The Statesman – Restructure labour laws; don’t junk them

The government must strive for a golden mean in recasting India’s labour laws, argues Sukanya Singha.

Sukanya Singha

New Delhi – India, 26 May 2020. The Covid-19 crisis has brought one of the major extraordinary changes in the labour regime that India has ever witnessed.

This has not only brought massive migration of labourers but also India has recorded high levels of unemployment due to the closing down of markets.

The migrant labourers are forced to leave for their hometown, walking sometimes barefoot for thousands of kilometres. Amidst all this, incidents like the Aurangabad train disaster have uncovered the vulnerability and helplessness of migrant labourers.

It does not only raise questions on India’s economic model but also on the human rights issue.

In such a situation, the Uttar Pradesh Government has legislated the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020 which was passed a few days ago, exempting businesses from all labour laws except three i.e. the Bonded Labour Act, 1976, Employee Compensation Act, 1923, and Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act, 1996 for the next three years.

Almost similar announcements for 1,000 days are also being made by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

These new developments in Labour Law have come about in a very bizarre way; thus on the one hand we are witnessing inhuman labour plight and on the other we are trying to liberalise the laws so as to protect industries which will promote the hire and fire policy in the guise of creation of more jobs.

India has one of the largest labour forces. According to an analysis by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 92 per cent of India’s labour force belongs to the informal sector.

The report further shows that 49.6 per cent still do not have any social security benefit, 71.1 per cent had no written job contract and 54.2 per cent were not eligible for paid leave.

Most urban employees in India according to the NSSO work on an average for more than 60 hours a week which is higher than the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s prescribed time-limit and one of the highest in the world.

This is the present scenario of a nation which strives in its Preamble for creating a socialist pattern of society of which labour welfare is one of the important pillars.

India proudly claims to have enacted many legislations for the benefit of the working class. Labour regulations are a part of Entry 55 of the Concurrent List under Schedule VII of the Constitution of India.

As of today we have around 44 Central Laws and approximately 200 State laws and all have been enacted to safeguard the interest of workers. Liberal economists have time and again argued that labour laws we have in India are archaic and if they are removed or weakened it would result in many benefits.

It is said that these laws emphasize more on the protection of jobs and less on labourers and employers. The latter have very less flexibility in situations of lay-offs, retrenchment and so on.

In a way labour laws have looked better in the statutes than in the real industrial scenario. So, they believe that one of the major benefits such new labour reforms can bring is that industries will be able to work in an independent manner.

There will be a positive impact on economic activities like setting up of more industries, attracting new investors, which in turn will bring a change in the income of the labour and this will in turn be beneficial for both the employers and the workers.

The Economic Survey 2019 stated that deregulating labour law restrictions can create significantly more jobs. A comparison between indicators for labour, capital and productivity of manufacturing firms reveals that flexibility in labour laws creates a more conducive environment for growth of industry and employment generation.

What is happening in today’s scenario is that, despite having so many laws as mentioned earlier employers evade these in some way or the other.

In an industry, under Section 26(5) of The Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950, a muster-roll shall be maintained by every employer and this is directly related to the social security schemes. But to comply with such provisions was difficult for industries.

Again, under Section 25F of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 in case of a factory employing more than 100 workers, prior permission of the appropriate Government must be obtained for retrenchment although few states have now allowed factories with 300 workers to retrench staff without official sanction.

So, what happens eventually is that the industries do not try to expand as taking approvals at multiple levels involves a real cumbersome process which employers try to avoid. Now this becomes the sole reason why many industries refrain from hiring permanent employees; rather they find contract workers to be more profitable.

The Contract Labour Act, 1970 under Section 1(4) applies to every establishment or contractor wherein/with whom 20 or more workmen are employed and this is deviated easily more now by the contractors by appointing specialised contract workers who are less than 20 at a given point of time to work for industries.

This means that the labour law is so stringent without any freedom for employers. This makes it difficult for employers to abide by laws and thus workers end up becoming a part of the informal sector doubling the issues for the economy.

