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The Budget: What happens next and some stats on what happened before

March 14th, 2013 3 comments

Authored by Vishnu Padmanabhan and Priya Soman

The Budget speech may have already been scrutinised and the numbers analysed but the Budget process is far from complete.  The Constitution requires expenditure from the government’s Consolidated Fund of India to be approved by the Lok Sabha (the Rajya Sabha does not vote, but can suggest changes). After the Finance Minister presents the Union Budget, Parliament holds a general discussion followed by a detailed discussion and vote on Demands for Grants. In the general discussion, the House discusses the Budget as a whole but no motions can be moved and no voting takes place.  In the 15th Lok Sabha, the average time spent during the Budget Session on general discussion has been 13 hours 20 minutes so far.

Following the general discussion, Parliament breaks for recess while Demands for Grants – the projected expenditure by different ministries – are examined by the relevant Standing Committees of Parliament. This year Parliament is scheduled to break for a month from March 22nd to April 22nd. After the break, the Standing Committees table their reports; the grants are discussed in detail and voted on.  Last year, the total time spent on the Union Budget, on both general and detailed discussion was around 32 hours (or 18% of total time in the session), largely in line with the average time spent over the last 10 years (33 hours, 20% of total time). A unique feature of Indian democracy is the separate presentation and discussion for the Railway Budget.  Including the Railway Budget the overall time spent on budget discussion last year was around 55 hours (30% of total time in the session).

Note: All data from Budget sessions; data from 2004 and 2009 include interim budget sessions. Source: Lok Sabha Resume of Work, PRS

During the detailed discussion, MPs can call for ‘cut motions’ to reduce the amounts of demands for grants made by a Ministry. This motion can be tabled in three ways: (i) ‘the amount of the demand be reduced to Re.1/’ signifying disapproval of the policies of that ministry; (ii)  ‘the amount of the demand be reduced by a specified amount’, an economy cut signifying a disapproval of the amount spent by the ministry  and (iii) ‘the amount of the demand be reduced by Rs.100/-‘, a token cut airing a specific grievance within the policy of the government. However in practice almost all demands for grants are clubbed and voted together (a process called guillotining).

In 2012, 92% of demands for grants were guillotined. The grants for Ministries of Commerce and Industry, Health and Family Welfare, Home Affairs and Urban Development were the only grants taken up for discussion. Over the last 10 years, 85% of demands for grants have been voted for without discussion. The most frequently discussed demand for grants come from the Ministry of Home Affairs (discussed in 6 of the last 10 sessions) and the Ministry of Rural Development (5 times).  Demand for grants for Defence, the largest spending Ministry, has only been voted after discussion once in the last 10 years.

Source: Lok Sabha Resume of Work, Union Budget documents, PRS

If the government needs to spend any additional money, it can introduce Supplementary Demands for Grants during the year.  However if after the financial year government spending on a service exceeds the amount granted, then an Excess Demand for Grant has to be introduced and passed in the following year.  The Budget process concludes with the introduction and passage of the Appropriation Bill authorising the government to spend money from the Consolidated Fund of India. In addition, a Finance Bill, containing the taxation proposals of the government is considered and passed by the Lok Sabha after the Demands for Grants have been voted upon.

The President’s speech: Charting out reform

March 7th, 2013 No comments

Yesterday the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha engaged in a debate on the President’s speech, known as the Motion of Thanks. The President’s speech is a statement of the legislative and policy achievements of the government during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead. Close to the end of the UPA government’s term, it would be useful to evaluate the status of the commitments made in the President’s addresses. (To know more about the significance of the President’s speech refer to this Indian Express article. To understand the broad policy and legislative agenda outlined in this year’s address see this PRS Blog.)

The President’s speeches since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, have addressed reforms to the financial and social sectors, improving accountability of public officials, and making the delivery of public services more efficient.  We analyse the status of each of these commitments.

Accountability in governance processes

In an effort to increase accountability and transparency in governance processes, the government introduced a number of Bills.

  • The the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill and the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill enable individuals to file complaints against judges and other government officials for corruption and misbehaviour.
  • The Whistleblowers Bill has been introduced to protect persons who are making disclosures on corruption, on the misuse of power and on criminal offences by public servants.

These bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are pending in the Rajya Sabha.  The government has recently approved amendments to the Lokpal Bill, which may be considered by the Rajya Sabha in the Budget session.

Public service delivery

In order to make public service delivery more efficient, the government introduced the Electronic Services Delivery Bill and the Citizen’s Charter Bill.

  • The Electronic Services Delivery Bill aims to deliver all government services electronically .
  • The Citizens Charter Bill creates a grievance redressal process for complaints against the functioning of any public authority.
  • Both Bills are pending in the Lok Sabha since introduction in December 2011.
  • Related initiatives include linking the delivery of public services to Aadhaar and moving towards the cash transfer of subsidies. On January 1, 2013, the government piloted cash transfers to deliver subsidies for scholarships and pensions.

Social sector reforms: land, food security and education

Broad sectoral reforms have been undertaken in land acquisition, food security and education to aid development and economic growth.

