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ANALYSING ONLINE EDUCATION VIS-À-VIS TRADITIONAL PARADIGM OF LEARNING

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THE CONTENTION VIA INTRODUCTION

The mainstream scenario in educational institutions has always been classroom teachings conducted within the schools. The recent Indian education system has been seen to be changing, and age-old norms have been given a modern makeover, resulting in the introduction of a completely new model; of online classes. Furthermore, it is not just the schools that are seeing the modern mode of education, but also the colleges and universities. It has been noted that the Indian government has been putting in a significant amount of effort in this area in order to achieve the goal of inclusive growth as quickly and efficiently as possible. According to the All India Survey on Higher Education, the gross enrolment ratio in higher education increased from 35.8% in 2017-18 to 26.3 percent in 2018-19, while total enrolment increased from 3.66 crore to 4.74 crore students. As a result, in the current pandemic scenario, it is crucial to acknowledge that school students need the utmost attention to ensure that their education is not jeopardised. The current state of education is such that classes are held online, and even examinations are taken in the same way. According to one of the comprehensive reports prepared by KPMG, online education and the demand for it are expected to expand eight-fold by 2023. The educational sector has undergone tremendous change, and there have been further opportunities for those changes to be halted. Due to the current pandemic, a drastic shift has occurred with the introduction of online classes for children in schools. It is worth noting, that however, a decline in moral values and ethics, as well as a reduction in discipline and etiquette, has reached an all-time high. Both students and teachers have been struggling, and the rudimentary form of education has been suggested as a possible solution. The pedagogy has undergone a significant transformation.

MUDDLING UP THE CORE ISSUE

During the on-going COVID-19 crisis, the need for online classrooms has risen in order to handle the studies of the entire student body. However, it seems that not only the students, but also the teachers, are under a great deal of stress. There used to be a philosophy prohibiting the use of internet outlets for studies, and students were expected to avoid using online sites for studies at all costs, as textbooks were considered the only source to attain priesthood. Moving ahead there are numerous positives to the whole model of online education, as it seems to increase the accessibility and comfort of both students and teachers. It also relieves stress on students, allowing them to actively engage and study at their own pace. One of the most appealing aspects of online learning is the ability to tailor it because each student learns at his or her own speed, and as a result, many students fall behind their peers. Online learning can thus be seen to be highly fruitful and profitable by appealing to each and every student’s needs. Students have plenty of time for their interests and can accomplish their objectives with ease.

There have been some pitfalls to taking online classes. The main one is that, it has proved to be a curse for the underprivileged students, given their lack of access to even basic needs, it is extremely irrational and illogical to imagine them owning a smartphone or a laptop with a decent internet connection. It deprives children from deprived backgrounds of an education because not everyone has fair access to the Internet, and while kids are generally thought to be more tech-savvy than adults, there is often the exception, as an assessment on a digital platform differs greatly from a physical assessment.

MORAL DILEMMAS AND THE REALMS

During the lockdown, it has been noticed that institutions have started to raise their fees. Educational institutions are offering online classes during the pandemic, and the increase in the tuition fees is ludicrous, particularly given that the majority of parents have lost their jobs or are facing severe financial hardship. There have been mass demonstrations and petitions filed around the country in opposition to the fee increases. The legality of the fee demand can be seen in the fact that since students are just learning via online courses, there is no actual need for a surge in fee. Demanding the raised fee from students is not only illegal, but it is also unethical and inhumane on the part of private schools.

CURRENT TRENDS AND THE WAY FORWARD

In light of the current situation, it is important to note that the future of education in India appears to be revolutionary in comparison to the traditional scenario. If the situation further worsens, online teachings will eventually supplant conventional teaching methods in schools. If the pattern continues, education will undergo a significant transformation, and a new paradigm of education will emerge in regards to children’s education. Primary school children who have recently started attending school have experienced schooling in a completely different light from the start and are therefore totally unaware of the physical classes. If online education becomes the norm, it will completely be a different experience for both students and the teachers respectively. However, this prospect will be limited to a few years down the track and ‘may’ not become permanent considering the prevailing environment.

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Policy & Politics

Kerala HC: Mere Violation Of bail Condition Is Not Sufficient To Cancel The Bail

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While setting the record entirely straight, the Kerala High Court has in an extremely laudable, landmark, learned and latest judgment titled Godson v. State of Kerala & Ors. in Crl. MC Nos. 2807 & 2814 of 2022 [Against the order dated 24.2.2022 in Crl.M.P.No.249/2022 IN Crl.M.C.No.197/2018 on the file of the IInd Additional Sessions Court, Ernakulam] and cited in 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 425 pronounced as recently as on August 10, 2022 made it absolutely clear that non-compliance with the bail conditions alone is not a ground to cancel the bail already granted to the accused since such cancellation affects the personal liberty of a person under Article 21 of the Constitution. We all fully know that the personal liberty of a citizen is accorded the paramount importance under Article 21 which is a fundamental right also of every citizen of India! It deserves noting that the Single Judge Bench of Justice A.A. Ziyad Rahman minced just no words to clarify that while considering an application to cancel the bail on the ground of non-compliance with the conditions, the court has to consider the question of whether the alleged violation amounts to an attempt to interfere with the administration of justice or as to whether it affects the trial of the case in which the accused is implicated. Very rightly so!

At the outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by a Single Judge Bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice A.A. Ziyad Rahman sets the pitch in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “The petitioners are the accused in Crime No.160/2018 of Kalady Police Station. The petitioner in Crl.M.C No.2814/2022 is the 1st accused and the petitioner in Crl.M.C. No.2807/22 is the 2nd accused in the said crime. The aforesaid crime was registered alleging offences punishable under Sections 341,308 and 324 r/w. Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “The petitioners were arrested in connection with the said case and later, as per order dated 9.2.2018 in Crl.M.C.No.197/2018, the 2nd Additional Sessions Court, Ernakulam, granted bail to them subject to certain conditions. One of the conditions was that they should not involve in any other crime of similar nature during the bail period. Subsequently, the investigation in the said case is completed, and the final report has been submitted.”

While continuing in the same vein, the Bench then observes in para 3 that, “Later, Crl.M.P.Nos.249/2022 and 247/2022 were submitted by the Public Prosecutor for cancellation of their bail. The sole reason highlighted in the said petition is that both the petitioners are subsequently involved in Crime No.1159/2021 of Kuruppampady Police Station, which was registered for the offences punishable under Sections 143,147,308,324,506(ii)and 294(b) r/w. Section 149 of IPC. The learned Sessions Judge, as per orders dated 24.2.2022 allowed the said applications after hearing the petitioners and thereby, the bail granted to them was cancelled. These orders are now under challenge in this Crl.M.Cs.”

