Legislation

Definition of MSMEs

On June 1, 2020, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved a revision in the definition of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).[1]  In this blog, we discuss the change in the definition as approved by the Cabinet, and examine some of the common criteria used for classification of MSMEs.

Currently, MSMEs are defined under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006.[2]  The Act classifies them as micro, small and medium enterprises based on: (i) investment in plant and machinery for enterprises engaged in manufacturing or production of goods, and (ii) investment in equipment for enterprises providing services.  As per the Cabinet approval, the investment limits will be revised upwards and annual turnover of the enterprise will be used as additional criteria for the classification of MSMEs (Table 1). 

Earlier attempts to amend the definition of MSMEs

The central government has sought to revise the definition of MSMEs in the Act on two earlier occasions.  The government introduced the MSME Development (Amendment) Bill, 2015 which proposed to increase the investment limits for manufacturing and services MSMEs.[3]  This Bill was withdrawn in July 2018 and another Bill was introduced.  The MSME Development (Amendment) Bill, 2018 proposed to: (i) use annual turnover as criteria instead of investment for classification of MSMEs, (ii) remove the distinction between manufacturing and services, and (iii) provide the central government with the power to revise the turnover limits, through a notification.[4]  The 2018 Bill lapsed with the dissolution of 16th Lok Sabha. 

Global trends in criteria for the classification of MSMEs

While India will now be using investment and annual turnover as the criteria to classify MSMEs, globally, the number of employees is the most widely used criteria for classifying MSMEs.  The Reserve Bank of India's Expert Committee on MSMEs (2019) cited a study by the International Finance Corporation in 2014 which analysed 267 definitions used by different institutions in 155 countries.[5],[6]  According to the study, countries used a combination of criteria to classify MSMEs.   92% of the definitions used the number of employees as one of the criteria.  Other frequently used criteria were: (i) turnover (49%), and (ii) value of assets (36%).  11% of the analysed definitions used alternative criteria such as: (i) loan size, (ii) years of experience, and (iii) initial investment. 

Evaluation of common criteria used to define MSMEs

InvestmentThe 2006 Act uses investment in plant, machinery, and equipment to classify MSMEs.  Some of the issues with the investment criteria include:

  • The investment criteria require physical verification and have associated cost overheads.[7]
  • The investment limits may need to be revised from time-to-time due to the impact of inflation.  The Standing Committee on Industry (2018) had observed that limits set under the Act in 2006 have become irrelevant due to the impact of inflation.7
  • Due to their informal and small scale of operations, firms often do not maintain proper books of accounts and hence find it difficult to get classified as MSMEs as per the current definition.5

  • The investment-based classification incentivises promoters to keep the investment size restricted to retain the benefits associated with the micro or small category.7

Turnover: The 2018 Bill sought to replace the investment criteria with annual turnover as the sole criteria for the classification of MSMEs.  The Standing Committee agreed with the proposal under the Bill to use annual turnover as the criteria instead of investment.7  It observed that this could overcome some of the shortcomings of classification based on investment.  While turnover based criteria will also require verification, the Committee noted that the GST Network (GSTN) data can act as a reliable source of information for this purpose.  However, it also observed that:7

  • With turnover as a criterion for classification, corporates may misuse the incentives meant for MSMEs.  For instance, there is a possibility that a multi-national company may produce a large quantity of products worth a high turnover and then market it through various subsidiaries registered as Micro or Small enterprise under GSTN. 

  • The turnover of some enterprises may fluctuate depending on their business, which may result in the change of classification of the enterprise during a year. 

  • The Committee noted that there is a wide gap in turnover limits.  For instance, an enterprise with a turnover of Rs 6 crore and an enterprise with a turnover of Rs 75 crore (as proposed in 2018 Bill) would both be classified as a small enterprise, which seems incongruous. 

The Expert Committee (RBI) also recommended using annual turnover as the criteria for classification instead of investment.5  It observed that turnover based definition would be transparent, progressive, and easier to implement through the GSTN.  It also recommended that the power to change the definition of MSMEs should be delegated to the executive as it will help in responding to changing economic scenarios.

Number of employees: The Standing Committee had highlighted that in a labour-intensive country like India, appropriate focus is required on employment generation and MSME sector is the most suitable platform for this.7  It had recommended that the central government should assess the number of persons employed in the MSME sector and also consider employment as a criterion while classifying MSMEs.  However, the Expert Committee (RBI) stated that while the employment-based definition is an additional feature preferred in some countries, the definition would pose challenges in implementation.5  According to the Ministry of MSME, employment as a criterion has problems due to: (i) factors such as seasonality and informal nature of engagement, (ii) similar to investment criteria, this would also require physical verification and has associated cost overheads.7  

Number of MSMEs

According to the National Sample Survey (2015-16), there were around 6.34 crore MSMEs in the country.  The micro sector with 6.3 crore enterprises accounted for more than 99% of the total estimated number of MSMEs.  The small and medium sectors accounted for only 0.52% and 0.01% of the estimated number of enterprises, respectively.  Another dataset to understand the distribution of MSMEs is Udyog Aadhaar, a unique identity provided by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to MSME enterprises.[8]  Udyog Aadhaar registration is based on self-declaration by enterprises.  Between September 2015 and June 2020, 98.6 lakh enterprises have registered with UIDAI.  According to this dataset, micro, small, and medium enterprises comprise 87.7%, 11.8% and 0.5% of the MSME sector respectively.

Employment in the MSME sector

The MSME sector employed nearly 11.1 crore people in 2015-16.  The sector was the second largest employer after the agriculture sector.  The highest number of employed persons were engaged in trade activity (35%), followed by persons engaged in manufacturing (32%).

Implications of change in the definition of MSMEs

The change in the definition of MSMEs may result in many enterprises which are currently classified as Small enterprises be reclassified as Micro, and those classified as Medium enterprises be reclassified as Small.  Further, there may be many enterprises which are not currently classified as MSMEs, which may fall under the MSME classification as per the new definition.   Such enterprises will also now benefit from the schemes related to MSMEs.  The Ministry of MSME runs various schemes to provide for: (i) flow of credit to MSMEs, (ii) support for technology upgrade and modernisation, (iii) entrepreneurship and skill development, and (iv) cluster-wise measures to promote capacity-building and empowerment of MSME units.  For instance, under the Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme for Micro and Small Enterprises, a credit guarantee cover of up to 75% of the credit is provided to micro and small enterprises.[9]  Thus, the re-classification may require a significant increase in budgetary allocation for the MSME sector. 

