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An overview of the Sexual Harassment Bill passed by Parliament

March 6th, 2013 No comments

Recently, the Parliament passed a law that addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2010, drew on the 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court (known as the Vishaka judgment) to codify measures that employers need to take to address sexual harassment at the work place. (See PRS analysis of the Bill here).

The Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2011.  It incorporated many of the amendments recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development that examined the Bill.  The Rajya Sabha passed it on February 27, 2013 without any new amendments (see Bill as passed by Parliament).

We compare the key provisions of the Bill, the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill that was passed by Parliament (for a detailed comparison, see here).

Bill as introduced Standing Committee recommendations Bill as passed by Parliament

Clause 2: Status of domestic workers

Excludes domestic workers from the protection of the Bill. The definition should include (i)  domestic workers; and (ii) situations involving ‘victimization’; Includes domestic worker. Does not include victimisation.

Clause 4: Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)

The committee shall include 4 members: a senior woman employee, two or more employees and one member from an NGO committed to the cause of women. The strength of ICC should be increased from 4 to at least 5 (or an odd number) to facilitate decisions in cases where the bench is divided. Disqualifies a member if (a) he has been convicted of an offence or an inquiry is pending against him or (b) he is found guilty in disciplinary proceedings or a disciplinary proceeding is pending against him.
Members may not engage in any paid employment outside the office. Barring paid employment outside the office goes against NGO members who may be employed elsewhere. This clause must be edited. Deletes the provision that disallows NGO members to engage in paid employment outside.  NGO members to be paid fees or allowances.

Clause 6: Constitution and jurisdiction of Local Complaints Committee (LCC)

An LCC is required to be constituted in every district and additional LLCs at block level.  At the block level the additional LCC will address complaints where the complainant does not have recourse to an ICC or where the complaint is against the employer. The functions of the district level and the block level LCCs are not delineated clearly. It is also unclear whether the block level LCCs are temporary committees constituted for dealing with specific cases. Instead of creating additional LCCs at the block level, the District level LCC may be allowed to handle cases. A local member from the block may be co-opted as a member to aid the LCC in its task. Accepted.

Clause 10: Conciliation

The ICC/ LCC shall provide for conciliation if requested by the complainant.  Otherwise, it shall initiate an inquiry. Distinction should be made between minor and major offences. Conciliation should be allowed only for minor offences. Adds a proviso that monetary settlement shall not be the basis on which conciliation is made.

Clause 11: Inquiry into Complaint

ICC/LCC shall proceed to make inquiry into a complaint in such manner as may be prescribed. No suggestion. Inquiries will be conducted in accordance with service rules or in such manner as may be prescribed.For domestic workers, the LCC shall forward the complaint to the police within seven days if a prima facie case exists.  The case shall be registered under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).
Sources: The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010; the Standing Committee on HRD Report on the Bill; the Sexual Harassment at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012; PRS.

 

RTE Act’s ban on screening of students not applicable to nursery admission: Delhi High Court

February 26th, 2013 No comments

Latest in the string of litigations filed after the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), the Delhi High Court ruled that the Act shall not apply to nursery admissions in unaided private schools for the unreserved category of students.  The decision, given on February 19, was in response to writ petitions filed by Social Jurist, a civil rights group and the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.  It contended that the guidelines of the Ministry of Human Resource Development related to schools’ selection procedure should also be applicable to pre-primary and pre-school classes.

The right to education is applicable to children between the age of 6 and 14 years.  The RTE Act states that schools have to reserve certain proportion of their seats for disadvantaged groups.  It adds that where the school admits children at pre-primary level, the reservation for children of weaker sections shall apply.  However, it does not mention whether other RTE norms are applicable to pre-schools.  It only states that the appropriate government may make necessary arrangements for providing pre-school education to children between the age of 3 and 6 years.

Guidelines of the Ministry with regard to selection procedure of students:

  • Criteria of admission for 25% seats reserved for disadvantaged groups: For Class 1 or pre-primary class, unaided schools shall follow a system of random selection out of the applications received from children belonging to disadvantaged groups.
  • Criteria of admission for rest of the seats: Each unaided school should formulate a policy of admission on a rational, reasonable and just basis.  No profiling shall be allowed based on parental educational qualifications.  Also, there can be no testing or interviews for any child or parent.

The two issues that the court considered were: (a) whether RTE applies to pre-schools including nursery schools and for education of children below six years of age; (b) whether RTE applies to the admission of children in pre-schools in respect of the unreserved seats (25% of seats are reserved for children belonging to disadvantaged groups).

According to the verdict, the guidelines issued by the government do not apply to the unreserved category of students i.e. 75% of the admission made in pre-schools in private unaided schools.  This implies that private unaided schools may formulate their own policies regarding admission in pre-schools for the unreserved category of students.  However, they apply to the reserved category of students i.e. 25% of the admission s made in these schools for disadvantaged groups.

