Big issues, GS-1, Social Empowerment, Uncategorized

Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016 by the Minister for Labour and Employment, Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya.  The Bill amends the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. The Bill has been passed by Rajya Sabha.

The Act regulates the employment of women during the period of child-birth, and provides maternity benefits.  The Act applies to factory, mines, plantations, shops and other establishments.  The Bill amends provisions related to the duration and applicability of maternity leave, and other facilities

Provisions of the Bill:

Four major changes have been made to the law relating to maternity benefits. These are

  • Firstly, it extends the period of maternity benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks of which not more than eight weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery. This exceeds the International Labour Organisation’s minimum standard of 14 weeks and is a positive development. However, a woman who has two or more surviving children will be entitled to 12 weeks of which not more than six weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery.
  • Secondly, women who legally adopt a child below the age of three months or a “commissioning mother” will be entitled to maternity benefit for 12 weeks from the date on which the child is handed over to her.  A commissioning mother is defined as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.
  • Thirdly, it gives discretion to employers to allow women to work from home after the period of maternity benefit on mutually agreeable conditions. This would apply if the nature of work assigned to the woman permits her to work from home
  • Fourthly, it requires establishments having 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility, either separately or along with common facilities. Further, employers should allow the woman to visit the crèche four times a day, which “shall also include the interval for rest allowed to her.”
  • The Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her.  Such communication must be in writing and electronically.

 

Assessment of the Bill:

Criticism:

  • The Bill is steeped in an androcentric notion of family and the workplace. It assumes that only a mother is a parent or primary caregiver, while a father is the provider and an employee bereft of an active responsibility in childcare.
  • Restricting the option of working from home to only women also reinforces gender-based roles within the family. Provisions like these will inevitably cause employers to view these measures as an undue burden.
  • While it may marginally improve the working conditions in the short term, the amendment will undoubtedly perpetuate and sustain the gender gap in employment and in pay scales.
  • The Bill weakens the argument of “equal pay for equal work” as it can be argued rationally that work conditions for males and females differ and hence their pay scales should also differ. Thus the directive provided to the state under Article 39(a) is not being fulfilled.
  • Adoptive parents are discriminated. It also discriminates against adoptive fathers and transgendered persons who may adopt, as it does not even recognise their right to parental benefits. The state appears to be incentivizing the adoption of younger babies and discouraging the adoption of older babies and children.

Positives

  • It would benefit about 1.8 million women in the organised sector.  The new law will be applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more people.
  • At a time when female participation in Labour Force is way below the parity levels, as highlighted by McKinsey’s “The Power of Parity” report, this bill would go a long way in facilitating female entry in LFPR. Parity in LFPR would lead to boosting India’s GDP by 27% as highlighted by Christine Lagarde. It would reduce poverty and income inequality. She highlighted that Legal restriction exists in 90% of countries which limits women participation. This step is one of the ways to remove those legal and perception barriers for female participation in Labour Force.
  • The Bill provides a maternity leave of 26 weeks which exceeds ILO’s minimum standard of 14 weeks and is a positive development. India will jump to third position in terms of the number of weeks for maternity leave after Norway (44) and Canada (50), said Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya while replying to a debate on the legislation
  • Roughly one third of India’s children are malnourished. The increase in maternity leave as mandated by law from 12 weeks to 26 would help new mothers bond with their babies and also to enable them to breastfeed leading to enhanced nutrition and immunity for the child. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is widely believed to be the easiest and most cost-effective way to fight child malnutrition. Last year, the Rapid Survey of Children conducted by the WCD Ministry showed 29.4% of children were underweight, 15% were wasted (low weight for their height), and 38.7% were stunted (low height for their age).
  • Such a step was long overdue as the family structure in India, especially in urban areas has changed from joint family to nuclear family, necessitating the presence of parents at home in the initial time post a child’s birth
Big issues, GS-2, Uncategorized

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act

Constitutional Provisions Relating to Child Labour:

  • Article 24 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous industries. Allows their employment in non hazardous industries . Subsequently , government passed Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 which prohibited employment in 14 industries and regulated employment condition in the rest
  • Article 39(e) directs the state to ensure that health of workers be protected and children not to be exploited

