Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Tipping Point- Taxing Times



image courtesy shutterstock


Eating out? Think again. When living on a shoestring budget, fine dine with its taxes and charges translates into an evening of whine and dine. Service industry charging for the service; ridiculous, one would think. But that’s exactly what happens when you eat out. In addition to the food bill, you pay for the service charge, service tax, Krishi Kalyan Cess, the Swachh Bharat Tax, etc. What happens next when GST kicks in? This is why the roadside pani puri stall rocks. With no cash, opt for a roadside vendor who doesn’t believe in service charge, is not going to expect any tips and wont levy any cess/tax on you. He is the one ready with his Paytm account. He probably doesn’t hire any staff and serves with love straight from his own (germ-free?) hands. Balance yourself on his rickety stool or brave the whole meal standing and ‘dining’.

The diktat

The recent Central government advisory to restaurants on service charge has kicked up a fiery debate. It states that service charge is optional and the same has to be communicated by the eatery explicitly to customers. Customers dissatisfied with the service can have it waived off. They can’t be forced to pay service charge. Service charge is expressed as a fixed percentage in the bill and is usually printed in menus. But not every restaurant follows the norm of levying it only on 40% of the food bill.  Also, the amount is arbitrary and in some cases, goes up to 20%! Arguing about the bill with the restaurant is so awkward that one is left red-faced but helpless.  The thick-skinned may enquire about the breakup and the innumerable costs, but usually a smooth-talking and firm ‘manager’ dissuades the query and the querist. Suddenly the food leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Now since the union government has come to the consumer’s rescue, service charge will be optional. Such blanket costs will no longer be billed to hapless customers. But on the flipside, these will be included in the item cost itself making the food dearer. Also, those in the serving industry will need more permanent salaries. They cannot afford to rely on service charge or tips.

On deeper thought, the restaurant will have to take its game to a higher level. Better service will attract more customers which in turn make its operations profitable. While breaking even is important for the restaurants, clarity and transparency about the costs is the customer’s prerogative.

To tip or not to tip 


Considering that loose change is now ever so dear, parting with it even for tipping raises eyebrows. Since world over tipping is customary more so being an art in itself, India could take a leaf out of the global book and tip generously for good service. Else the eateries will resort to inflated food bills.

On a serious note, one wonders, do any of these self-righteous restaurants care two-hoots about fire safety norms, or for that matter food safety and health of their patrons? What percentage of the service charge actually goes to the staff? Does the eatery care for cleanliness in the kitchen? How often are they audited? Or is grease and grime part of the great taste and is ‘on the house’?  what about service charge for self –service joints, take-aways and home deliveries? 

Smart tip to a hungry junta- Until more clarity emerges, check your bill before paying and definitely don’t pay for bad service.

Harini Shrinivasan
Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Derailed Lives: Thoughts on Kanpur Rail Accident


Image from Indian Express, November 22, 2016


Life is a journey, choose how you end it (Take your pick -road, rail or air).
The average Indian travels through all three modes to get to places in his/her average lifetime. But to cut short the average lifespan, the government has several offers for you. Step on the road, you die; step into a train, you die. Catch a plane, you die. Travel Safe- What are the odds?? Choose a route which is non traffic intensive, a LHB coach, a slow speed train, and yet you may still die. Reports suggest that the Indo-Gangetic plains being traffic intensive are also the most accident prone. Going by these news feeds one might spend a lifetime on the couch just to increase longevity. Safe option. Considering, the railways is still trying to figure out what went wrong in the Kanpur rail accident- track fracture, ICF coach, human error..A probe is still probing this and is yet to declare the culprit. The irony is, in the Rail Vikas Shivir held on Nov 20, 2016, (ill-fated Sunday when accident took place in other part of country) an officer of the Railways presented the bitter financial reality — a shortfall of Rs. 1.2 lakh crore for safety activities for the next five years and the urgent need for creating a rail safety fund, possibly with one-time support from the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The MOF has declined to contribute full amount but may support 25% of the amount, the rest to be raised through safety cess by the Railways. Yet another cess. What with increased rail fare, sub optimal services, and death looming large over our heads everytime we book tickets, one does not feel particularly safe even with this proposed safety cess. You might argue that there is a rail passenger insurance bundled with your ticket and be rest assured, your kin will be compensated. But the underlying problem remains, why kill when efficiency is the answer. Passenger safety should be a priority and not an incidental feature to the travel plan. In other developed economies, death caused due to rail accidents are a single digit number. Why tighten the purse strings when the real India travels by rail? Get one of the ministers opposing the funding of railway upgradation to travel by an ICF coach and you will get your approval in minutes.