The court has however stated that in its view this is the right time for the government to consider the applicability of RTE Act to the nursery classes too.  In most schools, students are admitted from nursery and they continue in the same school thereafter.  Therefore, the RTE Act’s prohibition of screening at the time of selection is rendered meaningless if it is not applicable at the nursery level.

Lokpal Bill: Cabinet accepts key suggestions of the Select Committee

February 5th, 2013 1 comment

In the run up to the Budget session of Parliament, the Cabinet has decided to accept some of the key recommendations of the Select Committee on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011.  The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, was referred to a Select Committee by the Rajya Sabha.  The Select Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill a year later in November 2012.  At the Cabinet meeting held on January 31, 2013, the government has accepted some of these recommendations (see here for PRS comparison of the Bill, Select Committee recommendations and the approved amendments).

Key approved amendments

Lokayuktas: One of the most contentious issues in the Lokpal debate has been the establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level.  The Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha gave a detailed structure of the Lokayuktas.  However, the Committee was of the opinion that while each state has to set up a Lokayukta within a year of the Act coming into force, the nature and type of the Lokayuktas should be decided by the states.  The Cabinet has agreed with the suggestion of the Committee.

Inclusion of NGOs: Currently, “public servant” is defined in the Indian Penal Code to include government officials, judges, employees of universities, Members of Parliament, Ministers etc. The Bill expanded this definition by bringing societies and trusts which receive donations from the public (over a specified annual income) and, organizations which receive foreign donations (over Rs 10 lakh a year) within the purview of the Lokpal.  The Committee had however objected to the inclusion of organisations that receive donations from the public on the ground that bodies such as a rotary club or a resident’s welfare association may also be covered under the Lokpal. Bringing such entities within the Lokpal’s purview would make it unmanageable.  The Cabinet decided not to accept this recommendation stating that this view had been accepted by the Standing Committee while examining the version of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha.  However, the government has exempted trusts or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act.

Procedure of inquiry and investigation:  A key recommendation of the Committee was to allow the Lokpal to directly order an investigation if a prima facie case existed (based on the complaint received).  The Cabinet has accepted this suggestion but suggested that the Lokpal should, before deciding that a prima facie case exists, call the public servant for a hearing.  An investigation should be ordered only after hearing the public servant.  Also, the Cabinet has not accepted the recommendation of the Committee that a public servant should be allowed a hearing only at the end of the investigation before filing the charge-sheet and not at any of the previous stages of the inquiry.

 Power to grant sanction:  One of the key reasons cited for delays in prosecuting corrupt public officials is the requirement of a sanction from the government before a public servant can be prosecuted.  The Bill shifts the power to grant sanction from the government to the Lokpal.  It states that the investigation report shall be considered by a 3-member Lokpal bench before filing a charge-sheet or initiating disciplinary proceedings against the public servant.  The Committee recommended that at this point both the competent authority (to whom the public servant is responsible) and the concerned public servant should be given a hearing.  This has been accepted by the Cabinet.

Reforms of CBI:  There are divergent views over the role and independence of the CBI.  The Committee made several recommendations for strengthening the CBI.  They include:  (a) the appointment of the Director of CBI will be through a collegium comprising of the PM, Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India; (b) the power of superintendence over CBI in relation to Lok Pal referred cases shall vest in the Lokpal; (c) CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal will be transferred with the approval of the Lokpal; and (d) for cases referred by the Lokpal, the CBI may appoint a panel of advocates (other than government advocates) with the consent of the Lok pal.  All the recommendations regarding the CBI has been accepted by the Cabinet except one that requires the approval of the Lokpal to transfer officers of CBI investigating cases referred by the Lokpal.

Eligibility of Lokpal member:  According to the Bill, any person connected with a political party cannot be a member of the Lokpal.  The Committee’s recommendation was to change the term connected to affiliated to remove any ambiguity about the meaning.  This suggestion was accepted by the government.

Now the interesting question is what happens if the Rajya Sabha passes the Bill with these amendments.  The Bill will have to go back to the Lok Sabha for its approval since new amendments were added by the Rajya Sabha.  If the Lok Sabha passes these amendments, the office of the Lokpal may finally see the light of day.  (See here for PRS analysis of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011).

Can Aadhaar-enabled cash transfer schemes deliver?

