Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Why EVMs must go

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance| Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures. Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the role of EVMs in elections.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges with EVMs in the conduct of free and fair elections, in a brief manner.


Context

  • As the General Elections in India are getting nearer, the debates regarding EVMs have also begun.
  • As per the reports, the recent Assembly elections — the last major polling exercise before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — were not devoid of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctions.

Background

  • At present makes the general debate makes no distinction between a ‘malfunction’ (which suggests a technical defect) and ‘tampering’ (manipulation aimed at fraud).
  • However, there were several reports of misbehaving EVMs.
  • In Madhya Pradesh alone, the number of votes polled did not match the number of votes counted in 204 out of the 230 constituencies.
  • The Election Commission’s (EC) explanation is that the votes counted is the actual number of votes polled — a circular logic that precludes cross-verification.

Electoral principles of a free and fair election: Transparency, Verifiability and Secrecy

  • The reason a nation chooses to be a democracy is that it gives moral legitimacy to the government.
  • The fount of this legitimacy is the people’s will.
  • The people’s will is expressed through the vote, anonymously (the principle of secret ballot).
  • Not only must this vote be recorded correctly and counted correctly, it must also be seen to be recorded correctly and counted correctly.
  • The recording and counting process must be accessible to, and verifiable by, the public.
  • A discrepancy of even one vote between votes polled and votes counted is unacceptable. This is not an unreasonably high standard but one followed by democracies worldwide.
  • Therefore transparency, verifiability, and secrecy are the three pillars of a free and fair election.

EVMs unable to satisfy three pillars of a free and fair election

  • Regardless of whether one is for or against EVMs, there is no getting away from the fact that any polling method must pass these three tests to claim legitimacy.
  • Paper ballots obviously do. The voter can visually confirm that her selection has been registered, the voting happens in secret, and the counting happens in front of her representative’s eyes.
  • However, EVMs fail on all three, as established by a definitive judgment of the German constitutional court in 2009. The court’s ruling forced the country to scrap EVMs and return to paper ballot.
  • Other technologically advanced nations such as the Netherlands and Ireland have also abandoned EVMs.

Concerns

(a) EVMs are neither transparent nor verifiable

  • Neither can the voter see her vote being recorded, nor can it be verified later whether the vote was recorded correctly.
  • What is verifiable is the total number of votes cast, not the choice expressed in each vote.
  • An electronic display of the voter’s selection may not be the same as the vote stored electronically in the machine’s memory.
  • This gap was why the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced.

VVPAT does not solve the problem either

  • However, VVPATs solve only one-half of the EVMs’ transparency/verifiability problem: the voting part.
  • The counting part remains an opaque operation.
  • If anyone suspects a counting error, there is no recourse since by definition an electronic recount is absurd. However, some believe the VVPATs can solve this problem too, through statistics.
  • At present, the EC’s VVPAT auditing is restricted to one randomly chosen polling booth per constituency.
  • However, experts have demonstrated that this sample size will fail to detect faulty EVMs 98-99% of the time.
  • They also shows that VVPATs can be an effective deterrent to fraud only on the condition that the detection of even one faulty EVM in a constituency must entail the VVPAT hand-counting of all the EVMs in that constituency.
  • Without this proviso, VVPATs would merely provide the sheen of integrity without its substance.

(b) Secrecy

  • Here too, EVMs disappoint. With the paper ballot, the EC could mix ballot papers from different booths before counting, so that voting preferences could not be connected to a given locality.
  • But with EVMs, we are back to booth-wise counting, which allows one to discern voting patterns and renders marginalised communities vulnerable to pressure.
  • Totaliser machines can remedy this, but the EC has shown no intent to adopt them.

So, on all three counts — transparency, verifiability and secrecy — EVMs are flawed. VVPATs are not the answer either, given the sheer magnitude of the logistical challenges.

Unjustified suspicions: EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC

  • The recent track record of EVMs indicates that the number of malfunctions in a national election will be high.
  • For that very reason, the EC is unlikely to adopt a policy of hand-counting all EVMs in constituencies where faulty machines are reported, as this might entail hand-counting on a scale that defeats the very purpose of EVMs.
  • And yet, this is a principle without which the use of VVPATs is meaningless.
  • Despite these issues, EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC, which insists that Indian EVMs, unlike the Western ones, are tamper-proof.
  • However, this is a matter of trust. Even if the software has been burnt into the microchip, neither the EC nor the voter knows for sure what software is running in a particular EVM. One has to simply trust the manufacturer and the EC.

Arguments made in favour of the EVM

  • Results come quicker and the process is cheaper: While it is true that the results come quicker and the process is cheaper with EVMs as compared to paper ballot, both these considerations are undeniably secondary to the integrity of the election.
  • Eliminates malpractices such as booth-capturing: EVM eliminates the malpractices such as booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing. However, in the age of the smartphone, the opportunity costs of ballot-box-stuffing and the risk of exposure are prohibitively high.
  • In contrast, tampering with code could accomplish rigging on a scale unimaginable for booth-capturers.
  • Moreover, it is nearly impossible to detect EVM-tampering. As a result, suspicions of tampering in the tallying of votes — as opposed to malfunction in registering the votes, which alone is detectable — are destined to remain in the realm of speculation.

Way Forward

  • The absence of proven fraud might save the EVM for now, but its survival comes at a dangerous cost — the corrosion of people’s faith in the electoral process.
  • Yet there doesn’t have to be incontrovertible evidence of EVM-tampering for a nation to return to paper ballot.
  • The EC has always maintained that suspicions against EVMs are unjustified.
  • Clearly, the solution is not to dismiss EVM-sceptics as ignorant technophobes.
  • Rather, the EC is obliged to provide the people of India a polling process capable of refuting unjustified suspicion, as this is a basic requirement for democratic legitimacy, not an optional accessory.

Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce

[op-ed snap] Taxed through trade policies, farmers need stable income policy

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economic Development| Agriculture| Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the recent efforts by government to raise farmer’s income.

Mains level: The news-card analyses how the farmers in India are implicitly taxed through restrictive marketing and trade policies, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Many experts have observed that the farmers in India are implicitly taxed through restrictive marketing and trade policies. They, however, need a stable income policy.

Higher minimum support prices (MSPs) not a solution

  • The attempt to woo farmers by announcing higher minimum support prices (MSPs) based on 50 per cent margin over paid out costs plus imputed value of family labour (cost A2+FL) has fallen flat as market prices of most of those commodities remain 20 to 30 per cent below MSPs.
  • Procurement by government agencies has been limited, as they already have overflowing stocks that they cannot offload without incurring massive losses.
  • The meagre budgetary provisions under the PM’s AASHA scheme to lift market prices have, therefore, failed to erase farmers’ gloom.
  • In any case, the MSP policy cannot reach more than 20 per cent of peasantry even with augmented procurement of pulses and oilseeds, and, therefore, cannot be a solution to farmers’ distress.

Loan waiver not a viable decision either

  • The loan waiver, which the Congress president is promising, will also not benefit more than 30 per cent of the peasantry, who have access to institutional credit.
  • Already, the bill from loan waivers announced by some state governments is touching about Rs 1.8 trillion (lakh crore).
  • The policy of zero-interest on loans too is riddled with loopholes, leading to massive diversion of funds out of agriculture.

State governments innovating new ways

  • Many state governments are trying to innovate with new ways of reaching the largest number of farmers.
  • Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu scheme, which gives Rs 4,000/acre to land-owning farmers for two seasons in a year, is costing the state exchequer roughly Rs 12,000 crore per annum.
  • It appears to have reached more than 90 per cent farmers, and yielded political dividends.
  • However, many experts have criticised it saying that it is pro-big farmers and neglects tenants.
  • The KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) scheme of Odisha attempts to respond to this criticism and accordingly promises to include not only land-owning farmers (up to 5 acres) but also tenants and agri-labourers.
  • While land-owning small and marginal farmers, 30.17 lakh in number, accounting for 92 per cent of farming households in Odisha, will get Rs 5,000/family for five seasons, the tenants and agri-labourers (estimated to be 10 lakh in number) who have no land records will get one-time payment of Rs 12,500/family, and vulnerable families (another 10 lakh) will get one-time payment of Rs 10,000/family.
  • With some support for life insurance and interest-free loans up to Rs 50,000, the scheme is likely to cost about Rs 10,180 crore over three years.
  • There is the major challenge of identifying who is a tenant and who is an agri-labourer, as tenancy is not legally allowed in Odisha. So, no legal records exist.

Implications

  • It is important to track and evaluate the performance of these two schemes (Rythu Bandhu and KALIA) as they have not only important budgetary implications but are also a pointer towards a new policy innovation.
  • West Bengal and Jharkhand are also moving in this direction, and media reports suggest that Centre too is contemplating a variant of a similar scheme.
  • If it does so, it would indicate a tectonic shift in policy from promising higher MSPs or loan waivers to direct income/investment support to farmers.
  • This shift will be better for the country as it is more predictable and less market distorting.

Concerns raised over such schemes

  • Macroeconomists and investors are worried about how much such schemes will cost.
  • Will it be fiscally sustainable and what impact will it have on investments in due course.
  • Is India not becoming a welfare state even before generating enough wealth?
  • The experts however view that these efforts are not “doles” but atonement for not reforming agriculture sector, especially its marketing and trade policies, which remain highly distorted, restrictive and pro-consumer, often at the cost of farmers.

Indian farmers have been “implicitly taxed” through restrictive marketing and trade policies

  • One of the key findings of a mega ICRIER-OECD study on agricultural policies in India (2018) is that the producer support estimate (PSE) for India was minus (-) 14 per cent of gross farm receipts, on an average for the years 2000-01 to 2016-17.
  • This implies that Indian farmers have been “implicitly taxed” through restrictive marketing and trade policies that have an in-built consumer bias of controlling agri-prices.
  • If one calculates the sum involved in this “implicit taxation”, it amounts to Rs 2.65 trillion (lakh crore) per annum, at 2017-18 prices, for 2000-01 to 2016-17.
  • Cumulatively for 17 years, this comes to roughly Rs 45 trillion at 2017-18 prices.
  • No country in the world has taxed its farmers so heavily during this period.
  • This is nothing short of plundering of farmers’ incomes.

 Conclusion

  • Until India reforms its agri-marketing laws and frees agri-markets, it is time to atone through a structured and stable income policy for farmers for at least the next five years.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[op-ed snap] This is not the future we want

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the NITI Aayog recently released ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’.

Mains level: The news-card analyses many environment and livelihood related contradictions in NITI Aayog’s strategy for 2022, in a brief manner.


Context

  • NITI Aayog recently released the ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’ document in 2018.
  • The strategy aims to achieve a ‘New India’ by 2022, when the country celebrates its 75th year of Independence.

About the Plan

  • The NITI Aayog’s‘Strategy for New India @ 75’ document has many progressive objectives.
  • It follows the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Inclusion, sustainability, participation, gender equality and other important issues find mention.
  • However, NITI Aayog’s strategy for 2022 is replete with environmental and livelihood related contradictions.

