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24th December 2020 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. ‘Free, fair and safe’ as the election motto
  2. The tightrope between production, industrial peace

Editorial: ‘Free, fair and safe’ as the election motto

Context:

  • The growth of democracy is possible only when peoples are entitled to participate in the democratic process pf the country. According to Art. 326 elections in India are conducted on the basis of the “Adult Suffrage”, which is most important pillar of the democracy.

Relevance:

GS Paper 2: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

Mains Questions:

  1. Elections constitute the signpost of the democracy; these are medium through which the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people towards their political environment are reflected. Discuss. 15 Marks
  2. To enhance the quality of democracy in India the Election Commission of India has proposed electoral reforms in 2016. What are the suggested reforms and how far are they significant to make democracy successful? 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Importance of election in democracy
  • About the Election Commission of India
  • Successes of the Election Commission of India
  • Issues related to Election Commission of India
  • Way Forward

Importance of the elections in democracy

One of the most important features of the democratic polity is elections at regular intervals. Elections constitute the signpost of the democracy; these are medium through which the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people towards their political environment are reflected. Elections are the central democratic procedure for selecting and controlling leaders.

  • Elections grant people a government and the government has constitutional right to govern those who elect it.
  • Elections symbolize the sovereignty of the people and provide legitimacy to the authority of the government. Thus, free & fair elections are indispensable for the success of the democracy.
  • The growth of democracy is possible only when peoples are entitled to participate in the democratic process pf the country. According to Art. 326 elections in India are conducted on the basis of the “Adult Suffrage”, which is most important pillar of the democracy.

About the Election Commission of India

India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. Democracy runs like a golden thread in the social, economic and political fabric woven by the Constitution given by ‘We, the People of India’ unto ourselves. The concept of democracy as visualised by the Constitution pre-supposes the representation of the people in Parliament and State legislatures by the method of election. Article 324 of the Constitution of India provides for an independent Election Commission.

  • It has the powers of superintendence, direction and conduct of elections to the Parliament, the state legislatures, the office of the President and the office of the Vice-President.
  • It currently consists of Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
  • Parliament has been empowered to make provisions with respect to all matters relating to elections. However, the ECI can also take necessary measures under Article 324 to ensure free and fair elections.

The Election Commission performs following functions:

  • The superintendence, direction & control of elections.
  • To conduct elections of various bodies.
  • To advice the President or Governor of a State for disqualification of any member.
  • To pass any order in respect of the conduct of the elections when there is no law or rule made under the law.

Successes of the Election Commission of India:

  • Voter Education and Participation– The highlight of 2019 was the highest ever voter turnout in a general election so far (67.11%), which proves that the EC’s voter education programme SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation) is effective.
  • Credibility of voting– After the counting was done, it was found that there wasn’t a single case of a mismatch between the VVPAT slip and the EVM count.
  • Actions taken against politicians- The ECI took strong and unprecedented action against some political leaders in the recent general elections, debarring them from campaigning for up to three days by invoking Article 324.
  • Action against money power- The ECI cancelled the election to Vellore parliamentary constituency in Tamil Nadu after large unaccounted cash was unearthed during an income tax raid.

Issues related to Election Commission of India:

  • Allegation of partisan role- The opposition alleged that the ECI was favouring the ruling government in giving clean chits to the model code violations made by the Prime Minister.
  • Lack of capacity- The Election Commission is vested with absolute powers under Article 324, but still has to act according to laws made by Parliament and it cannot transgress the same. E.g. Despite being the registering authority for political parties under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, it has no power to de-register them even for the gravest of violations.
  • Lack of proactive use of authority- The Election Commission had told the Supreme Court that its powers to discipline politicians who sought votes in the name of caste or religion were “very limited”.
  • Ineffective control over political parties- ECI is not adequately equipped to regulate the political parties. The EC has no role in enforcing intra-party democracy and regulation of party finances.

Consequences of these issues:

  • Breakdown of democratic principles- such as free and fair elections, observation of common Model Code of Conduct among others.
  • Erosion of institutional integrity- whereby the credibility and authority of the commission is undermined.
  • Loss of people’s trust in elections- If people lose faith in the institutions of democracy, the credibility of the consent obtained through electoral verdicts itself will be in doubt.
  • Degradation of political discourse– where barriers of civility and decency are not respected by the politicians and abuse of power becomes a norm. This also results into issues of national/local importance taking a backseat and personal rivalries among candidates coming to fore.
  • Politicisation of the Election Commission- since the Chief Election Commissioner is not barred from post service posts, the critics allege CEC’s independence is prone to being compromised.

