‘Detention beyond release date violates article 21’: Supreme Court grants Rs 7.5 Lakh compensation to convict kept in prison in excess of sentence period - Business Guardian
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‘Detention beyond release date violates article 21’: Supreme Court grants Rs 7.5 Lakh compensation to convict kept in prison in excess of sentence period

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SC seeks Centre’s reply on fresh pleas against CAA

While fully, firmly and finally espousing with full zeal the legal rights of even the convict which cannot be violated by not even the State itself, the Apex Court has in an extremely laudable, learned, landmark and latest judgment titled Bhola Kumar vs State of Chhattisgarh in Criminal Appeal No. 937 of 2022 (Arising out of SLP(Crl.)No.2426 of 2022) and cited in 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 589 delivered on May 9, 2022 but uploaded recently minced just no words whatsoever to hold that when a convict is detained beyond the actual release date it would be imprisonment or detention sans sanction of law and would thus, violate not only Article 19(1) (d) but also Article 21 of the Constitution of India. (Para 17). The Apex Court has clearly directed in this leading case the State of Chhattisgarh to pay compensation to the tune of Rs 7.5 lakhs as compensation to a rape convict who was kept in prison beyond the period by the State holding that it is vicariously liable for the act/omission committed by its officers in the course of employment. The Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice CT Ravikumar minced just no words whatsoever to hold unambiguously that, “When a competent court, upon conviction, sentenced an accused and in appeal, the sentence was modified upon confirmation of the conviction and then the appellate judgment had become final, the convict can be detained only up to the period to which he can be legally detained on the basis of the said appellate judgment.” The Bench also made it clear that, “Court can grant appropriate relief when there is some manifest illegality or where some palpable injustice is shown to have resulted. Such a power can be traced either to Article 142 of the Constitution of India or powers inherent as guardian of the Constitution. Referred to A.R. Antulay V. R.S. Nayak (1988) 2 SCC 602. (Para 19).”

At the outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Justice CT Ravikumar for a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice Ajay Rastogi and himself sets the pitch in motion by first and foremost putting forth that, “This Special Leave Petition is filed assailing the judgment and order dated 19.7.2018 of the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur in Criminal Appeal No. 110/2015 whereby and whereunder the conviction of the petitioner under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (for short ‘IPC’) was confirmed, but the sentence therefor, was reduced from 12 years to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment. Notice was issued on 04.03.2022. However, the said order and the subsequent order dated 21.03.2022 would reveal that it was, in truth, a limited one. Leave Granted, accordingly. A short prelude may be profitable for a proper consideration of the limited question (which we intend to go into) viz., whether the appellant is entitled to compensation for being kept in prison beyond the period of sentence and thereby sustained deprival of personal liberty.”

To start with, the Bench while citing the most relevant case law mentions in para 1 that, “While parting with the decision in Rudul Sah’s case Rudul Sah vs. State of Bihar & Anr. (1983) 4 SCC 141, this Court made a fervent hope-

“This order will not preclude the petitioner from bringing a suit to recover appropriate damages from the state and its erring officials. The order of compensation passed by us is, as we said above, in the nature of a palliative. We cannot leave the petitioner penniless until the end of his suit, the many appeals and the execution proceedings. A full-dressed debate on the nice points of fact and law which takes place leisurely in compensation suits will have to await the filing of such a suit by the poor Rudul Sah. The Leviathan will have liberty to raise those points in that suit. Until then, we hope, there will be no more Rudul Sahs in Bihar or elsewhere.” (Emphasis added) That was a case where Rudul Sah, despite being acquitted by the Court of Sessions, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, on 03.06.1968 was released from the jail only on 16.10.1982, idest, more than 14 years since his acquittal. A Habeas Corpus petition was then filed before this Court seeking his release on the ground that his detention in the jail is unlawful. Ancillary reliefs were also sought for. When the said writ petition was taken up on 22.11.1982, the learned counsel for the State of Bihar informed this Court that the appellant was released from the jail. Though the prayer for release from the jail had become infructuous, this Court went on to consider the writ petition in regard to the other reliefs sought for and held that his detention after his acquittal was wholly unjustified. Thereupon, this Court held: “Therefore, the State must repair the damage done by its officers to the petitioner’s rights. It may have recourse against those officers.” It is thereafter that the said writ petition was disposed of in the aforesaid manner and with the fervent hope extracted above.”

