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Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Examining role played by Civil Society and NGOs in fight against Covid-19

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Role of NGO and Civil Society amid pandemic.

Social capital is what civil societies are known as. The article highlights the valuable role played by the civil society, and NGO in the pandemic. They constitute the backbone of the collective expression of citizen  interest in a democracy. So, read about the ways in which they can contribute in dealing with destruction due to pandemic.

Partnership with 3 key stakeholders: NGO, Private Sector, international development organisation

  • The nature and scale of the crisis which the COVID-19 pandemic has led to is unparalleled.
  • In such a scenario, solutions are unlikely to come from past experiences or best practices.
  • The biggest source of strength now is the partnerships we have built over the years.
  • The situation at hand calls for stakeholders to come together, work side by side and support each other.
  •  The fight against COVID-19 needed as many hands as were available.
  • The job was too big for the government to handle alone.
  • The strategy was to leverage vertical and horizontal partnerships: Vertical partnerships, which the stakeholders have built within their organisations and horizontal partnerships, which the government has institutionalised with stakeholders.
  • This is precisely what one of the Empowered Groups created by the government has been doing since it was formed.

Significance of NGOs

  • The NGOs, given their deep connect with spatial and sectoral issues, were a natural partner in this endeavour.
  • There is nobody better placed than the NGOs to understand the pulse at the grassroots and engage closely with communities.
  • Around 92,000 organisations were urged to partner with district administrations and contribute to the response efforts.

How the NGOs helped?

  • Chief Secretaries of all states were requested to engage NGOs in relief and response efforts and designate state and district nodal officers to coordinate with them.
  • The approach was to leverage the strength and reach of the local NGOs in identifying priority areas for action and avoid duplicity of efforts.
  • NGOs have been actively setting up community kitchens, creating awareness about prevention, and physical distancing, providing shelter to the homeless, the daily wage workers, supporting government efforts in setting up health camps and in deputing volunteers to deliver services to the elderly, persons with disabilities, children, and others.
  • An outstanding contribution of NGOs was in developing communication strategies in different vernaculars which went a long way in taking awareness measures to the community level.
  • Akshaya Patra, Rama Krishna Mission, Tata Trusts, Piramal Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Action Aid, International Red Cross Society, Prayas, Help-age India, SEWA, Sulabh International, Charities Aid Foundation of India, Gaudia Math, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, the Salvation Army, and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India are some partners who have embodied the whole-of-society approach in COVID-19 response management.

Important role played by startups

  • The crisis has brought out the best in the start-up space.
  • Many of them have risen to the occasion and accelerated the development of low cost, scalable, and quick solutions.
  • The results have been promising.
  • AgVa accelerated the development of ventilators which are low-cost, mobile, low on power consumption and require minimal training for operators.
  • Biodesign has developed a robotic product called ResperAid, which enables mechanised use of manual ventilators.
  • Kaaenaat has developed highly portable ventilators which can be used to serve two patients simultaneously and has a built-in battery, oxygen concentrator, and steriliser cabinet.
  • The products of a few non-ventilator start-ups too came to the aid of the COVID-19 fighting machinery.
  • The AI-enabled analysis of chest X-Rays developed by Qure.ai enables large-scale screening to identify potential cases.
  • GIS and geo-fencing technologies by Dronamaps enabled information cluster strategies for hotspots.
  • AI-powered online doctor consultation and telemedicine platform by Mfine connects diagnostics labs and pharmacies with doctors and patients.
  • The AI-enabled thermal imaging camera developed by Staqu facilitated large-scale screening at low cost.
  • These developments strengthen the argument that low-cost and scalable solutions designed and developed domestically must drive our country’s transformation.

How the stakeholders operated through partnership?

  • The manner in which stakeholders have responded to the pandemic reinforces the power of partnerships.
  • In fact, they have operated through partnerships.
  • The NGO leaderships created momentum throughout their networks and delivered the much needed response.
  • They also brought to the attention of the group the problems from the grassroots.
  • Multiple agencies of international development organisations designed and executed joint response initiatives, leveraging their presence across the country.
  • The coalitions which industry organisations such as CII, FICCI, and NASSCOM have built over the years brought people and resources together, identified problems at multiple levels, channelised ideas and solutions and facilitated innovations.
  • The role played by the government has been facilitative in nature.
  • This role was based on the institutional and informal partnerships built with the three groups of stakeholders over the years.

Adaptiveness of Indian Industry

  • Until three months ago, not a single N95 mask or personal protective equipment (PPE) was manufactured in India.
  • Today, we have 104 domestic firms making PPEs and four manufacturing N95 masks.
  • Over 2.6 lakh PPEs and two lakh N95 masks are being manufactured in India, daily.
  • Domestic manufacturing of ventilators has strengthened manifold — orders for more than 59,000 units have been placed with nine manufacturers.
  • While this shows the adaptiveness of Indian industry, the shift to domestic production must happen on a larger scale for a wider set of sectors in the long run, as envisioned by Make in India.

