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A Participatory Integrated Urban Water Management Approach: Jakkur Lake

NAKULAN N

Jakkur is one of the largest lakes in the inter-connected grid of man-made lakes in the city of Bangalore. With a water spread of 50 Ha and a catchment area of 19.2 sq.km the lake is not only primarily responsible for recharging the groundwater in Yelahanka, Alasandra and Kogilu but also has historical and cultural significance.  Over the years, increased pace of urbanization and a transformation of land use pattern around the lake changed the lake from a scenic freshwater lake into a dump of the city’s domestic sewage and solid waste. The biodiversity around the lake was declining rapidly and lake was having a slow painful death. However, the timely intervention by the city and a concerted effort by citizen groups has not only resurrected the lake but has also opened the possibility of replicating this model in other parts of the country plagued with similar problems.

Jakkur – Participatory Approach

In 2005, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board constructed a 10 MLD (million litres per day) Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in the northern corner of the lake (Srikantaiah 2016). The STP receives wastewater from neighbouring areas and releases the treated water into an artificially constructed wasteland adjacent to the lake. The wetland has natural vegetation that absorbs excess nutrients still present in water after treatment and the water flows into the lake.

The water quality has improved over the years with biodiversity in and around the lake steadily bringing the lake back to its pristine beauty and ecological function. In order to understand how and when a participatory approach was followed in the rejuvenation of the lake, it becomes imperative to understand the regulatory structure in place and the roles performed by these regulators over the years.

Organization Role
Bangalore Development Authority Built infrastructure around the lake
Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board Owns and operates the STP
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike Owner of the Lake
Fisheries Department Regulates fishing in the lake
Forest Department Responsible for Vegetation around the lake
Groundwater Authority Supervises groundwater extraction
Karnataka Lake Development Authority Apex body for lake management
State Pollution Control Board Parent regulator of pollution and STPs

In 2005, the Bangalore Development Authority developed physical infrastructure around the lake including construction of bunds, pathway, lighting and barriers to prevent solid waste from entering the lake. In the same time, a citizen group with residents from the neighbouring areas was formed to assist and guide the authorities. The group slowly took a formal shape into ‘Jala Poshan’ and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the BBMP to manage the lake.

Amidst the network of regulators and delegated authority between institutions, the citizens group has found greater efficiency in handling the day to day management of the lake. First, they see to that the infrastructure built around the lake is not damaged and sensitize local populace on how to best use the lake. Second, they try to have maximum vigilance over miscreants who try to pollute the lake. Cases of medical waste, farm waste and poultry waste being dumped into the lake have been spotted immediately. Though said actions could not be prevented by the group, the rapport shared between the group and the authority led to the timely intervention to clean up the mess and prevent it from harming the lake in the long run. Third, they try to build awareness about their activities and involve other people viz., students, activists etc. and organize lake walks and other leisure activities around the lake. In addition to increasing their visibility, it also breaks the perceptional barrier that people towards an urban lake where alpine like attributes are expected. Fourth, the group ensures the real stakeholders which includes the fishing community and adjacent peri-urban area that derive their water from the lake (though recharge wells) are integrated into the management process and their connection to the lake is maintained.

A citizen-led approach diffuses the principal-agent problem and transfers ownership to the real stakeholders. The approach also diffuses the regulatory complexity and simplifies problems into simple variables upon which the concerned authorities can swiftly act. The reminder of ownership and the importance of the lake, helps local communities to have a strict vigil over the lake and they act as the first line of defense against miscreants. The cost of such enforcement techniques is much cheaper than centrally controlled techniques.

Integrated Urban Water Management and Jakkur Lake

“IUWM is described as the practice of managing freshwater, wastewater, and storm water as components of a basin-wide management plan. It builds on existing water supply and sanitation considerations within an urban settlement by incorporating urban water management within the scope of the entire river basin.” (Tucci and Goldenfum 2009)

In other words, integrated urban water management is an approach by which the city’s water resources are conceived as one single entity and managed towards satiating the water requirements in its entirety. The method enables a framework in which the true ecological cost of water is paid by all stakeholders who consume water.

In Jakkur, the freshwater the lake receives from rainfall, the sewage water received through BWSSB pipeline (from the STP) and the storm water received through the storm water drainage are all passed through the artificial wetland to the benefit of entire lake ecosystem. It does not differentiate between the source of water. Such an approach maintains the ecological flow of water in the lake.