December 20th, 2012 1 comment

Recently, the government announced that it plans to transfer benefits under various schemes directly into the bank accounts of individual beneficiaries.  Benefits can be the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) wages, scholarships, pensions and health benefits.  Beneficiaries shall be identified through the Aadhaar number (Aadhaar is an individual identification number linked to a person’s demographic and biometric information).  The direct cash transfer (DCT) system is going to be rolled out in 51 districts, starting January 1, 2013.  It will later be extended to 18 states by April 1, 2013 and the rest by April 1, 2014 (or earlier).  Presently, 34 schemes have been identified in 43 districts to implement the DCT programme.

Currently, the government subsidises certain products (food grains, fertilizers, water, electricity) and services (education, healthcare) by providing them at a lower than market price to the beneficiaries.  This has led to problems such as high fiscal deficit, waste of scarce resources and operational inefficiencies.  The government is considering replacing this with an Aadhaar enabled DCT system.  It has claimed that the new system would ensure timely payment directly to intended beneficiaries, reduce transaction costs and leakages.  However, many experts have criticised both the concept of cash transfer as well as Aadhaar (see here, here, here and here).

In this blog, we provide some background information about cash transfer, explain the concept of Aadhaar and examine the pros and cons of an Aadhaar enabled direct cash transfer system.

Background on cash transfer

Under the direct cash transfer (DCT) scheme, government subsidies will be given directly to the beneficiaries in the form of cash rather than goods.  DCTs can either be unconditional or conditional.  Under unconditional schemes, cash is directly transferred to eligible households with no conditions. For example, pension schemes.  Conditional cash transfers provide cash directly to poor households in response to the fulfillment of certain conditions such as minimum attendance of children in schools.  DCTs provide poor families the choice of using the cash as they wish.  Having access to cash also relieves some of their financial constraints.  Also, DCTs are simpler in design than other subsidy schemes.  Even though cash transfer schemes have a high fixed cost of administration when the programme is set up, running costs are far lower (see here, here and here).

Presently, the government operates a number of DCT schemes.  For example, Janani Suraksha Yojana, Indira Awas Yojana and Dhanalaksmi scheme.

In his 2011-12 Budget speech, the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had stated that the government plans to move towards direct transfer of cash subsidy for kerosene, Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), and fertilizers.  A task force headed by Nandan Nilekani was set up to work out the modalities of operationalising DCT for these items.  This task force submitted its report in February 2012.

The National Food Security Bill, 2011, pending in Parliament, includes cash transfer and food coupons as possible alternative mechanisms to the Public Distribution System.

Key features of Aadhaar

The office of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up in 2009 within the Planning Commission.  In 2010, the government later introduced the National Identification Authority of India Bill in Parliament to give statutory status to this office.

  • The Aadhaar number is a unique identification number that every resident of India (regardless of citizenship) is entitled to get after he furnishes his demographic and biometric information.  Demographic information shall include the name, age, gender and address.  Biometric information shall include some biological attributes of the individual (such as fingerprints and iris scan).  Collection of information pertaining to race, religion, caste, language, income or health is specifically prohibited.
  • The Aadhaar number shall serve as proof of identity, subject to authentication.  However, it should not be construed as proof of citizenship or domicile.
  • Process of issuing and authenticating Aadhaar number: First, information for each person shall be collected and verified after which an Aadhaar number shall be allotted.  Second, the collected information shall be stored in a database called the Central Identities Data Repository.  Finally, this repository shall be used to provide authentication services to service providers.

For a PRS analysis of the Bill, see here.

Aadhaar enabled direct cash transfers

Advantages

Identification through Aadhaar number: Currently, the recipient has to establish his identity and eligibility many times by producing multiple documents for verification.  The verification of such documents is done by multiple authorities.  An Aadhaar enabled bank account can be used by the beneficiary to receive multiple welfare payments as opposed to the one scheme, one bank approach, followed by a number of state governments.

Elimination of middlemen: The scheme reduces chances of rent-seeking by middlemen who siphon off part of the subsidy.  In the new system, the cash shall be transferred directly to individual bank accounts and the beneficiaries shall be identified through Aadhaar.

Reduction in duplicate and ghost beneficiaries: The Aadhaar number is likely to help eliminate duplicate cards and cards for non-existent persons or ghost beneficiaries in schemes such as the PDS and MNREGS.    

Disadvantages

Lack of clarity on whether Aadhaar is mandatory:  According to UIDAI, it is not mandatory for individuals to get an Aadhaar number.  However, it does not prevent any service provider from prescribing Aadhaar as a mandatory requirement for availing services.  Therefore, beneficiaries may be denied a service if he does not have the Aadhaar number.  It is noteworthy that the new direct cash transfer policy requires beneficiaries to have an Aadhaar number and a bank account.  However, many beneficiaries do not yet have either.  (Presently, there are 229 million Aadhaar number holders and 147 million bank accounts).

