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Food Security in India

October 16th, 2017 No comments

The United Nations celebrates October 16 as the World Food Day every year, with an aim to spread awareness about eradicating hunger and ensuring food security for all.[1]  In this context, we examine the status of food and public distribution in India, and some challenges in ensuring food security for all.

Background

In 2017-18, over Rs 1,50,000 crore, or 7.6% of the government’s total expenditure has been allocated for providing food subsidy under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).[2]  This allocation is made to the Department of Food and Public Distribution under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.

Food subsidy has been the largest component of the Department’s expenditure (94% in 2017-18), and has increased six-fold over the past 10 years.  This subsidy is used for the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), which provides subsidised food grains (wheat and rice) to 80 crore people in the country.[3]  The NFSA seeks to ensure improved nutritional intake for people in the country.3

One of the reasons for the six-fold increase in food subsidy is the non-revision of the price at which food grains are given to beneficiaries since 2002.[4]  For example, rice is given to families under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana at Rs 3/Kg since 2002, while the cost of providing this has increased from Rs 11/Kg in 2001-02 to Rs 33/Kg in 2017-18.

Provision of food subsidyTable 1

TPDS provides food security to people below the poverty line.  Over the years, the expenditure on food subsidy has increased, while the ratio of people below poverty line has reduced.  A similar trend can also be seen in the proportion of undernourished persons in India, which reduced from 24% in 1990 to 15% in 2014 (see Table 1).  These trends may indicate that the share of people needing subsidised food has declined.

Nutritional balance:  The NFSA guarantees food grains i.e. wheat and rice to beneficiaries, to ensure nutritious food intake.3  Over the last two decades, the share of cereals or food grains as a percentage of food consumption has reduced from 13% to 8% in the country, whereas that of milk, eggs, fish and meat has increased (see Figure 1).  This indicates a reduced preference for wheat and rice, and a rise in preference towards other protein rich food items. Figure 1

Methods of providing food subsidy

Food subsidy is provided majorly using two methods.  We discuss these in detail below.

TPDS assures beneficiaries that they will receive food grains, and insulates them against price volatility. Food grains are delivered through fair price shops in villages, which are easy to access.[5],[6]

However, high leakages have been observed in the system, both during transportation and distribution.  These include pilferage and errors of inclusion and exclusion from the beneficiary list.  In addition, it has also been argued that the distribution of wheat and rice may cause an imbalance in the nutritional intake as discussed earlier.7  Beneficiaries have also reported receiving poor quality food grains as part of the system.

Cash Transfers seek to increase the choices available with a beneficiary, and provide financial assistance. It has been argued that the costs of DBT may be lesser than TPDS, owing to lesser costs incurred on transport and storage.  These transfers may also be undertaken electronically.6,7

However, it has also been argued that cash received as part of DBT may be spent on non-food items.  Such a system may also expose beneficiaries to inflation.  In this regard, one may also consider the low penetration and access to banking in rural areas.[7]

Figure 2

In 2017-18, 52% of the centre’s total subsidy expenditure will be on providing food subsidy under TPDS (see Figure 2).  The NFSA states that the centre and states should introduce schemes for cash transfers to beneficiaries.  Other experts have also suggested replacing TPDS with a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system.4,[8]

The central government introduced cash subsidy to TPDS beneficiaries in September 2015.[9]  As of March 2016, this was being implemented on a pilot basis in a few union territories.  In 2015, a Committee on Restructuring of Food Corporation of India had also recommended introducing Aadhaar to plug leakages in PDS, and indexing it to inflation.  The Committee estimated that a switch to DBT would reduce the food subsidy bill of the government by more than Rs 30,000 crore.[10]

Current challenges in PDS

Leakages in PDS:  Leakages refer to food grains not reaching intended beneficiaries.  According to 2011 data, leakages in PDS were estimated to be 46.7%.10,[11]  Leakages may be of three types: (i) pilferage during transportation of food grains, (ii) diversion at fair price shops to non-beneficiaries, and (iii) exclusion of entitled beneficiaries from the list.6,[12]

In 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that states had not completed the process of identifying beneficiaries, and 49% of the beneficiaries were yet to be identified.  It also noted that inclusion and exclusion errors had been reported in the beneficiary lists.[13]

