The HINDU Notes – 31st July 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 31st July 2019

πŸ“° Triple Talaq Bill sails through Rajya Sabha

Triple Talaq is a social ill and needs a far greater social movement to tackle the problem: party floor leader Bhasisht Narain Singh

•The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, better known as the Triple Talaq Bill, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

•The ruling BJP comfortably managed the number in favour of the legislation, which criminalises instant divorce by Muslim men.

•In the 240-member House, 99 members voted in favour of the Bill, 84 opposed it while 57 members stayed away — by either walking out, abstaining or being absent. Minutes after the vote, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that by abolishing triple talaq, “Parliament corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women.”

30 MPs absent

•As many as eight Congress MPs were absent during the vote including Sanjay Singh, who resigned hours before the Bill was put to vote.

•Janata Dal (U) and the AIADMK walked out. Members of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) participated in the debate opposing the Bill but were absent during the voting process.

•Also absent were high profile Opposition leaders like the NCP’s Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel. Two other members of their party — Majeed Memon and Vandana Chavan — opposed the Bill.

•Opposition members had earlier moved a resolution to send the Bill to Select Committee.

•A divided Opposition helped in clearing the Bill which was passed in Lok Sabha last week.

•BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra also opposed the Bill but at the time of voting, all the four party MPs were absent. CPI-M's Jharna Das Baidya who claimed that she was given an offer by Home Minister Amit Shah to join the BJP last week, was also absent.

Five-hour debate

•The Bill was debated for around five hours. Mr. Shah was present in the House when BJP's floor managers fanned to garner support.

•He later tweeted, “this act will free Muslim women from the curse of regressive practice.”

πŸ“° Too much quota may impact right to equal opportunity, remarks Supreme Court

•The Supreme Court on Tuesday orally remarked that excessive quota may impact the right to equal opportunity guaranteed under the Constitution.

•Justice S.A. Bobde, leading a three-judge Bench, said quota benefits given to the most “forward” classes, especially to those who had no qualification whatsoever, would result in “excess” reservation and breach equality.

•“Reservation itself is an exception. Reservation is intended to achieve equality of opportunity,” he remarked.

•The Bench is examining whether to refer to a Constitution Bench a batch of petitions challenging the validity of a constitutional amendment providing 10% economic quota in government jobs and educational institutions.

•Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan made a strong pitch for referring the issue to a Constitution Bench. He argued that the economic reservation violated the 50% reservation ceiling limit fixed by a nine-judge Bench in the Indra Sawhney case. Further, the 1992 judgment had barred reservation solely on economic criterion.

•In a 6:3 majority verdict, the apex court, in the Indra Sawhney case, had held that “a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion... It may be a consideration or basis along with and in addition to social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion.”

•After a gap of 27 years, the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act of 2019 has provided 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the “economically backward” in the unreserved category. The Act amends Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution by adding clauses empowering the government to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness. This 10% economic reservation is over and above the 50% reservation cap.

•The government, represented by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, however, has justified to the apex court that the 10% economic quota law was a move towards a classless and casteless society. It said the law was meant to benefit a “large section of the population of 135 crore people” who are mostly lower middle class and below poverty line.

πŸ“° Bills against lynching, honour killing introduced in Rajasthan

Offences made non-bailable with heavy penalties and punishment

•The Congress government on Tuesday tabled two separate Bills against mob lynching and honour killing in the Rajasthan Assembly, while affirming that their stringent provisions would help check these incidents. The Bills have made these offences non-bailable with heavy penalties and punishment, including death sentence for honour killing.

•Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal introduced the Bills in the Assembly during the ongoing Budget session. The Bills have been titled the Rajasthan Protection from Lynching Bill, 2019, and the Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2019.

•The Bill against lynching stated that it would protect the constitutional rights of vulnerable persons and punish the acts of lynching through trial in the designated courts, besides rehabilitating the victims and their families.

•The State has witnessed several incidents of mob lynching since April 2017, when Haryana’s dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was killed allegedly by a mob of cow vigilantes on the Jaipur-Delhi national highway.

