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First session of 17th Lok Sabha: What to expect

The results of General Election 2019 were declared last week concluding the process for electing the 17th Lok Sabha.  Immediately after the results, the previous Lok Sabha was dissolved.  The next couple of days will witness several key events such as swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha.  In the first session, the newly elected MPs will take their oaths, the Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha will be elected, and the President will address a joint sitting of Parliament.   In this blog, we explain the process and significance of the events that will follow in the days to come.

Key Events in the First Session of the 17th Lok Sabha

The Bharatiya Janta Party has emerged as the single largest party and the leader of the party will be sworn-in as the Prime Minister.  As per Article 75(1) of the Constitution, the other ministers are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.  The 91st Amendment to the Constitution limits the total size of the Council of Ministers to 15% of the total strength of the House (i.e., 81 Ministers).  As per media reports, swearing-in of the Council of Ministers is scheduled for May 30, 2019.

How is the schedule for first session decided?

The 17th Lok Sabha will commence its first session in the first week of June.  The exact date of commencement of the first session and the schedule of key events in the session, including the date of President’s address, is decided by the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs.  This Committee will be set up after the swearing in of the Council of Ministers.  The previous Lok Sabha had commenced on June 4, 2014 and its first session had six sitting days (June 4, 2014 to June 11, 2014). 

Who presides over the first session?

Every proceeding of the House is presided by a Speaker.  The Office of the Speaker becomes vacant immediately before the first meeting of a new Lok Sabha.  Therefore, a temporary speaker, known as the pro-tem Speaker, is chosen from among the newly elected MPs.  The pro-tem Speaker administers oath/affirmation to the newly elected members, and also presides over the sitting in which the new Speaker is elected.  The office of the pro-tem Speaker ceases to exist when the new Speaker is elected.  

How is the pro-tem speaker chosen?

Once the new government is elected, a list containing the names of the senior-most members of the House is prepared.  The seniority is decided by total tenure as a member of either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha.  The Prime Minister then identifies a Member from the list who acts as the Speaker pro-tem.  Three other members are also identified before whom other members may take oath/affirmation.

How is the new Speaker chosen?

Any member may give notice of a motion that another Member be chosen as the Speaker of the House.  The motions are then moved and voted upon.  After the results are announced, the Speaker-elect is felicitated by leaders of all political parties, including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.  From then, the new Speaker takes over the proceedings of the House.

An understanding of the Constitution, the Rules of Procedure, and conventions of Parliament is considered a major asset for the Speaker.  While this might indicate that a Speaker be one of the senior-most members of the House, this has not always been the norm.  There have been occasions in the past where the Speaker of the House was a first-time MP.  For instance, Mr. K.S. Hegde, the Speaker of the sixth Lok Sabha and Mr. Bal Ram Jakhar, the Speaker of the seventh Lok Sabha were both first time MPs

What is the role of the Speaker in the House?

The Speaker is central to the functioning of the legislature.  The proceedings of the House are guided by the Rules of Procedure and the final authority for the interpretation and implementation of these rules rests with the Speaker.  The Speaker is responsible for regulating the discussion in the House and maintaining order in the House.  For instance, it is the Speaker’s discretion on whether to allow a member to raise a matter of public importance in the House.  The Speaker can suspend a sitting member for obstructing the business of the House, or adjourn the House in case of major disorder.

The Speaker is also the chair of the Business Advisory Committee, which is responsible for deciding the business of the House and allocating time for the same.  The Speaker also chairs the General Purposes Committee and the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha and appoints the chairpersons of other committees amongst the members.  In the past, Speakers have also been instrumental in strengthening the Committee system.  Mr. Shivraj Patil, the Speaker of the 10th Lok Sabha, played a key role in the initiation of 17 Departmental Standing Committees, therefore strengthening Parliament’s control over the functioning of different ministries of the government.

Since the Speaker represents the entire House, the office of the Speaker is vested with impartiality and independence.  The Constitution and the Rules of Procedure have prescribed guidelines for the Speaker’s office to ensure such impartiality and independence.  Dr. N. Sanjiva Reddy, the Speaker of the fourth Lok Sabha, formally resigned from his political party as he was of the opinion that the Speaker belongs to the whole House and should therefore remain impartial.  As per Article 100 of the Constitution, the Speaker does not exercise vote on any matter being voted upon, in the first instance.  However, in case there’s a tie during the voting, the Speaker exercises her vote. 

What does the President’s Address entail?

The election of the Speaker is followed by the President’s Address.  Article 87 of the Constitution requires the President to address both Houses at the beginning of the first session after each general election.  The President also addresses both the Houses at the beginning of the first session of each year.  The President’s address highlights the initiatives of the government from the previous year, and mentions the policy priorities for the upcoming year.  After the address, the ruling party moves a Motion of Thanks to the President’s address in both Houses of Parliament.  In the Motion of Thanks, MPs may move amendments to the motion, which are then put to vote. 

The President of India, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind will address Parliament in this first session of the 17th Lok Sabha.  During the 16th Lok Sabha, the first President’s address was held on June 9, 2014 and the last time he addressed Parliament was on January 31, 2019 (highlights of this address can be read here).

 

Sources: The Constitution of India; Rules and Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha; Handbook on the Working of Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; The website of Parliament of India, Lok Sabha; The website of Office of the Speaker, Lok Sabha.

How votes are counted in Indian elections?

The counting of votes for General Election 2019, which concluded on Sunday, will begin tomorrow, i.e., 23rd May at 8 AM.  The election was conducted in 7 phases for 543 constituencies of Lok Sabha.  The Election Commission of India (ECI) uses Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to conduct elections. Since 2000, ECI has conducted 113 assembly elections and three general elections using EVMs.[1]  Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was added to EVMs in 2013 to increase transparency and improve voter confidence in the system.  The VVPAT system generates a printed paper slip bearing the name and election symbol of the candidate.  On April 8, 2019, Supreme Court instructed the ECI that printed VVPAT slips from randomly selected five polling stations in each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency should be matched with EVMs.[2]  In this blog, we explain the election counting process in India.

Who is responsible for counting the votes?

The Returning Officer (RO) is responsible for conducting elections in a constituency, which also includes counting of votes.[3] The RO is an officer of the government or a local authority nominated by the ECI for each constituency in consultation with the state government.[4]

Where does the counting take place?

The RO decides the place where the votes will be counted for the parliamentary constituency.  The date and time of counting is fixed by the ECI.  Ideally counting of votes for a constituency should be done at one place, preferably at the Headquarter of the RO in that constituency.  It should be performed under the direct supervision of the RO.  However, each Parliamentary Constituency has multiple assembly segments.  In this situation, counting can take place at different locations for various assembly segments under the direct supervision of an Assistant Returning Officer (ARO).

