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Daily Current Affairs 29.12.2022 (A failed attempt at decriminalisation, Putting off caste census will only benefit the privileged groups, ‘FDI chasing services sector despite manufacturing push’, India must build awareness on population control, Laboured wages)

Daily Current Affairs 29.12.2022 (A failed attempt at decriminalisation, Putting off caste census will only benefit the privileged groups, ‘FDI chasing services sector despite manufacturing push’, India must build awareness on population control, Laboured wages)

4-23

 1. A failed attempt at decriminalisation

What is the Jan Vishwas Bill tabled by the Union government in Parliament and what are its objectives? Is it the solution to the problem of overcriminalisation? What are the shortcomings of the Bill and how can it be overcome?

Last week, the Union Government tabled the Jan Vishwas Bill, 2022, (Bill) in the Parliament with the objective of “decriminalising” 183 offences across 42 legislations and enhancing the ease of living and doing business in India. It is a welcome move and can be viewed as an attempt to reverse the trend of overcriminalisation. However, there is much that needs to be done in order to institutionalise efforts aimed at decriminalisation.

Consequences of overcriminalisation

An unprincipled growth of criminal law has long been a cause of concern for scholars of law. Such growth is evident from the fact that criminal law is frequently used as a political tool; the act of criminalisation often becomes a medium for governments to put across a strong image as opposed to punishing wrongful conduct. Governments offer little in the way of justifications to support such decisions. This phenomenon has been termed “overcriminalisation” by scholars.

The consequences are felt almost immediately. As per the National Judicial Data Grid, of the 4.3 crore pending cases, nearly 3.2 crore cases are in relation to criminal proceedings. It is trite to say that the growing number of pending criminal cases share a direct relation with the number of criminal laws. Similarly, the rise in the prison population is also proof of overcriminalisation. As per the National Crime Records Bureau’s Prison Statistics of 2021, a total of 5.54 lakh prisoners were confined in prisons against a capacity of 4.25 lakh.

Scope of the Bill

The Jan Vishwas Bill either omits penal provisions or replaces them with fines in legislations such as the Air Act, Environment Protection Act, Forest Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Acts, Cinematograph Act, Patents Act, Trade Marks Act and Information Technology Act amongst several others. These are primarily offences which are regulatory in nature. By and large, an examination of the provisions of the Bill reveals that stress has been on the replacement of imprisonment clauses with fines. This can hardly be termed as ‘decriminalisation’. There is much that is required for the efforts aimed at decriminalisation to fructify in any meaningful way.

Firstly, the Bill undertakes what we may refer to as ‘quasi-decriminalisation.’ In this context, Andrew Ashworth’s arguments in relation to use of criminal laws in regulatory frameworks are particularly poignant. In his seminal piece titled – ‘Is the Criminal Law a Lost Cause?,’ Mr. Ashworth creates a distinction between regulatory offences and penal offences and exemplifies the same through the functional distinction between a tax and a fine. While the purpose of a tax is primarily regulatory in nature, a fine carries with it an element of censure and stigma. This functional distinction, Mr. Ashworth proffers, is increasingly being diluted under our legislative frameworks which frequently deploy these elements of censure and stigma to regulatory domains.

Secondly, the Observer Research Foundation’s report titled Jailed for Doing Business found that there are more than 26,134 imprisonment clauses in a total of 843 economic legislations, rules and regulations which seek to regulate businesses and economic activities in India. In this light, the number of offences deregulated under the Bill seems to be a mere drop in India’s regulatory framework.

Thirdly, the regulatory offences to be considered for ‘decriminalisation’ need to be prioritised not only from the point of view of the ease of doing business, but also from the points of view of the ills that plague our criminal justice system itself.

Lastly, the Bill conforms to the understanding of the government that decriminalisation should be limited to regulatory domains. However, the time is now ripe to shift focus to existing penal offences as well. Debates are ongoing about the decriminalisation of several penal offences such as sedition, offences under NDPS Act & UAPA Acts, triple talaq and anti-conversion laws etc. There is an urgent need to assess these offences on a principled basis.

The way ahead

The intent of the Bill is merely to ensure that imprisonment is replaced with fines for as many offences as possible. The extent to which it succeeds in ‘decriminalising’ offences, however, is questionable. If these faults are to be rectified, it is pertinent that a more comprehensive exercise is undertaken and that the government prioritises the needs and requirements of the criminal justice system.

