1. Eye on polls, Gehlot targets gig workers with welfare law
With nearly six months left for the Assembly election, the Rajasthan government is working overtime to deliver the Rajasthan Platform-based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Bill, 2023, which has stringent provisions against errant aggregators, including barring them from operating in the State.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had announced his government’s intention to introduce the Bill, touted as the first such in the country, in his budget speech in February.
The draft Bill, a copy of which was accessed by The Hindu, envisages a Rajasthan Platform-based Gig Workers Welfare Board that will function like a mothership for over three lakh persons employed with various online service providers in the State. It will design welfare policies and hear grievances of the workers hired on a piece rate basis.
Mr. Gehlot had announced a ₹200-crore seed fund for the board to begin its work. But importantly, the Bill gives powers to the board to decide the quantum of cess that every aggregator will have to pay towards this social welfare corpus. This cess shall be a percentage of every transaction on the platform.
The Bill has provisions for a unique ID for workers that will be valid for three years. “All gig workers registered with any platform shall be automatically registered with the Board irrespective of the duration of their engagement with the platform. The Board shall generate a unique ID for every worker registered with one or more aggregators in the State,” the Bill states.
A platform that flouts the provisions of the Bill, which includes integrating the data of the gig workers employed with the Board and sharing data of every transaction that takes place on their platform, can be fined up to ₹10 lakh for the first contravention and up to ₹1 crore for subsequent ones. The Bill also empowers the Board to recommend suspension of operations of the errant aggregator temporarily or permanently.
The draft Bill that is with the Law department currently will be put in public domain for feedback soon.
According to sources, so far, other than food delivery platform Swiggy, there have been no queries from any other aggregator. All are keenly watching the developments that could curtail their freedom of operation.
While there are several labour laws — both regulated by the Centre and State — they do not serve gig workers as most of the aggregators label them as ‘partners’, removing any employee-employer relationship, explains State Labour Department Secretary Vikas Bhale. “This mechanism works well for the aggregating platforms since it absolves them of practically any responsibility of providing social security and other benefits to the workers,” he pointed out.
The draft welfare Bill, he said, was set to change this equation. Other States, especially neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, has expressed interest in the legislation.
2. India as most populous can be more boon than bane
Srinivas Goli is an Associate Professor of Fertility and Social Demography at the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai
China is projected to hand over the baton of the most populous country to India by mid-2023. But for India, there are greater prospects for demographic advantage than serious concerns. The country must focus on reaping the available demographic dividend.
Considering the limited information for both China and India, especially in the absence of the Census 2021, it is difficult to predict the exact date on which this demographic order will change. United Nation reports suggest that India will have a population of 142.86 crore by mid-2023, which is 2.9 million higher than China’s population of 142.57 crore. So, what are the opportunities and costs from being the most populous country? While the debate on population growth in India is not new, there are general and pessimistic views over this change in demographic rank order. Population control, therefore, is widely being seen as a panacea to avoid a grim future. There is a need to look deeper into the issue from an empirical and scientific perspective. Is it a dividend or a disaster? To answer this, we need to understand: the nature of population growth, size and its composition, as well as mechanisms through which a country translates demographic bonus into economic dividend.
Population growth, size, composition
Population in itself is not a burden. Instead, it is the nature of population growth, size and its composition that decides when a population becomes a “resource” or a “burden”. Population is a resource as long as the country’s carrying capacity is intact. Carrying capacity is not just per capita availability of natural resources; it is a dynamic concept which changes according to changing technology, the efficiency of production and consumption systems of a country.
A deeper look into the trends of population growth, size and composition gives one an idea of whether India has an over-population that can disrupt carrying capacity. With total fertility rate of 2.0 in 2023, India is already at replacement level fertility, meaning two children replacing their parents. This indicates that the population is on a path toward stabilisation. However, it continues to experience positive growth, but in a decelerated mode until 2064, from which point it will become negative growth. The peak of India’s population size will be around 169.6 crore in 2063.
However, if we look at only the total population size, which is often assumed as the number of mouths to feed, it is grossly misleading. We need to look at the age composition of the population which tells us about available support ratios in the form of the number of the working age population (15-64 years) against the dependent population (0-14 years and 65 years and above).
Looking at the population composition of India, there are greater prospects for demographic dividend than a disaster. With 68% of the working age population in 2023, the country continues to have a demographic window of opportunity for the next 35 years to reap an economic dividend.
However, the availability of a demographic window of opportunity in itself will not automatically turn into economic dividend. The country needs to work on the key mechanisms which translate a demographic bonus into economic dividend.
There are four key mechanisms that translate a demographic bonus to economic dividend: employment, education and skills, health conditions and governance.
Employment or job creation is an important mechanism to translate demographic bonus to economic dividend. If India is able to generate sufficient and quality jobs for its bulging working age population, realisation of demographic dividend will become a reality.
