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Onus of infrastructure-driven growth rests on financial sector: Chief Economic Adviser, GoI

Tarun Nangia

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Dr K.V. Subramanian, Chief Economic Adviser, Govt of India today stressed that there is a significant need for India to focus on infrastructure spending. HE said that the country is now focusing on growth through infrastructure in a sustained manner. “This is the time when the financial sector should take leadership role and assume the onerous responsibility for infrastructure growth. For the macro economy, financial sector plays a very critical role.Addressing the virtual session on ‘Distressed Debt in Indian Infrastructure Sector – Special focus on EPC’, organized by FICCI,

Speaking on the distress in the infrastructure sector, Dr Subramanian said that since the early 1990s the key problem of the Indian banking sector has been the quality of lending, especially of large loans.

“Banks need to ensure that capital allocation to the infrastructure sector is to credit worthy borrowers. Crony lending has been a problem in the banking system. The Economic Survey also highlighted that the banking sector’s problems originated from large loans that were not necessarily lent to the most credit worthy borrowers. This problem gets far more accentuated in the context of infrastructure. Financial institutions especially need to be working on this,” he added.

Speaking of infrastructure sector, Dr Subramanian further emphasized, “Crony lending is the elephant in the room that we have to acknowledge. Financial sector in India has to take responsibility that it is the ultimate arbiter of capital and ensure optimal capital allocation.”

Dr MS Sahoo, Chairperson, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India said that distilling the essence of IBC, and with support of IPs and CoCs, a greater number of EPC companies can accomplish successful resolution under IBC. The law is an enabler for a rescue mechanism in the market economy. “Stakeholders must be sensitised that value maximisation is not regardless of concerns of others in the ecosystem. There should not be undue fixation on a formula-based computation of liquidation value,” he added.

Rashesh Shah, Chairman & CEO, Edelweiss Group said that infrastructure is the biggest opportunity as well as the biggest challenge in India as we go forward. India has been grappling with the problem of how to divert more long-term capital because this is what the infrastructure sector needs, and the key challenge is to complete the pending infra projects. “REITs, InvITs and Infrastructure debt funds are the new sources of capital in infrastructure sector. Capital infusion and financial engineering would ensure that stressed assets start generating value once again. We have to focus more and more on revival and not just on recoveries and ensure balanced outcome for all stakeholders,” he added.

Shailesh Pathak, CEO, L&T Infrastructure Development Projects Ltd said that in the next 10 years we will see an unprecedented wave of infrastructure constructions. Referring to the recent announcements in the budget, he said, “Asset recycling and asset monetization are welcome steps. It is the government’s rupee that will drive construction and it is the international dollar that will re-finance the government’s rupee.”

Pathak further underscored that contract enforcement and dispute resolution need to be expedited for preventing stress in the EPC sector.

Annat Jain, Founder & MD, Payard Investments said that India cannot achieve its infrastructure ambitions while hundreds of its EPC companies are languishing in insolvency. “Insolvent EPC companies are unique, they own almost no assets of any tangible value, but have disproportionately large fund-based liabilities, itself an outcome of delayed payments from government clients. There is enough recent evidence to show that liquidation of EPC companies in India yields catastrophic outcomes,” he added.

He further added that it would be in the interest of all stakeholders to create fair, practical and innovative resolution plans which can rescue EPC companies from liquidation and simultaneously maximize recoveries for the company’s long-suffering creditors.

Mr Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General, FICCI said that infrastructure is a key pillar of the Indian economy and has always been recognized as one of the most important enablers of economic growth. “Development of this sector assumes significance at this juncture, and it is bound to play a pivotal role going forward,” he added.

Annat Jain, founder & MD, Payard Investments, said that India cannot achieve its infrastructure ambitions while hundreds of its EPC companies are languishing in insolvency.

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Policy & Politics

Freedom fighter’s widowed/divorced daughter having no income entitled to his pension; blanket exclusion violates Article 14: Calcutta High Court

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In a great respite for widowed/divorced daughter having no income, the Calcutta High Court on 7 April, 2021 in a latest, learned, laudable and landmark judgment titled Sonali Hatua Giri Vs Union Of India and others in WPA 13806 of 2019 (Via Video Conference) has declared Clause 5.2.5 of the Guidelines for Disbursement of Central Samman Pensions followed by Authorized Public Sector Banks, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs as being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India after observing that the “blanket exclusion of widowed/divorced daughters, including even those who do not have any personal income in lieu of maintenance or otherwise, is patently de hors Article 14 of the Constitution of India which enshrines the guarantee of equality to all citizens”. It must be mentioned here that the observation came in a petition challenging the vires of Clause 5.2.5 of the Scheme providing for disbursement of pension to freedom fighters under Central Samman Pension Scheme. While observing that the object of the Scheme was to be formulated as “a token of honour by a grateful nation to the honourable freedom fighters and their dependents, the Calcutta High Court also made it explicitly clear that it was not necessary that the term “dependents” under the Scheme has to be necessarily be in consonance of other laws such as Succession Acts of various religious communities.

To start with, a Single Judge Bench comprising of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya of the Calcutta High Court who has authored this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing that, “The challenge presently under consideration is to the vires of Clause 5.2.5 of the Guidelines for Disbursement of Central Samman Pensions to be followed by Authorized Public Sector Banks issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, FFR division. The said Scheme is for disbursement of pension to freedom fighters under the Central Samman Pension Scheme. The guidelines-in-question provide the modalities of such disbursement.”

While elaborating on the facts of the case, it is then pointed out in the next para that, “The petitioner is the daughter of a deceased freedom fighter, who had been getting pension under the said Scheme for the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension till his demise on December 4, 2012. The petitioner was married but subsequently got a decree of divorce on March 19, 1999 and has since been residing at her paternal house along with her son and was dependent on her father since she had foregone her right of alimony from her husband.”

While continuing in a similar vein, the Bench then adds in the next para that, “The petitioner submits that after the demise of her father, her widowed mother also applied for grant of such pension in her favour. However, such representation was kept pending for an inordinately long time and ultimately the mother of the petitioner died on February 18, 2019 as well, leaving behind her son and daughter, that is, the writ petitioner.”

What is worse, the Bench then states in the next para that, “Subsequently, the petitioner also made a representation before respondent no. 5 requesting for disbursal of family pension in her favour as a dependent daughter. However, such request has not yet been considered till date.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then states that, “At the outset, the challenge to the vires of Clause 5.2.5 is required to be considered, since the decision on the same will affect the outcome of the writ petition otherwise. The relevant provision in the Guidelines is found in Clause 5.2 thereof, which deals with transfer of pension to spouse(s)/daughter(s). Clause 5.2.3 stipulates that the spouse/daughter must fulfil the twin conditions of being “unmarried” and “having no independent source of income”.”

To be sure, the Bench then points out in the next para that, “Clause 5.2.5, on the other hand, stipulates that widowed/divorced daughter is not eligible for Samman pension.”

It must be added here that the Bench then notes that, “By placing reliance on an unreported Order dated July 29, 2016 passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Letters Patent Appeal No.171 of 2015 (Khajani Devi Vs. Union of India and others), learned counsel submits that the benefit of the Scheme is admissible to a divorced daughter. A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, by an Order dated September 27, 2019 passed in SLP (C) No. 02353 of 2019 (Union of India and others Vs. Khajani Devi) was pleased not to interfere with the same on the view that the order adopts a progressive and socialist constructive approach.”

