subject to disqualification while defecting to the ruling party in smaller groups.  However, it is not clear if they will still face disqualification if the Presiding Officer makes a decision after more than 2/3rd of the opposition has defected to the ruling party. The Telangana Speaker in March 2016 allowed the merger of the TDP Legislature Party in Telangana with the ruling TRS, citing that in total, 80% of the TDP MLAs (12 out of 15) had joined the TRS at the time of taking the decision.[12]

In Andhra Pradesh, legislators of the main opposition party recently boycotted the entire 12-day assembly session.  This boycott was in protest against the delay of over 18 months in action being taken against legislators of their party who have allegedly defected to the ruling party.[13] The Vice President, in his recent order disqualifying two JD(U) members stated that all such petitions should be decided by the Presiding Officers within a period of around three months.

Does the anti-defection law affect the ability of legislators to make decisions?

The anti-defection law seeks to provide a stable government by ensuring the legislators do not switch sides. However, this law also restricts a legislator from voting in line with his conscience, judgement and interests of his electorate. Such a situation impedes the oversight function of the legislature over the government, by ensuring that members vote based on the decisions taken by the party leadership, and not what their constituents would like them to vote for.

Political parties issue a direction to MPs on how to vote on most issues, irrespective of the nature of the issue. Several experts have suggested that the law should be valid only for those votes that determine the stability of the government (passage of the annual budget or no-confidence motions).[14]

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[1] Parliamentary Bulletin-II, December 4, 2017, http://164.100.47.5/newsite/bulletin2/Bull_No.aspx?number=57066 and http://164.100.47.5/newsite/bulletin2/Bull_No.aspx?number=57067.

[2] MLA Defection Politics Not New, Firstpost, March 13, 2017, http://www.firstpost.com/politics/bjp-forms-govt-in-goa-manipur-mla-defection-politics-not-new-telangana-ap-perfected-it-3331872.html.

[3] The Constitution (52nd Amendment) Act, 1985, http://indiacode.nic.in/coiweb/amend/amend52.htm.

[4] Report of the Committee on Electoral Reforms, 1990, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/erreports/Dinesh%20Goswami%20Report%20on%20Electoral%20Reforms.pdf and the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution (NCRWC), 2002, http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/ncrwcreport.htm.

[5] Ravi Naik vs Union of India, 1994, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/554446/.

[6] G.Viswanathan Vs. The Hon’ble Speaker, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, Madras& Another, 1996, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1093980/  and Rajendra Singh Rana vs. Swami Prasad Maurya and Others, 2007, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1620629/ and Parliamentary Bulletin-II, December 4, 2017, http://164.100.47.5/newsite/bulletin2/Bull_No.aspx?number=57066.

[7] Parliamentary Bulletin-II, December 4, 2017, http://164.100.47.5/newsite/bulletin2/Bull_No.aspx?number=57066.

[8] Kihoto Hollohon vs. Zachilhu and Others, 1992, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1686885/.

[9] Sabotage of Anti-Defection Law in Telangana, 2015, https://www.epw.in/journal/2015/50/commentary/sabotage-anti-defection-law-telangana.html.

[10] Speaker, Haryana Vidhan Sabha Vs Kuldeep Bishnoi & Ors., 2012, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/45034065/  and Mayawati Vs Markandeya Chand & Ors., 1998, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1801522/.

[11] Anti-Defecton Law Ignored, November 30, 2017, http://www.news18.com/news/politics/anti-defection-law-ignored-as-mlas-defect-to-tdp-trs-in-andhra-pradesh-and-telangana-1591319.html and It’s official Minister Talasani is still a TDP Member, March 27, 2015, http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Telangana/2015-03-27/Its-Official-Minister-Talasani-is-still-a-TDP-member/140135.

[12] Telangana Legislative Assembly Bulletin, March 10, 2016, http://www.telanganalegislature.org.in/documents/10656/19317/Assembly+Buletin.PDF/a0d4bb52-9acf-494f-80e7-3a16e3480460;  12 TDP MLAs merged with TRS, March 11, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/12-tdp-mlas-merged-with-trs/article8341018.ece.

