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Today’s Talk on Editorials

Is CBI the handmaiden of the government? 

  • The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) acts largely at the behest of the government of the day and this becomes quite obvious from the things done and not done.

Need for autonomy – The CBI has to be placed under an independent body to investigate cases without government interference.

  • The movement against corruption, or the Lokpal movement, had made a plain argument when it sought the delinking of the CBI from the administrative control of the government.
  • In that as long as the government of the day has the power to transfer and post officials of its choice in the CBI, the investigating agency will not enjoy autonomy and will be unable to investigate cases freely.
  • Then again, there are instances of corrupt officers in the CBI who become pliable in the hands of the government.
  • The CBI has to be placed under an independent body.
  • The CBI, Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate are three instruments which the government has used for political purposes and the pressure they apply is always by way of inaction. They act only when the government wants them to act.

 

 

Inflation conundrum 

 

  • The latest Consumer Price Index data show headline retail inflation has decelerated to a record low of 1.54% in June. That the reading has slid below the 2% lower bound of the Reserve Bank of India’s medium-term target for CPI inflation, has understandably led to calls for the RBI to support economic growth by cutting interest rates.
  • Core inflation, which strips out the relatively volatile food and fuel prices, has also trended lower and eased below 4% for the first time in at least five years
  • With the latest industrial output data from May reflecting weaknesses in key sectors like capital goods and consumer durables, the reasoning behind demands for monetary action that could help spur both investment and consumer demand is evident.
  • Others have also flagged concerns about “deflationary trends” and the risks of relying too heavily on forecasting models. The voices exhorting the central bank to reduce interest rates are only going to grow ahead of its next bi-monthly policy review at the beginning of August.
  • The impact from the July 1 introduction of the Goods and Services Tax will begin to feed into prices only over the coming months —there could be upward pressure on core inflation.
  • Similarly, the payment of increased allowances under the Seventh Central Pay Commission’s award could also start to transmit into price gains.
  • Fiscally expansive measures taken by several State governments to address farmers’ demands for debt relief could pose a “tail risk” by triggering generalised inflation over time.
  • And the restoration of the health of the banking sector, a key caveat for ensuring effective transmission of monetary policy, is as yet far from being close to a fruitful outcome.
  • Ultimately, the RBI will have to weigh whether the current trend in inflation is likely to remain durable enough for it to make a move that doesn’t end up proving to be a costly error in the long run.

 

Gender Empowerment 

  • An effort to bring the transgender persons out of the shadows is on with the Kochi Metro, followed by the Chennai Metro, hiring them in their workforce.
  • These steps may have been spurred by the Supreme Court’s judgment on April 15, 2014, in the National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India case, in which it asked the government to take steps for the welfare of transgender persons and to treat them as a third gender for the purpose of safeguarding their fundamental rights.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016

  • It attempts to bring the community into the mainstream.
  • Decades after the Indian Constitution guaranteed the fundamental right to equality, freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex and gender and freedom of speech and expression, transgender persons face problems ranging from social exclusion to discrimination, lack of education facilities, unemployment, lack of medical facilities, to name a few.

Providing recognition

  • The Bill seeks to define and provide recognition to transgender persons, prohibit discrimination against them, ensure inclusive education, create a statutory obligation on public and private sectors to provide them with employment and recognises their right to “self-perceived gender identity”.
  • It also seeks to issue a certificate of identity to transgender persons, provide for a grievance redressal mechanism in establishments and to establish a National Council for Transgenders.
  • The Bill makes the government responsible for chalking out welfare schemes and programmes which are “transgender sensitive, non-stigmatising and non-discriminatory”.
  • Noting that it is a crime to push transgender persons into begging or bonded or forced labour, the Bill recognises the rights of transgenders persons to live with their families, not to be excluded from such households and enjoy and use the facilities of those households in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Yet to be addressed:

  • However, the Bill does not address the issue of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • Further, the definition of a ‘transgender person’ is left vague. It says a transgender person is one who is “neither wholly female nor wholly male or a combination of female or male or neither female nor male and whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at the time of birth, and includes trans men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations and gender-queers”. The Bill does not separately define any of these terms used, like for example, “trans-men” and “transwomen”.

 

Domestic HelpIt’s not help, it’s work

  • The so-called police verification forms sought to be filled by people who work as domestic help points to the criminalisation of people on the basis of their occupation.
  • No such information is sought by the employer, despite there being ample evidence to suggest that the security threat works the other way too.

Lack of recognition

  • For the record, no other category of workers is required to register themselves with the police.
  • In a country where 93% of the workforce is in the unorganised sector and therefore beyond the purview of most labour laws, domestic workers represent a new low in terms of disempowerment: they are not even recognised as workers. Their work — cooking, cleaning, dish-washing, baby-sitting — is not recognised as work by the state. Criminalisation is thus the last straw.
  • India has only two laws that, in a roundabout way, construe domestic helps as workers. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, (UWSSA) and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. While the former is a social welfare scheme, the latter is aims to protect working women in general. Neither of these recognises domestic helps as rights-bearing workers.
  • Yet this recognition is a necessary pre-condition for state regulation — in the form of a draft National Policy for Domestic Workers. This policy not only calls for promoting awareness of domestic work as a “legitimate labour market activity”, but also recommends amending existing labour laws to ensure that domestic workers enjoy all the labour rights that other workers do. But the government seems to be in no hurry to adopt it.

Domestic work as an economic activity is too vast and employs too many to remain unregulated. Why?

  • The apparently endless supply of domestic workers has a lot to do with the decline of employment opportunities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, which took a hit post-2008.
  • At the same time, demand kept rising, as the entry of middle class and upper middle-class women into the male-dominated world of work was not matched in scale by a corresponding entry of men into the (feminised) realm of unpaid housework.
  • Poorer women from the hinterlands stepped in to fill the labour gap, for some remuneration.
  • Today, the economic value of housework is no longer disputed. But the nexus of the state and the market has managed to keep domestic work outside the realm of economic regulation.
  • Neither the Maternity Benefits Act nor the Minimum Wages Act or any of the scores of other labour laws apply to domestic work. Domestic workers can be hired and fired at will. The employer has no legally binding obligations.

A regulatory framework

  • The anti-sexual harassment law recognises the private household as a workplace.
  • The National Platform for Domestic Workers submitted a draft bill, the Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Bill, 2016, to the government in January.
    • It calls for the compulsory registration of the employer and the employee with the District Board for regulation of domestic workers.
    • Unlike the UWSSA, which puts the onus on the state, it mandates the collection of cess from the employer for the maintenance of a social security fund for domestic workers, whose access would be mediated through an identity card.
  • This framework achieves both the objectives of police verification — security, and documentation of identification data. But in a refreshing contrast, it does so not by criminalising domestic helps but by empowering them as rights-bearing workers.
  • Thus, to view domestic workers as a security threat is but another way of denying them the status of workers. The policy mindset regarding domestic workers must shift from a law-and-order paradigm to one about workers’ rights. A good place to start would be to consider enacting a Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Act.