In February 2017, the Ministry made it mandatory for beneficiaries under NFSA to use Aadhaar as proof of identification for receiving food grains.  Through this, the government aims to remove bogus ration cards, check leakages and ensure better delivery of food grains.10,[14]  As of January 2017, while 100% ration cards had been digitised, the seeding of these cards with Aadhaar was at 73%.14

Figure 3

Storage:  As of 2016-17, the total storage capacity in the country is 788 lakh tonnes, of which 354 lakh tonnes is with the Food Corporation of India and 424 lakh tonnes is with the state agencies.[15]

The CAG in its performance audit found that the available storage capacity in states was inadequate for the allocated quantity of food grains.13  For example, as of October 2015, of the 233 godowns sanctioned for construction in Maharashtra, only 93 had been completed.  It also noted that in four of the last five years, the stock of food grains with the centre had been higher than the storage capacity available with Food Corporation of India.

Quality of food grains:  A survey conducted in 2011 had noted that people complained about receiving poor quality food grain which had to be mixed with other grains to be edible.6  There have also been complaints about people receiving food grains containing alien substances such as pebbles.  Poor quality of food may impact the willingness of people to buy food from fair price shops, and may have an adverse impact on their health.[16]

The Ministry has stated that while regular surveillance, monitoring, inspection and random sampling of all food items is under-taken by State Food Safety Officers, separate data for food grains distributed under PDS is unavailable.[17]  In the absence of data with regard to quality testing results of food grains supplied under PDS, it may be difficult to ascertain whether these food items meet the prescribed quality and safety standards.

[1] About World Food Day, http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/2017/about/en/.

[2] Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2017-18, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/eb/allsbe.pdf.

[3] National Food Security Act, 2013, http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/202013.pdf.

[4] “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management”, Chapter 5, Economic Survey 2015-16, http://unionbudget.nic.in/budget2016-2017/es2015-16/echapvol2-05.pdf.

[5] The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2008, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2008_43/15/The_Case_for_Direct_Cash_Transfers_to_the_Poor.pdf.

[6] Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, The Economic and Political Weekly, November 5, 2011,

http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2011_46/44-45/Revival_of_the_Public_Distribution_System_Evidence_and_Explanations.pdf.

[7] ‘Report of the Internal Working Group on Branch Authorisation Policy’, Reserve Bank of India, September 2016, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PublicationReport/Pdfs/IWG99F12F147B6E4F8DBEE8CEBB8F09F103.PDF.

[8] Working Paper 294, “Leakages from Public Distribution System”, January 2015, ICRIER, http://icrier.org/pdf/Working_Paper_294.pdf.

[9] “The Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015”, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, September 3, 2015, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/News/32_1_cash.pdf.

[10] Report of the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015, http://www.fci.gov.in/app2/webroot/upload/News/Report%20of%20the%20High%20Level%20Committee%20on%20Reorienting%20the%20Role%20and%20Restructuring%20of%20FCI_English_1.pdf.

[11] Third Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution: Demands for Grants 2015-16, Department of Food and Public Distribution, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Food,%20Consumer%20Affairs%20&%20Public%20Distribution/16_Food_Consumer_Affairs_And_Public_Distribution_3.pdf.

[12] Performance Evaluation of Targeted Public Distribution System, Planning Commission of India, March 2005, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/peoreport/peo/peo_tpds.pdf.

[13] Audit on the Preparedness for Implementation of National Food Security Act, 2013 for the year ended March, 2015, Report No. 54 of 2015, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, http://cag.gov.in/sites/default/files/audit_report_files/Union_Civil_National_Food_Security_Report_54_of_2015.pdf.

[14] Unstarred Question No. 844, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on February 7, 2017, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU844.pdf.

[15] Annual Report 2016-17, Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/images/annual-140217.pdf.

[16] 30 Food Subsidy, The Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2014, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/52/Food_Subsidy.pdf.

[17] Unstarred Question No. 2124, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on November 29, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU2124.pdf.

Electrification in India: ‘Saubhagya’ scheme

October 5th, 2017 No comments

Recently, the central government launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (or Saubhagya).[i],[ii]  The scheme seeks to ensure universal household electrification (in both rural and urban areas) by providing last mile connectivity.  The scheme is expected to cover three crore households.  Note that currently about four crore households are un-electrified.  A rural electrification scheme has also been under implementation since 2005.  In light of this, we discuss the current situation of, and key issues related to rural electrification in the country.

