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SC seeks Centre’s reply on fresh pleas against CAA

It is most heartening to note that none other than the Supreme Court itself has in a learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Abhishek Singh Chauhan vs Union of India in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 40/2022 and cited in 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 608 that was finally delivered on July 13, 2022 directed State-wise clubbing of the FIRs that were filed against an accused in different states. The key point of this judgment as stated in the very outset of this learned judgment is that, “FIRs lodged against accused under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code (Section 420 IPC etc) and other State enactments in various states – Directs clubbing of all the FIRs State-wise, which can proceed together for one trial as far as possible – Multiplicity of the proceedings will not be in the larger public interest. Referred to: Amish Devgan vs. Union of India (2021) 1 SCC 1.”

At the outset, this brief, brilliant, balanced and bold judgment authored by a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice JB Pardiwala sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in the opening para of this notable judgment that, “In this writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, the principal relief claimed by the petitioner is regarding clubbing of all the FIRs registered in different States and for grant of bail respectively. The details of said FIRs are as follow: –



1. RC/40/S/2014 5.6.2015 S. 420, 120B & 34 IPC S. 4, 5 & 6 prize chits and money circulation schemes (Banning Act, 1978) CBI/SCB/SIT Kolkata


2. 338/2018 12.09.2018 S. 420, 406, 120-B IPC Pindwara, Sirohi


3. 552/2016 15.04.2016 S. 420, 409 IPC S. 3 & 4 of The Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (in Financial Establishments) Act, 1999 Ramnagar, Chandrapur

4. 533/2017 29.07.2017 S. 420, 504, 506, 34 IPC Nahol, Sholapur

5. 467/2017 08.08.2017 S. 3 & 4 of The Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors Sholapur ( in Financial Establishments) Act, 1999 Bijapur Naka,


6. 915/2016 09.11.2016 S. 420, 409, 120B & 34 IPC S. 6 Madhya Pradesh Investor Protection Act, 2000 Kotwali, Sehore

7. 51/2017 08.2.2017 S. 420, 409, 120B & 34 IPC S. 6 Madhya Pradesh Investor Protection Act, 2000 Byawara Rural, Rajgarh

8. 03/2017 08.03.2017 S. 420, 409, 120B & 34 IPC S. 6 Madhya Pradesh Investor Protection Act, 2000 EOW, Bhopal


9. 146/2017 04.04.2017 S. 120B, 420 &34 IPC The Chhattisgarh Protection of Depositors Interest Act, 2005 Surajpur.”

10. 127/2017 10.04.2017 S. 420 & 34 IPC The Chhattisgarh Protection of Depositors Interest Act, 2005 Kanker

11. 240/2017 16.04.2017 S. 420 IPC Bemetara

12. 161/2017 21.04.2017 S. 420 IPC Baloda, Baloda Bazar

13. 176/2017 02.05.2017 S. 420 IPC Tila Nebra, Raipur

14. 591/2019 06.08.2019 S. 420 & 34 IPC Raigarh Kotwali, Raigarh

15. 79/2019 10.08.2019 S. 420 IPC Geedam, Dantewada.

As things stand, the Bench then points out in the next para of this judgment that, “It is noticed that the crime registered in the State of West Bengal has been investigated by C.B.I. and chargesheet has also been filed in connection with the said case. We are also informed by the learned Additional Solicitor General that the trial has also commenced in that case. As a result, no direction can be issued for clubbing of other cases with the said case being investigated by the special Investigating Agency i.e., C.B.I.”

Furthermore, the Bench then discloses in the next para of this learned judgment that, “As regards crimes registered against the petitioner in the State of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in each of these States, the trial will proceed before the Special Court under the special enactment, namely, Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (in Financial Establishments) Act, 1999, Madhya Pradesh Investor Protection Act, 2000 and Chhattisgarh Protection of Depositors Interest Act, 2005 respectively.”

Quite frankly, the Bench then deems it apposite to note in the next para of this robust judgment that, “The cases in the concerned States, to be tried by the Special Court can be conveniently clubbed, for being tried together as has been directed in the case of Radhey Shyam vs. State of Haryana & Writ Petition (Crl.) No.75/2020 vide Order dated 12.05.2022.”

Most significantly and also most remarkably, the Bench then minces no words to hold forthright in the next para of this learned judgment that, “Following the exposition of this Court in Amish Devgan vs. Union of India & Ors. (2021) 1 SCC 1, we deem it appropriate in exercise of power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India, to direct clubbing of all the FIRs State-wise, which can proceed together for one trial as far as possible, as we are of the opinion that multiplicity of the proceedings will not be in the larger public interest. We may hasten to add that the concerned States have no objection for abiding with such dispensation.”

