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.

Examining the anti-trafficking Bill, 2018

The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today.  Earlier this year, the Bill was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha.  It provides for the prevention, rescue, and rehabilitation of trafficked persons.  If the Bill is not passed today, it will lapse with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.  In this post, we analyse the Bill in its current form.

What was the need for a new law?

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 8,132 human trafficking cases were reported in India in 2016 under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.[i]  In the same year, 23,117 trafficking victims were rescued.  Of these, the highest number of persons were trafficked for forced labour (45.5%), followed by prostitution (21.5%).  Table 1 provides details of persons trafficked for various purposes (as of 2016). 

Table 1: Victims rescued by type of purpose of trafficking ​

Purpose 2016 (as a %)
Forced labour 10,509 45.5
Prostitution 4,980 21.5
Other forms of sexual exploitation 2,590 11.5
Domestic servitude 412 1.8
Forced marriage 349 1.5
Petty crimes 212 0.9
Child pornography 162 0.7
Begging 71 0.3
Drug peddling 8 0
Removal of organs 2 0
Other reasons 3,824 16.5
Total persons 23,117 100

Source: Human Trafficking, Crime in India, 2016, National Crime Records Bureau; PRS

In India, the offence of trafficking is dealt with under different laws.  Trafficking is primarily an offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.  It defines trafficking to include recruiting, transporting, or harboring persons by force or other means, for exploitation.  In addition, there are a range of laws presently which deal with bonded labour, exploitation of children, and commercial sexual exploitation.  Each of these laws operate independently, have their own enforcement machinery and prescribe penalties for offences related to trafficking. 

In 2015, pursuant to a Supreme Court order, the Ministry of Women and Child Development constituted a Committee to identify gaps in the current legislation on trafficking and to examine the feasibility of a comprehensive legislation on trafficking.[ii]  Consequently, the Trafficking Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Women and Child Development, Ms. Maneka Gandhi in July, 2018.

What does the Bill seek to do?

The Bill provides for the investigation of trafficking cases, and rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked victims.  It includes trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, slavery, or forced removal of organs.  In addition, the law also considers trafficking for certain purposes, such as for begging or for inducing early sexual maturity, to be an aggravated form of trafficking.  These forms of trafficking attract a higher punishment.  

In order to punish trafficking, the Bill provides for the setting up of investigation and rehabilitation authorities at the district, state and national level.  The primary investigation responsibility lies with anti-trafficking police officers and anti-trafficking units constituted at the district level.  The authority at the national level can take over investigation of cases referred to it by two or more states. 

The Bill also provides for the setting up of Protection Homes and Rehabilitation Homes to provide care and rehabilitation to the victims.  The Bill supplements the rehabilitation efforts through a Rehabilitation Fund, which will be used to set up the Protection and Rehabilitation Homes.  Special Courts will be designated in every district to complete trial of trafficking cases within a year. 

Additionally, the Bill specifies penalties for various offences including for promotion of trafficking and trafficking with the aid of media.  All offences are cognizable (i.e. police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable.  If a person is found guilty under the Bill and also under any other law, the punishment which is higher will apply to the offender.

How does the Bill compare with existing trafficking laws?

The current Bill does not replace but adds to the existing legal framework.  As discussed above, currently a range of laws deal with various aspects of trafficking.  For instance, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 covers trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation while the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 deals with punishment for employment of bonded labour.  These laws specify their own procedures for enforcement and rehabilitation. 

One of the challenges with the Bill is that these laws will continue to be in force after the Bill.  Since each of these laws have different procedures, it is unclear as to which procedure will apply in certain cases of trafficking.  This may result in overlap in implementation of these laws.  For instance, under the ITPA, 1986, Protective Homes provide for rehabilitation of victims of sexual exploitation.  The Bill also provides for setting up of Protection Homes.  When a victim of sexual exploitation is rescued, it is not clear as to which of these Homes she will be sent to.  Further, each of these laws designate special courts to hear offences.  The question arises as to which of these courts will hear the case. 

Are the offences in the Bill reasonably tailored?

