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21th January 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content:

  1. Removing the creases in housework valuation
  2. True empowerment of the electricity consumer

Editorial: Removing the creases in housework valuation

Context:

  • As in the 2011 Census, while 159.85 million women stated household work as their main occupation, a mere 5.79 men referred to it as their main occupation.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 1: Role of women and women’s organization;

Mains Questions:

  1. How does patriarchy impact the position of a middle class working woman in India? 15 Marks
  2. The work women perform for the family should be valued equally with men’s work during the continuance of marriage. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • The Burden on Women.
  • Issues related to women empowerment.
  • Causes of low labour force participation of women.
  • Measures to improve the status of FLFP.
  • Conclusion

The Burden on Women:

  • As in the 2011 Census, while 159.85 million women stated household work as their main occupation, a mere 5.79 men referred to it as their main occupation.
  • Justice N.V. Ramana in his crisp and authoritative concurring judgment of January 5, 2021 in Kirti and Another v. Oriental Insurance Company has referred to the ‘Time Use in India-2019 Report’ of the National Statistical Office, Government of India (published in September 2020) which says that on an average, while Indian women spend 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members, men spend just 97 minutes.
  • Women also spend 134 minutes in a day on unpaid caregiving services for household members.
  • A French government’s Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress in 2009 that studied the situation in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Finland and the U.S. drew similar conclusions.
  • A report entitled ‘Women’s Economic Contribution through their Unpaid Work: A Case Study of India’ (2009) had estimated the economic value of services by women to be to the tune of a whopping $612.8 billion annually.

Issues related to women empowerment:

  • Issues in social and cultural Empowerment: It is the fundamental and the foundation block for the edifice of women empowerment. It includes a range of constituents such as discriminatory patriarchal norms against women, access to health and education services, caste and class and religious divides etc.
    • Phenomenon of son meta– preference gives rise to “unwanted” girls– girls whose parents wanted a boy, but instead had a girl. Economic Survey 2017-18 estimates the number of unwanted girls (for the age group of 0-25 years) at 21 million.
    • Missing Women: The stock of missing women as of 2014 was nearly 63 million and more than 2 million women go missing across age groups every year (either due to sex selective abortion, disease, neglect, or inadequate nutrition).
    • As many as 39 crimes against women were reported every hour in India, up from 21 in 2007, according to Crime in India 2016 report by NCRB.
  • Issues in political empowerment: The social and cultural prejudices against the women restrict their participation in the decision-making process. This extends to political arena as well.
    • As per the Election Commission of India, 49% of the Indian electorate consists of women. Yet, only 14% of the 17th Lok Sabha members are women MPs, the highest since Independence.
    • Additionally, representation of women has increased only marginally since Independence – from 4.4 percent in 1951 to 11 percent in 2014 – way below the global average of 23.4 percent. At this rate, it would take another 180 years to reach the desired gender balance.
    • The phenomenon of sarpanch pati or husbands who wield control in panchayats by making their wives contest is neither new nor rare.
  • Issues related to economic empowerment: The financial empowerment is central to the overall empowerment of women, and financial inclusion is an important part of this.
    • As per the World Bank, India ranks 120 among 131 countries in female labor force participation rates and rates of gender-based violence remain unacceptably high. At 17% of GDP, the economic contribution of Indian women is less than half the global average, and compares unfavorably to the 40% in China.

Causes of low labour force participation of women:

