Last gasp tasks After the agreement on all GST bills, the rate fitment process needs to be addressed
At its twelfth meeting last Friday, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council cleared all the requisite State and Central-level legislative measures to implement the indirect tax regime. The State and Union Territories’ GST bills were approved along with necessary corrections to the three other GST Bills the Council had cleared previously — for Central GST, Integrated GST and compensation to States through a cess. This paves the way for State Assemblies and Parliament to ratify these laws quickly in order to meet the proposed July 1 rollout date for the system. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said the Union Cabinet will soon take up the four laws that the Centre has to steer through Parliament, while the respective State governments will take up the State GST law. Separately, officers from the States and the Centre are expected to finalise, by this weekend, drafts for four pending regulations out of a total of nine, that lay down the administrative procedures and processes to be followed by taxpayers under the GST regime. The Council will meet again on March 31 to consider those drafts. This will give the Centre enough buffer to make the transition to the new system. Though industry has indicated that it needs at least three months to prepare for the GST once it sees the fine print, one major action will still be pending on April 1. That action — the fitment of thousands of commodities and services into the five GST rate slabs (zero, 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%) — could prove to be among the trickiest for the Council. The rate fitment process, unlike legislative nuances, is more susceptible to lobbying not just from different sections of industry, but also States that would like a favourable tax treatment for products and services they excel in. For instance, the GST Council has now approved a ceiling on the cess that could be imposed over and above the highest GST rate of 28% on pan masala, chewing tobacco and cigarettes, luxury cars and aerated drinks. For all such ‘sin goods’, the cess ceiling has been set higher under the GST than the level necessary to maintain the present level of taxation. But beedis have been kept out of the cess net altogether in order to avoid friction with States that could delay the broader reform. Despite such pulls and pressures, in a best-case scenario the rate-setting process should take at least a fortnight and the Council could meet some time in April to approve the rates. Giving lakhs of enterprises just about two months to switch to the GST regime, with all its implications for supply chains, pricing strategies and accounting systems, could lead to a messy start. The Centre must keep its mind open on pushing forward the rollout by a month or so, while industry should rise above heckling over rates and invest more lobbying energy on bigger worries, such as the GST’s penal anti-profiteering clauses.
The Yogi and the magic of numbers Will India’s democrats let majoritarianism plant the seeds of counter-democracy?
We are a democracy. What an original thought! And with the second biggest population, the largest democracy in the world. Cheers ! We are proud of being such a democracy. But of course! We must, as a democracy, respect the will of the majority. Absolutely! Because the voice of the people — vox populi — is the voice of truth. Er… This is where bombast and its counter — sarcasm — ends. Where irony, humour retires. And hard-rock reality stares us in the face, the reality that is Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of India’s most populous State. We cannot get anyone more democratic than him. Gradual ascent Born to no privilege in the hinterland isolation of the temple-town of Gorakhpur, he was raised in no metropolis, educated in no sequestered school or ivy-covered college. But being sharp-witted, he turned social stagnations into political steroids and taking his town’s eponymous dedication to cow protection seriously, became not just a priest but head priest of the temple. And then, as such head priest, offered himself as a parliamentary candidate, becoming the youngest member of the Lok Sabha to which he was first elected, winning each of the five subsequent elections that he contested as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. More, MP Adityanath remained that quintessence of parliamentary democracy — the private Member, the back or middle-bencher, sometimes of the party in power, sometimes in the Opposition, speaking the language of his people, the language of the masses as their chosen MP, the legislative digit that really counts, that makes up the numbers, the ‘body’ that gives that august body not its augusta meaning, in Latin, ‘majestic, grand’, but its body, its bones, sinew, muscle and flesh. He studied, one discovers, at the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Uttarakhand for his BSc., not music or philosophy (both courses being on offer there), but mathematics. And so he knows his numbers, knows that numbers count and that in a democracy they are all that count — apart from money. Yogi Adityanath deserves to be congratulated, and I do so, for rising to the pinnacles of our legislative architecture from its very foundations, not being air-dropped on