Category Archives: Editorial

When Judges took to the Press: Looming Public Policy Questions


In the history of the Indian judiciary, there have been several landmark moments. Some have been marked by sheer judicial brilliance, while others have blotted its history, often coming back to haunt the institution. The events of 12 January 2018 are likely to go down as  one such landmark moment, although time will tell what the impact of this would be.

On Friday, 12 January, four senior judges of the Supreme Court – Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M. B. Lokur, and Kurian Joseph – called a press conference to express their discontent with some of the internal functioning of the highest judiciary. Listing and allocating cases to benches of preference was one of the issues mentioned, bringing into question the role of the chief justice who is responsible for the same. The judges sent a letter to Chief Justice Dipak Misra highlighting this issue as well as other concerns regarding the manner of deciding certain matters of grave importance.

Judges holding a press conference, especially to discuss the functioning of the judiciary, is not a common phenomenon. This is a break from convention, an unsaid rule that judges only speak through their judgments. This is not the first time Justice Chelameswar has spoken out against the internal workings of the Supreme Court. In the time since the National Judicial Appointments Commission was set aside, and the collegium system sought to be made more transparent, Justice Chelameswar has raised his voice whenever he believed there was a problem. Internal functioning of the judiciary has seldom been public, although in recent times, collegium resolutions have been made public (although Justices Lokur and Joseph were against this).

Public Policy Concerns

The judiciary of the present is not only an institution that implements policies. It has taken on a role of also laying down norms and laws. A few recent examples can be the Court’s judgment on right to privacy, police reforms, and recognition of rights of transgenders. Senior judges speaking directly to the press and in essence, to the country, should be a signal about where the judiciary is headed. When matters of public importance are brought to the Supreme Court for decision making, what role does the chief justice have? It is often said that India does not have one Supreme Court, it has thirty-one Supreme Courts owing to the number of judges and the benches they sit on to decide cases. In saying that the chief justice is first among equals, the four judges have brought the issue of the role of the chief justice back to the forefront.

This should, ideally, bring more focus on the functioning of the Chief Justice of India, in his/her administrative capacity. While the Supreme Court Rules mention the role of the Chief Justice as the one who makes the decisions regarding allocation of cases to particular benches, the rest is left to his/her discretion. There needs to be a standard set of rules of procedure for the role of chief justices of the high courts and the Supreme Court. As of now, owing to the nature of the tenure of the chief justice (seniormost judge becomes the chief justice), there is no such standardised manner of functioning, other than those developed by unsaid norms of practice.

Concerns regarding transparency and accountability of the judiciary are also ones that still need to be addressed. While some judges of the Supreme Court themselves agreed that court proceedings ought to have audio and video recording, there has been no such decision to enable implementation of the same.

Last, and certainly not the least, this break from tradition along with other recent events like the case of a seven-judge bench hearing a contempt case against Justice C.K. Karnan, the question of the Memorandum of Procedure of judicial appointments, and the general lack of both transparency and inclusivity in the judiciary, must force the institution to introspect. Finally, as one of the pillars of democracy, the judiciary, with the Supreme Court in the lead, ought to find its moral compass arising out of the Constitution and as an institution of justice.

(Shreeja Sen is is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at

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Ecological Services, Ecological Economics: Looking at the Sustainable Development Agenda


All of the seventeen SDGs have a common underlying factor – they are all dependent on natural resources. This importance finally given to the environment and natural resources comes a little late. The complete dependence of human existence on the environment and natural resources is reflected in the SDG Agenda, which places natural resources as the underlying driving factor behind all seventeen goals. The importance thus denoted to our natural environment is ‘too little too late’. The SDGs build up on the Millennium Development Goals, which also had a commendable agenda and targets set, few of which were actually met. Between 2000-2015, due to the haphazard management and implementation of the MDGs, the situation actually worsened in some areas.

