Parliament

More Privatisation on the cards?

The core group of secretaries on disinvestment has recently  approved the disinvestment of five public sector undertakings (PSUs).  This includes the entire shareholding of the government in four PSUs: Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL), Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) and THDC (operates and maintains the Tehri Hydro Power Complex), and 30% of the shareholding in Container Corporation of India Limited (Concor).  The government currently holds 54.8% of Concor, so the sale will reduce its stake below 25%.

Over the last few years, the government has removed legislative barriers towards privatisation of several other PSUs.  This raises the question whether the government plans to privatise them.

What was the Supreme Court’s order on privatisation of PSUs?

In 2003, a similar proposal had been raised by the government for the sale of its shareholding in HPCL and BPCL.  This proposal was challenged in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it would violate the provisions of the laws that transferred ownership of certain assets to the government (which later formed these PSUs).  For example, BPCL was formed by nationalising Burmah Shell in India through an Act of Parliament, and merging their refinery and marketing companies.   The  Court ruled that the central government cannot proceed with the privatisation of HPCL and BPCL (i.e., reduce its direct or indirect ownership below 51%) without amending the concerned laws.  So the government continues to hold majority stake directly in BPCL, and indirectly in HPCL ( through ONGC, another PSU).  

The five Companies approved for privatisation include BPCL and SCI (into which two nationalised companies, the Jayanti Shipping Company, and the Mogul Line Limited were merged).  The relevant nationalisation Acts have been repealed over the last five years.

How did the government remove the legislative barriers for privatisation?

Between 2014 and 2019, Parliament passed six Repealing and Amending Acts which repealed around 722 laws.  These included laws that had transferred the ownership of companies to the central government which later formed BPCL, HPCL, and OIL.  These also repealed the laws that had transferred ownership of the companies to the central government which were later merged with the SCI.  This implies that now the government can go ahead with the privatisation of these government companies as the conditions imposed by the Supreme Court’s order have been fulfilled.  These Repealing and Amending Acts also repealed several other nationalisation laws that were later formed into PSUs.  In the Table below, we have listed some of these companies.  Note that the  Law Commission of India (2014) had suggested the repeal of several of these laws (including the Esso Act, the Burmah Shell Act, the Burn Company Act) on the grounds that these laws do not serve any purpose with respect to the nationalised entity.   However, it had suggested that a study of all the nationalisation Acts should be done before repealing these Acts, and if necessary a savings clause should be provided in the repealing Act. 

Did Parliament scrutinise these Acts before passing them?

Many of these repeals were made through the Repealing and Amending Act, 2016.  These include the Acts relating to BPCL, HPCL, OIL, Coal India Limited, SCI, National Textiles Corporation, Hindustan Copper and Burn Standard Company Limited.   The Bill was not referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, and was passed after a cursory debate (50 minutes in Lok Sabha and 20 minutes in Rajya Sabha).  Similarly, the two Acts passed in 2017, that enable privatisation of SAIL, PowerGrid, and State Trading Corporation were not examined by a Standing Committee.

So what comes next?

The repeal of these Acts have cleared the legislative hurdle for privatisation of these companies.   That is, the government does not need prior approval of Parliament to sell its shareholding.  Therefore, it is now up to the government to decide whether it wishes to privatise these entities. 

A version of this article was published by the Business Standard on October 20, 2019.

Table 1: Some Nationalisation Acts repealed since 2014 (list not exhaustive)

Company

Act being repealed

Repealing Act

Shipping Corporation Of India (SCI)

The Jayanti Shipping Company (Acquisition of Shares) Act, 1971

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

The Mogul Line Limited (Acquisition of Shares) Act, 1984

Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL)

The Burmah Shell (Acquisition of Undertakings in India) Act, 1976

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL)

The Esso (Acquisition of Undertakings in India) Act, 1974

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

The Caltex [Acquisition of Shares of Caltex Oil Refining (India) Limited and of the Undertakings in India of Caltex (India) Limited] Act, 1977

The Kosangas Company (Acquisition of Undertaking) Act, 1979

Coal India Limited (CIL)

The Coking Coal Mines (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1971

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

The Coal Mines (Taking Over of Management) Act, 1973

The Coking Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1972.

Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017

The Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973.

Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL)

The Bolani Ores Limited (Acquisition of Shares) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1978

Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017

The Indian Iron and Steel Company (Acquisition of Shares) Act, 1976

Power Grid Corporation of India Limited

The National Thermal Power Corporation Limited, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited and the North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Power Transmission Systems) Act, 1993.

Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017

The Neyveli Lignite Corporation Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Power Transmission System) Act, 1994.

Oil India Limited (OIL)

The Burmah Oil Company [Acquisition of Shares of Oil India Limited and of the Undertakings in India of Assam Oil Company Limited and the Burmah Oil Company (India Trading) Limited] Act, 1981

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

State Trading Corporation of India Ltd. (STC)

The Tea Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Sick Tea Units) Act, 1985

Repealing and Amending Act, 2017

National Textile Corporation Limited (NTC)

The Sick Textile Undertakings (Taking Over of Management) Act, 1972

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

The Textile Undertakings (Taking Over of Management) Act, 1983

The Laxmirattan and Atherton West Cotton Mills (Taking Over of Management) Act, 1976

Hindustan Copper Limited

The Indian Copper Corporation (Acquisition of Undertaking) Act, 1972

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

Burn Standard Co Ltd

The Burn Company and Indian Standard Wagon Company (Nationalisation) Act, 1976

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

Indian Railways

The Futwah-Islampur Light Railway Line (Nationalisation) Act, 1985

Repealing and Amending Act, 2016

Braithwaite & Co Limited, Ministry of Railways

The Braithwaite and Company (India) Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1976.

Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017

The Gresham and Craven of India (Private) Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1977

Andrew Yule & Co. Ltd.

The Brentford Electric (India) Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1987

Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017

The Transformers and Switchgear Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1983

Repealing and Amending Act, 2019

Alcock Ashdown (Guj) Limited, Government of Gujarat Undertaking

The Alcock Ashdown Company Limited (Acquisition of Undertakings) Act, 1973.

Repealing and Amending Act, 2019

Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (BCPL)

The Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1980

Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017

Organisations under Department of Pharmaceuticals

The Smith, Stainstreet and Company Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1977

Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017

The Bengal Immunity Company Limited (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1984.

Sources: Repealing and Amending Act, 2015; Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2015; Repealing and Amending Act, 2016; Repealing and Amending Act, 2017; Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2017; Repealing and Amending Act, 2019. 

The Importance of Parliamentary Committees

Last week, the Departmentally Related Standing Committees were reconstituted for the first year of the 17th Lok Sabha.  In this context, we discuss the functioning and role of Standing Committees.

The visible part of Parliament’s work takes place on the floor of the House.  Parliament meets for three sessions a year i.e., the Budget, Monsoon, and Winter Sessions.  This part of Parliament’s work is televised and closely watched.  However, Parliament has another forum through which a considerable amount of its work gets done.  These are known as Parliamentary Committees.  These Committees are smaller units of MPs from both Houses, across political parties and they function throughout the year.  These smaller groups of MPs study and deliberate on a range of subject matters, Bills, and budgets of all the ministries.

During the recently concluded first Session of the 17th Lok Sabha, Parliament sat for 37 days.  In the last 10 years, Parliament met for 67 days per year, on average.  This is a short of amount of time for MPs to be able to get into the depth of matters being discussed in the House.  Since Committees meet throughout the year, they help make up for this lack of time available on the floor of the House. 

Parliament deliberates on matters that are complex, and therefore needs technical expertise to understand such matters better.  Committees help with this by providing a forum where Members can engage with domain experts and government officials during the course of their study.  For example, the Committee on Health and Family Welfare studied the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 which prohibits commercial surrogacy, but allows altruistic surrogacy.  As MPs come from varying backgrounds, they may not have had the expertise to understand the details around surrogacy such as fertility issues, abortion, and regulation of surrogacy clinics, among others.  The Committee called upon a range of stakeholders including the National Commission for Women, doctors, and government officials to better their understanding of the issues, before finalising their report. 

Committees also provide a forum for building consensus across political parties.  The proceedings of the House during sessions are televised, and MPs are likely to stick to their party positions on most matters.  Committees have closed door meetings, which allows them to freely question and discuss issues and arrive at a consensus. 

