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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : How data can empower MPs to serve people better

 

Source: Indian Express

 

Prelims: Parliamentary democracy, functions of whip, house rules, MP’s, Parliamentary Constituencies, National Family Health Surveys (NFHS), National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDAP), parliamentary committees etc

 

Mains GS Paper II: Parliament-Structure, organization, functioning and conduct of business etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • India’s parliamentary constituencies (PCs) serve a dual role as geographical and administrative policy units headed by democratically elected Members of Parliament (MPs), who are responsible for fulfilling the needs and aspirations of their constituents through impactful policy.

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Parliament:

  • Parliament is the most important symbol of Indian democracy.
  • It is through summoning the House and calling MPs to participate in legislative and other business through:
    • discussion, debates, committee dispensations, and other mechanisms
  • Parliament enables the citizens of the country: through their representatives, to participate in decision-making and hold the government to account.

 

Membership of Parliament(MP)

Qualifications:

Rajya Sabha:

  • S/He should be a citizen of India and at least 30 years of age.
  • S/He should make an oath or affirmation stating that s/he will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India.
  • According to the Representation of People Act, 1951, s/he should be registered as a voter in the State from which s/he is seeking election to the Rajya Sabha.
  • In 2003, a provision was made declaring, any Indian citizen can contest the Rajya Sabha elections irrespective of the State in which s/he resides.

Lok Sabha:

  • S/He should be not less than 25 years of age.
  • S/He should declare through an oath or affirmation that s/he has true faith and allegiance in the Constitution and that a/he will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.
  • S/He must possess such other qualifications as may be laid down by the Parliament by law and must be registered as a voter in any constituency in India.
  • Person contesting from the reserved seat should belong to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe as the case may be.

 

National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDAP) in 2012:

  • Government made a variety of data related to population health and well-being from current GOI schemes more accessible.
  • District-level data: It has emerged as a key input for policy

 

Challenges to District-Level data:

  • Increasing the availability of district-level data, at the district level does not help the cause of the PC having the same data.
  • 750-plus district boundaries of India do not correspond or are aligned in a straightforward manner with the 543 PCs of India.
  • The districts and PC boundaries crisscross: A district can have parts of or an entirety of multiple PCs intersecting it.

 

Case of PC and district of Kannauj (Uttar Pradesh):

  • Same name but serving completely differing populations.
  • The entirety of the Kannauj district constitutes only a part of the Kannauj PC.
  • The Kannauj PC includes populations from the neighboring districts of Auraiya and Kanpur Dehat.

Challenges:

  • Districts having the administrative responsibilities for customizing and implementing GOI programmes, the MP from Kannauj would need to interact with district collectors (DC) from three districts to implement their promises towards their constituents.
  • The MP will be given data by each of the three district administrations but will never get an accurate picture of the constituents he or she is serving.

 

Step taken by government:

  • The Ministry of Rural Development issued an order to all states/UT’s to constitute a District Coordination and Monitoring Committee (DDMC), chaired by district MPs and charged with making implementation and monitoring of central schemes more efficient.
    • The data still pertains to districts and not PCs.
    • Example: Andhra Pradesh, decided to use the number and geometry of 25 of its 26.
      • Except for Araku PC, its districts and PCs are the same.

 

What steps need to be taken?

  • MPs are empowered with appropriate data that relates to the populations they have been elected to serve.
  • MP’s are able to effectively liaise with multiple district administrations in a manner that allows them to function effectively, efficiently, and independently without having to solely rely on the district administration.

 

PC data tracker(developed by the Geographic Insights Lab at Harvard University):

  • It has provided data on crucial population, health, and well-being estimates for each of the 543 PCs, and included a factsheet for each PC.
  • The data comes from the NFHS-4 (2015-2016) and NFHS-5 (2019-2021).
  • The methodology powering the PC tracker provides a solution to the existing PC data gap.
  • Using GPS coordinates, the researchers mapped existing NFHS survey clusters onto PC boundary maps, from which indicator prevalence estimates for each PC were estimated.

 

Way Forward

  • For MPs to effectively engage with their constituents, it is imperative to understand and prioritize the issues most impacting their communities.
  • PC data tracker has enabled a reliable PC-level resource for the current data context.
    • A more durable solution would entail that all datasets be consistently geo-tagged for PC as a new uniform data standard for all microdata reporting in India.
    • Such a solution is compatible with the current policy intent to steadily move towards digitisation of all government data.
  • Draft National Data Governance Framework Policy: It calls for the creation of standards for metadata and datasets across ministries.
    • The announcement of a National Data Governance Policy during the 2023 budget session is a step in the right direction for good governance.
  • Timely and accessible data at the PC-level can transform the work of MPs by bringing to light the most critical issues and at-risk populations in need of targeted interventions.
    • It can empower MPs to raise policy questions at multiple levels of governments, from the floor of Parliament to their frequent interactions with the district administrations.
    • It facilitates the MPs to independently initiate and sustain meaningful dialogue with civil society NGOs and other stakeholders.
  • Bringing timely and frequent data on issues that matter for population health and well-being to PCs can bring much symmetry and synergy between districts (that exist to administer the vision of our elected officials) and the PCs.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

To what extent, in your view, the Parliament is able to ensure accountability of the executive in India?(UPSC 2021) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)