Provisions of the Amended Bill

  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 4, 2012 by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mallikarjun Kharge.
  • The Bill seeks to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which prohibits the engagement of children in certain types of occupations and regulates the condition of work of children in other occupations.
  • The earlier Act prohibits employment of children below 14 years in certain occupations such as automobile workshops, bidi-making, carpet weaving, handloom and power loom industry, mines and domestic work.  In light of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, the Bill proposes a blanket ban on employment of children below 14 years in all occupations except in “own account enterprises” i.e. family business and in entertainment industry provided education of child does not get hampered
  • The Bill adds a new category of persons called “adolescent”.  An adolescent means a person between 14 and 18 years of age.  The amended Act prohibits employment of adolescents in hazardous occupations as specified (mines, inflammable substance and hazardous processes).
  • The central government may add or omit any hazardous occupation from the list included in the Bill
  • The Bill enhances the punishment for employing any child in an occupation.  It also includes penalty for employing an adolescent in a hazardous occupation. The punishment for those employers, employing children for the first time, the fine has been increased from 20000 to 50000 Rs and 6months to 2 years imprisonment. For repeat offenders the offence is cognizable (i.e. arrest can be made without warrant) and proposes a punishment of 1-3 year
  • The Bill proposes relaxed penal provisions for parents. In case of parents being repeat offenders, it proposes a fine of 10000 rupees.
  • The government may confer powers on a District Magistrate to ensure that the provisions of the law are properly carried out.
  • The Bill empowers the government to make periodic inspection of places at which employment of children and adolescents are prohibited.
  • It also sets up a Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund to be set up under the Act for rehabilitation of children and adolescent employed

Data on Child Labour

  • There are 33 million child labourers in India, according to UNICEF. As per the 2011 census, 80 per cent of them are Dalits, 20 per cent are from the Backward Classes
  • According to Global Slavery Index, India has the 4th largest estimated prevalence of modern slavery in proportion to its population. 1.4% of India’s population live in condition of modern slavery including sex work, domestic work, child labour, manual labour or even forced marriages
  • According to SECC 2011, 4 million children in working children in age group of 5-14 years

child labour in india amendment act

Criticism of the Amended Act:

  • Firstly, it has slashed the list of hazardous occupations for children from 83 to include just mining, explosives, and occupations mentioned in the Factory Act. This means that work in chemical mixing units, cotton farms, battery recycling units, and brick kilns, among others, have been allowed. Further, even the ones listed as hazardous can be removed, according to Section 4 — not by Parliament but by government authorities at their own discretion.
  • Secondly, section 3 in Clause 5 allows child labour in “family or family enterprises” or allows the child to be “an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry”. Since most of India’s child labour is caste-based work, with poor families trapped in intergenerational debt bondage, this refers to most of the country’s child labourers. The clause is also dangerous as it does not define the hours of work, it simply states that children may work after school hours or during vacations.
  • They also contravene the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Minimum Age Convention and UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India is a signatory. According to UNICEF, a child is involved in child labour if he or she is between 5 and 11 years, does at least one hour of economic activity, or at least 28 hours of domestic work in a week.
  • One-fifth of the child labourers rescued worked with their families. If the new law was in place they wouldn’t be rescued.
  • Regulation is going to be a big challenge, as it will be difficult to determine whether a particular family is running an enterprise, or whether some faceless owner has employed a single family to circumvent the law. The fallout will be a higher dropout rate. They may go to school for some years, concurrently work with their families, and graduate to being full-time adolescent workers, without completing elementary education
  • According to UN Convention on Rights of Child (CRC) every child has a right to be heard. In the International Working Group on Child Labour whi9ch came up with Kundapura declaration stated that children be consulted, their products recognized, work be regulated and made safe, education, health and security be provided. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in the current legislation. The Act follows the least resistance path which will open a pandora’s box

 

Big issues, GS-2, Indian Polity, Uncategorized

Surrogacy Bill

Here’s what you need to know about the draft bill on surrogacy which was recently cleared by the Union Cabinet.
GS-2, Uncategorized

Centre notifies Good Samaritan SOPs

The Centre has issued a notification ensuring that the affidavit of “Good Samaritan”, a person who voluntarily declares himself to be an eyewitness, shall be treated by the investigating officer as a final statement.