As we see, the Bench then acknowledges in para 2 that, “True that the appellant cannot be said to be another Rudul Sah inasmuch as his case never ended in his acquittal, but only in confirmation of conviction with reduction in period of imprisonment. Nonetheless, his case, to be unravelled hereinbelow, would reveal continuance of contumacious act on the part of a State Government (of course, its officials) in keeping a convict in incarceration beyond the period of sentence of imprisonment, unmindful of the final verdict of the Court. Such an act is injudicious and indefensible when his/her continued confinement is uncalled for in connection with any other case. This kind of levity cannot be viewed with laxity and it is time to consider it on the legit. Freedom of movement can be curtailed or taken away by imprisonment or detention ordained after due process of law and in accordance with law. Imprisonment or detention sans sanction of law would violate Article 19(d) as well as the right under Article 21, of the Constitution of India.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 3 that, “In the case on hand the appellant Bhola Kumhar was made to stand the trial for the offence punishable under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (for short, “IPC”) and Sections 3(ii)(v) and 3(1) (xii) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. He was convicted and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of 12 years and to pay a fine of Rs.10,000/- for the conviction for offence punishable under Section 376 IPC. He took up the matter in appeal and in Criminal Appeal No.110/2015 the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur confirmed the conviction, but reduced his sentence of 12 years rigorous imprisonment to 7 years imprisonment. Further, it was ordered to compensate the victim in terms of the provisions under Section 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, by paying Rs.15,000/within a period of six months. The sentence to pay fine of Rs.10,000/- and in default, to undergo imprisonment for one more year was ordered to remain as it is. The orders dated 4.3.2022 and 21.3.2022 passed in the SLP are reflective on the disinclination to interfere with the conviction and the sentence imposed therefor, but indicative of inclination to make a probe on the question as to why the appellant was detained in custody exceeding the period of judicial custody in terms of the judgment of the High Court dated 19.07.2018.”

As it turned out, the Bench then observes in para 4 that, “When the matter came up for consideration on 04.03.2022 , this Court condoned the delay in filing the Special Leave Petition and took note of the submission made by the learned senior counsel appearing for the appellant (in fact, Amicus Curiae) that despite suffering the full sentence in terms of the judgment impugned, the appellant was not released. This Court passed the following order:-

“Learned senior counsel for the petitioner submits that the petitioner was convicted for offence punishable under Section 376 IPC and sentence for 7 years R.I. by the High Court under the impugned judgment dated 19.07.2018 and despite the petitioner has undergone the full sentence in terms of the judgment impugned, still he has not been released and it appears that the Superintendent Central Jail, Ambikapur, Surguja (C.G.) has not updated their jail records as it reveals from the certificate placed on record.

ISSUE NOTICE, RETURNABLE ON 14.03.2022.

Copy of the petition be served additionally to the Standing Counsel for the State of Chhattisgarh.””

Be it noted, the Bench then notes in para 5 that, “On 21.03.2022 this Court passed the following order:-

“The records indicate that the petitioner had undergone 10 years 03 months and 16 days of custody as revealed from the custody certificate dated 09th November, 2021 and the High Court while upholding conviction, reduced the sentence to 07 years rigorous imprisonment (RI).

The submission of the counsel for the petitioner was recorded by this Court on 4th March, 2022 that despite the petitioner has undergone full sentence of 7 years RI in terms of the judgment impugned by the High Court, still he has not been released and after the notice of the present petition came to be served, the concerned authorities have released the petitioner on 16th March, 2022. This may not be the end of the matter. What is being reflected to this Court needs a further probe.

Let the counsel for the State file an affidavit and tender an explanation as to why the petitioner was detained in custody exceeding the period of judicial custody in terms of the judgment impugned of the High Court dated 19th July, 2018. At the same time, the State may also collect the data from all over the State and furnish a report to this Court of such of the incident of which reference has been made in the present petition.

Copy of this order may also be sent to the Secretary, State Legal Services Authority, Chhattisgarh for taking appropriate steps and compliance report.” (Emphasis added).”