Positive directions vis-à-vis the environment

The strategy has many positive directions vis-à-vis the environment, such as:

  • A major focus on renewable energy.
  • Organic farming (with the zero budget natural farming model developed by Maharashtrian farmer Subhash Palekar being singled out for national application).
  • Increasing forest cover.
  • Reducing pollution and waste.
  • A chapter titled ‘Sustainable environment’ states: “The objective is to maintain a clean, green and healthy environment with peoples’ participation to support higher and inclusive economic growth through sustainable utilization of available natural resources.”
  • It focuses on air pollution, solid waste management, water pollution, and forestry.

Limitations: Many missing issues

  • However, it is puzzling why these above mentioned four issues are singled out from amongst the much larger number of environmental issues India faces.
  • Some other issues do find mention elsewhere, such as arresting land degradation and soil erosion, and water conservation.
  • But many are missing, such as the urgent need to conserve a range of non-forest ecosystems.
  • Since colonial times, forests have remained predominant in the minds of decision-makers, as indicated by the fact that India still has only a Forest Department and no dedicated entity for grassland, marine and coastal, wetland, mountain, and desert conservation.
  • The increasing presence of toxic chemicals around us finds no mention.
  • Most importantly, the absence of an integrated, comprehensive view on how ecological issues can be integrated into all sectors indicates that this is still not core to the mindset of our planners.

Current form of Economic growth is un-sustainable

  • There is total absence of an understanding in the document that the current form and goal of economic growth is inherently unsustainable.
  • For more than three decades, governments have been promising that with environmental safeguards, growth can be made sustainable.
  • There is no indication that this is anywhere near achievable, much less achieved.
  • In 2008, the Confederation of Indian Industry indicated that India was already using twice of what its natural resources could sustain, and that more than half its biocapacity had already been eroded.

Contradictions in the document: Few Alarming features

(a) Proposal of doubling of the extent of mining

  • One of the biggest ecological and social disasters in India is mining, especially the large-scale open-cast type.
  • NITI Aayog ignores this when it proposes a doubling of the extent of mining.
  • The only concession is the suggestion to bring in “cutting-edge” technology to “limit environmental damage” but that will not solve the fundamental need to deforest areas.

(b) Tourism

  • Another major sector with horrendous environmental impacts is tourism, as witnessed by virtually all our groaning hill stations and the ruin that areas like Ladakh, Kutch and the island regions are facing.
  • Yet, NITI Aayog recommends doubling the number of domestic tourist visits to over 3,200 million from 1,614 million in 2016.

(c) Mega river valley projects

  • The document also urges prompt completion of a host of mega river valley projects that have proved to be ecological nightmares, including Pancheshwar in the fragile Himalaya, the Ken-Betwa link in Madhya Pradesh, and dozens in the Northeast that are going to choke up rivers and are being pushed ahead despite strong local opposition.

(d) Farming

  • While mentioning of organic farming, there is no clear direction to phase out chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • The objective of sustainable farming is undermined by the mention of the following: “Phase out old varieties of seeds and replace them with hybrid and improved seeds”.
  • This is the kind of Green Revolution approach that has caused huge loss of agricultural biodiversity and resilience amongst small farmers.
  • There is also no focus on dryland farming though most farmers are engaged in this.
  • There is positive mention of organic farming models for replication, but nothing on the amazing work of dryland farmers (such as the Dalit women of the Deccan Development Society in Telangana) showing productive, sustainable, biodiverse agriculture with millets and women as the fulcrum.

(d) Single-window clearance of infrastructure projects

  • One of the most alarming features of the document is its stress on rapid, single-window clearance of infrastructure and other projects.
  • Any decent ecological assessment of a project needs a year of study (over all seasons), so the 180 days limit it suggests will mean short-cuts.
  • This rush also means compromising on crucial processes of social assessment, public hearings, and participatory decision-making, as already seen in the last few years.
  • There is nothing on the need to seek consent from local communities, though this is mandated under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

Way Forward

  • Governments in the last few years have a dismal record of safeguarding the environment and the livelihoods of Adivasis and other communities.
  • They have found ways to bypass constitutional and policy safeguards these vulnerable sections are supposed to enjoy.
  • Without a strong, unambiguous commitment to upholding these protections, and putting communities at the centre of decision-making, India @ 75 is going to be an even more unequal, unjust, and conflict-ridden society than India @ 50.
  • This is not the future we want.Instead, we can learn from the many alternative initiatives for food, water, energy, housing, education and health existing across India, which show the way to more just and sustainable livelihoods and ways of living.

MGNREGA Scheme

[op-ed snap] Fabrication and falsification

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice|Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out oftheir design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of MGNREGA.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the gross violation in the implementation of MGNREGA.


Context

  • A recent study have found that data manipulation in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is leading to gross violations in its implementation.

Background

  • At present, crores of people in India are struggling to navigate a host of vulnerabilities to eke out a living.
  • A lack of dignified employment, non-payment of adequate wages on time and insufficient food mean that a poor family remain in a dicey situation and staring at starvation.

Issue

  • In recent years, there have been at least 74 reported starvation deaths, with 60 cases having occurred in the last two years across parts of India; a lot of them have been in Jharkhand.
  • Based on a directive by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, the Jharkhand government issued a report on 18 deaths.
  • Hastily produced and in insensitive language, the report concludes that none of these deaths was due to starvation or connected to MGNREGA — a lazy, convenient denial of any correlation.
  • If implemented the proper way, MGNREGA, among other measures, can go a long way in improving the life and the livelihoods of poor.
  • The governments in the State and Centre are demonstrating alarming indifference in this matter and is covering up realities by curating information to suit its false narrative.
  • Such curation starts from suppressing information at the source, to deliberately manipulating and obfuscating data to perpetrate falsehoods.

How the manipulation of information is leading to Ethical and Legal violations?

  • The MGNREGA is a demand-driven programme, i.e., work must be provided within 15 days of demanding work failing which the Centre must pay an unemployment allowance (UA).
  • A UA report is generated but rarely implemented.
  • Numerous ground reports across the country suggest that because of a funds crunch, field functionaries do not even enter the work demanded by labourers in the MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS).
  • This is information suppression at the source.
  • Lack of offline alternatives to capture work demand from labourers means that data on the MIS are being treated as the gospel truth.
  • Even this under-registered demand is being dishonoured by the government.
  • Although work demand data (in person days) and employment-generated data are available at a panchayat level, aggregate data at the national level are only presented for employment generated.
  • Thus, under-registered national demand is captured but intentionally not reported.
  • By doing this, the Central government is trying to hide its violation of the extent of under-provision of work.

Key findings of the study

  • To estimate the extent of under-provision,work demand and employment generated for over 5,700 panchayats across 20 States (for 2017-18 and the first three quarters of 2018-19) was analysed.
  • It was found that this year, the employment generated was about 33% lower than the registered work demand, and last year, about 30% lower.
  • If this large-sample trend holds true for the country, then a conservative minimal allocation required this year is about ₹85,000 crore.
  • After 99% of the original allocation got exhausted earlier this month, 250 Members of Parliament and citizens wrote to the Prime Minister, following which the Centre’s revised allocation now stands at a paltry ₹61,084 crore.
  • Despite this revision, 16 States still show a negative balance which shows the continued lack of funds.
  • Further, the Centre’s oft-repeated claims of the “highest ever allocation” are dubious and meaningless because if the allocation does not honour work demand, as is the case here, it is a violation of the Act.

Government’s manipulation of data causing more problem

  • Contrary to the Central government’s claims of there being more than 90% payments on time, the study found of more than 9 million transactions that only 21% payments were made on time in 2016-17.The trend continued in 2017-18.
  • Further, the Central government alone was causing an average delay of over 50 days in the disbursement of wages to labourers.
  • The mandate is to pay wages within 15 days else workers are entitled to a delay compensation.
  • While this delay by the Central government (called stage 2 delays) is captured in the system, it is intentionally suppressed to avoid paying delay compensation which is another violation of the Act.

A case of insensitivity

  • The Union Ministry of Finance in Aug,2017 acknowledged the accuracy of the study’s findings and stated that delays in payments were directly linked to lack of “[un]availability of funds”.
  • This glaring lacuna was argued in the Supreme Court in a recent PIL (Swaraj Abhiyan vs. Union of India) where the judgement categorically stated: “The wages due to the worker in terms of Stage 2 above must be transferred immediately and the payment made to the worker forthwith failing which the prescribed compensation would have to be paid.
  • The Central Government cannot be seen to shy away from its responsibility… The State Governments and Union Territory Administrations may be at fault, but that does not absolve the Central Government of its duty”.
  • In court, the Central government, agreed to calculate Stage 2 delays, and pay compensation, but the judgement (dated May 18, 2018) has still not been implemented.
  • This not only reflects contempt of court by the Central government but is also an insensitive assault on people and a deliberate hiding of the truth.
  • In the process, countless lives are getting silently buried in fabricated statistics.

Way Forward

  • Such falsification and a manipulation of information by the government is increasing starvation and agrarian distress in India, and isleading to a gross violation of the MGNREG Act.

Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

[op-ed snap] Limits of class

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources..

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the RTE Amendment Bill.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges in the recently passed RTE amendment bill, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The RTE Amendment Bill, recently passed in Rajya Sabha, has again triggered the periodic debate between anti-detentionists (votaries of No-Detention Policy) and detentionists.
  • The amendment allows states to decide whether to withdraw automatic promotion at the end of 5th and 8th grades, which is the point of contention.

Arguments of Detentionists and Anti-detentionists

(a) Detentionists

  • Detentionists argue that if children know that they will automatically pass, they don’t study, thus learning achievements come down.
  • Since Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) is not implemented seriously, if no-detention is practised then certificate of elementary education will certify no learning.

(b) Anti-detentionists

  • Anti-detentionists argue that fear of failure causes stress and trauma and failure demotivates and pushes children out of system.
  • That stigma of failure mainly harms Dalit and tribal children.
  • They also argue that detention will weaken many other provisions of RTE, like admission in age-appropriate class.
  • According to them, “failing children does not make them learn” and that no-detention is claimed to produce improved learning achievements.

Why Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) cannot be implemented?

  • The shortage of teachers and lack of training are cited as the main reasons for failure of the implementation of CCE.
  • Though these claims are true, a fundamental contradiction in the RTE is ignored in this debate.
  • Unless that contradiction is removed, the CCE cannot be implemented in its true spirit.

The case of term “Class” in RTE

  • “Class” is a very important term in the RTE. The norms for teachers, teacher-pupil ratio, infrastructure and elementary education, are all defined in terms of class.
  • “Elementary education,” according to the RTE means the education from first class to eighth class.
  • Regarding the admission of a child above six years, the act demands that “he or she shall be admitted in a class appropriate to his or her age”.
  • The act is aware that such a child may not be at par with other children in the class, implying that class is associated with some standards of learning.
  • The act itself is “to provide for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years”.
  • Reading this together with the definition of elementary education will give the duration of “class” as one year.

