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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.]

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).

Demonetisation of old notes: The proposed law explained

February 7th, 2017 No comments

The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017 is being discussed in Parliament today.[1]  The Bill replaces an Ordinance promulgated on December 30, 2016 to remove the Reserve Bank of India’s  (RBI) liability and central government’s guarantee to honour the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes which were demonetised on November 8, 2016 through a notification.[2]  These notes were allowed to be deposited in banks by December 30, 2016.  In light of this, we explain the provisions of the Bill and possible implications.

What does the Bill say?

Under the RBI Act, 1934, RBI is responsible for issuing currency notes, and is liable to repay the holder of a note upon demand.  The Bill provides that, from December 31, 2016, RBI would no longer be liable to repay holders of old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000, the value of these notes.[3]  Further, the old notes will no longer be guaranteed by the central government.

Can a person keep old notes?

A person will be prohibited from holding, transferring or receiving the old notes from December 31, 2016 onwards.  It exempts some people from this prohibition including: (i) a person holding up to 10 old notes (irrespective of denomination), and (ii) a person holding up to 25 notes for the purposes of study, research or numismatics (collection or study of coins or notes).

What happens if a person continues to hold old notes after December 30, 2016?

Any person holding the old notes, except in the circumstances mentioned above, will be punishable with a fine: (i) which may extend to Rs 10,000, or (ii) five times the value of notes possessed, whichever is higher.

Are there any issues with this provision?

There may be two issues.

No window to deposit old notes before imposing penalty:  The notification of November 8th allowed old currency notes to be deposited till December 30, 2016 and specified that people unable to deposit them till this date would be given an opportunity later.2  However, the Ordinance which came into force on December 31, 2016 made it an offence to hold old currency notes from that day onwards and imposed a penalty.  This overnight change did not provide a window for a person holding the notes on that day to exchange or deposit them.  Therefore, not only did the holder lose the monetary value of the notes but he was also deemed to have committed an offence.  This implies that a person who had the notes did not have an opportunity to avoid committing an offence and attracting a penalty.

Unclear purpose behind penalty on possessing old notes:  The purpose and the objective behind imposing a penalty for the possession of old currency notes is unclear.  One may draw a comparison between holding an invalid currency note, and an expired cheque since both these instruments are meant to complete transactions.  Currently, a cheque becomes invalid three months after being issued.  However, holding multiple expired cheques does not attract a penalty.

Is it still possible to deposit old notes?

The government has specified a grace period under the Bill to allow: (i) Indian residents who were outside India between November 9, 2016 to December 30, 2016 to deposit these notes till March 31, 2017, and (ii) non-residents who were outside India during this period to deposit notes till June 30, 2017.  The government may exempt any other class of people by issuing a notification.  In addition, RBI has permitted foreign tourists to exchange Rs 5,000 per week.  No other person can exchange or deposit old notes after December 30, 2016.

Would this satisfy Constitutional norms?

While the notification issued on November 8 specified that after December 30, 2016, any person unable to exchange or deposit old notes would be allowed to do so at specified RBI offices, the Bill does not provide such a facility except in the circumstances discussed above.

On may question whether this violates Article 300A of the Constitution, which states that no person will be deprived of his property except by law.  Though this Bill will be a “law”, one may want to think about whether its provisions meet the standards of due process and are not arbitrary.  Given that earlier notifications had indicated that a facility for exchanging or depositing old notes would be provided after December 30, 2016, would the action of not providing such facility under the Bill qualify as an arbitrary action which violates due process? [4]  A few examples will be useful in examining this question.

Case 1:  A person unable to deposit notes due to poor health

A person may have been unable to deposit old currency notes owing to various reasons such as poor health, old age or disability till the deadline of December 30, 2016.  The Bill does not provide any facility for such persons to deposit old notes, except if they were not in India during the period between November 8 and December 30, 2016.

Case 2: A person without a bank account

A person without a bank account may have held over Rs 4,500 in old currency notes.  The notification (and future modifications) allowed a person to exchange up to Rs 4,500 over the counter once till November 24, 2016.[5]  Such a person would have to incur a monetary loss if he possessed old notes above this value, given his inability to deposit them in a bank account.