•The statement of objects and reasons for the Bill mentioned the Supreme Court’s recommendation made in 2018 in the case of Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs. Union of India for enacting a legislation to create a separate offence for lynching. “It is proposed to nip the evil in the bud and prevent spreading of hatred or incitement to mob lynching by creating special offences,” it said.

Life inprisonment

•The Bill provides for life imprisonment and fine up to ₹5 lakh for the offence of lynching, appointment of a nodal officer of the rank of Inspector-General of Police to prevent lynchings and establishment of relief camps in safe zones for the victims. It defines lynching as an act of violence, whether spontaneous or planned, by a mob on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, language, dietary practices, sexual orientation, political affiliation and ethnicity.

•The Bill against honour killing laid down death penalty or life sentence and fine up to ₹5 lakh for killing a couple or either of them on the basis that their marriage had dishonoured or brought disrepute to the caste, community or family. The life sentence for the offence will mean imprisonment for the remainder of the convict's natural life.

Rights groups’ plea

•Civil rights groups here have demanded that the two Bills be sent to the Assembly's Select Committee for getting the public inputs.

πŸ“° Padding up for the next UNSC innings

India must give exceptional weightage to how all Security Council issues have an impact on the subcontinent

•Despite the fact that India has served as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) more often than any country other than Japan from the Asia-Pacific Group, it is a matter of satisfaction and a tribute to Indian diplomacy that the Group unanimously decided this year to support India for an eighth second-year term. The elections are to take place in June next year. This means that India’s election is assured and its term will run in the calendar years 2021 and 2022.

Fast-changing dynamics

•To anticipate what issues will arise during India’s tenure two and three years down the road, in the highest decision-making organ concerned with peace and conflict in the global organisation, is clearly problematic. The dynamics of international politics are fast moving.

•The Washington consensus of the post-Soviet era, if it ever truly existed, has unravelled in the wake of three factors: tensions between major powers; proxy wars in West Asia, and widespread and scattershot use of threat and economic sanctions by the United States which pursues a militarised foreign policy with a military and intelligence presence in 150 countries, and 800 bases in 70 nations.

•The rise of China and the bogey of Russian aggression are resisted through military and economic measures by Washington, which urges its usually reluctant European allies and others to follow suit. The race is on for supremacy in artificial intelligence, high technology and 5G which will have strategic significance in future decades. In this variable world of incessant jockeying for greater influence among big and medium powers, and where the centre ground for concepts such as strategic autonomy and equidistance has shrunk with rising polarisation between the major powers, there are nevertheless some constants. Whether or not the U.S. President Donald Trump is re-elected , the ‘America First’ doctrine will endure in some form since it has the support of a sizeable constituency in that country. This makes U.S. foreign policy more transactional, which in turn will generate less traction to the reform process within the UN and the expansion of permanent membership of the UNSC to which India aspires.

•India can use its term as a non-permanent member to enhance its credentials as a constructive and responsible member of international society, but an upgrading of its status will have to wait until an indeterminate future date. It may be noted in passing that the inclusion of India, Japan, Germany and Brazil in the UNSC, to which package India is formally committed, will create an even greater imbalance in favour of the West versus the Rest in world affairs.

•India is one of the world’s biggest economies, which even the pessimists cannot deny. Accordingly, its voice resonates and is capable of making a significant contribution during its tenure by emphasising and strengthening multilateralism as a means of making the world safer.

Multipolar focus

•India needs to uphold the objective of a multipolar world and counter existing trends towards unilateralism, ethno-centrism, protectionism and racial intolerance. It should seek to protect the World Trade Organisation from American attempts to undermine it, since the WTO’s dispute mechanism is a resource for developing countries, as is the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the UN Human Rights Council and other UN bodies despite the U.S. and a few other countries withdrawing support to them. India should attempt to make progress on the non-discriminatory elimination of weapons of mass destruction, protection of the environment against global warming, safeguarding outer space from weaponisation, and enhancing respect for diversity and plurality in world politics. India should underline the validity of Article 2 of the UN Charter that provides for state sovereignty and safeguards countries against outside interference in the domestic affairs of other states. In upholding respect for a rules-based order in international society, India should underline the sanctity of treaties such as the multilateral accord with Iran endorsed by the Security Council and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

•Among country-specific topics that are likely to re-appear before the UNSC are the ‘frozen’ disputes of Cyprus, Palestine, Ukraine and North Korea. On each of these, India has taken a balanced position that needs little reset. Kashmir remains on the UN agenda and if the situation in the Kashmir Valley deteriorates, the issue may be revived in the UNSC by Pakistan, although third parties have no enthusiasm for involving themselves in India-Pakistan disputes. If reports are true that Mr. Modi is seeking to normalise relations with China during this term in office, it will greatly strengthen India’s position.