Layout of the Counting Hall

Page 431, Handbook for Returning Officer Document 23 Edition 1, Election Commission of India

Counting of votes for each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency is performed in a single hall.  In each round of counting, votes from 14 EVMs are counted.  In case of simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections, such as Odisha, the first seven tables are used for counting votes for assembly elections, and the rest for parliamentary elections.

In constituencies with a large number of candidates, it may not be possible to count votes for all candidates in a single hall without overcrowding it.  In such a situation, the number of counting halls or tables can be increased with the prior permission of the ECI.  A hall can also be used for counting votes of another assembly segment after the results of the first segment are declared.  However, counting may be done for only one assembly segment in a hall at any point of time.

What is the counting process?

Counting is performed by counting supervisors appointed by the RO.  Counting staff is appointed through a three stage randomisation process to ensure impartiality.  Candidates along with their counting agents and election agents are also present in the counting hall.

Counting of votes begins with Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballots (ETPB) and Postal Ballots (PB). These votes are counted under the direct supervision of the RO. Counting of EVMs can start 30 minutes after the commencement of PB counting, even if all PBs have not been counted.  At the end of each round of counting, the results from 14 EVMs are declared.

What is the process for counting VVPAT slips?

The ECI prescribes the process for randomly selecting one EVM for each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency for VVPAT matching.  The verification of VVPAT paper slips is conducted inside a secured VVPAT Counting Booth in the counting hall with access to authorised personnel only.  Any counting table in the hall can be converted into VVPAT Counting Booth after completing EVM vote counting.  Parliamentary constituencies generally have between five and ten assembly segments.

The Supreme Court has decided that VVPAT slips of five randomly selected polling stations for each assembly segment shall be matched with the result shown in the respective EVMs.  This implies that VVPAT paper slips need to be matched for about 25-50 machines for each parliamentary constituency.  This process requires personal supervision of RO/ARO.  The ECI has decided that the counting of five VVPATs will be done sequentially.[5]  The RO can declare the final result for the constituency after the VVPAT matching process has been completed.

What happens if there is a discrepancy between the VVPAT count and the EVM results?

In such a case, the printed paper slips count is taken as final. The ECI has not clarified whether there would be any further action (such as counting of all VVPATs in a constituency or assembly segment) if there is a discrepancy in the counts of one of the five VVPATs.

[1] https://www.eci.gov.in/files/file/8756-status-paper-on-evm-edition-3/.

[2] N Chandrababu Naidu and Ors. v. Union of India and Anr WP(C). 273/2019 decided on April 8, 2019.

[3] https://www.eci.gov.in/files/file/9400-hand-book-for-returning-officer-february-2019/.

[4] https://www.eci.gov.in/faqs/elections/election-machinery/faqs-election-machinery-r1/.

[5] https://www.eci.gov.in/files/file/10197-mandatory-verification-of-vvpat-paper-slips-regarding/.

Analysis of the contesting candidates in General Election 2019

The nominations for all phases of the General Election have been submitted.  We examine highlights from data on candidates who are participating in the ongoing elections.  There are 8,039 candidates contesting for 542 Parliamentary constituency seats.
 

On average, 14.8 candidates are contesting per constituency across the country.  Among all the states, Telangana has the highest average number of candidates contesting.  This is primarily due to 185 contestants from Nizamabad.  Excluding Nizamabad, the state’s average number of contestants would be 16.1.  

 

The Election Commission of India recognises parties as either national or state parties based on their performance in previous elections.  Delhi and Haryana have a high number of candidates contesting from parties that have not been recognised as either national or state parties.

After Telangana, Tamil Nadu has the highest average of independent candidates contesting in this election.  On average, of the candidates in each constituency in Tamil Nadu, two-thirds are contesting as independent candidates.  

 

After Nizamabad, the second highest number of candidate representation is seen in Belgaum, Karnataka.  The five constituencies that have the highest candidate representation are from the southern states of Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.    

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress are contesting 435 and 420 seats respectively.  In 373 seats they are in competition with each other.  BSP has the third highest number of candidates contesting in this election.

The seven national parties together fielded 2.69 candidates per constituency.  Among the largest five states, West Bengal has the highest representation of candidates from national parties, at 4.6.  In that state, candidates from five national parties are contesting.

Recognised state parties, together, fielded 1.53 candidates per constituency.  Bihar (6 state parties) and Tamil Nadu (8 state parties) see a high representation of candidates from state parties, at 1.2 and 1.3 respectively.

Largest states are ones with more than 30 Parliamentary constituency seats: Uttar Pradesh (80), Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42), Bihar (40), and Tamil Nadu (39).  These states together have 249 seats i.e., 46% of Lok Sabha.

For these five states, the number of seats being contested by national and state parties is shown in the figures below.  

This analysis is based on the candidate list available on the Election Commission website (eci.gov.in) on May 8, 2019.

Explainer: Mechanisms to investigate charges against a Supreme Court judge

This week, an in-house inquiry committee was constituted to consider a complaint against the current Chief Justice of India.  Over the years, three mechanisms have evolved to investigate cases of misconduct, including cases of sexual harassment, misbehaviour or incapacity against judges.  In this blog, we summarise the procedure for investigating such charges against judges of the Supreme Court.  

  • In-house procedure (1999): The Supreme Court has an in-house process to deal with allegations against a judge relating to the discharge of his judicial function, or with regard to his conduct or behaviour outside court.   
  • Sexual harassment guidelines: In 2013, Parliament passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.  Subsequently, the Supreme Court framed regulations for protection of women against sexual harassment in the Supreme Court. Under the regulations, the CJI is required to constitute a Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC).  The GSICC will include 7-13 members including: (i) one or two judges of the Supreme Court, and (ii) up to two outside members (having experience in social justice, women empowerment, gender justice, among others) to be nominated by the CJI.  The Regulations require the majority of the members of GSICC to be women.  As of 2018, the GSICC has received 13 complaints, out of which 10 have been disposed of. 
  • Removal for proven misbehaviour or incapacity: Charges of misconduct may also be investigated in the context of proceedings for removal of a judge.  Article 124(4) of the Constitution of India provides that a judge can be removed only by Parliament on the basis of a motion in either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha.  The procedure for removal of judges is elaborated in the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968.  Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary has been impeached under this process. 

Table 1: Process for investigation of charges against a Supreme Court judge

 

In-house Procedure of Supreme Court

2013 SC Sexual Harassment Regulation

Removal Proceedings

Who may file a complaint

  • Complaint of misconduct may be filed by any person.
  • Written complaint of sexual harassment by a woman.
  • Signed notice by at least 100 members of the Lok Sabha, or 50 members of the Rajya Sabha on charges of misbehaviour or incapacity by a judge. 