To put it differently, the Bench then observes in the next para that, “In other words, the offence registered in the State of West Bengal being RC/40/S/2014 dated 05.06.2015 registered with CBI/SCB/SIT, Kolkata, will proceed before the concerned Court in the State of West Bengal independently. Similarly, the FIR registered at Pindwara, Sirohi, State of Rajasthan being FIR No. 338/2018 dated 12.09.2018 shall proceed before the concerned jurisdictional Court in that State itself being the only case registered in connection with the Indian Penal Code (IPC) offences in that State and cannot be clubbed with the cases pending in other States, as the same will have to proceed under the special enactment of the concerned State.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in the next para of this judgment that, “As regards three cases registered in the State of Maharashtra, the same will have to proceed under the special enactment [Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (in Financial Establishments) Act, 1999] before the special Court. It can be conveniently proceeded together. Accordingly, the subsequently registered FIRs being FIR Nos. 533/2017 dated 29.07.2017 registered at Nahol, Sholapur and 467/2017 dated 08.08.2017 registered at Bijapur Naka, Sholapur, need to be clubbed with FIR No. 552/2016 dated 15.04.2016 registered at Ramnagar, Chandrapur.”

As it turned out, the Bench then specifies in the next para of this noteworthy judgment that, “On the same pattern, the subsequently registered two FIRs – (FIR Nos. 51/2017 dated 08.02.2017 registered at Byawara Rural, Rajgarh and 03/2017 dated 08.03.2017 registered at EOW, Bhopal) in the State of Madhya Pradesh need to proceed together with FIR No. 915/2016 dated 09.11.2016 registered at Kotwali, Sehore being the earliest FIR registered under the special enactment – Madhya Pradesh Nikshepakon Ke Hiton Ka Sanrakshan Adhiniyam, 2000, before the jurisdictional special Court at Sehore.”

While continuing in the same vein, the Bench then underscores in the next para of this brief judgment that, “Similarly, the subsequently registered FIRs (FIR Nos. 127/2017 dated 10.04.2017 registered at Kanker, Distt. Kanker, 240/2017 dated 16.04.2017 registered at Bemetara, Distt. Bemetara, 161/2017 dated 21.04.2017 registered at Baloda, Baloda Bazar, Distt. Janjgir-Champa, 176/2017 dated 02.05.2017 registered at Tila Nebra, Raipur, 591/2019 dated 06.08.2019 registered at Raigarh Kotwali, Raigarh and 79/2019 dated 10.08.2019 registered at Geedam, Dantewada, Distt. Dantewada) in the State of Chhattisgarh need to be clubbed with FIR No. 146/2017 dated 04.04.2017 registered at Surajpur, Distt. Surajpur under the special enactment – Chhattisgarh Protection of Depositors Interest Act, 2005 as applicable to the State of Chhattisgarh, to be tried by the jurisdictional special Court at Surajpur, Distt. Surajpur.”

Most remarkably, the Bench then hastens to add in the next para of this laudable judgment that, “In each of the States, where directions for clubbing of FIRs is being passed, the subsequently registered FIRs shall be treated as statements under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.). The investigating officer in criminal case arising from the first FIR in the concerned State, as referred to above, will be free to file supplementary chargesheet after collation of all the records concerning other FIRs in the respective States, which are clubbed in terms of this order. In the event, the investigating officer in other FIRs had already filed the police report under Section 173 of the Cr.P.C. before the concerned Court and the concerned Court had taken cognizance thereof, the said FIRs and criminal cases would also stand transferred and merged/clubbed alongwith the first criminal case FIR No. 552/2016 dated 15.04.2016 registered at Ramnagar, Chandrapur (State of Maharashtra); FIR No. 915/2016 dated 09.11.2016 registered at Kotwali, Sehore (State of Madhya Pradesh); FIR No. 146/2017 dated 04.04.2017 registered at Surajpur, Distt. Surajpur (State of Chhattisgarh) registered in the respective State, as referred to above, to be proceeded with in accordance with law. The investigating officer in the stated case (principal case to which the subsequent FIRs would stand merged/clubbed), will be free to file supplementary chargesheet on the basis of material collated during investigation of other FIRs.”

As we see, the Bench then states in the next para that, “Needless to observe that the other offences not part of the special enactments can also be tried by the special Court under the concerned State legislation.”

For sake of clarity, the Bench then clarifies in the next para that, “It is clarified that this direction is limited to general offences, the offences under the IPC and the offences under the special State legislations; and not offences concerning the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, which have to proceed under a separate legislation and of which the investigation is done by a separate investigating agency.”

Most commendably, the Bench then states unambiguously in the next para that, “In other words, all cases in the State of Maharashtra will stand clubbed with FIR No. 552/2016 dated 15.04.2016, registered with Police Station Ramnagar, Chandrapur, and to be tried by Special Court at Chandrapur ( Maharashtra ). Similarly, all criminal cases arising from the FIRs filed at the different point of time in the State of Madhya Pradesh will stand clubbed with FIR No. 915/2016 dated 09.11.2016, registered with Police Station Kotwali, Sehore – to be tried by Special Court, Sehore (Madhya Pradesh); and in the State of Chhattisgarh on the same lines will stand clubbed with FIR No. 146/2017 dated 04.04.2017 registered with Police Station Surajpur – to be tried by Special Court at Surajpur (Chhattisgarh).”

