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Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code: Shifting Paradigm of Social & Digital Media Platforms

It has been just over six months since the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (the “Rules“) have been notified. However, these six months have been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the (Internet) Intermediaries and Digital Media platforms, especially Social Media platforms who have tried to muddle through the slew of compliance obligations now imposed through these eccentric Rules. Notwithstanding, some of them had to face the wrath of the Government and even Courts for the delay in adherence.

On this topic, we are trying to stitch together a series of articles covering the entire gamut of the Rules, including their objective, applicability, impact, and the key issues around some of the rules being declared unconstitutional, etc.

In our first article, we analyse the timeline, objectives, and applicability of these Rules through some of the definitions provided under the Rules and the IT Act.

Tracing the Roots of the Digital Media Ethics Code 

The initiation of this endeavour can be tracked down to July 26, 2018, when a Calling Attention Motion was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on the misuse of social media and spread of fake news, whereby the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology conveyed the Government’s intent to strengthen the existing legal framework and make social media platforms accountable under the law. Thereafter, the first draft of the proposed amendments to the Intermediary Guidelines, The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules) 2018, was published for public comments on December 24, 2018.

In the same year, the Supreme Court in Prajwala v. Union of India[1] directed the Union Government to form necessary guidelines or Statement of Procedures (SOPs) to curb child pornography online. An ad-hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha studied the issue of pornography on social media and its effects on children and the society and laid its report recommending the facilitation of identification of the first originator of such contents in February 2020.

In another matter, the Supreme Court of India on October 15 2020, issued a notice to the Union Government seeking its response on a PIL to regulate OTT Platforms. The Union Government subsequently on November 9 2020, made a notification bringing digital and online media under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, thereby giving the Ministry the power to regulate OTT Platforms.

On February 25, 2021, the Union Government notified the much-anticipated Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, bringing various digital entities under its purview and imposing new compliances to regulate them.

 

Objectives of the Digital Media Ethics Code

The rising internet and social media penetration in India raises concerns of transparency, disinformation and misuse of such technologies. The Rules address these concerns and bring accountability to social and digital media platforms by mandating the setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism that adheres to statutory timeframes. The Rules also address the legal lacuna surrounding the regulation of OTT platforms and the content available on them and introduces a three-tier content regulation mechanism.

Key definitions and the applicability of the Digital Media Ethics Code

The Rules add on extensively to the 2011 Intermediary Guidelines and also introduce new terms and definitions. To understand the Rules and the compliances thereunder in a holistic manner, it becomes imperative to learn the key terms and definitions. This also addresses concerns of applicability of the Rules to different entities, as they prescribe different sets of compliances to different categories of entities.

Key definitions:

Digital Media as per Rule 2(1)(i) are digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks, including content received, stored, transmitted, edited or processed by

  • an intermediary; or
  • a publisher of news and current affairs content or a publisher of online curated content.

This broadly includes every content available online and every content that can be transmitted over the internet.

Grievance as per Rule 2(1)(j) includes any complaint, whether regarding any content, any duties of an intermediary or publisher under the Act, or other matters pertaining to the computer resource of an intermediary or publisher as the case may be.

Intermediary has not been defined in the Rules, but as per S. 2(1)(w) of the IT Act, intermediary, with respect to any particular electronic record, is any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes.

The first part of the definition lays down that an Intermediary with respect to an electronic record, is any person that receives, stores or transmits that electronic record on behalf of another person.

An entity becomes an intermediary for a particular electronic record if that record is received by, stored in or transmitted through the entity on behalf of a third party. However, as the clause does not use the term “collect” with respect to an electronic record, any data that entities may collect, including IP Addresses, device information, etc., do not fall within the definition’s purview. Hence the entities would not be considered as intermediaries for such data.

Moreover, the second part of the definition lays down that those entities that provide any service with respect to an electronic record would be intermediaries. However, what constitutes “service” has been a key point of discussion in prior cases. In Christian Louboutin Sas v. Nakul Bajaj[2], the Court not only held that the nature of the service offered by an entity would determine whether it falls under the ambit of the definition, but also went on to hold that when the involvement of an entity is more than that of merely an intermediary, i.e., it actively takes part in the use of such record, it might lose safe harbour protection under S. 79 of the Act.

The definition also includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places, and cyber cafes as intermediaries. In Satish N v. State of Karnataka[3], it was held that taxi aggregators like Uber are also intermediaries with respect to the data they store. Therefore, Telecom Service Providers like Airtel, Vi, Jio, etc., Network Service Providers like Reliance Jio, BSNL, MTNL, etc., Internet Service Providers like ACT Fibernet, Hathaway, etc., Search Engines like Google, Bing, etc., Online Payment gateways like Razorpay, Billdesk etc., Online Auction Sites like eBay, eAuction India, etc., Online Market Places like Flipkart, Amazon etc. are all considered intermediaries.

Social Media Intermediaries as per Rule 2(1)(w) is an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services. This includes platforms like Tumblr, Flickr, Diaspora, Ello, etc.

Significant Social Media Intermediaries as per Rule 2(1)(v) is a social media intermediary having number of registered users in India above such threshold as notified by the Central Government. Currently, the threshold is 5 million users. Platforms that fall under this category would be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Telegram etc.

News & current affairs content as per Rule 2(1)(m) includes newly received or noteworthy content, including analysis, especially about recent events primarily of socio-political, economic or cultural nature, made available over the internet or computer networks, and any digital media shall be news and current affairs content where the context, substance, purpose, import and meaning of such information is in the nature of news and current affairs content. Therefore, news pieces reported by newspapers or news agencies, shared online, on social media, or on digital media platforms are news & current affairs content. This includes contents of such nature created by any person and shared through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. Digital content discussing news and the latest happenings will also come under the purview of this definition.

Newspaper as per Rule 2(1)(n) as a periodical of loosely folded sheets usually printed on newsprint and brought out daily or at least once in a week, containing information on current events, public news or comments on public news. Newspapers like The Hindu, Times of India etc. will fall under this category.

News aggregator as per Rule 2(1)(o) is an entity performing a significant role in determining the news and current affairs content being made available, makes available to users a computer resource that enable such users to access such news and current affairs content which is aggregated, curated and presented by such entity. This includes platforms like Inshorts, Dailyhunt etc.

Online curated content as per Rule 2(1)(1) is any curated catalogue of audio-visual content, other than news and current affairs content, which is owned by, licensed to or contracted to be transmitted by a publisher of online curated content, and made available on demand, including but not limited through subscription, over the internet or computer networks, and includes films, audio visual programmes, documentaries, television programmes, serials, podcasts and other such content. This includes movies and shows available on OTT platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+Hotstar etc.

Publisher of News and Current Affairs Content as per Rule 2(1)(t) includes online paper, news portal, news aggregator, news agency and such other entities, which publishes news and current affairs. This would include websites/apps such as The Wire, The News Minute, Scroll.in, Dkoding.in, The Print, The Citizen, LiveLaw, Inshorts etc.

While the Rules do not include the regular newspapers or replica e-papers of these newspapers, as they come under the Press Council Act, news websites such as Hindustantimes.com, IndianExpress.com, thehindu.com are covered under the Rules, and the Union Government clarified the same on June 10, 2021. The clarification stated that websites of organisations having traditional newspapers and digital news portals/websites of traditional TV Organisations come under the ambit of the Rules.

This does not include news and current affairs reported or posted by laymen or ordinary citizens online, as the scope is limited only to news publishing agencies.

Publisher of Online Curated Content as per Rule 2(1)(u) is a publisher who performs a significant role in determining the online curated content being made available and enables users’ access to such content via internet or computer networks. Such transmission of online currented content shall be in the course of systematic business or commercial activity. This includes all OTT platforms, including Netflix, Prime Video, Voot, Lionsgate, Disney+Hotstar, etc.

The Digital Media Ethics Code Challenged in Court

Part III of the IT Rules has been challenged by many persons in various High Courts. News platforms including The Wire, The Quint, and AltNews moved to the Delhi High Court, alleging that online news platforms do not fall under the purview of Section 87 of the IT Act, under which these Rules are made as the section is only applicable to intermediaries. Section 69A is also limited to intermediaries and government agencies. It is alleged that since such publishers are not intermediaries, they do not fall under the purview of the IT Rules.

A similar petition was moved by LiveLaw, a legal news reporting website before the Kerala High Court, alleging that the Rules violated Articles 13, 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g), and 21 of the Constitution and the IT Act.[4] The petitioners contended that the Rules had brought Digital News Media under the purview of the Press Council of India Act and the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, without amending either of the two legislations. They also alleged that the rules were undoing the procedural safeguards formed by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal[5] case. In this regard, the Kerala High Court has ordered that no coercive action is to be taken against the petitioner as interim relief.

Recently, the Bombay High Court in Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea v. Union of India[6] delivered an interim order staying Rules 9(1) and 9(3), which provides for publishers’ compliance with the Code of Ethics, and the three tier self-regulation system respectively. The Court found Rule 9(1) prima facie an intrusion of Art. 19(1)(a).

Legality & Enforceability of the Digital Media Ethics Code

Even though six months have passed since the Rules came into force, the legality and enforceability of the Rules are still in question. While most intermediaries, including social media and significant social media intermediaries, have at least partly complied with the Rules, the same cannot be said for publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content. This will have to wait until the challenges to its legality and constitutionality are settled by Courts.

References:

[1] 2018 SCC OnLine SC 3419.

[2] 2018 (76) PTC 508 (Del).

[3] ILR 2017 KARNATAKA 735.

[4] https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kerala-high-court-new-it-rules-orders-no-coercive-action-issues-notice-on-livelaws-plea-170983

[5] (2013) 12 SCC 73.

[6] Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION (L.) NO.14172 of 2021.

Image Credits: 

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

 

Even though six months have passed since the Rules came into force, the legality and enforceability of the Rules are still in question. While most intermediaries, including social media and significant social media intermediaries, have at least partly complied with the Rules, the same cannot be said for publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content. This will have to wait until the challenges to its legality and constitutionality are settled by Courts.

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India Needs New Regulations - But Simplification of Compliance is Just as Critical

In earlier posts, I have touched upon the need for Indian laws to be updated to better reflect the current environment and foreseeable changes to it brought about by various forces, primarily technology-led innovation. This is not just because of the need to plug legal loopholes that are exploited to the nation’s detriment but also with the objectives of streamlining compliance and better enforcement.

