IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


25th May, 2020


Hardly the 1991 moment for agriculture

Reforms announced:

- Reforms in Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, the Essential Commodities Act and on contract farming.

- The first comprehensive model act on APMC was proposed during 2003.

APMC and changes by states:

- As many as 17 State governments having amended the APMC Act to make it more liberal.

- Kerala does not have an APMC Act and Bihar repealed it in 2006.

- Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh deregulated fruits and vegetables trade, allowed private markets, introduced a unified trading licence and have introduced a single-point levy of market fee.

- Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Rajasthan have undertaken one or more of these reforms.

- Many States have introduced direct marketing of farm produce, examples being the Uzhavar Sandhai (Tamil Nadu), the Rythu Bazaar (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), the Raitha Santhe (Karnataka), the Apni Mandi (Punjab) and the Krushak Bazaar – Odisha).

Performance of agriculture after these reforms:

- In the case of Bihar, while no investment came in building market infrastructure, the loss of revenue due to the repeal of the APMC also led to deterioration of existing infrastructure (of the 54 market yards) in the State.

- But after the repeal, there have been no takers for these market yards, with no investment in creating private mandis.

- It has led to proliferation of private unregulated markets, which charge a market fee from traders as well as farmers and without any infrastructure for weighing, sorting, grading and storage.

- Even in other States where there is deregulation to allow private traders, there is hardly any investment to create market spaces let alone provide other facilities.

- There is also no evidence that farmers have received better prices in private mandis outside the APMC.

- The vilification of APMCs has allowed the government to escape the responsibility of creating marketing infrastructure for millions of farmers.

- There is a need for twice number of markets than required.

Argument for Reforms:

- It creates barriers to the entry and exit of traders and makes the sale and purchase of agricultural produce compulsory for farmers as well as traders.

- There have been political interfering in functioning of APMC.

- These are more obvious in case of large mandis specialising in commercial crops, fruits, and vegetables, where production is regionally concentrated.

- Reforms will allow private investment in marketing infrastructure as well as provide more choices to farmers, leading to better prices received by farmers.

Reality and Way Forward:

- More than 80% of farmers, most of whom are small and marginal farmers do not sell their produce in the APMC mandis.

- For a majority of farmers, prices received are more a function of the demand for agricultural commodities than access to markets.

- Despite the presence of cooperatives and private dairies, the collapse of milk prices reflects the decline in demand in the economy, not the distortions in private markets.

- The argument for choice of markets is only valid as long as there are buyers with purchasing power in the market.

- No amount of marketing reforms will lead to higher price realisation for farmers if the underlying macroeconomic conditions are unfavourable to agriculture and farmers.

- With international prices also showing declining trend, the urgency is to protect the farmers from the decline in commodity prices.

- Fiscal spending to revive demand after the sharp decline in incomes, job losses and decline in demand following the lockdown and expected contraction in economic activity.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/hardly-the-1991-moment-for-agriculture/article31667048.ece


The need for a million worksites now

Survey Findings:

- 74% of the respondents (thousands of poor households scattered over many States) were “consuming less food” today than before the lockdown.

- 80% of the respondents had not earned any income during the lockdown,

- 90% reported “financial stress”, and about half were too anxious to sleep at night.

Support from PDS:

- An overwhelming majority of poor households (86% according to the APU survey) are currently receiving food rations.

- The doubling of food rations for three months was a good move on the part of the central government — there is every reason to extend it beyond the end of June.

- But, PDS cannot ensure adequate nutrition, let alone a decent standard of living.

To cope with demand:

- Poor households urgently need a chance to earn cash beyond small mercies.

- Unconditional cash transfers are not easy to use for this purpose, because there is no simple way of identifying those in need, and covering everyone would amount to spreading the money very thin.

- India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) offers an obvious alternative, at least for rural areas: employment on demand at basic wages.

Unprecedented demand

- The demand for NREGA work is stronger than ever.

- This huge demand contrasts with the resilient indifference of rural workers towards NREGA in recent years, due to low wages and erratic payments.

- Wages are still low, and payments are still far from timely and reliable but there is nothing better on the cards.

- Except in areas where rural workers are relatively empowered, work applications (reflected in “e-muster rolls”) are not generally initiated by the workers themselves.

Not exactly, a demand based work:

- Works are initiated on their behalf by others, who have a stake in activating NREGA works: for instance, landowners who want some work done on their land, middlemen who take cuts at various steps, government officials who are under pressure to meet targets, and village heads who wish to please or serve their constituency.

- NREGA works attract the workers, and not the other way around. That, at any rate, is how it tends to work in the poorer States.

- During lockdown, no one can be employed unless his or her name has been entered in advance in the e-muster rolls. Most workers have no idea how to go about this.

- This is one reason why the scale of NREGA works remains very low in many States in spite of a huge demand for employment.

Way Forward:

- This situation calls for large-scale opening of NREGA works on a proactive basis.

- Every village needs at least one major worksite, where a good number of people can work at short notice (with adequate distancing precautions).

- Large-scale employment generation should continue throughout the monsoon, the hardest period of the year for poor people in large parts of rural India.

- Averting a humanitarian disaster in the next few months’ calls for a veritable explosion of NREGA work.

- Much can be done to facilitate this: expanding the list of permissible works, hiring more gram rozgar sevaks (employment assistants), simplifying the implementation process, mobilising para-teachers for work application drives.