An Ecological Economics Perspective

The SDGs, picking up and dusting off the failures of the MDGs reorient their agenda to urgently address the most pressing and inescapable issues. The Agenda is focused on action on climate change, sustainable production, growth and consumption so that the environment, which is our provider, is not sucked dry before the next generation of people come along. The SDGs also work on the principle that sustainable development is the responsibility of all – the developed, the developing and the least developed. While making provisions to encourage financial support from the developed to the developing, the planning and implementation of sustainable and environment friendly policies, strategies and action plans falls entirely on each individual nation. The coming of the SDGs finally marks the realisation amongst leaders of the world that the whole world is connected and must be seen as a single unit, for environmentally destructive policies or actions in one corner of the world don’t remain isolated in that corner. Their consequences spread to every other corner in a ripple effect. An earthquake with its epicentre in Indonesia can cause a tsunami of destructive proportions off the coast of India. Increasing greenhouse and carbon emissions in North America can cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate, causing floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Right now, there is no proper predictability mechanism which can tell us the boundaries of and the effects a person or community’s actions can have on others. The SDGs thus finally acknowledge the fact that human existence and human action is not in isolation, but has a deep impact on other humans, other living beings, and the environment. The SDG Agenda thus works with addressing environmental concerns as the broad base sphere, intrinsically linked with social needs and economic activity (as opposed to all other agendas before this).

At the apex of this pyramid, or right at the centre of this functionality, and intrinsic to its proper and successful functioning is the basis of global partnerships, global exchange of resources – be it technology, knowledge, financial, etc. Goal 17, the final goal, aims at revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development.

The problem of climate change and environmental concerns remains a wicked problem as the trade-off appears to be between that of exclusive development and growth vs. inclusive development and environmental sustainability, between efficiency and equity. However, most policies and growth plans fail to give due credence to the value of ecological services. Ecosystem services range from providing basic life support necessary for survival, such as, the provision of fresh water on/below the ground, oxygen in the atmosphere, climate control for the planet, the regulation of water by forests, stratospheric ozone shield, etc. The value of these services is infinite, but the price attached to them is zero. Ecosystem services also contribute to the economy – sourcing of raw materials and energy from nature, basic needs (water, fuel, fiber, fodder, sanitation, waste treatment) and livelihoods (agriculture, mini industries, crafts), food and medicines, removal of waste, environmental balance. Ecosystem services also contribute to the economy through adventure sports and recreation, eco-tourism, jewellery, etc.

Quantifying Ecological Services

In 2000, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corp, Govt. of Australia estimated the annual value of pollination to be US $ 1.3 Billion. It is noteworthy that 35% of human food comes from plants pollinated by wild pollinators. The Ecological Society of America estimated the price of pollination in the USA to be $ 5.7 – 8.3 Billion and the value of crops to be $ 24 Billion. In 2000, the replacement of chemical pesticides (would save money and lives) was valued at US $ 54 Billion per annum, and this does not include the health costs saved. Forty percent of pharmaceuticals are derived from natural products, and in 2003, the sales of pharmaceuticals were valued at US $ 480 Billion. In 1999, the global value of ecological services was estimated at US $ 33 Trillion (with the range being from US $ 16 – 54 Trillion). This estimation was done by eighteen international economists from the US, Netherlands and Argentina (published by Nature). The global GDP for 1999 was approximately US $ 20 Trillion. The estimation of the value of the ecological services was taken by accounting for the value of coastal zones, open ocean, wetlands, forests, lakes/rivers and other miscellaneous. This doesn’t even cover the entire range of services provided by our ecosystem.

The Shift in Perspective

The ratification of the SDGs marks the acceptance of, if only in a limited manner, a shift in thinking. This shift is at the level of surveying, quantification and qualification of data, policy planning and strategizing and dissemination of that knowledge. This shift can be portrayed through the flowcharts below.

In conventional efforts to quantify and evaluate economic activity, the modelling and quantification took into account only the human social and economic interventions, entirely ignoring and disregarding the provision of valuable services by nature and the environment. This method of quantification is an indicator of the nature of production and consumption, as being entirely heedless of the environment which makes that activity possible. The chart below shows a shift inthis view. The shift is an inclusive one, where economic activity can’t be seen independent of the ecosystem services that provide and sustain that activity.

“A natural area will receive protection only if the value a society assigns to services provided in its natural state is higher than the value the society assigns to converting it to a more direct human use”

-Wright Environmental Science

In this approach of ecological economics, it is essential to develop local and specific indicators and targets with regard to the broader goals of the SDGs. A universal norm will not be effective and cannot account for the extremely diverse and intricately specific provisions and requirements of a country like India.