But the Bench then envisages in next para that, “However, the Himachal Pradesh High Court had taken a contrary view in an Order dated July 18, 2019 passed in CWP No.1504 of 2019 (Tulsi Devi Vs. Union of India and another). A three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, by an Order dated May 28, 2020 passed in an SLP arising out of Diary No.7497 of 2020 (Tulsi Devi Vs. Union of India and another) was pleased to issue a notice in the matter. Such issue is, thus, pending adjudication before the Supreme Court and it is argued that judicial decorum warrants that since the Supreme Court is in seisin of the mater, this Court should not take any view at this stage.”

Be it noted, the Bench then observes that, “As regards the contention of respondent no.1 that judicial decorum ought to constrain the hands of this Court due to pendency of a similar issue before the Supreme court, such contention is not acceptable, at least in the present case, since mere pendency of challenge in a different case cannot have any direct bearing on the adjudication at hand. That apart, in view of the implicit urgency involved, since the petitioner has no income to sustain herself and her minor son without any income, the matter pertains to her livelihood and cannot be stalled indefinitely for the adjudication of the matter pending before the Supreme Court.”

For the sake of clarity, the Bench then adds in the next para that, “Although the dismissal of a Special Leave Petition by the Supreme Court does not tantamount to affirmance of an order on merits, which would lend binding force to such order as the law of the land is declared by the Supreme Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had taken a clear view that divorced daughters are also entitled to benefit under the Scheme-in-question.”

Going further, the Bench then also adds in the next para that, “The view taken by the Himachal Pradesh High Court did not lay down any ratio on the vires of Clause 5.2.5 and/or decide the question which has fallen for consideration before this Court. In the said case, being Tulsi Devi (supra), the Himachal Pradesh High Court held that the “Swantrata Sainik Samman Yojana” has been launched as a mark of respect to the freedom fighters whereas in the case of armed force personnel or the Central/State Government pensionaries/employees, the pension is not a ‘bounty’, but a property. Thus, a line of distinction was drawn between such pensions and the pension payable to freedom fighters and their heirs.”

On a humble note, the Bench then moves on to then observe that, “With utmost respect, even without going into the question of parity with other pension schemes, the view of the Punjab and Haryana High Court is more applicable in the present case. In the said judgment, it was held that it would be a travesty to exclude a divorced daughter when an unmarried daughter finds mention in the list of eligible dependents. It was further held that there would be no rationality to the reason for such distinction, particularly when the divorced daughter is the sole eligible dependent and qualifies for the benefit. It was held that a beneficial scheme such as the one in hand should not be construed on a strict interpretation, which tends to disapprove the claims of the benefit, to result in virtual frustration or negation of the laudable motive of the scheme itself.”

Adding more to it, the Bench then also observes that, “In my view, the ratio laid down by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Khajani Devi (supra) is also applicable in the present context and appeals to the judicial conscience on a higher footing than the Himachal Pradesh report.”

In hindsight, the Bench then while candidly applying the Constitutional principles adds that, “A combined reading of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which is a fundamental right of equality before the law, and Article 39(a), ensures that the State is to direct its policy towards securing such end. Clause (d) of Article 39 also ensures that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women. Although Article 39 is a Directive Principle of State Policy, not directly enforceable in law, the fundamental rights of the citizens of India ought to be considered in the context of the directive principles to lend teeth to the intentions of the framers of the Constitution of India.”

As a corollary, the Bench then ostensibly goes on to set the record straight by observing that, “In view of Clause 5.2.3 having conferred eligibility on spouses/daughters who are unmarried and have no independent source of income, Clause 5.2.5 of the guidelines is ex facie irrational, since it excludes widowed/divorced daughters from the eligibility.”

What’s more, the Bench then concedes that, “The scheme was formulated as “a token of honour by a grateful nation to the honorable freedom fighters and their dependents” as per its own language.”

Without mincing any words, the Bench then waxes eloquent to hold that, “It is not necessary that the term ‘dependents’ as used in the scheme has to be in consonance with Succession Acts of various religious communities. However, even if we take into consideration the acts in question, no line of distinction has been drawn between divorced and unmarried daughters. For example, if we read Sections 8 and 9, in conjunction with the Class I of the Schedule to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, it will be evident that the Class I heirs include not only the widow but also the daughter of the deceased. Hence, no line of distinction has been drawn between “unmarried’ and “divorced” daughters. A criterion which defies logic cannot be “intelligible” in the true sense of the term.”

Not stopping here, the Bench then further holds that, “A bare perusal of Clause 5.2.3 of the guidelines in-question indicates that there is already a safeguard against abuse of the provisions of the scheme by including the yardstick, “having no independent source of income” as a condition of eligibility. Such qualification circumscribes the eligibility of unmarried daughters. Since, as per the arguments of the respondent no.1, an analogy has been sought to be drawn with the respective Matrimonial Laws of different communities, we ought to look into the efficacy of such remedies on the touchstone of efficacy.

Truly speaking, the Bench then concedes graciously that, “All the recourses and legal remedies open to divorced and widowed daughters require long-drawn litigation and mere rights available in the statute books. In order to get the fruit of such litigation, a widowed/divorced daughter has to wait till the end of litigation. The amount actually granted to such daughter by the court of law also acquires relevance vis-à-vis her subsistence requirements. Legal provisions cannot meet the pangs of hunger and/or urgent necessity of sustenance of human beings. As stipulated in case of unmarried daughters, widowed/divorced daughters also qualify as unmarried but have been excluded from the pension scheme. In the event Clause 5.2.5 was not there, the expression ‘unmarried’ could very well include within its purview widowed/divorced daughters of the pension holders as well, since their marital status would also be on an equal footing with unmarried daughters. The mere possibility of a legal remedy, or an order of court granting meager amount as maintenance is not adequate to meet the necessities of widowed/divorced daughters but they may also be dependents of their father, being the freedom fighter, in the event they do not/cannot opt for taking recourse to legal remedies and do not have income sufficient to maintain themselves.”

In the same vein, the Bench then also makes it clear that, “Since the rider, “having no independent source of income” already qualifies unmarried daughters in Clause 5.2.3 of the guidelines, such test acts as a sufficient safeguard to prevent abuse of the pension scheme by widowed/divorced daughters of the freedom fighter who otherwise have an independent source of income, be it from alimony/maintenance or from some other source. On the other hand, it may very well be that a spinster daughter of the freedom fighter has an independent income of her own, even if she does not have legal remedy as available to the widowed/divorced daughters from their matrimonial family.”

Quite remarkably, the Bench then holds that, “Since the aforesaid safeguard is already existing, the blanket exclusion of widowed/divorced daughters, including even those who do not have any personal income in lieu of maintenance or otherwise, is patently de hors Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which enshrines the guarantee of equality to all citizens. In the present case, the classification is worse than gender bias, since unmarried daughters have been included within the scheme but widowed/divorced daughters who stand on the same footing, having no independent source of income, have been excluded.”

Of course, the Bench then rightly states that, “Even going by the Succession Acts, daughters, irrespective of qualification, are entitled to the property of the deceased as heirs.”

Frankly speaking, the Bench then candidly concedes that, “Hence, the mere existence of a right in a statute book to get maintenance from the matrimonial family is not at all sufficient to meet the financial requirements of those widowed/divorced daughters who do not have any income.”