Regulatory and policy framework

Under the Electricity Act, 2003, the central and state governments have the joint responsibility of providing electricity to rural areas.  The 2003 Act also mandates that the central government should, in consultation with the state governments, provide for a national policy on (i) stand-alone power systems for rural areas (systems that are not connected to the electricity grid), and (ii) electrification and local distribution in rural areas.  Consequently, the Rural Electrification Policy was notified in August 2006.[iii]

The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), launched in 2005, was the first scheme on rural electrification.  In December 2014, Ministry of Power launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), which subsumed the RGGVY.[iv]  Components of DDUGJY include: (i) separation of agricultural and non-agricultural electricity feeders to improve supply for consumers in rural areas, (ii) improving sub-transmission and distribution infrastructure in rural areas, and (iii) rural electrification by carrying forward targets specified under the RGGVY.

The total financial outlay for DDUGJY over the implementation period (until 2021-22) is Rs 82,300 crore which includes budgetary support of Rs 68,900 crore.  The central government provides 60% of the project cost as grant, the state power distribution companies (discoms) raise 10% of the funds, and 30% is borrowed from financial institutions and banks.

Status of rural electrification

As of August 2017, about 1% of the villages in India remain un-electrified (3,146 villages).  However, with regard to households, around 23% (4.1 crore households) are yet to be electrified.  Table 1 at the end of this post shows the status of rural electrification across all states.

Issues with rural electrification

Definition of an electrified village

An electrified village is defined as one that has the following: (i) provision of basic infrastructure such as distribution transformers and lines in the inhabited locality, (ii) provision of electricity in public places like schools, panchayat office, health centers, dispensaries, and community centers, and (iii) at least 10% of the total number of households in the village are electrified.[iv]

Therefore, a village is considered to be electrified if 10% of the total number of households in the village have been electrified.  This is apart from the basic infrastructure and electrification of certain public centers in the village.  The Standing Committee on Energy (2013) had observed that according to this definition, a village would be called electrified even if up to 90% of households in it do not have an electricity connection.[v]  It also noted that the infrastructure being provided under the scheme is highly inadequate, unreliable and unsustainable.  The Committee recommended that the actual electrification requirement of villages must be assessed, and it should be ensured that the state discoms provide electricity to the remaining households in the village.

Supply of electricity

The Standing Committee had also noted that while the rural electrification scheme looks at creating infrastructure, the actual supply of electricity to households rests with the state discoms.[v]  These discoms are already facing huge financial losses and hence are unable to supply electricity to the villages.  Discoms continue to supply subsidised power to agricultural and residential consumers, resulting in revenue losses.  Further, the average technical and commercial losses (theft and pilferage of electricity) (AT&C losses) are at around 25%.  While the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) has eased off some of the financial losses of the discoms, it remains to be seen whether discoms are able to reduce the cost-tariff gap and AT&C losses in the future.

It has been recommended that generation capacity should be augmented so that states can meet the additional demand under the rural electrification schemes. Further, the assistance to financially weaker states should be increased so that they can better implement the scheme.[v]

Electricity to below poverty line (BPL) households

Under the rural electrification scheme, the cost for providing free electricity connection per BPL household is Rs 3,000.  It has been observed that this cost per household may be inadequate.[v]  Due to the low cost, the quantity and the quality of work has been getting compromised leading to poor implementation of the scheme.  It has been recommended that the Ministry should revisit the cost provided under the scheme.[v]

The new electrification scheme: Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (or Saubhagya)

The new scheme, Saubhagya, seeks to ensure universal household electrification, that is, in both rural and urban areas.  Under Saubhagya, beneficiaries will be identified using the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 data.  The identified poor households will get free electricity connections.  Other households not covered under the SECC, will be provided electricity connections at a cost of Rs 500.  This amount will be collected by the electricity distribution companies in 10 instalments.

The total outlay of the scheme will be Rs 16,320 crore, of which the central government will provide Rs 12,320 crore.  The outlay for the rural households will be Rs 14,025 crore, of which the centre will provide Rs 10,588 crore.  For urban households the outlay will be Rs 2,295 crore of which the centre will provide Rs. 1,733 crore.

