Does the financing of “Rights” laws impinge on the rights of states

August 20th, 2013 No comments

In the last decade, some schemes have been recast as statutory entitlements – right to employment, right to education and right to food.  Whereas schemes were dependent on annual budgetary allocations, there rights are now justiciable, and it would be obligatory for Parliament to allocate sufficient resources in the budget.  Some of these rights also entail expenditure by state governments, with the implication that state legislatures will have to provide sufficient funds in their budgets.  Importantly, the amounts required are a significant proportion of the total budget.

There has been little debate on the core constitutional issue of whether any Parliament can pre-empt the role of resource allocation by future Parliaments.  Whereas a future Parliament can address this issue by amending the Act, such power is not available to state legislatures.  Through these Acts, Parliament is effectively constraining the spending preferences of states as expressed through their budgets passed by their respective legislative assemblies.  I have discussed these issues in my column in Pragati published on August 16, 2013.

Status of Legislation in the 15th Lok Sabha

August 19th, 2013 No comments

The ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament is being widely viewed as the ‘make or break’ session for passing legislation before the end of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. Hanging in balance are numerous important Bills, which will lapse if not passed before the upcoming 2014 national elections.

Data indicates that the current Lok Sabha has passed the least number of Bills in comparison to other comparable Lok Sabhas. The allocated time to be spent on legislation in the Monsoon Session is also below the time recommended for discussion and passing of Bills by the Business Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha. Eight out of a total of 16 sittings of the Monsoon Session have finished with only 15 percent of the total time spent productively.

Success rate of the 15th Lok Sabha in passing legislation

India’s first Lok Sabha (1952-1957)  passed a total of 333 Bills in its five year tenure. Since then, every Lok Sabha which has completed over three years of its full term has passed an average of 317 Bills. Where a Lok Sabha has lasted for less than 3 years, it has passed an average of 77 Bills. This includes the 6th, 9th, 11th and 12th Lok Sabhas. The ongoing 15th Lok Sabha, which is in the fifth year of its tenure, has passed only 151 Bills (This includes the two Bills passed in the Monsoon Session as of August 18, 2013).

In terms of parliamentary sessions, Lok Sabhas that have lasted over three years have had an average of fifteen sessions. The 15th Lok Sabha has finished thirteen parliamentary sessions with the fourteenth (Monsoon Session) currently underway.

Bills Passed by Lok Sabhas

Legislative business accomplished in the 15th Lok Sabha

For the 15th Lok Sabha, a comparison of the government’s legislative agenda at the beginning of a parliamentary session with the actual number of Bills introduced and passed at the end of the session shows that: (i) on average, government has a success rate of getting 39 percent of Bills passed; and (ii) on average, 60 percent success rate in getting Bills introduced.

final2.2

final2.3

The Monsoon Session of Parliament was scheduled to have a total of 16 sitting days between August 5-30, 2013. Of the 43 Bills listed for consideration and passage, 32 are Bills pending from previous sessions. As of August 18, 2013, the Rajya Sabha had passed a total of five Bills while the Lok Sabha had passed none. Of the 25 Bills listed for introduction, ten have been introduced so far.

The Budget Session of Parliament earlier this year saw the passage of only two Bills, apart from the appropriation Bills,  of the 38 listed for passing. These were the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill.

Time allocated for legislation in the Monsoon Session

The Lok Sabha is scheduled to meet for six hours and the Rajya Sabha for five hours every day.  Both houses have a question hour and a zero hour at the beginning of the day, which leaves four hours for legislative business in the Lok Sabha and three hours in the Rajya Sabha. However, both Houses can decide to meet for a longer duration. For example, Rajya Sabha has decided to meet till 6:00 PM every day in the Monsoon Session as against the normal working hours of the House until 5:00 PM.

The Business Advisory Committee (BAC) of both Houses recommends the time that should be allocated for discussion on each Bill. This session’s legislative agenda includes a total of 43 Bills to be passed by Parliament.  So far, 30 of the Bills have been allocated time by the BAC, adding up to a total of 78 hours of discussion before passing.

If the Lok Sabha was to discuss and debate the 30 Bills for roughly the same time as was recommended by the BAC, it would need a minimum of 20 working days.  In addition, extra working days would need to be allocated to discuss and debate the remaining 13 Bills.

With eight sitting days left and not a single Bill being passed by the Lok Sabha, it is unclear how the Lok Sabha will be able to make up the time to pass Bills with thorough debate.

 

Outlawing corruption

August 15th, 2013 No comments

In an Indian express editorial, Mandira Kala discusses the Bills, addressing corruption and good governance, pending in Parliament.  She discusses what their fate may be given that the Monsoon session is widely being viewed as a make or break session  for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament.

The monsoon session of Parliament started on a stormy note last week. Question hour was disrupted on most days and only one government bill was passed. There are 11 days left in the session and more than 40 bills pending for parliamentary approval. With the 15th Lok Sabha drawing to an end, this session is being viewed as a “make or break” session for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. Since 2010, there has been much debate in Parliament on corruption and an important part of the government’s legislative agenda was the introduction of nine bills in the Lok Sabha to address corruption and improve governance through effective delivery of public services.

