1. Thinking before linking: Despite progressive aspects, linking electoral rolls with Aadhaar raises apprehensions

  • Page 6 / Editorial
  • GS 2: Government Policy 

Context : The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to link the electoral rolls to the Aadhaar database, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday amid stern opposition.

  1. Ignoring protests, the Union government has managed to push through a Bill in Parliament to link electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem.

 An unwillingness to allow meaningful debate and invite wider consultation can undo even the progressive aspects of problematic legislation.

Arguments for the legislation:

  1. The Bill’s objective — to purify the rolls and weed out bogus voters. It mandates the seeding of Aadhaar data with voter identity particulars.
    • There would be four qualifying dates for the revision of electoral rolls.
    • The Bill says the election registration officer may require the submission of the Aadhaar number both for new enrolments and those already enrolled. The choice not to submit is linked to a “sufficient cause”, which will be separately prescribed.
  2. Importance:
    • Removing bogus voters: some electors may be registered in more than one constituency and that non-citizens have been enrolled.
    • Remote voting: This can also allow for remote voting, a measure that could help migrant voters.
    • Faster enrolment: The four qualifying dates for revision of rolls will help in faster enrolment of those who turn 18.

Few problems with the bill

  1. Possible disenfranchisement of legitimate voters unwilling or unable to submit Aadhaar details,
  2. Possible violation of privacy, and the possibility that demographic details may be misused for profiling of voters.
  3. Lack of public discussion: It is not clear if the specifics of the Bill had been discussed widely and public opinion sought.
  4. Other ways to identify bogus voters: by other identification processes such as cross-matching the National electoral roll data held by the election commission of India.
  5. Aadhaar cannot differentiate between citizen & Non citizen: In fact, the Aadhaar database may be irrelevant to verify voter identity because it is an identifier of residents and not citizens. And the complaints of wrongful enrolment have come up even against the unique identity number allotted to more than 90% of the population.

Justification of the Law

  1. Puttaswamy case suggests 3 tests to check validity of a law. Mr. Rijiju is confident that the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill satisfies theses tests laid down by the Supreme Court — a permissible law, a legitimate state interest and proportionality.
  2. Aadhaar is voluntary by nature: However, this has to be rigorously examined. Even though the Aadhaar requirement is said to be voluntary, in practice it can be made mandatory. Whether the few permissible reasons not to intimate one’s Aadhaar number include an objection on principle is unknown.
  3. Aadhar is mandatory only in the case of availing subsidies.  However, right to vote does not qualify as subsidy.

Way Forward:

  1. If the Government really has no ulterior motive in the form of triggering mass deletions from the electoral rolls, it must invite public opinion and allow deeper parliamentary scrutiny before implementing the new provisions that now have the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
  2. Each is a valid concern that ought to be considered by a parliamentary committee.

2. How the Code on Wages ‘legalises’ bonded labour; It allows employers to extend unlimited advances to workers and charge an unspecified interest rate on such loans

  • Page 6/Editorial
  • GS 2: Government Policy 

Context : According to the author, one of India’s hastily-passed Labour Codes — the Code on Wages, 2019 — gives legal sanction to the practice of bonded labour by allowing employers to extend limitless credit advances to their workers, and charge an unspecified (and hence, usurious) interest rate on them.

The concept of Debt bondage:

  • Debt bondage: It is a form of slavery that exists when a worker is induced to accept advances on wages, of a size, or at a level of interest, such that the advance will never be repaid.
  • Situation in India: Despite previously existing legal protections, vulnerable agricultural, informal sector and migrant workers were already becoming trapped in a vicious cycle of mounting debt and dwindling income, stripping them, their families and future generations, of their most basic rights.
  • Preventing such enslavement of workers is a fundamental rights. Not that the presence of any law under our Constitution even before the Labour Codes — such as The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 — or various Supreme Court judgments, have ever deterred the bonded labour system from being widespread across sectors, from agriculture to quarrying, spinning, and more.

The Provisions of Wages Act, 1948:

  • Existing rule: Rule 21 of the Minimum Wages (Central) Rules, 1950 (corresponding to the Act) spelt out certain ‘deductions’ permissible from the wages of workers. The sub-rule (2)(vi) allowed for “deductions for recovery of advances or for adjustment of over payment of wages, provided that such advances do not exceed an amount equal to wages for two calendar months of the employed person”.
  • Additionally, it stated, “in no case, shall the monthly instalment of deduction exceed one-fourth of the wages earned in that month”.

Changes in new code: Compare this with Section 18(2)(f)(i) of the Code on Wages, which introduces major changes to the foregoing.

  • Many types of advances allowed: It allows deductions from wages for the recovery of “advances of whatever nature (including advances for travelling allowance or conveyance allowance), and the interest due in respect thereof, or for adjustment of overpayment of wages”. It has huge implications:
    1. It has done away with the cap of ‘not more than two months’ of a worker’s wages under the earlier Act, that an employer can give as advance.
    2. This allows employers to lend unlimited advances to their workers, tightening their grip.
  • Charing of interest: It has legalised the charging of an interest rate by the employer on such advances, by adding the clause on interest, and with no details on what might be charged. 
  • More deductions in salary allowed: the Code increases the permissible monthly deduction towards such recovery, up to one-half of the worker’s monthly wage, as compared with one-fourth under the earlier Act.

Cases of Bonded labour in India:

  • In Rajasthan: In Baran district, Rajasthan (2011-12), a series of Sahariya (a primitive tribal group) families boldly came out one after the other and spoke of their harrowing experiences of violence and even rape at the hands of Sikh, caste Hindu, and Muslim landlords, for whom they had worked as ‘halis’ for generations. 
  • In a large-scale primary survey in a mining cluster of Nagaur district, Rajasthan for the Mine Labour Protection Campaign (2015), it was found that one in three workers interviewed had taken advances from their employers ranging from ₹1,000-₹1,50,000 at the time of joining work. Of them, about 50% said they took the amount “to pay off the earlier employer or a moneylender”.

Reasons for Debt bondage:

  • Weak existing laws.
  • Poor implementation of laws.
  • Government’s inability to ensure the economic security of labourers
  • Social acceptance – and subjugation of backward castes in India and the landless class. The vast proportion of landless agricultural labourers in India, to date, are Dalits.
  • Deepening inequality: economic inequality adds to the advantage of the privileged castes and classes, thereby keeping true political freedom out of the workers’ reach.

Way forward – Need for state intervention

  • Ambedkar understood that economic enslavement was an extreme form of coercion that rendered political freedom meaningless, and that democracy itself required state intervention in the economic structure to prevent such practices, she says. While he proposed a complete recast of rural and agrarian land structures, and state ownership of land as crucial to this, which might be impractical.
  • He also defined democracy as resting on two premises that required the existence of economic rights.


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