The effects of industrialisation, urbanisation and climate change are felt all the more strongly in India through fluctuations in the monsoon patterns, hotter longer summers, colder shorter winters, water stress, droughts and floods occurring simultaneously in different parts of the country. In a country which is largely dependent on the monsoon for its agricultural production and activities, these shifts have a large social, economic and political impact on the nation as a whole. The NITI Aayog is the coordinating agency for SDG Agenda in India. Since India is a diverse country with specific needs and a limited resource base, the preliminary role of the NITI Aayog is to coordinate data collection between the MoSPI and other nodal Ministries such as MoEFCC, DST and others. The coordination also extends to the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), including the ‘core of the core’, ’core’ and ‘optional’ schemes being implemented by the State Governments. This includes the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCCs) that each state has to develop based on its regional and local conditions and requirements. The Niti Aayog has presently collaborated with RIS and other organisations such as WWF to hold National Consultations with the concerned Ministries on forming targets and indicators. This is a collaborative effort on part of Niti Aayog to remove the Ministerial and Departmental silos and bring a more cohesive framework for the sustainable growth agenda. Ecosystem services are a combination of natural resource and human effort, and thus, the human social and economic domain forms an integral part of the calculation of ecosystem services.

In the model shown below, ecosystem services are placed between natural and human systems. It identifies the benefits for people following from goods and services delivered by ecosystems while separating the benefits and values. It clearly indicates that ecosystem services stem from ecological structures and processes and from their functions within ecosystems. The quantification and modelling of ecosystem services is challenging. “In assessing trade-offs between alternative uses of ecosystems, the total bundle of ecosystem services provided by different conversion and management states should be included. Economic assessment should be spatially and temporally explicit at scales meaningful for policy formation or interventions, inherently acknowledging that both ecological functioning and economic values are contextual, anthropocentric, individual-based and time specific.”

There is a very delicate balance between different services produced within an ecosystem, the inter-relations between all of them and the degree of these inter-relations interact in a complex manner. Therefore, there is a trade-off between a single ecosystem service provision and other ecosystem services. This tradeoff is illustrated by Braat and Brink (2208) in the graph.

As the figure illustrates, with increasing degradation of the ecosystem (low biodiversity), the regulatory services gradually drop. These include water, air, climate, etc. Similarly, recreational and cultural services (tourism, etc.) also decline with a degrading biodiversity. Recreation benefits can be optimised in ecosystems with light use as these also provide a basic degree of accessibility and infrastructure. With regard to provisioning services, such as agriculture, gross output is maximised through intensive land use while net output will be lower.

An Expert Panel from the GoI in 2013 valued the Nation’s forests at US $ 1.6 Trillion. Mangroves in Gujarat, in 2007, were valued at INR 7,700 crores (Hirway, I., & Goswami, S., 2007), and Gujarat is one of the weaker mangrove belts in the country. The urban and rural unit value of vultures is at INR 6.9 and 5.8 Lakhs respectively (IUCN Study) and the value of six tiger reserves in India is placed at INR 1,49,900 crores (IIFT, Bhopal, 2015). The following map shows the increase/decrease in forest cover between 2009 and 2011 in India. As per the India State of Forest Report, 2011, released by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) on February 7, 2011, India’s total forest cover is now at 6,92,027 sq km. There has been a loss of 367 sq km of forest cover between 2009-2011.

The Way Forward

The biggest challenges that presents itself within the Indian context are the lack of indicators and gaps in defining relevant indicators, major gaps in data, lack of statistical data, ministerial and departmental silos, lack of financial resources, lack of political will and corruption. Another roadblock that presents itself is the gap in technical skills required for data analytics and research. While the government has issued innumerable schemes, yojanas and programmes, there are no frameworks for monitoring, progress, accountability and ownership. This results in a large paper trail with nothing to show on ground. The work required to achieve the SDGs is huge, and on all scales, and it requires effort from all levels of government. In order to move forward progressively, a basic requirement is the five ‘C’s – Coherence, Convention, Coordination, Capital and Convergence. This is across Departments, Ministries, organisations and local, state and the central government. Policy making and implementation needs to be approached in a holistic inter-sectoral manner by seeing the dependencies of each aspect of human life – social and economic, as dependent on each other and largely on the environment. One cannot be addressed in isolation, and even if it is, it will not stand the test of time even in the short term. For sustainable growth, development, production and consumption, and most importantly a healthy and productive environment, for these to reach our future generations; a cohesive, inclusive, convergent and sustainable policy that is followed through is of the essence.