Undoubtedly the present labour law regime must be reformed to ensure industrial growth but at the same time we cannot abandon labourers on the altar of the free market. Certainly, our labour laws are archaic and much behind the needs of the society and the economy.

There is no doubt that liberal economists have rightly pinpointed the issue but doing away with labour laws would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Covid crisis has bust the ‘market myth’ and re-emphasised the need for a strong state which can regulate if not control all its business areas. Moreover it has also made us realise that the business of the government is to remain in business.

It is understandable that the economy at this point of time is facing a huge setback and revival is an urgent need. However, it must be noted that the state cannot shrug off its responsibility towards labourers which are promised as part of Article 43 of the Constitution of India where it affirms to protect their rights and liberty.

Hence a golden mean should be arrived at so that on one hand development of the economy is ensured by giving ample working space to the employers and on the other hand, workers are not just protected but helped at this time of crisis.

The government should strive for re-strengthening and reenergizing the poorly enforced laws such as the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008. Also restructuring and simplifying Indian labour laws based on the recommendations of the Second National Labour Commission and the rules set by almost 47 ILO Conventions to which India is a signatory will help raise labour standards to face any crisis in the future.

At this juncture it is unimaginable to think about a labour regime which will have no welfare facilities, no Trade Unions, little or no scope for collective bargaining and no sanitation facilities.

This list of basic deprivations will be endless with such sweeping exemptions!

The writer is Assistant Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.[centre/italics]

Restructure labour laws; don’t junk them

The Statesman – 1.80 lakh migrants leave Punjab, over 10 lakh more in queue

Besides, nodal officers have been deputed for all these states who are pro-actively connecting to their counterparts in other states to facilitate the return of the migrants, and teams constituted at the level of the deputy commissioners for the mandatory medical screening of migrants.

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 16 May 2020. After losing their livelihoods due to the lock-down enforced to prevent the spread of Covid-19, over 1,80,000 migrant workers have left Punjab for their home states through 150 special trains even as over 10 lakh more have registered for returning to their native states through the government transport.

The nodal officer Vikas Pratap said Punjab government plans to send over 200 trains in next 10 days and the numbers would increase in near future at the maximum possible extent. He said that Punjab is likely to send more than 20 more trains daily.

Out of total 150 special trains sent so far, maximum trains (57) have gone from Ludhiana with another 45 trains from Jalandhar have taken migrants to different parts of the country. Other places from where trains have departed include Amritsar, Patiala, Mohali, Bathinda, Ferozepur and Sirhind. Maximum trains are going to Uttar Pradesh followed by Bihar and Jharkhand.

Punjab government is also sending trains to Chattisgarh, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Assuring the state’s commitment to go the extra mile to mitigate their sufferings, Pratap said food, water and other essentials were also being provided to all those travelling back home for their journey.

Besides, nodal officers have been deputed for all these states who are pro-actively connecting to their counterparts in other states to facilitate the return of the migrants, and teams constituted at the level of the deputy commissioners for the mandatory medical screening of migrants.

Only those are being allowed to board the trains, who are found to be asymptomatic. Since 1 May, over 15.6 lakh migrant workers have registered through Punjab government portal for return to their native states. Of these, over 12 lakh have requested for government transport.

 1.80 lakh migrants leave Punjab, over 10 lakh more in queue

The Statesman – Punjab Police arrests ‘one of the biggest drug smugglers of India’ from Haryana

Rana was wanted in a narcotics haul case in which the Customs department last year had seized 532 kg of heroin worth Rs 2,700 crore in rock salt consignments at the Integrated Check Post at Attari in Amritsar.

New Delhi – India, 09 May 2020. The Punjab Police arrested a drug smuggler from Haryana’s Sirsa, who was wanted in a 532 kg heroin seizure case, police said on Saturday.

“The wanted smuggler Ranjeet Singh Rana was arrested from a hideout in Sirsa,” Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India.

