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MPs’ salary hike: Do they have a case?

August 31st, 2010 1 comment

The Lok Sabha has passed the bill to revise the salary of members of parliament. Much of the debate in the media has been on the wealth of current MPs and the lack of accountability. It is important to focus as well on structural issues related to remunerating legislators.

Under the bill, the base salary of MPs is being raised to Rs.50,000 from Rs.16,000 per month. The daily allowance paid to MPs when they attend parliament is being hiked to Rs.2,000 from Rs.1,000. The constituency allowance is being increased to Rs.45,000 per month from Rs.20,000 and office expenses (for staff, stationery and postage) to Rs.45,000 per month from Rs.20,000. Pension for former MPs will be Rs.20,000 per month instead of the present Rs.8,000.

Other than these, MPs get accommodation in Delhi, which varies from a hostel in Vitthalbhai Patel House to two-bedroom flats and bungalows, all in central Delhi. MPs get reimbursement of electricity, water, telephone and internet charges. They (and their family) are also reimbursed for 34 one-way air tickets from their constituency to Delhi.

In a parliamentary democracy, compensation for legislators should be sufficient to ensure their independence and autonomy. It should attract professionals who can devote their full time to legislative work. There should be a sufficient support system to enable legislators perform their duties effectively.

There are mainly three issues that need to be resolved while fixing the compensation package for legislators.

First, MPs fix their own salaries and allowances, which results in a conflict of interest.

Second, every time the salary is revised upwards, there is an adverse media and public reaction. The outcome is that MPs’ salaries are significantly lower than that for any other position of similar responsibility in the public or private sector. The low salaries may deter honest persons, without other income sources, from contesting elections.

Third, reimbursements of office expenses are classified as ‘allowances’. Thus, expenses for office staff, telephone charges, etc. are often seen as part of their compensation. Contrast this with the treatment for government or private sector employees. The costs of office support staff, rental, communication and travel costs are not counted as their salary or perks.

The process in India is similar to that in some countries. The US Congress and the German Bundestag determine their own salaries.

There are two alternative approaches seen in some other democracies. Some countries appoint an independent authority to determine salaries. Some others peg the salary to that of public officials. For example, New Zealand has a remuneration tribunal which is tasked to fix salaries based on being (a) fair relative to levels of remuneration elsewhere; (b) fair to person being remunerated and the taxpayer; (c) adequate to recruit and retain competent persons.

In Canada, a commission is appointed after every general election and salaries are then indexed to the federal government’s annual wage rate index. Australia has a remuneration authority that links the salary to that in the Principal Executive Office. In the UK, the Senior Salaries Review Board determines salaries, which are then voted upon by parliament. The Scottish parliament indexes its salaries to that of British MPs. In France, the salary of the legislator is the average of the highest and lowest paid official in the seniormost level of the government.

There were two distinct themes during last week’s Lok Sabha debate. Several MPs discussed structural issues. Some MPs – L.K. Advani, Ramachandra Dome, Sanjay Nirupam, Shailendra Singh and Pinaki Misra – suggested that the government establish an independent commission for determining salaries. Advani pointed out that a decision to that effect had been taken in an all-party meeting held by the Speaker in may 2005 and demanded that the government announce the formation of such a commission before the end of the current session of parliament.

Some MPs – Dhananjay Singh, Sanjay Nirupam and Shailendra Kumar — focussed on the need for support structures such as office space, research staff and assistants in the constituency. They felt that these would help MPs examine proposed laws and rules and monitor the work of the government. Nirupam and Misra suggested that MPs’ salaries be linked to performance; salaries should be cut for any time lost due to disruption.

Some MPs highlighted the need for pension and accommodation for former MPs. Sharad Yadav, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary requested that the pension be raised to Rs 25,000 per month. Yadav and Bwiswmuthiary also said that former MPs be allocated residential accommodation in Delhi.

The bill will next be discussed in the Rajya Sabha. The government agreed that there is merit in forming an independent commission. It is however uncertain whether the government will accede to Advani’s demand that the commission be announced in the next couple of days.

- M.R. Madhavan

This column has been published by IANS today.

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Parliament’s Recommendations on the Nuclear Liability Bill – Why the “and”?