(Devika Singh is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at


SNRD Asia:

As presented by Dr. Ashok Khosla in ’Ecosystem Services and Sustainable Development: Economic Implications of SDG 15’ during the National SDG consultation at WWF – Delhi on February 8th, 2017

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Culture, Politics and Laws: Comparing France and Russia in the 20th Century


With the vast nature and scope of politics, be it in terms of the laws that are governing the society or in terms of mechanisms used for the enforcement of the formal state dictate, there exist numerous approaches in present day literature which provide a theoretical and conceptual framework to enable a holistic and at times focused study of various forms of polity either in a hierarchical environment (federal structures) or in most cases a spatial paradigm (between various countries). Amidst these competing frameworks, two frameworks are held in pre-eminence the institutional approach and the cultural approach.

The institutional approach develops a theoretical framework drawing on the rational consumer theory of microeconomics, where the principal assumption is the rational characteristics of individual actors primarily motivated by utility maximisation. The framework thus results into a metamorphosis of collective action which is a net of all individual actions. The final and most crucial hypothesis of the approach rests in the claim that cost-benefit structure propagated by the institutions of any nation results into the prevalent nature of the political activity, thus making the institutions of a nation crucial, if not sacrosanct in comparing the polity of two nation states.

The cultural approach, on the other hand, deviates from the key assumption of the institutional approach firstly in terms of the nature of human beings and the process of decision-making, and most importantly in terms of defining the incentive structure for such decisions. The approach draws upon the distinction of soft and hard institutions and proposes that political agents are subservient to the cultural and social ethos more than any abstract laws, furthermore the nature of utility (for a utility maximising individual) isn’t unidimensional and has social and cultural characteristics to it which is heavily influenced by historical events. Thus, the key idea in this approach is to analyse the polity through a cultural lens, which shall reveal the political landscape of the actors.

With the apparent ontological dichotomy, it becomes imperative that for the remainder of the paper one approach is selected and later developed for the countries of choice. Thus the paper will utilise exclusively the cultural approach since it is both broader in terms of identifying the stakeholders’ interests and has more depth, given the multi-layered social cocoon under which human agents live. The elements of the institutional approach are mostly derivatives of historical cultural norms and are thus captured greatly by the cultural approach, whose significance is becomes more apparent since there are plenty of cases, where soft norms supersede hard laws especially when looking at cases of dowry, child marriage and other subjects of personal law.

Using the cultural approach the paper will focus on the polity of Russia and France to bring out the key aspects of their political landscape. The reason these countries are chosen is first because of their primary legislations are both derivatives of the civil law system (where France predominantly follows the Napoleonic Code and Russia follows the Napoleonic Code with Germanic influence). Secondly, the countries are both in post-industrialisation phase, suggesting a similar focus on key aspects of welfare politics, like education, health-care etc. Third, historically both the countries have been under oppressive systems and at times under foreign occupation, however, the aftermath of the eclipse of such regimes have been extremely different. Thus, the key distinctions between these two states seemingly originate out of cultural connotations, and thereby enhance the scope of investigation which shall focus on three areas namely, freedom of speech (especially political), individual autonomy and extra-territorial outreach.

The present day conception of Russia and France originated not out of the hallowed Treaty of Westphalia, but out of the October Revolution, 1917 and the February Revolution of 1848 respectively. These monumental revolutions occurred primarily because of the free flow of ideas against the then oppressive regimes, which was able to mobilise a certain section of the population to provide effective leadership to a predominantly peasant revolution. This parochial reading of history suggests that the ethos of a free press and freedom of expression should be widely regarded as a sanctimonious entity. However, the societies have had subsequent cultural conditioning that has for all intents and purposes created a divergent cultural momentum when it comes to freedom of expression.

The February Revolution of 1848 had brought the Second French Republic to life, but the idea of a republic in France has existed since mid-17th Century. The French revolution of 1789 was a result of a free flow of these ideas, but the first republic didn’t survive for long. Following the demise of the first republic, there were a series of revolutions and counter-revolutions by the then military leaders, political elites and leading intellectuals of the country. This series of revolution and counter-revolution generated a plethora of literature, some of which have achieved the status of antiquities, and has established freedom of speech and expression as a sine-qua-non for the present day France.

