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The Hindu Notes for 07 August 2018

Rebooting the system for a skills upgrade

Small shops, basements, tin sheds and godowns. These are not random workplaces but places where private Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) are running in the country. Disturbing facts such as these come from the report of the Standing Committee on Labour (2017-18) headed by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirit Somaiya, on the “Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and Skill Development Initiative Scheme” of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). It was submitted to Parliament few months ago.

Explaining the scale-up

The ITIs were initiated in the 1950s. In a span of 60 years, until 2007, around 1,896 public and 2,000 private ITIs were set up. However, in a 10-year period from 2007, more than 9,000 additional private ITIs were accredited.

What explains this huge private sector scale-up? The committee says that it is not efficiency but a disregard for norms and standards. However, the ITIs are not alone. The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) today has more than 6,000 private training centres. Since it has short-term courses and its centres open and close frequently, it is all the more prone to a dilution of standards. Private training partners have mushroomed at the rate of five a day (mostly with government support) and it is clear that the government has been unable to regulate private institutions for quality. Private sector engagement in skill development has been taken up by standalone private training partners and not employers. The latter could have made the system demand-driven. Meanwhile, the lack of a regulator for skill development, with teeth, has led to poor quality affiliation, assessment and certification.

The Somaiya committee report is scathing in its tone and specific in details. It outlines instances of responsibility outsourcing, no oversight, connivance and an ownership tussle between the Central and State governments.

Private-ITI accreditation troubles started when the Quality Council of India (QCI), a private body, was hired due to “high workload of affiliation and shortage of [government] staff”. The QCI did not follow accreditation norms created by the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) and it appears that neither scale nor standard was achieved, but only speed. ‘Speed’ now risks the future of 13.8 lakh students (on an average, 206 students per ITI) studying in these substandard ITIs, which can be closed any time.

The ITIs have a unique functioning set-up. While they were formed under the government’s Craftsman Training Scheme scheme, their day-to-day administration, finances and admissions are with State governments. The NCVT performs an advisory role. The ITIs often run into issues with no one to take ownership. A case in point is the examination process — the question paper is prepared by the NCVT, but administered and evaluated by instructors of the State Councils for VT. The NCVT is just a stamp with no role in actually assessing quality. How can quality outcomes be expected without quality assessments?

The parliamentary committee has shed light on the ITIs. If the same exercise were extended to other skill development schemes, the picture would be grimmer. There are 183 cases pending in High Courts on non-compliance of norms by the ITIs. However, the short-term training programmes of the Ministry evade any scrutiny and action. For example, the Standard Training Assessment and Reward scheme spent ₹850 crore in 2013-14 with no norms for quality. There were no Aadhaar checks, attendance requirements and batch size limitations. Private training operators have made a profit with no court cases.

The report also reinforces disturbing findings of a national survey by the research institute (NILERD) of the Planning Commission in 2011 about private ITIs: they offered training in less than five trades (in government ITIs it is less than 10); had fewer classrooms and workshops for practice; and their teachers were very poorly paid.

A starting point

So what can we do systemically? A good point to start would be the Sharda Prasad Committee recommendations.

We need better oversight, with a national board for all skill development programmes. The core work (accreditation, assessment, certification and course standards) cannot be outsourced. Like every other education board (such as the CBSE), a board is required in vocational training that is accountable. Since we have the NCVT as a legacy, it should be used as a kernel to constitute the board. We should also have a mandatory rating system for the ITIs that is published periodically. A ranking of the ITIs on several parameters such as the one done by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council in tertiary education can be replicated.

There should be one system, with one law and one national vocational education and training system. The silos in which vocational training happens in India is unfortunate. We need to create a unified national vocational system where the ITIs, NSDC private vocational trainers and vocational education in schools, and the other Central ministries conducting training gel seamlessly and can learn from, and work with each other. A unified legal framework can facilitate such a unification. The absence of a law has only weakened regulation and monitoring. What we need is a national vocational act that replaces all scattered regulations — recommended in the 12th Five Year Plan.

