विधान

Land Acquisition: An overview of proposed amendments to the law

On March 10, Lok Sabha passed a Bill to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.  The Bill is now pending in Rajya Sabha.  This blog briefly outlines the context and the major legislative changes to the land acquisition law. I. Context Land acquisition, unlike the purchase of land, is the forcible take-over of privately owned land by the government.  Land is acquired for projects which serve a ‘public purpose’.  These include government projects, public-private partnership projects, and private projects.  Currently, what qualifies as ‘public purpose’ has been defined to include defence projects, infrastructure projects, and projects related to housing for the poor, among others. Till 2014, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 regulated the process of land acquisition.  While the 1894 Act provided compensation to land owners, it did not provide for rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) to displaced families.  These were some of the reasons provided by the government to justify the need for a new legislation to regulate the process of land acquisition.  Additionally, the Supreme Court had also pointed out issues with determination of fair compensation, and what constitutes public purpose, etc., in the 1894 Act.  To this end, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 was passed by Parliament, in 2013. II. Current legislative framework for land acquisition The 2013 Act brought in several changes to the process of land acquisition in the country.   Firstly, it increased the compensation provided to land owners, from 1.3 times the price of land to 2 times the price of land in urban areas, and 2-4 times the price of land in rural areas.  Secondly, unlike the earlier Act which did not provide rehabilitation and resettlement, the 2013 Act provided R&R to land owners as well as those families which did not own land, but were dependent on the land for their livelihood.  The Act permits states to provide higher compensation and R&R. Thirdly, unlike the previous Act, it mandated that a Social Impact Assessment be conducted for all projects, except those for which land was required urgently.  An SIA assesses certain aspects of the acquisition such as whether the project serves a public purpose, whether the minimum area that is required is being acquired, and the social impact of the acquisition.  Fourthly, it also mandated that the consent of 80% of land owners be obtained for private projects, and the consent of 70% of land owners be obtained for public-private partnership projects.  However, consent of land owners is not required for government projects.   The 2013 Act also made certain other changes to the process of land acquisition, including prohibiting the acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land, except in certain cases where the limit may be specified by the government. III. Promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the 2013 Act In addition to the 2013 Act, there are certain other laws which govern land acquisition in particular sectors, such as the National Highways Act, 1956 and the Railways Act, 1989.  The 2013 Act required that the compensation and R&R provisions of 13 such laws be brought in consonance with it, within a year of its enactment, (that is, by January 1, 2015) through a notification.  Since this was not done by the required date, the government issued an Ordinance (as Parliament was not in session) to extend the compensation and R&R provisions of the 2013 Act to these 13 laws.  However, the Ordinance also made other changes to the 2013 Act. The Ordinance was promulgated on December 31, 2014 and will lapse on April 5, 2015 if not passed as a law by Parliament.  Thus, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 has been introduced in Parliament to replace the Ordinance.  The Bill has been passed by Lok Sabha, with certain changes, and is pending in Rajya Sabha.  The next section outlines the major changes the Bill (as passed by Lok Sabha) proposes to make to 2013 Act. IV. Changes proposed by the 2015 Bill to the 2013 Act Some of the major changes proposed by the 2015 Bill (as passed by Lok Sabha) relate to provisions such as obtaining the consent of land owners; conducting an SIA; return of unutilised land; inclusion of private entities; and commission of offences by the government. Certain exemptions for five categories of projects: As mentioned above, the 2013 Act requires that the consent of 80% of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for private projects, and the consent of 70% of land owners is obtained when land is acquired for public-private partnership projects.  The Bill exempts five categories of projects from this provision of the 2013 Act.  These five categories are: (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing, (iv) industrial corridors (set up by the government/government undertakings, up to 1 km on either side of the road/railway), and (v) infrastructure projects. The Bill also allows the government to exempt these five categories of projects from: (i) the requirement of a Social Impact Assessment, and (ii) the limits that apply for acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land, through issuing a notification.  Before issuing this notification, the government must ensure that the extent of land being acquired is in keeping with the minimum land required for such a project. The government has stated that these exemptions are being made in order to expedite the process of land acquisition in these specific areas.  However, the opponents of the Bill have pointed out that these five exempted categories could cover a majority of projects for which land can be acquired, and consent and SIA will not apply for these projects. Return of unutilised land: Secondly, the Bill changes the time period after which unutilised, acquired land must be returned.  The 2013 Act states that if land acquired under it remains unutilised for five years, it must be returned to the original owners or the land bank.  The Bill changes this to state that the period after which unutilised land will need to be returned will be the later of: (i) five years, or (ii) any period specified at the time of setting up the project. Acquisition of land for private entities: Under the 2013 Act, as mentioned above, land can be acquired for the government, a public-private partnership, or a private company, if the acquisition serves a public purpose.  The third major change the Bill seeks to make is that it changes the term ‘private company’ to ‘private entity’.  This implies that land may now be acquired for a proprietorship, partnership, corporation, non-profit organisation, or other entity, in addition to a private company, if the project serves a public purpose. Offences by the government: Fourthly, under the 2013 Act, if an offence is committed by a government department, the head of the department will be held guilty unless he can show that he had exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.  The Bill removes this section.  It adds a provision to state that if an offence is committed by a government employee, he can be prosecuted only with the prior sanction of the government. Acquisition of land for private hospitals and educational institutions: While the 2013 Act excluded acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions, the Bill sought to include these two within its scope.  However, the Lok Sabha removed this provision of the Bill.  Thus, in its present form, the Bill does not include the acquisition of land for private hospitals and private educational institutions. Other changes proposed in Lok Sabha: In addition to removing social infrastructure from one of the five exempted categories of projects, clarifying the definition of industrial corridors, and removing the provision related to acquisition for private hospitals and private educational institutions, the Lok Sabha made a few other changes to the Bill, prior to passing it.  These include: (i) employment must be provided to ‘one member of an affected family of farm labour’ as a part of the R&R award, in addition to the current provision which specifies that one member of an affected family must be provided employment as a part of R&R; (ii) hearings of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authority to address grievances related to compensation be held in the district where land is being acquired; and (iii) a survey of wasteland must be conducted and records of these land must be maintained. For more details on the 2015 Bill, see the PRS Bill page, here. A version of this blog appeared on rediff.com on February 27, 2015. 