2. Putting off caste census will only benefit the privileged groups

Caste data will help us understand the contours of inequality and craft reasoned and inclusive policies. These data are crucial to understand how caste intersects with class, gender, and regionality to structure access to resources.

Following an order by the Allahabad High Court directing that local body elections be held in Uttar Pradesh without any reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC), Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya said the State government was ready to approach the Supreme Court, if required, regarding the matter. The High Court had added that the State had not done enough to follow the “triple test formula” as suggested by the Supreme Court. Kalaiyarasan A et al discuss why caste census is imperative to help understand the whole picture.

The debate about whether the decennial Census should collect data on caste from individuals who fall into the administrative categories of ‘General’ and ‘Other Backward Classes’ (OBCs) has been argued by public intellectuals, politicians, and government administrators for decades. As the Census currently only collects data on ‘Scheduled Castes’ (SCs) and ‘Scheduled Tribes’ (STs), it fails to provide comprehensive data on India’s graded caste hierarchy. In the run-up to the 2011 Census, the political leadership agreed to include a full caste count in the Census. It later prevented a caste-wise enumeration in the Census. The suppression of caste-wise data took place then because of two interconnected dynamics which are likely to reoccur unless they are collectively challenged.

The importance of caste data

First, caste elites generally believe that caste no longer matters in shaping opportunities and outcomes in the 21st century. This caste blindness, or castelessness, obscures caste privileges and conceals sources of multi-generational structural advantage. Many caste elites view the collection of caste data about anyone but the most disadvantaged as unnecessary and a misuse of public resources. This perspective both serves their own interests and ignores the relational nature of caste — that is, the same societal institutions, systems, and cultural norms that have led to historic and ongoing subjugation of oppressed castes have simultaneously empowered others. To understand the full scope of disadvantage, we must also examine the full scope of privilege and advantage.

The suppression also occurred as a result of the machinery of government. Organisations tasked with designing Census questions and overseeing data collection, similar to every other key institution in society, have caste-based inequalities entrenched within them. The bureaucracy blocked the inclusion of a full caste count in the Census 2011 on methodological grounds. It argued that a caste count would be “administratively difficult and cumbersome,” “jeopardise the whole exercise,” and “compromise the basic integrity of the Census”. The official language used by the Congress-led government in 2011 was identical to the language used in the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on September 23, 2021 by the present BJP-led government. The presentation of (supposedly) insurmountable methodological and logistical challenges is particularly effective as an excuse because it silences non-experts.

Caste elites have a numerical and cultural stranglehold over the upper bureaucracy, despite more than 70 years of Central government reservations. In 2019, out of the 82 Secretaries to the Government of India, only four were SCs or STs. Among 457 serving secretaries, joint secretaries, and additional secretaries, merely 12% were SCs and OBCs; similarly, group 1/A of the Central Civil Services (i.e., the top tier of the bureaucracy) has still not fulfilled its reservation quotas for SCs and OBCs. Following the suppression of the caste count in Census 2011, the executive bureaucracy reconfigured the Below Poverty Line survey and renamed it the 2011 Socio-Economic Caste Census, which had little resemblance to the original demands by caste census advocates and produced unusable caste data.

The purpose for collecting caste-wise data in the decennial Census is to understand the contours of inequality. These data are crucial to understand how caste intersects with class, gender, and regionality to structure access to resources. The collected caste data should be publicly available for use. In this regard, the caste data would continue the existing practice of the Office of the Registrar General of India to make Census data publicly available. The Census has the legal standing, public trust, operational expertise, and resources to collect, analyse, and make public caste data. Caste data must be collected as part of this constitutionally required exercise. Having the caste Census as part of another state project, or overseen by nodal agencies other than the ORGI, as happened 10 years ago, will relegate it to parts of the bureaucracy with insufficient expertise in a nationwide data collection operation.

While counting (or not counting) caste is political, the decision should not be reduced to immediate political contingencies i.e., the expansion of reservation policies, the caste-based mobilisation by political parties, etc. In the absence of detailed caste data, we fail to name and confront major structural and foundational problems of society; leave space for opportunistic politicians to exploit each caste; and miss the opportunity to craft reasoned, data-driven, and inclusive public policies.

