Police Atrocities: Gujarat HC Urges State To Install CCTV Cameras And Follow D.K. Basu Guidelines - Business Guardian
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Police Atrocities: Gujarat HC Urges State To Install CCTV Cameras And Follow D.K. Basu Guidelines

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While according paramount importance to the human rights of prisoners and so also taking a serious note of the increasing incidents of human right violations of prisoners, the Gujarat High Court has in a recent, remarkable, robust, refreshing and rational judgment titled Vasaya Yunusali Alarakhabhai Vs State of Gujarat in R/Special Criminal Application No. 1615 of 2022 and delivered as recently as on May 5, 2022 has recommended that the State government take initiatives to implement the guidelines issued by the Apex Court in the landmark case of DK Basu v. State of West Bengal and to install CCTV cameras with night vision and maintain their records for 6 months to deal with police atrocities in the region. A Bench comprising of Justice Sonia Gokani and Justice Mauna Bhatt was hearing a habeas corpus petition involving an inter-religious couple when it came down heavily on the Gujarat police and directed the concerned authorities to intimate all police stations about the guidelines issued in the Paramvir Singh Saini case [Paramvir Singh Saini vs Baljit Singh and others (2021) 1 SCC 184]. The Bench said that, “We expect the State to complete the task of installing the new gadgets and also follow the directions of the Apex Court as earliest possible”.

To start with, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Hon’ble Ms Justice Sonia Gokani for a Bench of Gujarat High Court comprising of herself and Hon’ble Mrs Justice Mauna M Bhatt first and foremost puts forth in para 1 that, “This Court on 08.02.2022 in this petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India issued the notice by passing the following order:

“1. The petitioner is a father of one of the persons (corpus) who is alleged to have been illegally detained by the respondent no.2. The prayers sought for in this petition is as follows: –

“(A) Your Lordships may kindly be pleased to admit and allow the present petition;

(B) Your Lordships may kindly be pleased to issue a writ of habeas Corpus and / or any other appropriate writ, order or direction directing the Respondent No. 2 to produce the Corpuses namely ‘Vasaya Nadeem Yunusali’ and girl namely ‘Kukreja Jayaben Hareshkumar’ before this Honorable Court, the custody of the Corpuses be handed over to the Petitioner in the interest oat her parental home and moreover, it was an absolutely illegal act on the part of the respondent no.2.

(C) Pending admission, hearing and final disposal of this Petition, Your Lordships may kindly be pleased to direct the Respondent No. 2 to produce Corpus namely namely ‘Vasaya Nadeem Yunusali’ and girl namely ‘Kukreja Jayaben Hareshkumar’ before this Honorable Court in the interest of justice;

(D) Your Lordship may kindly be pleased to grant such other and further relief(s) as may deed just and proper in the facts and circumstances of the case.”

2. It appears that both, the son of the petitioner and the girl – Jaya had intended to marry each other. This being interreligious/interfaith marriage, the notice of intended marriage was issued under Section 5 addressed to the marriage officer for Bhavnagar District on 14.12.2021. Before the same could be actually performed, on completion of 30 days period, it is alleged that they both were illegally taken away by the respondent no.2. Some of the family members had been beaten up badly. The photographs of which are forming part of the petition. The medical report dated 18.12.2021 also reflects the names of those persons who have allegedly beaten up the family members.

3. Learned advocate Ms. Laksha Bhavnani appearing with learned advocate Ms. Setu Joshi for the petitioner has urged that once the respondent came to know of this petition of habeas corpus, they have chosen to release both the corpora. However, the marriage has not taken place as the girl is sent at her parental home and moreover, it was an absolutely illegal act on the part of the respondent no.2.

4. Issue Notice returnable on 11.02.2022. Learned Additional Public Prosecutor waives service of notice for and on behalf of the respondent authorities.

5. Learned APP shall gather the details and shall file an affidavit of the respondent no.2 which shall be also vetted by the Superintendent of Police, Bhavnagar.

6. The girl has been allegedly forcibly sent to her residence. The Superintendent of Police, Bhavnagar shall ensure her production before this Court through video conference from the District Legal Services Authority, Bhavnagar in presence of the Chair Person, District Legal Services Authority, Bhavnagar at 1:30 p.m. on 11.02.2022. The Superintendent of Police, Bhavnagar also shall remain present on that day.””

