1.On Section 377 (The Hindu)

2.On death of tiger in Bor reserve (The Hindu)

3.Moving to protect workers (Live Mint)

 

1.On Section 377 (The Hindu) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue that The Supreme Court has an opportunity to reconsider its 2013 order of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • It was major setback to gay rights activists in India, the Supreme Court in 2013 held that homosexuality or unnatural sex between two consenting adults under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is illegal and will continue to be an offence.
  • The time has come to undo the judicial wrong done to homosexual individuals in 2013; a reconsideration of the flawed verdict in Suresh Kumar Koushal is now in prospect.

Assessment

  • Recently the Supreme Court referred to a larger Bench a writ petition filed by five petitioners to quash Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality. The apex court said a section of people cannot live in fear of the law which atrophies their right to choice and natural sexual inclinations. It said societal morality changes with time and law should walk and change pace with life. 
  • A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra decided to revisit its December 2013 verdict in Suresh Kumar Kaushal vs. Naz Foundation which dismissed the LGBT community as a negligible part of the population while virtually denying them the right of choice and sexual orientation.
  • It has opened up an opportunity to reconsider that verdict, which came to the disturbing conclusion that the LGBT community was just a “minuscule fraction” of the population and also ruled that those having sexual intercourse “against the order of nature” constituted a separate class on which the law could validly impose penal sanctions.
  • While recently the court noted that Section 377 punishes carnal intercourse against order of nature, it added that “the determination of order of nature is not a common phenomenon. Individual autonomy and individual natural inclination cannot be atrophied unless the restrictions are determined as reasonable.”
  • The court observed that what is natural for one may not be natural for the other, but the confines of law cannot trample or curtail the inherent rights embedded with an individual under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.
  • Although the matter is already before a Constitution Bench by way of a curative petition against the earlier judgment, the latest order is on a fresh petition challenging Section 377. It draws from the observations in the nine-judge Bench judgment in the ‘right to privacy’ case.
  • Though it is not clear that the present petition and the curative petition will be heard together. A curative petition is normally allowed only on the limited grounds of violation of principles of natural justice and circumstances suggesting possible bias on the part of judges. In contrast, the latest petition has paved the way for a comprehensive hearing on all dimensions of the right of individuals to affirm their sexual orientation.

Way ahead

  • There is fresh hope that the Delhi High Court judgment of 2009 may be restored. Ever since the court, in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014), concerning the rights of transgender persons, questioned the Koushal reasoning, there has been a body of jurisprudence that sees gender identity and sexual orientation as an aspect of privacy, personal freedom and dignity.

Question: Social morality changes from age to age, that “the morality that public perceives, the Constitution may not conceive of,” and that what is “natural to one may not be natural to another”. Analyse the statement in context of Supreme Court decision to refer petition to the larger Bench to quash Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality.

 

2.On death of tiger in Bor reserve (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue that roads must be kept out of wildlife corridors to protect tigers and other animals. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The extraordinarily diverse Indian subcontinent covers a vast area extending from Pakistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east and stretching north to the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan and Nepal. Marked by dramatic extremes of climate and terrain,  it is home to black bears, snow leopards, elephants, and flying lizards, and it is the only place in the world where both lions and tigers reside.
  • The tiger is India’s national animal. It is also an endangered animal with India having the most number of tigers. However, roads with high traffic are sounding the death knell for the tiger in the country. Recently in a tragic incident, an adult male tiger from Bor Tiger Reserve (Bajirao) falls prey to the killer highway NH-6.

Roads and wildlife habitat

  • The tragic death of Bajirao, one of India’s breeding tigers from the Bor reserve in Maharashtra, on a highway is a reminder that building unsuitable roads through wildlife habitats has a terrible cost. Despite repeated appeals by conservationists, no mitigation structures were built on the highway.
  • Losing a charismatic tiger in its prime to a hit-and-run accident is an irony, given that it is one of the most protected species, though the successive Prime Ministers have personally monitored its status. Yet, the fate of the big cat, and that of so many other animals such as leopards, bears, deer, snakes, amphibians, butterflies and birds that end up as road kill, highlights the contradictions in development policy.
  • For the growing economy it is inevitable that new roads are built, but as India is committed to Article 14 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Centre and the National Highways Authority of India have been repeatedly advised by the National Board for Wildlife, as well as independent researchers, to realign or modify sensitive roads.
  • A good scientific advice to keep them out of wildlife corridors is mostly ignored. The sensible response to the growing number of roadkills should be to stop road construction in wildlife habitat and reassess the impact.
  • An assessment by the Wildlife Institute of India states that tigers in at least 26 reserves face the destructive impact of roads and traffic. The National Tiger Conservation Authority should insist on modification of existing roads to provide crossings for animals at locations identified in various studies.
  • In one well-studied case of two populations of breeding tigers in the Kanha-Pench corridor, which also forms part of the sensitive central Indian belt, scientists commissioned by the Environment Ministry found that a national highway could block flow of genes between regions. The remedy suggested for NH7 was a combination of realignment and creation of long underpasses for animal movement.