Case 3: Indian citizens living abroad

There may be Indians working or studying abroad holding old currency notes.  The government has notified the last date for depositing old notes for these non-resident Indians as June 30, 2017.[6]  However, these people may not visit India between November 8, 2016 and June 30, 2017.  In such a scenario, these people may have to incur a monetary loss.

Case 4: Foreign nationals entering India before demonetisation

Foreign tourists in the country may have held old currency notes before demonetisation on November 8, 2016.  Such tourists can only exchange old currency notes of up to Rs 5,000 per week till January 31, 2017.[7]  Given that such foreigners may not have bank accounts in India, they may also suffer a monetary loss for whatever amount could not be exchanged within the period they were in India.  For example, a person who had Rs 10,000 and left India on November 13, 2016 would not have been able to get the value of notes they had, over Rs 5,000.

In addition, Indian currency notes are used legally in neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bhutan.  The Bill allows only Indian citizens to deposit old notes for an extended period under certain conditions.  However, it does not make any provisions for foreigners to deposit or exchange old notes held by them.  Such foreign nationals who are not Indian residents would not have bank accounts in India.

[1] The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Specified%20Bank%20notes/specified%20bank%20notes%20bill%202017-compress.pdf.

[2] S. O. 3407 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Finance, November 8, 2016, http://finmin.nic.in/172521.pdf.

[3] The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Ordinance, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Ordinances/Specified%20Bank%20Notes%20%28Cessation%20of%20Liabilities%29%20Ordinance,%202016.pdf.

[4] Section 2 (ix) of the notification issued on November 8, 2016 (No. S. O. 3407 (E)) states that any person who is unable to exchange or deposit the specified bank notes in their bank accounts on or before the 30th December, 2016, shall be given an opportunity to do so at specified offices of the Reserve Bank or such other facility until a later date as may be specified by it.

[5] S. O. 3543 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Finance, November 24, 2016, http://finmin.nic.in/172740.pdf.

[6] S. O. 4251 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Finance, December 30, 2016, http://dea.gov.in/sites/default/files/24Notification%2030.12.2016.pdf.

[7] Exchange facility to foreign citizens, January 3, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10815&Mode=0.

Key amendments proposed to the Constitution Amendment Bill on GST

August 2nd, 2016 No comments

Yesterday, the government circulated certain official amendments to the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 on GST.  The Bill is currently pending in Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha in May 2015.  It was then referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha which submitted its report in July 2015.  With the Bill listed for passage this week, we explain key provisions in the Bill, and the amendments proposed.

What is the GST?

Currently, indirect taxes are imposed on goods and services.  These include excise duty, sales tax, service tax, octroi, customs duty etc.  Some of these taxes are levied by the centre and some by the states.  For taxes imposed by states, the tax rates may vary across different states.  Also, goods and services are taxed differently.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a value added tax levied across goods and services at the point of consumption.  The idea of a GST regime is to subsume most indirect taxes under a single taxation regime.  This is expected to help broaden the tax base, increase tax compliance, and reduce economic distortions caused by inter-state variations in taxes.

What does the 2014 Bill on GST do?

The 2014 Bill amends the Constitution to give concurrent powers to Parliament and state legislatures to levy a Goods and Services tax (GST).  This implies that the centre will levy a central GST (CGST), while states will be permitted to levy a state GST (SGST).  For goods and services that pass through several states, or imports, the centre will levy another tax, the Integrated GST (IGST).

Alcohol for human consumption has been kept out of the purview of GST.  Further, GST will be levied on 5 types of petroleum products at a later date, to be decided by the GST Council.  The Council is a body comprising of Finance Ministers of the centre and all states (including Delhi and Puducherry).  This body will make recommendations in relation to the implementation of GST, including the rates, principles of levy, etc.  The Council is also to decide the modalities for resolution of disputes that arise out of its recommendations.