Pakistan and the terror angle

•It bears repetition that the growth of India’s economy and its democratic system are our best insurance policy; witness what China has been able to get away with in respect of the Uighurs. New Delhi’s preoccupation with Pakistan finds its articulation in the subject of international and cross-border terrorism. Although the context is normally couched in general terms, no one is in doubt that the Indian reference is to Pakistan. The question of an international convention against terrorism has been under discussion in UN committees for many years, and the UNSC will not be the forum for headway on this. India could use its presence on the UNSC’s sanctions subcommittee to proscribe Pakistan-based militant groups and individuals. But experience shows that this is frankly of dubious benefit when weighed against the effort expended.

•New Delhi will feel in the next few years that its time has come for a major role on the world stage, but big player status will be difficult without India being pivotal in the South Asian region. In this respect, India’s regional status is insufficiently credible. Accordingly, on all issues before the UNSC, India must give exceptional weightage as to how they will have an impact on the Indian subcontinent.

•Demosthenes in Fourth Century BC Athens stated that diplomats had “no battleships at their disposal... their weapons are words and opportunities”. India’s presence on the UNSC will present opportunities to enhance the country’s reputation. American policies in India’s near-neighbourhood towards West Asia, Russia and China present challenges that can be met only with great skill and delicate balance. India should aim to end its eighth term on the Council with its merit- and legality-based judgments intact and widely respected.

πŸ“° Focussing on the critical years of a child’s life

What the draft National Education Policy omits in its chapter on early childhood care and education

•The draft National Education Policy starts its opening sentence with a hitherto little-known fact: “The learning process for a child commences immediately at birth.” Many believe that children start learning only in school. It is true that language and numerical proficiency, and analytical skills, are attained in school, but the foundation for such a learning capacity is laid much earlier, and it happens without our knowledge. Higher cognitive functions attain their peak of growth between the ages of one and three — before school education begins.

•However, the next sentence of the draft says, “Evidence from neuroscience shows that over 85% of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of 6”. This is grossly inaccurate because the global focus for optimal brain development is on the first 1,000 days of a person’s life (The Lancet, 2007). Stretching the window of opportunity to six years is a mistake. This wrong understanding leads to misplaced priorities for a nation to boost its human development potential.

Laying the foundation

•These 1,000 days are when rapid and dramatic changes take place in the brain and fundamental cognitive and interpersonal skills are developed. The centres for vision and hearing in the cerebrum develop between the second and fifth months of one’s life. In these areas, the formation of nerve connections peaks by the fourth month, and is followed by a gradual retraction or “blooming and pruning” until the end of the preschool period. Similarly, the centres for language and speech proficiency develop maximally between the sixth and tenth month even before the child’s speech and language makes any sense to us. Even as a toddler, a child’s spoken vocabulary increases significantly.

•Pregnancy and infancy are important periods for the formation of the brain. This is when the foundation is laid for the development of cognitive, motor and socio-emotional skills. Apart from genetic determinants, environmental determinants play an equally critical role in shaping personality. In essence, an infant is born with the capacity to learn, but how much and what all the infant can learn is influenced by the environment.

•The drafting committee of the National Education Policy should have consulted a paediatrician or developmental neurologist on what needs to be done in the first 1,000 days. The policy has rightly categorised early childhood education into two parts. The first focuses on children below the age of three years; the second on children aged three to six years. While Anganwadi centres target children in the second category, the section on Early Childhood Care and Education up to three years is sketchy and inadequate. It only mentions health and nutrition services for both mothers and children. Take-home ration that is provided for children up to three years by the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme only helps physical growth; it does not provide psycho-social stimulation for development. That responsibility is left entirely to the parents or family members.