While setting the record straight, the Bench then adds that, “Having or not having income is undoubtedly an intelligible differential, which can easily be incorporated if widowed/divorced daughters are also brought within the purview of ‘unmarried’ daughters. Thus, as in the event an unmarried daughter who has no income is ineligible for the pension, widowed/divorced daughters stand on a similar footing as daughters of the deceased and shall not be eligible anyway if they have any independent source of income, which can very well be alimony or maintenance as well.”

In the same vein, the Bench then further adds that, “However, as far as daughters having no independent source of income are concerned, widowed/divorced daughters stand on an equal footing with a spinster daughter as heirs of the deceased freedom fighter. The marital status of all of them is “unmarried”. Thus, the criterion of exclusion of widowed/divorced daughters, as sought to be projected by respondent no.1, is untenable in the eye of law. As such, Clause 5.2.5 is patently violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which ensures equality among people standing on the same footing, in the absence of reasonable classification or intelligible differentia.”

In light of what is stated above, the Bench then holds that, “In view of the above discussions, the preliminary point is decided by declaring Clause 5.2.5 of the Guidelines for Disbursement of Central Samman Pensions to be followed by Authorized Public Sector Banks, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, FFR Division vide Memo No.45/03/2014 – FF(P) ultra vires, being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

On a final note, the Bench then lays down that, “The expression “unmarried” as used in Clause 5.2.3 of the said Guidelines shall also include widowed/divorced daughters as eligible for the Sainik Samman Scheme-in-question, provided they satisfy the other test of having no independent source of income. Further orders on the merits of the writ petition shall be passed on the next returnable date.”

To conclude, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya of Calcutta High Court has most commendably, most courageously and most convincingly held that freedom fighter’s widowed/divorced daughters having no income are entitled to his pension and their blanket exclusion violates Article 14 of the Constitution. Justice Sabyasachi while citing the relevant rules as also relevant case laws has forwarded convincing reasons for holding freedom fighter’s widows and divorced daughters having no income to be entitled to their husband and fathers pension as discussed above and so there is no reason as to why they be placed in blanket exclusion. Thus we see that the dice rolled in their favour ultimately as the judgment was pronounced most markedly by the Calcutta High Court as discussed above!

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Policy & Politics

Misleading the ingenuous: Advertising by influencers

The role of social media influencers is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Considering the large audience who are exposed to promotions by celebrities and influencers, it is essential that advertisements made by them comply with the provisions of the law. They should not be misleading and deceptive to impinge upon the rights of the consumer.

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It has been a longstanding practice for brands to engage in advertising using print media, broadcasting on televisions and nowadays, with the advent of technology, the internet has become a potent tactic for promoting a brand. Worldwide, brands have actively started collaborating with ‘social media influencers’ for marketing their products. Influencer advertising is amongst the latest trends of gaining publicity which is rapidly being adopted by all manufacturers, ranging from large-scale multinational producers to local businesses. Owing to the ongoing pandemic, usage of social media has increased manifold as people were homebound and in a constant search for entertainment. A large number of people took to Instagram and Facebook to launch their local businesses, while others started creating quality content. Generally speaking, an influencer is basically a person who influences others in their purchasing choices. The public starts looking up to social media influencers and basing their decisions on these influencers’ remarks, feedback, and experiences. A social media influencer builds up his/her reputation through active engagement with their accounts.

As digital marketing is becoming highly ubiquitous, it has become vital to regulate the same. More and more consumers are gaining access to advertisements on digital platforms. Opinions of the influencers regarding the products persuade or dissuade the consumers from purchasing that particular product. Therefore, in the interest of protecting the rights of the consumers, it is required that misleading advertisements or promotions are not made. A consumer has the right to be correctly informed about the quantity, quality and standard of products. In light of these considerations, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has proposed to frame guidelines on influencer marketing to understand the peculiarities of these advertisements and the way consumers view them.

LAW GOVERNING ADVERTISEMENT AND ENDORSEMENTS BY INFLUENCERS

The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (COPRA, 2019) is the foremost and prominent statute applicable to advertisements on various media platforms. This Act is one of a kind being the first legislation bringing within its ambit the representations made using electronic media or records. Advertisements by influencers and celebrities impact large masses; any deceptive endorsement can harm many consumers at a time. Under the COPRA 2019, a misleading advertisement has been explicitly defined as an advertisement falsely describing the product or service or misinforms the consumers regarding the nature, substance, quantity or quality of such product or service. Rendering misleading representations as to the ‘quality, quantity, grade, composition, style or model’ of goods and services is an unfair trade practice that is punishable under the Act. If an influencer intentionally deceives persons by lying about the product’s usefulness and viability, a consumer motivated by such advertisement can make a complaint against such unfair trade practices. Under Section 89 of the COPRA, 2019, the penalty for making misleading advertisements that are prejudicial to the consumers’ interest is imprisonment for a term extending up to two years and a fine, extending to ten lakh rupees. In case of a subsequent offence, such a person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years and a fine, extending to fifty lakh rupees.

In addition to the Act of 2019, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs notified draft guidelines titled the Central Consumer Protection Authority (Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Necessary Due Diligence for Endorsement of Advertisements) Guidelines, 2020. Under these guidelines, an endorser of a product or service must mandatorily observe due diligence concerning the representations made by her/him. The endorser must ascertain that their endorsement does not convey any express or implied representations that would be false, misleading or deceptive. Furthermore, the standard of due diligence has also been provided in the guidelines as taking advice from an advertising self-regulatory organisation or a legal opinion from an independent legal practitioner regarding the honesty of statements in their endorsement and its compliance guidelines. The provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 shall apply for any violation of the provisions of these guidelines.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has framed a Self-regulatory Code prescribing the rules for advertisements in India. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has recognised these rules under the Cable television network Rules. The Code lays down a series of rules and regulations to ensure the authenticity of the advertisement content.

The role of social media influencers is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Considering the large audience who are exposed to promotions by celebrities and influencers, it is essential that advertisements made by them comply with the provisions of the law. They should not be misleading and deceptive to impinge upon the rights of the consumer.

In Marico Limited v. Abhijeet Bhansali, the Bombay High Court granted an interim injunction order against the Defendant, a Youtuber by the name ‘bearded chokra’ stating that he committed a ‘targeted attack’ towards the product of the respondent, namely Parachute Coconut Oil. It was alleged that the respondent made scathing reviews of the product, remarking it to smell like a rotten coconut and causing damage to his hair, which severely influenced the reputation of the product. Bhansali contended that it was an honest opinion and that mere viewing of his video does not mean that the viewers were swayed to not buy the product. The Court held that the respondent made the video to increase his viewership and thus falls under the ‘nascent category’ of social media influencers. The Court observed that social media influencers wield great power to influence minds. “With power also comes responsibility. I do not believe that a social media influencer can deliver statements with the same impunity available to an ordinary person. Such a person bears a higher burden to ensure there is a degree of truthfulness in his statements. A social media influencer is not only aware of the impact of his statement but also makes a purposeful attempt to spread his opinion to society / the public. In view of the same, the Defendant had a higher responsibility to ensure that his statements do not mislead the public and that he is disseminating correct information. The Defendant’s recklessness has a much greater impact on the Plaintiffs / its product’s reputation as compared to a reckless statement by an ordinary individual.”

However, a Division Bench of Bombay High Court lifted the injunction granted by the Single Judge and allowed Bhansali to post the video subject to removal and alteration of certain parts of the video demarcated by the Court.