  • Lack of comprehensive policy support and effective implementation: While several policies exist to enable financial support, training, placements and outcomes, few national polices focus on providing support services, such as lodging, safe and convenient travel, migration support and childcare, that enable women to access skilling programmes or be part of the workforce.
  • Education-Employment Trade-off: Demand for employment for high school and university graduates has not kept pace with the large supply of women looking for such work. Therefore, more educated women do not wish to work in jobs that do not match with their aspirations and there are not enough salaried opportunities available for women with moderate levels of education like clerical and sales jobs.
  • Gender Pay Gap: According to Global Wage Report 2018-19, India has one of the highest Gender Pay Gap of 34%. This pay gap is due to occupational segregation; cultural barriers (including less education opportunities available to women); and unpaid household work done by women.
  • Competing Outcomes of the Household and Labour Market:
    • A large proportion of the women who left the labour market are married. Also, husband’s income (and education) contributes to the withdrawal of women from the labour force through a household income effect.
    • Maternity factor: Many women who join the workforce are unable to re-join after having a child. Maternity benefits Act 2016 increased cost for companies and may have discouraged them from hiring women. The estimated loss of female jobs was between 1.1 to 1.8 million for 2017-18, over and above the usual job loss due to attrition related to maternity.
    • Non – availability of quality day-care is one factor which inhibits women from returning to work after their maternity leave. Similarly, if women’s perceived productivity at home is greater than their returns in the labour market, women are likely to withdraw from the labour force.
    • Barriers to migration for women as in the last decade, there has been only a marginal increase in the proportion of rural women (of working age) who worked in urban areas. Even international migration for work remains a challenge for women. Women comprise less than one-fourth of the total Indian migrant stock.
  • leads to women having little choice in their employment and work decisions.
    • Discrimination: Employment and wage gap between male and female cannot be explained only by differences in education, experience and skills, but the unexplained aspects attributed to discrimination.
    • Socially disadvantaged women are more likely to be in roles without written contracts, with less paid leaves and shorter periods of engagement. In some communities, may be a stigma attached to women working outside the home (especially to certain job-roles considered menial)-which increases family and societal pressures to drop out.
  • Sexual Harassment at the Workplace: Around 31% of the firms are not compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act (POSH), which mandates “Internal Compliance Committees” (ICCs) being constituted. Between 2014 and 2015, cases of sexual harassment within office premises more than doubled- from 57 to 119- according to NCRB data.

Measures to improve the status of FLFP:

  • Reorienting Policy Design:
    • Modifying outcome metrics for labour market programmes by including enabling factors such as safety, aspiration alignment and so on.
    • Convergence with programmes for adult education, literacy and advanced skill training and higher education. Education ecosystem needs to go through a set of system strengthening initiatives, including the introduction of digital and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in schools.
  • Programe Innovation – Using tax policies to incentivize women into the labour market on both the demand and supply side. By introducing tax incentives for enterprises that have internal complaint mechanisms, gender friendly transport services and so on.
  • Communication and Behavioral Change – Investing in large-scale social campaigns for changing social norms which break gender stereotypes, which includes women as well as redefining the role of men in households.
  • Support Services for Entry and Continuation
    • Providing arrangements for childcare at training centers, better stipends for travel, lodging, boarding and other expenses incurred during programe participation.
    • Providing support to women who migrate in search of work and jobs.
    • Developing forums for informal and formal mentorship and connections to female role models and women in leadership which is to be achieved not by tokenism but by increasing the ease of economic and political participation.

Conclusion

The issue of wider, deeper and more meaningful participation of women not just in the workforce, but also in legislatures, police, armed forces and the judiciary, is a complex but very critical issue. Effort, therefore, is needed to amplify the gender-sensitivity of programmes. This can be achieved for a policy by enhancing its quotient of programme components that cater to women’s all-round needs.


Editorial: True empowerment of the electricity consumer

Context:

  • Many States have not been able to provide quality supply, especially to rural and small electricity consumers. The enactment of consumer-centric rules does spark public debate that brings the rights of consumers to the fore.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Infrastructure (energy, ports, roads, airports, railways); Investment models.

Mains Questions:

  1. Without strong accountability provisions, the consumer protection rules will not guarantee better power supply quality. In this context, discuss the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the article:

  • Issues in power sector in India:
  • Provisions Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020:
  • Issues related to Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020:
  • Way forward:

Issues in power sector in India:

  • Poor financial condition of power distribution companies (discoms): The regulatory Commissions while calculating tariffs often deferred the recovery of revenue for the future. This resulted in weakening of the financial health of the discoms due to under recovery of the prudent cost.
  • Delays in adoption of tariff: The regulatory commissions adopt the tariff that has been determined through a transparent process of bidding in accordance with the ‘tariff policy issued by the Central Government’. But no time limit has been prescribed for the process. o Also, the Act mandates the regulatory Commissions to determine the tariff after receipt of the subsidies. Thus the tariff contains a subsidy component and is not cost reflective.
  • Enforceability of performance of the contracts: The 2003 Act recognized the contracts for supply and purchase of electricity but does not specifically deal with the issues related to non-performance of the contract. o Non-performance of the contract created uncertainty, upset investment decisions and adversely affect ease of doing business.
  • Existence of multiple committees for selection of the posts of Chairpersons and members of related bodies: This requires constitution of a different selection committee for every vacancy which causes inordinate delays in appointments.
  • Non Functional State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCS): due to vacancies and delays in appointments by the states.