Three of these bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are currently pending before the Rajya Sabha. These include legislation to address corruption in public office, enforce standards and accountability in the judiciary, and protect whistleblowers. The government has proposed amendments to each of these bills that the Rajya Sabha will have to consider and pass. If the Rajya Sabha passes these bills with amendments, they will be sent back to the Lok Sabha for approval. It is difficult to assess in what timeframe these bills will become law, given that both Houses need to agree on the amendments.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill creates a process for receiving and investigating corruption complaints against public officials, including the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, and prosecuting these in a timebound manner. The government amendments include allowing states the flexibility to determine their respective Lokayuktas and giving the Lokpal power of superintendence over the CBI, if the case has been referred by him. A mechanism to protect whistleblowers and create a process for receiving and investigating complaints of corruption or wilful misuse of discretion against a public servant are proposed under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill, 2010. The amendments proposed by the government prohibit whistleblowing if the disclosure of information affects the sovereignty of the country and its strategic, scientific and economic interest. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards and establishes processes for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. The bill is not listed in the government’s legislative agenda for the monsoon session and media reports suggest that the government intends to make amendments to it.

In the arena of strengthening governance and effective delivery of public services, there are three bills currently pending in Parliament. The Citizens’ Charter Bill confers the right to timebound delivery of goods and services on every citizen and creates a mechanism for redressing complaints on such matters. The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill mandates that Central and state governments shall deliver public services electronically no later than eight years from the enactment of the law. The parliamentary standing committee had highlighted that the Citizens’ Charter Bill and Electronic Delivery of Services Bill have an inherent overlap, which the government would have to resolve. While the former is listed for passing in this session, the government plans to withdraw the latter and replace it with a new bill. This new bill is not part of the list that is up for consideration and passing this session.

To create a reliable method of identifying individuals to facilitate their access to benefits and services the National Identification Authority of India Bill was introduced in Parliament to provide unique identification numbers (“aadhaar”) to residents of India. This bill has not been listed for parliamentary approval during this session. Two other pending bills do not find place in the government’s legislative agenda for the session either. These include legislation that curbs the holding and transfer of benami property and regulates the procurement process in government departments to ensure transparency, accountability and probity. The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill, which imposes penalties on Indian companies and individuals who bribe officials of a foreign government or international agency, is listed for passing this session.

Each of these nine bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha. If they are not passed by both Houses before the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved in 2014, no matter where they are in the legislative process, the bills will lapse. This implies that the entire legislative process will have to start all over again, if and when there is political will to legislate on these issues in the 16th Lok Sabha.

The challenges in getting legislation passed by Parliament are many, given that its overall productive time, especially time spent on legislation, is decreasing. Typically, Parliament spends about 25 per cent of its time debating legislation, but in the past few years this average has declined to 15 per cent. While the time lost by the House due to frequent adjournments is difficult to make up, parliamentarians will have to cautious about passing bills without the rigours of parliamentary debate. It is uncertain what the trajectory of the anti-corruption legislation in Parliament will be — enacted as law or resigned to a pool of lapsed legislation.

Poverty estimation in India

August 5th, 2013 No comments

The percentage of the population living below the poverty line in India decreased to 22% in 2011-12 from 37% in 2004-05, according to data released by the Planning Commission in July 2013.  This blog presents data on recent poverty estimates and goes on to provide a brief history of poverty estimation in the country.

National and state-wise poverty estimates

The Planning Commission estimates levels of poverty in the country on the basis of consumer expenditure surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

The current methodology for poverty estimation is based on the recommendations of an Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty (Tendulkar Committee) established in 2005.  The Committee calculated poverty levels for the year 2004- 05.  Poverty levels for subsequent years were calculated on the basis of the same methodology, after adjusting for the difference in prices due to inflation.

Table 1 shows national poverty levels for the last twenty years, using methodology suggested by the Tendulkar Committee.  According to these estimates, poverty declined at an average rate of 0.74 percentage points per year between 1993-94 and 2004-05, and at 2.18 percentage points per year between 2004-05 and 2011-12.

Table 1: National poverty estimates (% below poverty line) (1993 – 2012)

Year

Rural

Urban

Total

1993 – 94

50.1

31.8

45.3

2004 – 05

41.8

25.7

37.2

2009 – 10

33.8

20.9

29.8

2011 – 12

25.7

13.7

21.9

Source: Press Note on Poverty Estimates, 2011 – 12, Planning Commission; Report of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty (2009) Planning Commission; PRS.

State-wise data is also released by the NSSO. Table 2 shows state-wise poverty estimates for 2004-05 and 2011-12.  It shows that while there is a decrease in poverty for almost all states, there are wide inter-state disparities in the percentage of poor below the poverty line and the rate at which poverty levels are declining.