It is worth noting that the Bench enunciates in para 7 that, “The conditions to be imposed while granting bail, are contemplated under Sections 437(3) r/w. Section 439(1)(a) of Cr.PC. The condition not to involve in similar offences during the bail period is something which is specifically stipulated in the aforesaid provision. Since such a condition is specifically mentioned in the statute, that would indicate the importance of such condition and the necessity to insist on the compliance of the same. However, the question that arises here is whether a violation of the said condition should result in the cancellation of the bail in all the cases. In my view, merely because of the reason that such a condition was imposed while granting bail to the accused, that would not result in the cancellation of bail automatically. This is particularly because, since the order of cancellation of bail is something that affects the personal liberty of a person, which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, unless there are reasons justifying or warranting such an order, the bail already granted cannot be cancelled. In Dolat Ram and Others v. State of Haryana [(1995)1 SCC 349], the Hon’ble Supreme Court has observed as follows:

“5. Rejection of bail in a non – bailable case at the initial stage and the cancellation of bail so granted, have to be considered and dealt with on different basis. Very cogent and overwhelming circumstances are necessary for an order directing the cancellation of the bail, already granted. Generally speaking, the grounds for cancellation of bail, broadly (illustrative and not exhaustive) are : interference or attempt to. interfere with the due course of administration of justice or evasion or attempt to evade the due course of justice or abuse of the concession granted to the accused in any manner. The satisfaction of the Court, on the basis of material placed on the record of the possibility of the accused absconding is yet another reason justifying the cancellation of bail. However, bail once granted should not be cancelled in a mechanical manner without considering whether any supervening circumstances have rendered it no longer conducive to a fair trial to allow the accused to retain his freedom by enjoying the concession of bail during the trial. These principles, it appears, were lost sight of by the High Court when it decided to cancel the bail, already granted. The High Court it appears to us overlooked the distinction of the factors relevant for rejecting bail in a non – bailable case in the first instance and the cancellation of bail already granted.”

The aforesaid view was reiterated in X v. State of Telangana and Another reported in [(2018) 16 SCC 511].”

Most remarkably, the Bench then observes in para 8 that, “In Dataram Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh [(2018)3 SCC 22], it was observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the manner as follows:

“It is also relevant to note that there is difference between yardsticks for cancellation of bail and appeal against the order granting bail. Very cogent and overwhelming circumstances are necessary for an order directing the cancellation of bail already granted. Generally speaking, the grounds for cancellation of bail are, interference or attempt to interfere with the due course of administration of justice or evasion or attempt to evade the due course of justice or abuse of the concessions granted to the accused in any manner. These are all only few illustrative materials. The satisfaction of the Court on the basis of the materials placed on record of the possibility of the accused absconding is another reason justifying the cancellation of bail. In other words, bail once granted should not be cancelled in a mechanical manner without considering whether any supervening circumstances have rendered it no longer conducive to a fair trial to allow the accused to retain his freedom by enjoying the concession of bail during the trial.”

Therefore, while considering an application to cancel the bail on the ground of non compliance of the conditions, the court has to consider the question whether the alleged violation amounts to an attempt to interfere with the administration of justice or as to whether it affects the trial of the case in which the accused is implicated. In XI, Victim SC No.211 of 2018 of POCSO Court v. State of Kerala and Others [2019(3)KHC 26], this Court laid down the principles with regard to the nature of the enquiry to be conducted by the court concerned, while considering an application for cancellation of bail. In paragraph 9 of the said judgment, it was observed as follows: “9. But in a case where the victim or the witnesses specifically complains of threat and intimidation and the said aspects are projected either by victim or by the prosecution before the Bail Court through an application as referred to in Ext.P- 5, then it is bounden duty of the Bail Court to consider the correctness or otherwise of the allegations in a summary manner after affording an opportunity of being heard to the prosecution as well as to the affected accused concerned whose bail is ought to be cancelled and if possible to the victim as well, in a case like this. In such process of enquiry, the Bail Court could call for the records if any in relation to those allegations and if a separate crime has been registered in that regard, the records in those crimes should also be perused by the Bail Court in order to make an enquiry in a summary manner as to the truth or otherwise of the allegations therein, and after affording reasonable opportunity of being heard to the prosecution, accused and the victim, the Bail Court is expected to discharge its solemn duty and function to decide on the correctness or otherwise of the allegations in such a summary manner and the evidentiary assessment thereof could be on the basis of the overall attendant circumstances as well as the attendant balance of probabilities of the case. Based on such a process, the Bail Court is obliged to take a decision whether the bail conditions have been so violated and if it is so found that the bail conditions has been violated then it is the duty of the Bail Court to cancel the bail, but certainly after hearing the affected party as aforestated. So also, if the said enquiry process reveals that the truth of the above said allegations has not been established in a convincing manner in such enquiry process, then the Bail Court is to dismiss the application to cancel the bail. But the Bail Court cannot evade from the responsibility by taking up the specious plea that since the very same allegations also form subject matter of a distinct crime then the truth or otherwise of the allegations is to be decided by the Criminal Court which is seisin of that crime through the process of finalisation of said impugned criminal proceedings by the conduct and completion of trial therein.”

Thus, from all the above decisions, it is evident that, mere violation of the condition alone is not sufficient to cancel the bail granted by the court. Before taking a decision, the court has to conduct a summary inquiry based on the records, including the documents relating to the subsequent crime and arrive at a conclusion as to whether it is necessary to cancel the bail or not. Therefore, the orders impugned in these cases are to be considered by applying the yardstick as mentioned above.”

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 9 that, “When coming back to the facts of this case, it can be seen that the petitioners are seen implicated in the offences under Sections 341,308,324 r/w. Section 34 of the IPC, in a crime registered in the year 2018. They were granted bail on 9.2.2018, subject to the above conditions. Now the present application is submitted in the year 2022 on the allegation that the petitioners are involved in a crime committed in the year 2021. The fact remains that in both cases, final reports were already submitted by the Police. In the subsequent crime also, the petitioners were granted bail even after taking into consideration the criminal antecedents of the petitioners. Therefore, custody of the petitioners is not required to conduct the trial of the said cases. The allegations in the subsequent crime are not relating to an act which was allegedly committed by the petitioners with the intention to intimidate or influence any witnesses in the crime registered in the year, 2018. Both crimes are entirely different and have no connection with each other.”

While adding clarity, the Bench then specifies in para 10 that, “In my view, even though the court which granted the bail is empowered to direct the arrest of the petitioners who were already released on bail by virtue of the powers conferred upon the court as per Section 437(5) and 439(2) of Cr.PC, such power has to be exercised only if it is absolutely necessary. Of course, if the subsequent crime is allegedly committed with the intention to influence or intimidate the witnesses, the consideration should have been different, but it is not the case here. In Dataram Singh’s case, it was categorically observed that, bail once granted, cannot be cancelled without considering whether any supervening circumstances have rendered it no longer conducive to a fair trial to allow the accused to retain his freedom by enjoying the concession of bail during the trial.”

