1) Navigating the storm: On the Fifteenth Finance Commission.
The Fifteenth Finance Commission has adapted well to swiftly shifting sands.
GS-2: Devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.
- A balanced between Union and States, the cover visual of the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s report for the period 2021-22 to 2025-26 over various grants,
- The Centre has accepted much of the Commission’s broad recommendations, including giving States a 41% share of the divisible pool of taxes and revenue deficit grants of nearly ?2.95-lakh crore for 17 States over the next five years.
- To highlight the Commission’s endeavoured to maintain an equitable approach at a time when the Centre and States are facing unprecedented revenue stress and fiscal demands.
15th Finance Commission:
- The Finance Commission (FC) is a constitutional body that determines the method and formula for distributing the tax proceeds between the Centre and states, and among the states as per the constitutional arrangement.
- The Finance Commission (FC) is commissions periodically constituted by the President of India under Article 280 of the Indian Constitution to define the financial relations between the central government of India and the individual state governments.
- The 15th Finance Commission was constituted by the President of India in November 2017, under the chairmanship of NK Singh. Its recommendations will cover a period of five years from the year 2021-22 to 2025-26.
The Criteria for devolution:
The Commission’s suggestion:
- the Commission’s suggestion to make grants towards urban and rural local bodies conditional upon States setting up their own finance commissions and publishing online the accounts of local bodies.
- The 60% of these grants will be further linked to urban and local bodies’ providing sanitation and water services.
- There is an ‘in-principle’ nod to the panel’s suggestion to set up a non-lapsable dedicated (Budget allocations) fund to support defence and internal security modernisation.
- States would monitor how the modalities here evolve, even as they have reason to fret about the Centre’s non-committal response to the Commission’s recommendations of sector-specific and other grants for them adding up to about ?1.8-lakh crore.
The various grants recommended by the 15th Finance Commission:
- The Terms of Reference of the Finance Commission require it to recommend grants-in-aid to the States. These grants include: (i) revenue deficit grants, (ii) grants to local bodies, and (iii) disaster management grants.
- 14 states are estimated to face a revenue deficit post-devolution. To make up for this deficit, the Commission has recommended revenue deficit grants worth Rs 74,341 crore to these 14 states
- The Commission has recommended a total of Rs 90,000 crore for grants to the local bodies in 2020-21. These grants will be made available to all three tiers of Panchayat- village, block, and district.
- To promote local-level mitigation activities, the Commission has recommended the setting up of National and State Disaster Management Funds.
- Recommended grants for the State Disaster Risk Management Fund are Rs 28,983 crore, while the allocation for the National Disaster Risk Management Fund is Rs 12,390 crore.
- The Commission has recommended a grant of Rs 7,375 crore for nutrition in 2020-21. Sectors for which sector-specific grants will be provided in the final report include: (i) nutrition, (ii) health, (iii) pre-primary education, (iv) judiciary, and (v) railways.
- It is up to the Centre now to ensure that States do not feel short-changed from the new fiscal framework, given their frayed ties over GST compensation dues.
- States have also been steadily losing out, given the Centre’s penchant to raise more cesses and surcharges that do not have to be shared.
- This Budget has seen an encore with the agriculture infrastructure development cess. One wishes the Commission had at least noted its displeasure on this practice.
- If the Centre committed to recondition of 15th Finance Commission, it might help attain the balance envisaged by the Centre-state planning, which is needed to drive the country onto a double-engine growth trajectory from the current nadir.
- Fifteenth Finance Commission (FFC) has recommended grants of Rs 4, 36,361 crore from the Union government to local governments for 2021-26. May helpful because Local governments are the closest to the people at the grassroots level.
2) Voice vote as constitutional subterfuge.
Even laws that are unquestionably desirable and necessary cannot be enacted using dubious legislative mechanisms.
GS-2: powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
GS-2: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
- The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill were passed by the State’s Legislative Council on Monday, February 8.
- The law was passed by the legislative Council despite the lack of a majority. Instead of having a division vote based on actual voting as is usual and as the Opposition members had demanded, the presiding officer just declared the Bill passed by voice vote without any division, is concern.
New legislative template and constitutionally:
- Karnataka fallows an uncannily similar process was followed to pass the controversial farm laws (by the Rajya Sabha) in September 2020.
- The government seemed to lack a majority to pass the bills in the Upper House, instead of a division vote, a voice vote was deemed to be adequate by the Deputy Speaker of the House.
- In both cases, the pandemonium in the House caused by heated interventions by the Opposition was used as a pretext to resort to a voice vote.