Benefits

The approach has yielded rich benefits to various stakeholders over the past decade. The fish population in the lake has increased substantially with the catch reaching as high as 600 kg/day during season. In a rapidly urbanizing city, this provides direct employment to communities that have traditionally depended on the fish in the lake for livelihoods and maintains their historic connection and sense of responsibility to the lake. The recharge wells in the vicinity are regularly recharged and the peri-urban population outside the city jurisdiction are able to meet their domestic water requirements.

The increased recharge rate of groundwater around the lake has enabled the extraction of groundwater which is then transported to the city through tankers which reduces the water stress in the city. The ecological landscape around the lake has increased the usage of lake for leisure and cultural purposes which has modified the complexion of the lake. Such sustained benefits to various stakeholders has placed this model as a potential game changer to be replicated.

Problems

While the STP treats the sewage water, the storm water largely enters the artificial wetland untreated. Over time, this has eroded the capacity of the wetland to filter out nutrients and the lake is seeing an increased growth of algae with turbidity of water increasing. Unless this is corrected there is every chance that Jakkur might fade into oblivion.

The 370 MW Yelahanka Thermal Power Plant, which is currently under construction will receive 15 MLD water from the Jakkur STP (Joshi 2016). While the current capacity of the STP is 10 MLD, authorities are increasing the capacity to 15 MLD with funding from Karnataka Power Corporation Limited. In order to sustain the ecological flow and maintain its characteristic as an IUWM practice, the lake requires 7 MLD from the STP. Any reduction in this quantum will adversely affect health of the lake along with its biodiversity.

In this context, the limited role of a citizen’s group has been founded wanting as there is no resource and mobilizing capability for a citizens group to undo decisions that are taken by regulatory agencies with powers above the citizen.   

Future Prospects

As observed earlier, Jakkur is a model that has the potential to change the way we perceive the sustainability of urban water management. While there is a merit in arguments that claim replication of the model is not possible as water management cannot follow one-size-fits-all approach, there can be little doubt over the fact that there are attributes in the model that definitely warrant attention in a populous, rapidly urbanizing country.

In order to ensure the survival of the lake as well as to scale up the model, there are two immediate concerns that need to be addressed:

The proposed diversion of water from STP might have economic justification as most STPs are planned and operated as cost centers under both PPP and Government owned model. This is chiefly due to a lack of understanding of the revenue potential of waste water. The nutrient contents of the sludge and the irrigation potential of waste water is largely untapped. The moment a demand is created around them, the STPs have the potential to become ecologically-sustainable revenue generating entities. To operationalize such a scenario, the city immediately requires changes to its Waste Water Policy which can create a market around a STP.

The second concern is that participatory water management can become effective only when the movement gains traction and becomes visible to the larger population. This will not only ensure the sustainability of the movement but also place a caveat to the decision makers higher up the ladder that decisions taken against the collective interest of stakeholders cannot be sold in a democratic polity when there is a concerted voice of stakeholders.

(Nakulan is pursuing his Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at nakulan@nls.ac.in)

References

Tucci, C., & Goldenfum, J “Integrated Urban Water Managemet: Humid Tropics”,2009 .

Joshi, Bharath. “Yelahanka Power Plant Could Kill Jakkur Lake – The Economic Times“. The Economic Times. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.

Srikantaiah, Viswanath. “Water for Sustainable and Inclusive Cities“. http://www.cseindia.org/. Web. 9 June 2017.

Featured Image Source: https://images.eventshigh.com/venues/d40cff21b203d4b82081c62b47571ee5/v__processed_original.jpg

A recap of Regulatory Governance Workshops

MPP 2016-18

 

In the third trimester, MPP participants were divided into six groups, each of which explored the regulatory landscape and challenges in a particular sector. The six sectors chosen were Electricity, Water, Banking, Health, Higher Education and Media. Students analysed regulatory institutions, policy instruments and their implementation and the roles politics and business played in creating the regulatory regimes. They further examined conversations around whether the state was too activist and stifling free enterprise or retreating from its responsibilities. Each group led a half-day workshop in which external facilitators were invited to discuss their experiences working in the sector and outline the most pressing policy challenges that exist today. This format for the course was novel and highly engaging and the class is deeply grateful to the CSSEIP and course facilitator, Pradeep Ramavath.