August 20th, 2010 No comments

In law, the addition or deletion a single punctuation or a single word can have a major impact on the effect of that law.  One such example can be seen from the recommended changes in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 by Parliament’s Standing Committee.

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010.  The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, which submitted its report on the Bill yesterday (August 18, 2010).  The Committee has made a number of recommendations regarding certain clauses in the Bill (See summary here).  One of these may have the effect of diluting the provision currently in the Bill.  The main recommendations pertain to:

  • Preventing the entry of private operators.
  • Allowing the government to increase the total liability for a nuclear incident by notification, but not decrease it.
  • Increasing the liability of the operator to Rs 1,500 crore from Rs 500 crore.
  • Increasing the time limit for claiming compensation to 20 years from 10 years.
  • Changing the provision giving operators a right of recourse against persons actually responsible for causing damage.

Clause 17 of the Bill which gives operators a right of recourse against those actually causing damage had been opposed as it was felt that it was not strong enough to hold suppliers liable in case the damage was caused by them.  Clause 17 gave a right of recourse under three conditions.  The exact clause is reproduced below:

The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where —

(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;

(b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee;

(c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.

Under this clause, a right of recourse exists when (a) there is a contract giving such a right, or (b) the supplier acts deliberately or in a grossly negligent manner to cause nuclear damage, or (c) a person causes nuclear damage with the intent to do so.  If any of the three cases can be proved by the operator, he has a right of recourse.

The Committee has stated that “Clause 17(b) gives escape route to the suppliers of nuclear materials, equipments, services of his employees as their willful act or gross negligence would be difficult to establish in a civil nuclear compensation case.”

It recommended that Clause 17(b) should be modified to cover consequences “of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or service.”

The Committee also recommended another change in Clause 17.  It recommended that clause 17(a) may end with “and”. This provision may dilute the right of recourse available to operators.  The modified clause 17 would read as:

The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of recourse where —

(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; and,

(b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services.;

(c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.

This implies that for Clauses 17(b) or (c) to be applicable, the condition specified in clause 17(a) has to be compulsorily satisfied.  Two examples highlight the consequence of the recommended change in Clause 17(a) of the Bill:

  1. A person X deliberately commits sabotage in a nuclear plant and causes damage.  Under the Bill, the operator has recourse under Clause 17(c).  If the recommendation regarding clause 17 is accepted, the operator may also have to also prove the existence of a pre-existing contract with X in addition to clause 17(c).
  2. If a supplier supplies defective equipment, but does not have a contract in writing stating that he will be liable for damage caused by defective equipment, the operator may not have a right of recourse against the supplier under 17(b).

The effect of the changes recommended by the committee may thus dilute the provision as it exists in the Bill.  The table below compares the position in the Bill and the position as per the Standing Committee’s recommendations:

Right of recourse – The Bill gives operators a right to recourse under three conditions:  (a) if there is a clear contract; (b) if the damage is caused by someone with intent to cause damage; (c) against suppliers if damage is caused by their wilful act or negligence. In the Bill the three conditions are separated by a semi-colon.  The Committee recommended that the semi-colon in clause 17(a) should be replaced by “and”. This might imply that all three conditions mentioned need to exist for an operator to have recourse.
Right to recourse against suppliers exists in cases of “willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier”. (Clause 17) The Committee felt that the right of recourse against suppliers is vague.  It recommended that recourse against the supplier should be strengthened.  The supplier is liable if an incident has occurred due to (i) defects, or (ii) sub-standard material, or (iii) gross negligence of the supplier of the material, equipment or services. The variance with the Convention continues to exist.

Issues related to MCI – how to regulate medical colleges and doctors?

August 17th, 2010 4 comments

The Medical Council of India (MCI) has seen a few major controversies over the past decade. In the latest incident, MCI President, Dr. Ketan Desai was arrested by the CBI on charges of accepting a bribe for granting recognition to Gyan Sagar Medical College in Punjab.

Following this incident, the central government promulgated an ordinance dissolving the MCI and replacing it with a centrally nominated seven member board. The ordinance requires MCI to be re-constituted within one year of its dissolution in accordance with the provisions of the original Act.