To be sure, the Bench then observes in para 6 that, “In compliance with the said order dated 21.03.2022, an affidavit was filed by the Superintendent of Central Jail, Ambikapur, purportedly to explain the reason for detaining the appellant in custody exceeding the period of judicial custody. We find no reason to accept so-called justification and we will explain the raison d’etre for our disinclination and also for our inclination to grant compensation.”

Quite significantly, the Bench points out in para 12 that, “Thus, it is evident that in the State of Chhattisgarh, the Madhya Pradesh Prison Rules, 1968 is in force and thereunder the term ‘sentence’ takes the meaning sentence as finally fixed on appeal, revision or otherwise and it includes an aggregate of more sentences than one and committal to or detention in prison in default of furnishing security to keep the peace or good behaviour. As stated hereinbefore, in the instant case the Court of Special Judge the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Jashpur, which tried the appellant convicted him for the offence punishable under Section 376 IPC and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for 12 years and to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/- and in default of its payment to undergo additional one year rigorous imprisonment. In the appeal, while confirming the conviction, the High Court reduced the sentence to rigorous imprisonment for 07 years under Section 376 IPC and retained the order of payment of fine of Rs.10,000/- as it is. Additionally, it was ordered that the appellant should compensate the victim in terms of the provisions of Section 357 Cr.P.C. by paying Rs.15,000/-. In the aforesaid circumstances, the indisputable position is that the sentence finally fixed on the appellant was 7 years of rigorous imprisonment. It is true that he was also to suffer one more year of imprisonment in default of payment of fine. But, what is disturbing us is the purposeful omission to make any mention about the period of remission to which the appellant was entitled to in the affidavit dated 24.4.2022. This requires to be taken seriously not solely due to the applicability of the afore-mentioned Prison Rules but on account of certain other aspects as well. Whatever be the actual period of remission to which the appellant was entitled to, the factum is that his entitlement to remission is indisputable in the circumstances mentioned above. Going by the custody certificate the period of jail remission as on 9.11.2021 was 2 years, 5 months and 26 days. It is pertinent to note that the deponent of the affidavit dated 24.04.2022 who himself issued the Custody Certificate, did not dispute the entitlement of the appellant for remission. What exactly was the period of imprisonment undergone by the appellant with remission was not mentioned at all in the said affidavit though in the order dated 21.03.2022 this Court recorded that going by the records the appellant had suffered, 10 years, 3 months and 16 days of custody as per the Custody Certificate dated 9th November, 2021. Add to it, even going by the affidavit dated 24.04.2022 the appellant had suffered imprisonment in excess of what was he was to suffer legally. In paragraph 17 of the said affidavit what is stated :

“That the total sentence undergone by the petitioner (excluding the remission period) is 8 years 1 month and 29 days.” (Emphasis added).”

Frankly speaking, the Bench then concedes voluntarily in para 17 that, “We are not oblivious of the fact that the appellant herein was held guilty in a grave offence. But then, when a competent court, upon conviction, sentenced an accused and in appeal, the sentence was modified upon confirmation of the conviction and then the appellate judgment had become final, the convict can be detained only up to the period to which he can be legally detained on the basis of the said appellate judgment. When such a convict is detained beyond the actual release date it would be imprisonment or detention sans sanction of law and would thus, violate not only Article 19(d) but also Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This is what was suffered by the appellant for a very long period. Considering the fact that the appellant is a youth, this long and illegal imprisonment beyond the period of sentence, taking into account the long and illegal deprivation of the right to move freely and thereby, the violation of right under Article 19 (d) of the Constitution of India, the violation of right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and the mental agony and pain caused due to such extra, illegal detention, we are of the view that the appellant is entitled to be compensated in terms of money.”