Consider the question-“As facilitators, mediators, and advocates of collective articulation of citizen interest in a democracy, Civil Society and NGOs have put people before everything else during this crisis. In light of this, examine the role played by them in unparalleled crisis brought in by Covid-19 pandemic.”

Conclusion

Civil society, and voluntary and non-government organisations constitute the backbone of the collective articulation of citizen interest in a democracy. Surely, they can prove to be an asset in our fight against corona pandemic.

Back2Basics: NGO

  • The World Bank defines NGOs as private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development.
  • NGOs are legally constituted organizations which operate independently from Government and are generally considered to be nonstate, nonprofit oriented groups who pursue purposes of public interest.

Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce

Time to evaluate and merge income support schemes

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MSP and income support schemes of various state governments

Mains level : Paper 3-Issues with the income support schemes for farmers.

Both States and Center have income support schemes for the farmers. Coincidentally, they both suffer from common problems such as the exclusion of tiller from the benefit and identifying the landless labourers. This article floats the idea of merging all the support schemes in favour of an umbrella scheme. So, what are the solutions and how will an umbrella scheme be more beneficial? Read to know…

Not much ‘new cash’ in the relief package

  • On May 12, the PM announced that his government’s relief-cum-stimulus package would be Rs 20 lakh crore, almost 10 per cent of India’s GDP.
  • But when Finance Minister unveiled the package, sector by sector, many wondered where the “new cash” was?
  • So, it became clear that additional relief and stimulus in the system is just about 1 per cent of the GDPnot 10 per cent.
  • Much of the rest is directed towards increasing liquidity and deferring some loan payments, but not much additional cash.

Cash-transfer schemes by the state governments: Chhatisgarh and other states

  • In this context, the Chhattisgarh government deserves compliments for launching the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana (RGKNY).
  • RGKNY is an income transfer scheme at Rs 10,000/acre for paddy farmers and Rs 13,000/acre for sugarcane farmers.
  • The state’s chief minister has said that the scheme will be extended to farmers of other crops — in fact, to landless labourers as well.
  • On the face of it, RGKNY will help put money directly into the hands of farmers and poor agricultural labourers.
  • In kharif 2018-19, Telangana announced a cash transfer scheme of Rs 4,000/acre, per season — this was raised to Rs 5,000/acre per season in kharif 2019-20.
  • There is a live portal that gives the details of the scheme and its progress.
  • In the rabi season of 2018-19, the Odisha government launched the KALIA scheme-Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation- on a somewhat similar pattern.
  • West Bengal’s Krishak Bandhu and Jharkhand’s Mukhya Mantri Krishi Aashirwad Yojana are the other income support schemes worth mentioning.

2 Issues with income support policies and solutions

1. The beneficiary is not always tiller of the land

  • Ideally, the money of the policies should go to the real tiller.
  • But in large parts of the country, there is no record of tenancy.
  • The government data shows only 10 per cent tenancy in the country.
  • While several micro-level studies indicate that it could be anywhere between 25-30 per cent.
  • In fact, in many regions like the Godavari belt, it could be even more than 50 per cent.
  • It does not make much sense to put money into the accounts of absentee landlords.

So, what is the solution to this problem?

  • 1) The best way would be to change the tenancy laws.
  • Open up land lease markets, ensuring that the owner of the land has full rights to take his land back after the expiry of the lease period.
  • The current law, favouring “land to the tiller”, is loaded against the owner.
  • As a result, much of tenancy in the country remains oral.
  • 2) In the absence of such legal changes in land lease laws, the only way forward is to fully inform the tiller that the owner has got income support.
  • And then appeal to the owner to pass on this benefit to the tiller — or adjust the land rent accordingly.
  • Information and persuasion campaigns in radio and newspapers would increase the chances of the benefits being passed on to the real tillers.

2. Identifying the landless labourers working on the farms

  • The other issue is identifying the landless labourers working on farms.
  • Majority of them are temporary and seasonal workers.
  • And leaving the task of identification to panchayats and patwaris can open doors for large leakages and corruption.

What is the solution to this problem?

  • There have been talks in the past for synchronising MGNREGA with farm operations.
  • The synchronising will have two benefits-
  • 1)It will contain the cost of farming.
  • 2) It will ensure that those engaged in this employment guarantee scheme do useful and productive work.
  • The legal framework of the MGNREGA scheme does allow this on farms owned by people of SC/ST communities, and on the lands of marginal farmers.

