Gayatri Mann's blog

Explaining the recent ban on e-cigarettes

On Wednesday, the government promulgated an Ordinance to ban electronic cigarettes in India.  In this context, we look at what are electronic cigarettes, what are the current regulations in place, and what the Ordinance seeks to do.

What are electronic cigarettes?

The Ordinance defines electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as battery-operated devices that heat a substance, which may or may not contain nicotine, to create vapour for inhalation.  These e-cigarettes can also contain different flavours such as menthol, mango, watermelon, and cucumber.  Usually, e-cigarettes are shaped like conventional tobacco products (such as cigarettes, cigars, or hookahs), but they also take the form of everyday items such as pens and USB memory sticks.

Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and therefore are not regulated under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003.  This Act regulates the sale, production, and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India, and prohibits advertisement of cigarettes. 

What are the international regulations for e-cigarettes?

India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic.  In 2014, the WHO FCTC invited all its signatories to consider prohibiting or regulating e-cigarettes in their countries.  This was suggested due to emerging evidence on the negative health impact of these products which could result in lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other illnesses associated with smoking.

Since then, several countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, and Thailand have banned the production, manufacture, and sale of e-cigarettes.  Recently, the states of New York and Michigan in USA banned the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes.  Whereas, in UK, the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes has been allowed based on certain conditions.  Further, the advertisement and promotion, and the levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes is also regulated.

Prior to the Ordinance, were e-cigarettes regulated in India?

In August 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released an advisory to all states requiring them to not approve any new e-cigarettes and restrict the sale and advertisements of e-cigarettes.  Based on this advisory, 15 states including Delhi, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh have since banned e-cigarettes.  However, this advisory was challenged in the Delhi High Court in March 2019, which subsequently imposed a stay on the ban.

What does the Ordinance do?

The Ordinance prohibits the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes in India.  Any person who contravenes this provision will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of one lakh rupees, or both.  For any subsequent offence, the person will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.

Additionally, storage of e-cigarettes will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of Rs 50,000 or both.  Once the Ordinance comes into force (i.e., on September 18, 2019), the owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes will have to declare and deposit these stocks at the nearest office of an authorised officer.  Such an authorised officer may be a police officer (at least at the level of a sub-inspector), or any other officer as notified by the central or state government. 

Note that, the Ordinance does not contain any provisions regarding possession or use of e-cigarettes.  The Ordinance will be in force for the next six months, and must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the next session of Parliament.  If it is not passed within this time frame, it will cease to be in force. 

Explaining the draft Bill on violence against healthcare professionals and clinical establishments

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft Bill to address incidences of violence against healthcare professionals and damage to the property of clinical establishments.  Public comments on the draft Bill are invited till the end of September.  In this context, we discuss key provisions of the draft Bill below.

What does the draft Bill seek to do?

The draft Bill prohibits any acts of violence committed against healthcare service personnel including doctors, nurses, para medical workers, medical students, and ambulance drivers, among others.  It also prohibits any damage caused to hospitals, clinics, and ambulances. 

Under the draft Bill, violence means any act which may cause: (i) harm, injury or danger to the life of a healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, (ii) obstruction or hindrance to healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, and (ii) loss or damage to any property or documents in a clinical establishment. 

What are the penalties for committing such acts of violence?

Currently, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for penalties for any harm caused to an individual or any damage caused to property.  Further, the Code prescribes penalties for causing grievous hurt i.e., permanent damage to another individual.  The draft Bill additionally specifies penalties for similar offences caused to healthcare professionals and clinical establishments. 

Under the draft Bill, any person who commits violence, or abets such violence may be punished with imprisonment between six months to five years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.  However, if any person causes grievous hurt to a healthcare service professional, he will be imprisoned for a period between three years to ten years, along with a fine between two lakh rupees and Rs 10 lakh.  Note that, currently under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, an individual who commits grievous hurt is punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years, along with a fine.

In addition to the punishment for offences committed under the draft Bill, the convicted person will also be liable to pay compensation to the affected parties.  This includes: (i) payment of twice the amount of the market value of the damaged property, (ii) one lakh rupees for causing hurt to healthcare service personnel, and (iii) five lakh rupees for causing grievous hurt to healthcare service personnel.  In case of non-payment of compensation, the amount may be recovered under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890.  The Act provides for recovering certain public arrears by attaching the property of an individual. 