Background

The Medical Council of India was first established in 1934 under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1933. This Act was repealed and replaced with a new Act in 1956. Under the 1956 Act, the objectives of MCI include:

  • Maintenance of standards in medical education through curriculum guidelines, inspections and permissions to start colleges, courses or increasing number of seats
  • Recognition of medical qualifications
  • Registration of doctors and maintenance of the All India Medical Register
  • Regulation of the medical profession by prescribing a code of conduct and taking action against erring doctors

Over the years, several committees, the most recent being the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) and the Yashpal Committee, have commented on the need for reforms in medical regulation in the country.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW) has recently released a draft of the National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) Bill for public feedback. (See http://mohfw.nic.in/nchrc-health.htm)

Key issues in Medical Regulation

Oversight

Currently, separate regulatory bodies oversee the different healthcare disciplines. These include the Medical Council of India, the Indian Nursing Council, the Dental Council of India, the Rehabilitation Council of India and the Pharmacy Council of India. Each Council regulates both education and professional practice within its domain.

The draft NCHRH Bill proposes to create an overarching body to subsume these councils into a single structure. This new body, christened the National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) is expected to encourage cross connectivity across these different health-care disciplines.

Role of Councils

Both the NKC and the Yashpal Committee make a case for separating regulation of medical education from that of profession. It is recommended that the current councils be divested of their education responsibilities and that these work solely towards regulation of professionals – prescribing a code of ethics, ensuring compliance, and facilitating continued medical education.

In addition, it has been recommended that a national exit level examination be conducted. This exit examination should then serve the purpose of ‘occupational licensing’, unlike the prevalent registration system that automatically grants practice rights to graduating professionals. In effect, it is envisaged that the system be reconfigured on the lines of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, wherein the council restricts itself to regulating the profession, but has an indirect say in education through its requirements on the exit examination. A common national examination is also expected to ensure uniformity in quality across the country.

Both committees also recommend enlisting independent accrediting agencies for periodically evaluating medical colleges on pre-defined criteria and making this information available to the public (including students). This is expected to bring more transparency into the system.

Supervision of education – HRD vs. H&FW

The Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) is proposing a National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) to regulate all university education. However, MoH&FW is of the opinion that Medical Education is a specialized field and needs focused attention, and hence should be regulated separately. However, it is worth noting that both the NKC and the Yashpal Committee recommend transferring education overseeing responsibilities to the NCHER.

Internationally, different models exist across countries. In the US, the Higher Education Act, 1965 had transferred all education responsibilities to the Department of Education. In the UK, both medical education and profession continue to be regulated by the General Medical Council (the MCI counterpart), which is different from the regulator for Higher Education.

Composition of Councils

In 2007-08, MCI, when fully constituted, was a 129 member body. The Ministry in its draft NCHRH Bill makes a case for reducing this size. The argument advanced is that such a large size makes the council unwieldy in character and hence constrains reform.

In 2007-08, 71% of the members in the committee were elected. These represented universities and doctors registered across the country. However, the Standing Committee on H&FW report (2006) points out that delays in conducting elections usually leads to several vacancies in this category, thereby reducing the actual percentage of elected members. MCI’s 2007-08 annual report mentions that at the time of publishing the report, 29 seats (32% of elected category) were vacant due to ‘various reasons like expiry of term, non-election of a member, non-existence of medical faculty of certain Universities’.

In November 2001, the Delhi High Court set aside the election of Dr. Ketan Desai as President of the MCI, stating that he had been elected under a ‘flawed constitution’. The central government had failed to ensure timely conduct of elections to the MCI. As a result, a number of seats were lying vacant. The Court ordered that the MCI be reconstituted at the earliest and appointed an administrator to oversee the functioning of the MCI until this was done.

Several countries like the UK are amending their laws to make council membership more broad-based by including ‘lay-members’/ non-doctors. The General Medical Council in the UK was recently reconstituted and it now comprises of 24 members – 12 ‘lay’ and 12 medical members. (See http://www.gmc-uk.org/about/council.asp)

Way ahead

According to latest news reports, the MoH&FW is currently revising the draft Bill. Let’s wait and see how the actual legislation shapes up.

Watch this space for further updates!

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The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010

August 12th, 2010 1 comment

The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on April 26, 2010, and was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 6 (See Bill Summary here).  The Bill was not referred to a Standing Committee of Parliament.  The Bill has been introduced to allow India to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  The Convention against Torture requires member countries to bring their domestic legislation in conformity with the provisions of the Convention.  The main features of the Bill, and the issues are highlighted below (For the PRS Legislative Brief on the Bill, click here).