Other announcements related to MSMEs in the aftermath of COVID-19 

MSME sector accounted for nearly 33.4% of the total manufacturing output in 2017-18.[10]  During the same year, its share in the country’s total exports was around 49%.  Between 2015 and 2017, the contribution of the sector in GDP has been around 30%.  Due to the national lockdown induced by COVID-19, businesses including MSMEs have been badly hit.  To provide immediate relief to the MSME sector, the government announced several measures in May 2020.[11]  These include: (i) collateral-free loans for MSMEs with up to Rs 25 crore outstanding and up to Rs 100 crore turnover, (ii) Rs 20,000 crore as subordinate debt for stressed MSMEs, and (iii) Rs 50,000 crore of capital infusion into MSMEs.  These measures have also been approved by the Union Cabinet.[12]    

For more details on the announcements made under the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, see here

[1] “Cabinet approves Upward revision of MSME definition and modalities/ road map for implementing remaining two Packages for MSMEs (a)Rs 20000 crore package for Distressed MSMEs and (b) Rs 50,000 crore equity infusion through Fund of Funds”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, June 1, 2020.

[2] The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006, https://samadhaan.msme.gov.in/WriteReadData/DocumentFile/MSMED2006act.pdf.

[3] The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Amendment) Bill, 2015, https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/MSME_bill%2C_2015_0.pdf.

[5] Report of the Expert Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, The Reserve Bank of India, July 2019, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PublicationReport/Pdfs/MSMES24062019465CF8CB30594AC29A7A010E8A2A034C.PDF.

[6] MSME Country Indicators 2014, International Finance Corporation, December 2014, https://www.smefinanceforum.org/sites/default/files/analysis%20note.pdf.

[7] 294th Report on Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Amendment) Bill 2018, Standing Committee on Industry, Rajya Sabha, December 2018, https://rajyasabha.nic.in/rsnew/Committee_site/Committee_File/ReportFile/17/111/294_2019_3_15.pdf.

[8] Enterprises with Udyog Aadhaar Number, National Portal for Registration of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, https://udyogaadhaar.gov.in/UA/Reports/StateBasedReport_R3.aspx.

[9] Credit Guarantee Fund Scheme for Micro and Small Enterprises, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, http://www.dcmsme.gov.in/schemes/sccrguarn.htm.

[10] Annual Report 2018-19, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, https://msme.gov.in/sites/default/files/Annualrprt.pdf.

[11] "Finance Minister announce measures for relief and credit support related to businesses, especially MSMEs to support Indian Economy’s fight against COVID-19", Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 13, 2020.

[12] "Cabinet approves additional funding of up to Rupees three lakh crore through introduction of Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS)", Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Finance, May 20, 2020.

Maharashtra Government’s Response to COVID-19 (till April 20, 2020)

With 4,203 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Maharashtra has the highest number of cases in the country as of April 20, 2020.  Of these, 507 have been cured, and 223 have died.  In this blog, we summarise some of the key decisions taken by the Government of Maharashtra for containing the spread of COVID-19 in the state. 

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Measures taken prior to lockdown

By March 12, the state had registered 11 cases of COVID-19. Consequently, the state government took measures to: (i) prepare hospitals for screening and testing of patients, and (ii) limit mass gathering given the highly contagious nature of the disease. The measures taken by the government before the lockdown are summarised below.

Health Measures

On March 14, the government notified the Maharashtra COVID-19 regulations to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 in the state.  Key features of the regulations include: (i) screening of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, (ii) home quarantine for people who have travelled through the affected areas, and (iii) procedures to be followed in the containment zones, among others. 

Movement Restrictions

On March 15, with 31 COVID-19 cases in the state, the Department of Public Health ordered the closure of cinema halls, swimming pools, gyms, theatres, and museums until March 31.   On March 16, all educational institutions and hostels in the state were closed till March 31.  The teaching staff was advised to work from home.  All exams were also deferred until March 31.

Administrative Measures

On March 13, the Maharashtra government constituted a high-level committee to formulate guidelines for mitigating of the spread of COVID-19 in the state.  The responsibilities of the committee included: (i) taking a daily review of the status of COVID-19 in the state, and (ii) implementing the guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health.

On March 17, the first casualty due to COVID-19 occurred in the state.  On March 19, the government put restrictions on meetings in the government offices and issued safety guidelines to be followed in these meetings.

On March 20, considering the unmitigated spread of COVID-19 in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur, the attendance in government offices was restricted to 25%. Subsequently, on March 23, the government limited the attendance in government offices to 5% across the state.

Measures taken post-lockdown

To further restrict the movement of individuals, in order to contain the spread of the disease, the state government enforced a state-wide lockdown on March 23. This lockdown, applicable till March 31, involved: (i) closing down of state borders, (ii) suspension of public transport services, and (iii) banning the congregation of more than five people at any public place. Entities engaged in the supply of essential goods and services were excluded from this lockdown.  This was followed by a nation-wide lockdown enforced by the central government between March 25 and April 14, now extended till May 3.  Before the extension announced by the central government, the state government extended the lockdown in the state till April 30.

On April 15, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines on the measures to be taken by state governments until May 3.  As per these guidelines, select activities will be permitted in less-affected districts from April 20 onwards to reduce the hardships faced by people.  Some of the permitted activities are (i) agriculture and related activities, (ii) MNERGA works, (iii) construction activities, (iv) industrial establishments, (v) health services, (vi) certain financial sector activities among others subject to certain conditions. 

Welfare Measures

To address the hardship being faced by residents of the state due to lockdown, the state took several welfare measures summarised as follows:

  • On March 30, the School Education Department issued directions to all schools in the state to postpone the collection of school fees until the lockdown is over.

  • The Department of Tribal Development issued directions to provide food/dietary components at home to women beneficiaries and children under Bharat Ratna Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Amrut Aahar Yojana. 

  • The state government issued directives to the private establishments, industries and companies to pay full salaries and wages to their employees. 

  • On April 7, the state Cabinet decided to provide wheat and rice at a subsidised price to all Above Poverty line ration card holders and Shiv Bhojan at Rs 5 for next three months in all Shiv Bhojan centres.

  • On April 17, the Housing Department notified that landlords/house owners should defer the rent collection for three months.  No eviction will be allowed due to non-payment of rent during this period. 

Administrative Measures

  • On March 29, the public works department issued directions suspending the collection of tolls at PWD and MSRDC toll plazas for goods transport until further direction.

  • MLA Local Development Program:  Under MLALAD program, a one-time special exception to use the MLALAD funds was given to legislators for the purchase of medical equipment and materials for COVID-19 during the year 2020-21.

  • Analysing the impact on the economy of the state:  On April 13, the government constituted an Expert Committee and a Cabinet Sub-Committee to analyse the implications of COVID-19 on the economy of the state. These committees will also suggest measures to revive the economy of the state.

Orders relating to Mumbai city

  • On April 8, the city administration made it compulsory for all people to wear masks in public places. 

  • On April 10, the Commissioner of Police, Greater Mumbai issued an order prohibiting any kind of fake or distorted information on all social media and messaging applications. The order is valid until April 24.