Most forthrightly, the Bench then makes it indubitably clear by pointing out in the next para that, “If the accused has been granted bail in connection with the principal FIR or criminal case arising therefrom, in which the other FIRs/criminal cases will stand clubbed/merged in terms of this order, the bail so granted must enure in his favour until the Court of competent jurisdiction cancels the same owing to supervening circumstances including breach of bail conditions. In case, no bail has been granted in the principal FIR (case), the appellant may apply for the same before the jurisdictional court competent to try the principal crime. That be decided on its own merits.”

What’s more, the Bench then directs that, “The writ petition is disposed of in the above terms.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in the final para of this sagacious judgment that, “Pending application(s), if any, shall stand disposed of.”

In conclusion, I am just falling short of words to appreciate, applaud and admire the thorough professional manner in which this most commendable judgment has been drafted by two most competent Judges of the Apex Court – Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice JB Pardiwala. One fervently hopes that in case of Nupur Sharma who is facing most serious death threats, rape threats and what not too will get the much needed relief strictly on merits and I am sure Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Suryakant will review their stand on this case also which attracted so much limelight but about which I will not like to discuss here.

It is again good to note just like in case of Zee News anchor Rohit Ranjan was granted protection most commendably by a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice JK Maheshwari against the multiple FIRs that were lodged against him over an alleged doctored video of Rahul Gandhi’s speech that was telecasted in a DNA show on July 1, 2022 similarly in Mohammed Zubair case also who is an eminent journalist we see that the Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justice Dr DY Chandrachud and Justice AS Bopanna have noticed a “vicious cycle” and has most commendably granted another bit of temporary relief to him until the next hearing. He has already got bail from the top court in a sixth case in UP but is under arrest in a case registered in Hathras. The Apex Court has clearly directed that no action on Zubair till July 20.

It is unquestionable that his lawyer who is none other than the eminent and senior lawyer Vrinda Grover has very rightly maintained that, “This kind of targeting must end. This is an abuse of the process of law.” Why can’t Centre amend our penal laws to ensure that this abuse is ended forthwith? Why Centre always forwards hundred reasons for not doing so? Why can’t it act promptly on this also?

Needless to say, Zubair has rightly sought bail and cancellation of all six FIRs that were registered in Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar and Hathras districts. This alone explains why I openly bat for this same treatment to be accorded for Nupur Sharma also who too faces death threats, rape threats from terror groups who most cowardly killed first Umesh Kohle on June 21 in Amaravati in Eastern Maharashtra and then most dastardly beheaded Kanhaiya Lal and decapitated his hand also in Udaipur in Rajasthan which no civilized person of any religion can ever justify under any circumstances! But alas! That was not to be and she was denied any relief and squarely blamed for the terror attacks by a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Surya Kant who are both very competent Judges and in line to become the next CJI in the days to come yet they have grievously erred in squarely blaming Nupur Sharma and denying her any relief which she sought so very desperately! It must be said upfront that, “A terror act done by any person of any religion cannot be justified on any ground whatsoever!” I still hoope they will review their stand now.

Coming back to Zubair case, the cycle started from Delhi as mentioned in NDTV website where it is pointed out that, “Mr Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking site Alt News was originally arrested there on June 27 in a case over a four-year-old tweet that had an image from a 1983 movie. Then he was arrested in a case in Sitapur in UP over calling some Hindu right wing leaders “hatemongers”.” He too has faced so much of harassment when couple of cases were lodged against him and this “open abuse of the due process of law” must end forthwith!

All said and done, one can only say that this “open abuse” and “complete mockery and brazen trampling” shamelessly of “the due process of law” by intentionally lodging FIR in different states to harass the person against whom it is lodged needs to be plugged right now so that no litigant has to face endless troubles openly by running from pillar to post in different States most shamelessly, senselessly and stupidly with our Apex Court also in some cases like that of Nupur Sharma failing to rise to the occasion and in Zubair case also we see that he has faced so much of endless hassles before Supreme Court finally stepped in just because Centre turns a Nelson’s eye to it and Supreme Court also finds it best to not ruffle feathers of the Centre. But this must definitely change now especially when eminent lawyers like Kapil Sibal, Vrinda Grover, Aman Lekhi, Gautam Bhatia and many others keep raising their voice on this most strongly for which they definitely deserve to be applauded, admired and adored as they don’t want status quo to continue even after more than 75 years of independence!

On a final note, at the cost of repetition it must be said again that the Centre must amend our penal laws by which there should be clubbing of cases and no individual is required most stupidly, shamelessly and senselessly to keep running from one state to another on same charge and facing endless harassment from police and different courts also which is the biggest mockery of our legal system and also our democratic system where the legal rights of individual must be always accorded the highest priority and not the lowest priority! There can be definitely just no denying or disputing it! I fervently hope that Centre led by our Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi will at least now wake up its ideas on this and act most promptly and most decisively so that no citizen is ever again made to suffer immeasurably for no fault of his/her just because Centre since last 75 years has refused to do just nothing on this! His policy advisers too must guide him properly on this so that a common person is no more made to beg before different Courts like a beggar begs most helplessly! Let’s fervently hope so!

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Govt extends date for submission of R&D proposals



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



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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India to spend USD 3.7 billion to fence Myanmar border



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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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



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



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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