5th February 2021

For affluent, EPF is not nest egg but goose that lays golden eggs

  • More than 1.23 lakh “high net worth individuals” (HNIs) deposited more than ?62,500 crore into their Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) accounts in 2018-19 alone.
  • The largest EPF account has a staggering ?103 crore balance.
  • Department of Revenue provided the statistics defending the Budget move to tax the income on employees’ PF contributions over ?2.5 lakh a year.

RATIONALE BEHIND THE CHANGE

  • Any tax exemption is provided through taxpayers’ money. It was unfair to allow a small group of HNIs to misuse a welfare facility and earn wrongfully tax-free income as assured interest return.
  • Of an estimated 4.5 crore EPF accounts, the source said about 0.27% members had an average corpus of ?5.92 crore and so were earning over ?50 lakh a year as “tax-free assured interest”.
  • EPF accounts are mandatory for employees earning up to ?15,000 a month in firms with over 20 workers, with 12% of the basic pay and dearness allowance deducted as employees’ contribution and another 12% remitted by the employer.
  • The government had capped the contributions by employers into employee welfare schemes like the EPF or the National Pension Scheme or a superannuation plan, at ?7.5 lakh a year, in last year’s Budget.
  • However, government as well as private sector employees are allowed to make voluntary contributions over and above the statutory deductions into the general provident fund (GPF) or EPF, respectively.

THE EMPLOYEES’ PROVIDENT FUND ORGANISATION

  • The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (abbreviated to EPFO), is an organisation tasked to assist the Central Board of Trustees.
  • Employees’ Provident Fund is a statutory body established by the Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 and is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India.
  • EPFO assists the Central Board in administering a compulsory contributory Provident Fund Scheme, a Pension Scheme and an Insurance Scheme for the workforce engaged in the organised sector in India.
  • It is also the nodal agency for implementing Bilateral Social Security Agreements with other countries on a reciprocal basis.
  • The schemes cover Indian workers as well as International workers (for countries with which bilateral agreements have been signed.
  • As of now 19 Social Security Agreements are operational). The EPFO’s apex decision making body is the Central Board of Trustees (CBT).
  • On 1 October 2014, the government of India launched Universal Account Number for Employees covered by EPFO to enable PF number portability.
  • The total assets under management are more than ?11[6] lakh crore (US$157.8 billion) as of 2018 .

 

Centre ready to introduce Bill defining Delhi govt., L-G powers

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is all set to introduce a legislation in the Budget session of the Parliament to amend a 1991 Act pertaining to the powers and functions of the Delhi government and the Lieutenant Governor.
  • The proposed legislation received Union Cabinet’s approval.
  • The Bill is likely to clearly define the powers of the L-G and the Delhi government on the lines of the Supreme Court judgment of February 2019. It is likely to give more teeth to the L-G’s office.
  • A Supreme Court Bench had other than the question of services given a unanimous verdict on the role of the two authorities.
  • The services plea has been referred to a larger Bench of the SC and the hearing is yet to conclude.

LEGAL CONTROVERSY BETWEEN LG & DELHI GOVERNMENT:

  • Due to the co-existence of Article 239 and 239AA, there is a jurisdictional conflict between the government of NCT and the Union Government and its representative, the Lieutenant Governor.
  • According to the Union government, New Delhi being a Union Territory Article 239 empowers the Lieutenant Governor to act independently of his Council of Ministers.
  • However, the state government of Delhi held that the Article 239AA of the Constitution bestows special status to Delhi of having its own legislatively elected government.
  • This creates a tussle around the administrative powers of the LG and state government of NCT of Delhi.

2019 VERDICT

  • In the February 14, 2019 verdict, the court upheld as “legal” the MHA’s May 21 and July 23, 2015 notification authorising the L-G to exercise powers in relation to services and directing the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) police not to take cognisance of offences against Central government officials.
  • The apex court confirmed the Delhi High Court’s finding that the ACB’s jurisdiction is confined to Delhi officials and statutory bodies and does not extend to Central government officials.
  • Last year, the MHA notified rules for the newly created Union Territory of J&K.
  • It said that in case of difference of opinion between the L-G and a Minister when no agreement could be reached even after a month, the “decision of the Lieutenant Governor shall be deemed to have been accepted by the Council of Ministers.”
  • The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 is among the 20 Bills proposed to be introduced in this Parliament session.
  • The Bill was listed in the monsoon session last year but it could not be taken up as it had not received the Union Cabinet’s approval then.
  • It is reported that according to changes proposed in the new Act, the L-G could act in his discretion in any matter that is beyond the purview of the powers of the Delhi Assembly in matters related to the All India (Civil) Services and the ACB.

