Quick Take

Govt must reduce drafting errors in Bills introduced

| Updated on December 04, 2019

The error with respect to MAT, as reported by BusinessLine, forms part of a recent trend

The Finance Minister has conceded in Parliament that the reduction in the minimum alternate tax rate from 18.5 per cent to 15 per cent ought to apply with effect from this fiscal, as indicated in September — and not from FY21, as stated in the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha last week. Citing a BusinessLine (December 2) report which pointed out the impact of shifting the MAT concession to the next fiscal on the books of corporates, senior Biju Janata Dal MP Bhatruhari Mahtab raised the issue in Parliament, prompting the Finance Minister to concede that it was a ‘mistake’. Speaking to BusinessLine, Mahtab pointed to such mistakes having occurred in the recent past.

Read more: India Inc may take a hit if Govt pushes MAT rate-cut to FY21

He is right. Drafting errors have been on the increase, as Bills are being passed without adequate Parliamentary scrutiny. According to media reports in September, there were 52 errors — in large part, spelling mistakes and at a more serious level, the dates of legislations referred to in the Bill — in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, passed in the monsoon session. The report points to the Cabinet Secretariat taking objection to the drafts not being referred to it before they are tabled in the Lok Sabha.

Also read: Change in MAT rate: Mahtab asks Centre to be careful while drafting Bill

However, the really serious issue is the bypassing of Parliamentary Standing Committees, attached to their respective ministries. In July this year, Derek O’Brien, a Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP, pointed out that no Bills in the 17th Lok Sabha have been scrutinised by the House Committees. According to him, this is against 60 per cent of the Bills having been examined by House Committees in the 14th Lok Sabha; 71 per cent by the 15th Lok SabhaS; and only 26 per cent by the 16th Lok Sabha. The Centre’s near-disdain for consultation — Standing Committees’ inputs have traditionally been very useful in the quality of the legislation, as they in turn invite suggestions from a cross-section of people — is likely to impact not just the quality of drafting, but also the legislative content.

Vice-President and Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu has said that the Opposition parties must submit their list of candidates, so that these committees can be formed. But he should have accepted facts for that they are: that consultation has been given short-shrift.

His predecessor Hamid Ansari, in 2015, expressed dismay over shoddy drafting, citing the instance of the constitutional amendment on the Indo-Bangladesh land boundary agreement. The 100th Constitutional amendment, according to media reports, was numbered as the 119th.

If draftsmanship capacity within the government is a problem, the absence of oversight has made matters worse. The MAT episode should serve as a turning point in this state of affairs.

Published on December 04, 2019

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