States may be given compensation for any revenue losses they may face from the introduction of the GST regime.  Such compensation may be provided for a period of up to five years.

Further, the centre may levy an additional tax, up to 1%, in the course of interstate trade.  The revenues from the levy of this tax will be given to the state from where the good originates.  Expert bodies like the Select Committee and the Arvind Subramanian Committee have observed that this provision could lead to cascading of taxes (as tax on tax will be levied).[i]  It also distorts the creation of a national market, as a product made in one state and sold in another would be more expensive than one made and sold within the same state.

What are the key changes proposed by the 2016 amendments?

The amendments propose three key changes to the 2014 Bill.  They relate to (i) additional tax up to 1%; (ii) compensation to states; and (iii) dispute resolution by the GST Council.

  • Additional tax up to 1% on interstate trade: The amendments delete the provision.
  • Compensation to states: The amendments state that Parliament shall, by law, provide for compensation to states for any loss of revenues, for a period which may extend to five years. This would be based on the recommendations of the GST Council.  This implies that (i) Parliament must provide compensation; and (ii) compensation cannot be provided for more than five years, but allows Parliament to decide a shorter time period.  The 2014 Bill used the term ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’.   The Select Committee had recommended that compensation should be provided for a period of five years.  This recommendation has not been addressed by the 2016 amendments.
  • Dispute resolution: The GST Council shall establish a mechanism to adjudicate any dispute arising out of its recommendations. Disputes can be between: (a) the centre vs. one or more states; (b) the centre and states vs. one or more states; (c) state vs. state.  This implies that there will be a standing mechanism to resolve disputes.

These amendments will be taken up for discussion with the Bill in Rajya Sabha this week.  The Bill requires a special majority for its passage as it is a Constitution Amendment Bill (that is at least 50% majority of the total membership in the House, and 2/3rds majority of all members present and voting).  If the Bill is passed with amendments, it will have to be sent back to Lok Sabha for consideration and passage.  After its passage in Parliament, at least 50% state legislatures will have to pass resolutions to ratify the Bill.

Once the constitutional framework is in place, the centre will have to pass simple laws to levy CGST and IGST.  Similarly, all states will have to pass a simple law on SGST.  These laws will specify the rates of the GST to be levied, the goods and services that will be included, the threshold of the turnover of businesses to be included, etc.  Note that the Arvind Subramanian Committee, set up by the Finance Ministry, recommended the rates of GST that may be levied.  The table below details the bands of rates proposed.

Table 1: Rates of GST recommended by Expert Committee headed by Arvind Subramanian
Type of rate Rate Details
Revenue Neutral Rate 15% Single rate which maintains revenue at current levels.
Standard Rate 17-18% Too be applied to most goods and services
Lower rates 12% To be applied to certain goods consumed by the poor
Demerit rate 40% To be applied on luxury cars, aerated beverages, paan masala, and tobacco
Source: Arvind Subramanian Committee Report (2015)

Several other measures related to the back end infrastructure for registration and reporting of GST, administrative officials related to GST, etc. will also have to be put in place, before GST can be rolled out.

[For further details on the full list of amendments, please see here.  For other details on the GST Bill, please see here.]

Money Bills vs. Other Bills

December 22nd, 2015 1 comment

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015 was introduced in Lok Sabha yesterday, as a Money Bill [Clarification: This is as per news reports.*  The text of the Bill does not indicate that it is a Money Bill].  In this context, we briefly outline the various types of Bills in Parliament, and highlight the key differences between Money Bills and Financial Bills.

What are the different types of Bills?

There are four types of Bills, namely (i) Constitution Amendment Bills; (ii) Money Bills; (iii) Financial Bills; and (iv) Ordinary Bills.

What are the features of each of these Bills?