The state discoms will execute the electrification works through contractors or other suitable agencies.  Information technology (mobile apps, web portals) will be used to organise camps in villages to identify beneficiaries.  In order to accelerate the process, applications for electricity connections will be completed on the spot.

So far the focus of electrification schemes has been on rural areas, where typically last mile connectivity has been difficult to provide.  Saubhagya extends the ambit of electrification projects to urban areas as well.  While DDUGJY has focused on the village as the principal unit to measure electrification, the new scheme shifts the targets to household electrification.  While the target for ensuring electricity connection in each household will be a significant step towards ensuring 24×7 power, the question of continuous and quality supply to these households will still rest on the ability of the discoms to provide electricity.  Further, while the scheme provides for free connections, the ability of these households to pay for the electricity they consume may be a concern.

Table 1: Status of rural electrification across states (as of August 2017)

Fig 1 edit

* all villages in Telangana were declared electrified before the bifurcation of the state.
Sources:  Ministry of Power; PRS.

 

[i] “PM launches Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana “Saubhagya””, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Power, September 25, 2017.

[ii] “FAQs on Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana “Saubhagya””, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Power, September 27, 2017.

[iii].  Rural Electrification Policy, Ministry of Power, August 23, 2006, http://powermin.nic.in/sites/default/files/uploads/RE%20Policy_1.pdf.

[iv].  “Office memorandum: Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana”, Ministry of Power, December 3, 2014, http://powermin.nic.in/rural_electrification/pdf/Deendayal_Upadhyaya_Gram_Jyoti_Yojana.pdf.

[v].  “41st Report: Implementation of Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana”, Standing Committee on Energy, December 13, 2013, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Energy/15_Energy_41.pdf.

Regulating real estate: the 2013 Bill and recent developments

April 8th, 2015 10 comments

Yesterday, Cabinet approved amendments to the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013, which is currently pending in Parliament.

In this context, the blog post outlines key features and issues related to the Bill, and certain changes which were approved by Cabinet.

What is the current status of the Bill?

The Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in August 2013.  It was then referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development, which submitted its report in February 2014.  The Bill has not been discussed in Parliament as yet, and is currently pending in Rajya Sabha.

As mentioned above, Cabinet approved certain changes to the Bill yesterday.  However, a comprehensive list of these changes is not available in the public domain yet.

What are the key features of the Bill?

The Bill regulates transactions between buyers and promoters (sellers) of residential real estate projects.  It establishes state level regulatory authorities called Real Estate Regulatory Authorities (RERAs) in order to do so.  Residential real estate projects, with some exceptions, need to be registered with RERAs, and their details must be uploaded on the website of the RERA.  This implies that promoters cannot book or offer these projects for sale without registering them with RERAs.  Real estate agents dealing in these projects also need to register with RERAs.  The Bill also establishes state level appellate tribunals called Real Estate Appellate Tribunals.  Decisions of RERAs can be challenged before these tribunals.

The Bill outlines the duties of promoters, buyers, and real estate agents.  For example, the Bill requires that promoters keep 70% of the amount collected from buyers for a project, in a separate bank account. This amount must only be used for construction of that project.  The state government can alter this amount to less than 70%.  The Bill also provides for penalties for the breach of certain provisions of the Bill.

What are some of the issues to consider?

A few key issues to consider in the Bill are related to the following: (i) certain states have already enacted laws to regulate real estate; (ii) commercial real estate has not been included within the ambit of the Bill; (iii) certain smaller sized projects have not been covered under the Bill; and (iv)  70% of the amount collected from buyers must be kept in an escrow account.

Firstly, at present, certain states, such as West Bengal and Maharashtra, have already enacted laws to regulate real estate.  So, any central law on real estate that is subsequently enacted will override provisions of state laws if they are inconsistent with the central law.  For example, while this Bill (introduced at the centre) requires that 70% of the amount collected from buyers be kept in a separate account and be used only for construction of that project, the Maharashtra law requires that the entire amount collected from buyers be used only for purposes collected.

Secondly, while the Bill seeks to regulate residential real estate, commercial real estate has been excluded from its ambit.  The Standing Committee has also pointed out that commercial and industrial real estate should be regulated by the Bill.