EU bans imports of Alphonso mangoes: Is India's biosecurity mechanism rigorous enough?

Recent news reports indicate that the European Union (EU) has banned imports of Alphonso mangoes and four vegetables from India due to the presence of harmful pests and a lack of certification before export.  The ban will be effective between May 1, 2014 and December 2015.  It has been suggested that the ban could impact the export of nearly 16 million mangoes from India, the market for which is worth nearly £6 million a year in a country like the United Kingdom. In this context, it may be useful to examine the regulation of agricultural biosecurity in India, particularly with respect to imports and exports of such agricultural produce. Currently, two laws, the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1914 and the Livestock Importation Act, 1898, regulate the import and export of plants and animals with a view to control pests and diseases.  Under the laws, the authorities ensure that infectious diseases and pests do not cause widespread damage to the environment, crops, agricultural produce and human beings, i.e. the agricultural biosecurity of a country.  Common examples of pests and diseases have been the Banana bunchy top virus which stunts banana plants and stops production of fruit while another is the Avian Influenza, which caused extensive death of poultry and led to human deaths as well. Under the existing Acts, different government departments and government-approved bodies are responsible for regulating imports and certifying exports to ensure that there are no threats to agricultural biosecurity.  The Department of Agriculture keeps a check on pests and diseases arising from plants and related produce, such as mangoes and vegetables, while the Department of Animal Husbandry monitors diseases relating to animals and meat products.  The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) certifies exports of different commodities related to plants and animals.  Various government committees have highlighted the ineffectiveness of the existing system due to its piecemeal approach and have recommended an integrated system to handle biosecurity issues.  It has also been suggested that the existing laws have not kept up with developments in agriculture and are inadequate to deal with the emergence of trans-boundary diseases that pose threats to human, animal and plant safety. The Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, 2013, pending in Parliament seeks to replace these laws and establish a national authority, the Agricultural Biosecurity Authority of India (ABAI), to regulate biosecurity issues related to plants and animals.  ABAI shall be responsible for: (i) regulating the import and export of plants, animals and related products, (ii) implementing quarantine measures in case of the existence of pests, (iii) regulating the inter-state spread of pests and diseases relating to plants and animals, and (iv) undertaking regular surveillance of pests and diseases.  Under the Bill, exports of plants, animals and related products will only be allowed once ABAI has issued a sanitary or phytosanitary certificate in accordance with the destination country’s requirements. The penalty for exporting goods without adequate certification from ABAI is imprisonment upto two years and and a fine of Rs 2 lakh. The proposed ABAI will also meet India’s obligations to promote research and prevent pests and diseases under the International Plant Protection Convention and the Office International des Epizooties. A PRS analysis of various aspects of the Bill can be found here. The Bill will lapse with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.  It remains to be seen how the incoming government in the 16th Lok Sabha will approach biosecurity issues to prevent incidents like the EU ban on imports of Indian fruits and vegetables in the future.

