Forums

Bringing together policymakers and elected representatives to share their thoughts, raise concerns and formulate solutions

Monsoon Session, 2017

Background: Human trafficking is a deplorable human rights violation that unfortunately occurs across the globe. Trafficking in persons for labour and/or sexual exploitation is a form of modern-day slavery, a human rights violation that constitutes a crime against the individual and the State. It is also a widespread and serious problem in India. According to UN Office of Drugs and Crime, South Asia, with India at its centre, is the fastest growing region for human trafficking.

As per the ‘Crime in India’ Report, 2015 released by National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), there were 6,877 cases related to human trafficking in 2015, with the highest number of cases reported in the North- east state of Assam, followed by West Bengal. The data also show that there were 19,717 cases related to human trafficking awaiting trial in 2015, of which 15,144 were cases from the previous year.

Swaniti held a roundtable to inform MPs of the present status, and evaluate the prevelant government mechanisms (laws, policies and schemes) that exist to tackle the issue of trafficking in various states across the country.

Key Discussion Points: The MPs present were moved and passionate about the data received on issues of exploitation and trafficking of women and children. There was extensive discussion on the issue of sex trafficking, with MPs from various states recognising it as a serious problem. Problems like poor functioning or rehabilitiation homes, and poor socio-economic conditions of the victims were also brought up. MPs showed interest in knowing more about the mechanisms available to tackle the issue.

Management Information System (MIS) provides information that supports the management functions of an organization and facilitates the decision-making process. In our governance ecosystem, irrespective of where MIS have been deployed, they have managed to introduce a certain degree of transparency, provide easy access to crucial information, and result in heightened efficiency. In particular, MIS has become an indispensable tool for ministries and departments to judge the efficacy of their flagship programmes.

Two such avenues for parliamentarians are MPLADS and DISHA. The central idea of both MPLADS and DISHA is rooted in the creation of durable community assets and the delivery of development solutions, that are not always prioritised through the top-down planning process. The APT (Action, Planning, and Tracking) Engine, being developed by Swaniti Initiative, is a comprehensive solution to various systemic challenges that impede the functioning of MPLADS and DISHA. It consists of digital trackers that will ensure seamless coordination among all the elected representatives in Parliament, District Authorities, and Local Governments (PRIs/ Municipal Bodies) for efficient and time-bound development.

The primary focus of our issue briefing is to highlight the potential of data-driven systems for the legislature, in the evaluation and monitoring of government flagship programmes, and to highlight the advantages of a tool such as the APT engine in achieving these goals.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced on July 1, 2017, and has introduced extensive changes in the field of indirect tax reforms in India. The new regime amalgamates a large number of central and state taxes into a single tax, which is levied at all stages, and is to be ultimately borne by the consumer. Taxes paid by manufacturers and suppliers can be set-off at all stages, through the provision of input tax credit, thereby making only value additions to goods and services taxable.

When examining the effects of GST, an analysis of its impact on the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector is crucial. India is a global manufacturing hub and SMEs contribute around 33% of the total manufacturing output. It also supplies 40% of exports and provides employment to over 117 million persons. In addition, the alignment of these enterprises with the start-up and ‘Make in India’ policies, make them instrumental in the growth of the Indian economy. The effects of the new system are still unknown, with both positive and negative effects being projected. The aim of the roundtable was to facilitate a detailed discussion, to provide Members of Parliament with in-depth understanding of the potential issues. Through this, we hoped that they would be able tobetter support small traders and businesses within their constituencies through this transition phase, thereby sustaining the continuing growth of the SME sector.

Budget Session, 2017

Background: Today, the country is faced with a situation where almost 16 percent of the groundwater assessment units have been classified as ‘dark blocks’ or over-exploited units by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. In fact, a World Bank Report in 2005 suggested that if current trends of overexploitation continue, 60 percent of the country’s aquifers would be in a critical condition. Given the fact that the GoI had recently come out with the Model Groundwater Bill, it was widely discussed among Parliamentarians, who expressed their interest in understanding the components of the bill in greater depth.

Accordingly, Swaniti decided to organize a RTC on the subject of water governance and invited the Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Dr. Amarjit Singh to lead the discussion and shed some light on the unique and model provisions of the bill. Experts from organisations such as Arghyam were also present. 

Key Discussion Points: MPs shared their reservation on feasibility of farmers adopting non-water intensive crops and also highlighted the lack of adequate and accurate information in the public domain for the purpose of taking informed decisions. MPs also stressed upon the need for a program to educate the village Sarpanch across the country on issues pertaining to the status and improvement of groundwater governance. MPs from Rajasthan highlighted the fact that there water sharing agreement between Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan. They expressed their concern with regard to the fact that the water that Rajasthan gets is highly polluted due to the upstream industries of Punjab and suggested that the bill should include penalties for such state-specific actions.