Thirdly, registration with RERAs is not required for projects that: (i) are less than 1000 square metres, or (ii) entail the construction of less than 12 apartments, or (iii) entail renovation/repair/re-development without re-allotment or marketing of the project.  The Standing Committee has pointed out that the exclusion of projects, smaller than 1,000 square meters or 12 apartments, from the purview of RERAs could lead to the exclusion of a number of small housing projects.  Instead, it has suggested that only projects that are smaller than 100 square meters or three apartments need not register with the RERA.

Finally, the Bill mandates that 70% of the amount collected from buyers of a project be used only for construction of that project.  Typically, the project cost of a real estate project includes the cost of land and the cost of construction.  In certain cases, the cost of construction could be less than 70% and the cost of land more than 30% of the total amount collected.  This implies that part of the funds collected could remain unutilised, necessitating some financing from other sources.  Consequently, this could raise the project cost.

The Standing Committee made certain other recommendations in relation to the Bill.  It suggested that all real estate agents be registered with RERAs; and that a new provision be inserted to allow RERAs to give directions to state governments to establish a single window system for providing clearances for projects.  Additionally, a time limit should be specified for state and local authorities to issue completion certificates for projects.

What were the changes to the Bill approved by Cabinet yesterday?

A comprehensive list of amendments is not in the public domain yet.  However, a press release of the government, published by the Press Information Bureau, indicates the following changes have been made: firstly, the application of the Bill has been extended to cover commercial real estate, in addition to residential real estate; and secondly, the amount to be kept in an escrow account has been reduced from 70% of the amount collected from buyers to 50%.

For more information, please see the PRS Legislative Brief on the Bill, available here.  You can also watch a PRS video on the Bill here.

Transparency of Committees: International Comparison

December 21st, 2010 No comments

In the aftermath of the 2G scam, there has been a great deal of discussion on how Parliamentary Committees can be used for scrutinising the functioning of the government.  Committee Reports are generally put in the public domain, but how transparent are the internal workings of the Committees themselves?

As one measure of transparency, minutes of Parliamentary Committee meetings are included in Committee reports. The meetings themselves, however, are held behind closed doors.

A number of other democracies allow in-person public viewing of some (if not all) Committee meetings.  Several of these offer live webcasts of meetings as well. See options in Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, and the United Kingdom.

Pre-legislative scrutiny: How can citizens be more actively involved?

December 18th, 2010 1 comment

In recent public discourse over lobbying, two issues that have underscored the debate are:

  1. Greater transparency in the policymaking process, and
  2. Equality of access for all stakeholders in engaging with the process.

There is a need to build linkages between citizens and the policy making process, especially by strengthening scrutiny before a Bill is introduced in Parliament. Currently, there is no process established to ensure pre-legislative scrutiny by the citizenry.

Other democracies incorporate several measures to enhance public engagement in the pre-legislative process. These include:

  • Making all Bills available in the public domain for a stipulated period before introducing them in the legislature. This includes, publishing these Bills in forms (language, medium etc) that are accessible to the general public.
  • Making a report or Green paper on the legislative priorities addressed by the Bill available for citizens.
  • Forming adhoc committees to scrutinise the Bill before it is piloted in the House.
  • Having Standing Committees examine the Bill before introducing it in the House.
  • Providing a financial memorandum for each Bill, which specifies the budgetary allocation for the process/bodies created by the Bill.
  • Creating online fora for discussion. For the sections of the stakeholders who have limited access to the internet, efforts are made to proactively consult them through other media.
  • Expanding the purview of citizens’ right to petition their representatives with legislative proposals.

There are several instances, in the last few years itself, wherein civil society groups have played an active role in the development of pre-legislative scrutiny in India.

  • Public consultation with cross-section of stakeholders when drafting a Bill: The Right to Information Act is seen as a landmark legislation when highlighting the role of civil society actors in the drafting of a Bill.  It also serves as a prime example for how it the movement mobilised widespread public opinion for the Bill, bringing together different sections of the citizenry.
  • Public feedback on draft Bills: In several cases, after a Bill has been drafted the concerned ministry or public body publishes the Bill, inviting public comments. The Right to Education Bill, the National Identification Authority Bill and the Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill 2009 are recent cases in point. These announcements are made through advertisements published in newspapers and other media. For instance, the government has recently proposed to amend the rules of the RTI and has invited public feedback on the rules by December 27.
  • Engaging with legislators: It is important to expand engagement with lawmakers after the Bill has been introduced in Parliament, as they will determine what the law will finally contain.  This is done by approaching individual legislators or members of the committee which is likely to examine the legislation. Standing Committees invite feedback on the Bill through newspaper advertisements.  For instance, the Standing Committee examining the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill heard testimonies from journalists, civil society groups, thinktanks, public bodies and government departments.