Main features of the Torture Bill

Features Explanation
Definition of ‘torture’ A public servant or any person with a public servant’s  consent commits torture if all three conditions are met:

  1. An act results in (i) Grievous hurt to any person  (Grievous hurt as defined in the Indian Penal Code – includes damage to limbs or organs); or (ii) danger to life, limb or health (mental pr physical) of any person, and
  2. The act is done intentionally, and
  3. The act is done with the purpose of getting information or a confession.
When is torture punishable?
  1. When it is committed for gaining a confession or other information for detecting an offence, and
  2. The torture is committed on certain grounds such as religion, race, language, caste, or ‘any other ground’.
Conditions under which courts can admit complaints
  1. The complaint has to be made within six months of the torture having been committed.
  2. The approval of the central or state government appointing the accused public servant has been taken.

The definition of torture

The definition of torture raises the following issues:

  • It is inconsistent with the definition of torture in the Convention against Torture which India seeks to ratify;
  • It does not include many acts amounting to torture which are punishable under the Indian Penal Code;
  • It adds a requirement of proving the intention of the accused person to commit torture.  Current provisions in the IPC do not have this requirement.
  • Grievous hurt does not include mental suffering or pain.

Dilution of existing laws on torture

The Bill makes it difficult for those accused of torture to be tried.  This is because (a) complaints against acts of torture have to be made within six months, and (b) the previous sanction of the appropriate government has to be sought before a court can entertain a complaint.

Relevant provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Bill.
Subject Criminal Procedure Code Bill
Requirement of government sanction Sanction needed if (a) a public servant is not removable except with the sanction of the appropriate government, and (b) the public servant was acting in the course of his duties. Prior sanction of the appropriate government needed in all cases.
Time limits for filing complaints Time-limits exist for offences punishable with maximum imprisonment of up to three years. No time limits for offences which are punishable with imprisonment of more than three years. There is a time-limit though torture is punishable with maximum imprisonment of up to ten years.  Complaints have to be filed within six months.
Sources: Sections 197 and 468 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973; PRS.

Independent authority to investigate complaints

There is no independent mechanism/ authority to investigate complaints of torture. The investigating agency in most cases of torture would be the police.  In many cases, personnel of the police would also be  alleged to have committed torture.  In such cases, the effectiveness of investigations in incidents of torture will be affected.

Independent authorities in other countries to investigate incidents of torture.
Country Authority/ Institution
France Comptroller General of the places of deprivation of liberty
Germany The Federal Agency for the Prevention of Torture
New Zealand Human Rights Commission, Police Complaints Authority, Children’s Commissioner
United Kingdom 18 different organisations, including Independent Monitoring Board, Independent Custody Visiting Associations, etc.
Sources: National Preventive Mechanisms, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; PRS.

Police Personnel sent for trials under existing laws, and convictions


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Population Stabilization

August 4th, 2010 1 comment

This post is pursuant to the discussion on population stabilization being held in Parliament currently.

India is the second most populous country in the world, sustaining 16.7% of the world’s population on 2.4% of the world’s surface area. The population of the country has increased from 238 million in 1901 to 1,029 million in 2001. Even now, India continues to add about 26 million people per year. This is because more than 50% of the population is in the reproductive age group.

India launched a family planning programme in 1952. Though the birth rate started decreasing, it was accompanied by a sharp decrease in death rate, leading to an overall increase in population.

In 1976, the first National Population Policy was formulated and tabled in Parliament.  However, the statement was neither discussed nor adopted.

The National Health Policy was then designed in 1983.  It stressed the need for ‘securing the small family norm, through voluntary efforts and moving towards the goal of population stabilization’.  While adopting the Health Policy, Parliament emphasized the need for a separate National Population Policy.

This was followed by the National Population Policy in 2000. The immediate objective of the policy was to address the unmet needs for contraception, health care infrastructure and personnel, and to provide integrated service delivery for basic reproductive and child health care. The medium-term objective was to bring TFR (Total Fertility Rate – the average number of children a woman bears over her lifetime) to replacement levels by 2010. In the long term, it targeted a stable population by 2045, ‘at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.’ (See http://populationcommission.nic.in/npp.htm)

Total Fertility Rate

India’s TFR was around 6.1 in 1961.  This meant that an average woman bore over 6 children during her lifetime.  Over the years, there has been a noticeable decrease in this figure.  The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS III, 2005-06) puts it at 2.7.  TFR is almost one child higher in rural areas (3.0) than in urban areas (2.1).