- NREGA is not supposed to be top-down, but it does have a long history of top-down orders, and after all, this is an emergency.


Cash Payment for NREGA:

- Return to cash payment of NREGA wages, at least as an option for the duration of the crisis.

- Would help to ensure timely and reliable payment of wages, but also spare workers the ordeal of extracting their wages from overcrowded banks or business correspondents.

- Further, cash payment of wages would act as a tremendous incentive for rural workers to demand NREGA work, whatever it takes.

- The digital payment system has merely changed the modalities of corruption in NREGA: the crooks used to fudge the paper records, now they fudge the electronic records.

- Even if cash payments are a little more vulnerable to leakages, that may be a tolerable price to pay in an emergency, to protect workers from the hazards of NREGA’s byzantine payment system.

- The possible hazards of a hasty switch to cash payments also need to be considered.

The NREGA budget

- Funds are not an immediate concern since the NREGA budget for 2020-21 has been raised to Rs. 1-lakh crore or so.

- It is important to ensure that funds never dry up: this happened every year in the last few years, leading to huge wage arrears.

- NREGA is supposed to be a demand-driven programme with an open-ended budget; nothing in the Act authorises the government to impose a budget cap.

The main thing is to provide work aplenty and pay wages at speed. This is a matter of life and death.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/the-need-for-a-million-worksites-now/article31667045.ece


Ease of learning

Digital Education:

- Many other countries embraced massive open online courses (MOOCs) years ago, but Indian education went online in this pandemic.

- Level of success is determined by two axes – the ease of digital access and the ability of parents to support learning at home.

Role of Physical Education and challenges of digital education:

- Children are also socialised, and there is an element of sport and play.

- It imparts syllabus to everyone.

- Parents are feeling pressure too as they needs to help their children while they are working.

- With Parents back to office, support to children will further waiver.

- Medical professionals in the UK and Europe argue that the role of children in transmission must be understood to arrive at a full epidemiological picture, and this can only happen when schools reopen.

- The poor are disconnected and irrespective of background, some children cannot relate to the online classroom, and many more are losing out on midday meals. 

Way Forward:

- Schools may reopen in a staggered manner, with hygiene and distancing protocols in place, and induction should be contingent on testing.

- Perhaps residential institutions like the Navodayas should lead, since they can seal the perimeter and do not run the continuing risk of spreading presented by daily student traffic.

- The Centre should issue a timeline soon, because as in other spheres, despite the virus, life must go on in the classroom — with maximum caution.

Reference: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/education-during-coronavirus-pandemic-6425596/



PLA actions at LAC in Ladakh denote shift from past: experts

Difference between current standoff and previous standoff:

- Number of Chinese soldiers are rising in standoff. Chinese numbers have run into hundreds.

- The second difference from the past is the levels of aggression shown by the Chinese side, which include violence that has left at least 70 Indian soldiers injured.

- Increased no. of points: Chinese troops have built up their presence at the points at the Galwan river valley, the ‘Finger’ areas of Pangong Tso and Demchok, as well as Nakula Pass in Sikkim, more than 1,200 kms away along the Line of Actual control.

- Another concern is whether the modified Chinese patterns reflect a tactical push, or beyond that, are driven by its ambitions on a strategic level.

- There is the question of geopolitical considerations, including India’s moves in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the India-U.S. strategic partnership, which has increased during the corona virus pandemic.

Way Forward:

- Meeting at the government level

- Need to upgrade military protocols and SOPs along the LAC.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/pla-actions-at-lac-in-ladakh-denote-shift-from-past-experts/article31665294.ece

U.S. pushing relations to the brink of a new Cold War: China

Rise in tensions during the pandemic:

- China’s initial response to the pandemic has been criticised by USA, which has caused more than 3, 40,000 deaths and economic carnage worldwide.

- The U.S. has alleged that China covered up the emergence of the virus.

- Many governments including the U.S. and Australia have called for an investigation into the exact origins of the virus.

- The WHO has asked China to invite the UN body to investigate the source of the novel Coronavirus.

- The introduction of a proposal in China to impose a security law in Hong Kong to suppress the semi-autonomous city’s pro-democracy movement has drawn U.S. and world condemnation.

Chinese Comment:

- China is open to international scientific cooperation to identify the source of the novel coronavirus, but it must be free of political interference and based on science and led by the World Health Organization.

- China has proposed that the “global response” to COVID-19 should only be assessed when the pandemic is over.

- China has called its moves in Hongkong as its internal matter.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/us-pushing-relations-to-the-brink-of-a-new-cold-war-china/article31665770.ece


Prelims Bits

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden

- Located in Howrah

- Suffered extensive damage during recent cyclone of Amphan

- Set up in 1787, the garden has over 13,000 trees of about 1,100 species.

- Among the rare trees that have fallen include the only full-grown kalpabriksha (Adansoniadigitata) tree in the garden, the mad tree (Pterygotaalata var. irregularis), the para rubber tree (Heveabrasiliensis), the Malabar chestnut (Pachirainsignis), the Chir pine (Pinusroxburghii), and several century-old mahogany trees (Swieteniamahagoni) in the garden’s famous Mahogany Avenue.

Nallamalla Forest:

- Located in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and is part of the Eastern Ghats.

- They run in a nearly north-south alignment, parallel to the Coromandel Coast between the rivers, Krishna and Pennar.