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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).

President’s Address 2014 to 2017: Plan vs. Performance

February 6th, 2017 No comments

Budget Session 2017 commenced with the President, Pranab Mukherjee, addressing a joint sitting of Parliament on January 31, 2017.  This address by the President highlights the legislative and policy activities and achievements of the government in the previous year.  In addition, it gives a broad indication of the government’s agenda for the year ahead.  The address is followed by a motion of thanks that is moved in each House by ruling party MPs.  This is followed by a discussion on the address and concludes with the Prime Minister replying to the points raised during the discussion.

In the lower house, the motion of thanks has begun today.  It began in the upper house on February 2, 2017.  Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have allocated two and three days for the discussion, respectively.  In this context, we present an analysis of the salient points of the agenda proposed in the President’s address from 2014 to 2017 and the current status of its implementation.

Policy priority stated in the President’s address (2014 to 2017) Current Status 
Macroeconomy
  • GDP growth has made India the world’s fastest growing economies, among large economies.
  • Foreign exchange reserves have been at an all-time high, and inflation, current account deficit and fiscal deficit have consistently reduced since 2014.
  • The GDP is estimated to grow at 7.1% in 2016-17, compared to its growth of 7.9% in 2015-16.[i]
  • The Economic Survey 2016-17 has stated the GDP growth to be between 6.75% and 7.5% in 2017-18.[ii]
  • The average CPI inflation declined from 5.6% in December 2015 to 3.4% in December 2016.[iii]  In the same period, food inflation also decreased from 6.4% from 1.4%.3
  • Current account deficit decreased from USD 14.7 billion in 2015-16 (April-September) to USD 3.7 billion in the corresponding period in 2016-17.[iv]
  • Foreign exchange reserves presently stand at Rs 24,54,950 crore, an increase of Rs 1,02,130 crore from 2016.[v]
Poverty eradication and financial inclusion
  • The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana was launched to provide universal access to banking facilities.  The coverage under the scheme is close to 100%.
  • The proposed Postal Payment Bank of India will further boost financial inclusion.
  • Presently, around 27 crore accounts have been opened under the scheme.[vi]  However, out of these, 25% of the accounts are zero balance accounts.6
  • The Indian Postal Payments Bank has started.[vii]  The postal network with over 1.5 lakh post offices will also function as postal banks.7
Agriculture and water security
  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has expanded risk-coverage, doubled the sum insured, and facilitated low premium for farmers.
  • The government is also committed to implementation of Interlinking of Rivers Project.
  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has been implemented by 21 states.[viii]  3.66 crore farmers have been covered under the scheme, out of a total of 11 crore farmers in the country.[ix]
  • In April 2015, a Task Force was constituted on the Interlinking of Rivers Project.[x]  The Task Force is yet to submit its report.  The sub-Committee on restructuring the National Water Development Agency in September 2015 had recommended that a National Interlinking of Rivers Authority should be created through an Act of Parliament.[xi]  So far, further steps have not been taken in this regard.
Energy
  • The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2014 has been introduced to bring reforms in the electricity sector.
  • Renewable energy capacity will manifold to 175 GW by 2022.
  • The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2014 is pending in the Parliament.  The Standing Committee submitted its report on the Bill in May, 2015.[xii]
  • As of December 2016, 51 GW of renewable energy has been generated in the country.[xiii]  However, in 2016-17, only 26% of the target of the generation of renewable energy could be achieved.13
Governance and legal reforms
  • Close to 1,800 obsolete legislation are at various stages of repeal.
  • My government is committed to providing 33% reservation to women in the Parliament and state Legislative Assemblies.
  • Amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act are also on the anvil.
  • 758 Appropriation Acts and 295 laws have been repealed.[xiv],[xv]
  • No Bill in relation to providing 33% reservation to women has been introduced yet.
  • The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, is presently pending in Parliament.  The Standing Committee and Rajya Sabha Select Committee have submitted their reports on the Bill.
Defence
  • One Rank One Pension scheme will be implemented.
  • Defence procurement procedure has been streamlined with a focus on indigenously designed, developed and manufactured weapon systems.
  • Recognising the importance of coastal security, the government will set up a National Maritime Authority.
  • The government will also build a National War Memorial to honour the gallantry of our soldiers.
  • The implementation of One Rank One Pension scheme has been initiated.[xvi]  In 2016-17, Rs 12, 456 crore was allocated to the scheme.[xvii]
  • The Defence Procurement Policy 2016 added an additional category “Buy (Indian-Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured) as the most preferred way of capital acquisition.[xviii]
  • The National Maritime Authority and National War Memorial are yet to be established.
Environment
  • Funds will be released to states and union territories for aggressive afforestation.
  • To conserve the Himalayan ecology, a National Mission on Himalayas will be launched.
  • Target for emission standards for motor vehicles has been drastically brought forward to achieve Bharat Stage –VI norm by 2021.
  • Parliament passed the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015 in July 2016.[xix]  The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund for each state.  These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation.
  • The National Mission on Himalayas is yet to be launched.
  • To make Bharat Stage-VI norms applicable by April 1, 2020, a draft notification was released in February 2016.[xx]
Rural and Urban Development
  • To develop 300 rural growth clusters across the country, Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission has also been launched.
  • Mission Antyodaya, an intensive participatory planning exercise has been initiated.
  • Annual action plan for 500 cities with an outlay of Rs 50,000 crore has been approved.
  • To implement the Rurban mission, Rs 5,142 crore has been allocated for the period from 2015-16 to 2019-20.[xxi]
  • Under Mission Antyodaya, the release of funds has been lower than the allocated amount in the last three years, from 2014-15 to 2016-17.[xxii]
  • Under the Smart Cities Mission, Rs 4,572 has been released to 98 cities during the years 2015-16 and 2016-17.[xxiii]
Health
  • My government will formulate a New Health Policy and roll out a National Health Assurance Mission.