DGP Dinkar Gupta took to Twitter and said, “Following up further on arrests of Hizbul operatives in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, the Punjab Police juggernaut moved further to arrest Ranjeet of Amritsar, one of the biggest drug smugglers of India from Sirsa today.

Cheeta was wanted in 532 kg heroin haul from Attari in June 2019.”

“Ranjeet Rana & his brother Gagandeep@Bhola arrested from Begu village in Sirsa, Haryana. Ranjit Rana@Cheeta, suspected to have smuggled in heroin & other drugs from Pakistan, camouflaged in as many as 6 rock salt consignments through ICP Amritsar between 2018-2019,” Gupta said in another tweet.

Rana was wanted in a narcotics haul case in which the Customs department last year had seized 532 kg of heroin worth Rs 2,700 crore in rock salt consignments at the Integrated Check Post at Attari in Amritsar.

He was the kingpin of the narcotics haul and was arrested following the recent arrest of Hizbul Mujahideen terror operatives in Amritsar.

In today’s Punjab Police’s operation along with Ranjeet Rana, his brother was also arrested in Haryana.

Punjab Police arrests ‘one of the biggest drug smugglers of India’ from Haryana

The Statesman – Muslims perform last rites of Hindu neighbour setting example of humanity, communal harmony

Ramesh Mathur passed away on Tuesday after a prolonged illness at the age of 65 in ‘Kayasth Dharamshala’ of Shahpeer Gate area where he resided with his younger son Chandramauli Mathur. Ramesh was the caretaker of this Dharmshala.

Swati Sharma

Meerut – UP – India, 29 April 2020. In a touching gesture of humanity and display of communal harmony, Muslim neighbours of 65-year-old Ramesh Mathur came out and carried out his funeral procession in Shahpeer Gate area of the city as his relatives and elder son could not come out in view of the lockdown due to Coronavirus.

Ramesh Mathur passed away on Tuesday after a prolonged illness at the age of 65 in ‘Kayasth Dharamshala’ of Shahpeer Gate area where he resided with his younger son Chandramauli Mathur.

Ramesh was the caretaker of this Dharmshala. At the time of his death, only his younger son Chandramauli was with him while the elder son Komal Mathur, who works in Delhi, could not make it at that time because of the ongoing lockdown.

Chandramauli, who was all alone, however, got the much-needed company and support of the neighbours who are all Muslims. Shahpeer Gate area where the father and son lived is Muslim dominated. In spite of the ongoing month of Ramazan, they came out displaying a perfect example of humanity and communal harmony.

Muslims perform last rites of Hindu neighbour setting example of humanity, communal harmony

The Statesman – Case filed against Meerut hospital for demanding Covid-19 negative certificate from Muslim patients

On Friday, the Valentis Cancer Hospital had given an advertisement referring to Muslim patients which triggered a big controversy. Though the management of the Valentis Hospital has apologised for the advertisement yet no action has been taken up by the police.

Swati Sharma

Meerut – Uttar Pradesh – India, 19 April 2020. The Police registered a case against the doctors and management of Valentis Cancer Hospital on Sunday on the charges of spreading communal hatred by placing a controversial advertisement.

On Friday, the Valentis Cancer Hospital had given an advertisement referring to Muslim patients which triggered a big controversy. Though the management of the Valentis Hospital has apologised for the advertisement yet no action has been taken up by the police.

SP Rural Avinash Pandey told that Police has taken cognisance of the matter and a case has been registered against Dr Amit Jain and hospital management under Sections 188, 295 (a) and 505 of IPC at the Incholi Police Station.

Case filed against Meerut hospital for demanding Covid-19 negative certificate from Muslim patients

The Statesman – British Airways to fly back 900 stranded UK nationals from Gujarat

 

The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International (SVPI) Airport will facilitate operation of three relief flights of the British Airways for transporting the British nationals who are standard in Gujarat.