For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see here.

 

Does changing MP salaries and MPLAD entitlements raise resources to fight COVID-19?

This week, the centre issued two Ordinances to amend: (i) the Salary, Allowances, and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954 to reduce the salaries of MPs by 30% for a period of one year, and (ii) the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers Act, 1952, to reduce the sumptuary allowance of Ministers by 30% for one year.  The government also amended the rules notified under the 1954 Act to reduce certain allowances of MPs for one year, and suspended the MPLAD Scheme for two years.  These changes are being made to supplement the financial resources of the centre to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.  These amendments raise larger questions on the effect they have on the capacity of the state to fight the pandemic, and the way in which salaries of MPs should be determined.

Overview of Amendments

The 1954 Act lays out the salary and various allowances that an MP is entitled to during their term in Parliament and also provides pension to former MPs.  MPs receive a salary of one lakh rupees per month, along with compensation for official expenses through various allowances.  These include a daily allowance for attending Parliament, constituency allowance and office expense allowance.  Under the first Ordinance, the salaries of MPs are being reduced by 30%.  Further, the constituency allowance and office expense allowance are being reduced by Rs 21,000 and Rs 6,000, respectively. 

The 1952 Act regulates the salaries and other allowances of Ministers (including the Prime Minister).  The Act provides for the payment of a monthly sumptuary allowance (for expenditure incurred in entertaining visitors) at different rates to the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, and Deputy Ministers.  The second Ordinance is reducing the sumptuary allowances of Ministers by 30%. 

Note that the 1952 Act pegs the salaries, and daily and constituency allowances of Ministers to the rates specified for an MP under the 1954 Act.  Similar provisions apply to presiding officers of both Houses (other than Chairman of Rajya Sabha) who are regulated by a different Act.  Therefore, the amendments to the salaries and constituency allowance of MPs will also apply to Ministers, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, and Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha.  The salary of the Chairman of Rajya Sabha will continue to remain unaffected by the Ordinances (Rs 4 lakh per month). 

Further, since 1993, MPs can also identify projects and sanction certain funds every year for public works in their constituencies under the Members of Parliament and Local Area Development (MPLAD) Scheme, 1993.  Since 2011-12, each MP can spend up to Rs five crore per year under the scheme.  The Union Cabinet has approved the suspension of the MPLAD Scheme for two years.  Table 1 below compares the changes in salaries, allowances and MPLAD entitlements of MPs.

Table 1: Comparison of changes in the salaries, allowances and MPLAD entitlements of MPs

Feature

Previous entitlement (in Rs per month)

New entitlement (in Rs per month)

Changes for the period of

Salary

 1,00,000

70,000

One year

Constituency allowance

70,000

49,000

One year

Office allowance

60,000

54,000

One year

Of which

Office expenses

20,000

14,000

-

 

Secretarial assistance

40,000

40,000

-

Sumptuary allowance of Prime Minister

3,000

2,100

One year

Sumptuary allowance of Cabinet Ministers

2,000

1,400

One year

Sumptuary allowance of Ministers of State

1,000

700

One year

Sumptuary allowance of Deputy Ministers

600

420

One year

Funds under MPLAD Scheme

5 crore

NIL

Two years

Sources: 2020 Ordinances; Members of Parliament (Constituency Allowance) Amendment Rules, 2020; Members of Parliament (Office Expense Allowance) Amendment Rules, 2020; “Cabinet approves Non-operation of MPLADs for two years (2020-21 and 2021-22) for managing COVID 19”, Press Information Bureau, Cabinet, April 6, 2020; PRS.

Effect of amendments on resources to fight COVID-19

The proposed reduction to the salaries and allowances of MPs and Ministers amounts to savings of around Rs 55 crore, and the suspension of the MPLAD scheme is expected to save Rs 7800 crore.  These measures comprise 0.03% and 4.5% respectively, of the estimated amount required to fight the immediate economic distress unleashed due to COVID.  Government has estimated Rs 1.7 lakh crore as the requirement for COVID relief measures under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.  Therefore, such measures to decrease MP salaries and allowances toward increasing the pool of funds for fighting the pandemic are likely to have an almost negligible impact.

How might MP salaries be set

Each MP is required to represent the interests of his constituents, formulate legislation on important national matters, hold the government accountable, and ensure efficient allocation of public resources.  The salary and office allowance of an MP must be assessed in light of the responsibilities expected to be discharged by them. Ensuring MPs are reasonably compensated in terms of salaries allows MPs the means to be able to discharge their duties devotedly, enables them to make decisions in an independent manner and guarantees that citizens from all walks of life can stand a chance of running for Parliament.  The question remains – who decides what is reasonable compensation for MPs. 

Currently, MPs in India decide their own salaries which is passed in the form of an Act of Parliament.  MPs setting their own pay leads to a conflict of interest.  A way to resolve this is by setting up an independent commission to determine that salaries of MPs.  This is a practice followed in certain democracies, such as New Zealand and United Kingdom.  In some other countries, it is pegged to annual wage rate index such as Canada.  Table 2 lists various methods used in some other countries to set salaries for legislators.

Table 2: Methods for setting salaries in different democracies

Countries

Process of determining salary of legislators

India

Parliament decides by passing an Act.

Australia

Remuneration Tribunal decides the salary.  This is revised annually.

New Zealand

Remuneration Authority decides the salary.  This is revised annually.

UK

Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority sets the pay annually as per the changes in average earnings in the public sector given by the Office for National Statistics.

Canada

Member’s pay is adjusted each year to federal government’s annual wage rate index.

Germany

Based on income of a judge of the highest federal court and adjusted annually by the Parliament. 

Sources: Various government websites of respective countries; PRS.

India has experience with appointing independent commissions to examine the emoluments of government officials.  The central government periodically sets up pay commissions to review and recommend changes to the wage structure of government employees with a view to attract talent to government services.  The latest Central Pay Commission was constituted in 2014 to decides the emoluments of central government employees, armed forces personnel, employees of statutory bodies, and officers and employees of the Supreme Court.  Typically, the Commissions have been chaired by a former Judge of the Supreme Court, and have included members representing government service and independent experts.

Suspending  MPLADS

In contrast to these amendments, the suspension of the MPLAD Scheme is a positive step.   

The MPLAD Scheme (MPLADS) was introduced in December 1993 to enable legislators to address local developmental problems for their constituents.  MPLADS allows legislators to earmark up to five crore rupees every year on public works projects in their constituency and recommend these projects to the district authorities for implementation.  Typically, funds under the MPLADS are expended on construction or installation of public facilities (such as school buildings, roads, and electrical facilities), supply of equipment (such as, computers in educational institutions) and sanitation projects. 