ASCI DRAFT GUIDELINES FOR INFLUENCER ADVERTISING ON DIGITAL MEDIA

The ASCI is a voluntary self-regulatory organization seeking to ensure that advertisements conform to its Code. It seeks to ensure that all advertising material is truthful, legal, honest, decent, does not objectify women, safe for consumers and fair to their competitors. It seeks to maintain and enhance consumer’s interest and confidence in advertising. ASCI review all sort of complaints related to advertising under the category media including TV, SMS, Print, Internet, brochures, etc. In the light of growing promotions and endorsements by influencers on digital media, the ASCI formulated draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media (hereinafter referred to as guidelines) for consultation by stakeholders in February 2021.

The guidelines have been drafted considering the need to enable consumers to differentiate between promotions made to influence their opinion or commercial gain. The consumers may view several promotions and be influenced by them, not realising whether they are genuine opinions of the influencers or paid collaborations. This is inherently misleading and amounts to unfair trade practice. The guidelines apply to advertisements across all digital media platforms, including internet, mobile broadcast, digital TV etc.

KEY FEATURES OF THE GUIDELINES INCLUDE

Definition of advertisements as ‘a paid-for communication, addressed to the public or a section of it, the purpose of which is to influence the opinions and/or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed.’

An influencer is defined to be a person ‘who has access to an audience and the power to affect their purchasing decisions or opinions about any product, service, brand or experience, because of the influencer’s authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their audience.’

The guidelines require the influencer, publishing account or the advertiser to make a disclosure clarifying that particular promotion is an advertisement such that an average consumer must be able to recognise it as an advertisement without clicking or otherwise interacting with it. The disclosure must be clear, unambiguous and obvious.

Disclosures have to be made from amongst the labels prescribed by the ASCI. These include #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored or #partnership. Only permitted disclosure labels will be considered sufficient disclosure since consumers may not be familiar with various creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may signify that the said communication is an advertisement.

Advertisements must be obviously differentiable by an average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content to prevent the audience from confusing between them.

The disclosure label needs to be placed so that it is evident, clear and prominent. The user must not have to click or scroll to find the label; it must be mentioned within the first two lines. The disclosure label should also be compatible with all devices or platforms. The disclosure label has to be in English or translated into the language understood by the average consumer viewing the advertisement.

If an advertisement is posted on Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label should be imposed. Different durations have been provided for which the disclosure should be visible to the consumer in the case of video advertisements without any accompanying text.

The influencers should do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them. Evidence of due diligence would include correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.

In case of a violation of these guidelines, the ASCI will have the authority to take action. It can issue notice to the brand owner and influencer upon a complaint made by a consumer or suo motu cognisance of a potentially objectionable advertisement.

Feedback and suggestions on these draft guidelines have been taken from the stakeholders, and the ASCI will shortly release the final guidelines.

CONCLUSION

In the backdrop of the growing influence and reach of these influencer marketing on digital media platforms, there is a crucial need for regulating these advertisements in the interest of consumers. It is a consumer’s right to be informed of the actual quantity and quality of the product or service. As a natural corollary, the consumer must also be able to differentiate between genuine opinions of the influencers and the promotions done for monetary gain.

This will enable the consumer to make a more informed and well-rounded decision. The guidelines are being viewed as a step in the right direction. These guidelines will bring in more transparency and responsibility on the part of the influencers endorsing brands. This will also strengthen the trust of consumers in the influencers as well as the brands. The influencers will now have to be more mindful before making representations and ensure authenticity.

In addition to the Act of 2019, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs notified draft guidelines titled the Central Consumer Protection Authority (Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Necessary Due Diligence for Endorsement of Advertisements) Guidelines, 2020. Under these guidelines, an endorser of a product or service must mandatorily observe due diligence concerning the representations made by her/him. The endorser must ascertain that his/her endorsement does not convey any express or implied representations that would be false, misleading or deceptive.

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Policy & Politics

Misleading the ingenuous: Advertising by influencers

The role of social media influencers is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Considering the large audience who are exposed to promotions by celebrities and influencers, it is essential that advertisements made by them comply with the provisions of the law. They should not be misleading and deceptive to impinge upon the rights of the consumer.

Published

on

It has been a longstanding practice for brands to engage in advertising using print media, broadcasting on televisions and nowadays, with the advent of technology, the internet has become a potent tactic for promoting a brand. Worldwide, brands have actively started collaborating with ‘social media influencers’ for marketing their products. Influencer advertising is amongst the latest trends of gaining publicity which is rapidly being adopted by all manufacturers, ranging from large-scale multinational producers to local businesses. Owing to the ongoing pandemic, usage of social media has increased manifold as people were homebound and in a constant search for entertainment. A large number of people took to Instagram and Facebook to launch their local businesses, while others started creating quality content. Generally speaking, an influencer is basically a person who influences others in their purchasing choices. The public starts looking up to social media influencers and basing their decisions on these influencers’ remarks, feedback, and experiences. A social media influencer builds up his/her reputation through active engagement with their accounts.

As digital marketing is becoming highly ubiquitous, it has become vital to regulate the same. More and more consumers are gaining access to advertisements on digital platforms. Opinions of the influencers regarding the products persuade or dissuade the consumers from purchasing that particular product. Therefore, in the interest of protecting the rights of the consumers, it is required that misleading advertisements or promotions are not made. A consumer has the right to be correctly informed about the quantity, quality and standard of products. In light of these considerations, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has proposed to frame guidelines on influencer marketing to understand the peculiarities of these advertisements and the way consumers view them.

LAW GOVERNING ADVERTISEMENT AND ENDORSEMENTS BY INFLUENCERS

The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (COPRA, 2019) is the foremost and prominent statute applicable to advertisements on various media platforms. This Act is one of a kind being the first legislation bringing within its ambit the representations made using electronic media or records. Advertisements by influencers and celebrities impact large masses; any deceptive endorsement can harm many consumers at a time. Under the COPRA 2019, a misleading advertisement has been explicitly defined as an advertisement falsely describing the product or service or misinforms the consumers regarding the nature, substance, quantity or quality of such product or service. Rendering misleading representations as to the ‘quality, quantity, grade, composition, style or model’ of goods and services is an unfair trade practice that is punishable under the Act. If an influencer intentionally deceives persons by lying about the product’s usefulness and viability, a consumer motivated by such advertisement can make a complaint against such unfair trade practices. Under Section 89 of the COPRA, 2019, the penalty for making misleading advertisements that are prejudicial to the consumers’ interest is imprisonment for a term extending up to two years and a fine, extending to ten lakh rupees. In case of a subsequent offence, such a person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years and a fine, extending to fifty lakh rupees.

In addition to the Act of 2019, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs notified draft guidelines titled the Central Consumer Protection Authority (Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Necessary Due Diligence for Endorsement of Advertisements) Guidelines, 2020. Under these guidelines, an endorser of a product or service must mandatorily observe due diligence concerning the representations made by her/him. The endorser must ascertain that their endorsement does not convey any express or implied representations that would be false, misleading or deceptive. Furthermore, the standard of due diligence has also been provided in the guidelines as taking advice from an advertising self-regulatory organisation or a legal opinion from an independent legal practitioner regarding the honesty of statements in their endorsement and its compliance guidelines. The provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 shall apply for any violation of the provisions of these guidelines.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has framed a Self-regulatory Code prescribing the rules for advertisements in India. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has recognised these rules under the Cable television network Rules. The Code lays down a series of rules and regulations to ensure the authenticity of the advertisement content.

