GDP slump will hit $5 tn target, warns NITI Aayog
- The road to a $5 trillion economy by 2025 is beset with many speed-breakers, the NITI Aayog has warned the government.
- Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her July 5 Budget presentation, had said the government would work to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025.
- To begin with, the Aayog said nominal GDP growth — a measure of growth without accounting for inflation — has to be at least 12.4% on average if that target has to be reached, according to a presentation made by its CEO Amitabh Kant at the November 8 meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance, chaired by former Union Minister and BJP MP Jayant Sinha. The current rate was a mere 8% in the first quarter of the current financial year.
- The government is expected to release data for the second quarter (July to September) later this Experts estimate that growth will dip in Q2 compared to Q1 in both real and nominal terms.
- While GDP growth in real terms in Q1 stood at 5%, state-run lender State Bank of India recently estimated that this could dip to 4.2% in Q2, with a corresponding dip in nominal growth as well. Real GDP growth accounts for inflation.
- In his presentation, which The Hindu has accessed, Mr. Kant said “domestic investment and consumption” are the only dependable drivers for sustainable re-acceleration (of the economy). “However, a deceleration in investment is visible, primarily in the household sector, due almost entirely to real estate,” he pointed out.
- According to data he provided, gross fixed capital formation in the sub-sector of ‘dwellings, other buildings and structures’ fell from 12.8% of GDP in 2011-12 to 6.9% in 2017-18.
- The slowdown in the domestic market is also because of limited availability of capital with the banks which are tied down due to high non- performing assets in heavy industry and infrastructure, Mr. Kant said.
- As an indication of the “structural changes” that Ms. Sitharaman had also hinted at in her Budget speech, he argued that in the power sector, there is a high cross-subsidization in favour of residential tariff leading to very high industrial tariffs. The electric power transmission and distribution (T&D) losses in India stand at 19%, higher than that of Bangladesh and Vietnam. The presentation flagged the urgent need to focus on export of high-value technology and manufacturing goods.
SPG Bill to exclude former PMs and kin
Amendments approved by Cabinet
- The Centre will introduce the Special Protection Group (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Parliament next week, Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Arjun Ram Meghwal told the Lok Sabha on
- The move comes days after the government withdrew the SPG security cover given to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
- According to official sources, the amendments approved by the Union Cabinet exclude family members of former Prime Ministers from SPG protection.
- The SPG, an elite protection force, was set up in 1985 after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Under the SPG Act, the force provides security to the Prime Minister and the members of his immediate family. In the case of a former Prime Minister and immediate family, the SPG cover will be on for one year from the date he or she ceases to hold office and beyond one year based on the level of threat.
- Meghwal also announced that the Centre would introduce a Bill to merge the two Union Territories
- of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.
- A few other Bills feature on the list of business to be transacted next week in the winter session of They include the International Financial Services Centres Authority Bill, 2019; the Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019; the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Bill, 2019 and the Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2019.
- Article 51A of the Indian Constitution lays down the fundamental duties of citizens in India. The 11 fundamental duties of India are as follows:
- To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National
- To cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom.
- To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and
- integrity of India.
- To defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so.
- To promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.
- To value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.
- To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.
- To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.
- To safeguard public property and to abjure violence.
- To strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and
- To provide opportunities for education by the parent the guardian, to his child, or ward between the age of 6-14 years as the case may be.
Private’ efforts at legislation: How they are made, how often they succeed
- As the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid pot bubbled last week, nominated Member of Rajya Sabha
- Rakesh Sinha said he would bring a private member’s Bill “on the Ram Temple”. How are private member’s Bills introduced and discussed? What chance does such a Bill have of becoming law?
Private members, their Bills
- Any MP who is not a Minister is referred to as a private member. Parliament’s key role is to debate and make laws. Both Ministers and private members contribute to the lawmaking process. Bills introduced by Ministers are referred to as government bills. They are backed by the government, and reflect its legislative agenda. Private member’s bills are piloted by non-Minister MPs. Their purpose is to draw the government’s attention to what individual MPs see as issues and gaps in the existing legal framework, which require legislative intervention.
Introduction in the House
- The admissibility of a private member’s Bill (like the one Rakesh Sinha intends to bring) is decided by the
- Rajya Sabha Chairman. (In the case of Lok Sabha, it is the Speaker; the procedure is roughly the same for both Houses.) The Member must give at least a month’s notice before the Bill can be listed for introduction; the House secretariat examines it for compliance with constitutional provisions and rules on legislation before listing.
