Policy

Central Transfers to States: Role of the Finance Commission

In November 2017, the 15th Finance Commission (Chair: Mr N. K. Singh) was constituted to give recommendations on the transfer of resources from the centre to states for the five year period between 2020-25.  In recent times, there has been some discussion around the role and mandate of the Commission.  In this context, we explain the role of the Finance Commission.

What is the Finance Commission?

The Finance Commission is a constitutional body formed every five years to give suggestions on centre-state financial relations.  Each Finance Commission is required to make recommendations on: (i) sharing of central taxes with states, (ii) distribution of central grants to states, (iii) measures to improve the finances of states to supplement the resources of panchayats and municipalities, and (iv) any other matter referred to it.

Composition of transfers:  The central taxes devolved to states are untied funds, and states can spend them according to their discretion.  Over the years, tax devolved to states has constituted over 80% of the total central transfers to states (Figure 1).  The centre also provides grants to states and local bodies which must be used for specified purposes.  These grants have ranged between 12% to 19% of the total transfers.

Fig 1Over the years the core mandate of the Commission has remained unchanged, though it has been given the additional responsibility of examining various issues.  For instance, the 12th Finance Commission evaluated the fiscal position of states and offered relief to those that enacted their Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management laws.  The 13th and the 14th Finance Commissionassessed the impact of GST on the economy.  The 13th Finance Commission also incentivised states to increase forest cover by providing additional grants.

15th Finance Commission:  The 15th Finance Commission constituted in November 2017 will recommend central transfers to states.  It has also been mandated to: (i) review the impact of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations on the fiscal position of the centre; (ii) review the debt level of the centre and states, and recommend a roadmap; (iii) study the impact of GST on the economy; and (iv) recommend performance-based incentives for states based on their efforts to control population, promote ease of doing business, and control expenditure on populist measures, among others.

Why is there a need for a Finance Commission?

The Indian federal system allows for the division of power and responsibilities between the centre and states.  Correspondingly, the taxation powers are also broadly divided between the centre and states (Table 1).  State legislatures may devolve some of their taxation powers to local bodies.

Table 1

The centre collects majority of the tax revenue as it enjoys scale economies in the collection of certain taxes.  States have the responsibility of delivering public goods in their areas due to their proximity to local issues and needs.

Sometimes, this leads to states incurring expenditures higher than the revenue generated by them.  Further, due to vast regional disparities some states are unable to raise adequate resources as compared to others.  To address these imbalances, the Finance Commission recommends the extent of central funds to be shared with states.  Prior to 2000, only revenue income tax and union excise duty on certain goods was shared by the centre with states.  A Constitution amendment in 2000 allowed for all central taxes to be shared with states.

Several other federal countries, such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and Australia have similar bodies which recommend the manner in which central funds will be shared with states.

Tax devolution to states

Table 2The 14th Finance Commission considerably increased the devolution of taxes from the centre to states from 32% to 42%.  The Commission had recommended that tax devolution should be the primary source of transfer of funds to states.  This would increase the flow of unconditional transfers and give states more flexibility in their spending.

The share in central taxes is distributed among states based on a formula.   Previous Finance Commissions have considered various factors to determine the criteria such as the population and income needs of states, their area and infrastructure, etc.  Further, the weightage assigned to each criterion has varied with each Finance Commission.

The criteria used by the 11th to 14thFinance Commissions are given in Table 2, along with the weight assigned to them.  State level details of the criteria used by the 14th Finance Commission are given in Table 3.

  • Population is an indicator of the expenditure needs of a state. Over the years, Finance Commissions have used population data of the 1971 Census.  The 14th Finance Commission used the 2011 population data, in addition to the 1971 data.  The 15th Finance Commission has been mandated to use data from the 2011 Census.
  • Area is used as a criterion as a state with larger area has to incur additional administrative costs to deliver services.
  • Income distance is the difference between the per capita income of a state with the average per capita income of all states. States with lower per capita income may be given a higher share to maintain equity among states.
  • Forest cover indicates that states with large forest covers bear the cost of not having area available for other economic activities. Therefore, the rationale is that these states may be given a higher share.

Table 3

Grants-in-Aid

Besides the taxes devolved to states, another source of transfers from the centre to states is grants-in-aid.  As per the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, grants-in-aid constitute 12% of the central transfers to states.  The 14th Finance Commission had recommended grants to states for three purposes: (i) disaster relief, (ii) local bodies, and (iii) revenue deficit.

Healthcare Financing: Who is paying?

The Union Cabinet recently approved the launch of the National Health Protection Mission which was announced during Budget 2018-19.   The Mission aims to provide a cover of five lakh rupees per family per year to about 10.7 crore families belonging to poor and vulnerable population.  The insurance coverage is targeted for hospitalisation at the secondary and tertiary health care levels. This post explains the healthcare financing scenario in India, which is distributed across the centre, states, and individuals.

How much does India spend on health care financing vis-à-vis other countries?

The public health expenditure in India (total of centre and state governments) has remained constant at approximately 1.3% of the GDP between 2008 and 2015, and increased marginally to 1.4% in 2016-17.  This is less than the world average of 6%.   Note that the National Health Policy, 2017 proposes to increase this to 2.5% of GDP by 2025.

Including the private sector, the total health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 3.9%.  Out of the total expenditure, effectively about one-third (30%) is contributed by the public sector.  This contribution is low as compared to other developing and developed countries.  Examples include Brazil (46%), China (56%), Indonesia (39%), USA (48%), and UK (83%) (see Figure 1).

Fig 1

Who pays for healthcare in India? Mostly, it is the consumer out of his own pocket.

Given the public-private split of health care expenditure, it is quite clear that it is the private expenditure which dominates i.e. the individual consumer who bears the cost of her own healthcare.  Let’s look at a further disaggregation of public spending and private spending to understand this.

In 2018-19, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare received an allocation of Rs 54,600 crore(an increase of 2% over 2017-18).  The National Health Mission (NHM) received the highest allocation at Rs 30,130 crore and constitutes 55% of the total Ministry allocation (see Table 1).  Despite a higher allocation, NHM has seen a decline in the allocation vis-à-vis 2017-18.

Interestingly, in 2017-18, expenditure on NHM is expected to be Rs 4,000 crore more than what had been estimated earlier.  This may indicate a greater capacity to spend than what was earlier allocated.  A similar trend is exhibited at the overall Ministry level where the utilisation of the allocated funds has been over 100% in the last three years.

Table 1State level spending

NITI Aayog report (2017) noted that low income states with low revenue capacity spend significant lower on social services like health.  Further, differences in the cost of delivering health services have contributed to health disparities among and within states.

Following the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, there has been an increase in the states’ share in central pool of taxes and they were given greater autonomy and flexibility to spend according to their priorities. Despite the enhanced share of states in central taxes, the increase in health budgets by some states has been marginal (see Figure 2).

Fig 2Consumer level spending

If cumulatively 30% of the total health expenditure is incurred by the public sector, the rest of the health expenditure, i.e. approximately 70% is borne by consumers.  Household health expenditures include out of pocket expenditures (95%) and insurance (5%). Out of pocket expenditure dominate and these are the payments made directly by individuals at the point of services which are not covered under any financial protection scheme.  The highest percentage of out of pocket health expenditure (52%) is made towards medicines (see Figure 3).

Fig 3

This is followed by private hospitals (22%), medical and diagnostic labs (10%), and patient transportation, and emergency rescue (6%).  Out of pocket expenditure is typically financed by household revenues (71%) (see Figure 4).

