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Explainer: Removal of Judges from Office

April 20th, 2018 No comments

Today, some Members of Parliament initiated proceedings for the removal of the current Chief Justice of India by submitting a notice to the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  A judge may be removed from office through a motion adopted by Parliament on grounds of ‘proven misbehaviour or incapacity’.  While the Constitution does not use the word ‘impeachment’, it is colloquially used to refer to the proceedings under Article 124 (for the removal of a Supreme Court judge) and Article 218 (for the removal of a High Court judge).

The Constitution provides that a judge can be removed only by an order of the President, based on a motion passed by both Houses of Parliament.  The procedure for removal of judges is elaborated in the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968.  The Act sets out the following steps for removal from office:

  • Under the Act, an impeachment motion may originate in either House of Parliament. To initiate proceedings: (i) at least 100 members of Lok Sabha may give a signed notice to the Speaker, or (ii) at least 50 members of Rajya Sabha may give a signed notice to the Chairman.  The Speaker or Chairman may consult individuals and examine relevant material related to the notice.  Based on this, he or she may decide to either admit the motion or refuse to admit it.
  • If the motion is admitted, the Speaker or Chairman (who receives it) will constitute a three-member committee to investigate the complaint. It will comprise: (i) a Supreme Court judge; (ii) Chief Justice of a High Court; and (iii) a distinguished jurist.  The committee will frame charges based on which the investigation will be conducted.  A copy of the charges will be forwarded to the judge who can present a written defence.
  • After concluding its investigation, the Committee will submit its report to the Speaker or Chairman, who will then lay the report before the relevant House of Parliament. If the report records a finding of misbehaviour or incapacity, the motion for removal will be taken up for consideration and debated.
  • Once the motion is adopted in both Houses, it is sent to the President, who will issue an order for the removal of the judge.

Central Transfers to States: Role of the Finance Commission

April 11th, 2018 No comments

In November 2017, the 15th Finance Commission (Chair: Mr N. K. Singh) was constituted to give recommendations on the transfer of resources from the centre to states for the five year period between 2020-25.  In recent times, there has been some discussion around the role and mandate of the Commission.  In this context, we explain the role of the Finance Commission.

What is the Finance Commission?

The Finance Commission is a constitutional body formed every five years to give suggestions on centre-state financial relations.  Each Finance Commission is required to make recommendations on: (i) sharing of central taxes with states, (ii) distribution of central grants to states, (iii) measures to improve the finances of states to supplement the resources of panchayats and municipalities, and (iv) any other matter referred to it.

Composition of transfers:  The central taxes devolved to states are untied funds, and states can spend them according to their discretion.  Over the years, tax devolved to states has constituted over 80% of the total central transfers to states (Figure 1).  The centre also provides grants to states and local bodies which must be used for specified purposes.  These grants have ranged between 12% to 19% of the total transfers.

Fig 1Over the years the core mandate of the Commission has remained unchanged, though it has been given the additional responsibility of examining various issues.  For instance, the 12th Finance Commission evaluated the fiscal position of states and offered relief to those that enacted their Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management laws.  The 13th and the 14th Finance Commission assessed the impact of GST on the economy.  The 13th Finance Commission also incentivised states to increase forest cover by providing additional grants.

15th Finance Commission:  The 15th Finance Commission constituted in November 2017 will recommend central transfers to states.  It has also been mandated to: (i) review the impact of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations on the fiscal position of the centre; (ii) review the debt level of the centre and states, and recommend a roadmap; (iii) study the impact of GST on the economy; and (iv) recommend performance-based incentives for states based on their efforts to control population, promote ease of doing business, and control expenditure on populist measures, among others.

Why is there a need for a Finance Commission?

The Indian federal system allows for the division of power and responsibilities between the centre and states.  Correspondingly, the taxation powers are also broadly divided between the centre and states (Table 1).  State legislatures may devolve some of their taxation powers to local bodies.

Table 1

The centre collects majority of the tax revenue as it enjoys scale economies in the collection of certain taxes.  States have the responsibility of delivering public goods in their areas due to their proximity to local issues and needs.

Sometimes, this leads to states incurring expenditures higher than the revenue generated by them.  Further, due to vast regional disparities some states are unable to raise adequate resources as compared to others.  To address these imbalances, the Finance Commission recommends the extent of central funds to be shared with states.  Prior to 2000, only revenue income tax and union excise duty on certain goods was shared by the centre with states.  A Constitution amendment in 2000 allowed for all central taxes to be shared with states.

Several other federal countries, such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and Australia have similar bodies which recommend the manner in which central funds will be shared with states.

Tax devolution to states

Table 2The 14th Finance Commission considerably increased the devolution of taxes from the centre to states from 32% to 42%.  The Commission had recommended that tax devolution should be the primary source of transfer of funds to states.  This would increase the flow of unconditional transfers and give states more flexibility in their spending.

The share in central taxes is distributed among states based on a formula.   Previous Finance Commissions have considered various factors to determine the criteria such as the population and income needs of states, their area and infrastructure, etc.  Further, the weightage assigned to each criterion has varied with each Finance Commission.

The criteria used by the 11th to 14th Finance Commissions are given in Table 2, along with the weight assigned to them.  State level details of the criteria used by the 14th Finance Commission are given in Table 3.