Land acquisition process can take 50 months

The new Land Acquisition Bill has detailed a process for acquiring land.  The process could take up to 50 months.  This will increase the gestation period of projects.  The new time line and the attendant uncertainty at each step will have to be factored in by promoters of projects while computing the costs and feasibility. The details of the process are given in the Table below.  Some of the processes can be conducted concurrently with others. The processes which need to be done sequentially are shown in bold.  These add up to 50 months (not counting extensions). Time limits for various steps for Land Acquisition under the new Act

Process Section Time limit
Social Impact Assessment 4(1) last proviso 6 months
Appraisal of SIA by review committee 7(4) and 7(5) 2 months
Examination of land acquisition proposal and SIA by appropriate government 8 No time limit specified
SIA expert group appraisal to Preliminary notification 14 12 months but extendable by appropriate government
Preliminary notification to updating of land records 11(5) 2 months
Preliminary notification to objections 16(1) 60 days
Preliminary notification to R&R survey 17(1) Time limit to be prescribed in Rules
Preliminary notification under section 11 to Declaration under section 20 15 and 20(7) (inconsistency) 12 months (S15)12 months but extendable by appropriate government; also court stay period excluded (S20(7))
Time for compensation claims to be made 22(2) 30 days to 6 months
Declaration to Award 26 12 months but extendable by appropriate government
Correction of Award by Collector 34(1) 6 months
Award to Possession of land by collector  39(1) After ensuring compensation is paid (3 months) and monetary component of R&R paid (6 months).
Time for infrastructure entitlements under R&R 39(1) proviso 18 months after award

Source: PRS Total Time Limit (assuming no extensions): SIA (6 months) + Expert group appraisal (2 months) + Preliminary notification (12 months) + Declaration (12 months) + Award (12 months) + Possession (6 months) = 50 months.  

Enhancing SEBI’s Powers

Recently, there have been instances of certain collective investment schemes (CISs) attempting to circumvent regulatory oversight.  In addition, some market participants have not complied with Securities and Exchange Board of India's (SEBI) orders of payment of penalty and refund to investors. In August, the Securities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 (the SEBI Act, 1992), the Securities Contract (Regulation) Act, 1956 (SCRA, 1956) and the Depositories Act, 1996. The Bill replaced the Securities Laws (Amendments) Ordinance, 2013. The Bill makes the following key amendments: a) Definition of Collective Investment Schemes The SEBI Act, 1992 defines CISs as schemes in which the funds of investors are pooled, yield profits or income and are managed on behalf of investors.  It also exempts certain types of investments which are regulated by other authorities. The Bill introduces a proviso to the definition of CIS.  This proviso deems any scheme or arrangement to be a CIS if it meets all three of the following conditions: (a) funds are pooled, (b) it is not registered with SEBI, or it is not exempted by SEBI Act, 1992, and (c) it has a corpus of Rs 100 crore or more.  These provisions could potentially lead to some schemes not conventionally defined as CIS to fall under the definition. For instance, partnership firms operating in the investment business or real estate developers accepting customer advances could be termed as CISs. SEBI has been given the power to specify conditions under which any scheme or arrangement can be defined as a CIS. This raises the question of whether this is excessive delegation of legislative powers - usually the parent act defines the entities to be regulated and the details are entrusted to the regulator. b) Disgorgement (repayment) of unfair gains/ averted losses SEBI has in the past issued orders directing market participants to refund i) profits made or ii) losses averted, through unfair actions.  The Bill deems SEBI to have always had the power to direct a market participant to disgorge unfair gains made/losses averted, without approaching a court.  This power to order disgorgement without approaching a court is in contrast with the provisions of the recently passed Companies Bill, 2011 and the draft Indian Financial Code (IFC) which require an order from a court/tribunal for disgorgement of unfair gains. Further, the Bill specifies that the disgorged amount shall be credited to the Investor Education and Protection Fund (IEPF), and shall be used in accordance with SEBI regulations.  The Bill does not explicitly provide the first right on the disgorged funds to those who suffered wrongful losses due to the unfair actions, unlike the draft IFC. c) Investigation and prosecution The Bill empowers the SEBI chairman to authorise search and seizure operations on a suspect’s premises.  This does away with the current requirement of permission from a Judicial Magistrate.  This provision removes the usual safeguards regarding search and seizure as seen in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the recently passed Companies Bill, 2011 and the draft Indian Financial Code. The Bill also empowers an authorised SEBI officer to, without approaching a court, attach a person’s bank accounts and property and even arrest and detain the person in prison for non-compliance of a disgorgement order or penalty order.  Most regulators and authorities, with the exception of the Department of Income Tax, do not have powers to such an extent. d) Other Provisions of the Bill The Bill retrospectively validates consent guidelines issued by SEBI in 2007 under which SEBI can settle non-criminal cases through consent orders, i.e., parties can make out-of-court settlements through payment of fine/compensation.  The United States Securities and Exchange Commission settles over 90% of non-criminal cases by consent orders. The Bill retrospectively validates the exchange of information between SEBI and foreign securities regulators through MoUs. The Bill sets up special courts to try cases relating to offences under the SEBI Act, 1992. For a PRS summary of the Bill, here.