In 2010, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court decided a challenge to the constitutionality of the MPLADS.  It was argued that MPLADS violates the concept of separation of powers between the executive and the legislature since it provides the MP with executive powers on local public works.  The Court ruled that there was no violation of the principle of separation of powers because the role of an MP in this case is recommendatory and the actual work is carried out by the local authorities. 

However, the Scheme has undermined the role of an MP as a national-level policy maker.  The role of an MP is to determine whether government’s budgetary allocations across development priorities are appropriate and once the money is sanctioned by Parliament is it being spent in an efficient and efficacious manner.  However, focus on local administration-level issues, such as development of roads or sanitation projects, obscures the role of the MP in conducting oversight.  Another fall out of having MPs responsible for MPLADS is that it skews the expectations of citizens have of their MPs – holding them accountable for resolving local development issues rather than broader policy and legislative decision making. The suspension of MPLADs will allow for MPs to focus on their role in Parliament.  

The Ordinance route

Through these Ordinances, the executive has amended the salaries and allowances of MPs and Ministers.  In principle, Parliament is discharged with law-making powers.  In exceptional circumstances, the Constitution permits the executive to make laws through Ordinances if Parliament is not in session and immediate action is required.  The two Ordinances will have to be ratified by Parliament within six weeks of its sitting in order to continue to have the force of law.  Interestingly, India is one of the few countries, apart from Bangladesh and Pakistan, that vests the executive with authority to make laws, even if temporary in nature. 

The Ordinance amending the salaries of MPs also raises a question on whether it is appropriate that the executive has the power to amend the emoluments of MPs – how would this affect the independence of the legislature which is tasked with holding the executive accountable.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019: How it differs from the draft Bill

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was recently introduced in Parliament.  The Bill has been referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee for detailed examination, and the Committee is expected to submit its report by the last week of Budget Session, 2020.  The Bill seeks to provide for the protection of personal data of individuals (known as data principals), and creates a framework for processing such personal data by other entities (known as data fiduciaries).  It provides the data principal with certain rights with respect to their data, such as seeking correction, completion or transfer of their data to other fiduciaries.   Similarly, it sets out certain obligations, and other transparency and accountability measures to be undertaken by the data fiduciary, such as instituting grievance redressal mechanisms to address complaints of individuals.  Processing of personal data is exempted from the provisions of the Bill in certain cases, such as security of state, public order, or for prevention, investigation, or prosecution of any offence.  The Bill also establishes a Data Protection Authority to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Bill and provide for further regulations. 

 

As per the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 2019 Bill, the provisions of the Bill are based on the recommendations of the report of the Expert Committee (Chair: Justice B. N. Srikrishna) which examined issues related to protection of personal data and proposed a Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018.  

 

In a previous blog, we provided a brief background to the 2019 Bill, explained why a Bill was brought for personal data protection and what are some of the key provisions of the Bill.  In this blog, we look at how the 2019 Bill differs from the 2018 Draft Bill.

Table 1: Comparison of the provisions of the 2018 Draft Bill with the 2019 Bill

Provision

Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018

Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019

Definition of personal data 

  • Personal data pertains to characteristics, traits or attributes of identity, which can be used to identify an individual.
  • The Bill retains the definition and adds that such characteristics or traits will also include any inference drawn from such data for the purpose of profiling.

Sensitive personal data

  • Sensitive personal data includes personal data related to health, sex life, sexual orientation, financial data, passwords, among others.  
  • The Data Protection Authority can categorise any other personal data as sensitive personal data. 
  • The Bill removes passwords from the category of sensitive personal data.  
  • The power to further categorise personal data as sensitive personal data will lie with the central government (in consultation with Data Protection Authority and the sector regulator concerned).

Rights of individual (data principal)

  • The data principal has certain rights with respect to their data such as obtaining confirmation on whether their data has been processed, seeking correction, transfer, or restriction on continuing disclosure of their data.
  • The Bill provides the right to erasure of personal data which is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was processed, as an additional right for the data principal.

Non-consensual processing of personal data

  • Personal data may be processed without obtaining the consent of the individual on certain grounds.  These include: (i) any function of Parliament or state legislature, (ii) if required by the State for providing benefits to the individual, and (iii) for reasonable purposes specified by the Authority, such as fraud detection, debt recovery, and whistle blowing.   
  • The Bill removes the provision on any function of Parliament or state legislature as a ground for non-consensual processing of personal data. 
  • The Bill adds ‘operation of search engines’ as a reasonable purpose for which non-consensual processing of personal data may be allowed by the Authority.

Social media intermediaries

  • The draft Bill did not contain this term.
  • The Bill defines a social media intermediary as an intermediary which enables online interaction between users and allows for sharing of information.  
  • All social media intermediaries which are classified as significant data fiduciaries (fiduciaries with users above a notified threshold whose actions can impact electoral democracy or public order) must provide a voluntary user verification mechanism for all users in India. 

Exemptions for the government for processing of personal data 

  • The State is exempted from the provisions of the Bill while processing personal data in the interest of national security.     However, such processing must be permitted by a law and must be proportionate to the interests being achieved.  Further, such processing must be done in a fair and reasonable manner. 
  • The government can exempt any of its agencies from any or all provisions of the Act, for processing of personal data in certain cases.     These include: (i) in interest of security of state, public order, sovereignty and integrity of India and friendly relations with foreign states, and (ii) for preventing incitement to commission of any cognisable offence relating to the above matters.

Exemptions for manual processing by small entities

  • Transparency and accountability measures and certain other obligations will not apply to small entities.  These are fiduciaries which: (i) have annual turnover below Rs 20 lakh (or such lower amount as prescribed), and (ii) did not process data of more than 100 individuals in any one day in the last year.
  • The Bill retains the exemption for small entities.     However, it does away with the prescribed limits and allows the Authority to classify fiduciaries as small entities based on the annual turnover of fiduciary and the volume of data processed by such fiduciary. 

Transfer of personal data outside country

 

  • One serving copy of all personal data should be stored in India. 
  • The Bill removes the provision for mandatory storage of all personal data in the country.  It provides that sensitive personal data must continue to be stored in India.  Such data can be transferred outside India if explicitly consented by the individual, and subject to certain additional conditions.

Composition of Data Protection Authority of India

  • The chairperson and members of the Authority will be appointed by the central government on the recommendations of a selection committee.  The selection committee will be comprised of: (i) Chief Justice of India or a Judge of Supreme Court as the chairperson, (ii) Cabinet Secretary, and (iii) an expert in field of data protection, information technology and related subjects.
  • The Bill provides that the selection committee will be comprised of: (i) Cabinet Secretary as the chairperson, (ii) Secretary, Department of Legal Affairs, and (iii) Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. 