After a Committee completes its study, it publishes its report which is laid in Parliament.  These recommendations are not binding, however, they hold a lot of weight.  For example, the Standing Committee on Health made several recommendations to the National Medical Commission Bill in 2017.  Many of these were incorporated in the recently passed 2019 Bill, including removing the provision for allowing a bridge course for AYUSH practitioners. 

There are 24 such Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs), each of which oversees a set of Ministries.  DRSCs were set up first in 1993, to ensure Parliament could keep with the growing complexity of governance.  These are permanent Committees that are reconstituted every year.  They consist of 21 Members from Lok Sabha, and 10 Members from Rajya Sabha, and are headed by a Chairperson.  The DRSCs primarily look at three things: (i) Bills, (ii) budgets, and (iii) subject specific issues for examination.  Other types of Standing Committees include Financial Committees which facilitate Parliament’s scrutiny over government expenditure.  Besides these, Parliament can also form ad hoc Committees for a specific purpose such as addressing administrative issues, examining a Bill, or examining an issue. 

To ensure that a Bill is scrutinised properly before it is passed, our law making procedure has a provision for Bills to be referred to a DRSC for detailed examination.  Any Bill introduced in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha can be referred to a DRSC by either the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.  Over the years, the Committees have immensely contributed to strengthen the laws passed by Parliament.  For example, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, overhauling the 1986 law, was recently passed during the Budget Session.  An earlier version of the Bill had been examined by the Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs, which suggested several amendments such as increasing penalties for misleading advertisements, making certain definitions clearer.   The government accepted most of these recommendations and incorporated them in the 2019 Act.

Besides Bills, the DRSCs also examine the budget.  The detailed estimates of expenditure of all ministries, called Demand for Grants are sent for examination to the DRCSs.  They study the demands to examine the trends in allocations, spending by the ministries, utilisation levels, and the policy priorities of each ministry.  However, only a limited proportion of the budget is usually discussed on the floor of the House.  In the recently dissolved16th Lok Sabha, 17% of the budget was discussed in the House. 

Committees also examine policy issues in their respective Ministries, and make suggestions to the government. The government has to report back on whether these recommendations have been accepted or not.  Based on this, the Committees then table an Action Taken Report, which shows status of the government’s action on each recommendation. 

While Committees have substantially impacted Parliament’s efficacy in discharging its roles, there is still scope for strengthening the Committee system.  In the 16th Lok Sabha, DRSCs examined 41 Bills, 331 Demands for Grants, 197 issues, and published 503 Action Taken Reports. 

However, the rules do not require that all Bills be examined by a Committee.  This leads to some Bills being passed without the advantage of a Committee scrutinising its technical details.  Recently, there has been a declining trend in the percentage of Bills being referred to a Committee.  In the 15th LS, 71% of the Bills introduced were referred to Committees for examination, as compared to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha.

With the DRSCs now constituted for the first year of the 17th Lok Sabha, they will soon begin their meetings to select the subjects they are going to examine.  Some Committees already have Bills to examine that were referred to them during the 16th Lok Sabha.  Some of these Bills are: (i) the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2019, (ii) the Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2018, and (iii) the Registration of Marriage of Non- Resident Indian Bill, 2019So far in the 17th Lok Sabha no Bill has been referred to a Committee yet.

 

Explaining the difference between the government finances reported in the Economic Survey and the Union Budget 2019-20

The Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, presented the Union Budget for the financial year 2019-20 in Parliament on July 5, 2019.  In the 2019-20 budget, the government presented the estimates of its expenditure and receipts for the year 2019-20.  The budget also gave an account of how much money the government raised or spent in 2017-18.  In addition, the budget also presented the revised estimates made by the government for the year 2018-19 in comparison to the estimates it had given to Parliament in the previous year’s budget.

What are revised estimates?

Some of the estimates made by the government might change during the course of the year.  For instance, once the year gets underway, some ministries may need more funds than what was actually allocated to them in the budget, or the receipts expected from certain sources might change.  Such deviations from the budget estimates get reflected in the figures released by the government at later stages as part of the subsequent budgets.  Once the year ends, the actual numbers are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), post which they are presented to Parliament with the upcoming budget, i.e. two years after the estimates are made.