Electricity Workshop

In the first workshop, participants examined regulatory challenges in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity along with Mr. M.R. Srinivasa Murthy, IAS (Retd) Chairman, Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC). They outlined the central and state agencies with a role to play and discussed the growing role of private players. Due to the natural monopoly and moral hazards at work, national policies can only go so far towards managing a central power grid. For his part, Mr. Murthy emphasized the Government objective of 24×7 power supply and looked into our current installed capacity, with a special turn towards utilizing ‘stranded capacity’. Moreover, access to electricity can be highly inequitable between regions depending on installed capacity and also what the dominant source is (i.e. during times of drought, areas that rely on hydropower experience load shedding). Given the financial difficulties faced by DISCOMS, the participants also discussed the UDAY scheme and how it has begun to revitalize the power sector value chain. Participants focused on international agreements to develop cleaner and more environment friendly energy sources, the Draft National Renewable Energy Act 2015 and two regulatory instruments in India to promote renewable energy – Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and Renewable Power Obligations (RPOs). They concluded by highlighting the legal status and market position for RECs and RPOs as well as what can be done to make them more competitive.

Water Workshop

For the second, the students worked with water activist S Vishwanath from Biome Environmental trust to arrange a field visit to Jakkur Lake. The lake is maintained by a local citizen’s group, Jala Poshan, which took responsibility for maintaining it from the BDA and has adopted an Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) approach that recognizes diverse values of the lake from economic, ecological, sanitation and public health, recreational, etc. They engage as many stakeholders as possible in identifying its problems, liaising with government agencies and sustaining Jakkur lake as a local asset that recharges ground water. Given the overlapping urban development and public utility mandates exercised by various bodies (such as the BDA, BBMP, BWSSB, Lake Development Authority, etc.), local governance becomes crucial to keep watch and ensure necessary functions are being carried out. During the visit, participants also observed how the lakes in the region are connected in a chain and how effluents and algae that enter into one of them leads to environmental hazards such as the flames in Bellandur Lake. The students then led Vishwanath Sir in a discussion with the class which touched on the tangled bureaucracies that regulate water and sewage, political disputes over water, the conflict between water as a productive resource and as a human right and the technical and economic costs of using water in a sustainable manner.

Banking Workshop

The third workshop focused on reforms in the banking sector and was coordinated by Mr. Mohan Mani. After an orientation on the history of banking laws in India, participants examined the implementation of Basel norms and their role in the post-liberalisation banking scenario. They looked at the divergent goals of private banks and public banks in the context of India’s history of bank nationalisation and reviewed the lack of a clear policy to manage non-performing assets. The group also discussed how the role of a regulator is simultaneously played by the RBI and the Finance Ministry, which has a detrimental impact on the nation’s macroeconomic policies. The presentation was followed by a lecture by Mr. C. H. Venkatachalan, who outlined the major achievements and current demands of the All India Bank Employees Federation (AIBEF). The workshop was also attended by other guests from the Karnataka Pradesh Bank Employees’ Federation.

Health Workshop

In the fourth workshop, the class discussed the state of public and private health and the lack of regulatory body in the health sector. The students worked with Dr. Akhila Vasan and Vijaya Kumar Seethappa from Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali, an NGO which fights for health rights, dignity and well-being of all citizens, with a focus on the most disadvantaged and marginalized communities. In the past few years, the NGO has been in direct discussions with the state government of Karnataka and has advocated to the control of unabated privatisation of the health services in the state. The students and the resource persons used a narrative style of presentation, which was filled with discussions, case studies and anecdotes in order to emphasise the detrimental effects of the withdrawal of the state from the health sector in the post-liberalisation era and the subsequent mushrooming of the private health care which, presently, is largely unregulated. The privatisation of health care has also led to increasing cost of access to healthcare which a has led to large portion of the population being excluded from provision of quality healthcare. A few legislations like Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act 2007, Clinical Establishments Act 2010 and West Bengal Clinical Establishments Act 2017 were analysed and discussed in depth. The scenario of having health services replaced by the health insurance also was discussed in the session.

In continuation to the workshop, students in this group attended a public meeting on proposed amendments to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act, 2007, which helped them better understand the regulatory challenges faced in the health sector.