A balancing Act- The Land Acquisition Bill

The Land Acquisition Bill is slated to be taken up for consideration and passing in the Lok Sabha today. The government had circulated an amendment list in the last session of Parliament. In a column in the Financial Express, MR Madhavan discusses the major features of the Land Acquisition Bill and the associated issues that Parliament may need to consider while deliberating on the Bill. Economic growth and job creation require efficient usage of land resources. It is important that a fair and transparent process for purchase and for acquisition of land is followed. For the purchase of land, a key concern is the authenticity of land titles, and the government has drafted a Land Titling Bill for this purpose. In the case of land acquisition, the following questions need to be addressed. What are the end-uses for which public interests will trump private property rights, and justify acquisition of land from a person who is not willing to part with it? What should be the process followed? Since there is no market mechanism of discovery of prices in these cases, how should compensation be computed? Is there a need to address non-land owners who may be displaced by the acquisition process? Does the acquisition process get completed in a reasonable amount of time, and is there finality to the acquisition? In sum, do both sides—the acquirer and the land owner—perceive the process to be fair? The current Bill addresses these questions in the following manner. It defines public purpose to include infrastructure projects (as defined by the finance ministry, with some exclusions); projects related to agriculture, agro-processing and cold storage; industrial corridors, mining activities, national investment and manufacturing zones; government administered or aided educational and research institutions; sports, healthcare, transport and space programmes. It also enables the government to include other infrastructural facilities to this list after tabling a notification in Parliament. The significant difference from the current Land Acquisition Act, 1894, is that land cannot be acquired for use by companies unless they satisfy any of the above end-uses. The Bill includes a requirement for consent of the land owners in some cases. If the land is acquired for use by a private company, 80% of land owners need to give consent. If it is for use by a public private partnership (PPP), 70% of the land owners have to agree to the acquisition. The rationale of having differential consent requirements based on ownership—including the lack of any such requirement if the land is for the use of the government or a public sector undertaking—is not clear. Why should a land owner, who is losing his land care, whether the intended project is to be executed by the government or a private company? The Bill specifies that the compensation will be computed in the following manner. Three factors are taken into account: the circle rate according to the Stamp Act; the average of the top 50% of sale deeds registered in the vicinity in the previous three years; the amount agreed upon, if any, in case of purchase by a private company or PPP. The higher of these three amounts is multiplied by a factor, which varies from 1 in urban areas to a number between 1 and 2 in rural areas, depending upon the distance from the urban centre. To this amount, the value of any fixed assets such as buildings, trees, irrigation channels etc is added. Finally, this figure is doubled (as solatium, i.e. compensation for the fact that the transaction was made with an unwilling seller). The justification given for the multiplier ranging from 1 to 2 is that many transactions are registered at a price significantly lower than the actual value in order to evade taxes—the moot question is whether such under-reporting is uniform across the country? The Bill states that all persons who are affected by the project should be rehabilitated and resettled (R&R). The R&R entitlements for each family includes a house, a one-time allowance, and choice of (a) employment for one person in the project, (b) one-time payment of R5 lakh, or (c) inflation adjusted annuity of R2,000 per month for 20 years. In addition, the resettlement areas should have infrastructure such as a school, post office, roads, drainage, drinking water, etc. The process has several steps. Every acquisition, regardless of size, needs a social impact assessment, which will be reviewed by an expert committee, and evaluated by the state government. Then a preliminary notification will be issued, land records will be updated, objections will be heard, rehabilitation and resettlement survey carried out, and a final declaration of acquisition issued. The owners can then claim compensation, the final award will be announced, and the possession of the land taken. The total time for this process can last up to 50 months. The big question is whether this time frame would hinder economic development and the viability of projects? The Bill provides for an Authority to adjudicate disputes related to measurement of land, compensation payable, R&R etc, with appeals to be heard by the High Court. There are several restrictions on the land acquired. The purpose for which land is acquired cannot be changed. If land is not used for five years, it would be transferred to a land bank or the original owners. Transfer of ownership needs prior permission, and in case of transfer in the first five years, 40% of capital gains have to be shared with the original owners. Recent cases of land acquisition have been followed by public protests, and the stalling of the acquisition. Whereas some of these may be driven by political agendas, the old Act was perceived to be unfair to land owners in several ways. The challenge for Parliament is to examine the new Bill and craft the law in such a way that it is fair (and perceived as such) to land owners, while making acquisition feasible and practical for projects that are required for economic development and other areas of public interest.

