Indian Railways: Analysing the Budget

March 12th, 2018 Prachee Mishra No comments

Finances of the Railways were presented along with the Union Budget on February 1, 2018 (the Railways Budget was merged with the Union Budget last year).  In the current Budget Session, Lok Sabha is scheduled to discuss the allocation to the Ministry of Railways.  In light of this, we discuss Railways’ finances, and issues that the transporter has been facing with regard to financing.

What are the different sources of revenue for Railways?

Indian Railways has three primary sources of revenue: (i) its own internal resources (revenue from freight and passenger traffic, leasing of railway land, etc.), (ii) budgetary support from the central government, and (iii) extra budgetary resources (such as market borrowings, institutional financing).

Figure 1Railways’ internal revenue for 2018-19 is estimated at Rs 2,01,090 crore which is 7% higher than the revised estimates of 2017-18.  Majority of this revenue comes from traffic (both freight and passenger), and is estimated at Rs 2,00,840 crore.  In the last few years, Railways has been struggling to run its transportation business, and generate its own revenue.  The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining.  This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic (see Figure 1).  Railways is also slowly losing traffic share to other modes of transport such as roads and airlines.  The share of Railways in total freight traffic has declined from 89% in 1950-51 to 30% in 2011-12.

The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that raising revenue for Railways is a challenge because: (i) investment is made in projects that do not have traffic and hence do not generate revenue, (ii) the efficiency improvements do not result in increasing revenue, and (iii) delays in projects results in cost escalation, which makes it difficult to recover costs.  Railways also provides passenger fares that are heavily subsidised, which results in the passenger business facing losses of around Rs 33,000 crore in a year (in 2014-15).  Passenger fares are also cross-subsidised by charging higher rates for freight.  The consequence is that freight rates have been increasing which has resulted in freight traffic moving towards roads.

Figure 2Figure 2 shows the trends in capital outlay over the last decade.  A decline in internal revenue generation has meant that Railways funds its capital expenditure through budgetary support from the central government and external borrowings.  While the support from central government has mostly remained consistent, Railways’ borrowings have been increasing.  Various committees have noted that an increased reliance on borrowings will further exacerbate the financial situation of Railways.

The total proposed capital outlay (or capital expenditure) for 2018-19 is Rs 1,48,528 crore which is a 24% increase from the 2017-18 revised estimates (Rs 1,20,000 crore).  Majority of this capital expenditure will be financed through borrowings (55%), followed by the budgetary support from the central government (37%).  Railways will fund only 8% of its capital expenditure from its own internal resources.

How can Railways raise more money?

The Committee on Restructuring Railways had suggested that Railways can raise more revenue through private participation in the following ways: (i) service and management contracts, (ii) leasing to and from the private sector, (iii) joint ventures, and (iv) private ownership.  However, private participation in Railways has been muted as compared to other sectors such as roads, and airports.

Figure 3One of the key reasons for the failure of private participation in Railways is that policy making, the regulatory function, and operations are all vested within the same organisation, that is, the Ministry of Railways.  Railways’ monopoly also discourages private sector entry into the market.  The Committee on Restructuring Railways had recommended that the three roles must be separated from each other.  It had also recommended setting up an independent regulator for the sector.  The regulator will monitor whether tariffs are market determined and competitive.

Where does Railways spend its money?

The total expenditure for 2018-19 is projected at Rs 1,88,100 crore, which is 4% higher than 2017-18.  Staff wages and pension together comprise more than half of the Railways’ expenditure.  For 2018-19, the expenditure on staff is estimated at Rs 76,452 crore.  Allocation to the Pension Fund is estimated at Rs 47,600 crore.  These constitute about 66% of the Railways’ expenditure in 2018-19.

Railways’ primary expenditure, which is towards the payment of salaries and pension, has been gradually increasing (with a jump of around 15% each year in 2016-17 and 2017-18 due to implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations).  Further, the pension bill is expected to increase further in the years to come, as about 40% of the Railways staff was above the age of 50 years in 2016-17.

The Committee on Restructuring Railways (2015) had observed that the expenditure on staff is extremely high and unmanageable.  This expense is not under the control of Railways and keeps increasing with each Pay Commission revision.  It has also been observed that employee costs (including pensions) is one of the key components that reduces Railways’ ability to generate surplus, and allocate resources towards operations.

What is the allocation towards depreciation of assets?

Railways maintains a Depreciation Reserve Fund (DRF) to finance the costs of new assets replacing the old ones.  In 2018-19, appropriation to the DRF is estimated at Rs 500 crore, 90% lower than 2017-18 (Rs 5,000 crore).  In the last few years, appropriation to the DRF has decreased significantly from Rs 7,775 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 5,000 crore last year.  Provisioning Rs 500 crore towards depreciation might be an extremely small amount considering the scale of infrastructure managed by the Indian Railways, and the requirement to replace old assets to ensure safety.

The Standing Committee on Railways (2015) had observed that appropriation to the DRF is the residual amount after appropriation to the Pension Fund, instead of the actual requirement for maintenance of assets.  Under-provisioning for the DRF has also been observed as one of the reasons behind the decline in track renewals, and procurement of wagons and coaches.