Persons to whom complaint must be filed

  • CJI or President of India
  • GSICC
  • Presiding Officer of the relevant House of Parliament

Preliminary Inquiry

  • The CJI is required to determine whether the complaint is either frivolous or serious. If the complaint is frivolous or relates to a pending case, no further action will be taken.
  • If the CJI finds that the complaint involves serious misconduct or impropriety, he will seek the response of the concerned Judge. 
  • Based on the response and supporting materials, if the CJI finds that the complaint needs a deeper probe, he will constitute an inquiry committee. 
  • If the GSICC is satisfied that the complaint is genuine, it will constitute a three-member Internal Sub-Committee to conduct an inquiry into the complaint. 
  • If the notice is in order, the Presiding Officer will constitute a three-member committee to investigate the complaint.

Composition of Inquiry Committee

  • The Committee will comprise three judges including a Judge of the Supreme Court and two Chief Justices of other High Courts.
  • The Committee will comprise members of the GSICC or persons nominated by the GSICC, with majority members being a woman and an outside member.
  • The committee will comprise a Supreme Court judge, Chief Justice of a High Court, and a distinguished jurist. 

Time limit for submission of inquiry report

  • No specific time limit provided.
  • To be completed within 90 days of the constitution of the Internal Sub-Committee, and forwarded to the GSICC within 10 days of completion. 
  • To be submitted to the presiding officer within 90 days.

Findings of the Committee

  • The Committee may report to the CJI that:

1.  there is no substance in the allegation made, or,

2.  there is substance in the allegations but the misconduct is not of such serious nature as to warrant removal, or,

3.  the misconduct is serious enough to initiate removal proceedings against the judge. 

  • If the committee concludes that the allegation has been proved, it will submit its report to the GSICC to pass appropriate orders within 45 days.
  • If more than two thirds of the GSICC members differ from the conclusion of the Committee, it will, after hearing the complainant and the accused, record its reasons for differing and pass orders.
  • After concluding its investigation, the Committee will submit its report to the presiding officer, who will lay the report before the relevant House.

 

Action taken upon submission of report

  • If the finding is under category (2) above, the CJI may call and advise the Judge accordingly and direct that the report be placed on record.
  • If the finding is under category (3) above, the CJI may ask the judge to resign or seek voluntary retirement.  If the judge refuses to resign, the CJI may decide to not allocate any judicial work to the judge concerned. 
  •  Further, the CJI may inform the President of India and the Prime Minister of his reasons for the action taken and forward a copy of the inquiry report to them.
  • The GSICC has the power to: (i) to pass an order of admonition (reprimand), which may also be published in the court precinct, or (ii) pass an order to prohibit the accused from harassing or communicating with the complainant, or (iii) pass any other order to end the sexual harassment faced by the complainant.
  • GSICC may also recommend to the CJI to pass orders against the accused, including: (i) prohibiting entry of the accused into the Supreme Court for up to a year, or (ii) filing a criminal complaint before the concerned disciplinary authority governing the accused.
  • If the report records a finding of misbehaviour or incapacity, the motion for removal will be taken up for consideration and debated. 
  • The motion is required to be adopted by each House by a majority of the total membership of that House and a majority of at least two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting.
  • Once the motion is adopted in both Houses, it is sent to the President, who will issue an order for the removal of the judge.

Process for Appeals

  • No specific provision.
  • Any aggrieved person may make a representation to the CJI to set aside/modify the orders passed by the GSICC.  The CJI also has the power to issue any other orders in order to secure justice to the victim.
  • No specific provision.

Sources: Report of the Committee on In-House Procedure, December 1999, Supreme Court of India; Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013; Article 124(4), Constitution of India; Judges Inquiry Act, 1968 read with the Judges Inquiry Rules, 1969; PRS.

Context to the Supreme Court Order on stressed assets of banks

The increasing Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector has recently been the subject of much discussion and scrutiny.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a circular dated February 12, 2018 issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).  The RBI circular laid down a revised framework for the resolution of stressed assets.  In this blog, we examine the extent of NPAs in India, and recent events leading up to the Supreme Court judgement.

What is the extent and effect of the NPA problem in India?

Banks give loans and advances to borrowers. Based on the performance of the loan, it may be categorised as: (i) a standard asset (a loan where the borrower is making regular repayments), or (ii) a non-performing asset. NPAs are loans and advances where the borrower has stopped making interest or principal repayments for over 90 days.

As of 2018, the total NPAs in the economy stand at Rs 9.6 lakh crore.  About 88% of these NPAs are from loans and advances of public sector banks.  Banks are required to lend a certain percentage of their loans to priority sectors.  These sectors are identified by the RBI and include agriculture, housing, education and small scale industries.[1]  In 2018, of the total NPAs, 22% were from priority sector loans, and 78% were from non-priority sector loans. 

In the last few years, gross NPAs of banks (as a percentage of total loans) have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 9.3% in 2017 (see Figure 1). This indicates that an increasing proportion of a bank’s assets have ceased to generate income for the bank, lowering the bank’s profitability and its ability to grant further credit.

Figure 1: Gross NPAs (% of total loans)

Source: Reserve Bank of India; PRS

What has been done to address the problem of growing NPAs?

The measures taken to resolve and prevent NPAs can broadly be classified into two kinds – first, remedial measures for banks prescribed by the RBI for internal restructuring of stressed assets, and second, legislative means of resolving NPAs under various laws (like the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016).

Remedial Measures

Over the years, the RBI has issued various guidelines for banks aimed at the resolution of stressed assets in the economy. These included introduction of certain schemes such as: (i) Strategic Debt Restructuring (which allowed banks to change the management of the defaulting company), and (ii) Joint Lenders’ Forum (where lenders evolved a resolution plan and voted on its implementation).   A summary of the various schemes implemented by the RBI is provided in Table 1. 

Table 1: Non-legislative loan recovery framework

Loan restructuring

  • Banks internally undertake restructuring of loans, if the borrower is unable to repay the amount.  This involves changing the terms of repayment, which includes altering the payment schedule of loans or interest rates.

Corporate Debt Restructuring

  • Allows for restructuring of a borrower’s outstanding loans from more than one bank.  This mechanism is available if the borrower’s outstanding loans are more than Rs 10 crore.[2]

Joint Lender's Forum

  • Lenders evolve an action plan to resolve the NPA of a defaulter.[3]  If 60% of the creditors by value, and 50% of the creditors by number agree, a recovery plan will be implemented.[4]

5:25 Scheme

  • Banks can extend loan term to 25 years based on cash flow of projects for which the loan was given.  Interest rates and other terms of the loans may be readjusted every five years.[5]

Strategic Debt Restructuring

  • Banks convert their debt into equity to hold a majority of shares in a company.  This allows banks to change the management of the defaulting company.[6]

Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets

  • Allows for conversion of a part of the outstanding debt to equity or preference shares if: (i) project for which loan was taken has commenced operations, and (ii) borrower can repay over 50% of the loan.[7]

Sources: RBI scheme guidelines; Economic Survey 2016-17; PRS.