Education, skills generation and ensuring a healthy lifespan by preventing diseases and disabilities are also important channels that translate demographic opportunity into economic gains. A skilled and healthy workforce is critical not only for better productivity of an economic activity but it also reduces excessive public spending and helps in greater capital creation.
Good governance, reflected through conscientious policies, is another important aspect for reaping demographic dividend as it helps in creating a healthy environment for increasing efficiency and productivity of the population.
Opportunities and costs are the two sides of the coin when it comes to being the world’s largest populous country. However, a relatively younger population of India provides higher support ratios — there is lesser disease, disability and caring burden. India’s opportunity must be looked at in comparison to the consequences of population decline and ageing across some countries that include Japan, China, the United States and other major economies. A majority of them have been implementing pronatalist policies to improve birth rates. However, these actions have shown to be largely ineffective. Once fertility tends to decline, it is hard to reverse it.
In this context, India has the potential to become a worldwide market for both production and consumption, with lower manufacturing costs due to a relatively cheaper workforce. This is very much evident in India’s IT sector.
Available demographic opportunity in the form of a greater share of the working age population has the potential to boost per capita GDP by an additional 43% by 2061, provided the socio-economic and political enabling environment is conducive.
At the same time, a total fertility rate of less than 1.8 may not be economically beneficial for India. Therefore, drastic population control methods run the risk of inducing forced population ageing, which would result in the nation “getting old before getting rich”.
What is causing more damage than climate change and economic harm is invisible and unsustainable production, consumption and unequal distribution more than visible population size.
What the country needs are policies that support an enabling environment that can provide high-quality education, good health care, respectable employment opportunities, good infrastructure, and gender empowerment. If India falls short in this, its “demographic dividend” can become a “demographic disaster”.
With a mix of right policies, there are greater prospects for demographic advantage than demographic disaster
3. The EU’s new crypto-legislation
What kind of crypto assets does MiCA seek to regulate? What are the regulatory requirements imposed on the crypto industry in the EU? How has the law been received? What are the aspects left out by the regulation? How does it compare to cryptocurrency regulation in India?
The story so far:
The European Parliament, the legislative body of the 27-country block European Union, has approved the world’s first set of comprehensive rules to bring largely unregulated cryptocurrency markets under the ambit of regulation by government authorities. The regulation, called the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA), will come into force after formal approval by member states.
Having a comprehensive framework like MiCA for 27 countries in Europe not only harmonises the crypto industry but also gives the EU a competitive edge in its growth compared to the U.S. or the U.K. which lack regulatory clarity. More importantly, 2022 saw some of the biggest failures and wipeouts in the crypto industry involving bankruptcies and fraud scandals, be it the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX and its spat with Binance or the failure of Terra LUNA cryptocurrency and its associated stablecoin. The liquidity shortage caused by these shocks led other crypto lending platforms to halt customer transfers and withdrawals before filing for bankruptcy.
What kind of assets will MiCA cover?
The MiCA legislation will apply to ‘cryptoassets’, which are broadly defined in the text as “a digital representation of a value or a right that uses cryptography for security and is in the form of a coin or a token or any other digital medium which may be transferred and stored electronically, using distributed ledger technology or similar technology”. This definition implies that it will apply not only to traditional cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum but also to newer ones like stablecoins.
As for the assets that will be out of MiCA’s scope, it will not regulate digital assets that would qualify as transferable securities and function like shares or their equivalent and other cryptoassets that already qualify as financial instruments under existing regulation. It will also for the most part, exclude nonfungible tokens (NFTs). MiCA will also not regulate central bank digital currencies issued by the European Central Bank and digital assets issued by national central banks of EU member countries when acting in their capacity as monetary authorities, along with cryptoassets-related services offered by them.
What are the new rules?
MiCA will impose compliance on the issuers of cryptoassets, who are defined as the “legal person who offers to the public any type of cryptoassets”. It will apply to cryptoasset service providers (CASPs) providing one or more of these services — the operation of a trading platform like CoinBase, custody and administration of crypto-assets on behalf of third parties (customers), the exchange of crypto-assets for funds/other crypto-assets, the execution of orders for crypto-assets, the placing of crypto-assets, providing transfer services for crypto -assets to third parties, providing advice on cryptoassets and crypto-portfolio management.
The regulation prescribes different sets of requirements for CASPs depending on the type of cryptoassets. The base regime will require every CASP to get incorporated as a legal entity in the EU. They can get authorised in any one member country and will be allowed to conduct their services across the 27 countries. They will then be supervised by regulators like the European Banking Authority and the European Securities and Markets Authority, who will ensure that the companies have the required risk management and corporate governance practices in place. Besides authorisation, service providers of stablecoins also have to furnish key information in the form of a white paper mentioning the details of the crypto product and the main participants in the company, the terms of the offer to the public, the type of blockchain verification mechanism they use, the rights attached to the cryptoassets in question, the key risks involved for the investors and a summary to help potential purchasers make an informed decision regarding their investment.
