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Here’s How Public Policies Are Formulated In India

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In India, there are mainly three legislative bodies. At the foundation is the Local Self Government (this could be a Gram Panchayat or a Municipality or Corporation), above them, is the State Legislative Assembly, and at the apex is the Indian Parliament. The job of any legislative body is to frame laws (a.k.a. Acts) that can be used to govern the country towards better prosperity.

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To understand how public policies are drafted, let us consider policy drafting at the national level. Due to the wide range of diversity existing in a country like India, making a national level policy is strenuous. Even though policy impacts the entire nation, rarely do citizens initiate policymaking.

In most of the cases, it starts with the election manifestos of the ruling party or from any pressure groups (like All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, FICCI) or think-tanks like NITI Aayog (erstwhile Planning commission). Post drafting, it usually proceeds to the Cabinet for approval and finally to the Parliament (consisting of the President, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha). Even though there is no structured way for policy formation, the following are the major steps followed:

Step 1: The initiation of any policy starts either when any Minister (in most of the cases) or an individual or any pressure group (e.g. a Civil Society Organization  ( CSO)) feels that a new law/policy have to be brought in or an existing law needs to be strengthened. (Eg. Post Nirbhaya case the strengthening of criminal law against rapes, read this and this).

Note: Laws/policies before they are being passed are called BILLS.

Step 2: The minister asks the officials (bureaucrats) or the pressure groups themselves to draft the details of the bill. Arvind Kejriwal was invited to draft the Lokpal bill. The job of preparing the draft is of the concerned ministry (in most of the cases).

Step 3:  After drafting the bill, the ministry may or may not put it in the public domain. This is not mandatory, but as an ever-improving democracy since the last few years, the lawmakers have tried their best to put most of the policies (at the draft stage) to the public. The Women and Child Department led by Maneka Gandhi invited suggestions during May 2018 from the public for women safety and empowerment.

The Indian Government also runs a citizen engagement platform named मेरी सरकार Merī Sarkār to initiate participation of citizens in the nation’s governance. The idea is to crowdsource ideas from citizens and also get their responses. The objective of making the drafts available to the public is to let various agencies (both governmental and non-governmental), unions, CSOs and eminent personalities (concerned with the bill) respond with suggestions.

Brainteaser 1: What was the major objective of setting up the Supreme Court of India? (*answers to all brainteasers are given at the end).

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Step 4: After going through the feedback received and incorporated if any, the draft bill directly goes to the cabinet for approval (if any sitting minister initiates the bill). Once the cabinet approves the draft, the bill will be introduced into parliament.

If the bill is initiated by any Member of Parliament (M.P.) who is not part of the government, the bill is called a private bill. (When Mr Modi is the PM, and if Mr Rahul Gandhi introduces a bill, that is a private bill. Till date about 300 private bills have been presented before the parliament and only a mere 14 has passed and become an Act. Such is the efficiency and acceptance rate for private bills in our Parliament!

Bills presented in the parliament could be classified as Ordinary Bills, Money Bills or Constitutional Amendment Bill. All bills are presented as per Article 110 of the Constitution of India except in case of Money Bill. The bills can be introduced in either of the houses (unless it is a finance or money bill).

Finance and money bills are to be first introduced only in the LS. Whether to implement a bill in the LS or RS is a strategic decision and left completely to the one who initiates it. However, most bills which are expected to be passed nearing the next general elections are introduced in RS, since RS is never dissolved whereas LS gets dissolved once in every five years.

Brainteaser 2: How many private bills have been passed by the Indian Parliament to become an Act from 1970–2018?

Step 5:  After the introduction, three sets of readings are conducted in parliament. During the first reading, there is an initial discussion about the bill. If required the Presiding Officer (Vice President in case of RS and Speaker in case of LS) can refer the bill to an existing standing committee or a joint committee or a special Select Committee (depending on the ministries the bill deals with). This is completely left to the Presiding Officer of the House.

If the bills get referred to the Standing Committees, it could be forwarded to concerned officials of the ministry for betterment. For improvements, the policy drafts are forwarded to committees/boards. They may be permanent like Finance Commission or could be temporary like the University Education Commission (under Sri D. S. Kothari).

Once the committee submits its report to the parliament, the second reading occurs. During the second reading, the bill is scrutinized point by point in which MPs can articulate their opinions, corrections, suggestions and feedback. Once these improvements are incorporated there is the third and the final reading in which MPs (mostly) articulate whether they agree or disagree with the bill.

Step 6:  Once the bill gets passed, the bill is taken to the next house. The majority required for the bills varies depending on the type of bill (Simple Majority, Absolute Majority, Effective Majority, and Special Majority).

Step 7:  Once both the houses clear the bill (after attending the required type of majority with respect to the type of the bill) the bill is tabled to the President. The President can either see clarification or return for reconsideration or accept the bill. Once the President accepted the bill becomes an act.

Brainteaser 3: Can the President of India not sign a bill passed by the Parliament by keeping it pending on his/her table forever?

Further Readings:

  1. Acts in India since 1838
  2. Brainteaser 1: The objective of setting up SC was to scrutinize whether the laws made by the legislature are in line with the Constitution of India or not. Imagine how many non-constitution related cases the Supreme Court of India have to listen to nowadays! No wonder why we have more than three crore cases pending in the judiciary.
  3. Brainteaser 2: Zero. No private bills have been passed by the Indian Parliament to become an Act from 1970–2018.
  4. Brainteaser 3: The President of India can not sign a bill passed by the Parliament and keep it pending forever. This option is called Pocket Veto.

The above article was originally published here on January 3, 2019.

Featured image source Annie Spratt/Unsplash
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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