The role of social media influencers is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Considering the large audience who are exposed to promotions by celebrities and influencers, it is essential that advertisements made by them comply with the provisions of the law. They should not be misleading and deceptive to impinge upon the rights of the consumer.

In Marico Limited v. Abhijeet Bhansali, the Bombay High Court granted an interim injunction order against the Defendant, a Youtuber by the name ‘bearded chokra’ stating that he committed a ‘targeted attack’ towards the product of the respondent, namely Parachute Coconut Oil. It was alleged that the respondent made scathing reviews of the product, remarking it to smell like a rotten coconut and causing damage to his hair, which severely influenced the reputation of the product. Bhansali contended that it was an honest opinion and that mere viewing of his video does not mean that the viewers were swayed to not buy the product. The Court held that the respondent made the video to increase his viewership and thus falls under the ‘nascent category’ of social media influencers. The Court observed that social media influencers wield great power to influence minds. “With power also comes responsibility. I do not believe that a social media influencer can deliver statements with the same impunity available to an ordinary person. Such a person bears a higher burden to ensure there is a degree of truthfulness in his statements. A social media influencer is not only aware of the impact of his statement but also makes a purposeful attempt to spread his opinion to society / the public. In view of the same, the Defendant had a higher responsibility to ensure that his statements do not mislead the public and that he is disseminating correct information. The Defendant’s recklessness has a much greater impact on the Plaintiffs / its product’s reputation as compared to a reckless statement by an ordinary individual.”

However, a Division Bench of Bombay High Court lifted the injunction granted by the Single Judge and allowed Bhansali to post the video subject to removal and alteration of certain parts of the video demarcated by the Court.

ASCI DRAFT GUIDELINES FOR INFLUENCER ADVERTISING ON DIGITAL MEDIA

The ASCI is a voluntary self-regulatory organization seeking to ensure that advertisements conform to its Code. It seeks to ensure that all advertising material is truthful, legal, honest, decent, does not objectify women, safe for consumers and fair to their competitors. It seeks to maintain and enhance consumer’s interest and confidence in advertising. ASCI review all sort of complaints related to advertising under the category media including TV, SMS, Print, Internet, brochures, etc. In the light of growing promotions and endorsements by influencers on digital media, the ASCI formulated draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media (hereinafter referred to as guidelines) for consultation by stakeholders in February 2021.

The guidelines have been drafted considering the need to enable consumers to differentiate between promotions made to influence their opinion or commercial gain. The consumers may view several promotions and be influenced by them, not realising whether they are genuine opinions of the influencers or paid collaborations. This is inherently misleading and amounts to unfair trade practice. The guidelines apply to advertisements across all digital media platforms, including internet, mobile broadcast, digital TV etc.

KEY FEATURES OF THE GUIDELINES INCLUDE

Definition of advertisements as ‘a paid-for communication, addressed to the public or a section of it, the purpose of which is to influence the opinions and/or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed.’

An influencer is defined to be a person ‘who has access to an audience and the power to affect their purchasing decisions or opinions about any product, service, brand or experience, because of the influencer’s authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their audience.’

The guidelines require the influencer, publishing account or the advertiser to make a disclosure clarifying that particular promotion is an advertisement such that an average consumer must be able to recognise it as an advertisement without clicking or otherwise interacting with it. The disclosure must be clear, unambiguous and obvious.

Disclosures have to be made from amongst the labels prescribed by the ASCI. These include #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored or #partnership. Only permitted disclosure labels will be considered sufficient disclosure since consumers may not be familiar with various creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may signify that the said communication is an advertisement.

Advertisements must be obviously differentiable by an average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content to prevent the audience from confusing between them.

The disclosure label needs to be placed so that it is evident, clear and prominent. The user must not have to click or scroll to find the label; it must be mentioned within the first two lines. The disclosure label should also be compatible with all devices or platforms. The disclosure label has to be in English or translated into the language understood by the average consumer viewing the advertisement.

If an advertisement is posted on Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label should be imposed. Different durations have been provided for which the disclosure should be visible to the consumer in the case of video advertisements without any accompanying text.

The influencers should do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them. Evidence of due diligence would include correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.

In case of a violation of these guidelines, the ASCI will have the authority to take action. It can issue notice to the brand owner and influencer upon a complaint made by a consumer or suo motu cognisance of a potentially objectionable advertisement.

Feedback and suggestions on these draft guidelines have been taken from the stakeholders, and the ASCI will shortly release the final guidelines.

CONCLUSION

In the backdrop of the growing influence and reach of these influencer marketing on digital media platforms, there is a crucial need for regulating these advertisements in the interest of consumers. It is a consumer’s right to be informed of the actual quantity and quality of the product or service. As a natural corollary, the consumer must also be able to differentiate between genuine opinions of the influencers and the promotions done for monetary gain.

This will enable the consumer to make a more informed and well-rounded decision. The guidelines are being viewed as a step in the right direction. These guidelines will bring in more transparency and responsibility on the part of the influencers endorsing brands. This will also strengthen the trust of consumers in the influencers as well as the brands. The influencers will now have to be more mindful before making representations and ensure authenticity.

In addition to the Act of 2019, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs notified draft guidelines titled the Central Consumer Protection Authority (Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Necessary Due Diligence for Endorsement of Advertisements) Guidelines, 2020. Under these guidelines, an endorser of a product or service must mandatorily observe due diligence concerning the representations made by her/him. The endorser must ascertain that his/her endorsement does not convey any express or implied representations that would be false, misleading or deceptive.

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Making it happen: Balance between solar and thermal energy

Anil Swarup

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Focus on the Green Energy Sector is extremely laudable and India appears to be is on its way to achieving its target of 100 GW of solar energy by 2022. Other latest developments in the Sector have also been very encouraging. Tariffs of solar energy have plummeted to Rs 1.99 per unit from the high of INR 14 per unit a few years ago. The overall energy sector is under stress but the demand for solar energy seems to be on the rise. However, to say that renewable energy has already become cheaper than coal-based thermal energy, as Rahul Tongia from Brookings India put it, “masks…system-level costs as well as the disproportionate impact (it had) on selected States’ generators and stakeholders”. Accordingly, before blowing the victory bugle there is a critical need to examine the implications of what was happening.

What are the direct and indirect costs incurred due to shifting of focus on renewable energy?

Who is bearing this cost?

Is the manner in which renewable energy mission was being rolled out in the country sustainable?

As Coal Secretary, Government of India, I was convinced that solar energy would play the most prominent role in the push for green energy. Not only did it have a larger share of India’s targets, but it also represented much of the growth of renewable energy. It was in the fitness of things that the government was pushing for solar energy.

However, I was (still am) against the mad rush for solar energy without taking into account all the associated features. There is indeed a dilemma as any reservation or difference of opinion against this mad rush is also deemed an ‘opposition’.

There is no doubt about the fact that India is a ‘sun-rich’ country with bright sunshine available for the better part of the year. However, I am equally convinced that there would still be issues that need to be considered and sustainable solutions to those needed to be developed as we proceeded towards increasing our dependence on solar energy.