  • Constitution Amendment Bills[i]: These are Bills which seek to amend the Constitution.
  • Money Bills[ii]: A Bill is said to be a Money Bill if it only contains provisions related to taxation, borrowing of money by the government, expenditure from or receipt to the Consolidated Fund of India. Bills that only contain provisions that are incidental to these matters would also be regarded as Money Bills.[iii]
  • Financial Bills[iv]: A Bill that contains some provisions related to taxation and expenditure, and additionally contains provisions related to any other matter is called a Financial Bill. Therefore, if a Bill merely involves expenditure by the government, and addresses other issues, it will be a financial bill.
  • Ordinary Bills[v]: All other Bills are called ordinary bills.

How are these bills passed?

  • Constitution Amendment Bills1: A Constitution Amendment Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament. It would require a simple majority of the total membership of that House, and a two thirds majority of all members present and voting.  Further, if the Bill relates to matters like the election of the President and Governor, executive and legislative powers of the centre and states, the judiciary, etc., it must be ratified by at least half of the state legislatures.
  • Money Bills[vi]: A Money Bill may only be introduced in Lok Sabha, on the recommendation of the President. It must be passed in Lok Sabha by a simple majority of all members present and voting.  Following this, it may be sent to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations, which Lok Sabha may reject if it chooses to.  If such recommendations are not given within 14 days, it will deemed to be passed by Parliament.
  • Financial Bills4: A Financial Bill may only be introduced in Lok Sabha, on the recommendation of the President. The Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament, after the President has recommended that it be taken up for consideration in each House.
  • Ordinary Bills5: An Ordinary Bill may be introduced in either House of Parliament. It must be passed by both Houses by a simple majority of all members present and voting.

How is a Money Bill different from a financial bill?

While all Money Bills are Financial Bills, all Financial Bills are not Money Bills.  For example, the Finance Bill which only contains provisions related to tax proposals would be a Money Bill.  However, a Bill that contains some provisions related to taxation or expenditure, but also covers other matters would be considered as a Financial Bill.  The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, which establishes funds under the Public Account of India and states, was introduced as a Financial Bill.[vii]

Secondly, as highlighted above, the procedure for the passage of the two bills varies significantly.  The Rajya Sabha has no power to reject or amend a Money Bill.  However, a Financial Bill must be passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Who decides if a Bill is a Money Bill?

The Speaker certifies a Bill as a Money Bill, and the Speaker’s decision is final.[viii]  Also, the Constitution states that parliamentary proceedings as well as officers responsible for the conduct of business (such as the Speaker) may not be questioned by any Court.[ix]


 

[i]. Article 368, Constitution of India.

[ii]. Article 110, Constitution of India.

[iii]. Article 110 (1), Constitution of India.

[iv]. Article 117, Constitution of India.

[v]. Article 107, Constitution of India.

[vi]. Article 109, Constitution of India.

[vii]. The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2015, introduced in Lok Sabha on May 8, 2015, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-compensatory-afforestations-fund-bill-2015-3782/.

[viii]. Article 110 (3), Constitution of India.

[ix]. Article 122, Constitution of India.

[*Note: See Economic Times, Financial Express, The Hindu Business LineNDTV ,etc.]

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Rethinking judicial appointments: Collegium vs. Commission

October 16th, 2015 3 comments

Earlier today, the Supreme Court struck down the two Acts that created an independent body for the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.

One of the Acts amended the Constitution to replace the method of appointment of judges by a collegium system with that of an independent commission, called the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).  The composition of the NJAC would include: (i) the Chief Justice of India (Chairperson) (ii) two other senior most judges of the Supreme Court, (iii) the Union Law Minister, and (iv) two eminent persons to be nominated by the Prime Minister, the CJI and the Leader of Opposition of the Lok Sabha.  The other Act laid down the processes in relation to such appointments.

Both Acts were passed by Parliament in August 2014, and received Presidential assent in December 2014.  Following this, a batch of petitions that had been filed in Supreme Court challenging the two Bills on grounds of unconstitutionality, was referred to a five judge bench.  It was contended that the presence of executive members in the NJAC violated the independence of the judiciary.

In its judgement today, the Court held that the executive involvement in appointment of judges impinges upon the independence of the judiciary.  This violates the principle of separation of powers between the executive and judiciary, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.  In this context, we examine the proposals around the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.