Table 2: State-wise poverty estimates (% below poverty line) (2004-05, 2011-12)

State

2004-05

2011-12

Decrease

Andhra Pradesh

29.9

9.2

20.7

Arunachal Pradesh

31.1

34.7

-3.6

Assam

34.4

32

2.4

Bihar

54.4

33.7

20.7

Chhattisgarh

49.4

39.9

9.5

Delhi

13.1

9.9

3.2

Goa

25

5.1

19.9

Gujarat

31.8

16.6

15.2

Haryana

24.1

11.2

12.9

Himachal Pradesh

22.9

8.1

14.8

Jammu and Kashmir

13.2

10.4

2.8

Jharkhand

45.3

37

8.3

Karnataka

33.4

20.9

12.5

Kerala

19.7

7.1

12.6

Madhya Pradesh

48.6

31.7

16.9

Maharashtra

38.1

17.4

20.7

Manipur

38

36.9

1.1

Meghalaya

16.1

11.9

4.2

Mizoram

15.3

20.4

-5.1

Nagaland

9

18.9

-9.9

Odisha

57.2

32.6

24.6

Puducherry

14.1

9.7

4.4

Punjab

20.9

8.3

12.6

Rajasthan

34.4

14.7

19.7

Sikkim

31.1

8.2

22.9

Tamil Nadu

28.9

11.3

17.6

Tripura

40.6

14.1

26.5

Uttar Pradesh

40.9

29.4

11.5

Uttarakhand

32.7

11.3

21.4

West Bengal

34.3

20

14.3

All Inda

37.2

21.9

15.3

Source: Review of Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty (2009) Planning Commission, Government of India; Press Note on Poverty Estimates, 2011 – 12 (2013) Planning Commission, Government of India; PRS.

Note: A negative sign before the number in column four (decrease) indicates an increase in percentage of population below the poverty line.

History of poverty estimation in India

Pre independence poverty estimates: One of the earliest estimations of poverty was done by Dadabhai Naoroji in his book, ‘Poverty and the Un-British Rule in India’.  He formulated a poverty line ranging from Rs 16 to Rs 35 per capita per year, based on 1867-68 prices.  The poverty line proposed by him was based on the cost of a subsistence diet consisting of ‘rice or flour, dhal, mutton, vegetables, ghee, vegetable oil and salt’.

Next, in 1938, the National Planning Committee (NPC) estimated a poverty line ranging from Rs 15 to Rs 20 per capita per month.  Like the earlier method, the NPC also formulated its poverty line based on ‘a minimum standard of living perspective in which nutritional requirements are implicit’.  In 1944, the authors of the ‘Bombay Plan’ (Thakurdas et al 1944) suggested a poverty line of Rs 75 per capita per year.

Post independence poverty estimates: In 1962, the Planning Commission constituted a working group to estimate poverty nationally, and it formulated separate poverty lines for rural and urban areas – of Rs 20 and Rs 25 per capita per year respectively.

VM Dandekar and N Rath made the first systematic assessment of poverty in India in 1971, based on National Sample Survey (NSS) data from 1960-61.  They argued that the poverty line must be derived from the expenditure that was adequate to provide 2250 calories per day in both rural and urban areas.  This generated debate on minimum calorie consumption norms while estimating poverty and variations in these norms based on age and sex.

Alagh Committee (1979): In 1979, a task force constituted by the Planning Commission for the purpose of poverty estimation, chaired by YK Alagh, constructed a poverty line for rural and urban areas on the basis of nutritional requirements.  Table 3 shows the nutritional requirements and related consumption expenditure based on 1973-74 price levels recommended by the task force.  Poverty estimates for subsequent years were to be calculated by adjusting the price level for inflation.

Table 3: Minimum calorie consumption and per capita consumption expenditure as per the 1979 Planning Commission task force on poverty estimation

Area Calories Minimum consumption expenditure (Rs per capita per month)
Rural 2400 49.1
Urban 2100 56.7

Source:  Report of the Expert Group on Estimation of Proportion and Number of Poor, 1993, Perspective Planning Division, Planning Commission; PRS

Lakdawala Committee (1993): In 1993, an expert group constituted to review methodology for poverty estimation, chaired by DT Lakdawala, made the following suggestions: (i) consumption expenditure should be calculated based on calorie consumption as earlier; (ii) state specific poverty lines should be constructed and these should be updated using the Consumer Price Index of Industrial Workers (CPI-IW) in urban areas and Consumer Price Index of Agricultural Labour (CPI-AL) in rural areas; and (iii) discontinuation of ‘scaling’ of poverty estimates based on National Accounts Statistics.  This assumes that the basket of goods and services used to calculate CPI-IW and CPI-AL reflect the consumption patterns of the poor.

Tendulkar Committee (2009): In 2005, another expert group to review methodology for poverty estimation, chaired by Suresh Tendulkar, was constituted by the Planning Commission to address the following three shortcomings of the previous methods: (i) consumption patterns were linked to the 1973-74 poverty line baskets (PLBs) of goods and services, whereas there were significant changes in the consumption patterns of the poor since that time, which were not reflected in the poverty estimates; (ii) there were issues with the adjustment of prices for inflation, both spatially (across regions) and temporally (across time); and (iii) earlier poverty lines assumed that health and education would be provided by the State and formulated poverty lines accordingly.[1]

It recommended four major changes: (i) a shift away from calorie consumption based poverty estimation; (ii) a uniform poverty line basket (PLB) across rural and urban India; (iii) a change in the price adjustment procedure to correct spatial and temporal issues with price adjustment; and (iv) incorporation of private expenditure on health and education while estimating poverty.   The Committee recommended using Mixed Reference Period (MRP) based estimates, as opposed to Uniform Reference Period (URP) based estimates that were used in earlier methods for estimating poverty.[2]

It based its calculations on the consumption of the following items: cereal, pulses, milk, edible oil, non-vegetarian items, vegetables, fresh fruits, dry fruits, sugar, salt & spices, other food, intoxicants, fuel, clothing, footwear, education, medical (non-institutional and institutional), entertainment, personal & toilet goods, other goods, other services and durables.