Micro-institutional reforms

The ITIs have many internal issues such as staffing and salaries that need attention, as the NILERD nationwide survey in 2011 had found. There is also a critical need to reskill ITI teachers and maintain the student-teacher ratio. Since technology obsolescence is a continuous challenge, financial support envisaged through the NSDC should be extended to the ITIs.

The primary reason for hiring the QCI and the mess that followed was this: “huge workload of affiliation and shortage of staff”. This is true even today. It is unlikely that without fixing this, the QCI mistake will not be repeated. There has been a tremendous push by the government for private sector talent in government; perhaps it is worth considering talent from the open market to fill up higher posts in skill development.

Institutional reforms such as moving the office of the Directorate General of Employment (the arm that has all data on employment) from the Ministry of Labour to the MSDE would help. It would also complement the Directorate General of Training already under MSDE.

Employers and financing

This is the last but perennial challenge. Given the scale of our demographic challenge, a belief that financing from corporate social responsibility, multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, and the government will meet the financial needs for skill development is wishful thinking.

The only way to mobilise adequate resources the right way is to do skills training, and have equipment and tools that keep pace with changing needs and ensure that employers have skin in the game. This is possible through a reimbursable industry contribution (RIC) — a 1-2% payroll tax that will be reimbursed when employers train using public/private infrastructure and provide data. RIC, which is implemented in 62 other countries, was recommended in the 12th Plan and is an idea whose time has come.

Finally, while there is so much talk of skills for the future and the impact of artificial intelligence and automation, data show that 13.8 lakh students in the ITIs are suffering due to poor institutional accreditation. Placement in NSDC training has been less than 15%. Maybe if we take care of the present, we will be better prepared for the future.

Santosh Mehrotra is Professor of Economics, Centre for Labour, Jawaharlal Nehru University, a member of the Prasad Expert Committee on Sector Skill Councils, and a lead author of the National Skills Qualification Framework. Ashutosh Pratap works on skills and jobs issues and has worked with the Expert Committee

Thirty years after the 8888 uprising

Myanmar’s stability and development depend on how the issues of equality and federalism are addressed

August 8 marks the 30th anniversary of the people’s uprising in Myanmar. The ‘8888’ uprising (or the eighth day of August 1988) is one of Myanmar’s most important historic days in the context of the pro-democracy movement (Picture shows the student flag with the ‘Fighting Peacock’ insignia, and used during the uprising).

The anniversary organising committee is holding events (from August 6 to 8) including political discussions on topics such as ‘A 30-year journey to democracy’, ‘Towards equality for ethnic people and a federal union’ and ‘Myanmar politics and the military regime’. The committee will be submitting the results of these discussions to the government.

Still relevant

For a few years now, the day has also been observed in different parts of the world by Burmese expatriates. Inside Myanmar too, it has been marked by pro-democracy groups in different capacities. But this year’s programme in Myanmar is significant for three reasons: it keeps alive the spirit of democracy; underscores the need for equality and federalism; and builds an awareness campaign on the role of military.

‘8888’ was a people’s movement that challenged the then ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party’s grip on political, economic and social affairs which led the country into extreme poverty. The protests and the bloody crackdown gave rise to the National League for Democracy (NLD), a political party which paved the way for the current Myanmar State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi’s entry into politics and for the pro-democracy movement to continue.

The past 30 years have seen a change in leadership — from military dictatorship to a military-backed semi-democracy and then to a negotiated hybrid regime with power being shared between unelected military personnel and an elected civilian leadership.

The political change paved the way for former military generals to lead the country in civilian garb during the Union Solidarity and Development Party government which was led by President Thein Sein from 2011. Then, from 2016, Ms. Suu Kyi and the NLD formed the first civilian government in over half a century.

Interestingly, both Myanmar’s President Win Myint and Ms. Suu Kyi were political prisoners in the aftermath of the 1988 uprising.

The objective of ‘8888’ was two-fold: to push for the transfer of power from the military to a civilian leadership and a change in the political system from an authoritarian regime to a multi-party democracy.