Offences and penalties 

  • Under the Bill, offences such as: (i) obtaining, disclosing, transferring, or selling personal data in contravention of the Act, and (ii) re-identification and processing of de-identified personal data (data from which identifiers have been removed) without consent, are punishable with imprisonment. 
  • Under the Bill, re-identification and processing of de-identified personal without consent is the only offence punishable with imprisonment.  

Non-personal and anonymised personal data

  • No provision of the Bill would apply to non-personal data used by government for formulation of policies for digital economy, growth or security. 
  • The Bill retains the provision and further provides that the government can direct data fiduciaries to provide it any: (i) non-personal data and (ii) anonymised personal data (where it is not possible to identify data principal) for better targeting of services and formulation of evidence-based policy.

Sources: The Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018; The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019; PRS. 

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019: All you need to know

Recently, the  Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was introduced in Parliament.  The Bill has been referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee for detailed examination, and the report is expected by the Budget Session, 2020.  The Bill seeks to provide for protection of personal data of individuals, create a framework for processing such personal data, and establishes a Data Protection Authority for the purpose.  In this blog, we provide a background to the 2019 Bill, and explain some of its key provisions.

What is personal data and data protection?

Data can be broadly classified into two types: personal and non-personal data.  Personal data pertains to characteristics, traits or attributes of identity, which can be used to identify an individual.   Non-personal data includes aggregated data through which individuals cannot be identified.  For example, while an individual’s own location would constitute personal data; information derived from multiple drivers’ location, which is often used to analyse traffic flow, is non-personal data.  Data protection refers to policies and procedures seeking to minimise intrusion into the privacy of an individual caused by collection and usage of their personal data.  

Why was a Bill brought for personal data protection?

In August 2017, the Supreme Court  held that privacy is a fundamental right, flowing from the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.  The Court also observed that privacy of personal data and facts is an essential aspect of the right to privacy.  In July 2017, a Committee of Experts, chaired by Justice B. N. Srikrishna, was set up to examine various issues related to data protection in India.  The Committee submitted its report, along with a Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in July 2018.  The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 states that the Bill is based on the recommendations of the report of the Expert Committee and the suggestions received from various stakeholders.

How is personal data regulated currently?

Currently, the usage and transfer of personal data of citizens is regulated by the  Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2011, under the IT Act, 2000.  The rules hold the companies using the data liable for compensating the individual, in case of any negligence in maintaining security standards while dealing with the data.  The Expert Committee in its report, held that while the IT rules were a novel attempt at data protection at the time they were introduced, the pace of development of digital economy has shown its shortcomings.3  For instance, (i) the definition of sensitive personal data under the rules is narrow, and (ii) some of the provisions can be overridden by a contract.  Further, the IT Act applies only to companies, not to the government.  

What does the Personal Data Protection Bill provide?

The Bill regulates personal data related to individuals, and the processing, collection and storage of such data.  Under the Bill, a data principal is an individual whose personal data is being processed.  The entity or individual who decides the means and purposes of data processing is known as data fiduciary.  The Bill governs the processing of personal data by both government and companies incorporated in India.  It also governs foreign companies, if they deal with personal data of individuals in India. 

Will individuals have rights over their data?

The Bill provides the data principal with certain rights with respect to their personal data.   These include seeking confirmation on whether their personal data has been processed, seeking correction, completion or erasure of their data, seeking transfer of data to other fiduciaries, and restricting continuing disclosure of their personal data, if it is no longer necessary or if consent is withdrawn.  Any processing of personal data can be done only on the basis of consent given by data principal. 

Are there any restrictions on processing of an individual’s data?

The Bill also provides for certain obligations of data fiduciaries with respect to processing of personal data.  Such processing should be subject to certain purpose, collection and storage limitations.   For instance, personal data can be processed only for specific, clear and lawful purpose.  Additionally, all data fiduciaries must undertake certain transparency and accountability measures such as implementing security safeguards and instituting grievance redressal mechanisms to address complaints of individuals.  Certain fiduciaries would be notified as significant data fiduciaries (based on certain criteria such as volume of data processed and turnover of fiduciary).  These fiduciaries must undertake additional accountability measures such as conducting a data protection impact assessment before conducting any processing of large scale sensitive personal data (includes financial data, biometric data, caste, religious or political beliefs). 

What is the grievance redressal mechanism if the above restrictions are not followed?

To ensure compliance with the provisions of the Bill, and provide for further regulations with respect to processing of personal data of individuals, the Bill sets up a Data Protection Authority.  The Authority will be comprised of members with expertise in fields such as data protection and information technology.  Any individual, who is not satisfied with the grievance redressal by the data fiduciary can file a complaint to the Authority.  Orders of the Authority can be appealed to an Appellate Tribunal. Appeals from the Tribunal will go to the Supreme Court.

Are there any exemptions to these safeguards for processing of personal data?

Processing of personal data is exempt from the provisions of the Bill in some cases.  For example, the central government can exempt any of its agencies in the interest of security of state, public order, sovereignty and integrity of India, and friendly relations with foreign states.  Processing of personal data is also exempted from provisions of the Bill for certain other purposes such as prevention, investigation, or prosecution of any offence, or research and journalistic purposes.  Further, personal data of individuals can be processed without their consent in certain circumstances such as: (i) if required by the State for providing benefits to the individual, (ii) legal proceedings, (iii) to respond to a medical emergency. 

Is the Bill different from the draft Bill suggested by the Expert Committee?

The Bill has made several changes from the draft Bill.  For instance, the Bill has added a new class of significant data fiduciaries, as social media intermediaries.  These will include intermediaries (with users above a notified threshold) which enable online interaction between users.  Further, the Bill has expanded the scope of exemptions for the government, and additionally provided that the government may direct data fiduciaries to provide it with any non-personal or anonymised data for better targeting of services. 

In a follow-up blog, we will provide a detailed comparison of the key provisions of this Bill with the Draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2018, released by the Justice B. N. Srikrishna Committee.

Explainer: The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The Minister of Home Affairs introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 today in Lok Sabha.   It is scheduled to be taken up for discussion and passing by the House later today.  The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, and seeks to make foreign illegal migrants of certain religious communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship.  In this blog, we look at the criteria for determining citizenship in India, discuss how the Bill proposes to change the criteria, and highlight other key changes proposed by the Bill. 

How is citizenship acquired in India?

In India, citizenship is regulated by the Citizenship Act, 1955.  The Act specifies that citizenship may be acquired in India through five methods – by birth in India, by descent, through registration, by naturalisation (extended residence in India), and by incorporation of territory into India. [1]  

Can illegal migrants acquire citizenship?

An illegal migrant is prohibited from acquiring Indian citizenship.  An illegal immigrant is a foreigner who either enters India illegally, i.e., without valid travel documents, like a visa and passport, or enters India legally, but stays beyond the time period permitted in their travel documents.  An illegal migrant can be prosecuted in India, and deported or imprisoned.   