The Committee computed new poverty lines for rural and urban areas of each state.  To do this, it used data on value and quantity consumed of the items mentioned above by the population that was classified as poor by the previous urban poverty line.  It concluded that the all India poverty line was Rs 446.68 per capita per month in rural areas and Rs 578.80 per capita per month in urban areas in 2004-05.  The following table outlines the manner in which the percentage of population below the poverty line changed after the application of the Tendulkar Committee’s methodology.

Table 4: Percentage of population below poverty line calculated by the Lakdawala Committee and the Tendulkar Committee for the year 2004-05

Committee

Rural

Urban

Total

Lakdawala Committee

28.3

25.7

27.5

Tendulkar Committee

41.8

27.5

37.2

Source: Report of the Expert Group on Estimation of Proportion and Number of Poor, 1993, Perspective Planning Division, Planning Commission; Report of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of  Poverty, 2009, Planning Commission; PRS

The Committee also recommended a new method of updating poverty lines, adjusting for changes in prices and patterns of consumption, using the consumption basket of people close to the poverty line.  Thus, the estimates released in 2009-10 and 2011-12 use this method instead of using indices derived from the CPI-AL for rural areas and CPI-IW for urban areas as was done earlier.  Table 5 outlines the poverty lines computed using the Tendulkar Committee methodology for the years 2004-05, 2009-10 and 2011-12.

Table 5: National poverty lines (in Rs per capita per month) for the years 2004-05, 2009-10 and 2011-12

Year

Rural

Urban

2004-05

446.7

578.8

2009-10

672.8

859.6

2011-12

816.0

1000.0

Source: Report of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty (2009) Planning Commission; Poverty Estimates 2009-10 and Poverty Estimates 2011-12, Planning Commission; PRS

Rangarajan Committee: In 2012, the Planning Commission constituted a new expert panel on poverty estimation, chaired by C Rangarajan with the following key objectives: (i) to provide an alternate method to estimate poverty levels and examine whether poverty lines should be fixed solely in terms of a consumption basket or if other criteria are also relevant; (ii) to examine divergence between the consumption estimates based on the NSSO methodology and those emerging from the National Accounts aggregates; (iii) to review international poverty estimation methods and indicate whether based on these, a particular method for empirical poverty estimation can be developed in India, and (iv) to recommend how these estimates of poverty can be linked to eligibility and entitlements under the various schemes of the Government of India.  The Committee is expected to submit its report by 2014.


[1] While private expenditure on education and health was covered in the base year 1973-74, no account was taken of either the increase in the proportion of these in total expenditure over time or of their proper representation in available price indices.

[2] Under the URP method, respondents are asked to detail consumption over the previous 30 days; whereas under the MRP method five low-frequency items (clothing, footwear, durables, education and institutional health expenditure) are surveyed over the previous 365 days, and all other items over the previous 30 days.

 

The Mid Day Meal Scheme

July 23rd, 2013 No comments

In light of recent debates surrounding the implementation of the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) in certain states, it is useful to understand the basic features of the scheme.

The MDMS is the world’s largest school meal programme and reaches an estimated 12 crore children across 12 lakh schools in India. A brief introduction follows, outlining the key objectives and provisions of the scheme; modes of financing; monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and issues with implementation of the scheme. Examples of ‘best practices’ and major recommendations made by the Planning Commission to improve the implementation of the scheme are also mentioned.

Provisions:  The MDMS emerged out of the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP – NSPE), a centrally sponsored scheme formulated in 1995 to improve enrollment, attendance and retention by providing free food grains to government run primary schools. In 2002, the Supreme Court directed the government to provide cooked mid day meals (as opposed to providing dry rations) in all government and government aided primary schools.[1]

Calorie norms for the meals have been regularly revised starting from 300 calories in 2004, when the scheme was relaunched as the Mid Day Meal Scheme. At present the MDMS provides children in government aided schools and education centres a cooked meal for a minimum of 200 days.[2] Table 1 outlines the prescribed nutritional content of the meals.

Table 1: Prescribed nutritional content for mid day meals 

Item Primary (grade 1-5) Upper Primary(grade 6-8)
Calories 450 700
Protein (in grams) 12 20

Source: Annual Report, 2011 – 12, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India; PRS.

Objectives: The key objectives of the MDMS are to address the issues of hunger and education in schools by serving hot cooked meals; improve the nutritional status of children and improve enrollment, attendance and retention rates in schools and other education centres.

Finances: The cost of the MDMS is shared between the central and state governments. The central government provides free food grains to the states. The cost of cooking, infrastructure development, transportation of food grains and payment of honorarium to cooks and helpers is shared by the centre with the state governments. The central government provides a greater share of funds. The contribution of state governments differs from state to state. Table 2 outlines the key areas of expenditure incurred by the central government under the MDMS for the year 2012 – 2013.

Table 2: Key areas of expenditure in the MDMS (2012 – 2013)

Area of expenditure                                      Percentage of total cost allocated
Cooking cost 53
Cook / helper 20
Cost of food grain 14
Transportation assistance 2
Management monitoring and evaluation 2
Non recurring costs 10

Source: Ministry of Human Resource Development; Fourth NSCM Committee meeting, August 24, 2012; PRS.