Fig 4

Note that 86% of rural population and 82% of urban population are not covered under any scheme of health expenditure support.   Due to high out of pocket healthcare expenditure, about 7% population is pushed below the poverty threshold every year.

Out of the total number of persons covered under health insurance in India, three-fourths are covered under government sponsored health schemes and the balance one-fourth are covered by private insurers.  With respect to the government sponsored health insurance, more claims have been made in comparison to the premiums collected, i.e., the returns to the government have been negative.

It is in this context that the newly proposed National Health Protection Mission will be implemented.  First, the scheme seeks to provide coverage for hospitalisation at the secondary and tertiary levels of healthcare.  The High Level Expert Group set up by the Planning Commission (2011) recommended that the focus of healthcare provision in the country should be towards providing primary health care.  It observed that focus on prevention and early management of health problems can reduce the need for complicated specialist care provided at the tertiary level.  Note that depending on the level of care required, health institutions in India are broadly classified into three types: primary care (provided at primary health centres), secondary care (provided at district hospitals), and tertiary care institutions (provided at specialised hospitals like AIIMS).

Second, the focus of the Mission seems to be on hospitalisation (including pre and post hospitalisation charges).  However, most of the out of the pocket expenditure made by consumers is actually on buying medicines (52%) as seen in Figure 3.  Further, these purchases are mostly made for patients who do not need hospitalisation.

Status of Drinking Water and Sanitation in rural India

In Budget Session 2018, Rajya Sabha has planned to examine the working of four ministries.  The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is one of the ministries listed for discussion.  In this post, we look at the key schemes being implemented by the Ministry and their status.

What are the key functions of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation?

As per the Constitution, supply of water and sanitation are state subjects which means that states regulate and provide these services.  The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is primarily responsible for policy planning, funding, and coordination of programs for: (i) safe drinking water; and (ii) sanitation, in rural areas.  From 1999 till 2011, the Ministry operated as a Department under the Ministry of Rural Development.  In 2011, the Department was made an independent Ministry.  Presently, the Ministry oversees the implementation of two key schemes of the government: (i) Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), and (ii) National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

How have the finances and spending priorities of the Ministry changed over time?

In the Union Budget 2018-19, the Ministry has been allocated Rs 22,357 crore.  This is a decrease of Rs 1,654 crore (7%) over the revised expenditure of 2017-18.  In 2015-16, the Ministry over-shot its budget by 178%.  Consequently, the allocation in 2016-17 was more than doubled (124%) to Rs 14,009 crore.

In recent years, the priorities of the Ministry have seen a shift (see Figure 1).  The focus has been on providing sanitation facilities in rural areas, mobilising behavioural change to increase usage of toilets, and consequently eliminating open defecation.  However, this has translated into a decrease in the share of allocation towards drinking water (from 87% in 2009-10 to 31% in 2018-19).  In the same period, the share of allocation to rural sanitation has increased from 13% to 69%.Figure 1

What has been the progress under Swacch Bharat Mission- Gramin?

The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched on October 2, 2014 with an aim to achieve universal sanitation coverage, improve cleanliness, and eliminate open defecation in the country by October 2, 2019.

Expenditure on SBM-G:  In 2018-19, Rs 15,343 crore has been allocated towards SBM-G.  The central government allocation to SBM-G for the five year period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 has been estimated to be Rs 1,00,447 crore.  Of this, up to 2018-19, Rs 52,166 crore (52%) has been allocated to the scheme.  This implies that 48% of the funds are still left to be released before October 2019.  Figure 2

Construction of Individual Household Latrines (IHHLs):  For construction of IHHLs, funds are shared between the centre and states in the 60:40 ratio.  Construction of IHHLs account for the largest share of total expenditure under the scheme (97%-98%).  Although the number of toilets constructed each year has increased, the pace of annual growth of constructing these toilets has come down.  In 2015-16, the number of toilets constructed was 156% higher than the previous year.  This could be due to the fact that 2015-16 was the first full year of implementation of the scheme.  The growth in construction of new toilets reduced to 74% in 2016-17, and further to 4% in 2017-18.Table 1

As of February 2018, 78.8% of households in India had a toilet.  This implies that 15 crore toilets have been constructed so far.  However, four crore more toilets need to be construced in the next 20 months for the scheme to achieve its target by 2019.

Open Defecation Free (ODF) villages:  Under SBM-G, a village is ODF when: (i) there are no visible faeces in the village, and (ii) every household as well as public/community institution uses safe technology options for faecal disposal.  After a village declares itself ODF, states are required to carry out verification of the ODF status of such a village.  This includes access to a toilet facility and its usage, and safe disposal of faecal matter through septic tanks.  So far, out of all villages in the country, 72% have been verified as ODF.  This implies that 28% villages are left to be verified as ODF for the scheme to achieve its target by 2019.Table 2

Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities:  As per the SBM-G guidelines, 8% of funds earmarked for SBM-G in a year should be utilised for IEC activities.  These activities primarily aim to mobilise behavioural change towards the use of toilets among people.  However, allocation towards this component has remained in the 1%-4% range.  In 2017-18, Rs 229 crore is expected to be spent, amounting to 2% of total expenditure.

What is the implementation status of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme?

The National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) aims at assisting states in providing adequate and safe drinking water to the rural population in the country.  In 2018-19, the scheme has been allocated Rs 7,000 crore, accounting for 31% of the Ministry’s finances.Figure 3

Coverage under the scheme:  As of August 2017, 96% of rural habitations have access to safe drinking water.  In 2011, the Ministry came out with a strategic plan for the period 2011-22.  The plan identified certain standards for coverage of habitations with water supply, including targets for per day supply of drinking water.  As of February 2018, 74% habitations are fully covered (receiving 55 litres per capita per day), and 22% habitations are partially covered (receiving less than 55 litres per capita per day).  The Ministry aims to cover 90% rural households with piped water supply and 80% rural households with tap connections by 2022.  The Estimates Committee of Parliament (2015) observed that piped water supply was available to only 47% of rural habitations, out of which only 15% had household tap connections.

Contamination of drinking water:  It has been noted that NRDWP is over-dependant on ground water.  However, ground water is contaminated in over 20 states.  For instance, high arsenic contamination has been found in 68 districts of 10 states.  These states are Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, and Karnataka.Table 3

Chemical contamination of ground water has also been reported due to deeper drilling for drinking water sources.  It has been recommended that out of the total funds for NRDWP, allocation for water quality monitoring and surveillance should not be less than 5%.  Presently, it is 3% of the total funds.  It has also been suggested that water quality laboratories for water testing should be set up throughout the country.

Internal Security: Examining the Working of the Home Ministry

Each year during the Budget Session, Rajya Sabha examines the working of certain ministries.  This year it has identified four ministries for discussion, which includes the Ministry of Home Affairs.  In light of this, we analyse some key functions of the Ministry and the challenges in carrying out these functions.

What are the key functions of Ministry of Home Affairs?  

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is primarily responsible for: (i) maintenance of internal security, (ii) governance issues between the centre and states, and (iii) disaster management.  It also discharges several other key functions that include: (i) border management, (ii) administration of union territories, (iii) implementation of provisions relating to the official languages, and (iv) conducting the population census every ten years.

Under the Constitution, ‘public order’ and ‘police’ are state list subjects.  The MHA assists the state governments by providing them: (i) central armed police forces, and (ii) financial assistance for modernising state police forces, communication equipment, weaponry, mobility, training and other police infrastructure.

What is the role of the central armed police forces?