In March 2017, Union Cabinet approved the National Health Policy 2017 to replace the previous policy framed in 2002. NHP 2017 is a comprehensive guidance for creating preventive and promotive healthcare sector in India. The policy is patient-centric and quality-driven, providing the much needed policy framework for achieving universal coverage and delivering quality health care services to all at affordable cost.

Winter Session, 2016

Background: The briefing looked at the challenges in meeting the increasing urban transport demands and the various policy and strategic interventions adopted towards achieving a more effective, safer and sustainable transport system. The aspects of Road safety, Analysis of Motor Vehicles (Amendments) Bill and recommendations for innovative transport mechanisms were the key areas of discussion.

The briefing looks at the challenges faced by Parliamentarians in meeting the increasing demand for healthcare services. It will focus on the various policy and strategic interventions adopted by parliamentarians towards achieving a more effective healthcare system. 

Ms. Shailaja Chandra, Ex Secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with over 45 years’ experience in public administration focusing on governance, health management and Indian medicine, provided an overview of the policy challenges in improving health service delivery. As a follow-up to the briefing by expert, the floor was be opened up for MPs who went on to discuss existing challenges and shared their knowledge and experience in the healthcare sector. 

Monsoon Session, 2016

Background: Over-extraction of groundwater in the last few decades has threatened drinking water security of at least 60% districts in the country. This single statistic necessitates the need for moving from ‘groundwater development’ to ‘groundwater management’ recognizing the indivisible nature of underlying aquifers. Groundwater management enables drought proofing of regions as well as addresses the issue of chemical contamination to a large extent. There is an emerging consensus that effective water management must happen at the community level anchored by PRIs and urban local bodies to ensure water security. community.

Similarly dilemmas arise about who develops and manages the groundwater because of its ‘invisible’ nature. Community participation brings a discipline into this process of management as it brings users together to arrive at mutually agreed decisions on recharge and protocols for water use. Simultaneously, it builds in an ethos of self-regulation and sustainable use of groundwater to be followed by all. 

Key Discussion Points: The insights shared by MPs and the discussions that followed ranged from the ongoing implementation of the Mission Kakatiya program in Telangana to the harmful impact of over extraction of ground water due to the unregulated usage, utility of micro-irrigation projects vis-à-vis big irrigation projects and the fact that while some parts of the state have excess water, others suffer from drought.

Suggestions to ensure access to groundwater and promote ground water management included the need to increase community awareness in order to understand the ‘common pool resource’ nature of groundwater, the need for bottom-up approach, skilling locals to draw up water security plans and map aquifers to address the data drought in the country, promotion of rainwater harvesting and recharge of ground water, and much more.

In June 2016, the Union Cabinet approved the National Civil Aviation Policy 2016 as a comprehensive guidance for creating an ecosystem which is conducive and encouraging for the Civil Aviation sector in India. The policy covers multiple aspects of the civil aviation industry which is currently valued at Billion, and is expected to give a boost to this critical segment of the economy. The briefing looked at the changes introduced in the newly approved National Civil Aviation Policy. The current status, required reforms and future potential in the sector were also be discussed.

The briefing looked at the challenges in meeting the increasing housing shortage and the various strategies adopted towards achieving the overarching vision of ‘housing for all’ by 2022. Analysis of urban and rural components of the mission, the possible qualitative measures and its convergence with other Govt. schemes were also be discussed.

Budget Session, 2016

With a budgetary allocation of nearly Rs. 2,47,000 Crore in FY 2015-16, defence remains a major expenditure head in the Union finances. Similarly, with 3rd largest standing armed forces in the world, increasing expansion of strategic interests and a technology driven transition in the nature of modern warfare; a robust policy ecosystem for procurement and production of defence material becomes profoundly important to ensure the operational readiness and lean functioning of the defence forces.

The Finance Minister presented the union budget for the FY 2016-17 in the Lok Sabha on 29th February, 2016. The budget hoped to push a transformative agenda for the country and was primarily focused on reinvigorating the rural economy while managing to meet the criterion of financial prudence. 

The briefing focused on various aspectsof the new budget, and its implications for various sectors. 