Another legislation passed with MiCA requires crypto companies to send information of senders and recipients of cryptoassets to their local anti-money laundering authority, to prevent laundering and terror financing activities.
What has been the reaction?
Leaders at some of the biggest cryptocurrency firms have taken exception to some aspects of MiCA but the broad view is that it is better to have a regulatory framework than having no rules at all and attracting regulatory action on a case-by-case basis without clarity.
Meanwhile, since it’s been three years since MiCA has been in development, some experts feel that the regulation is already laggard in covering newer vulnerabilities in the crypto industry. For instance, it does not cover practices like crypto staking and lending, which led to some of the industry’s biggest failures last year.
How is crypto regulated in India?
India is yet to have a comprehensive regulatory framework for cryptoassets. A draft legislation on the same is reportedly in the works.
A full-fledged regulation aside, the Indian government has taken certain steps to bring cryptocurrencies under the ambit of specific authorities and taxation. In the Union Budget for 2022, the Finance Ministry said that cryptocurrency trading in India has seen a “phenomenal increase” and imposed a 30% tax on income from the “transfer of any virtual digital asset.” In March this year, the government placed all transactions involving virtual digital assets under the purview of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The European Parliament has approved the world’s first set of comprehensive rules to bring largely unregulated cryptocurrency markets under the ambit of regulation by government authorities.
Leaders at some of the biggest cryptocurrency firms have taken exception to some aspects of the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) legislation but the broad view is that it is better to have a regulatory framework than having no rules at all and attracting regulatory action on a case-by-case basis without clarity.
India is yet to have a comprehensive regulatory framework for cryptoassets and a draft legislation on the same is reportedly in the works.
4. How can a juvenile be tried as an adult in Court?
What are the recently issued guidelines by the National Commission for Protection of Children for trying a juvenile in case of heinous crimes? What is the role of the Juvenile Justice Board?
The NCPCR is under statutory obligation to monitor the proper implementation of the provisions of the Act.
The National Commission for Protection of Children (NCPCR) has recently issued guidelines for conducting a preliminary assessment by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) under Section 15 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 (JJ Act, 2015). This preliminary assessment is to ascertain whether a juvenile can be tried as an adult. Replacing the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, the 2015 Act, for the first time, provided for trying juveniles in the age group of 16-18 as adults in cases of heinous offences.
How does a child get tried as adult?
The Act has categorised the offences committed by children into three categories — petty offences, serious offences, and heinous offences. Section 15 of the JJ Act provides that in case of a heinous offence alleged to have been committed by a child, who has completed or is above the age of sixteen years, the Board shall conduct a preliminary assessment regarding his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence. Section 18 (3) of the Act further suggests that, if the Board, after preliminary assessment under section 15 passes an order that there is a need for trial of the said child as an adult, then the Board may order the transfer of the case to the Children’s Court having jurisdiction to try such offences. Thus, the sole objective of having such a preliminary assessment is to determine whether a child within the age group of 16-18 years should be tried as an adult in case of heinous offences.
What are the responsibilities of the Board?
The guidelines further make it clear that the JJB shall be responsible for the preliminary assessment and provide the child, the child’s family, and their counsel a copy of the order. It further states that in case the JJB does not have at least one member who is a practising professional with a degree in child psychology or child psychiatry, the Board shall take the assistance of psychologists or experts who have the experience of working with children in difficult times. The child should also be provided with a legal aid counsel through the District Legal Services Authority who shall be present during the preliminary assessment. One of the important aspects of the guidelines is that it mandates experts, who have the required qualification to assist the JJB, to undergo training concerning Section 15 of the JJ Act, 2015
During the preliminary assessment, the Board and experts shall also analyse and take into consideration the Social Investigation Report (SIR), to be prepared by the Probation officer or Child Welfare Officer or any social worker, or a Social Background Report (SBR) to be prepared after interaction with the child or child’s family.
The NCPCR is under a statutory obligation under Section 109 of the JJ Act, 2015 to monitor the proper implementation of the provisions of the Act. The guidelines have been made to remove any ambiguity and to clarify the steps that need to be followed while conducting the preliminary assessment. However, the major issue remains the implementation and absorption of these principles in the system, particularly to be followed by the JJB and the Children’s Court. A lot of principles which have been made a part of the Act have not been given due prominence by the Board as well as by the Children’s Court.