Is there any provision towards safety?

Last year, the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh was created to provide for passenger safety.  It was to have a corpus of one lakh crore rupees over a period of five years (Rs 20,000 crore per year).  The central government was to provide a seed amount of Rs 1,000 crore, and the remaining amount would be raised by the Railways from their own revenues or other sources.

As per the revised estimates of 2017-18, no money was allocated towards this fund.  In 2018-19, Rs 5,000 crore has been allocated for it.  With the Railways struggling to meet its expenditure and declining internal revenues, it is unclear how Railways will fund the remaining amount of Rs 95,000 crore for the Rail Sanraksha Kosh.

What happened to the dividend that was waived off last year?

Railways used to pay a return on the budgetary support it received from the government every year, known as dividend.  The rate of this dividend was about 5% in 2015-16.  From 2016-17, the requirement of paying dividend was waived off.  The last dividend amount paid was Rs 8,722 crore in 2015-16.

The Standing Committee on Railways (2017) had noted that part of the benefit from dividend is being utilised to meet the shortfall in the traffic earnings of Railways.  This defeats the purpose of removing the dividend liabilities since they are not being utilised in creating assets or increasing the net revenue of Railways.

Explained: Law on holding an ‘Office of Profit’

February 22nd, 2018 Vibhor Relhan 1 comment

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

What is the concept of ‘office of profit’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Smart Cities

January 23rd, 2018 Prachee Mishra 1 comment

In the last decade, the government has implemented several schemes to address issues related to urbanisation and aid the process of urban development.  One of the schemes is the Smart Cities Mission, which intends to take advantage of the developments in information technology in developing the urban development strategy, across 100 cities.  Last week the government announced the list of 9 new Smart Cities, taking the total to 99.  In light of this, we look at the Smart Cities Mission and a few issues with it.

What is a Smart City?

The primary objective of the Mission is to develop cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment, and apply ‘smart’ solutions.

However, the Mission document does not provide one definition of a Smart City.  Instead it allows cities to come up with their own solutions of what they identify as a Smart City.  The guidelines suggest that the core infrastructure elements in a Smart City will include: (i) adequate water supply, (ii) assured electricity supply, (iii) sanitation, including solid waste management, (iv) efficient urban mobility and public transport, (v) affordable housing, (vi) robust IT connectivity, and (vii) good governance.  ‘Smart’ solutions may include (i) energy efficient buildings, (ii) electronic service delivery, (iii) intelligent traffic management, (iv) smart metering, (v) citizen engagement, etc.

How were the Smart Cities selected?

The Mission was introduced in the form of a competition, called the Smart City challenge.  The first stage was in July 2015 when states nominated their cities for the competition.  In August 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development selected 100 of those cities to participate in the competition.  These cities were required to develop their smart city plans (SCPs) and compete against each other.  The SCPs were evaluated on the basis of the solutions, the processes followed, the feasibility and cost effectiveness of the plans, and citizen engagement.  Over the last 2 years, the Ministry has announced winner cities in batches.  So far, 99 cities have been selected under the Mission.

What information do these SCPs contain?

The cities had to prepare their SCPs with two primary strategic components: (i) area-based development, and (ii) pan-city development.  The area-based development would cover a particular area of the city, and could have either a redevelopment model, or be a completely new development.  Pan-city development would envisage application of certain smart solutions across the city to the existing infrastructure.

Each city had to formulate its own concept, vision, mission and plan for a Smart City that was appropriate to its local context and resources.  The Ministry of Urban Development provided technical assistance, through consultancy firms, to cities for helping them prepare these strategic documents.

How will the Mission be implemented?

The Mission will be implemented at the city level by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).  The SPV will plan, approve, release funds, implement, manage, monitor, and evaluate the Smart City development projects.

The SPV will be a limited company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013 at the city-level.  It will be chaired by the Collector/ Municipal Commissioner of the Urban Development Authority.  The respective state and the Urban Local Body (ULB or municipality) will be the promoters in this company having 50:50 equity shareholding.

How are the Plans getting financed?

The Mission will be operated as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme.  The central government will provide financial support of up to Rs 48,000 crore over five years, that is, an average of Rs 500 crore per city.  The states and ULBs will have to contribute an equal amount.  The central government allocated Rs 4,000 crore towards the Mission in the 2017-18 budget.

Since funding from the government will meet only a part of the funding required, the rest will have to be raised from other sources including: (i) states/ ULBs own resources from collection of user fees, land monetization, etc., (ii) innovative finance mechanisms such as municipal bonds, (iii) leverage borrowings from financial institutions (such as banks), and (iv) the private sector through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

The total cost of projects proposed under the various SCPs of the 90 winner cities is Rs 1.9 lakh crore.  About 42% of this amount will come from central and state funding, 23% through private investments and PPPs, and 19% through convergence with other schemes (such as HRIDAY, AMRUT, Swachh Bharat-Urban).  The remaining will be generated by the cities through the levy of local taxes, and user fees.

