IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 16th August, 2016
General Studies 2
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
Issues relating to poverty and hunger
General Studies 3
Inclusive growth and issues arising from it
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
Look before you dismantle
Government and some activists want to replace provision of subsidised goods and services with cash transfer
Reason: to reduce government expenditure and minimise leakages in the social welfare programmes
PDS: it is one of the welfare programmes that is wrought with leakages and non-reaching the targeted beneficiaries.
The government plans to send the freed subsidy directly to every household
What is PDS?
India’s Public Distribution System is one of the largest food distribution network in the world
It was introduced during WW-II as a war time rationing measure
The role was to attain higher levels of household food security and completely eliminate threat of famines
Post-independence, PDS was continued as a deliberate social policy of the government with the objectives of
Foodgrains and other essential items to vulnerable sections of society at reasonable (subsidised) prices
Have moderating influence on open market prices of essential food crops like cereals
Attempt socialisation in the matter of distribution of essential commodities
The PDS seeks to provide to the beneficiaries two cereals, rice and wheat and four essential commodities viz. sugar, edible oil, soft coke and kerosene oil.
The state governments can provide subsidies to over and above these items too
The National Food Security Act proposed to make right to food through existing Targeted Public Distribution System. There have been many leakages in PDSà non-inclusion of beneficiaries, huge subsidy burden, inadequate storage capacities leading to black marketing and hoarding of food grains
To solve this, alternative measures like cash transfers and food coupons have been proposed.
Cash transfer for PDS- A good idea?
NSS data (2011-12): 47% of the household buy food from PDS shops. The central food subsidy was less than Rs.600 per hear in 2011-12
If these households don’t get food from PDS shops, they will incur extra expenditure to buy from the market.
The revised estimates show that more than 63% of PDS beneficiary households’ annual extra expenditure will be more than Rs. 600 per head
Among them, more than 25% of the PDS household will have extra expenditure of over Rs. 1200
Thus, if central food subsidy is distributed through cash transfer, the 63% PDS beneficiaries are slated to be under-compensated.
If the cash transfer is restricted to the bottom 50% of the population, 25% of them will still be under-compensated
Yet, the problems of targeted PDS beneficiaries will persist
Increased funding is the only option: even combining state government’s food subsidies with central food subsidy won’t be sufficient to compensate all the current PDS beneficiaries. Expansion of public outlay should occur is cash transfer replaces PDS
Minimum wages and wages for public work are slow in inflation indexation
When there is upward revision of welfare allowance (cash transfer), there will be a considerable time lag
Also, mere consumer prices (CPI) indexation of cash does not mean secured food consumption. The calorie intake reduction over time at poverty line expenditure despite being updated by CPI is the proof
Thus, cash transfer will require constant revision of data for subsidy as it will assume the role of basic income provider for basic necessities
Successful cash transfer experiments include
In 2011, UNDP-Delhi government compensated BPL households, which were barred from PDS, with Rs. 1000 monthly in cash or Rs. 2400 per head annually (5 member family.
The cash transfer was four times the amount that can distributed per head to everybody from the central food subsidy of 2011-12
In 2011-12, a UNICEF-SEWA experiment in Madhya Pradesh did not see any replacement of cash with existing social welfare programme
The cash transfer was revised for inflation after an year by 50% (from Rs 1,920 to Rs 2,880 per head annually)
Thus, there is a necessity to for regular upward revision of cash transfers
Unsuccessful cash transfer experiments
Delhi Annashree Yojana
It was a monthly cash subsidy of Rs. 600 under the cash-for-food programme for one lakh beneficiaries that were not covered by PDS
With National Food Security Act, these beneficiaries were to be included in it.
Came under criticism as it was avoiding the responsibility of cleaning up the system and ensuring regular supply of subsidised ration
It had a pilot project to replace 10 kilos of free rice per family with ?300 in 3 lakh Aadhaar-seeded bank accounts each month.
The beneficiaries have to go to bank to withdraw money and then buy ration
The fear of inflation and non-transfer of it to cash subsidy is a worry for many. For them, atleast food was available.
If the PDS will be dismantled, the economy will suffer
Government will have little control over food security as it will not be directly in touch with food needs/demands of people
PDS ensures higher food consumption and increase in food sufficiency. Thus, food demand will be higher. Under-compensation through cash transfers will negatively impact the consumption levels and affect poverty alleviation.