Legislative Measures

  • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) was enacted in May 2016 to provide a time-bound 180-day recovery process for insolvent accounts. When a default occurs, the creditors or debtor may apply to the National Company Law Tribunal for initiating the resolution process. Once the application is approved, the resolution process will have to be completed within 180 days (extendable by 90 days) from the date of approval.  The resolution process will be presided over by an insolvency professional to decide whether to restructure the loan, or to sell the defaulter’s assets to recover the outstanding amount.  If a timely decision is not arrived at, the defaulter’s assets are liquidated.
  • The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017: The amendment allows RBI to direct banks to initiate recovery proceedings against defaulting accounts under the IBC.  Further, under Section 35AA of the Act, RBI may also issue directions to banks for resolution of specific stressed assets. 

In June 2017, an internal advisory committee of RBI identified 500 defaulters with the highest value of NPAs.[8]  The committee recommended that 12 largest non-performing accounts, each with outstanding amounts greater than Rs 5,000 crore and totalling 25% of the NPAs of the economy, be referred for resolution under the IBC immediately.  Proceedings against the 12 largest defaulters have been initiated under the IBC. 

What was the February 12 circular issued by the RBI?

Subsequent to the enactment of the IBC, the RBI put in place a framework for restructuring of stressed assets of over Rs 2,000 crore on or after March 1, 2018.  The resolution plan for such restructuring must be unanimously approved by all lenders and implemented within 180 days from the date of the first default.  If the plan is not implemented within the stipulated time period, the stressed assets are required to be referred to the NCLT under IBC within 15 days.  Further, the framework introduced a provision for early identification and categorisation of stressed assets before they are classified as NPAs.

On what grounds was the RBI circular challenged?

Borrowers whose loans were tagged as NPAs before the release of the circular recently crossed the 180-day deadline for internal resolution by banks. Some of these borrowers, including various power producers and sugar mills, had appealed against the RBI circular in various High Courts. A two-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court ruled in favour of the RBI’s powers to issue these guidelines, and refused to grant interim relief to power producers from being taken to the NCLT for bankruptcy. These batch of petitions against the circular were transferred to the Supreme Court, which issued an order in September 2018 to maintain status quo on the same.

What did the Supreme Court order?

The Court held the circular issued by RBI was outside the scope of the power given to it under Article 35AA of the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2017.  The Court reasoned that Section 35AA was proposed by the 2017 Act to authorise the RBI to issues directions only in relation to specific cases of default by specific debtors.  It held that the RBI circular issued directions in relation to debtors in general and this was outside their scope of power.  The court also held that consequently all IBC proceedings initiated under the RBI circular are quashed. 

During the proceedings, various companies argued that the RBI circular applies to all corporate debtors alike, without looking into each individual’s sectors problems and attempting to solve them.  For instance, several power companies provided sector specific reasons for delay in payment of bank dues.  The reasons included: (i) cancellation of coal blocks by the SC leading to non-availability of fuel, (ii) lack of enough power purchase agreements by states, (iii) non-payment of dues by DISCOMs, and (iv) delays in project implementation leading to cost overruns.  Note that, in its 40th report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy analysed the impact of the RBI circular on the power sector and noted that the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the RBI is erroneous. 

 

 

[1]Priority Sector Lending – Targets and Classification’ Reserve Bank of India, July 2012, https://rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=7460&Mode=0

[2] Revised Guidelines on Corporate Debt Restructuring Mechanism, Reserve Bank of India, https://www.rbi.org.in/upload/notification/pdfs/67158.pdf

[3]Framework for Revitalising Distressed Assets in the Economy – Guidelines on Joint Lenders’ Forum (JLF) and Corrective Action Plan (CAP)’, Reserve Bank of India, February 26, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=8754&Mode=0

[4] Timelines for Stressed Assets, Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, May 5, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10957&Mode=0

[5] Flexible Structuring of Long Term Project Loans to Infrastructure and Core Industries, RBI, July 15, 2014, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=9101&Mode=0

[6] Chapter 4, The Economic Survey 2016-17, http://unionbudget.nic.in/es2016-17/echap04.pdf

[7]RBI introduces a ‘Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets’’ Press Release, Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2016, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=37210

[8] RBI identifies Accounts for Reference by Banks under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Reserve Bank of India, June 13, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_PressReleaseDisplay.aspx?prid=40743

Model Code of Conduct and the 2019 General Elections

Yesterday, the Election Commission announced the dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.  The voting will take place in seven phases between April 11, 2019 to May 19, 2019.  With this announcement, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has comes into force.  In this blog, we outline the key features of the MCC. 

What is the Model Code of Conduct and who does it apply to?

The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures. The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.  Thus, for the general elections this year, the MCC came into force on March 10, 2019, when the election schedule was announced, and will operate till May 23, 2019, when the final results will be announced. 

How has the Model Code of Conduct evolved over time? 

According to a Press Information Bureau release, a form of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.  It was a set of instructions to political parties regarding election meetings, speeches, slogans, etc. In the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the MCC was circulated to recognised parties, and state governments sought feedback from the parties.  The MCC was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections.  In 1979, the Election Commission added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.  In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include guidelines regarding election manifestos, which it had included in the MCC for the 2014 general elections. 

What are the key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct?

The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, party in power, and election manifestos.  Major provisions of the MCC are outlined below.

  • General Conduct:  Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work.  Activities such as: (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports, (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
  • Meetings:  Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
  • Processions:  If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash.  Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
  • Polling day:  All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges.  These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
  • Polling booths:  Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
  • Observers:  The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
  • Party in power:  The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power.  Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.  The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.  Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc.   Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.
  • Election manifestos:  Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

What changes have been recommended in relation to the MCC since the last general elections?

In 2015, the Law Commission in its report on Electoral Reforms, noted that the MCC prohibits the issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in newspapers/media during the election period.  However, it observed that since the MCC comes into operation only from the date on which the Commission announces elections, the government can release advertisements prior to the announcement of elections.  It noted that this gives an advantage to the ruling party to issue government sponsored advertisements that highlights its achievements, which gives it an undue advantage over other parties and candidates.  Therefore, the Commission recommended that a restriction should be imposed on government-sponsored advertisements for up to six months prior to the date of expiry of the House/Assembly.  However, it stated that an exception may be carved out for advertisements highlighting the government's poverty alleviation programmes or any health related schemes.

Is the Model Code of Conduct legally binding? 

The MCC is not enforceable by law.  However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding; stating that elections must be completed within a relatively short time (close to 45 days),  and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law. On the other hand, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding.  In a report on electoral reforms, the Standing Committee observed that most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above.  It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Note that this is an updated version of a previous blog published in 2014.

Examining the anti-trafficking Bill, 2018

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today.  Earlier this year, the Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha.  It provides for the prevention, rescue, and rehabilitation of trafficked persons.  If the Bill is not passed today, it will lapse with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.  In this post, we analyse the Bill in its current form.

What was the need for a new law?

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 8,132 human trafficking cases were reported in India in 2016 under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.[i]  In the same year, 23,117 trafficking victims were rescued.  Of these, the highest number of persons were trafficked for forced labour (45.5%), followed by prostitution (21.5%).  Table 1 provides details of persons trafficked for various purposes (as of 2016). 