Table 1The MHA manages seven central police forces: (i) Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) which assists in internal security and law and order, (ii) Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which protects vital installations (like airports) and public sector undertakings, (iii) National Security Guards which is a special counter-terrorism force, and (iv) four border guarding forces, namely, Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Assam Rifles (AR).

As of January 2017, the total sanctioned strength of the seven CAPFs was 10. 8 lakhs.  However, 15% of these posts (i.e., about 1.6 lakhs posts) were lying vacant.  The vacancy in the CAPFs has remained above 7% for the last five years (see Table 1).  In 2017, the Sashastra Seema Bal had the highest vacancy (57%).  The CRPF, which accounts for 30% of the total sanctioned strength of the seven CAPFs, had a vacancy of 8%.

How does MHA assist the police forces?

In Union Budget 2018-19, Rs 1,07,573 crore has been allocated to the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The Ministry has estimated to spend 82% of this amount on police.  The remaining allocation is towards grants to Union Territories, and other items including disaster management, rehabilitation of refugees and migrants, and the Union Cabinet.

The MHA has been implementing Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF) scheme since 1969 to supplement the resources of states for modernising their police forces.  Funds from the MPF scheme are utilised for improving police infrastructure through construction of police stations, and provision of modern weaponry, surveillance, and communication equipment.  Some other important objectives under the scheme include upgradation of training infrastructure, police housing, and computerisation.

The scheme has undergone revision over the years.  A total allocation of Rs 11,946 crore was approved for the MPF scheme, for a five-year period between 2012-13 to 2016-17.  Following the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission (to increase the share of central taxes to states), it was decided that the MPF scheme would be delinked from central government funding from 2015-16 onwards. However, in September 2017, the Union Cabinet approved an outlay of Rs 25,060 crore under the scheme, for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20.  The central government will provide about 75% of this amount, and the states will provide the remaining 25%.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has found that weaponry in several state police forces is outdated, and there is a shortage of arms and ammunitions.  An audit of Rajasthan police force(2009-14) found that there was a shortage of 75% in the availability of modern weapons against the state’s requirements.  In case of West Bengal and Gujarat police forces, CAG found a shortage of 71% and 36% respectively.  Further, there has been a persistent problem of underutilisation of modernisation funds by the states.  Figure 1 shows the level of utilisation of modernisation funds by states between 2010-11 and 2016-17.

Figure 1

What are the major internal security challenges in India?

Maintaining internal security of the country is one of the key functions of the MHA.  The major internal security challenges that India faces are: (i) terrorist activities in the country, (ii) cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, (iii) Left Wing Extremism in certain areas, and (iv) insurgency in the North-Eastern states.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of cross-border infiltrations in Jammu and Kashmir increased by almost three times, from 121 to 364.   On the other hand, incidents of insurgency in Left Wing Extremism areas have decreased from 1,048 in 2016 to 908 in 2017.

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs noted in 2017-18 that security forces in Jammu and Kashmir are occupied with law and order incidents, such as stone pelting, which gives militants the time to reorganise and perpetrate terror attacks.  The Committee recommended that the MHA should adopt a multi-pronged strategy that prevents youth from joining militancy, curbs their financing, and simultaneously launch counter-insurgency operations.

In relation to Left Wing Extremism, the Standing Committee (2017) observed that police and paramilitary personnel were getting killed because of mine blasts and ambushes.  It recommended that the MHA should make efforts to procure mine-resistant vehicles.  This could be done through import or domestic manufacturing under the ‘Make in India’ programme.

What is the MHA’s role in border management?

India has a land border of over 15,000 kms, which it shares with seven countries (Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Afghanistan).  Further, it has a coastline of over 7,500 kms.  The MHA is responsible for: (i) management of international lands and coastal borders, (ii) strengthening of border guarding, and (iii) creation of infrastructure such as roads, fencing, and lighting of borders.

Construction of border outposts is one of the components of infrastructure at border areas.  The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2017) noted that the proposal to construct 509 outposts along the India-Bangladesh, and India-Pakistan borders had been reduced to 422 outposts in 2016.  It recommended that such a reduction should be reconsidered since 509 outposts would reduce the inter-border outpost distance to 3.5 kms, which is important for the security of the country.

How is coastal security carried out?

Coastal security is jointly carried out by the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, and marine police of coastal states and Union Territories.  The MHA is implementing the Coastal Security Scheme to strengthen the marine police of nine coastal states and four Union Territories by enhancing surveillance, and improve patrolling in coastal areas.  Under this scheme, the Ministry sought to construct coastal police stations, purchase boats, and acquire vehicles for patrolling on land, among other objectives.

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2017) observed that the implementation of Phase-II of this scheme within the set time-frame has not been possible.  It also noted that there was lack of coordination between the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard, and the coastal police.  In this context, the Committee recommended that the Director General, Indian Coast Guard, should be the nodal authority for coordinating operations related to coastal security.

Explained: The draft Model Contract Farming Act, 2018

Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture released a draft Model Contract Farming Act, 2018.  The draft Model Act seeks to create a regulatory and policy framework for contract farming.  Based on this draft Model Act, legislatures of states can enact a law on contract farming as contracts fall under the Concurrent List of the Constitution.  In this context, we discuss contract farming, issues related to it, and progress so far.

What is contract farming?

Under contract farming, agricultural production (including livestock and poultry) can be carried out based on a pre-harvest agreement between buyers (such as food processing units and exporters), and producers (farmers or farmer organisations).  The producer can sell the agricultural produce at a specific price in the future to the buyer as per the agreement.  Under contract farming, the producer can reduce the risk of fluctuating market price and demand.  The buyer can reduce the risk of non-availability of quality produce.

Under the draft Model Act, the producer can get support from the buyer for improving production through inputs (such as technology, pre-harvest and post-harvest infrastructure) as per the agreement.  However, the buyer cannot raise a permanent structure on the producer’s land.  Rights or title ownership of the producer’s land cannot be transferred to the buyer.

What is the existing regulatory structure?

Currently, contract farming requires registration with the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) in few states.  This means that contractual agreements are recorded with the APMCs which can also resolve disputes arising out of these contracts.  Further, market fees and levies are paid to the APMC to undertake contract farming.  The Model APMC Act, 2003 provided for contract farming and was released to the states for them to use this as reference while enacting their respective laws.  Consequently, 20 states have amended their APMC Acts to provide for contract farming, while Punjab has a separate law on contract farming.  However, only 14 states notified rules related to contract farming, as of October 2016.

What are the issues with the current structure, and how does the draft Model Act seek to address them?

Over the years, expert bodies have identified issues related to the implementation of contract farming.  These include: (i) role of APMCs which are designated as an authority for registration and dispute settlement in most states, (ii) provisions of stockholding limits on produce under contract farming, and (iii) poor publicity of contract farming among the farmers about its benefits.

Role of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees/Marketing Boards

The NITI Aayog observed that market fees and other levies are paid to the APMC for contract framing when no services such as market facilities and infrastructure are rendered by them.  In this context, the Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that contract farming should be out of the ambit of APMCs.  Instead, an independent regulatory authority must be brought in to disengage contract farming stakeholders from the existing APMCs.

In this regard, as per the draft Model Act, contract farming will be outside the ambit of the state APMCs.  This implies that buyers need not pay market fee and commission charges to these APMCs to undertake contract farming.  Further, the draft Model Act provides for establishing a state-level Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Authority to ensure implementation of the draft Model Act.  Functions of the Authority include (i) levying and collecting facilitation fees, (ii) disposing appeals related to disputes under the draft Model Act, and (iii) publicising contract farming.  Further, the sale and purchase of contracted produce is out of the ambit of regulation of the respective state/UT Agricultural Marketing Act.