 Merging Income Support Schemes: The way forward

  • The time has come to think seriously about merging income support schemes.
  • The merger will include the PM KISAN and state-level schemes, with the MGNREGA and price-subsidy schemes — food and fertiliser subsidies given by Centre and power subsidies given by state government.
  • These schemes amount to Rs 5 lakh crore — that’s a good sum of money to start a basic income cover for poor households.
  • Markets could then be left to operate freely.
  • This approach can cover landless labourers, farmers, and poor consumers — these categories overlap.
  • Let there be an expert group to look closely into the functioning of each one of these schemes and create an umbrella scheme to take care of the poor and the needy.

Consider the question-“Examine the issues with the income support schemes for farmers by the States as well as the Central government. Do you think that an umbrella scheme after merging all the support schemes will be helpful in overcoming such issues?”

Conclusion

Though income support schemes by the state government and the Centre are a welcome move, however, when one looks at the issues with these schemes an umbrella scheme after merging all the present schemes will go a long way in solving the problems which almost all these schemes face today.


Back2Basics: PM- KISAN

  • Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN)is a Central Sector Scheme with 100% funding from the Government of India.
  • It is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare.
  • Under the scheme, the Centre transfers an amount of Rs 6,000 per year, in three equal instalments, directly into the bank accounts of the all landholding farmers irrespective of the size of their land holdings.
  • It intends to supplement the financial needs of the Small and Marginal Farmers (SMFs) in procuring various inputs to ensure proper crop health and appropriate yields, commensurate with the anticipated farm income at the end of each crop cycle.
  • The entire responsibility of identification of beneficiary farmer families rests with the State / UT Governments.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is a Parallel Universe?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Parallel Universe, ANITA experiment

Mains level : Parallel Universe and the validity of such concepts

Twitter and other social media platforms are abuzz with the so-called ‘parallel universe’ that NASA has discovered. According to the claims, NASA has detected a parallel universe in Antarctica, where time runs backwards.

 

ANITA experiment is significant for prelims. It can be asked in prelims in such match the pair questions-

Q. Consider the following pairs :

Terms sometimes seen in news                                Context / Topic

1. Belle 2 experiment –                                        Artificial Intelligence

2. Blockchain technology –                               Digital Cryptocurrency

3. CRISPR – Cas9 –                                               Particle Physics

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched? (CSP 2018)

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

What is a Parallel Universe?

  • In quantum mechanics, a parallel universe is theorized as existing alongside our own, although undetectable.
  • The recent reports claiming that there is evidence of a parallel universe appear to be based on ANITA findings that are at least a couple of years old.
  • A science magazine had published a feature, discussing some anomalous results coming from neutrino detection experiments in Antarctica.
  • It discussed a speculative cosmological model that posits there’s an antimatter universe extending backwards from the BigBang.
  • This theorem was also proposed by famous scientist Stephens Hawking.

What were the anomalous detections in Antarctica?

The ANITA experiment

  • Four years ago an experiment had spotted a handful of instances of what seemed to be highly energetic neutrinos coming through the Earth.
  • It was named Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment — a high-altitude helium balloon with an array of radio antennas, partially funded by NASA.
  • The telescope could spot these neutrinos coming from the space and hitting the ice sheet in Antarctica.
  • ANITA detected these particles, but instead of coming from the space, the neutrinos were found to be coming from the Earth’s surface without any source.
  • These detections happened in 2016, then again in 2018, but there was no credible explanation.
  • Physicists have been working to figure out if these results can be explained with our current models of physics or have something to do with the experimental set-up itself, or if something like the parallel universe does exist.

Back2Basics: Neutrinos

  • A neutrino is a subatomic particle very similar to an electron.
  • But it has no electrical charge and a very small mass, which might even be zero.
  • Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe.
  • Because they have very little interaction with matter, they are incredibly difficult to detect.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Importance of the Pangong Tso Lake

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pangong Tso Lake

Mains level : India-China border skirmishes and their impacts on bilateral relations

(Note: No higher resolution is available for the image)

The recent incidents at the Pangong Tso lake area between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the LAC involve a picturesque lake, mountains, helicopters, fighter jets, boats, eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, fisticuffs and injuries.

Apart from the geo-physical significance of the Pangong Tso for prelims, other general information should be necessarily known to aspirants, particularly for Personality Tests.

The Pangong Tso Lake

  • Pangong Tso Lake in eastern Ladakh has often been in the news, most famously during the Doklam standoff, when a video of the scuffle between Indian and Chinese soldiers.
  • In the Ladakhi language, Pangong means extensive concavity, and Tso is a lake in Tibetan.
  • Pangong Tso is a long narrow, deep, endorheic (landlocked) lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 ft in the Ladakh Himalayas.
  • The western end of Tso lies 54 km to the southeast of Leh. The 135 km-long lake sprawls over 604 sq km in the shape of a boomerang and is 6 km wide at its broadest point.
  • The brackish water lake freezes over in winter and becomes ideal for ice skating and polo.
  • The legendary 19th century Dogra general Zorawar Singh is said to have trained his soldiers and horses on the frozen Pangong lake before invading Tibet.