 

Recently, the union government did exactly this when it announced a new set of rules to govern the operations of drones in India. A new draft of the Drone Rules, 2021, now out for public consultation, will, when approved and notified, replace the UAS Rules, 2021, which were announced in March 2021. The fact that the government has come out with a new set of rules within 4 months of issuing the earlier version is a welcome sign of change, as it signals recognition of a rapidly-changing environment as well as the importance of timely and appropriate responses.

Changes are aimed at simplification and less regulatory control

The new rules are remarkable for other reasons as well. At about 15 pages in length, the new rules are only a tenth of the earlier rules. The changes are not limited to the form; there are substantive changes too. The new rules seek to do away with a large number of approvals (e.g., Unique Authorization Number, Unique Prototype Identification Number etc.).  Licensing for micro drones for non-commercial use has been done away with. Recognizing the immense potential for drones to revolutionize our society and economy, the government proposes to develop “drone corridors” for cargo delivery. Prior authorization of drone-related R&D organizations is being removed. A drone promotion council is to be set up, in order to create a business-friendly regulatory regime that spurs innovation and use of drones. All this augurs well for the development of a robust drone ecosystem in India.

Implementing the “spirit” of underlying regulations is vital

The change to the drone rules is a welcome step- just as the consolidation of 29 of the country’s labour laws into four Codes during 2019 and 2020 was. But rationalization becomes futile if there is no element of reform- e.g., doing away with requirements that have outlived their utility or need significant changes to remain relevant in the current environment? There were many expectations around the Labour Codes, but in the months that followed, it is fair to say that there was also much disillusionment amongst industry stakeholders because sticky issues, such as the distinction between “employees” and “workers”, payment of overtime, role of facilitator-cum-inspector etc., remained.

Simplifying compliance is necessary to improve “ease of doing business” further

The World Bank’s 2020 “ease of doing business” report ranks India 63rd; we were ranked 130 in 2016. The 2020 report considered three areas: business regulatory reforms (starting a business, paying taxes, resolving insolvency etc.); contracting with the government, and employing workers. 

But there are miles to go before we sleep. To ensure that India’s entrepreneurial energies and creative intelligence are directed to areas that will be critical in the years to come- e.g., space, AI, robotics, electric vehicles, clean energy etc. all need new regulations or revamp of existing legislations and rules. But this alone will not suffice. Implementing the spirit, and not just the letter of the law and rules and the simplification of regulatory compliance are important angles that government must pay attention to. These are going to be key determinants in improving our “ease of doing business”.

 

Technology is a necessary enabler but it is not sufficient

All regulatory filings- whether for approvals or compliance- should ideally be enabled in digital format. Digital dashboards in the government and other regulatory bodies should facilitate real-time monitoring. Only exceptions or violations should need further actions. To be sure, the government has initiated some steps in this direction- e,g., “faceless” interactions between business and the Income Tax authorities with the intention to reduce human interventions and thus, the possibility of corruption. But if the underlying income tax portal itself is not working properly, as was widely reported soon after it was launched, the desired outcomes will not be achieved.

Moreover, it is not just about having the right technology platforms in place. It is equally critical to bring about a mindset change in the administrative machinery that helps political leadership formulate policy and thereafter, enable implementation and performance monitoring.

Given India’s large domestic market and attractiveness as a base for exports, we as a nation stand on the threshold of a phase of significant economic growth. Many Indian entrepreneurs are establishing businesses overseas; this means that the benefits of jobs, tax revenues and IPR creation all move to other jurisdictions. The longer anachronistic and irrelevant laws remain on our books, and the harder regulatory compliance remains, the more we stand to lose. In a world where global investment flows, trade and supply chains are facing significant change under the influence of numerous forces, it would truly be unfortunate if India loses out largely because of continued difficulties in regulatory compliance.

Image Credits: Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

The longer anachronistic and irrelevant laws remain on our books, and the harder regulatory compliance remains, the more we stand to lose. In a world where global investment flows, trade and supply chains are facing significant change under the influence of numerous forces, it would truly be unfortunate if India loses out largely because of continued difficulties in regulatory compliance.

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Tax Alert: Clarifications on Section 194Q-TDS on Purchase of Goods

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) introduced a new Section 194Q in Finance Act, 2021, which is effective from 01st July 2021, for withholding tax at source on payments made for the purchase of goods.

The provision of Section 194Q states that:

  • Any person, being a Buyer, having a turnover or gross receipts exceeding INR 10 crores during the preceding financial year;
  • While making payment of any sum to any resident (Seller) for purchase of any goods of the value, where the aggregate of such value exceeds INR 50 lakhs in the previous year
  • Shall at the time of credit of such sum to the account of the Seller or at the time of payment, whichever is earlier, deduct an amount equal to 0.1% percent as income tax.

The above provision is not applicable, where:

  • Tax is deductible under any other provision of the Act; or
  • Tax is collectible under the provision of section 206C of the Act, other than transactions covered u/s. 206C(1H) therein.

The CBDT has received several representations with respect to practical challenges that may arise in the implementation of section 194Q. To address the difficulties that may arise, the CBDT has issued Circular No 13[1] of 2021 providing various clarifications regarding section 194Q.

194Q is not applicable in the following situations:

As per the Circular, ambiguity is removed on the applicability of section 194Q in a number of cases. CBDT has clarified that section 194Q is not applicable in the following situations:

  • Transactions relating to securities and commodities, which are carried through recognized stock exchanges, including exchanges that are located in the International Financial Service Centre.
  • Transactions in electricity, renewable energy certificates, or energy certificates traded through registered power exchanges.
  • Payments by non-resident Buyers unless if the purchase of goods is not effectively connected with the Permanent Establishment / fixed place of business of such non-resident in India.
  • On purchase of goods from a Seller whose income is exempt from tax. Similarly, it is clarified that tax collection at source (TCS) provisions under section 206C (1H) of the Act would not be applicable if the Buyer’s income is exempt from tax. However, these exemptions would not be applicable if only part of the Seller’s/Buyer’s income is exempt.
  • In the year of incorporation of the Buyer, the threshold of INR 10 crore would not be satisfied.
  • Transactions, where either payment or credit for the transaction happened before 1st July 2021.
  • TDS would not be applicable on the GST amount if the GST amount is separately indicated in the invoice. However, in the case of advance payments, the TDS under section 194Q will have to be discharged on the entire amount, as it is not possible to identify the GST component.

Calculation related clarifications

  • It has been clarified that for calculating the threshold of INR 50 lakhs in respect of a particular Seller, the transaction for the whole FY 2021-22 shall be considered, starting from 1st April 2021 and not from 1st July 2021.
  • For computing threshold of INR 10 crore in respect of the Buyer, only business turnover or gross receipts from business activities is to be considered. As such, turnover or gross receipts from non-business activities would not require to be taken into consideration.
  • In case of purchase returns, the TDS deducted on such purchases under section 194Q shall need to be adjusted against subsequent purchases from the same Seller, if the money is refunded by the Seller to the Buyer. However, no adjustment will be required in cases where the purchase return is replaced by goods by the Seller.

The interplay between sections 194O, 194Q, and 206C(1H) of the Act:

  • If Section 194O is applicable on any particular transaction, then Section 194Q shall not be applicable;
  • If both section 194O and section 194Q are applicable, then section 194O will prevail;
  • Section 206C(1H) is not applicable if TDS is deductible u/s. 194O or Sec 194Q;
  • If both sections 194O and 206C(1H) are applicable, then 194O shall prevail. Even if TCS is collected by the Seller still tax deduction responsibility of the E-commerce operator under section 194O cannot be condoned; this is because the prescribed tax rate under section 194O is higher than the prescribed tax rate u/s. 206C(1H);
  • If both sections 194Q and 206C(1H) are applicable, then section 194Q shall prevail. However, for ease of business, if TCS under section 206C(1H) has already been collected by the Seller then section 194Q would not be applicable; this is because the prescribed tax rate for deduction under section 194O and the prescribed tax rate for collection under section 206C(1H) are the same.

Comments:

This Circular is an extremely welcome one and has several important clarifications that have been issued by the CBDT before the enactment of the provisions of sections 194Q and 206C(1H). The Circular provides clarity vis-à-vis the scope of the relevant provisions, calculation of thresholds, interplay between overlapping provisions etc.

However, there are still some niggling doubts that prevail, requiring further clarity. For instance, while calculating the threshold of turnover or gross receipts of INR 10 crore w.r.t the Buyer, whether the amount considered should include or exclude the GST component.  

Also, it would help if it is prescribed for the Seller to obtain a “no deduction” declaration from the Buyer w.r.t TDS under section 194Q, in a situation where both sections 194Q and section 206C(1H) are jointly applicable on the same transaction and tax has already been collected and paid under section 206C(1H) by the Seller.

References

[1] Circular No 13 of 2021 dated 30th June 2021 (F No. 370142/26/2021 – TPL

 

Image Credits: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

This Circular is an extremely welcome one and has several important clarifications that have been issued by the CBDT before the enactment of the provisions of sections 194Q and 206C(1H). The Circular provides clarity vis-à-vis the scope of the relevant provisions, calculation of thresholds, interplay between overlapping provisions etc.

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Restoring value through tenancy reforms

The phenomenon of urbanisation, accompanied by the aspirations of the masses looking to make an ascend out of and above their life circumstances, dawns with transformation of landscapes. The harbours of the coast often become a passageway to opportunities. Settling the chaos of the opportunities in the city of Mumbai post the Second World War led to unique tenancy model in the city which sheltered its migrant population that would not otherwise be able to afford a shelter to call its own and ever since, rent control laws continue to bear the blame for much of an unlocked value of premises in the city despite the initial righteous intention of tenancy reforms.

Righteous Intention v. Regressive Implementation

The Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999 stands as a successor of the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947, which was enacted as social welfare, as well as regulative legislation with a bonafide intention of protecting tenants from exploitation by and tyranny of landowners and from the spurt in rentals. The aforesaid situation did not change much with the enactment of the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999 as the provisions of this substituted legislation were nothing but old wine in a new bottle. It carried forward the pros and cons of the erstwhile Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947 without rationale a and, as a result, rented premises in Mumbai city continue to fetch lower rental returns than prevalent market value or become a subject matter of long-lasting litigation/s. This situation has adversely impacted the rental market in the city of Mumbai and people are caught between the adverse demand and low yielding supply of the premises to be meant for rentals.

