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Archive for March, 2010

Control over Budget: Effectiveness of Parliament

March 25th, 2010 2 comments

During the recess, the Departmentally Related Standing Committees of Parliament examine the Demand for Grants submitted by various Ministries.  The Demand for Grants are detailed explanations of that Ministry’s annual budget which form part of the total budget of the government.  These are examined in detail, and the committees can approve of the demands, or suggest changes.  The Demand for Grants are finally discussed and voted on by the Parliament after the recess.  (The post below lists the ministries whose Demand for Grants will be discussed in detail after the recess).

The issue is – how effective is the institution of Parliament in examining the budget?  Though India specific information on this subject is hard to find, K. Barraclough and B. Dorotinsky have cited the World Bank – OECD Budget procedures Database to formulate a table on the legislature approving the budget presented by the executive (“The Role of the Legislature in the Budget Process: A Comparative Review“, Legislative Oversight and Budgeting).  I reproduce the table below:



In Practice, does the legislature generally approve the budget as presented by the Executive? (in percent)
Answer All Countries OECD Countries Presidential democracies Parliamentary democracies
It generally approves the budget with no changes 34 33 14 41
Minor changes are made (affecting less than 3% of total spending) 63 67 71 59
Major changes are made (affecting more than 3% but less than 20% of total spending) 2 0 7 0
The budget approved is significantly different (affecting more than 20% of total spending) 0 0 0 0
Sources:  K. Barraclough and B. Dorotinsky; PRS.

Discussion on budgets and functioning of Ministries

March 18th, 2010 3 comments

Parliament has announced the ministries whose Demands for Grants will be discussed in detail in the Lok Sabha (after April 12 when Parliament reconvenes).  They are:

Defence

Rural Development

Tribal Affairs

Water Resources

External Affairs

Road Transport and Highways

Together these ministries have asked Parliament for a total of  Rs 289,938 crore (Rs 175,772 crore for Defence alone) – which is slightly over a quarter of the total expenditure budgeted by the Central Government for 2010-11.

The Rajya Sabha does not discuss demands for grants but has announced a list of ministries whose functioning it will review after the recess.  They are:

Home Affairs

Tribal Affairs

Defence

Power

Chemicals and Fertilizers

Petroleum and Natural Gas

Youth affairs and Sports

Women and Child Development

Consumer affairs, Food and Public Distribution

Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation

One-third of 545 is…er… 192.

March 17th, 2010 3 comments

Well, that is the number of seats to be reserved for women in Lok Sabha in the first round if the women’s reservation bill is passed.  The rules for determining number of seats to be reserved are as follows.

  1. The Bill does not reserve one-third of seats on an All-India basis.  It reserves “as nearly as possible, one-third” of seats in each state.
  2. Also, it reserves “as nearly as possible, one-third” of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes in any state for women, and similarly for ST women.  If any state/UT has only 1 seat in any of these categories, that seat will be reserved in the first election, and be open to men in the subsequent two elections.  If a state has 2 seats in any category, one of these will be reserved for women in the first election, the other in the second, and neither in the third election.  One of the two seats nominated for Anglo-Indians will be reserved after the first and second elections.
  3. The reservation for general category seats will be done after following Rules 1 and 2 above.  However, if a state has one or two general category seats, they follow rules similar to that for SC and ST seats (cycling through three elections).

Example 1:  Puducherry has one general seat.  This will be reserved for women in the first election and open in second and third elections.

Example 2:  Manipur has two seats, of which one is reserved for STs.  Thus, both seats will be reserved in the first election and open in the second and third elections.

Example 3:  Delhi has seven seats:  six general and one SC.  In the each election 2 seats (seven divided by three, rounded to nearest integer) will be reserved.  In the first election, one general and one SC seat will be reserved, and in the next two elections, two general seats will be reserved.

We compute that this results in 192, 179 and 175 seats (out of 545) being reserved for women in the first three elections.

A similar computation shows that 1367, 1365 and 1364 (out of 4090 seats of the legislative assemblies of 28 states and Delhi) will be reserved for women in the first three elections.

Excel file with detailed computation is available here.

How is a law enacted in Parliament?

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Because of the interest in the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, we’ve received a number of queries about the process by which a bill becomes an Act.

We have a more comprehensive primer on the subject, but here’s the process in brief:

• The ministry drafts a text of the proposed law, which is called a ‘Bill’, after calling comments from other ministries, and even from the public.  The draft is revised to incorporate such inputs and is then vetted by the Law Ministry. It is then presented to the Cabinet for approval.