Quite significantly, the Bench observes in para 7 that, “The guidelines of 09.07.2018 issued from the Office of Director General and Inspector General of Police gives the detailed modality of working of the RMS as in all police stations the CCTV camera system are installed for preventing the incident of custodial violence, non registration of First Information Report as also the violation of human rights etc. following the decision of the Apex Court rendered in case of D.K.Basu vs. State of West Bengal & others, reported in (2015) 8 SCC 744 and thereafter reiterated in Criminal Miscellaneous Petition No.16086 of 1997 r/w Criminal Miscellaneous Petition No. 19694 of 2010 on 02.09.2015. For enhancing the quality of services rendered by the police and for the use of technology these guidelines have been formulated.

7.1 It mandates maintaining of Dead Stock Register in all offices of Superintendent of Police with the District level. The Superintendent of Police or the Police Commissioner is expected to monitor at least once in a week through the RMS, the CCTV Camera System and the video footage. All the gadgets of their RMS shall need to be maintained by a Wireless Sub Inspector after giving him the training in this respect. It also mandates the preservation of the video footage of CCTV camera for 30 days’ period. There are many complaints for the use and maintenance of this CCTV Camera System and it has been mandated that the strictest actions be taken if some police personnel or the officers continue to do the objectionable activities.

7.2 The detailed guidelines further says as to in what manner the misbehavior or the unpalatable actions with the citizens should be checked.”

Be it noted, the Bench then envisages in para 8 that, “This very clearly gives the indications as to how for the Gujarat Police office of DG & IG has been vigilantly directing every police station to follow the use and maintenance of the CCTV footage. It has also further detailed the manner in which the Head of the District to monitor the CCTV footage every week at least in one case and thereafter, to take necessary actions as directed in the very guidelines. However, from the affidavit which has been filed by the Secretary, Home Department, it is quite clear that there are various levels of redressing the different kind of grievances for the complaints, but there is no specific guideline issued to intimate the District Police Head when there are complaints regarding the police harassment in the District. There is no specific direction for the senior police officer or the Superintendent of Police to be intimated of such harassment. Every police station is equipped with this technology and the advancement of this technology is for the succor of the citizen.”

Most remarkably, the Bench then enunciates in para 9 that, “We need to also make a reference of the decision of the Apex Court rendered in case of PARAMVIR SINGH SAINI VS. BALJIT SINGH AND OTHERS, reported in (2021) 1 SCC 184 where the question was of installation of CCTV cameras in police stations and credible recording of evidence and safeguarding the human rights inside the police stations. The Apex Court vide its order dated 03.04.2018 directed that the Central Oversight Body (referred to as COB) to be set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs to implement the plan of action with respect to the use of videograph in the crime scene during the investigation.

9.1 The Apex Court also referred to the decision issued in case of D.K.Basu (supra) to hold that there was a need for further directions that in every State an oversight mechanism be created whereby the independent committee can study the CCTV camera footage and periodically publish a report of its observations thereon. The COB also may issue the appropriate direction from time to time so as to ensure that use of videography becomes a reality in a phased manner. It had also given the constitution of the District Level Oversight Committee and eventually enlisted the duties and the responsibilities for working maintenance and recording of CCTV.

9.2 Apt would be to refer to the guidelines and the mandate given by the Apex Court in this regard.

“14. The duty and responsibility for the working, maintenance and recording of CCTVs shall be that of the SHO of the police station concerned. It shall be the duty and obligation of the SHO to 7 immediately report to the DLOC any fault with the equipment or malfunctioning of CCTVs. If the CCTVs are not functioning in a particular police station, the concerned SHO shall inform the DLOC of the arrest / interrogations carried out in that police station during the said period and forward the said record to the DLOC. If the concerned SHO has reported malfunctioning or non-functioning of CCTVs of a particular Police Station, the DLOC shall immediately request the SLOC for repair and purchase of the equipment, which shall be done immediately.