Bajpai is Vice-Chancellor, National Law University Delhi and Anubhav is Assistant Professor at RGNUL, Punjab
The National Commission for Protection of Children has recently issued guidelines for conducting a preliminary assessment by the Juvenile Justice Board under Section 15 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
The sole objective of having such a preliminary assessment is to determine whether a child within the age group of 16-18 years should be tried as an adult in case of heinous offences.
5. Network of sensors to monitor groundwater quality
The Jal Shakti Ministry is working on an ambitious plan to deploy a vast network of groundwater sensors that will continuously relay information on groundwater levels and the degree of contamination down to the taluk level. Currently, such information is only measured a handful of times a year and communicated via reports of the Central Groundwater Board.
Establishing a network that will continuously measure groundwater quality, feed it into a centralised network such as that of the National Water Informatics Centre and make it available for monitoring would make groundwater visible much the same way as air quality and meteorological variables — air pressure, moisture, precipitation — are now, Subodh Yadav, Joint Secretary, Department of Water Resources, told The Hindu. “We can potentially provide groundwater forecasts to farmers that would be useful for sowing, and updated advisories can influence groundwater extraction policies by States,” he added. “Except for information on international treaties, most of this information will be accessible.”
67,000 recordable units
The Central Groundwater Board currently relies on a network of about 26,000 groundwater observation wells that require technicians to manually measure the state of groundwater in a region. Under the new initiative, around 16,000 to 17,000 digital water level recorders will be connected to piezometers in the wells. Piezometers measure groundwater levels, the recorders will transmit the information digitally.
In the next three years, the CGWB aims to increase its network from ing 26,000 to 40,000. When combined with similar networks possessed by other institutions — State bodies, agriculture and meteorology departments — India will have 67,000 digitally recordable units to monitor groundwater dynamics.
The CGWB is in charge of the National Aquifer Mapping Programme (NAQUIM), that as of March has mapped the country’s aquifers at a resolution of 1:50000 and under the second phase of the programme, expects to improve the resolution by five times. So far, an area of 25.15 lakh sq. km has been covered under the NAQUIM studies.
In the latest Ground Water Resource Assessment-2022, the total annual groundwater recharge in the country has been assessed as 437.60 billion cubic metres (BCM). The annual extractable groundwater resource has been assessed as 398.08 bcm, with actual extraction of 239.16 bcm.
The average stage of groundwater extraction for the country as a whole works out to be about 60.08%. Anything above 70% is considered “critical” though there are regions in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan with groundwater blocks with over 100% extraction.
Reports over the years suggest that 85% of rural India uses groundwater for drinking and domestic purposes. In cities with a population of over 10 lakh, about 40% have seen water levels in monitored wells either stay stable or drop.
Groundwater contamination, the CGWB says, is mostly “geogenic” (natural) and hasn’t significantly changed over the years. However, nitrate contamination — a result of the use of nitrogenous fertilizers — has been observed. Sections of nearly 409 districts have been confirmed with fluoride contamination and parts of 209 districts have noted arsenic contamination.
Those regions and States known to have groundwater contamination will be monitored more intensely for action by States, said Mr. Yadav.
6. Centre will clamp down on Ponzi apps, says FM
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that a global template on regulating cryptocurrency may be needed.
The government is working with the RBI and the IT Ministry on the regulation, says Nirmala Sitharaman, adding that investors should exercise caution before putting in hard-earned money
Stating that the Centre will clamp down on Ponzi apps to protect investors’ hard-earned money, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday said that discussions were on with the Information Technology Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India on the issue.
“There are apps coming out with promises and many of the apps are Ponzi apps. We are working with the RBI and the IT Ministry. We will be clamping down on such apps like never before so that we don’t get that Ponzi app taking away hard-earned money,” she said during an interaction organised here by the Thinkers Forum. She also said that a strong sense of caution is required before investing and investors should not go towards something based on others’ experience.
In response to a question on whether there was any proposal to regulate social media influencers and financial influencers on digital platforms, the Finance Minister said, “There is no proposal to regulate them at this moment. You do your due diligence.”
Answering a query on cryptocurrency, Ms. Sitharaman said, “Global understanding is required and a global template may have to be created. All of us will have to work together. Otherwise regulating crypto may not be effective. But that does mean we are controlling the technology. It has its goodness, it has potential and has its own strengths. We keep that in mind.”
She said that the Financial Stability Board, set up by the G-20, had agreed to give a report on crypto while the International Monetary Fund has already come up with a paper on crypto. “It was India’s proposal and G-20 has kept it on its agenda. The FSB report and the IMF report are going to be discussed in July again when G-20 Finance Ministers and central bank Governors meet,” she said.
“The very character of crypto being technology-driven requires that all countries are on board. It will be not be effective otherwise. No one country individually in the matter of technology-driven crypto assets can effectively control it,” she added.
The Finance Minister also said that it was due to stability in policy, trust in the government and Indian currency that many countries were willing to trade with India in rupees.