Millennium Post

Sunset Date: A Sunrise Concept

“To improve the quality of Government expenditure, every new scheme being sanctioned by the Government will have a sunset date and outcome review.” This simple line in this year’s Budget speech of the Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, could be the beginning of a revolutionary concept.

In the legal world, a “Sunset Clause” is quite common. Collins Dictionary defines a sunset clause or a sunset provision as “a provision of a law that it will automatically be terminated after a fixed period unless it is extended by law”. 

Therefore, once the law has served its purpose, it will lapse automatically without extension. If the legislature seeks to extend it, there needs to be a discussion on the rationale for the same. Such a principle is common in countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia for some laws.

 But, in India, we don’t use the sunset clause for ending laws. Instead, the legislature needs to pass a law repealing the earlier one. In this context, it becomes all the more interesting to think about using a sunset date for government schemes in India.

Conceptually, if the government scheme comes with a sunset date, it will lead to better planning and division of resources over the stipulated time period. The government can then set specific targets to be achieved within that period. 

The Economic Survey 2015-16 mentioned the exit problem in various sectors. For, administrative schemes, it recommended an exit through rationalisation of schemes. Having a sunset date for future schemes can be another way of exit. While deciding the sunset date, one consideration can be the kind of scheme. 

For example, in order to productively use India’s demographic dividend, the Prime Minister had announced the “Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana”, which focuses on skill training so as to make youth employable. For such a scheme, a longer time period would be needed.

Coming to the outcome review, this should start when the scheme is nearing its end. Further, the review can be conducted by an independent agency. Such a review can analyse the qualitative achievements in terms of targets set, check the amount of money spent and judge its efficiency. 

As the Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley noted, this will improve the quality of government expenditure. Thus, outcome review will be akin to a report card of the scheme ensuring accountability and transparency.

The results of the outcome review should be made public. This can have many benefits. The people, being the intended beneficiaries, would be able to give their feedback. It will also generate a healthy debate on the success of the scheme. This would be a constructive involvement of citizens in governance.

 The Union Government is already involving citizens through its platform called “MyGov”. Before this year’s Budget too, the Union Government had sought citizens’ ideas through this platform. It is interesting to note that some of these suggestions were even reflected in the Budget 2016-17. 

This clearly demonstrates the fact that the public is more than willing to be part of discussions that affect their lives and contribute meaningfully. Moreover, involving the people can bring in a valuable perspective.

Next, on the basis of the outcome review and suggestions from the public, an informed decision can be made by the government on the extension of the scheme. If a scheme needs some modifications, it can be re-oriented at review stage and extended in an amended form. 

Recently, the crop insurance scheme, “Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana”, was approved to benefit the farming sector. A ministry statement said, “It incorporates the best features of all previous schemes and at the same time, all previous shortcomings/weaknesses have been removed”. Further, if the government feels that the scheme should not be extended, it can let the sun finally set on the scheme. 

This will give space to elected representatives to come up with new policy solutions through new schemes to address the persisting critical problems faced by India.

Recently, the Economic Survey 2015-16 noted that from 908 central sector and centrally sponsored schemes in 2006-07, the number went up to 1086 in 2014-15. In light of this increasing number, the “Report of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes” (October 2015) has recommended bringing down the number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes to 30.

 Here, it is pertinent to note that if a mechanism of sunset date and outcome review had existed, schemes would have automatically ended if not extended. This would have led to automatic rationalisation of schemes at regular intervals of time. 

Therefore, there is a strong case for using this revolutionary mechanism in the Indian context. Only if the sun sets on the old schemes can new ones see the light of the day in the true sense.

(Aparajita Gupta is a lawyer from National Law University, Delhi and currently a Young Professional at NITI Aayog, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)

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