Appointment of judges before the introduction of the NJAC

The method of appointment of the Chief Justice of India, SC and HC judges was laid down in the Constitution.[i]  The Constitution stated that the President shall make these appointments after consulting with the Chief Justice of India and other SC and HC judges as he considers necessary.  Between the years 1982-1999, the issue of method of appointment of judges was examined and reinterpreted by the Supreme Court.  Since then, a collegium, consisting of the Chief Justice of India and 4 other senior most SC judges, made recommendations for persons to be appointed as SC and HC judges, to the President.[ii]

Recommendations of various bodies for setting up an independent appointments commission

Over the decades, several high level Commissions have examined this method of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.  They have suggested that an independent body be set up to make recommendations for such appointments.  However, they differed in the representation of the judiciary, legislature and executive in making such appointments.  These are summarised below.

Table 1: Comparison of various recommendations on the composition of a proposed appointments body

Recommendatory Body Suggested composition
2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (2007) Judiciary : CJI; [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state]

Executive : Vice-President (Chairperson), PM, Law Minister, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state]

Legislature: Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leaders of Opposition from both Houses of Parliament.

Other: No representative.

National Advisory Council (2005) Judiciary: CJI; [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state]

Executive: Vice-President (Chairman), PM (or nominee), Law Minister, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state]

Legislature: Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition from both Houses of Parliament.

Other: No representative.

NCRWC (2002) Judiciary :CJI (Chairman), two senior most SC judges

Executive: Union Law Minister

Legislature: No representative

Other: one eminent person

Law Commission (1987) Judiciary : CJI (Chairman), three senior most SC judges, immediate predecessor of the CJI, three senior most CJs of HCs, [For HC judges: Chief Justice of the relevant High Court of that state]

Executive: Law Minister, Attorney General of India, [For HC judges: Includes CM of the state]

Legislature: No representative

Other: One Law academic

Sources: 121st Report of the Law Commission, 1987; Report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), 2002; A Consultation Paper on Superior Judiciary, NCRWC, 2001;  A National Judicial Commission-Report for discussion in the National Advisory Council, 2005; Fourth Report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), ‘Ethics in Governance’, 2007; PRS.

It may be noted that the Law Commission, in its 2008 and 2009 reports, suggested that Government should seek a reconsideration of the judgments in the Three Judges cases.  In the alternative, Parliament should pass a law restoring the primacy of the CJI, while ensuring that the executive played a role in making judicial appointments.

Appointments process in different countries                  

Internationally, there are varied methods for making appointments of judges to the higher judiciary.  The method of appointment of judges to the highest court, in some jurisdictions, is outlined in Table 2.

Table 2: Appointment of judges to the highest court in different jurisdictions

Country Method of Appointment to the highest court Who is involved in making the appointments
UK SC judges are appointed by a five-person selection commission. It consists of the SC President, his deputy, and one member each appointed by the JACs of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.[iii]  (The JACs comprise lay persons, members of the judiciary and the Bar and make appointments of judges of lower courts.)
Canada Appointments are made by the Governor in Council.[iv] A selection panel comprising five MPs (from the government and the opposition) reviews list of nominees and submits 3 names to the Prime Minister.[v]
USA Appointments are made by the President. Supreme Court Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate.[vi]
Germany Appointments are made by election. Half the members of the Federal Constitutional Court are elected by the executive and half by the legislature.[vii]
France Appointments are made by the President. President receives proposals for appointments from Conseil Superieur de la Magistrature.[viii]

Sources: Constitutional Reform Act, 2005; Canada Supreme Court Act, 1985; Constitution of the United States of America; Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany; Constitution of France; PRS.

In delivering its judgment that strikes down the setting up of an NJAC, the Court has stated that it would schedule hearings from November 3, 2015 regarding ways in which the collegium system can be strengthened.



[i] Article 124, Constitution of India (Prior to 2015 Amendments)

[ii] S.P. Gupta vs. Union of India, AIR 1982, SC 149; S.C. Advocates on Record Association vs. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 268; In re: Special Reference, AIR 1999 SC 1.