its carpeted terrace from a helicopter. This is where factoids and their theoretical master, empiricism, end. Where chronology, ‘plain’ narration, retires. And where another stony reality stares us in the face, the reality that is our democracy’s subversion, distortion — in fact, its perversion. Of the many forms of government — old, new, and still in the making — electoral democracy, the system which enables people to choose their law-makers, their leaders and lodestars in freedom and without fear, is only the least imperfect. It is far from, very far from, being perfect. Worse, it can and does recoil to shapes and forms that are in their nature and impact, un-democratic, anti-democracy. This process can be called counter-democracy. India holds a doctorate in democracy; it is doing a post-doc in counter-democracy. Ours is, of course, a global classroom. West to east Few persons can be as different as Donald J. Trump is from Yogi Adityanath. The President of the United States, according to a Forbes listing, has a net worth of $3.7 billion, or nearly ₹24,000 crore. The new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, according to National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, has assets amounting to a modest ₹72 lakh. Thrice married, part owner of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants from 1996 to 2015, Donald Trump is hedonism personified compared to the celibate head priest of the Gorakhnath temple. But there is the great connect between them: the inter-leaved action of democracy and counter-democracy. Mr. Trump and Mr. Adityanath are, both, their people’s gifts to themselves. They are the creations of the people’s own choice, their own voice as counted in numbers. They are the sum of the vox populi — enumerated. They are where they have reached by wholly licit procedures in the exercise of legitimate, constitutional, democratic choice. No one can question, let alone challenge, their democratic accomplishment. In this they are as twinned by the popular vote. They are also where they have reached, by the skilful, adroit managing of the processes of that same legitimate, constitutional and democratic choice to do something that is wholly counter-democratic – polarise the electorate. “Skilful?” an admirer of political bi-ceps might interject. “Is being skilful a crime?” Of course not. But not being criminal is not the same thing as being innocent. Adroitness is a skill, not a virtue. The creation of the bogey of the ‘Other’, an entity to be feared, hated, isolated, ostracised, intimidated, blocked from entering, perhaps hustled out, is a technique of emotional branding that is adroit; it is not clean. And so Mr. Trump and Mr. Adityanath are also twinned by the polarised vote. About India But this article is not about Mr. Trump and Adityanath, twinned or separate. It is about India, united or divided. It is about an India that is a Republic in which all its citizens are constitutionally equal and a democracy in which they are politically unequal. Our Constitution separated politics from religion. Today they are becoming co-extensive. ‘Hindus vote Hindu’ is cunning, it is not clean. “Clean?” the same interjector will put in. “Does the law define ‘clean’?” No, it does not. But it does talk of something that is the opposite of clean, namely, ‘corrupt’. The Representation of the People Act, 1951, declares in its Section 123(3) as “corrupt practice”, “The promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language, by a candidate or his agent…” It is for the courts, if moved, to say whether in the U.P. elections that section of the Act was offended or not. But it is for us to ask, is it democratic or counter-democratic for a State of which 19% are Muslim to be ruled by a party that did not put up a single Muslim candidate? Is it democratic or counter-democratic for a State to have a Chief Minister said to face charges of promoting enmity between different groups on the ground of religion, injuring or defiling places of worship? Beyond U.P.’s election and its Chief Minister, a grim anomaly, a bitter truth, about our political selfhood faces us. Introducing the draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948, B.R. Ambedkar said: “Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.” Notwithstanding this diagnosis, he went ahead and introduced the text. With his associates in the Assembly, Nehru foremost among them, and with Gandhi’s eclectic spirit brooding over the proceedings, he looked ahead to a future in which a truly representative democracy would percolate India’s soil. With setbacks, for half a century almost, its tender roots did deepen, protecting ethnic minorities and strengthening the ground for gender justice, Dalits, tribals, for free-speech, dissent. Today, will India’s democrats let majoritarianism lift that topsoil and plant in its place seeds of a counter-democratic biochemistry? I believe they will not. Wherefrom this optimism? It comes not from anything hopeful that I find in our country but because in Mr. Trump’s America, a statue of that little Fearless Girl has just come up facing, four square, the flared nostrils of Wall Street’s Charging Bull. And how she inspires! Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and Governor
The making of a Sultan The rise of Turkey’s Erdogan to absolute power is a classic example of the crisis democracies face today
