A PATH TO EXECUTIVE POWER :-
- On January 21, President Ram Nath Kovind approved the recommendation of the Election Commission (EC) to disqualify 20 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
- They were deemed to have been holding offices of profit as they were parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government.
- The party protested the move saying the EC had acted in a unilateral manner as its MLAs had not been given a hearing.
Office of profit :-
- The concept of office of profit originates from Britain where, during the conflicts between the Crown and the Parliament in the 16th century, the House of Commons disqualified members from holding executive appointments under the Monarch.
- The underlying principle behind this is the doctrine of separation of powers. The office of profit rule seeks to ensure that legislators act independently and are not lured by offers from the executive.
- India’s Constitution makers adopted this idea under Articles 102(1)(a) and 191(1)(a) which state that a lawmaker will be disqualified if he or she occupies “any office of profit” under the Central or State governments, other than those offices exempted by law.
- While the term “office of profit” is not defined in the Constitution, the Supreme Court, in multiple decisions, has laid out its contours.
AAP Vs Govt Institutions :-
- Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had appointed 21 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries soon after the AAP government assumed office in 2015.
- This decision was challenged before the High Court, the Delhi government sought to retrospectively amend the Delhi Members of Legislative Assembly (Removal of Disqualification) Act, 1997 to exempt parliamentary secretaries from the definition of “office of profit”.
- However, the Lieutenant Governor reserved the matter for the President, who refused to give his assent to the Bill. Thus the position of the parliamentary secretaries became void.
- The Delhi High Court, in September 2016, set aside the appointment of parliamentary secretaries since it lacked the approval of the Lieutenant Governor.
- Citing this, the AAP claimed that since the appointment was anyway void, the MLAs could not be said to have been occupying an office of profit. However, the EC said that the MLAs “de facto” held the office of parliamentary secretaries.
- The AAP now alleges that the EC is acting in a partisan manner, as in other States, the striking down of the office of parliamentary secretaries has not resulted in the disqualification of MLAs.
- While the legality of the decision in the instance in Delhi will be decided in court, it is also critical to examine what the practice of appointing parliamentary secretaries reveals.
Trends in other states :-
- The trend of appointing MLAs as parliamentary secretaries is done across the political spectrum & Many of these have been legally challenged and struck down by the judiciary.
- Recently, the Supreme Court struck down the Assam Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2004, calling it unconstitutional. Hence, the issue has a chequered legal past.
So why do State governments create such posts in the first place?
- Such posts are mainly to reward MLAs who do find a place in the cabinet.
- One of the major constraints in cabinet formation is Article 164 (1-A) of the Constitution which limits the number of Ministers in State cabinets — including the Chief Minister — to 15% of the total number of MLAs of the State; for Delhi it is 10% of the total seats.
- It is to get round this constitutional cap that State governments create such posts.
- Article 164 (1-A) was inserted by the 91st Constitutional Amendment in 2003 on the recommendation of the M.N. Venkatachaliah-headed National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution.
- While it can be debated whether the prescribed cap is too harsh, constitutional constraints and office of profit restrictions seek to prevent the creation of multiple executive posts to reward loyal legislators.
Other Issues :-
- In India’s parliamentary system, contesting elections to the legislature is primarily seen as a path to exercise executive power.
- Rewarding MLAs with executive posts can restrict them from performing their primary role.
Way forward :-
- Unless legislatures are truly strengthened and the disproportionate power of the executive in the legislature curtailed, the demand for creating such posts will continue to persist.
THREE MILESTONES IN EDUCATION :-
- Every year in January, when the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is released, there is a hue and cry about the status of children’s learning in India.
- But this year’s situation is different. India is in a position right now to think and act differently.
Benefits of RTE
- Children who are today in Class VIII are the first cohort to benefit from the Right to Education Act, which came into effect in April 2010.
ASER & NAS :-
There are now two new sources of data available on children’s learning. Last week, ASER 2017 and the district report cards from the National Achievement Survey (NAS) were released.
- The recently released ASER data is different from the usual survey. it concentrates on the 14-18 age group, which is different from the usual target population.
- ASER surveys which are carried out in all rural districts of the country, this year the exercise was done only in one or two districts per State.
- The ASER 2017 “beyond basics” assessment framework explores how youth cope with everyday tasks that involve literacy and numeracy.
- This is in line with the National Council of Educational Research and Training’s (NCERT) learning outcomes approach where developing connections between mathematical thinking and daily life is stressed.
- The NAS reports lay out performance of children by different broad competencies rather than by reference to the syllabus or simply in terms of a score.
ASER & NAS importance :-
- Both 2017 exercises, one by the government and the other done by non-governmental organisations, indicate a significant shift in thinking about children’s learning.
- In their own ways, both point to the importance of considering stage-wise learning outcomes, a move which will contribute towards a much-needed rethinking of class-wise curricular expectations.
Different methodologies of ASER & NAS :-
- ASER is a household survey and NAS is a school-based effort.
- ASER conducts its assessment one-on-one, while NAS is a pen-paper test.
- ASER is aimed at a representative sample of all children (whether in school and attending or out of school) whereas NAS is a representative sample of children who are enrolled in government or aided schools.
- ASER focusses mainly on foundational skills like reading and arithmetic, while NAS looks at a wider variety of skills.
It is important that both of these reports point to important trends related to children’s learning in India. Even many researchers have accessed and used ASER data for more detailed analyses to track progress & gaps between education system.
For District level :-
- This is significant as within the government’s education system, planning should focus on the district as the unit for planning, allocation and implementation to address the needs of children.
- Information on inputs or infrastructure are available annually at the district level with the help of NAS & ASER Surveys.
Way forward :-
India needs to think of effective new ways of moving beyond universal schooling towards learning for all.
- Need to have a learning improvement fund that districts can apply to for implementing a results-oriented multi-year learning improvement programme.
- Focus should move from “providing schooling” towards “ensuring learning”, a multi-year period is needed for implementation.