India is predicted to be amongst the fastest growing markets. By 2020, India is projected to be the world’s third largest middle class consumer market behind China and USA. As per a market research report, by 2030 India is likely to surpass both countries with an aggregated consumer spend of nearly US $13 trillion. With a growing economy and resultant increase in purchasing power of consumers, there is a need to safeguard the consumers from exploitation and adulterated and sub-standard goods and services. In order to provide for better protection of interests, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was adopted on 24th December, 1986.

The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015  provides for establishing three-tier consumer dispute redressal machinery at the national, state and district levels. It applies to all goods and services and provides for relief of a specific nature and also for compensation to the consumer as appropriate. The Act also provides for setting up of Consumer Protection Councils (Consumer Forums) at the Central, State and District levels, which are advisory bodies to promote and protect the rights of the consumers.

With electricity playing a crucial role in sustaining the high growth rates of the Indian economy, the sector continues to be a priority area. Electricity can play a major role in boosting the growth in the agriculture sector by enabling more efficient irrigation and refrigerated supply chains. Electricity is also a comparatively cleaner and healthier source of lighting in the households. However, meeting the energy needs of the large aspirational population and a growing industrial sector requires renewed focus on augmenting the existing capacities. Furthermore, greater participation of private sector mechanism to ensure an equitable access to landscape of India also presents a unique set of issues and possibilities which need to be addressed to achieve the vision of “Quality Power for All”.

The briefing focused on rural electrification with insights on current status and challenges. Tariff policies of the government and challenges related to
improving efficiency in the sector were also discussed.

Background: In the early 1970s, right after the Green Revolution, drilling technology was introduced and widely adopted in India owing to subsidies and easy availability of inexpensive pumps. Since then, farmers could dig tube/borewell and provide flexible, on-demand irrigation to support the growing needs and ensuring food security for the rural and urban populations. This, along with widespread drilling for domestic purposes has resulted in close to 30 million wells, tubewells and borewell in the country. We have over 20 million irrigation wells and add a 0.8 million more each year. As a result, the groundwater development, which was critical to food security and was conceived as a solution has now become a problem that needs urgent address. Over-extraction of groundwater in the last few decades has threatened drinking water security of at least 60% districts in the country. This single statistic necessitates the need for moving from ‘groundwater development’ to ‘groundwater management’ recognizing the indivisible nature of underlying aquifers.

Key Discussion Points: The roundtable took place on the 5th May 2016 and witnessed the participation of 15 MPs from both Houses of Parliament as well as experts from Arghyam and other organizations such as AWCADAM, ACT, SAMERTH, People’s Science Institute and WASSAN. This was followed by the MPs sharing their thoughts pertaining to the issue and various initiatives taken by them or the government in their states to address those issues. The insights shared by MPs and the discussions that followed ranged from the ongoing implementation of the Mission Kakatiya program in Telangana to the harmful impact of over extraction of ground water due to the unregulated usage, utility of micro-irrigation projects vis-à-vis big irrigation projects and the fact that while some parts of the state have excess water, others suffer from drought. Suggestions to ensure access to groundwater and promote ground water management included the need to increase community awareness in order to understand the ‘common pool resource’ nature of groundwater, the need for bottom-up approach, skilling locals to draw up water security plans and map aquifers to address the data drought in the country, promotion of rainwater harvesting and recharge of ground water, and much more. The exchange of ideas and thoughts on the issue reflected the potential for a change in the right direction and was the cause for much optimism among all present. The idea of ‘Jal Suraksha’ or ‘Sanrakshan’ had been discussed at length.

The 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) identifies rural connectivity as one of the key priorities to achieve rural poverty alleviation and development. With over 68.8% of the Indian population living in rural areas, rural roads demand attention, not just to achieve intended targets of new road construction but also towards a more sustained connectivity of these roads. Rural roads are integral to linking rural communities/habitations to health services, education, employment and markets, leading to better livelihood and improving economic conditions. Lack of basic all weather road connectivity has deprived the rural population of job opportunities, market centres and basic living conditions, thus undermining the overall rural development agenda. Despite significant investments by the government in rural roads over the last decade and half, rural road connectivity remains inadequate.

The briefing focused on the current state of rural road infrastructure in India. Parliamentarians discussed strategies and best practices, collaborating to formulate a way forward.

Winter Session, 2015

Background: Access to clean water continues to be one of the most daunting issues across India. Most MPs worryingly speak about how water contamination is affecting the health of their constituents and they are actively seeking solutions. While there is a general consensus amongst legislators that water contamination is an issue, there is limited understanding about the nature of the problem and specific solutions. Subsequently most MPs, resort to focusing on improving health mechanisms to treat those affected by water related diseases rather than finding clean water solutions.

