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Role of Parliament in holding the government accountable

November 22nd, 2017 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.

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[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.

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.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act: Review of implementation

September 23rd, 2013 12 comments

In the recently concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament , the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development released a report on the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Development Act, 2005 (MGNREGA).  This blog provides a brief introduction to the key provisions of MGNREGA , followed by an overview of the major findings and recommendations of the Standing Committee.

I. MGNREGA: A brief introduction

A. Objectives: MGNREGA, which is the largest work guarantee programme in the world, was enacted in 2005 with the primary objective of guaranteeing 100 days of wage employment per year to rural households.  Secondly, it aims at addressing causes of chronic poverty through the ‘works’ (projects) that are undertaken, and thus ensuring sustainable development.  Finally, there is an emphasis on strengthening the process of decentralisation through giving a significant role to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in planning and implementing these works.

B. Key features:

  • Legal right to work: Unlike earlier employment guarantee schemes, the Act provides a legal right to employment for adult members of rural households.  At least one third beneficiaries have to be women.  Wages must be paid according to the wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the  Minimum Wages Act, 1948, unless the central government notifies a wage rate (this should not be less than Rs 60 per day).  At present, wage rates are determined by the central government but vary across states, ranging from Rs 135 per day to Rs 214 per day.
  • Time bound guarantee of work and unemployment allowance: Employment must be provided with 15 days of being demanded failing which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.
  • Decentralised planning: Gram sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50% of the works must be executed by them.  PRIs are primarily responsible for planning, implementation and monitoring of the works that are undertaken.
  • Work site facilities: All work sites should have facilities such as crèches, drinking water and first aid.
  • Transparency and accountability: There are provisions for proactive disclosure through wall writings, citizen information boards, Management Information Systems and social audits.  Social audits are conducted by gram sabhas to enable the community to monitor the implementation of the scheme.
  • Funding:  Funding is shared between the centre and the states.  There are three major items of expenditure – wages (for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labour), material and administrative costs.  The central government bears 100% of the cost of unskilled labour, 75% of the cost of semi-skilled and skilled labour, 75% of the cost of materials and 6% of the administrative costs.

MGNREGA was implemented in phases, starting from February 2006, and at present it covers all districts of the country with the exception of those that have a 100% urban population.  The Act provides a list of works that can be undertaken to generate employment related to water conservation, drought proofing, land development, and flood control and protection works.  Table 1 provides information regarding employment generation and expenditure under MGNREGA.

Table 1: MGNREGA: Key indicators

Year

Number of households provided employment (in crore)

Average number of person days of work per household

Total Expenditure (in lakh)

2006-07

2.10

43

8823.35

2007-08

3.39

42

15856.88

2008-09

4.51

48

27250.10

2009-10

5.25

54

37905.23

2010-11

5.49

47

39377.27

2011-12*

4.99

43

 38034.69

2012-13**

4.25

36

 28073.51

Source: Standing Committee on Rural Development; PRS. Note: *Provisional ** As on 31.01.2013

II. Findings and Recommendations of the Standing Committee on Rural Development

A. Achievements: The Standing Committee highlighted several achievements of MGNREGA in the seven years of its implementation, especially:

  • Ensuring livelihood for people in rural areas.
  • Large scale participation of women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) and other traditionally marginalised sections of society.  SCs/STs account for 51% of the total person-days generated and women account for 47% of the total person-days generated.
  • Increasing the wage rate in rural areas and strengthening the rural economy through the creation of infrastructure assets.
  • Facilitating sustainable development, and
  • Strengthening PRIs by involving them in the planning and monitoring of the scheme.

B. Challenges: However, the Committee found several issues with the implementation of the scheme. As Table 1 (above) shows, the average number of days of employment provided to households has been lower than the mandated 100 days, and has been decreasing since 2010-11.

Key issues that the Committee raised include

  • Fabrication of job cards: While as many as 12.5 crore households have been issued job cards out of an estimated 13.8 crore rural households ( as per the 2001 census), there are several issues related to existence of fake job cards, inclusion of fictitious names, missing entries and delays in making entries in job cards.
  • Delay in payment of wages: Most states have failed to disburse wages within 15 days as mandated by MGNREGA.  In addition, workers are not compensated for a delay in payment of wages.
  • Non payment of unemployment allowances: Most states do not pay an unemployment allowance when work is not given on demand.  The non-issuance of dated receipts of demanded work prevents workers from claiming an unemployment allowance.
  • Large number of incomplete works: There has been a delay in the completion of works under MGNREGA and inspection of projects has been irregular.  Implementing agencies were able to complete only 98 lakh works out of 296 lakh works.  As Table 2 shows, a large percentage of works remain incomplete under MGNREGA and the work completion rate appears to be decreasing in recent years.