Most significantly, what constitutes the cornerstone of this notable judgment is then encapsulated in para 11 wherein it is postulated that, “While considering the alleged involvement of the petitioners in the subsequent crime for cancellation of bail, the fact that the second crime is after three years of the earlier crime is also a relevant aspect. The petitioners are indeed involved in some other cases, and one of the petitioners is already undergone preventive detention under KAA(P)A. However, that alone cannot be a reason to cancel the bail, unless it is shown that the involvement of the petitioners in the subsequent crime is affecting the trial of the earlier case. If the prosecuting agency is concerned with the commission of repeated offences by the accused persons, there are ample statutory provisions available for them to initiate appropriate proceedings for subjecting the accused persons to preventive detention. The stipulations contained in Section 437(5) and 439(2) of Cr.PC cannot be treated as a substitute for preventive detention laws. The legislature has brought into force, various enactments to enable the authorities concerned to keep the persons involved in repeated crimes under preventive detention, despite the stipulations in 437(5) and 439(2) of Cr.P.C. The said fact fortifies the view which I have taken as above. Moreover, there are no provisions in Cr.PC which specifically deal with the cancellation of bail and instead, the power is given to the court as per sections 437(5) and 439(2) to direct the person already released on bail, to be arrested and committed to prison, if it considers necessary to do so. When the court orders the arrest of a person already released on bail, it would have the effect of cancellation of the bail. Therefore what is relevant is not a mere violation of the bail condition but the satisfaction of the court that ‘it is necessary to do so’. While considering the aforesaid question, the matters such as; the time gap between the crimes, the possibility of false accusation in the subsequent case, bail granted to the accused in the subsequent crime, stage of the prosecution of the case in which cancellation of bail is sought, chances of affecting or causing interference in the fair trial of the case, etc. could be relevant. In some cases, the commission of heinous crimes repeatedly, in such a manner as to infuse fear in the mind of the witnesses, which may deter them from deposing against the accused, may also be relevant, as it is something which affects the conduct of the fair trial. However, no hard and fast rules can be laid down in respect of the same, and it differs from case to case. As held in the case of XI, Victim SC No.211 of 2018 of POCSO Court (supra), the court has to conduct a summary enquiry after perusing the records and arrive at a satisfaction as to whether it is necessary to cancel the bail of the accused.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 12 that, “While applying the above principles to the facts of this case, one of the crucial aspects relevant for consideration is whether the subsequent crime interferes with the conduct of a fair trial of the case in which he is involved. Such a situation is not there in this case. Further, the mere allegation of the involvement of the petitioners in the subsequent crime after three years of the crime in which the bail was granted, cannot by itself be a reason for the cancellation of bail. Even in the subsequent cases, the petitioners were granted bail and the investigation in that case was also completed. Therefore, the custody of the petitioners is not at all necessary, and hence I do not find any justifiable reason to sustain the order of cancellation of bail. In the result, both these Crl.M.Cs are allowed. The orders passed by the IInd Additional Sessions Court, Ernakulam on 24.02.2022 in Crl.M.P.No.247/2022 and Crl.M.P.No.249/2022 in Crl.M.C.No.197/2018 are hereby quashed. However, it is made clear that, this shall not preclude the authorities concerned in initiating any proceedings for preventive detention of the petitioners if there are materials warranting the same.”

On the whole, this extremely commendable, cogent, composed and convincing judgment by the Kerala High Court makes it indubitably clear that violation of bail conditions by itself is not a ground to cancel bail. We thus see that the Kerala High Court refuses to find any justifiable reason to sustain the order of cancellation of bail. There can be just no denying it!

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

s/o Col (Retd) BPS Sirohi,

A 82, Defence Enclave,

Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,

Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.

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Policy & Politics

REMEMBERING GORKHA CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

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Under the leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi ji as our nation commemorates ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav,’ we take a solemn moment to remember all those brave hearts who sacrificed their lives so that we could live in a free country. The struggle for Independence attracted active participation from all the communities across the nation, however the contributions of smaller communities, especially those from North East India have remained relatively unknown. All that is changing, thanks to the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ commemoration as envisioned by Modi ji, more and more people are coming to know about the freedom fighters from smaller regions and communities too.

The sacrifices and contributions of the Indian Gorkha community towards our freedom struggle and nation building is immense, sadly majority of the people across our nation are unaware of the sacrifices made by our Gorkha ancestors. As a Member of Parliament from Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency, which is the heart of Gorkha community in India, and being a Gorkha by ethnicity, here is my humble attempt at highlighting some of the icons from Indian Gorkha community whose contributions in the history of India’s Independence remains relatively unknown among the general population.

INA CAPT. RAM SINGH THAKURI – HIMACHAL PRADESH

Among the very many celebrated Gorkha Freedom Fighters, perhaps the one with the most iconic contribution, yet the least known, remains Capt. Ram Singh Thakuri of Himachal Pradesh.

Call it a coincidence or destiny, Capt. Thakuri was born on the 15th of August 1914 to a Gorkha family in Khaniara village, Dharamshala, HP. In 1924, he had joined the 2/1 Gorkha Rifles as a unit musician. He was a talented young man, who was proficient in many fields including football, athletics, and wrestling. In the Second World War, his Battalion was shipped overseas to Singapore. In 1942, Singapore fell and the Allied forces surrendered to the Japanese. This is when Capt Ram Singh Thakuri joined the Indian National Army (INA). Soon he became very popular due to his musical talents, so much so that Netaji himself took a note of his talents. Netaji an astute military strategist understood the power music could have on the morale of the soldiers asked him to raise a marching band for the INA.

Capt. Thakuri didn’t let Netaji down, as he produced some of the most well know songs from India’s freedom movements like Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja, Sare Jahan se Accha, Inquilab Zindabad, Hind Sipahi, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment marching song “Hum Bharat ki Ladki Hai,” and others.

The Azad Hind Government had strongly felt that a National Anthem was required which would connect all Indians through a common thread of music. While some had favoured the great poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s ‘Vande Mataram’ as the national anthem, some others felt it wasn’t inclusive enough. It was Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal who introduced Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’ to Netaji, by having it performed at INA women’s wing meeting, which Netaji had attended. Following which, Netaji instructed Capt Ram Singh Thakuri to re-compose the music of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s version of Jana Gana Mana in a martial tune to which INA soldiers could march to.

In one of his interviews, Capt. Thakuri fondly recalled Netaji instructing him, “the song should have such an indelible impact and force that the Cathay Building [in Singapore] should ‘break’ into two parts and the sky should become visible.”

While Capt Abid Ali and Mumtaz Hussain rewrote Gurudev’s “Jana Gana Mana” to “शुभ सुख चैन – Subha Skhuh Chain ki Barsha Barse”, Capt. Ram Singh Thakuri gave music to it.

Subha Skhuh Chain ki Barsha Barse was adopted by the Provisional Free Government of India (Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind) led by Netaji as the Qaumi Tarana – National Anthem. “Subha Sukh Chain” was played as the national anthem of free India first time on 11 September 1942 at Hamburg, when on October 31, 1943, when the INA came to power, the orchestra led by Capt. Thakuri played the Qaumi Tarana, the Cathay Building did indeed reverberate thunderously.