Registration and agreement recording

The Model APMC Act, 2003 released to the states provides for the registration of contract farming agreements by an APMC.  This was done to safeguard the interests of the producer and the buyerthrough legal support, including dispute resolution.  The procedures for registration and recording of agreements vary across states.  Currently, registration for contract farming has been provided with the APMC in few states, and with a state-level nodal agency in others.  Further, market fee on purchases under contract agreements is completely exempted in few states and partially exempted in others.  The Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that a instead of a APMC, district-level authorities can be set-up for registration of contract farming agreements.  Further, any registering authority should verify the details such as the financial status of the buyer.

Under the draft Model Act, every agreement should be registered with a Registering and Agreement Recording Committee, which will be set up consisting of officials from departments such as agriculture, animal husbandry, marketing, and rural development.  Such a Committee can be set up at the district, taluka or block levels.

Disputes between the producer and the buyer

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare observed certain risks related to upholding the contract farming agreement.  For example, producers may sell their produce to a buyer other than the one with whom they hold a contract.  On the other side, a buyer may fail to buy products at the agreed prices or in the agreed quantities, or arbitrarily downgrade produce quality.  The Committee of State Ministers on Agricultural Reforms recommended that dispute redressal mechanism should be at block, district or regional-level state authorities and not with an APMC.

Under the draft Model Act, in case of disputes between a producer and a buyer, they can: (i) reach a mutually acceptable solution through negotiation or conciliation, (ii) refer the dispute to a dispute settlement officer designated by the state government, and (iii) appeal to the Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Authority (to be established in each state) in case they are not satisfied by the decision of the dispute settlement officer.

Stockholdings limits on contracted produce

Stockholding limits are imposed through control orders as per the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.  Such provisions of stockholding limits can be restrictive and discourage buyers to enter into contracts.  It was recommended that the buyers can be exempted from stock limits up to six months of their requirement in the interest of trade.  Under the draft Model Act, limits of stockholding of agricultural produce will not be applicable on produce purchased under contract farming.

Other recommendations

While contract farming seeks to provide alternative marketing channels and better price realisation to farmers, several other marketing reforms have been suggested by experts in this regard.  These include: (i) allowing direct sale of produce by farmers, (ii) removing fruits and vegetables out of the ambit of APMCs, and (iii) setting-up of farmer-consumer markets, (iv) electronic trading, and (v) joining electronic National Agricultural Market for the sale of produce.

Doing Business in India

‘Ease of doing business’ refers to the regulatory environment in a country to set up and operate a business.  Every year, the World Bank compares the business environment in 190 countries in its Ease of Doing Business Report.  In its report released yesterday, India’s rank improved to 100 out of 190 countries in 2017, from its rank of 130 in the previous year.[1],[2]  In this context, we explain the parameters on which each country is ranked, what has led to India’s improvement in rankings, and some recommendations made by committees to further improve the business environment in the country.

What parameters is a country ranked on?

Table 1 (2)The ease of doing business rankings are based on a country’s performance on 10 parameters such as enforcing contracts and starting a business.  In India, these rankings are based on the business environment in Mumbai and Delhi.  A lower rank indicates better performance on that parameter, whereas a higher rank indicates worse performance on the indicator.  India’s ranking improved in six out of the 10 parameters over the previous year, while it remained the same or fell in the remaining four (see Table 1).

Note that these parameters are regulated by different agencies across the three tiers of government (i.e. central, state and municipal).  For example, for starting a business, registration and other clearances are granted by central ministries such as Finance and Corporate Affairs.  Electricity and water connections for a business are granted by the state electricity and water boards.  The municipal corporations grant building permits and various other no objection certificates to businesses.

What has led to an improvement in India’s ease of doing business rankings?

According to the 2017 report, India introduced changes in some of these parameters, which helped in improving its ranking.1  Some of these changes include:

  • Starting a business: Starting a business involves obtaining clearances, and conforming to various regulations under laws such as Companies Act, 2013.  The report noted that India merged the application procedure for getting a Permanent Account Number (PAN) and the Tax Account Number (TAN) for new businesses.  It also improved the online application system for getting a PAN and a TAN.
  • Getting credit and resolving insolvency: The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code passed in 2016 provides for a 180-day time-bound process to resolve insolvency.[3]  It also provides for the continuation of a debtor’s business during these proceedings.  The Code allows secured creditors to opt out of resolution proceedings, and specifies that a debtor will be immune against creditor claims during the 180-day insolvency resolution process.  Prior to the passage of the Code, it took 4.3 years in India to liquidate a business (as of 2015).
  • Paying taxes: The report notes that India made paying taxes easier by requiring that payments to the Employees Provident Fund are made electronically.[4]  Further, it introduced measures to ease compliance with corporate income tax.1,[5]
  • Trading across borders: Import border compliance at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai was reduced.  Export and Import costs were also reduced through increasing use of electronic and mobile platforms, among others.
  • Enforcing contracts: The introduction of the National Judicial Data Grid has made it possible to generate case management reports on local courts.[6]

What are some of the other recommendations to improve the business environment in India?

Over the last few years various committees, such as an Expert Committee constituted by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and the Standing Committee of Commerce, have studied the the regulatory requirements for starting a business in India and the made recommendations on the ease of doing business.[7],[8],[9]  Some of the issues and recommendations made by these committees are discussed below.

Starting a business:  The Standing Committee observed that regulations and procedures for starting a business are time-consuming.8  The Committee observed that as a consequence, a large number of start-ups are moving out of India and setting base in countries like Singapore where such procedures are easier.  It emphasised on the need to streamline regulations to give businesses in India a boost.  Note that the government announced the ‘Start-up India Action Plan in January 2016.[10]  The 19-point plan identified steps to simplify the process for registering and operating start-ups. It also proposed to grant tax exemptions to these businesses.

The Committee had suggested that the procedures and time period for registration of companies should be reduced.  In addition, a unique business ID should be created to integrate all information related to a debtor.  This ID should be used as sole reference for the business.

Acquiring land, registering property:  Under the current legal framework there are delays in acquiring land and getting necessary permissions to use it.  These delays are on account of multiple reasons including the availability of suitable land and disputes related to land titles.  It has been noted that land titles in India are unclear due to various reasons including legacy of the zamindari system, gaps in the legal framework and poor administration of land records.[11]

The Standing Committee observed that the process of updating and digitising land records has been going on for three decades.  It recommended that this process should be completed at the earliest.  The digitised records would assist in removing ambiguity in land titles and help in its smooth transfer.  It also suggested that land ownership may be ascertained by integrating space technology and identification documents such as Aadhaar.  Note that as of September 2017, land records had been linked with Aadhaar in 4% of the villages across the country.[11]

Several states have taken steps to improve regulations related to land and transfer of property.8 These steps include integration of land records and land registration by Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and the passage of a law to certify land titles in urban areas by Rajasthan.  The Committee also recommended creating a single window for registration of property, to reduce delays.8

Construction permits:  In India, obtaining construction permits involves multiple procedures and is time consuming.  The Standing Committee had observed that it took 33 procedures (such as getting no objection certificates from individual departments) over 192 days to obtain a construction permit in India.8  On the other hand, obtaining a similar permit in Singapore involved 10 procedures and took 26 days.