What are some of the issues to consider?

Financial capacity of cities:  Under the Mission, cities have to generate additional revenue through various sources including market borrowings, PPPs, and land monetization.  The High Powered Expert Committee on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (HPEC) had observed that ULBs in India are among the weakest in the world, both in terms of capacity to raise resources and financial autonomy.  Even though ULBs have been getting higher allocations from the centre and states, and tax devolution to them has increased, their own tax bases are narrow.  Further, owing to their poor governance and financial situation, ULBs find it difficult to access external financing.

Such a situation may pose problems when implementing the Mission, where the ULBs have to raise a significant share of the revenue through external sources (PPPs, market borrowings).  For example, the Bhubaneswar Smart City Plan has a total project cost of Rs 4,537 crore (over five years), while the city’s annual budget for 2014-15 was Rs 469 crore.

In order to improve the finances of the ULBs, committees have made various recommendations, which include:

  • State governments make legislative changes to give more taxation powers and autonomy to ULBs for improving their revenue collections.
  • ULBs could raise their own revenue by tapping into land-based financing sources, and introducing reforms to strengthen non-tax revenues (such as water and sewerage charges, parking fees, etc.).
  • Municipal bonds may also be used as a source of revenue for ULBs.

The government has recently introduced a few policies and mechanisms to address municipal financing.  Examples include value capture financing through public investments in infrastructure projects, and a credit rating system for cities.  In June 2017, the Pune Municipal Corporation raised Rs 200 crore by issuing municipal bonds.

Technical capacity of the ULBs:  The Smart Cities Mission seeks to empower ULBs to raise their own revenue, and also lays emphasis on the capacity building of ULBs.  The HPEC had observed that municipal administration has suffered due to: (i) presence of untrained and unskilled manpower, and (ii) shortage of qualified technical staff and managerial supervisors.  It had recommended improving the technical capacity of ULBs by providing technical assistance to state governments, and ULBs in planning, financing, monitoring, and operation of urban programmes.  The central government had allocated Rs 10.5 crore towards the capacity building component of the Mission in 2017-18.

The Ministry of Urban Development has been running several programmes to improve capacity of ULBs.  This includes MoUs with 18 states to conduct training programmes for their ULB staff.

Coverage of the Mission:  The Mission covers 100 cities, of which 99 have been announced as winners so far.   The urban population that will be impacted through the Mission is around 96 million (data for 90 cities excluding the recently announced 9 cities).

As per Census 2011, India’s urban population was 377 million.  The Mission impacts about 25% of this population.  Further, most of the SCPs approved so far focus on area-based development, thus affecting a particular area of the cities.  About 80% of the total project cost proposed is towards this model of development.  In each city, this area-based development will cover up to 50 acres of area.  The remaining 20% of the project cost is towards pan-city development proposals, which provide smart planning solutions for the entire city.  It may be argued that even within the selected cities, the Mission will only impact few selected areas, and not necessarily help with development of the entire city.

Explained: The draft Model Contract Farming Act, 2018

January 8th, 2018 Sai Priya Kodidala 1 comment

Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture released a draft Model Contract Farming Act, 2018.  The draft Model Act seeks to create a regulatory and policy framework for contract farming.  Based on this draft Model Act, legislatures of states can enact a law on contract farming as contracts fall under the Concurrent List of the Constitution.  In this context, we discuss contract farming, issues related to it, and progress so far.

What is contract farming?

Under contract farming, agricultural production (including livestock and poultry) can be carried out based on a pre-harvest agreement between buyers (such as food processing units and exporters), and producers (farmers or farmer organisations).  The producer can sell the agricultural produce at a specific price in the future to the buyer as per the agreement.  Under contract farming, the producer can reduce the risk of fluctuating market price and demand.  The buyer can reduce the risk of non-availability of quality produce.

Under the draft Model Act, the producer can get support from the buyer for improving production through inputs (such as technology, pre-harvest and post-harvest infrastructure) as per the agreement.  However, the buyer cannot raise a permanent structure on the producer’s land.  Rights or title ownership of the producer’s land cannot be transferred to the buyer.

What is the existing regulatory structure?

Currently, contract farming requires registration with the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) in few states.  This means that contractual agreements are recorded with the APMCs which can also resolve disputes arising out of these contracts.  Further, market fees and levies are paid to the APMC to undertake contract farming.  The Model APMC Act, 2003 provided for contract farming and was released to the states for them to use this as reference while enacting their respective laws.  Consequently, 20 states have amended their APMC Acts to provide for contract farming, while Punjab has a separate law on contract farming.  However, only 14 states notified rules related to contract farming, as of October 2016.

What are the issues with the current structure, and how does the draft Model Act seek to address them?

Over the years, expert bodies have identified issues related to the implementation of contract farming.  These include: (i) role of APMCs which are designated as an authority for registration and dispute settlement in most states, (ii) provisions of stockholding limits on produce under contract farming, and (iii) poor publicity of contract farming among the farmers about its benefits.