Turkey’s political system will undergo drastic changes if its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, manages to get the support of a majority of the electorate for his constitutional amendment plans in the April 16 referendum. The proposal, already approved by Turkish Parliament — which is dominated by his AK Party — seeks to turn the country’s parliamentary model into an executive presidency. The President, in this case Mr. Erdogan, would be the head of the government, the state and the ruling party. He will have the powers to appoint cabinet ministers and senior officials without Parliament’s nod. The post of the Prime Minister, currently the most powerful government position in theory, will be abolished. He could also appoint more than half the members of the nation’s highest judicial body, dissolve the national assembly and impose a state of emergency. The amendments will also guarantee two five-year terms for the President. Provided the changes come into force with the 2019 presidential election, Mr. Erdogan could rule Turkey until 2029, with powers perhaps no leader in the post-Sultanate Turkey has enjoyed so far, other than Kemal Ataturk. Consolidating power The rise of Mr. Erdogan, to power and then absolute power, with popular support, is a textbook case for the crisis electoral democracies face in the 21st century. His AK Party is a relatively new phenomenon in Turkey’s tumultuous politics that has historically been dominated by the military and traditional political parties. The party, which presented itself as a conservative, political force with a liberal economic outlook, promised stability and development to a people getting increasingly disillusioned with the establishment. After a year of its founding, the AKP came to power with a resounding majority in the 2002 parliamentary election. In 2003, after overcoming a legal hurdle, Mr. Erdogan became Prime Minister, and since then has not let his grip on Turkey loosen. Mr. Erdogan is fundamentally an Islamist who often invokes Turkey’s Islamist past and despises its modern secular values. Initially, he chose to go slow, focussing on pro-market reforms that have accelerated Turkey’s economic growth and also in creating a new middle class who became loyal supporters of the AK Party in urban centres. The party also established a strong connect with the rural masses through its Islamist rhetoric. In a country where secularism was enforced by the military and political elite, the AKP’s positions broke with the establishment. The tension between the old Kemalist order, the guardian of Turkish secularism, and the neo-Islamism of the AK Party has always been in the air during Mr. Erdogan’s reign. But unlike most dictators, he didn’t go for an immediate radical overhaul of the system. Instead, he worked largely from within his constitutional limits, though often trying to expand those limits. He did not abandon the original goal of changing the Turkish polity, but was ready to wait, often influencing the political narrative through gradual interventions. Successive election victories solidified the party’s position in Turkey’s politics, which allowed him to purge the powerful military of his critics. In 2014, he awarded himself the country’s presidency as he finished three terms as an AK Party deputy in Parliament, an internal limit set by the party which Mr. Erdogan himself had long publicly championed. And now the game to make him the executive president is entering the finals. A fading moderation His mask of moderation was off after the initial years in office. Mr. Erdogan started publicly supporting the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood type after the Arab Spring protests in 2011 and had even altered his foreign policy to align Turkey in what he and many Brotherhood thinkers expected would be a new Islamist order in West Asia, and which never came. At home, his administration became increasingly repressive and his ambitions for more powers were hardly a secret. Mr. Erdogan and his supporters had started the debate on changing the Constitution in 2011, as they knew the rulebook remained the biggest obstacle in their plans to build a new Turkey. But still Mr. Edrogan wanted an excuse to launch an all-out war against Turkish democracy. The failed coup of 2016 offered him just that. He grabbed the opportunity and drove a “me-versus-them” narrative, unleashing a purge not seen in Turkey’s recent history. Since then, over 1,30,000 government officials, including security personnel and judges, have been arrested, suspended or dismissed on charges that they were part of the coup bid. Most media houses have been brought under the government’s direct or indirect control. Over 100 journalists are in prison. The military is demoralised and the opposition has disintegrated. It is in this context that Turkish citizens are voting in the April referendum. Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, once warned of Mr. Erdogan’s plans for executive presidency as a recipe “for a Sultanate without a throne”. The irony is that even Mr. Bahceli is now supporting the constitutional amendments to create that Sultanate — which will not only undermine the Turkish democracy but also set an example for the many other rising exclusivist nationalists elsewhere on how to topple the system from within. firstname.lastname@example.org