Tactical significance of the lake

  • By itself, the lake does not have major tactical significance.
  • But it lies in the path of the Chushul approach, one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive into Indian Territory.
  • Indian assessments show that a major Chinese offensive if it comes, will flow across both the north and south of the lake.
  • During the 1962 war, this was where China launched its main offensive — the Indian Army fought heroically at Rezang La, the mountain pass on the southeastern approach to Chushul valley, where the Ahir Company of 13 Kumaon led by Maj. Shaitan Singh made its last stand.
  • Not far away, to the north of the lake, is the Army’s Dhan Singh Thapa post, named after Major Dhan Singh Thapa who was awarded the country’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra.
  • Major Thapa and his platoon were manning Sirijap-1 outpost which was essential for the defence of Chushul airfield.

Connectivity in the region

  • Over the years, the Chinese have built motorable roads along their banks of the Pangong Tso.
  • At the People’s Liberation Army’s Huangyangtan base at Minningzhen, southwest of Yinchuan, the capital of China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, stands a massive to-scale model of this disputed area in Aksai Chin.
  • It points to the importance accorded by the Chinese to the area.
  • Even during peacetime, the difference in perception over where the LAC lies on the northern bank of the lake makes this contested terrain.
  • In 1999, when the Army unit from the area was moved to Kargil for Operation Vijay, China took the opportunity to build 5 km of a road inside Indian Territory along the lake’s bank.
  • From one of these roads, Chinese positions physically overlook Indian positions on the northern tip of the Pangong Tso Lake.

Fingers in the lake

  • The barren mountains on the lake’s northern bank, called the Chang Chenmo, jut forward in major spurs, which the Army calls “fingers”.
  • India claims that the LAC is coterminous with Finger 8, but it physically controls area only up to Finger 4.
  • Chinese border posts are at Finger 8, while it believes that the LAC passes through Finger 2.
  • Around six years ago, the Chinese had attempted a permanent construction at Finger 4 which was demolished after Indians strongly objected to it.
  • Chinese use light vehicles on the road to patrol up to Finger 2, which has a turning point for their vehicles.
  • If they are confronted and stopped by an Indian patrol in between, asking them to return, it leads to confusion, as the vehicles can’t turn back.
  • The Chinese have now stopped the Indian soldiers moving beyond Finger 2. This is an eyeball-to-eyeball situation which is still developing.

Confrontation on the water

  • On the water, the Chinese had a major advantage until a few years ago — their superior boats could literally run circles around the Indian boats.
  • But India purchased better Tampa boats some eight years ago, leading to a quicker and more aggressive response.
  • Although there are well-established drills for disengagement of patrol boats of both sides, the confrontations on the waters have led to tense situations in the past few years.
  • The Chinese have moved in more boats — called the LX series — in the lake after the tensions which rose in the area from last month.
  • The drill for the boats is agreed upon by the two sides, as per the Standard Operating Procedure.

Out of bounds for tourists

  • Indian tourists are only allowed up to Spangmik village, around 7 km into the lake. This is where a famous movie climax was shot.
  • In fact, tourists were not allowed at all at Pangong Tso until 1999, and even today, you need to obtain an Inner Line Permit from the office of the Deputy Commissioner at Leh.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Africa

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Nile and Various Issues

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nile River, GERD

Mains level : Not Much

Africa’s longest river, the Nile, has been at the centre of a decade-long complex dispute involving several countries in the continent who are dependent on the river’s waters. At the forefront of this dispute, however, are Ethiopia and Egypt.

Note: You never know when UPSC might switch map based questions away from the Middle East and SE Asia.

Considering this news, the UPSC may ask a prelim question based on the countries swept by River Nile/ various dams constructed/ landlocked countries in the African continent etc.

Grand Ethiopian Rennaissance Dam (GERD)

 

  • GERD is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia that has been under construction since 2011.
  • At 6.45 gigawatts, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the seventh-largest in the world.
  • Once completed, the reservoir could take anywhere between 5 and 15 years to fill with water, depending on hydrologic conditions during the filling period and agreements reached between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

Issues with the Dam

  • While the main waterways of the Nile run through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, its drainage basin runs through other countries in East Africa, including Ethiopia.
  • Egypt has objected to the construction of this dam and in Sudan has found itself caught in the midst of this conflict.
  • Due to the importance of the Nile as a necessary water source in the region, observers are concerned that this dispute may evolve into a full-fledged conflict between the two nations.
  • The US has stepped in to mediate.