The music of Capt. Thakuri’s ‘Qaumi Tarana’ became a base on which our current national anthem “Jana Gana Mana” is set. In 1944, Capt. Thakuri was decorated by Subhas Chandra Bose with a gold medal for his contribution. Capt. Thakuri also received a violin and a saxophone as personal gifts from Netaji.

Capt. Thakuri was especially invited to play the ‘Quami Tarana’ when Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru unfurled the Tiranga from Lal Quila on the 15th of August, 1947, he had used the violin presented to him by Netaji, who had told him, “you will play this violin when India gets her Independence”.

Sadly, after Independence, the brave INA Freedom Fighters were neglected by the then governments. Capt. Thakuri was appointed as a DSP with the Provincial Arms Constabulary (PAC) band of Uttar Pradesh Police, and he continued to serve our nation through his music till his last days.

PUSHPA KUMAR GHISING – DARJEELING

The Naval Uprising of 1946 is among the lesser-known moments of the Indian Freedom Movement, but perhaps it is the most significant. This is when the Indian Navy soldiers staged a revolt against the British in Karachi and Bombay. Inspired by the Indian National Army over 20000 mutineers joined the Freedom Fighters from Karachi to Calcutta, taking

over the 78 ships afloat and onshore establishment. This had inspired other servicemen in the army, air force and even the civilians to join the protests.

[Pushpa Kumar Ghising during his Navy days]

During the rebellion, navy personnel Puspa Kumar Ghising from Darjeeling fought with at least three British soldiers and managed to take control of the Bombay naval ammunition dump alone. The weapons from the ammunition dump were used by the rebelling Indian sailors to hold back the British for 5 days. However, on the fifth day, the leaders from the Indian National Congress had intervened and coaxed the sailors to lay down their arms. Ghising and his friends were arrested and taken to the Mulundi Jail where he was court-martialled but acquitted during the trail.

He resigned from the Navy on September 8, 1946, and plunged into the independence movement.

Even though the Naval Uprising has not been given due importance in the history books, unlike the other important incidents in the Freedom Movement, however, many contemporary historians attribute Naval Uprising as the pivotal movement that hastened the British decision to quit India.

In recognition of Ghisingh’s role in the Independence movement, the government

felicitated him with the Tamra Patra on August 15, 1989.

HELEN LEPCHA – SIKKIM AND KURSEONG

Helen Lepcha was born in 1902 in South Sikkim and is perhaps the only female freedom fighter from Sikkim. The family migrated to Kurseong in search of better education and livelihood prospects. During the floods of 1920 in Bihar, Helen Lepcha worked as a volunteer, providing tireless service to the victims, this brought her to the attention of Mahatma Gandhi, who later named her as Sabitri Devi in honour of her service to the people. Helen Lepcha worked with the coal workers from the coalfields in erstwhile Bihar and among the workers in United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh), strengthening the Freedom Movement and participated in the non-cooperation movement in 1921. She was arrested for “inciting the people against the government” and sent to jail for three months and a further house arrest later that year.

[Helen Lepcha – hero who helped Netaji]

When Netaji was kept under house arrest in Giddhey Pahar in Kurseong from 1939-40, Helen Lepcha played a vital role in smuggling in and out coded messages, ultimately laying the foundation for Netaji’s escape later right under the nose of the British authorities from Calcutta to Germany.

In appreciation of the immense contributions during the freedom movement, the Government of India honoured her with a Tamra Patra the citation.

MAJOR DURGA MALLA – UTTARAKHAND

Born on 1st of July in 1913 at the Doiwala village in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand, Durga Malla joined the Gorkha Rifles in 1931 at the age of 18. In 1942, at the height of the 2nd World War, a group of Indian soldiers led by Durga Malla decided to breakaway and form the Indian National Army under Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. Durga Malla was one of the key figures responsible for the formation of the INA, as he was largely responsible for encouraging fellow Gorkha soldiers to quit the British and join the INA. Seeing his dedication towards the Freedom of India and his military talents, he was promoted to the rank of Major by Netaji, and posted in the intelligence branch of INA, where he performed exemplarily often taking risky missions that helped INA march forward.

[Major Durga Malla – the INA Hero]

It was during one such intelligence gathering missions that he was arrested on the 27th of March, 1944 near Urkhul in Manipur. He along with fellow INA prisoners were kept in a prison at the Red Fort as a prisoner of War. There, the British tried to persuade him to renounce INA and offered him that his life would be saved if he did so. But he flat out refused to bow before the British. When all tricks and coercions failed, the British brought his wife Smt. Sharda Devi to get him to denounce INA, but instead he told his wife, “Sharda, I am sacrificing my life for the freedom of my motherland. You need not be worried and distressed. Crores of Hindustanis will be with you after my death. The Sacrifice I am offering, shall not go in vain. India shall be free. I am confident, this is only a matter of time.”

On 25th August 1944, he was sent to the gallows.

Today, his statue adorns the premise of our Parliament, marking the contribution of Gorkha community towards our Independence.

SUBEDAR NIRANJAN SINGH CHHETRI – MANIPUR

Among the illustrious Gorkha community that has produced so many heroes for our nation, the honour of being the 1st Gorkhali to have martyred for our motherland goes to Subedar Niranjan Singh Chhetri ji, from Manipur.

When the great Manipuri hero Jubraj Tikendrajit Singh decided to resist the British incursions into Manipur, 39-year-old Niranjan Chhetri of Tikuamoh, who was an ex-army sipahi of the 34th native Infantry, joined the native force of Manipur led by Bir Tikendrajit and Thangal General. His past experience as a soldier and bravery was evident, and he was appointed as Subedar by Jubraj Tikendrajit himself.

[Subedar Niranjan Singh Chhetri – the 1st Gorkha Freedom Martyr]

Following the war, he was tried by the Chief Political Officer, Manipur Field Force and was hanged to death by the British on June 8th, 1891. His last words were, “My birthplace is my Motherland, I am ready to die for this land, and I am ready to kill for this land, but I am not ready to accept surrender and subjugation of my own land”.

For decades, his sacrifice had been relegated to the pages of history. However, under

Hon’ble Chief Minister N Biren Singh ji the history and legacy of this legendary Gorkha

Freedom Fighter is finally being brough to light. On March 7th, 2021, CM N Biren Singh ji unveiled the statue of Saheed Subedar Nirajan Singh Chhetri, he acknowledged the role played by Subedar Niranjan by writing, “Immensely glad to unveil the statue of Saheed Subedar Niranjan Singh Chhetri, one of the heroes of Ango-Manipur War, 1891. His bravery, patriotism & sacrificial spirit for the motherland were unparalleled. He was hanged to death by the British on June 8,1891 for his role in the war.”

Chhetri – the 1st Gorkha Freedom Martyr]

DALBIR SINGH LOHAR – ASSAM

Dalbir Singh Lohar from Assam joined the freedom movement in 1921 during Gandhi ji’s visit to Dibrugarh. He was a labour leader and one of the most prominent Freedom Fighters from Assam, who led the Civil Disobedience Movement in Dibrugarh from the front. He was imprisoned between 1930-31 for his participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement, along with other Gorkha freedom fighters from Assam like Bhakta Bahadur Pradhan, Anantalal Sharma.