Taxation:  The Standing Committee had noted that the tax administration in India was complex, and arbitration proceedings were time-consuming.  It observed that the controversies on the Minimum Alternate Tax on capital gains and the tax disputes with companies like Vodafone and Shell had harmed India’s image on taxation matters.  Such policy uncertainty and tax disputes have made foreign companies hesitant to do business in India.8

The Committee observed that for ‘Make in India’ to succeed, there is a need for a fair, judicious and stable tax administration in the country.  Further, it suggested that to reduce harassment of tax payers, an electronic tax administration system should be created.8  Such a system would reduce human interface during dispute resolution.  Note that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced across the country from July 1, 2017.  The GST framework allows for electronic filling of tax returns, among other measures.[12]

Enforcing contracts:  Enforcing contracts requires the involvement of the judicial system.  The time taken to enforce contracts in India is long.  For instance, the Standing Committee noted that it took close to four years in India for enforcing contracts.  On the other hand, it took less than six months for contract enforcement in Singapore.  This may be due to various reasons including complex litigation procedures, confusion related to jurisdiction of courts and high existing pendency of cases.8

The Standing Committee recommended that an alternative dispute resolution mechanism and fast track courts should be set up to expedite disposal of contract enforcement cases.  It suggested that efforts should be made to limit adjournments to exceptional circumstances only.  It also recommended that certified practitioners should be created, to assist dispute resolution.8

[1] ‘Doing Business 2018’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB2018-Full-Report.pdf.

[2] ‘Doing Business 2017’, World Bank, http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/WBG/DoingBusiness/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB17-Full-Report.pdf.

[3] Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-insolvency-and-bankruptcy-bill-2015-4100/.

[4] G.S.R. 436 (E), G.S.R. 437 (E) and G.S.R. 438 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment, May 4, 2017, http://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/Notifications%20for%20amendment%20under%20EPF%2C%20EPS%20and%20EDLI%20Schemes%20for%20e-Payment_0.pdf.

[5] Finance Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-finance-bill-2017-4681/; Memorandum explaining the provisions of the Finance Bill, 2017, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/memo/memo.pdf.

[6] National Judicial Data Grid, http://njdg.ecourts.gov.in/njdg_public/index.php.

[7] Report of the Expert Committee on Prior Permissions and Regulatory Mechanism, Department of Industrial Policy Promotion, February 27, 2016.

[8] ‘Ease of Doing Business’, 122nd Report of the Department Related Standing Committee on Commerce, December 21, 2015, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Commerce/122.pdf.

[9] Ease of Doing Business: An Enterprise of Survey of Indian States, NITI Aayog, August 28, 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/EoDB_Single.pdf.

[10] Start Up India Action Plan, January 2016, http://www.startupindia.gov.in/pdffile.php?title=Startup%20India%20Action%20Plan&type=Action&q=Action%20Plan.pdf&content_type=Action&submenupoint=action.

[11] Land Records and Titles in India, September 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/analytical-reports/land-records-and-titles-in-india-4941/.

[12] The Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-central-goods-and-services-tax-bill-2017-4697/.

Food Security in India

The United Nations celebrates October 16 as the World Food Day every year, with an aim to spread awareness about eradicating hunger and ensuring food security for all.[1]  In this context, we examine the status of food and public distribution in India, and some challenges in ensuring food security for all.

Background

In 2017-18, over Rs 1,50,000 crore, or 7.6% of the government’s total expenditure has been allocated for providing food subsidy under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).[2]  This allocation is made to the Department of Food and Public Distribution under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.

Food subsidy has been the largest component of the Department’s expenditure (94% in 2017-18), and has increased six-fold over the past 10 years.  This subsidy is used for the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), which provides subsidised food grains (wheat and rice) to 80 crore people in the country.[3]  The NFSA seeks to ensure improved nutritional intake for people in the country.3

One of the reasons for the six-fold increase in food subsidy is the non-revision of the price at which food grains are given to beneficiaries since 2002.[4]  For example, rice is given to families under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana at Rs 3/Kg since 2002, while the cost of providing this has increased from Rs 11/Kg in 2001-02 to Rs 33/Kg in 2017-18.

Provision of food subsidyTable 1

TPDS provides food security to people below the poverty line.  Over the years, the expenditure on food subsidy has increased, while the ratio of people below poverty line has reduced.  A similar trend can also be seen in the proportion of undernourished persons in India, which reduced from 24% in 1990 to 15% in 2014 (see Table 1).  These trends may indicate that the share of people needing subsidised food has declined.

Nutritional balance:  The NFSA guarantees food grains i.e. wheat and rice to beneficiaries, to ensure nutritious food intake.3  Over the last two decades, the share of cereals or food grains as a percentage of food consumption has reduced from 13% to 8% in the country, whereas that of milk, eggs, fish and meat has increased (see Figure 1).  This indicates a reduced preference for wheat and rice, and a rise in preference towards other protein rich food items. Figure 1

Methods of providing food subsidy

Food subsidy is provided majorly using two methods.  We discuss these in detail below.

TPDS assures beneficiaries that they will receive food grains, and insulates them against price volatility. Food grains are delivered through fair price shops in villages, which are easy to access.[5],[6]

However, high leakages have been observed in the system, both during transportation and distribution.  These include pilferage and errors of inclusion and exclusion from the beneficiary list.  In addition, it has also been argued that the distribution of wheat and rice may cause an imbalance in the nutritional intake as discussed earlier.7  Beneficiaries have also reported receiving poor quality food grains as part of the system.

Cash Transfers seek to increase the choices available with a beneficiary, and provide financial assistance. It has been argued that the costs of DBT may be lesser than TPDS, owing to lesser costs incurred on transport and storage.  These transfers may also be undertaken electronically.6,7

However, it has also been argued that cash received as part of DBT may be spent on non-food items.  Such a system may also expose beneficiaries to inflation.  In this regard, one may also consider the low penetration and access to banking in rural areas.[7]

Figure 2

In 2017-18, 52% of the centre’s total subsidy expenditure will be on providing food subsidy under TPDS (see Figure 2).  The NFSA states that the centre and states should introduce schemes for cash transfers to beneficiaries.  Other experts have also suggested replacing TPDS with a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system.4,[8]

The central government introduced cash subsidy to TPDS beneficiaries in September 2015.[9]  As of March 2016, this was being implemented on a pilot basis in a few union territories.  In 2015, a Committee on Restructuring of Food Corporation of India had also recommended introducing Aadhaar to plug leakages in PDS, and indexing it to inflation.  The Committee estimated that a switch to DBT would reduce the food subsidy bill of the government by more than Rs 30,000 crore.[10]

Current challenges in PDS

Leakages in PDS:  Leakages refer to food grains not reaching intended beneficiaries.  According to 2011 data, leakages in PDS were estimated to be 46.7%.10,[11]  Leakages may be of three types: (i) pilferage during transportation of food grains, (ii) diversion at fair price shops to non-beneficiaries, and (iii) exclusion of entitled beneficiaries from the list.6,[12]

In 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that states had not completed the process of identifying beneficiaries, and 49% of the beneficiaries were yet to be identified.  It also noted that inclusion and exclusion errors had been reported in the beneficiary lists.[13]

In February 2017, the Ministry made it mandatory for beneficiaries under NFSA to use Aadhaar as proof of identification for receiving food grains.  Through this, the government aims to remove bogus ration cards, check leakages and ensure better delivery of food grains.10,[14]  As of January 2017, while 100% ration cards had been digitised, the seeding of these cards with Aadhaar was at 73%.14

Figure 3

Storage:  As of 2016-17, the total storage capacity in the country is 788 lakh tonnes, of which 354 lakh tonnes is with the Food Corporation of India and 424 lakh tonnes is with the state agencies.[15]

The CAG in its performance audit found that the available storage capacity in states was inadequate for the allocated quantity of food grains.13  For example, as of October 2015, of the 233 godowns sanctioned for construction in Maharashtra, only 93 had been completed.  It also noted that in four of the last five years, the stock of food grains with the centre had been higher than the storage capacity available with Food Corporation of India.