But for the country’s ethnic minorities, their struggle and political demands that date back to before Mynamar’s independence in 1948 continue. The non-Burman ethnic armed groups have fought for a federal democracy that guarantees autonomy or self-determination in their respective areas and the right for control over their people and resources. The kind of federalism the ethnic minorities want, based on equality of rights to all citizens, has been denied by the military leadership and the government.

The core issues

The ‘8888’ anniversary organising committee, which is predominantly from the Burman-majority, understands this need and has laid emphasis on the importance of equality and federalism. These issues are today the most discussed in the ongoing peace talks between the civilian government, the military and the ethnic armed groups. The success or failure of the peace talks (or the 21st Century Panglong conference) will largely depend on how these two issues are handled. On this also depends Myanmar’s peace, stability and development.

The democratic transition in Myanmar thus far has been meticulously designed by the military. The primary objective, which is laid out in the country’s 2008 Constitution, is to give the military a dominant role in politics. In a parallel to the ‘Burmese way to socialism’ introduced by former military leader Ne Win in the 1960s, Myanmar now practices what can be called the ‘Burmese way to democracy’ as introduced by former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2003 when he announced the military’s seven-step road map to a flourishing democracy.

But now, in political discussions, the ‘8888’ leaders should look at democratic transitions in other countries. They should share their findings not only with the civilian government but also with the military leadership.

The military may hesitate to roll back its dominant role in Myanmar’s politics but it should note that no democracy can succeed when the military holds the reins and is unaccountable to an elected civilian leadership.

For democracy to strike deep roots in Myanmar, the role of the ‘8888’ leaders remains important. The military must note that the people of Myanmar as well as members of the international community want a democracy that respects the rights of all its people, including the minorities.

Nehginpao Kipgen is Associate Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University

The essentiality of mosques

Why the Supreme Court needs to reconsider the Ismail Faruqui verdict

The importance of mosques in Islam has come into focus again. During the hearing of the Babri Masjid case, advocate Rajeev Dhavan asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its judgment in Ismail Faruqui v. Union Of India (1994). The Bench in that case had ruled by a majority that a mosque is not essential to Islam, and allowed the Central government to include the 2.77 acres (on which the Babri Masjid once stood) in the 67.7 acres of land to be acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya (ACAA) Act, 1993.

Among the court’s arguments to justify the acquisition of Babri Masjid land was that “a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of... Islam and Namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open.” This conclusion was reached on the belief that “under the Mahomedan Law applicable in India, title to a mosque can be lost by adverse possession”. As proof, the judges cited Section 217 from Mulla’s Principles of Mahomedan Law.

No evidence

But no such provision exists in Muslim law. Mulla was only citing the view of the Privy Council in Masjid Shahid Ganj Mosque v. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak (1940), a reading of which shows that it was not ‘Mahomedan law’ but the Indian Limitation Act of 1908 that was invoked to rule that property made waqf for the purposes of a mosque cannot be exempted from the law of adverse possession.

In other words, the Faruqui judgment did not give any evidence from Islamic scriptures to justify its declaration that mosques are not essential to Islam. It thus ignored the “essential practices doctrine” laid down in the landmark The Commissioner, HinduReligious Endowments, Madrasv. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiarof Sri Shirur Mutt (1954), according to which “what constitutes the essential part of a religion is primarily to be ascertained with reference to the doctrines of that religion itself.” This view was elaborated further by the Supreme Court in Srimad Perarulala Ethiraja Ramanuja Jeeyar Swami v. The State of Tamil Nadu (1972) to accommodate “practices which are regarded by the community as a part of its religion.”

Significance of the mosque

A reading of the Koran and authentic traditions of the Prophet make clear the significance of the mosque in Islam. In fact, the first act of the Prophet after migrating to Medina was to establish a mosque. The Prophet had demonstrated by example that mosques went beyond the ritualism of ‘worship’. They were spiritual, humanitarian and educational centres open to all people irrespective of their social, financial or racial status, or gender, thus emphasising the importance of equality for social progress. The Koran protects this higher purpose from being compromised by listing the qualities of people who are allowed to maintain mosques.