Sunlight, by nature’s law, is available only during the day. Unlike the European countries that were pushing for green energy, the peak demand in India is during the evening when solar energy (unless stored) is not available. Storage and the cost thereof therefore would be key determinants for the sustainability of solar energy, especially as its share scaled. Hydropower generation has been a good complement and India always had enormous potential. However, unfortunately, this potential has not been tapped, ironically on account of environmental considerations. (The recent cloud-burst in Garwhal region and the consequent flash floods have made the task even more difficult.) The ongoing projects, like the one at Subhanshree in Assam, have languished and the delays have led to cost escalation that have perhaps made the project unviable. India even lags in the deployment of pumped hydro capacity, the most proven and cost-effective large-scale storage technology available then.

The first step for higher solar usage is improving predictions. However, even perfect predictions can only go so far. We know monsoons reduce the output, and also sunsets. India needed to step up its game for learning to balance variable renewables as other countries have done. But we lack some tools to do so, such as flexible markets and dynamic pricing – most power is sold via static Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).

The highest Plant Load Factor (PLF) for solar power plants is considered to be only about 20%, and many rooftops accounted for even less. Meaning thereby that the 100 GW installed capacity is only equivalent to 33 GW of thermal power (assuming it had thrice the PLF, of, say, 60%). Solar energy can produce nearly 100 GW only for a short while during the middle of the day.

Going forward, price ‘grid parity’ would be another issue that will have to be resolved. To meet peak demand in the evening, some other source of power will need to be built. Similarly, when solar power is available (typically during the day), some other power source has to back down. Both have a cost. And someone would have to bear the cost.

Rooftop solar plants sound exciting but would sound the death knell for the power distribution companies, who risk losing their best customers. These small localised solar plants will use the conventional power grid like a battery as these solar plants can generate energy only when the sun is shining. The ‘net metering’ would have enabled them to push power into the grid when the requirement is relatively low and there is ‘surplus’ power. This could lead to what has been termed as ‘utility death spiral’. There are also other issues related to setting up of solar plants as well as financing those. However, everyone seems to be rushing in. But there is some resistance from States as well as the distribution companies.

Does solar equipment perform as envisaged? There have been known issues related to the maintenance of solar panels, especially in the context of dust and pollution. The quality of solar panels manufactured on a mass scale are already causing problems. Land costs, availability, and bankability are also growing concerns, especially as India looks at scaling its share of solar energy. It’s important in this context to take into account the fact that the demand of 175 GW is projected for 2022 only. It will inevitably grow in future. Moreover, the cost of delivering solar energy is more than its generation cost. The transmission cost at 20% PLF will have to be factored in while arriving at the actual cost of shifting to solar energy.

What has been the response to these challenges? Yes, there is an enormous amount of research taking place in the western world and in China to find the ‘storage’ solution that is critical to the sustainability of this ‘solar drive’. The rest of the world is waiting with bated breath as the power of solar energy is being unleashed.

However, not many seem to be bothered about the adverse impact this undue adulation of solar energy is causing to the coal-based power plants that account for most of the energy requirements of the country. The generation companies (Gencos) are already in trouble on account of a shortage of coal and growth in demand not good enough to service investments made. It was estimated that more than INR 1.7 lakh crore of capacity could become non-performing asset (NPA). These Gencos are being pushed further by the ever-increasing coal cess, statutory ‘back-down’ to accommodate renewal energy and competition with a subsidised sector.

Green energy is the way forward but it is not likely to end the need for coal-based thermal plants in India. Not at least in an overnight manner. Hence, it would not be advisable to promote it at the cost of pushing thermal power plants to become unviable. The two have to co-exist and supplement each other, at least for the time being. The dependence on coal-based thermal power plants will gradually need to be phased out over the next couple of decades.

Anil Swarup has served as the head of the Project Monitoring Group, which is currently under the Prime Minister’s Offic. He has also served as Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary, Ministry of School Education.

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Policy & Politics

No friends around, children falling prey to loneliness

Coronavirus is filling the children’s world with severe depression and I am afraid it may well lead to psychological problems among children!

Vijay Darda

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The ongoing power struggle in Maharashtra, the furore in the police department, the Naxalite rampage in Chhattisgarh, people in West Bengal and other states turning out in massive numbers at election meetings and rallies sans masks and without observing a safe distance, a scary spike in coronavirus cases, accusations and counter accusations over shortage of medicines and vaccine and the struggle of the entrepreneurs and businessmen to save their existence! Brushing aside all these important issues, this time I have decided to write this column for the captains of the future, children and teenagers that is. For, the younger generation, especially the students, are under severe stress at the moment. This tension is so deep that, I am afraid, it may well create widespread psychological problems!

I am seriously worried about the future. The situation created by the corona pandemic is going from bad to worse. Today, even the tiny tots studying in the kindergarten are compelled to study online. An ophthalmologist told me that online studies will not yield any meaningful result. On the other hand, it will have a worse effect on the eyes of the children. They will contract screen disease. The screen addiction will be so intense that their world will revolve around the mobile and computer, the screen that is. Actually, they are drifting apart from the activities that they should engage themselves in at this age.

Of late, I held several rounds of discussion with several psychologists from home and abroad about the side effects on children. A psychologist told me that children are not able to meet each other physically. They are not able to hold each other’s hands. It is obvious that touch has its own language; there is a message of affection and love, there is a lesson of harmony, there is the joy of mixing and meeting, which makes children cheerful. Naturally, when there is no touch, all these emotions disappear.

Education is being imparted online but children are being deprived of the pleasure of meeting each other. Psychologists say that if this situation persists, the depression in children will set in and increase further. A parent told a psychologist that while living alone in the corona era, his child has become so self-centred that now when he gets an opportunity to meet other children, he shows no enthusiasm at all. Now he has befriended his computer and mobile at home. He avoids meeting other children. After hearing what this psychologist said, I was reminded of the story of a child from South Korea who was so lonely that he stopped associating with children of his age. Later, he had to be treated so that he could become normal. This is to say that the level of stress in children has increased so much that their mental and physical development is being adversely affected.

In the corona era, there is no regular schooling on one hand and on the other, the stress of examinations has continued to trouble them. Parents wanted the children to appear for the examinations, but the government promoted the students from I to VIII and IX and XI to the next class. But before that, the education department too exerted a lot of pressure on these children. Now, the examinations of children of X and XII standards of the State Board are yet to be conducted.

The Board itself appears to be confused on the mode of the exams. Sometimes it says there will be an online exam and sometimes it says there will be an offline exam! Sometimes it says practicals will be conducted and sometimes it says practicals will not be conducted! The question is that if the children are not able to complete their studies, how will they take the exam? In Maharashtra alone, about 30 lakh students appear for the X and XII standard exams. After all, what is the rationale for keeping so many children under stress? This attitude of the education department is not right. Why so much confusion? This only causes stress among children!

By the way, our entire education system stresses children. A report of the ministry of human resource development says the school children in the age group of 11 to 17 years are suffering from severe stress, which is affecting their mental health. I remember that in 1993, a committee was formed under the chairmanship of noted scientist Dr Yash Pal on how to liberate children from the burden of heavy baggage, but the situation did not change much. Yes, the Delhi government has taken a strong initiative in recent years. Happy classes are going on in schools in Delhi. Children study while playing sports. I am of the opinion that such ‘Happy Classes’ should be started all over the country… And it is very important to change the marking system.

Everyone accepts that scoring the highest marks in an examination does not necessarily mean that the child is the best. It has been found that even those children who have stayed away from the race of marks have become more successful in life. But the competition to score more marks has been created in the society and it has made the children stressful. Sometimes they are so stressed that they even commit suicide. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2011 and 2018, about 70,000 students ended their lives due to low scores and fear of exam results. About 50 per cent of these incidents took place at the school level.

