UPSC Online Editorial Analysis
Title: Pointing the finger at parliamentary scrutiny
Written by: P.D.T. Achary (former Secretary General,Lok Sabha)
Topic in syllabus: Parliament and State Legislatures—Structure, Functioning, Conduct of Business, Powers & Privileges and Issues Arising out of these.Indian Constitution,Functions and Responsibilities of the Union and the States(GS-2)
Analysis about: By showing the significance of parliamentary committees writer talks about a serious lapse in the management of legislative work in the parliament.
- Parliament meets for three sessions a year i.e., the Budget, Monsoon, and Winter Sessions. This part of Parliament’s work is televised and closely watched. However, Parliament has another forum through which a considerable amount of its work gets done. These are known as Parliamentary Committees.
- These Committees are smaller units of MPs from both Houses, across political parties and they function throughout the year. These smaller groups of MPs study and deliberate on a range of subject matters, Bills, and budgets of all the ministries.
- In the last 10 years, Parliament met for 67 days per year, on average. This is a short of amount of time for MPs to be able to get into the depth of matters being discussed in the House. Since Committees meet throughout the year, they help make up for this lack of time available on the floor of the House.
- Parliament deliberates on matters that are complex, and therefore needs technical expertise to understand such matters better. Committees help with this by providing a forum where Members can engage with domain experts and government officials during the course of their study.
- Committees also provide a forum for building consensus across political parties. The proceedings of the House during sessions are televised, and MPs are likely to stick to their party positions on most matters. Committees have closed door meetings, which allows them to freely question and discuss issues and arrive at a consensus.
- After a Committee completes its study, it publishes its report which is laid in Parliament. These recommendations are not binding, however, they hold a lot of weight.
- There are 24 such Departmentally Related Standing Committees (DRSCs), each of which oversees a set of Ministries. DRSCs were set up first in 1993, to ensure Parliament could keep with the growing complexity of governance.
- These are permanent Committees that are reconstituted every year. They consist of 21 Members from Lok Sabha, and 10 Members from Rajya Sabha, and are headed by a Chairperson. The DRSCs primarily look at three things: (i) Bills, (ii) budgets, and (iii) subject specific issues for examination.
- Other types of Standing Committees include Financial Committees which facilitate Parliament’s scrutiny over government expenditure. Besides these, Parliament can also form ad hoc Committees for a specific purpose such as addressing administrative issues, examining a Bill, or examining an issue.
- To ensure that a Bill is scrutinised properly before it is passed, our law making procedure has a provision for Bills to be referred to a DRSC for detailed examination. Any Bill introduced in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha can be referred to a DRSC by either the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
- Besides Bills, the DRSCs also examine the budget. The detailed estimates of expenditure of all ministries, called Demand for Grants are sent for examination to the DRCSs. They study the demands to examine the trends in allocations, spending by the ministries, utilisation levels, and the policy priorities of each ministry.
- Committees also examine policy issues in their respective Ministries, and make suggestions to the government. The government has to report back on whether these recommendations have been accepted or not.
- However, the rules do not require that all Bills be examined by a Committee. This leads to some Bills being passed without the advantage of a Committee scrutinising its technical details.
- The recent Negotiations between the government and thefarmers seem to have produced noresult, and the farmers are determined to scale up their agitation inthe coming days.
- Many of the proposals put forward now by the government for the consideration ofthe farmers are issues which weremore or less rejected by the government when those Bills weredebated in Parliament. The government is reportedly willing toamend these Acts now in order to
meet the demands of the farmers.
- The demand for the repeal of thelaws passed by Parliament only recently essentially points to a serious lapse in the management ofthe legislative work in Parliament.
Procedure of scrutiny & its significance:
- Parliament is the supreme lawmaking body which has put in place a large machinery of committees to scrutinise the Bills which are brought before it by the government as a part of its legislative programme.
- Rules of the Houses leave it to the Speaker or the Chairman to refer the Bills to the Standing Committees for a detailed scrutiny thereof.
- After such scrutiny is completed, the committees send their reports containing their recommendations on improvements to be made in the Bills to the Houses.
- While undertaking such scrutiny, the committees invite various stakeholders to place their views before them.
- Only after elaborate consultation do the committees formulate their views and recommendations. Under any circumstances, the Bills which come back to the Houses after thescrutiny by the committees will be in a much better shape in terms of their content.
