1. Is it time for the gig economy?
What is moonlighting and how is it affecting the companies in India? Is it a punishable offence under the law? How has the work-from-home culture affected the gig economy of our country?
Moonlighting is a state where employees work for remuneration with entities other than their employers. It is not defined in any of the statutes in India. However, there are enactments that deal with double employment.
Moonlighting is subject to law of the land. The sphere of employment cannot be extended by the employer beyond working hours and outside his place of employment.
The Courts of law in India dealing with employment are Writ Courts and Labour Courts, which exercise jurisdiction based on equity or fairness. Therefore, the Courts may lean in favour of the employee unless the contravention of the employee has led to serious prejudice and loss to the employer.
K. Bharat Kumar
The story so far:
Moonlighting — or employees working for remuneration with entities other than their employers — has been a hot topic in recent months. During the pandemic, those with desk jobs had more time on their hands and thus it was easier to take on a few projects outside of work. In July, Kotak Securities said in a study that at least 60% of 400 employees surveyed said they themselves had, or knew someone who had engaged in moonlighting.
How are companies reacting to moonlighting?
In August, Wipro chairman Rishad Premji tweeted: “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating — plain and simple.” The company sacked 300 employees following the discovery that they were working for rival firms on the side, leading to conflict of interest. Infosys has warned staff against moonlighting, saying it could lead to termination.
Another software firm DXC Technologies said that moonlighting by employees was a challenge for employers but that wouldn’t affect its WFH (work from home) policy that has worked well for both the firm and its staff. Swiggy announced a ‘moonlighting policy’ that allows employees “to pursue their passion for economic interests alongside their full-time employment.”
What does the law say?
Moonlighting is not defined in any of the statutes in India, says S. Ravindran, Senior Advocate who specialises in labour laws. “To my knowledge so far, no Constitutional Court has rendered a decision on the subject,” he says. However, there are enactments that deal with double employment. Section 60 of the Factories Act deals with restriction on double employment stating that “No adult worker shall be required or allowed to work in any factory on any day on which he has already been working in any other factory, save in such circumstances as may be prescribed”. However, this enactment is applicable only to employees working in factories, Mr. Ravindran points out.
There are State enactments which deal with employment of persons working in offices, banks, shops, etc. In Tamil Nadu, it is termed as “The Tamil Nadu Shops & Establishments Act, 1947”. However, there is no provision wherein dealing with dual employment.
However, moonlighting is subject to law of the land. Mr. Ravindran refers to the Supreme Court’s observation in the case of Glaxo Laboratories (I) Limited vs Labour Court, Meerut and others. The apex court held that “The employer has hardly any extra territorial jurisdiction. He is not the custodian of general law and order situation nor the Guru or mentor of his workmen for their well-regulated cultural advancement. If the power to regulate the behaviour of the workmen outside the duty hours and at any place wherever they may be was conferred upon the employer, contract of service may be reduced to contract of slavery.” This case was not specifically about moonlighting but the court’s observation gives us an idea as to how the law may view such cases.
Moonlighting is subject to law of the land. The sphere of employment cannot be extended by the employer beyond working hours and outside his place of employment, which is the principle laid down in the above judgment. In other words, the employee can choose to arrange his affairs as he pleases beyond the working hours of the employer.
Does the law lay out punitive action against moonlighting?
Mr. Ravindran avers that unless an employer is able to prove that an employee acted against the interest of the company, Courts may not uphold severe punishment of termination of employment. “We have to wait for precedents in this regard,” he says.
The Courts of law in India dealing with employment are Writ Courts and Labour Courts. These Courts exercise jurisdiction based on equity or fairness. Therefore, the Courts may lean in favour of the employee unless the contravention of the employee has led to serious prejudice and loss to the employer, he adds.
The Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, and Electronics and IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that employers should not to suppress employees who want to monetise, develop and demonstrate but also urged employees not to violate their agreements with employers.
In today’s world, every company ought to have a gig economy strategy. Paul Estes, author of the book Gig Mindset, said, “Not having one is like missing the Internet revolution of 1990 or the mobile revolution in 2010.”
In the last century, work from home was never thought of. But in the current times, it has become a common norm.
Likewise, maybe we are indeed on the cusp of change when it comes to the gig economy.
2. The Indian-made LCH ‘Prachand’ and its significance
What is the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) project and why was it necessary for the Indian armed forces? What are the key features of the LCH and how will it strengthen the air defence?
The Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) is the only attack helicopter in the world that can land and take off at an altitude of 5,000 metres (16,400 ft).