New Delhi – India, 12 April 2020. British Airways will operate three flights from Ahmedabad in Gujarat in the next few days to take back 900 UK nationals stranded in the state due to the lockdown, the Ahmedabad Airport authorities said today.

The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International (SVPI) Airport will facilitate operation of three relief flights of the British Airways for transporting the British nationals who are stranded in Gujarat, the airport said in a release.

Flight numbers BA9113C, BA9117C and BA9117C will operate on April 13, 15 and 17, respectively, it said.

“It is estimated that approximately 300 passengers will board each of these flights from Ahmedabad,” it said.

Two aircraft will arrive from Heathrow Airport in London and leave for the UK capital on 13 and 15 April. The third aircraft will arrive in Ahmedabad from Hyderabad on 17 April and depart for London the same day, it said.

“Special care will be taken for the facilitation of passengers and social distancing, in line with directives of the Government of India,” the release said, adding that the SVPI Airport has requested all the passengers to follow instructions of the staff on duty.

SVPI Airport Director Manoj Gangal is in constant touch with the British High Commission to ensure no inconvenience is caused to the passengers, it added.

British Airways to fly back 900 stranded UK nationals from Gujarat

The Statesman – ‘Like coronavirus, there is a communal virus too’: Uddhav Thackeray

He further warned of strict action against those who spread fake messages over social media inciting communal tension in the state.

New Delhi – India, 04 April 2020. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday said like COVID-19 virus, there is a communal virus too.

He further warned of strict action against those spread fake messages over social media inciting communal tension in the state.

“I am warning those who are spreading wrong messages to the citizens and uploading such videos even for the sake of fun. This COVID19 virus sees no religion,” he said.

He further said the lifting of lock-down after 14 April will be depended upon the public compliance to the government’s directive.

CM also said no permission will be granted for religious gathering, political or sporting event amid the corona-virus crisis.

“The number of patients in the state is rising as we have strengthened our capacity and testing more people,” Thackeray said.

CM also asked those suffering from symptoms such as pneumonia, cough, cold and fever not to visit private doctor or hospital. He suggested them to visit dedicated hospitals started by the state government to treat COVID-19 patients.

In a separate development, Municipal Corporation Greater Mumbai has announced to start ten COVID-19 screening clinics in all containment zones and densely populated areas where focal outbreak of the virus has been observed.

Maharashtra has witnessed 537 cases of corona-virus as of now, with 47 new positive cases. The state has been at the top of the list of COVID-19 cases in India.

‘Like coronavirus, there is a communal virus too’: Uddhav Thackeray

The Statesman – ‘Sikh families who want to be flown out of Afghanistan, it’s our duty to help them’: Amarinder Singh

On 25 March unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers stormed a Sikh gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, killing at least 27 worshippers and wounding as many, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority community in the country.

New Delhi – India, 28 March 2020. Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, on Saturday, urged Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to bring stranded Sikh families back from war-ravaged Afghanistan to India.

CM Singh took to Twitter and said, “Dear Dr S Jaishankar, there are a large number of Sikh families who want to be flown out of Afghanistan. Request you to get them airlifted at the earliest. In this moment of crisis, it’s our bounden duty to help them.”

On 25 March, unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers stormed a Sikh gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, killing at least 27 worshippers and wounding as many, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority community in the country.

India had condemned the heinous terror attack on the gurdwara in Kabul and said such “cowardly attacks especially at this time of COVID 19 pandemic is reflective of diabolical mindset of perpetrators, their backers”.

“We convey our sincerest condolences to the immediate family members of the deceased and wish speedy recovery to the injured. India stands ready to extend all possible assistance to the affected families of the Hindu and Sikh community of Afghanistan,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar also condemned the attack. He had said: “Deeply concerned at the blasts reported near the cremation site of those killed during the attack on Gurudwara Sahib in Kabul.”

Jaishankar said that Indian Embassy in Kabul was in touch with Kabul security authorities. He said that he has asked them to ensure adequate security onsite as well as safe return of families to their homes thereafter.