  • Population is an indicator of the expenditure needs of a state. Over the years, Finance Commissions have used population data of the 1971 Census.  The 14th Finance Commission used the 2011 population data, in addition to the 1971 data.  The 15th Finance Commission has been mandated to use data from the 2011 Census.
  • Area is used as a criterion as a state with larger area has to incur additional administrative costs to deliver services.
  • Income distance is the difference between the per capita income of a state with the average per capita income of all states. States with lower per capita income may be given a higher share to maintain equity among states.
  • Forest cover indicates that states with large forest covers bear the cost of not having area available for other economic activities. Therefore, the rationale is that these states may be given a higher share.

Table 3

Grants-in-Aid

Besides the taxes devolved to states, another source of transfers from the centre to states is grants-in-aid.  As per the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, grants-in-aid constitute 12% of the central transfers to states.  The 14th Finance Commission had recommended grants to states for three purposes: (i) disaster relief, (ii) local bodies, and (iii) revenue deficit.

Explained: Law on holding an ‘Office of Profit’

February 22nd, 2018 1 comment

Following the recommendation of the Election Commission (EC), the President disqualified 20 MLAs of the Delhi Legislative Assembly last month for holding an ‘office of profit’. The legislators in question were appointed as parliamentary secretaries to various ministries in the Delhi government. The Delhi High Court is currently hearing a petition filed by the disqualified MLAs against the EC’s recommendation. There have been reports of parliamentary secretaries being appointed in 20 states in the past with court judgments striking down these appointments in several cases. In this context, we discuss the law on holding an ‘office of profit’.

What is the concept of ‘office of profit’?

MPs and MLAs, as members of the legislature, hold the government accountable for its work. The essence of disqualification under the office of profit law is if legislators holds an ‘office of profit’ under the government, they might be susceptible to government influence, and may not discharge their constitutional mandate fairly. The intent is that there should be no conflict between the duties and interests of an elected member. Hence, the office of profit law simply seeks to enforce a basic feature of the Constitution- the principle of separation of power between the legislature and the executive.

According to the definition, what constitutes an ‘office of profit’?

The law does not clearly define what constitutes an office of profit but the definition has evolved over the years with interpretations made in various court judgments. An office of profit has been interpreted to be a position that brings to the office-holder some financial gain, or advantage, or benefit. The amount of such profit is immaterial.

In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that the test for determining whether a person holds an office of profit is the test of appointment. Several factors are considered in this determination including factors such as: (i) whether the government is the appointing authority, (ii) whether the government has the power to terminate the appointment, (iii) whether the government determines the remuneration, (iv) what is the source of remuneration, and (v) the power that comes with the position.

What does the Constitution say about holding an ‘office of profit’? Can exemptions be granted under the law?

Under the provisions of Article 102 (1) and Article 191 (1) of the Constitution, an MP or an MLA (or an MLC) is barred from holding any office of profit under the central or state government. The articles clarify that “a person shall not be deemed to hold an office of profit under the government of India or the government of any state by reason only that he is a minister”. The Constitution specifies that the number of ministers including the Chief Minister has to be within 15% of the total number of members of the assembly (10% in the case of Delhi, which is a union territory with legislature).

Provisions of Articles 102 and 191 also protect a legislator occupying a government position if the office in question has been made immune to disqualification by law. In the recent past, several state legislatures have enacted laws exempting certain offices from the purview of office of profit.  Parliament has also enacted the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act, 1959, which has been amended several times to expand the exempted list.

Is there a bar on how many offices can be exempted from the purview of the law?

There is no bar on how many offices can be exempted from the purview of the law.

It was reported in 2015 that all 60 MLAs of the Nagaland Assembly had joined the ruling alliance. The Nagaland Chief Minister appointed 26 legislators as parliamentary secretaries in July 2017. Goa, an assembly of 40 MLAs, exempted more than 50 offices by means of an ordinance issued in June last year. Puducherry, an assembly of 33 MLAs, exempted more than 60 offices by passing an amendment bill in 2009.  In Delhi, the 21 parliamentary secretaries added to the seven ministerial posts would constitute 40% of the 70-member legislature.  In all, 20 states have similar provisions.

This raises an important concern. If a large number of legislators are appointed to such offices, their role in scrutinising the work of the government may be impaired. Thus, this could contravene the spirit of Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution.

What is the debate around making appointments to the office of parliamentary secretaries?

Interestingly, the appointment of legislators as parliamentary secretaries, in spite of the office being exempted from purview of the office of profit law, has been struck down by courts in several states.

Why has the appointment as a parliamentary secretary been struck down while other offices are allowed to be exempt from the purview of the law? If legislators can be accommodated in positions other than ‘parliamentary secretary’, why do state governments continue to appoint legislators as parliamentary secretaries instead of appointing them to other offices?

These questions have been answered in a Calcutta High Court judgment in 2015 which held that since the position may confer the rank of a junior minister on the legislator, the appointment of MLAs as parliamentary secretaries was an attempt by state governments to bypass the constitutional ceiling on the number of ministers. In 2009, the Bombay High Court also held that appointing parliamentary secretaries of the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister is in violation of Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution.  The Article specifies that the number of ministers including the Chief Minister should not exceed 15% of the total number of members in the assembly.

The Anti-Defection Law Explained

December 6th, 2017 No comments

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

What is the anti-defection law?

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

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

Are there any exceptions under the law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Role of Parliament in holding the government accountable

November 22nd, 2017 No comments

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

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

What is the role of Parliament in a democracy?

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

Who convenes Parliament?

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

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

How regularly has Parliament been meeting over the years?

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

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

How does Parliament hold the government accountable?

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

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

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

How is public opinion reflected in Parliament?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.]