Higher Education Workshop

In the fifth workshop, regulation within the higher education sector was examined with the help of Prof. Sudha Rao and Dr. Chetan Singhai from NAAC. Higher education is an extremely diverse field which serves a wide range of institutions, courses and students and the sector has been growing steadily in India. Participants argued that norms must be set in place that ensure institutes of higher education have a clear mission, are accountable to their students and adequately prepare them for jobs in their field. The main focus of the workshop was on how quality can and should be assessed in such a context, questioning whether standardisation is a worthwhile goal or it can stifle innovation and progress. They discussed the parallel roles played by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in measuring quality and closely reviewed how these are subjectively measured through self-assessments and peer team visits. As both the guests, Prof Rao and Prof Singhai work closely with NAAC, they shared their experiences on the campus visits and participating in delegations to observe how other countries assess quality in their higher education sphere. The workshop concluded by studying the politicization of ‘quality’ in India as neither the state nor the market is fully equipped to determine the goals of higher education.

Media Workshop

In the final workshop, participants looked at regulation of the media sector along with Mr. Krishnaprasad (current Member of Press Council of India) and Mr Ravindra Kumar (MD and Editor of “The Statesman”, former President of Indian Newspaper Society). Participants began by highlighting the corporate incentive to get into media, which leads to creation of monopolies by mainstream media businesses. While this is a trend that has been taken to the extreme in the US, the Indian media still has a healthy degree of competition especially including Hindi and regional language media. Students discussed horizontal and vertical ‘cross-media ownership’ through print, online, television and radio as well as DTH and streaming or broadband services and looked at contemporary issues including the influence of TRPs and advertising, role of social media in spreading fake news and political biases of certain journalists. There was particular interest in the social and political role media could play in what is increasingly being described as a “post truth society” and where regulation could induce media houses to be more responsible and where it restricted the freedom of the press. Both Mr. Kumar S and Ms. Anitha spoke about their personal experiences as print journalists in the Kannada press and what inspired them to take up the profession in the first place. The session ended with Mr. Ravindra Kumar joining in via videoconference to add his insights on the contemporary scenario of ‘media divergence’ or segmentation in the market and take questions.

This post was compiled by the NLSIU MPP PR Team comprising of Aastha Maggu, Kalidoss Nanditha, Rohith CH, Smita Mutt and Trisrota Dutta.

Observing ‘Public Policy response to Group Inequality in India’ through a Panel Discussion

EDITORS   

MPP 2016-2018

George Orwell captured the fundamental dilemma that has faced all political theorists in one simple yet elegant form, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The manifestation of this phenomenon is still witnessed across the world, with some trying to remedy it, while others attempt to aggravate it. A panel discussion on the idea of this equal-ness not in terms of singular and individual inequality but in terms of inequality experienced by the virtue of a language one speaks, the caste one belongs to and the name by which one address God, happened on 11th January 2017. The panel was constituted around the idea of inequitable impacts of rule of law policy priorities on certain social groups. In asking who the drivers and direct beneficiaries of the national process of development, we must also consider interests that lie outside the “mainstream”, how stringently rights to property are protected and whether marginalised groups have a voice in shaping the economic choices that directly limit their opportunities or disadvantage them further.

The first guest was Arvind Narain, an NLSIU alumnus who is affiliated with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore.

Related image

Mr. Narain began by outlining the diverse, plural and overlapping hierarchies at work in India and brought us back to the Ambedkar-Gandhi debates on how to best treat social difference in politics. From there, his focus was on the role of law in better understanding and targeting the emergent political hierarchies and the transformative promise of the Indian Constitution. He stressed that democracy must be counterweighted by legal institutions to protect the rights of minorities. However, when you have judgments like Section 377 that invoke ‘popular morality’ and seek to use them to curtail basic rights, then you have what he described as “democracy on a soil that is undemocratic”. Democracy then, isn’t populism but is the on-going creation of a framework of rights, duties and social harmonies that enable every individual to participate in and contribute to the national life. Law has clear limitations, however – when the civic and social objectives set forward in the Preamble are for liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, how can something like fraternity in society be measured or consciously used to transform our polity? The transformative goals of the Constitution are just as much the results of stronger, more vocal civil society and of understanding the essentiality of positive rights as they are of laws and institutions. In the end, Mr. Narain linked law and morality by pointing out how legal measures from fact-finding reports to legal journalism can advance the cause of civil rights, even in the contemporary scene.