Addressing concerns

Yet, important concerns remain. Some progressive and anti-caste scholars fear that a full-caste count will further entrench caste identities. A caste census will require all households to think about, acknowledge, and speak about caste identities. Yet, historically outcast groups have already had to provide caste data in all postcolonial Censuses to implement reservations. A full caste-wise enumeration will help to make visible privileges and resources that have become over time disassociated with caste, despite historical, sociological, and economic evidence to the contrary. Updated data on the entire caste system, including its intersections with other identities, will provide a more complete picture of exclusion and inequality in India.

Another concern is that groups will misuse the caste data. But misuse of caste data already takes place. Private groups with access to money and power regularly collect caste data for their needs. Political parties map the caste and religious composition of neighborhoods, cities, and villages to mobilise votes. Collecting caste data in the decennial Census removes this private power by making caste data publicly available to all.

While methodological and logistical challenges are real, they are surmountable. Demographers in government agencies and universities have extensive experience working through these challenges. Sample surveys such as the India Human Development Survey have collected caste-wise data. Census bureaus in the U.S., Brazil, and South Africa, as well as in other countries with long histories of white supremacy, collect detailed data on race and class to understand the current scope of inequality and develop justice-oriented policies. In addition, research on the failed caste count suggests the importance of careful planning to prevent groups from being made invisible in the data, such as Dalit Muslims, Dalit Christians, inter-caste and inter-religious households (particularly those that cut across the line of ‘untouchability’ or communal divide), and LGBTQ+ individuals. Related to the discussion of castelessness, if a ‘no caste’ option is included in the Census, the caste count will likely undercount well-to-do caste elites. Given the purpose of the caste count, omissions of marginalised groups and elites require specific attention while designing the survey instrument, training enumerators, educating the public, and analysing collected caste-wise data. Hence, the entire process requires external oversight if the data are to be usable and to minimise potential harm. As the process unfolds, a public oversight group should work to ensure that major operational and methodological decisions align with the data collection’s purpose: to understand the scope of caste-based inequities and address structural inequalities. Anti-caste organisations and public intellectuals, who have devoted their life’s work to challenging caste hierarchy, must provide oversight and input. Their perspectives and lived experiences of fighting caste oppression are the best safeguards to ensure that the collected data will be used for liberatory purposes.

3. ‘FDI chasing services sector despite manufacturing push’

Trend likely because doing business in the services sector is less complicated than in manufacturing in India, says Ind-Ra; ‘bulk of FDI in manufacturing not fresh investments’

Despite the Centre’s high-octane push for manufacturing through the ‘Make in India’ initiative, foreign investors continue to chase bets in the services sector, India Ratings and Research said on Wednesday.

It also said a bulk of the foreign direct investment (FDI) in manufacturing was not greenfield or fresh investments. “Despite the government’s effort to attract more investments in the manufacturing sector through ‘Make in India’ campaign, the FDI inflow is still tilted in favour of the services sector.” it said.

“This could be because doing business in the services sector is less complicated than doing business in the manufacturing sector in India.” It added that services FDI rose to $153.01 billion between April 2014 and March 2022, from $80.51 billion between April 2000 and March 2014, while manufacturing grew slower to $94.32 billion from $77.11 billion.

Within services, trading, telecom, banking/insurance, IT/BPO and tourism were favourites.

Computer software and hardware have done well, and saw further traction after the roll-out of production-linked incentives, with Apple, Samsung, Flextronics, and Nokia announcing large investments in India.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

Any investment from an individual or firm that is located in a foreign country into a country is called Foreign Direct Investment. 