  • Land:  In 2011, the government introduced the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. The Standing Committee Report on the Bill was released in May last year, based on which the government circulated a list of amendments to the Bill in December 2012.
  • Education: Elementary and middle school education saw reform in 2009 with the passage of the Right to Education Act (RTE Act). This legislation provides every child between the age of six to fourteen years with the right to free and compulsory education. As per the law, by March 2013 all schools are to conform to the minimum standards prescribed. States have expressed concerns over their preparedness in meeting this requirement and it remains to be seen how the government addresses this issue.
  • Food security: The National Food Security Bill is pending in Parliament since 2011. The Bill seeks to make food security a legal entitlement, reform the existing Public Distribution System and explore innovative mechanisms such as cash transfer and food coupons for the efficient delivery of food grains. The Standing Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill in January this year.

Financial sector reforms

In order to aid growth and encourage investments, the President had mapped out necessary financial sector reforms.

  • Taxation: The Direct Taxes Code has been introduced in Parliament to enhance tax realisation. However, even though the Standing Committee has presented its report, there has been little progress on the Bill. Efforts are underway to build political consensus on the Goods and Services Tax to rationalise indirect taxes.
  • Regulation of specific sectors: A bill to regulate the pension sector has been introduced in Parliament. Other financial sector reforms include a new Companies Bill, amendments to the Banking laws and a bill regulating the insurance sector.  Amendments to the banking laws have been approved by Parliament, while those to the Companies Bill have only been passed by the Lok Sabha.

In the backdrop of these legislations, it will be interesting to see the direction the recommendations of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, responsible for redrafting all financial sector regulation, takes.

Internal security

The government is taking measures to deal with internal security concerns such as terrorism and naxalism. In 2009, the President mentioned that the government has proposed the setting up of a National Counter Terrorism Centre. However, this has been on hold since March 2011.

At the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in June 2009, the President presented the 100 day agenda of the UPA II government, in his address. Of the eight bills listed for passing within 100 days, none have been passed. In addition, the President’s address in 2009 mentioned five other Bills, from which, only the RTE Act has been passed.  In the final year of its tenure, it needs to be seen what are the different legislative items and economic measures, on which the government would be able to build consensus across the political spectrum.

 

An overview of the Sexual Harassment Bill passed by Parliament

March 6th, 2013 No comments

Recently, the Parliament passed a law that addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2010, drew on the 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court (known as the Vishaka judgment) to codify measures that employers need to take to address sexual harassment at the work place. (See PRS analysis of the Bill here).

The Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2011.  It incorporated many of the amendments recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development that examined the Bill.  The Rajya Sabha passed it on February 27, 2013 without any new amendments (see Bill as passed by Parliament).

We compare the key provisions of the Bill, the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill that was passed by Parliament (for a detailed comparison, see here).

Bill as introduced Standing Committee recommendations Bill as passed by Parliament

Clause 2: Status of domestic workers

Excludes domestic workers from the protection of the Bill. The definition should include (i)  domestic workers; and (ii) situations involving ‘victimization’; Includes domestic worker. Does not include victimisation.

Clause 4: Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)

The committee shall include 4 members: a senior woman employee, two or more employees and one member from an NGO committed to the cause of women. The strength of ICC should be increased from 4 to at least 5 (or an odd number) to facilitate decisions in cases where the bench is divided. Disqualifies a member if (a) he has been convicted of an offence or an inquiry is pending against him or (b) he is found guilty in disciplinary proceedings or a disciplinary proceeding is pending against him.
Members may not engage in any paid employment outside the office. Barring paid employment outside the office goes against NGO members who may be employed elsewhere. This clause must be edited. Deletes the provision that disallows NGO members to engage in paid employment outside.  NGO members to be paid fees or allowances.

Clause 6: Constitution and jurisdiction of Local Complaints Committee (LCC)

An LCC is required to be constituted in every district and additional LLCs at block level.  At the block level the additional LCC will address complaints where the complainant does not have recourse to an ICC or where the complaint is against the employer. The functions of the district level and the block level LCCs are not delineated clearly. It is also unclear whether the block level LCCs are temporary committees constituted for dealing with specific cases. Instead of creating additional LCCs at the block level, the District level LCC may be allowed to handle cases. A local member from the block may be co-opted as a member to aid the LCC in its task. Accepted.

Clause 10: Conciliation

The ICC/ LCC shall provide for conciliation if requested by the complainant.  Otherwise, it shall initiate an inquiry. Distinction should be made between minor and major offences. Conciliation should be allowed only for minor offences. Adds a proviso that monetary settlement shall not be the basis on which conciliation is made.

Clause 11: Inquiry into Complaint

ICC/LCC shall proceed to make inquiry into a complaint in such manner as may be prescribed. No suggestion. Inquiries will be conducted in accordance with service rules or in such manner as may be prescribed.For domestic workers, the LCC shall forward the complaint to the police within seven days if a prima facie case exists.  The case shall be registered under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).
Sources: The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010; the Standing Committee on HRD Report on the Bill; the Sexual Harassment at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012; PRS.