Next time you board the train, before showing your id proof to the TTE,  check if the train is accident proof.  It is high time the railways clean up its act and upgrades its services. No more excuses. Every life is precious. Every life counts. Bring in private players if you need the muscle. But stop the mindless deaths of unsuspecting hordes.
The next time we boast of owning the world’s largest rail network, let’s also add ‘world’s safest’ to it.

P.S: Government has proposed introduction of high speed trains. High speed death any takers?


Harini Shrinivasan

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Epic Chaos between Power, Politics and Gender



image from Dainik Bhaskar


Womanhood is a big brand in India and is often equivalent to family honor. Indian women are supposed to be conscientious daughters, obedient wives, diligent daughters-in-law, sacrificing mothers, hardworking employees/laborers and more importantly son-bearers. One of the widely preferred Dharmashastras- ManuSmriti by Manu, describes women of lesser ability than men. Manu suggests that a woman can never be left independent and should always be in command of her father, brother, husband and or son.

Speaking of religious texts, both Hindu religion and culture symbolize women as goddesses:

Saraswati- one who holds knowledge of the universe,

Laxmi- one who bestows wealth,

Parvati- the nurturer and

Annapurna- the giver of food and nourishment.

Some extremely popular and widely worshipped goddesses like Kali and Durga are known for their uncontrolled violent rage. A common portrait depicts violent Kali standing over her husband-Shiva’s chest. According to the folklore, after killing the demons, Kali was intoxicated with her victory and began a mindless bloodbath. No gods could stop her, until finally Shiva lay amongst the slain demons and furious Kali stepped on his chest. Realizing she was hurting her husband, her mad rage resolved to regret and she bit her tongue in shame. More generally accepted interpretation of this picture treats Shiva as the underlying force of the universe whereas Kali is considered energy. In other words, neither force nor energy can work independent of the other. This interpretation certainly indicates gender equality but the folklore indirectly hints at the ultimate power of husband’s control over his wife. 

Another gender equation under the Hindu religion derives inspiration from the conceptualization of ardhanarishwar form. It symbolizes an idol that is half Shiva and half Parvati (also referred as Shakti), or a god that is half man-half woman, suggesting the incompleteness of one without the other. However, some researchers to who have studied the deity in detail, suggest that ardhanarishwar is literally translated as Lord that is half woman and thus “in essence is Shiva, not Parvati.” On a closer look at the images of ardhanarishwar, one notices male figure on the right (logic dominated) and female figure on the left (emotion dominated), with female figure’s foot little behind of the male counterpart.

The Hindu mythology often finds anecdotes of gender bias. Some popular Hindu epics depict incidents of kings and queens conducting sacrifices, and holy yagyas to acquire sons. In Ramayana, King Dasharatha and his three queens bore four sons after the Putrakameshthi yagya.

In another popular epic- Mahabharata, Kunti, the wife of an impotent King Pandu, had a magical boon that she could call upon any god to beget a child. She shared the boon with Madri, Pandu’s second wife and had five sons amongst the two. Kunti had one more son while she childishly tested the boon, before her wedlock, but due to fear of unacceptability and shame, she abandoned the boy. Of all children Kunti and Madri had, interestingly, none was a daughter. There is lack of clarity whether the boon was limited to having only sons? And even if it was, it only creates a doubt over such discrimination. 

In the same epic, King Drupad was blessed with a daughter Shikhandini. Drupad trained her in statesmanship and warfare and raised her like a son. There are also references suggesting Drupad even got Shikhandini married. However, the bride was furious when she learned that her groom was actually a woman. Ashamed, Shikhandini ran off to a forest to commit suicide, but apparently returned with a sex change. Also referred as Shikhandi, she was a fierce warrior and commanded Drupad’s army. However, Shikhandini failed to defeat Drona (her father’s best friend turned worst enemy) who acquired Drupad’s entire kingdom and mockingly returned it all as a gift to Drupad. Extremely disappointed, Drupad blamed Shikhandini for his humiliation. Thoroughly convinced that only a ‘real son’ can take revenge against Drona, Drupad performed a yagya for gods to grant him a son. The holy fire granted him full-grown twins- Dhrishtadhyumna- a boy who would slay Drona as desired. And an unasked, undesired daughter - Draupadi. Ironically, till date, Draupadi remains more popular than her brother, and in a way, carries forward her father’s name and legacy! Draupadi went on to become one of the most important characters of the epic and a cause of war between Kunti’s sons and nephews. Similarly, Sita - the heroine of Ramayana, is also referred as a reason of war between Ram (good) and Ravan (evil). She suffered abandonment since her mysterious birth to her forced death, while most of her own life was spent in proving her worth.