How will these cases of violence be investigated?

All offences under the draft Bill will be cognizable (i.e., a police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable.  An aggrieved healthcare service professional can write a request to the person-in-charge of the clinical establishment to inform the police of an offence committed under the draft Bill.  Further, any case registered under this Bill will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.

This Bill is currently in the draft stage and has been released for comments by stakeholders and experts in the field.  The draft will be revised to incorporate such suggestions.  Note that, comments can be emailed to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at us-ms-mohfwnic.in by the end of September.

Understanding the National Medical Commission Bill, 2019

Today, the National Medical Commission Bill, 2019 was passed by Lok Sabha.  It seeks to regulate medical education and practice in India.  In 2017, a similar Bill had been introduced in Lok Sabha.  It was examined by the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, which recommended several changes to the Bill.  However, the 2017 Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.  In this post, we analyse the 2019 Bill.

How is medical education and practice regulated currently?

The Medical Council of India (MCI) is responsible for regulating medical education and practice.  Over the years, there have been several issues with the functioning of the MCI with respect to its regulatory role, composition, allegations of corruption, and lack of accountability.  For example, MCI is an elected body where its members are elected by medical practitioners themselves, i.e., the regulator is elected by the regulated.  Experts have recommended nomination based constitution of the MCI instead of election, and separating the regulation of medical education and medical practice.  They suggested that legislative changes should be brought in to overhaul the functioning of the MCI.

To meet this objective, the Bill repeals the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and dissolves the current MCI.

The 2019 Bill sets up the National Medical Commission (NMC) as an umbrella regulatory body with certain other bodies under it.  The NMC will subsume the MCI and will regulate medical education and practice in India.  Under the Bill, states will establish their respective State Medical Councils within three years.  These Councils will have a role similar to the NMC, at the state level.

Functions of the NMC include: (i) laying down policies for regulating medical institutions and medical professionals, (ii) assessing the requirements of human resources and infrastructure in healthcare, (iii) ensuring compliance by the State Medical Councils with the regulations made under the Bill, and (iv) framing guidelines for determination of fee for up to 50% of the seats in the private medical institutions.

Who will be a part of the NMC?

The Bill replaces the MCI with the NMC, whose members will be nominated.  The NMC will consist of 25 members, including: (i) Director Generals of the Directorate General of Health Services and the Indian Council of Medical Research, (ii) Director of any of the AIIMS, (iii) five members (part-time) to be elected by the registered medical practitioners, and (iv) six members appointed on rotational basis from amongst the nominees of the states in the Medical Advisory Council.

Of these 25 members, at least 15 (60%) are medical practitioners.  The MCI has been noted to be non-diverse and consists mostly of doctors who look out for their own self-interest over public interest.   In order to reduce the monopoly of doctors, it has been recommended by experts that the MCI should include diverse stakeholders such as public health experts, social scientists, and health economists.  For example, in the United Kingdom, the General Medical Council which is responsible for regulating medical education and practice consists of 12 medical practitioners and 12 lay members (such as community health members, administrators from local government).

What are the regulatory bodies being set up under the NMC?

The Bill sets up four autonomous boards under the supervision of the NMC.  Each board will consist of a President and four members (of which two members will be part-time), appointed by the central government (on the recommendation of a search committee).  These bodies are:

  • The Under-Graduate Medical Education Board (UGMEB) and the Post-Graduate Medical Education Board (PGMEB): These two bodies will be responsible for formulating standards, curriculum, guidelines for medical education, and granting recognition to medical qualifications at the under-graduate and post-graduate levels respectively.
  • The Medical Assessment and Rating Board: The Board will have the power to levy monetary penalties on institutions which fail to maintain the minimum standards as laid down by the UGMEB and the PGMEB.  It will also grant permissions for establishing new medical colleges, starting postgraduate courses, and increasing the number of seats in a medical college.
  • The Ethics and Medical Registration Board: This Board will maintain a National Register of all the licensed medical practitioners in the country, and also regulate professional and medical conduct.  Only those included in the Register will be allowed to practice as doctors.  The Board will also maintain a register of all licensed community health providers in the country.