The mosque is so indispensable to Islam that the two most authentic books of hadees, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, quote the Prophet as stating: “Prayer in congregation [inside a mosque] is 27 times more meritorious than prayer performed individually.” The significance of this pronouncement can be gauged from another hadees in Sahih Muslim wherein it is recorded that even a blind man was refused Prophetic permission to pray at home and was asked to join the congregation. This, in essence, is the doctrine of Islam on the essentiality of mosques which, by virtue of being a time-honoured belief, is protected as a fundamental right under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. A judicial negation of this doctrine would actually amount to a negation of the right of Muslims to pray in a mosque guaranteed in these Articles. It could also have a profound bearing on the sanctity of all mosques in India.

One fails to understand why the court ventured into theological territory when it could have justified the acquisition of the Babri Masjid land on the strength of the law of limitation alone. The irony is that the apex court thinks Muslims can offer namaz in the open, but when they do, they are prevented by right-wing outfits, as was reported in Gurugram in Haryana in May. Another negative impact of the ruling that namaz can be offered anywhere, which was one of the arguments used to uphold the ACAA Act, is that it denied Muslims, through Section 7 of the Act, the right to pray in the disputed area while placing no such restriction on Hindus.

In the minority judgment, which struck down the entire ACAA Act as unconstitutional, Justices S.P. Bharucha and A.M. Ahmadi flagged Section 7(2) and noted that it “perpetuates the performance of puja on the disputed site. No account is taken of the fact that the structure thereon had been destroyed in a most reprehensible act. The perpetrators of this deed struck not only against a place of worship but at the principles of secularism, democracy and the rule of law...” The judges also said that Article 15 of the Constitution debars the state from discriminating against any citizen on the ground of religion, among other things.

These facts, coupled with the lack of scriptural evidence to prove that the mosque is not an essential part of Islam, lay the groundwork for the Supreme Court to reconsider the Ismail Faruqui verdict at the earliest.

A. Faizur Rahman is the secretary general of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought. Email: a.faizur.rahman@gmail.com

Our privacy’s worth

A response to some criticism of the Srikrishna Committee report

In “A fundamental error” (The Hindu, August 1), Apar Gupta and Ujwala Uppaluri allege that the Srikrishna Committee has undermined and reinterpreted the legal principles in the right to privacy judgment. Neither the report nor the Bill does anything of that sort.

Let us first understand the task that the Committee was faced with. In August 2017, the Supreme Court declared the right to privacy a fundamental right and observed that informational privacy is a key facet of this right. In the wake of the judgment, the court said that the state must create a regime for informational privacy which protects individuals from harm that originates from state and non-state actors. Though the Committee was constituted prior to the judgment, this was undoubtedly its task, as stated in its report.

Towards the collective good

Let us now move to the two key points raised in the article. The first “provocative” claim made is that the Supreme Court has held that the individual is the beneficiary of fundamental rights. This is indeed a provocative claim. To see individuals as the primary beneficiaries of rights is a misreading of the Constitution. The Preamble of the Constitution speaks of a people who value liberty, equality, fraternity and justice. Much like other fundamental rights, the right to privacy is a means to achieve this collective goal of a free and just society. The report makes this point as succinctly as possible when it notes that the importance of a right in this account is not because of the benefit that accrues to the rights-holder but because that benefit is a public good. In other words, there is an important societal interest which is furthered by protecting the right to privacy.An impoverished account that sees rights as furthering only individual interests is perhaps reflective of the society that we currently are — a society which, as a collective, barely values rights. Despite the court’s valiant efforts every once in a while, the failure of our pursuit of liberty, equality and fraternity is there for all to see.

Nothing in this account of rights strays from the right to privacy judgment as claimed by the authors. In fact, one of the sentences picked out by the authors from the judgment makes the same point. The authors quote Justice D.Y. Chandrachud who notes that the “individual is the focal point of the Constitution because it is in the realisation of individual rights that the collective well being of the community is determined”. Evidently this statement does not reduce rights to tools that solely further individual interests. Rather, it is a recognition of the fact that the constitutional project to realise individual rights is not aimed at the fulfilment of individual interests, but at achieving the higher objective of creating a free and equal society. It is to this effect that the Committee notes that it would be an error to view individual rights as deontological categories which protect individual interests. Privacy is a fundamental right not merely because I value it or stand to benefit from it, but because we as a society value it and stand to benefit from it.