Quality of food grains:  A survey conducted in 2011 had noted that people complained about receiving poor quality food grain which had to be mixed with other grains to be edible.6  There have also been complaints about people receiving food grains containing alien substances such as pebbles.  Poor quality of food may impact the willingness of people to buy food from fair price shops, and may have an adverse impact on their health.[16]

The Ministry has stated that while regular surveillance, monitoring, inspection and random sampling of all food items is under-taken by State Food Safety Officers, separate data for food grains distributed under PDS is unavailable.[17]  In the absence of data with regard to quality testing results of food grains supplied under PDS, it may be difficult to ascertain whether these food items meet the prescribed quality and safety standards.

[1] About World Food Day, http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/2017/about/en/.

[2] Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2017-18, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/eb/allsbe.pdf.

[3] National Food Security Act, 2013, http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/202013.pdf.

[4] “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management”, Chapter 5, Economic Survey 2015-16, http://unionbudget.nic.in/budget2016-2017/es2015-16/echapvol2-05.pdf.

[5] The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2008, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2008_43/15/The_Case_for_Direct_Cash_Transfers_to_the_Poor.pdf.

[6] Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, The Economic and Political Weekly, November 5, 2011,

http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2011_46/44-45/Revival_of_the_Public_Distribution_System_Evidence_and_Explanations.pdf.

[7] ‘Report of the Internal Working Group on Branch Authorisation Policy’, Reserve Bank of India, September 2016, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PublicationReport/Pdfs/IWG99F12F147B6E4F8DBEE8CEBB8F09F103.PDF.

[8] Working Paper 294, “Leakages from Public Distribution System”, January 2015, ICRIER, http://icrier.org/pdf/Working_Paper_294.pdf.

[9] “The Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015”, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, September 3, 2015, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/News/32_1_cash.pdf.

[10] Report of the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015, http://www.fci.gov.in/app2/webroot/upload/News/Report%20of%20the%20High%20Level%20Committee%20on%20Reorienting%20the%20Role%20and%20Restructuring%20of%20FCI_English_1.pdf.

[11] Third Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution: Demands for Grants 2015-16, Department of Food and Public Distribution, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Food,%20Consumer%20Affairs%20&%20Public%20Distribution/16_Food_Consumer_Affairs_And_Public_Distribution_3.pdf.

[12] Performance Evaluation of Targeted Public Distribution System, Planning Commission of India, March 2005, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/peoreport/peo/peo_tpds.pdf.

[13] Audit on the Preparedness for Implementation of National Food Security Act, 2013 for the year ended March, 2015, Report No. 54 of 2015, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, http://cag.gov.in/sites/default/files/audit_report_files/Union_Civil_National_Food_Security_Report_54_of_2015.pdf.

[14] Unstarred Question No. 844, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on February 7, 2017, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU844.pdf.

[15] Annual Report 2016-17, Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/images/annual-140217.pdf.

[16] 30 Food Subsidy, The Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2014, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/52/Food_Subsidy.pdf.

[17] Unstarred Question No. 2124, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on November 29, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU2124.pdf.

Electrification in India: ‘Saubhagya’ scheme

Recently, the central government launched the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (or Saubhagya).[i],[ii]  The scheme seeks to ensure universal household electrification (in both rural and urban areas) by providing last mile connectivity.  The scheme is expected to cover three crore households.  Note that currently about four crore households are un-electrified.  A rural electrification scheme has also been under implementation since 2005.  In light of this, we discuss the current situation of, and key issues related to rural electrification in the country.

Regulatory and policy framework

Under the Electricity Act, 2003, the central and state governments have the joint responsibility of providing electricity to rural areas.  The 2003 Act also mandates that the central government should, in consultation with the state governments, provide for a national policy on (i) stand-alone power systems for rural areas (systems that are not connected to the electricity grid), and (ii) electrification and local distribution in rural areas.  Consequently, the Rural Electrification Policy was notified in August 2006.[iii]

The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), launched in 2005, was the first scheme on rural electrification.  In December 2014, Ministry of Power launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), which subsumed the RGGVY.[iv]  Components of DDUGJY include: (i) separation of agricultural and non-agricultural electricity feeders to improve supply for consumers in rural areas, (ii) improving sub-transmission and distribution infrastructure in rural areas, and (iii) rural electrification by carrying forward targets specified under the RGGVY.

The total financial outlay for DDUGJY over the implementation period (until 2021-22) is Rs 82,300 crore which includes budgetary support of Rs 68,900 crore.  The central government provides 60% of the project cost as grant, the state power distribution companies (discoms) raise 10% of the funds, and 30% is borrowed from financial institutions and banks.

Status of rural electrification

As of August 2017, about 1% of the villages in India remain un-electrified (3,146 villages).  However, with regard to households, around 23% (4.1 crore households) are yet to be electrified.  Table 1 at the end of this post shows the status of rural electrification across all states.

Issues with rural electrification

Definition of an electrified village

An electrified village is defined as one that has the following: (i) provision of basic infrastructure such as distribution transformers and lines in the inhabited locality, (ii) provision of electricity in public places like schools, panchayat office, health centers, dispensaries, and community centers, and (iii) at least 10% of the total number of households in the village are electrified.[iv]

Therefore, a village is considered to be electrified if 10% of the total number of households in the village have been electrified.  This is apart from the basic infrastructure and electrification of certain public centers in the village.  The Standing Committee on Energy (2013) had observed that according to this definition, a village would be called electrified even if up to 90% of households in it do not have an electricity connection.[v]  It also noted that the infrastructure being provided under the scheme is highly inadequate, unreliable and unsustainable.  The Committee recommended that the actual electrification requirement of villages must be assessed, and it should be ensured that the state discoms provide electricity to the remaining households in the village.

Supply of electricity

The Standing Committee had also noted that while the rural electrification scheme looks at creating infrastructure, the actual supply of electricity to households rests with the state discoms.[v]  These discoms are already facing huge financial losses and hence are unable to supply electricity to the villages.  Discoms continue to supply subsidised power to agricultural and residential consumers, resulting in revenue losses.  Further, the average technical and commercial losses (theft and pilferage of electricity) (AT&C losses) are at around 25%.  While the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) has eased off some of the financial losses of the discoms, it remains to be seen whether discoms are able to reduce the cost-tariff gap and AT&C losses in the future.

It has been recommended that generation capacity should be augmented so that states can meet the additional demand under the rural electrification schemes. Further, the assistance to financially weaker states should be increased so that they can better implement the scheme.[v]

Electricity to below poverty line (BPL) households

Under the rural electrification scheme, the cost for providing free electricity connection per BPL household is Rs 3,000.  It has been observed that this cost per household may be inadequate.[v]  Due to the low cost, the quantity and the quality of work has been getting compromised leading to poor implementation of the scheme.  It has been recommended that the Ministry should revisit the cost provided under the scheme.[v]

The new electrification scheme: Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (or Saubhagya)

The new scheme, Saubhagya, seeks to ensure universal household electrification, that is, in both rural and urban areas.  Under Saubhagya, beneficiaries will be identified using the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 data.  The identified poor households will get free electricity connections.  Other households not covered under the SECC, will be provided electricity connections at a cost of Rs 500.  This amount will be collected by the electricity distribution companies in 10 instalments.

