According to a press release, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is considering abolishing the development fee being levied at the Delhi and Mumbai airports. The Ministry has already asked the Kolkata and Chennai airports not to levy a development fee. According to the Ministry, this is being done to make air travel more affordable. Currently, development fee charged at the Delhi Airport ranges from Rs 200 to Rs 1300. At the Mumbai airport, the fee ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 600. It is pertinent to note that though, the Ministry has proposed abolishing the development fee, the airport operators may still levy a user development fee. In this blog we discuss some of the aspects of development fee and user development fee. What is a development fee and a user development fee? Development Fee (DF) is primarily intended to fund the establishment or upgradation of an airport. It is intended to bridge the gap between the cost of the project and the finance available with the airport operator. Currently only the Mumbai and Delhi Airports levy a DF. However, there are other types of tariffs, such as a user development fee (UDF), which may be levied by the airports. UDF is generally regarded as a revenue enhancing measure. It is levied by the airport operators to meet operational expenditure Section 22 A of the Airports Authority Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) gives the Airport Authority of India (AAI) the power to levy and collect a development fee on embarking passengers. The Act provides that the development fee can be utilised only for: (a) funding or financing the upgradation of the airport; (b) establishing a new airport in lieu of the airport at which is levied; and (c) investing in shares of a private airport in lieu of an existing airport . Unlike DF, UDF is not levied and collected under the Airport Authority of India Act but under Rule 89 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. Under the Aircraft Rules, UDF may be levied and collected by either the AAI or the private operator. According to the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority, UDF is levied to ensure that the airport operators can get a fair return on their investments. What is the role of the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority? In 2008, the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) was established to regulate aeronautical tariffs. Among others, AERA’s functions include determining the amount of DF and UDF for major airports. In case of non-major airports, the UDF shall be determined by the central government. What has been the role of the Supreme Court? In 2009, the central government permitted the Mumbai and Delhi Airports to levy a DF. The rate of was prescribed by the central government and not by AERA. In 2011, the Supreme Court held that this levy of DF was illegal. The Court based its decision on two grounds. Firstly, the court held that the rate of DF has to be determined by the AERA and not the central government. Secondly, the Court held that the power to levy the fee lies with the Airport Authority as the development fee can only be utilised for the performance of the purpose specified in the Act. The court held that while the Airport Authority can utilise the development fee for any of the functions prescribed in the Act, it can assign the power to levy a development fee to a private operator only for funding or financing the upgradation or expansion of the airport. Can private operators collect a development fee and a user development fee? In 2003, the government amended the Airport Authority of India Act to allow the AAI with the prior permission of the central government to: (i) to lease the premises of airports to private entities to undertake some of the functions of the AAI; (ii) levy and collect a development fee on the embarking passengers at a rate that may be prescribed. Till 2011, the power to collect the development fee lay only with the Airport Authority. However with the notification of the Airports Authority of India (Major Airports) Development Fees Rules, 2011, private operators have also been permitted to collect the development fee.
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.