How can this lead to conflict?

  • The mega project may just allow the country to control the river’s waters, and this is essentially what concerns Egypt because it lies downstream.
  • Egypt has objected to these plans and has proposed a longer timeline for the project because it does not want the water level of the Nile to dramatically drop as the reservoir fills with water in the initial stages.
  • For the past four years, triparty talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been unable to reach agreements. Egypt isn’t alone in its concerns.
  • Sudan is hardly a passive observer caught in the conflict just because of its location.
  • It too believes Ethiopia having control over the river through the dam may affect its own water supplies.

Why does Ethiopia want this dam?

  • Ethiopia believes this dam will generate approximately 6,000 megawatts of electricity when it is done.
  • 65% of Ethiopia’s population suffers due to lack of access to electricity.
  • This dam will reduce those shortages and help the country’s manufacturing industry.
  • The country may also be able to supply electricity to neighbouring nations and earn some revenue in exchange.
  • Neighbouring countries like Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea and South Sudan also suffer from electricity shortages.
  • If Ethiopia sells electricity to these nations, they may also reap benefits.

What is happening now?

  • In the latest developments on this front, Egypt announced that it is willing to resume negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan concerning the dam.
  • Ethiopia has however proceeded with the first stage of filling the dam saying that it does not need Egypt’s permission to fill the dam.
  • In the letter to the UNSC, Egypt also implied that the dam would cause armed conflict between the two countries.

Back2Basics: River Nile

  • The Nile is a major north-flowing river in northeastern Africa.
  • It is the longest river in Africa and the disputed longest river in the world as the Brazilian government says that the Amazon River is longer than the Nile.
  • The Nile is about 6,650 km long and its drainage basin covers eleven countries: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of Sudan, and Egypt.
  • In particular, the Nile is the primary water source of Egypt and Sudan.
  • The Nile has two major tributaries – the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The White Nile is considered to be the headwaters and primary stream of the Nile itself.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

[pib] Kangra Tea and its medicinal properties against the coronavirus

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kangra Tea

Mains level : Not Much

The chemicals in Kangra tea are found to be effective in boosting immunity as they can block coronavirus activity better than anti-HIV drugs.

It would be no surprise to expect a question based on worldwide tea production:

Q. Among the following, which one is the largest exporter of rice in the world in the last five years? (CSP 2019)

(a) China

(b) India

(c) Myanmar

(d) Vietnam

Kangra Tea

  • Kangra tea is a tea from the Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh, India.
  • Both black tea and green tea have been produced in the Kangra Valley since the mid-19th century.
  • After a feasibility survey in 1848 showed the area of being suitable for tea plantation, a Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis was planted across the region.
  • Kangra tea is known for its unique colour and flavour.
  • The unique characteristics of the tea are attributed to the geographical properties of the region.
  • Kangra tea was given the Geographical Indication status in 2005. Tea was first grown in the Kangra region in the mid-19th century.

Benefits of Kangra Tea

  • Using computer-based models, the scientists screened 65 bioactive chemicals or polyphenols that could bind to a specific viral protein more efficiently than commercially available anti-HIV drugs approved for treating COVID-19 patients.
  • These chemicals might block the activity of the viral protein that helps the virus to thrive inside human cells.

Back2Basics: Lopinavir/ Ritonavir

  • Lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r), sold under the brand name Kaletra among others, is a fixed-dose combination medication for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
  • It combines lopinavir with a low dose of ritonavir.
  • It is generally recommended for use with other antiretrovirals.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Hardly the 1991 moment for agriculture

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : APMC Act

Mains level : Paper 3- The issues with APMC reforms

Reforms in agri-marketing has been long overdue. So, the government recently announced three reforms in this regard. This article examines the problems of agri-marketing. And it concludes that the said reforms are far from being the silver bullet for these problems. So, why these reforms are not going to be effective? Does demand play any role in the problems agriculture is facing currently? Read to know about these issues.

Announcement of reforms regarding agricultural marketing

  • The announcement of reforms in agricultural marketing by Finance Minister in May, has been hailed by some as the “1991” moment for agriculture.
  • The three reforms regarding agricultural marketing were the reforms in the 1) Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, 2) the Essential Commodities Act, 3) Contract farming.
  • All of these have been in discussion for almost two decades, with the APMC Act having already seen substantial reforms in many States.
  • The first comprehensive model act on APMC was proposed during 2003, and since then, similar efforts to push for more reforms have been proposed in 2007, 2013, and as late as 2017 by the present government.

So, let’s a look at provisions of APMC Act and issues with it

What is the main argument against APMC Act?