The role of the media and channelising the potential of the internet are other key approaches that need to be explored. Other examples and channels of engagement with the legislative process are illustrated in the PRS Primer on Engaging with Policymakers

Can Ministers be summoned by Public Accounts Committee?

December 16th, 2010 No comments

The Public Accounts Committee  examines how the Government spends public money. It examines the amount granted by the Parliament and the amount actually spent.

A Speaker in the past, has passed a direction which specifies clearly that a Minister cannot be summoned by the Financial Committees.  This has been incorporated in a document titled “Directions by the Speaker” available here.

The actual text of the direction reads –

“99. (1) The Committee on Estimates or the Committee on Public Accounts or the Committee on Public Undertakings may call officials to give evidence in connection with the examination of the estimates and accounts, respectively, relating to a particular Ministry or Undertaking. But a Minister shall not be called before the Committee either to give evidence or for consultation in connection with the examination of estimates or accounts by the Committee.”

Co-authored by Chakshu

Land Acquisition: Public realm, private gain

September 8th, 2010 4 comments

One of the most politically contentious issues in recent times has been the government’s right to acquire land for ‘public purpose’.  Increasingly, farmers are refusing to part with their land without adequate compensation, the most recent example being the agitation in Uttar Pradesh over the acquisition of land for the Yamuna Express Highway.

Presently, land acquisition in India is governed by the Land Acquisition Act, an archaic law passed more than a century ago in 1894.  According to the Act, the government has the right to acquire private land without the consent of the land owners if the land is acquired for a “public purpose” project (such as development of towns and village sites, building of schools, hospitals and housing and state run corporations).  The land owners get only the current price value of the land as compensation.  The key provision that has triggered most of the discontent is the one that allows the government to acquire land for private companies if it is for a “public purpose” project.  This has led to conflict over issues of compensation, rehabilitation of displaced people and the type of land that is being acquired.

The UPA government introduced the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill in conjunction with the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill on December 6, 2007 in the Lok Sabha and referred them to the Standing Committee on Rural Development for scrutiny.  The Committee submitted its report on October 21, 2008 but the Bills lapsed at the end of the 14th Lok Sabha.  The government is planning to introduce revised versions of the Bills.  The following paragraphs discuss the lapsed Bills to give some idea of the government’s perspective on the issue while analysing the lacunae in the Bills.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 redefined “public purpose” to allow land acquisition only for defence purposes, infrastructure projects, or any project useful to the general public where 70% of the land had already been purchased from willing sellers through the free market.  It prohibited land acquisition for companies unless they had already purchased 70% of the required land.  The Bill also made it mandatory for the government to conduct a social impact assessment if land acquisition resulted in displacement of 400 families in the plains or 200 families in the hills or tribal areas.  The compensation was to be extended to tribals and individuals with tenancy rights under state laws.  The compensation was based on many factors such as market rates, the intended use of the land, and the value of standing crop.  A Land Acquisition Compensation Disputes Settlement Authority was to be established to adjudicate disputes.

The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 sought to provide for benefits and compensation to people displaced by land acquisition or any other involuntary displacements.  The Bill created project-specific authorities to formulate, implement and monitor the rehabilitation process.  It also outlined minimum benefits for displaced families such as land, house, monetary compensation, skill training and preference for jobs.  A grievance redressal system was also provided for.

Although the Bills were a step in the right direction, many issues still remained unresolved.  Since the Land Acquisition Bill barred the civil courts from entertaining any disputes related to land acquisition, it was unclear whether there was a mechanism by which a person could challenge the qualification of a project as “public purpose”.  Unlike the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005, the Bill did not specify the type of land that could be acquired (such as waste and barren lands).  The Bill made special provision for land taken in the case of ‘urgency’.  However, it did not define the term urgency, which could lead to confusion and misuse of the term.