from the readers’ editor The heckler’s veto The apex court must issue guidelines to the lower courts to refrain from being an echo chamber for the heckler’s veto
The plight of artist M.F. Husain and of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the forced exile from writing for Perumal Murugan, and the pulping of the earlier biography of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, written by Vaasanthi are some of the cases where the threat to freedom of expression came from powerful sections who could use their proximity to administrative power and the lacunae in our judicial systems with a sense of entitlement and impunity. Upholding freedom of expression There are a number of Supreme Court judgments that have interpreted Article 19 of our Constitution, including the section dealing with ‘reasonable restrictions’, in a manner that upholds the principles of freedom of expression. Justice Krishna Iyer questioned in the Periyar Ramayana case the overzealousness of State governments: “The possible invocation of powers under Section 99A of the Code of Criminal Procedure by various state governments on several occasions induces us to enter a caveat. Basic unity amidst diversity notwithstanding, India is a land of cultural contrarieties, coexistence of many religions and anti-religions, rationalism and bigotry, primitive cults and materialist doctrines. The compulsions of history and geography and the assault of modern science on retreating forces of medieval ways — a mosaic like tapestry of lovely and un-lovely strands — have made large and liberal tolerance of mutual criticism. Even though expressed in intemperate diction, a necessity of life. Governments, we are confident, will not act in hubris, but will weigh these hard facts of our society while putting into operation the harsher directives for forfeiture.” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, nearly a decade before his elevation as a Supreme Court judge, delivered in the M.F. Husain case a very sobering judgment: “A liberal tolerance of a different point of view causes no damage. It means only a greater self-restraint. Diversity in expression of views whether in writings, paintings or visual media encourages debate. A debate should never be shut out. ‘I am right’ does not necessarily imply ‘You are wrong’. Our culture breeds tolerance — both in thought and in actions.” The relationship between a free press and a vibrant democracy has been studied in detail. The broad consensus is that when the enabling environment for free speech gets vitiated, it undermines the redeeming features of democracy. The lower courts in India, barring some notable exceptions, in contravention to the legal position taken by the apex court have repeatedly endorsed the heckler’s veto. Is there a procedure that enables all the lower court judges to be familiar with some of the defining pronouncements of the higher courts? Granting an ex parte injunction The heckler’s veto, according to legal scholars, is a process by which socially powerful groups can shut down critical or inconvenient speech by threatening public disorder or disturbance. One of the ways in which the lower courts encourage the heckler’s veto is by granting an ex parte injunction against publication or broadcast of news. For instance, there are about 45 cases of ex parte injunctions against news media organisations in Karnataka alone. Though these are called interim injunctions, in reality they do become a prior restraint, which is not permissible under the Supreme Court judgment in the R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu (1994) case. Early this year, the first bench led by the Chief Justice of India, J.S. Khehar, made it clear that pre-broadcast or pre-publication censorship is not the business of the court and that all grievances against objectionable content will be dealt with in accordance with the law of the land after its publication. I would like to share the operative part of a recent injunction to bring out the sweeping nature of this exercise that denies people vital, credible information. One of the courts in Karnataka, in a hold-all judgment against 27 news media organisations, both print and television, said: “Hence defendants 2 to 28 are hereby restrained by order of temporary injunction from telecasting or publishing any defamatory and malicious visuals or report in their news channels/newspapers about any subsidiaries run by Plaintiff including Plaintiff pertaining to the project namely _____ in any manner till next date of hearing”. The time has come for the Supreme Court to issue some guidelines to the lower courts to refrain from being an echo chamber for the heckler’s veto. email@example.com
Carpe diem/ Phraseology Carpe diem, the phrase from the poet Horace (65 BC-8 BC), is usually translated from Latin as ‘seize the day’. However, ‘carpe’ translates literally as ‘pluck’, so a better version would be to ‘pluck the day when it is ripe’. The full phrase carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero means ‘pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the future’. The line, ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’, from Robert Herrick, reflects the spirit. It was Lord Byron’s use of the phrase, in his 1817 work Letters, published in 1830 by Thomas Moore, which set off its integration into English.