Does the financing of “Rights” laws impinge on the rights of states

In the last decade, some schemes have been recast as statutory entitlements – right to employment, right to education and right to food.  Whereas schemes were dependent on annual budgetary allocations, there rights are now justiciable, and it would be obligatory for Parliament to allocate sufficient resources in the budget.  Some of these rights also entail expenditure by state governments, with the implication that state legislatures will have to provide sufficient funds in their budgets.  Importantly, the amounts required are a significant proportion of the total budget. There has been little debate on the core constitutional issue of whether any Parliament can pre-empt the role of resource allocation by future Parliaments.  Whereas a future Parliament can address this issue by amending the Act, such power is not available to state legislatures.  Through these Acts, Parliament is effectively constraining the spending preferences of states as expressed through their budgets passed by their respective legislative assemblies.  I have discussed these issues in my column in Pragati published on August 16, 2013.

Outlawing corruption

In an Indian express editorial, Mandira Kala discusses the Bills, addressing corruption and good governance, pending in Parliament.  She discusses what their fate may be given that the Monsoon session is widely being viewed as a make or break session  for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. The monsoon session of Parliament started on a stormy note last week. Question hour was disrupted on most days and only one government bill was passed. There are 11 days left in the session and more than 40 bills pending for parliamentary approval. With the 15th Lok Sabha drawing to an end, this session is being viewed as a "make or break" session for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. Since 2010, there has been much debate in Parliament on corruption and an important part of the government's legislative agenda was the introduction of nine bills in the Lok Sabha to address corruption and improve governance through effective delivery of public services. Three of these bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are currently pending before the Rajya Sabha. These include legislation to address corruption in public office, enforce standards and accountability in the judiciary, and protect whistleblowers. The government has proposed amendments to each of these bills that the Rajya Sabha will have to consider and pass. If the Rajya Sabha passes these bills with amendments, they will be sent back to the Lok Sabha for approval. It is difficult to assess in what timeframe these bills will become law, given that both Houses need to agree on the amendments. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill creates a process for receiving and investigating corruption complaints against public officials, including the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, and prosecuting these in a timebound manner. The government amendments include allowing states the flexibility to determine their respective Lokayuktas and giving the Lokpal power of superintendence over the CBI, if the case has been referred by him. A mechanism to protect whistleblowers and create a process for receiving and investigating complaints of corruption or wilful misuse of discretion against a public servant are proposed under the Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2010. The amendments proposed by the government prohibit whistleblowing if the disclosure of information affects the sovereignty of the country and its strategic, scientific and economic interest. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards and establishes processes for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. The bill is not listed in the government's legislative agenda for the monsoon session and media reports suggest that the government intends to make amendments to it. In the arena of strengthening governance and effective delivery of public services, there are three bills currently pending in Parliament. The Citizens' Charter Bill confers the right to timebound delivery of goods and services on every citizen and creates a mechanism for redressing complaints on such matters. The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill mandates that Central and state governments shall deliver public services electronically no later than eight years from the enactment of the law. The parliamentary standing committee had highlighted that the Citizens' Charter Bill and Electronic Delivery of Services Bill have an inherent overlap, which the government would have to resolve. While the former is listed for passing in this session, the government plans to withdraw the latter and replace it with a new bill. This new bill is not part of the list that is up for consideration and passing this session. To create a reliable method of identifying individuals to facilitate their access to benefits and services the National Identification Authority of India Bill was introduced in Parliament to provide unique identification numbers ("aadhaar") to residents of India. This bill has not been listed for parliamentary approval during this session. Two other pending bills do not find place in the government's legislative agenda for the session either. These include legislation that curbs the holding and transfer of benami property and regulates the procurement process in government departments to ensure transparency, accountability and probity. The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill, which imposes penalties on Indian companies and individuals who bribe officials of a foreign government or international agency, is listed for passing this session. Each of these nine bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha. If they are not passed by both Houses before the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved in 2014, no matter where they are in the legislative process, the bills will lapse. This implies that the entire legislative process will have to start all over again, if and when there is political will to legislate on these issues in the 16th Lok Sabha. The challenges in getting legislation passed by Parliament are many, given that its overall productive time, especially time spent on legislation, is decreasing. Typically, Parliament spends about 25 per cent of its time debating legislation, but in the past few years this average has declined to 15 per cent. While the time lost by the House due to frequent adjournments is difficult to make up, parliamentarians will have to cautious about passing bills without the rigours of parliamentary debate. It is uncertain what the trajectory of the anti-corruption legislation in Parliament will be — enacted as law or resigned to a pool of lapsed legislation.

