"No one can ignore Odisha's demand. It deserves special category status. It is a genuine right," said Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, earlier this month. The Odisha State assembly has passed a resolution requesting special category status and their demands follow Bihar's recent claim for special category status. The concept of a special category state was first introduced in 1969 when the 5th Finance Commission sought to provide certain disadvantaged states with preferential treatment in the form of central assistance and tax breaks. Initially three states Assam, Nagaland and Jammu & Kashmir were granted special status but since then eight more have been included (Arunachal Pradesh,  Himachal Pradesh,  Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand). The rationale for special status is that certain states, because of inherent features, have a low resource base and cannot mobilize resources for development. Some of the features required for special status are: (i) hilly and difficult terrain; (ii) low population density or sizeable share of tribal population; (iii) strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries; (iv) economic and infrastructural backwardness; and (v) non-viable nature of state finances. [1. Lok Sabha unstarred question no. 667, 27 Feb, 2013, Ministry of Planning] The decision to grant special category status lies with the National Development Council, composed of the Prime Minster, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers and members of the Planning Commission, who guide and review the work of the Planning Commission. In India, resources can be transferred from the centre to states in many ways (see figure 1). The Finance Commission and the Planning Commission are the two institutions responsible for centre-state financial relations.

Figure 1: Centre-state transfers (Source: Finance Commission, Planning Commission, Budget documents, PRS)


Planning Commission and Special Category The Planning Commission allocates funds to states through central assistance for state plans. Central assistance can be broadly split into three components: Normal Central Assistance (NCA), Additional Central Assistance (ACA) and Special Central Assistance. NCA, the main assistance for state plans, is split to favour special category states: the 11 states get 30% of the total assistance while the other states share the remaining 70%.  The nature of the assistance also varies for special category states; NCA is split into 90% grants and 10% loans for special category states, while the ratio between grants and loans is 30:70 for other states. For allocation among special category states, there are no explicit criteria for distribution and funds are allocated on the basis of the state's plan size and previous plan expenditures. Allocation between non special category states is determined by the Gadgil Mukherjee formula which gives weight to population (60%), per capita income (25%), fiscal performance (7.5%) and special problems (7.5%).  However, as a proportion of total centre-state transfers NCA typically accounts for a relatively small portion (around 5% of total transfers in 2011-12). Special category states also receive specific assistance addressing features like hill areas, tribal sub-plans and border areas. Beyond additional plan resources, special category states can enjoy concessions in excise and customs duties, income tax rates and corporate tax rates as determined by the government.  The Planning Commission also allocates funds for ACA (assistance for externally aided projects and other specific project) and funds for Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS). State-wise allocation of both ACA and CSS funds are prescribed by the centre. The Finance Commission Planning Commission allocations can be important for states, especially for the functioning of certain schemes, but the most significant centre-state transfer is the distribution of central tax revenues among states. The Finance Commission decides the actual distribution and the current Finance Commission have set aside 32.5% of central tax revenue for states. In 2011-12, this amounted to Rs 2.5 lakh crore (57% of total transfers), making it the largest transfer from the centre to states. In addition, the Finance Commission recommends the principles governing non-plan grants and loans to states.  Examples of grants would include funds for disaster relief, maintenance of roads and other state-specific requests.  Among states, the distribution of tax revenue and grants is determined through a formula accounting for population (25%), area (10%), fiscal capacity (47.5%) and fiscal discipline (17.5%).  Unlike the Planning Commission, the Finance Commission does not distinguish between special and non special category states in its allocation.

On June 6, 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology released the draft amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) for public feedback.  The IT Rules were notified on February 25, 2021, under the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act).  The Ministry noted that there is a need to amend the Rules to keep up with the challenges and gaps emerging in an expanding digital ecosystem.  In this blog post, we give a brief background to the IT Rules, 2021 and explain the key proposed changes to the Rules.

Background to the IT Rules, 2021

The IT Act exempts intermediaries from liability for user-generated content on their platform provided they meet certain due diligence requirements.  Intermediaries are entities that store or transmit data on behalf of other persons and include telecom and internet service providers, online marketplaces, search engines, and social media sites.  IT Rules specify the due diligence requirements for the intermediaries.  These include: (i) informing users about rules and regulations, privacy policy, and terms and conditions for usage of its services, including types of content which are prohibited, (ii) expeditiously taking down content upon an order from the government or courts, (iii) providing a grievance redressal mechanism to resolve complaints from users about violation of Rules, and (iv) enabling identification of the first originator of the information on its platform under certain conditions.  It also specifies a framework for content regulation of online publishers of news and current affairs and curated audio-visual content.  For an analysis of the IT Rules 2021 please see here.

Key changes proposed to the IT Rules 2021

Key changes proposed by the draft amendments are as follows:

  • Obligations of intermediaries:  The 2021 Rules require the intermediary to “publish” rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreement for access or usage of its services.   The Rules specify restrictions on the types of content that users are allowed to create, upload, or share.  The Rules require intermediaries to “inform” users about these restrictions.  Proposed amendments seek to expand the obligation on intermediaries to include: (i) “ensuring compliance” with rules and regulations, privacy policy, and user agreement, and (ii) "causing users to not" create, upload, or share prohibited content.
  • The proposed amendments also add that intermediaries should take all reasonable measures to ensure accessibility of their services to all users, with a reasonable expectation of due diligence, privacy, and transparency.   Further, intermediaries should respect the constitutional rights of all users.  The Ministry observed that such a change was necessary as several intermediaries have acted in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens.
  • Appeal mechanism against decisions of grievance officers:  The 2021 Rules require intermediaries to designate a grievance officer to address complaints regarding violations of the Rules.  The Ministry observed that there have been instances where these officers do not address the grievances satisfactorily or fairly.  A person aggrieved with the decision of the grievance officer needs to approach courts to seek redressal.  Hence, the draft amendments propose an alternative mechanism for such appeals.  A Grievance Appellate Committee will be formed by the central government to hear appeals against the decisions of grievance officers.  The Committee will consist of a chairperson and other members appointed by the central government through a notification.  The Committee is required to dispose of such appeals within 30 days from the date of receipt.  The concerned intermediary must comply with the order passed by the Committee.  Note that the proposed amendments do not restrict users from directly approaching courts.
  • Expeditious removal of prohibited content:  The 2021 Rules require intermediaries to acknowledge complaints regarding violation of Rules within 24 hours, and dispose of complaints within 15 days.  The proposed amendments add that the complaints concerning the removal of prohibited content must be addressed within 72 hours.  The Ministry observed that given the potential for virality of content over internet, a stricter timeline will help in removing prohibited content expeditiously.

Comments on the draft amendments are invited until July 6, 2022.