TFR also varies widely across states.  The states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu have reached a TFR of 2.1 or less.  However, several other states like UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where over 40% of the population lives, TFR is still high.  (See http://www.jsk.gov.in/total_fertility_rate.asp)

Factors that affect population growth

The overarching factor that affects population growth is low socio-economic development. For example, Uttar Pradesh has a literacy rate of 56%; only 14% of the women receive complete antenatal care. Uttar Pradesh records an average of four children per couple. In contrast, in Kerala almost every person is literate and almost every woman receives antenatal care. Kerala records an average of two children per couple.

Infant mortality
In 1961, the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), deaths of infants per 1000 live births, was 115. The current all India average is much lower at 57. However, in most developed countries this figure is less than 5.

IMR is the lowest at 15 in Kerala and the highest at 73 in Uttar Pradesh. Empirical correlations suggest that high IMR leads to greater desire for children.

Early marriage
Nationwide almost 43% of married women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. This figure is as high as 68% in Bihar. Not only does early marriage increase the likelihood of more children, it also puts the woman’s health at risk.

Level of education

Fertility usually declines with increase in education levels of women.

Use of contraceptives

According to NFHS III (2005-06), only 56% of currently married women use some method of family planning in India. A majority of them (37%) have adopted permanent methods like sterilization.

Other socio-economic factors
The desire for larger families particularly preference for a male child also leads to higher birth rates. It is estimated that preference for a male child and high infant mortality together account for 20% of the total births in the country.

Government initiatives

The National Population Policy 2000 gave a focused approach to the problem of population stabilization. Following the policy, the government also enacted the Constitution (84th Amendment) Act, 2002. This Amendment extended the freeze on the state-wise allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to 2026. It was expected that this would serve ‘as a motivational measure, in order to enable state governments to fearlessly and effectively pursue the agenda for population stabilization contained in the National Population Policy, 2000’.

The National Commission on Population was formed in the year 2000. The Commission, chaired by the Prime Minister, has the mandate to review, monitor and give directions for implementation of the National Population Policy.

The Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (National Population Stabilization Fund) was setup as an autonomous society of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2005. Its broad mandate is to undertake activities aimed at achieving population stabilization.

Programmes like the National Rural Health Mission, Janani Suraksha Yojana, ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) etc. have also been launched by the government to tackle the healthcare needs of people. This is also expected to contribute to population stabilization.

Free contraceptives are also being provided. In addition, monetary incentives are given to couples undertaking permanent family planning methods like vasectomy and tubectomy.

Nutritional and educational problems are being targeted through programs like the mid-day meal scheme and the recently enacted Right to Education.

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For more details on the issue, see the website of the National Population Stabilization Fund (http://www.jsk.gov.in/)

Sources:
Registrar General, India
National Population Stabilization Fund
National Commission on Population
National Family Health Survey III (2005-06)

PRS ANALYSIS 2010: Competition on Legislative Analysis

August 2nd, 2010 No comments

To facilitate greater awareness generation and engagement of the youth, PRS conceptualised a legislative analysis competition – ANALYSIS. Being organized for the fourth year in succession, ANALYSIS is a national-level competition that encourages students to reflect on issues of national importance by analysing a proposed government Bill.  Participants are expected to produce a succinct three-page analysis of the Bill with MPs as the target audience.

Entries will be evaluated by an eminent panel of judges from the fields of politics, law and the media.

In the past years judges have included Justice Ruma Pal (former judge at the Supreme Court), Justice Y. K. Sabharwal (former Chief Justice of India), Prof.  N.R. Madhava Menon (Member – Commission on Centre State Relations), and Mr. Sam Pitroda (Advisor to Prime Minister on Public Information, Infrastructure and Innovation).

The Competition is open to all post-graduate students or law students presently studying in any recognized institution in India.  (For further information on the Bills to be analysed, prize money and other details, click here)

Over the past three years we have received high-quality entries from over a 100 colleges throughout the country.  We hope to receive incisive analyses this years as well.

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