Most remarkably, the Bench then deems it apposite to hold in para 18 that, “We are aware that the present proceeding is not one under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. It is one under Article 136 of the Constitution. We are of the view that reference to Section 386 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (for short ‘Cr.P.C.’) would be apposite. Clause (a) thereof, deals with appellate powers available in an appeal from an order of acquittal whereas clause (b) deals with appellate power in an appeal from conviction. Clause (c) deals with the appellate power in appeal for enhancement of sentence and clause (d) deals with the appellate power in an appeal from any other order. Now, clause (e), unlike clause (a) to (d), does not say as to what particular nature of appeal that the power to make any amendment or any consequential or incidental order that may be just or proper may be passed in invocation of the power thereunder. The conclusion that can be reached in the absence of such specific mention is that the power specified under clause (e) would be available, of course in appropriate cases falling under any of the four categories of appeals mentioned under clauses (a) to (d). Our view is fortified by the fact that the twin provisos under clause (d) carry restrictions in the matter of exercise of power under clause (e), with respect to enhancement of sentence and infliction of punishment. According to us, the power thereunder can be exercised only in rare cases. In this case, we found that the appellant was kept illegally in prison far in excess of the legally permissible period of incarceration despite coming to know about the appellate judgment of the High Court dated 19.07.2018. As noted above, he was released only on 16.03.2022, which is much beyond the permissible period of sentence in terms of the said judgment dated 19.07.2018. In other words, he served out the period of permissible period of imprisonment on the basis of the judgment dated 19.07.2018. The appellant is a youth and he suffered long and illegal deprivation of fundamental rights besides the mental agony and pain on account of such extra, illegal detention. Is it not a case inviting a consequential or incidental order that may be just or proper. In the decision of Ambica Quarry Works Vs. State of Gujarat (AIR 1987 SC 1073), this court held that ‘all interpretations must subserve and help implementation of the intention of the Act’. This possession is applicable while interpreting any provision in any statute especially when the power under that provision is conferred to pass orders that may be just or proper.”

Finally and far most significantly, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 19 that, “It is also apposite to refer to the decision of this court in A.R. Antulay V. R.S. Nayak [(1988) 2 SCC 602] in the context of this case. Going by the same this Court can grant appropriate relief when there is some manifest illegality or where some palpable injustice is shown to have resulted. Such a power, going by the decision, can be traced either to Article 142 of the Constitution of India or powers inherent as guardian of the Constitution. Without making any observation as to his civil remedy, we think it only just and proper to pass an order granting compensation to the tune of Rs.7.5 Lakhs (Rupees Seven Lakhs and Fifty Thousand) to be paid by the State holding that it is vicariously liable for the act/omission committed by its officers in the course of employment. We also make it clear that while holding the State vicariously liable as above the State must have recourse against the erred officer(s). The appeal is disposed of in the above terms. Pending applications, if any, stand disposed of.”

Of course, this most commendable judgment by the top court deserves to be emulated by all the courts in similar such cases without fail. There has to be zero tolerance absolutely for illegal detention. If this is not ensured strictly then we will see the State and police violating the legal rights of the convict, the accused and the undertrials with impunity which cannot be allowed somehow to go unhindered, unchecked, unaccounted and unpunished at any cost and under any circumstances!

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Policy&Politics

India, Brazil, South Africa to press for labour & social issues, sustainability

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The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment.

India, on Thursday, joined the G20’s two-day 2nd Employment Working Group (EWG) meeting under the Brazilian Presidency which is all set to address labour, employment and social issues for strong, sustainable, balanced and job-rich growth for all. India is co-chairing the 2nd EWG meeting, along with Brazil and South Africa, and is represented by Sumita Dawra, Secretary, Labour & Employment.

The Indian delegation also comprises Rupesh Kumar Thakur, Joint Secretary, and Rakesh Gaur, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Labour & Employment. India has pointed out that the priority areas of the 2nd EWG at Brasilia align with the priority areas and outcomes of previous G20 presidencies including Indian presidency, and commended the continuity in the multi-year agenda to create lasting positive change in the world of work. This not only sustains but also elevates the work initiated by the EWG during the Indian Presidency.

The focus areas for the 2nd EWG meeting are — creating quality employment and promoting decent labour, addressing a just transition amidst digital and energy transformations, leveraging technologies to enhance the quality of life for al and the emphasis on gender equity and promoting diversity in the world of employment for inclusivity, driving innovation and growth. On the first day of the meeting, deliberations were held on the over-arching theme of promotion of gender equality and promoting diversity in the workplace.

The Indian delegation emphasized the need for creating inclusive environments by ensuring equal representation and empowerment for all, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. To increase female labour force participation, India has enacted occupational safety health and working conditions code, 2020 which entitles women to be employed in all establishments for all types of work with their consent at night time. This provision has already been implemented in underground mines.