In September 2015 and July 2016, the central government exempted certain groups of illegal migrants from being imprisoned or deported. [2]  These are illegal migrants who came into India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan on or before December 31, 2014, and belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian religious communities.  

How does the Bill seek to change the criteria for determining citizenship?

The Bill proposes that the specified class of illegal migrants from the three countries will not be treated as illegal migrants, making them eligible for citizenship.  On acquiring citizenship, such migrants shall be deemed to be Indian citizens from the date of their entry into India and all legal proceedings regarding their status as illegal migrants or their citizenship will be closed.

The Act allows a person to apply for citizenship by naturalisation, if the person meets certain qualifications.  One of the qualifications is that the person must have resided in India or been in central government service for the last 12 months and at least 11 years of the preceding 14 years.  For the specified class of illegal migrants, the number of years of residency has been relaxed from 11 years to five years.  

Are the provisions of the Bill applicable across the country?

The Bill clarifies that the proposed amendments on citizenship to the specified class of illegal migrants will not apply to certain areas.  These are: (i) the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution, and (ii) the states regulated by the “Inner Line” permit under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations 1873.  These Sixth Schedule tribal areas include Karbi Anglong (in Assam), Garo Hills (in Meghalaya), Chakma District (in Mizoram), and Tripura Tribal Areas District.   Further, the Inner Line Permit regulates visit of all persons, including Indian citizens, to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.

Is the differentiation among the specified class of illegal migrants and all other illegal migrants reasonable?

The Bill makes only certain illegal migrants eligible for citizenship.  These are persons belonging to the six specified religious communities, from the three specified countries, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and do not reside in the Sixth Schedule areas or in the states regulated by the Inner Line Permit states.  This implies that all other illegal migrants will not be able to claim the benefit of citizenship conferred by the Bill, and may continue to be prosecuted as illegal migrants.  Any provision which distinguishes between two groups may violate the standard of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution, unless one can show a reasonable rationale for doing so. [3]   The Bill provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of (a) their country of origin, (b) religion, (c) date of entry into India, and (d) place of residence in India.   The question is whether these factors serve a reasonable purpose to justify the differential treatment.  We examine this below. 

The Bill classifies migrants based on their country of origin to include only Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  While the Statement of Objects and Reasons (SoR) in the Bill reasons that millions of citizens of undivided India were living in Pakistan and Bangladesh, no reason has been provided to explain the inclusion of Afghanistan.  The SoR also states that these countries have a state religion, which has resulted in religious persecution of minority groups.  However, there are other countries which may fit this qualification.   For instance, two of India’s neighboring countries, Sri Lanka (Buddhist state religion) [4] and Myanmar (primacy to Buddhism) [5], have had a history of persecution of Tamil Eelams (a linguistic minority in Sri Lanka), and the Rohingya Muslims, respectively.[6], [7], [8]   

Further, there are other religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan (considered non-Muslims in that country) [9], and atheists in Bangladesh [10] who have faced religious persecution and may have illegally migrated to India.  Given that the objective of the Bill is to provide citizenship to migrants escaping from religious persecution, it is not clear why illegal migrants belonging to other neighbouring countries, or belonging to religious minorities from these three specified countries, have been excluded from the Bill.  

The Bill also creates further differentiation between the specified class of illegal migrants based on when they entered India (before or after December 31, 2014), and where they live in India (provisions not applicable to Sixth Schedule and Inner Line Permit areas).  However, the reasons provided to explain the distinction is unclear.  Note that certain restrictions apply to persons (both citizens and foreigners) in the Sixth Schedule areas and in the states regulated by the Inner Line Permit.  Once an illegal migrant residing in these areas acquires citizenship, he would be subject to the same restrictions in these areas, as are applicable to other Indian citizens.  Therefore, it is unclear why the Bill excludes illegal migrants residing in these areas. 

How does the Bill change the regulations for Overseas Citizens of India?

The Bill also amends the provisions on registration of Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). OCI cardholders are foreigners who are persons of Indian origin. For example, they may have been former Indian citizens, or children of current Indian citizens. An OCI enjoys benefits such as the right to travel to India without a visa, or to work and study here.  At present, the government may cancel a person’s OCI registration on various grounds specified in the Act.  In case of a cancellation, an OCI residing in India may be required to leave the country. The Bill adds another ground for cancelling OCI registration — violation of any law notified by the central government.  However, the Bill does not provide any guidance on the nature of laws which the central government may notify.  The Supreme Court has noted that this guidance is necessary to set limits on the authority’s powers and to avoid any arbitrariness in exercise of powers. [11]    Therefore, the powers given to the government under the Bill may go beyond the permissible limits of valid delegation. 

Note:  The blog has been updated to remove the following issue: “Second, the Bill delegates the power to notify laws and not offences.  This may result in the cancellation of OCI for minor violations.  For instance, the government may want to cancel the registration of an OCI who is found guilty of sedition, under the Indian Penal Code, 1861.  However, since the government cannot notify one offence, it will need to notify the entire Indian Penal Code, which would include minor offences such as rash and negligent driving.” 

[1].  Section 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.

[2].  State of West Bengal vs Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR 1952 SC 75.  

[3].  State of West Bengal vs Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR 1952 SC 75.  

[4].  Article 9 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka states: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).”

[5].  Articles 361 and 362 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar state the following.  “361. The Union recognizes special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union. 362. The Union also recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Animism as the religions existing in the Union at the day of the coming into operation of this Constitution.”

[6]. It is estimated that there are over a lakh Sri Lankan refugees in India, two-thirds of them in government camps.  See https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/why-lankan-refugees-are-reluctant-to-go-back-home/articleshow/65591130.cms

[7]. “Myanmar Rohingya: What you need to know about the crisis”, BBC News, April 24, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41566561.

[8]. “Why India is refusing refuge to Rohingyas”, Times of India, September 6, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/why-india-is-refusing-refuge-to-rohingyas/articleshow/60386974.cms.

[9].  The Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan passed in 1974 effectively declared Ahmaddiyas as non-Muslims. 

[11].  Hamdard Dawakhana and Anr., v. The Union of India (UOI) and Ors., AIR1960SC554; Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies and Ors. vs. The State of Bihar and Ors., 2016(4) PLJR369. 

Understanding recent amendments to the Arms Act, 1959

The  Arms (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha recently and is scheduled to be passed in this Winter Session.  The Bill amends the Arms Act, 1959 which deals with the regulation of arms in India.  The Act defines arms to include firearms, swords, and anti-aircraft missiles.  The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill noted that law enforcement agencies have indicated a growing connection between the possession of illegal firearms and criminal activities.  In this context, the Bill seeks to reduce the number of firearms allowed per person, and increases punishments for certain offences under the Act.   The Bill also introduces new categories of offences.  In this post, we explain key provisions of the Bill.  