  • Two main arguments against the APMC Act are-
  • 1) It creates barriers to the entry and exit of traders.
  • 2) Makes the sale and purchase of agricultural produce compulsory for farmers as well as traders.

Different steps taken by the state governments to address the issues

  • So, as many as 17 State governments have amended the APMC Act to make it more liberal.
  • In fact, the regulations and the functioning of mandis vary a great deal across States.
  • Kerala does not have an APMC Act.
  • Bihar repealed it in 2006.
  • But several others such as Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh deregulated fruits and vegetables trade, allowed private markets, introduced a unified trading licence and have introduced a single-point levy of market fee.
  • Tamil Nadu has already reformed its APMC with no market fee.
  • Several others such as Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Rajasthan have undertaken one or more of these reforms.
  • Many States have introduced direct marketing of farm produce, examples being the Uzhavar Sandhai (Tamil Nadu), the Rythu Bazaar (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), the Raitha Santhe (Karnataka), the Apni Mandi (Punjab) and the Krushak Bazaar – (Odisha).

So, why the mandis are still blamed for farmers’ problems?

  • Despite the above-stated reforms, APMC mandis continue to be vilified for-1)  all the ills plaguing marketing infrastructure 2) the low prices received by the farmers for their produce.
  • What is the problem? The problem with mandis is not the regulation per se and the structure of mandis but the political interference in the functioning of the markets.
  • These are more obvious in case of large mandis specialising in commercial crops and fruits and vegetables, where production is regionally concentrated.
  • But even with these deficiencies, APMC mandis continue to play an important role in providing access to the market for farmers.

What the Bihar example teaches us?

  • Bihar repealed the APMC Act in 2006.
  • The general argument in favour of reforms is that 1) it will allow private investment in marketing infrastructure and 2) provide more choices to farmers, leading to better prices received by farmers.
  • But in the case of Bihar,  no investment came in building market infrastructure.
  • The loss of revenue due to the repeal of the APMC also led to deterioration of existing infrastructure in the State.
  • The revenue collected from the APMC earlier was used not only for the modernisation of these market yards but also for the laying of roads and construction of other infrastructure to provide farmers better access to markets.
  • But after the repeal, there have been no takers for these market yards, with no investment in creating private mandis.
  • On the other hand, it has led to proliferation of private unregulated markets which charge a market fee from traders as well as farmers, and without any infrastructure for weighing, sorting, grading and storage.
  • Even in other States where there is deregulation to allow private traders, there is hardly any investment to create market spaces let alone provide other facilities.
  • There is also no evidence that farmers have received better prices in private mandis outside the APMC.
  • While there have been instances of collusion and corruption in the running of the APMC, they continue to provide essential services to farmers.

Inadequacies of the regulated market

  • As against the recommendation that a regulated market should be available to farmers within a radius of 5 km currently regulated markets is in the radius of 12 km.
  • There are more than 7,000 regulated markets and 20,000 rural markets when the need is at least twice these figures.
  • Most of the existing ones require investment in upgradation of infrastructure.

Price received is more a function of demand than access to market

  • The argument that the only bottleneck for farmers not receiving remunerative prices is due to the APMC Act is flawed.
  • More than 80% of farmers, most of whom are small and marginal farmers, do not sell their produce in the APMC mandis.
  • For a majority of farmers, prices received are more a function of the demand for agricultural commodities than access to markets.

So, let’s come to decline in demand for agriculture produce

  • For much of the period during the last two years, terms of trade have moved against agriculture.
  • Agricultural commodity price inflation had been negative for a large part of the last two years.
  • With underlying weakness in demand and obsession with inflation targeting through fiscal and monetary policies, most agricultural commodities have seen a sharp decline in demand and, consequently, prices received by farmers.
  • The argument for choice of markets is only valid as long as there are buyers with purchasing power in the market.
  • No amount of marketing reforms will lead to higher price realisation for farmers if the underlying macroeconomic conditions are unfavourable to agriculture and farmers.

What is solution to decline in demand?

  • The primary task of the government should have been to increase fiscal spending to revive demand in the economy.
  • This has become even more necessary after the sharp decline in incomes, job losses and decline in demand following the lockdown and expected contraction in economic activity for the year ahead.
  • With international prices also showing declining trend, the urgency is to protect the farmers from the decline in commodity prices.

Consider the question “Though the APMC Act has often been blamed for the woes of the farmers in price realisation, the act is not the sole reason for price realisation problems faced by the farmers. Critically examine.

Conclusion

The announced reforms are less likely to be effective if carried out without consulting the states. And on the demand side, government needs to increase fiscal spending to create demand in the economy. These two steps will go a long way in ensuring higher incomes to farmers.


Back2Basics: Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Regulation (APMC) Act.