The helicopter can fly at a maximum speed of 288 kmph and has a combat radius of 500 km, which can go up to a service ceiling of 21,000 feet, making it ideal to operate in Siachen. It incorporates several stealth features such as reduced radar and infra-red signatures.
It can be deployed to perform Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), bunker busting operations, counter-insurgency operations in the jungle and urban areas and support the ground forces.
The story so far:
The indigenously developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) Prachand, meaning fierce, was formally inducted into the Indian Air Force at the Jodhpur airbase on Monday. The multi-role attack helicopter has been customised as per the requirements of the Indian armed forces to operate both in desert terrains and high-altitude sectors. The LCH is the only attack helicopter in the world that can land and take off at an altitude of 5,000 metres (16,400 ft). It is also capable of firing a range of air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles.
What is the LCH project?
The LCH project can be traced to the 1999 Kargil war when the armed forces felt the need for a dedicated platform capable of operating at high altitudes and delivering precision strikes as the existing attack choppers couldn’t effectively hit targets.
In October 2006, the government sanctioned the design and development of the LCH. The Indian Army joined the programme in December 2013. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) built four LCH prototypes flight-tested them with over 1,600 total flights logging 1,239 flight hours.
The ground run was first carried out in February 2010 and the first prototype ‘TD-1’ took its maiden flight on March 29, 2010, as the crew carried out low-speed, low-altitude checks on the systems. After extensive flight testing in diverse terrains and weather conditions, the LCH received initial operation clearance on August 26, 2017. It was declared ready for production in February 2020. A year later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi handed over the LCH to the Indian Air Force.
Earlier this year, the Cabinet Committee on Security, headed by PM Modi approved the procurement of 15 limited series production (LSP) variants at a cost of ₹3,887 crore — 10 for the IAF and five for the Indian Army.
The Indian Army formally inducted its first Light Combat Helicopter on September 29.
What are the main features of LCH?
Powered by twin Shakti engines, a collaborative effort of the HAL and France’s Safran company, the LCH is a 5.8-tonne class combat helicopter with potent ground attack and aerial combat capability. The helicopter can fly at a maximum speed of 288 kmph and has a combat radius of 500 km, which can go up to a service ceiling of 21,000 feet, making it ideal to operate in Siachen. It incorporates several stealth features such as reduced radar and infra-red signatures, crashworthy features for improved survivability, armoured-protection systems and night attack capability.
How will the LCH give an edge to the armed forces?
The induction of the LCH into the Air Force has been termed as a “big boost” to the combat prowess of the armed forces and a “potent platform to meet the operational requirements of the IAF and the Army”.
The LCH helicopters can be deployed to assume air defence, anti-tank roles in high-altitude, counter-insurgency, and search and rescue operations, and are equipped with advanced technology which can be used to destroy the enemy’s air defence, as per HAL. It can be deployed to perform Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), bunker busting operations, counter-insurgency operations in the jungle and urban areas and support the ground forces, Defence Ministry officials said.
As per HAL, the Indian armed forces have an overall requirement of 160 LCH — 95 for Army and 65 for Air Force. The fleet of first four helicopters was inducted into the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’. The helicopters are likely to be deployed along the Line of Actual Control along with Apache choppers.
3. ‘Can read, talk’: Vyommitra’s skills get a lift-off with digital grey matter
Vyommitra, the humanoid designed and developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to fly aboard unmanned test missions ahead of the Gaganyaan human space-flight mission, is undergoing pre-flight ground tests at the ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU) here.
Over the past few months, the IISU has successfully integrated it with a computer “brain”, which enables it to “read” control panels aboard the unmanned test flights and communicate with the ISRO ground stations, IISU Director Sam Dayala Dev told The Hindu.
The ISRO and the IISU were in the news when they unveiled Vyommitra, a “female” robot astronaut, in 2020. Vyommitra is a half-humanoid lacking lower limbs. The IISU was responsible for the design, development, and integration of the robot, while the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thumba here developed its fingers.
The AI-enabled robot is designed to fly aboard a rocket, withstanding vibrations and shock during the flight, he said. It has been designed to resemble a human with facial expressions and speech and sight capabilities, he said.
“It has a certain level of intelligence. What we intend is that it should operate and read the display panels and communicate back to us using its own voice,” Mr. Dev said. Vyommitra will fly aboard the first unmanned test flight ahead of the manned Gaganyaan flight expected in 2024.
The IISU, which designs and develops navigational systems for ISRO launch vehicles, had special teams working on the humanoid over the past several months. In the meantime, Vyommitra is set to get a digital twin. The “twin” will undergo computer simulations where the control systems are tested for microgravity conditions. The twin will be developed in collaboration with academic institutions such as the IITs.