In 1939, Assam saw the historic strike at the Asia’s oldest refinery and the birthplace of oil industry in India in Digboi, Assam. Dalbir Singh Lohar was one of the key leaders of the strike called by the non-unionised Digboi Oil Refinery workers. Citing tensions with Germany, the British crushed the Digboi strike with an iron hand sending down eight platoons of Asssam Rifles to crush it. All the prominent leaders like Dalbir Singh Lohar were issued Quit Digboi, Quit Lakhimpur, and finally Quit Assam within 72-hours’ notice by the British.

[Dalbir Singh Lohar – the people’s leader from Dibrigarh]

He was again arrested during the Quit India Movement called by Gandhi ji, and all the Gorkha freedom fighters like Bhakta Bahadur Pradhan, Anantalal Sharma and others and kept in separate jails. However, they soon became the symbols of working-class people’s resistance against the British government.

After Independence, Dalbir Singh Lohar went onto become the first MLA of Gorkha ethnicity to be elected from the Digboi Assembly, by winning the 1951 election with a landslide margin. He continued to serve the working-class people all through his life.

These are only a few, whose contributions I have highlighted today, there are hundreds of others who have played a significant role towards ensuring our Independence, but due to the paucity of space, accommodating them all is not possible.

As can be seen, the Gorkhas no matter which state they were born in, have played a significant role in our Freedom Struggles, and I am hopeful that as we celebrate the “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” more people across the nation will come to know about heroes like them.

Jai Hind

*Raju Bista is the Member of Parliament from Darjeeling and National Spokesperson for BJP

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Policy & Politics

SHINDE VS THACKREY – DISSENT OR DEFECTION…?

Adv. Manjunath Kakkalameli

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On 21 June 2022, an unprecedented political movement took place in Maharashtra and once again pop-up the 10th Schedule or anti defection law.

Initially Shinde faction case was seeming like usual case of Anti defection but as it took root of the case, it got wider scope to decide few questions of law accordingly,

On 25th of June, Maharashtra Speaker Zirwal issued disqualification notices under the 10th Schedule to Shinde faction after the party sought their disqualification from the state assembly for the wants of non-joining of party meeting even after issuance of whip. Now the notice has been challenged before hon’ble Supreme Court stating failure to attend a party meeting or expression of disagreement with certain policies of the party cannot be a ground to disqualify under para (a) or 2(b) of tenth schedule of the Constitution, however, multiple petitions have been filed by the both the parties before Supreme Court on various ground and is pending before the court for considering whether the matter be referred to Constitutional Bench or not.

Since the Thackrey led MVA Government had majority & the act of rebel Sena leader Shinde has aided to dis- Stabled the government, in such a case does the act of team Shinde fall under the “act against the party”? if yes then right to dissent has no meaning. Because the team Shinde neither voted against the party or has given up their membership. The act of Shinde team seems to be against party policy & not against the party therefore, the friction between right to dissent & Anti defection has taken place.

Right to freedom of speech & expression vs Right to dissent –

The question of law rises here in the present case is whether right to dissent, with voice of majority fall under the ambit of right to dissent or not, if yes then whether the Tenth schedule violating the Basic Structure of the constitution. Because when we call right to dissent is right to freedom of speech & expression, it would gross violation of art. 19 (1) a of the constitution & when there is violation of any provisions of the fundamental rights would be violating the basic structure of constitution & when any law is against the basic structure of the constitution is deemed to be void.

During the hearing of the Shinde’s petition Senior Counsel Harish Salave strongly stressed on Voice of Dissent and Voice of Majority and Minority tyranny and said that voice of dissent can not be suppressed in a democracy.

In Kihota Hollohon Vs Zachilhu and Others, 1992 SCC Supp. (2) 651, the Tenth Schedule was challenged on the ground that, it violates the democratic rights of elected members of Parliament and the Legislatures of the States. It violates the freedom of speech, freedom of vote and conscience of a member. Rejecting the plea, the Apex Court held that, the provisions of Tenth Schedule do not suffer from the vice or subverting democratic rights of elected members of Parliament and the Legislatures of the States. It does not violate their freedom of speech, freedom of vote and conscience. In India the freedom of speech of a member is not an absolute freedom. The provisions of the Tenth Schedule do not purport to make a member of a House liable in any ‘Court’ for anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or State Legislature. It cannot be said that Article 105 or 194 is a source of immunity from the consequences of unprincipled floor crossing. That’s why the provisions of paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule do not violate any rights or freedom of elected members of Parliament or State Legislatures under Article 105 or Article 194 of the Constitution, and is thus constitutionally valid.

Inner Party democracy –

In any democratic set up voice of dissent that too when supported with Majority should be accepted along with voice of consent. Disaccord be accepted with accord, in true sense that would be the beauty of a democratic set up.

Till date it has been observed that any dissent against a party policy deemed to be anti-defection but mere dis agreement with party policy or every disaccord cannot be held as voice against party.

Gehlot vs Pilot-

In 2019-20 Pilot group had a rebellion attempt against Gehlot and was facing disqualification by the Speaker C.P. Joshi, wherein it was challenged before the Rajsthan High Court and The Raj High Court had framed 13 issues, question of law. However, in a settlement all such disqualification notices were withdrawn and the issue of Inner party democracy and Voice of Dissent remain unanswered.

Whip versus Disqualification

Another important question of law is regarding Whip “Whether Whip as an instrument of party discipline only applied to the action expected out of legislators inside the house? In this regard I remember, A proposed solution that had created the controversy was suggested by Manish Tiwari, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha. The suggestion is relating to constitutional amendment to limit the scope of paragraph 2 (1) (b) of the bill. The Bill proposed by Manish Tiwari limits disqualification under Paragraph 2 (1) (b) to be a possible sanction only if the member dissents against a Whip issued in the following instances.

motion expressing confidence or want of confidence in the Council of Ministers,

motion for an adjournment of the business of the House,

motion in respect of financial matters as enumerated in Articles 113 to 116 (both inclusive) and Articles 203 to 206 (both inclusive),

Money Bill”.

The propositions made by Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2010 are similar to the recommendations made by the Dinesh Goswami Committee on Electoral Reform where it was suggested that disqualification must be imposed only in case of vote of confidence or no-confidence motions. By limiting the ambit of disqualification, this bill seeks to make the necessary change of creating greater room for policy expression, fearless debate and discussion in the Parliament. Such a law would liberate legislators from the whip imposing fear of losing their membership except in cases where the life of the government is threatened by a no-confidence motion, money bills and some crucial financial matters.

Dissent as Right to freedom of Speech & expression –

The Constitution (Fifty-Second Amendment) Act, 1985 which has since popularly come to be known as the Anti-Defection law, has been the subject matter of a controversy from the very beginning. It has been questioned on several grounds viz, that it is violative of the basic structure of the Constitution, that it is violative of the fundamental principles of parliamentary democracy, its violate democratic rights of the elected members of parliament and the legislatures of the State, and is destructive of the freedom of speech, right to dissent, freedom of vote and conscience, it violates the freedom under Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution.