From these and other references to “class” in the act, it can be conclusively established that:

  • Duration of study in a class is one year.
  • A class has its specific curriculum in which learning expectations increase as the order of class increases.
  • That the school is organised class-wise.

Promotion to the next class is not a matter of age

  • Though the RTE does not say anything about textbooks, we do know that they are written class-wise.
  • Therefore, promotion to the next class is not a matter of age, but of learning achievements; implying that the very concept of class as used in RTE contains the idea of detention, if need be.
  • With this definition of class and elementary education, the ideas of no-detention and admission in age-appropriate class completely de-emphasise learning expectations.
  • All that remains is eight years in the school, that too if the child is admitted in class one.

Contradictions in “no-detention” policy

  1. For the child admitted in “a class appropriate to age”, all that remains is attaining the age of 14 years. This happens because “no-detention” is introduced in a school system defined in terms of class.
  2. CCE demands that assessment should be continuous and it should feedback into pedagogy to help the child learn better.

CCE is not for promotion or its denial

  • With age-appropriate admission and no-detention, children in any given class are bound to be at different levels of achievement.
  • If the CCE is to help every child learn, then it cannot be based on the same tasks and assessment criteria for the whole class. But that is precisely the demand of class-wise teaching.
  • CCE on the other hand, demands individual attention in assessment and pedagogy.
  • Therefore, the class-wise structure of curriculum and school on one hand, and CCE on the other, pull the system in opposite directions.

Two ways to resolve this contradiction

(a) Accept the true definition of class or grade

 

  • That implies, to complete a defined curriculum in one year, and detention on unsatisfactory completion. This is what the government has done.

 

  • While this is retrograde and hardly improves learning, it resolves the contradiction in the teachers’ minds, and allows them to practice the age old authoritarian rigid system in its true glory.

(b) Working out the implications of a pedagogically sound CCE

The other way is to carefully work out the implications of a pedagogically sound CCE and take on the arduous task to reform the system to implement it.

That would require:

  • defining elementary education in terms of learning standards;
  • organising curriculum as a free-paced learning path, and not boxed into classes;
  • organising schools as ungraded heterogeneous learning groups, composed of children at various levels; and
  • introduce the ideas of self-learning and peer group learning, a necessity to manage a heterogeneous learning group.

Conclusion

  • All this will require systemic reforms and to prepare teachers for this change through massive and serious in-service professional development.
  • Although this is the difficult path, but it does not contain internal contradictions, and may solve the problem of low quality.

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

[op-ed snap]Diagnosing the job crisis

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice|Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health,Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:Nothing as such.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the problem of India’s MSME sector, in a brief manner.


Context

  • It has been observed by some experts that the regulatory framework that has choked MSMEs has contributed to the farm crisis and quota demands in India.
  • And that farm loan waivers, migration restrictions and10 per cent economically backward reservation in government jobs does not represent a sustainable approach.

Overhauling India’s MSME sector

  • The only way to create millions of jobs with decent wages is a policy re-imagination of the rights, needs, and treatment of formal MSME entrepreneurs.
  • The average employer in India is not a formal MSME or somebody large like Marico, Lupin or the Tatas, but an informal MSME because the present regulatory framework are not pro-informal sector MSME.
  • Fewer than 2 per cent of our 63 million MSME’s are formal.

Labour market interventions in MSMEs can be by:

  • Taking the long view:a 10-year plan is not 10-one-year plans for formalisation, urbanisation, industrialisation, financialisation and human capital.
  • Recognise progress made:6 million new formal enterprises and 30 million new social security payers in the last three years), and
  • Get bolder with structural interventions that matter most to MSME entrepreneurs.

India’s problem is no longer jobs but wages

  • Creating millions of well-paying jobs needs ending killing of millions of MSMEs (small but formal employers that will grow and pay the wage premium because of enterprise productivity).

Formalisation of MSMEs need

  • lower regulatory framework,
  • labour law rationalisation,
  • e-governance, and
  • education effectiveness
  • all in turn need civil service reform.

Way Forward

  • The only solution to helping farmers is having less of them and making the remaining productive — US farms with more than $1 million in sales are only 6 per cent of farms but produce 66 per cent of output.
  • The need of the hour is to have enough formal MSME employers.

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

[op-ed snap] How India’s economy smoothly navigated troubled waters

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy|  Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the present situation of Indian economy.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the challenges of Indian Economy and its present situation w.r.t global economic challenges, in a brief manner.


Context

  • According to several economic experts, Indian economy is on a recovery path. However, for several others, the economic outlook is still gloomy.

Positive side of Indian Economy

  • The advance estimates of national income indicate that real gross domestic product (GDP) will grow at 7.2% in FY 2018, up from 6.7% last year.
  • The advance estimates, based on data for the first six months and up to November for some indicators, are a fair assessment of the likely outcome.
  • The earlier projections of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are also all higher than the advance estimates.
  • Hence, barring any major shock in the next 10 weeks, it is quite likely that the year will end with at least 7% growth.
  • This robust growth is also fairly diversified with more than 8% growth in manufacturing and 9% growth or more in electricity and other utilities, construction, and public services.
  • It is particularly encouraging that the growth upturn is being led by the recovery of investment instead of debt-financed consumption as in the recent past.
  • After stagnating for several years, quarterly growth of gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) has been recovering since the second quarter of FY 2017.
  • It is now estimated to grow by 12.2% in real terms in FY 2018 compared to 7.6% in FY 2017.
  • The investment rate, which had declined to 31%, is now estimated to be back up to 33%.
  • Further, implementation of the 2016 Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and progress on resolutions under the National Company Law Tribunal are important reforms.

Low Rate of Inflation: Mixed blessing

  • The consumer price index (CPI) inflation rate is now down to only 2.2% and the wholesale price index (WPI) inflation rate is 3.8%.
  • However, the decline in inflation is mainly on account of the decline in food and fuel prices.
  • Fuel prices are unlikely to harden any time soon, unless events in West Asia deliver a political shock. This has been a great boon for oil importing countries such as India.
  • However, whether the decline in food prices, which implies a shift in the terms of trade against agriculture, is an unmixed blessing in the present context of widespread distress among farmers is a question to be pondered over.
  • Also, core inflation (excluding food and fuel prices) is still close to 6%.
  • This presents a dilemma for monetary policy.
  • RBI’s mandate is to contain the CPI inflation rate at around 4%, but can it ignore the stickiness of core inflation around 6%, especially when central and state government spending is likely to pump-prime demand in the run-up to general elections?

Major deterrent to growth

(a)NPA

  • There is still a long way to go in tackling the problem of stressed assets and high levels of non-performing assets in public sector banks which is a major deterrent to growth.
  • There is also a return to discretionary interventions, demonstrated among other things by the arbitrary raising of tariffs in the last budget.
  • These will adversely impact growth in FY 2019.

(b)Elections

  • In the coming few months, experts are of the view that there’s expected surge in pre-election public spending.
  • Combined with a significant shortfall in tax revenues, especially goods and services tax (GST) revenues, this will lead to several fiscal deficit targets of the central and state governments being breached.
  • On the other hand, the past record of political business cycles suggests that there could be a sharp decline in public spending in the post-election period.
  • These swings in public spending can be destabilizing and adversely affect growth in FY 2019.

 

(c)Challenging External Environment

  • Far more worrying than the above discussed domestic issues is a very challenging external environment.
  • 2018 was the year of great decline. Everything declined: inflation, commodity prices, asset prices, growth.
  • While the decline in inflation is welcome, the decline in growth has now raised fears of deflation in advanced economies.
  • The IMF Data Mapper, which maps growth throughout the world, looks pretty scary.
  • More than half the globe is a dark region shrouded in grey (below 3% growth) or black (negative growth).
  • Soothing shades of green, representing robust growth, are seen only in Asia and a few countries in Africa.
  • Emerging markets and developing countries in Asia grew at 6.5% while sub-Saharan Africa grew at 3.1%.
  • Among major economies, growth declined in 2018 and is expected to decline further in 2019 in the US, European Union, Japan and China.
  • Together, they account for almost two-thirds of the world economy.

Underlying these gloomy numbers is the emergence of multiple risks such as:

  • The trade war between Trump-led US and China;
  • Tensions between US and its European allies, Canada and Mexico;
  • Confrontation in West Asia between the Trump-led coalition of the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the tacit alliance of Iran, Russia, Turkey, and Syria.
  • The potential spike in oil prices if that confrontation escalates and financial outflows from emerging markets in response to political uncertainties and rising US interest rates are the other major risks.

Effect on Indian Economy

  • India stands out for sailing smoothly through these troubled waters so far.
  • It remains the fastest growing major economy in the world.
  • However, being well integrated with the world economy, India cannot continue to grow rapidly as global growth declines.
  • The trade deficit, up from 1.7% of GDP in 2016-17 to 3.0% in 2017-18, is projected to rise further to 3.5% in 2018-19, thereby completely offsetting the expansionary impact of the fiscal deficit.
  • The net reduction of nearly $30 billion in foreign exchange reserves since 1 April 2018 is also a consequence of the gloomy global economic environment.

Way Forward

  • These adverse external factors, combined with the domestic challenges mentioned earlier, will pull growth down to less than 7% in FY 2019.
  • It could decline further in the event of a major negative shock such as a failed monsoon or a spike in global geopolitical tensions.

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Why isolation of indigenous groups is crucial today

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Indian Society | Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics knowledge of indigenous groups.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the need for the isolation of the indigenous groups, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The remote, coral-fringed North Sentinel Island made headlines last year, after an American Christian missionary’s covert expedition to convert its residents—the world’s last known pre-Neolithic tribal group—ended in his death.
  • The episode has cast a spotlight on the threats faced by the world’s remote indigenous groups.

Sentinelese tribe: most isolated tribe

  • The Sentinelese people targeted by the slain evangelist John Allen Chau are probably the most isolated of the world’s remaining remote tribes.
  • These people are keen to stay that way.
  • They shoot arrows to warn off anyone who approaches their island, and attack those, like Chau, who ignore their warnings.
  • However, this has not always been like this. When Europeans first made contact with the Sentinelese, the British naval commander Maurice Vidal Portman described them in 1899 as “painfully timid.
  • Tribes like the Sentinelese have learned to associate outsiders with the ghastly violence and deadly diseases brought by European colonization.

Effect of British colonialism on indigenous tribes

  • British colonial excesses whittled down the aboriginal population of the Andaman Islands, which includes North Sentinel Island, from more than two dozen tribes 150 years ago to just four today.
  • The tribes that escaped genocide at the hands of the colonizers did so largely by fleeing to the most inaccessible parts of jungles.

No Contact policy

  • After the decimation of indigenous peoples under colonial rule, the countries where isolated tribes remain—including Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, India, and Peru—have pursued a “no contact” policy.
  • This policy is anchored in laws that protect indigenous people’s rights to ancestral lands and to live in seclusion, and reinforced by an international convention obligating governments to protect these communities’ lands, identities, penal customs, and ways of life.

Is there a need to reverse the no contact policy?