In 2017, the Government amended the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which increased the ‘maternity leave with pay protection’ from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for all women working in establishments employing 10 or more workers. This is expected to reduce the motherhood pay gap among the working mothers. To aid migrant workers, India’s innovative policy ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ allows migrants to access their entitled food grains from anywhere in the Public Distribution System network in the country.

A landmark step in fostering inclusion in the workforce is the e-Shram portal, launched to create a national database of unorganized workers, especially migrant and construction workers. This initiative, providing the e-Shram card, enables access to benefits under various social security schemes.

The portal allows an unorganized worker to register himself or herself on the portal on self-declaration basis, under 400 occupations in 30 broad occupation sectors. More than 290 million unorganized workers have been registered on this portal so far.

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Policy&Politics

India to spend USD 3.7 billion to fence Myanmar border

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India plans to spend nearly $3.7 billion to fence its 1,610-km (1,000-mile) porous border with Myanmar within about a decade, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter, to prevent smuggling and other illegal activities. New Delhi said earlier this year it would fence the border and end a decades-old visa-free movement policy with coup-hit Myanmar for border citizens for reasons of national security and to maintain the demographic structure of its northeastern region.

A government committee earlier this month approved the cost for the fencing, which needs to be approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, said the source who declined to be named as they were not authorised to talk to the media. The prime minister’s office and the ministries of home, finance, foreign affairs and information and broadcasting did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Myanmar has so far not commented on India’s fencing plans. Since a military coup in Myanmar in 2021, thousands of civilians and hundreds of troops have fled from there to Indian states where people on both sides share ethnic and familial ties. This has worried New Delhi because of risk of communal tensions spreading to India. Some members of the Indian government have also blamed the porous border for abetting the tense situation in the restive north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, abutting Myanmar.

For nearly a year, Manipur has been engulfed by a civil war-like situation between two ethnic groups, one of which shares lineage with Myanmar’s Chin tribe. The committee of senior Indian officials also agreed to build parallel roads along the fence and 1,700 km (1,050 miles) of feeder roads connecting military bases to the border, the source said.

The fence and the adjoining road will cost nearly 125 million rupees per km, more than double that of the 55 million per km cost for the border fence with Bangladesh built in 2020, the source said, because of the difficult hilly terrain and the use of technology to prevent intrusion and corrosion.

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Policy&Politics

ONLY 2-3% RECOVERED FROM $2-3 TN ANNUAL ILLEGAL TRADE THROUGH BANKING: INTERPOL

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However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity.

In a press briefing held on Wednesday, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock unveiled alarming statistics regarding the extent of undetected money laundering and illegal trade transactions plaguing the global banking network. Stock revealed that over 96% of the money transacted through this network remains undetected, with only 2-3% of the estimated USD 2-3 trillion from illegal trade being tracked and returned to victims.

Interpol, working in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and private financial sectors across its 196 member countries, is committed to combating the rising tide of fraud perpetrated by illicit traders. These criminal activities encompass a wide spectrum, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms dealing, and the illicit movement of financial assets.

Stock emphasized the urgent need to establish mechanisms for monitoring transactions within the global banking network. Currently, efforts are underway to engage banking associations worldwide in setting up such a framework. However, Stock highlighted the enormity of the challenge, noting that between 40% and 70% of criminal profits are reinvested, perpetuating the cycle of illicit financial activity. The lack of real-time information sharing poses a significant obstacle to law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat money laundering and illegal trade.

Stock underscored the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in exacerbating this problem, citing its use in voice cloning and other fraudulent activities. Criminal organizations are leveraging AI technologies to expand their operations and evade detection on a global scale. Stock emphasized the importance of enhanced cooperation between law enforcement agencies and private sector banking groups. Realtime information sharing is crucial in the fight against illegal wealth accumulation.

Drawing inspiration from initiatives such as the “Singapore Anti-Scam Centre,” Stock called for the adoption of similar models in other countries to strengthen the collective response to financial crimes. In conclusion, Stock’s revelations underscore the pressing need for concerted action to combat global financial crimes. Enhanced cooperation between public and private sectors, coupled with innovative strategies for monitoring and combating illicit transactions, is essential to safeguarding the integrity of the global financial system.