- This is the common experience.That is the reason why the Rules ofthe Houses provide for referenceof the Bills to the committees.
- The intention is that all important Billsshould go before the committeesfor a detailed examination.
Issues associated with the scrutiny:
- Data show that very few Bills arereferred to the ParliamentaryCommittees now.
- Ministers aregenerally reluctant to send theirBills to the committees becausethey are in a hurry to pass them.
- They often request the PresidingOfficers not to refer their Bills tothe committees.
What is necessary?
- The PresidingOfficers are required to exercisetheir independent judgment in thematter and decide the issue.
- Theyneed to keep in mind the fact thatthe Bills which the governmentbrings before the Houses oftenhave serious shortcomings. Theyare in fact draughtsman’s creations.
- Members of Parliament whoknow the ground realities betterapply their mind and put them in abetter shape.
History of parliamentary committees& their efficient working:
- Central Legislative Assemblywhich was the Parliament of British India, had set up three committees: Committee on Petitions relating to Bills, Select Committee ofAmendments of standing ordersand Select Committee on Bills.
- Thus, even the colonial Parliamentrecognised the need and usefulness of parliamentary scrutiny of
Bills brought to the House by thegovernment.
- A cursory look at the Bills sentto the committees in the pastwould reveal the seriousness
shown by both the governmentand the Opposition in having theBills scrutinised by the committees.
- So far as the select committees or joint select committees areconcerned, generally, a proposal
from the Opposition to set up sucha committee is agreed to by the government.
- Oldtimers in Parliament are quitefamiliar with this healthy traditionof consensus making in Parliament.
- Some good examples of bills passed after healthy discussion by these Parliamentary committees:
- TheProtection of Plant Varieties andFarmers’ Rights Bill
- the Companies (Amendment) Bill
- the Information Technology Bill
- the Goods and Services Tax Bill
- The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill
Why Parliamentary committees are necessary?
- Our Parliamentary Committeeshave a tradition of working in anonparty manner.
- The reports ofthese Committees are based onconsensus.
- It may be a bit difficultfor people to believe that the instrumentalities of Parliamentcould rise above parties. But thatis how they function.
- The systemsof Parliament are inclusive. Theyhave the capacity to harmonisecontradictions.
- Despite the adversarial politics playing out in fullforce in the Houses, the calm atmosphere prevailing in the committee rooms and the purposiveness shown by the members in dealing with issues are a tremendously reassuring factor.
Conclusion:To makethese systems of scrutiny discussion gradually non-functional and irrelevant is to invite disaster for our democracy.
Title: Connecting more people
Topic in syllabus: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.(GS-2)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about how Public wifi can be a lowcost option to reachunserved citizens and to grow the economy.
- The Central government’s move to enable public can get many more people connected, just as wifi data service through small retail data officeslongdistance telephony was expanded through STD
public call offices over three decades ago.
- Prime Minister WiFi AccessNetwork Interface (PM WANI) scheme approved by theUnion Cabinet aims to bridge that divide using wirelesstechnologies.
What will be the benefits of public wifi?
- Internet access will connect anew wave of users not just to commercial and entertainment options, but also to education, telehealth andagriculture extension, and bring greater accountabilityto government by boosting transparency and interactivity.
- It will cut the layers of bureaucracy and eliminating licences and fees, it can make it easy even for a tea shop owner to register online as a service provider, opening up new income avenues.
- It opens up opportunities for community organisations, libraries, educational institutions, panchayats
and small entrepreneurs to tap into a whole new ecosystem, purchasing bandwidth from a public data officeaggregator to serve local consumers.
What is the potential of public wifi?
- Three years ago, when TRAI outlined the planand initiated the first pilot of a public wifi system onthe WANI architecture, it noted that a 10% rise in net penetration led to a 1.4% increase in GDP.
Why public wifi suffered neglect in the past?
- Because it was seen as a competitor to data services sold by mobile telecom firms, rather than as the complementary technology it is.
What are the challenges lies ahead?
- Upcoming mobile technologies such as5G may provide good quality data, but they involve highinvestment in new spectrum, connectivity equipmentand regular subscriber fees.
- Citizen expects robust service, protection of data integrity,transparency on commercial use of data, and securityagainst cyberattacks.
- The government must also ensuretrue unbundling of hardware, software, apps and payment gateways in the WANI system, as advocated byTRAI, to prevent monopolies.