  • It is illegal for outsiders to enter India’s tribal reserves.
  • But the threat to the Sentinelese people and to all isolated tribes is far from neutralized, as some have taken Chau’s death as an opportunity to argue that we should reverse the policies protecting isolated tribes.
  • The reasons for some could be of good intentions such as to provide access to modern technology, education, and health care but for others it is not.
  • For example, Brazil’s new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to repeal constitutional safeguards for aboriginal lands in order to expand developers’ access to the Amazon rainforest.

Why the need for isolation?

  • The first waves of European colonization caused a calamitous depopulation of indigenous societies through violence and the introduction of infectious diseases, like smallpox and measles, to which the natives had no immunity.
  • In Brazil, three-quarters of the indigenous societies that opened up to the outside world have become extinct, with the rest suffering catastrophic population declines.
  • Over the last five centuries, Brazil’s total indigenous population has plummeted from up to 5 million to fewer than 900,000 people, with the introduction of constitutional protections for indigenous territories in the late 1980s aimed at arresting the decline.
  • In the Andaman chain, of the four tribes that survive, the two that were forcibly assimilated by the British have become dependent on government aid and are close to vanishing.
  • Indigenous communities’ combined share of the world population is now at just 4.5%.

Will the isolation help increase their population?

  • Leaving secluded tribes alone is no guarantee that they will survive.
  • These highly inbred groups are already seeing their numbers dwindle, and face the spectre of dying out completely.
  • But they will probably die faster if we suddenly contact them.

Consequences of Extinction of these isolated tribes

  • These tribes might be isolated, but their demise will have serious consequences.
  • With their reverence for and understanding of nature, such groups serve as the world’s environmental sentinels, safeguarding 80% of global diversity and playing a critical role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • When the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck, more than a quarter-million people died across 14 countries, but the two isolated Andaman tribes, which rely on traditional warning systems, suffered no known casualties.
  • However, the indigenous societies have been pitted against loggers, miners, crop planters and other interlopers.
  • In the last 12 years alone, according to satellite data, Brazil’s Amazon Basin has lost forest cover equivalent in size to the entire Democratic Republic of Congo.

Conclusion

  • Indigenous people are an essential element of cultural diversity and ecological harmony.
  • They are also a biological treasure for scientists seeking to reconstruct evolutionary and migratory histories.
  • The least the world can do is to let them live in peace in the ancestral lands that they have honoured and preserved for centuries.

Judicial Appointments Conundrum Post-NJAC Verdict

[op-ed snap] It’s time for the Collegium system to go

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Constitution| Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions. Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics knowledge of the collegium system.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues with the Collegium system wrt recent decision of SC in the appointment of judges, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The recent decision of the Collegium to inexplicably replace two high court chief justices selected for elevation has again raised concerns about the methods of working of the Collegium.
  • The process for the appointment of judges lies at the heart of an independent judiciary.
  • Over the years, this process has manifested itself in the questionable form of the Collegium of judges, which decides on appointments to both the SC and the high courts.

Background

  • In the inaugural session of the Supreme Court of India (SC), held 69 years ago, an independent judiciary that would be the third pillar in India’s constitutional framework was promised, counterbalancing the legislature and the executive.
  • In the Constituent Assembly debates that preceded the creation of the SC, Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking on higher judicial appointments, said that the judges selected should be of the “highest integrity” and be persons “who can stand up against the executive government and whoever might come in their way”.

Issues with the recent decision

  • The Collegium’s recent decision has once again shown that it is opaque. Moreover, it is not accountable to any other authority.
  • The Collegium’s recent decision to appoint Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, by retracting and superseding earlier selections of fine judges in their own right, is of concern.
  • Justice Maheshwari was earlier rejected by the Collegium in its December 2018 meeting.
  • Justice Khanna has been selected over his three senior colleagues, Justices Pradeep Nandrajog, Gita Mittal and S Ravindra Bhat.
  • The concerns raised by the experts is less about the seniority convention than about the lack of transparency.

The Seniority Convention

  • Many skirmishes took place between the judiciary and the executive in the early decades of the republic.
  • However, the first major appointments-related decision that turned this convention on its head was the executive’s move to anoint A N Ray, the fourth most senior judge of the SC at the time, as the Chief Justice of India.
  • This was the era before the Collegium came into being, and was an appointment that provoked much-heated debate.
  • The Second Judges’ case of 1993, which led to the formation of a collegium of high-ranking judges identifying persons for appointment to the SC and high courts, chose to re-state the seniority convention in appointments.
  • The decision clarified that “Unless there be any strong cogent reason to justify a departure, that order of [inter-se] seniority [amongst Judges of High Courts] must be maintained between them while making their appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Concerns over the Collegium system

  • Collegium system emphasizes excessively on seniority.
  • However, following the seniority convention offers a semblance of certainty and transparency, even though it takes away from selecting judges on other objective criteria such as merit and competence.
  • At times, the sanctity of Collegium’s own decisions no longer stands.
  • Its own previous decision to appoint other persons to the Supreme Court was reversed, without any explanation or justification.
  • Besides this, no one knows how judges are selected, and the appointments made reek of biases of self-selection and in-breeding.
  • Nepotism: Sons and nephews of previous judges or senior lawyers tend to be popular choices for judicial roles.
  • Lack of checks and balances: With its ad hoc informal consultations with other judges, which do not significantly investigate criteria such as work, standing, integrity and so on, the Collegium remains outside the sphere of legitimate checks and balances.

Why Collegium seems to be opaque?

  • The lack of a written manual for functioning,
  • the absence of selection criteria,
  • the arbitrary reversal of decisions already taken,
  • the selective publication of records of meetings.

National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC)

In the last few years, there was some agreement that the Collegium system of appointments had failed, and there is a need for a more transparent and accountable system.

The proposal for a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) came about seeking to:

  • guarantee the independence of the system from inappropriate politicisation,
  • strengthen the quality of appointments,
  • enhance the fairness of the selection process,
  • promote diversity in the composition of the judiciary, and
  • rebuild public confidence in the system.

NJAC declared Unconstitutional, a missed opportunity

  • The SC in its majority decision declared the NJAC unconstitutional and missed an opportunity to introduce important reformatory changes in the functioning of the judiciary.
  • According to the experts, the supreme court could have read down the law, and reorganised the NJAC to ensure that the judiciary retained majority control in its decisions.
  • However, It did not amend the NJAC Act to have safeguards that would have made it constitutionally valid.
  • It also did not reform the Collegium in any way to address the various concerns voiced by one and all, including the Court itself.
  • Instead, to the disappointment of all those who hoped for a strong, independent and transparent judiciary, it reverted to the old Collegium-based appointments mechanism.

Conclusion

  • As a democracy, it seems anomalous that we continue to have a judiciary whose essence is determined by a process that is evidently undemocratic.
  • There is an urgent need for the reforms in the existing selection process.
  • The Supreme Court too had referred to the need to introduce reforms while deciding the NJAC matter. However, there haven’t been any apparent sign of reform in the system.
  • There is a need to revisit the Collegium issue, either through a Presidential reference to the Supreme Court, or a constitutional amendment with appropriate changes in the original NJAC law.

Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

[op-ed snap]Learning little

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health,Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge about the findings of ASER.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the findings of ASER and what could be the way forward, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The latest ASER assessment of how children are faring in schools in rural areas indicates there has been no dramatic improvement in learning outcomes.
  • It has observed that the reading and arithmetic abilities in rural schools are shockingly dismal.

Findings of the Annual Status of Education Report

  • According to the Annual Status of Education Report, Rural (2018), the picture that has emerged is one of a moribund system of early schooling in many States, with no remarkable progress from the base year of 2008.
  • Except for a small section at the top of the class, the majority of students have been let down.
  • The survey for 2018 had a reach of 5.4 lakh students in 596 rural districts.
  • The administrators must be alerted by the fact that while 53.1% of students in Class 5 in rural government schools could in 2008 read a text meant for Class 2, the corresponding figure for 2018 stood at 44.2%.
  • For comparison, private schools scored 67.9% and 65.1% for the same test in those years.
  • Arithmetic ability showed a similar trend of under-performance, although there has been a slight uptick since 2016: an improvement of about 1.5 percentage points in government schools and 1.8 percentage points in private institutions, among Class 5 students.
  • Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Haryana did better on the arithmetic question with over 50% students clearing it, compared to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Karnataka, which scored below 20%.
  • A significant percentage of students were not even able to recognise letters appropriate for their class, highlighting a severe barrier to learning.

What needs to be done?

  • Setting up a Review mechanism:Now that the ASER measure is available for 10 years, the Centre should institute a review mechanism involving all States for both government and private institutions, covering elementary education and middle school.
  • A public consultation on activity-based learning outcomes, deficits in early childhood education, and innovations in better performing States can help.
  • At present, children start learning in a variety of environments: from poorly equipped anganwadi centres to private nurseries. Therefore, any policy framework should also consider this aspect

Right to Education Act

  • The enactment of the Right to Education Act was followed by a welcome rise in enrolment, which now touches 96% as per ASER data.
  • Empowering as it is, the law needs a supportive framework to cater to learners from different backgrounds who often cannot rely on parental support or coaching.
  • There is concern that curricular expectations on literacy and numeracy have become too ambitious, requiring reform.

Way Forward

  • The solutions may lie in multiple approaches.
  • The need is to look at innovation in schools and incentivising good outcomes.

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

[op-ed snap] India’s Goods and Services Tax regime isn’t the disaster it is made out to be

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy |Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of FDI in e-commerce.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues of Indian e-commerce industry, in a brief manner.


Context

  • India’s earlier indirect tax regime was often said to be fraught with problems.
  • The task force set up by the 13th Finance Commissionconcluded that the system was “distortionary and inhibited voluntary compliance”.
  • It was to address such concerns that the Goods and Services Tax was envisaged.

Background

  • GST had long appeared inevitable; the only question was about the timing of its implementation.
  • The government was faced with the onerous task of subsuming 17 taxes under the GST.
  • Given the number of taxes to be collapsed into a single regime, across states and the Centre, it was widely expected that the transition would not be effortless, or seamless.
  • It would require a massive effort not only to garner consensus given India’s federal structure but also to reorient administrative and business practices.

Analysis

Complexity of the previous regime

  • The Value added Tax is one of the main levies subsumed under the GST. As now, a multi-state business then was required to register and comply with the processes for filing VAT in each of the states.
  • But the VAT regime was not entirely similar across states – time limit for filing returns, the rates of tax and penalties varied.
  • Thus, a business operating across states had to keep track of the differing filing requirements.
  • A business with diversified operations – producing goods and providing services – had to file separate returns for goods and services.
  • By doing away with this multiplicity, the GST regime has visibly improved the compliance process.

Concerns with GST

  • Today, a year and a half after it was rolled out, the GST is often criticised for its complex filing processes and uncertainty.
  • The GST is also criticised for being uncertain as it has been frequently changed.
  • However no tax system is bereft of some degree of uncertainty. Frequent alterations are expected since the GST replaced another system.