Table 1: Victims rescued by type of purpose of trafficking ​

Purpose 2016 (as a %)
Forced labour 10,509 45.5
Prostitution 4,980 21.5
Other forms of sexual exploitation 2,590 11.5
Domestic servitude 412 1.8
Forced marriage 349 1.5
Petty crimes 212 0.9
Child pornography 162 0.7
Begging 71 0.3
Drug peddling 8 0
Removal of organs 2 0
Other reasons 3,824 16.5
Total persons 23,117 100

Source: Human Trafficking, Crime in India, 2016, National Crime Records Bureau; PRS

In India, the offence of trafficking is dealt with under different laws.  Trafficking is primarily an offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.  It defines trafficking to include recruiting, transporting, or harboring persons by force or other means, for exploitation.  In addition, there are a range of laws presently which deal with bonded labour, exploitation of children, and commercial sexual exploitation.  Each of these laws operate independently, have their own enforcement machinery and prescribe penalties for offences related to trafficking. 

In 2015, pursuant to a Supreme Court order, the Ministry of Women and Child Development constituted a Committee to identify gaps in the current legislation on trafficking and to examine the feasibility of a comprehensive legislation on trafficking.[ii]  Consequently, the Trafficking Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Women and Child Development, Ms. Maneka Gandhi in July, 2018.

What does the Bill seek to do?

The Bill provides for the investigation of trafficking cases, and rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked victims.  It includes trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, slavery, or forced removal of organs.  In addition, the law also considers trafficking for certain purposes, such as for begging or for inducing early sexual maturity, to be an aggravated form of trafficking.  These forms of trafficking attract a higher punishment.  

In order to punish trafficking, the Bill provides for the setting up of investigation and rehabilitation authorities at the district, state and national level.  The primary investigation responsibility lies with anti-trafficking police officers and anti-trafficking units constituted at the district level.  The authority at the national level can take over investigation of cases referred to it by two or more states. 

The Bill also provides for the setting up of Protection Homes and Rehabilitation Homes to provide care and rehabilitation to the victims.  The Bill supplements the rehabilitation efforts through a Rehabilitation Fund, which will be used to set up the Protection and Rehabilitation Homes.  Special Courts will be designated in every district to complete trial of trafficking cases within a year. 

Additionally, the Bill specifies penalties for various offences including for promotion of trafficking and trafficking with the aid of media.  All offences are cognizable (i.e. police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable.  If a person is found guilty under the Bill and also under any other law, the punishment which is higher will apply to the offender.

How does the Bill compare with existing trafficking laws?

The current Bill does not replace but adds to the existing legal framework.  As discussed above, currently a range of laws deal with various aspects of trafficking.  For instance, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 covers trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation while the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 deals with punishment for employment of bonded labour.  These laws specify their own procedures for enforcement and rehabilitation. 

One of the challenges with the Bill is that these laws will continue to be in force after the Bill.  Since each of these laws have different procedures, it is unclear as to which procedure will apply in certain cases of trafficking.  This may result in overlap in implementation of these laws.  For instance, under the ITPA, 1986, Protective Homes provide for rehabilitation of victims of sexual exploitation.  The Bill also provides for setting up of Protection Homes.  When a victim of sexual exploitation is rescued, it is not clear as to which of these Homes she will be sent to.  Further, each of these laws designate special courts to hear offences.  The question arises as to which of these courts will hear the case. 

Are the offences in the Bill reasonably tailored?

As discussed earlier, the Bill imposes penalties for various offences connected with trafficking.  One of the offences states that if trafficking is committed on a premise, it will be presumed that the owner of the premise had knowledge of the offence.  The implication of this would be that if an owner lives in a different city, say Delhi, and lets out his house in Mumbai to another person, and this person is discovered to be detaining girls for sexual exploitation on the premise, it will be presumed that the owner knew about the commission of the offence.  In such circumstances, he will have to prove that he did not know about the offence being committed on his premise.  This provision is a departure from the standard principle in criminal law where the guilt of the accused has to be proved and not presumed.   

There are other laws where the owner of a property is presumed guilty.  However, the prosecution is required to prove certain facts before presuming his guilt.  For instance, under the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 it is presumed that the owner has knowledge of an offence committed on his property.  However, the Bill clarifies that the presumption will only apply if the prosecution can prove that the accused was connected with the circumstances of the case.  For instance, an owner of a truck is not presumed to be guilty only because his truck was used for transporting drugs.[iii]  However, he may be considered guilty if he was also driving the truck in which drugs were transported.[iv]  The Bill does not contain such safeguards and this provision may therefore violate Article 21 of the Constitution which requires that laws which deprive a person of his life or personal liberty should be fair and reasonable.[v] 

Does the Bill provide any protection to trafficking victims compelled to commit crimes?

The Bill provides immunity to a victim who commits an offence punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for 10 years.  Immunity to victims is desirable to ensure that they are not prosecuted for committing crimes which are a direct consequence of them being trafficked.[vi]  However, the Bill provides immunity only for serious crimes.  For instance, a trafficked victim who commits murder under coercion of his traffickers may be able to claim immunity from being tried for murder.  However, if a trafficked victim commits petty theft (e.g. pickpocketing) under coercion of his traffickers, he will not be able to claim immunity. 

Further, the immunity is only available when the victim can show that the offence was committed under coercion, threat, intimidation or undue influence, and there was a reasonable apprehension of death or injury.  Therefore, it may be argued that the threshold to claim immunity from prosecution may be too high and may defeat the purpose for providing such immunity.  

[i]. ‘Crime in India’ 2016, National Crime Records Bureau.

[ii]. Prajwala vs. Union of India 2016 (1) SCALE 298.

[iii]. Bhola Singh vs. State of Punjab (2011) 11 SCC 653.

[iv]. Sushant Gupta vs. Union of India 2014 (308) ELT 661 (All.).

[v]  Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India 1978 AIR 597.

[vi]. Guideline 7, ‘Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking’, OHCHR,  https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Traffickingen.pdf.

President’s Address 2014-2018: A Status Report

The budget session of Parliament every year starts with the President’s Address to both Houses.  In this speech, the President highlights the government’s achievements and legislative activities in the last year, and announces its agenda for the upcoming year.   The address is followed by a motion of thanks that is moved in each House by ruling party MPs.  This is followed by a discussion on the address and concludes with the Prime Minister replying to the points raised during the discussion.

Today, the Budget Session 2019 commenced with the President, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind addressing a joint sitting of Parliament.  In his speech, he highlighted some of the objectives that the government has realised in the past year.  The President also highlighted the progress made by the government under various development schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. 

Given that today’s address comes at the end of this government’s term, we examine the status of some key policy initiatives announced by the current government, that have been highlighted in speeches made in the past five years.  

