1. What are the benefits under pension schemes for Covid-hit families?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

Amid the unfolding pandemic, the government has announced an extension of pension coverage and insurance benefits for dependents of those who died due to Covid-19.

The pension coverage under the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) scheme has been extended to all registered dependents of those who died due to Covid-19. It has also reiterated the announcement of the expansion of the insurance benefits under the Employees’ Deposit-Linked Insurance (EDLI) scheme for members registered under the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

Benefits under these schemes

ESIC scheme:

The benefits under the ESIC pension scheme for employment-related death cases are being extended to even those who have died due to Covid. All dependent family members of such persons will be eligible for a pension equivalent to 90 per cent of the average daily wage drawn by the worker as per the existing rules. This benefit will be available retrospectively with effect from March 24 last year till March 24, 2022.

Detailed guidelines on this scheme are being worked upon by the Labour Ministry and will be issued by Monday.

The eligibility conditions for the ESIC benefits are likely to include the norm that the insured person must have been registered on the ESIC online portal at least three months prior to the diagnosis of Covid resulting in death, the official said. Also, the insured person must have been employed for wages and contributions for at least 78 days should have been paid or payable for the deceased insured person during a period of one year immediately preceding the diagnosis of Covid resulting in death.

EPFO-EDLI:

The amount of maximum insurance benefit under EPFO-EDLI, as was announced earlier this month, has been increased to Rs 7 lakh from Rs 6 lakh. The provision of minimum insurance benefit of Rs 2.5 lakh has been restored and it will apply retrospectively from February 15 last year for the next three years.

The government has tweaked a significant eligibility condition for the workers, with benefits being made available to families of even those employees who may have changed jobs in the last 12 months preceding his/her death.

All surviving dependent family members of EPFO are eligible to avail benefits of EDLI in case of death of the member. About 6.53 crore families are expected to be eligible. Number of claims on account of death under the scheme has been estimated to be about 50,000 families per year including an increase in claims taking into account the estimated death of about 10,000 workers, which may occur due to Covid.

Who are covered under ESIC and EPFO?

ESI Act applies to all factories and notified establishments located in implemented areas employing 10 or more persons and is applicable on employees drawing wages up to Rs 21,000 per month (Rs 25,000 for persons with disabilities). It covers about 3.49 crore of family units of workers and provides cash benefits and medical facilities to 13.56 crore beneficiaries.

EPFO covers organisations employing 20 or more employees and any employee who has an EPF account automatically becomes eligible for the EDLI scheme. The EDLI scheme is managed on the basis of contribution of 0.5 per cent of monthly wages paid by the employer to the fund and there is no employee contribution. The nominee registered by the employee is eligible to claim the benefit under the scheme.

Source: The Indian Express

2. Ending encryption: On enforcing traceability on popular messaging apps

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

Objection by WhatsApp

Barely a day before the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 came into force, WhatsApp moved the Delhi High Court against the rules — specifically the one that mandates that a “significant social media intermediary providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable the identification of the first originator of the information on its computer resource as may be required by a judicial order”.

Rationale by WhatsApp

Given the specification that a “significant social media intermediary” is one with more than 50 lakh registered users, WhatsApp’s messenger service would clearly be affected. WhatsApp’s contention is that for compliance and traceability, it would have to break its end-to-end encryption service that allows messages to be read only by the sender and the receiver. Its argument is that the encryption feature allows for privacy protections and breaking it would mean a violation of privacy.

View point of government

The question to be asked is whether the traceability guidelines (by breaking encryption) are vital to law enforcement in cases of harmful content. A release by the Ministry of Electronics and IT has said that the traceability measure will be used by law enforcement

as the “last resort” and will come by only in specific situations, such as “for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to the sovereignty and integrity of India… or child sexual abuse material, punishable with imprisonment….” The assertion suggests that this requirement is in line with the Puttaswamy judgment that clarified that any restriction to the right of privacy must be necessary, proportionate and include safeguards against abuse.

But the Government, as the law stands now, can already seek access to encrypted data under Section 69(3) of the IT Act, and Rules 17 and 13 of the 2009 Surveillance Rules that require intermediaries to assist with decryption when they have the technical ability to do so and when law enforcement has no other alternative. Besides, it can still seek unencrypted data, metadata and digital trails from intermediaries such as WhatsApp. The trouble with enforcing traceability is that without safeguards such as having any independent or judicial oversight, government agencies could seek any user’s identity on vague grounds and this could compromise the anonymity of whistle-blowers and journalistic sources, who can claim to be acting in the public interest. WhatsApp’s contention that “requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent… and fundamentally undermines right to privacy” is, therefore, not hyperbole. If anything, the Government needs to revisit its position on traceability commitments of intermediaries and instead revise the IT Act, 2000 in line with existing global best practices besides legislating the long-pending Data Protection Bill.

Source: The Hindu

3. Business sentiment at a new low: What FICCI survey shows

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

Business sentiment in India has taken a beating in May, with 70 per cent of businesses citing a weak demand situation as a key containing factor for business, according to a survey by industry body FICCI.

The overall business confidence index as measured by FICCI nosedived to 51.5 in May from a decadal high of 74.2 measured in February.

Ahead of the announcement of GDP growth numbers for the December-March quarter and FY 21 on Monday (May 31) here’s how the second surge of coronavirus infections contributed to business confidence touching a low ebb.