[iii].  Schedule 8, Constitutional Reform Act, 2005.

[iv].  Section 4(2), Supreme Court Act (RSC, 1985).

[v].  Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the retirement of Justice Morris Fish, http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2013/04/23/statement-prime-minister-canada-retirement-justice-morris-fish.

[vi].  Article II, Section 2, The Constitution of the United States of America.

[vii].  Article 94 (1), Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany.

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Compulsory voting in India

November 17th, 2014 20 comments

Compulsory voting at elections to local bodies in Gujarat

Last week, the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009 received the Governor’s assent.  The Act introduces an ‘obligation to vote’ at the municipal corporation, municipality and Panchayat levels in the state of Gujarat.  To this end, the Act amends three laws related to administration at the local bodies- the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949; the Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963 and; the Gujarat Panchayats Act, 1993.

Following the amendments, it shall now be the duty of a qualified voter to cast his vote at elections to each of these bodies.  This includes the right to exercise the NOTA option.  The Act empowers an election officer to serve a voter notice on the grounds that he appears to have failed to vote at the election.  The voter is then required to provide sufficient reasons within a period of one month, failing which he is declared as a “defaulter voter” by an order. The defaulter voter has the option of challenging this order before a designated appellate officer, whose decision will be final.

At this stage, it is unclear what the consequences for being a default voter may be, as the penalties for the same are to be prescribed in the Rules.  Typically, any disadvantage or penalty to be suffered by an individual for violating a provision of law is prescribed in the parent act itself, and not left to delegated legislation.  The Act carves out exemptions for certain individuals from voting if (i) he is rendered physically incapable due to illness etc.; (ii) he is not present in the state of Gujarat on the date of election; or (iii) for any other reasons to be laid down in the Rules.

The previous Governor had withheld her assent on the Bill for several reasons.  The Governor had stated that compulsory voting violated Article 21 of the Constitution and the principles of individual liberty that permits an individual not to vote.  She had also pointed out that the Bill was silent on the government’s duty to create an enabling environment for the voter to cast his vote.  This included updating of electoral rolls, timely distribution of voter ID cards to all individuals and ensuring easy access to polling stations.

Right to vote in India

Many democratic governments consider participating in national elections a right of citizenship.  In India, the right to vote is provided by the Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, subject to certain disqualifications.  Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18.  Further, Section 62 of the Representation of Peoples Act (RoPA), 1951 states that every person who is in the electoral roll of that constituency will be entitled to vote.  Thus, the Constitution and the RoPA make it clear that every individual above the age of 18, whose name is in the electoral rolls, and does not attract any of the disqualifications under the Act, may cast his vote.  This is a non discriminatory, voluntary system of voting.

In1951, during the discussion on the People’s Representation Bill in Parliament, the idea of including compulsory voting was mooted by a Member.  However, it was rejected by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on account of practical difficulties.  Over the decades, of the various committees that have discussed electoral reforms, the Dinesh Goswami Committee (1990) briefly examined the issue of compulsory voting.  One of the members of the committee had suggested that the only effective remedy for low voter turn outs was introducing the system of compulsory voting.  This idea was rejected on the grounds that there were practical difficulties involved in its implementation.

In July 2004, the Compulsory Voting Bill, 2004 was introduced as a Private Member Bill by Mr. Bachi Singh Rawat, a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.  The Bill proposed to make it compulsory for every eligible voter to vote and provided for exemption only in certain cases, like that of illness etc.  Arguments mooted against the Bill included that of remoteness of polling booths, difficulties faced by certain classes of people like daily wage labourers, nomadic groups, disabled, pregnant women etc. in casting their vote.  The Bill did not receive the support of the House and was not passed.

Another Private Member Bill related to Compulsory Voting was introduced by Mr. JP Agarwal, Member of Parliament, in 2009.  Besides making voting mandatory, this Bill also cast the duty upon the state to ensure large number of polling booths at convenient places, and special arrangements for senior citizens, persons with physical disability and pregnant women.  The then Law Minister, Mr. Moily argued that if compulsory voting was introduced, Parliament would reflect, more accurately, the will of the electorate.  However, he also stated that active participation in a democratic set up must be voluntary, and not coerced.