 

  • Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Jan Aushadi Pariyojana has been launched to ensure that the poor have access to quality medicines at affordable prices.
  • A group was constituted in July 2014 to prepare a comprehensive background paper for the roll out of the National Health Assurance Mission.[xxiv]  Further progress in this regard has not been made.
  • The draft National Health Policy was released in December 2014 for public comments and suggestions.[xxv]  The Policy has not been finalised yet.
  • Under the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Jan Aushadi Pariyojana, Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Kendras are proposed to be opened in all 630 districts of the country.[xxvi]
Women and child development
  • A Bill to amend the Juvenile Justice Act has been introduced in Parliament to reform the law relating to juvenile offences.
  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 was passed by Parliament in December 2015.[xxvii]  The Bill permits juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for heinous offences.


[Sources: President’s Address to the Parliament from 2014 to 2017; PRS.]

For important highlights from the President’s address in 2017, please see here.  For an analysis of the status of implementation of the announcements made in the 2016 address, please see here.


[i]
“Press note on First Revised Estimates of National Income, 2015-16”, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, January 31, 2017, http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/press_release/nad_PR_31jan17.pdf.

[ii] Economic Survey, 2016-17, http://finmin.nic.in/indiabudget2017-2018/e_survey.asp.

[iii] “Press Release Consumer Price Index Numbers on Base 2012=100 for Rural, Urban and Combined for the Month of December 2016”, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, January 12, 2017, http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/press_release/CPI_PR12jan17th.pdf

[iv] “Developments in India’s Balance of Payments during the second quarter of 2016-17”, Reserve Bank of India, December 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=38884.

[v] “Developments in India’s Balance of Payments during the second quarter of 2016-17”, Reserve Bank of India, December 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=38884.

[vi] Progress Report, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (Last accessed on January 24, 2017), http://www.pmjdy.gov.in/account.

[vii] “Cabinet approves setting up of India Post Payments Bank”, Cabinet, June 1, 2016.

[viii] “Achievements of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare”, Ministry of Agriculture, January 2, 2016.

[ix]  “Agricultural Statistics at a Glance 2015”, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmer’s Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare, http://eands.dacnet.nic.in/PDF/Agricultural_Statistics_At_Glance-2015.pdf.

[x] “Task Force on Interlinking Rivers Constituted”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Water Resources, April 14, 2015.

[xi] Special Committee for Interlinking of Rivers, National Water Development Agency, http://www.nwda.gov.in/writereaddata/ilr/notification.pdf.

[xii] Report No. 4, Standing Committee on Energy, ‘The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2014’, Lok Sabha, May 2015, Standing Committee on Energy, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Electricity/SC%20report-Electricity.pdf.

[xiii] “Physical Progress (Achievements)”, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy,  March  30, 2015, http://mnre.gov.in/mission-and-vision-2/achievements/.

[xiv] Appropriation Acts (Repeal) Act, 2016, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/Act22of2016AppropriationActsrepeal.pdf.