I would like to draw your attention towards another figure. The report of the ministry of human resource development says that while 6.9 per cent children have been found to have mental problems in the villages, this figure is about 13.5 per cent in the cities. We all have to understand that scoring more marks alone is not the purpose of life! Besides, we need to shape our education system in a manner that our students do not become victims of stress!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.

In this grim corona-triggered situation, children are confined to their homes. They can’t even meet other children. The joy of human touch is missing from life. Playgrounds are deserted and the children are falling prey to stress. They are getting depressed. I am afraid this should not create a serious psychological problem that might become worse than the pandemic itself!

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Policy & Politics

Stateless, homeless but not futureless: A saga of refugees

According to Article 1 of United Nations Convention on Status of Refugees, refugees are those who are ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’.

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In 2019, when we all were relishing our New Year’s Eve and making new year resolutions to achieve different set of goals, somewhere, a midget virus took birth to show its humongous impact, which led to global pandemic, which only got deepens with time. To fight a battle against novel coronavirus, government of different nations laid down akin guidelines which are wearing masks, using sanitizer, washing hands and maintaining social distancing. We all reside within our safe spaces and could easily adhere to the said guidelines but there are people living under altogether different set of circumstances, those people are Refugees. The refugees are forced to leave their native place to avoid war, financial crisis, etc. Human rights and health of refugees are one of the major concerns for any country. The refugees were already living under harsh circumstances with the outbreak of Covid-19, the situation has worsened and had impacted them in terms of health and income. This pandemic showed us the real operations of laws implemented for betterment of refugees. The refugees faced a lot of hurdles in keeping themselves safe during this pandemic as they have very small space to reside, which made it difficult for them to keep a safe distance and lack of funds for proper sanitization and medical safety. There are various international conventions, protocol and agreements to protect the rights of refugees which are UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee, 1951, Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967, New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, 2016, with many other Indian constitutional rights. United Nations Human Rights Council actively implement laws and statues to safeguard refugees, in which India is not a signatory but actively participates which affirms rights to all person whether citizen or non- citizen. To look into the hopeful prospect, Refugees contributed efficiently to win battle against the pandemic by serving as medical staff in hospitals whether it is as nurse or cleaning the rubbish, sewing masks, conducting educational drives. The time has changed and refugees are proving themselves as an asset to the country they are residing in.

INTRODUCTION

When a person is tuck in a bad situation the first thought which comes to mind is to escape the situation, find a better and safe space to avoid the harsh outcome of that situation but what if one cannot find safe space around, this is the exact situation which is faced by lots of people who ultimately have to leave their home, state, country and most importantly their identity at their native place and are identified as Refugees.

According to Article 1 of United Nations Convention on Status of Refugees, refugees are those who are “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

India is a country which perpetually keep debating on the rights of refugees and keep participating in many regulations made to safeguards rights of refugees. In India, there are many refugees’ groups from neighbouring countries but it does not have any proper laws and statutes for Refugees neither it is signatory to the 1951 UN Convention nor 1967 protocol on Status of Refugees. India always tries to help refugees on humanitarian grounds.

A BRIEF CHRONICLE OF REFUGEES IN INDIA

India is considered to be the second populated country and is one of the countries experiencing refugees lately. The Partition of India–Pakistan resulted in a huge number of people migrating to different counties. After India got its Independence, almost 20 million people came to India and to address such huge number of refugees India had to set up many relief camps. People started coming in from Bangladesh, Pakistan. Eventually, it passed the Rehabilitation Financial Administration Act in the year 1948 to deal with these issues with funding. A Huge number of people were displaced from India to Pakistan and vice versa. Another instance was happened in 1959 when Dalai Lama with his followers approached India as refugees and India provided them a Political Asylum. The year of 1971 saw many refugees transmitting from East Pakistan to India. In 1983 and 1986 India had refugees approaching in from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh respectively. By the end of 1992, India has hosted 237,000 displaced persons and 2,000,000 migrants. India always has some or the other Refugees presence throughout its history.

MAJOR GROUP OF REFUGEES

Around the globe, people leave their home to protect their families and themselves from many undesirable activities. Behind the records are people filled with exceptional life experiences and dreams for the future. There are mothers longing to return home, fathers desire to work again, children looking for a childhood.

At the moment, we see around 80 million people are displaced from their homes. We are witnessing shift in humanity like never before.

Over half of total refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. All those refugees have suffered incredible loss, whether they are displaced in their own country or located overseas for safety. Yet they are filled with potential and the strength to triumph over misfortune.

THE COUNTRIES TO WHICH REFUGEE CRISIS ARE HITTING HARD

• Syria

The Syria crisis has accelerated melod3ramatically than any crisis on planet, and Syrians are still the largest forcibly displaced population in the world. After war erupted in March 2011, it took 2 years for 1 million people to find a place. Another million were displaced within six months. Now 9 years on, more than half of the pre-war population has been internally displaced or forced to seek safety in neighbouring countries. There are more than 13.2 million people on run, counting more than 6.6 million people who have fled across the borders.

• Afghanistan

The factors which have led to a massive migration from Afghanistan are years of unemployment, insecurity and political instability. More than 2.7 million people have been pushed to leave the country to Iran, Europe or Pakistan, whilst more than 2.5 million people are assessed to be living in new and prolonged displacement.

The United Nations evaluates that an average 1,100 people a day — mostly women and children — were forcibly displaced by violence in 2017, and over the years more than half of people displaced by disruptions in Afghanistan have been displaced at least twice, compared to just 7 percent five years before.

• South Sudan

The situation in South Sudan is dire, and the largest refugee crisis in Africa. More than 4 million people have been relocated from their homes since the start of a brutal civil war in 2013, including approximately 2.2 million people who have been made to cross into neighbouring countries, the majority of them were women and children.

What is already a perilous humanitarian crisis continue to worsen by ongoing warfare, flooding and drought. There are need for clean water, health care, sanitation, food, shelter, and protection across the country, and millions of people over there now require urgent support to survive.

• Myanmar

In August 2017, violence broke out in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, over 7,42,000 Rohingya have fled to southeast Bangladesh. Even before the crisis, Bangladesh was grappling with humanitarian challenges, and accommodating around 2,12,000 Rohingya who had escaped Myanmar during periods of violence and persecution. More than half of them are children.

Today, there are around 860,000 Rohingya in search of refuge in Bangladesh and at least 1.3 million people — Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host communities — who bank on humanitarian assistance by other counties to meet their basic needs. These populations live in congested camps and communities, highly vulnerable to harsh weather conditions and cyclone seasons.

• Somalia

With more than two decades of unending conflict and natural hazards which have driven nearly 1 million Somalis to live in poor refugee camps in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, whilst around 2.6 million people remain expatriate.

Across the country, many people are in dire need of assistance. In the early 2020, it was assessed that 1.2 million people had to face acute food insecurity — a number that is anticipated to increase as swarms of desert locusts infest farmland in the Horn of Africa and East Africa.