Against this background, yet another tenancy reform, the Model Tenancy Act, 2021 as approved by the Union Cabinet in the first week of June 2021 (“the Model Act”) is now being viewed as a great catalyst towards boosting the rental market as it may stimulate the market by promising secured higher rental returns to the landowners (which includes premises’ owner) and as an affirmative driving force addressing most of the concerns of its predecessors.

Rationalising the Expectation

While the disputes arising out of decades-old tenancies continue to keep their memories alive in the Small Causes Courts and further in the appellate courts, the prevailing skepticism that premises owners have lately clung to as a result of the pandemic over letting out their premises, shows the unreliability of the current rent control laws and eviction proceedings under the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999. However, the enactment of the Model Act too depends on the adaptation of the provisions by the States to suit their indigenous tenancy models.

The State of Maharashtra has already cleared its stand in favour of protecting the interest of the tenants enjoying protection under the prevailing rent control regime.[i] Further, the prospective applicability of the Model Act is an important consideration while assessing the extent of the change to be expected out of the Model Act. Hence, it is required that the thrust of the reforms be maximised where it can be currently realised from the very stage of entering into a rental agreement, while the process of working out the reforms into the indigenous tenancy models continues to be unravelled by the State government.

One of the reforms that is hoped for is an overhauled dispute resolution process for rent and tenancy related matters. The Model Act seeks to nail the long lasting tenancy litigation by proposing a three-tier adjudicatory system being the Rent Authorities, Rent Courts and Rent Tribunals vested with exclusive jurisdiction to try and adjudicate disputes falling under the scope of the Model Act which does not extend to “question of ownership or title”.[ii] The essential condition to be met to seek relief through the Rent Authorities or the Rent Courts and Rent Tribunals is to have a rental agreement that is duly identified with a unique identification number by the Rent Authority set-up for a district under the Model Act.[iii]

An overview of the role to be played by the authorities/courts to be constituted under the Model Act is as tabulated below:

 

Matters related to the eviction of tenants are to be adjudicated upon by the Rent Courts, which may try and dispose off the matter based on the terms and conditions stipulated in the agreement entered between the disputing parties or on the basis of an application/documents made/placed before it.

Eviction of a tenant may be sought on the following grounds under the Model Act:

  • Non-payment of arrears of rent and other related charges for a period of two consecutive months despite being served a notice by the landowner as stipulated under the Model Act.
  • Abandonment of the premises (part or whole) by the tenant without the consent of the landowner.
  • Misuse of the premises includes the use of additional space by the tenant, causing damage to the premises, or carrying out activities that cause a public nuisance or are illegal.
  • Carrying out repair and alterations to the tenanted premises.[i]
  • Bonafide requirement by the legal heirs of a deceased landowner during the subsistence of the tenancy agreement.[ii]

It is noteworthy that the Model Act also provides for the interest of landowners who have let out vacant land as a part of the tenanted premises, to enable the landowners to undertake construction on the vacant land by causing severance of the vacant part of the land from the tenanted premises. In order to give effect to such severance of vacant land, the landowner may make an application before the Rent Court, if the landowner is unable to obtain possession of the vacant land from the tenant. The Rent Court may, on being satisfied with the willingness of the landowner to commence construction on the vacant land without causing undue hardship to the tenant, direct severance of vacant land or make other such orders that it may deem fit.[iii]

Restoring Value

The Model Act once again comes in as a tenancy reform with noble intent at a time when restoring the value of constructed properties that are vacant as a fallout of the current circumstances is vital for the recovery of the real estate market. While the applicability of the Model Act to the premises that have been trapped under old rental agreements and arrangements is subject to its enactment by the State, the assurance, that continues to gleam through is the balance that can be brought about by having a watertight rental agreement as per the Model Act. The Model Act accords primacy to the rental agreement executed between the landowner and tenant and strives to ensure its absolute enforcement.

Execution of new rental agreements pertaining to residential and commercial premises as per the provisions of the Model Act, as may be notified by the State government, will be the first step for landowners who seek better returns on their premises along with a more balanced set of landowner-tenant obligations. The challenge here remains to convince existing tenants to agree to the shift.

Taking a lesson from the quandary arising out of the existing rent control legislation, it is important that the implementation of the Model Act should be directed towards giving full effect to the balanced set of rights and obligations of tenants and landowners as currently envisaged therein. The pitfall to be avoided is the misuse of the autonomy given to the landowners and tenants while putting the provisions of the Model Act, that place reliance on the rental agreement to steer the course of the tenancy, into practice. It is only when the fine balance of responsibilities created under the Model Act are replicated in rental agreements, that the potential positive socio-economic impact of the Model Act will be of aid to the collective advancement towards the goal of ‘Housing for All’.

References

[i] Naresh Kamath, Maharashtra to Partially Adopt Central Model Tenancy Act, HINDUSTAN TIMES (June 3, 2021),
https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/maharashtra-to-partially-adopt-central-model-tenancyact-101622743211971.html.

[ii] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §40.

[iii] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §4(4)(a).

[iv] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §10.

[v]The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §20(3).

[vi] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §32.

[vii ] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §35(7).

[viii] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §35(8)

[ix] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §38(3)

[x] The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §37.

[xi]The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §35(2).

[xii]The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §21.

[xiii]The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §22(2).

[xiv]The Model Tenancy Act, 2021, §27.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash 

 It is only when the fine balance of responsibilities created under the Model Act are replicated in rental agreements, that the potential positive socio-economic impact of the Model Act will be of aid to the collective advancement towards the goal of ‘Housing for All’.

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Intensifying Social Accountability of Corporates in India

In a bid to make companies progressively accountable in the social panorama, the government has been modifying the provisions of Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) ever since its introduction. Amendments have been made in section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013 (“the Act”), The Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility) Rules (“the Rules”) and Schedule VII (“Schedule”) of the Act by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (“MCA”), from time to time.

While the earlier amendments to section 135 of the Act and the Rules were mostly clarificatory in nature or were relating to the inclusion of certain activities relating to COVID – 19 as the contribution made towards  CSR, the amendments to section 135 of the Act inserted by the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2020 and notification of The Companies (Corporate Social Responsibility) Amendment Rules, 2021 (“the Amended Rules”), both effective from January 22, 2021, has brought about a radical change in the treatment of unspent CSR amount, among other amendments, which is dealt with in this write-up.

  1. CSR applicability extended to newly incorporated companies as well:

Sub-section (5) of section 135 provides that every company crossing the threshold limits prescribed in section 135(1) has to necessarily spend at least 2% (two percent) of the average net profits of the company made during the immediately preceding three financial years. By way of inclusion to section 135 (5), newly incorporated companies that cross the threshold limits prescribed under section 135(1) of the Act have also been brought within the ambit of compliance with CSR provisions.

  1. Compliance in respect of unspent CSR amount:

A brief outline of the amendments relating to the treatment of unspent amount is provided below:

 

  1. Penalty for non-compliance of sub-sections (5) or (6) of section 135 of the Act:

The newly-inserted sub-section (7) of section 135 of the Act deals with a penalty for non-compliance of provisions of sub-section (5) or (6). It is pertinent to note that the provisions of Companies (Amendment) Act, 2019 had prescribed for imprisonment for a term extending to three years, apart from a fine that may be imposed, on the failure of a company to comply with the provisions of sub-sections (5) or (6) which relates to transfer of unspent amount other than ongoing project and transfer of amount towards ongoing project respectively.

Understandably, there were apprehensions over the proposed implementation of penal provision with imprisonment for CSR activity, and after deliberations, the provision was replaced with a provision in the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2020 which provides only for penalty without imprisonment for non-compliance of sub-section (5) or (6) of section 135 of the Act.

Penalty for the company – twice the amount required to be transferred by the company to the Fund specified in Schedule VII / unspent CSR account (or)

INR 1,00,00,000/- (Indian Rupees One Crore only), whichever is less.

Penalty for every officer of the company who is in default –

one-tenth of the amount required to be transferred by the company to such Fund specified in Schedule VII / unspent CSR account (or) INR 2,00,000/- (Indian Rupees Two Lakhs only), whichever is less.

  1. Power to give general or special directions:

As per sub-section (8) which has been inserted, the Central Government may give general or specific directions to a company or a class of companies, as necessary, which are required to be followed by such company/class of companies.

  1. Constitution of CSR Committee:

CSR committee is not required to be constituted by a company, where the amount it has to spend towards CSR activities is not more than INR 50,00,000/- (Indian Rupees Fifty Lakhs only) and the functions of the CSR committee shall be discharged by the Board of Directors of the company.

  1. Other notable changes in Amended Rules:
  • Registration under sections 12A and 80G of the Income Tax Act, 1961 has been made mandatory for CSR implementation entities (Rule 4(1) of the Amended Rules).
  • Every CSR implementation entity has to file Form CSR – 1 and obtain CSR registration number compulsorily from April 01, 2021 (Rule 4(2) of the Amended Rules).
  • Chief Financial Officer or any person responsible for financial management shall certify that the funds disbursed have been utilized for the purposes and manner as approved by the Board (Rule 4(5) of the Amended Rules).
  • In case of ongoing project(s), the Board shall monitor its implementation and shall make necessary modifications, as required (Rule 4(6) of the Amended Rules).
  • The CSR Committee shall formulate and recommend an annual action plan in pursuance of its CSR policy to the Board comprising the particulars as specified in Rule 5(2) of the Amended Rules, which may be altered at any time during the financial year, based on a reasonable justification.
  • Surplus earned from CSR activities shall be ploughed back into the same project or transferred to the “unspent CSR account” and spent as per the CSR policy and annual action plan or shall be transferred to the Fund specified in Schedule VII of the Act but shall not form part of the business profit of a company (Rule 7(2) of the Amended Rules).
  • The CSR amount may be spent by a company for the creation or acquisition of a capital asset, which shall be held by a CSR implementation entity specified in Rule 4, which has CSR registration number, or beneficiaries of the CSR project or a public authority (Rule 7(4) of the Amended Rules).
  • Annual report on CSR to be in the format specified in Annexure-II of the Rules, in respect of board’s report for the financial year commencing on or after April 01, 2020 (Rule 8 (1) of the Amended Rules).
  • Companies having an average CSR obligation of INR 10,00,00,000/- (Indian Rupees Ten Crores only) or more in the three immediately preceding financial years has to undertake an impact assessment of CSR projects, having an expenditure of INR 1,00,00,000/- (Indian Rupees One Crore only) or more and which have been completed not less than one year before undertaking the impact study, through an independent agency (Rule 8(3) of the Amended Rules).