Table 2: Work completion rate

Year

Work completion rate (%)

2006-07

46.34

2007-08

45.99

2008-09

43.76

2009-10

48.94

2010-11

50.86

2011-12*

20.25

2012-13*

15.02

Total                  33.22

Source: Standing Committee on Rural Development. Note: * As on 30.01.2013

  • Other key challenges include poor quality of assets created, several instances of corruption in the implementation of MGNREGA, and insufficient involvement of PRIs.

C. Recommendations: The Committee made the following recommendations, based on its findings:

  • Regulation of job cards: Offences such as not recording employment related information in job cards and unlawful possession of job cards with elected PRI representatives and MGNREGA functionaries should be made punishable under the Act.
  • Participation of women: Since the income of female workers typically raises the standard of living of their households to a greater extent than their male counterparts, the participation of women must be increased through raising awareness about MGNREGA.
  • Participation of people with disabilities: Special works (projects) must be identified for people with disabilities; and  special job cards must be issued and personnel must be employed to ensure their participation.
  • Utilisation of funds:  The Committee found that a large amount of funds allocated for MGNREGA have remained unutilised.  For example, in 2010-11, 27.31% of the funds remained unutilised.  The Committee recommends that the Department of Rural Development should analyse reasons for poor utilisation of funds and take steps to improve the same.  In addition, it should initiate action against officers found guilty of misappropriating funds under MGNREGA.
  • Context specific projects and convergence: Since states are at various stages of socio-economic development, they have varied requirements for development.  Therefore, state governments should be allowed to undertake works that are pertinent to their context.  There should be more emphasis on skilled and semi-skilled work under MGNREGA.  In addition, the Committee recommends a greater emphasis on convergence with other schemes such as the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, National Rural Health Mission, etc.
  • Payment of unemployment allowance: Dated receipts for demanded work should be issued so that workers can claim unemployment allowance.  Funds for unemployment allowance should be met by the central government.
  • Regular monitoring: National Level Monitors (NLMs) are deployed by the Ministry of Rural Development for regular and special monitoring of MGNREGA and to enquire into complaints regarding mis-utilisation of funds, etc.  The Committee recommends that the frequency of monitoring by NLMs should increase and appropriate measures should be taken by states based on their recommendations.  Additionally, social audits must mandatorily be held every six months.  The Committee observes that the performance of MGNREGA is better in states with effective social audit mechanisms.
  • Training of functionaries: Training and capacity building of elected representatives and other functionaries of PRIs must be done regularly as it will facilitate their involvement in the implementation of MGNREGA.

 

Paid News in the spotlight

June 3rd, 2013 2 comments

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

Need for comprehensive definition of paid news

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

Reasons for rise in incidence of paid news

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

Need for empowered regulators and stricter punitive provisions

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

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

Committee critical of government’s inaction

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

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

Food security: some food for thought

January 23rd, 2013 2 comments

The right to food and food security have been widely discussed in the media.  The National Food Security Bill, 2011, which makes the right to food a legal right, is currently pending in Parliament.  The Bill seeks to deliver food security by providing specific entitlements to certain groups of individuals through the Targeted Public Distribution System, a large-scale subsidised foodgrain distribution system.  The Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution presented its report on the Food Security Bill on January 17, 2013.  It made recommendations on key issues such as the categorisation of beneficiaries, cash transfers and cost sharing between the centre and states.

A comparison of the Bill and Committee’s recommendations are given below.

Issue

Food Security Bill

Standing Committee’s Recommendations

Who will get food security?  75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population (to be divided into priority and general categories). Of these, at least 46% of the rural and 28% of urban populations will be priority (the rest will be general). Uniform category: Priority, general and other categories shall be collapsed into ‘included’ and ‘excluded’ categories.Included category shall extend to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population.
How will they be identified? The centre shall prescribe guidelines for identifying households; states shall identify the specific households. The centre should clearly define criteria for exclusion and consult with states to create inclusion criteria.
What will they get?  Priority:7 kg foodgrains/person/month (at Rs 3/kg for wheat, Rs 2/kg for rice, Rs 1/kg for coarse grains).General: 3 kg foodgrains/person/ month (at 50% of MSP). Included: 5 kg foodgrains/person/month (at subsidised prices).  Pulses, sugar, etc., should be provided in addition to foodgrains.
Reforms to TPDS Doorstep delivery of foodgrains to ration shops, use of information technology, etc. Implement specific IT reforms, for e.g. CCTV cameras in godowns, use of internet, and GPS tracking of vehicles carrying foodgrains.  Evaluate implementation of TPDS every 5 yrs.
Cost-sharing between centre and states Costs will be shared between centre and states. Mechanism for cost-sharing will be determined by the centre. Finance Commission and states should be consulted regarding additional expenditure to be borne by states to implement the Bill.
Cash Transfers Schemes such as cash transfer and food coupons shall be introduced in lieu of foodgrains. Cash transfers should not be introduced at this time. Adequate banking infrastructure needs to be set up before introduction.
Time limit for implementation The Act shall come into force on a date specified by the centre. States to be provided reasonable time limit i.e., 1 year, after which Act will come into force.