Though the Russian revolution was similar in character, the resultant political system varied extremely. The founding fathers who arrested the growth of the Russian Empire did reap the privileges of the freedom of expression especially during their exile in West European countries, however once tasked with maintenance of a state, atop the bedrock of the then germinating communist ideals found it necessary to curb such freedoms. The curtailment of the said freedoms didn’t generate a great deal of dissent primarily because the then Russia (USSR) was culturally disposed against the propagation of any but traditional education, given the majority of the population still operated under feudal norms.

Therefore, it is evident that the historical forces created distinct cultural fabrics in the two nations, with a divergent disposition towards freedom of expression albeit their initial similarities and common legal paradigm (since both are predominantly civil law countries). This cultural divide in terms of accessible agency of the citizenry has also seeped into the realm of individual autonomy. The creation of the French Republic with individuals at the centre helped further the culture of individual determinism, thus moulding the subsequent acceptance of deviant sexuality. In the case of Russia, the feudal cultural fabric till date hinders the emancipation of homosexuals. Furthermore, the decriminalising of domestic violence by the Putin Administration is a manifestation of the feudal cultural norms present in Russia which stands at an odds with the French regime of anti-domestic violence and postmodern regime of child rights originating out of the cultural evolution in France.

Finally, the cultural momentum of being a superpower has affected the foreign policies of both the nations. The recent Russian forays into their neighbouring countries, especially Ukraine and places of strategic interest captures the leftover cultural momentum of USSR, something that France also engaged in subsequent to World War 2 (WW2). However, the military losses of France after WW2, especially in Vietnam, has softened the manifestation of the cultural glut of supremacy, thus limiting the intrusiveness of present French foreign policy. This uncanny similarity and subsequent divergence is yet another manifestation of the cultural undertones in the two countries.

It is safe to say that institutions definitely alter the social and cultural fabric of a nation, however, no institution can ever survive without any pre-existing subscription base, which is determined by the cultural undertones of the society. The case of France and Russia, nations born amidst the fire of revolutions and later crumbling down from the zenith of world dominance is a stark reminder of the varying political landscape, curated by cultural relativism.

(Dwijaraj is pursuing his Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at

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Development of Social Welfare Policies: A means to address Group Inequality in India



The Development debate gained momentum as a post world war necessity. ‘Development’ emerged as a new tool for addressing the problem of poverty which was exacerbated in the years following the second world war. Harry S. Truman’s Presidential inaugural speech in 1949 marks the acknowledgement of the post-world war political turmoil. His Four Point programme was announced as a technical assistance programme towards the economic development and political stabilisation of developing countries. The United States of America thus marked the beginning of the development discourse. A combination of institutions and policies were set up to primarily address economic development. The division of the world into the first world and third world nations, the developed and the under-developed meant these policies were the attempt of developed nations to raise the status of the under-developed to that of their own. Institutions like the IMF and World Bank changed the power equations at a global level from that of coloniser and colonised to that of developed and underdeveloped, and thus began the shift from colonialism to neocolonialism.

The development discourse has since then gone on to include concepts of social justice, human development, human rights and well-being. The UNDP was set up in 1965 to promote equitable growth and democratic governance in under-developed countries. By the late 90s, it went on to include within its purview crises prevention and recovery, environment and ecology (sustainable development, sustainable livelihoods and the Millennium Development Goals), Human Development (Human Development Index), HIV/AIDS and Innovative Partnerships.

