From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Scrutinising the States
The article highlights the excessive focus on the Union government and the lack of scrutiny of the functioning of the States in various areas.
Need for focus on the States
- In discussions on reforms or debates about public expenditure, there is an excessive focus on the Union government.
- This focus reflects our mindset that there is a “Centre”, though constitutionally, there is no “Centre”. There is the Union government.
- There is not as much interest in State Finance Commissions and their recommendations as it is in the Union Finance Commission’s recommendations.
- Alternatively, there is limited scrutiny of state-level expenditure, or fiscal devolution and decentralisation of decision-making within states, or tracking functioning of state legislatures.
- Most factor markets we seek to reform are on the concurrent list or the state list.
The Annual Review of State Laws 2020: Key findings
- PRS Legislative Research published this report and it focuses on the legislative work performed by states in the calendar year 2020.
- The annual review has been done in the pandemic year as 2020 saw the first wave of the pandemic.
- It covers 19 state legislatures, including the Union territory of Delhi, which together accounts for 90 per cent of the population of the country.
1) Low Productivity
- As a benchmark, the Parliament met for 33 days in 2020.
- Pre-2020, these 19 states met for an average of 29 days a year.
- In 2020, they met for an average of 18 days.
- When they met in 2020, States passed an average of 22 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills).
- Karnataka passed 61 Bills, the highest in the country.
- The lowest was Delhi which passed one Bill, followed by West Bengal and Kerala, which passed two and three Bills respectively.
2) States pass Bills without scrutiny
- The report states that the State legislatures pass most Bills without detailed scrutiny.
- In 2020, 59 per cent of the Bills were passed on the same day that they were introduced in the legislature.
- A further 14 per cent were passed within a day of being introduced.
- In Parliament, Bills are often referred to Parliamentary Standing Committees for detailed examination.
- In most states, such committees are non-existent.
3) Information not shared by the legislature
- Information and data on state legislatures is not easily available.
- While some state legislatures publish data on a regular basis, many do not have a systematic way of reporting legislative proceedings and business.”
- Typically, information becomes available when countervailing pressure is generated.
- Reports like this help to do that.
Consider the question “In discussions on reforms, or debates about public expenditure, there is an excessive focus on the Union government. However, on reforms and public expenditures, we also need to focus on scrutinising the states”. Comment.
Scrutinising States on various areas of their functioning is important to hold them accountable. The availability of data from state legislatures is an opportunity to monitor them better.