Targeting and identification of beneficiaries:  According to the government, one of the key reasons for changing to DCT system is to ensure better targeting of subsidies.  However, the success of Aadhaar in weeding out ‘ghost’ beneficiaries depends on mandatory enrollment.  If enrollment is not mandatory, both authentication systems (identity card based and Aadhaar based) must coexist.  In such a scenario, ‘ghost’ beneficiaries and people with multiple cards will choose to opt out of the Aadhaar system.  Furthermore, key schemes such as PDS suffer from large inclusion and exclusion errors.  However, Aadhaar cannot address errors in targeting of BPL families.  Also, it cannot address problems of MNREGS such as incorrect measurement of work and payment delays.

Safeguard for maintaining privacy: Information collected when issuing Aadhaar may be misused if safeguards to maintain privacy are inadequate.  Though the Supreme Court has included privacy as part of the Right to Life, India does not have a specific law governing issues related to privacy.  Also, the authority is required to maintain details of every request for authentication and the response provided.  However, maximum duration for which such data has to be stored is not specified.  Authentication data provides insights into usage patterns of an Aadhaar number holder.  Data that has been recorded over a long duration of time may be misused for activities such as profiling an individual’s behaviour.

Shortage of doctors may hit rural healthcare delivery

November 26th, 2012 No comments

Recently, the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare submitted its report to the Parliament on the National Commission for Human Resource for Health Bill, 2011.  The objective of the Bill is to “ensure adequate availability of human resources in the health sector in all states”.  It seeks to set up the National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH), National Board for Health Education (NBHE), and the National Evaluation and Assessment Council (NEAC) in order to determine and regulate standards of health education in the country.  It separates regulation of the education sector from that of professions such as law, medicine and nursing, and establishes professional councils at the national and state levels to regulate the professions.

See here for PRS Bill Summary.

The Standing Committee recommended that this Bill be withdrawn and a revised Bill be introduced in Parliament after consulting stakeholders.  It felt that concerns of the professional councils such as the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India were not adequately addressed.  Also, it noted that the powers and functions of the NCHRH and the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (to be established under the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 to regulate the higher education sector in the country) were overlapping in many areas.  Finally, it also expressed concern over the acute shortage of qualified health workers in the country as well as variations among states and rural and urban areas.  As per the 2001 Census, the estimated density of all health workers (qualified and unqualified) is about 20% less than the World Health Organisation’s norm of 2.5 health workers per 1000 population.

See here for PRS Standing Committee Summary.

Shortfall of health workers in rural areas

Public health care in rural areas is provided through a multi-tier network.  At the lowest level, there are sub health-centres for every population of 5,000 in the plains and 3,000 in hilly areas.  The next level consists of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) for every population of 30,000 in the plains and 20,000 in the hills.  Generally, each PHC caters to a cluster of Gram Panchayats.  PHCs are required to have one medical officer and 14 other staff, including one Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM).  There are Community Health Centres (CHCs) for every population of 1,20,000 in the plains and 80,000 in hilly areas.  These sub health centres, PHCs and CHCs are linked to district hospitals.  As on March 2011, there are 14,8124 sub health centres, 23,887 PHCs and 4809 CHCs in the country.[i] 

Sub-Health Centres and Primary Health Centres

  • § Among the states, Chhattisgarh has the highest vacancy of doctors at 71%, followed byWest Bengal(44%),Maharashtra(37%), and Uttar Pradesh (36%). On the other hand, Rajasthan (0.4%), Andhra Pradesh (3%) and Kerala (7%) have the lowest vacancies in PHCs.
  • § Nine states do not have any doctor vacancies at all at the PHC level. These states includeBihar, Jharkhand andPunjab.
  • § Ten states have vacancy in case of ANMs.  These are: Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,Gujarat,Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
  • § The overall vacancy for ANMs in the country is 5% while for doctors it is 24%.

Table 1: State-wise comparison of vacancy in PHCs

 