Background:

The notification is in response to Supreme Court directions in an October 2014 case of SaveLIFE Foundation asking the Centre to issue directions to save Good Samaritans until Parliament frames a law.

The court had directed the government to frame Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the examination of a Good Samaritan. In March, the court approved the guidelines and the SOPs issued by the government with certain modifications.

Details:

  • According to the notification, the affidavit of Good Samaritan, if filed, shall be treated as a complete statement by the police official while conducting the investigation. In case, the statement is to be recorded, the complete statement shall be recorded in a single examination.
  • The crux of the guidelines is that no bystander rushing to the rescue of an accident victim should be subject to civil or criminal liability and/or be forced to be a witness.
  • Also, any disclosure of personal information or offer to be a witness, in the event of the Good Samaritan also being an eyewitness to an accident, ought to be voluntary. Further, the examination of such a volunteer as a witness shall be done only on a single occasion and without harassment or intimidation.

Centre, in April 2016, had issued notification for protection of Good Samaritans. Guidelines include:

  • Assuring Good Samaritans anonymity and protecting them from any civil or criminal liability for taking the victim to the nearest hospital.
  • They shall be treated respectfully and without discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality, caste or any other.
  • Complete anonymity in case the Good Samaritan does not want to reveal his name or details.
  • Use of video-conferencing in case of any further interaction with him by the authorities and provision for the police to examine him at his residence or office or any place of his convenience.
GS-2

Benami Transactions Prohibition Amendment Bill

The agenda for the present government is to reduce the amount of Black money circulation. we already have theBlack Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015 which is aimed at bringing back money from abroad.

The other big sector where black money exists is the Real Estate sector. But to some extent it is being regulated by enacting Real estate regulation and development act 2016. What remains now is Benami transactions.

Problems with earlier act.

  • The penalty for entering into benami transactions is imprisonment up to three years, or a fine, or both
  • Enforcement of the act was little more long winded, in terms of confiscation

In the recent budget, the Income disclosure scheme was brought about, where people were encouraged to disclose black money and pay the tax on it. The reaction has been very muted.

Provisions in the new bill

  • whoever is found guilty of the offence of benami transaction shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to 25 per cent of the fair market value of the property.
  • Government’s power and procedure to confiscate benami property.
  • relaxations to those who are voluntarily disclosing their income.
  • The Bill seeks to establish four authorities to conduct inquiries or investigations regarding benami transactions: (i) Initiating Officer, (ii) Approving Authority, (iii) Administrator and (iv) Adjudicating Authority.
  • The Initiating Officer may hold the property for 90 days from the date of issue of the notice, subject to permission from the Approving Authority.
  • The process of confiscation has been laid out very clearly

Bill specifies certain cases will be exempt from the definition of a benami transaction.

  • These include cases when a property is held by: (i) a member of a Hindu undivided family, and is being held for his or another family member’s benefit, and has been provided for or paid off from sources of income of that family; (ii) a person in a fiduciary capacity; (iii) a person in the name of his spouse or child, and the property has been paid for from the person’s income

In 1951, after India became Republic, Economists calculated that 10% of GDP was getting into black channels. subsequently in 1970s it turned out to be 30% and it got exacerbated. At present 60% of the GDP is getting converted and shifting to black channels.

Threats to black money and other fundings from black money – Drugs, Arms, terrorists

The scope for getting in lot more people to disclose will increase, if the fear of imprisonment is taken away.

Government’s efforts to curb black money

In India, historically the two channels where the black money has gone is either Real estate or Gold.

  • At present government is trying to curb foreign money through Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015.
  • In addition to it, the Benami bill is to curb domestic black money. With this the government has tried to make two pronged attack.
  • The recent Gold Monetisation scheme is trying to bring back gold held with households into financial system.