Ambiguities in the recent amendments:

  1. Whether unspent amounts of previous years have to be transferred?

Although, it has been specifically provided in some of the Amended Rules (viz., implementation of CSR provisions through specified entities, reporting of CSR as provided in Annexure provided in the Amended Rules) that the said amendments are applicable on or after April 01, 2021, the time period from which the provisions relating to the transfer of unspent CSR amount to “unspent CSR account” / Fund is applicable, i.e. whether the unspent CSR amounts relating to the past financial years (from the date of applicability of the CSR provisions to the company) are required to be transferred to the “unspent CSR account” / Fund or only the CSR amount remaining unspent as on March 31, 2021, has to be transferred, has not been explicitly provided in the Act or the Amended Rules.

  1. Whether the outstanding amount of provision created for the unspent amount must be transferred?

The amended provisions do not stipulate whether unspent CSR amounts of the previous financial years have to be transferred to the designated account / Fund in case a company has created a provision in the books of accounts for such unspent amount for the relevant financial years.

The foregoing matters require suitable redressal by the MCA in the form of clarifications or FAQs or amendments to the existing provisions, which will offer a much-needed clarity on these matters.

Conclusion:

With the recent amendments, the CSR provisions have undergone a paradigm shift from “Comply or Explain” to “Comply or Pay” regime as they provide for penalties on failure to transfer unspent CSR amount to the specified account / Fund, whereas earlier, providing reasons for not spending CSR amount was considered adequate compliance. Hence, the said amendments have placed additional responsibilities on corporates.  Having introduced the concept of penalty, it is only appropriate that the MCA addresses the obscurities arising from the amendments at the earliest so that corporates are not caught off-guard in complying with the CSR provisions.

Image Credits: Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

the CSR provisions have undergone a paradigm shift from “Comply or Explain” to “Comply or Pay” regime as they provide for penalties on failure to transfer unspent CSR amount to the specified account / Fund, whereas earlier, providing reasons for not spending CSR amount was considered adequate compliance.

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Abbreviations as Trademarks

It is a common practice for organizations/businesses to use abbreviations in relation to their brands. From Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to Mahashian Di Hatti (MDH), from Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and from Louis Vuitton (LV) to Madras Rubber factory (MRF) and General Electrics (GE), all these brands changed their strategy by adapting abbreviations to connect with their consumers easily.

In this post, we will look into the aspects of registering abbreviations as trademarks under the Indian Trademark laws and attempt to list out the requisite considerations associated with adopting an abbreviation as a brand name.

NATURE OF ABBREVIATIONS – DESCRIPTIVENESS

As per the trademark law, for a word/term to qualify for registration as a trademark, it should not be a generic or a common term to trade or be recognized by customers as being descriptive of the kind/quality/character/intended purpose of specific goods/services. However, most abbreviations would be considered descriptive and non-distinctive as they are formed out of words that could be generic/common to trade. In such instances, it becomes difficult to claim exclusive rights when the trademark itself is incapable of being associated with a single source, like ‘VIT’ for Vitamins or ‘EV’ for Electric Vehicles. Under these conditions, how can an abbreviation qualify as a valid trademark? How does one seek registration/protection of an abbreviation as a trademark?

In the matter of S.B.L. Ltd. vs. Himalaya Drug Co[1], the Court emphasised on the test of overall similarity while deliberating upon the broad and essential features of both the marks and the effect on the consumers. The plaintiff’s liver tonic was labelled ‘Liv. 52’ and the defendant’s mark ‘LIV-T’ dealt with homeopathic and ayurvedic preparations. In both instances, the word ‘Liv’ was an abbreviation for liver. The Court held that abbreviation ‘Liv’ for Liver was generic or commonly used and falls under the domain of public juris. Hence the Court denied both the parties an exclusive proprietary right.

The Delhi High Court, in the decision of Bharat Biotech International Ltd. vs. Optival Health Solutions Pvt. Ltd. and Ors.[2], provided clarification in relation to the nature of acronyms that may make valid trademarks. In the instant case, the facts in issue pertained to the acronym TCV – the full form being Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine, that was being used by the plaintiff as ‘TYPBAR-TCV’ and the defendant as ‘ZYVAC-TCV’. The Court opined that the vaccine ‘Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine’, was common to the trade world over, especially in the medical community as ‘TCV’. Therefore, the mark ‘TCV’ being a generic abbreviation, as also being descriptive of the goods it related to, was incapable of trademark protection.

From the observations made by the Courts, it is clear that an abbreviation that is generic, common to trade or carries a descriptive meaning in itself cannot be registered or even enforced unless added to another distinctive and non-descriptive term like TYBAR-TCV/ Liv. 52. Here, the comparison is made on the basis of the perception of the trademark as a whole and not just the abbreviation.

NATURE OF ABBREVIATIONS – NON-DISTINCTIVE

Let us now look at the decisions where the Courts have found that the abbreviation by itself has trademark value and ought to be protected. In general practice, abbreviations, especially those formed of less than 3 letters, are usually not considered inherently distinctive, unless on certain occasions it is proven with substantial evidence that such a mark has acquired distinctiveness or a secondary meaning has come to be associated with it, by virtue of such extensive use. Some of the popular examples are GE, HP, LG etc.

This concept of acquired secondary significance has been a deciding factor in the Delhi High Court’s judgement in Larsen and Toubro Limited vs. Lachmi Narain Trades and others[3], which dealt with the abbreviation trademark ‘LNT’/‘LandT’. The Court studied the evidence produced by the plaintiff and observed that ‘LandT’ had acquired a secondary meaning exclusively associated with the plaintiff, owing to its continuous use over the course of nearly 50 years, whereas, the Respondents, being in business for some years, had started using the abbreviation ‘LNT’ only recently. It was held that the trademark ‘LandT’ was identified with the goods marketed by the plaintiff and as a result, its use could not become permissible for expressions like ‘Lachmi Narain Trades’.

Similarly, the Madras High Court in the decision of VIT University vs. Bagaria Education Trust and Ors.[4], also relied on the distinction and secondary significance acquired by the plaintiff in relation to the abbreviation ‘VIT’ and recognised the exclusive rights of the plaintiff to use ‘VIT’ as trademark.

CONCLUSION

An abbreviation may be granted protection if it is not common to trade practices, has distinctive focal element(s) attached to it, its full form does not carry any descriptive meaning, or it is proved with substantial evidence that the abbreviation has acquired distinctiveness or secondary significance by way of use. By observing the rulings of various Courts over the years, we are given a basic sense of the principles that are relied on, while deciding whether an abbreviation deserves to be registered as a trademark or not, and some of them are as follows:

  • Acquired distinctiveness or secondary significance, by way of longstanding, extensive and exclusive use of the trademark: This is case-specific and is decided on the basis of the evidence produced.
  • Overall perception of the trademark: This is decided based on the anti-dissection principle and the ‘dominant feature’ rule. 
  • Common to trade or descriptiveness: The concept of publici juris is considered since no single business is allowed to claim monopoly or have exclusive rights over a generic term. The full form of the abbreviation is examined to check if it is directly pointing towards the goods/services bearing the trademark.

The problem with the protection of an abbreviation as a trademark is not the registration; rather it is the enforcement of the rights that creates more hassles. There are many industries (as seen above like pharmaceutical, electrical etc.), that follow the trend of adopting brand names that are derived from or consist of generic terms that are common to trade. In such cases, since one business cannot claim monopoly over a generic trademark, it is added to a distinctive element, which is precisely the reason why it is easier to protect an abbreviation as a part of a composite mark (in whole), as opposed to protecting and enforcing it by itself.

Image Credits: Photo by Alexey Mak on Unsplash

An abbreviation may be granted protection if it is not common to trade practices, has distinctive focal element(s) attached to it, its full form does not carry any descriptive meaning, or it is proved with substantial evidence that the abbreviation has acquired distinctiveness or secondary significance by way of use.

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The draft EIA notification, 2020: what went wrong?

India has witnessed consistent and rapid environmental degradation since the past 50 years which can be attributed to the depletion of forests, vehicular emissions, use of hazardous chemicals, improper disposal methods and various other undesirable human activities.  Incidents such as the Bhopal gas tragedy and the LG Polymers gas leak incident have accentuated the seriousness of the matter and the need for introspection and rectification as well as timely action. Implementation of regulatory norms to curb pollution may seem plausible, but it is even more crucial to check whether industrial units and other polluting entities are complying with the safety norms and standards laid down to check the adverse impact of their operations. In that light, The draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification is bound to suffer implementational challenges and demands thorough revision to meet the environmental, developmental and sustainability parameters.

 

Concatenation of EIA in India

The current environmental laws seek to strike a balance between ‘ecology’ and ‘economy.’ The EIA framework is the practical aspect that guides towards striking this balance. Environmental Clearance (EC) is one of the most important features of an EIA framework. It refers to the process of assessing the impact of planned projects on the environment and people with an aim to abate/minimize the consequent environmental pollution. The clearance is mandatory of areas that are ecologically fragile, regardless of the type of project. 

The first EIA notification was notified in the year 1994, however, it covered only a few industries, leaving many out of the scope of impact assessment. In order to reflect upon the shortcomings of the 1994 framework, it was updated as EIA notification 2006[1].

However, the system curated by the EIA notification 2006 has been a far cry from perfect. Over the 15 odd years of its implementation, there have been quality issues with respect to the EIA reports,[2] and poor track record of post environmental clearance monitoring and compliance[3]. Over these years, it has also undergone numerous changes. In 2017, the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Environment Ministry exempted public hearings for coal mining projects which were undergoing capacity enhancements of up to 40 percent. However, the relaxation was subjected to due diligence of the EAC[4]. In 2015, the Ministry extended the validity of environmental clearance from 5 years to 7 years[5]. In March 2020, a draft notification[6] to replace the 2006 notification was issued for public comments. Since then, there have been many protests seeking a revaluation of the draft proposal.

