The Union Cabinet approved the implementation of Seventh Pay Commission recommendations yesterday. The Commission was tasked with reviewing and proposing changes to the pay, pension and efficiency of government employees. These recommendations will apply to 33 lakh central government employees, in addition to 14 lakh armed forces personnel and 52 lakh pensioners. This will take effect from January 1, 2016. Pay, Allowances and Pension of central government employees In relation to an employee, the Commission proposed to increase (i) the minimum salary to Rs 18,000 per month, and (ii) the maximum salary to Rs 2,50,000 per month. It also recommended moving away from the existing system of pay bands and grade pay, which is used to determine an employee’s salary. Instead, it proposed a new pay matrix which will take into account the hierarchy of employees, and their pay progression during the course of employment. The Commission also suggested that this matrix should be reviewed periodically, with a frequency of less than 10 years. The Pay Commission also suggested a linkage between performance and remuneration of an employee. For this, it proposed the introduction of performance related pay which will be based on an annual appraisal of the employee. In addition, it recommended that annual increments of an employee should be withheld, if he is unable to meet the benchmark required for regular promotion or career progression. The Commission also sought to abolish or merge some of the allowances that may be given to employees by various government departments. It suggested that, of the 196 allowances that exist, 52 should be abolished and 36 should either be merged under existing heads, or be included under proposed allowances. Some of these allowances involved payment of a meagre amount of close to Rs 100 per month. In addition, the rates of House Rent Allowance (HRA) were revised. The Commission proposed a methodology to increase the HRA rates every time the Dearness Allowance given to employees increased to 50% or 100%. Dearness Allowance is given to employees in lieu of increases in the cost of living, on account of inflation. The Commission had also proposed a new methodology for computing pension for pensioners who retired before January 1, 2016. This is aimed at bringing parity between past and current pensioners. As part of the new methodology, two options for calculation of pension have been prescribed, and the pensioner may opt for either one. Financial Impact on the government The implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations is expected to cost the government Rs 1,02,100 crore. Of this amount, 72% will be borne by the central government, and 28% by the railways. As a result, the overall expenditure is expected to increase by 23.6%, with a 16% increase in expenses on pay, 63% in allowances and 24% in pension. Addressing the issue of vacancy As of 2014, the central government had a job vacancy of 18.5%.[i] These vacancies may need to be filled or abolished, if required, to reduce redundancy.[ii] It may be noted that the Second Administrative Reforms Commission had observed that reducing the number of government employees is necessary for modern and professional governance. Further, it had expressed concern that the increasing expenditure on salaries of government employees may be at the cost of investment in priority areas such as infrastructure development and poverty alleviation.[iii] Inducting specialised personnel in the government The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also observed that some senior positions in the central government require specific skill sets (including technical and administrative know-how).[iii] One way of developing these skill-sets is to recruit personnel directly into these departments so that they can over a period of time develop the required skills. For example, personnel from the Central Engineering Service (Roads) may aspire and be qualified to hold senior positions in the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways or a body like the National Highways Authority of India. However, another view is that special skill-sets may be inducted in the government through lateral entry of experts from outside government. This will allow for widening of the pool of candidates and greater competition for these positions.[iii] The Second Administrative Reforms Commission had also recommended that senior positions in the government should be open to all services. The last Pay Commission’s recommendations, in 2008, led to an increased demand in the automobile, consumer products and real estate related sectors. With the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendations expected to take effect from January 1, 2016, their impact on the economy and the consumer market will become known in due course of time. [i] Report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission, Ministry of Finance, 2015 http://finmin.nic.in/7cpc/7cpc_report_eng.pdf. [ii] “Union govt has 729,000 vacancies: report”, Live Mint, November 30, 2015, http://www.livemint.com/Home-Page/X6U6xFe5oR2pW4simMmAhK/Union-govt-has-729000-vacancies-report.html. [iii] 10th and 13th Reports of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008 and 2009.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.