•The section on expansion and strengthening of facilities for early childhood education states that “the care and educational requirements of 0-3-year-olds in the region would continue to be handled by neighbourhood Anganwadis”. That is a tall order. Children below three are not enrolled in the daily services of the ICDS centre. They stay at home.

Filling the gap

•This gross design defect in the architecture of the ICDS has existed since its inception in 1975. Policy directions and strategies for “care concept with early stimulation for child development” are lacking in the ICDS. The solution is to have an additional worker trained in care and stimulation for child development in every Anganwadi. New workers will impart psychosocial stimulation for the development of the brain through five sensory organs of the body, i.e., eye, skin, ear, nose and tongue. The intensity and frequency of flow of these signals during early childhood determines the level of intelligence and mental development attained. The baby’s explorative learning and storage of such inputs into the brain takes place every moment of her early life. Her storage capacity is expansible and enormous. The baby also derives analytical conclusions based on which she develops value systems and character.

•Apart from breastfeeding, cleaning the baby, giving oil massages and applying lotion adds to her understanding of love and care through tactile and pressure stimulation. Carrying the baby and rocking her provides her security.

•From two months of age, the baby starts to interact socially. Playing with the baby with toys or by using facial expressions improves her social interaction skills. The baby recognises where sounds originate, the voice of her mother, and her own name by six months of age.

•Showing the baby the colours of the sky, flying birds, fluttering butterflies and domestic animals improves visual stimulation. Songs, soft music and sweet talk stimulate the auditory areas of the brain. Making the child feel the softness of flowers, leaves and cheeks adds to her sensory learning. These are all not a waste of time, but good investment for a child’s development.

•By the time the child is two or three, she will be asking a volley of questions: who, when, what, why, how. Often the questions and answers are repeated but the child does not get bored. Stories stretch their imagination.

•Parents and caregivers do not have sufficient time earmarked for the care of their children. More than money, they must invest time for the development of the child. Working parents offload this responsibility to grandparents or domestic workers or leave their children in care centres or crΓ¨ches. But these places don’t have qualified or trained staff to provide scientific care.

•There is no government system to take care of babies of poor families or of mothers who go to work for a daily wage. The experimental project of Fulwari, or community-managed crΓ¨ches in Chhattisgarh, is one answer to this gap. Policymakers may have a look at Fulwari for replication.

•The 86th Amendment of the Constitution 2002 and Section 11 of the Right to Education Act also mandate public provision of early childhood care and education. Interestingly the policy states: “Universal access to quality Early Childhood Education is perhaps the best investment that India can make for our children’s and our nation’s future”.

πŸ“° Govt. did not try out GST system before rollout: CAG

Lack of preparation led to lower returns, says report

•The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its first ever audit of the Goods and Services Tax, has said the government had failed to try out the system before its rollout, leading to inadequate compliance mechanisms, and lower tax revenues. The report was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

•The report pointed out that the keystone of the tax system, the invoice matching system, had not yet been put in place even two years after the GST rollout. It added that compliance in terms of the number of returns filed had been falling month after month, and that the government had not been following the rules set out regarding the transfer of revenue to the States.

•“Even after two years of rollout of GST, system validated Input Tax Credit through ‘invoice matching’ is not in place and non-intrusive e-tax system still remains elusive,” the report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, said.

•“The complexity of the return mechanism and the technical glitches resulted in rollback of invoice-matching, rendering the system prone to ITC [Input Tax Credit] frauds,” the CAG said. “Without invoice matching and auto generation of refunds, assessments, etc. on the whole, the envisaged GST tax compliance system is non-functional.”

Lack of coordination

•The CAG said the extent of the changes that have to now be undertaken, as well as the suspension of key aspects of the GST system such as the invoice matching mechanism, show that there was inadequate coordination between the Department of Revenue, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs and the GST Network, “as well as failure to try out the system adequately before roll out”.

‘Rules flouted in transfer of GST funds to States’

•In its first ever audit on the Good and Services Tax (GST), the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has said government has not been following the rules set out regarding the transfer of revenue to the States.