In September, Minister of State for Science and Technology Jitendra Singh indicated that the first unmanned test-flight of the Gaganyaan mission would take place this year. The Gaganyaan programme would demonstrate human spaceflight by sending a crew to a 400-km low earth orbit and bringing them back safely.
Gaganyaan is a mission by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to send a three-member crew to space for a period of five to seven days by 2022.
- The space mission was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 in his independence day address to the nation.
- Ahead of the manned mission, ISRO plans to send two unmanned missions to space as part of the Gaganyaan mission.
- The first unmanned mission was scheduled to be sent in December 2020 and the second mission was scheduled for June 2021.
- However, the first unmanned mission has been delayed because of the disruption in ISRO’s work and operations on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
- The Gaganyaan spacecraft will be placed in a low earth orbit (LEO) of 300-400 kilometres.
- The total programme cost is expected to be under Rs.10000 crore.
- Gaganyaan is significant because it is the first indigenous mission that will send Indian astronauts to space. If it succeeds, India will be the fourth country to have sent a human to space, the other three being the US, Russia and China.
- ISRO is developing the spacecraft and Russia is helping in the training of the astronauts.
The success of Gaganyaan can lead to many more experiments with spaceflight missions. It will also give a fillip to India’s dream of setting up its own space station.
Gaganyaan Spacecraft & Launch Vehicle
The spacecraft consists of a service module and a crew module, collectively known as the Orbital Module. The launch vehicle used for this mission will be the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle GSLV Mk III. GSLV Mk III has the required payload capacity for the mission. Read more about GSLV Mk III in the linked article.
Gaganyaan Human Space Flight
The human spaceflight is expected to take about 16 minutes to reach the intended low earth orbit.
- The three astronauts will leave for space in the crew module, which would have a 3.7 m diameter and a height of 7 m.
- The astronauts’ orange space suits were created by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram. Get a list of other space research centres in India in the linked article.
- The suit can hold one oxygen cylinder which will permit the astronauts to breathe in space for an hour.
- The manned mission will rotate around the earth every 90 minutes.
- The astronauts will be able to see sunrise and sunset, see India from space every 24 hours, and will also perform experiments on microgravity.
- The spacecraft will take about 36 hours for the return journey and will land in the Arabian Sea off the Gujarat coast.
- In order to take this mission to fruition, ISRO has worked on crucial technologies such as crew escape system, re-entry mission capability, thermal protection system, crew module configuration, deceleration and flotation system, and subsystems of life support systems.
Training for the astronauts
- ISRO has signed a contract with a subsidiary of ROSCOSMOS (the Russian space agency), called Gavkosmos for preparing the Indian astronauts selected for the mission.
- The four selected astronauts are undergoing medical and physical training, apart from learning the Russian language, which is considered one of the important languages of space communication.
- The astronaut candidates will also be trained in simulations in a centrifuge and in a hyperbaric chamber (pressurized room) to prepare them for conditions like G-force, hypoxia and pressure drops during spaceflight.
- The training would be tough since they have to get acclimatised to gravitational changes that will cause physiological changes.
- Changing gravity can cause fluctuations in the blood pressure particularly during re-entry to earth or landing, and can even cause unconsciousness sometimes. Astronauts may also face motion sickness while experiencing weightlessness in space.
- The training in Russia will be for a year after which the astronauts will receive module-specific training in India.
- All the candidate astronauts are pilots from the Indian Air Force. They were shortlisted from about 25 pilots by the Air Force.
Gaganyaan Unmanned Missions
Prior to the human space flight mission, two unmanned missions are planned as mentioned above.
Before the unmanned missions, ISRO will have to complete many tests, the most important are:
- Air drop test for the parachute system that will demonstrate the ability to successfully recover an orbiting space capsule.
- Flight test of the test vehicle.
- Abort test to demonstrate the escape of the crew in case of an emergency at the launch pad.
Six tests have been shortlisted by ISRO to be carried out onboard the first unmanned space mission. Some of the tests are biological tests including a study on changes in kidney stone formation in drosophila melanogaster (the common fruit fly), the study of SIRT1 gene in it, microbial contamination, and co-crystallisation under microgravity conditions.
4. Editorial-1: Domestic ideologies in external settings
National statements made by the world’s political leaders during the general debate at every fresh session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) are directed primarily to the international community but take into account domestic political and social constituencies. Naturally, the latter consideration should not outweigh or undercut the primary objective and direction of any statement. This time — it was the 77th UNGA session — the Indian statement was delivered by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on September 24. Mr. Jaishankar deserves to be applauded for the professionalism and precision with which he covered India’s positions on international issues. However, his articulation of some areas of the Modi government’s domestic agenda raises several deeply troubling questions.