CM Amarinder Singh and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had also condemned the attack on a religious gathering in a Gurdwara in Kabul. Amarinder Singh described the attack as extremely “tragic and unfortunate”.

“Horrific news coming from Kabul where a barbaric terror attack happened in the Gurudwara Guru Har Rai. It’s extremely tragic and unfortunate. Request (Afghanistan) President @Ashraf Ghani Ji to find out the perpetrators and look after our people,” Singh had tweeted.

The Ashraf Ghani government has blamed the Pakistan-backed Haqqani network for the terror attack.

However, the Taliban, has denied involvement in the attack on the Sikh shrine. Though the US and Taliban have signed a peace deal, violence in Afghanistan remains unabated.

‘Sikh families who want to be flown out of Afghanistan, it’s our duty to help them’: Amarinder Singh

The Statesman – War against Coronavirus can’t be fought with moral armaments, PM must act boldly: Chidambaram

PM Modi had on Thursday evening announced ‘Janata Curfew’ in the entire nation on 22 March, from 7 am to 9 pm to avoid public gatherings and prevent the spread of the deadly novel Coronavirus.

New Delhi – India, 20 March 2020. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Friday said the war against Coronavirus cannot be fought with “moral armaments” and asserted that lockdown was the only solution.

After offering his support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s measures to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19, Chidambaram said the PM must come back with tougher social and economic measures to contain the disease.

“Yesterday, I got the impression that PM was testing the waters. He should act boldly. The war against corona-virus cannot be fought with moral armaments,” he tweeted.

He further stressed that “this was the moment to act” although the ICMR has said that the disease is still at Stage 2 in India. “Let us not allow this moment to pass without decisive action and regret later,” Chidambaram added.

He further said he is duty bound to support the PM in the fight against COVID-19 and added that the ‘Janata Curfew’ call for Sunday, March 22 will be followed.

PM Modi had on Thursday evening announced ‘Janata Curfew’ in the entire nation on March 22, from 7 am to 9 pm to avoid public gatherings and prevent the spread of the deadly novel Coronavirus.

Hours before the special address, Congress leader P Chidambaram had said he will be “disappointed” if the PM does not announce a total lockdown.

The former finance minister has expressed concerns and urged the Government to order an “immediate lockdown of all our towns and cities for 2-4 weeks” in an effort to contain the novel Coronavirus outbreak in the country.

War against Coronavirus can’t be fought with moral armaments, PM must act boldly: Chidambaram

The Statesman – Peace will elude Afghanistan unless Taliban is reined in

India, which has backed the Afghan government is equally a player on account of its investments and goodwill and wants discussions to lead to power sharing while ensuring protection of its investments.

Harsha Kakar

New Delhi – India, 10 March 2020. The US-Taliban agreement, signed on 29 February, though intended to end the war and lead to withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country was anything but a peace agreement. The deal ignored the Afghan government, which remains a major stakeholder and deciding factor in any peace process.

It made commitments on behalf of the Afghan government, which it rightfully refused as it had been kept in the dark.

Pakistan claimed credit for the deal, whereas it backed the Taliban rather than the Afghan government and its people. It only sought the return of the Taliban.

It has since then begun putting its weight behind the Taliban seeking to force the Afghan government to adhere to the deal. This has enhanced Afghanistan-Pakistan tensions. The agreement was to lead to the commencement of intra-Afghan talks from 10 March in Norway.

Under the terms of the agreement, foreign forces would quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by them to hold talks with Kabul. The agreement stated that the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban militants in exchange for 1,000 prisoners held by the Taliban.

Simultaneous to the signing of the US-Taliban peace agreement was a release of a US-Afghan declaration on ongoing peace efforts. This declaration was released in Kabul by the Afghan President, US Defence Secretary and the NATO Secretary General.

Peace will elude Afghanistan unless Taliban is reined in