The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed by both Houses of Parliament on May 22. The legislation defines various types of sexual offences against children and provides penalties for such acts. According to a report commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, about 53% of the children interviewed reported some form of sexual abuse. The law has been viewed as a welcome step by most activists since it is gender neutral (both male and female children are covered), it clearly defines the offences and includes some child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences. However, the issue of age of consent has generated some controversy. Age of consent refers to the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person. Before this law was passed, the age of consent was considered to be 16 years (except if the woman was married to the accused, in which case it may be lower). Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that any sexual intercourse with a woman who is below the age of 16 years is considered to be “rape”. The consent of the person is irrelevant. This post provides a snapshot of the key provisions of the Act, the debate surrounding the controversial provision and a comparison of the related law in other countries. Key provisions of the Act
Debate over the age of consent After introduction, the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development. The Committee submitted its report on December 21, 2011 (see here and here for PRS Bill Summary and Standing Committee Summary, respectively). Taking into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee, the Parliament decided to amend certain provisions of the Bill before passing it. The Bill stated that if a person is accused of “sexual assault” or “penetrative sexual assault” of a child between 16 and 18 years of age, it would be considered whether the consent of the child was taken by the accused. This provision was deleted from the Bill that was passed. The Bill (as passed) states that any person below the age of 18 years shall be considered a child. It prohibits a person from engaging in any type of sexual activity with a child. However, the implication of this law is not clear in cases where both parties are below 18 years (see here and here for debate on the Bill in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha). The increase in the age of consent to 18 years sparked a debate among experts and activists. Proponents of increasing the age of consent argued that if a victim is between 16 and 18 years of age, the focus of a sexual assault case would be on proving whether he or she consented to the act or not. The entire trial process including cross-examination of the victim would focus on the conduct of the victim rather than that of the accused (see here and here). Opponents of increasing the age of consent pointed out that since this Act criminalises any sexual activity with persons under the age of 18 years (even if consensual), the police may misuse it to harass young couples or parents may use this law to control older children’s sexual behaviour (see here and here). International comparison In most countries, the age of consent varies between 13 and 18 years. The table below lists the age of consent and the corresponding law in some selected countries.
Age of consent
|US||Varies from state to state between 16 and 18 years. In some states, the difference in age between the two parties is taken into account. This can vary between 2-4 years.||Different state laws|
|UK||16 years||Sexual Offences Act, 2003|
|Germany||14 years (16 years if the accused is a person responsible for the child’s upbringing, education or care).||German Criminal Code|
|France||15 years||French Criminal Code|
|Sweden||15 years (18 years if the child is the accused person’s offspring or he is responsible for upbringing of the child).||Swedish Penal Code|
|Malaysia||16 years for both males and females.||Malaysian Penal Code; Child Act 2001|
|China||No information about consent. Sex with a girl below 14 years is considered rape. Sodomy of a child (male or female) below 14 years is an offence.||Criminal Law of China, 1997|
|Canada||16 years||Criminal Code of Canada|
|Brazil||14 years||Brazilian Penal Code 2009|
|Australia||Varies between 16 and 17 years among different states and territorial jurisdictions. In two states, a person may engage in sexual activity with a minor if he is two years older than the child. In such cases the child has to be at least 10 years old.||Australian Criminal laws|
|India||18 years.||Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act, 2012|
Need for Urban Co-operative Banks
The history of UCBs in India can be traced to the 19th century when such societies were set up drawing inspiration from the success of the co-operative movement in Britain and the co-operative credit movement in Germany. Urban co-operative credit societies, were organised on a community basis to meet the consumption-oriented credit needs of their members. UCBs are primary cooperative banks in urban and semi-urban areas. They are co-operative societies that undertake banking business. Co-operative banks accept deposits from the public and lend to their members. Co-operative banks are different from other co-operatives as they mobilise resources for lending and investment from the wider public rather than only their members.
Concerns regarding the professionalism of urban cooperative banks gave rise to the view that they should be better regulated. Large cooperative banks with paid-up share capital and reserves of one lakh rupees were brought under the scope of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 with effect from March 1, 1966. Prior to this, such banks were regulated under the scope of state-specific cooperative laws. The revised framework brought them under the ambit of supervision of the RBI. Till 1996, these banks could lend money only for non-agricultural purposes. However, this distinction does not apply today.
The Expert Committee noted that UCBs play a key role in financial inclusion. It further observed that the focus area for UCBs has traditionally been communities and localities including workplace groups. They play an important role in the delivery of last-mile credit, even more so for those sections of the population who are not integrated into the mainstream banking framework. UCBs primarily lend to wage earners, small entrepreneurs, and businesses in urban and semi-urban areas. UCBs can be more responsive than formal banking channels to the needs of the local people.
Over the years, concerns have been raised about non-professional management in UCBs and that this can lead to weaker governance and risk management in these entities. RBI has also taken regulatory action on several UCBs. For instance, in September 2019, RBI placed Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank under restrictions on allegations of serious underreporting of non-performing assets. The bank could not grant loans, make investments or accept deposits without prior approval from RBI. While these restrictions were originally put in place for six months, the time frame was extended several times and has now been extended till December 31, 2021. In addition, low capital base, poor credit management and diversion of funds have also been issues in the sector.