Monitoring and Evaluation: There are some inter state variations in the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms of the MDMS.  A National Steering cum Monitoring Committee and a Programme Approval Board have been established at the national level, to monitor the programme, conduct impact assessments, coordinate between state governments and provide policy advice to central and state governments. Review Missions consisting of representatives from central and state governments and non governmental agencies have been established. In addition, independent monitoring institutions such as state universities and research institutions monitor the implementation of the scheme.

At the state level, a three tier monitoring mechanism exists in the form of state, district and block level steering cum monitoring committees. Gram panchayats and municipalities are responsible for day to day supervision and may assign the supervision of the programme at the school level to the Village Education Committee, School Management and Development Committee or Parent Teacher Association.

Key issues with implementation: While there is significant inter-state variation in the implementation of the MDSM, there are some common concerns with the implementation of the scheme. Some of the concerns highlighted by the Ministry for Human Resource Development based on progress reports submitted by the states in 2012 are detailed in Table 3.

Table 3: Key implementation issues in the MDMS

Issue State(s) where these problems have been reported
Irregularity in serving meals Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh
Irregularity in supply of food grains to schools Orissa, Maharashtra, Tripura, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh
Caste based discrimination in serving of food Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh
Poor quality of food Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chhattisgarh
Poor coverage under School Health Programme Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh
Poor infrastructure (kitchen sheds in particular) Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Gujarat, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa
Poor hygiene Delhi, Rajasthan, Puducherry,
Poor community participation Most states – Delhi, Jharkhand, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh in particular

Source: Ministry of Human Resource Development; PRS.

Best practices: Several state governments have evolved practices to improve the implementation of the MDMS in their states. These include involving mothers of students in implementation of the scheme in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand; creation of kitchen gardens, i.e., food is grown in the premises of the school, in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and West Bengal; construction of dining halls in Tamil Nadu; and increased community participation in the implementation of the scheme Gujarat. More information is available here.

Planning Commission evaluation of MDMS: In 2010, a Planning Commission evaluation of the MDMS made the following recommendations to improve implementation of the scheme:

i. Steering cum monitoring committees at the district and block levels should be made more effective.

ii. Food grains must be delivered directly to the school by the PDS dealer.

iii. The key implementation authority must be made responsible for cooking, serving food and cleaning utensils, and school staff should have a supervisory role.  The authority should consist of local women’s self help groups or mothers of children studying in the schools.

iv. Given the fluctuating cost of food grains, a review of the funds allocated to the key implementation authority must be done at least once in 6 months.

v. Services might be delivered through private providers under a public private partnership model, as has been done in Andhra Pradesh.


[1] PUCL vs. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001.

[2] The following institutions are covered: Government and government aided schools, National Child Labour Project (NCLP) schools, Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education (AIE) centres including Madrasas and Maqtabs supported under the SSA

 

Reason and ordinance: The National Food Security Bill

July 5th, 2013 No comments

Sakshi of PRS Legislative Research discusses the government’s ordinance-making power in the context of the National Food Security Ordinance in an Indian Express opinion editorial.

On Wednesday, the Union cabinet approved the food security ordinance. The government has already introduced a National Food Security Bill in Parliament in December 2011. Parliamentary consideration on the bill has been initiated with the standing committee submitting its recommendations and the government proposing amendments to the law. After being listed on several occasions for discussion, members of Parliament began debating the bill in the last few days of the 2013 budget session. In spite of all this, the government has chosen to promulgate an ordinance.

In all likelihood, Parliament will reconvene in a few weeks for the monsoon session. In this context, it would be useful to understand the ordinance-making power of government and its usage in the recent past. Under the Constitution, the power to make laws rests with the legislature. The executive has been given the power to make laws when Parliament is not in session and “immediate action” is necessary. In such scenarios, the president can issue an ordinance on the advice of the executive, to have the same effect as an act of Parliament. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court was confronted with a case where a state government repeatedly re-promulgated ordinances that had lapsed in previous assembly sessions. This led the SC to examine the ordinance-making power of government. The SC reasserted the constitutional principle that the primary law-making power rests with the legislature and not the executive. The executive is only given the legislative power to issue an ordinance to meet an “emergent situation”. Such a situation arose in 2011 when, given that students were awaiting their degrees on the completion of their course, the government issued an ordinance to grant IIIT-Kancheepuram the status of an institute of national importance so that students could be awarded their degrees.

Data over the last 60 years indicates that the highest number of ordinances, 34, were passed in 1993. Over the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2013), there have been 16 ordinances, indicating a decline in the number of ordinances being issued every year.

Once an ordinance is framed, it is to be laid before Parliament within six weeks of its first sitting. Parliament is empowered to either choose to pass the ordinance as law or let it lapse. Once the ordinance is laid in Parliament, the government introduces a bill addressing the same issue. This is typically accompanied by a memorandum tabled by the government, explaining the emergent circumstances that required the issue of an ordinance. Thereafter, the bill follows the regular law-making process. If Parliament does not approve the ordinance, it ceases to exist. The drafters of the Constitution created this check on the law-making power of the executive to reinforce the notion that law-making will remain the prerogative of the legislature.