Doctors at PHCs

ANM at PHCs and Sub-Centres

State Sanctioned post Vacancy % of vacancy Sanctioned post Vacancy % of vacancy
 Chhattisgarh 1482 1058 71 6394 964 15
 West Bengal 1807 801 44 10,356 NA 0
 Maharashtra 3618 1326 37 21,122 0 0
 Uttar Pradesh 4509 1648 36 25,190 2726 11
 Mizoram 57 20 35 388 0 0
 Madhya Pradesh 1238 424 34 11,904 0 0
 Gujarat 1123 345 31 7248 817 11
 Andaman & Nicobar Isld 40 12 30 214 0 0
 Odisha 725 200 28 7442 0 0
 Tamil Nadu 2326 622 27 9910 136 1
 Himachal Pradesh 582 131 22 2213 528 24
 Uttarakhand 299 65 22 2077 0 0
 Manipur 240 48 20 984 323 33
 Haryana 651 121 19 5420 386 7
 Sikkim 48 9 19 219 0 0
 Meghalaya 127 23 18 667 0 0
 Delhi 22 3 14 43 0 0
 Goa 46 5 11 260 20 8
 Karnataka 2310 221 10 11,180 0 0
 Kerala 1204 82 7 4232 59 1
 Andhra Pradesh 2424 76 3 24,523 2876 12
 Rajasthan 1478 6 0.4 14,348 0 0
 Arunachal Pradesh  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Assam  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Bihar 2078  0 NA NA NA 0
 Chandigarh 0 0 NA 17 0 0
 Dadra & Nagar Haveli 6 0 NA 40 0 0
 Daman & Diu 3  0 NA 26 0 0
 Jammu & Kashmir 750  0 NA 2282 0 0
 Jharkhand 330  0 NA 4288 0 0
 Lakshadweep 4  0 NA NA NA 0
 Nagaland  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 Puducherry 37 0 NA 72 0 0
 Punjab 487 0 NA 4044 0 0
 Tripura  NA  NA NA NA NA 0
 India 30,051 7,246 24 1,77,103 8,835 5
Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.Note: The data for all states is as of March 2011 except for some states where data is as of 2010.  For doctors, these states are Bihar, UP, Mizoram and Delhi.  For ANMs, these states are Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.
Community Health Centres
  • § A CHC is required to be manned by four medical specialists (surgeon, physician, gynaecologist and paediatrician) and 21 paramedical and other staff.
  • § As of March 2011, overall there is a 39% vacancy of medical specialists in CHCs.  Out of the sanctioned posts, 56% of surgeons, 47% of gynaecologists, 59% of physicians and 49% of paediatricians were vacant.
  • States such as Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Haryana have a high rate of vacancies at the CHC level.

Table 2: Vacancies in CHCs of medical specialists

  Surgeons Gynaecologists Physicians Paediatricians
State

% of vacancy

 Andaman & NicobarIsland 100 100 100 100
 Andhra Pradesh 74 0 45 3
 Arunachal Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Assam NA NA NA NA
 Bihar 41 44 60 38
 Chandigarh 50 40 50 100
 Chhattisgarh 85 85 90 84
 Dadra & Nagar Haveli 0 0 0 0
 Daman & Diu 0 100 0 100
 Delhi 0 0 0 0
 Goa 20 20 67 66
 Gujarat 77 73 0 91
 Haryana 71 80 94 85
 Himachal Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Jammu & Kashmir 34 34 53 63
 Jharkhand 45 0 81 61
 Karnataka 33 NA NA NA
 Kerala NA NA NA NA
 Lakshadweep 0 0 100 0
 Madhya Pradesh 78 69 76 58
 Maharashtra 21 0 34 0
 Manipur 100 94 94 87
 Meghalaya 50 NA 100 50
 Mizoram NA NA NA NA
 Nagaland NA NA NA NA
 Odisha 44 45 62 41
 Puducherry 0 0 100 NA
 Punjab 16 36 40 48
 Rajasthan 57% 46 49 24
 Sikkim NA NA NA NA
 Tamil Nadu 0 0 0 0
 Tripura NA NA NA NA
 Uttar Pradesh NA NA NA NA
 Uttarakhand 69 63 74 40
 West Bengal 0 57 0 78
 India 56 47 59 49
Sources: National Rural Health Mission (available here), PRS.

[i].  “Rural Healthcare System in India”, National Rural Health Mission (available here).

 

Will the changes to the Contract Labour Act benefit workers?

October 26th, 2012 1 comment

A change in the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 may be in the pipeline.  According to news reports, the government may amend the 1970 Act to safeguard the interest of contract workers.  The proposal is to bring parity between permanent and contractual workers in wages and other benefits.

The Contract Labour Act, 1970 regulates the employment of contract labour in establishments which employ 20 or more workmen.  It excludes any establishment whose work is intermittent or casual in nature.  The appropriate government may require establishments to provide canteens, rest rooms and first aid facilities to contract labourers.  The contractor shall be responsible for payment of wages to each worker employed by him.  There are penalties listed for contravening the Act.

According to the Report of the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), more than 90% of the workforce is part of the unorganised sector.  Contract labour is found in certain activities in the unorganized sector such as in stone quarrying, beedi rolling, rice shelling and brick kiln.  The Commission recommended some measures to protect the workers in the unorganized sector such as ensuring minimum conditions of work, minimum level of social security and improved credit flow to the non-agricultural sector.