Role of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees/Marketing Boards

The NITI Aayog observed that market fees and other levies are paid to the APMC for contract framing when no services such as market facilities and infrastructure are rendered by them.  In this context, the Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that contract farming should be out of the ambit of APMCs.  Instead, an independent regulatory authority must be brought in to disengage contract farming stakeholders from the existing APMCs.

In this regard, as per the draft Model Act, contract farming will be outside the ambit of the state APMCs.  This implies that buyers need not pay market fee and commission charges to these APMCs to undertake contract farming.  Further, the draft Model Act provides for establishing a state-level Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Authority to ensure implementation of the draft Model Act.  Functions of the Authority include (i) levying and collecting facilitation fees, (ii) disposing appeals related to disputes under the draft Model Act, and (iii) publicising contract farming.  Further, the sale and purchase of contracted produce is out of the ambit of regulation of the respective state/UT Agricultural Marketing Act.

Registration and agreement recording

The Model APMC Act, 2003 released to the states provides for the registration of contract farming agreements by an APMC.  This was done to safeguard the interests of the producer and the buyer through legal support, including dispute resolution.  The procedures for registration and recording of agreements vary across states.  Currently, registration for contract farming has been provided with the APMC in few states, and with a state-level nodal agency in others.  Further, market fee on purchases under contract agreements is completely exempted in few states and partially exempted in others.  The Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that a instead of a APMC, district-level authorities can be set-up for registration of contract farming agreements.  Further, any registering authority should verify the details such as the financial status of the buyer.

Under the draft Model Act, every agreement should be registered with a Registering and Agreement Recording Committee, which will be set up consisting of officials from departments such as agriculture, animal husbandry, marketing, and rural development.  Such a Committee can be set up at the district, taluka or block levels.

Disputes between the producer and the buyer

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare observed certain risks related to upholding the contract farming agreement.  For example, producers may sell their produce to a buyer other than the one with whom they hold a contract.  On the other side, a buyer may fail to buy products at the agreed prices or in the agreed quantities, or arbitrarily downgrade produce quality.  The Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that dispute redressal mechanism should be at block, district or regional-level state authorities and not with an APMC.

Under the draft Model Act, in case of disputes between a producer and a buyer, they can: (i) reach a mutually acceptable solution through negotiation or conciliation, (ii) refer the dispute to a dispute settlement officer designated by the state government, and (iii) appeal to the Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Authority (to be established in each state) in case they are not satisfied by the decision of the dispute settlement officer.

Stockholdings limits on contracted produce

Stockholding limits are imposed through control orders as per the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.  Such provisions of stockholding limits can be restrictive and discourage buyers to enter into contracts.  It was recommended that the buyers can be exempted from stock limits up to six months of their requirement in the interest of trade.  Under the draft Model Act, limits of stockholding of agricultural produce will not be applicable on produce purchased under contract farming.

Other recommendations

While contract farming seeks to provide alternative marketing channels and better price realisation to farmers, several other marketing reforms have been suggested by experts in this regard.  These include: (i) allowing direct sale of produce by farmers, (ii) removing fruits and vegetables out of the ambit of APMCs, and (iii) setting-up of farmer-consumer markets, (iv) electronic trading, and (v) joining electronic National Agricultural Market for the sale of produce.

Explained: The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017

January 2nd, 2018 Nivedita Rao 8 comments

The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha recently and is listed for consideration and passage today.[1]  The Bill seeks to regulate medical education and practice in India.  To meet this objective, the Bill repeals the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and dissolves the current Medical Council of India (MCI).  The MCI was established under the 1956 Act, to establish uniform standards of higher education qualifications in medicine and regulating its practice.[2]

A Committee was set up in 2016, under the NITI Aayog with Dr. Arvind Panagariya as its chair, to review the 1956 Act and recommend changes to improve medical education and the quality of doctors in India.[3]  The Committee proposed that the Act be replaced by a new law, and also proposed a draft Bill in August 2016.

This post looks at the key provisions of the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 introduced in Lok Sabha recently, and some issues which have been raised over the years regarding the regulation of medical education and practice in the country.

What are the key issues regarding the regulation of medical education and practice?

Several experts have examined the functioning of the MCI and suggested a different structure and governance system for its regulatory powers.3,[4]  Some of the issues raised by them include:

Separation of regulatory powers

Over the years, the MCI has been criticised for its slow and unwieldy functioning owing to the concentration and centralisation of all regulatory functions in one single body.  This is because the Council regulates medical education as well as medical practice.  In this context, there have been recommendations that all professional councils like the MCI, should be divested of their academic functions, which should be subsumed under an apex body for higher education to be called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research.[5]  This way there would be a separation between the regulation of medical education from regulation of medical practice.

An Expert Committee led by Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (2015), recommended structurally reconfiguring the MCI’s functions and suggested the formation of a National Medical Commission through a new Act.3   Here, the National Medical Commission would be an umbrella body for supervision of medical education and oversight of medial practice.  It will have four segregated verticals under it to look at: (i) under-graduate medical education, (ii) post-graduate medical education, (iii) accreditation of medical institutions, and (iv) the registration of doctors.  The 2017 Bill also creates four separate autonomous bodies for similar functions.

