Most legislative assemblies make Parliament look like a paragon of virtue A COUPLE of days ago, an MLA from Orissa made news for climbing on to the speaker's table in the assembly. Not so long ago, television screens beamed images of Karnataka MLAs snacking and sleeping all night in the assembly. But these are only indicative of the incidents of the raucous behaviour of several MLAs in the recent past across the country. And the poor behaviour of some MLAs is only one aspect of the pitiable state of several of our state legislatures. The other aspect of our state legislatures that goes largely unnoticed is how poorly the secretariats of legislatures are equipped and how several systems that are seen as essential in Parliament are nonexistent in states. Even to know the complete picture of how our legislatures function, you need data. And several state assemblies are notoriously poor at putting out data on the functioning of the institution or the MLAs. After one gets used to the quality of Parliament websites and the regularity of their updates, it would be shocking to see that there are some state legislatures that do not even have functional websites. It has been observed that some state legislatures are lagging behind by a couple of years in compiling the "resume of work" which summarises the work done in a session of the legislature. So the first bottleneck in several instances is the inability to access data of the assembly. From the data we have managed to access, it is obvious that state assemblies meet for very few days a year. A case in point is the Punjab assembly which has met for an average of 19 days per year for a 10-year period between 1997 and 2007. Delhi was only marginally better averaging 21 days per year during the same period. Kerala has averaged some 50 days a year for several years now. Some states like Karnataka have legislated that they should meet for at least 60 days a year, but since passing that legislation in 2005, they have not managed to do so for even one year. I am not even accounting for the time lost due to disruptions. Bills are passed with little or no discussion in many state legislatures. While in Parliament, referring bills to the standing committees is the norm, most state legislatures do not have standing committees. The only examination of a bill, if any, happens on the floor of the House. And if data from the Delhi assembly is anything to go by, the average debate on a bill before is passed is a little over half hour. There are any number of instances where bills are introduced and passed in state assemblies on the same day -so there is not even a pretence of the need for MLAs to read, understand and deliberate on the provisions of legislation they are supposedly passing. MLAs are often far more narrowly constituency-focused than MPs are. On average, MLAs have lower education levels than members of Parliament. There is no formal definition of a role of an MLA, and they mostly have no exposure to ideas such as the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. In one particularly revealing conversation with an MLA, he said, "At the time of elections, each of the contestants represents his party. But after the elections, the chiefministerbecomestheleader of all MLAs in the House. If an MLAneedssomeadditionalprojects/ favours for his constituency he needs to be in the good books of the chief minister and his cabinet ministers. So where is the question of taking on the chief minister on the floor of the House on any issue?" There are many aspects of state legislatures that point to a steady and visible decline of these important institutions. But beyond the frequent highlighting of theatrics by some MLAs, there is almost no public discourse on this issue. It is necessary to ensure that the legislatures run smoothly, and the speaker, as first among equals, has the biggest responsibility to ensure this. If there are rules and everyone knows that those rules will never be used to enforce discipline, then the rules will be broken, and repeatedly so. This practice needs to be urgently reviewed. The larger question is whether our legislatures are the highest deliberating and policymaking bodies or whether they are being reduced to platforms for political theatrics. Policy can almost never be devoid of politics and public posturing. But if this means poor deliberation of critical policy issues and the woefully inadequate functioning of our legislatures, then we may need to come up with creative ways in which this problem can be addressed. This article appeared in the Indian Express on December 20, 2010.
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to conduct an off-cycle meeting today to discuss the failure to meet the inflation target under Section 45ZN of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. As per the Reserve Bank of India Act (RBI), 1934, MPC is required to meet at least four times each year, to discuss the macroeconomic issues in the country, and take policy decisions to address those. This is the second time MPC has conducted an off-cycle meeting in 2022-23. The meeting is scheduled in light of inflation being consistently high for nine consecutive months.
In this blog, we discuss what the inflation targeting framework is, examine retail and wholesale prices, and the divergence between them.
What is the inflation targeting framework, and what happens if inflation is persistently high?