The second speaker was Dr Ratnam, Coordinator at Centre for Ambedkar Studies, University of Hyderabad, who spoke about the response of Public Policy towards people categorised under Scheduled Caste in India. He talked about the altering terms which have been used to address the scheduled caste interchangeably by the state and the social movements. The use of different terms to recognise them has laid an impact on the way the issue has been constructed. The lack in clarity in recognising the issues has further impacted the affirmative action taken. In his speech, he mentioned the conflict between ensuring equality and homogeneity at the same time. He questioned that if we are all equal in front of the law then what objective does affirmative action achieve. The entire society has been stratified into castes and further into sub-castes not only because people recognise themselves with the diversity which they bring in but also because public policy recognises these categories. Public Policy thus addresses a number of questions of varied nature at the same time. The affirmative action acts as an aid in most cases but also lead to increasing differences and conflict, some of the times. The Nation strives for equality but which parameters of policy shall achieve equality is the lingering question. He stressed on the fact that under the umbrella of neo-liberalisation along with the state the forms of discrimination has also changed which has become a heavier challenge for public policy. He ended his lecture on the note that the Constitution which is the product of flesh and blood of our countrymen should be implemented in the real sense to stop the violence towards marginalised groups.

The third speaker, Dr M. C. Srinivas, Joint Director of the Social Welfare Department, Government of Karnataka has the special duty of enforcing reservations for SCs and STs. With thirty-eight years of experience in implementing government policies for the development of the Scheduled Tribes, Dr. Srinivas gave us an insider’s peek into the progress made, gaps persisting and governmental and structural deficits. The foremost issue is the problem of identification of the Scheduled Tribes.

Image result for adivasi india

In Karnataka, only sixty-five out of seven hundred and five tribes have been identified as Scheduled Tribes. The main agenda of the government through the promulgation of numerous schemes and programmes is to bring these tribes out of the forest and into the ‘mainstream’. This poses a problem as the majority of the tribes do not want to join the mainstream. Although Karnataka has been a pioneer state in the adoption of the SCSP and TSP Act, 2013 which enabled the allocation, mobilisation and distribution of funds (which can be carried forward for two more years if under-utilised instead of lapsing). Karnataka has also enacted numerous schemes to take forth social services like education, PDS, residential education (KREIS), Anganwadis, housing, infrastructure and hospitals to the fringe forest dwellers who don’t want to come out. While the paper trail of schemes and programmes points to the good intentions of the powers-that-be, Dr. Srinivas admits that there are major gaps in implementation, lack of grass root level monitoring systems and of course, corruption and apathy inherent in some civil servants that ensures systemic failures and a protraction of the deplorable state of exclusion, discrimination, poverty and underdevelopment of the Scheduled Tribes.

 

Mr Maqbool Ahmed Siraj, Journalist, activist, and researcher on Muslim issues in India, the final speaker on the Panel gave an overview of the socio-economic conditions of Muslim communities in India.Related image Bringing his experiences as a journalist and social activist his entire work on Muslims highlights the general psyche of the rest of the population towards Muslims. Over six dynasties of Muslim rulers had flourished in India making them the oldest ruling class yet Muslims and Christians are externalised minorities while Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists are internalised minorities in India. Muslims are both religious and linguistic minority with the socio-economic realities of the community known to be grim due to low education, poor residential conditions and lack of access to sanitation and health, absence from top leadership and bureaucratic positions. In the political sphere, on an average the representation of Muslims as MP’s has been 32-34 while the required number of Muslim MP’s for proportionate representation is 75. The welfare measures for Muslims have been slightly better in South India, with states like Karnataka having 4 per cent reservation for Muslims and Tamil Nadu having 3.5 per cent reservation for Muslims and Christians. Nevertheless, in order to neutralize biases and social exclusion and increase political representation of Muslims, public policy must critically evaluate the need to consider socio-economic backwardness of the Muslims for reservation.

The panel was divided in its focus ranging from caste groups, tribal groups, religious communities and the potential impact of laws on disparities. Despite this divergence, the vision and goal were commonly shared, the panel emphasised on the need for corrective and preventative measures and of the impetus on the political elites and social institutions to stop the incessant otherisation of the entire mass of population. The impact of reservations and socio-economic schemes have been enormous, but not sufficient. The panel focused on the tools and the requirement for such an equality within the legal and political conscience of  India.  If summarised in a single sentence, the panel’s message sought an embodiment of a common identity grounded in the constitutional morality, where all humans are equal and no one is more than equal.