Now, the second claim. The authors suggest that the report endorses a view that the right to privacy dissolves in the face of amorphous claims of economic development. Instead, the report actually dismisses the notion of such a binary. The Committee specifically emphasises that protecting the autonomy of an individual is critical not simply for her own sake but because such autonomy is constitutive of the common good of a free and fair digital economy. This proposition does not make the crude argument that individual rights are subject to some notion of greater good. Rather, it expresses the view that protecting the autonomy of data principals is critical as it will encourage the flow of information. Therefore, the Committee observes that such an economy envisages a polity where the individual autonomously decides what to do with her personal data, entities responsibly share such data, and everyone uses data which have immense potential for empowerment, in a manner that promotes overall welfare.

It is all well to say that the autonomy of an individual with respect to personal data should be protected for its own sake. But stating that the right must be protected to the broadest, as information flow will gather pace in a digital economy, does not detract from the right in the least. In fact, it gives an additional reason to pursue the right. In India, in recent years, it is considered a mark of good constitutional scholarship to view any argument which points towards economic development as disingenuous. Frankly, this is surprising for a country where many struggle to make ends meet. If the “digital economy” offers our society as a whole a chance of prosperity without compromising on our privacy, we must take it.

Debating the report and Bill

The Srikrishna Committee report and Bill are not perfect outcomes of a perfect process. However, they are honest attempts to provide rational solutions to real problems in an incredibly complicated and contested area of policymaking. Any criticism of the report or the Bill should be wholeheartedly welcomed. However, pointing out the odd use of difficult language or of inadequate context while citing foreign authorities does not address the real issues raised in the report or the Bill.

Shankar Narayanan leads the Public Law vertical at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and assisted the Srikrishna Committee. Views are personal

Threats to EU values

Poland and Hungary’s laws show that the EU is struggling to enforce compliance with democratic standards

European Union members enjoy impunity even when their own domestic laws seem incompatible with the bloc’s core values, as Poland and Hungary show. The latest infringement proceedings against the two countries underscore the EU’s limits in enforcing compliance with common democratic standards, given the bloc’s stringent requirement of unanimity among all member states to punish offending members.

There have been several cases of infringement of EU norms by the two countries. In December 2017, the EU referred Poland and Hungary, besides others, to the European Court of Justice for non-compliance with the decision to admit refugees as a part of the 2015 relocation plan. In June, both countries were brought under the scanner of the European Parliament, again for flouting democratic values. A relevant committee voted, in only a first step, to launch a rule of law procedure against Hungary, while Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was grilled by ministers from national capitals responsible for EU affairs. Last month, the European Commission sent the Hungarian government a letter of formal notice over the “Stop Soros” law, among other things, for breach of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights. The law makes it a criminal offence to help asylum seekers, in contravention of international humanitarian laws. It takes aim at the pro-EU stance of the financier George Soros and is also viewed as anti-Semitic. But Prime Minister Viktor Orban has retorted that the law merely echoes popular will, expressed in his re-election in April.

In Poland, the violations relate, among others, to the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party’s forced retirement of a swathe of judges in July. The move mirrors a provision in Hungary’s 2011 constitution to lower the age of retirement of judges which led to the instant removal of many judges. Budapest and Warsaw have sought to cast their retrograde judicial reforms in terms of completing the post-Communist transition and a return to their conservative roots.

In theory, both states could be stripped of their voting rights in the EU and face financial sanctions. But each also knows that a unanimous decision by the bloc, under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, could be vetoed by the other. In fact, the British member of the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament voted in June to oppose the move to launch proceedings against Budapest. The conservative group’s refusal so far to act against an errant member is a tacit endorsement of the Eurosceptic position against EU meddling with the internal laws of states.

The most serious threat to the bloc’s fundamental values comes from none other than many of the EU’s founder member states themselves. The extreme right is in government in Italy, entered Germany’s parliament last year, and performed well in France’s 2017 presidential poll.

The writer is a Deputy Editor at The Hindu in Chennai