  • All wholesale markets for agricultural produce in states that have adopted the Agricultural Produce Market Regulation Act (APMRA) are termed as “regulated markets”.
  • With the exception of Kerala, J & K, and Manipur, all other states have enacted the APMC Act.
  • It mandates that the sale/purchase of agricultural commodities notified under it are to be carried out in specified market areas, yards or sub-yards. These markets are required to have the proper infrastructure for the sale of farmers’ produce.
  • Prices in them are to be determined by open auction, conducted in a transparent manner in the presence of an official of the market committee.
  • Market charges for various agencies, such as commissions for commission agents (arhtiyas); statutory charges, such as market fees and taxes; and produce-handling charges, such as for cleaning of produce, and loading and unloading, are clearly defined, and no other deduction can be made from the sale proceeds of farmers.
  • Market charges, costs, and taxes vary across states and commodities.

Essential Commodities Act 1955

  • The ECA is an act which was established to ensure the delivery of certain commodities or products, the supply of which if obstructed owing to hoarding or black-marketing would affect the normal life of the people.
  • The ECA was enacted in 1955. This includes foodstuff, drugs, fuel (petroleum products) etc.
  • It has since been used by the Government to regulate the production, supply and distribution of a whole host of commodities it declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.
  • Additionally, the government can also fix the maximum retail price (MRP) of any packaged product that it declares an “essential commodity”.
  • The list of items under the Act includes drugs, fertilizers, pulses and edible oils, and petroleum and petroleum products.
  • The Centre can include new commodities as and when the need arises, and takes them off the list once the situation improves.

How ECA works?

  • If the Centre finds that a certain commodity is in short supply and its price is spiking, it can notify stock-holding limits on it for a specified period.
  • The States act on this notification to specify limits and take steps to ensure that these are adhered to.
  • Anybody trading or dealing in the commodity, be it wholesalers, retailers or even importers are prevented from stockpiling it beyond a certain quantity.
  • A State can, however, choose not to impose any restrictions. But once it does, traders have to immediately sell into the market any stocks held beyond the mandated quantity.
  • This improves supplies and brings down prices. As not all shopkeepers and traders comply, State agencies conduct raids to get everyone to toe the line and the errant are punished.
  • The excess stocks are auctioned or sold through fair price shops.

Bharat Emission Standards

[pib] L7 Quadricycle category for BS VI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BS norms

Mains level : Vehicular pollution and PM 2.5

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has issued a notification regarding the emission norms for L7 (Quadricycle) category for BS-VI.

Practice question for Mains:

Q. What are Bharat Stage Emission Standards (BSES)? Discuss how the early implementation of BS-VI norms will help curb vehicular pollution in India.

What is Quadricycle Vehicle verification?

  • The quadricycle is a European Union vehicle category for four-wheeled microcars, which allows these vehicles to be designed to less stringent requirements when compared to regular cars.
  • Quadricycles are defined by limitations in terms of weight, engine power and speed.
  • There are two categories of quadricycles: light quadricycles (L6e) and heavy quadricycles (L7e)

What are the new notified norms?

  • These norms are applicable from the date of notification.
  • This notification completes the process of BS-VI for all L, M and N category vehicles in India.
  • The emission norms are in line with EU with WMTC cycle.
  • The procedure for testing is laid down in Automotive Industry Standard (AIS) 137-Part 9.

What is the WMTC cycle?

  • The World Motorcycle Test Cycle (WMTC) is a system of driving cycles used to measure fuel consumption and emissions in motorcycles.
  • The methods are stipulated as part of the Global Technical Regulation established under the UN World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, also known as WP.29.

Back2Basics:  Bharat Stage Norms

Standard Reference Date of Implementation
Bharat Stage II Euro 2 1 April 2005
Bharat Stage III Euro 3 1 April 2010
Bharat Stage IV Euro 4 1 April 2017
Bharat Stage VI Euro 6 April 2020 with a mandate (proposed)

Minutes of BS-VI

  • Carmakers would have to put three pieces of equipment — a DPF (diesel particulate filter), an SCR (selective catalytic reduction) system, and an LNT (Lean NOx trap) — to meet stringent BS-VI norms, all at the same time.
  • This is vital to curb both PM (particulate matter) and NOx (nitrogen oxides) emissions as mandated under the BS-VI norms.

How is BS-VI Different from BS-IV?

  • The major difference between the existing BS-IV and forthcoming BS-VI norms is the presence of sulphur in the fuel.
  • While the BS-IV fuels contain 50 parts per million (ppm) sulphur, the BS-VI grade fuel only has 10 ppm sulphur content.
  • Also, the harmful NOx (nitrogen oxides) from diesel cars can be brought down by nearly 70%.
  • In the petrol cars, they can be reduced by 25%.
  • However, when we talk about air pollution, particulate matter like PM 2.5 and PM 10 are the most harmful components and the BS-VI will bring the cancer-causing particulate matter in diesel cars by a phenomenal 80%.

