Acts of paralysis

Recently, several business leaders have expressed their concern about a policy logjam. There has also been a slowdown in law-making. Several legislative proposals that aim to reform key areas such as education regulation, land related issues, processes to reduce corruption and financial markets have been pending for years.

Several important issues have been caught up in ideological disagreements between the National Advisory Council and various wings of the government. Some members of the NAC have criticised the UID system. There are contending views on the food security legislation regarding proposed coverage, amount of subsidy and delivery systems. The bill on communal violence, pending since 2005, could be replaced by a new version drafted by the NAC; the new proposal has also witnessed strong opposition.

The government has planned a set of bills to tackle corruption and improve delivery of government services. The Lokpal bill is being examined by the standing committee, and the report is expected to be tabled in a few weeks. The committee has submitted its recommendations on two bills related to whistleblower protection and removal of judges for misconduct. The government has introduced bills on benami transactions, payment of bribes to foreign agencies, and has drafted a bill to redress citizen’s grievances. The UID bill — which is expected to help streamline delivery of services — was introduced last December. However, none of these bills has been passed till now.

Recently, several business leaders have expressed their concern about a policy logjam. There has also been a slowdown in law-making. Several legislative proposals that aim to reform key areas such as education regulation, land related issues, processes to reduce corruption and financial markets have been pending for years.

Several important issues have been caught up in ideological disagreements between the National Advisory Council and various wings of the government. Some members of the NAC have criticised the UID system. There are contending views on the food security legislation regarding proposed coverage, amount of subsidy and delivery systems. The bill on communal violence, pending since 2005, could be replaced by a new version drafted by the NAC; the new proposal has also witnessed strong opposition.

The government has planned a set of bills to tackle corruption and improve delivery of government services. The Lokpal bill is being examined by the standing committee, and the report is expected to be tabled in a few weeks. The committee has submitted its recommendations on two bills related to whistleblower protection and removal of judges for misconduct. The government has introduced bills on benami transactions, payment of bribes to foreign agencies, and has drafted a bill to redress citizen’s grievances. The UID bill — which is expected to help streamline delivery of services — was introduced last December. However, none of these bills has been passed till now.

There are proposals to reform the taxation system. A bill to amend direct taxes (income tax and wealth tax) is pending since last August. The indirect tax system is expected to be overhauled by the introduction of a common goods and services tax, and an enabling bill to amend the Constitution has been introduced.

Several bills with implications for industrial growth and financial markets have been in the works for a few years. The Land Acquisition Amendment Bill (and its companion bill for rehabilitating displaced people) was first introduced in 2007. A modified version was introduced this September. If passed, the legislation will have far-reaching implications for the use of land for infrastructure, urbanisation and infrastructure projects. An open question is whether the compensation for the land and provisions for resettlement are a fair balance between the rights of the original land users and the needs of the larger public.

The Companies Bill has seen several avatars, and yet another version is likely to be introduced in Parliament. The pension bill, first introduced in 2005, has just been cleared by the cabinet. The banking regulation bill was introduced in 2005 (lapsed in 2009), the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill in 2006, the insurance bill in 2008 and the bill on microfinance in 2007.

There has not been much progress in some key bills for the agriculture sector. The Seeds Bill 2004 has been listed for consideration many times but it has not been taken up for discussion. This bill aims to ensure the quality of seeds that are sold to farmers. The path of the pesticides bill 2008 has been similar.

There is a long list of bills on higher education reform. Last May, the government introduced a set of four bills related to regulation of universities — these would permit operations by foreign universities, define and provide penalties for unfair practices such as capitation fees, create a system for mandatory quality ratings and establish tribunals to settle disputes. Another bill introduced in the last session seeks to create a centralised repository of all educational degrees in a dematerialised form; this system is expected to reduce fraud and forgery of such certificates. Other pending bills pertaining to education include establishment of innovation universities, making NIMHANS an institute of national importance, amendments to the IIT and NIT Acts and extension of the time for reserving 27 per cent seats for OBC students. A key bill which would have unified all regulatory bodies — such as the UGC, the AICTE (which regulates engineering and management schools), the MCI (medical education), DCI (dental education), bar council (legal education) — has not been introduced as various ministries that regulate these areas have not agreed to the concept.

In the opening address to the 15th Lok Sabha in June 2009, the president included eight bills in the agenda for the first 100 days, and mentioned five more bills as part of the government’s agenda. Till date, the government has passed one bill in this list — on the Right to Education in August 2009.

The second UPA government is midway through its term. On several issues, there are disagreements within the coalition and across the government’s advisory bodies. On others, the government has introduced bills but has not succeeded in getting its way in Parliament. If the government wishes to implement its agenda in the remaining part of its term, it needs to quickly build a consensus on various issues, and then pilot the required legislative proposals through Parliament.