Composition of MCI

With most members of the MCI being elected, the NITI Aayog Committee (2016) noted the conflict of interest where the regulated elect the regulators, preventing the entry of skilled professionals for the job.  The Committee recommended that a framework must be set up under which regulators are appointed through an independent selection process instead.

Fee Regulation 

The NITI Aayog Committee (2016) recommended that a medical regulatory authority, such as the MCI, should not engage in fee regulation of private colleges.  Such regulation of fee by regulatory authorities may encourage an underground economy for medical education seats with capitation fees (any payment in excess of the regular fee), in regulated private colleges.  Further, the Committee stated that having a fee cap may discourage the entry of private colleges limiting the expansion of medical education in the country.

Professional conduct

The Standing Committee on Health (2016) observed that the present focus of the MCI is only on licensing of medical colleges.4  There is no emphasis given to the enforcement of medical ethics in education and on instances of corruption noted within the MCI.  In light of this, the Committee recommended that the areas of medical education and medical practice should be separated in terms of enforcement of the appropriate ethics for each of these stages.

What does the National Medical Commission, 2017 Bill seek do to?

The 2017 Bill sets up the National Medical Commission (NMC) as an umbrella regulatory body with certain other bodies under it. The NMC will subsume the MCI and will regulate the medical education and practice in India.   Under the Bill, states will establish their respective State Medical Councils within three years.  These Councils will have a role similar to the NMC, at the state level.

Functions of the NMC include: (i) laying down policies for regulating medical institutions and medical professionals, (ii) assessing the requirements of human resources and infrastructure in healthcare, (iii) ensuring compliance by the State Medical Councils with the regulations made under the Bill, and (iv) framing guidelines for determination of fee for up to 40% of the seats in the private medical institutions and deemed universities which are governed by the Bill.

Who will be a part of the NMC?

The NMC will consist of 25 members, appointed by the central government.  It will include representatives from Indian Council of Medical Research, and Directorate General of Health Services. A search committee will recommend names to the central government for the post of Chairperson, and the part-time members.  These posts will have a maximum term of four years, and will not be eligible for extension or reappointment.

What are the regulatory bodies being set up under the NMC?

The Bill sets up four autonomous boards under the supervision of the NMC, as recommended by various experts.  Each autonomous board will consist of a President and two members, appointed by the central government (on the recommendation of the search committee).  These bodies are:

  • The Under-Graduate Medical Education Board (UGMEB) and the Post-Graduate Medical Education Board (PGMEB): These two bodies will be responsible for formulating standards, curriculum, guidelines, and granting recognition to medical qualifications at the under-graduate and post-graduate levels respectively;
  • The Medical Assessment and Rating Board: The Board will have the power to levy monetary penalties on institutions which fail to maintain the minimum standards as laid down by the UGMEB and the PGMEB.  It will also grant permissions for establishing new medical colleges; and
  • The Ethics and Medical Registration Board: The Board will maintain a National Register of all licensed medical practitioners, and regulate professional conduct.  Only those included in the Register will be allowed to practice as doctors.

What does the Bill say regarding the conduct of medical entrance examinations?

There will be a uniform National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to under-graduate medical education in all medical institutions governed by the Bill.  The NMC will specify the manner of conducting common counselling for admission in all such medical institutions.

Further, there will be a National Licentiate Examination for the students graduating from medical institutions to obtain the license for practice.  This Examination will also serve as the basis for admission into post-graduate courses at medical institutions.

————————————————————–

[1] The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/medical%20commission/National%20Medical%20Commission%20Bill,%202017.pdf.

[2] Indian Medical Council Act, 1933.

[3] A Preliminary Report of the Committee on the Reform of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, NITI Aayog, August 7, 2016, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/MCI%20Report%20.pdf.

[4] “Report no. 92: Functioning of the Medical Council of India”, Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, March 8, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Health%20and%20Family%20Welfare/92.pdf

[5] “Report of the Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education”, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2009, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/YPC-Report.pdf.

Explained: The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016

December 15th, 2017 Nivedita Rao No comments

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 has been listed for passage during the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament.  This Bill was introduced in the Monsoon Session last year and referred to the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, which tabled its report earlier this year.  The Bill seeks to recognise transgender persons, and confer anti-discriminatory rights and entitlements related to education, employment, health, and welfare measures.  This post explains key provisions of the Bill and certain issues for consideration.

Self-identification and obtaining a Certificate of Identity

The Bill provides for ‘self-perceived gender identity’ i.e. persons can determine their gender on their own.  This is in line with a Supreme Court judgement (2014) which held that the self determination of one’s gender is part of the fundamental right to dignity, freedom and personal autonomy guaranteed under the Constitution.[1]

Along with the provision on ‘self-perceived gender identity’, the Bill also provides for a screening process to obtain a Certificate of Identity.  This Certificate will certify the person as ‘transgender’.  An application for obtaining such a Certificate will be referred to a District Screening Committee which will comprise five members including a medical officer, psychologist or psychiatrist, and a representative of the transgender community.