•The report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, said the government had in 2017-18 transferred the Integrated GST amount in a manner that was in contravention of the rules laid out for such a transfer.

•“During 2017-18, Government of India resorted to devolution of IGST year-end balance to States as per Finance Commission formula, in contravention of the provisions of the Constitution of India and the IGST Act,” the CAG said. “This also had the impact of distribution of funds to the States on a completely different basis instead of the ‘Place of Supply’ concept as envisaged in the IGST Act.”

Lower revenues

•The report said failure to to try out the system before rollout, had led to lower tax revenues

•“The growth of indirect taxes of Government of India (GoI) slowed down to 5.8% in 2017-18 over 2016-17 as compared to 21.33% during 2016-17, with GoI’s revenue from goods and services taking a 10% dip,” the report added.

πŸ“° Lok Sabha passes Wage Code Bill to ensure minimum wage for workers

Minister of State for Labour and Employment (Independent Charge) Santosh Kumar Gangwar says, the Bill would ensure Right to Sustenance for every worker and intends to increase the legislative protection of minimum wage from existing about 40% to 100% workforce.

•Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Code on Wages Bill, 2019, which amends and consolidates laws relating to wages/bonus and universalises the provisions of minimum wages and timely payment of wages to all employees irrespective of the sector and wage ceiling.

•At present, the provisions of both Minimum Wages Act and Payment of Wages Act apply to workers below a particular wage ceiling working in Scheduled Employments only. “This Bill would ensure Right to Sustenance for every worker and intends to increase the legislative protection of minimum wage from existing about 40% to 100% workforce,” said Minister of State for Labour and Employment (Independent Charge) Santosh Kumar Gangwar in the Lower House.

•He added that this will be a historical step for ensuring statutory protection for minimum wage and timely payment of wage to 50 crore workers in the country.

•“If workers, especially those in the unorganised sector, don’t get their salary on time their families go into despair. This Bill provides for monthly wage holders to get their salary on time and all sections of society which were outside the ambit of the minimum wages will now get the right to minimum wages,” the Minister said.

•DMK MP D. Ravikumar speaking on the Bill said there is a fear that labour rights won over the years would be reduced by the Code on Wages' clauses on minimum wages. He added that minimum wages for farm labour should be revised every two years. while for other workers they need to be revised every four years.

•MP Prof. Saugata Roy (AITC) stating that the condition of workers is very bad, said that after the passage of the Bill, workers will have bargaining power only as long as the management makes a profit. “There are no unions for the IT and call centre industries where workers are losing basic rights,” he added.

•A release issued by the Ministry noted that the Code on Wages Bill, 2019, subsumes relevant provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 and the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. After the enactment of the Bill, all these four Acts will get repealed.

•The Code on Wages Bill was earlier introduced in Lok Sabha on August 10, 2017, and was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee which submitted its report on December 18, 2018. However, owing to dissolution of 16th Lok Sabha, the Bill lapsed. Therefore, a fresh bill — The Code on Wages Bill, 2019, – was drafted inter alia, after considering the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee and other suggestions of the stakeholders.

πŸ“° Lok Sabha passes Consumer Protection Bill

Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan stressed that the overall purpose of the legislation was to ease the process of addressing grievances of consumers.

•The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019, which promises to strengthen the rights of consumers and provides a mechanism for redressal of complaints regarding defects in goods and deficiency in services.

•Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan stressed that the overall purpose of the legislation was to ease the process of addressing grievances of consumers.

•Apart from setting up of authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes, the new bill also seeks to bring in e-commerce under their jurisdiction and hold celebrities accountable for false and misleading advertisements of products that they endorse.

•The Bill, replacing the earlier Consumer Protection Act, 1986, was passed after all the amendments moved by Opposition were negated.

•Apart from the consumer courts at the district, state and national level, the bill proposes a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to promote, protect and enforce consumer rights as a class and and protect them from unfair trade practices.

•Mr. Paswan said the CCPA, envisaged as a regulator, can file class action suite if required and would take immediate action on any consumer complaint.