Policy priority stated in President’s Addresses 2014-2018

                                                                       Current Status

Economy and Finance

Despite a global economic downturn, the Indian economy has remained on a high growth trajectory.

 

  • Growth Rate: The GDP is estimated to grow at 7.2% in 2018-19.[i]  In the last five years, GDP growth rate stayed within 7% and 8% per year, with a dip to 6.7% in 2017-18, the year of demonetisation.[ii],[iii]
  • Inflation: A target of 4% for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation was notified by the Ministry of Finance for the period 2016-2021.[iv] CPI stayed within this band for most of the period between 2014 and 2018.
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves stood at USD 397 billion on January 2019, as compared to USD 313 billion in May, 2014.[v],[vi]

Measures to deal with corruption, black money and counterfeit currency will be introduced

 

  • Demonetisation:  On November 8, 2016, the Government announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes.[vii]  During the period from November 2016 to October 2017, undisclosed income of over Rs 24,800 crore was detected.[viii]
  • The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 was passed in July, 2018.  The Bill seeks to confiscate properties of economic offenders who have left the country to avoid facing criminal prosecution.[ix]
  • The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 amends the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.  Under the 1988 Act, taking of a bribe by a public official was an offence.  The Bill also makes the giving of a bribe an offence.[x] 

To promote the concept of cooperative federalism through One Nation-One Tax and One Nation-One Market, the government introduced the Goods and Services Tax

  • Goods and Services Tax was introduced across the country from July 1, 2017.[xi]  

Agriculture

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for a majority of people.  For holistic development of the agricultural sector, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana was launched in 2016

  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY):  PMFBY was launched with the aim of providing insurance coverage and financial support to farmers in the event of crop failure.  The number of farmers enrolled under the scheme declined from 5.7 crore in 2016-17 to 5.2 crore in 2017-18.[xii]  

Employment and Entrepreneurship

The government has continuously worked for reforms of labour laws.  Minimum wages have increased by more than 40%

 

  • Over the last three years, the Ministry of Labour and Employment has introduced three draft Codes to simplify labour laws.  These are: (i) the draft Labour Code on Industrial Relations, (ii) the draft Code on Social Security and (iii) the draft Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions.60  Additionally, in 2017, the Code on Wages Bill, 2017 was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
  • In 2017, the central government increased minimum wages by 40% through a gazette notification.  Minimum wages (per day) for non-agricultural workers increased from Rs 250 to Rs 350 for unskilled workers and Rs 523 for skilled workers.[xiii],[xiv],[xv]

Infrastructure

Cities are the engines of economic growth.  The Smart City programme was initiated to build modern amenities and infrastructure.

 

  • Smart Cities and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) have an outlay of Rs 48,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore for the period 2015-2020, respectively.[xvi]
  • As of January 19, 2018, 100 smart cities have been selected.  As of 2018, the total proposed investment in these cities is Rs 2,05,018 crore.[xvii],[xviii]

All rural habitations will be connected with all-weather roads. So far, 73,000 kilometres of roads have been laid in rural areas.

 

  • The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) aims to connect all eligible unconnected habitations in rural areas with all-weather roads by March 2019.[xix],[xx]  As of January 29, 2019, of the target of 1.52 lakh habitations to be covered since the inception of the scheme, 1.46 lakh (96%) habitations have been connected.[xxi]  

Housing is a fundamental right.  All households shall have a dwelling unit under the Mission Housing for All by 2022.

 

  • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) was launched in 2015.  The Yojana has two components: rural and urban. 
  • Under PMAY-Urban, 5,33,000 have been completed in 2018-19.  Under PMAY-Rural, 14,21,850 have been built in 2018-19. [xxii],[xxiii]

Health and Sanitation

Poor sanitation weakens the economic wherewithal of a poor household.  The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aims to ensure health and sanitation. 

  • Swachh Bharat Mission: Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) was launched on October 2, 2014 to achieve a clean and open defecation free India.  It has two components: SBM Urban and SBM Rural. [xxiv],[xxv]
  • Under SBM Urban, as of January 29, 2019, 24,130 individual household toilets have been constructed.[xxvi]
  • Under SBM Gramin, as of January 30, 2019, 919 lakh individual household toilets have been constructed (98.81% of target). [xxvii],[xxviii]

The government is committed to providing affordable and accessible healthcare to all its citizens, particularly the vulnerable groups.

  • Ayushmaan Bharat: In the General Budget 2018-19, the Government announced two major initiatives in health sector as a part of the Ayushman Bharat program.  These were: Health and Wellness Centres and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY).[xxix]
  • Ayushmaan Bharat aims to create 1,50,000 health and wellness centres providing comprehensive primary healthcare. Rs 1200 crore has been allocated for this purpose.[xxx] PMJAY will cover over ten crore poor and vulnerable families. [xxxi]  It will provide coverage of up to five lakh rupees per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation.  For the year 2018-19, Rs 3,125 crore has been allocated for this scheme.[xxxii]

Source: President’s Addresses 2014-2018; PRS.

For important highlights from the President’s address in 2019, please see here.  For a deeper analysis of the status of implementation of the announcements made in the President’s addresses from 2014 to 2018, please see here.

 

[i] “Press Note on First Advance Estimates of National Income: 2018-19”, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Press Information Bureau, http://www.mospi.gov.in/sites/default/files/press_release/Presss%20note%20for%20first%20advance%20estimates%202018-19.pdf.

[ii] “Second Advance Estimates of National Income, 2017-18”, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Press Information Bureau, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=176847

[iii] “Second Advance Estimates of National Income, 2016-17”, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Press Information Bureau, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=158734

[iv] Overview-Monetary Policy, Reserve Bank of India, https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/FS_Overview.aspx?fn=2752

[v] “Foreign Exchange Reserves,”  Reserve Bank of India, January 25, 2019, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/WSSView.aspx?Id=22729.

[vi] RBI Database, https://dbie.rbi.org.in/DBIE/dbie.rbi?site=home.

[vii] Table No.  160, Handbook of Statistics on the Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/AnnualPublications.aspx?head =Handbook%20of%20Statistics%20on%20Indian%20Economy

[viii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.  1319, Ministry of Finance, December 22, 2017, http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=59329&lsno=16.

[ix] “The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018”, PRS Legislative Research, March 16, 2018, http://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/Fugitive%20Economic%20Offenders%20Bill%20-%20Bill%20Summary.pdf.

[x] “The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill”, PRS Legislative Research, February 12, 2014, http://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/Bill_Summary-_Prevention_of_Corruption_1.pdf.

[xi] “GST roll-out – Complete transformation of the Indirect Taxation Landscape; Some minute details of how it happened, Ministry of Finance”, Press Information Bureau, June 30, 2017, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=167023.

[xii] Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 17, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, December 11, 2018, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/16/AS17.pdf.

[xiii] “Year End Review, Ministry of Labour and Employment”, December 18, 2017, http://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1512998.