[13] The line TD leaders dare not cross, December 4, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/the-line-td-leaders-dare-not-cross/article21257521.ece

[14] Report of the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution, 2002, http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/ncrwcreport.htm, Report of the Committee on electoral reforms, 1990, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/erreports/Dinesh%20Goswami%20Report%20on%20Electoral%20Reforms.pdf  and Law Commission (170th report), 1999, http://www.lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/lc170.htm.

Role of Parliament in holding the government accountable

November 22nd, 2017 No comments

Parliament sessions are usually held thrice a year: once in February for the Budget Session, once around July or August for the Monsoon Session, and once in November for the Winter Session.  This year, the government is yet to announce the dates for the Winter Session.  While there has been uncertainty around whether Parliament will meet, ministers in the government have indicated that the Session will be held soon.[1]

The practice of allowing the government to convene Parliament differs from those followed in other countries.  Some of these countries have a limited role for the government in summoning the legislature, because in a parliamentary democracy the executive is accountable to Parliament.  Allowing the government to call the Parliament to meet could be in conflict with this principle.  While we wait for the government to announce the dates for the Winter Session, this post looks at the relationship between Parliament and the government, recommendations made over the years on improving some parliamentary customs, and discusses certain practices followed by other countries.

What is the role of Parliament in a democracy?

The Constitution provides for the legislature to make laws, the government to implement laws, and the courts to interpret and enforce these laws.  While the judiciary is independent from the other two branches, the government is formed with the support of a majority of members in the legislature.  Therefore, the government is collectively responsible to Parliament for its actions.  This implies that Parliament (i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) can hold the government accountable for its decisions, and scrutinise its functioning.  This may be done using various methods including, during debates on Bills or issues on the floor of Parliament, by posing questions to ministers during Question Hour, and in parliamentary committees.

Who convenes Parliament?

Parliament must be convened by the President at least once in every six months.  Since the President acts on the advice of the central government, the duration of the session is decided by the government.

Given the legislature’s role in keeping the executive accountable for its actions, one argument is that the government should not have the power to convene Parliament.  Instead, Parliament should convene itself, if a certain number of MPs agree, so that it can effectively exercise its oversight functions and address issues without delay.  Some countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia release an annual calendar with the sitting dates at the beginning of the year.

How regularly has Parliament been meeting over the years?

Over the years, there has been a decline in the sitting days of Parliament.  While Lok Sabha met for an average of 130 days in a year during the 1950s, these sittings came down to 70 days in the 2000s.  Lesser number of sittings indicates that Parliament was able to transact less business compared to previous years.  To address this, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution has recommended that Lok Sabha should have at least 120 sittings in a year, while Rajya Sabha should have 100 sittings.[2] Sitting days of Parliament

The Constituent Assembly, while drafting the Constitution had debated the power that should be given to Parliament with regard to convening itself.  Mr. K. T. Shah, a member of the Assembly, had suggested that in case the President or the Prime Minister are unable or unwilling to call for a Parliament session, the power to convene the Houses should be given to the presiding officers of those Houses (i.e., the Chairman of Rajya Sabha and the Speaker of Lok Sabha).  In addition, he had also suggested that Parliament should itself regulate its procedure, sittings and timings.[3]

How does Parliament hold the government accountable?

One of the forums of holding the government accountable for its actions is the Question Hour.  During Question Hour, MPs may pose questions to ministers related to the implementation of laws and policies by the government.questions answered

In the 16th Lok Sabha, question hour has functioned in Lok Sabha for 77% of the scheduled time, while in Rajya Sabha it has functioned for 47%.  A lower rate of functioning reflects time lost due to disruptions which reduces the number of questions that may be answered orally.  While Parliament may sit for extra hours to transact other business, time lost during Question Hour is not made up.  Consequently, this time lost indicates a lost opportunity to hold the government accountable for its actions.

Further, there is no mechanism currently for answering questions which require inter-ministerial expertise or relate to broader government policy.  Since the Prime Minister does not answer questions other than the ones pertaining to his ministries, such questions may either not get adequately addressed or remain unanswered.  In countries such as the UK, the Prime Minister’s Question Time is conducted on a weekly basis.  During the 30 minutes the Prime Minister answers questions posed by various MPs.  These questions relate to broader government policies, engagements, and issues affecting the country.[4]

How is public opinion reflected in Parliament?

