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Cabinet clears second labour code, tough law on child sexual abuse

Amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, that were approved by the Cabinet propose to bring in the death penalty for aggravated sexual offences and introduce penal provisions for child pornography.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2019 23:29 IST
Amandeep Shukla
Amandeep Shukla
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Cabinet,India news,Protection of Children from Sexual Offences
The amendments,14 in all, include the introduction of some new sections that aim to make punishment for crimes against children more stringent, including digital offences.(AFP/Getty Images)

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday took a slew of decisions, seeking to introduce the death penalty for aggravated sexual offences against minors, replacing existing water tribunals with one to resolve simmering inter-state riparian disputes within two years, and proposing a crackdown on Ponzi schemes that target the hard-earned savings of small investors.

At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Cabinet also cleared the occupational safety, health and working conditions code, also known as OSH Code, the second major labour reform approved in the second term of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Separately, it approved a Bill which provides a mechanism for social, economic and educational empowerment of transgenders by defining their identity and rights to prevent discrimination against them.

Amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, that were approved by the Cabinet propose to bring in the death penalty for aggravated sexual offences and introduce penal provisions for child pornography.

“It [amended bill] will make punishment more stringent for committing sexual crimes against children, including the death penalty. The amendments also provide for levy of fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography,” minister of information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said at a media briefing.

The amendments seek to award the death penalty in cases of aggravated penetrative sexual assault of children, making the offence gender-neutral. The amendments also bring in a section to penalise possession of child pornography with up to three years in jail. The POCSO Amendment Bill, which was introduced in the interim budget session of the last Lok Sabha, lapsed after it could not be passed by either House.

The amendments,14 in all, include the introduction of some new sections that aim to make punishment for crimes against children more stringent, including digital offences. These include amendments to sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Act to increase punishments from seven to 10 years, from 10 to 20 years and from 20 to life imprisonment and death.

Amendments to section 9 propose penal provisions for sexual assault of children during natural calamities and disasters, in addition to cases in which they are administered hormones and chemical substance to aid in penetrative sexual assault.

Additionally, amendments to sections 14 and 15 of the Act aim to regulate child pornography by proposing punishments ranging from a fine of Rs 1,000 to imprisonment for seven years for storing, not deleting or reporting and producing child pornography for commercial purposes. The amendments also penalises the transmitting of pornographic material to children and propose to synchronising it with the Information Technology Act.

POCSO Act, 2012, defines a child as any person below 18 years of age, and regards the best interests and welfare of the child as a matter of paramount importance at every stage, to ensure the healthy physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of the child.

According to an official statement, the amendment is expected to discourage child sexual abuse, with the strong penal provisions incorporated in the Act acting as a deterrent.

One activist cautioned that the death penalty could end up bringing in its own set of problems.

“The death penalty does not necessarily mete out justice, but rightful conviction has shown to bring down the number of cases,” said Enakshi Ganguly of the HAQ Centre for Child Rights. At the same time, it could be counter-productive, increasing the risk of sex offenders doing away with their victims to destroy evidence, she said.

Water tribunal

A second major decision taken on Wednesday was to replace the existing nine water tribunals and constitute one single tribunal that will resolve all disputes over sharing of waters.

“There have been instances where such disputes have dragged on for decades. The single tribunal, which can have different benches, will ensure that these matters are resolved within a fixed timeframe of two years,” said Javadekar.

The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019, will streamline the adjudication of inter-state river water disputes. The Bill seeks to amend the Inter State River Water Disputes Act, 1956, and make the present institutional architecture robust, he said.

According to an official statement, the constitution of a single tribunal with different benches along with strict timelines for adjudication will result in speedy resolution of disputes relating to inter-state rivers. The amendments in the Bill will speed up the adjudication of water disputes referred to it.

Several states, including Punjab and Haryana over the Sutlej-Yamuna link canal and Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery river waters, have been locked in water related disputes.

“The Parliamentary Standing Committee in its nineteenth report had underscored the need to review the existing interstate water disputes resolution framework. The changes seem to be a step towards that direction,” said Ravi Kumar Pant, a former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission.

Ponzi schemes

In a bid to curb ponzi schemes which dupe millions of people their hard-earned savings, the Union government on Wednesday approved the Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2019. It will replace an ordinance promulgated on February 21.

The Bill will help tackle the menace of illicit deposit taking activities in the country, which at present are exploiting regulatory gaps and lack of strict administrative measures to dupe poor and gullible people, Javadekar said. Changes have been made to ensure that legitimate businesses were spared. Fraudulent schemes will not be allowed to operate.

A previous version of the proposed legislation, Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2018, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July last year. It was subsequently referred to a parliamentary committee for vetting.

Legitimate deposits, according to the Bill, are those regulated by watchdogs such as the Securities & Exchange Board of India , the Reserve Bank of India, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India, the National Housing Bank, the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, the ministry of corporate affairs, and state governments.

The committee had felt the definition ambiguous and prone to harassment and misuse. “There are also financing arrangements and channels of financing, involving entities in the informal sector, including start-ups and small entrepreneurs, which may by ‘default’ fall under the ambit of ‘unregulated scheme’ due to absence in the Bill of a coherent, clear-cut definition of ‘unregulated’,” the committee said in its report.

The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate are probing ponzi schemes that went bust in West Bengal in 2013, in which hundreds of thousands of small investors were defrauded of their savings by companies such as Saradha and Rose Valley Group.

Transgender rights

The bill on transgender rights will benefit a large number of transgender persons, mitigate the stigma, discrimination and abuse against the marginalised community and bring them into the mainstream of society, an official statement said. This will lead to inclusiveness and make them productive members of the society, it said.

Passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, is one of the priorities of the social justice and empowerment ministry in the first 100-day agenda of the second term of the Modi government.

Going by the bill, a person would have the right to choose to be identified as a man, woman or transgender, irrespective of sex reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy. It also requires transgender persons to go through a district magistrate and “district screening committee” to get certified as a transperson.

OSH Code

The OSH Code will cover workers in both the organised and unorganised sectors and encompass provisions from around 13 labour laws. India’s labour laws are complex and cumbersome and the government’s plan is to simplify them into four codes: wages, OSH, industrial relations; and social security.

It will become mandatory for employers to issue appointment letters to their staff and put in place stricter provisions for ensuring the safety of women employees..

The government may introduce two labour bills in Parliament next week, including the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Bill that was cleared by the Cabinet on Wednesday, labour minister Santosh Gangwar told reporters.

On July 3, the Cabinet had approved the Wage Code that contained provisions of minimum wages and payment of wages to cover employees in both the organised and unorganised sectors, unlike the current Minimum Wages Act and Payment of Wages Act that apply only to employees engaged in certain kinds of jobs..

“The House is in session. These bills can come in the House (Lok Sabha) next week,” Gangwar said.

The OSH Code will benefit around 100 million workers, the minister said.

“In mines and ports where even if one worker works, the law would be applicable. There are many places where workers don’t get appointment letters. The bill provides for that. Regular medical check-ups of workers would be made mandatory. We have also eased the process of compliance for employers,” the minister said.

First Published: Jul 10, 2019 23:29 IST

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