Unfortunately, the ingrained male supremacy continues until today with India wanting more and more sons, or at least one son! Some son-obsessed parents have shamelessly approached the judiciary pleading justification to sex selective abortions. In an unusual case, a couple challenged the validity of the PCPNDT Act stating that it violates the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under the Constitution. They pleaded that right to life and liberty should expand to include the right to choose the nature of one’s family and thus, the sex of the offspring.   The Supreme Court came down heavily on the issue and held that right to life and liberty concerns with the question of terminating life and no parent can be entitled to the right to terminate a life merely based on the sex of the fetus. The court dismissed the petition by adding that a fetus has not just a right to life but also the right to full development under the Constitution of India.

India’s biggest irony is that in spite of being brutal to its women, India stands out to be one of a few nations to have had women hold the most powerful and influential political positions of Prime Minister and President.  India also boasts about fifteen women chief ministers for various states and woman Speaker for the lower house of Parliament. It is unfortunate that we have been unjust to the womankind, who are unabashingly leading India in various fields, at various fronts. Let us take pride in our Shikhandinies, Sitas and Draupadies, and raise each daughter to be equal to ten sons.


This blog has excerpts from author’s unpublished research work. For details, clarifications, references, please contact us at vibha@lawmattersllp.org
No parts of this work can be used without Law Matters’ knowledge and consent. 
Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Is this a Fast Forward into Digi-Economy?


image from shutterstock




On November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an address to the nation announced the decision to demonetize the 500 rupee and 1000 rupee notes. Almost twenty days later, the queues are shorter and we are limping back to normalcy. At the outset, demonetization, has given rise to mixed reactions, some felt a surge of patriotism and relief and on the other hand some people were just frustrated, angry and dissatisfied with the hastiness of the government.

Let’s face it, the matter has been ruminated ad nauseum and yet newer aspects emerge, everyday. To say the least, Government’s decision to demonetize the most widely used denomination is inconvenient to many yet it is perfectly constitutional (Supreme Court has upheld the validity in Jayanti Ratanchand Shah vs Reserve Bank of India & Ors. 1996 SCALE (5)741). Nevertheless, the implementation of the scheme can be questioned/reviewed/looked into by the Supreme Court.

With all the media advice to go online and use e-wallets, the ground reality is quite different. A majority in India are yet to place their trust in such e-wallets. Reports suggest a surge in online activity and signing up by many first-time users of such e-wallets in the wake of demonetization. Payment Banks such as Paytm and Freecharge are obligated to follow RBI guidelines and follow cyber security rules. Investment in government securities and adherence to cash reserve ratio (CRR) and statutory liquidity ratio requirements set by RBI lend credence to these companies. Some companies have PCI DSS 2.0 certified (payment card industry data security standard) and use VeriSign certified128 bit technology. The Verisign is a 128-bit encryption technology that ensures that the information that is entered is sent into a secure socket layer (SSL) and is encrypted to protect against unintentional disclosure to third parties. Thus, keeping it a safe platform for transacting money.
Although there are measures that are being taken by the government and the RBI and also the companies themselves, there have been some major concerns with respect to cyber security and frauds especially in the present situation of chaos and confusion.

The question which stares us now is whether we assist the implementation of this scheme and take this odd ball thrown by the Government in our stride or whether we cry foul over the boldest move yet against corruption and black money.
To a nation which is comfortable with Watsapp, from the milkman to the high flying executive, from the autorickshaw driver to the medical store assistant, from a teenager to a senior citizen, why is accepting a digital life so difficult. With smartphones in every hand, life without physical currency is just an app away.
Though the pros definitely outweigh the cons, in hindsight, the Government may have overlooked a few aspects such as the logistics involved in maneuvering cash, the Opposition circus, and the media laugh riot. Hopefully, it has correctly estimated the people’s patience.