Expose agricultural sector to clutches of oligopolistic agricultural market. In such a situation, neither farmer nor the consumer will benefit.
Serves as an escape route for the existing less efficient PDS platform. The need is to strengthen institutions and systems that will effectively allocate public resources according to need.
Poor families who cannot navigate complicated cash systems invariably get left out (revealed by Kotkasim Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) kerosene experiment, 2011)
Though commitment to cash transfer is given, the budget has slashed various social expenditures
The liberal economists who support cash transfer for stimulating economic activity and growth don’t reckon increased public expenditure to finance cash transfer.
India is facing poor social protection system due to extremely low social sector expenditure.
Dismantling PDS but not heeding to the demand for increase in public outlay will not improve food security or promote economic growth.
Connecting the dots:
Cash transfer for PDS is incomplete if JAM is not in place. Critically analyse
More important is to clean the system than to change it when beneficiaries are more than limitations. Identify the issues faced by PDS and possible solutions to them.
The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors/contributions from different parts of the country.
Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.
Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country.
Civil liberties and rights issue.
Civil liberties during pre-independence and post-independence
We all celebrated India’s 70th Independence Day
The independence that we celebrate today was won by the Indian people through a prolonged and hard struggle of epic dimensions, a larger-than-life battle in which ordinary men and women performed heroic roles.
Nature and character of Indian nationalism
The nature and character of Indian nationalism was such that –
It did not seek to promote Indian interests at the expense of others, did not seek to dominate smaller powers, instead supported and encouraged them to be independent.
It strived to bring an end to colonialism everywhere. (Accordingly it had supported freedom struggles of the peoples of Africa and Asia.)
It promoted the economic development of underprivileged nations and their peoples. (India’s policy aimed to cater to not just its own development needs but also those of the newly independent poor countries in the Third World)
The non-aligned movement was part of this effort to give the newly independent countries an opportunity to keep out of the Cold War and the two power blocs and assert their independent voice without having to parrot the views of a hegemon.
This was because Indian nationalism, as articulated in our freedom struggle, was a progressive, revolutionary, humane, compassionate, pro-people, anti-colonial nationalism.
It was not the aggressive jingoistic nationalism of the fascist Mussolini or Nazi Hitler which was used in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s to crush democracy, and commit genocide on bona fide citizens by declaring them anti-national.
Neither was it the homogenising nationalism based on language (and often religion), as in 19th century Europe, examples being French-speaking Catholic France and German-speaking Protestant Germany.
The nationalist vision that inspired millions of Indians was of an independent, multi-lingual, multi-religious, secular, democratic, civil libertarian and egalitarian republic.
Indian nationalism in contemporary times
Our nationalism during pre-independence and early independence was meant to unite, to harmonise, to guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association (to protect civil liberties).
However, Indian nationalism in contemporary times has turned into more of a ‘hyper-nationalism’. It is not the nationalism of our freedom struggle. It misuses nationalism, which has a positive connotation in the minds and hearts of the Indian people, to polarise, to divide, and to suppress individual freedoms.
The issue of civil liberties, which was one of the strongest elements in the legacy of the freedom struggle, is under grave threat today.
We have witnessed instances such as –
Reckless use of Section 124-A to charge students with sedition
Vigilantes attacking even journalists inside law courts
Books being withdrawn and pulped
Ministers attempting to terrorise dissenting intellectuals by labelling them as ‘intellectual terrorists’
Gau rakshaks physically attacking those who they think are flouting their diktats, especially if they belong to the Dalit or minority communities
All these attacks on freedom of expression, of movement, on freedom to eat and earn your livelihood, bring home to us the urgent necessity of resisting these attacks, and that can only be done bydefending civil liberties, by defending this legacy as an integral part of our nationalism, and by declaring these attacks as anti-national.
To do so, we need to arm ourselves with greater knowledge about how the battle for civil liberties was linked to our national struggle.
Battle for civil liberties during India’s national struggle
The leaders of the freedom struggle believed so strongly in the absolute right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, that they considered the struggle for these civil liberties to be an essential part of the national movement.
The power and influence of Press was very dominant during 19th century in expressing and spreading anti-imperialist nationalist ideas and that too mostly the Indian language or vernacular press.