 

‘India ready to supply weapon systems to Indian Ocean nations’

  • India has already seen the negative impact of conflicting claims in some maritime areas of the world.
  • Recently the Defence Ministry made a strong pitch for collaboration among countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) while offering to supply a range of weapon systems to them and also helping to build capacities of partner countries.
  • IOR Defence Ministers conclave is being held at the ongoing Aero India attended by Ministers and representatives from 27 countries, some of them virtually.
  • Defence Ministry pointed at the negative impact of conflicting claims in some maritime areas of the world and said it is important ensure that the maritime expanse of the Indian Ocean is peaceful and is optimally harnessed for the benefit of all nations in the region.

WIDE RANGE

  • Recently an order of 83 LCA Tejas jets was placed to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a milestone in indigenisation of defence manufacturing capabilities.
  • India is ready to supply various types of missile systems, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), helicopters, multi-purpose light transport aircraft, warship and patrol vessels, artillery gun systems, tanks, radars, military vehicles, electronic warfare systems and other weapons systems to the IOR countries.
  • An initiative has been taken to develop a comprehensive maritime domain awareness picture in the IOR, which has resulted in the signing of technical agreements for sharing of ‘White Shipping Information’ with many countries.
  • India had been the first responder during natural disasters and has always been ready to share expertise and capacity with all IOR countries for coordination in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

WHITE SHIPPING AGREEMENT:

  • White Shipping Agreement (WSA) is an information network protocol that allows the navies of two countries to exchange information about ships in their oceanic territories.
  • Ships would be classified into white (commercial ships), grey (military vessels), and black (illegal vessels).
  • It facilitates preventing any potential threat from sea from impinging an coastal and offshore security of the country.

WHY IS THE WHITE SHIPPING AGREEMENT IMPORTANT?

  • As the entire world is connected through the stretches of oceans, it becomes very important to understand that there can be a threat to the security as there can be any sort of possible movement from one location to another. This also gives information regarding the maritime traffic.
  • Information regarding the identity of the vessels is very important to tackle any potential threat from sea routes. This particularly helps in the development of a proper regional maritime domain awareness.
  • This will also help in the identification of those vessels which can be illegal as this provides us with the prior information about the destination of the vessel, the route which has been planned for it, etc.

 

Maternal welfare scheme beneficiaries cross 1.75 crore

  • The government’s maternity benefit scheme, or Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, has crossed 1.75 crore eligible women till financial year 2020, the Centre informed Parliament.
  • A total sum of ?5,931.95 crore was paid to 1.75 crore eligible beneficiaries between financial year 2018 and 2020.
  • Apart from that, ?2,063.70 crore was disbursed in the current fiscal to 65.12 lakh women, Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani informed the Rajya Sabha.

PRADHAN MANTRI MATRI VANDANA YOJANA:

  • Pradhan Mantri Matri Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) is a maternity benefit program run by the government of India.
  • It was introduced in 2017 and is implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
  • It is a conditional cash transfer scheme for pregnant and lactating women of 19 years of age or above for the first live birth.
  • It provides a partial wage compensation to women for wage-loss during childbirth and childcare and to provide conditions for safe delivery and good nutrition and feeding practices.
  • In 2013, the scheme was brought under the National Food Security Act, 2013 to implement the provision of cash maternity benefit of ?6,000 (US$84) stated in the Act.
  • Presently, the scheme is implemented on a pilot basis in 53 selected districts and proposals are under consideration to scale it up to 200 additional ‘high burden districts’ in 2015–16.
  • The eligible beneficiaries would receive the incentive given under the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) for Institutional delivery and the incentive received under JSY would be accounted towards maternity benefits so that on an average a woman gets ?6,000 (US$84).
  • The scheme, rechristened Maternity benefits programme is set to cover the entire nation.
  • Prime Minister, in his 2017 New Year’s Eve speech, announced that the scheme will be scaled up to cover 650 districts of the country.
  • The announcement assumes significance as India accounts for 17% of all maternal deaths in the world.
  • The country’s maternal mortality ratio is pegged at 113 per 100,000 live births, whereas infant mortality is estimated at 32 per 1,000 live births.
  • Among the primary causes of high maternal and infant mortality are poor nutrition and inadequate medical care during pregnancy and childbirth.