• After the Cabinet approves the Bill, it is introduced in Parliament. In Parliament, it goes through three Readings in both Houses.

• During the First Reading the Bill is introduced. The introduction of a Bill may be opposed and the matter may be put to a vote in the House.

• After a Bill has been introduced, the Bill may be referred to the concerned Departmentally Related Standing Committee for examination.

• The Standing Committee considers the broad objectives and the specific clauses of the Bill referred to it and may invite public comments on a Bill. It then submits its recommendations in the form of a report to Parliament.

• In the Second Reading (Consideration), the Bill is scrutinized thoroughly. Each clause of the Bill is discussed and may be accepted, amended or rejected. The government, or any MP, may introduce amendments to the Bill.  However, the government is not bound to accept the Committee’s recommendations.

• During the Third Reading (Passing), the House votes on the redrafted Bill.

• If the Bill is passed in one House, it is then sent to the other House, where it goes through the second and third readings.

• After both Houses of Parliament pass a Bill, it is presented to the President for assent.   He/She has the right to seek information and clarification about the Bill, and may return it to Parliament for reconsideration. (If both Houses pass the Bill again, the President has to assent)

• After the President gives assent, the Bill is notified as an Act.

Parliament: What happens during the recess

March 16th, 2010 1 comment

Parliament is set to go into recess this week and will convene again on April 12th.  Before going into recess, both houses will have completed general discussions on the budget.

Once the recess begins, it’s time to go beyond the big budget numbers and into greater detail.   The detailed estimates by various ministries (sometimes running into a few hundred pages), of their budgeted expenditures in the next financial year (April 2010-March 2011) will be examined by the various Parliamentary Standing Committees.

When Parliament reconvenes, the Committees will table their reports on these demands for grants and the Lok Sabha will then begin more detailed discussions.  Due to lack of time however, such detailed discussions take place only for 3-4 ministries – the rest are voted on without discussion.

For a more detailed overview of the entire budget process, see our document “The Union Budget – A Primer”

For an overview of the budget documents, as well as a guide to finding the information that you want, see “How to Read the Union Budget”

Parliamentary performance this session

March 15th, 2010 1 comment

The Lok Sabha  adjourns today for a three-week recess.  The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to adjourned on March 18.  Here’s a brief look at the activity of Parliament this session (data till March 15):

Productive Hours: The session has witnessed more than its fair share of disruptions.  In the 14 sitting days, over 22 hours has been lost to interruptions in the Lok Sabha and over 26 hours in the Rajya Sabha.  The number of productive hours so far is 53 and 50 hours in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.

[Click here to compare with previous sessions.]

The session began with protests by the Opposition, putting pressure on the Government to schedule a debate on price rise.  After the presentation of the Budget, the protests revolved around the petroleum price hike.  The disruptions in the Rajya Sabha were on account of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which resulted in the suspension of seven MPs. On March 9 the Rajya Sabha was adjourned five times, before the passage of the Bill.

Legislative business: This session, the government had listed 63 Bills for introduction, 16 pending Bills for consideration and passing and 10 pending Bills for consideration and passing if their Standing Committee reports are submitted.

Other than financial business transacted, which includes passage of Demand for Grants and Appropriation Bills, the only legislation that has been passed so far is the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. The Lok Sabha also has passed one Bill that replaces an Ordinance – the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Bill. In the 14 sitting days, the House has spent 6 hours on legislative business.

Question Hour: Another important aspect of parliamentary business is the Question Hour.  Interestingly, the Lok Sabha rules were amended before the start of this session to ensure that the absence of MPs does not result in the collapse of Question Hour.  However, the amount of time spent on questions in both Houses this session has remained under 5 hours.

Ratifying Reservation

March 10th, 2010 6 comments

There have been articles in the media on the future passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill stating that the Bill will have to be ratified by state legislatures before it is signed into law by the President.  Our analysis indicates that ratification by state legislatures is not required.  We state the reasons below:

This Bill amends the Constitution.  It (a) amends Article 239AA,  Article 331, and Article 333, and  (b) inserts Article 330A, Article 332A, and Article 334A.  In doing so the Bill:

  • Seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies;
  • One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies;
  • Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies.