To access the Bill, a detailed comparison of the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill, and other relevant reports relevant, see here.

Ministry of Consumer Affairs launches National Transparency Portal on PDS

November 2nd, 2012 2 comments

A recent news report has discussed the methods by which states such as Chattisgarh have attempted to reform the Public Distribution System (PDS).  Chattisgarh has computerised its PDS supply chain and introduced smart cards as part of a slew of measures to plug pilferage and weed out corruption in the system.  In an effort to create a national computerised database for PDS, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has launched an online National Transparency Portal for the Public Distribution System.  The portal aims to provide end-to-end computerisation of PDS; it is a single platform in the public domain for all PDS related information.

The PDS is a centrally sponsored scheme that entitles beneficiaries to subsidised foodgrains every month.  Currently, beneficiaries are divided into the following groups: Below Poverty Line (BPL), Above Poverty Line and Antodaya Anna Yojana.  As such, several challenges have been identified in the implementation of PDS.  Some of them are as follows:

  1. Targeting errors: Separating beneficiaries of the PDS into three categories requires their classification and identification.  Targeting mechanisms, however, have been prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors.  In 2009, an expert group estimated that about 61% of the eligible population was excluded from the BPL list while 25% of non-poor households were included in the BPL list.
  2. Large leakages and diversion of subsidized foodgrain:  Foodgrain is procured by the centre and transported from the central to state godowns.  Last mile delivery from state godowns to the Fair Price Shop (FPS) where beneficiaries can purchase grain with ration cards, is the responsibility of the state government.  Large quantities of foodgrain are leaked and diverted into the open market during this supply chain.

The creation of the e-portal could help track these issues more effectively and increase transparency in the system. The portal contains information relating to FPS and ration cards attached to the FPS.  It is likely that this will help weed out bogus ration cards and improve targeting of subsidies.  The portal also has information on capacity utilization of Food Corporation of India, state storage godowns, and data on central pool stocks.  This helps track storage supplies of grains at each level and aims to prevent leakage of grain.

With respect to data on PDS in states, the portal hosts information such as the central orders on monthly allocation of foodgrain to states, state-specific commodity sale prices, lifting position of states, etc. for public view.  All states and union territories will be required to maintain and update the data on the portal.

The reforms come at a time when the National Food Security Bill, 2011 is pending in Parliament.  The Bill aims to deliver foodgrain entitlements through Targeted PDS to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population.  The Bill is currently under examination by the Standing Committee of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.  It proposes reforms to the TPDS, which include the application of information and communication technology, including end-to-end computerisation.  These reforms seek to ensure full transparency of records in the PDS and prevent diversion of foodgrains.  The creation of the e-portal might be a step towards reforming the PDS.

For an analysis of the National Food Security Bill, see here.

Lapses in the process of drug approval in India

May 29th, 2012 1 comment

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare tabled a Report in Parliament on May 8, 2012, on the functioning of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO).  CDSCO is the agency mandated with the regulation of drugs and cosmetics in India.  The Report covers various aspects of drug regulation including organizational structure and strength of CDSCO, approval of new drugs, and banning of drugs, among others.

Following the Report, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare has constituted a Committee to look into the procedure for drug regulation.  The Committee is expected to make its submissions within a period of two months.

This post focuses on irregularities in the approval of new drugs by CDSCO.  It discusses the regulations relating to drug approval and the Standing Committee’s observations on the working of CDSCO.

Approval of new drugs

Drugs are regulated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945 [Rules].  The CDSCO, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is the authority that approves new drugs for manufacture and import.  State Drug Authorities are the licensing authorities for marketing drugs.

New Drugs are defined as:

  • drugs that have not been used in the country before,
  • drugs that have been approved by a Licensing Authority but are now being marketed for different purposes, and
  • fixed dose combinations of two or more drugs that have been individually approved before but are proposed to be combined in a fixed ratio that has not been approved.