As discussed earlier, the Bill imposes penalties for various offences connected with trafficking.  One of the offences states that if trafficking is committed on a premise, it will be presumed that the owner of the premise had knowledge of the offence.  The implication of this would be that if an owner lives in a different city, say Delhi, and lets out his house in Mumbai to another person, and this person is discovered to be detaining girls for sexual exploitation on the premise, it will be presumed that the owner knew about the commission of the offence.  In such circumstances, he will have to prove that he did not know about the offence being committed on his premise.  This provision is a departure from the standard principle in criminal law where the guilt of the accused has to be proved and not presumed.   

There are other laws where the owner of a property is presumed guilty.  However, the prosecution is required to prove certain facts before presuming his guilt.  For instance, under the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 it is presumed that the owner has knowledge of an offence committed on his property.  However, the Bill clarifies that the presumption will only apply if the prosecution can prove that the accused was connected with the circumstances of the case.  For instance, an owner of a truck is not presumed to be guilty only because his truck was used for transporting drugs.[iii]  However, he may be considered guilty if he was also driving the truck in which drugs were transported.[iv]  The Bill does not contain such safeguards and this provision may therefore violate Article 21 of the Constitution which requires that laws which deprive a person of his life or personal liberty should be fair and reasonable.[v] 

Does the Bill provide any protection to trafficking victims compelled to commit crimes?

The Bill provides immunity to a victim who commits an offence punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for 10 years.  Immunity to victims is desirable to ensure that they are not prosecuted for committing crimes which are a direct consequence of them being trafficked.[vi]  However, the Bill provides immunity only for serious crimes.  For instance, a trafficked victim who commits murder under coercion of his traffickers may be able to claim immunity from being tried for murder.  However, if a trafficked victim commits petty theft (e.g. pickpocketing) under coercion of his traffickers, he will not be able to claim immunity. 

Further, the immunity is only available when the victim can show that the offence was committed under coercion, threat, intimidation or undue influence, and there was a reasonable apprehension of death or injury.  Therefore, it may be argued that the threshold to claim immunity from prosecution may be too high and may defeat the purpose for providing such immunity.  

[i]. ‘Crime in India’ 2016, National Crime Records Bureau.

[ii]. Prajwala vs. Union of India 2016 (1) SCALE 298.

[iii]. Bhola Singh vs. State of Punjab (2011) 11 SCC 653.

[iv]. Sushant Gupta vs. Union of India 2014 (308) ELT 661 (All.).

[v]  Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India 1978 AIR 597.

[vi]. Guideline 7, ‘Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking’, OHCHR,  https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Traffickingen.pdf.

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.

Indian Railways rationalises freight fares

Recently, the Indian Railways announced rationalisation of freight fares.  This rationalisation will result in an 8.75% increase in freight rates for major commodities such as coal, iron and steel, iron ore, and raw materials for steel plants. The freight rates were rationalised to ensure additional revenue generation across the network. An additional revenue of Rs 3,344 crore is expected from such rationalisation, which will be utilised to improve passenger amenities. In addition, the haulage charge of containers has been increased by 5% and the freight rates of other small goods have been increased by 8.75%. Freight rates have not been increased for goods such as food grains, flours, pulses, fertilisers, salt, and sugar, cement, petroleum, and diesel. In light of this, we discuss some issues around Railways’ freight pricing.

Railways’ sources of internal revenue

Railways earns its internal revenue primarily from passenger and freight traffic. In 2016-17 (latest actual figures available), freight and passenger traffic contributed to about 63% and 28% of the internal revenue, respectively. The remaining is earned from miscellaneous sources such as parcel service, coaching receipts, and platform tickets.

Freight traffic: Railways majorly transports bulk freight, and the freight basket has mostly been limited to include raw materials for certain industries such as power plants, and iron and steel plants. It generates most of its freight revenue from the transportation of coal (43%), followed by cement (8%), food-grains (7%), and iron and steel (7%). In 2018-19, Railways expects to earn Rs 1,21,950 crore from its freight traffic.

Railways fig1

Passenger traffic:  Passenger traffic is broadly divided into two categories: suburban and non-suburban traffic.  Suburban trains are passenger trains that cover short distances of up to 150 km, and help move passengers within cities and suburbs.  Majority of the passenger revenue (94% in 2017-18) comes from the non-suburban traffic (or the long-distance trains).