Way ahead

  • India is in need of more robust approach that would be to realign the roads away from all such landscapes. Users can be asked to pay a small price for the protection of vital environmental features, and more areas for nature tourism can also raise revenues. This would ensure that tigers and other animals are not isolated, and can disperse strong genetic traits to other populations.
  • The sustainable way forward is that the Centre should order the modifications without delay wherever they are needed. It would be consistent with the Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016. Also, curbs should be imposed on traffic on existing roads passing through sanctuaries. This can be done using speed restraints and by allowing only escorted convoys, with a ban on private vehicular movement at night.

Question: Without a determined effort, roadkills will severely diminish India’s conservation achievements. Analyse the statement in the backdrop of recent death of tiger in Bor reserve. Explain the conservation efforts and also suggest some measures.

 

3.Moving to protect workers (Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on how casualization and contract workers have become the norm, leading to low productivity, low wages, insecure tenure and no benefits. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • This past year, an estimated 75,000 jobs were lost in the telecom sector due to financial stress in companies, and industry consolidation leading to redundancies. Another 50,000 jobs may have been lost in the information technology sector, as the industry faces new challenges due to Artificial Intelligence and H-1B visa woes.

The Job losses

  • According to the BSE-CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) survey, the estimated job losses due to the impact of demonetisation could be anywhere between three million and 12 million, in the subsequent two or three quarters that followed the disruptive announcement in November 2016.
  • While these jobs losses may not be permanent, most of these are likely to be in the informal sector. Much of India’s workforce is in the informal sector. Which means that workers do not have a written contract, nor retirement or health insurance benefits.
  • They also lack security of tenure. India’s challenge is to create 10-15 million jobs per year as new aspirants attain working age. In addition to this number are the workers seeking to escape the trap of low productivity jobs in agriculture. Of course, the actual number of new jobs that need to be created every year could be lower, due to falling labour force participation, especially among women. This latter fact itself is a cause for worry, but we won’t dwell upon it here.

Need of the hour

  • Among the topmost priorities of the government is to ensure rapid job creation. Not only do we need sustained creation of new jobs, but also of good quality, that are ready to meet future needs and with higher productivity and wages. All of this should preferably happen in the formal sector. Else the spectre of jobless and restless youth could spell social instability and much worse.
  • Political analysts believe that joblessness among youth has been one of the factors behind the recent caste- and quota-based agitations. This challenge requires a multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary approach that can address different circumstances in different sectors and regions of the country (as an aside, it can be mentioned that there are officially about two million vacancies waiting to be filled at all levels of government, including, in the judiciary, the armed forces and law enforcement.

Where to focus

  • Labour is constitutionally on the state list, so reform will come largely from states’ initiatives. As for sectors, the four most labour-intensive sectors are agriculture, including agro-processing, textiles, especially garment making, construction and tourism. Two years ago, the Central government announced a special package for the textile sector, with an employment subsidy. The Centre agreed to pick up the provident fund (PF) contribution of the employer, to incentivize hiring of workers.
  • That initiative largely failed, because most of employment creation happens in the informal (non-PF category) sector in apparel making. This basic problem should have been anticipated. But building on that, other states have announced employment-linked subsidies, not just in apparel, but other sectors as well. Jharkhand has the most generous package, and Odisha and Punjab are not far behind. The incentives also include land allocation to set up worker colonies or dormitories, so that they can be within walking or small commuting distance of their workplace. If successful, these state-level initiatives can be replicated elsewhere too.
  • The Centre’s own Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) provides 100 days of employment to one member of every rural household, without the attendant liability of having to make those workers “permanent” employees of the government. In that sense MGNREGA is actually a proxy for unemployment insurance.
  • Indeed, MGNREGA work can cover all kinds of jobs, including road construction, forestry, small irrigation projects or horticulture. This is the principle of protecting the worker, not the jobs. An example can be cited from Germany in the post-2008 crisis period. Fearing massive job losses, the federal government offered private companies a salary subsidy to retain workers. The German government figured it would be less costly to provide a wage subsidy and retain workers rather than having a large number of unemployed collecting the dole. It worked. This too is an example of protecting the worker, not jobs.
  • Thus, the big policy reform needed in India for job creation is around reforming labour laws. These laws are supposed to exist to protect workers. But de facto they have ended up protecting jobs, not workers as a class. The various inflexible labour laws have created a barrier between formal and contract workers, leading to sometimes ugly incidents such as the violence in Manesar in July 2012. This implicit caste divide is damaging the worker morale.
  • There is a wide gap in pay and benefits between formal and informal sector employees in the same organization. But more importantly, labour laws have ended up discouraging the hiring of new formal sector workers. Casualization and contract workers have become the norm, leading to low productivity, low wages, insecure tenure and no benefits.

Way ahead

  • It is time to reorient labour laws to abide by the principle of “protect the worker, not the jobs”. Since the government enjoys immense political capital, it is time to bite the labour reforms bullet. As suggested by many others, this can be done by grandfathering all the existing formal sector employees, who will continue to be under the old laws, so as to reduce their opposition to reforms. All new entrants would be under new labour laws, which will hopefully lead to large-scale job creation.

Question: It is time to reorient labour laws to abide by the principle of ‘protect the worker, not the jobs’. Comment.