Earlier this year, in the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape, public pressure led the government to appoint a three-member committee under the late Justice J.S. Verma to suggest changes to laws relating to crimes against women. An amendment bill had already been pending in Parliament. In spite of this, the government brought in the Criminal Law Ordinance, giving effect to some of the committee’s recommendations. Once Parliament reconvened, the government introduced a fresh bill replacing the ordinance, seeking to create more stringent provisions on matters related to sexual offences. It passed muster in both Houses.

While the Criminal Law Ordinance is an illustration of an ordinance successfully passing through Parliament, there are examples of ordinances that have lapsed because they were not approved by Parliament. In 2004, a week after the winter session ended, the government issued an ordinance to give the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority statutory powers as a regulator. Due to political opposition, the ordinance lapsed and, subsequently, the bill lapsed at the end of the 14th Lok Sabha. The government re-introduced it as a bill in 2011, which is currently pending in Parliament.

Although the government has used its power to issue a food security ordinance, the law guaranteeing this right will have to stand scrutiny in Parliament. What remains to be seen is how Parliament debates the right to food in the upcoming monsoon session. That should give us some food for thought.

For an analysis of the National Food Security Bill, refer to Sakshi’s blog post here.

Cabinet Reshuffles since 2009

June 18th, 2013 No comments
Source: www.pib.nic.in

Source: www.pib.nic.in

Yesterday the Prime Minister reshuffled his Cabinet and inducted four cabinet ministers and four ministers of state.  Since the beginning of the UPA II government, there have been three major Cabinet reshuffles and a number of minor readjustments in the portfolios of ministers. Analysing changes in the portfolios of ministers gives an insight into the churn in the political leadership of the different ministries of the government of India.

Until recently there was no central online resource where information could be collated about cabinet reshuffles. The information was scattered between the websites of the President, the Prime Minister and the Press Information Bureau. Since 2012, the Cabinet Secretariat has started putting details about changes in the portfolio of the council of ministers in the public domain. However analysing this information becomes difficult as the information is split into different files and details about the Cabinet reshuffle do not go back till 2009.

We have tried to collate data about changes in Cabinet portfolios since May 2009, so that it becomes easily accessible and can be analysed by interested individuals.  The raw data file can be accessed here. This data could be analysed to see which Ministers have shifted across ministries or the average length of tenure of Ministers in different ministries.

If you spot interesting trends in the raw data above, please share them with us on twitter@prslegislative

We have done a preliminary analysis of the data to see which ministries have had the most changes in Cabinet Ministers since May 2009:

- Railway Ministry portfolio has been held by six different Cabinet Ministers [Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi, Mukul Roy, C P Joshi (twice), Pawan Kumar Bansal and now Mallikarjun Kharge]

- Ministry of Law and Justice, Corporate Affairs and Science and Technology: Four Cabinet Ministers.

- Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Civil Aviation, Rural Development, Tourism and Youth and Sports:  Three Cabinet Ministers.

- Ministries like Finance, Home, External Affairs, Communications and Information Technology, Human Resource Development:  Two Cabinet Ministers.

- Ministries like Agriculture and Non Conventional Energy Sources have the same Ministers from May 2009.

This data also helped us put together a brief chronology of Cabinet reshuffles since the beginning of the term of the UPA II government:

23 & 28- May-09 Cabinet sworn in.
31-May-09 Meria Kumar resigns as Minister of Water Resources to become Speaker of Lok Sabha.
19-Apr-10 Shashi Tharoor resigns as Minister of State from the Ministry of External Affairs.
15-Nov-10 A Raja resigns as Minister of Communications and Information Technology. Kapil Sibal gets additional charge of the ministry.
19-Jan-11 First major cabinet reshuffle. Most ministries affected.
12-Jul-11 Second major Cabinet reshuffle. Dinesh Trivedi assumes charge of Railway Ministry after Mamata Banerjee, Salman Khursheed becomes Law Minister, Jairam Ramesh moves to Rural Development. New Ministers like Rajeev Shukla (Parliamentary Affairs) and Jayanthi Natarajan (Environment and Forest) get inducted.
18-Dec-11 RLD joins UPA. Ajit Singh inducted as Minister of Civil Aviation.
20-Mar-12 Dinesh Trivedi resigns and Mukul Roy becomes Railway Minister.
27-Jun-12 Pranab Mukherjee resigns as Finance Minister to fight the presidential election.
31-Jul-12 P Chidambaram moves from Home to Finance Ministry and Sushil Kumar Shinde moves from Power to Home Ministry.
22-Sep-12 Trinamool withdraws support to UPA. All TMC ministers resign. C P Joshi assumes additional charge of Railway Ministry.
28-Oct-12 Third major reshuffle. S M Krishna resigns from Ministry of External Affairs and Salman Khursheed takes over. Ashwani Kumar comes in place of Salman Khursheed in Law and Justice. Ambika Soni resigns and Manish Tiwari takes charge of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Ajay Maken moves from Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to Housing and Urban Poverty Alliviation.
21-Mar-13 DMK withdraws support. All DMK Ministers resign.
11-May-13 Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Kumar Bansal resign. Kapil Sibal takes charge of Ministry of Law and Justice and C P Joshi takes charge of Railways.
16-Jun-13 Ajay Maken and C P Joshi resign.