Government’s response to these concerns

  • Responding to the demands of the taxpayers, the government has eased some of the compliance requirements – refund process for a certain category of taxpayers, deadlines for filing and rectification of returns.
  • An iterative process of change is a feature of any nascent tax system. It is hoped that as the GST system matures these concerns will no longer remain.

Increasing compliance

  • The GST was also meant to encourage voluntary compliance.
  • By rationalising tax rates and simplifying the process, the new regime sought to bring in those outside the system.
  • It was expected that through a seamlessly integrated process of claiming input credits, matching detailed invoices and generating e-way bills, those in the supply chain would be persuaded to shift to the formal taxation system.
  • There is now evidence of new entrants to the system. In 2018, it was reported that in addition to the 66 lakh crore entities that migrated from the old system, the GST Network had recorded 58 lakh new registrations.
  • This despite the fact that the threshold for registering on the GST Network (Rs 20 lakh) is much higher than it was for the VAT regime (Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh).
  • However, some critics have pointed out that many entities registered on the GST Network do not actually file their returns.

Way Forward

  • Simplicity and ease of compliance are what taxpayers primarily demand from a taxation system.
  • For a system that encourages compliance, directly or through network effects, is expected to yield greater revenue in the long run as economic activity picks up for the units reporting minimal activity.
  • The GST will impose transition costs in the short term but will increase the number of taxpayers in the long run and boost tax revenue.

Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce

[op-ed snap] Policy must tackle not just dissatisfaction of large farmers, but distress of most vulnerable

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics knowledge of Farmer’s distress.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the prevailing issue of farmer distress, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Recently, the two main policy interventions repeatedly discussed to tackle farmer distress — loan waivers and minimum support prices (MSP) — treat all farmers (large/small, male/female) alike.
  • But farmers are heterogeneous. They differ especially by income, land owned and gender.

Farmer dissatisfaction is not the same as farmer distress.

  • Better-off farmers are dissatisfied but politically vocal.
  • Poor farmers are distressed and many kill themselves in silence.
  • It is the truly distressed the government need to reach, but their policies only address the dissatisfied.

How Government’s policy measures fails to address distress of small & marginal farmers

  1. Loan waivers
  • Today, most economists agree that waivers are a bad idea. They deplete state finances, undermine bank culture, and barely reach 20-25 per cent farmers who have access to institutional credit, but not the marginal farmers or labourers who depend on moneylenders, or get no credit at all.
  • Having a bank debt is not, in itself, a sign of distress.
  • Farming, like other businesses, needs loans, and access to formal credit signifies credit worthiness.
  • It is the marginal and small farmers who depend mainly on private lenders, and whose loans don’t get waived, who are in distress.
  1. Raising MSPs
  • Raising MSPs will help surplus producing farmers, but not net buyers of farm produce — marginal farmers, farm labourers and urban consumers.
  • A 2015 IIM-A report on Marketed and Marketable Surplus found that marginal farmers (up to one hectare land) contributed only 5 per cent of marketed surplus rice and 4 per cent of wheat, even in the major rice and wheat surplus states.
  • And they sold only 39 per cent and 25 per cent of their marketed rice and wheat to government agencies, compared with the 70 per cent and 90 per cent sold by large farmers.
  • Further, the Shanta Kumar Committee reports that only 6 per cent of farmers gained from selling these crops to any procurement agency.
  1. Policy of direct transfers to farmers
  • The policy of direct transfers to farmers also ignores the inequality between farmers.
  • Telangana gave Rs 9,900/ha/season to all landowning farmers. Hence, the very large landowners gained — not only from owning large tracts, but in both seasons, since with irrigation they can cultivate in both kharif and rabi seasons; while pure-tenants and labourers got nothing.
  • Nor did women farmers get anything, few of whom own land.
  • Odisha recently announced that it will pay both farmers and labourers, but like Telangana, it will pay per household and not per person.
  • Both states thus ignore women’s claims, and also the substantial evidence that it is income in a mother’s hands that greatly improves child nutrition and education, rather than income only in the father’s hands.
  • Neither state has recognised intra-household inequalities, or paid heed to the large proportion of women farmers who are either principal cultivators or de-facto responsible for farms with male out-migration.

 

How to address small & marginal  Farmers distress ?

A multi-pronged strategy of income support, government investment, and institutional innovations, and not a one-size-fits-all approach is need of the hour.

  • Direct transfer for small farmers: To overcome immediate distress, direct transfers are preferable to loan waivers, but transfers should be limited to smallholders (those owning 2 ha or less), pure-tenants and agricultural labourers. The funds should go to women in the family for best results.
  • Investment in Agriculture: To reduce the long-term distress of poor farmers, agricultural investment in priority areas is imperative such as irrigation, water conservation, and storage for surplus produce.
  • Even 70 years after Independence, only 44 per cent of our irrigable area is irrigated. This must increase, but not via groundwater mining, which is unsustainable.
  • Water use efficiency by farmers is also essential: Low-cost techniques of drip irrigation could be one method.
  • Land and labour pooling: Some 70 per cent of farmers cultivate one hectare or less, in scattered plots which is non-viable. In a recent study, it was found that as farm size in India increases from very small to eight ha, profits/ha rise substantially. Therefore, we must encourage land and labour pooling.
  • Institutional reform has long been a blind spot in India’s farm policy. Groups help increase farm size, brought scale economies, saved on hired labour, improved credit access and enhanced bargaining power in input and output markets. Groups can also reduce farmer isolation and the likelihood of suicides.
  • Dietary changes require more focus on non-food-grains for food security, including vegetables which are more profitable and inland fisheries, a key source of protein.

Way Forward

  • Both to overcome farmer distress and farmer dissatisfaction, creating jobs for farmers’ children in their vicinity, not in cities, is essential, through ancillary industries, food processing, SMEs, and so on.
  • This would provide much needed supplementary income for farmers in distress. Doubling farmers’ incomes does not need doubling farm incomes.
  • It needs increasing their incomes from both farm and non-farm sources.

Judicial Reforms

[op-ed snap] Slogans, critical of govt, are not anti-national and do not amount to sedition

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Polity | Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of sedition law in India.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues of sedition law in India, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Recently, sedition charges are filed against an ex-president of the JNU Student’s Union and former students for allegedly “raising and supporting anti-national slogans”.

What is sedition, enacted by Section 124-A of the IPC?

  • According to the Privy Council, it meant any statement that caused “disaffection”, namely, exciting in others certain bad feelings towards the government, even though there was no element of incitement to violence or rebellion.

Constituent Assembly debates on the subject of sedition

  • In the Draft Constitution, one of the heads of restrictions proposed on freedom of speech and expression was “sedition”.
  • In the heyday of British colonialism, the sedition law was frequently invoked to crush the freedom movement and to incarcerate prominent nationalist leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru and others. K M Munshi opposed the inclusion of “sedition” as a head of restriction and moved an amendment for its deletion.
  • In the course of the debates, Munshi urged that “now that we have a democratic government, a line must be drawn between criticism of government which should be welcome and incitement to violence which would undermine security or order on which civilised life is based.
  • As a matter of fact the essence of democracy is criticism of government.
  • The party system, which necessarily involves advocacy for the replacement of one government by another is its only bulwark; the advocacy of a different system of government should be welcome because that gives vitality to democracy.”
  • The founding fathers agreed with Munshi and deliberately omitted “sedition” as one of the permissible grounds of restriction on freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2).
  • However, Sedition remained as a criminal offence in the IPC and provides inter alia for a sentence of life imprisonment and fine upon conviction.

 How did courts in India construe ‘sedition’?

  • The Federal Court of India presided over by the distinguished chief justice, Maurice Gwyer, ruled that the sedition law is not to be invoked “to minister to the wounded vanity of government .
  • The acts or words complained of must either incite disorder or must be such as to satisfy reasonable men that is their intention or tendency”.

I.Kedarnath vs. State of Bihar

  • Supreme Court in its landmark decision pronounced in 1962 in Kedarnath vs. State of Bihar dissented from the view of the Privy Council and adopted the view of the Federal Court.
  • The Court ruled that mere criticism of the government or comments on the administration, however vigorous or pungent or even ill-informed, did not constitute sedition.
  • The Supreme Court limited the application of Section 124A (sedition) to acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence.
  • Therefore, incitement to violence is the essential ingredient of the offence of sedition (emphasis added).

ii.Balwant Singh vs. State of Punjab

  • In 1995, the Supreme Court in the case of Balwant Singh vs. State of Punjab applied the principle in Kedarnath’s case to the prosecution of certain persons who raised the certain slogans.
  • The Court ruled that in view of the prosecution evidence that the slogans were raised a couple of times and that the slogans did not evoke any response from any other person of the Sikh community or reaction from people of other communities, raising of such casual slogans a couple of times without any other act whatsoever, did not justify prosecution for sedition and Section 124-A could not be invoked.

iii.Nazir Khan vs. State of Delhi

  • In 2003, in the case of Nazir Khan vs. State of Delhi the Supreme Court emphasised that: “It is the fundamental right of every citizen to have his own political theories and ideas and to propagate them and work for their establishment so long as he does not seek to do so by force and violence or contravene any provision of law.
  • The mere use of the words ‘fight’ and ‘war’ in their pledge did not necessarily mean that the society planned to achieve its object by force and violence.”

Anti-national slogans and sedition

  • Slogans, however critical or censorious of government, are not anti-national and per se do not amount to sedition.
  • If the slogans had stated that the Indian state is tyrannical and it is necessary to overthrow it, that could possibly attract Section 124-A.
  • However, Section 124-A has often been misused by ill-informed and over-enthusiastic prosecuting agencies. But, that is no ground for repealing Section 124-A.

Way Forward

  • Invocation of the section should only be in cases of slogans or statements which incite violence and have a manifest tendency to create public disorder.
  • The right remedy is to educate our law enforcement agencies and impress upon them that incitement to violence is the indispensable pre-requisite for invoking Section 124-A.
  • Our state rests on solid foundations, which cannot be disturbed by ill-tempered or pungent or stupid slogans.
  • Misuse of the sedition law should attract appropriate penalties for law enforcement agencies coupled with a provision for compensation to the injured party.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Where the rich got their way on the climate change convention at Katowice, Poland

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment| Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of COP24 and Climate Finance.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues of climate change discussed in COP-24 of the UNFCCC, held at Katowice in Poland, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The 24th Conference of the Parties (COP-24) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held at Katowice in Poland, brings little cheer on the climate front for developing countries.
  • With the passage of the “rulebook” for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the developed countries have largely succeeded in establishing a global climate regime that gives them the strategic advantage and assuages some of their core concerns.
  • This signals the making of a new, contradictory situation where the scope and complexity of the regime are fundamentally at odds with the very purpose for which the regime has been constructed.

Background

  • At the heart of this strategic success is the substantial rollback of differentiation between the global North and South in climate action.
  • The first step of this process began with the Paris Agreement, when the developed nations were allowed to make voluntary commitments to climate mitigation, on par with the developing nations, without any benchmark to ensure the relative adequacy of their commitment.