It began as early as 1824, when Raja Rammohan Roy (Father of Modern India) protested against a regulation restricting the freedom of the press. He argued for “the unrestricted liberty of publication” to ensure that every individual could bring his views to the notice of the rulers.
Amrita Bazar Patrika, published by the brothers Sisir Ghosh and Motilal Ghosh from Calcutta in Bengali and English, had raised the hackles of the government.
Enraged by the highly critical tone adopted by the press against the administration for their inhuman attitude towards the victims of the famine of 1876-77, the then Viceroy, Lord Lytton, decided to strike hard. He passed the infamous Vernacular Press Act, which provided for the confiscation of the printing press, paper, and other materials of a newspaper if the government thought that it was publishing seditious material.
This led to strong protests against the new Act all over the country and the first big demonstration on a matter of public importance was also held at the Town Hall in Calcutta. It is a matter of great significance that the nationalist forces, even before they were formally organised, won a major victory, and that too on the issue of civil liberties.
In 1881, in deference to strong public opinion, the Viceroy Lord Ripon repealed the Vernacular Press Act.
Other such battles for civil liberties during India’s national struggle were –
There was a complete hartal in Calcutta during 1883, when Surendranath Banerjea, one of the founders of the movement for independence, was sent to jail for two months for contempt of court for an editorial he wrote in his newspaper, the Bengalee, criticising a judgment of the Calcutta High Court in sharp terms.
It led to open air mass meetings, a form of protest and expression that was to become the staple and defining feature of the Indian struggle for freedom.
Similarly, and on a far bigger scale, country-wide protests followed when Lokmanya Tilak was sentenced to 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment in 1897 for publishing his own speech in the Kesari, his Marathi newspaper.
Again, in 1908, Tilak was convicted of sedition under the notorious Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced to transportation for six years and exiled to Mandalay in Burma for his articles on ‘The Arrival of the Bomb’.
In 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was also tried under the same Section 124-A for sedition for articles he wrote in Young India, and the judge told him he was giving him the same punishment that was given to Lokmanya Tilak: six years of imprisonment, but not in exile.
In common words, like struggle for India’s independence, many have struggled for civil liberties. They have gone through much suffering and sacrifice, suffered long jail terms and some even lost their life’s savings and lives.
The leaders of the freedom struggle believed so strongly in the absolute right to freedom of expression that they considered the struggle for these civil liberties to be an essential part of the national movement. Therefore the legacy is thereby a precious and hallowed one.
It is a legacy which we cannot allow to be whittled away, and hence it is our duty to defend the humane, pluralistic and egalitarian legacy of Indian nationalism. On this seventieth Independence day, let us pledge to uphold undiluted freedom.
Some important quotes by Gandhiji and Nehru, who believed that the civil liberties and freedom should not be diluted:
Gandhiji said: “Liberty of speech means that it is unassailed even when the speech hurts. Liberty of the press can be said to be truly respected only when the press can comment in the severest terms upon and even misrepresent matters… Freedom of association is truly respected when assemblies of people can discuss even revolutionary projects.”
Gandhiji also observed: “Civil liberty, consistent with the observance of non-violence is the first step towards Swaraj. It is the breath of political and social life, it is the foundation of freedom. There is no room here for dilution or compromise. It is the water of life.”
Nehru said: “The freedom of the press does not consist in our permitting such things as we like to appear. Even a tyrant is agreeable to this kind of freedom. Civil liberty and freedom of the press consist in our permitting what we do not like, in our putting up with criticisms of ourselves, in our allowing public expression of views which seem to us even to be injurious to our cause itself.”
“To interfere with the freedom of speech and opinion is the worst form of tyranny possible and every Indian whatever his politics, ought to stand up and effectively protest against the infringement of his much valued right.”
It is time that each one of us defend civil liberties, defend the legacy of our freedom fighters as an integral part of our nationalism, anddeclare any attacks against these civil liberties and misuse of true nationalism as anti-national.
Connecting the dots:
Indian nationalism in contemporary times has turned into more of a ‘hyper-nationalism’. It is not the nationalism of our freedom struggle. Critically comment.
Analyze the role of some prominent personalities and reformers who battled for civil liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association during India’s national struggle.
What is meant by freedom of expression? What in your view would be a reasonable restriction on this freedom? Give examples.
“We have seen that nationalism can unite people as well as divide them, liberate them as well generate bitterness and conflict”. Illustrate your answer with examples.