In the meanwhile, vide an Office Memorandum dated 18th November 2020, the government proposed new set of rules to streamline the process to reduce the number of days taken by the authorities in granting EC.[7] This was in line with the government’s efforts to ensure the country’s growth trajectory in not blocked. Post that, another Office Memorandum was issued on 15th March 2021 that sought to streamline the process of granting environmental clearances with regard to essential details demanded.[8]

Very recently, another Notification dated 18th March 2021 was issued where the center exempted all projects from public hearing whose environmental clearance had expired and therefore had to apply afresh.[9]According to the notification, the prior environmental clearance for a project was granted for a maximum period of ten years, and in some cases five years. The projects which failed to complete within the granted time period had to undergo all the processes of scoping afresh, including conducting a public hearing. However, as per the new amendment, the compulsory step of conducting public hearing has been done away with if minimum 50% of the physical form of the project has been implemented. This was essential to remit further delay in such projects.

The notification has been introduced amidst the countrywide opposition to the contentious EIA Draft Notification 2020[10], that seeks to overhaul the environmental clearance process for large infrastructures and projects like dams, roads, mines townships, etc. The prepared draft proposes three major changes:

  1. Exemption from public consultation for certain construction projects.
  2. Powers to regularise projects retrospectively.
  3. Exemptions for process with strategic consultation.[11]

 

Contentious Issues in the Draft EIA Notification

Environmentalists across the country took an abhorrent view of the proposed Draft EIA Notification 2020, since it provided time and liberty to project proponents while strategically keeping the public uninvolved.

  1. Ex post facto environmental clearance

This rule allows any industry working in violation of the Environment (Protection) Act to apply for clearance. This seemed quite arbitrary since India has already witnessed severe disasters caused due to the lack of compliance to environmental clearances. Recently, in addition to the LG Polymers gas leakage at Vishakhapatnam, a natural gas well of Oil India Ltd. blew up and caught fire in Tinsukia, Assam.  Assam’s State Pollution Board reported that Oil India Ltd. was operating without any consent from the Board for more than 15 years!

  1. Defeats the purpose of public consultation

Generally, the interested stakeholders are given a period of 30 days to raise any concerns regarding the preliminary report of the assessment. The draft EIA 2020 seeks to reduce this period to a mere 20 days. Very often, the concerned stakeholders belong to poor communities residing in and around the project sites. The news of such a report usually reaches late, by the time consultations are considered, clearances are granted. This provision is in violation of Principle 10 of Rio Declaration which states that “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens”.

  1. Reducing the Number of Compliance Reports

The Compliance Report contains all the norms and regulations which are being followed by industries on a regular basis. It is an essential aspect of EIA since it helps the concerned authorities to put a system of checks and balance. However, as per the draft EIA 2020, this period has been increased to one year, granting unwarranted freedom to industrial units to grossly violate the environmental norms and cover it up with ease.

  1. Empowering the central govt. to declare certain projects as ‘strategic’ may have adverse outcomes

It is the Technical Expert Committee that has been endorsed with the power to categorize new projects rather than the Ministry of Environment, Climate and Forest Change. Once a particular project has been labelled/categorised as ‘strategic’ by the central government, information regarding it shall be removed from the public domain. Any information regarding environmental violations thus remain a privy to the government. Not being able to report violations except by the government or regulatory authority goes against the principles of natural justice. Diluting the norms with regards to detailed scrutiny by the Expert Committee, EIA studies, or public consultation leaves many projects and polluters out of the regulatory net.

  1. Exclusion of projects

Clause 26 of the Draft EIA Notification 2020 excludes a long list of projects from the purview of EIA. Further, Clause 14 of the said Notification excludes a number of projects from public consultation. Further, public consultation has also been exempted for the projects falling under Category B2.

 

Judicial Approach on the Draft EIA Notification

Since the issuance of the draft notification, various petitions have been filed in courts across the country demanding judicial scrutiny over specific controversial aspects as discussed above.

The notification allowing for grant of ex post facto environmental clearance for project proponents who have already commenced or completed projects without obtaining a prior EC was challenged in the case of Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v. Rohit Prajapati & Ors.[12], the Supreme Court held that the concept of ex post facto clearance as opposed to the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and is violative of the previous EIA Notifications. It was further held in this case that such a clearance would lead to irreparable degradation of the environment. The grant of such problematic environmental clearances violates the precautionary principle and sustainable development. Furthermore, such clearances overturn the ‘polluter pays principle’ to make it ‘pay and pollute’ principle.

The court placed reliance on its previous ruling in the matter of Common Cause v. Union of India.[13] In this case, the Supreme Court held that “the concept of an ex post facto or a retrospective EC is completely alien to environmental jurisprudence including EIA 1994 and EIA 2006.” Therefore, relying on the verdict of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the above two cases, it can be stated that ex post facto clearances are unsustainable is law and void.

In the case of Puducherry Environment Protection Association v. The Union of India.[14], the Madras HC addressed the issue in a different light. The question of whether an establishment providing livelihood to hundreds of people must be closed down on the grounds of non-compliance with prior EC, was addressed. After much deliberation, the HC arrived at the conclusion that violation of environmental norms can conveniently and effectively be checked. It also stressed on the fact that an ex post facto clearance takes away the scope of EIA.

Previously, the National Green Tribunal in S. P. Muthuraman v. Union of India[15], remarked that the law does not recognise any such examination which is made post-commencement and upon completion of a project. The Tribunal further went to acknowledge that the practice of conducting an EIA is internationally recognised. It also stated that granting post facto approvals could legalise and legitimise illegal and irregular projects which are in contravention of environmental norms and thus would defeat the purpose of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Another contention raised by the stakeholders was that the draft notification dilutes the EIA process making it easier for industries to escape accountability. Various courts also took stock of these concerns and the Delhi High Court granted an extension in the time allowed to the general public for giving suggestions to the Draft EIA Notification till August 11, 2020. It also suggested that the notification must be translated into other languages so that it can reach to even the remotest groups and seek recommendations.[16] However, the centre responded by saying that it was giving ‘thoughtful consideration’ to the HC’s views on translating the EIA Notification 2020 in twenty-two languages of the eighth schedule of the constitution.[17]The Karnataka High Court also took a similar approach and restrained the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change from releasing the final notification till September 7, 2020, on the grounds of the ongoing pandemic.[18]

 

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

EIA is a part of participatory justice which gives voice to the voiceless[19].

The present EIA draft notification appears to be an attempt to promote the growth of industries and the corporate community at the cost of biodiversity, human rights and the environment. The draft is bound to suffer implementational challenges and demands thorough revision to meet the environmental, developmental and sustainability parameters. However, the final notification is not out yet and the judicial bent towards scrapping the post-commencement sanctions and increasing the period for public consultation period would most likely lead to a revision of those aspects. Moreover, provisions such as discretionary powers for the determination of strategic projects as well as a reduction in key compliance norms dilute the very essence of environmental assessments. Ease of doing business was ideally implemented to subvert bureaucratic dawdle but it should not become a veil for corporate subterfuge. Then again, too many compliance burdens deter participants in a sector from undertaking developmental projects. Some fine-tuning keeping the regulatory pressures minimal while balancing environmental repercussions would be the ideal course of action.

References 

1 GOVERNMENT OF INDIA – THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT NOTIFICATION 2006,
http://www.environmentwb.gov.in/pdf/EIA%20Notification,%202006.pdf (last visited Aug. 29, 2020).

2 http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/OM_IA_ownershipEIA.pdf

3 https://cag.gov.in/en/audit-report/details/27540

4 http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Form1A/Minutes/010820176ABWO9WXApprovedMOM15thEACheldon25July2017Coal.pdf

5 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/government-extends-validity-of-environmentclearance-to-7-years/articleshow/49452693.cms?from=mdr


6 http://parivesh.nic.in/writereaddata/Draft_EIA_2020.pdf


7 http://dghindia.gov.in/assets/downloads/5fbb4c3cc3135moefccom.pdf

8 https://ficci-web.com/link/OMStreamlining.pdf


9 http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/EIA_Notifications/52_SO1240E_12032021.pdf


10 http://parivesh.nic.in/writereaddata/Draft_EIA_2020.pdf

11 https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/environment-law-proposed-norms-dilute-the-processrigours-experts-say

12 Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v. Rohit Prajapati & Ors., 2020 SCC OnLine SC 347

13 Common Cause v. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 499.


14 Puducherry Environment Protection Association v. The Union of India, (2017) 8 MLJ 513.


15 S.P. Muthuraman v. Union of India, 2018 (8) FLT 498.


16 Vikrant Tongad v. Union of India, W.P. (C) 3747/2020 & CM APPL. 13426/2020.


17 https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/mar/26/giving-thoughtful-considerationto-hc-view-totranslate-draft-eia-in-22-languages-centre-2281924.html

18 United Conservation Movement Charitable and Welfare Trust v. Union of India, W.P. No. 8632/2020.


19 Samarth Trust and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors., Writ Petition (Civil) No 9317 of 2009

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Alan Rodriguez on Unsplash

The present EIA draft notification appears to be an attempt to promote the growth of industries and corporate community at the cost of biodiversity, human rights and environment. The draft is bound to suffer implementational challenges and demands thorough revision to meet the environmental, developmental and sustainability parameters. However, the final notification is not out yet and the judicial bent towards scrapping the post commencement sanctions and increasing the period for public consultation period would most likely lead to revision of those aspects

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Toy Manufacturing - BIS Compliances, Schemes, and Incentives

One of the key flourishing industries in the world, India’s toy market is currently valued at $500 million out of a booming $90 billion global market. Statistics reveal that 80% of Indian toys are Chinese imports, while non-branded Chinese toys account for 90% of India’s market. Even though exports by the toy manufacturing industry from India amounted to $130 million during 2019-2020 with the USA and UK [1]being the lead exporters, the disparity and unutilized potential do not escape one’s attention.

As the second-most populated country in the world with almost 26% of its population below 15 years old, India has one of the largest consumer bases in the world. In fact, when the global average for demand growth is 4.6% [2]it is forecasted to have a growth of 13.3% CAGR [3]within 2026 i.e. almost thrice the global average. Adding on to this the toy industry of the country is also expected to reach $3.3 billion dollars by 2024!

India’s economic growth has also increased the disposable income of its citizens, thus driving up demand in a market with a whopping consumer base of roughly 338 million. Moreover, there has been a major shift from traditional, medium- to low-end battery-operated toys, towards innovative electronic toys, intelligent toys as well as upmarket plush toys.[4] The boom of e-commerce in India has also had a role to play, with customers turning to shop for toys within the comfort of their own homes.