Provisions Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020:

Rights and Obligations

  • It is the duty of every distribution licensee to supply electricity on request made by an owner or occupier of any premises in line with the provisions of Act.
  • It is the right of consumer to have minimum standards of service for supply of electricity from the distribution licensee.

Release of New Connection and Modification in Existing Connection

  • Maximum time period of 7 days in metro cities and 15 days in other municipal areas and 30 days in rural areas identified to provide new connection and modify an existing connection

Reliability of Supply

  • The distribution licensee shall supply 24×7 power to all consumers. However, the Commission may specify lower hours of supply for some categories of consumers like agriculture.
  • The distribution licensee shall put in place a mechanism, preferably with automated tools to the extent possible, for monitoring and restoring outages.

Consumer as Prosumer

  • While the prosumers will maintain consumer status and have the same rights as the general consumer, they will also have right to set up Renewable Energy (RE) generation unit including roof top solar photovoltaic (PV) systems – either by himself or through a service provider.
  • Net metering for loads up to ten kW and for gross metering for loads above ten kW.

Standards of Performance

  • The Commission shall notify the standards of performance for the distribution licensees.
  • Compensation amount to be paid to the consumers by the distribution licensees for violation of standards of performance.

Compensation Mechanism

  • Automatic compensation shall be paid to consumers for which parameters on standards of performance can be monitored remotely.

Call Centre for Consumer Services

  • Distribution licensee shall establish a centralized 24×7 toll-free call center.
  • Licensees shall endeavor to provide all services through a common Customer Relation Manager (CRM) System to get a unified view.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism

  • Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum (CGRF) to include consumer and prosumer representatives.
  • The consumer grievance redressal has been made easy by making it multi-layered and the number of consumers representatives have been increased from one to four.
  • The licensee shall specify the time within which various types of grievances by the different levels of the forums are to be resolved. Maximum timeline of 45 days specified for grievance redressal.

General Provisions

  • Use of online access to various services such as application submission, monitoring status of application, payment of bills, status of complaints raised ,etc., to consumers through its website, web portal, mobile app and its various designated offices area-wise.
  • The distribution licensee shall provide all services such as application submission, payment of bills, etc., to senior citizens at their door-steps.
  • The details of scheduled power outages shall be informed to the consumers. In case of unplanned outage or fault, immediate intimation shall be given to the consumers through SMS or by any other electronic mode along with estimated time for restoration.

Issues related to Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020:

  • Issues of supply quantity: the Rules lay an emphasis on national minimum standards for the performance parameters of electricity distribution companies (DISCOMs), without urban-rural distinction, especially for new connections, metering and billing.
    •  It needs to be recognized that providing quality supply is primarily the responsibility of States and DISCOMs. Similar (or better) provisions by various State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) already exist in the Standards of Performance (SoP) regulations.
  • Lack of accountability: Guarantee of round the clock supply is a provision that the Rules emphasize, which might be missing in State regulations. But there are doubts on the efficacy of automatic compensation payments towards such a guarantee. This is because the availability of power supply is inadequately monitored, even at 11 kV feeders, let alone at the consumer location.
  • Weaken provisions: The Rules, in few cases, dilute progressive mechanisms that exist in State regulations. Consider the case of electricity meter-related complaints. The Rules say that faulty meters should be tested within 30 days of receipt of a complaint. Compared to this, regulations that were published as early as 2004, 2007 and 2012 in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh, respectively, say that such testing needs to be conducted within seven days.
  • Lack of forward looking: The Rules are not forward looking either, given the government’s intent to promote rooftop solar systems. They guarantee net metering for a solar rooftop unit less than 10 kW, but there is no clarity if those above 10 kW can also avail net metering. This could lead to a change in regulations in many States based on their own interpretations.

Way forward:

The enactment of the new Rules will not change this status quo. Reducing the ‘ifs and buts’ that delay or deny justice is what governments, DISCOMs and regulators need to jointly work on. They should demonstrate the commitment and the will power to implement existing regulations. It is not yet late to recognize this and initiate concerted efforts to truly empower consumers.

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