Chit funds: Q & A

These are challenging times for chit fund operators. A scam involving the Saradha group allegedly conning customers under the guise of a chit fund, has raised serious questions for the industry. With a reported 10,000 chit funds in the country handling over Rs 30,000 crore annually, chit fund proponents maintain that these funds are an important financial tool. The scam has also sparked responses from both the centre and states: the Finance MinistryMinistry of Corporate Affairs and SEBI have all promised to act and the West Bengal Assembly has passed The West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, with Odisha and Haryana considering similar legislation. What is a chit fund? A chit fund is a type of saving scheme where a specified number of subscribers contribute payments in instalment over a defined period.  Each subscriber is entitled to a prize amount determined by lot, auction or tender depending on the nature of the chit fund.   Typically the prize amount is the entire pool of contribution minus a discount which is redistributed to subscribers as a dividend. For example, consider an auction-type chit fund with 50 subscribers contributing Rs 100 every month. The monthly pool is Rs 5,000 and this is auctioned out every month.  The winning bid, say Rs 1000, would be the discount and be distributed among the subscribers. The winning bidder would then receive Rs 4,000 (Rs 5,000 – 1,000) while the rest of subscribers would receive Rs 20 (1000/50).  Winners cannot enter the auction again and will be liable for the monthly subscription as the process is repeated for the duration of the scheme.  The company managing the chit fund (foreman) would retain a commission from the prize amount every month.  Collectively, the subscribers to a chit fund are referred to as a chit group and a chit fund company may run many such groups. What are the laws governing chit funds? Classifying them as contracts, the Supreme Court has read chit funds as being part of the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution; hence both the centre and state can frame legislation regarding chit funds.  States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala had enacted legislation (e.g The Kerala Chitties Act, 1975 and The Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961) for regulating chit funds. Chit Funds Act, 1982 In 1982, the Ministry of Finance enacted the Chit Funds Act to regulate the sector.  Under the Act, the central government can choose to notify the Act in different states on different dates; if the Act is notified in a state, then the state act would be repealed[i].  States are responsible for notifying rules and have the power to exempt certain chit funds from the provisions of the Act.  Last year the central government, notified the Act in Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala and Nagaland. Under the Act, all chit funds require previous sanction from the state government.  The capital requirement for establishing chit funds is Rs 1 lakh and at least 10% of profits should be transferred to a reserve fund.  The amount of discount (i.e. the bid) is capped at 40% of the total chit fund value.    States may appoint a Registrar who would be responsible for regulation, inspection and dispute settlement in the sector. Any grievances over decisions made by the Registrar can be subject to appeals directed to the state government. Chit fund managers are required to deposit the entire value of the chit fund (can be done in 50% cash and 50% bank guarantee) with the Registrar for the duration of the chit cycle. Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 The Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978 defines and prohibits any illegal chit fund schemes (e.g. schemes where auction winners are not liable to future payments).  Again, the responsibility for enforcing the provisions of this Act lies with the state government. Reports suggest that the government is discussing amendments to this Bill in the wake of the chit fund scam. West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013 Last month the West Bengal Assembly passed the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013. This was a direct response to the chit fund scam in West Bengal. While not regulating chit funds directly, the Act regulates and restricts financial establishments to curb any unscrupulous activity with regards to deposits.  Chit funds are specifically included under the definition of deposits. The state government will appoint a competent authority to conduct investigations. What is the role of RBI and SEBI? The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the regulator for banks and other non banking financial companies (NBFCs) but does not regulate the chit fund business. While chit funds accept deposits, the term ‘deposit’ as defined under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 does not include subscriptions to chits. However the RBI can provide guidance to state governments on regulatory aspects like creating rules or exempting certain chit funds. As the regulator of the securities market, SEBI regulates collective investment schemes.  But the SEBI Act, 1992 specifically excludes chit funds from their definition of collective investment schemes. In the recent case with Sarada Group, the SEBI investigation discovered that Sarada were, in effect, operating a collective investment scheme without SEBI’s approval.