The Report of the Working Group on “Labour Laws and other Regulations” for the 12th Five Year Plan, also proposed that the 1970 Act should be amended.  The amendment should ensure that in case of contract labour performing work similar to that performed by permanent workers, they should be entitled to the same wage rates, holidays, hours of work and social security provisions.  Furthermore, whenever a contract worker is engaged through a contractor, the contract agreement between the employer and the contractor should clearly indicate the wages and other benefits to be paid by the contractor.

However, other experts such as Bibek Debroy, Kaushik Basu and Rajeev Dehejia have recommended broad reforms in India’s labour laws to allow for more flexibility in the labour market.  According to them, these laws protect only a small portion of workers in the organized sector.

Implementation hiccups in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006

August 28th, 2012 No comments

The implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 has run into rough weather.  The Act consolidates eight laws[1] governing the food sector and establishes the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSA) as the regulator.  It requires all food business operators (including small businesses and street vendors) to obtain a licence or registration.  The Regulations under FSSA related to procedure for obtaining a licence or registration was notified on August 1, 2011.  According to the Regulations, all food business operators had to get a licence or registration within one year of the notification.  Due to opposition from several food business operators (see here and here), the FSSA has now extended the deadline for getting a licence or registration by another six months (till February 2013).  However, some of the key concerns regarding the law have not yet been addressed.

Key issues related to the Bill raised by PRS (for more details see Legislative Brief)

  • The organised as well as the unorganised food sectors are required to follow the same food law.  The unorganised sector, such as street vendors, might have difficulty in adhering to the law, for example, with regard to specifications on ingredients, traceability and recall procedures.
  • The Bill does not require any specific standards for potable water (which is usually provided by local authorities).  It is the responsibility of the person preparing or manufacturing food to ensure that he uses water of requisite quality even when tap water does not meet the required safety standards.
  • The Bill excludes plants prior to harvesting and animal feed from its purview.  Thus, it does not control the entry of pesticides and antibiotics into the food at its source.
  • The power to suspend the license of any food operator is given to a local level officer.  This offers scope for harassment and corruption.

Other issues referred to in the media

  • The Act requires a food business operator to get different licenses if articles of food are manufactured or sold at different premises.  Newspapers reported that this provision was challenged in the Madras High Court but a stay order on the Act and its Rules was refused.
  • According to media reports, two hotel associations in Karnataka had challenged certain sections of the Act and Rules in the Karnataka High Court related to requirement of technical person for supervision of production process and requirement of a laboratory on the premises of food operators.  The court stayed these provisions for three months (till October 2012).
  • News papers reported that the Supreme Court is examining the question whether liquor is a food.

[1].  (a) The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954.  (b) The Fruit Products Order, 1955.  (c) The Meat Food Products Order, 1973. (d)  The Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947.  (e) The Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order, 1998. (f) The Solvent Extracted Oil, De oiled Meal, and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967. (g) The Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992. (h) Any other order issued under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, relating to food.

Right to Education: the story so far

August 1st, 2012 1 comment

In India, children between the age group of 6 and 14 years have the fundamental right to free and compulsory education.  This right is implemented through the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act).  The Act is applicable to all categories of schools (government and private).

According to recent media reports (see here and here), many schools (including government schools) are flouting norms laid down in the RTE Act.  Unaided schools have criticised state government over norms related to religious and linguistic status of minority schools (see here and here).  The government has also faced flak over unclear norms on neighbourhood schools and reimbursement of money to private schools (see here, here and here).

Most Acts ‘delegate’ the power to make rules and regulations for operationalising the law to the executive (Ministry).   We provide an overview of the Rules notified by the state governments.

The central government notified the RTE Rules 2010 on April 9, 2010, which are applicable to all schools under the central government, and in the five Union Territories without legislatures.  Most of the states have notified similar Rules with a few variations.

The Rules define the limits of a neighbourhood and make it mandatory for the local authority to maintain list of children within its jurisdiction.  They also prescribe the composition of the School Management Committee to be formed in government schools.  Private schools shall reserve 25% of the seats for disadvantaged children.  These schools shall be reimbursed for either their tuition charge or the per-student expenditure in government schools, whichever is lower.  All private schools have to be recognised before they can start operation.  Recognition is contingent upon meeting the minimum standard laid down in the Act    Existing private schools have to meet the norms within three years of commencement of the Act.  If they are not compliant after three years, they shall cease to function.  Government schools under the central government have to meet only two conditions: the minimum qualification for teachers and the student-teacher ratio.

For all state government schools and un-adided schools, the power to make rules is delegated to the state government.  The central government circulated Model Rules for the RTE Act to the states.  All state governments, except Goa, have notified the state RTE Rules.  Delhi and Puducherry have also notified them.  Most of the states have notified similar Rules with a few variations.  We list some of the variations.