Featured image sources:

http://altlawforum.org/section/arvind-narrain/

http://www.opiniontandoor.in/2016/06/when-b-r-ambedkar-was-briefly-film.html

http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/HZ5MhH6v2UfixcTXnqKPQI/Four-letters-India-needs-to-learn-by-heart-FPIC.html

http://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/interview-author-intolerant-indian-calls-conscious-celebration-diversity

Lecture on Accountability Reforms in India by Prashant Bhushan

SATTVIKA ASHOK

Noted activist and lawyer, Prashant Bhushan delivered an engaging lecture on the 9th of April at National Law School of India, University on ‘Accountability reforms through laws, institutions, and social movements’. Mr Bhushan has been closely associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform and the conceptualisation of the Jan Lokpal as a product of the India Against Corruption movement. According to Mr Bhushan, due to the absence of a strong citizen lobby, public policy in India has been serving vested commercial interests. 

Commenting on the realms of Public Interest Litigation and human rights, Mr Bhushan stressed the need for transparency, accountability and time bound delivery of service in the functioning of government institutions. To ensure so, the importance of grievance redressal by an appellate authority, independent of the government at both the Central and State level is critical. As a result, people’s groups have demanded the reintroduction of the ‘Right of Citizens for Time bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011‘ which had lapsed earlier in the assembly. Mr Bhushan also discussed the existing legal framework under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to access information under the control of public authorities. While the legal provision for seeking information has been revolutionary, proactive disclosure has been largely missing. In addition, the Central Information Commission set up under the RTI Act was perceived to be incompetent where appointments have been based on political considerations without transparency. The Central Vigilance Commission, an apex Indian governmental body created in 1964 to address governmental corruption, reported that corruption complaints against various government departments jumped by a whopping 67 percent in 2016 over the previous year. (India 2017) The CVC that has a supervisory jurisdiction over the Central Bureau of Investigation has been criticised for its lack of effectiveness and investigative machinery. Therefore, Mr Bhushan believed there is a need for strong robust institutions, reforms, and laws to maintain transparency in governance, including the most important institution, the judiciary.  

Prashant Bhushan is also known for his association in the public interest domain with Transparency International, People’s Union for Civil Liberties and his stance the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir and other areas. When asked what keeps him going, he replied, “when there is a huge injustice, you cannot close your eyes and walk away.” Given the role of media in politics today, where the mainstream media is showing signs of fascism, on asked whether a movement like Indian Against Corruption is possible, while Mr Bhushan agrees that citizen activism is harder, the new media and social media are increasingly able to capture the voice of the public.

References:

India, Press Trust of, ed. 2017. 67% jump in corruption complaints; railways tops: CVC. New Delhi, April 13.

Image source:

Image Reference: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/krishna-remark-prashant-bhushan-apologises-says-unintentionally-hurt-sentiments-of-many/

(Sattvika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sattvikaashok@nls.ac.in )

Minimum Wages Policy in Karnataka

SMITA MUTT

An Analysis of Karnataka’s Minimum Wage Policy: How They are Notified, Contested and Upheld

The procedure of setting minimum wages in India is a balance between legislative statute and policy regulation, the understanding of which requires vigilance and careful study from the lawyers, academics, activists and union leaders who are actively engaged in contemporary labour questions. These wages build a paradoxical economic issue – while the interests of workers and their unions seem antithetically opposed to those of their managers and company owners, they are actually more closely intertwined. To appreciate the current situation, one must follow two trends: tracing the history of the minimum wage as a political and judicial issue and understanding the statutory procedure by which administrative notifications are prepared. But it is also necessary to lay focus on the fact that it is through institutions such as courts, labour departments and civil society groups that the beneficiaries of minimum wage policy are served amidst corruption or administrative negligence.

Various Theories for the determination of wagesHistory of the Minimum Wage Policy

In any discussion of the legislative and policy implications of the minimum wage in India, 1948 is a crucial year. It involved the passage of the Minimum Wages Act and the appointment of the Tripartite Committee on Fair Wages, which drew distinctions between three conceptual levels of wages – the living wage, the fair wage and the minimum wage. Of these, the first is arrived at on the basis of meeting basic needs, the second is calculated with regards to the industry’s ‘Capacity to Pay’ and the third is the statutory mandate.

As these dimensions were laid out and efforts were made to navigate the tensions between them, the 15th Annual Labour conference was held in 1957. In this conference, it was argued that minimum wage should be fixed in a scientific and needs-based manner – an idea that became hugely influential within the minimum wage discourse. They recommended that the minimum wage should sustain a family (estimated at three consumption units – one man, one woman and two children) for their requirements of food, clothing, rent, fuel and miscellaneous expenses.