- Up to 1997, private members could introduce up to three Bills in a week. This led to a piling up of Bills that were introduced but never discussed; Chairman K R Narayanan, therefore, capped the number of private member’s Bills to three per session.
- While government Bills can be introduced and discussed on any day, private member’s Bills can be introduced and discussed only on Fridays. Private member’s Bills have been introduced and discussed in Rajya Sabha on 20 days in the last three years.
Procedure for introduction
- On the scheduled Friday, the private member moves a motion for introduction of the Bill, which is usually not opposed. Two recent exceptions to this convention were in 2004, when nominated MP Vidya Nivas Misra’s Bill seeking to amend the Preamble of the Constitution was opposed; and in 2015, when Shashi Tharoor’s Bill to decriminalise homosexuality was not introduced in Lok Sabha after the BJP’s Nishikant Dubey forced a division, which led to the motion being defeated. (The Supreme Court struck down IPC Section 377 this September.)
- Only a fraction of private member’s bills that are introduced, are taken up for discussion. Rajya Sabha draws a ballot to decide the sequence of discussion of Bills. If a Bill is successful in the ballot, it has to wait for the discussion to conclude on a Bill currently being debated by the House. For example, a Bill related to sittings of Parliament introduced by Naresh Gujral in March 2017 was taken up for discussion only in August 2018. The discussion will resume when private member business is taken up in the upcoming Winter Session, and other private member’s bills will have to wait for the debate to conclude. Over the last three years, Rajya Sabha saw the introduction of 165 private member’s Bills; discussion was concluded on only
- A private member’s Bill that is introduced but not discussed in Rajya Sabha, lapses when Member retires.
After discussion ends
- Upon conclusion of the discussion, the Member piloting the Bill can either withdraw it on the request of the Minister concerned, or he may choose to press ahead with its passage. In the latter case, the Bill is put to vote and, if the private member gets the support of the House, it is passed. In 1977, Rajya Sabha passed a private member’s Bill to amend the Aligarh Muslim University Act. The Bill then went to the sixth Lok Sabha, where it lapsed with the dissolution of the House in 1979. In 2015, Rajya Sabha passed The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014, a private member’s Bill piloted by Tiruchi Siva of the DMK. The Bill is now pending before Lok Sabha.
- The last time a private member’s Bill was passed by both Houses was in 1970. This was the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968. Fourteen private member’s Bills — five of which were introduced in Rajya Sabha — have become law so far.
- Chakshu Roy heads legislative and civic engagement initiatives at PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi. Abhijit Banare is responsible for citizen engagement platforms and outreach to state legislators at PRS Legislative Research.
Policy to hasten piped gas infra on the cards
High-level panel to study all issues
- A national policy on City Gas Distribution (CGD) to speed up development of infrastructure for supply of piped natural gas to households as well as CNG for automobiles and industrial units is on the cards.
- As a first step, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) has formed a “high-level committee” comprising its senior officials and those of CGD The committee will undertake a detailed review of all the issues to expedite the development of piped gas networks and draft such a policy.
- The decision assumes significance considering challenges, especially delay in getting approvals at the State level, that industry sources say CGD entities in certain geographical areas (GAs) are facing.
- The regulator also made a reference to such a situation, while inviting inputs for the draft policy.
- The CGD industry has witnessed significant progress in the last two years in terms of authorisation of GAs, PNGRB Secretary Vandana Sharma said in a note.The number of such GAs has increased from 78 at the end of 2017 to 229 at present, covering 71% of the country’s population as against 20% two years ago.
- Noting that most firms that were awarded authorisation had taken steps towards development of infrastructure, the regulator said various authorities at the
- Central and State governments as well as local authorities have “generally been helpful and working along with CGD entities in resolving the issues.”
- Though the issues cited by the entities mostly come under the purview of the State governments, it was felt that a national CGD policy would serve as a guide for the States to formulate their own policy, the PNGRB said.
- The draft policy is expected to dwell on various aspects, including the appointment of a nodal agency/officer by State governments to co-ordinate for granting single window clearances in a time-bound manner. An important aspect the policy is likely to go into is standardisation of road restoration/permission charges across the country to ensure synergy in the process and the procedure for timely availability of permissions from NHAI and Railways.