The Rules require an applicant for a new drug to conduct clinical trials in India to determine the drug’s safety and efficacy.  These trials are necessary for both domestically manufactured and imported drugs.  However, the authority can exempt a drug from the requirement of local and clinical trials in the public interest based on data available in other countries.

Observations and recommendations of the Committee

The Committee found that a total of 31 new drugs were approved between January 2008 and October 2010 without conducting clinical trials on Indian patients.  The Report mentioned that drug manufacturers, CDSCO officials and medical experts colluded to approve drugs in violation of laws.  Following are some of the Report’s findings:

  • Under the Rules, the Drugs Controller General (India) (DCGI), the head of CDSCO, can clear sites of clinical trials after ensuring that major ethnic groups are enrolled in these trials to have a truly representative sample.  This rule was violated by the DCGI when sites for clinical trials were approved without ensuring diversity.  The Committee recommended that the DCGI approve sites for trials only if they cover patients from major ethnic backgrounds.
  •  The Report found that certain actions by experts were in violation of the Code of Ethics of the Medical Council of India.  A review of expert opinions revealed that several medical expert recommendations had been given as personal opinions rather than on the basis of scientific data.  Additionally, many expert opinions were written by what the Report calls ‘the invisible hands’ of drug manufacturers.  The Committee recommended that CDSCO formulate a clear set of written guidelines on the selection process of experts with emphasis on expertise in the area of drugs.
  •  The Rules ban the import and marketing of any drug whose use is prohibited in the country of origin.  CDSCO violated this rule by approving certain Fixed Dose Combination drugs for clinical trials without considering the drugs’ regulatory status in their respective country of origin.  Drugs such as Deanxit and Buclizine, which have been prohibited for sale and use in their countries of origin, Denmark and Belgium, respectively, were approved for clinical trials.  The Committee recommended an inquiry into the unlawful approval of these drugs.
  • The Rules require animal studies to be conducted for approval of a drug for use by women of reproductive age.  CDSCO violated this rule in approving Letrozole for treating female infertility.  Globally the drug has only been used as an anti-cancer drug for use among post-menopausal women.  The drug has not been permitted for use among women of reproductive age because of side effects.  The Committee recommended that responsibility be fixed for unlawfully approving Letrozole.
  •  Rules require Post-marketing Safety Update Reports (PSURs) on drugs to be submitted to CDSCO.  PSURs are used to collect information on adverse effects of drugs on Indian patients as a result of ethnic differences.  When asked by the Committee to furnish PSURs on 42 randomly selected new drugs, the Ministry was able to submit PSURs for only 8 drugs.  The Report contended that this action reflected a poor follow-up of side effects on Indian patients.  The Committee recommended that manufacturers of new drugs be warned about suspension of marketing approval unless they comply with mandatory rules on PSURs.

 

Lok Pal Bill: The Standing Committee’s Views

December 18th, 2011 1 comment

There are indications that the Lok Pal Bill, 2011 is likely to be taken up for consideration and passing during the current Winter session of Parliament.  The Bill was introduced on Aug 4, 2011 in the Lok Sabha after a prolonged agitation led by Anna Hazare (see PRS analysis of the Bill).  It was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (see PRS note on Committee Systems).  The Committee submitted its report on December 9, 2011.  The report includes 10 dissent notes from 17 MPs.

(a)    Kirti Azad, Bal Apte, D.B. Chandre Gowda, Harin Pathak, Arjun Ram Meghwal, and Madhusudan Yadav.

(b)   Ram Jethmalani

(c)    Ram Vilas Paswan

(d)   Shailendra Kumar

(e)    Prasanta Kumar Majumdar

(f)     Pinaki Misra

(g)    A. Sampath

(h)    S. Semmalai

(i)      Meenakshi Natrajan, P.T. Thomas, and Deepa Dasmunshi

(j)     Vijay Bahadur Singh

Presently, the government and the Opposition are in the process of formulating their stands on various key issues such as inclusion of the Prime Minister, the lower bureaucracy and the role of the Central Investigation Bureau.  We provide a broad overview of the views of the members of the Committee on various key issues.

Unanimity on issues

On some issues, there was unanimity among the Committee members:

  • Constitutional status for Lokpal.
  • Immunity from prosecution for the MPs for any vote and speech in the House
  • Exclusion of judiciary from the ambit of the Lokpal.
  • Qualification of chairperson and Lok Pal members.
  • Selection process of Lok Pal members.
  • Lokpal should not have the powers to tap phones.

Dissent on issues

Certain members of the Committee dissented on specific issues.  In Table 1, we list the issues and the reason for the dissent.