Tribes in News

[pib] Shahapur’s Katkari Tribe

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Katkari Tribe, Van Dhan Yojana

Mains level : Various initiaitves for Tribal uplift

The newscard is based on the PIB news which discusses the success story of Katkari Tribe, a PVTG in Maharashtra regarding the implementation of Van Dhan Yojana.

Try this:

Consider the following statements about Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in India:

1) PVTGs reside in 18 States and one Union Territory.

2) A stagnant or declining population is one of the criteria for determining PVTG status.

3) There are 95 PVTGs officially notified in the country so far.

4) Irular and Konda Reddi tribes are included in the list of PVTGs.

Which of the statements given above are correct? (CSP 2019)

(a) 1, 2 and 3

(b) 2, 3 and 4

(c) 1, 2 and 4

(d) 1, 3 and 4

Katkari Tribe

  • The Katkari is an Scheduled Tribe mostly belonging to the state of Maharashtra.
  • They are bilingual, speaking the Katkari language, a dialect of the Marathi-Konkani languages, with each other; they speak Marathi with the Marathi speakers, who are a majority in the populace where they live.
  • In Maharashtra, the Katkari has been designated a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), along with two other groups included in this sub-category: the Madia Gond and the Kolam.
  • In the case of the Katkari this vulnerability derives from their history as a nomadic, forest-dwelling people listed by the British Raj under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, a stigma that continues to this day.

What are PVTGs?

  • There are certain tribal communities who have declining or stagnant population, low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology and are economically backward.
  • They generally inhabit remote localities having poor infrastructure and administrative support.
  • These groups are among the most vulnerable section of our society as they are few in numbers, have not attained any significant level of social and economic development.
  • 75 such groups have been identified and categorized as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).

Back2Basics: Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana (PMVDY)

  • It is a retail marketing-led value addition plan for Minor Forest Produce (MFP), meant for forest-based tribes to optimize the tribal income, locally.
  • Under the program, MFP-based tribal groups/enterprises of around 300 members are formed for collection, value addition, packaging & marketing of Minor Forest Produces (MFPs).
  • These tribal enterprises will be in the form of Van Dhan SHGs which will be a group of 15-20 members and such 15 SHG groups will further be federated into a larger group of Van Dhan Vikas Kendras (VDVKS) of around 300 members.
  • TRIFED will support the VDVKs through providing them with model business plans, processing plans & tentative list of equipment for carrying out the value-added work of MFPs.

Also read:

[pib] “Development of PVTGs” Scheme

New Species of Plants and Animals Discovered

Western Ghats yield 3 new plant species

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various species mentioned

Mains level : Western Ghats and its biodiversity richness

A team of scientists of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have reported the discovery of three new plant species from the evergreen forest patches of the southern end of the Western Ghats in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

One may get carried away from the heavy botanical names. But UPSC is known for asking ruthless questions.

Q. Recently, our scientists have discovered new and distinct spices of banana plant which attains a height of about 11 meters and has orange – colored form of pulp. In which part of India has been discovered? (CSP 2016)

a) Andaman Islands

b) Anaimalai Forests

c) Maikala Hills

d) Tropical rainforest of North-East

Which are the new species?

The three new species found are:

1) Eugenia sphaerocarpa of the Myrtaceae or Rose apple family

  • A good population of Eugenia sphaerocarpa is growing in the Kakkayam area of the Malabar wildlife sanctuary in Kerala above 800 m.
  • The specific epithet ‘sphaerocarpa’ denotes to the large, showy lemon-yellow spherical fruit.
  • The fruits of Eugenia species are known for their palatability and many of them are harvested from the wild with some under cultivation.

2) Goniothalamus sericeus of the Annonaceae family of custard apple

  • A small number of Goniothalamus sericeus plants has been found in the Kanyakumari wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu.
  • Mature flowers with characteristic greenish-yellow to beige petals are fragrant while the fruits are very showy and an attractive golden yellow in colour.
  • The specific epithet ‘sericeus’ refers to the presence of dense silky hair on the petals.

3) Memecylon nervosum of the Melastomataceae (Kayamboo or Kaasavu in local parlance) family

  • A small population of Memecylon nervosum was also found at the same sanctuary at an altitude between 700-900 m with more that than 10 sub-populations located along the banks of a perennial rivulet.
  • The species have showy purplish-blue flowers and mauve to purplish-red fruits.
  • The specific epithet ‘nervosum’ alludes to the presence of prominently raised lateral and intramarginal veins on the lower surface of the lamina.