•He said the bill proposed strict action against the advertiser in case of misleading advertisements but not against the media through which the advertisement is being publicised. It also provides for product liability action on account of harm caused to consumers due to defective products or deficient services.

•BJP MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy suggested that call drops and power cuts should also be considered under the ambit of this proposed law.

•Opposing the bill, Congress member M.K. Vishnu Prasad claimed the bill would curb the freedom of consumers and encroach on the rights of the states. Echoing him, DMK’s K. Veeraswamy said the bill provides for “feudal rule, not federal rule” and it will take away consumer rights.

•Jayadev Galla of the TDP said the bill didn’t mention healthcare as part of services even though a Supreme Court ruling had mentioned it, and is also silent on surrogate advertising of products like liquor.

•AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi pointed how healthcare was not a part of the bill and accused the government of “surrendering before the health lobby.”

•NCP's Supriya Sule supported the bill but asked who will the people turn to in cases of food adulterations or poor education and health services due to multiplicity of authorities.

πŸ“° The makings of a digital kleptocracy

When data is monetised, as the Economic Survey advocates, it becomes toxic and harms public interest

•Last year, I was denied information requested under the Right to Information Act (RTI) 2005. I had sought the names of agencies empanelled by the Unique Identification Authority of India for an “image makeover” and the expenditure on it. It was denied by invoking the exemption clauses of Sections 8(d) and 8(j), respectively, i.e. the ‘commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property’ and ‘unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual’. Apart from the recent RTI Amendment Bill, 2019, there are many ways in which the RTI is being undermined.

•In 2017, my co-author and I wanted to check what proportion of beneficiaries receive their pensions or rations using data provided through government portals, for example the National Food Security Act and State social security pensions. We found data without dictionaries, abbreviations that were not spelt out anywhere, figures that were inconsistent across different pages of the same website, and missing or broken links. It took us months to decipher public data. With several caveats about interpreting the results.

•More recently, there has been public furore over the delay in the release of data, for example farmer suicides, suppression of data such as on employment, bungled migration data in the Census, and controversy over the methodology used to calculate GDP growth rates. These data are the backbone of policy making in India.

•These three — information obtained through the RTI Act, administrative data and data collected by the statistical machinery of government — are examples of “data as a public good”. But these are scarcely mentioned in a chapter so-titled in this year’s Economic Survey. Instead, its focus is on the expanding digital footprint of people, falling costs of data generation and storage and the growing data mining industry. The thrust is on how to monetise these data, for example by selling data that we share with the government in trust. Another worrying suggestion is consolidation of our data across various ministries.

Under watch

•The view in the Economic Survey is data utopic. In this data-fairyland, (near) real-time data collection can be a sufficient condition for remedying gaps. If only the officers-in-charge could receive a weekly report about school toilets that do not function, “they can take the required action”.

•The day after I read this chapter of the Survey, a local Gujarati paper carried news of an e-memo being sent (thrice) to the owner of a scooter for a traffic offence; the scooter had been stolen 10 months ago. The police had spotted the scooter on a CCTV in various localities of the city but were unable to catch the culprits and return the scooter. This anecdote is at odds with the data-fairyland conjured up in the Survey. In the real world, remedial action on non-functional toilets is more likely to be hampered by a lack of funds, of accountability or an officer, rather than lack of data. Having data/information can only take us that far.

•Each time you click on a link, or even hover your mouse over one, your behaviour is being tracked and analysed to understand your preferences and needs and being sold to companies to enable “targeted” advertising. The fact that it is often not very well targeted is something its proponents prefer to ignore. As a single person I regularly receive SMSes which offer a solution to this problem: “kya aapke pati aapki baat nahi maante? (does your husband not listen to you?”) Mistargeting is not always accidental. “Predatory lending” thrives on it. For instance, ICICI functionaries sold insurance policies to unsuspecting customers such as poor Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme workers and Kisan Credit card holders whose premiums it was clear they would not be able to pay. The Survey’s data utopia is misplaced.