How many firearms are allowed per person?

The Arms Act, 1959 allows a person to have three licenced firearms.  The Bill proposes to reduce this to one firearm per person.  This would also include any firearms that may have been given as inheritance or as an heirloom.  Excess firearms must be deposited at the nearest police station or licensed arms dealer within one year of the passing of the Bill.  The Bill also extends the duration of a licence from three years to five years.

Note that in 2017, 63,219 firearms were seized from across India under the Arms Act, 1959.  Out of these, only 3,525 (5.5%) were licenced firearms.  Further, 36,292 cases involving firearms were registered under the Act in 2017, of which only 419 (1.1%) cases involved licenced firearms. [1]  This trend persisted even at the level of specific crimes, where only 8.5% of the murders committed using firearms involved licenced firearms. [2]

What changes are being made to existing offences?

Presently, the Act bans manufacture, sale, use, transfer, conversion, testing or proofing of firearms without license.  The Bill additionally prohibits obtaining or procuring un-licensed firearms, and the conversion of one category of firearms to another without a license.  The latter includes any modifications done to enhance the performance of a firearm.

The Bill also proposes increased punishments for several existing offences.   For example, the Act specifies the punishment for: (i) dealing in un-licensed firearms, including their manufacture, procurement, sale, transfer, conversion, (ii) the shortening or conversion of a firearm without a licence, and (iii) import or export of banned firearms.   The punishment for these offences currently is between three years and seven years, along with a fine.  The Bill increases the minimum punishment to seven years and the maximum to life imprisonment.

The Act also punishes dealing in prohibited firearms (such as automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles) without a license, with imprisonment between seven years and life imprisonment, along with fine.  The Bill increases the minimum punishment from seven years to 10 years.  Additionally, the punishment for cases in which the usage of prohibited arms results in the death of a person has been revised.  The punishment has been updated from the existing punishment of death penalty to allow for death penalty or life imprisonment, along with a fine.

Are there any new offences being introduced?

The Bill adds certain news offences.  For example, forcefully taking a firearm from police or armed forces has been made a crime under the Bill.  The punishment for doing so is imprisonment between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with a fine.  Additionally, the Bill punishes the negligent use of firearms, such as celebratory gunfire during weddings or religious ceremonies which endanger human life or personal safety of others.  The proposed punishment in this case is imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine of up to one lakh rupees, or both.

The Bill also adds a definition of ‘illicit trafficking’.  It is defined to include the trade, acquisition, sale of firearms or ammunitions into or out of India where the firearms are either not marked as per the Act or violate the provisions of the Act.  The Bill makes illicit trafficking punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine.

Does the Bill address issues of organised crime?

The Bill also introduces a definition of ‘organised crime’.  ‘Organised crime’ has been defined as continued unlawful activity by a person, either as a member of a syndicate or on its behalf, by using unlawful means, such as violence or coercion, to gain economic or other benefits.  An organised crime syndicate refers to two or more persons committing organised crime.

The Bill introduces harsher punishments for members of an organised crime syndicate.  For example, for the possession of an unlicensed firearm, the minimum term for an individual would be seven years, extendable to life imprisonment and liable to a fine.  However, the possession of unlicensed firearms by a member of a syndicate will be punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and life, along with a fine.  This increased punishment also applies to non-members contravening provisions of the Act on behalf of a syndicate.

[1] Crime in India 2017, National Crime Records Bureau, October 21, 2019,  http://ncrb.gov.in/StatPublications/CII/CII2017/pdfs/CII2017-Full.pdf.

Explaining the recent ban on e-cigarettes

On Wednesday, the government promulgated an Ordinance to ban electronic cigarettes in India.  In this context, we look at what are electronic cigarettes, what are the current regulations in place, and what the Ordinance seeks to do.

What are electronic cigarettes?

The Ordinance defines electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as battery-operated devices that heat a substance, which may or may not contain nicotine, to create vapour for inhalation.  These e-cigarettes can also contain different flavours such as menthol, mango, watermelon, and cucumber.  Usually, e-cigarettes are shaped like conventional tobacco products (such as cigarettes, cigars, or hookahs), but they also take the form of everyday items such as pens and USB memory sticks.

Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and therefore are not regulated under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003.  This Act regulates the sale, production, and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India, and prohibits advertisement of cigarettes. 

What are the international regulations for e-cigarettes?

India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic.  In 2014, the WHO FCTC invited all its signatories to consider prohibiting or regulating e-cigarettes in their countries.  This was suggested due to emerging evidence on the negative health impact of these products which could result in lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other illnesses associated with smoking.

Since then, several countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, and Thailand have banned the production, manufacture, and sale of e-cigarettes.  Recently, the states of New York and Michigan in USA banned the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes.  Whereas, in UK, the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes has been allowed based on certain conditions.  Further, the advertisement and promotion, and the levels of nicotine in e-cigarettes is also regulated.

Prior to the Ordinance, were e-cigarettes regulated in India?

In August 2018, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released an advisory to all states requiring them to not approve any new e-cigarettes and restrict the sale and advertisements of e-cigarettes.  Based on this advisory, 15 states including Delhi, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh have since banned e-cigarettes.  However, this advisory was challenged in the Delhi High Court in March 2019, which subsequently imposed a stay on the ban.

What does the Ordinance do?

The Ordinance prohibits the production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution and advertisement of e-cigarettes in India.  Any person who contravenes this provision will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or a fine of one lakh rupees, or both.  For any subsequent offence, the person will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees.

Additionally, storage of e-cigarettes will be punishable with an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of Rs 50,000 or both.  Once the Ordinance comes into force (i.e., on September 18, 2019), the owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes will have to declare and deposit these stocks at the nearest office of an authorised officer.  Such an authorised officer may be a police officer (at least at the level of a sub-inspector), or any other officer as notified by the central or state government. 

Note that, the Ordinance does not contain any provisions regarding possession or use of e-cigarettes.  The Ordinance will be in force for the next six months, and must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the next session of Parliament.  If it is not passed within this time frame, it will cease to be in force. 

Explainer: The Code on Occupation Safety, Health and Working Condition

Presently, there are around 40 central laws regulating different aspects of labour such as, industrial dispute resolution, bonus payments, and working conditions.  The Ministry of Labour and Employment has proposed to consolidate these laws into four codes—wages, social security, industrial safety and welfare, and industrial relations.

The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 23, 2019.[1]  The Code consolidates 13 labour laws relating to safety, health and working conditions.  These include the Factories Act, 1948, the Mines Act, 1952, and the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.  In this context, we explain key provisions of the Code.

Who will be covered under the Code?

The Code applies to organisations employing at least 10 workers, and to all mines and docks.  Provisions of this Code will cover both employees and workers.  Employees include individuals in managerial and administrative positions.  However, the Code does not apply to apprentices, or to offices of the central or state governments.