123 Tejas jets to join IAF by 2024 HAL working on Mk-1A configuration
If the present development and capacity enhancement plans go as scheduled, the Indian Air Force will have 123 Tejas jets, indigenously made light combat aircraft, on its fleet by 2024-25. To enable this, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) is in the process of setting up a new assembly line for the jets and is involving the private sector in a big way, T. Suvarna Raju, Chief Managing Director of the public sector aerospace major, said in a conversation with The Hindu. The IAF has placed orders for 40 jets in two batches of which the first 20 are in the initial operational configuration (IOC) and the remaining 20 in the final operational configuration (FOC). Last July, the IAF operationalised the first Tejas squadron — 45 Flying Daggers — with three aircraft. Two more aircraft will join the squadron shortly. Mk-1A configuration Last November, the Defence Acquisition Council gave initial clearance for 83 aircraft in the Mk-1A configuration with specific improvements sought by the IAF. Mr. Raju said that some 45 improvements had been made for the configuration, and the HAL had already floated a tender for the advanced electronically scanned array radar and the self-protection jammer. On the timeline for the development of the Mk-1A, Mr. Raju said the tender would be opened by March-end after which the technical evaluation and commercial negotiations would be held. “We will be able to prove it on the 1A by 2018 and start producing by 2019,” he said. Apart from the development, the low production rate of eight aircraft a year is delaying the induction of Tejas into the IAF. The government recently gave sanction for setting up another assembly line to increase the production rate to 16 a year. “The IAF will get Mk-1A in 2019; by that time, our capacity will also go up to 16 aircraft a year,” Mr. Raju said. To increase production, the HAL has outsourced major parts of the jet. “We are trying to be an integrator rather than a manufacturer,” he said. The IAF is in urgent need of new fighters and the LCAs will replace the MiG fighters which are being phased out. The IAF is scheduled to phase out all 11 squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters by 2024 on completion of their technical life. On the issue of spares and supports which has been an area of constant concern for the services, Mr. Raju said the HAL had now signed long-term supply contracts with their vendors, and said the availability of all platforms manufactured by the HAL had now gone “above 65%”.
Doubts raised over second IFSC’s viability DEA comments sought on Maharashtra’s proposal for an International Financial Services Centre
The Commerce Department has asked the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) to comment on the feasibility of having more than one International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in India. It has also sought comments from the DEA on the viability of the Maharashtra government’s proposal for an IFSC in Mumbai. If the IFSC, proposed to be set up at the Bandra Kurla Complex in the country’s financial capital, gets all the required clearances, it will be the second such centre in India following the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) in Gandhinagar. Nodal agency The DEA, in the Finance Ministry, is the nodal agency for formulation and monitoring of economic policies at the macro-level such as the ones relating to the functioning of the financial services sector in the country like banking, insurance and capital markets, including stock exchanges. IFSC-related matters fall within the jurisdiction of financial sector regulators such as the Reserve Bank of India, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority and Securities and Exchange Board of India as well as the Finance Ministry. The Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act is pertinent in this case as IFSC is set up in a SEZ, and therefore, the Commerce Department has a crucial role here as it is the nodal body at the Centre for SEZ-related matters. The SEZ Act merely states that the Centre can approve only one IFSC in a SEZ, and does not bar more than one IFSC in the country. Citing examples in other countries, the Commerce Department, however, has said even advanced nations have been finding it difficult to develop more than one major international financial centre in their respective territory. It added that therefore, India, which is yet to have full capital account convertibility, may find it even tougher to make more than one IFSC viable. In its initial proposal, the Maharashtra government (and the concerned body, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority) had sought a relaxation of the minimum land norm of 50 hectares of contiguous and vacant land because what could be made available then for the proposed Mumbai IFSC was only 32 hectares of such land. The State government sought the Centre’s nod to ease the land norms by considering the built-up area instead of contiguous and vacant land. The State wanted the Mumbai IFSC to be a multi-services SEZ like the GIFT City. Revised proposal However, as the Centre had expressed reluctance to grant the Mumbai IFSC a ‘special exemption’ from the land norm, Maharashtra then sent a revised proposal stating that it is in possession of about 52 hectares for the IFSC. This included 32-33 hectares of commercial land as well as 19-20 hectares of ‘non-developable’ green area, official sources said. According to the state government, once approved, the Mumbai IFSC would potentially generate employment for 1.3 lakh people and attract investments to the tune of ₹12,014 crore within ten years. The Commerce Department has now asked the Maharashtra government and the Development Commissioner (DC) of the Santacruz Electronic Export Processing Zone to explain and clarify the term ‘non-developable.’ The department wants to know whether it will include area falling under the Coastal Regulation Zone, where there are curbs on construction, development and industries, and therefore could attract objections from agencies in charge of environment and pollution. The Maharashtra government had proposed that the Mumbai IFSC can even enter into collaborations with the GIFT City International Financial Services Centre as Mumbai has the advantage of being the country’s de facto financial capital.
