Women get 33% quota in Union Territories police
- The Union Cabinet on Friday cleared 33 per cent reservation for women in the direct recruitment for non-gazetted posts of constables to sub-inspectors in the police forces of all Union Territories, including Delhi.
- The decision to recruit more policewomen is expected to instill confidence among women, especially in Delhi where crime against women is very high and often the victims are afraid to approach the police as they may have to deal with male police officers.
Black money Bill tabled in Lok Sabha
- In a step towards delivering on the BJP’s poll promise of unearthing black money stashed abroad, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley March 20 introduced in the Lok Sabha the Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill, 2015.
- Undisclosed income abroad, according to an official release, will no longer be taxed under the Income Tax Act. Tax on all foreign income will have to be paid at the flat rate of 30 per cent without any exemption, deduction, set off or carry forward losses that the Income Tax Act permits.
- It provides for criminal liability with enhanced punishment of jail for 3-10 years for wilful evasion of tax on foreign income along with a penalty equal to three times the amount of tax evaded or 90% of the undisclosed income or the value of the asset.
- However, it provides for a window to offenders seeking to come clean on such undisclosed assets. In prosecution proceedings, the wilful nature of the default shall be presumed with the onus on the accused to prove that he/she is not guilty.
- Those availing of the limited compliance window offer would have to pay tax at the rate of 30% but concessional penalty would be equal to the tax amount.
- Failure to file returns of foreign income or assets will attract a penalty of Rs. 10 lakh. Second and subsequent offence will be punishable with rigorous imprisonment of 3-10 years with a fine of up to Rs. 1 crore.
Unlocking growth through labour reforms
- Over 25% of the world’s workers are Indian. And 300 million young people are set to enter the labour force by 2025. With an average age of 29, India’s population is in the middle of a demographic boom. By 2020, when the global economy is expected to run short of 56 million young people, India, with a youth surplus of 47 million, could fill the gap. It is in this context that labour reforms are often cited as the way to unlock double-digit growth in India.
- Why reforms? Because India still does not use its vast labour force productively or judiciously. In 2014, India’s labour force was estimated to be about 490 million, or 40% of the population, but 93% of this force was in the unorganised sector, ranging from vegetable vending to diamond trading. Over the last decade, the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of employment has slowed to 0.5%, with 13.9 million jobs created in 2012 when the labour force increased by 14.9 million.
- The primary policy challenge is to increase the employability of our labour force. And to shift labour from agricultural to non-agricultural jobs (where there is a projected need for 120 million skilled hands), along with social security measures.
Low wages, limited security
- Average daily wage rates are quite low, in rural and urban areas.
- Benefits are equally minimal. Women, in particular, have difficulty participating in the industrial labour force. The Maternity Benefit Act (1961) is largely underutilised. In 2012, just 2,441 women claimed maternity benefits across 84,956 factories.
- Railway and mine workers have faced 1,082 and 32 accidents, respectively, mostly fatal, while their dependents receive an average compensation of Rs.2.6 lakh and Rs.9 lakh, respectively. Around 93% of casual workers and 66% of salaried employees have no written contracts, while only 22.7% have reported receiving paid leave.
Reforms at slow pace
- India’s labour law regime has always been at loggerheads with industrial development and the ease of doing business. Over the past year, the government has attempted to reconcile this by amending the Apprentice Act (1961), making it more responsive to industry and youth, and substituting complex inspection regimes with technology friendly portals. ShramSuvidha, a unified labour portal scheme, has been launched to provide timely redress of grievances and facilitate self-certification by industry. This also encourages a more transparent labour inspection regime, with inspection reports uploaded within 72 hours.
- Labour reforms must be linked to the ease of doing business, creating a habitat where jobs can be fostered. Reforms must be linked to worker benefits, while simultaneously easing the compliance burden on small and medium enterprises. The labour law must be rationalised by defining minimum wages and linking them to inflation. Minimum wages ought to be revised annually, with penalties for their violation dramatically raised.
- According to the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), we need 120 million skilled people in the non-farm sector. Amendments to the Apprenticeship Act are welcome. With no labour laws applying to apprentices, care must be taken to ensure that they are not transformed into contract labour. MGNREGA should be restructured and linked to apprenticeship programmes in industry and agriculture.
- Women workers require legislation too. Female employees of government schemes like Indira Kranti Patham or Anganwadi Worker remain out of the purview of laws. Scheme-based workers should be treated as regular employees and offered decent wages and social security. Equally, contract labourers must be protected. They should be covered by the Workmen’s Compensation Act (1923) for accidents, with inflation-linked wages and limited social security benefits from the Employees State Insurance Act (1948) and Maternity Benefits Act (1961) extended to them.
National policy for Upper Houses?
- The desirability of a bicameral legislature at the State level has been debated since the days of the Constituent Assembly, and recent developments may revive the debate. Assam and Rajasthan want to join the small seven-member club of States (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh) with a Legislative Council in the country and Odisha is also examining the creation of one.
- A second chamber has always been attractive to those who believe in widening the space for representative democracy. Its advocates say wiser counsel from an upper House of elders is needed to temper the often fractious nature of the debate in the Lower House. Also, the second chamber helps in accommodating more sections of society in the process of legislation and decision-making.
- Detractors, however, contend that the Council is nothing but a body to accommodate various political interests within a party, a backdoor way into the legislature for those who lose direct elections. Recent experience suggests that even Chief Ministers choose the Legislative Council route when the option is available. Does the fact that an upper House exists in seven States, with two or three more keen to join that list, really indicate that there is merit in having a Council?
- There is little doubt that a second chamber will be a useful forum to play an advisory role in legislative matters. However, the fact remains that it can also be a tool in the hands of those in power to accommodate their favourites or defeated party functionaries. Also, there is no consensus even within States on its necessity.
- In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam abolished the Council in 1986, and strongly opposes moves by its rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to revive it. Parliament has already passed legislation to revive the chamber in Tamil Nadu, but it is yet to be implemented. In Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam Party government abolished the Council in 1985, but a Congress regime revived it in 2007. This was why a senior member in the UPA Cabinet cautioned the government against supporting the then DMK regime’s proposal to revive the Council in the absence of a consensus.
- A parliamentary committee, examining the Rajasthan and Assam bills relating to creation of the Legislative Council, suggested that there should be a national policy on having a permanent second chamber so that a subsequent government cannot abolish it at its whim. This is a better way to address the issue instead of relying on ad hocism. While framing such a policy, it will also have to be decided whether the time and resources involved in having a second chamber is worth the while, and if so, whether the present scheme of giving representation to teachers and graduates requires modification to involve other sections.