The way forward:
- Executed properly, the public data offices (PDOs) of PM WANI can do what thePCOs did for phone calls, going well beyond ‘ease of doing business’ to genuinely empower citizens.
Title:Declare exotic pets, avoid prosecution: how one-time scheme works
Topic in syllabus:Conservation – Environment & ecology(GS-3)
- CITES is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in wild animals, birds and plants does not endanger them.
- India is a member.
- Appendices I, II and III of CITES list 5,950 species as protected against over-exploitation through international trade.
- On November 22, the Supreme Court upheld an Allahabad High Court order granting immunity from investigation and prosecution if one declared illegal acquisition or possession of exotic wildlife species between June and December. This was under a new amnesty scheme announced by the Centre.
What is the government’s voluntary disclosure scheme?
- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has come out with an advisory on a one-time voluntary disclosure scheme that allows owners of exotic live species that have been acquired illegally, or without documents, to declare their stock to the government between June and December 2020.
Why did government bring this scheme?
- With this scheme, the government aims to address the challenge of zoonotic diseases, develop an inventory of exotic live species for better compliance under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and regulate their import.
- In its current form, however, the amnesty scheme is just an advisory, not a law.
What kind of exotic wildlife are covered?
- The advisory has defined exotic live species as animals named under the Appendices I, II and III of the CITES.
- It does not include species from the Schedules of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972.
- So, a plain reading of the advisory excludes exotic birds from the amnesty scheme.
- Iguanas, lemurs, civets, albino monkeys, coral snakes, tortoises, are popular as exotic pets in India which are covered under the scheme.
How big a problem is illegal trade of exotic animals in India?
- The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), which enforces anti-smuggling laws, says India has emerged as a big demand centre for exotic birds and animals with an increase in smuggling of endangered species from different parts of the world.
- Most of this exotic wildlife is imported through Illegal channels and then sold in the domestic market as pets.
- “The long international border and air routes are used to source consignments from Bangkok, Malaysia and other top tourist destinations in South East Asia, as well as from Europe from where they are sent to Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Cochin,” said the DRI in its 2019-2020 annual report.
Title: Plasmodium ovale and other types of malaria
Topic in syllabus: Health(GS-2) | Science & technology (GS-3)
The soldier in Kerala is believed to have contracted Plasmodium ovale during his posting in Sudan, from where he returned nearly a year ago, and where Plasmodium ovale is endemic.
Types of malaria:
- Malaria is caused by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito, if the mosquito itself is infected with a malarial parasite.
- There are five kinds of malarial parasites — Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax (the commonest ones), Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium knowlesi.
- Therefore, to say that someone has contracted the Plasmodium ovale type of malaria means that the person has been infected by that particular parasite.
Severity of Malaria in India:
- In India, out of 1.57 lakh malaria cases in the high-burden states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Madhya Pradesh in 2019, 1.1 lakh cases (70%) were cases of falciparum malaria, according to a statement by the Health Ministry on December 2.
- In 2018, the National Vector-borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) estimated that approximately 5 lakh people suffered from malaria (63% were of Plasmodium falciparum); researchers writing in the Malaria Journal of BMC felt the numbers could be an underestimate.
- The recent World Malaria Report 2020 said cases in India dropped from about 20 million in 2000 to about 5.6 million in 2019.
About Plasmodium ovale:
- Scientists said P ovale rarely causes severe illness and there is no need for panic because of the case detected in Kerala.
- P ovale is very similar to P vivax, which is not a killer form.
- Symptoms include fever for 48 hours, headache and nausea, and the treatment modality is the same as it is for a person infected with P vivax.
- P ovale is no more dangerous than getting a viral infection.
- P ovale malaria is endemic to tropical Western Africa. According to scientists at NIMR, P ovale is relatively unusual outside of Africa and, where found, comprises less than 1% of the isolates.
- It has also been detected in the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but is still relatively rate in these areas.
- In a 2016 study on the China-Myanmar border, it was found that P ovale and P malariae occurred at very low prevalence, but were often misidentified.
- In another study, carried out in China’s Jiangsu Province, indigenous malaria cases decreased significantly over 2011-14, but imported cases of P ovale and P malariae had increased, and were often misdiagnosed.
Prevalence in India:
- According to scientists at the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR), the Kerala case could be an isolated one and there are no recorded cases of local transmission so far.
- Previously, too, isolated cases were reported in Gujarat, Kolkata, Odisha and Delhi.
- However, no local transmission has been recorded — which means these cases have been acquired