Implications of Benami Transactions Prohibition Amendment Bill

  • In Real estate, the financial transactions and black money is very rampant. The Real estate bill which regulates the market and with this Benami transactions prohibition bill, the government can control the layering that happens, where lot of black money is converted to white.
  • This can control the inflation on property prices. prices are  artificially high in Real estate. With the Real estate bill  and the Benami transactions prohibition bill in place, we may see the corrections in the property prices

Conclusion

The government is trying systematically to cut down those channels where black money is used. As a moral responsibility of the individual, we should insist on white transactions and should say sno to black transactions. Stopping the supply of black money will reduce the demand of black money. This is a revolutionary legislation, and in years to come it can curb the black money generation.

GS-1, Social Empowerment, Uncategorized

Not only the mother’s responsibility

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was recently passed by the Rajya Sabha. The bill aims to benefit about 1.8 million women in the organised sector and increase the strength of the working women force in the country.

The Bill introduces following major changes to the law relating to maternity benefits:

  • It extends the period of maternity benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks of which not more than eight weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery. This exceeds the International Labour Organisation’s minimum standard of 14 weeks and is a positive development. However, a woman who has two or more surviving children will be entitled to 12 weeks of which not more than six weeks can precede the date of the expected delivery.Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016
  • Women who legally adopt a child below the age of three months or a “commissioning mother” will be entitled to maternity benefit for 12 weeks from the date on which the child is handed over to her. A “commissioning mother” is defined as “a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.”
  • It gives discretion to employers to allow women to work from home after the period of maternity benefit on mutually agreeable conditions, if the “nature of work assigned” to them permits such an arrangement.
  • It requires establishments having 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility, either separately or along with common facilities. Further, employers should allow the woman to visit the crèche four times a day, which “shall also include the interval for rest allowed to her.”
  • The Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her. Such communication must be in writing and electronically.

However, critics term this bill as a shallow attempt at protecting maternity, and one that does not adequately embrace a human rights approach. Why?

  • The Bill does nothing to dismantle the male breadwinner model and continues to reinforce the stereotype about childcare being exclusively a woman’s responsibility. It demeans and discriminates against alternative parenting models.
  • It assumes that only a mother is a parent or primary caregiver, while a father is the provider and an employee bereft of an active responsibility in childcare. It is silent on paternity/parental leave.
  • It requires employers to ensure that women are allowed four visits a day to the crèche facility maintained by the employer, implying that establishments which do not have working mothers will be exempt from the obligation to maintain a crèche.
  • Restricting the option of working from home to only women also reinforces gender-based roles within the family. Provisions like these will inevitably cause employers to view these measures as an undue burden.
  • It will also render the ‘equal pay for equal work’ guarantee illusory as the “nature of work” assigned to working mothers can always be rationalised as not being the same as their male counterparts. While it may marginally improve the working conditions in the short term, the amendment will undoubtedly perpetuate and sustain the gender gap in employment and in pay scales.
  • The Bill entitles an adoptive mother to maternity leave of 12 weeks only if she adopts a child below three months of age. It overlooks the rigorous procedures on declaring a child free for adoption under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, that makes it nearly impossible to adopt a child below three months. The Bill also ignores Section 57(3) of the JJ Act, which enables a “single person” to adopt.
  • The Bill also discriminates against adoptive fathers and transgendered persons who may adopt, as it does not even recognise their right to parental benefits.
  • The Bill discriminates against almost all adoptive mothers, particularly those who adopt older babies or children. The state appears to be incentivising the adoption of younger babies and discouraging the adoption of older babies and children.
  • The Bill also says maternity benefit is available to a woman only if “her egg” was used to create an embryo. This is a demeaning way of sanctioning surrogacy and is fairly unscientific as well. It fails to recognise that either of the parents could be a donor and need not necessarily be the mother. It also sidesteps the controversy surrounding surrogacy involving anonymous donors.

What needs to be done?

  • The law cannot be blind to the need for recognising parenting responsibilities and protecting children irrespective of the gender identity of their parents.
  • To ensure genuine equality in employment, protection of maternity, and promotion of childcare, government should ensure that the Bill extends maternity benefits equally and unconditionally to all women who parent a child and introduce parental leave as well.
  • Employers should be under an obligation to provide crèche facilities and work-from-home options to all parents and not just to working mothers as childcare is a shared responsibility.
  • Also, a non-discrimination clause should be added that no person should be discriminated against in employment for having availed any parental benefits under the law.