Now considering the act of rebel Sena leader, CM Shinde and his group neither left the party at his will nor talked against party.

Because, considering entire facts on record, the act of Shinde Faction, Certain disagreements with Party Policy does not amount to Anti defection or all the dissent does not amount to anti defection same was observed in the case of In Balchandra L. Jarkiholi Vs B.S. Yeddyurappa 2011.

Delivering the dissenting judgement, Mr. Justice N. Kumar of the High Court set aside the impugned disqualification order of the Speaker and held that an act of no confidence in the leader of the legislative party does not amount to his voluntarily giving up the membership of the political party. Similarly, the act of expressing no confidence in the Government formed by the party, with a particular leader as Chief Minister, would not also amount to voluntary act of giving up the membership of the political party. Deserting the leader and deserting the Government is not synonymous with deserting the party. Dissent is not defection and the Tenth Schedule while recognizing dissent prohibits defection. Right to dissent is the essence of democracy, for the success of democracy and democratic institutions honest dissent has to be respected by persons in authority. which was later confirmed by hon’ble Supreme Court.

Therefore, if we believe in Democracy, should also believe in Right to Speech & Expression ensured as fundamental right under Article 21 of the constitution of India, should believe in Party Democracy, & if Right to speech is recognized under party democracy then dissent is not defection. if dissent is not defection, then Para 2 (1) a of the tenth schedule of the constitution violating the Basic Structure of Constitution.

The Maharashtra Political crisis case has great potential to the hon’ble Supreme Court to decide the much waited and unanswered question of law ,which had paved multiple time in Indian politics , Would hope that the Supreme Court will constitute the Constitutional Bench with 05 or more judges and deliver another landmark judgment.

The Author is practising advocate at Bombay High Court.

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Policy & Politics

COURTS OUGHT NOT TO SUBJECT TO JUDICIAL SCRUTINY, WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY A PURELY POLITICAL BARGAIN

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Welfare measures are political bargains struck by a thinking electorate: The various ‘welfare measures’ (pejoratively called ‘freebies’ by the Petitioner), are political bargains between the ‘electorate’ and the ‘elected’. The ‘electorate’ is capable understanding the terms of this bargain and its implications, which is why we have constitutionally mandated ‘universal adult franchise’. Such decisions are neither justiciable, nor do they exist any judicially manageable standards for such determinations.

Judicial reassessment of such issues makes the court enter into political thicket: A judicial scrutiny of such bargains necessarily presupposes that the electorate is incapable of making an informed decision and makes the court enter into a political thicket, which this Hon’ble Court has refused to do repeatedly. This is because the judicial wing of the state has neither the expertise or the democratic mandate to dictate the terms of the political bargain between the electorate and the elected.

Restrictions envisaged limit right under Article 19(1)(a) and not covered by Article 19(2): The making of promises of welfare measures and the hearing of such promises are both protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Restriction on such speech does not fall under any of the eight heads of exceptions under Article 19(2). In any case, it is impermissible to restrict freedom of speech and expression by judicial directions and the same can only be done by way of a law passed by Parliament/legislature.

If court inclined to examine, it will be in fitness to first refer the matter to Constitution Bench to determine if such issues can be gone into by the Court. In case, this Hon’ble Court is still inclined to consider the legality of welfare measures, it is prayed that the preliminary issue of whether such issues can be adjudicated by Courts ought to be referred to a Constitution Bench.

Kindly see:

Public Interest Foundation v Union of India, (2019) 3 SCC 224 where a Constitution Bench of this Court refused to issue directions barring election candidates with criminal antecedants on the ground that the said power was exclusively with Parliament (Paras 105-107, 118-119)

Asif Hameed & Ors. v. State of J & K, 1989 Supp (2) SCC 364 (Paras 17-19)

Welfare measures are in tandem with the socialist and welfare objectives of the Constitution and necessary for ensuring equality and achieving economic development

We have given ourselves a welfare/socialist state whose objective is to promote and achieve social/economic justice and equality, which is realized through welfare measures: The preamble to the Constitution is categorical about the nature of the Indian state (being socialist) and its objectives, which include, inter alia, social/economic justice and equality. These objectives find an echo in various directive principles of state policy such as Articles 38, 39, 39A, 41, 42, 43, 43A and 47 which inter alia, call for securing for citizens the right to adequate means of livelihood for all citizens and equitable distribution of material resources of the community for the common good.

Successful examples of Welfare measures include PDS for food, provision of night shelters for the homeless, free/subsidized education at the school and college level, free drinking water, mid-day meals and many more.

The Scandanavian Countries in particular that offer high amounts of social support in particular, free and equal access to social services, regardless of income or economic need. The essential elements of this modeal are large public sector, broad universal services, productive investment in health education and job training and strong work incentives with progressive taxation. These countries have some of the highest human development index in the world.

Welfare measures develop ‘capacity’ of the people, enabling them to contribute to economic growth: The characterization of ‘welfare measures’ as ‘freebies’ overlooks the fact that such measures are essential for developing ‘capacities’ of the people of the country and hence generate a workforce which can then contribute to economic growth. Given the vastly inequitable distribution of wealth in the country, but for government support, the majority cannot develop any ‘capacity’ to be able to generate wealth.

Our collective consciousness is replete with examples of poor children who have risen from the humblest backgrounds to achieve excellence in various fields. In many of these cases, this has been facilitated by because of the so called ‘freebies’ that have provided opportunities of earning and improvement in standard of living would be restrict to the very few at the top with the wherewithal to develop their ‘capacities’.

In any case, social welfare measures will not cause undue financial strain on the economy: This is because the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003 and such similar legislative measures at the state level that restricts the deficits that a government can run. Hence, all social welfare measures will be managed within this framework and the limits imposed thereby.

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Privacy implications in India of the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US

The journey from the winters of 1973 to the summer of 2022.

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June 24, 2022 witnessed perhaps one of the single-most momentous blowbacks to the notion of privacy, the consequence of which would certainly send ripples across the globe both on an ideological and a judicial-legal plane. On this day, the Supreme Court of the United States of America on this day overturned the watershed case of legal and feminist jurisprudence, Roe v. Wade of 1973 (“Wade”), effectively disrobing women in the country from exercising the erstwhile right to abort. The ramification of this ruling underlines a particularly interesting conundrum – in the wake of Big Tech collecting, storing, and processing personal data and information incessantly and sharing the same with law enforcement agencies (“LEAs”) as and when mandated, how can the most vulnerable and sensitive aspects of a person’s personal life be afforded protection to in the absence of adequate safeguards?

It is common knowledge that the tracking and storage of personal data and information accompany with it a saddening saga of squander and abuse – history is witness to this. With the over-ruling of Wade, it is now open season, wild-wild-west – the LEAs theoretically have a free hand to collect location data, forage through text messages and SMSes, dig through web-browser histories, online purchases, and personal e-mails, and use period-tracking apps surreptitiously to prosecute not only the users but also the intermediaries who may provision the said services.

