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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] 15th Finance Commission and its recommendations (Part I)

 

Context

  • The Finance Commission is a constitutional body formed by the President of India to give suggestions on centre-state financial relations.
  • The 15th Finance Commission was required to submit two reports. The commission’s chairman is N. K. Singh, with its full-time members being Ajay Narayan Jha, Ashok Lahiri and Anoop Singh.
  • The first report, consisting of recommendations for the financial year 2020-21, was tabled in Parliament on February 1, 2020.
  • The final report with recommendations for the 2021-26 period will be submitted by October 30, 2020.

Background

What is Finance Commission?

  • The Finance Commission (FC) was established by the President of India in 1951 under Article 280 of the Indian Constitution.
  • It was formed to define the financial relations between the central government of India and the individual state governments.
  • The Finance Commission (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1951 additionally defines the terms of qualification, appointment and disqualification, the term, eligibility and powers of the Finance Commission.
  • As per the Constitution, the FC is appointed every five years and consists of a chairman and four other members.
  • Since the institution of the First FC, stark changes in the macroeconomic situation of the Indian economy have led to major changes in the FC’s recommendations over the years.

Constitutional Provisions

Several provisions to bridge the fiscal gap between the Centre and the States were already enshrined in the Constitution of India, including Article 268, which facilitates levy of duties by the Centre but equips the States to collect and retain the same.

Article 280 of the Indian Constitution defines the scope of the commission:

  1. The President will constitute a finance commission within two years from the commencement of the Constitution and thereafter at the end of every fifth year or earlier, as the deemed necessary by him/her, which shall include a chairman and four other members.
  2. Parliament may by law determine the requisite qualifications for appointment as members of the commission and the procedure of selection.
  3. The commission is constituted to make recommendations to the president about the distribution of the net proceeds of taxes between the Union and States and also the allocation of the same among the States themselves. It is also under the ambit of the finance commission to define the financial relations between the Union and the States. They also deal with the devolution of unplanned revenue resources.

Why need Finance Commission?

  • As a federal nation, India suffers from both vertical and horizontal fiscal imbalances.
  • Vertical imbalances between the central and state governments result from states incurring expenditures disproportionate to their sources of revenue, in the process of fulfilling their responsibilities.
  • However, states are better able to gauge the needs and concerns of their inhabitants and therefore more efficient at addressing them.
  • Horizontal imbalances among state governments result from differing historical backgrounds or resource endowments, and can widen over time.
  • The first FC was established in 1951 by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the then-incumbent law minister, to address these imbalances.

Important functions

  • Distribution of net proceeds of taxes between Center and the States, to be divided as per their respective contributions to the taxes.
  • Determine factors governing Grants-in-Aid to the states and the magnitude of the same.
  • To make recommendations to the president as to the measures needed to augment the Fund of a State to supplement the resources of the panchayats and municipalities in the state on the basis of the recommendations made by the finance commission of the state.
  • Any other matter related to it by the president in the interest of sound finance.

Members of the Finance Commission

  • The Finance Commission (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1951 was passed to give a structured format to the finance commission and to bring it to par with world standards.
  • It laid down rules for the qualification and disqualification of members of the commission, and for their appointment, term, eligibility and powers.
  • The Chairman of a finance commission is selected from people with experience of public affairs. The other four members are selected from people who:
  1. Are, or have been, or are qualified, as judges of a high court,
  2. Have knowledge of government finances or accounts, or
  3. Have had experience in administration and financial expertise; or
  4. Have special knowledge of economics

Finance Commission versus Planning Commission

  • It is alleged that Planning Commission (PC) which is neither a constitutional nor a statutory body had usurped the role of FC.
  • PC had restricted FC’s role to mere recommend grants to states on revenue account only under article 275 of Indian constitution.
  • However, after the formation of NITI Aayog which replaced the PC, the government seeked to empower FC with the originally envisaged task of distribution of revenue to the states.
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