Way ahead:

The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is a long overdue piece of legislation that must be welcomed. Though there are several gaps still, it doffs its hat to gender parity and the fact that new mothers need time and space away from their jobs — for themselves and for their children.

This new legislation will propel India into third place for maternity leave in the world after Norway at 44 weeks and Canada at 50 weeks. While this is to be applauded, it is also hoped that it will help in increasing the participation of women from the current 24% – way lower the global average of 40% – so they can be at the forefront of India’s march towards prosperity.

Conclusion:

While maternity should certainly be protected, the law should recognise that raising a child is a social function and the responsibility is commonly owed by all parents and not just the biological/adoptive/commissioning mothers.

Editorials, GS-2, Social Issue, Uncategorized

A tricky debate on abortion

The Hindu

The Supreme Court of India recently took a landmark decision to allow a 24-year-old rape survivor to terminate a 24-week pregnancy, as the foetus has abnormalities, and going ahead would severely affect the woman’s health. This is a landmark judgment. It is because after 20 weeks of pregnancy a woman in India is not allowed by law to abort a foetus.

Abortion in India:

Abortion in India is legal only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, under specific conditions and situations, which are defined as:

  • If the continuance of pregnancy risks the life of the woman or may result in grave physical or mental injury.
  • If there is a substantial possibility of the child being born with physical or mental abnormalities, as to be seriously handicapped.

Who has the right to abort?

  • The pregnant woman has the right to adopt; she does not need anyone’s acknowledgement or support if she’s above 18 years of age and is mentally stable.
  • If a woman is married, her own written consent is sufficient. Her husband’s consent is not required.
  • If a woman is unmarried and over 18 years of age, she can provide her own written consent.
  • If a woman is unmarried and under 18, she must provide written consent from her guardian/parent.
  • If a woman is mentally unstable, a written consent is required from her guardian/parent.

Laws governing abortion in India:

According to the IPC abortion falls under ‘Offences Affecting the Human Body’, and provides that causing a miscarriage with or without consent for a purpose other than saving the life of the woman is punishable.

However, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) makes for a quantum difference in approach, as if by a legislative sleight through a non-obstante clause, by decriminalising abortion without bringing an amendment to the IPC or abrogating the penal provisions.

MTP Act:

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in India came into existence in 1971. It was amended in 2003 to facilitate better implementation and increase access for women especially in the private health sector.

the-medical-termination-of-pregnancy-mtp-act

  • Problems with the MTP Act:The MTP Act sets some limitations regarding the circumstances when abortion is permissible, the persons who are competent to perform the procedure, and the place where it could be performed. Outside the ring of protection that the Act draws, the IPC still operates.
  • The MTP Act overrides the IPC by allowing a woman to get an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, provided a registered medical practitioner diagnoses grave danger to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health. If the foetus is between 12 and 20 weeks old, then the procedure requires permission from two medical practitioners. The Act also allows abortion if the foetus will be born with severe abnormalities.
  • To determine the risk of physical and mental harm to a pregnant woman seeking abortion, the Act takes into account the woman’s actual as well as reasonably foreseeable environment.
  • It also defines circumstances which can constitute grave injury to the mental health of a woman. The mentally grievous situations include pregnancy resulting from rape as well as contraceptive failure – of any contraception used by a married woman or her husband – if a married couple is attempting to limit their number of children.
  • Abortion beyond 20 weeks is also legal if a registered medical practitioner, in good faith, thinks that emergency termination is necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.
  • The Act does not mention anything about a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy beyond 20 weeks if there are foetal abnormalities.
  • The Act as it currently stands also does not permit abortion solely on the request of a woman. One important reason for this is to prevent and reduce the instances of female foeticide in the country. However, it is important to analyse and study whether the law has had the desired impact on female foeticide, especially in light of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Misuse) Act, 1994 which prohibits sex-selection and prescribes strict punishment for both – the party seeking prenatal sex determination as well as the medical practitioner conducting the test.
  • The MTP Act also does not address any ethical issues, but in legal regimes that do not allow abortions, the moral standpoint is that medical termination of pregnancy results in the death of a living being.