Article 368 regulates the procedure for amending the Constitution.  It states that the ratification of the state legislatures to a constitutional amendment is required in the following cases:

a. If there is a change in the provisions regarding elections to the post of the President of India.

b. If there is a change in the extent of the executive power of the centre or the state governments.

c. If there is any change in the provisions regarding the Union judiciary or the High Courts.

d. If the distribution of legislative powers between the centre and the states is affected.

e. If any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule is affected.

f. If the representation of the states in the Rajya Sabha is changed.

g. Lastly, if Article 368 itself is amended.

None of these provisions are attracted in the case of the Women’s Reservation Bill.  The Parliament recently extended the reservation of seats for SCs, STs and Anglo-Indians in Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies by another ten years.  Article 334 was amended to state that such reservation “will cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution.”  The 109th Amendment Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and did not require the ratification of the states before being signed into law by the President.  It follows that if Bills amending provisions for reserving seats for SCs and STs don’t need ratification by state legislatures, a bill reserving seats for women does not need ratification either.

Thus Article 368 very clearly lays down situations in which state legislatures have to ratify a piece of legislation before it can receive the assent of the President.

Disruptions in Parliament

March 9th, 2010 4 comments

Indiscipline and disruptions in Parliament are much talked about issues.  Not only are disruptions a waste of Parliament’s valuable time, these significantly taint the image of this esteemed institution.  Commotion in Rajya Sabha over the introduction of Women’s Reservation Bill and the subsequent suspension of 7 MPs has brought this issue back to the forefront.  We thought it might be useful to research and highlight instances in the past when the House had had to deal with similar situations.

According to the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette of the Rajya Sabha, The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it.  In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House.”

Mild offences are punished by admonition or reprimand (reprimand being the more serious of the two).  Withdrawal from the House is demanded in the case of gross misconduct. ‘Persistent and wilful obstructions’ lead the Chairman to name and subsequently move a motion for suspension of the member.  A member can be suspended, at the maximum, for the remainder of the session only.

In an extreme case of misconduct, the House may expel a member from the House. According to a comment in the above rule book, The purpose of expulsion is not so much disciplinary as remedial, not so much to punish members as to rid the House of persons who are unfit for membership.”

There have been several instances in the past when the Parliament has exercised its right to punish members. We pulled together a few instances:

Rajya Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
3-Sep-62 Shri Godey Murahari was suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 Septemebr 1962. He was removed by the Marshal of the House
25-Jul-66 Shri Raj Narain and Shri Godey Murahari were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July 1966, by the Leader of the House (Shri M.C. Chagla) and adopted by the House. After they refused to withdraw, they were removed by the Marshal of the House. Next day, the Chairman expressed his distress and leaders of parties expressed their regret at the incident
12-Aug-71 The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (Shri Om Mehta) moved a motion on 12 August 1971, for the suspension of Shri Raj Narain for the remainder of the session. The motion was adopted. Shri Raj Narain, on refusing to withdraw, was removed by the Marshal of the House
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette
Expulsion – All instances (three in total)
15-Nov-76 Shri Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November 1976 on the basis of the Report of the Committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities. The Committee found his conduct derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members and inconsistent with the standards which the House expects from its members
23-Dec-05 Dr. Chhattrapal Singh Lodha was expelled on 23 December 2005, for his conduct being derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the Code of Conduct, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation contained in the Seventh Report of the Committee on Ethics
21-Mar-06 Dr. Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21 March 2006, for his gross misconduct which brought the House and its members into disrepute and contravened the Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha, consequent on the adoption of a motion by the House agreeing with the recommendation of the Committee on Ethics contained in its Eighth Report
Source: Rajya Sabha, Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette

Lok Sabha

Unruly behaviour – Some instances
15-Mar-89 Commotion in the House over the Thakkar Commission report (Report of Justice Thakkar Commission of Inquiry on the Assassination of the Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi; revelations published in Indian Express before report tabled in Parliament) led to 63 MPs being suspended for a week. An opposition member belonging to the Janata Group (Syed Shahabuddin) who had not been suspended, submitted that he also be treated as suspended and walked out of the House. Three other members (GM Banatwalla, MS Gill and Shaminder Singh) also walked out in protest.
20-Jul-89 Demand for resignation of Govt. because of the adverse remarks made against it by the CAG in his report on Defence Services for the year 1988-89 saw commotion in the House. Satyagopal Misra dislodged microphone placed before the Chair and threw it in the pit of the House. (Sheila Dikshit was the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs). No member was suspended.
Source: Subhash Kashyap, Parliamentary Procedure (Second Edition)

Women’s Day and Reservation: Status of women in India

March 8th, 2010 No comments

 

By Kaushiki Sanyal

On March 8, the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) intends to debate and put to vote a Bill which has been hanging fire in Parliament since May 6, 2008.  Introduced in the Rajya Sabha, the  controversial Bill seeks to reserve 33% seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies.  The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice to which the Bill was referred submitted its report on December 17, 2009.  Various political parties, academics and activists have argued the pros and cons of the Bill threadbare. Some of these arguments have been laid down in our analysis of the Bill.

