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Committees in state legislatures

October 31st, 2017 No comments

The Governor of Rajasthan promulgated two Ordinances amending the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and Indian Penal Code, 1860 applicable in Rajasthan on September 7. The Ordinances restrain any investigation to be conducted against a judge, magistrate or public servant without prior sanction of the government. The decision to grant sanction will have to be taken within six months, failing which such sanction will be deemed to have been granted.  The Ordinances also restrain any person from reporting on the individual in question until sanction for investigation is granted. Two Bills replacing these Ordinances were introduced in the Rajasthan Assembly by the state Home Minister last week, on October 23.[i] After introduction, the Bills were referred to a 15-member select committee comprising of legislators from the state Assembly, and headed by the Home Minister of Rajasthan. This blog examines the role of committees and some of the practices observed in state legislatures.

Purpose of committees in legislatures

In India, state legislatures sit for 31 days a year on an average.*  Several Bills are passed within a few days of their introduction. One of the primary responsibilities of the legislature is to hold the executive accountable, and examine potential laws. Due to paucity of time, it is difficult for the members go through all the bills and discuss them in detail. To address this issue, various committees are set up in Parliament and state assemblies where smaller group of members examine Bills in detail, and allow for an informed debate in the legislature. Apart from scrutinising legislation, committees also examine budgetary allocations for various departments and other policies of the government.  These mini-legislatures provide a forum for law makers to develop expertise, engage with citizens and seek inputs from stakeholders. Since these committees consist of members from different parties, they provide a platform for building consensus on various issues.

Figure 1: Average sitting days in a year (2012-16)
Sitting days in a year 1
Sources: Website of various state assemblies as on October 30, 2017.

Types of committees

There are broadly three types of committees: (i) Financial committees: These scrutinise the expenditure of the government and recommend efficient ways of spending funds (example: Public Accounts Committee and Estimates Committee), (ii) Department-Related Standing Committees (DRSC): These scrutinise performance of departments under a ministry, (iii) Other committees: These deal with day-to-day functioning of the legislature (example: Business Advisory Committee, Papers Laid, Rules, etc.)  While there are 3 financial committees and 24 department related committees in Parliament, the number of committees in state legislatures varies.  For example, Kerala has 14 subject committees examining all departments, while Delhi has seven standing committees scrutinising performance of various departments. [ii],[iii] However, not all states have a provision for specific DRSCs or subject committees.

Similar to Parliament, state legislatures also have a provision to form a select committee to examine a particular legislation or a subject.  Such a committee is disbanded after it presents a report with its findings or recommendations. Several Bills in states are referred to select committees. However, the practice in some state legislatures with respect to select committees deviate from those in the Parliament.

Independence of select committee from the executive

The rules in several states provide for the minister in-charge piloting the bill to be an ex-officio member of the select committee. These states include Rajasthan, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana. Moreover, in Manipur, the rules provide for the minister to be chairman of the select committee. Note that the minister is part of the executive.  His inclusion in the committee may be in conflict with the committee’s role of scrutinising the functioning of the executive.

The practice of including ministers in committees is in contrast with the protocol followed in Parliament where a minister is not part of any DRSC or select committee. As committees of the legislature hold the executive accountable, having a minister on the select committee undermines the role of legislature as an oversight mechanism. A minister, as a representative of the executive being part of such committees may impede the ability of committees to effectively hold the executive accountable.

The two Bills introduced in the Rajasthan Assembly last week were referred to a select committee headed by the Home Minister of the state.  There have been several instances in other state legislatures where the minister introducing a bill was chairman of the select committee examining it. In Goa, a bill empowering the government to acquire land for development of public services is headed by the Revenue Minister of the state.[iv] Similarly, in Arunachal Pradesh, the select committee examining a bill for establishment of a university was headed by the Education Minister.[v] In Maharashtra as well, the Education Minister was chairman of the select committee scrutinising a bill granting greater autonomy to state universities.[vi]  For rigorous scrutiny of legislation, it is essential that the committees are independent of the executive.

Strengthening state legislature committees [vii]

The functioning of committees in states can be strengthened in various ways. Some of these include:

(i) Examination of Bills by assembly committees: In the absence of DRSCs, most bills are passed without detailed scrutiny while some bills are occasionally referred to select committees. In Parliament, bills pertaining to a certain ministry are referred to the respective DRSCs for scrutiny. To strengthen legislatures, DRSCs must examine all bills introduced in the assembly.

(ii) Scrutiny of budgets: Several states do not have DRSCs to examine budgetary proposals. Some states like Goa, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh have a budget committee to examine budget proposals. Post the 14th Finance commission, there is a higher devolution of funds to state governments from the centre.  With states increasingly spending more, it is necessary for them to have DRSCs that scrutinise the allocations and expenditures to various departments before they are approved by state assemblies.

 

*Based on the average sitting days for 18 state assemblies from 2012-2016.