[xv] Repealing and Amending Act, 2016, http://lawmin.nic.in/ld/Act23of2016RepealingandAmending.pdf.

[xvi] 12(1)/2014/D (Pen/PoI)- Part II, Government of India, Ministry of Defence, Department of Ex- Servicemen Welfare, November 7, 2015, http://www.desw.gov.in/sites/upload_files/desw/files/pdf/OR OP-DESW-MOD.pdf.

[xvii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question 1696, Ministry of Defence, November 25, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU1696.pdf.

[xviii] “Year End Review 2016”, Ministry of Defence, December 31, 2016, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=156049.

[xix] The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Compensatory%20Afforestation/CAMPA%20act,%202016.pdf.

[xx] Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No 82, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, April 25, 2016.

[xxi] Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No 914, Department of Rural Development, May 2, 2016 , http://164.100.47.234/question/annex/239/Au914.pdf.

[xxii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No 4443, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, December 14, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU4443.pdf.

[xxiii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No 199, Ministry of Urban Development, November 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU199.pdf.

[xxiv] “Rolling out of National Health Assurance Mission”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, July 15, 2014.

[xxv] Draft National Health Policy 2015, December 2014, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, http://www.mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=3014.

[xxvi] Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Jan Aushadi Pariyojana guidelines, http://janaushadhi.gov.in/data/Individuals_December_2016.pdf.

[xxvii] The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Juvenile%20Justice/Juvenile%20Justice%20Act,%202015.pdf.

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016: All you need to know

November 23rd, 2016 No comments

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha on November 21, 2016 and is listed for passage this week.  The Bill regulates altruistic surrogacy and prohibits commercial surrogacy.  We present a brief overview of the Bill and some issues that may need to be considered:

How is surrogacy regulated under the Bill?

The Bill defines surrogacy as a practice where a woman gives birth to a child for an eligible couple and agrees to hand over the child after the birth to them.  The Bill allows altruistic surrogacy which involves a surrogacy arrangement where the monetary reward only involves medical expenses and insurance coverage for the surrogate mother.  Commercial surrogacy is prohibited under the Bill.  This type of surrogacy includes a monetary benefit or reward (in cash or kind) that exceeds basic medical expenses and insurance for the surrogate mother.

What is the eligibility criteria for couples intending to commission surrogacy?

In order to be eligible, the couple intending to commission a surrogacy arrangement must be a close relative of the surrogate mother.  In addition, the couple has to prove that they fulfil all of the following conditions:

  • They are Indian citizens who have been married for at least five years;
  • They are in the age group of 23-50 years (female partner) and 26-55 years (male partner);
  • A medical certificate stating that either or both partners are infertile;
  • They do not have any surviving child (whether biological, adopted or surrogate), except if the surviving child is mentally or physically challenged or suffers from a fatal illness;
  • A court order concerning the parentage and custody of the child to be born through surrogacy;
  • Insurance coverage for the surrogate mother.

Additional eligibility conditions that the intending couple need to meet may be specified by regulations. It could be argued that the qualifying conditions for surrogacy should be specified in the Bill and not be delegated to regulations.

Who is a close relative under the Bill?

The Bill does not define the term close relative.

Who is eligible to be a surrogate mother?

The surrogate mother, apart from proving that she is a close relative of the couple intending the surrogacy, also has to prove all the following conditions:

  • She was or is married and has a child of her own;
  • She is 25 to 35 years old;
  • She has not been a surrogate mother before;
  • She possesses a medical certificate of her fitness for surrogacy.

What will be the legal status of a surrogate child?

The Bill states that any child born out of a surrogacy procedure shall be the biological child of the intending couple and will be entitled to all rights and privileges that are available to a natural child.

What is the process for commissioning a surrogacy?

The intending couple and the surrogate mother can undergo a surrogacy procedure only at surrogacy clinics that are registered with the government.  To initiate the procedure, the couple and the surrogate mother need to possess certificates to prove that there are eligible.  These certificates will be granted by a government authority if the couple and the surrogate mother fulfill all the conditions mentioned above.  The Bill does not specify a time period within which the authority needs to grant the certificates.  Further, the Bill does not specify a review or appeal procedure in case the application for the certificates is rejected.

What is the penalty for engaging in commercial surrogacy under the Bill?

