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Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

Ministry of Consumer Affairs launches National Transparency Portal on PDS

November 2nd, 2012 1 comment

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.

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.

Assets and Liabilities of MPs after election

December 20th, 2010 No comments

It is common knowledge that individuals contesting elections have to file an affidavit, declaring (i) their criminal records (if any), (ii) assets & liabilities and (iii) educational qualification.  What is not widely known is that after getting elected, Members of Parliament are required to file a declaration of assets and liabilities with the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.   The rules to this effect were made in 2004 under the Representation of Peoples Act , 1951.

These declarations have to be made by MPs within 90 days of taking their seat in Parliament.  Rules for Lok Sabha MPs an be found hereand those for Rajya Sabha MPs can be found here.

The Rajya Sabha rules specify that the declarations made by MPs shall be made availaible to any person with the written permission of the Chairman.  The rules also specify that Rajya Sabha MPs are required to update their declarations every year.

The Lok Sabha rules specify that the declarations made by the Lok Sabha MPs shall be treated as confidential and shall not be made available to any person without the written permission of the Speaker.  The rules also do not contain an express provision for the declaration made by the MPs to be updated in case there is a change in the status of their assets and liabilities.

Such rules under the Representation of Peoples Act currently do not exist for MLAs in States.

Will judges have to declare assets under the new Bill on judicial accountability?

December 17th, 2010 1 comment

The issue of judges declaring their assets assumes importance in light of recent allegations and inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing by judges (read our post on the report of the Committee set up to examine allegations of wrongdoing by Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court).  The Delhi High Court also gave a judgement recently, requiring judges of the Supreme Court to declare their assets.

The Bill on judicial accountability (read summary here) requires judges to declare their assets to a specified authority within 30 days of them taking their oath of office.  The assets of spouses and dependents is also required to be disclosed.  The Bill also states that the assets declared will be put up on the website of the relevant court.

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

MP Transparency: India and South Africa

December 16th, 2010 No comments

The following is a comparison of the rules regarding the transparency of MPs’ private interests in India and South Africa.

In India, conflict of interest amongst MPs has been debated extensively in the recent past. The primary check on preventing potential conflicts is that all MPs must declare their assets and liabilities to the concerned Speaker (Lok Sabha) or Chairman (Rajya Sabha). The Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee maintains a register of these interests (no such register exists for Lok Sabha MPs).  Details in the Register of Members’ Interests include: remunerative directorship, regular remunerated activity, shareholding of controlling nature, paid consultancy, and professional engagement.

This material, however, is not put in the public domain.

An interesting comparison is the Parliament of South Africa, where the Register of Members Interests’ (consisting of  MPs from both upper and lower house) is made public. Financial interests of MPs, remuneration from employment outside of Parliament, directorships, consultancies, property details, pensions, etc., are all made public (see latest register here).

The Union Budget

March 1st, 2010 1 comment

The budget process is covered by live TV and extensively by most newspapers each year.  Most large companies have their own analysis of the budget.  Increasingly, there is an effort by civil society groups to analyse the budget to decipher the allocations to the social sector.  All of this is hugely important and indeed necessary for greater scrutiny and analysis by citizens across the country.

But we at PRS have often spoken about the role of Parliament in effectively scrutinising the government.  If there is anything that the Parliament must scrutinise carefully each year, it is the budget – because this is the way in which the government expresses its real priorities.  Even if the Parliament passes Bills on any subject – right to education, right to health, right to food, etc. – a good measure of the true willingness of the government to implement any of this can be seen by how much money it is willing to allocate to make things a reality.

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha spoke about the budget process (Times of India, Feb 27th) and has argued that the current process in India is archaic and is in urgent need of an overhaul.  He also points that Parliament has little power to change anything in the budget, and argues that this undermines the principles of our Parliamentary democracy.  We agree.

On our part, we have produced two documents to help readers understand the budget process better.  How to read the union budget and the Union Budget process can both be accessed from our website.  And we would greatly appreciate your comments on this and other posts on our blog.