The logical, unfortunate conclusion to the series of events that may potentially transpire hereon would be an absolute nightmare for all the people and families who were promised significant reproductive autonomy in the US for the past five decades. To chill reproductive freedoms, we may now even notice medical and health services providers track pregnant patients and LEAs exploit tools of surveillance to enforce existing abortion laws.

CALM BEFORE THE STORM?

If a report from Vice News were to be believed, accessing data troves in the US is an absolute breeze – for as meager as $160, one could access a week’s worth of data of the credentials and the geo-indicators of people who visited Planned Parenthood facilities (an American NGO which provides for sexual healthcare services). One possible reason why such a glaring infraction of personal privacy exists in the US in broad daylight is because of a ‘gray area of the law’. This gray area pertains to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, 1996 (“HIPPA”) which covers such data or information that is shared by the individual with a doctor. However, HIPPA does not secure any such data or information which is shared with a third-party. Hence, taking into consideration the possibility that third-party apps may share such data or information with yet another third party, the risk of abuse is glaring, to say the least.

There are two consequential takeaways for policymakers closer to home in India here. First and foremost, the guardrails for the protection and preservation of personal data and information in India are starkly lacking. And, second, in the absence of an omnibus privacy legislation, individuals and their data are at the mercy of private parties and the government to be exploited and be capitalized on.

Certainly, the Supreme Court of India did affirm that the Right to Privacy forms an integral part of the Right to Life and Liberty guaranteed by Law under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution – certainly no two thoughts about it. However, because of its delicate nature, the degree of safety and consideration that protection of medical data warrants is a notch above the safety standards mandated by the protection of general data. Taking into consideration the rapid growth of the Indian telemedicine market, the onus falls upon the Government to ensure that the prospective economic benefits of the proliferating market segment do not imperil the tenets of the Right to Privacy, especially that of health data. A nuanced and considered approach is the call of the day.

FLAWS IN THE INDIAN MEDICAL DATA POLICY FRAMEWORK

Perhaps the most pertinent issue in the framework as it stands today is the ambiguity in the understanding of ‘health data’ or ‘medical data’ and what it constitutes. Case in point, the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act 2000”), along with the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 (“SPDI Rules”), accords the status of sensitive personal data or information (“SPDI”) merely on such data which are either related to the physical, physiological, or mental health of an individual. However, the current legal framework does not require such data to be anonymized – hence, it is quite feasible for any entity (government or third-party) which is in possession of such un-anonymized data to ascertain who it pertains to and mine such data, thereby risking misuse.

Despite several administrative attempts, the foul of conceptual legislative clarity remains. For instance, let us take into consideration three frameworks that pertain to or which touch upon personal health data, namely – the ‘Strategy Overview: Making India a Digital Health Nation Enabling Digital Healthcare for all’ document of the National Health Authority, dated July, 2020 (“NHA Strategy Overview”), the draft Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act, 2018 (“DISHA”), and the draft Data Protection Bill, 2021 (“DPB”). In the NHA Strategy Overview, “personal health data” encompasses information and data relating to the medical conditions and subsequent treatments undertaken by a party. In comparison to the standards of the NHA Strategy Overview – where on the one hand, the DPB covers only information regarding the physical or mental health of the individual, on the other, the DISHA goes a notch up and deals with data extracted from body-part donations and data derived from medical tests and bodily examinations as well. The discordance and dichotomy in the data protection frameworks indeed are glaring. Worse still, none of them reflect upon the surveillance misuse that can manifest from the status quo!

It indeed is well established that policy frameworks conceptualize data in general, and medical data in specific, as an incorporeal, intangible resource and an effective enabler for economic progress. Data is predominantly understood as a resource (like oil), available for human extraction, and exists independent of the bodies producing it. The present-day health data policy framework in India is inordinately concentrated on the data and information that is collated and collected by primary healthcare service providers (like hospitals and medical establishments) or secondary healthcare service providers or healthcare-related service providers (like insurance companies). We today have smartwatches and mobile apps which gather data on and monitor a person’s activity levels, heart rates, sleep cycles, and daily moods, and which also can track period-cycles. Hence, the draft DISHA-DPB framework presents a thought-provoking policy and legal lacuna – with the growing use of these smartwatches and third-party apps, can the law protect from exploitation the digital footprint of an individual that is left behind?

Yet another species of unease that arises is the difficulty in dealing with the unfettered access to medical data and information that the government (both at the Central and the State level) and LEAs can procure either from third-party apps or from IoT devices. To cite an instance, it is common knowledge that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, both the Central as well as several State Governments used platforms and apps to track and contain the infection. What is perhaps not so commonly known is that for all the virtue and nobility that such contact tracing mechanisms may have brought about, they also institutionalized mass surveillance to a very large extent – one needs to understand that most of these apps often devolved into mechanisms of trickery by surveilling, monitoring and controlling the movement of individuals in the cloak of ‘lockdown enforcement’. Add to this, by way of the mandate provisioned in the proviso to Rule 6(1), and in Rule 6(2), of the SPDI Rules – sensitive personal data and information (including medical and health data) which is shared by an individual with third-party apps and platforms can legally be procured by LEAs without the explicit permission of the individual to whom such data belongs to. This gives rise to a certainly worrying trend, especially when you look at it from the privacy lens!

WHERE CAN WE GO FROM HERE: STEPS FOR THE TIMES AHEAD

In no uncertain terms, the pressing priority of the day in the Indian data-landscape is for lawmakers to cogitate considerately upon a definition of ‘health data and information’. A good starting point to fortress individual rights over their personal health would be to place digital health data and information collected by third-party apps and platforms, as well as by IoT devices, under the ambit of the draft DPB-DISHA framework.

Subsequently, legislative intent must deliberate over the fact that a certain category of health data is more intimate and sensitive than others (like, mental health issues faced by an individual vis-à-vis the height of that person) and may necessitate a higher degree of care and protection. Hence, to ensure that the individual possesses absolute and unqualified autonomy over such data of such a delicate character, a graded approach to health data is necessary.And lastly, lawmakers in India must take into account that in the wake of ‘data-sharing and interoperability’ practices, the policy-framework governing health data and information does not trade off privacy principles in the veneer of supposedly facilitating public welfare. Both healthcare service providers, medical insurance providers, and other healthcare-service providing third parties should enact protective policies which ought to be designed to keep a tight lid on sensitive personal health data and information and associated medical records and histories. Along these lines, to take a cue from the European General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), wherein data subjects have the ‘right to erasure’ as protected under Article 17 and Recital 65, GDPR – in India as well, individuals should also have the right to ensure that their sensitive personal data and information is erased if and where the said individual objects to the collection or processing of her/his health data and information.

The United States’ decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (the regressive U-turn precedent to Wade) did ensure for certain one thing – that the frigidity of the winters of 1973 would certainly chill the spine of women fifty odd years after, in the summer of 2022. Trust, accountability, and transparency – at a time we need them the most are indeed the absolute, dire necessity of the moment.

