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Editorials/Opinions Analyses For UPSC 30 September 2021

Contents

  1. PM CARES: A fund without a care for the RTI
  2. A lesson from China on gig workers’ rights

PM CARES: A fund without a care for the RTI

Context:

  • The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in the past, has denied Right to Information requests related to the PM-CARES Fund on the grounds that providing it would “disproportionately divert the resources of the office.”
  • However, a High Court judgment and multiple orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC) have previously held that, under the RTI Act, this rationale can only be used to change the format of information provided, not deny it altogether.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Government Policies and Initiatives, Welfare Schemes, Issues arising out of the Design and Implementation of Government Initiatives)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About PM CARES fund
  2. Issues with PM CARES Fund
  3. Back to the Basics: Right to Information (RTI) Act
  4. Background to the RTI Petition of PM CARES

About PM CARES fund

  • The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) was created on 28 March 2020, following the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
  • The fund will be used for combating, and containment and relief efforts against the coronavirus outbreak and similar pandemic like situations in the future.
  • Although the documentation for the constitution of the fund has not been made public, the Government of India has stated that the Prime Minister of India is the chairman of the fund, and that trustees include the Minister of Defence, Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Finance in the Government of India.
  • The PM CARES Fund has faced criticism for the lack of transparency and accountability in relation to its establishment, functioning, and accounts.
  • The total amount of funds donated and the names of donors have not been publicly disclosed, and the fund is privately audited.
  • The Government of India has initially claimed that the fund is a private fund, and denied that the PM CARES Fund is a public fund for the purposes of transparency laws such as the Right to Information Act 2005, even though the Fund uses government infrastructure and the national emblem of the Government of India.
  • In December 2020, the Government of India reversed its stance and admitted that the PM CARES Fund was a public fund, but still refused to disclose information regarding it under the Right to Information Act 2005.
  • There are currently several ongoing cases at the Supreme Court of India and several High Courts in relation to the Fund.

Issues with PM CARES Fund

  • Despite the existence of the NDRF and the PMNRF, the newly launched PM CARES Fund is in the limelight.
  • It has been created by the creation of a webpage. Concerns are raised about it not being created by law or even a notification.
  • The PM CARES Fund was neither created by the Constitution of India nor by any statute.
  • Critics argue that the newly created fund is a controversial, unanswerable, and ‘non-accountable’ vehicle as its character has not yet been spelt out.
  • The PM CARES Fund centralises the collection of donations and its utility, which is not only against the federal character but also practically inconvenient.
  • Besides, in a recent affidavit, the Delhi High Court was informed that the PM CARES Fund is not a Government of India fund and that the amount collected by it does not go to the Consolidated Fund of India. The affidavit was filed by an Under-Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), who added that the trust functions with transparency.
  • While the Government said that it is a public charitable trust, it still maintains that it is not a ‘public authority’.

Back to the Basics: Right to Information (RTI) Act

  • Right to Information (RTI) is an act of the Parliament of India which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.
  • Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.
  • This includes:
    1. disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure,
    2. powers and duties of its officers and employees, and
    3. financial information.
  • The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information.
  • If such information is not made available, citizens have the right to request for it from the Authorities.
  • This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority.
  • The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.

Background to the RTI Petition of PM CARES

  • The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund was set to accept donations and provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other similar emergencies.
  • After the announcement of the PM CARES fund an RTI Application was filed asking the PMO to provide the Fund’s trust deed and all government orders, notifications and circulars relating to its creation and operation.
  • The Petition was filed regarding the need of a PM CARES fund when the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was already existing.

-Source: The Hindu


A lesson from China on gig workers’ rights

Context:

In September 2021, the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers, on behalf of gig workers, filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court demanding that the Union government provide succour to workers affected by the pandemic.

In September 2021, China strode ahead in this regard, as owing to public pressure, two of its food delivery platforms committed to end the practice of forcing workers to register as ‘independent businesses’, which has long helped these platforms evade responsibilities as employers.

Relevance:

GS-III: Indian Economy (Human Resource, Employment and related issues)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Gig economy and Gig workers
  2. About the petition regarding Gig workers
  3. What has happened in China regarding Gig workers?
  4. Gig economy in the Indian context
  5. Conclusion

Understanding Gig economy and Gig workers

  • In a gig economy, temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace and companies tend to hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees.
  • A gig economy undermines the traditional economy of full-time workers who often focus on their career development.
  • The gig economy can benefit workers, businesses, and consumers by making work more adaptable to the needs of the moment and demand for flexible lifestyles.
  • At the same time, the gig economy can have downsides due to the erosion of traditional economic relationships between workers, businesses, and clients.
  • In a gig economy, large numbers of people work in part-time or temporary positions or as independent contractors. The result of a gig economy is cheaper, more efficient services, such as Uber or Airbnb, for those willing to use them.
  • A wide variety of positions fall into the category of a gig. The work can range from driving for car-pooling services or delivering food to writing code or freelance articles. Adjunct and part-time professors, for example, are contracted employees as opposed to tenure-track or tenured professors. Colleges and universities can cut costs and match professors to their academic needs by hiring more adjunct and part-time professors.

About the petition regarding Gig workers

  • The petition has asked for ‘gig workers’ and ‘platform workers’ to be declared as ‘unorganised workers’. Doing so would help them come under the purview of the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008. In short, the petition demands social security benefits for gig workers.
  • The pandemic has helped make the services of delivery workers evident and visible. The media aided this transformation. Through 2020, China, India, the U.S. and Europe saw these invisible workers being propelled to frontline workers.

What has happened in China regarding Gig workers?

  • In early 2021, in successive strikes spanning over two months, delivery workers protested against poor working conditions.
  • A weak civil society and the absence of independent labour unions leaves gig workers in China with very little option but to go on strike or protest, despite the risks, to affect change.
  • China, owing to public pressure committed to ending the practice of forcing workers to register as independent businesses, which has helped food delivery platforms evade responsibilities as employers.
  • Many of the government initiatives have lately been public-driven.
  • In China, where the government is now focused on common prosperity, which seeks to narrow a widening wealth gap that threatens the country’s economic rise, the government’s scrutiny over food delivery platforms has also increased.
  • It was in the government’s interest to intervene when it realised that there was growing discontent not only among the delivery workers but also the public about their plight.

Gig economy in the Indian context

  • The situation is different in India. Any reform in this sector is led wholly by delivery workers, not the public.
  • For 27 days in 2020, close to 3,000 delivery workers from Swiggy went on strike in Hyderabad to protest the slash in remuneration.
  • The strikes disbanded after the Joint Commissioner of the Labour Department called a hearing with the platform’s operations manager and the workers’ union. It was the first time in India that such a negotiation was taking place.
  • In the lead up to Zomato’s IPO in 2021, several Tweets called customers’ attention to exploitative practices employed by platforms.
  • The PIL in the Supreme Court is another major step in this regard.

Conclusion

  • The biggest lesson from China is that public opinion has partly led to government regulation and change in company policy.
  • Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, food delivery has become an essential part of daily life. Indians could also make an effort to be better informed about the way platforms work by seeking out delivery workers and asking about their work conditions and the pressures they face.

-Source: The Hindu

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