Within non-suburban traffic, second class (includes sleeper class) contributes to 67% of the non-suburban revenue.  AC class (includes AC 3-tier, AC Chair Car and AC sleeper) contributes to 32% of the non-suburban revenue.  The remaining 1% comes from AC First Class (includes Executive class and First Class).

Railways’ ability to generate its own revenue has been slowing

The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining.  This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic.  Some of the reasons for such decline include:

Freight traffic growth has been declining, and is limited to a few items

Growth of freight traffic has been declining over the last few years.  It has declined from around 8% in the mid-2000s to a 4% negative growth in mid-2010s, before an estimated recovery to about 5% now.

The National Transport Development Policy Committee (2014) had noted various issues with freight transportation on railways.  For example, Indian Railways does not have an institutional arrangement to attract and aggregate traffic of smaller parcel size.  Further, freight services are run with a focus on efficiency instead of customer satisfaction.  Consequently, it has not been able to capture high potential markets such as FMCGs, hazardous materials, or automobiles and containerised cargo.  Most of such freight is transported by roads.

Figure 2_Railways

The freight basket is also limited to a few commodities, most of which are bulk in nature.  For example, coal contributes to about 43% of freight revenue and 25% of the total internal revenue.  Therefore, any shift in transport patterns of any of these bulk commodities could affect Railways’ finances significantly.

For example, if new coal based power plants are set up at pit heads (source of coal), then the need for transporting coal through Railways would decrease.  If India’s coal usage decreases due to a shift to more non-renewable sources of energy, it will reduce the amount of coal being transported.  Such situations could have a significant adverse impact on Railways’ revenue.

Freight traffic cross-subsidises passenger traffic

In 2014-15, while Railways’ freight business made a profit of about Rs 44,500 crore, its passenger business incurred a net loss of about Rs 33,000 crore.17  The total passenger revenue during this period was Rs 49,000 crore.  This implies that losses in the passenger business are about 67% of its revenue.  Therefore, in 2014-15, for every one rupee earned in its passenger business, Indian Railways ended up spending Rs 1.67.

These losses occur across both suburban and non-suburban operations, and are primarily caused due to: (i) passenger fares being lower than the costs, and (ii) concessions to various categories of passengers.  According to the NITI Aayog (2016), about 77% to 80% of these losses are contributed by non-suburban operations (long-distance trains).  Concessions to various categories of passengers contribute to about 4% of these losses, and the remaining (73-76%) is due to fares being lower than the system costs.

The NITI Aayog (2016) had noted that Railways ends up using profits from its freight business to provide for such losses in the passenger segment, and also to manage its overall financial situation.  Such cross-subsidisation has resulted in high freight tariffs.  The NTDPC (2014) had noted that, in several countries, passenger fares are either higher or almost equal as freight rates.  However, in India, the ratio of passenger fare to freight rate is about 0.3.

Fig 3_Railways

Impact of increasing freight rates

The recent freight rationalisation further increases the freight rates for certain key commodities by 8.75%, with an intention to improve passenger amenities.  Higher freight tariffs could be counter-productive towards growth of traffic in the segment.  The NTDPC report had noted that due to such high tariffs, freight traffic has been moving to other modes of transport.  Further, the higher cost of freight segment is eventually passed on to the common public in the form of increased costs of electricity, steel, etc.  Various experts have recommended that Railways should consider ways to rationalise freight and passenger tariff distortions in a way to reduce such cross-subsidisation.

For a detailed analysis of Railways revenue and infrastructure, refer to our report on State of Indian Railways.

Central Police Forces: Overview and Issues

Recently, there have been multiple Naxal attacks on CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh.  Parliamentary Committees have previously examined the working of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs).  In this context, we examine issues related to functioning of these Forces and recommendations made to address them.

What is the role of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs)?

Under the Constitution, police and public order are state subjects.  However, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) assists state governments by providing them support of the Central Armed Police Forces.  The Ministry maintains seven CAPFs: (i) the Central Reserve Police Force, which assists in internal security and counterinsurgency, (ii) the Central Industrial Security Force, which protects vital installations (like airports) and public sector undertakings, (iii) the National Security Guards, which is a special counterterrorism force, and (iv) four border guarding forces, which are the Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal, and Assam Rifles.