[i] The central act repeals the Andhra Pradesh Chit Funds Act, 1971; the Kerala Chitties Act, 1975, the Maharashtra Chit Funds Act, 1974’, the Tamil Nadu Chit Funds Act, 1961 (applicable in Chandiragh and Delhi), the Uttar Pradesh Chit Funds Act, 1975,  Goa, Daman and Diu Chit Funds Act, 1973 and Pondicheery Funds Act, 1966.

The law and short of it

In today's Opinion piece, in the Indian Express, we discuss how enacting hasty new legislation in response to public events may not be the answer.  The recent spot fixing controversy in the Indian Premier League has brought the issue of betting in sports back into the limelight. As a result, public debate around betting, and steps that need to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such events, is gaining traction. The government's response to this incident has been somewhat predictable. The minister of state for sports has reportedly stated that his ministry is committed to putting in place new legislation to deal with the menace of fixing in sports. This approach to law making points towards a growing trend of initiating policy and legislative decisions as a reaction to public events. This is not something new. The Mumbai terror attack in 2008 was the catalyst for the enactment of the National Investigation Agency Act, and the brutal rape and murder of a young girl in Delhi led to the overhaul of India's penal code to ensure stricter penalties for crimes against women. Both these bills were passed without effective scrutiny, as they were not referred to a parliamentary standing committee for examination. Events in the country may, on occasion, highlight gaps in our policy and legislative framework. However, they often point out the ineffectiveness of existing laws and the lack of proper implementation. And that is not always a result of not having enough laws in the country. There are more than a 1,000 Central laws and over 15,000 state laws. The problem lies with our law-making process, which is ad hoc in nature. It is geared towards churning out legislation that is not entirely evidence based and does not take the feedback of different stakeholders into account. In its reports, the National Commission to review the working of the Constitution had observed that "our legislative enactments betray clear marks of hasty drafting and absence of Parliament scrutiny from the point of view of both the implementers and the affected persons and groups". Take, for example, the Gram Nyayalaya Act, which establishes village courts to provide people with easy access to justice and reduce the case law burden on the court system. Structured feedback from villagers, whom this act is trying to empower, prior to introducing the bill in Parliament would have given valuable insights about implementation challenges. A comprehensive study to examine the impact that village courts would have in reducing pendency in the judicial system would have provided hard numbers to substantiate what types of cases should be adjudicated by the village courts. A detailed financial analysis of the cost implications for the Central and the state governments for implementing the law would have helped policymakers decide on the scale and effectiveness of implementation. In the absence of these studies, there is no way to measure whether the law has been effective in giving villagers easy access to justice and in reducing the burden on the judicial system. The importance of stakeholder consultation was recently stressed by the parliamentary committee examining the land acquisition bill. In its report on the bill, the committee recommended that, "before bringing in any bill in future, the government should ensure wider, effective and timely consultations with all relevant and stakeholders so that all related issues are addressed adequately." Rajya Sabha MP N.K. Singh, while testifying before the parliamentary standing committee on the National Food Security Bill, had drawn the attention of the committee towards the need for an accurate financial memorandum accompanying the bill, to "avoid serious consequences in the implementation of the bill." The National Advisory Council has also suggested a process of pre-legislative scrutiny of bills and delegated legislation. In its approach paper, the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission had suggested that delegated legislation should also be published in draft form to elicit feedback and that a cost benefit analysis of the delegated legislation should be appended to the draft. New laws can have a significant impact on the lives of people, so it is important that our law-makers enact "effective laws". For this to happen our law-making process needs to evolve. While there will always be public pressure for new laws, the solution lies in ensuring that the law-making process is robust, consultative and deliberative. The solution to addressing policy opportunities does not always lie in making new laws but in ensuring that whatever law is enacted is well thought out and designed to be effective.  