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Policy&Politics

FM defends Atal Pension Scheme, highlights guaranteed returns

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism, asserting its design based on choice architecture and a guaranteed minimum 8% return. She emphasized the scheme’s opt-out feature, facilitating automatic premium continuation unless subscribers choose otherwise, promoting retirement savings. Sitharaman countered Congress allegations of coercion, stating the APY’s guaranteed returns irrespective of market conditions, supplemented by government subsidies.

Responding to Congress’s claim of scheme misuse, Sitharaman highlighted its intended beneficiaries – the lower-income groups. She criticized Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and emphasized the scheme’s success in targeting the needy. Sitharaman accused Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the APY’s transparent framework. The exchange underscores the political debate surrounding social welfare schemes, with the government defending its approach while opposition parties raise concerns about implementation and efficacy.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s robust defense of the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) against Congress criticism highlights the ongoing debate over social welfare schemes in India. Sitharaman’s assertion of the APY’s design principles, including its opt-out feature and guaranteed minimum return, underscores the government’s commitment to promoting retirement savings among lower-income groups. The Atal Pension Yojana, named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was launched in 2015 to provide pension benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. It aims to address the significant gap in pension coverage among India’s workforce, particularly those employed in informal and low-income sectors. The scheme offers subscribers fixed pension amounts ranging from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 5,000 per month, depending on their contribution and age at entry, after attaining the age of 60. Sitharaman’s response comes after Congress criticism alleging the APY’s inefficacy and coercive tactics in enrolment.

Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh described the scheme as poorly designed, citing instances of subscribers dropping out due to unauthorized account openings. However, Sitharaman refuted these claims, emphasizing the APY’s transparent and beneficiary-oriented approach. The finance minister’s defense focuses on three key aspects of the APY: Choice Architecture: Sitharaman highlights the opt-out feature of the APY, which automatically continues premium payments unless subscribers choose to discontinue.

This design element aims to encourage long-term participation and ensure consistent retirement savings among subscribers. By simplifying the decision-making process, the scheme seeks to overcome inertia and promote financial discipline among participants. Guaranteed Minimum Return: Sitharaman underscores the APY’s guarantee of a minimum 8% return, irrespective of prevailing interest rates. This assurance provides subscribers with confidence in the scheme’s financial viability and incentivizes long-term savings.

The government’s commitment to subsidizing any shortfall in actual returns further strengthens the attractiveness of the APY as a retirement planning tool. Targeting the Needy: Sitharaman defends the predominance of pension accounts in lower income slabs, arguing that it reflects the scheme’s successful targeting of its intended beneficiaries – the poor and lower-middle class. She criticizes Congress for its alleged elitist mindset and suggests that the party’s opposition to welfare schemes like the APY stems from a disconnect with the needs of marginalized communities. Sitharaman’s rebuttal also addresses broader political narratives surrounding social welfare policies in India.

She accuses Congress of exploiting vote bank politics and coercive tactics, contrasting it with the transparent and inclusive framework of the APY. The exchange underscores the ideological differences between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress, with each side advocating for their vision of social welfare and economic development. In addition to defending the APY, Sitharaman’s remarks shed light on the broader challenges and opportunities facing India’s pension sector.

Despite significant progress in expanding pension coverage through schemes like the APY, the country still grapples with issues such as financial literacy, informal employment, and pension portability. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving government intervention, private sector participation, and civil society engagement.

As India strives to achieve its vision of inclusive and sustainable development, initiatives like the APY play a crucial role in promoting economic security and social equity. Sitharaman’s defense of the scheme underscores the government’s commitment to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations and ensuring their financial well-being in the long run.

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Economic

Regulatory steps will make financial sector strong, but raise cost of capital

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India’s financial system regulator, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), is demonstrating a serious commitment to improving governance and transparency at finance companies and banks, with the RBI’s recent measures aimed at curtailing lenders’ overexuberance, enhancing compliance culture and safeguarding customers.

While the global ratings firm has appreciated the RBI’s “diminishing tolerance for non-compliance, customer complaints, data privacy, governance, know-your-customer (KYC), and anti-money laundering issues”, it has cautioned that increased regulatory risk could impede growth and raise the cost of capital for financial institutions. “Governance and transparency are key weaknesses for the Indian financial sector and weigh on our analysis. The RBI’s new measures are creating a more robust and transparent financial system,” says S&P Global Credit Analyst, Geeta Chugh. “India’s regulator has underscored its commitment to strengthening the financial sector. The drawback will be higher capital costs for institutions,” Chugh cautions.