Issue

Rulebook: Standards of reporting, monitoring and evaluation

  • At Katowice the process went further, with uniform standards of reporting, monitoring and evaluation for all countries.
  • These reporting requirements, while superficially impressive, appear in their true light when we realise that in their uniformity they are intended as much for Maldives as the U.S.
  • The real targets of this uniformity arenot the poorest nations, who have been provided exemptions, but the larger developing nations.
  • While all developing nations are ostensibly allowed flexibility in these reporting requirements, the concession has been hedged in with a number of conditions, with the intention of forcing them to full compliance in short order.
  • The reporting requirements are also marked by a pseudo-scientific concern for stringency, which is far in excess of the accuracy of climate science itself.
  • Indeed, the recent Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on global warming at 1.5°C estimates substantial uncertainties in the quantum of cumulative global emissions that are still allowed before the global carbon budget of the world is exhausted.
  • In the face of such uncertainty, the requirement of reporting as little as 500 kilo tonnes or 0.05% of national emissions per country has little scientific significance.
  • More pernicious is the uniformity of the stringency in reporting being expressed in percentage terms.
  • Elementary mathematics informs us that a smaller percentage of the emissions of a large emitter will be a larger quantity in absolute terms compared to the larger percentage of emissions of a small emitter.

Concerns

  • The crux of the problem is the contradiction between the onerous nature of these universal rules and the total lack of initiative by the developed countries in taking the lead in climate mitigation.
  • All developed countries continue to invest in fossil fuels either through direct production or imports.
  • Some do so because of the downgrading of nuclear energy due to domestic political pressures. Others are still trying to wean themselves off coal by shifting to gas.
  • Overall, as the International Energy Agency reports, the use of fossil fuel-based electricity generation continues to rise for OECD countries.

Special Report of the IPCC

  • In the event, the dispute that broke out at COP24 over whether the Special Report of the IPCC should be welcomed or merely noted must be considered a red herring.
  • Despite the vociferous pleas of the Least Developed Countries and the Small Island Developing States for the former choice, in the absence of adequate action, such symbolic gestures are clearly of little value.
  • Indeed, the report itself appears to have been used to generate a sense of urgency in stampeding countries into approval of the “rulebook” rather than point the way to more substantial mitigation by the developed nations.
  • The Special Report, for instance, did little to inspire the developed countries to increase the quantum of climate finance as well as speeding up its delivery.

Debate surrounding Climate finance

  • It has been the long-standing argument of the developing world that the bulk of climate finance must be from public sources.
  • In contrast, the developed countries have succeeded in putting other sources of finance, including FDI and equity flows, on par in the accounting of the flow of climate assistance that developing countries need.
  • As the “rulebook” stands today, private sector flows or loans, which will increase the indebtedness of developing countries, are to be considered adequate fulfilment of developed country obligations under the UNFCCC.
  • Much of the pressure exerted by developed countries at COP24 had the active backing and instigation of the U.S.
  • Despite the public posturing by other G-8 heads of state outside the climate summits, the marked synergy between the U.S. and its political and strategic allies in pushing through several critical elements of the “rulebook” was no secret.

India and COP24

  • India, despite its articulation of the need for equity in climate action and climate justice, failed to obtain the operationalisation of these notions in several aspects of the “rulebook”.
  • Even though it pushed for equity, particularly in the benchmarks for the periodic review of the Paris Agreement, it failed to press home its point.
  • Successive dispensations in New Delhi have fallen short of doing the needful in this regard.
  • In contrast, Brazil held its ground on matters relating to carbon trading that it was concerned about and postponed finalisation of the matter to next year’s summit.
  • Regrettably, while India has not been shy to hold out against the global nuclear order it has not extended this attitude to protecting its interests in the emerging global climate regime.
  • It is now evident that New Delhi underestimated what was at stake at Katowice and the outcome portends a serious narrowing of India’s developmental options in the future.
  • A number of environmental and climate think tanks, NGOs and movements have also done their share to disarm the government in the negotiations.
  • Buying uncritically into the climate narrative of the developed nations, they have been continually urging unilateral domestic action on moral grounds, while ignoring the elementary fact that global warming is a global collective action problem.
  • Despite the significant number of Indians at COP24, the broad articulation of India’s needs was at the lowest ebb seen in the last several years.

Conclusion

  • At the final plenary of COP24, the Like-Minded Developing Countries grouping echoed India’s reservations on the neglect of equity and climate justice in the final form of the “rulebook”, while the broader G77 plus China combine expressed its regret at the unbalanced nature of the outcome, with its undue emphasis on mitigation by all.
  • But with the “rulebook” nevertheless having been adopted, COP24 signals a global climate regime that benefits and protects the interests of the global rich, while leaving the climatic fate of the world, and the developmental future of a substantial section of its population, still hanging in the balance.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Alliances and strategic autonomy

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR| Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of India’s Foreign Policy .

Mains level: The news-card analyses what should be the Indian Foreign Policy in context of present world order, in a brief manner.


Context

  • Is “non-alignment” a special attribute of Indian foreign policy? Given Delhi’s continuing preoccupation with the idea of non-alignment, most visible recently at last week’s Raisina Dialogue in Delhi, one would think it is.

Background

  • More than a hundred countries are members of theNon-Aligned Movement (NAM). They swear, at least formally, by the idea of non-alignment and show up at the triennial NAM summits. But few of them think of non-alignment as the defining idea of their foreign policies. Even fewer believe it is worth debating on a perennial basis.
  • The governments in Delhi might have been the last, but they have certainly moved away from the straitjacket of non-alignment — in practice if not in theory.

Issue

India is now “aligned”

  • The rhetoric has changed under the present government. As Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale put it in response to a question at the Raisina Dialogue, India is now “aligned”. “But the alignment is issue-based. “It is not ideological. That gives us the capacity to be flexible, gives us the capacity to maintain our decisional autonomy.”
  • If non-alignment belongs to the past, is “strategic autonomy” something unique to India? It isnot really. All countries, big and small, try to maximise their freedom of action.
  • And the autonomy that a nation can exercise depends on its specific circumstances such as size, location, comprehensive national power, and the nature of the threats among many other things.

The “independent” and “dependent” foreign policy

  • Take, for example, Pakistan. In Delhi’s foreign policy mythology — India chose an “independent” foreign policy and Pakistan a “dependent” one.
  • As the Cold War between America and Soviet Russia enveloped the world soon after Partition and Independence in the middle of the 20th century, India and Pakistan seemed to take opposite diplomatic paths.
  • India embraced non-alignment and refused to endorse America’s anti-Communist alliances.
  • Pakistan pooh-poohed non-aligned solidarity, calling it “zero plus zero is equal to zero”. It signed a bilateral defence pact with the US and joined the two regional security blocs — called Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in the Middle East — and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) in the Far East.

How then this change in stance?

  • The seeming ideological clarity that both India and Pakistan brought to their respective foreign policies dissolved quickly in the real world.
  • India, which had refused to join the West in isolating communist China and sought to befriend it, ended up in a conflict with Beijing. And when the border war broke out in 1962, India turned to the United States for military assistance.
  • Pakistan, which was quick to join the anti-Communist bandwagon did not take long to discover the convergence of interests with Maoist China.
  • Pakistan’s delegation went into the Afro-Asian summit at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955 with an anti-China orientation. It returned with an understanding of Pakistan’s shared interests with Beijing on balancing India.
  • The Chinese premier Zhou Enlai convinced Pakistan leader Mohammed Ali Bogra that Communist China is not a threat to Pakistan. Bogra, in turn, made it clear that Pakistan’s problem is not with communist expansion in Asia but with India.
  • The rest — the making of a very special bilateral relationship — is history. China has rarely complained since about Pakistan’s long-standing military relationship with the US.

Strategic Autonomy

  • That Pakistan could warm up to China so soon after it joined America’s anti-Communist alliances in Asia is probably one of the most impressive examples of exercising “strategic autonomy”. It was so successful that Pakistan became a bridge between China and the US at the turn of the 1970s.
  • Indian foreign policy community continues to be troubled by the question of alliances and autonomy when it comes to dealing with China and the US. It could, perhaps, find a thing or two from Pakistan that has managed these relationships quite well.

New Delhi’s fear of Alliances

  • Delhi’s traditional fear of alliances is based on a profound misreading of what they might mean.
  • Alliances are not a “permanent wedlock” or some kind of a “bondage”. They are a political/military arrangement to cope with a common threat. When the shared understanding of the threat breaks down, so does the alliance.
  • A couple of examples. To cope with the American threat Mao Zedong aligned with Soviet Russia in 1950. Two decades later, he moved closer to America to counter Russia. Now China is once again buddies with Russia in trying to limit American influence in Eurasia.
  • When Communist China walked into Tibet in 1949, the monarchy in neighbouring Nepal got India to sign a treaty in 1950 offering protection. Not too long after, Kathmandu figured China is not a threat and began to undo the security provisions of the 1950 treaty.

Conclusion

  • Not many countries in the world today are members of alliances. The few alliances that have survived since the Second World War are undergoing stress on the supply as well as demand side.
  • In America, President Donald Trump is questioning the costs and benefits of these alliances.
  • Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Moon Jae-in of South Korea, both treaty allies of the US, hardly share American perceptions on the regional threat in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula respectively.
  • Indiais a large and globalised economy with “big stakes in all parts of the world”.
  • The Indian foreign policy debate would be less metaphysical if it stops obsessing about “non-alignment” and “strategic autonomy” and starts focusing on a pragmatic assessment of India’s interests and the best means to secure them — including partnerships and coalitions — against current and potential threats.

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

[op-ed snap] India’s a land of cities, not villages

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Indian Society|  Developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of challenges of urbanisation

Mains level: The news-card analyses the flawed definition of urbanisation in India, in a brief manner.


Context

  • It’s an election year in India, with the world’s largest polls expected in the spring and the focus is, as usual, on farmers and rural areas and competitive pandering to both — hardly surprising in a country that considers itself a nation of villages.

Background

  • This narrative, however, has one major flaw. India is, in fact, more urban than it is known or acknowledged.
  • This seriously affects India’s growth prospects, leading to inefficiencies and loss of productivity in both rural and urban areas.
  • What’s worse, the resulting misallocation of resources is making India’s blossoming urban areas well-nigh unlivable.

Issue

Problem of definition: What constitute an Urban area?

  • The problem in India as elsewhere is largely one of definition.What constitutes a city or urban area varies widely around the world.
  • Some nations employ simple population cut-offs: Mexico and Venezuela count any town with more than 2,500 residents as urban, while New Zealand uses 1,000 people.
  • Since 2000, the U.S. Census has focused instead on population density (above a minimum threshold of 2,500 residents).
  • China uses a density criterion of 1,500 people per square kilo-meter, but recently expanded the definition to include residents of villages that are directly connected to municipal infrastructure or that receive public services from urban municipalities.
  • In India, only “statutory towns” are considered urban and have a municipal administration — a definition that officially leaves the country 26 % urban.
  • State governments make the decision using widely differing criteria; demographic considerations are peripheral at times.
  • The Census of India provides the only other official, and uniform, estimate. Its formula uses a mix of population, density and occupation criteria, and pegs India at 31 % urban.
  • Such estimates can be misleadingly low. For instance, Kerala is statutorily only 16 % urban. Yet the census sees the well-developed southern state as approximately 48 % urban.
  • If we use a population cut-off of 5,000 residents as Ghana and Lebanon do, or even Mexico’s threshold of 2,500 people, Kerala’s urban share leaps to 99 %, which is more consistent with ground reality. In effect, then, a state that’s close to 100 % urban is being governed as if it was only 16 % urban.
  • This pattern plays out across many large Indian states. Using a reasonably conservative definition as Ghana does, in fact, India is already close to 50 % urban, far removed from the dominant narrative that India lives in her villages.