MPs may raise issues of public importance in Parliament, and examine the government’s response to problems being faced by citizens through: (i) a debate, which entails a reply by the concerned minister, or (ii) a motion which entails a vote.  The time allocated for discussing some of these debates or Bills is determined by the Business Advisory Committee of the House, consisting of members from both the ruling and opposition parties.

Using these methods, MPs may discuss important matters, policies, and topical issues.  The concerned minister while replying to the debate may make assurances to the House regarding steps that will be taken to address the situation.  As of August 2017, 50% of the assurances made in the 16th Lok Sabha have been implemented.[5] Motions

Alternatively, MPs may move a motion for: (i) discussing important issues (such as inflation, drought, and corruption), (ii) adjournment of business in a House in order to express displeasure over a government policy, or (iii) expressing no confidence in the government leading to its resignation.  The 16th Lok Sabha has only discussed one adjournment motion so far.

To improve government accountability in Parliament, the opposition in some countries such as the UK, Canada, and Australia forms a shadow cabinet.[6],[7]  Under such a system, opposition MPs track a certain portfolio, scrutinise its performance and suggest alternate programs.  This allows for detailed tracking and scrutiny of ministries, and assists MPs in making constructive suggestions.  Some of these countries also provide for days when the opposition parties decide the agenda for Parliament.

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[1] Sonia Gandhi accuses of Modi govt ‘sabotaging’ Parliament Winter session, Arun Jaitley rejects charge’, The Indian Express, November 20, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/jaitley-refutes-sonia-gandhis-charge-of-sabotaging-parliament-session-says-congress-too-had-delayed-sitting-4946482/; ‘Congress also rescheduled Parliament sessions: Arun Jaitley hits back at Sonia Gandhi’, The Times of India, November 20, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/congress-also-rescheduled-parliament-sessions-arun-jaitley-hits-back-at-sonia-gandhi/articleshow/61726787.cms.

[2]  Parliament and State Legislatures, Chapter 5, National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, March 31, 2002, http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/finalreport/v1ch5.htm.

[3] Constituent Assembly Debates, May 18, 1949.

[4]  Prime Minister’s Question Time, Parliament of the United Kingdom, http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/questions/.

[5]  Lok Sabha and Session Wise Report of Assurances in Lok Sabha, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, http://www.mpa.gov.in/mpa/print_summary_lses_ls.aspx.

[6]  Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, Parliament of the United Kingdom, http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/government-and-opposition1/opposition-holding/.

[7]  Current Shadow Ministry List, Parliament of Australia, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Parliamentary_Handbook/Shadow.

Committees in state legislatures

October 31st, 2017 No comments

The Governor of Rajasthan promulgated two Ordinances amending the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and Indian Penal Code, 1860 applicable in Rajasthan on September 7. The Ordinances restrain any investigation to be conducted against a judge, magistrate or public servant without prior sanction of the government. The decision to grant sanction will have to be taken within six months, failing which such sanction will be deemed to have been granted.  The Ordinances also restrain any person from reporting on the individual in question until sanction for investigation is granted. Two Bills replacing these Ordinances were introduced in the Rajasthan Assembly by the state Home Minister last week, on October 23.[i] After introduction, the Bills were referred to a 15-member select committee comprising of legislators from the state Assembly, and headed by the Home Minister of Rajasthan. This blog examines the role of committees and some of the practices observed in state legislatures.

Purpose of committees in legislatures

In India, state legislatures sit for 31 days a year on an average.*  Several Bills are passed within a few days of their introduction. One of the primary responsibilities of the legislature is to hold the executive accountable, and examine potential laws. Due to paucity of time, it is difficult for the members go through all the bills and discuss them in detail. To address this issue, various committees are set up in Parliament and state assemblies where smaller group of members examine Bills in detail, and allow for an informed debate in the legislature. Apart from scrutinising legislation, committees also examine budgetary allocations for various departments and other policies of the government.  These mini-legislatures provide a forum for law makers to develop expertise, engage with citizens and seek inputs from stakeholders. Since these committees consist of members from different parties, they provide a platform for building consensus on various issues.

Figure 1: Average sitting days in a year (2012-16)
Sitting days in a year 1
Sources: Website of various state assemblies as on October 30, 2017.