  • Generally, FDI is when a foreign entity acquires ownership or controlling stake in the shares of a company in one country, or establishes businesses there.
  • It is different from foreign portfolio investment where the foreign entity merely buys equity shares of a company.
  • In FDI, the foreign entity has a say in the day-to-day operations of the company.
  • FDI is not just the inflow of money, but also the inflow of technology, knowledge, skills and expertise/know-how.
  • It is a major source of non-debt financial resources for the economic development of a country.
  • FDI generally takes place in an economy which has the prospect of growth and also a skilled workforce.
  • FDI has developed radically as a major form of international capital transfer since the last many years.
  • The advantages of FDI are not evenly distributed. It depends on the host country’s systems and infrastructure. 
  • The determinants of FDI in host countries are:
  • Policy framework
  • Rules with respect to entry and operations/functioning (mergers/acquisitions and competition)
  • Political, economic and social stability
  • Treatment standards of foreign affiliates
  • International agreements
  • Trade policy (tariff and non-tariff barriers)
  • Privatisation policy

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in India – Latest update

  1. From April to August 2020, total Foreign Direct Investment inflow of USD 35.73 billion was received. It is the highest ever for the first 5 months of a financial year. FDI inflow has increased despite Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth contracted 23.9% in the first quarter (April-June 2020).
  2. FDI received in the first 5 months of 2020-21 (USD 35.73 billion) is 13% higher as compared to the first five months of 2019-20 (USD 31.60 billion).

FDI in India

The investment climate in India has improved tremendously since 1991 when the government opened up the economy and initiated the LPG strategies.

  • The improvement in this regard is commonly attributed to the easing of FDI norms.
  • Many sectors have opened up for foreign investment partially or wholly since the economic liberalization of the country.
  • Currently, India ranks in the list of the top 100 countries in ease of doing business. 
  • In 2019, India was among the top ten receivers of FDI, totalling $49 billion inflows, as per a UN report. This is a 16% increase from 2018.
  • In February 2020, the DPIIT notifies policy to allow 100% FDI in insurance intermediaries.
  • In April 2020, the DPIIT  came out with a new rule, which stated that the entity of nay company that shares a land border with India or where the beneficial owner of investment into India is situated in or is a citizen of such a country can invest only under the Government route. In other words, such entities can only invest following the approval of the Government of India
  • In early 2020, the government decided to sell a 100% stake in the national airline’s Air India. Find more about this in the video below:

FDI Routes in India

There are three routes through which FDI flows into India. They are described in the following table:

Category 1Category 2Category 3
100% FDI permitted through Automatic RouteUp to 100% FDI permitted through Government RouteUp to 100% FDI permitted through Automatic + Government Route

Automatic Route FDI

In the automatic route, the foreign entity does not require the prior approval of the government or the RBI.

Examples:

  • Medical devices: up to 100%
  • Thermal power: up to 100%
  • Services under Civil Aviation Services such as Maintenance & Repair Organizations
  • Insurance: up to 49%
  • Infrastructure company in the securities market: up to 49%
  • Ports and shipping
  • Railway infrastructure
  • Pension: up to 49%
  • Power exchanges: up to 49%
  • Petroleum Refining (By PSUs): up to 49%

Government Route FDI

Under the government route, the foreign entity should compulsorily take the approval of the government. It should file an application through the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal, which facilitates single-window clearance. This application is then forwarded to the respective ministry or department, which then approves or rejects the application after consultation with the DPIIT.

Examples:

  • Broadcasting Content Services: 49%
  • Banking & Public sector: 20%
  • Food Products Retail Trading: 100%
  • Core Investment Company: 100%
  • Multi-Brand Retail Trading: 51%
  • Mining & Minerals separations of titanium bearing minerals and ores: 100%
  • Print Media (publications/printing of scientific and technical magazines/speciality journals/periodicals and a facsimile edition of foreign newspapers): 100%
  • Satellite (Establishment and operations): 100%
  • Print Media (publishing of newspaper, periodicals and Indian editions of foreign magazines dealing with news & current affairs): 26%

Sectors where FDI is prohibited 

There are some sectors where any FDI is completely prohibited. They are:

  • Agricultural or Plantation Activities (although there are many exceptions like horticulture, fisheries, tea plantations, Pisciculture, animal husbandry, etc.)
  • Atomic Energy Generation
  • Nidhi Company
  • Lotteries (online, private, government, etc.)
  • Investment in Chit Funds
  • Trading in TDR’s
  • Any Gambling or Betting businesses
  • Cigars, Cigarettes, or any related tobacco industry
  • Housing and Real Estate (except townships, commercial projects, etc.)

New FDI Policy

According to the new FDI policy, an entity of a country, which shares a land border with India or where the beneficial owner of investment into India is situated in or is a citizen of any such country, can invest only under the Government route.