The events discussed so far are negotiating processes, where administrative and political actors gathered to establish a legal infrastructure for minimum wages. However, their policy recommendations were not easily accepted by industries, which challenged them through an array of cases:

  • Bijay Cotton Mills Ltd vs. State of Ajmer, 1954

This petition was filed by the Mill owners challenging the right for the “appropriate government” to mandate a minimum wage, citing the Fundamental Right to freedom of trade or business (Art. 19(1)(g) and was dismissed.

  • Crown Aluminium vs their Workmen, 1957

Crown Aluminium Works was dissatisfied with the verdict of an Industrial Tribunal set up to adjudicate a dispute between them and their workmen. After a wage was agreed upon, Crown filed an appeal and then this petition, arguing that certain “economy measures” had to be taken. Since the revision of the fixed wage structure was due to the employer’s financial difficulties, both filings were dismissed, recasting minimum wage as the market price of the factor. Industries could either hire workers at the wage or not at all.

  • U. Unichoy and Others vs. State of Kerala, 1961

A group of tile factory owners in Kerala argued that the minimum wage notification actually denoted a fair wage and was arrived at in an unfair (and non-procedural) manner. After examining the case, the court rejected their petition, showing that the wage was properly fixed through the procedure established by the Act.

In each of these cases, the legal institution of minimum wage and the established statutory process of notifying it were protected. However, in recent years, we have seen more successful challenges, both due to a dysfunction within the State Labour Departments and a shift towards more flexible labour regulations.

Procedure to Notify Minimum Wages and Contemporary Challenges

It is worth noting that since Minimum Wage is a labour issue that appears on the Concurrent List, it is the States that set the notifications according to areas of employment enumerated in the Central law’s Schedule. States are hesitant to revise minimum wages too high, fearing that employers will move to other states with more favourable wage regimes. This stress is only more acute for exporters, who put pressure on the State Labour Departments to loosen restrictions.

After considering all advice and representations, the Government must notify the new minimum wage by scheduled area of employment. Under the Article 3(1)b, wages must be reviewed and if necessary, revised every 5 years – a practice that most states do not keep up with.

Minimum Wage

In October 2015, the High Court rejected Karnataka Labour Department’s Minimum Wage notification for automobile and foundry workers, citing “glaring lapses and gross dereliction of duty.” Going on to attack public servants for their “carelessness and negligence”, the Court ordered an enquiry into the Department and for all those responsible for incurring penalties. After months of delays, when the case finally came before the court, the Labour Department could not show that their decision was based on recommendations from the Advisory Board, a major procedural lapse that forced Justice Venugopala Gowda to accept the petitions and quash the wage notifications. Lawyer-activists such as Clifton d’Rosario of Manthan Law Chambers, who routinely deal with the Labour Department maintained that this lacklustre work is its general culture. The Court additionally ordered the Government to issue proper notifications by the end of November and directed companies to pay 75 percent of the higher wages in the interim.

This push-and-pull of institutions that fight against and also for, set minimum wages is seen not just in Karnataka, but in other states with developed industries such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal. These occurrences are due to successful interactions of social justice actors, but it is just as important to remember that the minimum wage is a limited policy. It fails to cover workers in the unorganised sector as well as any sector not included in a particular State’s Schedule. Moreover, non-compliance of employers tends to increase due to intersectional identities of the workers – young, unmarried, lower caste women employed in the garment sector are some of the greatest victims of partially implemented minimum wage policies.

(Smita is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at smitamutt@nls.ac.in)

References

Eastern Book Company. 2016. Minimum Wages Act, 1948 [Act 11 of 1948]. 28th . Lucknow: EBC Publishing (P) Ltd.

Express News Service. 2016. “Revise auto, foundry workers’ wages by November 30: Karnataka HC to the government.” The New Indian Express Online. October 29. Accessed December 2016. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2016/oct/29/revise-auto-foundry-workers-wages-by-november-30–karnataka-hc-to-government-1532986.html.

Sampath, G. 2016. “Do we need a minimum wage law?” The Hindu Online. September 1. Accessed December 7, 2016. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/Do-we-need-a-minimum-wage-law/article14616002.ece.

Supreme Court of India. 1954. “THE EDWARD MILLS CO. LTD., BEAWAR, AND OTHERS Vs. THE STATE OF AJMER AND ANOTHER.” Judgment Information System (JUDIS). Accessed December 2016. http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgs1.aspx?filename=889.

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