[xiv] Rate of Minimum Wages, Ministry of Labour and Employment, March 1 2017, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/MX-M452N_20170518_132440.pdf.

[xv] Gazette Number 173, Ministry of Labour and Employment, January 19, 2017, Gazette of India, http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2017/173724.pdf.

[xvi] “Union Cabinet approves Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation and Smart Cities Mission to drive economic growth and foster inclusive urban development”, Press Information Bureau, April 29, 2015, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=119925.

[xvii] “Shillong (Meghalaya) gets selected as the 100th Smart City”, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Press Information Bureau, June 20, 2018, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=180063

[xviii] “Year Ender- Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs-2018”, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Press Information Bureau, December 31, 2018, http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1557895.

[xix] PMGSY Guidelines, Ministry of Rural Development, last accessed on October 23, 2018. http://pmgsy.nic.in/.

[xx] “Implementation of PMGSY”, Ministry of Rural Development, Press Information Bureau, December 27, 2018, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=186837.

[xxi] Online Management, Monitoring and Accounting System (OMMAS), Pradhan Mantri, Gram Sadak Yojana, last accessed on October 23, 2018, http://omms.nic.in/Home/CitizenPage/#.

[xxii] High Level Physical Progress Report, PMAYG, Ministry of Rural Development, last accessed on January 25, 2019, https://rhreporting.nic.in/netiay/PhysicalProgressReport/physicalprogressreport.aspx

[xxiii] “Year Ender-6-PMAY-Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, 2018”, Press Information Bureau, December 27, 2018, http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1557462.

[xxiv] “Swachh Bharat Mission needs to become a Jan Andolan with participation from every stakeholder: Hardeep Puri, 1,789 Cities have been declared ODF conference on PPP model for waste to energy projects”, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Press Information Bureau, November 30, 2017, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=173995.

[xxv] “PM launches Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan”, Prime Minister’s Office, Press Information Bureau, October 2, 2014, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=110247.

[xxvi] “Individual Household Latrine Application”, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, last accessed on January 30, 2019, http://swachhbharaturban.gov.in/ihhl/RPTApplicationSummary.aspx.

[xxvii] “Individual Household Latrine Application”, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, last accessed on January 30, 2019, http://swachhbharaturban.gov.in/ihhl/RPTApplicationSummary.aspx.

[xxviii] Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, last accessed on January 30, 2019, https://sbm.gov.in/sbmdashboard/Default.aspx.

[xxix] “Ayushman Bharat for a new India -2022, announced”, Ministry of Finance, Press Information Bureau, February 1, 2018,s http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=176049

[xxx] About NHA, Ayushmaan Bharat, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, https://www.pmjay.gov.in/about-nha.

[xxxi] “Ayushman Bharat –Pradhan Mantri Jan AarogyaYojana (AB-PMJAY) to be launched by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in Ranchi, Jharkahnd on September 23, 2018”, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Press Information Bureau, September 22, 2018, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=183624.

[xxxii] National Health Accounts, estimates for 2014-15 Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, https://mohfw.gov.in/newshighlights/national-health-accounts-estimates-india-2014-15.

Winter Session 2018: What's happened so far

So far, both Houses of Parliament have been witnessing disruptions.  At the beginning of the session, 23 Bills were listed for passage, and 20 were listed for introduction.  Two weeks in, one Bill has been passed by both Houses, and three others by Lok Sabha.  These include Bills dealing with the re-haul of consumer protection laws, regulation of surrogacy, and recognition of transgender persons.  Six Bills have been introduced.  These include three Bills which replace the Ordinances currently in force, and a Bill to regulate dam safety.  In this blog, we discuss the key features of some of these Bills. 

Enhancing rights of consumers

The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 replaces the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.  It was introduced in view of the significant changes in the consumer market landscape since the 1986 Act.  It introduces several new provisions such as enabling consumers to make product liability claims for an injury or harm caused to them, nullifying unfair contracts which impact consumer interests (such as contracts which charge excessive security deposits), and imposing penalties for false and misleading advertisements on manufacturers, as well as on the endorsers of such advertisements. 

The Bill also sets up Consumer Dispute Redressal Commissions (or courts) at the district, state, and national level, to hear complaints on matters related to deficiencies in services or defects in goods.  While these Commissions are also present under the 1986 Act, the Bill increases their pecuniary jurisdiction: District Commissions will hear complaints with a value of up to one crore rupees; State Commissions between one and ten crore rupees; and National Commission above 10 crore rupees.  The Bill also sets up a regulatory body known as the Central Consumer Protection Authority.  This Authority can take certain actions to protect the rights of consumers as a class such as passing orders to recall defective goods from the market, and imposing penalties for false and misleading advertisements. 

Recognising transgender persons and their rights

Last week, Lok Sabha also passed the Transgender Bill, 2018.  This Bill seeks to recognise transgender persons, confers certain rights and entitlements on them related to education, employment, and health, and carves out welfare measures for their benefit.  The Bill defines a transgender person as one whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth.  It includes trans-men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations, gender-queers, and includes persons having such socio-cultural identities as kinnar, hijra, aravani, and jogta.  The Bill requires every establishment to designate one person as a complaint officer to act on complaints received under the Bill. 

The Bill provides that a transgender person will have the right to self-perceived gender identity.  Further, it also provides for a screening process to obtain a Certificate of Identity, certifying the person as ‘transgender’.  This implies that a transgender person may be allowed to self-identify as transgender individual, but at the same time they must also undergo the screening process to get certified as a transgender.  Therefore, it is unclear how these two provisions of self-identification and an external screening process will reconcile with each other. 

Regulating surrogacy and overhauling the Medical Council of India

The Surrogacy Bill, 2017 which regulates altruistic surrogacy and prohibits commercial surrogacy was also passed in Lok Sabha.  Surrogacy is a process where an intending couple commissions an eligible woman to carry their child.  In an altruistic surrogacy, the surrogate mother is not given any monetary benefit or reward, and the arrangement only covers her medical expenses and health insurance.  The Bill sets out certain conditions for both the intending couple and the surrogate mother to be eligible for surrogacy.  The intending couple must be Indian citizens, be married for at least five years, and at least one of them must be infertile.  The surrogate mother must be a close relative of the couple, must be married and must have had a child of her own.  Further, a surrogate mother cannot provide her own gametes for surrogacy.

The surrogate mother has been given certain rights with regard to the procedure of surrogacy.  These include requiring her written consent to abort the surrogate child, and allowing her to withdraw from the surrogacy at any time before the embryo is implanted in her womb. 

Another key Bill which was listed for passage in Lok Sabha this session but could not be taken up is the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 (NMC Bill).  Several amendments to this Bill were introduced in Lok Sabha last week.  The NMC Bill seeks to replace the Medical Council of India, with a National Medical Commission.  It introduces a common final year undergraduate medical examination called the National Exit Test which will also grant the license to practice medicine.  Only medical students graduating from a medical institute which is an institute of national importance will be exempted from qualifying this National Exit Test.  The Bill also gives the NMC the power to frame guidelines to decide the fees of up to 50% of seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities.  The NMC may also grant limited license to certain mid-level practitioners connected with the medical profession to practice medicine.  The qualifying criteria for such mid-level practitioners will be determined through regulations, and they may prescribe specified medicines in primary and preventive healthcare. 