A transfer of ownership in an FDI deal that benefits any country that shares a border with India will also need government approval.

Investors from countries not covered by the new policy only have to inform the RBI after a transaction rather than asking for prior permission from the relevant government department.

The earlier FDI policy was limited to allowing only Bangladesh and Pakistan via the government route in all sectors. The revised rule has now brought companies from China under the government route filter.

Benefits of FDI

FDI brings in many advantages to the country. Some of them are discussed below.

  1. Brings in financial resources for economic development.
  2. Brings in new technologies, skills, knowledge, etc.
  3. Generates more employment opportunities for the people.
  4. Brings in a more competitive business environment in the country.
  5. Improves the quality of products and services in sectors.

Disadvantages of FDI

However, there are also some disadvantages associated with foreign direct investment. Some of them are:

  1. It can affect domestic investment, and domestic companies adversely.
  2. Small companies in a country may not be able to withstand the onslaught of MNCs in their sector. There is the risk of many domestic firms shutting shop as a result of increased FDI.
  3. FDI may also adversely affect the exchange rates of a country.

Government Measures to increase FDI in India

  1. Government schemes like production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme in 2020 for electronics manufacturing, have been notified to attract foreign investments.
  2. In 2019, the amendment of FDI Policy 2017 by the government, to permit 100% FDI under automatic route in coal mining activities enhanced FDI inflow.
  3. FDI in manufacturing was already under the 100% automatic route, however, in 2019, the government clarified that investments in Indian entities engaged in contract manufacturing is also permitted under the 100% automatic route provided it is undertaken through a legitimate contract.
  4. Further, the government permitted 26% FDI in digital sectors. The sector has particularly high return capabilities in India as favourable demographics, substantial mobile and internet penetration, massive consumption along technology uptake provides great market opportunity for a foreign investor.
  5. Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal (FIFP) is the online single point interface of the Government of India with investors to facilitate FDI. It is administered by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
  6. FDI inflow is further expected to increase –
  1. as foreign investors have shown interest in the government’s moves to allow private train operations and bid out airports.
  2. Valuable sectors such as defence manufacturing where the government enhanced the FDI limit under the automatic route from 49% to 74% in May 2020, is also expected to attract large investments going forward.

Regulatory Framework for FDI in India

In India, there are several laws regulating FDI inflows. They are:

  • Companies Act
  • Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 and SEBI Regulations
  • Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA)
  • Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992
  • Civil Procedure Code, 1908
  • Indian Contract Act, 1872
  • Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996
  • Competition Act, 2002
  • Income Tax Act, 1961
  • Foreign Direct Investment Policy (FDI Policy)

Important Government Authorities in India concerning FDI

  • Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB)
  • Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT)
  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI)
  • Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT)
  • Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India
  • Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)
  • Income Tax Department
  • Several Ministries of the GOI such as Power, Information & Communication, Energy, etc.

4. Editorial-1: India must build awareness on population control

Early in December, two Members of Parliament of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Ravi Kishan and Nishikant Dubey, introduced in the Lok Sabha a private members’ Bill aimed at population control in India. Stating that population rise is the most significant reason for India’s slow rate of development, the Bill argues for an immediate need for population control. The debate and the discourse around India’s rising population is not recent, having begun since Independence. India was among the first nations to address its population problem as early as 1951, raising awareness about the ills of overpopulation. While there has been a significant rise in India’s population, there has also been a sharp decline in India’s total fertility rate (TFR). In 1950, the TFR was at around 5.9%, and is now 2% (fifth round of the National Family Health Survey, or NFHS). There was a steep decline after the 1970s, indicating an inversely proportional relationship between economic prosperity and the fertility rate.

A politicised debate

The debate around the need for population control has been greatly politicised in India. The entirety of this discourse around such a sensitive issue is often reduced to a petty religious issue, and, ultimately, the subject of development suffers.

Nearly six months before the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Yogi Adityanath government and the State Law Commission of Uttar Pradesh came up with a proposed draft Bill, i.e., the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021. Population is a grave concern in the Hindi heartland, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but the suggestions were more political than practical. The visible attempt was towards an affirmation of the majoritarian politics being played out. For instance, the Bill said that no government job would be offered to couples with more than two children. However, there was no clarification about what would happen to a person who had a third child after being in a government job or if, for some reason, a person with two children remarried and had a third child.