For instance, estimates for the year 2018-19 were presented as part of the 2018-19 budget in February 2018.  In the 2019-20 interim budget presented in February 2019 (10 months after the financial year 2018-19 got underway), the government revised these estimates based on the actual receipts and expenditure accounted so far during the year and incorporated estimates for the remaining two months.

The actual receipts and expenditure accounts of the central government are maintained by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA), Ministry of Finance on a monthly basis.  In addition to the monthly accounts, the CGA also publishes the provisional unaudited figures for the financial year by the end of the month of May.  Once these provisional figures are audited by the CAG, they are presented as actuals in next year’s budget.  The CGA reported the figures for 2018-19 on May 31, 2019.[1]  The Economic Survey 2018-19 presented on July 4, 2019 uses these figures.[2] 

The budget presented on July 5 replicates the revised estimates reported as part of the interim budget (February 1, 2019).  Thus, it did not take into account the updated figures for the year 2018-19 from the CGA.

Table 1 gives a comparison of the 2018-19 revised estimates presented by the central government in the budget with the provisional unaudited figures maintained by the CGA for the year 2018-19.[3]

Table 1:  Budget at a Glance: Comparison of 2018-19 revised estimates with CGA figures (unaudited) (Rs crore)

 

Actuals
2017-18

Budgeted
2018-19

Revised
2018-19

Provisional
2018-19

Difference
(RE 2018-19 to Provisional 2018-19)

Revenue Expenditure

18,78,833

 21,41,772

 21,40,612

20,08,463

-1,32,149

Capital Expenditure

2,63,140

 3,00,441

 3,16,623

3,02,959

-13,664

Total Expenditure

21,41,973

 24,42,213

 24,57,235

23,11,422

 -1,45,813

Revenue Receipts

14,35,233

 17,25,738

 17,29,682

15,63,170

-1,66,512

Capital Receipts

 1,15,678

 92,199

 93,155

1,02,885

9,730

of which:

 

 

 

 

 

Recoveries of Loans

 15,633

 12,199

 13,155

17,840

4,685

Other receipts (including disinvestments)

 1,00,045

 80,000

 80,000

85,045

5,045

Total Receipts (without borrowings)

15,50,911

 18,17,937

 18,22,837

16,66,055

-1,56,782

Revenue Deficit

 4,43,600

 4,16,034

 4,10,930

4,45,293

34,363

% of GDP

2.6

2.2

2.2

2.4

 

Fiscal Deficit

 5,91,062

 6,24,276

 6,34,398

6,45,367

10,969

% of GDP

3.5

3.3

3.4

3.4

 

Primary Deficit

 62,110

 48,481

 46,828

62,692

15,864

% of GDP

0.4

0.3

0.2

0.3

 

Sources:  Budget at a Glance, Union Budget 2019-20; Controller General of Accounts, Ministry of Finance; PRS.

The 2018-19 provisional figures for revenue receipts is Rs 15,63,170 crore, which is Rs 1,66,512 crore less than the revised estimates.  This is largely due to Rs 1,67,455 crore shortfall in centre’s net tax revenue between the revised estimates and the provisional estimates (Table 2).

Major taxes which see a shortfall between the gross tax revenue presented in the revised estimates vis-à-vis the provisional figures are income tax (Rs 67,346 crore) and GST (Rs 59,930 crore).  Non-tax revenue and disinvestment receipts as per the provisional figures are higher than the revised estimates.

Table 2:  Break up of central government receipts: Comparison of 2018-19 RE with CGA figures (unaudited) (Rs crore)

 

Actuals
2017-18

Budgeted
2018-19

Revised
2018-19

Provisional
2018-19

Difference
(RE 2018-19 to Provisional 2018-19)

Gross Tax Revenue

19,19,009

22,71,242

22,48,175

20,80,203

-1,67,972

of which:

 

 

 

 

 

Corporation Tax

5,71,202

6,21,000

6,71,000

6,63,572

-7,428

Taxes on Income

4,30,772

5,29,000

5,29,000

4,61,654

-67,346

Goods and Services Tax

4,42,562

7,43,900

6,43,900

5,83,970

-59,930

Customs

1,29,030

1,12,500

1,30,038

1,17,930

-12,108

Union Excise Duties

2,59,431

2,59,600

2,59,612

2,30,998

-28,614

A. Centre's Net Tax Revenue

12,42,488

14,80,649

14,84,406

13,16,951

-1,67,455

B. Non Tax Revenue

1,92,745

2,45,089

2,45,276

2,46,219

943

of which:

 

 

 

 

 

Interest Receipts

13,574

15,162

12,047

12,815

768

Dividend and Profits

91,361

1,07,312

1,19,264

1,13,424

-5,840

Other Non-Tax Revenue

87,810

1,22,615

1,13,965

1,19,980

6,015

C. Capital Receipts (without borrowings)

1,15,678

92,199

93,155

1,02,885

9,730

of which:

 

 

 

 

 

Disinvestment

1,00,045

80,000

80,000

85,045

5,045

Receipts (without borrowings) (A+B+C)

15,50,911

18,17,937

18,22,837

16,66,055

-1,56,782

Borrowings

5,91,062

6,24,276

6,34,398

6,45,367

10,969

Total Receipts (including borrowings)

21,41,973

24,42,213

24,57,235

23,11,422

-1,45,813

Note:  Centre’s net tax revenue is gross tax revenue less share of states in central taxes.  Figures for GST include receipts from the GST compensation cess.  Note that GST was levied for a nine-month period during the year 2017-18, starting July 2017.

Sources:  Receipts Budget, Union Budget 2019-20; Controller General of Accounts, Ministry of Finance; PRS.

While the provisional figures show a considerable decrease in receipts (Rs 1,56,782 crore) as compared to the revised estimates, fiscal deficit has not shown a comparable increase.  Fiscal deficit is estimated to be Rs 10,969 crore higher than the revised estimates as per the provisional accounts.

On the expenditure side, the total expenditure as per the provisional figures show a decrease of Rs 1,45,813 crore as compared to the revised estimates.  Certain Ministries and expenditure items have seen a decrease in expenditure as compared to the revised estimates made by the government.  As per the provisional accounts, the expenditure of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution are Rs 22,133 crore and Rs 70,712 crore lower than the revised estimates, respectively.  The decrease in the Ministries’ expenditure as a percentage of the revised estimates are 29% and 39%, respectively.  The food subsidy according to CGA was Rs 1,01,904 crore, which was Rs 69,394 crore lower than the revised estimates for the year 2018-19 given in the budget documents.

 

[1] Accounts of the Union Government of India (Provisional/Unaudited) for the Financial Year 2018-19, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 31, 2019.

[2] Fiscal Developments, Economic Survey 2018-19, https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/economicsurvey/doc/vol2chapter/echap02_vol2.pdf.

[3] Controller General of Accounts, Ministry of Finance, March 2018-19, http://www.cga.nic.in/MonthlyReport/Published/3/2018-2019.aspx.

First session of 17th Lok Sabha: What to expect

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

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

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

How is the schedule for first session decided?

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

Who presides over the first session?

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

How is the pro-tem speaker chosen?

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

How is the new Speaker chosen?

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

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

What is the role of the Speaker in the House?

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

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

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

What does the President’s Address entail?

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

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

 

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

How votes are counted in Indian elections?

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

Who is responsible for counting the votes?

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

Where does the counting take place?

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

Layout of the Counting Hall

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

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

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

What is the counting process?

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

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

What is the process for counting VVPAT slips?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis of the contesting candidates in General Election 2019

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Model Code of Conduct and the 2019 General Elections

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

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

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

How has the Model Code of Conduct evolved over time? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Model Code of Conduct legally binding? 

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

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

President’s Address 2014-2018: A Status Report

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

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

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

Policy priority stated in President’s Addresses 2014-2018

                                                                       Current Status

Economy and Finance

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Agriculture

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

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

Employment and Entrepreneurship

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

 

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

Infrastructure

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Health and Sanitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Session 2018: What's happened so far

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

Enhancing rights of consumers

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

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

Recognising transgender persons and their rights

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

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

Regulating surrogacy and overhauling the Medical Council of India

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

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

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

Regulating dam safety

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

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

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

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

Monsoon Session 2018: What to Expect

The Monsoon Session of Parliament begins tomorrow and will continue till August 10, 2018.  It is scheduled to have 18 sittings during this period.  This post outlines what is in store in the upcoming session.