The call for a large safety net Social security cover for all, even informal workers, is an ambitious target for the Centre and stumbling blocks pave its path
The Union government on Thursday proposed an ambitious law to provide social security net to the 47.41 crore-strong workforce of the country. The proposed code on ‘Social Security and Welfare’ intends to make a drastic shift in the social security framework of the country from an employment-based approach to a rights-based approach followed by some developing countries such as South Africa. This means claiming social security benefits will become a right for everyone who joins the workforce. At present, the social security set-up in India is only restricted to the formal sector where the employers make a contribution towards social security schemes such as provident fund, insurance and pension of the workers. Only about 8% of the informal sector is covered under any social security scheme, according the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS). At present, 82.7% of the 47.41 crore workforce is in the unorganised sector and does not have access to any kind of social security, according to the Labour and Employment Ministry. When the draft code takes final shape in the form of a law, there will be universal coverage of social security schemes guaranteeing equal treatment to all the workers. One for everyone According to the proposed law, factories employing even a single worker will have to contribute towards social security benefits. Also, even households employing domestic help will also have contribute towards schemes including provident fund and gratuity for the worker. Self-employed persons, including agricultural labourers, will also make contribution towards the schemes on their own. Significantly, casual, part-time or self-employed workers earning less than the stipulated minimum wages will not have to pay any contribution towards the social security schemes but will be entitled to these benefits through a fund set up by the government, according to another proposal. The existing social security schemes have a limited reach due to application of thresholds based on income and number of workers in a factory. For instance, the provident fund and pension contribution, administered by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), is mandatory only for factories employing at least 20 workers. “We feel that only a rights-based approach can lead the reform process to achieve universal social security cover for the workforce,” a top labour ministry official said. “The draft code clearly states the entitlement of beneficiaries to benefits and any denial of the same would justify recourse to legal remedies. It will become a right for the claimant as it will be enforceable by law,” the official said. Various researches have pointed out significant flaws in the present social security framework of the country. The International Social Security Association (ISSA) in its ‘Social Security Coverage Extension in the BRICS’ report said that the best way to describe the social security coverage in India “is a patchwork” as there was a “total mismatch between the labour market realities and the history of social security laws.” “Despite attempts over several years by Central and State governments to extend social security coverage to marginalised groups of workers, the current state of affairs is still wholly unsatisfactory, as revealed by evidence-based research,” according to a report titled, ‘Social Security Reform in India’ submitted by Professor Marius Olivier to the International Labour Organisation in May 2016. It noted that only 1% of the agricultural workers have reportedly been provided social security cover, even as close to all the casual workers are deprived of any benefits and socially or economically deprived people had much less coverage than the others. It also said that wage workers in the unorganised sector too had close to no social security benefit. Informal numbers rise Even the proportion of wage workers covered under any social security law declined from 32.6% in 1999-2000 to 28.6% in 2004-05 and further to 26.4% in 2009-10 due to increased casual workers entering the workforce and a rise in informal sector. In this context, K.R. Shyam Sundar, labour economist and professor of human resources management at XLRI said the proposed code on Social Security and Welfare is a landmark step. “This is a huge step forward towards inclusive social security coverage,” Mr. Sundar said. “This would be the most radical development that can happen in terms of workers’ benefit in India,” according to him. Universal social security to all workers has been one of the main demands of the central trade unions. “The idea of providing social security to all workers is good and has been our long-standing demand,” said All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) national secretary D.L. Sachdev. “Social security should be a fundamental right for all the citizens of the country,” he said. Employers urge choice However, the employer representatives are not amused by the proposed law. “The only social security measure that a country of our size can afford to provide at the moment is formal jobs to the youth at a time when a million people are entering the workforce,” said TeamLease Services Executive Vice President and Co-Founder Rituparna Chakraborty. “This draft law will make situations worse as it will give rise to the informal sector,” he said. “People at the bottom of the income pillar are hostages to the social security benefits in India. Those with higher income bracket can still fend for themselves but the worry is for the people with lower incomes. Social security should be