Need for funds
- But first, why is this important? The main reason is that in the 21st century, money plays an increasingly larger role in elections. This was not so about 50 years ago. Today, India spends more on elections than the U.S. with a per capita GDP that is 3% of the U.S. Today, having more money does not guarantee success, but, at the other extreme, having no money certainly guarantees defeat. Some party may win a one-off election by spending very little, but sustaining victory over several elections requires funds. To reach voters, candidates and parties use hoardings and advertisements on printed, electronic and social media. They hold election rallies. They travel and have to pay party workers. In India, there is the added expenditure of buying votes through distribution of gifts, money, liquor and so on.
- Given that money is required, a central issue is whether a winning candidate or party will work for the public or for those who have funded them for the public or for those who have funded them
- We need to look at the issue of electoral bonds in this context — the importance and need for funding, and proper laws. Even a glance at the best international laws and rules shows that we in India are lagging far behind. The gaps between the stated purpose of the electoral bonds scheme and the letter of law are glaring, and several articles in the media have pointed them out. The voter does not know who is funding whom through electoral bonds. This is supposed to protect the donors from harassment from the authorities.
- However, such harassment is always by the party in power through law enforcement agencies — police, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Intelligence Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate and so on. The simple remedy is to stop such motivated actions. However, the bank knows the purchaser of the bonds as well as the party that cashed it. The law agencies can obtain this information whenever they want. Can the ruling party use this to demand donations for itself, prevent donations to others, and use the law enforcement agencies to harass those who donate to rival parties? There is nothing in the electoral bonds scheme or existing laws to prevent this from happening. Equally troublesome, donation limits have been In theory, a large corporate could buy the government using electoral bonds. This would not be possible in any other country. India continues to have spending limits but, as everyone knows, hardly any winning candidate sticks to it.
- It is true that black money cannot be used to buy electoral bonds. However, black money can be used outside the scheme during elections. The reduction in cash donations from ₹20,000 to ₹2,000 is not good enough. There are parties with hundreds of crores of declared income who claim that all the funds were received from small cash donations of ₹100 or less. This cannot be prevented by merely reducing the cash Meanwhile, we see reports that the ₹2,000 notes printed after demonetisation are being hoarded. Whether this will be used as black money and in elections is unknown. In short, electoral bonds cannot eliminate black money. There are other provisions in the electoral bonds scheme and the amended Finance Act, 2017. All of them were there earlier as well.
- No doubt, there have been protests from the Opposition parties and from civil society. Political parties are sometimes seen as lacking credibility as they protest when they don’t get money but keep quiet when they get funds. Civil society is seen as anti-establishment. In India it is possible for those in power to ignore all However, we are missing the elephant in the room. We don’t need an incentive to be transparent and honest. Any political party can voluntarily choose to disclose its funds and sources. There is no law that prevents them from doing so. They can also state publicly that they will henceforth not use black money. No party has done this. Perhaps there are some compulsions under which they function — whether as the ruling party or as the Opposition.
Setback to democracy
- Before we move to possible remedies, let us clearly look at the effect of the electoral bonds scheme and possible long-term implications. The ruling party gets nearly all the funds. It, along with the enforcement agencies, knows who has given how much money to whom. The public does not have this information. How can we have good democracy in secrecy? The real danger, however, is long-term. If big money entirely funds elections in an opaque way, democracy as we know it will not exist. Meanwhile, registrations are cancelled for NGOs but not for political parties. What is democracy without free speech and dissent, especially against the powerful?
- Various commissions, including the Election Commission, have given detailed recommendations on suitable remedies. But, to date, no government has acted on them. We also need to benchmark ourselves against the best international practices and laws on campaign funding. Details are many, but there are a few simple principles for such remedies. First is complete transparency in all funding. Second, political parties need to be under the Right to Information Act. The Central Information Commission ruled that they were, but the parties refuse to follow its directions. There must be spending limits as well as donation limits, especially in a highly unequal society like ours, and strict penalties for flouting rules and the law. Public funding needs to be examined and introduced with proper checks and balances.
- Voters need to demand changes and we need voter awareness campaigns. The simple message from voters to political parties could be “we like you, not your big money. If you want, we will all pitch in and give small individual donations.” If voters reject candidates and parties that overspend or bribe them, we would have moved democracy one level higher. Most important, the electoral bonds scheme needs to be scrapped. The Supreme Court is hearing a petition on this issue. Let us hope Indian democracy survives without going through another crisis.