The RBI measures include restraining IIFL Finance and JM Financial Products from disbursing gold loan and loans against shares respectively and asking Paytm Payments Bank (PPBL) to stop onboarding of new customers. Earlier in December 2020, the RBI suspended HDFC Bank from sourcing new credit card customers after repeated technological outages. These actions are a departure from the historically nominal financial penalties imposed for breaches, S&P Global notes.

Besides, as the global agency points out, the RBI has decided to publicly disclose the key issues that lead to suspensions or other strict actions against concerned entities and become more vocal in calling out conduct that it deems detrimental to the interests of customers and investors. “We believe that increased transparency will create additional pressure on the entire financial sector to enhance compliance and governance practices,” adds Chugh. The global agency has also lauded the RBI’s recent actions demonstrating scant tolerance for any potential window-dressing of accounts.

These actions include the provisioning requirement on alternative investment funds that lend to the same borrower as the bank finance company. Amidst the possibility of some retail loans, such as personal loans, loans against property, and gold loans getting diverted to invest in stock markets and difficulty of ascertaining the end-use of money in these products, S&P Global underlines the faith of market participants that the RBI and market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, want to protect small investors by scrutinizing these activities more cautiously.

On the flip side, at a time of tight liquidity, the RBI’s new measures are likely to limit credit growth in fiscal 2025 (year ending March 2025). “We expect loan growth to decline to 14 per cent in fiscal 2025 from 16 per cent in fiscal 2024, reflecting the cumulative impact of all these actions,” says Chugh. The other side of the story is that stricter rules may disrupt affected entities and increase caution among fintechs and other regulated entities and the RBI’s decision to raise risk weights on unsecured personal loans and credit cards may constrain growth. Household debt to GDP in India (excluding agriculture and small and midsize enterprises) increased to an estimated 24 per cent in March 2024 from 19 per cent in March 2019. Growth in unsecured loans has also been excessive and now forms close to 10 per cent of total banking sector loans.

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Policy&Politics

Penalty provisions for dissemination of deepfakes can create deterrent effect: CUTS

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A senior official from the global think tank CUTS International has emphasized the significance of penalty provisions in deterring the creation and spread of deepfakes and misinformation. Amol Kulkarni, Director of Research at CUTS International, highlighted the need for technological interventions to curb the misuse of AI-generated content.

CUTS International, Director, Research, Amol Kulkarni told the media that internet users would require adequate opportunities to verify the genuineness of content and it becomes important during the election season while the role of credible fact-checkers and trusted flaggers becomes crucial. He said that while the government advisory on March 15 removes permission requirements, it continues to rely on information disclosures to users for making the right choices on the Internet.

“Though transparency is good, information overload and ‘popups’ across user journeys may reduce their quality of experience. There is a need to balance the information requirements, with other implementable technological and accountability solutions which can address the problem of deepfakes and misinformation,” Kulkarni said. After a controversy over a response of Google’s AI platform to queries related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government on 1 March issued an advisory for social media and other platforms to label undertrial AI models and prevent hosting unlawful content. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in the advisory issued to intermediaries and platforms warned of criminal action in case of non-compliance. The previous advisory has asked the entities to seek approval from the government for deploying under trial or unreliable artificial intelligence (AI) models and deploy them only after labelling them of “possible and inherent fallibility or unreliability of the output generated”.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT on March 15 issued a revised advisory on the use and rollout of AI-generated content. The IT ministry removed the need for government approval for untested and under-development AI models but emphasised the need for labelling AI-generated content and information to users about the possible inherent fallibility and unreliability of the output generated.

Kulkarni said that addressing the issue of deepfakes and misinformation will require clarifying the responsibility of all stakeholders in the internet ecosystem: developers, uploaders, disseminators, platforms and consumers of content. “Penalty provisions for the development and dissemination of harmful deepfakes and misinformation could also create a deterrent effect. Technological solutions to tag potentially harmful content and shifting the burden on developers and disseminators to justify the use of such content could also be designed,” he said.

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