[i] The Code of Criminal Procedure (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 http://www.rajassembly.nic.in/BillsPdf/Bill39-2017.pdf;The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2017 http://www.rajassembly.nic.in/BillsPdf/Bill38-2017.pdf.

[ii] List of subject committees http://niyamasabha.org/codes/comm.htm.

[iii] Delhi Legislative Assembly National Capital Territory Of Delhi Composition Of House Committees
2017 – 2018, http://delhiassembly.nic.in/Committee/Committee_2017_2018.htm.

[iv] The Goa Requisition and Acquisition of Property Bill, 2017 http://www.goavidhansabha.gov.in/uploads/bills/468_draft_BN18OF2017-AI-REQUI.pdf.

[v] The Kameng Professional and Technical University Arunachal Pradesh Bill 2017 http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=oct1717/oth057.

[vi] Maharashtra Public Universities Bill, 2016 http://mls.org.in/pdf/university_bill_english.pdf.

[vii] Strengthening State Legislatures http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Conference%202016/Strengthening%20State%20Legislatures.pdf.

Key amendments proposed to the Constitution Amendment Bill on GST

August 2nd, 2016 No comments

Yesterday, the government circulated certain official amendments to the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 on GST.  The Bill is currently pending in Rajya Sabha.  The Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha in May 2015.  It was then referred to a Select Committee of Rajya Sabha which submitted its report in July 2015.  With the Bill listed for passage this week, we explain key provisions in the Bill, and the amendments proposed.

What is the GST?

Currently, indirect taxes are imposed on goods and services.  These include excise duty, sales tax, service tax, octroi, customs duty etc.  Some of these taxes are levied by the centre and some by the states.  For taxes imposed by states, the tax rates may vary across different states.  Also, goods and services are taxed differently.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a value added tax levied across goods and services at the point of consumption.  The idea of a GST regime is to subsume most indirect taxes under a single taxation regime.  This is expected to help broaden the tax base, increase tax compliance, and reduce economic distortions caused by inter-state variations in taxes.

What does the 2014 Bill on GST do?

The 2014 Bill amends the Constitution to give concurrent powers to Parliament and state legislatures to levy a Goods and Services tax (GST).  This implies that the centre will levy a central GST (CGST), while states will be permitted to levy a state GST (SGST).  For goods and services that pass through several states, or imports, the centre will levy another tax, the Integrated GST (IGST).

Alcohol for human consumption has been kept out of the purview of GST.  Further, GST will be levied on 5 types of petroleum products at a later date, to be decided by the GST Council.  The Council is a body comprising of Finance Ministers of the centre and all states (including Delhi and Puducherry).  This body will make recommendations in relation to the implementation of GST, including the rates, principles of levy, etc.  The Council is also to decide the modalities for resolution of disputes that arise out of its recommendations.

States may be given compensation for any revenue losses they may face from the introduction of the GST regime.  Such compensation may be provided for a period of up to five years.

Further, the centre may levy an additional tax, up to 1%, in the course of interstate trade.  The revenues from the levy of this tax will be given to the state from where the good originates.  Expert bodies like the Select Committee and the Arvind Subramanian Committee have observed that this provision could lead to cascading of taxes (as tax on tax will be levied).[i]  It also distorts the creation of a national market, as a product made in one state and sold in another would be more expensive than one made and sold within the same state.

What are the key changes proposed by the 2016 amendments?

The amendments propose three key changes to the 2014 Bill.  They relate to (i) additional tax up to 1%; (ii) compensation to states; and (iii) dispute resolution by the GST Council.

  • Additional tax up to 1% on interstate trade: The amendments delete the provision.
  • Compensation to states: The amendments state that Parliament shall, by law, provide for compensation to states for any loss of revenues, for a period which may extend to five years. This would be based on the recommendations of the GST Council.  This implies that (i) Parliament must provide compensation; and (ii) compensation cannot be provided for more than five years, but allows Parliament to decide a shorter time period.  The 2014 Bill used the term ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’.   The Select Committee had recommended that compensation should be provided for a period of five years.  This recommendation has not been addressed by the 2016 amendments.
  • Dispute resolution: The GST Council shall establish a mechanism to adjudicate any dispute arising out of its recommendations. Disputes can be between: (a) the centre vs. one or more states; (b) the centre and states vs. one or more states; (c) state vs. state.  This implies that there will be a standing mechanism to resolve disputes.

These amendments will be taken up for discussion with the Bill in Rajya Sabha this week.  The Bill requires a special majority for its passage as it is a Constitution Amendment Bill (that is at least 50% majority of the total membership in the House, and 2/3rds majority of all members present and voting).  If the Bill is passed with amendments, it will have to be sent back to Lok Sabha for consideration and passage.  After its passage in Parliament, at least 50% state legislatures will have to pass resolutions to ratify the Bill.