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Policy & Politics

CODE ON WAGES: AN IMMACULATE REFORM?

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DA hike

No establishment which depends for existence on paying fees less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue. By living wages, it is meant more than the bare subsistence level- the wages of decent living” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

The multiplicity of labour laws and their compliance burden has often been cited by domestic industries and foreign investors as an obstacle to investment. With the objective of increasing investor confidence and simplifying and rationalising the existing labour laws, the government announced an amalgamation of 44 labour laws into 4 codes, namely on (i) wages; (ii) industrial relations; (iii) social security and welfare; and (iv) occupational safety, health and working conditions. The Code on Wages 2019, the first amongst the four codes, was enacted to amend and consolidate the laws relating to wages and bonus and matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. This code consolidates four major legislations namely the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 and Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 which basically regulated the wages received by the workers.

Recently, it had been in news that the Government is eyeing to enforce these legislations shortly. In the backdrop of this development it becomes essential for one and all to become aware of some of the problematic elements of the Code and the Draft Central Wage Rules such that one may be prepared to deal with the same and if required devise appropriate ways to mitigate its effects.

AREAS FOR RECONSIDERATION AND IMPROVEMENT: FIXATION OF NATIONAL LEVEL FLOOR WAGE

In 2018, the Government of India constituted an Expert Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. Anoop Satpathy for fixing the National Minimum Wage. In the final report titled Report of the Expert Committee on determining the Methodology for Fixing the National Minimum Wage of January 2019, the committee submitted its recommendations after considering the existing labour conditions, the guidelines of the Indian Labour Conference of 1957 and the Supreme Court case of Workmen v. Reptakos Brett & Co., and fixed the National Minimum Wage equal to Rs. 375/ per day, irrespective of the sector of employment, skill or whether the place of employment was rural or urban. However, the recommendation, was not incorporated in the Code and the National Floor Minimum Wage was fixed as low as Rs. 178 per day, perhaps less than even the existing wage rate at certain places.

Section 9 of the Code provides for the determination of a National-level floor wage, which would basically set a minimum benchmark for payable wages. For the purpose of making the quantum of wages reasonable as well as uniform this is a welcome policy measure introduced by the Government. In that regard, Rule 3 of the Draft Central Rules states, that the size of a general working class family would be deemed to be 4 members, wherein the earning member would be counted as 1 consumption unit, spouse as 0.8 and 2 children as 0.6 consumption unit each. This is where some problem creeps in to the Code. This calculation does not account for the elderly and other dependents who are generally present in an Indian family. Even as per the data available from the 2011 Census, the average household size in India was 5 (exact mean value 4.8). Thereafter, the said rule refers to a requirement of 2700 calories per day per consumption unit, which again is barely enough in consideration of the nutritional requirements. It is assumed that women will consume 20% less and children will consume 40% less than that assigned for a male member, thus making the law insensitive to women and static and unresponsive to the increasing nutritional requirements of growing children (a 14-year-old child may not have the same diet as that of 7-year-old child). Though this rule might not lead to nutritional deficiencies per se, yet provided the opportunity, it might neither contribute expectedly in improving the condition of health and malnutrition among women and children nor in improving the social status of women in the society.

Further, the method provided for calculating house rent as 10 percent of food and clothing expenditure disregards the realities of workers living in cities and the existing cost of living and might fail to ensure them liveable housing conditions. Lastly, the provision for setting aside 25% of minimum wages for expenditure on children’s education, medical needs, recreation and to meet contingencies, also appears to be insufficient, as the difference in cost rises to over seven times in urban centres, where the average expenditure in government hospitals is Rs 7,189 as against Rs 42,540 in private hospitals.

Observing the high costs of education, medical facilities etc. these days, the provisions do not seem adequate.

PERIODICITY OF FIXATION OF FLOOR WAGE

Rule 11(4) of the Draft Central Rules states, that the Central Government “may” revise the floor wage, ordinarily every five years and also “periodically” undertake to adjust the variations in the cost of living, in consultation with the Central Advisory Board. Use of these uncertain terms open scope for delay in the process of revision and can lead to interpretations and misinterpretations that may result in stagnation of floor wage rates in future and thus defeat the purpose of floor wage rates itself. Thereafter, even the period of revision of floor wages coincides with the period of revision of minimum rate of wages and since former is the point of reference for the latter, the periodicity of revision of floor wages should be shortened, for the expected realisation of its raison d’être.

BONUSES TO ALL

Initially the scope of guaranteed bonus (not linked to the performance of an individual) was restricted only to those employees who earned up to Rs 21,000 per month. The new Code refers to stipulation of a wage threshold by the appropriate government, and employees whose wages did not exceed this amount would be entitled to a guaranteed bonus which would be in the range of 8.33 percent to 20 percent, depending upon the allocable surplus available in the organisation. However, the Code provides that even those employees who earn above this threshold, would be entitled to receive a bonus (in the same percentage range) and the amount payable would be calculated as if their wage was such an amount, so determined by the government or equal to the minimum wage fixed by the appropriate government, whichever would be higher. Now this, would not only dilute meritocracy and add to an organisation’s cost burden but also lead to issues in compliance, for Companies having operations in different states of the Country, if the different state governments fix a different ceiling for payment of bonus. Thus, employees receiving the same pay might become eligible for different amounts of bonuses.

CODE SANS WAGE THRESHOLD

Obligations relating to payment of minimum wages have been extended to all employees that is individuals even in administrative and managerial roles, without any wage threshold, as per Section 5 of the Code. In comparison, the existing Payment of Wages Act currently extended only to those individuals whose wages did not exceed Rs 24,000 per month. Since no such wage limit has been contemplated by the Wage Code, these provisions might consequently be applicable even to senior employees, including even the one’s in the highest position in the organisation. This makes matters cumbersome and onerous for employers, especially when it comes to re-devising and structuring the pay and other benefit agreements of those senior employees, considering such arrangements generally involve claw back and other deduction provisions (which take away a substantial part of that which has been given to them), which may not be consistent with this law.

CONCLUSION

The Code on Wages, 2019 is no less, than a landmark in the Indian Labour industry, especially with respect to the extent of simplification it has brought with respect to the various enactments, by meticulously consolidating the same in one single enactment. The new Codes are about to be enforced shortly but yet there are certain aspects which are problematic and require reconsideration. Firstly, neither the quantum National Floor Wage corresponds with the guidelines of the Expert Committee nor does it acknowledge the ordinary Indian family size and structure and adequately account for the actual needs and requirements of its beneficiaries.

Secondly, use of uncertain terms with respect to the periodicity of wage revisions and coinciding periods of revision of National Floor Wages and Minimum Wage Rates can lead to misinterpretations and consequently result in stagnation and delay in the process of revision of wages. Thirdly, issues such as lack of wage threshold and lastly, provision for payment of bonus to all, adds further uncertainty in the law and results in increased costs for the employers, thereby defeating one of the very fundamental objective of introducing this Code itself, that is of increasing the ease of doing business in India and providing an employer friendly work environment to the investors.

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