Recently, the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare submitted its report to the Parliament on the National Commission for Human Resource for Health Bill, 2011. The objective of the Bill is to “ensure adequate availability of human resources in the health sector in all states”. It seeks to set up the National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH), National Board for Health Education (NBHE), and the National Evaluation and Assessment Council (NEAC) in order to determine and regulate standards of health education in the country. It separates regulation of the education sector from that of professions such as law, medicine and nursing, and establishes professional councils at the national and state levels to regulate the professions. See here for PRS Bill Summary. The Standing Committee recommended that this Bill be withdrawn and a revised Bill be introduced in Parliament after consulting stakeholders. It felt that concerns of the professional councils such as the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India were not adequately addressed. Also, it noted that the powers and functions of the NCHRH and the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (to be established under the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 to regulate the higher education sector in the country) were overlapping in many areas. Finally, it also expressed concern over the acute shortage of qualified health workers in the country as well as variations among states and rural and urban areas. As per the 2001 Census, the estimated density of all health workers (qualified and unqualified) is about 20% less than the World Health Organisation’s norm of 2.5 health workers per 1000 population. See here for PRS Standing Committee Summary. Shortfall of health workers in rural areas Public health care in rural areas is provided through a multi-tier network. At the lowest level, there are sub health-centres for every population of 5,000 in the plains and 3,000 in hilly areas. The next level consists of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) for every population of 30,000 in the plains and 20,000 in the hills. Generally, each PHC caters to a cluster of Gram Panchayats. PHCs are required to have one medical officer and 14 other staff, including one Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM). There are Community Health Centres (CHCs) for every population of 1,20,000 in the plains and 80,000 in hilly areas. These sub health centres, PHCs and CHCs are linked to district hospitals. As on March 2011, there are 14,8124 sub health centres, 23,887 PHCs and 4809 CHCs in the country.[i] Sub-Health Centres and Primary Health Centres
Table 1: State-wise comparison of vacancy in PHCs
Doctors at PHCs
ANM at PHCs and Sub-Centres
|State||Sanctioned post||Vacancy||% of vacancy||Sanctioned post||Vacancy||% of vacancy|
|Andaman & Nicobar Isld||40||12||30||214||0||0|
|Dadra & Nagar Haveli||6||0||NA||40||0||0|
|Daman & Diu||3||0||NA||26||0||0|
|Jammu & Kashmir||750||0||NA||2282||0||0|
|Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.Note: The data for all states is as of March 2011 except for some states where data is as of 2010. For doctors, these states are Bihar, UP, Mizoram and Delhi. For ANMs, these states are Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.|
Community Health Centres
Table 2: Vacancies in CHCs of medical specialists
% of vacancy
|Andaman & NicobarIsland||100||100||100||100|
|Dadra & Nagar Haveli||0||0||0||0|
|Daman & Diu||0||100||0||100|
|Jammu & Kashmir||34||34||53||63|
|Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.|
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.