How is the Bill changing the eligibility guidelines for doctors to practice medicine?

There will be a uniform National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for admission to under-graduate and post-graduate super-speciality medical education in all medical institutions regulated under the Bill.  Further, the Bill introduces a common final year undergraduate examination called the National Exit Test for students graduating from medical institutions to obtain the license for practice.  This test will also serve as the basis for admission into post-graduate courses at medical institutions under this Bill.  Foreign medical practitioners may be permitted temporary registration to practice in India.

However, the Bill does not specify the validity period of this license to practice.  In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, a license to practice needs to be periodically renewed.  For example, in the UK the license has to be renewed every five years, and in Australia it has to renewed annually. 

How will the issues of medical misconduct be addressed?

The State Medical Council will receive complaints relating to professional or ethical misconduct against a registered medical practitioner.  If the medical practitioner is aggrieved of a decision of the State Medical Council, he may appeal to the Ethics and Medical Registration Board.  If the medical practitioner is aggrieved of the decision of the Board, he can approach the NMC to appeal against the decision.  It is unclear why the NMC is an appellate authority with regard to matters related to professional or ethical misconduct of medical practitioners. 

It may be argued that disputes related to ethics and misconduct in medical practice may require judicial expertise.  For example, in the UK, the regulator for medical education and practice – the General Medical Council (GMC) receives complaints with regard to ethical misconduct and is required to do an initial documentary investigation in the matter and then forwards the complaint to a Tribunal.  This Tribunal is a judicial body independent of the GMC.  The adjudication decision and final disciplinary action is decided by the Tribunal.

How does the Bill regulate community health providers?

As of January 2018, the doctor to population ratio in India was 1:1655 compared to the World Health Organisation standard of 1:1000.  To fill in the gaps of availability of medical professionals, the Bill provides for the NMC to grant limited license to certain mid-level practitioners called community health providers, connected with the modern medical profession to practice medicine.  These mid-level medical practitioners may prescribe specified medicines in primary and preventive healthcare.  However, in any other cases, these practitioners may only prescribe medicine under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner.

This is similar to other countries where medical professionals other than doctors are allowed to prescribe allopathic medicine.  For example, Nurse Practitioners in the USA provide a full range of primary, acute, and specialty health care services, including ordering and performing diagnostic tests, and prescribing medications.  For this purpose, Nurse Practitioners must complete a master's or doctoral degree program, advanced clinical training, and obtain a national certification.

Central Transfers to States: Role of the Finance Commission

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

What is the Finance Commission?

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

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

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

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

Why is there a need for a Finance Commission?

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

Table 1

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

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

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

Tax devolution to states

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

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

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

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

Table 3

Grants-in-Aid

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

Resolving failure of financial firms: The FRDI Bill explained

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 was introduced in Parliament during Monsoon Session 2017.[1]   The Bill proposes to create a framework for monitoring financial firms such as banks, insurance companies, and stock exchanges; pre-empt risk to their financial position; and resolve them if they fail to honour their obligations (such as repaying depositors).  To ensure continuity of a failing firm, it may be resolved by merging it with another firm, transferring its assets and liabilities, or reducing its debt.  If resolution is found to be unviable, the firm may be liquidated, and its assets sold to repay its creditors.

After introduction, the Bill was referred to a Joint Committee of Parliament for examination, and the Committee’s report is expected in the Winter Session 2017.  The Committee has been inviting stakeholders to give their inputs on the Bill, consulting experts, and undertaking study tours.  In this context, we discuss the provisions of the Bill and some issues for consideration.

What are financial firms?

Financial firms include banks, insurance companies, and stock exchanges, among others.  These firms accept deposits from consumers, channel these deposits into investments, provide loans, and manage payment systems that facilitate transactions in the country.  These firms are an integral part of the financial system, and since they transact with each other, their failure may have an adverse impact on financial stability and result in consumers losing their deposits and investments.

As witnessed in 2008, the failure of a firm (Lehman Brothers) impacted the financial system across the world, and triggered a global financial crisis.  After the crisis, various countries have sought to consolidate their laws to develop specialised capabilities for resolving failure of financial firms and to prevent the occurrence of another crisis. [2]

What is the current framework to resolve financial firms? What does the Bill propose?