Steps to conduct the elections during Pandemic:

  • Personnel scheduled to be drafted for election duty, and the number of security staff slated to be deployed should be identified as a priority category for access to vaccination. It would be their fundamental right , as much as that of the Defence Forces, to be protected by vaccines on a priority.
  • Every voter entering a booth has to be wearing a mask, not as a desirability but as a desideratum like a voter identity card. If not wearing one, he or she should be asked to go back and return wearing one.
  • Senior voters should be advised and enabled to vote in the first three hours of the voting using a separate queue-lane.

Way Forward:

  • In its 255th report, the Law Commission recommended a collegium, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India for the appointment of the Election Commissioners.
  • Give constitutional protection for all three-election commissioners as opposed to just one at present.
  • Institutionalize the convention where the senior most EC should be automatically elevated as CEC in order to instil a feeling of security in the minds of the ECs and that they are insulated from executive interference in the same manner as CEC.
  • Reducing the ECI’s dependence on DoPT, Law Ministry and Home Ministry. The ECI should have an independent secretariat for itself and frame its own recruitment rules and shortlist and appoint officers on its own.
  • Its expenditures must be charged upon the Consolidated Fund of India similar to other constitutional bodies such as the UPSC.

Editorial: The tightrope between production, industrial peace

Context:

  • Apple’s decision to place its Taiwanese supplier, Wistron Corp., on probation by not giving new orders — after an audit of the serious lapses in labour practices that led to violence in its facility in Narasapura in Karnataka — is a step forward in corporate accountability and ethical business operations.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Indian Economy (issues re: planning, mobilisation of resources, growth, development, employment); Inclusive growth and issues therein.

Mains Questions:

  1. Resolving the underlying conflicts in the labour codes pertaining to these two categories of workers is critical if they are to be effective in arresting the increasing trend of contractualisation. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is informal employment?
  • Importance of informal employment
  • Types of informal employment in India
  • Issues with informal employment in India
  • Measures to improve status of informal employment
  • Way Forward

What is informal employment?

Informal economy broadly comprises of two parts– informal enterprises as economic entities and informal employees (employed both in formal and informal enterprises). Although, there is no standard definition for informal sector and informal employment in India, different institutions adopt different criterion to understand its extent.

Despite their small size and limited individual impact, informal sector assumes importance due to the following reasons:

  • Backbone of the Economy: Informal Economy employs more than 90% of workforce and contributes about 50% of the gross national product.
  • Important for rural development: Share of informal sector in rural areas is significantly large (~75%) mainly in areas like agriculture and non-farm economy including low end services.
  • Witnessed substantial growth in terms of output, share of employment and earnings. For instance, in 2017-18 the share of informal sector employment increased by 3.6% while on the other hand the share of formal employment increased by only 0.9%.
  • Forward and Backward linkages: Informal sector is becoming increasingly interlinked with the formal sector, fulfilling the supply chain gaps and providing essential services.

Types of informal employment in India:

The Indian Economy is characterized by the existence of a vast majority of informal or unorganized labour employment. The Ministry of Labour, Government of India, has categorized the unorganized labour force under four groups in terms of Occupation, nature of employment, specially distressed categories and service categories.

  • In terms of Occupation: Small and marginal farmers, landless agricultural laborers, share croppers, those engaged in animal husbandry etc. come under this category.
  • In terms of Nature of Employment: Attached agricultural labourers, bonded labourers, migrant workers, contract and casual labourers come under this.
  • In terms of Specially distressed categories: Toddy tappers, scavenger, Carriers of head loads, Drivers of animal driven vehicles, Loaders and unloaders come under this category.
  • In terms of Specially distressed categories: Toddy tappers, scavenger, Carriers of head loads, Drivers of animal driven vehicles, Loaders and unloaders come under this category.

Issues with informal employment in India:

Problems of the Agricultural Labours Seasonal employment: The agricultural labourers do not have continuous work due to rainfall and climatic conditions. On an average a farm labourer finds employment for about 197 days in a year and for the rest of the year they are unemployed. Agricultural labourers cannot get continuous work throughout the year.