The total outlay of the scheme will be Rs 16,320 crore, of which the central government will provide Rs 12,320 crore.  The outlay for the rural households will be Rs 14,025 crore, of which the centre will provide Rs 10,588 crore.  For urban households the outlay will be Rs 2,295 crore of which the centre will provide Rs. 1,733 crore.

The state discoms will execute the electrification works through contractors or other suitable agencies.  Information technology (mobile apps, web portals) will be used to organise camps in villages to identify beneficiaries.  In order to accelerate the process, applications for electricity connections will be completed on the spot.

So far the focus of electrification schemes has been on rural areas, where typically last mile connectivity has been difficult to provide.  Saubhagya extends the ambit of electrification projects to urban areas as well.  While DDUGJY has focused on the village as the principal unit to measure electrification, the new scheme shifts the targets to household electrification.  While the target for ensuring electricity connection in each household will be a significant step towards ensuring 24×7 power, the question of continuous and quality supply to these households will still rest on the ability of the discoms to provide electricity.  Further, while the scheme provides for free connections, the ability of these households to pay for the electricity they consume may be a concern.

Table 1: Status of rural electrification across states (as of August 2017)

Fig 1 edit

* all villages in Telangana were declared electrified before the bifurcation of the state.
Sources:  Ministry of Power; PRS.

 

[i] “PM launches Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana “Saubhagya””, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Power, September 25, 2017.

[ii] “FAQs on Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana “Saubhagya””, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Power, September 27, 2017.

[iii].  Rural Electrification Policy, Ministry of Power, August 23, 2006, http://powermin.nic.in/sites/default/files/uploads/RE%20Policy_1.pdf.

[iv].  “Office memorandum: Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana”, Ministry of Power, December 3, 2014, http://powermin.nic.in/rural_electrification/pdf/Deendayal_Upadhyaya_Gram_Jyoti_Yojana.pdf.

[v].  “41st Report: Implementation of Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana”, Standing Committee on Energy, December 13, 2013, http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Energy/15_Energy_41.pdf.

Rethinking the No Detention Policy

In India, children in the age group of 6-14 years have the right to free and compulsory elementary education in a neighbourhood school under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.  This covers primary (classes 1-5) and upper primary (classes 6-8) levels, which collectively constitute elementary education.

Amongst several provisions focused on elementary education, the Act provides for the No Detention Policy.  Under this, no child will be detained till the completion of elementary education in class 8.  The RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, introduced recently, revisits the No Detention Policy.  In light of this, we discuss the No Detention Policy and issues affecting the implementation of RTE.

What is the No Detention Policy?

The rationale for the No Detention Policy or automatic promotion to the next class is minimising dropouts, making learning joyful, and removing the fear of failure in exams.[1]  The evaluation mechanism under the Policy is the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) for holistic assessments (e.g., paper-pencil test, drawing and reading pictures, and expressing orally) as opposed to the traditional system of examinations.  CCE does not mean no evaluation, but it means an evaluation of a different kind from the traditional system of examinations.

What does the RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017 propose to do?

The Bill proposes a ‘regular examination’ which will be held in class 5 and class 8 at the end of every academic year.[2]  In the event that a child fails these examinations, he will be given remedial instruction and the opportunity for a re-examination.

If he fails in the re-examination, the central or state governments may choose: (i) to not detain the child at all, or (ii) to detain the child in class 5, class 8, or in both classes.  This is in contrast to the current Policy where a child cannot be detained until the completion of class 8.

Conversation around the No Detention Policy

Following the implementation of the No Detention Policy, experts have recommended rolling it back partially or fully.  The reasons for this reconsideration include: (i) the lack of preparedness of the education system to support the Policy, (ii) automatic promotion disincentivising children from working hard, (iii) low accountability of teachers, (iv) low learning outcomes, and (iii) the lack of proper implementation of CCE and its integration with teacher training.1,[3],[4]

In 2015, all the states were asked to share their views on the No Detention Policy.  Most of the states suggested modifications to the Policy in its current form.

What do the numbers say?

Consequent to the enactment of RTE, enrolment has been 100% at the primary level (see Figure 1).  While enrolment has been universal (100%) at the primary level, low transition of students from one class to another at progressively higher levels has been noted.  This has resulted in high dropouts at the secondary education level, with the highest dropout rate being 17% at the class 10 level (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Enrolment in elementary education (2005-2014)

Figure 1

Sources:  Education Statistics at a Glance, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2016; PRS.
Note: Enrolment over 100 % as seen in primary education signifies that children below and above the age of six are being enrolled at the primary education level.

 

One of the reasons for low dropouts at the elementary level may be the obligation to automatically promote and not detain children under the No Detention Policy.  However, there is no such obligation on the government to provide for the same post class 9 i.e., in secondary education.  The reasons which explain the rise in dropouts at the secondary level include domestic activities for girls and economic activities for boys, reasons common to both include financial constraints and lack of interest in education.[5]

 

Figure 2: Dropout rates in school education (2014-15)

Figure 2 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Sources:  Flash Statistics, District Information System for Education, 2015-16; PRS.

 

How does RTE ensure quality education?

Based on the high enrolment and low dropout rates in elementary education, it can be inferred that children are being retained in schools for longer.  However, there have been some adverse observations regarding the learning outcomes of such children.  For example, the Economic Survey 2015-16 pointed out that only about 42% of students in class 5 (in government schools) are able to read a class 2 text.  This number has in fact declined from 57% in 2007.[6]  The National Achievement Survey (2015) for class 5 has also revealed that performance of students, on an average, had gone down from the previous round of the survey conducted in 2014.[7]

Key reasons attributed to low learning levels are with regard to teacher training and high vacancies.7,[8],[9] Against a total of 19 lakh teacher positions sanctioned under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2011-12, only 12 lakh were filled.  Further, approximately 4.5 lakh untrained teachers were operating in 19 states.  Teacher training institutes such as District Institutes of Education and Training are also experiencing high vacancies with regard to trainers who train teachers.[10]  

It has also been noted that the presence of contract/temporary teachers, instead of permanent teachers, contributes to the deterioration of quality of education.  In fact, experts have recommended that to ensure quality secondary education, the reliance on contract/temporary teachers must be done away with.  Instead, fully qualified teachers with salary and benefits must be hired.[11]  It has also been recommended that teachers should not be burdened with ancillary tasks of supervising cooking and serving of mid-day meals.10

The RTE Act, 2009 sought to ensure that teachers acquire minimum qualifications for their appointment, within five years of its enactment (i.e. till March 31, 2015).  Earlier this year, another Bill was introduced in Parliament to amend this provision under the Act.  The Bill seeks to extend this deadline until 2019.

In sum, currently there are two Bills seeking to amend the RTE Act, which are pending in Parliament.  It remains to be seen, how they impact the implementation of the Act going forward.

[1]  “Report of CABE Sub Committee on Assessment on implementation of CCE and no detention provision”, 2015, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/AssmntCCE.pdf

[2] The RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017.

[3] Change in No-Detention Policy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, March 9, 2017, Press Information Bureau.

[4] Unstarred question no. 1789, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Rajya Sabha, December 1, 2016.