Implications and Challenges

  • The consequences of underestimating the urban share of the population are dire.
  • Resources are badly misallocated: By one estimate, over 80 % of federal government financing still goes to rural development.This reduces incentives for politicians, especially rural ones, to change the status quo.
  • Tens of millions of Indians who live in dense, urban-like settlements are governed by rural governments that lack the mandate and the money to deliver basic services.
  • In India, urban governments are constitutionally required to provide things such as fire departments, sewer lines, arterial roads and building codes. Local bodies in rural areas aren’t.
  • Not acknowledging towns as urban also encourages haphazard and chaotic development.
  • As satellite data clearly show, most cities extend well beyond their administrative limits, and dense, linear settlements spread out of those cities along transit corridors.
  • This growth is unregulated and unplanned, marred by narrow roads, growing distance from major thoroughfares, limited open space and haphazardly divided plots.

Example of Kozhikode

  • As the map below of growth in Kozhikode (formerly known as Calicut) between 1975 to 2014 shows, what appears to be a single economic unit is now governed by a multitude of rural and urban jurisdictions, with no mechanism to coordinate on mobility, public goods or municipal services.
  • It’s difficult and expensive to retrofit such cities with proper infrastructure and services: In the areas below, road widths fall from an average of 10 meters pre-1990 to four meters in new growth areas.

Way Forward: Need for standard definition

  • India is hardly the only country to face these problems, even though its size and level of development makes the challenge here particularly acute.
  • The planet is over 50 % urban and continues to urbanize rapidly, almost entirely in the developing regions of Asia and Africa.
  • As long as there are no standard definitions, urban-rural classifications are likely to be political, path-dependent and arbitrary.
  • This will deny many countries the vital scale and agglomeration economies provided by urban areas, a necessary condition for escaping poverty.
  • A universal definition would need to be flexible. Instead of imposing a simple population cut-off, governments could track population densities and offer more urban services where they are highest.
  • Additionally, satellite data can be used to track the spread of development, so that city boundaries are expanded when necessary and where logical.

Conclusion

  • Any attempt to create a common and well-understood urban definition will be politically fraught and contested. But such an effort is critical.
  • Whether millions get to live in the equivalents of Melbourne, Tokyo or Stockholm rather than Mumbai, Lagos or Kinshasa crucially depends on these choices.

[op-ed snap] Basic income works and works well

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of Basic income.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges in the implementation of Basic income policy, in a brief manner.


Context

  • In 2010-2013, three basic income pilots in West Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, in which over 6,000 men, women and children were provided with modest basic incomes, paid in cash, monthly, without conditions.
  • Although the money was not much, but it was paid individually, with men and women receiving equal amounts and with children receiving half as much, paid to the mother or surrogate mother.
  • The pilots involved the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and financial assistance from UNICEF and the UNDP.

Background

Basic income: A ripe idea

  • The international debate on basic income has advanced considerably in the past five years. Experiments have been launched in countries of different levels of per capita income, which include Canada, Finland, Kenya, Namibia, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.S., with plans being drawn up in England, Scotland, South Korea and elsewhere.
  • India could take the lead since it has the technological capacity, the financial resources and, above all, the need for a simple, transparent scheme to liberate the energies of the masses now mired in economic insecurity, deprivation and degradation.
  • In the 2017 Economic Report tabled by the government there is a chapter on how a basic income could be rolled out across India, and is affordable.
  • Its main author, former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, and others such as Professor Pranab Bardhan have proposed ways of paying for it — primarily by rolling back existing wasteful, distortionary, and mostly regressive subsidies.
  • This should not be an issue to divide the left and right in politics, and it would be wonderful if the main political parties and personalities could come together on it.

Issue

Learnings and outcomes from the pilots

 

  • The outcomes exceeded expectations, because everybody in the community, and not just select people, received their own individual transfer.

 

  • Nutrition improved, sanitation, health and health care improved, school attendance and performance improved.
  • Further, women’s status and well-being improved, the position of the disabled and vulnerable groups improved by more than others.
  • Also the amount and quality of work improved.
  • For critics it would be a waste of money, but they were proved wrong.
  • Above all, the basic incomes improved the community spirit and were emancipatory. Those who do not trust people wish to retain paternalistic policies despite decades of evidence that they are woefully inefficient, ineffective, inequitable and open to ridiculously extensive corruption. The tendency of elites to want to have common people grateful to their discretionary benevolence has blocked sensible economic reform.

Challenges

  • Planning the phased implementation of basic income will be a serious but manageable challenge. It will require goodwill, integrity, knowledge and humility about what will be inevitable mistakes.
  • If properly planned, it is possible to introduce a comprehensive scheme even in rural or urban low-income communities, without too much cost.
  • But it is essential to obtain local cooperation and awareness at the outset, and the backing of key local institutions.

Recommendations

  • It is strongly recommended that if the government is to go ahead, it should phase in the scheme gradually, rolling it out from low-income to higher-income communities, after local officials have been trained and prepared.
  • It is also recommended that the authorities should not select particular types of individuals and give it only to them.
  • It is tempting to say it should go only to women, low-income farmers, or vulnerable social groups. That would be wrong. It would involve expensive and corruptible procedures, and risk evoking resentment in those arbitrarily excluded, who would probably be equally in need, perhaps more so.
  • What administrators often do not appreciate enough is that money is fungible. If money is given only to women, men will demand a share; some women will give in, some will resist; it will be divisive.
  • In the pilots it was found that if men and women all have an equal individual amount, it promotes better and more equal gender relations. Moreover, giving to all in the community fosters solidarity within households and the wider community, apart from enabling multiplier effects in the local economy.

The contrast: Farm loan waivers

  • No doubt farm loan waivers policy would lessen the burden on a hard-pressed social group, and lessen rural poverty, but it is a populist measure.
  • It will be popular, but will not alter structures and is bad economics.
  • Suppose the principle were generalised. If one type of loan could be declared non-repayable, why not others? Unless one can show that a debt is odious or illegal per se, it would be a dangerous precedent to declare that one type of debt and not others need not be repaid.

Way Forward

  • In the long term, financial institutions would be less likely to extend loans to small-scale farmers. That is not the aim.
  • If the loans were made on fair rules, it would be better to enable the debtors to pay them back less onerously. That is why a basic income would be a more equitable and economically rational way of addressing what is undoubtedly an unfolding rural tragedy.
  • The beauty of moving towards a modest basic income would be that all groups would gain.
  • That would not preclude special additional support for those with special needs, nor be any threat to a progressive welfare state in the long term.
  • It would merely be an anchor of a 21st century income distribution system. The politicians must show the will to implement it.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] A way out of the morass on the US’ plan to pull out of Afghanistan

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics of India-Afghanistan relations, Afghanistan politics.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges in Afghanistan after the US pull out, in a brief manner.


Context

  • In an article published in The Hindu in Dec, 2003 it was suggested that the only way out of the morass in Afghanistan would be to re-place Afghanistan in its traditional mode of neutrality.
  • For that, two things were essential. The Afghans themselves must declare unequivocally that they would follow strict neutrality in their relations with external powers, and the outside powers must commit themselves to respect Afghanistan’s neutrality.
  • In other words, external powers must subscribe to a multilateral declaration not to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan together with an obligation on Afghanistan not to seek outside intervention in its internal situation.

Background

  • The agreement on the Neutrality of Laos, concluded in 1962, could provide a model for the neutralisation of Afghanistan. The present might be an appropriate time to revisit that proposal.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his decision to reduce American troop strength in Afghanistan, 14,000 at present, by half. Though Mr. Trump has not laid down a deadline for this reduction, it is assumed that he will make this happen well in time before the next U.S. presidential election in 2020.
  • This development has energised the principal stakeholders in Afghanistan to make calculated efforts to place themselves in as favourable a position as possible in an Afghanistan post-American withdrawal.
  • India should also be thinking of what steps it should take to protect its interests in that situation.

Issue

Engaging in dialogue with the Taliban

  • The Taliban will be a major player in the politics of Afghanistan in the coming months and years. They already control more than 50% of the country and are getting stronger and bolder by the day.
  • They are also engaged in direct talks with China, Russia, the Central Asian states and others. The Americans, represented by former diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, have begun sustained dialogue with the Taliban.
  • The Taliban have refused to talk to the Kabul government so far, but as and when the Americans pull out, as they are justified in doing for reasons of their own national interest, they might agree to engage with the Ashraf Ghani government.
  • In any future scenario, the Taliban are guaranteed to play an important, perhaps even a decisive role in the governing structures of the country.

India’s engagement with Taliban

  • New Delhi has so far refrained from establishing formal contacts with the Taliban out of sensitivity for the Kabul government not wanting to talk directly to the Taliban as long as the Taliban refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy.
  • However, India must look after its own interests. Will a Taliban-dominated government in Kabul necessarily pose a serious security threat to us? While we are in no position to prevent such an eventuality, we would have alienated the Taliban by refusing to talk to them during the present phase.
  • Even Iran, a Shia regime, has established official dialogue with the Taliban, a staunchly Sunni movement. It would not be difficult for our agencies to establish contacts that would facilitate initiating an official dialogue with Taliban; if needed, Iran could help in this even if it might displease the Americans.
  • After all, the Americans have not always been sensitive to India’s concerns, in Afghanistan or elsewhere and Mr. Trump has publicly shown unawareness of India’s substantial development assistance to it.

A regional compact

  • At the same time, the international community ought to think of how to establish a mechanism which might offer a reasonable opportunity to the Afghan people to live in peace, free from external interference.
  • And perhaps the only way in which this could be done is to promote a regional compact among all the neighbouring countries as well as relevant external powers, and with the endorsement of the UN Security Council, to commit themselves not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
  • The most important country in this regard is Pakistan. Pakistan is highly suspicious, perhaps without any basis, of India’s role in Afghanistan. A multilateral pact, with India subscribing to it, ought to allay, to some extent at least, Pakistan’s apprehensions.
  • India will need to talk to China about cooperating in Afghanistan; Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi already agreed in Wuhan, in April 2018, on working on joint projects there.
  • Pakistan should have no objection to formally agreeing to Afghanistan’s neutrality.