•Data can easily become toxic. The Survey does not tell us this. Ever wondered why you get SMSes offering you companionship (“aao meethi meethi baat karen”), cures for baldness (“ganjapan door karen”) or strategies for losing weight (“vajan ghatayen”). Somewhere along the line, your mobile number and/or email ID got sold in the data market. Even as most of us delete these, others get trapped. A former Chief Justice of India was duped of ₹1 lakh recently as a result of a fraudulent email. In Mumbai, identity fraud was perpetrated by accessing personal data (address, phone number and Aadhaar). In phishing attacks in Rourkela, Odisha, fraudsters called bank customers asking for Aadhaar details to update their account, but used it to siphon off money. The Survey treats personal data (such as date of birth, mobile numbers and addresses) the same way as data on rainfall, temperatures and road networks.

•In the examples above, the fraudsters had to get access to people’s data. The Survey is proposing that these be sold for a price. This has already started. In early July, the Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, informed Parliament that the department had earned ₹65 crore from the sale of vehicle registration and licence data. Imagine the consequences of your health data being sold to private health insurance companies; or your data on your earnings being sold, or data being used in the way Cambridge Analytica did.

The many faultlines

•If data can be toxic, centralising and consolidating it, as advocated by the Survey, increases its toxicity exponentially. Contrary to the widely advocated principle of decentralised/disaggregated data silos as a first line of defence by data security experts, the Survey portrays decentralisation as an obstacle. With decentralised data, data mining companies employ sophisticated tools to combine distinct data silos to create profiles of individuals. Consolidating it, for example if a unique number such as Aadhaar links them, reduces the company costs for profiling and targeting. Centralising it (in one data silo) means that a single data breach can compromise all aspects of your life.

•There are two other toxic aspects of the personal data economy. Often they are collected and shared without our consent or knowledge, for example CCTVs or web browsing histories. When our data are used by opaque algorithms to make crucial decisions about our lives, such as shortlisting for jobs, getting health insurance or whether you were speeding, we cannot question them.

•Some believe that a data protection and privacy law can, even will, take care of these concerns. Indeed, the Survey merrily assumes such laws to be in place. Given the government’s track record on Aadhaar, these laws are unlikely to protect citizen’s rights adequately. Further, privacy and data protection laws will face unique implementation challenges in India. This is on account of low levels of tech-digital and legal literacy combined with pre-existing social inequalities which directly bear upon power relations between us (as citizens/consumers) and them (government/corporations).

Jumping on the bandwagon

•Even where such laws have been put in place, those societies/economies are grappling with the fallout of corporations whose practices can best be described as “digital kleptocracy”. To understand this, take the example of lending and credit scores. The literature documents unscrupulous use of algorithms to identify vulnerable targets such as search histories of single African American mothers in the United States that are used to sell them home or education loans which it is clear they are unlikely to be able to repay. Thus, digital kleptocracy is a means by which rich tech companies mine poor people’s data,in fact, steal; in most cases the person is unaware of their data being harvested and used for profit. What the Economic Survey advocates is not only for the government to facilitate such practices but also climb aboard this bandwagon of digital kleptocrats.

πŸ“° End-use norms for external commercial borrowings eased

Relaxation for working capital, general corporate purposes

•The RBI has decided to relax norms for end-use of funds raised via the external commercial borrowing (ECB) route by companies and non-banking finance companies, following feedback from various stakeholders.

•The central bank said the relaxation was for working capital requirements, general corporate purposes and repayment of rupee loans.

•Eligible borrowers will now be allowed to raise ECBs with a minimum average maturity period of 10 years for working capital purposes and general corporate purposes.

•“Borrowing for on-lending by NBFCs for the above maturity and end-uses is also permitted,” RBI said.

•RBI also said that ECBs with a minimum average maturity period of seven years can be availed by eligible borrowers for repayment of rupee loans, availed domestically for capital expenditure, as also by NBFCs for on-lending for the same purpose.

•For repayment of rupee loans availed domestically for purposes other than capital expenditure and for on-lending by NBFCs, the minimum average maturity period of the ECB is required to be 10 years.

•RBI has also decided to allow corporate borrowers to raise ECBs for repayment of rupee loans availed domestically for capex in manufacturing and infrastructure, if classified as SMA-2 (special mention account) or NPA, under any one-time settlement (OTS) with lenders.