15. The Director General/Inspector General of Police of each State and Union Territory should issue directions to the person in charge of a Police Station to entrust the SHO of the concerned Police Station with the responsibility of assessing the working condition of the CCTV cameras installed in the police station and also to take corrective action to restore the functioning of all non-functional CCTV cameras. The SHO should also be made responsible for CCTV data maintenance, backup of data, fault rectification etc.

16. The State and Union Territory Governments should ensure that CCTV cameras are installed in each and every Police Station functioning in the respective State and/or Union Territory. Further, in order to ensure that no part of a Police Station is left uncovered, it is imperative to ensure that CCTV cameras are installed at all entry and exit points; 8 main gate of the police station; all lock-ups; all corridors; lobby/the reception area; all verandas/outhouses, Inspector’s room; Sub-Inspector’s room; areas outside the lock-up room; station hall; in front of the police station compound; outside (not inside) washrooms/toilets; Duty Officer’s room; back part of the police station etc.

17. CCTV systems that have to be installed must be equipped with night vision and must necessarily consist of audio as well as video footage. In areas in which there is either no electricity and/or internet, it shall be the duty of the States/Union Territories to provide the same as expeditiously as possible using any mode of providing electricity, including solar/wind power. The internet systems that are provided must also be systems which provide clear image resolutions and audio. Most important of all is the storage of CCTV camera footage which can be done in digital video recorders and/or network video recorders. CCTV cameras must then be installed with such recording systems so that the data that is stored thereon shall be preserved for a period of 18 months. If the recording equipment, available in the market today, does not have the capacity to keep the recording for 18 months but for a lesser period of time, it shall be mandatory for all States, Union Territories and the Central Government to purchase one which allows storage for the maximum period possible, and, in 9 any case, not below 1 year. It is also made clear that this will be reviewed by all the States so as to purchase equipment which is able to store the data for 18 months as soon as it is commercially available in the market. The affidavit of compliance to be filed by all States and Union Territories and Central Government shall clearly indicate that the best equipment available as of date has been purchased.

18. Whenever there is information of force being used at police stations resulting in serious injury and/or custodial deaths, it is necessary that persons be free to complain for a redressal of the same. Such complaints may not only be made to the State Human Rights Commission, which is then to utilise its powers, more particularly under Sections 17 and 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, for redressal of such complaints, but also to Human Rights Courts, which must then be set up in each District of every State/Union Territory under Section 30 of the aforesaid Act. The Commission/Court can then immediately summon CCTV camera footage in relation to the incident for its safe keeping, which may then be made available to an investigation agency in order to further process the complaint made to it.

19. The Union of India is also to file an affidavit in which it will update this Court on the constitution and workings of the Central Oversight Body, giving full particulars thereof. In addition, the Union of India is also 10 directed to install CCTV cameras and recording equipment in the offices of:

(i) Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

(ii) National Investigation Agency (NIA)

(iii) Enforcement Directorate (ED)

(iv) Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB)

(v) Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI)

(vi) Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO)

(vii) Any other agency which carries out interrogations and has the power of arrest.

As most of these agencies carry out interrogation in their office(s), CCTVs shall be compulsorily installed in all offices where such interrogation and holding of accused takes place in the same manner as it would in a police station. The COB shall perform the same function as the SLOC for the offices of investigative/enforcement agencies mentioned above both in Delhi and outside Delhi wherever they be located.

20. The SLOC and the COB (where applicable) shall give directions to all Police Stations, investigative/enforcement agencies to prominently display at the entrance and inside the police stations/ offices of investigative/enforcement agencies about the coverage of the concerned premises by CCTV. This shall be done by large posters in English, Hindi and vernacular language. In addition to the above, it shall be clearly mentioned therein that a person has a right to complain about human rights violations to the National/State Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Court or the Superintendent of Police or any other authority empowered to take cognizance of an offence. It shall further mention that CCTV footage is preserved for a certain minimum time period, which shall not be less than six months, and the victim has a right to have the same secured in the event of violation of his human rights.

21. Since these directions are in furtherance of the fundamental rights of each citizen of India guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and since nothing substantial has been done in this regard for a period of over 2½ years since our first Order dated 03.04.2018, the Executive/Administrative/police authorities are to implement this Order both in letter and in spirit as soon as possible. Affidavits will be filed by the Principal Secretary/Cabinet Secretary/Home Secretary of each State/ Union Territory giving this Court a firm action plan with exact timelines for compliance with today’s Order. This is to be done within a period of six weeks from today.