Does the Code create special provisions for different types of organisations and workers?

Apart from prescribing health and safety provisions that apply to all organisations, the Code also outlines special requirements for different types of organisations (such as factories and mines) and workers (such as beedi and cigar workers).  These special provisions include exceptions or additional requirements.  For example, under the Code, factories are required to get a license in addition to registering under the general provisions of the Code. Similarly, the Code requires certain contractors to get licenses before hiring any contract labour.  Further, audio-visual workers can only be hired after signing an agreement with employers, which must be registered with a government authority.

What are the duties of employers and employees?

The Code lays down several duties of employers.  These include, providing a workplace that is free from hazards that may cause injury or diseases, and providing free annual health examinations to employees.  For certain organisations such as, factories and mines, the employer may have additional responsibilities. These include the obligation to notify authorities in case of an accident at the workplace that leads to death or serious bodily injury of an employee.

Under the Code, employees must take care of their own health and safety, comply with the specified standards, and report unsafe situations to the inspector-cum-facilitator.  Employees also have the right to obtain information related to safety and health standards from the employer.  They may do this by directly approaching the employer, or through a Safety Committee representative.   

Will work hours be uniform for all workers and employees?

Work hours for different types of organisations and employees will be notified by the government.  This is different from the current labour laws, many of which specify work hours within the law itself.  For example, the Factories Act, 1948 provides for a maximum 10 hours of work per day and 60 hours of work per week.[2] 

The Code also changes work hour requirements for women.  The current laws such as, the Mines Act, 1952, and the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, prohibit women from working after 7 pm and before 6 am.[3],[4]  However, the Code permits female workers to work past 7 pm and before 6 am with their consent and the approval of the government.  

What working conditions and welfare facilities does the Code provide for?

The employer is required to provide a hygienic work environment with: (i) ventilation, (ii) comfortable temperature, (iii) sufficient space, (iv) clean drinking water, and (v) latrine and urinal accommodations.  In addition, the government may specify certain other facilities such as, canteens, first aid boxes, and crèches that an employer must provide for.  This is a shift from the current legislation which provides for welfare facilities like canteens and crèches, in the law itself.  For instance, the Factories Act, 1948 requires the provision of canteens, ambulances, and first aid kits for organisations depending on the number of workers employed in the organisation.2

What is the leave policy for workers?

The Code states that no employee can be made to work for more than six days a week.  However, exceptions could be provided for motor transport workers.   Annually, workers must receive one day off for every 20 days they have worked.   While calculating annual leave, maternity leave and periods of lay off will be counted as days spent on duty.

What are the authorities set up under the Code?

The Code requires central and state governments to set up Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Boards at the national and state level, respectively.  These Boards will advise the central and state governments on the standards, rules, and regulations to be framed under the Code.  

The composition of the National Advisory Board includes five representatives for employers, five representatives of employees, and five reputed persons from the fields related to occupational health and safety, amongst other members.  The composition of State Advisory Boards will be decided by state governments.

How is the Code being enforced?

An inspector-cum-facilitator may be appointed by the government to inspect workplaces, inquire and investigate accidents, and provide safety information to workers.  In the case of factories, mines, and docks, the inspector may close or restrict employment in parts of the organisation if there is a health and safety risk.

The Code also prescribes penalties for violating provisions of the Code.  An offence that leads to the death of an employee could result in imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine up to five lakh rupees, or both.  Further, at least 50% of such fine may be given as compensation to the heirs of the victim.  For any other violation where the penalty is not specified, the employer will be penalised with a fine between two and three lakh rupees.  On the other hand, if an employee violates provisions of the Code, he could be fined up to Rs 10,000.

Does the Code provide gender specific provisions?

The Code includes certain provisions specific to female and transgender workers.  With respect to women, the government can prohibit employment of women in certain organisations if working there may be dangerous to their health and safety.  Further, the Code allows female workers to work night shifts with their consent and subject to approval of the government.  The Code also acknowledges transgender persons as a third gender by requiring separate urinal and latrine accommodations, rest rooms, washing spaces, and locker rooms for male, female, and transgender workers.  

[1] Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019, Ministry of Labour and Employment, https://www.prsindia.org/sites/default/files/bill_files/Occupational%20Safety%2C%20Health%20and%20Working%20Conditions%20Code%2C%202019.pdf.

[2] Factories Act, 1948, Ministry of Labour and Employment, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/TheFactoriesAct1948.pdf

[3] Mines Act, 1952, http://www.dgms.gov.in/writereaddata/UploadFile/Mines%20Act,%201952.pdf.

[4] Plantations Labour Act, 1951, https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/The-Plantation-Labour-Act-1951.pdf.

[5] Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966, http://labour.bih.nic.in/acts/beedi-and-cigar-workers-act-1966.pdf.

Explainer: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that amends the Right to Information Act, 2005 was introduced in Lok Sabha today.

What does the RTI Act do?  

Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.  This includes: (i) disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure, (ii) powers and duties of its officers and employees, and (iii) financial information.  The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information.  If such information is not made available, citizens have the right to request for it from the Authorities.  This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority.  The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.  

Who is included in the ambit of ‘Public Authorities’?

‘Public Authorities’ include bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, or under any law or government notification.  For instance, these include Ministries, public sector undertakings, and regulators.  It also includes any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government. 

How is the right to information enforced under the Act?

The Act has established a three tier structure for enforcing the right to information guaranteed under the Act.

Public Authorities designate some of their officers as Public Information Officers.  The first request for information goes to Central/State Assistant Public Information Officer and Central/State Public Information Officer, designated by the Public Authorities. These Officers are required to provide information to an RTI applicant within 30 days of the request.  Appeals from their decisions go to an Appellate Authority.  Appeals against the order of the Appellate Authority go to the State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission.  These Information Commissions consists of a Chief Information Commissioner, and up to 10 Information Commissioners.  

What does the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 propose?

The Bill changes the terms and conditions of service of the CIC and Information Commissioners at the centre and in states.  Table 1 below compares the provisions of the Act and the Bill. 

Table 1:  Comparison of the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Provision

RTI Act, 2005

RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Term

The Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) (at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of five years. 

The Bill removes this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.

Quantum of Salary

The salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively. 

Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively. 

 The Bill removes these provisions and states that the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs will be determined by the central government.

 

Deductions in Salary

The Act states that at the time of the appointment of the CIC and ICs (at the central and state level), if they are receiving pension or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, their salaries will be reduced by an amount equal to the pension. 

Previous government service includes service under: (i) the central government, (ii) state government, (iii) corporation established under a central or state law, and (iv) company owned or controlled by the central or state government.

The Bill removes these provisions.

 

Sources:  Right to Information Act, 2005; Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019; PRS.