Associations and Committees Representing the Toy Industries in India:

 

1.Toy Association of India

  • Headquartered in New Delhi, the toy Association of India was established in 1995 with a view to bringing together toy manufacturers, traders and end-users to promote higher business relations.
  • It has a presence all over the country and has 600 registered members, out of which 275 are toy manufacturers.
  • Assists the toy industry in up-gradation of the industry’s units with modern machinery to maintain quality standards.
  • Attempts at creating a more conducive relationship between the government and the industry by offering policy recommendations, communicating the industry’s problems in the interest and growth of the toy industry.

2.The All-India Toy Manufacturer’s Association

  • Headquartered in Mumbai, All India Toy Manufacturer’s Association has nearly 150 registered members, out of which 100 are toy manufacturers.
  • It seeks financial assistance and subsidies from the government for the growth of the toy industry, educates and encourages suppliers to conform to the BIS regulations. 
  • Encourages the organization of toy fairs and exhibitions for the promotion of the toy industry.

 

Compliances Requirements for Toy Manufacturing Industry under the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) 

Apart from the general compliances which amount to over 700 ranging from the Companies Act, SEBI Act, FEMA Act to Income Tax and Foreign Trade Act for factories and MSME’s, regulations were required to be specifically made to ensure that the toy industries are safeguarded from unfair and excessive exploitation as well as products meet the international quality requirements.

According to a study, about 67% of toys sold in India had failed all safety and standard tests, while about 30 per cent of plastic toys failed to meet the safety standards of admissible levels of heavy metals and phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals.

A lack of regulation in the past had resulted in degradation of the quality of our products and failed endeavours to keep up with the international standards. However, this is no longer the case as the government has not only strengthened the existing key factors but has also set up new compliances to steer clear of the past policy miscalculations and lapses. The said compliances are as follows:

The Toys (Quality Control) Order, 2020[5]

Issued by the DPIIT, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, vide order 25 February 2020, the safety of toys has been brought under compulsory BIS certification, which is granted after the successful assessment of the manufacturing infrastructure, production process, quality control, and testing capabilities. The toys shall bear the standard mark under a licence from BIS as per Scheme-I of Schedule II, of BIS (Conformity Assessment Regulations), 2018. The said QCO was initially slated to come into effect from 1st September 2020 but was later extended to 1 January 2021[6].

Exceptions:

  • The order is not applicable to goods and articles manufactured and sold by artisans registered with the Office of Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), under the Ministry of Textiles.
  • The order is not applicable to goods and articles manufactured and sold by registered proprietor and authorized user of geographical indication, by the registrar of geographical indications, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.[7]
  •  Goods or articles manufactured/meant for export purposes.

BIS Licence and Certification

For the purpose of BIS certification, toys have been classified into the following two categories. While applying for a licence, the manufacturer can apply under any one of the classifications:

 

If a licence is required for more than one type of toy (i.e., non-electric and electric), separate applications shall be made for each type. (However, samples shall be tested by BIS for conformity to the primary standard and the secondary standards which are applicable i.e., IS 9873 parts 1,2,3,4,7, and 9 etc.)[1]

While applying for a license the manufacturers must also specify the type of toy in order to choose the applicable standard it would be subjected to. The specifications of toys and their corresponding standards are as follows:

 

For Entities Manufacturing hundreds of toy models/SKU’s
  • Since testing hundreds of toy samples individually shall prove to be practically difficult for the purpose of BIS certification. The issue has been addressed in the Product Manual for the safety of toys[1].
  • The product manual is a guidance document containing product-specific guidelines for certification. It incorporates “Grouping Guidelines” which allows certification to be granted for a group of toy models based on the testing of certain representative models.
  • These grouping guidelines have been framed based on the Indian Standard IS 9873 (Part 8):2019 which is identical with the International Standard ISO/TR 8124-8:2016 (Safety of Toys Part 8 Age Determination Guidelines) which classifies toys into 7 Categories and 146 Sub-Categories based on the appropriate starting age and the specific purpose or function of the toy.
  • For the purpose of certification, all the models of toys of similar design, made from the same materials and covered under a single sub-category, shall be considered as a series. A sample of any one model from each series shall be drawn and tested to cover all the models in that particular series.

Schemes Floated for the Toy Manufacturing Industry in India

Along with the set of existing and new compliances, the government has also introduced various schemes and incentives with the aim of promoting the industry.

Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises (MSME)

Approximately four thousand[2] enterprises in India, engaged in toy manufacturing fall under the category of micro and small-scale sectors. The MSMEs in the toy manufacturing sector is an unorganized sector, accounting for a whopping 60% of the national market share. These MSME’s are spread all across the country with a large chunk operating in the Northern and Western regions.

The Indian toy market is 70% larger thanks to the existence of MSMEs and the support they received from our government. In pursuance of the same, the government has amended the classification of MSMEs in the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan to ensure that they receive the aid and recognition required to keep up with the changing times. The amended classification is as follows:

 

With the advent of Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan various schemes have been introduced to promote MSMEs:

•       Technology and Quality Upgradation Scheme

Enrolling in this scheme will help the micro, small and medium enterprises to use energy-efficient technologies (EETs) in manufacturing units to diminish the expense of production and adopt a clean development mechanism. The scheme guarantees to cover up to 75% of the expenditure.[1]

•       Grievance Monitoring System:

Enrolling in this scheme is advantageous when it comes to addressing complaints of business owners. Additionally, the owners may also check the status of their complaints and file an appeal if they are not satisfied with the result.

•       Incubation: 

It assists innovators in implementing their new design or product ideas. It provides financial assistance for “Business Incubators”. Financial assistance of 75 % to 85 % of the project cost, up to a maximum of 8.00 Lakh is extended to the innovators.[2]

•       Credit Linked Capital Subsidy Scheme:

Under this scheme, new technology is provided to the business owners to replace their old and obsolete technology. A capital subsidy is given to the business to upgrade and have better means to do their business. These small, micro and medium enterprises can directly approach the banks for these subsidies. The ceiling on subsidy would be Rs. 15 lakh or 15 per cent of the investment in eligible plant and machinery, whichever is lower[3]

•       Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries: 

The government aims at establishing a total of 35 toy clusters in various states under this scheme. Once set up, these will boost the manufacturing of toys made of wood, lilac, palm leaves, bamboo and fabric. This scheme offers incentives such as skill development, capacity building, e-commerce assistance to local industries.

•       Product Specific Industrial Cluster Development Programme: 

The programme aims to establish dedicated SEZ’s and customize them into self-sustaining ecosystems catering to export markets.

 

Incentives Provided to the Toy Manufacturing Industry in India

The Centre and State governments have implemented various incentives to promote the toy industry.

A. For Toy Manufacturing Entities

 

1.Hiked import duty:

The import duty on toys was raised from 20% to 60% [4]making it difficult for foreign companies to compete in our market as well as making Indian companies’ entry into the market easier.

2.Handicraft and GI Toys exempted from Quality Control Order[5]:

This allows any traditionally made toys by artisans registered with Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) to be exempted from the quality compliances newly introduced.

3.Custom Bonded Warehouse Scheme:

Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has launched a new scheme expected to play a critical role in promoting investments in India and in enhancing the ease of doing business. According to this, the unit can import goods (both inputs and capital goods) under a customs duty deferment program.[6]

4.Export Promotion Capital Goods (EPCG) Scheme: 

Enables the import of capital goods (toys/ spare parts thereof) in the pre-production, production and post-production stage without the payment of customs duty.

5.Increase in BCD for Electronic Toys (under HSN 9503) from 5% to 15%[7]:

This will increase the expenditure incurred for foreign companies to sell products in India and thus help relax the competition for Indian manufacturers. An example of how these steps have been implemented and made into a reality is the Product-Specific Industrial Cluster Development Program. An initiative taken up by the Karnataka government in partnership with Aequs Infra, is a first-of-its-kind project aimed at promoting toy industries by dedicating 400 acres of self-sustained ecosystem including an SEZ to serve export markets and Domestic Tariff Area (DTA) through state-of-the-art industrial infrastructure and facilities. It has the potential to create 40,000 jobs in five years and attract over INR 5,000 crore in investments. [8]The toy cluster aims to capitalize on the presence of key elements essential for the sector’s growth like manpower, R&D and raw material.  It is also in a strategic position to cater to 50% of the domestic toy market needs, and has an efficient connectivity network with access to highways, ports, airports, and major cities.[9] This program was touted as a one-stop-shop solution catering to the needs of both large MNCs and small and medium enterprises.

6. Duty Drawback Scheme: 

The scheme was introduced to rebate duty chargeable on any imported materials or excisable materials used in the manufacture or processing of goods, manufactured in India and exported.

B. For MSME’s

Apart from extending financial aid as discussed above, the government initiatives for MSME’s are largely based on undertaking initiatives to promote homegrown toy manufacturers and boost domestic demand for indigenous and locally produced toys. Some of these initiatives are:

Phased Manufacturing Programme (PMP): 

The programme will make the assembly of toys cheaper than imports, offering benefits similar to the PMP for mobile phones introduced back in 2015. The government has offered tax reliefs and differential tariffs among other incentives for components and accessories to push local manufacturing.

Toy Labs: 

In a bid to promote traditional toys, the government has chalked out a plan to create toy labs – a national toy fair for innovative Indian themed toys. The Atal Tinkering Lab is one such toy lab to provide support for physical toys promoting learning and innovation. Additionally, due to literacy programmes like Sarv Siksha Abhiyan and the new education policy, toys nurturing innovation and creativity are in focus.

Involving various sectors:

The education ministry has been asked to include indigenous toys as a part of learning resource, under the new education policy. The IIT’s are set to be roped in to look into the technological aspect of toys, while the NIFT’s shall study the concept of toys and national values, by using non-hazardous materials. The Ministry of Science and Technology has been directed to explore how India’s indigenous games can be featured in the digital space. While the Ministry of culture will work on ‘Indian Toy Museum’.

Labour law reforms:

The Indian toy industry is labour intensive, the new labour law reforms have a significant impact on the ease of doing business, thereby providing a competitive advantage to the Indian toy industries.

The toy industry is one sector that contains a lot of untapped potentials. The compulsory BIS certification as per the Toys (Quality Control) Order, 2020, will ensure that the quality of toys is at par with international standards along with the strengthening of existing conditions of the market. These are significant steps in the right direction to ensure that the domestic markets pick up once the pandemic wanes. The domestic production and sales could catch up with exports and thus make sure that the future of this sector will not be as grim as in the past and will light up, once again.

