SENIOR CITIZEN AMENDMENT BILL, 2019: A HALF-BAKED SOLUTION - Business Guardian
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Policy&Politics

SENIOR CITIZEN AMENDMENT BILL, 2019: A HALF-BAKED SOLUTION

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The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was introduced on 29th December, 2007 to safeguard the rights of the elderly citizens and to ensure that their children take best care of them. With the advent of modernization the society is also evolving earlier, the people were habitual of living in joint families but now everyone prefers to live separately, owing to which cases of harassment of the elderly are also increasing. It’s been 12 years since the act was passed. The Centre proposed a draft bill in 2019 to amend the provisions of the act with the objective of ensuring need based maintenance based and senior citizens and their welfare. In 2019 the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced by the centre in the Lok Sabha. The legislative intent with which the bill is drafted is to bring significant changes in the existing Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 and attempts to inculcate in the younger generation a moral duty to take care and support one’s parents and elders.

On a perusal of numerous survey reports it is evident that India is ageing at a fast pace and people in the age group of 60 years and above will increase by 326% and those in the age group of 80 plus by 700%. National Development requires governmental planning and programming, which in turn require legislative enactments for their validation and implementation. This mandates the government to take adequate steps with the objective to prevent the senior citizens from getting exposed to the vulnerabilities of the old age.

The Constitution framers were well aware of the of the problems that an individual could face in old age and therefore, with the intent to guarantee security from the problems the well-being of senior citizens is mandated by Article 41 of the constitution. Article 41 states that “The state shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to public assistance in cases of old age”. There are other statutory provisions as well which address the same issue for example Chapter IX, section 125(1)(2), that requires persons who have sufficient means to take care of his or her parents if they are unable to take care of themselves. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 also requires Hindu sons and daughters to maintain their elderly parents when parents are not able to look after themselves.

FAULTINESS IN THE EXISTING ACT

The current legislation is considered to be the landmark step of government of India towards the welfare of the elderly, the current legislation was introduced in pursuance of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution meaning thereby, guaranteeing Right to live with dignity, Right to life and liberty and the Right to shelter, but it seems that the purpose with which the act was enforced has not been achieved effectively. Section 32 of the Act states that for the effective implementation of the Act every state should frame their rules, which creates ambiguity regarding the jurisdiction of the maintenance tribunal in different states. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh Maintenance & Welfare of Parents & Senior Citizens Rule-2014, there is no such provision which expressly states that Maintenance Tribunal is authorised to pass the order of eviction whereas the Chandigarh and Welfare of Senior Citizens Rules, 2009 provides for the rule of eviction by the Maintenance Tribunal thereby, abating the ambiguity regarding the jurisdiction of maintenance tribunal in passing the order for the eviction of a son, daughter-in-law. These directives are missing in some states with regards to the rule of eviction owing to which arises the ambiguity regarding the jurisdiction of Maintenance Tribunal.

Section 22(2) of the Act, 2007 states “The State Government shall prescribe a comprehensive action plan for providing protection of life and property of Senior Citizens” owing to this the issue that arises is with regards to the eviction of children by their parents from their self-acquired property following the failure of children and daughter-in-law to maintain their parents, the decision of High Courts in various states cannot be said to be uniform with regards to the jurisdiction of Maintenance Tribunal. Due to this lack of uniformity different High Courts have different opinions regarding the question of jurisdiction of Maintenance Tribunal. In Janardan v. Maintenance Tribunal Appellate Authority & District Collector [2017 Law Suit (Ker) 664] a petition was filed in Kerala High Court against the eviction order passed by the Maintenance Tribunal, the Court while setting aside the order said that since, the Maintenance Tribunal is not authorized expressly to pass the eviction order under the provisions of the Act, 2007 therefore, the order has been passed going beyond the jurisdiction of the tribunal. Same observation was laid by the Kerala High Court in C.K. Vasu vs. The Circle Inspector of Police.

Section 32(2)(e) of the Act vests the State Government with the power to make rules with regards to the power and duties of the authorities for implementation of the provisions of the Act and 32(2)(f) of the Act states that a comprehensive action plan for providing protection of life and property of senior citizens

In Chandigarh Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Rules, 2009 there is expressly provided that the Maintenance Tribunal can pass the order of eviction on account of any form of abuse inflicted upon the senior citizen by their children and in the light of the said provision there are catena of judicial pronouncements passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court where the maintainability of eviction order was upheld by the High Court. In Hamina Kang v. District Magistrate the eviction order passed by the Maintenance Tribunal was challenged in the High Court but the court on the basis of Rule 3 of Chandigarh Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2009 upheld the eviction order passed by the Maintenance Tribunal.

Sometimes, there arises the situation in Indian families these days where the daughter-in-law after the death of her husband claims to live in the in the house of her in-laws forcefully against the wishes of the parents and threatens to falsely charge them of Domestic Violence, molestation, harassment etc., regarding the right to live in the in-law’s house High Court of Punjab and Haryana in Vimaljit Singh v. State of Punjab and Others [AIR 2018 P&H 185] said: “It has also contended that right to residence in a shared household can only be appreciated if the house belongs to or taken on rent by the husband or the house belong to the joint family to which husband is a member but the shared household would not mean that wherever the husband and wife lived together in the past, the same would become their shared household.” The Punjab and Haryana High Court in Darshan Singh and others v. State of Punjab and others observed that “the son and his family would be permitted to live in the residential house, owned by the father only till he wants them to live but only as licensees.”

FAULTINESS IN THE BILL 2019

The bill lacks proper teething after going through the amendments made in the draft bill it is evident that no significant change has been made in the previous Act now, the amendments have been made mainly in the definition clause for example in 2007 Act the term children referred to as children and grandchildren, excluding minors now under 2019 Bill the government has widened the scope of children by including step-children, adoptive children, children-in-law, and the legal guardian of minor children. Like the said provision many other provisions have widened the scope of the relevant terms under the previous act. Changes have been made regarding the penal provisions, number of home cares, quantum of maintenance, police protection but still the call of the hour in the present scenario is the enactment of eviction provision in the parent act so that the each and every state frames its rules in consonance of the parent act and includes the eviction provision so that there is no question with regards to the maintainability of the eviction order passed by the maintenance tribunal.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

In the light of the above-mentioned judicial pronouncements passed by different state high courts, it can be concluded that the draft bill still needs improvements and in the absence of express mention of eviction as a remedy in the Bill the objective with which it is drafted will not get fulfilled. The Supreme Court in Dr. Ashwani Kumar Singh v. Union of India has correctly said that “there’s a lot that is required to be achieved and we expect the Union of India and all the State Governments and Union Territories administrations to take an active interest in the implementation of the National Programme”.

After going through the provisions of the existing act it is evident why there arises ambiguity with regards to the jurisdiction of the Maintenance Tribunal in passing the eviction order. The above-mentioned Punjab and Haryana High Court judgments were in the light of the state rule which expressly vests the Maintenance Tribunal with the power to pass eviction order but in other High Courts to answer this ambiguity regarding the jurisdiction of the Maintenance Tribunal there is a need that the government should expressly insert the provision of eviction in the Amendment Bill, 2019. The insertion of the eviction provision will be beneficial for the senior citizens as they belong to the marginalized section of the society.

After going through the amendments made in the draft bill it is evident that no significant change has been made in the previous Act now, the amendments have been made mainly in the definition clause: for example in 2007 Act the term children referred to as children and grandchildren, excluding minors. Now under 2019 Bill the government has widened the scope of children by including step-children, adoptive children, children-in-law, and the legal guardian of minor children.

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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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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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