Demonetization stands testimony to the fact that in a democracy, real progress can happen only when people cooperate.

Let us hope the public spend on frivolous things melts away and we are successful in bringing predominantly cash-only services like religious and ritualistic services and catering into the ever widening IT Net. Definitely elections will be cleaner and weddings will be simpler.

And finally, miscreants who pelt stones in riots and work as mercenaries will have to look for alternative cash (or card) cows (sic).





Friday, 21 October 2016

Endorsements: The Fame Game


image from sporttechie.com 

The Maggi imbroglio had everyone (including the stars recommending it) twisted up just like the famous noodles. With many hunting for cover from the media glare and public ire, defenses were up and statements were plenty. But the common man remained puzzled. After the clean chit, Maggi came back with a bang to claim its rightful space. This time, with common people and common stories. No more stars. With new flavors, Maggi is trying to put its past behind it. And everyone has learnt a lesson, or two:

What is tasty could be deadly, and

What is affordable and promoted by celebrities is not necessarily healthy.

With a vast undiscerning population and low literacy levels, product makers are quick to make a fast buck at the cost of innocent lives. The Maggi episode reinstated the need to re-look into our laws and fix responsibility. From a reactionary regime, we are gradually moving over to a proactive protectionist regime. The need of the hour is a law that protects. But how do we protect the consumers before they are hurt? Isn’t it important that our product quality should be supreme and product liability is definitely fixed?


image from boston.com


Celebrities with their star power, fan following and blinding influence can sway the public and their choices. In a country where cricket is religion, the Gods have to be careful with what they use, eat, apply- on screen. The aftermath of the Rio Olympics is most decidedly the gold rush of endorsements. With brands queuing up to sign up their favorite medalists, the games have just begun. From hair gels to shoe polish, we want our sportspersons to vouch for everything.

image from forbes.com

The proposed Consumer Protection Bill holds enough ammunition to rock the boat for these celebrity endorsers. Celebrities are cautious of the brands they sign up, aware that they could be held liable for misleading advertisements. Choosing a perfect brand to endorse shall prove to be atough job. Only after adequate research and due diligence should the celebrity sign the dotted line. It would augur well for them to pick a brand which they would use in real life. A little bit of study into what the product is and whether the claims made are real and supported by genuine laboratory results should save the day in case of legal proceedings. It is never too late for these popular endorsers to practice due diligence. The Fame Game is risky and a wrong endorsement will prove costly. When a billion plus eyes watch you on screen, your words become the gospel truth. For sportspersons who come from humble backgrounds, legal nitty-gritties are understandably difficult to navigate. Nevertheless, contractual obligations and branding assignments should be personally studied before execution.


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Friday, 7 October 2016

Dance Bar (red) For Questionable Moves





Image from Istock

The Maharashtra Government has passed a new law – the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women Act, 2016 to regulate the activities of a dance bar. Bravo! Looks like a bold move by a well-meaning government. However, it seems that the act has not gone down well with the bar owners and ironically the dancers.

Until you see it on celluloid, such issues seem non-existent. With laws and morality detached, dance bar was a thriving industry about 12 years ago.  In 2005, the state government’s ban on dance bars made news. Since then the matter has flared up occasionally and dance bars received a lot of reel space. With the Supreme Court now involved, the matter is in the limelight once more. Yet most of the discussions sound clinical, underlying the fact that many analysts have never visited a dance bar. Speaking of which, are we really eligible to talk about the issue at hand? Yes, we feel. We would like to think of this matter as being in the realm of human rights; right to livelihood and dignity of labour, and thus a matter of concern for everyone.
These girls – the ‘bar dancers’ constitute a very small microcosm of society, living on the fringes with probably double lives. Their numbers have gone down considerably since the 2005 ban on their profession. In the last decade, society and the past regime have pushed them to the brink of social exclusion. Now a new regime, through a new Act attempts at their inclusion and recognition. Yet, instead of a pat on the back, the government is receiving brickbats.