References 

1 https://www.investindia.gov.in/sector/consumer-goods/toys-manufacturing

2 Koppal Toy Manufacturing Cluster; https://static.investindia.gov.in/s3fs-public/2021- 01/Koppal%20Toy%20Manufacturing%20Cluster%20-%20For%20International%20Investors.pdf

3 Ibid

4 Indian Toys Market: Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2021-2026, https://www.imarcgroup.com/indian-toys-market

5 https://bis.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Toy_QC_order.pdf

6 https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/orderToy-26February2021_0.pdf

7 https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/QC-AmendmentOrder-Toys-21December2020.pdf

8 https://bis.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/toys-faqs-bilingual.pdf

9 https://bis.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/safety-of-toy.pdf

10 Toy industries in India; https://www.ibef.org/indian-toys

11 Impact of Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan on MSMEs; https://cleartax.in/s/impact-aatmanirbhar-bharat- abhiyan-msmes/

12 https://msme.gov.in/3-technology-upgradation-and-quality- certification#:~:text=Technology%20and%20Quality%20Upgradation%20Support%20to%20MSMEs&text=50%

13 https://msme.gov.in/incubation25%20of%20actual%20expenditure%20subject,licenses%20from%20National%20%2F%20International%20bodies.

14 http://laghu-udyog.gov.in/schemes/sccredit.htm

15 Budget 2020: Govt hikes customs duty on toys, furniture, footwear products; https://www.financialexpress.com/budget/budget-2020-govt-hikes-customs-duty-on-toys-furniture-footwear- products/1848123/

16 Handicraft and GI Toys exempted from Quality Control Order; https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1680181

17CBIC and Customs launch scheme to attract investment and support Make in India programme; https://knnindia.co.in/news/newsdetails/sectors/cbic-and-customs-launch-scheme-to-attract-investment-and- support-make-in-india-programme

18 Union budget 2021; https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/doc/budget_speech.pdf

19 https://www.investindia.gov.in/sector/consumer-goods/toys-manufacturing

20 Koppal Toy Manufacturing Cluster; https://static.investindia.gov.in/s3fs-public/2021- 01/Koppal%20Toy%20Manufacturing%20Cluster%20-%20For%20International%20Investors.pdf

 

 

Image Credits: Photo by Nguyen Bui on Unsplash

The toy manufacturing industry is one sector that contains a lot of untapped potentials. The compulsory BIS certification as per the Toys (Quality Control) Order, 2020, will ensure that the quality of toys is at par with international standards along with the strengthening of existing conditions of the market.

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2020 In Rewind: Trademarks In India

The entrepreneurship space has seen major evolution with conducive policies and enabling technological environment in the past few years. Specifically, the digital landscape has levelled up in traffic and capabilities owing to the pandemic last year and everything moving online. With that, the intellectual property and technology laws are grappling to catch up to the developing situation and adequately protect the rights of the stakeholders in the sector. Until that happens effectively, the courts are taking a pro-active step to align the developments with the legal intentions and business requirements. With this in view, we witnessed some interesting case updates that took place in the field of trademarks and domain name disputes in the past year. Here is a brief of the key trademark-related updates in India that took place in the year 2020.

I.LEGISLATIVE DEVELOPMENTS

There was no significant legislative development in the trademark practice, apart from the Trademark Registry’s decision to go completely virtual with respect to prosecution hearings. The Trademark Registry and the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) much like all the judicial and quasi-judicial bodies across the country, for the time being, has done away with the physical mode of hearing, and it is taking up matters via video conference.

II.SIGNIFICANT CASE LAWS

Here is a recap of key cases within the domain:

Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Amway India Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. FAO(OS) 133/2019 |31-01-2020

In this case, the division bench of the Delhi High Court had set aside the lower court’s order restraining Amazon from allowing the sale of products of Amway India, a Direct Selling Entity, from its platform. Amway India filed a trademark infringement suit against Amazon on the ground that the e-commerce giant is liable as an intermediary for allowing and continuing to allow Amway India’s products (which it alleged were counterfeited products) to be listed on the former’s website by one of Amway’s direct seller. The lower court found Amazon liable for trademark infringement for non-observance of Direct Selling Guidelines and failing to demonstrate due diligence.   

The Division bench while setting aside the lower court’s order ruled that Direct Selling Guidelines are merely advisory to State Governments and Union Territories and they are not binding laws, and hence, it cannot be enforced against e-commerce intermediary. The Court further refuted the claim of trademark infringement on the ground that India follows the principle of international exhaustion of Trademarks, meaning once a good is lawfully acquired by the Direct Seller, the rights over the said good (including right re-sell) vested in the Direct Seller. Hence, Amazon as well as the seller were saved under the second sale exception to trademark infringement under section 30 (4) of the Trademarks Act, 1999.

Imagine Marketing Pvt. Ltd. V. Exotic Mile (CS(COMM) 519/2019) | 21-01-2020

The Plaintiff, commonly known in the market as “BoAt”, consumer electronics brand, sought an injunction against the Defendants from using the mark “BOULT” for the manufacture and sale of electronic audio gadgets mainly earphone, headphones, etc.

The Delhi High Court (single bench) had passed an interim injunction restraining the Defendant from using the mark “BOULT” ruling that it was deceptively similar to “BoAt” and that even their taglines were similar to each other. However, the Division Bench ordered a stay on the injunction order by stating that “prima facie there is no similarity visually or phonetically between the original Plaintiff and the Defendant.”

The matter is now evenly poised, and we await to see if the Division Bench would have a different take on its opinion after hearing the arguments.

Reckitt Benckiser (India) Pvt. Ltd v. Mohit Petrochemicals Pvt. Ltd. CS(COMM)No.141/2020 & I.A.Nos.4034-37/2020 | 28-05-2020

In an infringement suit filed by Reckitt Benckiser, the Delhi High Court while imposing Rupees One Lakh on Mohit Pharmaceuticals, permanently restrained them from selling hand sanitizers under the brand name “Devtol” which was considered deceptively similar to the Plaintiff’s well-known trademark “Dettol”.

M/s ITC Limited v. Nestle India Limited 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1158 | 10-06-2020

ITC had launched its Sunfeast Yippie Noodles in two varieties – one of which was “Magic Masala”. Defendant i.e., Nestle had adopted the name “Magical Masala” for one of their instant noodle product. Since Plaintiff had not registered the expression “Magic Masala” as a trademark, it filed a passing-off suit against Defendant. Defendant affirmed that they were using the term “Magical Masala” as a flavour descriptor. The Defendants further contended that “Magic” and “Masala” were the two most common terms that were used in the culinary industry and therefore could not be monopolized.

The High Court of Madras held that the expressions “Magic” and “Masala” were common terms that were used on a day-to-day basis in the Indian food industry and Indian culinary, therefore the same could not be monopolized by the Plaintiff or the Defendant. The court further opined that even Plaintiff had used the term “Magic Masala” as a flavour descriptor rather than a trademark or a sub-brand. Therefore, the court concluded that ITC had used the term “Magic Masala” in a laudatory manner and the same could not be monopolized.  

Hindustan Unilever v. Endurance Domain and Ors. 2020 SCC Online Bom 809 | 12-06-2020

In this case, Plaintiff approached the Bombay High Court seeking to suspend domain names with Plaintiff’s HUL trademarks which were registered under the authority of Defendant, a domain name registrant. Even though the Court was quick to grant relief to the defendant, it opined that Domain name registrants were neither equipped nor authorized to indefinitely suspend domain names once registered, since there was no human element involved to oversee the legitimacy of domain names.

The Court ruled that deciding what should or should not be suspended (or blocked) is a serious judicial function that could be arrived at only by assessing and balancing rival merits. Moreover, the Court observed that anyone can use a VPN to bypass a proxy server or firewall and have access to such blocked websites by masking the originating country IP of the user, hence, such ‘access blocking’ only offers a hollow and faux sense of safety to the Registrant. Besides, holding the Registrar liable if he is unable to effectively block access would expose the Registrar to the constant threat of contempt proceedings.

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) v. Iskon Apparel Pvt. Ltd and Ors. 2020 SCC Online Bom 729 | 26-06-2020

In a trademark infringement and passing off suit instituted against the Defendant’s use of ISKON APPAREL, the Court while restricting Defendant from using the same ruled that ISKON is a well-known mark. This was a follow-up to Plaintiff’s pleading that the trademark “ISKON” be declared a well-known trademark. Plaintiff submitted that it was the first to create the name in the year 1996 in New York and over time it has created a global presence which is inclusive of India and the brand was not restricted to only one particular good or service but was into the diverse range of goods and services. The court after scrutinizing the evidence submitted by Plaintiff ruled that the brand name “ISKON” fell under the ambit of a well-known mark under the Trademark Acts of 1999.

Louis Vuitton Malletier vs Futuretimes Technology India Pvt Ltd CS(COMM) 222/2020 | 03-07-2020

Louis Vuitton had filed a civil suit against the Defendants, an e-commerce platform named Club Factory to restrain the sale of any counterfeit goods comprising their trademark. The Plaintiff prayed that the Defendants be restrained from selling any product with Plaintiff’s trademark, including “LOUIS VUITTON”, “LV Logo”, Toile monogram pattern, Damier pattern and/or LV flower pattern, or any other similar pattern that would constitute an infringement of the Plaintiff’s registered marks. The Delhi High Court, acting on it, issued summon notice to the Defendants. We wait to see if this case takes the same route as the case of Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Amway India Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. FAO(OS) 133/2019, to base the outcome on the evidence of counterfeited products or if it holds Club Factory liable in case the Defendant fails to demonstrate the minimum standard of due diligence as required from an intermediary. 

Arudra Engineers Pvt. Ltd. v. Pathanjali Ayurved Ltd. & Anr. 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1503 | 17-07-2020

Defendant, Patanjali, was restrained from using the word “Coronil” to market its product i.e., immunity booster tablets which Defendant claimed to have passed the test of clinical trials to cure coronavirus. The Court held that since Plaintiff had acquired registration of the trademark ‘CORONIL- 92 B’ in 1993 and had been using the same in relation to Acid inhibitor for industrial cleaning, Defendant’s action amounted to infringement under Section 29(4) of Trademarks Act, 1999. The court also opined that Patanjali’s use of the word ‘Coronil’ could deceive the consumers with respect to the likelihood of curing coronavirus through the tablet. Hence, considering the reputation of Plaintiff’s registered trademark and the larger public interest, the Court restrained Plaintiff from marketing its product under the name “Coronil”.  