Why are businesses losing confidence?

A low demand scenario led to 47 per cent of businesses projecting lower profits in the upcoming six months and 37 per cent of businesses projecting similar profits as the previous six months.

Businesses are also expecting a stagnation in exports, with 73 per cent of businesses expecting similar or lower exports in the next six months and only 27 per cent expecting an increase in exports compared to 41 per cent that saw exports rising in the previous survey.

The demand outlook for India Inc. has worsened, as 70 per cent of businesses saw weak demand as a key cause behind worse business prospects, up from 56 per cent in the previous survey.

Lower optimism about profits also translated to muted hiring plans, with only 19 per cent of businesses foreseeing hiring prospects in the coming two quarters.

What are factors holding back business growth?

Besides a low-demand scenario, an increasing number of businesses saw the availability of credit and the cost of raw materials as a major concern. 34 per cent of respondents saw the availability of credit as a key concern, up from 31 per cent in the previous survey.

The rising cost of raw materials is hitting profitability, according to the FICCI report. Sixty-five per cent of respondents cited the high cost of raw material as a constraining factor for business growth, up from 59 per cent in the previous survey.

There was a significant increase in the number of businesses reporting worse conditions in the economy, industry, and their firms in the latest FICCI survey with the number of respondents reporting worsening conditions for their firms rising to 28 per cent in May from 16 per cent in February.

An even larger number of respondents — 41 per cent — considered conditions in their particular industry to be worsening, up from 10 per cent in the previous survey.

Source: The Indian Express

4. RDSO (Research Design & Standards Organization) becomes the FIRST Institution to be declared SDO under one “One Nation One Standard” mission on BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards)

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

RDSO (Research Design & Standards Organization) of Indian Railways has become the FIRST Institution to be declared SDO under “One Nation One Standard” mission on BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) which is Institution under Department of Consumer Affairs.

This unique initiative of two organizations under GOI is going to set a template for all the rest of leading research and standard development organizations in the country to follow and adapt World Class Standards.

What is “One Nation One Standard”?

It may be noted that to attain “One Nation One Standard” vision of Govt. of India, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the National Standards Body, has launched a scheme which provides for “Recognition of SDO”. Through this scheme, BIS aims at aggregating and integrating the existing capabilities and dedicated domain specific expertise available with various organizations in the country engaged in standards development in their specific sectors, and enable convergence of all standard development activities in the country resulting in “One National Standard for One Subject”.

Research Designs & Standards Organization

Research Designs & Standards Organization (RDSO), Lucknow, which is the sole R&D Wing of Ministry of Railways, is one of India’s leading Standard formulating Body undertaking standardization work for railway sector.

RDSO took the initiative to seek recognition as a Standard Developing Organization (SDO) under the BIS SDO Recognition Scheme. In the process, RDSO reviewed its Standard Formulation procedures to realign them with the Best Practices of Standardization, encoded in the WTO-TBT “Code of Good Practice” and also mandated by the Bureau (BIS) as essential criteria for recognition as SDO.

Procedure to secure recognition

BIS, after reviewing the Standard Making Procedures of RDSO, has granted recognition to RDSO on 24th May 2021 as SDO (Standard Developing Organization). With this recognition, RDSO becomes the first Standard Developing Organization in the country to be granted recognition under the BIS SDO Recognition Scheme. The scope of RDSO’s recognition as SDO, as approved by the Bureau (BIS), is “Standards Developing Organization for products, processes and services for railway transportation sector in India”. The recognition is valid for 3 years and will require renewal after completion of the validity period. 

The Standard formulation procedures at RDSO will now be more focussed on Consensus-based decision making and will entail extensive engagement of all stakeholders including Industry, Academia, Users, Recognized Labs, Test Houses etc, in the process of Standard making from the very early stages i.e. from Conceptualization to finalization of Standards. Some of the major benefits that will flow out of this recognition by Bureau of Indian Standards, under the BIS SDO Recognition Scheme, include Larger participation of Industry / Vendors / MSME’s / Technology Developers in IR Supply Chain, Increased competitiveness amongst Industry / Vendors, Reduction in Cost, Quantum improvement in Quality of Product & Services, Smooth Induction of latest evolving & emerging technologies on IR, Reduced dependence on imports, Thrust on “Make-in-India”, Improvement in Ease-of-Doing-Business, Recognition of RDSO on International Standards Making Bodies and Integration with Global Supply Chain / Global Trade.

The onus of complying with the terms and conditions, which entail conformance to the established Six principles of Standardization with greater emphasis on maintaining Transparency, Openness, Impartiality, Effectiveness, Coherence and Development Dimension, in the process of Standard making, will improve the overall confidence and trust of Industry and Technology Developers in the standards setting body i.e. RDSO and motivate all stakeholders to contribute in Standard formulation for Railway Sector in the country. It will also help in harmonizing the standardization activity thereby providing opportunity for greater participation of all stakeholders in formulation & implementation of National Standards and creating in the long run, a Brand India identity for quality of product manufactured inter the country.

Participatory approach to Development of standards involving all stake holders  in the process of standard making from the very early stages is set to reduce the time between development of standards and their ground adaptation or user utilisation.

The initiative set to usher in more faster transition from development of technology & innovation stage to actual use on ground.

Source: PIB