Types of committees

There are broadly three types of committees: (i) Financial committees: These scrutinise the expenditure of the government and recommend efficient ways of spending funds (example: Public Accounts Committee and Estimates Committee), (ii) Department-Related Standing Committees (DRSC): These scrutinise performance of departments under a ministry, (iii) Other committees: These deal with day-to-day functioning of the legislature (example: Business Advisory Committee, Papers Laid, Rules, etc.)  While there are 3 financial committees and 24 department related committees in Parliament, the number of committees in state legislatures varies.  For example, Kerala has 14 subject committees examining all departments, while Delhi has seven standing committees scrutinising performance of various departments. [ii],[iii] However, not all states have a provision for specific DRSCs or subject committees.

Similar to Parliament, state legislatures also have a provision to form a select committee to examine a particular legislation or a subject.  Such a committee is disbanded after it presents a report with its findings or recommendations. Several Bills in states are referred to select committees. However, the practice in some state legislatures with respect to select committees deviate from those in the Parliament.

Independence of select committee from the executive

The rules in several states provide for the minister in-charge piloting the bill to be an ex-officio member of the select committee. These states include Rajasthan, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana. Moreover, in Manipur, the rules provide for the minister to be chairman of the select committee. Note that the minister is part of the executive.  His inclusion in the committee may be in conflict with the committee’s role of scrutinising the functioning of the executive.

The practice of including ministers in committees is in contrast with the protocol followed in Parliament where a minister is not part of any DRSC or select committee. As committees of the legislature hold the executive accountable, having a minister on the select committee undermines the role of legislature as an oversight mechanism. A minister, as a representative of the executive being part of such committees may impede the ability of committees to effectively hold the executive accountable.

The two Bills introduced in the Rajasthan Assembly last week were referred to a select committee headed by the Home Minister of the state.  There have been several instances in other state legislatures where the minister introducing a bill was chairman of the select committee examining it. In Goa, a bill empowering the government to acquire land for development of public services is headed by the Revenue Minister of the state.[iv] Similarly, in Arunachal Pradesh, the select committee examining a bill for establishment of a university was headed by the Education Minister.[v] In Maharashtra as well, the Education Minister was chairman of the select committee scrutinising a bill granting greater autonomy to state universities.[vi]  For rigorous scrutiny of legislation, it is essential that the committees are independent of the executive.

Strengthening state legislature committees [vii]

The functioning of committees in states can be strengthened in various ways. Some of these include:

(i) Examination of Bills by assembly committees: In the absence of DRSCs, most bills are passed without detailed scrutiny while some bills are occasionally referred to select committees. In Parliament, bills pertaining to a certain ministry are referred to the respective DRSCs for scrutiny. To strengthen legislatures, DRSCs must examine all bills introduced in the assembly.

(ii) Scrutiny of budgets: Several states do not have DRSCs to examine budgetary proposals. Some states like Goa, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh have a budget committee to examine budget proposals. Post the 14th Finance commission, there is a higher devolution of funds to state governments from the centre.  With states increasingly spending more, it is necessary for them to have DRSCs that scrutinise the allocations and expenditures to various departments before they are approved by state assemblies.

 

*Based on the average sitting days for 18 state assemblies from 2012-2016.

[i] The Code of Criminal Procedure (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 http://www.rajassembly.nic.in/BillsPdf/Bill39-2017.pdf;The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 http://www.rajassembly.nic.in/BillsPdf/Bill38-2017.pdf.

[ii] List of subject committees http://niyamasabha.org/codes/comm.htm.

[iii] Delhi Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory Of Delhi Composition Of House Committees
2017 – 2018, http://delhiassembly.nic.in/Committee/Committee_2017_2018.htm.

[iv] The Goa Requisition and Acquisition of Property Bill, 2017 http://www.goavidhansabha.gov.in/uploads/bills/468_draft_BN18OF2017-AI-REQUI.pdf.

[v] The Kameng Professional and Technical University Arunachal Pradesh Bill 2017 http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=oct1717/oth057.

[vi] Maharashtra Public Universities Bill, 2016 http://mls.org.in/pdf/university_bill_english.pdf.

[vii] Strengthening State Legislatures http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Conference%202016/Strengthening%20State%20Legislatures.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.

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.]

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).