Compulsory voting in other countries

A number of countries around the world make it mandatory for citizens to vote.  For example, Australia mandates compulsory voting at the national level.  The penalty for violation includes an explanation for not voting and a fine.  It may be noted that the voter turnout in Australia has usually been above 90%, since 1924.  Several countries in South America including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia also have a provision for compulsory voting.  Certain other countries like The Netherlands in 1970 and Austria more recently, repealed such legal requirements after they had been in force for decades.  Other democracies like the UK, USA, Germany, Italy and France have a system of voluntary voting.  Typically, over the last few elections, Italy has had a voter turnout of over 80%, while the USA has a voter turnout of about 50%.

What compulsory voting would mean

Those in favour of compulsory voting assert that a high turnout is important for a proper democratic mandate and the functioning of democracy.  They also argue that people who know they will have to vote will take politics more seriously and start to take a more active role.  Further, citizens who live in a democratic state have a duty to vote, which is an essential part of that democracy.

However, some others have argued that compulsory voting may be in violation of the fundamental rights of liberty and expression that are guaranteed to citizens in a democratic state.  In this context, it has been stated that every individual should be able to choose whether or not he or she wants to vote.  It is unclear whether the constitutional right to vote may be interpreted to include the right to not vote.  If challenged, it will up to the superior courts to examine whether compulsory voting violates the Constitution.

[A version of this post appeared in the Sakal Times on November 16, 2014]

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Removal of Governors: What does the law say?

June 19th, 2014 11 comments

In the last few weeks, after the 16th Lok Sabha election, there has been some debate around powers of the central government to remove Governors.  News reports have suggested that the central government is seeking resignations of Governors, who were appointed by the previous central government.  In this blog, we briefly look at the key constitutional provisions, the law laid down by the Supreme Court, and some recommendations made by different commissions that have examined this issue.

What does the Constitution say?

As per Article 155 and Article 156 of the Constitution, a Governor of a state is an appointee of the President, and he or she holds office “during the pleasure of the President”.  If a Governor continues to enjoy the “pleasure of the President”, he or she can be in office for a term of five years.  Because the President is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers under Article 74 of the Constitution, in effect it is the central government that appoints and removes the Governors. “Pleasure of the President” merely refers to this will and wish of the central government.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation

In 2010, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court interpreted these provisions and laid down some binding principles (B.P. Singhal v. Union of India). In this case, the newly elected central government had removed the Governors of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Goa in July, 2004 after the 14th Lok Sabha election. When these removals were challenged, the Supreme Court held:

  1. The President, in effect the central government, has the power to remove a Governor at any time without giving him or her any reason, and without granting an opportunity to be heard.
  2. However, this power cannot be exercised in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner.  The power of removing Governors should only be exercised in rare and exceptional circumstances for valid and compelling reasons.
  3. The mere reason that a Governor is at variance with the policies and ideologies of the central government, or that the central government has lost confidence in him or her, is not sufficient to remove a Governor.  Thus, a change in central government cannot be a ground for removal of Governors, or to appoint more favourable persons to this post.
  4. A decision to remove a Governor can be challenged in a court of law.  In such cases, first the petitioner will have to make a prima facie case of arbitrariness or bad faith on part of the central government.  If a prima facie case is established, the court can require the central government to produce the materials on the basis of which the decision was made in order to verify the presence of compelling reasons.

In summary, this means that the central government enjoys the power to remove Governors of the different states, as long as it does not act arbitrarily, without reason, or in bad faith.

Recommendations of Various Commissions

Three important commissions have examined this issue.

The Sarkaria Commission (1988) recommended that Governors must not be removed before completion of their five year tenure, except in rare and compelling circumstances.  This was meant to provide Governors with a measure of security of tenure, so that they could carry out their duties without fear or favour.  If such rare and compelling circumstances did exist, the Commission said that the procedure of removal must allow the Governors an opportunity to explain their conduct, and the central government must give fair consideration to such explanation.  It was further recommended that Governors should be informed of the grounds of their removal.