The biggest loop-hole in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill was the use of non-binding language.  Take for example Clause 25, which stated that “The Government may, by notification, declare any area…as a resettlement area.” Furthermore, Clause 36(1) stated that land for land “shall be allotted…if Government land is available.”  The government could effectively get away with not providing many of the benefits listed in the Bill.  Also, most of the safeguards and benefits were limited to families affected by large-scale displacements (400 or more families in the plains and 200 or more families in the hills and tribal areas).  The benefits for affected families in case of smaller scale displacements were not clearly spelt out.  Lastly, the Bill stated that compensation to displaced families should be borne by the requiring body (body which needs the land for its projects).  Who would bear the expenditure of rehabilitation in case of natural disasters remained ambiguous.

If India is to attain economic prosperity, the government needs to strike a balance between the need for development and protecting the rights of people whose land is being acquired.

Kaushiki Sanyal

The article was published in Sahara Time (Issue dated September 4, 2010, page 36)

An Analysis of the Deferred Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010

September 7th, 2010 1 comment

Given India’s anti-defection laws, the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 should have sailed through smoothly in the Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 26 in spite of opposition from many MPs who raised a number of pertinent issues. However, in a surprising turn of events the Bill faced opposition from Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao (along with other Opposition members).  It forced the Minister of Human Resource Development Shri Kapil Sibal to defer the consideration and passing of the Bill to the Winter session of Parliament.

Such an incidence raises the larger issue of whether an MP should follow the party line or be allowed to express his opinion which may be contrary to the party.  Last year, Vice President Hamid Ansari had expressed the view that there was a need to expand the scope for individual MPs to express their opinion on policy matters.  One of the ways this could be done, he felt, was by limiting the issuance of whips “to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as Money Bills or No-Confidence Motions.”  There are others who feel that MPs should not oppose the party line in the House since they represent the party in the Parliament. (See PRS note on The Anti-Defection Law: Intent and Impact).

The Educational Tribunals Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010, seeks to set up tribunals at the state and national level to adjudicate disputes related to higher education.  The disputes may be related to service matters of teachers; unfair practices of the higher educational institutions; affiliation of colleges; and statutory regulatory authorities.  The tribunals shall include judicial, academic and administrative members.  The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts over any matters that the tribunals are empowered to hear.  It also seeks to penalise any person who does not comply with the orders of the tribunals. (See the analysis of PRS on the Educational Tribunals Bill).

The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, which submitted its report on August 20, 2010.  Although the report expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of inputs from states and universities and made a number of recommendations on various provisions, the HRD Ministry rejected those suggestions.

Some of the key issues raised by the Standing Committee are as follows:

  • The Committee observed that no specific assessment about quantum of litigation has been carried out. It recommended that before setting up tribunals, the magnitude of cases and costs incurred in litigation should be assessed. A minimum court fee should be fixed to ensure viability of the tribunals.
  • The Committee pointed out that the status of existing tribunals is unclear. Also, since the number of educational institutions vary from state to state, the Committee felt that one educational tribunal per state cannot be made uniformly applicable.
  • The Committee stated that there is no clear rationale for fixing a minimum age limit of 55 years for members of the tribunals. It recommended that competent people with adequate knowledge and experience, irrespective of age, should be considered.
  • In case there is a vacancy in the chairperson’s post, other two members shall hear cases in the state educational tribunals. However, this leaves the possibility of cases being heard without a judicial member (since chairperson is the only judicial member). The Committee pointed out that a recent Supreme Court judgment states that every two-member bench of the tribunal should always have a judicial member. Also, whenever any larger or special benches are constituted, the number of technical members should not exceed the judicial member. The Committee were of the view that certain provisions of the Bill violate the Supreme Court judgment and should be re-thought.
  • The Committee recommends that the term “unfair practice” should be defined in the Bill so that it is not open to interpretation by the courts.
  • The Selection Committee to recommend panel for national tribunal includes the Chief Justice of India and Secretaries, Higher Education, Law and Justice, Medical Education and Personnel and Training as members. The Committee recommended that there should be adequate representation of the academia in the Selection Committee.
  • The Committee proposed that the government needs to identify the lacunae of the existing tribunal systems and ensure that orders of the tribunals have some force.

Control over Budget: Effectiveness of Parliament

March 25th, 2010 2 comments

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

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



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