The early 2000s saw an increasing focus on the role of the State as a ‘duty-bearer’ to its citizens (Johnson 1999; Kabeer 2005; Jayal 2013). This translated to an increasing interest in the functions of public policy and that of the State in the development process as not limited to merely economic and financial development but bringing in social justice, HDI, well-being (UNDP 2010; McGregor and Summer 2010), equity, happiness, quality of life (Frey 2008), etc. However, it is the disappointment from the lack of actual ground level accomplishment of any of the goals and policies set in place by these institutions that have shaped an interest in public policy and the development processes of the last five to six decades. It was clear that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would not be reached by 2015, neither at the aggregate level nor when disaggregated by vulnerable communities or fragile districts – with the exception of a few countries (IEG 2011). The consequences of globalisation, a fragile world economy, the protracted financial crisis, intensified food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition, crises in health and education systems all raise perturbing questions regarding this new world over-reliance on ‘the market’ and all point to a desperate need for the injection of the Human Rights discourse into that of development and growth. These circumstances have also brought in the questioning of lower-income countries leading to the generation of a new macroeconomic consensus, also termed as the Post-Washington approach (Koehler and Chopra 2014). This new model is based on the need to create and sustain demand, maintain employment and support inclusive economic growth.


India, as one of the prominent members of the United Nations, played an active role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1947-48) and became a signatory to the UNDP in 2000. The period from the early 2000s marks a focus on social policies designed to address poverty and deliver welfare at the levels of programming and design, structural changes and implementation. Indian society being extremely heterogeneous could not and cannot follow the policy structures of homogeneous developed nations. Development policies in India in the period from 2003-14 thus took the shape of social policies, reflecting the influence of social conditions on the economic potential of the populace. The Constitution of India had been framed keeping this in mind, and a transformative interpretation of the constitutional mandate directs the State to view the social policy as inseparable from economic policy. The duty of the State in these policies marks the intersectionality of poverty, rights, social policy and governance. This increasing role of State duty in welfare and social policy also marks a shift in approach from that of ‘welfare’ to that of ‘rights’.

A reference to the Indian Constitution and amendments made points to the addition of these social rights. For instance, Article 21A (April 2010) The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, making elementary education the fundamental right of children aged six to fourteen years. Articles 15, 19, 85, 87, 174, 176, 341, 342, 372 and 376 and the insertion of articles 31A and 31B, Schedule 9 (18 June 1951) added special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. It fully secured the constitutional validity of zamindari abolition laws and placed reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech. A new constitutional device, Schedule 9, was introduced to protect laws contrary to the Constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Rights. Amendment to Schedule 9 (31 August 1994) enabled continuance of 69 percent reservation in Tamil Nadu by including the relevant Tamil Nadu Act under 9th Schedule of the Constitution. Article16 (June 1995) – technical amendment to protect reservation to SC/ST employees in promotions. Article 335 (September 2000) permits the relaxation of qualifying marks and other criteria in reservation in promotion for SC / ST candidates. Amendment to Schedule 8 (January 2004) included Bodo, Dogri, Santali and Maithali as official languages. While these are Constitutional innovations, a number of social policy innovations have created a dynamic shift in the social set up in India. The post-independence state-led, industry-led development focus failed to address and even reach seventy-five percent of the workforce – the workforce engaged in the informal and agricultural sectors. The shift in State policy towards that of a neoliberal market-based economy furthered the economic gap between the formal and informal and agrarian sectors. Up until recently, all successive governments since the 90’s implemented the same policies, continuing with the same measures. In Engendering Social Security and Protection, Sen (2011) speaks of the ongoing inadequacy of basic human development in India, characterised by very low public spending on education and health, that necessitates the continuity of this condition of gross inequity. It is only over the last decade that the Indian policy context speaks of ‘social protection’. The years since 2004 have witnessed increasing legislation at the National level addressing the right to work, right to education, right to health and food security.

The Right to Information Act (RTI, 2004) is the game changer that underpins most of the social policies following this period. It is the first Act which marks the shift from a welfare-based approach to a ‘rights’ based approach. The National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the Congress-led UPA coalition government followed suit in 2004, stressing the need to address India’s large poor population. This was based largely on the principles of preserving, protecting and promoting social harmony, to ensure economic growth and the generation of employment with the assurance of livelihood, enhancing the welfare, well-being and livelihood of farmers, empowering women socially, economically and politically (particularly those in the unorganised and informal sectors), the provision of equal opportunity for the Scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and religious minorities in the areas of education and employment, etc. These principles address groups facing oppression and suppression for centuries on end, having to deal with a highly unequal social, economic and political set up. The question of women, Dalits, caste groups, class groups, workforce groups and rural-urban segregation is beginning to be addressed at the political and policy level. The interface of activists, politicians, bureaucrats and civil society members brought in a string of other important legislations such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA 2005), the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and the National Food Security Act (NFSA 2013), all of which arose from a similar ‘rights’ based agenda. The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM 2005) focussed on bringing quality healthcare to the rural areas, the poor, women and children. It aimed to improve accessibility and quality of healthcare provided. The Janani Suraksha Yojana, a part of the NRHM was a safe motherhood intervention aimed at reducing maternal and neonatal mortality in poor and pregnant women (Government of India, 2005). The Right to Education Act (RTE 2009) brought in a compulsory elementary education of children in the age group of 6-14 years. The Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) scheme brought in cash transfers to girl children (along with several other social policies for women and children) to fund educational scholarships, as pensions for the elderly, destitute and widows, for people with disabilities, health related transfers like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, the Unique Identification ID or Aadhar made electronic cash transfer systems accessible to the masses. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM 2005-06) was based on a combination of the Common Minimum Programme, the MDGs and the need for mission-led initiatives.