The Bill therefore allows individuals to self-identify their gender, but at the same time they must also undergo the screening process to get certified, and as a result be identified as a ‘transgender’.  In this context, it is unclear how these two provisions of self-perceived gender identity and an external screening process will reconcile with each other.  The Standing Committee has also upheld both these processes of self-identification and the external screening process to get certified.  In addition, the Committee recommended that the Bill should provide for a mechanism for appeal against the decisions of the District Screening Committee.

Since, the Bill provides certain entitlements to transgender persons for their inclusion and participation in society, it can be argued that there must be an objective criteria to verify the eligibility of these applicants for them to receive benefits targeted for transgender persons.

Status of transgender persons under existing laws

Currently, several criminal and civil laws recognise two categories of gender i.e. man and woman.  These include laws such as Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) and Hindu Succession Act, 1956.  Now, the Bill seeks to recognise a third gender i.e. ‘transgender’.  However, the Bill does not clarify how transgender persons will be treated under certain existing laws.

For example, under NREGA, priority is given to women workers (at least one-third of the beneficiaries are to be women) if they have registered and requested for work under the Act. Similarly, under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, there are different eligibility criteria for males and females to adopt a girl child.  In this context, the applicability of such laws to a ‘transgender’ person is not stated in the Bill.  The Standing Committee has recommended recognising transgender persons’ right to marriage, partnership, divorce and adoption, as governed by their personal laws or other relevant legislation.

In addition, the penalties for similar offences may also vary because of the application of different laws based on gender identity.  For example, under the IPC, sexual offences related to women attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, which is higher than that specified for sexual abuse against a transgender person under the Bill (up to two years).[2]

Who is a transgender person?

As per international standards, ‘transgender’ is an umbrella term that includes persons whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to them at birth.[3], [4]   For example, a person born as a man may identify with the opposite gender, i.e., as a woman.[5]  In addition to this sense of mismatch, the definition provided under the Bill also lists further criteria to be defined as a transgender person.  These additional criteria include being (i) ‘neither wholly male nor female’, or (ii) ‘a combination of male or female’, or (iii) ‘neither male nor female’.

The Supreme Court, the Expert Committee of the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare, and the recent Standing Committee report all define ‘transgender persons’ based on the mismatch only.1,[5],[6]  Therefore, the definition provided under the Bill does not clarify if simply proving a mismatch is enough (as is the norm internationally) or whether the additional listed criteria ought to be fulfilled as well.

Offences and penalties

The Bill specifies certain offences which include: (i) compelling transgender persons to beg or do forced or bonded labour, and (ii) physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic abuse.  These offences will attract imprisonment between six months and two years, in addition to a fine.

The Standing Committee recommended graded punishment for different offences, and suggested that those involving physical and sexual assault should attract higher punishment.   It further stated that the Bill must also specifically recognise and provide appropriate penalties for violence faced by transgender persons from officials in educational institutions, healthcare institutions, police stations, etc.

————————————————————–

[1]. National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India [(2014) 5 SCC 438]; Article 21, Constitution of India.

[2].  Sections 354, 354A, 354B, 375, Indian Penal Code, 1860.

[3].  Guidelines related to Transgender persons, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/transgender.pdf.

[4].  Standards of Care, 7th Version, The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, https://s3.amazonaws.com/amo_hub_content/Association140/files/Standards%20of%20Care%20V7%20-%202011%20WPATH%20(2)(1).pdf.

[5].  Report of the Expert Committee on the Issues relating to Transgender Persons, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, January 27, 2014, http://socialjustice.nic.in/writereaddata/UploadFile/Binder2.pdf.

[6]. Report no.43, The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, July 21, 2017, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Social%20Justice%20&%20Empowerment/16_Social_Justice_And_Empowerment_43.pdf.

The FRDI Bill: Bail-In provisions explained

December 7th, 2017 Gayatri Mann and Vatsal Khullar 4 comments

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha during Monsoon Session 2017.  The Bill is currently being examined by a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament.  It seeks to establish a Resolution Corporation which will monitor the risk faced by financial firms such as banks and insurance companies, and resolve them in case of failure.  For FAQs explaining the regulatory framework under the Bill, please see here.

Over the last few days, there has been some discussion around provisions of the Bill which allow for cancellation or writing down of liabilities of a financial firm (known as bail-in).[1],[2]  There are concerns that these provisions may put depositors in an unfavourable position in case a bank fails. In this context, we explain the bail-in process below.

What is bail-in?

The Bill specifies various tools to resolve a failing financial firm which include transferring its assets and liabilities, merging it with another firm, or liquidating it.  One of these methods allows for a financial firm on the verge of failure to be rescued by internally restructuring its debt.  This method is known as bail-in.

Bail-in differs from a bail-out which involves funds being infused by external sources to resolve a firm.  This includes a failing firm being rescued by the government.

How does it work?