Andhra Pradesh: The break-up of the 25% quota among the various disadvantaged groups have been included in the Rules.  Scheduled Castes: 10%; Scheduled Tribes: 4%; Orphans, disabled and HIV affected: 5% and children with parents whose annual income is lower than Rs 60,000: 6%.

Rajasthan: Private schools either have to be affiliated with a university or recognised by any officer authorised by the state government.    

Karnataka: In addition to the minimum norms under RTE Act, private schools have to comply with the Karnataka Education Act, 1983.

Gujarat: If an existing recognised school is unable to meet the infrastructure norms it may be given the option of demonstrating that it achieved certain learning outcomes, both in terms of absolute levels and as improvement from previous years.

Uttar Pradesh: The government shall pay per child reimbursement to the school after it gives a list of children with their Unique Identity Number and other details.

Kerala:  The local authority has to maintain a record of all the children (0-14 years) within its jurisdiction.  It shall also maintain the Unique Identity Number of every child, as and when issued by the competent authority, to monitor his enrolment, attendance and learning achievements.

Haryana:  Defines textbooks, uniform and writing material.  It states that Hindi is to be the preferred medium of instruction in all schools. For using other language, permission of Director, Elementary Education Dept is required (to be given within 45 days or deemed to be granted).

West Bengal: The Rules give detailed definition of the appropriate age for each class.  They require schools to be set up in a relatively noise-free and pollution-free area with adequate supply of drinking water and electricity.  Existing schools (which are already recognised or affiliated with a Board) may get the local municipal authorities to provide infrastructural support including relaxation of building rules to comply with the requirements of the Act.

Additional sources

  1. PRS Brief on Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008.
  2. PRS Bill Summary on Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2010.
  3. Accountability Initiative’s Policy Brief on 25% Reservation under the RTE.

Law prohibiting sexual offences against children sparks controversy over age of consent

June 13th, 2012 1 comment

The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed by both Houses of Parliament on May 22.  The legislation defines various types of sexual offences against children and provides penalties for such acts.

According to a report commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, about 53% of the children interviewed reported some form of sexual abuse.  The law has been viewed as a welcome step by most activists since it is gender neutral (both male and female children are covered), it clearly defines the offences and includes some child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences.  However, the issue of age of consent has generated some controversy.  Age of consent refers to the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person.

Before this law was passed, the age of consent was considered to be 16 years (except if the woman was married to the accused, in which case it may be lower).  Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any sexual intercourse with a woman who is below the age of 16 years is considered to be “rape”.  The consent of the person is irrelevant.

This post provides a snapshot of the key provisions of the Act, the debate surrounding the controversial provision and a comparison of the related law in other countries.

Key provisions of the Act

  • The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children from offences such as sexual assault, penetrative sexual assault and sexual harassment.  It also penalises a person for using a child for pornographic purposes.
  • The Act states that a person commits “sexual assault” if he touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of a child with sexual intent without penetration.
  • The Act treats an offence as “aggravated” if it is committed by a person in a position of authority or trust such as a member of the security forces, a police officer or a public servant.
  • It specifies penalties for the offences and provides a mechanism for reporting and trial of such offences.

Debate over the age of consent

After introduction, the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development.  The Committee submitted its report on December 21, 2011 (see here and here for PRS Bill Summary and  Standing Committee Summary, respectively)

Taking into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee, the Parliament decided to amend certain provisions of the Bill before passing it.

The Bill stated that if a person is accused of “sexual assault” or “penetrative sexual assault” of a child between 16 and 18 years of age, it would be considered whether the consent of the child was taken by the accused.   This provision was deleted from the Bill that was passed.

The Bill (as passed) states that any person below the age of 18 years shall be considered a child.  It prohibits a person from engaging in any type of sexual activity with a child.  However, the implication of this law is not clear in cases where both parties are below 18 years (see here and here for debate on the Bill in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha).

The increase in the age of consent to 18 years sparked a debate among experts and activists.

Proponents of increasing the age of consent argued that if a victim is between 16 and 18 years of age, the focus of a sexual assault case would be on proving whether he or she consented to the act or not.  The entire trial process including cross-examination of the victim would focus on the conduct of the victim rather than that of the accused (see here and here).

Opponents of increasing the age of consent pointed out that since this Act criminalises any sexual activity with persons under the age of 18 years (even if consensual), the police may misuse it to harass young couples or parents may use this law to control older children’s sexual behaviour (see here and here). 

International comparison

In most countries, the age of consent varies between 13 and 18 years.  The table below lists the age of consent and the corresponding law in some selected countries. 

