TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
Preventing sexual harassment of women ant workplace
Former Uber chief executive officer Travis Kalanick’s recent fall from grace has brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment to the fore. It is an important issue that deserves more than the intermittent attention it receives when high-profile cases are in the news.
In Indian context:
Currently, the state’s response to workplace sexual harassment in India rests on two pillars.
- The first is guidelines issued by the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in 2012. These guidelines mandate that listed companies must file a Business Responsibility Report annually that lists details of the sexual harassment complaints the company has received.
- The second is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The Supreme Court-issued Vishaka Guidelines in 1997 that outlined procedural guidelines to be followed by establishments where a case of sexual harassment had occurred. In December 2013, Vishakha was superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, which kept the essence of the Guidelines and added more provisions.
Rise in number of harassment cases:
In 2012-13, there were 63 complaints. By 2014-15, this had climbed to 450. 2015-16 saw 525 complaints—and the latest figures for 2016-17 from top companies like Infosys and Wipro show that the number of complaints has risen yet again.
The sharp rise in the number of complaints indicates that cases that would have been overlooked earlier are now being reported.
With the Act:
- The Act does not satisfactorily address accountability. Notably, it does not specify who is in charge of ensuring that workplaces comply with the Act, and who can be held responsible if its provisions are not followed.
- The Act mandates that employers must constitute a four-member internal complaint committee (ICC) in any branch or office that employs more than 10 people of any gender.
However, 36% of Indian companies and 25% of multinational companies had not yet constituted their ICCs as per a recent study.
- The ICC must include a member of a non-governmental organization working for women’s cause.
It may not always be easy due to a paucity of such organizations and individuals.
- The Act also lays the onus for sensitizing employees to sexual harassment issues, and creating awareness of redressal mechanisms, on employers.
By all accounts, this has been observed more in the breach.
The failure is exacerbated by the fact that the hierarchies and power differentials inherent in any workplace make it important that employers go out of their way to create a framework wherein employees are able to lodge complaints against senior employees.
A survey by the Indian National Bar Association conducted earlier this year shows that there is a long way to go. Of the 6,047 participants, 38% said they had faced harassment; 69% of them did not lodge a complaint.
- The Act’s provision that complainants dissatisfied with the ICC’s recommendations can approach the courts, for instance, is of little practical use in light of the sclerotic nature of the judicial process and the harassment women continue to face at the hands of the police in filing such complaints.
- The law imposes a penalty of upto Rs 50,000 on employers who do not implement the Act in the workplace or even fail to constitute an ICC. But, the number of employers who do not fully comply with the law indicates that there is little monitoring of their redressal machinery.
With SEBI guidelines:
- The SEBI guidelines might work to an extent when it comes to listed companies. But those are a minuscule fraction of the employers in India.
- When it comes to implementation and accountability, the preponderance of small and medium enterprises—not to mention the size of the informal sector—creates a conundrum. Sexual harassment of female shop-floor workers in the garment industry is endemic, for instance. Domestic and construction workers are also often targeted. They have little recourse to institutionalized redressal mechanisms.
- State governments should take on the responsibility of enforcing implementation of the anti-sexual harassment act.
- Fundamental shifts in the economy and the functioning of the state is called for.
- The single-best solution to harassment is greater gender diversity at the workplace—an area where India lags conspicuously.
Tackling workplace sexual harassment is an ethical imperative; such harassment infringes on an individual’s right to freedom of profession and occupation and undercuts the ideals of a modern democracy. And it is an economic imperative; getting and retaining more women, who are disproportionately targets of harassment, in the workforce has the potential to be a major growth driver.
Connecting the dots:
- The issue of workplace sexual harassment has emerged into the global fore with recent stepdown of former Uber CEO. Discuss the rules for dealing with the issue in India. Is our regulatory system robust enough to ensure women are not target disproportionately. Analyze.
TOPIC: General Studies 3
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
- Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc
Reforming Indian Railways
- The CAG report on the Indian Railways’ catering services has claimed that food items “unsuitable for human consumption” — adulterated food, packaged eatables and bottled products, and unsanctioned brands of bottled water were being sold at stations
- The audit report also noted that the Indian Railways had failed to take measures to provide the required infrastructure such as base kitchens, automatic vending machines, static catering units, etc. Moreover, it also found that the eatables being sold at railway stations were priced much higher than their open market rates.
