News Wrap


Women in India are less likely to work than they are in any country in the G20, except for Saudi Arabia. Among the lowest shares in the world and half the global average, Indian women contribute one-sixth of the economic output in the country. India remains poor, with the unrealised contribution of women as a major reason. Counting both the formal and informal economy, the female employment rate in India has fallen from an already low 35% (2005) to just 26% now. During the period, the Indian economy has more than doubled in size, and the number of working age women has grown by a quarter, to 470 million. Nearly 10 million fewer women are in jobs. Rise in female employment rates to the male level would provide India with an extra 235 million workers, and make the world's biggest democracy richer by 27%.

Girls, in India, are staying in schools, and thus out of the labour force for longer. As households become richer, they prefer women to stop working outside the home. India stands out, as its female labour-force participation rate is well below those of countries at comparable income levels. Men have taken 90% of the 36 million additional jobs in industry, India has created since 2005. India's workforce has shifted from jobs more often done by women. Indian women work especially in subsistence farming, where they are being displaced by mechanisation. Mega-factories that boost female employment, as in Bangladesh and Vietnam, are largely absent in India. Indian women do 90% of the housework, the most of any large country. India has many more girls in class-rooms, and fewer child brides than it once did. The socially conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Hindu nationalist government, makes it an unlikely champion of women's rights. Around 600 young girls a day die in India, of neglect resulting from gender bias. India has 63 million fewer women than it would otherwise have, because of differing survival rates between boys and girls, as well as gender-selective abortions. For a ratio that is expected to worsen, across India only 900 girls were born for every 1000 boys in 2013-15. All 33 of the politicians setting the new Goods and Services Tax rates, adopted in 2017, were men. Only one in eight ministers or members of parliament is a woman. Just two of 23 Supreme Court judges are female. Corporate power is dominated largely by men. In practice, women get 62% of what men earn. Less than 13% of all agricultural land is controlled by women. Public safety for women remains a barrier for women's employment.

Redesigning Payments
Delayed and failed wage payments have plunged the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in a deep crisis. The entire programme is undermined by delayed payments, rejected payments, diverted payments, and locked payments. Ever since bank payments were introduced about ten years ago, delays in wage payments have affected NREGA. First step delays occur before the final signature of a Fund Transfer Order (FTO), and the system is designed to calculate the compensation due to workers, by the state government, when they occur. Second step delays occur when bank transfers themselves are held up. The second step delays were as long as two months on average in 2016-17. Till now there is no disclosure or compensation for second step delays. With the payments system being constantly redesigned, the delays are persisting for long. Cash payments in early days, then post office payments, then bank payments, then specific banks, then the National Electronic Fund Management (MEFMS), and now the Aadhaar Payments Bridge System (APBS) have not been able to ensure payment within 15 days of the work being done, as prescribed under NREGA.

The latest payments system is largely responsible for rejected payments, diverted payments and locked payments. Ever since the linking of NREGA wage payments with Aadhaar, rejected payments have become endemic. Linking bank accounts of NREGA workers with Aadhaar has created endless problems, associated with inconsistencies between different data bases of job cards, bank accounts and Aadhaar. Today, "e-KYC" (biometric authentication of Aadhaar-linked accounts) is compulsory for NREGA workers. Some of the error codes like "inactive Aadhaar" perplex officials of Union Ministry of Rural Development, and UIDAI. According to the NREGA's Management and Information System (MIS), nearly Rs 500 crore of wage payments were rejected in 2017-18. The AadhaarPayments Bridge System (APBS) has given sharp rise to diverted payments. Aadhaar is a financial address, and wages are automatically paid into the worker's last Aadhaar-linked account. Unaware of this rule, most workers often look for their money in the wrong accounts. Wages are sometimes paid into accounts that workers are ignorant about, for example, accounts opened without consent in the initial Jan Dhan Yojana frenzy, or Airtel wallets. Due to data entry errors, wages are sometimes sent to the wrong person, because that person's account has been linked to the concerned worker's Aadhaar by mistake. Most NREGA workers are powerless and helpless to retrieve diverted payments.

Many NREGA workers are unable to withdraw their wages from their bank accounts, even after their wages have been paid. "Locked Payments" imply that the workers have been locked out of their bank accounts, when the bank treats them as "dormant" or "frozen", because they do not meet the current norms. When Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana money is sent to a worker's bank account, often without intimation or consent, the worker is at risk of the account being frozen, because the balance exceeds the current maximum. NREGA workers are driven en masse into Aadhaar Payments Bridge System (APBS), without their consent or knowledge. The complete lack of grievance redressal facilities aggravates the aforementioned problems. Delayed and failed payments are a major source of corruption. Corrupt middlemen step in and take advantage of the lack of vigilance, to siphon off NREGA funds, by fudging the records. Demands for NREGA is steadily vanishing because NREGA is a demand-driven programme, being corroded by low wages, uncertainties in payment, and the constant financial technology redesigns of the payments systems.

Israel's Nation-State Law
Israel's parliament on 19 July 2018, adopted a law defining the country as the nation state of the Jewish people. Fears are provoked it could lead to blatant discrimination against Arab citizens. Following a tumultuous debate in parliament, Arab lawyers and Palestinians called the law "racist", and said it legalised "apartheid". Adopted by 62 votes to 55, the legislation makes Hebrew the country's national language, and defines the establishment of Jewish communities, as being in the national interest. Previously considered an official language, Arabia was granted only special status. The law speaks of Israel as the Jewish historical homeland. Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel. Becoming part of Israel's basic law, the legislation serves as a de facto constitution. A deeply controversial clause that had been seen as more specifically legalising the establishment of Jewish–only communities was changed, after it drew criticism, including from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin. Arab citizens account for some 17.5% of Israel's more than eight million population. They have long complained of discrimination. The sponsor of the law, Avi Dichter from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, has said that the law aims to defend Israel's status as a Jewish and democratic state.

Vol. 51, No.18, Nov 4 - 10, 2018