motion of thanks

The President's speech: Charting out reform

Yesterday the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha engaged in a debate on the President's speech, known as the Motion of Thanks. The President's speech is a statement of the legislative and policy achievements of the government during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead. Close to the end of the UPA government’s term, it would be useful to evaluate the status of the commitments made in the President’s addresses. (To know more about the significance of the President’s speech refer to this Indian Express article. To understand the broad policy and legislative agenda outlined in this year's address see this PRS Blog.) The President's speeches since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, have addressed reforms to the financial and social sectors, improving accountability of public officials, and making the delivery of public services more efficient.  We analyse the status of each of these commitments. Accountability in governance processes In an effort to increase accountability and transparency in governance processes, the government introduced a number of Bills.

  • The the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill and the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill enable individuals to file complaints against judges and other government officials for corruption and misbehaviour.
  • The Whistleblowers Bill has been introduced to protect persons who are making disclosures on corruption, on the misuse of power and on criminal offences by public servants.

These bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are pending in the Rajya Sabha.  The government has recently approved amendments to the Lokpal Bill, which may be considered by the Rajya Sabha in the Budget session. Public service delivery In order to make public service delivery more efficient, the government introduced the Electronic Services Delivery Bill and the Citizen’s Charter Bill.

  • The Electronic Services Delivery Bill aims to deliver all government services electronically .
  • The Citizens Charter Bill creates a grievance redressal process for complaints against the functioning of any public authority.
  • Both Bills are pending in the Lok Sabha since introduction in December 2011.
  • Related initiatives include linking the delivery of public services to Aadhaar and moving towards the cash transfer of subsidies. On January 1, 2013, the government piloted cash transfers to deliver subsidies for scholarships and pensions.

Social sector reforms: land, food security and education Broad sectoral reforms have been undertaken in land acquisition, food security and education to aid development and economic growth.

  • Land:  In 2011, the government introduced the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. The Standing Committee Report on the Bill was released in May last year, based on which the government circulated a list of amendments to the Bill in December 2012.
  • Education: Elementary and middle school education saw reform in 2009 with the passage of the Right to Education Act (RTE Act). This legislation provides every child between the age of six to fourteen years with the right to free and compulsory education. As per the law, by March 2013 all schools are to conform to the minimum standards prescribed. States have expressed concerns over their preparedness in meeting this requirement and it remains to be seen how the government addresses this issue.
  • Food security: The National Food Security Bill is pending in Parliament since 2011. The Bill seeks to make food security a legal entitlement, reform the existing Public Distribution System and explore innovative mechanisms such as cash transfer and food coupons for the efficient delivery of food grains. The Standing Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill in January this year.

Financial sector reforms In order to aid growth and encourage investments, the President had mapped out necessary financial sector reforms.

  • Taxation: The Direct Taxes Code has been introduced in Parliament to enhance tax realisation. However, even though the Standing Committee has presented its report, there has been little progress on the Bill. Efforts are underway to build political consensus on the Goods and Services Tax to rationalise indirect taxes.
  • Regulation of specific sectors: A bill to regulate the pension sector has been introduced in Parliament. Other financial sector reforms include a new Companies Bill, amendments to the Banking laws and a bill regulating the insurance sector.  Amendments to the banking laws have been approved by Parliament, while those to the Companies Bill have only been passed by the Lok Sabha.

In the backdrop of these legislations, it will be interesting to see the direction the recommendations of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, responsible for redrafting all financial sector regulation, takes. Internal security The government is taking measures to deal with internal security concerns such as terrorism and naxalism. In 2009, the President mentioned that the government has proposed the setting up of a National Counter Terrorism Centre. However, this has been on hold since March 2011. At the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in June 2009, the President presented the 100 day agenda of the UPA II government, in his address. Of the eight bills listed for passing within 100 days, none have been passed. In addition, the President’s address in 2009 mentioned five other Bills, from which, only the RTE Act has been passed.  In the final year of its tenure, it needs to be seen what are the different legislative items and economic measures, on which the government would be able to build consensus across the political spectrum.  

President's address 2013 and the status of past promises

The Budget session 2013 commenced with the President, Pranab Mukherjee, addressing Parliament on February 21, 2013.  The address is a statement of the policy of the government.  Yesterday a Motion of Thanks was moved in the Lok Sabha and a detailed discussion took place on the President’s address.  (The significance of the President’s speech has been discussed in an article published in the Indian Express.) Below are some legislative and policy items from the agenda of the central government outlined in the speech.

  • Amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to punish the guilty and protect the honest public servants more effectively.
  • The Direct Benefits Transfer system has been launched to enable government sponsored benefits such as scholarships, pensions and maternity benefits to be deposited in the beneficiaries Aadhaar linked accounts. This will be expanded to cover wages and subsidies on food and LPG. This system will not substitute public services and will be complementary to the Public Distribution System.
  • In a bid to promote Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, 20% of all government procurement is required to be from Micro and Small Enterprises.
  • The coverage under the Mid-day Meal Programme to be expanded to pre-primary schools.
  • Godown storage capacity of 181 lakh tons will be created between 2013 and 2015 across the country with additional storage space of 5.4 lakh tons in the North East.
  • A Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project for Low Income States, estimated at nearly Rs 5000 crore, is being developed to assist States that are lagging behind in the coverage of piped water supply.
  • Two and a half lakh gram panchayats will be connected with broadband facility under the National Optical Fibre Network project by December 2014.
  • A shift in central funding to states for higher education through a new programme called the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan is being considered.
  • The government proposes to establish two new major ports at Sagar Island, West Bengal and the other in Andhra Pradesh, with a total additional capacity of around 100 Million Tonnes Per Annum (MTPA).  ‘In-principle’ approval has been given for setting up an airport at Aranmula (Kerala) apart from airports at Navi Mumbai, Mopa (Goa) and Kannur (Kerela).
  • In 2012-13, 2600 km of roads are expected to be constructed and contracts for 3000 km of new roads are expected to be awarded. A new approach to road construction, the EPC mode, has been put in place. A length of 2900 km of highways will be put under the Operate, Maintain and Transfer system, which will improve road maintenance.

Legislative and policyagenda outlined in President’s addresses between 2009-2012 and their  status

Legislation/Policy

Status

Legislations mentioned in the President’s Address between 2009-12

  To be introduced
Goods and Services Tax Constitutional Amendment Bill introduced
The National Food Security Bill Introduced
Amend the Land Acquisition Act and enact the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill Introduced
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Bill Passed
The Whistleblower Bill Pending
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill Pending
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill Pending
A model Public Services Law (to cover officials providing important social services and commits them to their duties) Two bills introduced: the Electronic Services Delivery Bill and the Citizen’s Charter Bill
The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill Passed
The National Council for Higher Education Bill Introduced
Foreign Educational Institutions Bill Introduced
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill Passed
The Women’s Reservation Bill Pending
The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill Introduced
The Public Procurement Bill Introduced
The General Anti-Avoidance Rules Scheduled for 2016[1]
Amend of RTI Act (to provide for disclosure by government in all non-strategic areas) To be introduced

Policy items mentioned in the President’s Addresses between 2009-2012

National Mission for Female Literacy – all women to be literate by 2013-14 National Literacy Mission recast in September 2009 to focus on female literacy; as per 2011 census the female literacy rate in India is 65.46%[2]
Disposal of remaining claims in 2010 under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act As on February 28, 2010, 27.16 lakh claims had been filed, 7.59 lakh titles had been distributed and 36,000 titles were ready for distribution;[3] as on July 31, 2012, the number of claims filed for the recognition of forest rights and titles distributed are 32.28 lakh and 12.68 lakh respectively[4]
Introduction of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Minor Forest Produce (MFP) being considered Based on the recommendations of the Committee constituted by Ministry of Panchayati Raj to look into aspects of MSP, Value addition and marketing of MFP in Fifth Schedule Areas, a Central Sector Scheme of MSP for MFP has been contemplated[5]
Voting rights for Indian citizens living abroad Bill passed; NRIs can vote at the place of residence mentioned in their passport
12th Plan target growth 9% with 4% growth for the agricultural sector GDP grew by 5.4% and the agriculture sector by 1.8% in the first half of the current fiscal year (2012-13)
Establish national investment and manufacturing zones to promote growth in manufacturing Under the National Manufacturing Policy, 12 National Investment and Manufacturing Zones are notified, 8 of them along the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor and 4 others at Nagpur, Tumkur, Chittor and Medak
Strengthening public accountability of flagship programmes by the creation of an Independent Evaluation Office. Government has approved setting up of an Independent Evaluation Office and the Governing Board will be chaired by Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission
Unique Identity Card scheme to be implemented by 2011-12 Bill to give statutory status pending in Parliament; enrollment until February 2013 is approximately 28 crore[6]
Establishment of National Counter-Terrorism Centre Proposed launch of NCTC in March 2011 on hold as consultation with states is on; meeting held by the union government with the Chief Ministers of all the States in May 2012
Conversion of analog cable TV system to digital by December 2014 Government has implemented the first phase of digitization in Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai; by March 31, 2013, 38 cities with a population of more than one million will be covered
A roadmap for judicial reform to be outlined by the end of 2009 and implemented in a time-bound manner Vision statement formulated in 2009 outlining road map for improving justice delivery and legal reforms and steps to reduce pendency in Courts; setting up of a National Mission for the Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms to improve court administration and reduce pendency was approved in June 2011

*Introduced means introduced in one House; Pending means passed by one House and pending in the other House; Passed means passed by both Houses of Parliament.


[1] “Major Recommendations of Expert Committee on GAAR Accepted”, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, January 14, 2013.
[2] Lok Sabha, Starred Question No. 175, December 5, 2012, Ministry of Human Resource Development.
[3] Lok Sabha, Unstarred Question No. 2672, March 12, 2010, Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
[4] Lok Sabha, Starred Question No. 108, August 17, 2012, Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
[5] “PM approves Constitution of National Council for Senior Citizens”, Press Information Bureau, February 1, 2012, Prime Minister’s Office.