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

July 11, 2019 06:23 AM

courtesy  HT JULY 11

Amandeep Shukla letters@hindustantimes.com ■
Cabinet clears second labour code, tough law on child sexual abuse
KEY BILLS Govt also approves law on chit funds, transgender rights
NEWDELHI: 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 ~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 counterproductive, 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.

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.

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.

OSH CODE

The OSH Code will cover workers in both the organised and unorganised sectors and encompass provisions from around 13 labour laws. 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,” the minister said.

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