- The media splashed reports thereafter of a dead lizard being found in the veg biriyani served to a passenger.
- The CAG also found the blankets supplied to passengers in AC compartments were filthy and the Railways were levying a surcharge for journey on “superfast” trains when these often ran late.
- The number of air passengers has been growing in double digits in the last five years. During financial 2016, the number of air passengers grew by 15 per cent, whereas the number of passengers in the four rail upper classes actually declined.
- The finding of an internal study shows that after losing passengers on short haul to bus services and long haul to air services, the railway’s share of medium-haul intercity passenger traffic is also under threat.
- Last year, for the first time the Railways not only missed their freight carrying target, total tonnage carried actually went down, compared to the previous year.
- The carrier is not able to control costs and offer quality services in a competitive market.
- The weakness of the Railways’ freight business is its over reliance on bulk commodities. At a time of industrial slowdown, shipment of bulk commodities will be sluggish.
- The Railways is particularly vulnerable because around half of the freight traffic comes from carrying coal and India has stopped conceiving new coal-fired power projects to addresses global warming concerns over burning of fossil fuels.
- What is most disturbing is the inadequacy of the administrative culture or governance. When the passenger who was served the biriyani with the lizard complained to the railway staff on board he did not get a proper response. Then when he tweeted the railway minister, several senior railways staff were waiting for him at the next big station to shower all possible attention. If this is the state of the passenger business, which is in any case loss making, how is the real revenue earner, freight traffic, faring? If anything, worse.
Carrying coal is not an option:
- As pointed out by Mr. Prabhu there is no long-term future in carrying coal, the Railways should focus on things such as white goods and cars.
- Further, smaller cargoes have to be targeted and door to door delivery, maybe by tying up with logistics companies, undertaken.
Dedicated freight corridors:
The Railways hope for a turnaround pivots on a key factor — the dedicated freight corridors.
- These will simultaneously address both the needs of freight and passenger traffic.
- The freight corridors will greatly speed up the movement of freight traffic, challenging the competitiveness of road haulage.
- Also, with freight trains being taken off, today’s main traffic arteries will get unclogged and allow long-distance passenger trains in particular to travel much faster.
The dedicated freight corridors represent moving in the right direction in terms of seeking the right kind of business and therefore ensuring future revenue flows.
- Till now only two DFCs have been sanctioned (eastern and western), four are planned (east-west, north-south, east coast and south-west) and one (Chennai-Goa) proposed.
- Only the first two are under construction and about a third of the total stretch will be ready by election year 2019. But the internal study says, by 2019-20, airlines will carry more passengers than upper class rail travel!
- Political considerations have prevented timely raising of passenger fares, resulting in a loss in the passenger services which has had to be made up by raising freight rates. The loss on passengers is seen as part of the social service obligations of the Railways. A regulator has been created to recommend fare rises and thus take the politics out of pricing decisions.
- A study led by Bibek Debroy of NITI Aayog points out that exclusive focus on social service obligations ignores issues such as “inefficiencies in cost structures, impact of competition”. “In a competitive market where demand for transport is elastic, IR will have a limitation increasing fares.” The Railways will swim or sink depending on how well they can control costs and survive in a competitive market.
Acting sensitively and tapping inherent benefits:
- To address the issue of poor quality food, they are making food optional so passengers can bring their own food and get a discount. On blankets, a pilot has been launched to raise minimum temperatures under air conditioning and stop supplying blankets.
- An appropriate reaction would have been to improve the product and thus offer greater value for money. Railway stations are mostly right in the heart of a city. A comfortable night journey with a wholesome dinner (hence no need to carry food) will enable a business traveller to save on both a hotel night and airport-city transfer. What is needed is to be able to use a clean bathroom (say at the nearby Rail Yatri Nivas) so that you can be at your first appointment in the morning rested and freshened. Such a product will be able to snatch back from airlines some long distance travellers who are happy to avoid getting up at an unearthly hour to catch an early morning flight.
It is time the above suggested corrective actions are taken before it is too late. Indian Railways has been taking a hit on its revenues on the one hand and on the other it has been losing out to both air travel and road transport. If lax standards are not addressed urgently, the Indian Railways will soon lose all it has.
Connecting the dots:
- Indian railways face severe challenges ranging from loss of freight traffic due to reducing need of transporting coal to the poor quality of services being provided as per the CAG report. Discuss. Also elaborate on what should be the way forward so as to revamp the transportation system.
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