The Indian policy context, like all other South Asian nations, is a complicated and diverse field, symbolising the complexity of the contradicting and conflicting ground reality of the multitudes of groups living together. The groups living together in this context are based on deep social biases which are entrenched making the social reality a very difficult one to get out of in spite of policy intervention. The role taken on by the Indian State while largely that of Rights-based Development Welfare State raises concerns of the financial feasibility of a nation still struggling to develop economically to spend so much of tax money on making basic provisions accessible to a large majority of the population. However, the desperate need for State based social policy cannot be side-lined in their context. This need is felt on a regional scale (South Asian region) as is represented in the table below highlights the commonality in social protection policies adopted in this region.

Screenshot (9)

Source: Development and Welfare Policy in South Asia: Gabriele Koehler and Deepta Chopra

The complexity of the intersectionality of women’s oppression along with caste based, class based and work based biases makes the functioning of each policy passed a tentative affair, creating the need for constant and dynamic revision of the policies passed. The question of implementation and factors contributing to the failure of implementation such as structural problems and systemic failures such as corruption and lack of political will raise the complexity of the context of social protection to higher levels. In conclusion, policies of development and welfare in the Indian context cannot be restricted to the role of the State merely passing legislations,  Schemes or Yojanas, but necessitates the dynamic intermingling of multiple social groups and state mechanisms to bring about any success in intervention.


[Feature Image sourced from:]

Frey, B. (2008) Happiness: A Revolution in Economics, Cambridge, MA/London: The MIT Press

GoI. (2005) Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Rural Health Mission: Mission document (2005-2012), available at Mission_Document_NRHM.pdf.

IEG (2011) IEG Annual Report 2011: Results and Performance of the World Bank Group, Washington, DC: Independent Evaluation Group

Johnson, C. (1999) ‘The Developmental Welfare State: Odyssey of a Concept’, in M. Woo-Cumings (ed.) The Developmental State, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 32-60

Jayal, N.G. (2013) Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Kabeer, N. (ed.) (2005) Inclusive Citizenship, Meanings and Expressions. Volume 1 of Claiming Citizenship, Rights, Participation and Accountability, London: Zed Books

Koehler, G. and Chopra, D. (2014) Development and Welfare Policy in South AsiaMcGregor, J.A. and Sumner, A. (2010) ‘Beyond Business as Usual: What might 3D well-being

contribute to MDG Momentum?’, IDS Bulletin, The MDGs and Beyond 41(1), pp. 104-112
Sen, G. (2011) Engendering Social Security and Protection: The Case of Asia, International Policy

Analysis, Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

UNDP. (2010) Human Development Report, The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, New York: UNDP

(Devika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at

The Changing Face of Economic Federalism

With the Goods and Services Tax (GST) almost set to roll out by Q2, 2017-18, an inquiry into the ramifications, not in terms of the politics surrounding the change but in terms of changes in the political institutions and norms, is of utmost importance. Apart from a radical shift in the tax code, GST has the potential to alter the federal character of India. To completely grasp the disruption potential of The Constitution (101st Amendment) Act, 2016, it is important to first revisit the journey of federalism in India before analysing the provisions of the said legislation.
The genesis of federalism in India lies in the Simon Commission Report, 1930 which advocated for the concept of Federalism for the first time in formal channels. Thereafter, following the Round Table Conferences and deliberations with stakeholders, the formalisation of the federal structure occurred with the Government of India Act, 1935 wherein the powers of the federal government, governor’s provinces and chief commissioners’ provinces were separated. However, the emerged federal arrangement was just in name and not in spirit, since the governor was ultimately only unanswerable to the viceroy and not the legislature. Furthermore, the act also ensured that the Governor had executive outreach to cripple any legislative move.