The Venkatachaliah Commission (2002) similarly recommended that ordinarily Governors should be allowed to complete their five year term.  If they have to be removed before completion of their term, the central government should do so only after consultation with the Chief Minister.

The Punchhi Commission (2010) suggested that the phrase “during the pleasure of the President” should be deleted from the Constitution, because a Governor should not be removed at the will of the central government; instead he or she should be removed only by a resolution of the state legislature.

The above recommendations however were never made into law by Parliament.  Therefore, they are not binding on the central government.

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Ordinances promulgated during different Lok Sabhas

April 21st, 2014 3 comments

Recently, the President repromulgated the Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, which expands the Securities and Exchange Board Act’s (SEBI) powers related to search and seizure and permits SEBI to enter into consent settlements.  The President also promulgated the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014, which establishes special courts for the trial of offences against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  With the promulgation of these two Ordinances, a total of 25 Ordinances have been promulgated during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha so far.

Ordinances are temporary laws which can be issued by the President when Parliament is not in session.  Ordinances are issued by the President based on the advice of the Union Cabinet. The purpose of Ordinances is to allow governments to take immediate legislative action if circumstances make it necessary to do so at a time when Parliament is not in session.

Often though Ordinances are used by governments to pass legislation which is currently pending in Parliament, as was the case with the Food Security Ordinance last year. Governments also take the Ordinance route to address matters of public concern as was the case with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which was issued in response to the protests surrounding the Delhi gang rape incident.

Since the beginning of the first Lok Sabha in 1952, 637 Ordinances have been promulgated. The graph below gives a breakdown of the number of Bills passed by each Lok Sabha since 1952, as well as the number of Ordinances promulgated during each Lok Sabha.

Ordinances

Ordinance Making Power of the President

The President has been empowered to promulgate Ordinances based on the advice of the central government under Article 123 of the Constitution. This legislative power is available to the President only when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session to enact laws.  Additionally, the President cannot promulgate an Ordinance unless he ‘is satisfied’ that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action’.

Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. They also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both Houses.

History of Ordinances

Ordinances were incorporated into the Constitution from Section 42 and 43 of the Government of India Act, 1935, which authorised the then Governor General to promulgate Ordinances ‘if circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action’. Interestingly, most democracies including Britain, the United States of America, Australia and Canada do not have provisions similar to that of Ordinances in the Indian Constitution. The reason for an absence of such a provision is because legislatures in these countries meet year long.

Ordinances became part of the Indian Constitution after much debate and discussion. Some Members of the Constituent Assembly emphasised that the Ordinance making power of the President was extraordinary and issuing of Ordinances could be interpreted as against constitutional morality. Some Members felt that Ordinances were a hindrance to personal freedom and a relic of foreign rule. Others argued that Ordinances should be left as a provision to be used only in the case of emergencies, for example, in the breakdown of State machinery. As a safeguard, Members argued that the provision that a session of Parliament must be held within 6 months of passing an Ordinance be added.

Repromulgation of Ordinances

Ordinances are only temporary laws as they must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. However, governments have promulgated some ordinances multiple times. For example, The Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 was recently repromulgated for the third time during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha. Repromulgation of Ordinances raises questions about the legislative authority of the Parliament as the highest law making body.

In the 1986 Supreme Court judgment of D.C. Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar, where the court was examining a case where a state government (under the authority of the Governor) continued to re-promulgate Ordinances, the Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati observed:

“The power to promulgate an Ordinance is essentially a power to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and it cannot be allowed to be “perverted to serve political ends”. It is contrary to all democratic norms that the Executive should have the power to make a law, but in order to meet an emergent situation, this power is conferred on the Governor and an Ordinance issued by the Governor in exercise of this power must, therefore, of necessity be limited in point of time.”

Repromulgation

Ordinances by governments
 
Thanks to Vinayak Rajesekhar for helping with research on this blog post.