Once the constitutional framework is in place, the centre will have to pass simple laws to levy CGST and IGST.  Similarly, all states will have to pass a simple law on SGST.  These laws will specify the rates of the GST to be levied, the goods and services that will be included, the threshold of the turnover of businesses to be included, etc.  Note that the Arvind Subramanian Committee, set up by the Finance Ministry, recommended the rates of GST that may be levied.  The table below details the bands of rates proposed.

Table 1: Rates of GST recommended by Expert Committee headed by Arvind Subramanian
Type of rate Rate Details
Revenue Neutral Rate 15% Single rate which maintains revenue at current levels.
Standard Rate 17-18% Too be applied to most goods and services
Lower rates 12% To be applied to certain goods consumed by the poor
Demerit rate 40% To be applied on luxury cars, aerated beverages, paan masala, and tobacco
Source: Arvind Subramanian Committee Report (2015)

Several other measures related to the back end infrastructure for registration and reporting of GST, administrative officials related to GST, etc. will also have to be put in place, before GST can be rolled out.

[For further details on the full list of amendments, please see here.  For other details on the GST Bill, please see here.]

Lokpal Bill: Cabinet accepts key suggestions of the Select Committee

February 5th, 2013 1 comment

In the run up to the Budget session of Parliament, the Cabinet has decided to accept some of the key recommendations of the Select Committee on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011.  The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, was referred to a Select Committee by the Rajya Sabha.  The Select Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill a year later in November 2012.  At the Cabinet meeting held on January 31, 2013, the government has accepted some of these recommendations (see here for PRS comparison of the Bill, Select Committee recommendations and the approved amendments).

Key approved amendments

Lokayuktas: One of the most contentious issues in the Lokpal debate has been the establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level.  The Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha gave a detailed structure of the Lokayuktas.  However, the Committee was of the opinion that while each state has to set up a Lokayukta within a year of the Act coming into force, the nature and type of the Lokayuktas should be decided by the states.  The Cabinet has agreed with the suggestion of the Committee.

Inclusion of NGOs: Currently, “public servant” is defined in the Indian Penal Code to include government officials, judges, employees of universities, Members of Parliament, Ministers etc. The Bill expanded this definition by bringing societies and trusts which receive donations from the public (over a specified annual income) and, organizations which receive foreign donations (over Rs 10 lakh a year) within the purview of the Lokpal.  The Committee had however objected to the inclusion of organisations that receive donations from the public on the ground that bodies such as a rotary club or a resident’s welfare association may also be covered under the Lokpal. Bringing such entities within the Lokpal’s purview would make it unmanageable.  The Cabinet decided not to accept this recommendation stating that this view had been accepted by the Standing Committee while examining the version of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha.  However, the government has exempted trusts or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act.

Procedure of inquiry and investigation:  A key recommendation of the Committee was to allow the Lokpal to directly order an investigation if a prima facie case existed (based on the complaint received).  The Cabinet has accepted this suggestion but suggested that the Lokpal should, before deciding that a prima facie case exists, call the public servant for a hearing.  An investigation should be ordered only after hearing the public servant.  Also, the Cabinet has not accepted the recommendation of the Committee that a public servant should be allowed a hearing only at the end of the investigation before filing the charge-sheet and not at any of the previous stages of the inquiry.

 Power to grant sanction:  One of the key reasons cited for delays in prosecuting corrupt public officials is the requirement of a sanction from the government before a public servant can be prosecuted.  The Bill shifts the power to grant sanction from the government to the Lokpal.  It states that the investigation report shall be considered by a 3-member Lokpal bench before filing a charge-sheet or initiating disciplinary proceedings against the public servant.  The Committee recommended that at this point both the competent authority (to whom the public servant is responsible) and the concerned public servant should be given a hearing.  This has been accepted by the Cabinet.

Reforms of CBI:  There are divergent views over the role and independence of the CBI.  The Committee made several recommendations for strengthening the CBI.  They include:  (a) the appointment of the Director of CBI will be through a collegium comprising of the PM, Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India; (b) the power of superintendence over CBI in relation to Lok Pal referred cases shall vest in the Lokpal; (c) CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal will be transferred with the approval of the Lokpal; and (d) for cases referred by the Lokpal, the CBI may appoint a panel of advocates (other than government advocates) with the consent of the Lok pal.  All the recommendations regarding the CBI has been accepted by the Cabinet except one that requires the approval of the Lokpal to transfer officers of CBI investigating cases referred by the Lokpal.

Eligibility of Lokpal member:  According to the Bill, any person connected with a political party cannot be a member of the Lokpal.  The Committee’s recommendation was to change the term connected to affiliated to remove any ambiguity about the meaning.  This suggestion was accepted by the government.

Now the interesting question is what happens if the Rajya Sabha passes the Bill with these amendments.  The Bill will have to go back to the Lok Sabha for its approval since new amendments were added by the Rajya Sabha.  If the Lok Sabha passes these amendments, the office of the Lokpal may finally see the light of day.  (See here for PRS analysis of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011).