The Bill specifies that any person who takes the aid of a doctor or a surrogacy clinic in order to conduct commercial surrogacy will be punishable with imprisonment for a minimum term of five years and a fine that may extend to five lakh rupees.

Offences such as (i) undertaking or advertising commercial surrogacy; (ii) exploiting or abandoning the surrogate mother or child; and (iii) selling or importing human embryo or gametes for surrogacy will attract a minimum penalty of 10 years and a fine up to 10 lakh rupees.

[This post has been co – authored by Nivedita Rao]

Declaration of assets under the Lokpal Act explained

July 28th, 2016 No comments

A Bill to amend the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha yesterday.  The Bill makes amendments in relation to the declaration of assets of public servants, and will apply retrospectively.

Declaration of assets under the Lokpal Act, 2013

The Lokpal Act, 2013 provides for a mechanism to inquire into corruption related allegations against public servants.  The Act defines public servants to include the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Members of Parliament, central government and Public Sector Undertakings employees, and trustees and officials of NGOs that receive foreign contribution above Rs 10 lakhs a year, and those getting a certain amount of government funding. [A June 2016 notification set this amount at Rs. 1 crore.]

The Lokpal Act mandates public servants to declare their assets and liabilities, and that of their spouses and dependent children.  Such declarations must be filed by July 31st every year.  They must also be published on the website of the Ministry by August 31st.

2014 amendments proposed to the Lokpal Act

In December 2014, a Bill to amend the 2013 Act was introduced in Lok Sabha.  Among other things, the Bill sought to modify the provision related to declaration of assets by public servants.  The Bill required that the public servant’s declaration contain information of all his assets, including: (i) movable and immovable property owned, inherited, acquired, or held on lease in his or another’s name; and (ii) debts and liabilities incurred directly or indirectly by him.  The Bill also said that declaration requirements for public servants under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (for MPs), All India Services Act, 1951 (for senior civil servants), etc. would also apply.

The Standing Committee that examined this Bill, in 2015, had recommended that the public servants should declare the assets and liabilities to their Competent Authority.  For example, for an MP, the competent authority would be the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  Such declarations should then be forwarded to the Lokpal to keep in a fiduciary capacity.  Both these authorities would be competent to review the returns filed by the public servants.  In light of such double scrutiny, the Committee recommended that public disclosure of such assets and liabilities would not be necessary.

Further, the Committee also noted that family members of public servants are not obliged to disclose assets acquired through their own income. These disclosures may be in violation of Article 21 (right to privacy) or 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.  However, the public servant must declare assets and liabilities of his dependents, and those acquired by him in the name of another.  This Bill is currently pending in Lok Sabha.

The 2016 Bill and its position on declaration of assets

The Amendment Bill, that was introduced and passed by Lok Sabha yesterday, replaces the provision under the Lokpal Act, 2013 related to the declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants.  While the new provision also mandates public servants to declare their assets and liabilities, it does not specify the manner of such declaration.  The Bill states that the form and manner of such declarations to be made by public servants will be prescribed by the central government.  Therefore, if passed by Parliament, the effect of the amendments will be the following:

  1. Trustees and officers of certain NGOs will continue to be regarded as public servants for the purposes of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and the Lokpal Act, 2013. There is no differentiation in the treatment of government servants and trustees of NGOs.
  2. The requirement for declaring assets and liabilities will continue to be applicable.
  3. However, the Act will no longer require assets and liabilities of spouses and dependent children of public servants to be declared. It also removes the mandatory disclosure on the Ministry’s website.
  4. That said, the details of the disclosure to be made will be notified by the central government.
  5. It is not clear whether the earlier notification will automatically lapse, or whether it needs to be rescinded in light of the new amendments.

These implications will apply only if the Bill is passed by Rajya Sabha and gets the President’s assent before July 31, 2016.

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code: All you need to know

May 10th, 2016 1 comment

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today.  Last week, Lok Sabha passed the Code with changes recommended by the Joint Parliamentary Committee that examined the Code.[1],[2]  We present answers to some of the frequently asked questions in relation to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016.

Why do we need a new law?Time resolve insolvency1

As of 2015, insolvency resolution in India took 4.3 years on an average.  This is higher when compared to other countries such as United Kingdom (1 year) and United States of America (1.5 years).  Figure 1 provides a comparison of the time to resolve insolvency for various countries.  These delays are caused due to time taken to resolve cases in courts, and confusion due to a lack of clarity about the current bankruptcy framework.

What does the current Code aim to do?