a choice that should be exercised by the employee and not a compulsion,” Mr. Chakraborty said. An industry executive, on conditions of anonymity, said it would be difficult for small industries in India, which are mostly not covered under social security law at present, to provide such security to all the workers. Mr. Sundar said providing social security to all workers with the present infrastructure will be a difficult task. “I do not see how effectively the households will register voluntarily towards the social security of the domestic workers as a contribution towards social security schemes will be a tax on them. Also the moment you register them, the nature of employment becomes formal and in some states households will have to provide the minimum wages to domestic helps,” Mr. Sundar added. One of the major issues with the draft law is that workers in the unorganised sector mostly are daily wage earners and providing monthly contribution towards their social benefit schemes would be a big task, Mr. Sachdev said. A senior labour ministry official acknowledged this issue and said that the “government can notify a different contribution period for such sectors.” Collection of contribution from the self-employed and the unorganised sector will also be another grey area. “The present social security system is already under tremendous pressure to increase the coverage in the formal sector. The level of services provided by Employees’ State Insurance Corporation also needs drastic improvement. In all these circumstances, the government is looking at covering the entire workforce,” Mr. Chakraborty said. However, some trade union leaders feel implementation will not be an issue with the proposed framework under which a National Social Security Council will be set up headed by the Prime Minister to streamline, monitor and make policies. “This is a historic step proposed by the government and can be fully implemented across the organised and the unorganised sector,” according to RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) general-secretary Virjesh Upadhyay.
Reviving Assam’s ancient ink ‘Mahi’ has a protective effect on manuscripts because of its anti-fungal properties
By unravelling the science behind Assam’s ancient herbal ink ‘mahi’, researchers are planning to recreate the lost techniques of manuscript writing. They say their efforts could boost heritage tourism. The technique involves extracting ‘mahi’ using cow urine from a cocktail of fruit pulp and tree bark such as haritaki, amla, bibhitakhi or bhomora, mango and jamun — often infused with the blood of eels or catfish. Rust from iron tools or nails was added for an intense black hue. ‘Mahi’ was used in early and medieval Assam for writing on ‘sancipat’ (folios made of the bark of the sanci tree) manuscripts. Some folios were gifted by Kumar Bhaskar Barman, the then King of Pragjyotishpura (ancient Assam) to Harshavardhana, an emperor who ruled north India from 606 to 647 C.E., a testimony to the period of use. The endurance of the ink is proven by the stability of sancipat manuscripts. The key factor for this long-lasting marriage between ‘mahi’ and ‘sancipat’ is the herbal concoction’s resistance to aerial oxidation and fungal attacks. “One of the reasons for the manuscripts’ stability is the anti-fungal activity of the ink. This is due to its raw materials, including astringent fruits and cow urine, which seems to have a protective effect on cellulosic sancipat against fungal attack in the hot and humid climate of Assam,” said Robin Kumar Dutta, Professor, Department of Chemical Sciences, Tezpur University. No loss of text In contrast, some formulations of acidic iron gall ink — which was in use at the same time in Europe — can render documents illegible by causing loss of text, bleeding and fading due to ink corrosion. Professor Dutta believes the study of ancient ink and paint may help retrieve useful information regarding traditional practices. “Efforts are on to recreate these heritage tokens (sancipat and mahi) in lab conditions and upscale them. They can be used as tourism marketing tools. For tourists who visit Egypt or Europe, papyrus scrolls are popular. Similarly, we are working towards the idea that mahi and sancipat can become popular tokens. In addition, for locals, there is an emotional attachment to a piece of heritage,” Professor Dutta explained. Professor Dutta and his colleagues Barsha R. Goswami, Monoj K. Das, Pranjal P. Das, Tapas Medhi, Anand Ramteke and Simanta Hazarika (Gauhati University) published a report on scientific assays of ‘mahi’ in Current Science last month. The major phytochemical constituents in ‘mahi’ have been identified as phenolic acids, flavonoids and tannins and their complexes with iron. Though there are several recorded recipes for ‘mahi’ formulation, one commonality exists for all: the season during which it is concocted. “It is only prepared (in natural settings) in the winter season. The low temperature and dry conditions in winter ensure minimum exposure of the mixture to microbes and heat, which may decompose the dyes during the long time needed for extraction,” Professor Dutta noted. “In mahi, no external stabiliser is used whereas gum Arabic is used for the purpose in iron gall ink. Another interesting feature is that the pH of mahi remains neutral because of cow urine and the absence of acidic ingredients like vinegar. Iron gall ink has an acidic character that leads to destruction of the manuscripts,” he said. The study was carried out using a sample of ‘mahi’ obtained from M.M. Bora of Dhing in Assam. Mr. Bora is a practitioner of the manuscript-writing tradition on sancipat and fresh samples of mahi were prepared under his supervision.