Shrinking share in the banking sector
There were 1,539 UCBs in the country as of March 31, 2020, with deposits worth Rs 5,01,180 crore and advances worth Rs 3,05,370 crore. Even though 94% of the entities in the banking sector were UCBs their market share in the banking sector has been low and declining and stands at around 3%. UCBs accounted for 3.24% of the deposits and 2.69% of the advances in the banking sector. The Committee noted that state-of-the-art technology adopted by new players, such as small finance banks and fintech entities, along with commercial banks can disrupt the niche customer segment of the UCBs.
Figure 1: Growth in deposits of UCBs (in Rs crore)
Figure 2: Growth in advances of UCBs (in Rs crore)
Burden of non-performing assets
UCBs had the highest net non-performing asset (NNPA) ratio (5.26%) and gross non-performing asset (GNPA) ratio (10.96%) across the banking sector as of March 2020. These levels correspond to around twice that of private sector banks, and around five times that of small finance banks. The Committee noted that, as of March 2020, UCBs have the lowest level of net interest margin (difference between interest earned and interest spent relative to total interest generating assets held by the bank) and negative return on assets and return on equity.
Figure 3: Asset quality across banks (in percentage)
Sources: Report of the Expert Committee on Urban Co-operative Banks; PRS.
Supervisory Action Framework (SAF): SAF envisages corrective action by UCB and/or supervisory action by RBI on breach of financial thresholds related to asset quality, profitability and level of capital as measured by Capital to Risk-weighted Asset Ratio (CRAR). The Committee recommended that SAF should consider only asset quality (based on net non-performing asset ratio) and CRAR with an emphasis on reducing the time spent by a UCB under SAF. The RBI should begin the mandatory resolution process including reconstruction or compulsory merger as soon as a UCB reaches the third stage under SAF (CRAR less than 4.5% and/or net non-performing asset ratio above 12%).
Constraints in raising capital
The Committee also observed that UCBs are constrained in raising capital which restricts their ability to expand the business. According to co-operative principles, share capital is to be issued and refunded only at face value. Thus, investment in UCBs is less attractive as it does not lead to an increase in its value. Also, the principle of one member, one vote means that an interested investor cannot acquire a controlling stake in UCBs. It was earlier recommended that UCBs should be allowed to issue fresh capital at a premium based on the net worth of the entity at the end of the preceding year.
Listing of securities: The Committee recommended making suitable amendments to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 to enable RBI to notify certain securities issued by any co-operative bank or class of co-operative banks to be covered under the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 and the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992. This will enable their listing and trading on a recognised stock exchange. Until such amendments are made, the Committee recommended that banks can be allowed to have a system on their websites to buy/sell securities at book value subject to the condition that the bank should ensure that the prospective buyer is eligible to be admitted as a member.
Conflict between Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and co-operative laws
The fundamental difference between banking companies and co-operative banks is in the voting rights of shareholders. In banking companies, each share has a corresponding vote. But in the case of co-operative banks, each shareholder has only one vote irrespective of the number of shares held. Despite RBI being the regulator of the banking sector, the regulation of co-operative banks by RBI was restricted to functions related directly to banking. This gave rise to dual regulation with governance, audit, and winding-up related functions regulated by state governments and central government for single-state banks and multi-state banks, respectively.
2020 Amendments to the Banking Regulation Act: In September 2020, the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 was amended to increase RBI’s powers over the regulation of co-operative banks including qualifications of management of these banks and supersession of board of directors. The Committee noted that due to the amendment of the Act, certain conflicts have arisen with various co-operative laws. For instance, the Act allows co-operative banks to issue shares at a premium, but it is silent on their redemption. It noted that if any co-operative societies’ legislation provides for redemption of shares only at par, then, while a co-operative bank incorporated under that legislation can issue shares at a premium, it can redeem them only at par.
Note that on September 3, 2021, the Madhya Pradesh High Court stayed a circular released by the RBI on appointment of managing director/whole-time director in UCBs. The circular provided for eligibility and propriety criteria for the appointment of such personnel in UCBs. The petitioner, Mahanagar Nagrik Sahakari Bank Maryadit, argued that the service conditions of the managing director and chief executive officer of co-operative banks are governed by bye-laws framed under the M.P. State Cooperative Societies Act, 1960. The petition noted that co-operative as a subject falls under the state list and hence the power to legislate in the field of co-operative societies falls under the domain of the states and not the central government.
Over the years, several committees have looked at the feasibility to set up an Umbrella Organisation (UO) for UCBs. It is an apex body of federating UCBs. In 2011, an expert committee on licensing of new UCBs recommended that there should be two separate UOs for the sector. In June 2019, RBI granted an in-principle approval to National Federation of Urban Co-operative Banks and Credit Societies Ltd to set up a UO in the form of a non-deposit taking non-banking finance company. The UO is expected to provide information technology and financial support to its federating members along with value-added services linked to treasury, foreign exchange and international remittances. It is envisaged to provide scale through network to smaller UCBs. The report of the current Committee recommended that the minimum capital of the UO should be Rs 300 crore. Once stabilised, the UO can explore the possibility of becoming a universal bank. It can also take up the role of a self-regulatory organisation for its member UCBs. The Committee also suggested that the membership of the UO can be opened-up to both financial and non-financial co-operatives who can make contributions through share capital in the UO.
Comments on the report of the Expert Committee are invited until September 30, 2021.