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Posts Tagged ‘PRS Legislative Research’

Can the Supreme Court ask the government to frame a law?

December 23rd, 2010 4 comments

In a recent case, the Supreme Court directed the appropriate government to enact a law by June 2011.  The case, Gainda Ram & Ors. V. MCD and Ors.[1], concerned the legal framework for regulating hawking in Delhi.  The judgement lays out the background to this case by stating that the regulation of hawking in Delhi had been proceeding under directions issued by the Supreme Court in previous cases, and was being implemented by municipal authorities such as the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC).

The NDMC and the MCD have also framed schemes to regulate hawkers as per a policy of the government framed in 2004.  However, since these schemes were not laid before Parliament, the Court held that these schemes cannot be called ‘law’ or drafted under the authority of any law.  The Court also stated that there is an urgent need to enact a legislation to regulate hawking, and the rights of street vendors.

It referred to a Bill which had been framed by the government, and stated that since the government has already taken the first step in the legislative process by drafting a Bill, the legislative process should be completed.  On the basis of this, and other reasons, it directed the government to enact a law by June 2011.  This judgement raises three issues:

  1. The government is not the law making body in India.  Enacting a law is the function of Parliament and state legislatures.
  2. Even if the Court were to address the correct authority, Courts in India have no authority to direct the legislature to frame a law, let alone specify a time-period.  This may be said to violate the basic principle of “separation of powers” which states that the executive, legislature and judiciary should function independently of each other.  Under the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court and the High Courts have the power to protect fundamental rights and to interpret law.  The Constitution does not give power to Courts to direct the framing of a law.
  3. Persons can be held in contempt of court for not following its directions.  In this case, it is not clear who would be held in contempt for not enacting a law by June 2011.  The Supreme Court can either hold the Speaker of the Parliament in contempt for not enacting a law by the specified date (it is uncertain whether the Court has this power since no such past instance has arisen). Or it can hold the concerned government official in contempt for not enacting the law within the time period specified (the government in this case, having no power to enact a law).

[1] Decided on October 8, 2010

PAC seeks comment on 2G and 3G spectrum allocation

December 23rd, 2010 No comments

The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has invited suggestions on “Recent Developments in the Telecom Sector including allocation of 2G and 3G Spectrum”.

Comments are invited from experts, associations, individuals, organisations and institutions interested in the matter.

Comments have to be sent in to: Director (PAC&CS), Lok Sabha Secretariat, Room No. 401, Parliament House Annexe, New Delhi – 110001 (Ph.: 23034401, 23035236), e-mail: compac@sansad.nic.in. Comments have to be sent in within 15 days.

Are measures to minimize conflict of interest of MPs adequate?

December 21st, 2010 2 comments

In India, one of the common threads that run through many of the corruption scandals is the issue of conflict of interest i.e. public officials taking policy decisions based on their personal interest.  For example, Shashi Tharoor in the IPL controversy or Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh Housing Society scam.

Many countries take measures to minimize conflict of interest of its MPs by regulating membership of parliamentarians in Committees, making it mandatory for them to declare pecuniary interest, and restricting employment both during and after completion of tenure.  For example, the US Senate has a detailed Code of Official Conduct that provides guidelines on conflict of interest.

India also has some measures in place to minimize conflict of interest.  These are codified in the Code of Conduct for Ministers, Code of Conduct for Members of the Rajya Sabha, Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and Handbook for Members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.  Every Rajya Sabha MP has to declare his or her interest (along with assets and liabilities).  He has to declare five pecuniary interests:  remunerative directorship, remunerated activity, majority shareholding, paid consultancy and professional engagement.  Lok Sabha MPs can object to another MP joining a parliamentary committee on grounds that he has personal, pecuniary or direct interest.  (For more details, see PRS note on Conflict of Interest Issues in Parliament).

On December 1, 2010, PRS held its annual Conference on Effective Legislatures.  One of the topics discussed was MPs and Conflict of Interest: Issues and Resolution.  Panelists included D Raja, Prakash Javdekar and Supriya Sule.  Issues such as requirement for transparency, expertise of legislators, election of honest legislators, and ethical media were discussed.  The issues that were raised during the discussion are summarised in the PRS Summary of Proceedings from the Conference.

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.

How many reports has PAC tabled since 1952?

December 20th, 2010 1 comment
Around 1400 reports have been tabled by the PAC since the first Lok Sabha till end of 14th Lok Sabha.

In terms of absolute numbers, the largest number of reports were tabled during the 5th Lok Sabha (1971-77).  However, in terms of the average number of reports presented in the duration of a single Lok Sabha, the 6th Lok Sabha is the highest.

The fewest number of PAC reports were tabled during the 1st Lok Sabha (25 reports over all and 5 reports on an average per year).



Parliament’s scrutiny over government finances

December 20th, 2010 No comments

The recent 2G-controversy and the related debate over the role of the PAC as opposed to the JPC also raises a broader Issue regarding the general scrutiny of government finances by Parliament.  Oversight of the government’s finances involves the scrutiny of the government’s financial proposals and policies.  The Indian Constitution vests this power with the Parliament by providing that (a) taxes cannot be imposed or collected without the authority of law, and (b) expenditure cannot be incurred without the authorisation of the legislature.

The Indian Parliament exercises financial oversight over the government budget in two stages: (1) at the time of presentation of the annual budget, and (2) reviewing the government’s budget implementation efforts through the year.

The Parliament scrutinises the annual budget (a) on the floor of the House, and (b) by the departmentally related standing committees.

Scrutiny on the floor of the House

The main scrutiny of the budget in the Lok Sabha takes place through:

(a) General discussion and voting: The general discussion on the Budget is held on a day subsequent to the presentation of the Budget by the Finance Minister.  Discussion at this stage is confined to the general examination of the Budget and policies of taxation expressed during the budget speech.

(b) Discussion on Demand for Grants: The general discussion is followed by a discussion on the Demand for Grants of different ministries. A certain number of days or hours are allocated for the discussion of all the demands. However, not all the demands are discussed within the allotted number of days.

The remaining undiscussed demands are disposed of by the Speaker after the agreement of the House.  This process is known as the ‘Guillotine’.  Figure 1 shows the number of Demands discussed and guillotined over the last five years.  It shows that nearly 90% of the Demands are not discussed every year.

Some Important Budget Documents

Annual Financial Statement – Statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure of the government.

Demand for Grants –Expenditure required to be voted by the Lok Sabha.  A separate Demand is required to be presented for each department of the government.

Supplementary Demand for Grants – Presented when (a) authorized amounts are insufficient, or (b) need for additional expenditure has arisen.

Finance Bill – Details the imposition of taxes, the rates of taxation, and its regulation.

Detailed Demand for Grants – Prepared on the basis of the Demand for Grants.  These show further break-up of objects by expenditure, and also actual expenditure in the previous year.

For more details see detailed note on Financial Oversight by Parliament here.

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