Way ahead:

A revision of the legal limit for abortion is long overdue. The process of rethinking the 44-year-old MTP law has already taken years, but the issues go beyond the slowness of the process. In the decades since the law was first enacted, the science on the subject has made enormous leaps — with the advent of ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and foetal monitoring devices, predicting the health of the baby has become more accurate and sophisticated than anything that was conceivable then.

The draft Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced by the government in 2014, provides for abortion beyond 20 weeks under defined conditions. The bill should seriously taken up for consideration by the government. As per the draft law, the decision to allow abortion between 20 and 24 weeks can be taken “in good faith” by a healthcare provider if, among other conditions, the pregnancy involves substantial risks to the mother or child, or if it is “alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape”.

Conclusion:

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is never an easy or mechanical decision and it takes a severe toll on the affected parties, especially the woman. There is a need to strike a balance between the rights of women to control their bodies and the legitimate interests of the state to prevent selective sex determination as well as protect the interests of the woman and the unborn foetus. The draft amendments offer a definitive step in the right direction.

GS-2, Social Empowerment, Uncategorized

Paid maternity leave increased to 6 months

The Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 to increase paid leave for expectant mothers from three months to six and a half months. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill of 2016 will now be introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

Details:

  • The amendment bill seeks to increase maternity leave to 26 weeks in all establishments, including private sector. The act is applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more persons.
  • The bill also provides 12 weeks leave for commissioning and adopting mothers and makes it mandatory to provide creche facility for establishment where the number of workers is 50 and above. At present, the Maternity Benefit Act does not provide any maternity leave for commissioning or adopting mothers.

Significance of these amendments:

Maternal care to the Child during early childhood is crucial for growth and development of the child. The amendments will help 18 lakh women workforce in organised sector. They also help women devote time to take care of their babies and enable an increase in the women’s labour force participation (WLFPR) rate in India. The labour force participation rate (LFPR) in India is around 40%, but for females, it is only 22.5%. The gap in male-female labour force participation is such that the LFPR for rural women above 15 years is only 35.8%, while for rural males it is more than double at 81.3%, according to a 2015 research paper by the government policy think tank NITI Aayog.

Background:

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, protects the employment of women during the time of maternity and entitles them of a full paid absence from work to take care for the child.

Editorials, Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Missing the wetlands for the water

Article Link

Environment Ministry has come up with new draft wetland conservation rules. With this, the government is all set to change the rules on wetlands.

What are wetlands?

Wetlands are ecosystems located at the interface of land and water and wherein water plays a dominant role in controlling plant and animal life and associated ecosystem processes.

Identification of wetlands:

The Ramsar Convention rules are the loftiest form of wetland identification that the world follows. Ramsar has specific criteria for choosing a wetland as a Ramsar site, which distinguishes it as possessing ‘international importance’.

  • An important distinguishing marker is that Ramsar wetlands should support significant populations of birds, fish, or other non-avian animals.
  • India is one of the 169 signatories to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. The convention provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
  • There are 2,241 Ramsar sites across the world, including 26 spread across India from Wular Lake in Jammu and Kashmir to Ashtamudi Wetland in Kerala, and from Deepor Beel in Assam to Nal Sarovar in Gujarat.

What’s there in the new draft?

  • The new draft replaces the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules of 2010.
  • It seeks to give power to the States to decide what they must do with their wetlands. This includes deciding which wetlands should be protected and what activities should be allowed or regulated, while making affable calls for ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecosystem services’.
  • The draft restricts activities like reclamation of wetlands, and conversion for non-wetland uses, any diversion or impediment to natural water inflows and outflows of the wetland and any activity having or likely to have an adverse impact on ecological character of the wetland.
  • According to the draft Rules, the power to identify and notify wetlands would be vested in the Chief Minister, who as chief executive of the state government as well as of the state wetland authority, will propose and notify wetlands after accepting or rejecting recommendations.