Currently, there is no specialised law for the resolution of financial firms in India.  Provisions to resolve failure of financial firms are found scattered across different laws.2  Resolution or winding up of firms is managed by the regulators for various kinds of financial firms (i.e. the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for banks, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) for insurance companies, and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for stock exchanges.)  However, under the current framework, powers of these regulators to resolve similar entities may vary (e.g. RBI has powers to wind-up or merge scheduled commercial banks, but not co-operative banks.)

The Bill seeks to create a consolidated framework for the resolution of financial firms by creating a Resolution Corporation. The Resolution Corporation will include representatives from all financial sector regulators and the ministry of finance, among others.  The Corporation will monitor these firms to pre-empt failure, and resolve or liquidate them in case of such failure.

How does the Resolution Corporation monitor and prevent failure of financial firms?

Risk based classification: The Resolution Corporation or the regulators (such as the RBI for banks, IRDA for insurance companies or SEBI for the stock exchanges) will classify financial firms under five categories, based on their risk of failure (see Figure 1).  This classification will be based on adequacy of capital, assets and liabilities, and capability of management, among other criteria.  The Bill proposes to allow both, the regulator and the Corporation, to monitor and classify firms based on their risk to failure.

Corrective Action:  Based on the risk to failure, the Resolution Corporation or regulators may direct the firms to take certain corrective action.  For example, if the firm is at a higher risk to failure (under ‘material’ or ‘imminent’ categories), the Resolution Corporation or the regulator may: (i) prevent it from accepting deposits from consumers, (ii) prohibit the firm from acquiring other businesses, or (iii) require it to increase its capital.  Further, these firms will formulate resolution and restoration plans to prepare a strategy for improving their financial position and resolving the firm in case it fails.

While the Bill specifies that the financial firms will be classified based on risk, it does not provide a mechanism for these firms to appeal this decision.   One argument to not allow an appeal may be that certain decisions of the Corporation may require urgent action to prevent the financial firm from failing. However, this may leave aggrieved persons without a recourse to challenge the decision of the Corporation if they are unsatisfied.

Figure 1: Monitoring and resolution of financial firmsFig 1 edited

Sources: The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017; PRS.

 

How will the Resolution Corporation resolve financial firms that have failed?

The Resolution Corporation will take over the administration of a financial firm from the date of its classification as  ‘critical’ (i.e. if it is on the verge of failure.)  The Resolution Corporation will resolve the firm using any of the methods specified in the Bill, within one year.  This time limit may be extended by another year (i.e. maximum limit of two years).   During this period, the firm will be immune against all legal actions.

The Resolution Corporation can resolve a financial firm using any of the following methods: (i) transferring the assets and liabilities of the firm to another firm, (ii) merger or acquisition of the firm, (iii) creating a bridge financial firm (where a new company is created to take over the assets, liabilities and management of the failing firm), (iv) bail-in (internally transferring or converting the debt of the firm), or (v) liquidate the firm to repay its creditors.

If the Resolution Corporation fails to resolve the firm within a maximum period of two years, the firm will automatically go in for liquidation.  The Bill specifies the order of priority in which creditors will be repaid in case of liquidation, with the amount paid to depositors as deposit insurance getting preference over other creditors.

While the Bill specifies that resolution will commence upon classification as ‘critical’, the point at which this process will end may not be evident in certain cases.  For example, in case of transfer, merger or liquidation, the end of the process may be inferred from when the operations are transferred or liquidation is completed, but for some other methods such as bail-in, the point at which the resolution process will be completed may be unclear.

Does the Bill guarantee the repayment of bank deposits?

The Resolution Corporation will provide deposit insurance to banks up to a certain limit.  This implies, that the Corporation will guarantee the repayment of a certain amount to each depositor in case the bank fails.  Currently, the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC) provides deposit insurance for bank deposits up to 1 lakh rupees per depositor.[3]  The Bill proposes to subsume the functions of the DICGC under the Resolution Corporation.

[1].  The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017.pdf

[2]. Report of the Committee to Draft Code on Resolution of Financial Firms, September 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/FRDI%20Bill%20Drafting%20Committee%20Report.pdf

[3]. The Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, 1961, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Financial%20Resolution%20Bill,%202017/DICGC%20Act,%