Regulating dam safety

The Dam Safety Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha and applies to all specified dams across the country.  These are dams with: (i) height more than 15 metres, or (ii) height between 10 metres to 15 metres and subject to certain additional design and structural conditions.  It seeks to provide for the surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of specified dams for prevention of dam failure related disasters.  It creates authorities at the national and state level to formulate policies and regulations on dam safety and implement them.  It also puts certain obligations on dam owners by requiring them to provide a dam safety unit in each dam, among other things. 

When the Bill was being introduced, few opposition members raised objections on the grounds of Parliament’s legislative competence to make a law on dam safety which applies to all states.  They gave the example of the previous Dam Safety Bill, 2010, which applied only to the states of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal who had adopted resolutions requiring Parliament to pass a law on dam safety.

So far the winter session has seen poor productivity with Lok Sabha working for 14% of its scheduled time, and Rajya Sabha for 5%.  This is one of the least productive sessions of the 16th Lok Sabha.  This is also the last major session before the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.  Both Houses will meet tomorrow after the Christmas break.  With a packed legislative agenda, it is essential for Parliament to function in order to discuss and deliberate the Bills listed.  However, with a limited number of sitting days available in the ongoing session and continued disruptions, it remains to be seen if Parliament will be able to achieve its legislative agenda.

- This post is a modified version of an article published by The Wire on December 26, 2018.

Indian Railways rationalises freight fares

Recently, the Indian Railways announced rationalisation of freight fares.  This rationalisation will result in an 8.75% increase in freight rates for major commodities such as coal, iron and steel, iron ore, and raw materials for steel plants. The freight rates were rationalised to ensure additional revenue generation across the network. An additional revenue of Rs 3,344 crore is expected from such rationalisation, which will be utilised to improve passenger amenities. In addition, the haulage charge of containers has been increased by 5% and the freight rates of other small goods have been increased by 8.75%. Freight rates have not been increased for goods such as food grains, flours, pulses, fertilisers, salt, and sugar, cement, petroleum, and diesel. In light of this, we discuss some issues around Railways’ freight pricing.

Railways’ sources of internal revenue

Railways earns its internal revenue primarily from passenger and freight traffic. In 2016-17 (latest actual figures available), freight and passenger traffic contributed to about 63% and 28% of the internal revenue, respectively. The remaining is earned from miscellaneous sources such as parcel service, coaching receipts, and platform tickets.

Freight traffic: Railways majorly transports bulk freight, and the freight basket has mostly been limited to include raw materials for certain industries such as power plants, and iron and steel plants. It generates most of its freight revenue from the transportation of coal (43%), followed by cement (8%), food-grains (7%), and iron and steel (7%). In 2018-19, Railways expects to earn Rs 1,21,950 crore from its freight traffic.

Railways fig1

Passenger traffic:  Passenger traffic is broadly divided into two categories: suburban and non-suburban traffic.  Suburban trains are passenger trains that cover short distances of up to 150 km, and help move passengers within cities and suburbs.  Majority of the passenger revenue (94% in 2017-18) comes from the non-suburban traffic (or the long-distance trains).

Within non-suburban traffic, second class (includes sleeper class) contributes to 67% of the non-suburban revenue.  AC class (includes AC 3-tier, AC Chair Car and AC sleeper) contributes to 32% of the non-suburban revenue.  The remaining 1% comes from AC First Class (includes Executive class and First Class).

Railways’ ability to generate its own revenue has been slowing

The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining.  This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic.  Some of the reasons for such decline include:

Freight traffic growth has been declining, and is limited to a few items

Growth of freight traffic has been declining over the last few years.  It has declined from around 8% in the mid-2000s to a 4% negative growth in mid-2010s, before an estimated recovery to about 5% now.

The National Transport Development Policy Committee (2014) had noted various issues with freight transportation on railways.  For example, Indian Railways does not have an institutional arrangement to attract and aggregate traffic of smaller parcel size.  Further, freight services are run with a focus on efficiency instead of customer satisfaction.  Consequently, it has not been able to capture high potential markets such as FMCGs, hazardous materials, or automobiles and containerised cargo.  Most of such freight is transported by roads.

Figure 2_Railways

The freight basket is also limited to a few commodities, most of which are bulk in nature.  For example, coal contributes to about 43% of freight revenue and 25% of the total internal revenue.  Therefore, any shift in transport patterns of any of these bulk commodities could affect Railways’ finances significantly.

For example, if new coal based power plants are set up at pit heads (source of coal), then the need for transporting coal through Railways would decrease.  If India’s coal usage decreases due to a shift to more non-renewable sources of energy, it will reduce the amount of coal being transported.  Such situations could have a significant adverse impact on Railways’ revenue.

Freight traffic cross-subsidises passenger traffic

In 2014-15, while Railways’ freight business made a profit of about Rs 44,500 crore, its passenger business incurred a net loss of about Rs 33,000 crore.17  The total passenger revenue during this period was Rs 49,000 crore.  This implies that losses in the passenger business are about 67% of its revenue.  Therefore, in 2014-15, for every one rupee earned in its passenger business, Indian Railways ended up spending Rs 1.67.

These losses occur across both suburban and non-suburban operations, and are primarily caused due to: (i) passenger fares being lower than the costs, and (ii) concessions to various categories of passengers.  According to the NITI Aayog (2016), about 77% to 80% of these losses are contributed by non-suburban operations (long-distance trains).  Concessions to various categories of passengers contribute to about 4% of these losses, and the remaining (73-76%) is due to fares being lower than the system costs.

The NITI Aayog (2016) had noted that Railways ends up using profits from its freight business to provide for such losses in the passenger segment, and also to manage its overall financial situation.  Such cross-subsidisation has resulted in high freight tariffs.  The NTDPC (2014) had noted that, in several countries, passenger fares are either higher or almost equal as freight rates.  However, in India, the ratio of passenger fare to freight rate is about 0.3.

Fig 3_Railways

Impact of increasing freight rates

The recent freight rationalisation further increases the freight rates for certain key commodities by 8.75%, with an intention to improve passenger amenities.  Higher freight tariffs could be counter-productive towards growth of traffic in the segment.  The NTDPC report had noted that due to such high tariffs, freight traffic has been moving to other modes of transport.  Further, the higher cost of freight segment is eventually passed on to the common public in the form of increased costs of electricity, steel, etc.  Various experts have recommended that Railways should consider ways to rationalise freight and passenger tariff distortions in a way to reduce such cross-subsidisation.

For a detailed analysis of Railways revenue and infrastructure, refer to our report on State of Indian Railways.