 

 

Paid News in the spotlight

June 3rd, 2013 1 comment

The issue of paid news has been debated for a long time, most recently during the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections, the Jindal Steel-Zee News dispute and disqualification of a sitting UP MLA by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in October 2011.  The Standing Committee on Information Technology recently submitted its report on the “Issues Related to Paid News”.  The report discusses the definition of paid news, reasons for its proliferation, existing mechanisms to address the problem and recommendations to control it.

Need for comprehensive definition of paid news

The Press Council of India (PCI) defines paid news as any news or analysis appearing in print or electronic media for consideration in cash or kind.  The Committee acknowledged challenges in defining and establishing incidence of paid news, citing new manifestations like advertisements disguised as news, denial of coverage to select electoral candidates, private deals between media houses and corporates and the rise in paid content.  Hence, it asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB) to formulate a comprehensive legal definition of ‘paid news’ and suggest measures for usage of ‘circumstantial evidence’ in establishing incidence of  paid news.

Reasons for rise in incidence of paid news

The Committee identified corporatisation of media, desegregation of ownership and editorial roles, decline in autonomy of editors/journalists and poor wage levels of journalists as key reasons for the rise in incidence of paid news.  It urged the MoIB to ensure periodic review of the editor/journalist autonomy and wage conditions.  It also recommended mandatory disclosure of ‘private treaties’ and details of advertising revenue by the media houses.

Need for empowered regulators and stricter punitive provisions

The Committee observed that statutory regulators like the PCI and Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) lack adequate punitive powers while self-regulatory industry bodies like the News Broadcasting Standards Authority have even failed to take cognisance of the problem.  The PCI and self-regulatory bodies are also plagued by conflict of interest since a majority of their members are media-owners.

The Committee recommended the establishment of either a single regulatory body for both print and electronic media or setting-up a statutory body for the electronic media on the lines of the PCI. Such regulator(s) should have the power to take strong action against offenders and should not include media owners as members. It highlighted the need for stricter punitive provisions to control paid news and sought further empowerment of the ECI to deal with cases of paid news during elections.

Committee critical of government’s inaction

The Committee censured the MoIB for its failure to establish a strong mechanism to check the spread of paid news.  It criticised the government for dithering on important policy initiatives, citing the lack of action on various recommendations of the PCI and ECI.  Previously, the PCI had sought amendments to make its directions binding on the government authorities and to bring the electronic media under its purview.  Similarly, the ECI recommended inclusion of indulgence by an electoral candidate in paid news as a corrupt practice and publication of such paid news as an electoral offence.  The Committee also expressed concern that the MoIB and self-regulatory bodies have not conducted any study to evaluate the mechanism adopted by other countries to tackle the problem of paid news.

For a PRS summary of the Standing Committee Report, see here.

Chit funds: Q & A

May 23rd, 2013 No comments

These are challenging times for chit fund operators. A scam involving the Saradha group allegedly conning customers under the guise of a chit fund, has raised serious questions for the industry. With a reported 10,000 chit funds in the country handling over Rs 30,000 crore annually, chit fund proponents maintain that these funds are an important financial tool. The scam has also sparked responses from both the centre and states: the Finance MinistryMinistry of Corporate Affairs and SEBI have all promised to act and the West Bengal Assembly has passed The West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, with Odisha and Haryana considering similar legislation.

What is a chit fund?

A chit fund is a type of saving scheme where a specified number of subscribers contribute payments in instalment over a defined period.  Each subscriber is entitled to a prize amount determined by lot, auction or tender depending on the nature of the chit fund.   Typically the prize amount is the entire pool of contribution minus a discount which is redistributed to subscribers as a dividend.

For example, consider an auction-type chit fund with 50 subscribers contributing Rs 100 every month. The monthly pool is Rs 5,000 and this is auctioned out every month.  The winning bid, say Rs 1000, would be the discount and be distributed among the subscribers. The winning bidder would then receive Rs 4,000 (Rs 5,000 – 1,000) while the rest of subscribers would receive Rs 20 (1000/50).  Winners cannot enter the auction again and will be liable for the monthly subscription as the process is repeated for the duration of the scheme.  The company managing the chit fund (foreman) would retain a commission from the prize amount every month.  Collectively, the subscribers to a chit fund are referred to as a chit group and a chit fund company may run many such groups.

What are the laws governing chit funds?

Classifying them as contracts, the Supreme Court has read chit funds as being part of the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution; hence both the centre and state can frame legislation regarding chit funds.  States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala had enacted legislation (e.g The Kerala Chitties Act, 1975 and The Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961) for regulating chit funds.

Chit Funds Act, 1982

In 1982, the Ministry of Finance enacted the Chit Funds Act to regulate the sector.  Under the Act, the central government can choose to notify the Act in different states on different dates; if the Act is notified in a state, then the state act would be repealed[i].  States are responsible for notifying rules and have the power to exempt certain chit funds from the provisions of the Act.  Last year the central government, notified the Act in Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala and Nagaland.

Under the Act, all chit funds require previous sanction from the state government.  The capital requirement for establishing chit funds is Rs 1 lakh and at least 10% of profits should be transferred to a reserve fund.  The amount of discount (i.e. the bid) is capped at 40% of the total chit fund value.    States may appoint a Registrar who would be responsible for regulation, inspection and dispute settlement in the sector. Any grievances over decisions made by the Registrar can be subject to appeals directed to the state government. Chit fund managers are required to deposit the entire value of the chit fund (can be done in 50% cash and 50% bank guarantee) with the Registrar for the duration of the chit cycle.

Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978

The Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 defines and prohibits any illegal chit fund schemes (e.g. schemes where auction winners are not liable to future payments).  Again, the responsibility for enforcing the provisions of this Act lies with the state government. Reports suggest that the government is discussing amendments to this Bill in the wake of the chit fund scam.

West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013

Last month the West Bengal Assembly passed the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013. This was a direct response to the chit fund scam in West Bengal. While not regulating chit funds directly, the Act regulates and restricts financial establishments to curb any unscrupulous activity with regards to deposits.  Chit funds are specifically included under the definition of deposits. The state government will appoint a competent authority to conduct investigations.

What is the role of RBI and SEBI?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the regulator for banks and other non banking financial companies (NBFCs) but does not regulate the chit fund business. While chit funds accept deposits, the term ‘deposit’ as defined under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 does not include subscriptions to chits. However the RBI can provide guidance to state governments on regulatory aspects like creating rules or exempting certain chit funds.

As the regulator of the securities market, SEBI regulates collective investment schemes.  But the SEBI Act, 1992 specifically excludes chit funds from their definition of collective investment schemes. In the recent case with Sarada Group, the SEBI investigation discovered that Sarada were, in effect, operating a collective investment scheme without SEBI’s approval.


[i] The central act repeals the Andhra Pradesh Chit Funds Act, 1971; the Kerala Chitties Act, 1975, the Maharashtra Chit Funds Act, 1974’, the Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961 (applicable in Chandiragh and Delhi), the Uttar Pradesh Chit Funds Act, 1975,  Goa, Daman and Diu Chit Funds Act, 1973 and Pondicheery Funds Act, 1966.

The law and short of it

May 23rd, 2013 No comments

In today’s Opinion piece, in the Indian Express, we discuss how enacting hasty new legislation in response to public events may not be the answer. 

The recent spot fixing controversy in the Indian Premier League has brought the issue of betting in sports back into the limelight. As a result, public debate around betting, and steps that need to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such events, is gaining traction. The government’s response to this incident has been somewhat predictable. The minister of state for sports has reportedly stated that his ministry is committed to putting in place new legislation to deal with the menace of fixing in sports. This approach to law making points towards a growing trend of initiating policy and legislative decisions as a reaction to public events. This is not something new. The Mumbai terror attack in 2008 was the catalyst for the enactment of the National Investigation Agency Act, and the brutal rape and murder of a young girl in Delhi led to the overhaul of India’s penal code to ensure stricter penalties for crimes against women. Both these bills were passed without effective scrutiny, as they were not referred to a parliamentary standing committee for examination.

Events in the country may, on occasion, highlight gaps in our policy and legislative framework. However, they often point out the ineffectiveness of existing laws and the lack of proper implementation. And that is not always a result of not having enough laws in the country. There are more than a 1,000 Central laws and over 15,000 state laws. The problem lies with our law-making process, which is ad hoc in nature. It is geared towards churning out legislation that is not entirely evidence based and does not take the feedback of different stakeholders into account. In its reports, the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution had observed that “our legislative enactments betray clear marks of hasty drafting and absence of Parliament scrutiny from the point of view of both the implementers and the affected persons and groups”.

Take, for example, the Gram Nyayalaya Act, which establishes village courts to provide people with easy access to justice and reduce the case law burden on the court system. Structured feedback from villagers, whom this act is trying to empower, prior to introducing the bill in Parliament would have given valuable insights about implementation challenges. A comprehensive study to examine the impact that village courts would have in reducing pendency in the judicial system would have provided hard numbers to substantiate what types of cases should be adjudicated by the village courts. A detailed financial analysis of the cost implications for the Central and the state governments for implementing the law would have helped policymakers decide on the scale and effectiveness of implementation. In the absence of these studies, there is no way to measure whether the law has been effective in giving villagers easy access to justice and in reducing the burden on the judicial system.

The importance of stakeholder consultation was recently stressed by the parliamentary committee examining the land acquisition bill. In its report on the bill, the committee recommended that, “before bringing in any bill in future, the government should ensure wider, effective and timely consultations with all relevant and stakeholders so that all related issues are addressed adequately.” Rajya Sabha MP N.K. Singh, while testifying before the parliamentary standing committee on the National Food Security Bill, had drawn the attention of the committee towards the need for an accurate financial memorandum accompanying the bill, to “avoid serious consequences in the implementation of the bill.” The National Advisory Council has also suggested a process of pre-legislative scrutiny of bills and delegated legislation. In its approach paper, the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission had suggested that delegated legislation should also be published in draft form to elicit feedback and that a cost benefit analysis of the delegated legislation should be appended to the draft.

New laws can have a significant impact on the lives of people, so it is important that our law-makers enact “effective laws”. For this to happen our law-making process needs to evolve. While there will always be public pressure for new laws, the solution lies in ensuring that the law-making process is robust, consultative and deliberative. The solution to addressing policy opportunities does not always lie in making new laws but in ensuring that whatever law is enacted is well thought out and designed to be effective.

 

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