In another instance, in July this year, while speaking on the occasion of population control fortnight, Mr. Adityanath, said, “It should not happen that the speed of population growth or the percentage of some community is high and we stabilise the population of the ‘moolniwasi’ (natives) through awareness or enforcement.” This statement was perceived to underline the belief in parts of the Hindi heartland that it is a minority community that is responsible for the population burst. The Bill was seen to strengthen political polarisation and facilitate the politics of majority appeasement.

Data shows otherwise

However, data indicate otherwise. NFHS data indicate that although the fertility rate of Muslims is higher than Hindus, the gap between the two has shrunk substantially. In 1992-93, the gap between the Hindu and Muslim fertility rate was 1.1, which now has reduced to 0.35. A close comparison of Census data on average fertility rates is insightful. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, with around 20% Muslim population, the TFR declined from 5.8% in 1981 to 2.7% in 2011. In Assam, where the Muslim population is about 33%, the TFR is 1.9%. Similarly, in Jammu and Kashmir, where the Muslim population is the majority, the TFR fell from 4.5% in 1981 to 1.4% in 2011. Data also show that Muslims have adopted better family planning measures than Hindus.

India’s TFR, 2%, is even lower than the replacement level, signifying a remarkable step in the population control parameters. It is clear that India does not need a law for forced population control. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar too has countered the need for such a law by saying, “forced population control can have very dangerous consequences, it can create a gender imbalance”. Forced population control measures have not shown promising results in the countries that have implemented them, the most relevant example being India’s immediate neighbour, China. The one-child policy has proved to be disastrous, causing a demographic imbalance. The population of China is aging faster than in any other modern country, owing to the policies of forced population control.

Strengthen the health infrastructure

India needs to adopt population control measures. But the focus should be on strengthening public health infrastructure and raising awareness about the need for population control. Any forced control method will impact the rate of aging. United Nations data show that there is a projected rise in the population of older people and a decline in the young population in many countries. Although the trend started in rich countries such as Japan, the trend is now visible in developing countries as well, especially Southeast Asia. Among these trends, implementing forced population control can only have negative consequences.

5. Editorial-2: Laboured wages

Any delay in funds to be paid to States for MGNREGS payments is unethical

A testy exchange in the Rajya Sabha between the Minister of State for Rural Development, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, and the Trinamool Congress MP, Jawhar Sircar, on the withholding of funds for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in West Bengal laid bare a key implementation issue — wage delays. A report by the non-profit organisation LibTech India found that ₹2,744 crore was still due to workers for work done since December 26, 2021. The delay in the payment, which is contrary to what is stated in Section 3 of the NREG Act, has resulted in a drop in the number of households working under the scheme in the State — from 77 lakh during the pandemic years to 16 lakh in the current financial year. The current number falls short of the 49.25 lakh households which availed the scheme in the last pre-COVID-19 year as well. The Union Government in its response suggested that funds have been blocked only in West Bengal for “non-compliance with the directives of the Central government” and this pertains to prior fund misuse, but the Trinamool Congress government’s response is legitimate. The State has answered queries related to the misuse and the blocking of funds to workers; the fact that misuse has reportedly covered only a fraction of the grants suggests that workers are being unduly punished.

Wage delays have been a chronic problem with MGNREGS, which, beyond being a form of insurance for the poorest rural households, was a boon during the pandemic years, giving succour not only to such households but also to migrant workers from urban areas as alternative employment. Earlier this year, the delays in funds disbursal to the States were on account of procedural delays and an overhauling of the Public Financial Management System (Finance Ministry). This should not be a problem if the Union government sets aside adequate funds at the beginning of the financial year. While an emphasis on reducing misuse is necessary — in particular, ensuring that the scheme is put into use by actually undertaking public works — the misplaced reliance on technocratic approaches has stymied its implementation. The Government has now made digital capture of MGNREGS attendance mandatory at work sites, despite issues such as the lack of technical support, the necessity to own a smartphone, and workable Internet connections at the sites not having been fully resolved. A scheme such as MGNREGS needs to evolve while keeping its core idea of a demand-driven work allocation intact. Treating it as a burden will only hurt genuine beneficiaries.

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