In 2016, Parliament amended the RBI Act, 1934 to change the monetary policy, and introduce an inflation targeting framework. This framework prioritises price stability to achieve sustainable GDP growth. Price stability allows investors to confidently invest their money for productive activities, without worrying about it losing value. Price stability also maintains the purchasing power of consumers, i.e., the ability to purchase a good (or service) with a given amount of money.
As per the new framework, the central government, in consultation with RBI sets: (i) an inflation target, and (ii) an upper and lower tolerance level for retail inflation. The target has been set at 4%, with an upper tolerance limit of 6% and a lower tolerance limit of 2%. The upper and lower limits indicate that although it is desirable for inflation to be close to 4%, deviation between these limits is acceptable. The target and bands are revised every five years. In March 2021, the existing targets were carried forward.
Retail inflation has been above 6% for the past nine months, and it has been above 4% from October 2019 onwards (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Consumer price index (year-on-year; in percentage)
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
If inflation is above or below the prescribed limits for three quarters, RBI must submit a report to the central government explaining why prices have been rising (or falling) persistently, what will be done to correct that, and an estimate as to when the target will be achieved.
The MPC uses tools such as interest rates to control the level of inflation in the economy. One such rate is the policy repo rate, which is the rate at which RBI lends money to banks. An increase in the policy repo rate makes borrowing money more costly, and hence is expected to control inflation by reducing the money supply. MPC increased this rate from 4% in April 2022 to 4.4% in May 2022, to 4.9% in June 2022, to 5.4% in August 2022, and to 5.9% in September 2022.
Breaking down the Consumer Price Index and the Wholesale Price Index
Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the general prices of goods and services such as food, clothing, and fuel over time. Retail inflation is calculated as the change in the CPI over a period of time. Goods and services such as petrol, food products, health, and education are considered for its calculation, which are assigned different weights (See Table 1). Between February 2022 and August 2022, the average annual inflation was 6.9%. The rise in prices of subcomponents of the CPI during this period is indicated in Table 2.
Table 1: Assigned weights for the calculation of CPI
Sources: MOSPI; PRS.
Table 2: Average inflation of some CPI components
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, RBI; PRS.
CPI is not the only index that measures inflation in an economy. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) measures the wholesale prices of goods. A change in wholesale prices reflects wholesale inflation. Table 3 indicates the weights assigned to goods for calculating the WPI. Manufactured goods include metals, chemicals, food products, and textiles.
Primary articles (23%) include food articles, and crude petroleum and natural gas. Fuel and power (12%) include mineral oils, electricity, and coal. WPI has remained above 10% from April 2021 onwards. It reached an all-time high of 17% in May 2022. This was driven by the inflation in metals, kerosene and petroleum coke, fruits and vegetables, and palm oil.
Table 3:Assigned weights for the
Sources: Ministry of Commerce and Industry; PRS.
Why has WPI inflation been consistently above CPI inflation?
Movements in the WPI have an impact on the CPI. For almost a year and half, CPI inflation has remained below WPI inflation. However, as per the design of the indices, it is expected that CPI would remain above WPI, and that any increase in WPI would reflect in the CPI after a time lag. This is because retail prices include taxes (as a percentage of price), while wholesale prices do not. Additionally, some of the goods in WPI act as inputs in the goods considered in CPI. An increase in input prices would lead to higher retail prices after a time lag.
We discuss possible reasons for why CPI has remained below WPI for a year and a half.
Figure 2: Consumer Price Index and Wholesale Price Index
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
Composition of indices
As indicated in Table 2 and 3, the composition of the two indices varies. For instance, prices of manufacture of basic metals, chemicals, and machinery grew at an average rate of 13% between February 2021 and September 2022. They contribute 7% to the WPI. These are input goods for producing final goods and services such as automobiles, which are included in the CPI. The rise in prices of transport vehicles, communication devices, fuel for transport, and housing (CPI components) rose by 6% during this period.
The Ministry of Finance has observed that wholesale prices did not feed into retail prices (from March 2021 onwards) as wholesalers absorbed the rising input costs and did not pass them on to retailers. In August 2022, it noted that as retail prices are rising now, the pass-through may occur.