Decoding the Minister’s ‘formulation’
Praising the “determination, innovation and enterprise of millions of ordinary Indians”, Mr. Jaishankar asserted that “They are rejuvenating a society pillaged by centuries of foreign attacks and colonialism”. Clearly, his formulation distinguished between “centuries of foreign attacks” and “colonialism”. Many in the Assembly chamber, who are unaware of the fierce ideological contestations under way in contemporary India, may have been left wondering at the distinction Mr. Jaishankar was drawing between the two. However, those who follow the ideological divisions in present-day India would have caught on to the distinction he was making.
There is little doubt that Mr. Jaishankar’s words “centuries of foreign invasions” could not be a reference to the Kushan and Hun invasions of India in the remote past. So, this formulation were code words for the invasions which began with the Arab attack in Sindh in the eighth century, but more specifically to the incursions into India beginning with those of Mahmud of Ghazni and later of Mohammad Ghori. The latter’s invasion led to the beginning of the establishment of centuries of Muslim rule in India.
Domestic controversies are best avoided
As far as this writer can recall there has never been a disparaging reference made to pre-colonial India in an Indian statement during the general debate, or indeed in any UN forum. The connotation of the word “pillage” is obvious in this context. Therefore, this is perhaps the first time that the basic interpretation of Indian history of the current ruling dispensation has been projected in the UNGA, although in coded language. This is a dangerous path to undertake for domestic controversies are best avoided when national positions which have to be, necessarily rooted in the Constitution, are authoritatively articulated abroad. As a former diplomat, Mr. Jaishankar would be well aware of the Indian diplomatic tradition which has always presented nationally unified positions abroad, particularly at the UN and in multilateral forums.
Mr. Jaishankar went on to say that India’s rejuvenation is taking place in a democratic framework and is “reflected in more authentic voices and grounded leadership”. This too is a sad, if not insulting, reflection on the choices made by the Indian people in election after election since the first in 1951-52. He obviously overlooked the fact that the Indian Republic introduced adult franchise and that power was exercised only through the representatives chosen by the people. Is it Mr. Jaishankar’s position, which he placed before the UNGA, that the people, through many decades, chose representatives who were less “authentic” or “grounded” when all of them came from among the people themselves?
While recalling the five pledges that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set before the people for the next 25 years, Mr. Jaishankar sought to show how each of them were relevant not only to India but also to the world. As a general proposition it can be logically and validly argued that on some issues, as the Indian population is one-sixth of that of the world, what is good for India is good for the world too. This would be obviously true for the environment; hence, it was appropriate for Mr. Jaishankar to emphasise “the care and concern” for the environment “ingrained in our traditional ethos”. But the general proposition cannot be stretched so far as to deny India’s great achievements in the United Nations itself. Recalling Mr. Modi’s second pledge, Mr. Jaishankar said “we will liberate ourselves from a colonial mindset”. To make this pledge relevant internationally, he added, “Externally, this means reformed multilateralism and more contemporary global governance”. It is a strange proposition to put before the UNGA that the Indian “mindset” remains “colonial” and needs to be liberated. It is noteworthy that Mr. Jaishankar did not put any qualifications in the sentence to distinguish between those Indians, for him, who have a “colonial” mindset and those who do not. He would obviously not accept that the ruling Indian dispensation has a “colonial mindset” so perhaps this sentence, as it stands, was a drafting slip but nevertheless it is now unfortunately part of the UN record.
Damaging India’s record
What is more disturbing is the proposition that the “liberation from a colonial mindset” damages India’s record as a pioneer and leader in the global decolonisation process in the 1950s and the 1960s. Whatever may be the view of the detractors of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi — and there is much in their political and governance records which is worthy of criticism, if not condemnation — it cannot be denied that they were heroes to the anti-colonial leadership in many countries in Africa and elsewhere. India’s role in the entire decolonisation process after the Second World War is one which this country can be justifiably proud of. An entire generation of human rights workers in the United States and South Africa were also inspired by Gandhiji and his non-violent anti-colonial struggle.
Is not all this proud record and noble endeavour compromised by Mr. Jaishankar’s implication that Indians have a colonial mindset? Worse, does it not give an opportunity to India’s detractors to ask India to first get rid of its “colonial mindset” before seeking “reformed multilateralism”? The saying ‘Physician, heal thyself’ comes to mind. Words, phrases, arguments, exhortations are the tools of diplomacy. They cannot and should not be abandoned to promote domestic ideologies in external settings. Strong statements of a nationalistic flavour may win brownie points and popularity at home — and sometimes they are undoubtedly needed for diplomatic purposes too; however, facts, reason and logic as guides should never be overlooked.