Bilateral Agreement on the Principles of Mutual Relations

  • There is the most relevant precedent of the Bilateral Agreement on the Principles of Mutual Relations, in particular on Non-interference and Non-intervention, signed in Geneva in 1988 between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • In that agreement, the parties undertook, inter alia, to respect the right of the other side to determine its political, social and culture system without interference in any form; to refrain from over throwing or changing the political system of the other side; to ensure that its territory was not used to violate the sovereignty, etc of the other side, to prevent within its territory the training, etc of mercenaries from whatever origin for the purpose of hostile activities against the other side.
  • As a document on non-interference, it could hardly be improved upon. Pakistan probably would agree to a document with Afghanistan in whose governance its protégé, the Taliban, will play an important role, which would broadly be similar to the one it had concluded with an Afghan regime which it did not approve of.
  • The Bonn Agreement of 2001, which made Hamid Karzai the interim chief of Afghan government, contains a request to the United Nations and the international community to ‘guarantee’ non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, a request not acted upon so far.

Concerns

  • A regional pact on non-interference and non-intervention ought to be welcomed by all the regional states.
  • Russia has reason to worry about a lack of stability in Afghanistan because of its concerns regarding a spread of radicalism as well as the drug menace.
  • China has even stronger concerns, given the situation in its western-most region.
  • The U.S. might have apprehensions about China entrenching itself in strategically important Afghanistan, but there is little it can do about it; a regional agreement on non-interference might give the U.S. at least some comfort.

Conclusion

  • It is early days to conclude whether the situation in Afghanistan has entered its end game.
  • In any case, it would be prudent to assume that the U.S. will definitely leave Afghanistan in the next two years, likely to be followed by other western countries.
  • No other country will offer to put boots on the ground, nor should they; certainly not India. The only alternative is to think of some arrangement along the lines this article have suggested.

Rural Distress, Farmer Suicides, Drought Measures

[OP-ED SNAP] A quota for farmers

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Social Justice| Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of reservation, Indra Sawhney case .

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues affecting the agrarian community wrt to 10 per cent reservation entitled to EWS category, in a brief manner.


 

Context

  • The last few years have seen the so-called dominant farming communities — especially the Jats, Marathas, Patidars and Kapus — mount violent agitations demanding quotas in government jobs and higher educational institutions, whether under the OBC (Other Backward Class) or any specially created category.
  • In all these instances, the standard government response was that it want to grant them reservations, but doing it entails breaching the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court in the 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment.
  • Further, including them within the 27 per cent OBC quota isn’t practical, since that would be at the expense of the communities already in the list.

Things have changed with EWS quota

However, this feeble narrative has undergone a sudden transformation now, with the Narendra Modi government introducing and passing in Parliament a Constitution amendment bill that creates a new economically weaker sections of citizens (EWS) category entitled to 10 per cent reservation, over and above the 15 per cent for Scheduled Castes, 7.5 per cent for Scheduled Tribes and 27 per cent for OBC.

Agrarian community, the sufferers

  • In today’s setting, where the centre of power has shifted inexorably from “Bharat” to “India”, the Jat or Maratha farmer’s son/daughter stands no chance against the urban Brahmin or Bania’s children, even of relatively poor/lower middle class background.
  • Living in big towns and cities brings certain advantages — better schooling, exposure to English and knowledge of the outside world — that those primarily brought up on farms and village communities cannot derive.
  • Rural people in India suffer from an overall social disadvantage vis-à-vis those residing in cities. This holds true even more in a globalised milieu, where agriculture isn’t as paying and nor is land the source of power it once was.
  • According to the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission, 76.86 per cent of Maratha families are engaged in agriculture for their livelihoods, with hardly 7.5 per cent of the community — which has a roughly 30 per cent share of the state’s population — possessing undergraduate or technical/professional qualifications.
  • The quota agitations by the dominant agrarian communities have not really been as much for public sector jobs, as for admission to government educational institutions.

Challenges in EWS quota

  • In all probability, the 10 per cent EWS quota will be overwhelmingly cornered by urban upper castes.
  • The government’s reported proposal to set the “creamy layer” for reservation eligibility at below five acres of land ownership for farming families — as against a Rs 8 lakh yearly income cut-off for others — isn’t going to help either.
  • The annual profits from growing a double crop of paddy and wheat even in a state like Haryana, where there is assured irrigation and minimum support price-based procurement, would not exceed Rs 50,000-60,000 per acre.
  • It translates into a yearly income of Rs 2.5-3 lakh for five acres. This is obviously lower for farmers with similar holdings in rainfed areas. These will, at any rate, be below the Rs 8 lakh “creamy layer” cut-off applicable for the non-farming EWS category that is predominantly savarna and urban-based.

Way Forward

  • It would have made far more sense — economically, legally, politically, morally and in the spirit of the Constitution — to have limited the 10 per cent EWS reservation to only those with farming or rural backgrounds.
  • As P S Krishnan has rightly pointed out, reservations were envisaged by our Constitution makers not to deal with “inequities against individuals”, but “deprivations imposed on certain social classes as a whole”.
  • Farmers today need support not just for remaining in agriculture, but also to enable exit by some in order to make holdings viable. This is a “group/sector” and not “individual poor” need.
  • The Indra Sawhney judgement allowed the 50 per cent limit quota limit to be exceeded in “certain extraordinary situations”, where a “special case [can] be made out”. Individual cases of poverty among urban savarnas do not represent an extraordinary situation, whereas creating a 10 per cent EWS category restricted only to farming/rural families not covered under the existing reservation provisions can be made out as a prudent response to the current crisis facing Indian agriculture.
  • Extending reservations to the children of all agriculturalists cultivating, say, up to 10 acres of irrigated and 20 acres of un-irrigated land would benefit not just numerically large communities such as the Marathas or Jats. There are many farmers who are Rajputs, Brahmins and upper caste Muslims as well.
  • Also, it is easier to fudge incomes than to prove one’s farming credentials that can come only with land ownership or kisan credit card documents.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] Ayushman Bharat’s success will hinge on the private sector taking ownership

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance| Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana.

Mains level: The newscard analyses the issues wrt Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana and can private sector can be roped in, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (PMJAY) completed 100 days last week. The project is billed as the world’s largest state-funded health scheme.
  • The medical journal, Lancet, has praised the prime minister for prioritising universal healthcare through the PMJAY, which aims to provide cashless treatment to beneficiaries identified through the Central Socio-Economic Caste Census.

Background

Ayushman Bharat

  • Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission will subsume the on-going centrally sponsored schemes – RashtriyaSwasthyaBima Yojana (RSBY) and the Senior Citizen Health Insurance Scheme (SCHIS). It is an important reform and progressive step in healthcare sector.
  • Ayushman Bharat is an initiative to Address Health Holistically inPrimary, secondary and Tertiary care Systems covering both Prevention and Health Promotion. The Scheme aims to provide cashless benefits of 5 lakhs to 10 Crore Poor Families in the Country.
  • Ayushman bharat is the flagship public healthcare initiative of central government. It includes all the levels of healthcare delivery from primary to tertiary.

It has two components namely-

HEALTH AND WELLNESS CENTRE [HWC]

HWC’S will be upgraded form of primary health centres[PHC].the focus area includes non communicable diseases and infectious diseases along with neonatal and maternal care.HWC are primarily meant for early detection and prevention. This is significant in sense as burden on secondary and tertiary health system will reduce if early detection takes place, moreover rural areas will benefit as HWC will spread across India.

NATIONAL HEALTH PROTECTION SCHEME [NHPS]

NHPS is an insurance scheme which covers costing up to 5 lakh rupees per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. It will cover 10 crores poor and vulnerable families. The scheme will reduce out of pocket expenditure and offers a choice for treatment at private hospitals.

Strategy of Scheme

  • Establishment of Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission Agency at National Level and State Health Agency to ensure proper implementation of Scheme at National,State and UT levels.
  • The States and UTs can implement scheme through an insurance company or Directly through Trust/Society. This would increase Ambit of the Scheme at Ground levels.

Merits of Scheme

  • A Strong Network of 1.5 Lakhs Health and Wellness Centers across the Country would constitute Foundation of India’s new Healthcare Systems.
  • It will cover more than 10 Crore Poor and Vulnerable Families of the Society.
  • The Support from Trained Nurses and Health Workers increase the Availability near Home in Rural Areas.
  • Vulnerable Sections of the Society would have access to Healthcare to almost all medical and Surgical Conditions that can occur in Lifetime.
  • Package Rates decided by Government for Private Hospitals would help in keeping the cost low.
  • It will generate Employment Especially for Women would help in Economic Empowerment of Women.

Ground reality

  • India ranks as low as 145th among 195 countries in healthcare quality and accessibility, behind even Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
  • The country spends an abysmal 1.3 per cent of its GDP on health, way less than the global average of 6 per cent.
  • Over 70 per cent of the total healthcare expenditure is accounted for by the private sector. Given the country’s crumbling public healthcare infrastructure, most patients are forced to go to private clinics and hospitals.
  • Health care bills are the single biggest cause of debt in India, with 39 million people being forced into poverty every year.

Can the PMJAY change that?

  1. Shortage of Doctors and other infrastructures
  • India falls woefully short of number of hospital beds compared to WHO standards. With over three-fourths of hospital beds being in the government sector, the private sector caters to a small segment of well-off population. So, from where will the beds for treatment under the scheme come?
  • Currently, according to a government report, one allopathic government doctor attends to a population of 11,000 — the WHO recommends one doctor for a population of 1,000.
  1. Budgetary allocations

The government has kept aside only Rs 3,000 crore for the PMJAY this year against the expected outflow of Rs 11,000 crore. How can then one expect adequate delivery of healthcare under PMJAY?

  1. The intended beneficiaries of PMJAY are masons, contract workers and farm workers who cannot afford to take off much time for treatment at government or private PMJAY-recognised hospitals. OPD treatment is not covered under the scheme. Another issue, quite unforeseen, is difficulty in locating beneficiaries.

Additional problems with healthcare delivery

  • Secondary-level hospitals like district hospitals and medical colleges have poor infrastructure, especially the former.
  • The tehsil and district hospitals have inadequate equipment and lack specialist manpower.
  • Not even one of the 20 medical colleges in India offers cardiac bypass surgery. There is also a gross shortage of tertiary care hospitals in the public sector with PGI, AIIMS, SGPGI and NIMHANS being among the few that can be relied upon.
  • However, these public hospitals are functioning beyond their capacity with waiting lists of one or two years for elective surgeries.

Can the private sector be depended upon? 

  1. Most consumers complain of rising costs, lack of transparency and unethical practices in the private sector. Moreover, these hospitals don’t have adequate presence in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities and there is a trend towards super specialisation in Tier-1 cities.
  2. Under the PMJAY, the private hospitals have to get registered and fulfill the minimum requirements. They are also expected to expand their facilities and add hospital beds.
  3. Hundred days into the PMJAY, it remains to be seen if private hospitals provide knee replacement at Rs 80,000 (current charges Rs 3.5 lakh) bypass surgery at Rs 1.7 lakh (against Rs 4 lakh).

Way Forward

  1. The PMJAY has created an excellent opportunity for the country to improve its health care.
  2. While the contribution of the private sector will be the key to its success, it’s the will and zeal of the government to implement it that will make or break the scheme.