Under bail-in, the Resolution Corporation can internally restructure the firm’s debt by: (i) cancelling liabilities that the firm owes to its creditors, or (ii) converting its liabilities into any other instrument (e.g., converting debt into equity), among others.[3]

Bail-in may be used in cases where it is necessary to continue the services of the firm, but the option of selling it is not feasible.[4]  This method allows for losses to be absorbed and consequently enables the firm to carry on business for a reasonable time period while maintaining market confidence.3  The Bill allows the Resolution Corporation to either resolve a firm by only using bail-in, or use bail-in as part of a larger resolution scheme in combination with other resolution methods like a merger or acquisition.

Do the current laws in India allow for bail-in? What happens to bank deposits in case of failure?

Current laws governing resolution of financial firms do not contain provisions for a bail in.  If a bank fails, it may either be merged with another bank or liquidated.

In case of bank deposits, amounts up to one lakh rupees are insured by the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC).  In the absence of the bank having sufficient resources to repay deposits above this amount, depositors will lose their money.  The DICGC Act, 1961 originally insured deposits up to Rs 1,500 and permitted the DICGC to increase this amount with the approval of the central government.  The current insured amount of one lakh rupees was fixed in May 1993.[5]  The Bill has a similar provision which allows the Resolution Corporation to set the insured amount in consultation with the RBI.

Does the Bill specify safeguards for creditors, including depositors?

The Bill specifies that the power of the Corporation while using bail-in to resolve a firm will be limited.  There are certain safeguards which seek to protect creditors and ensure continuity of critical functions of the firm. Order of priority under liquidation

When resolving a firm through bail-in, the Corporation will have to ensure that none of the creditors (including bank depositors) receive less than what they would have been entitled to receive if the firm was to be liquidated.[6],[7]

Further, the Bill allows a liability to be cancelled or converted under bail-in only if the creditor has given his consent to do so in the contract governing such debt.  The terms and conditions of bank deposits will determine whether the bail-in clause can be applied to them.

Do other countries contain similar provisions?

After the global financial crisis in 2008, several countries such as the US and those across Europe developed specialised resolution capabilities.  This was aimed at preventing another crisis and sought to strengthen mechanisms for monitoring and resolving sick financial firms.

The Financial Stability Board, an international body comprising G20 countries (including India), recommended that countries should allow resolution of firms by bail-in under their jurisdiction.  The European Union also issued a directive proposing a structure for member countries to follow while framing their respective resolution laws.  This directive suggested that countries should include bail-in among their resolution tools.  Countries such as UK and Germany have provided for bail-in under their laws.  However, this method has rarely been used.7,[8]  One of the rare instances was in 2013, when bail-in was used to resolve a bank in Cyprus.

———————————————–

[1] ‘Modi government’s FRDI bill may take away all your hard-earned money’, India Today, December  5, 2017, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/frdi-bill-banking-reforms-modi-government-india-parliament/1/1103422.html.

[2] ‘Bail-in doubts — on financial resolution legislation’, The Hindu, December 5, 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/bail-in-doubts/article21261606.ece.

[3] Section 52, The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017.

[4] Report of the Committee to Draft Code on Resolution of Financial Firms, September 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/FRDI%20Bill%20Drafting%20Committee%20Report.pdf.

[5] The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, 1961, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Publications/PDFs/dicgc_act.pdf.  s

[6] Section 55, The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017.

[7] The Bank of England’s approach to resolution, October 2014, Bank of England.

[8] Recovery and resolution, BaFin, Federal Financial Supervisory Authority of Germany, https://www.bafin.de/EN/Aufsicht/BankenFinanzdienstleister/Massnahmen/SanierungAbwicklung/sanierung_abwicklung_artikel_en.html.

The Anti-Defection Law Explained

December 6th, 2017 Vibhor Relhan No comments

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

What is the anti-defection law?

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

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

Are there any exceptions under the law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision of the Presiding Officer is subject to judicial review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decoding the Code on Wages

November 27th, 2017 Vinayak Krishnan 1 comment

Presently, there are around 40 state and central laws regulating different aspects of labour, such as resolution of industrial disputes, working conditions in factories, and wage and bonus payments.  Over the years, some experts have recommended that these laws should be consolidated for easier compliance.[1]  Since the current laws vary in their applicability, consolidation would also allow for greater coverage.

Following these recommendations, the Code on Wages was introduced in the Lok Sabha in August 2017.  The Code consolidates four laws related to minimum wages, payment of wages and bonus, and a law prohibiting discrimination between men and women during recruitment promotion and wage payment.

The Code was subsequently referred to the Standing Committee on Labour for examination.  The Committee has met some experts and stakeholders to hear their views.  In this context, we explain the current laws, key provisions of the Code, and some issues to consider.

Who will be entitled to minimum wages?

Currently, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 lists the employments where employers are required to pay minimum wages to workers.  The Act applies to the organised sector as well as certain workers in the unorganised sector such as agricultural workers.  The centre and states may add more employments to this list and mandate that minimum wages be paid for those jobs as well.[2]  At present, there are more than 1700 employments notified by the central and state governments.[3]

The Code proposes to do away with the concept of bringing specific jobs under the Act, and mandates that minimum wages be paid for all types of employment – irrespective of whether they are in the organised or the unorganised sector.