BENEFITS

  • Disaggregated data on how many of these were unique beneficiaries, and how many were those receiving different instalments of the scheme was not provided.
  • According to the government’s initial estimate, it aimed to reach 51.7 lakh women per year through the scheme.
  • Under PMMVY, pregnant women and lactating mothers receive ?5,000 on the birth of their first child in three instalments, after fulfilling certain conditionalities.
  • The direct benefit cash transfer is to help expectant mothers meet enhanced nutritional requirements as well as to partially compensate them for wage loss during their pregnancy.

 

Citing shortage of officers in J&K, Govt introduces Bill to merge its cadre with AGMUT

  • THE GOVERNMENT introduced a Bill in the Rajya Sabha to merge the IAS, IPS and IFS cadre of Jammu and Kashmir with that of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories (AGMUT) cadre.
  • The cadres had been merged last month through an Ordinance.
  • The move has allowed officers posted in these states and union territories to work in Jammu and Kashmir and vice versa.

REASONS BEHIND THE CHANGE

  • The government had to merge the two cadres in view of paucity of officers in the newly created union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The J&K Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to amend the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 which had then made provision for retention of the J&K cadre for existing officers and stated that new officers posted there would henceforth come from the UT cadre.
  • There is a huge deficiency of officers of All India Services in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The developmental schemes, centrally sponsored schemes and other allied activities suffer due to non-availability of All India Officers in the existing cadres of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • There is a requirement of merging Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, union territories cadre so that the officers in this cadre can be posted in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to meet out any deficiency to some extent.
  • It said the Bill is being brought “in order to provide uniformity in the governance of all the union territories and to further enhance efficiency in their administration.
  • Apart from paucity of officers, the reason for merging the cadres is also entrenched interests of officers of the J&K cadre and their “political links”.

 

Working on umbrella scheme to address issues of transgender community: Govt

  • The government is working on an umbrella scheme to address issues of access to health, education, welfare, skill upgradation, shelter, and economic support and livelihood for the transgender community.
  • Government had enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 for the welfare of the community.

TRANSGENDER PERSONS (PROTECTION OF RIGHTS) ACT, 2019:

  • The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 is an act of the Parliament of India with the objective to provide for protection of rights of transgender people, their welfare, and other related matters.
  • The Bill defines a transperson as someone whose gender does not match the one assigned at birth.
  • It prohibits discrimination against them in employment, education, housing, healthcare and other services.
  • The Bill allows self perception of gender identity. But it mandates that each person would have to be recognised as ‘transgender’ on the basis of a certificate of identity issued by a district magistrate.

CRITICISM BY ACTIVISTS

1) The Bill states that transgender persons will have the right to “self-perceived” gender identity.

Activists-  Change of gender identity in documents cannot be done without a certification by the District Magistrate after proof of a sex reassignment surgery is provided.

2) The Bill enforces  a minor’s right of residence compelling any transperson below 18 to cohabit with their natal family.

Activists- Families are often a source of gruesome violence against the trans community leading them to separate from the natal family.

3) The Bill criminalises begging.

Activists- It does not offer reservations for employment and education.

4) The Bill strongly focuses on transwomen and hijras.

Activists- There is little emphasis on the intersex, gender queer and even transmen.

Note:

  • Act deals with the issue of grant of identity certificates and lays down a streamlined procedure for it, besides making provisions for non-discrimination, equal opportunities in employment, schemes on education, social security and accessible healthcare for the community.
  • National portal, launched by the ministry in November last year, enabled the transgender community to apply for identity certificates from the District Magistrate concerned, and the portal has received 259 applications so far.
  • Government has constituted a National Council for Transgender Persons – a platform for the representatives of the community — to act as an apex body to address the community’s concerns.
  • The Council is headed by the Minister of Social justice and Empowerment and draws participation from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Home Affairs, Housing and Urban Affairs, Education, Rural Development, Labour and Employment, Legal Affairs, Niti Aayog, etc.
  • Government has provided for one-time assistance of Rs 1,500 for each member of the community through the NCBCFDC during the pandemic, and 5,711 people have benefited from direct transfers.
  • Ration kits were distributed through the district administration and medical camps were also organised in eight states which were attended by 1,005 people.
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