Countries

Age of consent

Law

US Varies from state to state between 16 and 18 years.  In some states, the difference in age between the two parties is taken into account.  This can vary between 2-4 years. Different state laws
UK 16 years Sexual Offences Act, 2003
Germany 14 years (16 years if the accused is a person responsible for the child’s upbringing, education or care). German Criminal Code
France 15 years French Criminal Code
Sweden 15 years (18 years if the child is the accused person’s offspring or he is responsible for upbringing of the child). Swedish Penal Code
Malaysia 16 years for both males and females. Malaysian Penal Code; Child Act 2001
China No information about consent.  Sex with a girl below 14 years is considered rape.  Sodomy of a child (male or female) below 14 years is an offence. Criminal Law of China, 1997
Canada 16 years Criminal Code of Canada
Brazil 14 years Brazilian Penal Code 2009
Australia Varies between 16 and 17 years among different states and territorial jurisdictions.  In two states, a person may engage in sexual activity with a minor if he is two years older than the child.  In such cases the child has to be at least 10 years old. Australian Criminal laws
India 18 years. Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act, 2012

Cabinet clears four Bills piloted by the Ministry of HRD

May 15th, 2012 No comments

According to news reports (see here and here), the Cabinet approved four Bills for discussion in Parliament.  The Bills cleared for consideration and passing are: the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010 and the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010.  It cleared the Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012 for introduction in Parliament.

In this post, we discuss the key provisions of the Bills and the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development (HRD).

The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010

The Bill was introduced on April 19, 2010 in the Rajya Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on November 23, 2010.  The government had attempted to pass it in the Winter session twice.  However, the Opposition raised the issue of conflict of interest.  The Rules of the Ethics Committee state that a MP has to declare his personal or pecuniary interest in a matter, which is under discussion in the Rajya Sabha.  The MPs contended that the HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, could not pilot the Bill without declaring his interest.  They argued that his son was the lawyer for a music company which is party to a legal dispute with TV broadcasters to which the amendment would apply (see here for debate on the issue in Parliament).

The Copyright Act, 1957 defines the rights of authors of creative works such as books, plays, music, and films.  Two key amendments proposed in the Bill are:

-          Copyright in a film currently rests with the producer for 60 years.  The Bill vests copyright in a director as well.

-          The Bill makes special provisions for those whose work is used in films or sound recordings (e.g. lyricists or composers).  Rights to royalties from such works, when used in media other than films or sound recordings, shall rest with the creator of the work.

(See here for PRS analysis of the Bill)

Key recommendations of the Standing Committee: (a) Drop the provision that makes the principal director the author of a film along with the producer; and (b) Keep the provisions for compulsory licensing in line with the terms of international agreements.

(See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary)

The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010

The Bill was introduced on May 3, 2010 in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on August 12, 2011.  This Bill is part of the government’s attempt to reform the higher education sector.   The key objective is to provide an effective means of quality assurance in higher education.

Presently, accreditation is voluntary.  Higher educational institutions are accredited by two autonomous bodies set up by the University Grants Commission and the All India Council of Technical Education.  The Bill makes it mandatory for each institution and every programme to get accredited by an accreditation agency.  The agencies have to be registered with the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority.  Only non-profit, government controlled bodies are eligible to register as accreditation agencies.

(See here for PRS analysis of the Bill)

The Standing Committee made some recommendations: (a) assessment for accreditation should start after two batches of students have passed out of the institution; (b) there should be specific provisions for medical education; and (c) registration to accreditation agencies should initially be granted for five years (could be extended to 10 years).  

(See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary)

The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010

The Bill was introduced on December 7, 2010 in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee on HRD, which tabled its report on December 8, 2011.

The Indian Penal Code covers criminal acts that outrage or insult the ‘modesty’ of women.  It does not cover situations which could create a hostile or difficult environment for women at the work place.  The Supreme Court in 1997 (Vishaka judgment) laid down guidelines to protect women from sexual harassment.  This Bill defines sexual harassment and provides a mechanism for redressing complaints.  The protection against sexual harassment is applicable to all women at the workplace.  However, the Bill does not cover domestic workers working at home.

(See here for PRS analysis of the Bill)

The Standing Committee recommendations addressed issues of gender neutrality, inclusion of domestic workers and the modified definition of sexual harassment.

(See here for PRS Standing Committee Report summary)

The Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012

The Bill was cleared by the Cabinet and is likely to be introduced in Parliament this session.  It seeks to provide for the establishment and incorporation of Universities for Research and Innovation.  These universities shall be hubs of education, research and innovation.

Although an official copy of the Bill is not yet available, newspaper reports suggest that this is an omnibus law under which innovation universities (focused on specific research areas such as environment, astrophysics and urban planning) shall be established.  In India, a university can only be set up through an Act of Parliament or state legislature.  The Planning Commission’s Working Group on Higher Education report stated that these universities could be funded by the private sector as well.  The government aims to create 14 innovation universities, which would be world class.