What is so bothersome about dance bars or bar dancers? The level of interference under the garb of regulating business is awkward for these girls as much as for bar owners. These girls are facing society’s ire for the profession that has strong undercurrents of prostitution. Bar owners are in a fix for the law allows them to either have the dancers without serving alcohol, or serve alcohol without the dancers. So, is the issue with the dance or with the bar? As a culture, we frown upon women dancing in public seeing it as an activity for depraved individuals. Earlier, acceptable dance was limited to the classical performances. The category broadened to include certain cinematic performances, gradually covering various styles of dance based exercises. With western influence and ‘modernization’ as we love to call it, we even adapted to discos and pubs accepting people’s innate desire to dance (while mostly drinking) in such set up. Then what is so wrong with dancing in the bars that we need to regulate obscenity and protect dignity of women there? Bar- social drinking is acceptable, drinking at restaurants is too, but drink and watch a dance, you have a taboo.

 Majority of us don’t care two hoots about morality really. Watching explicit dance moves by film stars on TV screens is a common, normal and acceptable. But the same moves in a dance bar setting become vulgar for many others and calls for legal monitoring. Typically, hypocritical of us, we will drink and dance in clubs and house parties, but will rant about falling standards when we see others pay for their drink and watch such a dance in a bar.

The State’s new law with its many questionable clauses is definitely something to talk about.

Would you dance in full view of a dance bar’s CCTV?

Or better still, would you drink and loosen up in front of such a CCTV?

Are such live feeds to the police station absolutely necessary?

Why include clauses which preempt further disasters/crime?

Have we conducted studies to check the impact of these dance bars on crime rates before we throw in the towel?

Is the Act dealing with cross dressers and transgenders dressing up as women in dance bars?

Shouldn’t the girls be allowed to have a say on whether or not they should be employees of the bar/ restaurant/ hotel?

Moreover, whom do we want to protect? And to what extent should we regulate this field?


The girls engaged in the industry would rather have a thriving dance bar industry which will give them a reliable livelihood rather than bans and raids. Aspersions have been cast on the constitutionality of the legislation. And while the matter is subjudice, one would only hope that the Act is in favour of better working conditions and safety of the women concerned. However, by no stretch of imagination should the State assume a position of moral authority nor should the act of entertainment assume criminal overtones.  It is about time that the state must maturely accept the need for legalized and fair adult entertainment.
Tuesday, 27 September 2016

My Body Your Rules

image from depositphotos
There was once a fire in Neverland. It started small but was soon blazing away ferociously and had to be put out immediately. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, and that Somebody will do it. But Nobody did anything to stop the fire and it consumed the whole city.

This is the story of our lives and times. We are waiting for someone to come and rescue us from our villains and circumstances. But as the story goes, no one is doing anything about it. Reality check- If we accept the situation, it will become the norm.

The norm that we have got ourselves into is the constant denial of our sorry state. It is an irony that a woman beaten up by her husband is protected under the prevention of domestic violence laws but if the same woman is forced into a sexual act by her husband, she has no remedy under law. She will get relief against all other forms of ‘physical and mental abuse’ but not the most grievous one by the husband. It is his right.

What then, about husband-to-be? What if a woman agrees to the act with a “supposedly” ‘would-be husband’ who later denies the promise to marry? Will his mere denial make the act a rape? Or should we simply brand the girl to be of lose character, or a boy to be a cheat? If such act results in pregnancy, should the woman be forced to bear the child?

In Bareilly, a 14-year-old; 35 weeks pregnant, is grappling with this exact dilemma and unfortunately, everyone has let her down;

her employer who raped her (repeatedly on the pretext of marriage),

the courts who can’t find her condition “grave/serious enough” to abort the fetus,

the police who won’t act against the rapist,

the media, who will invite personalities on talk shows to uselessly discuss the failing laws, and

the mute society, who will stand and stare at the debacle.

Minor Rape- two words which wipe away any residual faith one may have in the justice system. The victim in such cases loses not just her modesty but childhood and innocence. Add pregnancy to complicate the matter. And now imagine denial of abortion. It is the final nail in the coffin for the raped. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act has fixed criteria for abortion at less than 12 weeks, or more than 12 weeks but not exceeding 20 weeks, and above 20 weeks only in grave circumstances. In the Bareilly case, each court has interpreted these clauses in its own way, unmindful of the victim’s plight. As a result, a physically, mentally and financially traumatized individual is forced to continue with the situation because no provision in the law can come to her rescue. The law wants her to have this child because there is no other law to suggest that she may have a choice.

Irrespective of the victim’s consent, age and marital status and the age of fetus, who is anybody to decide for a woman and her unwanted unborn? Amidst the lack of justifying laws, the question raised by this teenage victim remains unanswered - ‘Who will adopt this baby?’ Legislature, Judiciary or the Police?