Contentious clauses in the new draft:

  • The draft does away with the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority, which had suo moto cognisance of wetlands and their protection.
  • The draft rules contain no ecological criteria for recognising wetlands, such as biodiversity, reefs, mangroves, and wetland complexes.
  • The draft has deleted sections on the protection of wetlands, and interpretation of harmful activities which require regulation, which found reference in the 2010 rules.
  • It has also removed the list of prohibited activities which was in the previous one and has completely shifted the entire burden of wetlands protections from the Centre to the respective states.

What’s left out?

  • What comprises a wetland is an important question that the Draft Rules leave unanswered. However, the 2010 rules outline criteria for wetland identification including genetic diversity, outstanding natural beauty, wildlife habitats, corals, coral reefs, mangroves, heritage areas, and so on.
  • A detailed list of prohibited activities in the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010, like setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries, solid waste dumping, manufacturing or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances, discharge of untreated waste and effluents from industries, cities, towns and other human settlements, any construction of permanent nature is left out.
  • The rules have no mention of how communities or people can ensure conservation of wetlands. They have no provisions for carrying out environment impact assessment (EIA) for projects on wetlands either.
  • According to 2010 Rules, wetlands were to be notified within a year of the Rules coming into force, and there were deadlines for each process along the way. However, the new draft does away with the time-bound process for notification.
  • There are also no provisions for wetland complexes in the new rules.

Other concerns associated:

  • While the new draft calls for sustainability, this is a difficult concept to enforce, particularly with regard to water.
  • Regulation of activities in the draft rules do not make any obvious connection with existing groundwater legislations because these two aspects are still seen as separate.
  • The 2016 Draft Wetland Rules also call for wise use of wetlands. ‘Wise use’ is a concept used by the Ramsar Convention, and is open to interpretation. It could mean optimum use of resources for human purpose. It could mean not using a wetland so that we eventually strengthen future water security. It could also mean just leaving the wetland and its catchment area as is for flood control, carbon sequestration, and water recharge functions.

Conclusion:

Wetlands are seriously threatened by reclamation and degradation as a result of drainage and landfills, pollution (domestic and industrial effluents, disposal of solid waste) resulting in loss of biodiversity and disruption of the wetland systems. Hence, it is imperative that the Draft Wetlands Rules, 2016 be looked at with a hard, if not cynical, eye.

GS-2, Indian Polity, Uncategorized

Bring brand ambassadors under Consumer Protection Act, says CAIT

Traders body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has said that brand ambassadors should be brought under the ambit of Consumer Protection Act as consumers are often “guided” through such endorsement, irrespective of quality of product.

  • CAIT has also threatened to move court if the government did not take necessary action. The body has also demanded that specific guidelines be formulated, fixing the liability of brand ambassadors.

Why this is necessary?

According to CAIT, prominent personalities of different fields are engaged by big companies to endorse their products to grab more share in the market for their products irrespective of the quality of the product and those personalities in lust of earning huge money never care for the quality. Also, such endorsements influence customer’s choice to great extent.

Background:

Recently, in its report on the Consumer Protection Bill 2015, a parliamentary panel had also suggested legal teeth to make celebrities accountable for misleading advertisements. The panel had suggested legal teeth to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to curb misleading ads, besides proposing severe penalties, jail and cancellation of licence of those involved in food adulteration.

What the law says?

  • There is no specific word in the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) about the extent, or lack, of liability or duty of care of the brand ambassador, who signs on to promote the brand as its ‘face’ and takes on the role of a marketing representative. Sections 24 and 53 of the 2006 Act deal specifically with advertisements.
  • Section 24 (1) says in general terms that “no advertisement shall be made of any food which is misleading or deceiving or contravenes the provisions of this Act, the rules and regulations made thereunder.” Here, it does not explain whether the term “made” is only confined to commissioning the advertisement or its actual making. In the latter case, a brand ambassador does play a part.
  • Subsection (2) of the same section says “no person shall engage himself in any unfair trade practice for the purpose of promoting the sale…” This clause does not specify who the “person” mentioned in it is, thus, making the ambit of the provision pliable.