Whether reservation for women in Parliament is the right tool for empowerment may be debatable, it is certainly true that women of this country have a long way to go before they can achieve their potential.  They are hampered by low levels of education, lack of access to health care, lack of employment, and low social status which manifests in crimes such as female foeticide, dowry deaths and domestic violence.  We highlight some socio-economic and political indicators related to women in the following graphs.



 

Percentage of women MPs from 1st to 15th Lok Sabha

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§ Women constitute 11% of the newly elected House.

§ Of the larger states Madhya Pradesh has the highest percentage of women MPs (21%), followed by West Bengal (17%) and Uttar Pradesh (15%).

 

 

 


Females married before age 18

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§ In India the legal age for marriage is 18 years for females and 21 years for males. However about 44 percent of females, and 37 percent of males are married before the legal age.

§ There are areas in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar where the average female age at marriage continues to be below 16 years.



Literacy rate of women

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§ Census 2001 reveals that 54.2% women are literate.

§ The NSSO data shows huge disparity between urban and rural population. About 64% of rural males and 45% rural females were literate. The literacy rates among their urban counterparts were much higher at 81% and 69% respectively.

 

Incidents of crimes against women

Crimes

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Rape (IPC)

15,847

18,233

18,359

19,348

20,737

Dowry Death (IPC)

6208

7026

6787

7618

8093

Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

2684

3592

3204

4504

5623

Kidnapping & Abduction (Sec 363 to 373 IPC)

13,296

15,578

15,750

17,414

20,416

Torture (IPC 498A)

50,703

58,121

58,319

63,128

75,930

Molestation (Sec 354 IPC)

32,939

34,567

34,175

36,617

38,734

Sexual harassment (Sec 509 IPC)

12,325

10,001

9984

9966

10,950

Importation of Girls (Sec. 366-B IPC)

46

89

149

67

61

Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956

5510

5748

5908

4541

3568

Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986

1043

1378

2917

1562

1200

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Budgetary History: Evolution of legislative “power of the purse”

March 4th, 2010 3 comments

The presentation of the Annual Budget before the parliament is one of the mechanisms available to any legislature to scrutinise and authorise revenues and expenditures of the country.   In this post I quote and summarise from two sources (Rick Stapenhurst, The legislature and the Budget“, in Legislative Oversight and Budgeting, World Bank Institute Development Studies, and The evolution of parliament’s power of the purse) which describe briefly how oversight by the legislature over the state’s finances evolved historically.

“The evolution of legislative “power of the purse” dates back to medieval times, when knights and burgesses in England were summoned to confirm the assent of local communities to the raising of additional taxes.”  By the 1300s the English parliament had begun to use its power to vote on funds depending on the acceptance of petitions presented by parliament to the monarch.  In 1341, the monarch agreed that citizens should not be taxed (“charged or grieved to make common aid or sustain charge”) without the assent of Parliament.

“In parallel, the English Parliament began to take an interest in how money was collected, as well as how it was spent.”  In the 1300′s itself, it started appointing commissioners to audit the accounts of tax collectors.

This power of oversight however evolved gradually, and particularly over the 16th century, when the “monarchs needed parliamentary support and voting of funds for their various political and religious battles.  King Henry VIII for example, gave Parliament enhanced status in policy making, in return for support during his battles with Rome.”

The 1689 Bill of Rights firmly established “the principle that only Parliament could authorize taxation.  Still, at this stage there was still no such thing as an annual budget, and there was no comprehensive control of expenditures.”  The British Parliament also passed a resolution in 1713 to limit Parliament’s power to “not vote sums in excess of the Government’s estimates. Consequently, the only amendments that are in order are those which aim to reduce the sums requested.”

“Since that time, the “power of the purse” function has been performed by legislatures around the world as a means to expand their democratic leverage on behalf of citizens.”