The session has a packed legislative agenda.  Presently, there are 68 Bills pending in Parliament.  Of these, 25 have been listed for consideration and passage.  In addition, 18 new Bills have been listed for introduction, consideration, and passage.  This implies that Parliament has the task of discussing and deliberating 43 Bills listed for passage in an 18-day sitting period.  Key among them include the Bills that are going to replace the six Ordinances currently in force.  The government is going to prioritize the passage of these six Bills to ensure that the Ordinances do not lapse.

Besides the heavy legislative agenda, the session will also witness the election of a new Deputy Chairman for the Upper House.  Former Deputy Chairman, P.J. Kurien’s term ended on July 1, 2018.  The upcoming election has generated keen interest, and will be closely watched.  The role of the Deputy Chairman is significant, as he quite frequently oversees the proceedings of the House.  The Deputy Chairman is responsible for maintaining order in the house and ensuring its smooth functioning.  The preceding Budget Session was the least productive since 2000 due to disruptions.  Rajya Sabha spent only 2 hours and 31 minutes discussing legislative business, of which 3 minutes were spent on government Bills.  In this context, the role of the Deputy Chairman is important in ensuring productivity of the house.

Another key player in ensuring productivity of Parliament is the Speaker of the Lower House.  In Budget Session 2018, the Speaker was unable to admit a no confidence motion.  This failure was based on her inability to bring the house in order.  Repeated disruptions led to the passage of only two Bills in Lok Sabha.  The same session also saw disruptions by certain MPs demanding special category status for Andhra Pradesh.  Between the last session and the upcoming session, a key development includes the resignation of five YRSC members, reducing the strength of MPs from Andhra Pradesh to 20.  In light of this, one has to wait to see whether the demand for special category status for Andhra Pradesh will be raised again.

Coming to the legislative agenda, of the six Bills that aim to replace Ordinances, key include: (i) the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018, (ii) the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, (iii) the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and (iv) the Commercial Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2018.  The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill aims to confiscate the properties of people who have absconded the country in order to avoid facing prosecution for economic offences.  The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha in March 2018.  Subsequently, an Ordinance was promulgated on April 21, 2018.  The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill increases the punishment for rape of women, and introduces death penalty for rape of minor girls below the age of 12.  The Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill aims to address existing challenges in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.  It amends the Code to include homebuyers as financial creditors in the insolvency resolution process.

There are some Bills that have been passed by one house but are pending in the other, and some that are pending in both the houses.  These cut across various sectors, including social reform, education, health, consumer affairs, and transport.  Some key reformative legislation currently pending include the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, and the Triple Talaq Bill.  The Triple Talaq Bill, passed on the day of introduction in Lok Sabha, is pending in Rajya Sabha.  When introduced in Rajya Sabha, the opposition introduced a motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.  In the forthcoming session, it remains to be seen whether the Bill will be sent to a Select Committee for detailed scrutiny or will be passed without reference to a Committee.  Other pending legislation include the the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, the RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 and the Specific Relief (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

Of the 18 new Bills listed for introduction, all have been listed for consideration and passage as well.  These include the Trafficking of Persons Bill, 2018, the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, and amendments to the RTI Act.  Since they have been listed for passage, it remains to be seen whether these Bills are scheduled to be scrutinized by a Parliamentary Committee.  In the 16th Lok Sabha, only 28% of the Bills introduced in Lok Sabha have been referred to Committees.  This number is low in comparison to 60% and 71% of the introduced Bills being referred to Committees in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, respectively.  Committees ensure that Bills are closely examined.  This facilitates informed deliberation on the Bill, and strengthens the legislative process.

Besides taking up the legislative agenda, an important function of Parliament is to discuss issues of national importance and hold the government accountable.  In the previous session, the issue of irregularities in the banking sector was repeatedly listed for discussion.  However, due to disruptions, it was not taken up.  Budget Session 2018 saw the lowest number of non- legislative debates since the beginning of the 16th Lok Sabha.  In the upcoming session, it is likely that members will raise various issues for discussion.  It remains to be seen whether Parliament will function smoothly in order to power through its agenda, and fulfil its obligation to hold the government accountable.