What is the sanctioned strength of CAPFs personnel compared to the actual strength?

As of January 2017, the sanctioned strength of the seven CAPFs was 10,78,514 personnel.  However, 15% of these posts (1,58,591 posts) were lying vacant.  Data from the Bureau of Police Research and Development shows that vacancies in the CAPFs have remained over the years.  Table 1 shows the level of vacancies in the seven CAPFs between 2012 and 2017. Nov 2The level of vacancies is different for various police forces.  For example, in 2017, the Sashastra Seema Bal had the highest level of vacancies at 57%.  On the other hand, the Border Security Force had 2% vacancies.  The Central Reserve Police Force, which account for 30% of the sanctioned strength of the seven CAPFs, had a vacancy of 8%.

How often are CAPFs deployed?

According to the Estimates Committee of Parliament, the number of deployment of CAPFs battalions has increased from 91 in 2012-13 to 119 in 2016-17.  The Committee has noted that there has been heavy dependence by states on central police forces even for day-to-day law and order issues.  This is likely to affect anti-insurgency and border-guarding operations of the Forces, as well as curtail their time for training.  The continuous deployment also leaves less time for rest and recuperation.

The Estimates Committee recommended that states must develop their own systems, and augment their police forces by providing adequate training and equipment.  It further recommended that the central government should supplement the efforts of state governments by providing financial assistance and other help for capacity building of their forces.

What is the financial allocation to CAPFs?

Under the Union Budget 2018-19, an allocation of Rs 62,741 crore was made to the seven CAPFs.  Of this, 32% (Rs 20,268 crore) has been allocated to the Central Reserve Police Forces.  The Estimates Committee has pointed out that most of the expenditure of the CAPFs was on salaries.  According to the Committee, the financial performance in case of outlays allocated for capacity augmentation has been very poor.  For example, under the Modernization Plan-II, Rs 11,009 crore was approved for the period 2012-17.  However, the allocation during the period 2013-16 was Rs 251 crore and the reported expenditure was Rs 198 crore.

What are the working conditions for CAPFs personnel?

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs in the year 2017 had expressed concern over the working conditions of personnel of the border guarding forces (Border Security Force, Assam Rifles, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and Sashastra Seema Bal).  The Committee observed that they had to work 16-18 hours a day, with little time for rest or sleep.  The personnel were also not satisfied with medical facilities that had been provided at border locations.

In addition, the Standing Committee observed that personnel of the CAPFs have not been treated at par with the Armed Forces, in terms of pay and allowances.  The demand for Paramilitary Service Pay, similar to Military Service Pay, had not been agreed to by the Seventh Central Pay Commission.  Further, the Committee observed that the hard-area allowance for personnel of the border guarding forces was much lower as compared to members of the Armed Forces, despite being posted in areas with difficult terrain and harsh weather.

What is the status of training facilities and infrastructure available to CAPFs?

The Estimates Committee has noted that all CAPFs have set up training institutions to meet their training requirements and impart professional skills on specialised topics.  However, the Committee noted that there is an urgent need to upgrade the curriculum and infrastructure in these training institutes.  It recommended that while purchasing the latest equipment, training needs should also be taken care of, and if required, should be included in the purchase agreement itself.  Further, it recommended that the contents of training should be a mix of conventional matters as well as latest technologies such as IT, and cyber security.

According to the Estimates Committee, the MHA has been making efforts to provide modern arms, ammunition, and vehicles to the CAPFs.  In this regard, the Modernization Plan-II, for the period 2012-17, was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security.  The Plan aims to provide financial support to CAPFs for modernisation in areas of arms, clothing, and equipment.

However, the Committee observed that the procurement process under the Plan was cumbersome and time consuming.  It recommended that the bottlenecks in procurement should be identified and corrective action should be taken.  It further suggested that the MHA and CAPFs should hold negotiations with ordnance factories and manufacturers in the public or private sector, to ensure an uninterrupted supply of equipment and other infrastructure.