New Wi-Fi system to offer super-fast connectivity The wireless network is based on harmless infrared rays
Scientists have developed a new wireless Internet based on infrared rays that is reportedly 100 times faster than existing Wi-Fi networks. The wireless network developed by researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands not only has a huge capacity — more than 40 Gigabits per second (Gbit/s) — but does away with the need to share Wi-Fi as every device gets its own ray of light. The wireless data comes from a few central ‘light antennas’, which can be mounted on the ceiling, that are able to precisely direct the rays of light supplied by an optical fibre. The antennas contain a pair of gratings that radiate light rays of different wavelengths at different angles (‘passive diffraction gratings’). Changing the light wavelengths also changes the direction of the ray of light. A safe infrared wavelength is used that does not reach the retina in the eye. If a user is walking about and a smartphone or tablet moves out of the light antenna’s direction, then another light antenna takes over, researchers said. Tracks precise location The network tracks the precise location of every wireless device using its radio signal transmitted in the return direction, they said. Different devices are assigned different wavelengths by the same light antenna and so do not have to share capacity. Current Wi-Fi uses radio signals with a frequency of 2.5 or five gigahertz. The new system uses infrared light with wavelengths of 1,500 nanometres and higher. Researchers managed to achieve a speed of 42.8 Gbit/s over a distance of 2.5 metres. The team said that even with the best Wi-Fi systems currenly available, users would not get more than 300 Megabit/s in total, which is some hundred times less than the speed per ray of light achieved by the new system. The system has so far used the light rays only to download; uploads are still done using radio signals since in most applications much less capacity is needed for uploading.
Scientists discover five new sub-atomic particles The find will contribute to understanding how three constituent quarks are bound inside a baryon
Scientists using the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator have discovered a new system of five particles all in a single analysis. The uniqueness of this discovery is that observing five new states all at once is very rare, researchers said. The LHCb experiment is one of seven particle physics detector experiments collecting data at the Large Hadron Collider accelerator at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research). The collaboration has announced the measurement of a very rare particle decay and evidence of a new manifestation of matter —antimatter asymmetry, to name just two examples. The new particles were found to be in excited states — a particle state that has a higher energy than the absolute minimum configuration (or ground state) — of a particle called Omega-c-zero. Excited states Omega-c-zero is a baryon, a particle with three quarks, containing two “strange” and one “charm” quark. Omega-c-zero decays via the strong force into another baryon, called Xi-c-plus, (containing a “charm”, a “strange” and an “up” quark) and a kaon K-. Then the Xi-c-plusparticle decays in turn into a proton p, a kaon K- and a pion p+. From the analysis of the trajectories and the energy left in the detector by all the particles in this final configuration, the LHCb collaboration could trace back the initial event — the decay of the Omega-c-zero — and its excited states. These particle states are named, according to the standard convention, Oc(3000)0, Oc(3050)0, Oc(3066)0, Oc(3090)0 and Oc(3119)0. The numbers indicate their masses in megaelectronvolts (MeV), as measured by LHCb. The next step will be the determination of the quantum numbers of these new particles — characteristic numbers used to identify the properties of a specific particle — and the determination of their theoretical significance. This discovery will contribute to understanding how the three constituent quarks are bound inside a baryon and also to probing the correlation between quarks, which plays a key role in describing multi-quark states, such as tetraquarks and pentaquarks.