In order to inform MPs about water issues and encourage them to implement promising solutions, Swaniti organisation a roundtable conference to propose actionable solutions to the attending Parliamentarians so as to work together to ensure safe, sustainable water for all.

Key Discussion Points: The insights shared by MPs and the discussions that followed ranged from the ongoing implementation of the Water Grid program in Telangana to the harmful impact of over extraction of ground water due to the unregulated usage and low power and water tariffs prevalent in states. Suggestions to ensure safe, sustainable water for all included the need to increase community awareness, especially among students through the formation of water clubs, addition of Water to the Concurrent List, modernization of the solid waste disposal system in urban centres by replacing open dumps with compactors, promotion of rainwater harvesting and recharge of ground water, and much more.

With more than 52% of Indian workforce being dependent on agriculture for their income, efficient post-harvest practices play an important role in realizing the full potential of this sector. Post-harvest is a broad category encompassing all the activities starting from transport of harvested crops from fields and storage in warehouses to grading and actual sale in the market yards. The 12th five year plan noted that a variety of barriers at the first point of sale and lack of physical infrastructure in the post-harvest supply chain make the returns for the farmers unremunerative and thus inhibit further growth of the sector. Irrespective of the massive requirement of investment, various existing schemes provide opportunities for farmers to address the problems they face during the post-harvest phase of the agricultural cycle. Swaniti’s roundtable for MPs on “Post-Harvest Scenario and Opportunities in India” provided an insight into the relevant issues and possible solutions, while exploring the role of an MP in addressing some of these problems in their own constituency.

Monsoon Session, 2015

Background: Women form the minority voice in parliament in almost every country. As women’s issues continue to receive tremendous attention it is important for Women Parliamentarians to form a united forum and discuss critical issues. Accordingly, the Indian Women Parliamentarians’ Forum (IWPF) brught together women leaders from different parties and regions with the goal of fostering discussions, debates and development around women’s issues. It aimed to leverage the substantive experience and insights of women working in the public space to build an environment of mentorship amongst female Parliamentarians and to support future women leaders.

Key Discussion Points: Swaniti hosted a roundtable session, with 12 promising female leaders to learn and discuss about the District Level Vigilance Monitoring Committees. The District Level Vigilance and Monitoring Committee (DLVMC) is an important institutional mechanism for MPs to oversee and monitor the implementation of development schemes in his/her constituency. The Lok Sabha MP, under the latest guidelines, is the Chairperson of the Committee, while the Rajya Sabha MP can choose a district and opt to become Co-chairperson of the Committee. These Committees can review the status of programmes under various ministries like Rural Development, Tribal Affairs, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water and Sanitation and Power. The discussion lasted close to an hour and a half and consisted of key insights from attending Parliamentarians.

Background: Given the poor condition of public service delivery in urban areas, on June 25th, 2015 the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi launched an ambitious scheme for addressing urban needs and challenges named the Smart Cities Mission (SCM). 100 smart cities were to be chosen, with at least one from each state. Parliamentarians play a role in this process, as members of the Smart City Advisory Forum, being responsible for monitoring progress and execution of the program. They are also instrumental in preparing the Smart City Proposal, identifying key focus areas, ensuring citizen mobilisation and attracting investments. Swaniti held a roundtable to highlight the importance of Parliamentarians in the process of preparing Smart City Proposals. The aim was to better equip them to create frameworks and plans across sectors for successful implementation of the programme.

Budget Session, 2015

Management Information System (MIS) provides information that supports the management functions of an organization and facilitates the decision-making process. In our governance ecosystem, irrespective of where MIS have been deployed, they have managed to introduce a certain degree of transparency, provide easy access to crucial information, and result in heightened efficiency. In particular, MIS has become an indispensable tool for ministries and departments to judge the efficacy of their flagship programmes.

Two such avenues for parliamentarians are MPLADS and DISHA. The central idea of both MPLADS and DISHA is rooted in the creation of durable community assets and the delivery of development solutions, that are not always prioritised through the top-down planning process. The APT (Action, Planning, and Tracking) Engine, being developed by Swaniti Initiative, is a comprehensive solution to various systemic challenges that impede the functioning of MPLADS and DISHA. It consists of digital trackers that will ensure seamless coordination among all the elected representatives in Parliament, District Authorities, and Local Governments (PRIs/ Municipal Bodies) for efficient and time-bound development.

The primary focus of our issue briefing is to highlight the potential of data-driven systems for the legislature, in the evaluation and monitoring of government flagship programmes, and to highlight the advantages of a tool such as the APT engine in achieving these goals.