- In the last few months, while there has been extensive discussion of the farm laws, they have largely been about the merits of the laws and the need for reforms in the agrarian sector.
- But the fact that the legislative process followed for these laws did away with actual voting in the Upper House has not been given the prominence it deserves.
- The government has repeatedly invoked the multiple consultations around these laws over the years to justify them, but the fact that the pieces of legislation were passed without an actual legislative majority voting for them does not seem pivotal.
- These two sets of laws passed with a voice vote seem like a new template for bypassing the constitutionally envisaged legislative process.
- Once bills were tabled in the legislature, the governments insisted on the Bills not being referred to the legislative committees in either case, even though the Opposition repeatedly raised the demand.
The Money Bill ruse:
- A Money Bill (Article 110 for Center & Article 198 for state of the Indian Constitution) only is introduced in Lok Sabha/ Legislative assembly, on the recommendation of the President. It must be passed in Lok Sabha/ Legislative assembly by a simple majority of all members present and voting.
- Following this, it may be sent to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations, which Lok Sabha/ Legislative assembly may reject if it chooses to. If such recommendations are not given within 14 days, it will deemed to be passed by Parliament.
- The voice vote subterfuge supplements the other technique repeatedly deployed over the last few years to bypass the Upper House of Parliament the Money Bill route, utilised increasingly in instances even where the laws concerned would not easily fit within that definition.
Supreme Court Vs Money Bill:
- The Aadhaar Bill and other controversial laws such as those pertaining to electoral bonds, retrospective validation of foreign political contributions and the overhaul of the legal regime relating to tribunals have also been carried out through the
- A majority of the Supreme Court called such use of the Money Bill as nothing less than “a fraud on the constitution” A later constitutional Bench of the Court has since noted the problem with the majority position and has referred the issue of interpreting the Money Bill provision to a larger Bench.
The Rajya Sabha’s role:
- The Rajya Sabha holds the potential of a somewhat different legislative relation to the executive, making a robust separation of powers possible.
- The increasing use of the Money Bill route was defended by the then Leader of the Rajya Sabha when he deplored the repeated questioning by the indirectly elected Rajya Sabha of the wisdom of the directly elected Lok Sabha.
- The Lok Sabha is seen as directly representing the will of the people, and the Rajya Sabha as standing in its way.
- Since democracy itself is seen purely in terms of parliamentary majority in the Lower House, the countervailing function of the Upper House is rarely seen as legitimate.
The Rajya Sabha has historically stopped the Bills:
- The notorious Emergency-era 42nd Constitutional Amendment could not be repealed in toto by the post-Emergency Janata regime because the Congress continued to have a strong presence in the Rajya Sabha.
- The Rajiv Gandhi government’s proposed 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill on Panchayati Raj was narrowly defeated in the Rajya Sabha, even though it enjoyed the highest ever majority in Lok Sabha.
- But neither of these governments resorted to constitutional subterfuge or attacked the Rajya Sabha’s .The Rajya Sabha is undoubtedly imperfect, partly because of constitutional design and undesirable practices.
The value of bicameralism:
- This bicameral system distributes power within two houses that check and balance one another rather than concentrating authority in a single body.
- The virtues of bicameralism, especially when the two Houses are chosen by different processes of representation and elected on a different schedule.
- The very questioning of the monopoly of the Lower House to represent the ‘people’ makes bicameralism desirable, he argues.
- The Rajya Sabha membership is determined by elections to State Assemblies leads to a different principle of representation, often allowing different factors to prevail than those in the Lok Sabha elections.
- In India, the second chamber’s performance of such a role becomes particularly important as it offers the opportunity for a second legislative scrutiny.
- The other merit of bicameralism for Waldron is especially significant in a Westminster system like India, where the Lower House is dominated by the executive.
Taking legislature seriously:
- The malaise that allows such legislative humiliation to be tolerated in India runs even deeper, evident in the contempt for the legislature that has been shown by the executive in this country since the mid-1970s.
- In U.K ,the British Prime Minister was being taken to task on ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ every Wednesday in the House of Commons even during the pandemic,
- Parliament in India was not even convened until it became necessary and that too after suspending Question Hour.
- The legislature’s role in India is seen as only to pass legislation the faster the better.
- In India where judicial procedure is perceived as an obstacle to justice by judges themselves, it should not surprise us that legislators view legislative procedure as dispensable so that laws can be enacted by hook or by crook.
- A bicameral system is a government style with two separate divisions within the legislative branch of government, its means the law made by have more rectification, correctness and according to law of land.