Plex, Inc v. Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 989 | 01-10-2020

The Bombay High Court refused to grant an interim injunction as sought by Plaintiff (Plex) against ZEEPLEX, a pay-per-view service launched by Zee. The Court reasoned that Plaintiff’s case of passing off failed the trinity test since it was unable to establish any reputation, the similarity in services, and anticipated injury due to the adoption and use of ZEEPLEX, while Defendant had a long-standing reputation in India.    

Delhivery Private Ltd. v. Treasure Vase Ventures Private Ltd.  CS (COMM) 217/2020 | 12/10/2020

In an infringement suit by the logistics company “Delhivery” against the user of the mark “Deliver-E” for identical services, Delhi High Court held that Delhivery was a generic name describing the kind of service it provided i.e., delivery, and hence, it did not have the characteristics of an enforceable trademark.

Anil Rathi v. Shri Sharma Steeltech CS(COMM) 654/2019 | 23-10-2020

The Delhi High Court ruled that the use of the personal name, surname, or family name under Section 35 of Trademarks Act, 1999 was limited to personal use only and such rights did not extend to granting licenses to third parties for commercial use. In the instant case, Plaintiff had approached the Delhi High Court seeking an injunction against the use of the surname “RATHI” as a trademark by Defendant. The Court observed that there was a family arrangement in place which regulated the use of the family mark, and the act of Defendant of licensing the mark to third parties was in clear violation of the said arrangement, making Defendant liable for trademark infringement.

The PS5 Case Trademark Squatting Case: TM Opposition by Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc [Opposition No. 1040632] against TM Application PS5 [Application No. 4332863] filed in Class 28 by Hitesh Aswani

Sony’s launch of its latest edition of gaming console Play Station 5 of PS5 in India was halted when it discovered that an infamous trademark squatter named Hitesh Aswani had surreptitiously filed a trademark application for “PS5” on October 29, 2020, for the identical specification of goods that were covered under Sony’s PS4 trademark registration bearing application no. 2481440. Sony, understandably, filed an opposition against the said trademark, and the Applicant withdrew his application.

Sony filed its earliest trademark application for the mark “PS5” in Jamaica before Hitesh Aswani on October 03, 2019. Sony used the Jamaican application as the basic application to file international registration through the Madrid Protocol, claiming priority of October 03, 2019.

This was a textbook case of trademark squatting. Sony had priority over the squatter, and it is a settled position of law that priority trumps everything else as per law in India. Further, the mala fide intention of the squatter was evident from the almost verbatim replication of the specification of goods covered under Sony’s PS4 trademark registration.

This case reached its logical conclusion when Hitesh Aswani withdrew his application as well as the opposition which paved the way for Sony to register its mark in India and proceed to launch the product in India.

Sassoon Fab International Pvt Ltd. v. Sanjay Garg & Ors. [IPAB] ORA/171/2020/TM/DEL | 04-12-2020

In one of the most noteworthy cases that came up before the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), the registration of the mark ‘N95’ bearing App No. 4487559 registered in Class 10 in favour of Mr. Sanjay Garg was stayed. IPAB observed that the N95 was prima facie a generic term that was used to provide the quality of the masks hence it was hit by Section 9 of the Act. Since Plaintiff had filed a rectification petition against the registration of the said mark before filing the instant petition, IPAB deemed it necessary to stay the operation of the Registration until the Rectification Application was finally decided and disposed of.     

Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. & Anr vs. Amul Franchise.in & Ors CS(Comm) 350/2020

This case concerned fraudulent registration of multiple websites with the term “AMUL” as prefix/suffix. In this case, the Delhi High Court directed the Registrar of Domains to suspend/block domain names containing the term “Amul”. The Court also restrained the Registrar from the further offering for sale of such domain names so ordered to be blocked.

The Delhi High Court rejected the Registrar’s contention that due to lack of adequate technology it cannot ensure that these websites containing ‘AMUL’ therein would not be made available for sale and suggested that the Registrar could utilize the same filter it employs to ensure that websites under obscene and/or words denoting illegality are not available for sale. This decision is in stark contrast with an earlier single judge bench order of the Bombay High Court dated June 12, 2020 – Hindustan Unilever Limited v. Endurance Domains Technology LLP, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 809wherein it held that Domain name registrants are neither equipped nor authorized to indefinitely suspend domain names once registered, since there is no human element involved to oversee the legitimacy of domain names.

CONCLUSION

Despite the majority of the judicial pronouncements being related to COVID-19 and lockdowns, 2020 will be the year that the Trademark Authority tightened its grip on trademark squatting, a way to curb the sales of counterfeit products on e-commerce platforms. Also, the IPAB’s order to put a stay on the registration of “N95” for medical equipment and apparatus exhibited the dismal examination standards at the Trademarks Registry since the term ‘N95’ is generic to medical products and no amount of use can justify the registration. We witnessed a handful of contrasting rulings in the year 2020 and a couple of disputes are lined up to be adjudicated in the year 2021. These are a few topics that are revisited time and again to not only protect the proprietors of the registered trademarks but also make sure that no defendant is being harassed unnecessarily by registered proprietors.  

 

Image Credits: Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Despite the majority of the judicial pronouncements being related to COVID-19 and lockdowns, 2020 will be the year that the Trademark Authority tightened its grip on trademark squatting, a way to curb the sales of counterfeit products on e-commerce platforms. 

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Unshackling the Education Sector - A Surefire Way to Accelerate Development

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, said former South African President Nelson Mandela. I believe his prescient observation is timeless in its relevance. In the world that we live in, there are two major factors that will shape how education will be consumed in the future. The first is the reality of ever-increasing digitization. The second is the huge changes to lifestyles forced upon us in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In many ways, these two are closely intertwined in the context of education. We as a nation today stand on the threshold of a historic opportunity to transform our education system. The New Education Policy has set the ball rolling, but much more needs to be done to enable our institutions to deliver the kind of education that our nation needs. This is especially true for higher education. We have hundreds of universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) that cater to the entire gamut of academic fields. But the fact that even the best of our HEIs do not rank among the top 100 globally is telling. By comparison, several Chinese universities do- and have got there only in the past decade.  

Innovations around the world, powered by digital technologies, are enabling better remote teaching and learning experiences. In India, mobile/internet penetration is increasing rapidly and becoming ever more affordable. Together, these are powerful forces of change. For many courses, virtual classes can easily be conducted by teachers from their homes- provided they are equipped with the right digital infrastructure. Students too can attend these classes from the comfort of their homes. Of course, for certain courses such as Medicine, Engineering, Agriculture, etc. it may not be possible to fully replicate the experience of a laboratory or a field- although I think sooner rather than later, Augmented Reality will enable even this gap to be bridged. This means that unlike in the past, universities and HEIs no longer need large areas of land to build physical classrooms or other on-campus facilities. 

Given India’s legacy of teaching in English and the relatively lower fees and costs of living, our universities have, for the past many decades, attracted students from Africa and Middle Eastern countries who pursue various undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. To be fair, some of this is also the result of “education diplomacy”. Why not take advantage of this and work towards making India the education hub of the world for the new era? Given India’s own linguistic diversity and the needs of foreign students, multilingual support too can be provided digitally, to improve learning outcomes and hence increase the attractiveness of our HEIs.  

We have the talent to develop the right curricula and teaching methods. Just a few weeks back, Ranjit Disale, a government school teacher from Maharashtra won the Global Teacher Prize for his revolutionary contributions to the education of girls by leveraging QR code technology. There must be hundreds of other teachers in our HEIs with innovative ideas on how to enhance learning efficacy in their subjects.  

If asset-light, “virtual-only”, for-profit HEIs are permitted, private capital will more legally and transparently be attracted to the education sector. Investors such as PE funds will be more willing to fund the development of next-generation technology-based delivery infrastructure, hiring quality teachers, and development of new, digitally deliverable content that enables students to develop core knowledge as well as critical thinking skills and gain exposure to emerging fields that will become more and more important for India and the world. These knowledge assets can be used to scale up the education venture, thus lowering the risk for capital providers.  

 

Allowing asset-light virtual universities to be established in specific disciplines will also address the challenge of a shortage of qualified and motivated faculty. By allowing faculty to teach courses on multiple platforms, even students affiliated with different HEIs can get access to top-notch teaching. Digital content can be updated more easily, without the costs associated with printing, distributing, and updating physical textbooks. 

Naturally, such a massive transformation will need a radical change in the mindset of parents, teachers, and students. It will also need changes to the laws that govern the country’s education sector. Under India’s Constitution, education was originally a State subject. In 1976, the 42nd Amendment transferred some aspects to the Concurrent list. Visionary state governments can take the lead in amending the necessary regulations or enacting new legislation so that the education sector is able to attract adequate capital and has the ability to innovate around new courses, curricula, delivery models, testing mechanisms, etc.  

The pre-condition that Universities/HEIs can only be permitted when those who wish to set up such institutions have adequate land available is a major structural impediment. This is especially true for courses where there is no need for laboratories or hospitals etc. Per prevailing law, even private education institutions in India are supposed to be “non-profit”. But the reality is very different- and this is what breeds corruption. Trusts are set up to acquire large land banks on the outskirts of cities ostensibly to establish a school or college/university campus. The funds used to acquire these large tracts of land sometimes have questionable provenance. If the HEI clicks, well and good. If the institution does not gather the desired traction, that’s no big deal either. Over a period of time, these land banks are used for commercial or residential projects.  

In cities that have grown rapidly in the last decade or two (Bangalore is an example), educational institutions whose campuses were established say 20 years ago, are now located in the middle of the metropolitan area. These institutions shift to new areas on the outskirts. The prime real estate thus freed up in the city centre is used for other projects. In some cases, developers build a school as part of a large gated community, thus seeking to satisfy the conditions of land grant or conversion.  

Such new-age virtual universities can benefit students from India as well as overseas and allow underprivileged students to access high-quality education. Even in the current setup, there are several examples of talent from underprivileged backgrounds coming up with innovative ideas. Imagine what might be unleashed when virtual universities are able to channelize the creative energies of millions more of the world’s youth!  

 

Image Credits: Photo by Mohammad Shahhosseini on Unsplash

Even in the current set-up, there are several examples of talent from underprivileged backgrounds coming up with innovative ideas. Imagine what might be unleashed when virtual universities are able to channelize the creative energies of millions more of the world’s youth!  

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