More food for thought - the Food Security Bill

The 15th Lok Sabha is close to the end of its tenure. A key legislation that proposes major reforms in food security was listed for discussion in Parliament. The National Food Security Bill, 2011 has been scrutinised by a Standing Committee. In January, we compared the Standing Committee's recommendations with the provisions of the Bill. Since then, amendments to the Bill have been introduced in Parliament. Debates on the Bill have revolved around the method of delivering food security, the identification of beneficiaries and the financial implications of the Bill. Method of delivery The Bill aims to make the right to food a statutory right. It proposes to use the existing Public Distribution System (PDS) to deliver foodgrain to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population. However, the Bill also allows for cash transfers and food coupons in lieu of grains as mechanisms to deliver food security. While the PDS is known to suffer from leakages as high as 40%, cash transfers and food coupons are known to expose recipients to volatility and price inflation. Each method of delivery would have its own implications, financial and otherwise.  The table below compares these methods of delivery.[i] [table id=7 /]

Identification The Bill does not universalise food entitlements. It classifies the population into two categories of beneficiaries, who shall be identified by the centre and states. Mechanisms that aim to target benefits to certain sections of the population have been prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors. A 2009 expert group study headed by N.C. Saxena that evaluated PDS, estimated that about 61% of the eligible population was excluded from the BPL list while 25% of APL households were included in the BPL list. Beneficiaries under the Food Security Bill will be identified through a similar process. It is unclear how these errors in identification of beneficiaries under the PDS will be addressed by the Bill. Financial implications - cost sharing between the centre and states A Bill that aims to deliver food security to a large section of the country would have significant financial implications. Costs shall be shared between the centre and states. Costs imposed on states (partial or full) include: nutritional support to pregnant women and lactating mothers, mid-day meals, anganwadi infrastructure, meals for children suffering from malnutrition, transport and delivery of foodgrains, creating and maintaining storage facilities, and costs associated with District Grievance Redressal Officers and State Food Commissions.  Although the centre shall provide some assistance, states will have to bear a significant financial burden on account of implementation. It is unclear whether Parliament can require states to allocate funds without encroaching on the powers of state legislative assemblies. If a state chooses not to allocate the necessary funds or does not possess the funds to do so, implementation of the Bill could be seriously affected. The Standing Committee examining the Bill had recommended that an independent body, such as the Finance Commission, should be consulted regarding additional funds to be borne by states. The Right to Education Act with similar centre-state sharing of funds provides for such a consultation with the Finance Commission. Cost of implementation of the Bill Another contentious issue is the cost of implementing the Bill. The Bill estimates the cost at Rs 95,000 crore. However, experts have made varying estimates on the costs ranging from Rs 2 lakh crore to Rs 3.5 lakh crore. Ashok Gulati, Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, estimated the cost at 2 lakh crore per year whereas the Minister of Food, K.V. Thomas was reported to have estimated the cost at Rs 3.5 lakh crore. The passage of the food security Bill in Parliament will depend on the ability of the government to build consensus on these issues. It remains to be seen how the Bill is debated next Parliament session.  
[i] Kapur D., Mukhopadhyay P., and A.  Subramanian.  “The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor.” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol 43, No 15 (Apr 12-18, 2008). Khera, R. “Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations.” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol XLVI, Nos 44 & 45 (Nov 5, 2011). Shah, M. “Direct Cash Transfers: No Magic Bullet.” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol 43, No 34, pp. 77-79 (Aug 23-29, 2008).