Upon Independence, when the constituent assembly had the power to shape India’s future and its federal character, one would expect a radical shift from the then existing position. However, the intermittent developments, especially the fear of partition and subsequent partition of India, followed by that of West and East Pakistan; the reluctance of few princely states to join independent India and major linguistic and ethnic clashes resulted in minor improvements in the Indian federal character. The present day understanding of the structure of political and economic federation in India originates subsequent to The Constitution (7th Amendment) Act,1956. Though certain states were elevated in status, thus granting them certain extra political and executive powers the Parliament and the Union executive could still override the states’ decisions (under Articles 352, 356 and 360).

The polar character of the constitution where the centre had more power compared to the states is well noted in jurisprudence as well, especially highlighted in the cases of State of Rajasthan v Union of India, 1977, S.R. Bommai v Union of India,1994 and in the case of The State of West Bengal V. Union of India, 1963 where the court highlighted a few reasons to not consider the Indian state as a typical federation since there is no provision of separate Constitutions for states. Secondly, the amendment of the Constitution can be done only by the Parliament and the States have no power to amend it by themselves. A state can be stripped of its legislative powers without its consent, unlike the US Constitution where every state must ratify any constitutional amendment. Finally, the distribution of powers is such that it allows for local governance by the states, while national policies to be drafted by the Centre.

The degree of handicap that the states face in terms of political federalism is undoubtedly higher than that in the case of economic (also called financial or fiscal) federalism. Since, the finances of the union and the states are derived predominantly from taxes and given such matters are enumerated in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, which is somewhat protected from any unilateral action by the centre by Article 368(2), which mandates the assent of half of state’s legislature for any alteration to the Seventh Schedule.

The initial view held was that the state doesn’t have taxing powers over goods that are interstate in character further substantiated by Atiabari Tea Co., Ltd. v State of Assam and Ors.,1961 where the court held that a state cannot exercise its power of taxation over interstate goods. The aforementioned judgment was however overturned within a year with Automobile Transport Rajasthan Ltd., Etc. v State of Rajasthan and Ors., 1962  the court shifted the balance of power, in terms of taxation to the state and from the center even if goods were interstate in character.

The idea of a pan-national Goods and Services Tax (GST) became a dominant discourse in Public Finance circles of India upon publication of the report of the Task Force on Goods and Services Tax under the Thirteenth Finance Commission, 2009 which claimed that the GST will bring about a form of federalism with the balance of power shifting away from the centre since the states will end up having a wider gamut of goods and services to tax. This claim has seen excessive criticism from various quarters claiming that it attempts to further distort the balance of power in favor of the center. The claim rests upon a reading of Clause 7 and 9 of Section 12 of The Constitution (101st Amendment) Act, 2016. The clauses stipulate that for a decision to be passed there should be  75 percent of the votes in favor of it and the center shall control 33.3 percent of the votes.

It is thus impossible for the States in the GST council to pass any proposed changes to the GST structure without the center’s approval. While the understanding is indeed true, one must read the Section 12 (4) of the Act alongside which reads “The Goods and Services Tax Council shall make recommendations to the Union and the States on”. Thus, the fact of the matter is GST Council is not empowered to make any rules and thus can’t violate the constitutional framework all by itself, even though the center practically enjoys a veto as per Section 12(9) of the Act.

The lack of a clear definition of the nature of federalism in India becomes more pronounced once the political federal structure is compared with the economic federal structure. The claim that GST constitutes a gross violation of federalism, a basic feature of the constitution, seems unsubstantiated. Thus, the 101st Amendment can be said to act as an instrument harmonizing the diverging notions of federalism and not necessarily diluting federalism completely. The impact of GST indeed goes beyond the political institutions of the country, however, it is important to focus on these institutions because the fragility of mainstream economic wisdom is transient at best, while these the political institutions are supposed to be resilient.

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(Dwijaraj is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at )