5. Editorial-2: Strengthening the CSR framework is a profitable idea
Ever since the establishment of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) regime in India under Section 135 of the Companies Act 2013, CSR spending in India has risen from ₹10,065 crore in 2014-15 to ₹24,865 crore in 2020-21. But there is no data to verify whether this increase is commensurate with the increase in profits of Indian and foreign (having a registered arm in India) companies. Besides, there were 2,926 companies in 2020-21 with zero spend on CSR while companies spending less than the prescribed limit of 2% rose from 3,078 in 2015-16 to 3,290 in 2020-21. There was also a decline in the number of companies participating in CSR — 25,103 in FY2019 to 17,007 in FY2021.
If a company spends an amount in excess of the minimum 2%, as stipulated, the excess amount is liable to be set off against spending in the succeeding three financial years. The latter proviso in the Act weakens the former provision since the requirement of 2% is only a minimum requirement. Ideally, companies should be encouraged to spend more than this. Besides, many private companies have registered their own foundations/trusts to which they transfer the statutory CSR budgets for utilisation. It is unclear if this is allowed under the Companies Act/CSR rules.
The first proviso to Section 135(5) of the Act is that the company should give preference to local areas/areas around it where it operates. This is logical. However, a report by Ashoka University’s Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy says that 54% of CSR companies are concentrated in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Gujarat (receiving the largest CSR spends) while populous Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh receive little. A high-level committee observed in 2018 that the emphasis on ‘local area’ in the Act is only directionary and that a balance has to be maintained. Unfortunately, this ambiguity has left much to the discretion of the boards of these companies in the absence of clear percentages for local spends vis-à-vis other area spends.
Item (iv) of Schedule VII of the Act deals with broader environmental issues to create a countervailing effect. However, an analysis of CSR spending (2014-18) reveals that while most CSR spending is in education (37%) and health and sanitation (29%), only 9% was spent on the environment even as extractive industries such as mining function in an environmentally detrimental manner in several States.
Under the existing regulation, monitoring is by a board-led, disclosure-based regime, with companies reporting their CSR spends annually to the Corporate Affairs Ministry (MCA) through filing of an annual report. It is not known if there is a review of these reports and companies taken to task. A major issue with this design is that it focuses on output rather than quality of the expenditure and its impact. The Standing Committee on Finance had also observed that the information regarding CSR spending by companies is insufficient and difficult to access.
As per the ‘Technical Guide on Accounting’ issued by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, a company is only required to mention its CSR spends, non-spend, underspend, and overspend in the ‘Notes to Accounts’. Additionally, an auditor can investigate only the details of spending and at most can question the board about its authenticity. However, the auditor is not mandated to qualify the accounts for non-compliance or inadequate CSR performance in the audit report, a feature which can be instrumental in ensuring its compliance.
A pathway to follow
There is a need to curate a national-level platform centralised by the MCA where all States could list their potential CSR-admissible projects so that companies can assess where their CSR funds would be most impactful across India with, of course, preferential treatment to areas where they operate. Invest India’s ‘Corporate Social Responsibility Projects Repository’ on the India Investment Grid (IIG) can serve as a guide for such efforts. This model would be very useful for supporting deserving projects in the 112 aspirational districts and projects identified by MPs under the Government’s Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.
Companies need to prioritise environment restoration in the area where they operate, earmarking at least 25% for environment regeneration.
All CSR projects should be selected and implemented with the active involvement of communities, district administration and public representatives.
Recommendations by the high-level committee in 2018 should be incorporated in the current CSR framework to improve the existing monitoring and evaluation regime. These include strengthening the reporting mechanisms with enhanced disclosures concerning selection of projects, locations, implementing agencies, etc.; bringing CSR within the purview of statutory financial audit with details of CSR expenditure included in the financial statement of a company, and mandatory independent third-party impact assessment audits. Since the Government itself has begun separate schemes for sanitation, water supply and education (listed in Schedule VII), steps to stop duplication and fraud are essential.
CSR non-spend, underspend, and overspend should be qualified by the auditor in the audit report as a qualification to accounts, and not just as a note to accounts.
The MCA and the line departments need to exercise greater direct monitoring and supervision over CSR spend by companies through the line ministries (for public sector undertakings) and other industry associations (for non-public units) instead of merely hosting all information on the Ministry’s website.