On September 14, 2012 the government announced a new FDI policy for the broadcasting sector. Under the policy, FDI up to 74% has been allowed in broadcasting infrastructure services. Previously the maximum level of FDI permitted in most infrastructure services in the sector was 49% through automatic route. There could be three reasons for the increase in FDI in the sector. First, the broadcasting sector is moving towards an addressable (digital) network. As per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), this upgradation could cost Rs 40,000 crore. Second, the increase in FDI was mandated because a higher FDI was allowed for telecommunication services, which too are utilised for broadcast purposes. In telecommunications 74% FDI is allowed under the approval route. Third, within the broadcasting sector, there was disparity in FDI allowed on the basis of the mode of delivery. These issues were referred to by TRAI in detail in its recommendations of 2008 and 2010. Recent history of FDI in broadcasting services In 2008 and 2010 TRAI had recommended an increase in the level of FDI permitted. A comparison of recommendations and the new policy is provided below. As noted in the table, FDI in services that relate to establishing infrastructure, like setting up transmission hubs and providing services to the customers, is now at 49% under automatic route and 74% with government approval. FDI in media houses, on the other hand, have a different level of FDI permitted. TRAI’s recommendations on the two aspects of FDI in broadcasting Digitisation of cable television network: The Cable Televisions Networks Act, 1995 was amended in 2011 to require cable television networks to be digitised. By October 31, 2012 all cable subscriptions in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are required to be digitised. The time frame for digitisation for the entire country is December 31, 2014. However, this requires investment to establish infrastructure. As per the TRAI 2010 report, there are a large number of multi-system operators (who receive broadcasting signals and transmit them further to the cable operator or on their own). As per the regulator, this has led to increased fragmentation of the industry, sub-optimal funding and poor services. Smaller cable operators do not have the resources to provide set-top boxes and enjoy economies of scale. As per news reports, the announcement of higher FDI permission would enable the TV distribution industry to meet the October 31 deadline for mandatory digitisation in the four metros. Diversity in television services: FDI in transmitting signals from India to a satellite hub for further transmission (up-linking services) has not been changed. This varies on the basis of the nature of the channel. For non-news channels, FDI up to 100% with government approval was allowed even under the previous policy. However, the FDI limit for news channels is 26% with government approval. In 2008 TRAI had recommended that this be increased to 49%. However, it reviewed its position in 2010. It argued that since FM and up-linking of news channels had the ability to influence the public, the existing FDI level of 26% was acceptable. It also relied upon the level of FDI permitted in the press, stating that parity had to be maintained between the two modes of broadcast. Under the new policy the level of FDI permitted in these sectors has not been changed.
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.