  • Lowest wages: Wage is the main problem of Agricultural sector. Through agricultural wages have been revised upward several times since independence the legislations are poorly implemented. For instance wages in U.P, Bihar, Odessa and Madhya Pradesh from Rs.20. to 30 per day per man compared to the wage range between Rs. 7.50 and Rs. 9.50 in Punjab and Haryana there is exploitation by landowners low wages generate the vicious cycle of poverty.
  • Huge number of Family members: The numbers of members increased in the families are other problems of landless agricultural labours. Their income earning available sources only in the eld of agriculture land.
  • Social Status: The incomes of agricultural labourers are very limited. So their standard of living is not improved the social status of the labourers, compare with other income group of people.
  • Unemployment due to Technology: The introduction of machines in farm lands had its own impact on the landless agricultural labour with the difficulties of unemployment or underemployment. As a result of all the modernization programmes and technological transformation only the rich farmers are bene- ted but large section of the rural population are unemployed.

Problems of the Home-based workers Unprotected by labour law: No policy or Law for home workers exists in India. Most of the labour laws are designed for the protection of wages and working conditions of workers in the organized (formal) sector. When the work place is in the home, such laws cannot offer protection to the workers.

  • Poor remunerative policies: Home-based workers are paid on a piece-rate, not on a time-basis (unlike many other workers in the informal sector). A minimum wage is usually applicable mainly to workers paid on a time basis for an eight-hour working day. The home based workers got poor wages only.
  • Lack of bargaining power and social protection: The employer has own-account worker, they are no direct access to the best markets and limited bargaining power or home based workers are economically and socially weak and have little or no bargaining power, it is very difficult for them to sustain.

Problems of the Street, Market Vendors Fear of harassment by authorities: Most of the Street vendors are subjected to all forms of harassment by the police and the municipal authorities because they do not possess licenses. The harassment vendors faced at work are mainly related to their illegal status.

  • Fear of Bribe: Hard work, meagre income and high rates of interest are not the only problems faced by street vendors. They have to pay bribes almost every day. The police, the municipal authorities and local musclemen all contribute to playing havoc with their lives and their earnings.
  • Income, Working Conditions and Employment: The incomes of the vendors are quite low. Because most of the vendors have borrowed from moneylenders who charged high rates of interest. The working conditions of the vendors are tough.

Problems of Waste pickers and Recyclers Health Injuries: physical injuries like cuts and pricks are common among them. This is poor segregation at source and the non-usage of protective gloves. Back pain due to manual work and pushing of trolleys is a problem faced by some collectors. A waste pickers health is affected by a variety of factors like living conditions, eating habits, personal hygiene, etc.

  • Child Labour: Children often engage in waste picking, to contribute to the family income or to survive on their own. Waste picking, particularly at open dumps, is among the worst forms of child labour. It can damage children’s health and stunt their development.
  • Lack of land ownership: is an important problem for waste pickers in all countries. Many families working in waste recovery live on road side or platform or near landfills and are always at risk of being evicted. In India, various informal recycling settlements have been completely dismantled many times

Suggestions to improve the conditions of unorganised sectors:

  • Credit facilities to be made available to make initial investment and for further expansion for the informal workers.
  • The government should evolve a mechanism to listen the grievances and the grievances should be redressed periodically to the informal labours.
  • More importance must be given to the female in family also to improve the status of female agricultural labours.
  • Normally women agricultural labourers receive lower wage than the men even in doing identical jobs, although there is constitutional backing in the form of equal wage for equal work. The Government must effectively enforce the concerned Act.
  • Co-operation of agricultural labourers in the local self-governing institution must be extended in order to provide representations to this section.
  • In order to eliminate these socio-economic and cultural barriers, female children and women should be educated through formal and non-formal channels. The voluntary agencies have also got a significant role to play in this regard.
  • Vending rights on space to the vendors ultimately increases his/ her accountability on space and its surrounding environment. By this means they would maintain health and hygiene.
  • Children often engage in waste picking, to contribute to the family income or to survive on their own. Waste picking, particularly at open dumps, is among the worst forms of child labour. It can damage children’s health and stunt their development.

The second National Commission of labour had recommended simplification, amalgamation and rationalisation of Central Labour Laws and following 4 Labour Codes have been drafted on the same lines:

  • Labour Code on Wages Bill,
  • Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill
  • Labour Code on Social Security & Welfare, and
  • Labour Code on Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions,

The government should implement these four codes to improve the conditions of the unorganised workers.

Way Forward:

Both the central and state governments have formulated certain specific schemes to support unorganized workers but which fail in meeting the real needs and requirements of the unorganized labour force. The government should make efforts to improve their working conditions in terms of occupational safety, working hours, payment of adequate wages to them so that the informal workers engaged in unorganized sector of employment may have mandatory decent and dignified work.

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