The 2016 Code applies to companies and individuals.  It provides for a time-bound process to resolve insolvency.  When a default in repayment occurs, creditors gain control over debtor’s assets and must take decisions to resolve insolvency within a 180-day period.  To ensure an uninterrupted resolution process, the Code also provides immunity to debtors from resolution claims of creditors during this period.

The Code also consolidates provisions of the current legislative framework to form a common forum for debtors and creditors of all classes to resolve insolvency.

Who facilitates the insolvency resolution under the Code?

The Code creates various institutions to facilitate resolution of insolvency.  These are as follows:

  • Insolvency Professionals: A specialised cadre of licensed professionals is proposed to be created. These professionals will administer the resolution process, manage the assets of the debtor, and provide information for creditors to assist them in decision making.
  • Insolvency Professional Agencies: The insolvency professionals will be registered with insolvency professional agencies. The agencies conduct examinations to certify the insolvency professionals and enforce a code of conduct for their performance.
  • Information Utilities: Creditors will report financial information of the debt owed to them by the debtor. Such information will include records of debt, liabilities and defaults.
  • Adjudicating authorities: The proceedings of the resolution process will be adjudicated by the National Companies Law Tribunal (NCLT), for companies; and the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT), for individuals. The duties of the authorities will include approval to initiate the resolution process, appoint the insolvency professional, and approve the final decision of creditors.
  • Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board: The Board will regulate insolvency professionals, insolvency professional agencies and information utilities set up under the Code.  The Board will consist of representatives of Reserve Bank of India, and the Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs and Law.

What is the procedure to resolve insolvency in the Code?

The Code proposes the following steps to resolve insolvency:

  • Initiation: When a default occurs, the resolution process may be initiated by the debtor or creditor. The insolvency professional administers the process.  The professional provides financial information of the debtor from the information utilities to the creditor and manage the debtor’s assets.  This process lasts for 180 days and any legal action against the debtor is prohibited during this period.
  • Decision to resolve insolvency: A committee consisting of the financial creditors who lent money to the debtor will be formed by the insolvency professional. The creditors committee will take a decision regarding the future of the outstanding debt owed to them.  They may choose to revive the debt owed to them by changing the repayment schedule, or sell (liquidate) the assets of the debtor to repay the debts owed to them.  If a decision is not taken in 180 days, the debtor’s assets go into liquidation.
  • Liquidation: If the debtor goes into liquidation, an insolvency professional administers the liquidation process. Proceeds from the sale of the debtor’s assets are distributed in the following order of precedence: i) insolvency resolution costs, including the remuneration to the insolvency professional, ii) secured creditors, whose loans are backed by collateral, dues to workers, other employees, iii) unsecured creditors, iv) dues to government, v) priority shareholders and vi) equity shareholders.

What are some issues in the Code that require consideration?

  • The Bankruptcy Board (regulator) will regulate insolvency professional agencies (IPAs), which will further regulate insolvency professionals (IPs).  The rationale behind multiple IPAs overseeing the functioning of their member IPs, instead of a single regulator is unclear. The presence of multiple IPAs  operating simultaneously could enable competition in the sector. However, this may also lead to a conflict of interest between the regulatory and competitive goals of the IPAs.  This structure of regulation varies from the current practice where the regulator directly regulates its registered professionals.  For example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (which regulates chartered accountants) is directly responsible for regulating its registered members.
  • The Code provides an order of priority to distribute assets during liquidation. It is unclear why: (i) secured creditors will receive their entire outstanding amount, rather than up to their collateral value, (ii) unsecured creditors have priority over trade creditors, and (iii) government dues will be repaid after unsecured creditors.
  • The smooth functioning of the Code depends on the functioning of new entities such as insolvency professionals, insolvency professional agencies and information utilities.  These entities will have to evolve over time for the proper functioning of the system.  In addition, the NCLT, which will adjudicate corporate insolvency has not been constituted as yet, and the DRTs are overloaded with pending cases.

 


 

  1. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/media/Bankruptcy/Bankruptcy%20Code%20as%20passed%20by%20LS.pdf.
  2. Report of the Joint Committee on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015, April 28, 2016, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Joint%20Committee%20on%20Insolvency%20and%20Bankruptcy%20Code,%202015/16_Joint_Committee_o n_Insolvency_and_Bankruptcy_Code_2015_1.pdf

A version of this blog appeared in the Business Standard on May 7, 2016.