Last month, the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) issued revised guidelines for the registration of the Pension Fund Managers (PFMs). These guidelines are for the PFMs to manage the National Pension System (NPS) in the non-governmental and private sector. See here. The NPS was implemented in 2004 for all government employees and later extended to the private sector in 2009. The guidelines bring about the following changes in the NPS:
Although NPS was made accessible on a voluntary basis to non-government employees and those working in the private sector since 2009, the subscription to the schemes under NPS was lower than expected. In August 2010, a committee was set up under the chairmanship of Mr. G.N. Bajpai to review the implementation of NPS in the informal sector. The Committee noted that since NPS was opened to the general public there were only 50,000 private sector subscribers until May 2011. According to the Committee, the low subscription was due to the low-to-negligible distribution incentive to the PFMs to distribute the different schemes to the subscribers to invest their funds. The Committee thus recommended that PFRDA should consider revising the structure of the NPS so as to increase subscription. It suggested making the fee structure dynamic for PFMs. The Committee had also suggested that there should be some revision in the bidding as well as the selection process for the PFMs to increase competition and thereby incentivise them to distribute the schemes. These changes, as suggested by the Bajpai Committee and now notified by the PFRDA, are different from the original design of the NPS. The Old Age Social and Income Security (OASIS) Report of 2000, which had initially suggested the establishment of pension system for the unorganised sector in the country, had recommended a low-cost structure for the pension system. The Report had stated that the choice of PFMs should be based on a bidding process where the lowest bidder should be made a PFM under the NPS. The rationale for the auction base for the PFMs was that it would provide a system to the subscribers whereby they could make investments for their old age by paying a minimal fee. A set uniform fee was meant to eliminate the large marketing expenses which would ultimately get passed on to the subscibers. In addition, the intent behind keeping the fund managers from the distribution and marketing of the schemes was to prevent any mis-selling (misleading an investor about the characteristics of a product) that may happen. Recent newspaper reports have raised doubt if these new rules would help in increasing the penetration of the NPS in the markets. However, the chairman of PFRDA, Mr. Yogesh Agarwal, in a recent interview explained that it was important to bring about changes in the structure of the NPS. According to him a scheme which was mandatory for the government sector could not be expected to perform as well in the private sector (where it is voluntary) without any changes made to its structure. He also stated that the NPS should be able to compete with other financial products such as insurance and mutual funds in the market. See here for the PRS Legislative Brief on the PFRDA Bill, 2011. Notes: The seven PFMs are LIC Pension Fund Ltd., UTI Retirement Solutions Ltd., SBI Pension Funds Pvt. Ltd., IDFC Pension Fund Management Co. Ltd., ICICI Prudential Pension Funds Management Co. Ltd., Kotak Mahindra Pension funds Ltd., and Reliance Capital Pension Fund Ltd..
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.