The unorganised sector comprises 92% of the total workforce in the country.1  A large proportion of these workers are currently not covered by the Minimum Wages Act, 1948.  Experts have noted that over 90% of the workers in the unorganised sector do not have a written contract, which hampers the enforcement of various labour laws.[4]   

Will minimum wages be uniform across the country?

No, different states will set their respective minimum wages.  In addition, the Code introduces a national minimum wage which will be set by the central government.  This will act as a floor for state governments to set their respective minimum wages.  The central government may set different national minimum wages for different states or regions.  For example, the centre can set a national minimum wage of Rs 10,000 for Uttar Pradesh and Rs 12,000 for Tamil Nadu.  Both of these states would then have to set their minimum wages either equal to or more than the national minimum wage applicable in that state.

The manner in which the Code proposes to implement the national minimum wage is different from how it has been thought about in the past.  Earlier, experts had suggested that a single national minimum wage should be introduced for the entire country.1,[5]  This would help in bringing uniformity in minimum wages across states and industries.  In addition, it would ensure that workers receive a minimum income regardless of the region or sector in which they are employed.

The concept of setting a national minimum wage exists in various countries across the world.  For instance, in the United Kingdom one wage rate is set by the central government for the entire country.[6]  On the other hand, in the United States of America, the central government sets a single minimum wage and states are free to set a minimum wage equal to or above this floor.[7]

On what basis will the minimum wages be calculated and fixed?

Currently, the central government sets the minimum wage for certain employments, such as mines, railways or ports among others.  The state governments set the minimum wage for all other employments.  These minimum wages can be fixed based on the basis of different criteria such as type of industry or skill level of the worker.  For example, Kerala mandates that workers in oil mills be paid minimum wages at the rate of Rs 370 per day if they are unskilled, Rs 400 if they are semi-skilled and Rs 430 if they are skilled.[8]

The Code also specifies that the centre or states will fix minimum wages taking into account factors such as skills required and difficulty of work.  In addition, they will also consider price variations while determining the appropriate minimum wage.  This process of fixing minimum wages is similar to the current law.

Will workers be entitled to an overtime for working beyond regular hours?

Currently, the central or state government define the number of hours that constitute a normal working day.  In case an employee works beyond these hours, he is entitled to an overtime rate which is fixed by the government.  As of today, the central government has fixed the overtime rate at 1.5 times normal wages in agriculture and double the normal wages for other employments.[9]

The Code proposes to fix this overtime rate at twice the prevailing wage rate.  International organisations have recommended that overtime should be 1.25 times the regular wage.[10]

Does the Code prohibit gender discrimination between workers?

Currently, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 prohibits employers from discriminating in wage payments as well as recruitment of workers on the basis of gender.  The Code subsumes the 1976 Act, and contains specific provisions which prohibit gender discrimination in matters related to wages.  However, unlike in the 1976 Act, the Code does not explicitly prohibit gender discrimination at the stage of recruitment.

How is the Code going to be enforced?

The four Acts being subsumed under the Code specify that inspectors will be appointed to ensure that the laws are being enforced properly.  These inspectors may carry out surprise checks, examine persons, and require them to give information.

The Code introduces the concept of a ‘facilitator’ who will carry out inspections and also provide employers and workers with information on how to improve their compliance with the law.  Inspections will be carried out on the basis of a web-based inspection schedule that will be decided by the central or state government.

——————————————–

[1]. Report of the National Commission on Labour, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2002, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/1237548159/NLCII-report.pdf.

[2]. Entries 22, 23 and 24, List III, Seventh Schedule, Constitution of India.

[3]. Report on the Working of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2013, http://labourbureaunew.gov.in/UserContent/MW_2013_final_revised_web.pdf.

[4]. Report on Conditions of Work and Promotions of Livelihood in the Unorganised Sector, National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector, 2007, http://nceuis.nic.in/Condition_of_workers_sep_2007.pdf.

[5]. Report of the Working Group on Labour Laws and other regulations for the Twelfth five-year plan, Ministry of Labour and Employment, 2011, http://planningcommission.gov.in/aboutus/committee/wrkgrp12/wg_labour_laws.pdf.

[6]. Section 1(3), National Minimum Wage Act, 1998, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/39/pdfs/ukpga_19980039_en.pdf.

[7]. Section 206(a)(1), The Fair Labour Standards Act, 1938, https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FairLaborStandAct.pdf.

[8]. G.O. (P) No.36/2017/LBR, Labour and Skills Department, Government of Kerala, 2017, https://kerala.gov.in/documents/10180/547ca516-c104-4b31-8ce7-f55c2de8b7ec.

[9]. Section 25(1), Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950

[10]. C030-Hours of Work (Commerce and Offices) Convention (No. 30), 1930, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312175.

Role of Parliament in holding the government accountable

November 22nd, 2017 Vatsal Khullar No comments

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

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

What is the role of Parliament in a democracy?

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

Who convenes Parliament?

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

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

How regularly has Parliament been meeting over the years?

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

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

How does Parliament hold the government accountable?

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

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

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

How is public opinion reflected in Parliament?

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

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

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

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

———————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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