22. We record our gratitude to Shri Siddhartha Dave, learned Amicus Curiae, for rendering his services to this Court.”

9.3 This dictum insists on the CCTV system to be installed with night vision and to consist of audio and video footage both. The Apex Court has also asked for the requirement of the CCTV footage to be preserved for a period of six months and a firm action plan to be submitted within six weeks.”

For clarity, the Bench then adds in para 10 that, “This in addition to what has been already directed by way of guidelines in the year 2018 by the office of Director General and Inspector General of Police will take care of the maintenance of the CCTV cameras.”

Simply put, the Bench then states in para 11 that, “According to the learned APP, Ms.Jhaveri, for fulfilling the directions of the Apex Court, the mechanism is already underway. She has taken the instructions to ensure this Court that pursuant to this mandate and the guidelines issued by the Apex Court, the process is on and it is soon to be completed. Therefore, no further directions in respect of this will be additionally needed till the new system is purchased and installed.”

In addition, the Bench clarifies in para 12 that, “Let the other guidelines which have been directed by the Apex Court, if are not otherwise presently hampered by the technological limitations be followed. All police stations should be intimated the guidelines issued in case of PARAMVIR SINGH SAINI (supra).”

Without mincing any words, the Bench then directs in para 13 that, “According to us, any incident of the alleged atrocities or involvement of the police officers in violation of mandatory guidelines shall at least be intimated to the Head of the District, i.e. to the Superintendent of Police or the Police Commissioner, as the case may be. Let a specific guidelines in that respect also be initiated. It is one thing for the Superintendent of Police himself to find out from the CCTV camera footage the misbehavior or the misconduct and it is another thing when he, as the District Head, is made aware of such complaints and registered. Let that be worked out by the Home Department.”

What’s more, the Bench then observes in para 14 that, “We have noticed that, in the instant case, the matter is pending before the District Court and therefore, we chose not to presently intervene. After once the District Court finalise the matter, it will be for the petitioner to also take an appropriate remedy in respect of his personal complaint. None of these observations or the limitation of the technology will in any manner hamper his right to approach the appropriate authorities.”

Most commendably, the Bench then rightly holds in para 15 that, “We expect the State to complete the task of installing the new gadgets and also follow the directions of the Apex Court as earliest possible.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 16 that, “Present petition stands disposed of accordingly.”

No doubt, what the Gujarat High Court has directed so very commendably in this notable judgment must be implemented forthwith by the State. CCTV cameras must be installed in police stations and so also all other steps must be taken as we have already discussed herein aforesaid. No denying!

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate

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Policy&Politics

Govt extends date for submission of R&D proposals

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The Government has extended the deadline for submission of proposals related to R&D scheme under the National Green Hydrogen Mission. The R&D scheme seeks to make the production, storage, transportation and utilisation of green hydrogen more affordable. It also aims to improve the efficiency, safety and reliability of the relevant processes and technologies involved in the green hydrogen value chain. Subsequent to the issue of the guidelines, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy issued a call for proposals on 16 March, 2024.

While the Call for Proposals is receiving encouraging response, some stakeholders have requested more time for submission of R&D proposals. In view of such requests and to allow sufficient time to the institutions for submitting good-quality proposals, the Ministry has extended the deadline for submission of proposals to 27th April, 2024.

The scheme also aims to foster partnerships among industry, academia and government in order to establish an innovation ecosystem for green hydrogen technologies. The scheme will also help the scaling up and commercialisation of green hydrogen technologies by providing the necessary policy and regulatory support.

The R&D scheme will be implemented with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 400 crore till the financial year 2025-26. The support under the R&D programme includes all components of the green hydrogen value chain, namely, production, storage, compression, transportation, and utilisation.

The R&D projects supported under the mission will be goal-oriented, time bound, and suitable to be scaled up. In addition to industrial and institutional research, innovative MSMEs and start-ups working on indigenous technology development will also be encouraged under the Scheme.

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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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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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