CHALLENGES FACED BY REFUGEES

Refugees who ended up in different set of camps or different countries deal with many problems in their life. They are prone to harsh living conditions. They have limited resources to fulfil their needs, live in tents, have limited food, water, clothing. They survive without adequate shelter and have to face many difficulties. Those who do not wish to join refugee camps and shift to countries, often deal with unexpected hardships, they also face cultural and language problems. The refugee children are the ones who have to face the real struggle as they find it very hard to continue with their schooling and fail to understand the situation at such a tender age. Most refugees take up some or the other labour work which feed them in the country they are living and are often exploited by the recruiters. Different countries have different set of rules and regulations foe handling refugees, some countries grant citizenship in lesser number of years than the other. The benefit of being a refugee in one country are different than the other. They face financial difficulties, discrimination, and are psychologically affected.

Despite of all the struggle they face, refugees are strong and battle with their situation to make most out of it. They are grateful for the opportunities they get. Most of them had such basic desires: to have their children succeed in school and to be able to put a roof over their heads. After everything they had already been through, they were doing all that they could to keep their families afloat in the new and scary place called refugee camps.

LEGISLATION FOR REFUGEES: INTERNATIONAL STATUES

Universally, there are various conventions, declarations and protocol for refugees. Some of them are UN Declaration on Territorial Asylum (1948), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and Protocol (1949), Convention relating to the status of Stateless Persons (1954), International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961), Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (1979), Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998). Some of the Regional Refugee Laws are Cartagena Declaration (1984), Asian African Legal Consultative Committee Principles (1996).

The UN Convention concerning the Status of Refugee of 1951 was adopted on 28 July 1951 and entered into force on 22 April 1954. It repealed previous laws and set a most comprehensive codification of the rights of refugees. The Convention deals with General Provisions, Juridical acts, Lucrative Employment, Welfare schemes, Administrative measures, Executory and Transitory powers. These chapters are already defined and therefore they serve the aim of aiding refugees. Article 1 of the convention defines the term ‘refugee’, Article 12 and 13 deals with personal status and Movable and Immovable property respectfully. Article 16 deals with access to courts because the 1951 Convention only give blanket to those people who became refugees as a result of events occurred before 1951, Protocol concerning the Status of Refugees was entered into force on 4 October 1967, because new refugee situations have arisen after the convention and therefore the new refugee didn’t fall into the Convention. So, this protocol makes sure that equality reaches to all refugees.

INDIAN STATUES

The Constitution of India contains few articles which are applicable to the refugees during their stay in India. The most important of all is Article 21 which deals with Right to Life and personal liberty, it applies to all irrespective of their citizenship. Many judgements have been delivered by the apex court based on Article 21 in respect of refugees.  Article 14 assures the person right to equality before the law.  Article 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,11,12, 20, 22,25-28, 32, 226 are also available for non-citizens of India including Refugees. 

In the case of Visakha v. State of Rajasthan 1997 (6) SCC 241, the court has held that “International Conventions and norms are significant for the purpose of interpretation of the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Articles 14, 15 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein”. In the case of Louis De Raedt v. Union of India, 1991 (3) SCC 554, the court held that the fundamental rights to life, liberty, dignity are available to everyone irrespective of their citizenship.

Some fundamental rights are guaranteed to non-citizens of India. In the case of NHRC v. State of Arunachal Pradesh 1996 (1) SCC 742, the court asked the government to safeguard the life and health of Chakma tribe that are in the state and that their application for citizenship should be sent to the authorities concerned instantly. 

There are definitely a plenty number of protections given to the refugees staying in India under the Constitution of India but are hardly in practice. The provisions of the Constitution give a hint about ambition towards refugees, but due to its own reasons India doesn’t sign any Conventions related to it.Other than Constitution of India, India does not have any laws which specifically deal with Refugees. But India is in dire need of one, considering the recent conflicts for land by the refugees in different states of India.

STATUTORY BODIES TO SAFEGUARD RIGHTS OF REFUGEES

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a body dedicated to foster and protects the rights of refugees across the globe, established on 15 March 2006, the Geneva, Switzerland.

The main objective of UNHRC is to investigate claims of human rights abuse in member states of the United Nations and ensure that the said human rights matters are addressed and upheld to the maximum extent.

In India, UNHRC got involved since the issue of Tibetan refugees and the Bangladesh crisis in 1971. The UNHRC office located in Delhi, works to help refugees become self-sufficient with income-generating activates with the help of NGO’s. The main duty of UNHRC in India is to make sure that the refugees are not involuntary sent back to their country from which they have fled until the conflict rests in their country.

National Human Rights Council (NHRC) is a standalone entity of the Government of India which promotes and protects human rights, established in 1993 and amended in 2006. In 1994, NHRC gave directions to Tamil Nadu Government to deliver medical help to Sri Lankan refugees. In 1995, it filed a PIL on Arunachal Pradesh Government regarding the government officials not supporting Chakmas tribe, and got the decision of the court ordering the government to provide necessary help to the group. NHRC is always on the frontline in the matters which talks about rights of refugees and offering them better living standard.

REFUGEES AFFECTED BY OUTBREAK OF COVID-19

With the Covid-19 pandemic spread, human rights organizations warned adverse impact the coronavirus will have on the world’s most helpless populations which include refugees.

Refugees live in small area with great density but it varies by refugee population and what the status of the pandemic is where they are living. Refugees are infected and affected in a similar way to their host communities. Yet refugees are more vulnerable. They are not well-equipped with the medical facility as there aren’t many hospitals having good facility of ICU and ventilators, as there are not many qualified doctors to deal with adverse health condition caused by coronavirus.

But at the same time, they came out as a strong individual by providing helping hand in battle against this outbreak, they worked as frontline workers in healthcare sectors and also as essential workers. The demand of soaps and sanitizers soared high as people are advised to use them as cleaning agents against coronavirus, so, refugees manufactured it and made them more accessible to those in need. The pandemic caused the largest disruption to education in recent history, putting millions of children’s future and schooling at risk. Some refugees have stepped up to ensure that children of their community can continue learning and prepare themselves for better future.

CONCLUSION

Around the globe, though there are a number of conventions and laws protecting rights of refugees but they still have to fight for their basic rights. When a country as big and developing as India doesn’t have a Refugee Law, we can fathom that many countries have the same picture and are on the same ride. If UNHCR and NHRC work together to develop a better world for refugees, there will be much more development in the area of Refugee Law. There is definitely a need for India to set up a Law safeguarding Refugees, as in the future there may be many more concerns due to various reasons. Whenever UNHCR tries to do something regarding refugees NGOs should actively lend them the helping hand. Though Constitution of India protects the rights of refugees, still there needs to be a uniform Law that give equal rights to all the refugees. India continues to help refugees on the humanitarian view. Bearing the security issues in mind due to which India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention, it should give due attention to all issues and rectify it accordingly. India should make stringent refugees’ laws and also take care that those law is not mistreated and mis-utilized by people who come to seek opportunities. By far Indian judiciary has done some really good work in regard to refugees by delivering many judgements like in the case of Dongh Lian Kham vs. Union of India (2016), the apex Court stated that the principle of non-refoulement is part of the guarantee under Article 21 of the Constitution of India irrespective of nationality. Many Rohingya refugees living in India are receiving aid, but India is planning to deport them to their terrain. In the past NHRC submitted a report for the need of Refuge law but didn’t receive a response but if UNHCR and NHRC join their hands, there could be a light at the end of tunnel.

Covid-19 showed us the real operations of laws implemented for betterment of refugees. The refugees faced a lot of hurdles in keeping themselves safe during this pandemic as they have very small space to reside, which made it difficult for them to keep a safe distance and lack of funds for proper sanitisation and medical safety.

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