[5] “Key Indicators of Social Consumption in India: Education”, NSS 71st Round, 2014, http://mail.mospi.gov.in/index.php/catalog/160/related_materials

[6]  Economic Survey 2015-16, Ministry of Finance, http://indiabudget.nic.in/budget2016-2017/es2014-15/echapter-vol2.pdf

[7]  National Achievement Survey, Class V (Cycle 3) Subject Wise Reports, 2014, http://www.ncert.nic.in/departments/nie/esd/pdf/NationalReport_subjectwise.pdf

[8] “253rd Report: Demands for Grants 2013-14, Demand No. 57”, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, April 26, 2013, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/253.pdf

[9]  “285th Report: Action Taken Report on 250th Report on Demands for Grants 2016-17”, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, December 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/285.pdf

[10]  “283rd Report: The Implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Mid-Day-Meal Scheme’, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, December 15, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/283.pdf

[11]  “Report of the CABE Committee on Girls’ education and common school system”, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2005, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/Girls%20Education.pdf

Rethinking education: The draft NEP 2016

The Ministry of Human Resource Development released the draft National Education Policy, 2016 in July this year.[1]  The Ministry was receiving comments on the draft policy until the end of September 2016.  In this context, we provide an overview of the proposed framework in the draft Policy to address challenges in the education sector. The country’s education policy was last revised in 1992.  It outlined equitable access to quality education, with a common educational structure of 10+2+3 years.  The draft Policy 2016 aims to create an education system which ensures quality education and learning opportunities for all.  The focus areas of intervention of the draft Policy are: (i) access and participation, (ii) quality of education, (iii) curriculum and examination reforms, (iv) teacher development and management and (v) skill development and employability.  Through these key interventions, the draft Policy provides a framework for the development of education in the country over the next few years.  We discuss the key areas of intervention below.

Access and participation Figure 1 (1)Presently in the country, enrolment at pre-school levels for children between the ages of 3- 5 years is low.  38% of children in this age bracket are enrolled in pre-school education in government anganwadi centres, while 27% of the children are not attending any (either government or private) pre-school.[2]  In contrast, the enrolment rate in primary education, which is class 1-5, is almost 100%.  However, this reduces to 91% in classes 6-8 and 78% in classes 9-12.[3]  The trend of lower enrolment rates is seen in higher education (college and university level), where it is at 24%.[4]  Due to low enrolment rates after class 5, transition of students from one level to the next is a major challenge.  Figure 1 shows the enrolment rates across different education levels. With regard to improving participation of children in pre-school education, the draft Policy aims to start a program for children in the pre-school age group which will be implemented in coordination with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.  It also aims to strengthen pre-school education in anganwadis by developing learning materials and training anganwadi workers.  Presently, the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 applies to elementary education only.  To improve access to education, the draft Policy suggests bringing secondary education under the ambit of the RTE Act.  However, a strategy to increase enrolment across different levels of education has not been specified. Quality of education Figure 2 (1)A large number of children leave school before passing class eight.  In 2013-14, the proportion of students who dropped out from classes 1-8 was 36% and from classes 1-10 was 47%.3  Figure 2 shows the proportion of students who exited the school system in classes 1-8 in 2008-09 and 2013-14. Among the population of children who stay in school, the quality or level of learning is low.  The Economic Survey 2015-16 noted that the proportion of class 3 children able to solve simple two-digit subtraction problems fell from 26% in 2013 to 25% in 2014.  Similarly, the percentage of class two children who cannot recognize numbers up to 9 increased from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014.[5] To address the issue of learning levels in school going children, the draft Policy proposes that norms for learning outcomes should be developed and applied uniformly to both private and government schools.  In addition, it also recommends that the existing no-detention policy (promoting all students of a class to the next class, regardless of academic performance) till class 8  be amended and limited to class 5.  At the upper primary stage (class six onward), the system of detention should be restored. Curriculum and examination reforms It has been noted that the current curriculum followed in schools does not help students acquire relevant skills which are essential to become employable.  The draft Policy highlights that the assessment practices in the education system focus on rote learning and testing the students’ ability to reproduce content knowledge, rather than on understanding. The draft Policy aims to restructure the present assessment system to ensure a more comprehensive evaluation of students, and plans to include learning outcomes that relate to both scholastic and co-scholastic domains.  In order to reduce failure rates in class 10, the Policy proposes to conduct examination for the subjects of mathematics, science and English in class 10 at two levels.  The two levels will be part A (at a higher level) and part B (at a lower level).  Students who wish to opt for a vocational stream or courses for which mathematics, science and English are not compulsory may opt for part B level examination. Teacher development and management It has been observed that the current teacher education and training programs are inadequate in imparting the requisite skills to teachers.  The mismatch between institutional capacity to train teachers and required supply in schools results in a shortage of qualified teachers.  At the level of classes 9-12, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan prescribes a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:30.[6]  However, some states have a higher teacher-pupil ratio: Chhattisgarh (1:45), Bihar (1:57) and Jharkhand (1:68).3  In various central universities, the total number of sanctioned teaching posts is 16,339, of which 37% are lying vacant.[7] The draft Policy recommends that state governments should set up independent teacher recruitment commissions to facilitate transparent, merit based recruitment of principals, teachers, and other academic staff.  For teacher development, a Teacher Education University should be set up at the national level to focus on teacher education and faculty development.  In addition, the draft Policy also states that all teacher education institutes must have mandatory accreditation.  To ensure effective teacher management, periodic assessment of teachers in government and private schools should be carried out and linked to their future promotions and increments. Skill development and employability It has been noted that the current institutional arrangements to support technical and vocational education programs for population below 25 years of age is inadequate.  The social acceptability of vocational education is also low.  Presently, over 62% of the population in the country is in the working age-group (15-59 years).[8]  Only 10% of this workforce (7.4 crore) is trained, which includes about 3% who are formally trained and 7% who are informally trained.[9]  In developed countries, skilled workforce is between 60-90% of the total workforce.[10] The draft Policy proposes to integrate skill development programs in 25% of schools and higher education institutions in the country.  This is in line with the National Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Policy that was released by the government in 2015. The draft Policy 2016 focuses on important aspects that have not been addressed in previous policies such as: (i) curriculum and examination reforms, and (ii) teacher development .  Although the Policy sets a framework for improving education in the country,  the various implementation strategies that will be put in place to achieve the education outcomes envisaged by it remains to be seen. For an analysis on some education indicators such as enrolment of students, drop-out rates, availability of teachers and share of government and private schools, please see our Vital Stats on the ‘overview of the education sector’ here. [1] Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/Inputs_Draft_NEP_2016.pdf. [2] Rapid Survey on Children, 2013-14, Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20FACT%20SHEETS%20Final.pdf. [3] Secondary education in India, U-DISE 2014-15, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, http://www.dise.in/Downloads/Publications/Documents/SecondaryFlash%20Statistics-2014-15.pdf. [4] All India Survey on Higher Education 2014-15, http://aishe.nic.in/aishe/viewDocument.action?documentId=197. [5] Economic Survey 2015-16, Volume-2, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2015-16/echapvol2-09.pdf. [6] Overview,  Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/rmsa. [7] “265th Report: Demands for Grants (Demand No. 60) of the Department of Higher Education”, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, April 2013, 2015, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/265.pdf. [8] “Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship: Key Achievements and Success Stories in 2015”, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Press Information Bureau, December 15, 2015. [9] Draft Report of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Skill Development, NITI Aayog, September 2015, http://niti.gov.in/mgov_file/Final%20report%20%20of%20Sub-Group%20Report%20on%20Skill%20Development.pdf. [10] Economic Survey 2014-15, Volume  2, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2014-15/echapter-vol2.pdf.