Table 1: Recommendation of Standing Committee and dissent by individual MPs

Issues Standing Committee recommendations Points of dissent Dissenting MPs
Inclusion of Prime Minister Committee left the decision to Parliament stating that there are pros and cons to each view. –     PM should be included. 

–     PM should be brought under the Lok Pal with some exceptions for national security, foreign policy, atomic energy etc.

–     The decision to investigate or prosecute the PM should be taken by the Lok Pal with 3/4th majority.

–  Prasanta Kumar Majumdar, A. Sampath. 

–  Kirti Azad etc, Shailendra Kumar, Pinaki Misra.

 

 

 

Grievance redressal mechanism Enact separate law for a grievance redressal mechanism. Include in the Lok Pal Bill. Kirti Azad etc, Ram Jethmalani, Shailendra Kumar.
Inclusion of bureaucracy Include Group B officers in addition to Group A. –     Include all groups of govt employees. 

–     Include Group ‘C’.

–     Do not include bureaucrats.

–     Kirti Azad etc, A. Sampath. 

–     Meenakshi Natrajan etc, Shailendra Kumar, Prasanta Kumar. Majumdar, Pinaki Misra, Vijay Bahadur Singh.

–     Ram Vilas Paswan.

Lokayukta Single, central law to deal with Lok Pal and state Lokayuktas to ensure uniformity in prosecution of public servants. States should retain power to constitute Lokayuktas. –     S. Semmalai.
Private NGOs, media and corporate Include all entities with specified level of govt control or which receive specified amount of public donations or foreign donations above Rs 10 lakh. No private organsiations should be included. – Kirti Azad etc., Ram Vilas Paswan.
Composition of search and selection committees Selection Committee: In addition to PM and Speaker, it should include the Chief Justice of India, an eminent Indian unanimously nominated by the CAG, CEC and UPSC chairman and only Leader of Opposition of Lok Sabha. 

Search Committee: Mandatory to constitute. Minimum 7 members with 50% members from SC/ST, OBC, minorities and women.

 

Selection Committee: PM, Minister, LoPs of both Houses, two judges and CVC. Search Committee: CJI, CAG, CEC, Cabinet Secretary, judges of Supreme Court and High Courts. 

Selection Committee: PM, LoP in the Lok Sabha, one judge of SC and one Chief Justice of a HC, CVC, CEC and CAG. Search Committee: 10 members out of which 5 should be from civil society and 5 should be retired Chief Justice, CVC, CAG and CEC.  Half the members to be from SC/STs, OBCs, minorities or women.

–  Kirti Azad etc. 

–  Shailendra Kumar.

Removal of Lok Pal In addition to petitioning the President, a citizen should be allowed to approach the Supreme Court directly with a complaint.  If admitted, it would be heard by a 5 judge bench.  If President does not refer a citizen’s petition, he should give reasons. Investigation should be conducted by an independent complaint authority.  Heavy fines should be imposed in case of a false or frivolous complaint. Instead of the President, the Supreme Court should have power to suspend a member pending inquiry. 

 

– Shailendra Kumar.
Role of CVC and CBI CVC should investigate Group C and D employees.  Instead of Lok Pal’s investigation wing, the CBI should investigate cases after inquiry by the Lok Pal.  CBI to have autonomy over its investigation.  Lok Pal shall exercise general supervision over CBI. CBI should be under the control of the Lok Pal. 

The CBI Director should be appointed by the Lok Pal’s selection committee.

The CVC should be under Lok Pal and the SVCs under the state Lokayuktas.

–  Ram Jethmalani, Shailendra Kumar. 

–  A. Sampath.

–  Meenakshi Natrajan etc.

False and frivolous complaints Term of imprisonment should be maximum six months.  Amount of fine should not exceed Rs 25,000. 

Specifically provide for complaints made in good faith in line with the Indian Penal Code.

The term of imprisonment should not exceed 30 days. – Kirti Azad etc.
Article 311 Article 311 of the Constitution should be amended or replaced with a statute. The procedure adopted by the disciplinary authority should conform to Article 311. – Kirti Azad etc, Meenakshi Natrajan etc. 

 

Finance Lok Pal Bill states that all expenses of the Lok Pal shall be charged to the Consolidated Fund of India (no need for Lok Sabha clearance).  The Committee did not make any recommendation with regard to finances of the Lok Pal. Lok Pal’s expenses should be cleared by the Parliament. 

Lok Pal should present its budget directly to Parliament rather than through a ministry.

–  Kirti Azad etc. 

–  Shailendra Kumar.

Sources: The Lok Pal Bill, 2011; the Department Related Standing Committee Report on the Lok Pal Bill, 2011 and PRS.

 

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