IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 19th December, 2016
TOPIC:General Studies 2
Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
The Parliament deadlock- Not the right way
Parliament makes laws, ensures accountability of the government and scrutinises legislation through the committee system. But above all, Parliament provides a forum and establishes procedures for reflection on, and critical engagement with, what has been done, and what needs to be done in the light of popular expectations.
However, Parliament has been often reduced to a medium wherein important discussion are affected- delayed or discarded through disruptions, political theatrics rule over parliamentary etiquettes or petty topics gain momentum, thereby allotting less time for meaningful and critical issues.
Most Indians have found Parliament irrelevant to the needs of the day.
The Parliament meets and disburses. But there is hardly any impact of these meetings/non-meetings on the democratic discourse in the country.
The media highlights the wastage of time and taxpayer’s money.
Even the analysts regret that widening of the social base of the body has not resulted in meaningful legislation or responsible legislators.
Thus, the body which houses the representatives of 1.2 billion people, has not been able to represent the aspirations of the citizens and symbolically failed to enhance the relationship between the citizen and the state, which a representative democracy is expected to do.
Statistics that shame
Data with Indian think tank PRS Legislative shows that as of December 14, 2016, the Lok Sabha had made 14% progress during the Winter Session, while it was 20% in Rajya Sabha.
It also noted that in past 21 sittings, while the Lok Sabha had dedicated 4.3 hours on non-legislative issues, the Rajya Sabha had spent 11.8 hours.
The Rajya Sabha committed zero hours on questions, while the Lok Sabha spent 5.1 hours.
The deadlock created by Opposition and the ruling government has resulted in considerable losses as whenever a Parliamentary session is disrupted, it is estimated to cost Rs 2 crore per day.
Reasons for the dysfunctional Parliament
The Opposition focusses on denigrating the government rather than engaging with policies.
Similarly, the government hardly bothers to reply and instead engage in attacks and counter-attacks, sometimes personal, with the opposition.
Instead of maintaining the institution’s decorum and dignity through a calm, reflective and reasoned debate, the members have been recently observed to resort to drama and actions on the floor of house.
Impact of winter session washout
The winter session of Parliament was among the most unproductive in 15 years.
Of the eight Bills introduced in this session, only two were passed. Such was the indifference to discuss matters of vital public interest that a critical legislation such as the Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed within an hour of it being introduced.
The opposition, which is people’s watchdog in Parliament, was apparently content that only two of the total 330 listed questions in the Rajya Sabha were answered orally.
It lost the chance to pass bills critical to the April 1, 2017, deadline for the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax. It also failed to end the session on a note of federal cooperation to set up the shift to Budget day to February 1 from next year.
Precious time, money and business was lost in the Lok Sabha as the Government failed to organise a discussion around Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden demonetisation decision.
The leader of the government chose to speak only where the on-the-spot debate was ruled out, such as rallies and radio show.
This presents a stark reality that the government was not seemingly serious about upholding the dignity of the house by engaging in frequent disruptions in discussions and transaction of business.
The opposition is also not totally immune to blame. It earlier insisted on adjournment and a debate with voting and then, as the session neared to a close, agreed to speak under any rule.
It is both the responsibility of the treasury and the opposition to see that the house runs reasonably in each session and the interest of the Parliament is safeguarded.
If this fails to take place, the political class can hardly complain of the people losing confidence in the institution of Parliament, if it is not allowed to discharge its Constitutional duties.
Need of a Parliament
Civil society in India has a large number of organisations- the media, social associations, neighbourhood groups, all kinds of professional lobbies, non-governmental and non-profit organisations, philanthropic bodies, social and political movements and trade unions where each claim to represent the interest of their members.
But political representatives are considered more influential as
They represent all the members of a territorially delimited constituency, as opposed to say trade unions.
They are accountable to their constituents via the route of election.
The party representative acquires legitimacy by the fact that she has been elected by the people whose interests she is charged with representing and furthering.
Though citizen is considered primary unit of political society, the definition of representative is derivative.
Voters authorise representatives to speak and act on their behalf. However, the representatives represent their constituency where it has to ensure that the opinions, interests and needs of its constituents are adequately, competently and effectively represented in forums of decision-making.
They have to perform their functions which include assisting in the production of appropriate policies.
Thus, a representative democracy will not work successfully if the relation between state and citizen is not working as desired in a democracy.
Will democracy lose relevance in India?
Fortunately for the Indian political class, the generalised loss of confidence in representative institutions has not led to disenchantment with democracy with the citizens.
Surveys show that Indians value democracy as it is this form of government which enables them to realise the primordial desire of each human being to be treated as an equal, at least during election time.
The elections are marked by high voter turnouts where voters exercise freedom of choice and elect and dismiss governments in often unpredictable ways.
The making of the Indian constitution reflects the faith the Constituent Assembly had put in Indian citizens where adult suffrage was adopted, for both men and women, since its enactment.
An unproductive Parliamentary session is reflection of the institutional damage inflicted upon country’s democratic values and principles.
If the President of India, Vice-President of India and a veteran Parliamentarian urge the members to let the houses function, it reminds the fact that all sections of house need to introspect.
As India’s first PM rightly embossed it in the ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech: “Freedom and power bring responsibility. That responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India”.
Connecting the dots:
Critically examine India’s tryst with representative democracy as the most desired form of government.
Parliamentary logjams reflect India’s political class as immature. Comment.
TOPIC: 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
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana – Mid Term Appraisal
Features of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) was launched by the government in January 2016 to replace the existing two crop insurance schemes in India, National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) and Modified NAIS. PMFBY was launched with the following features:
The scheme covers kharif, rabi crops and commercial and horticultural crops as well.
The premium charged for kharif crops would be up to 2% of the sum insured and for rabi crops it would be up to 1.5% of the sum assured.
For annual commercial and horticultural crops, the premium would be 5 per cent.
To provide insurance to the farmers at a subsidized rate of premium, the remaining share will be borne equally by the central and respective state governments.
This scheme will cover post-harvest losses also and provide farm level assessment for localised calamities including hailstorms, unseasonal rains, landslides and inundation.
To fasten the process of claims, the scheme proposes mandatory use of remote sensing, smart phones and drones for quick damage assessment.
Problems with NAIS and MNAIS
The NAIS and the MNAIS were not serving the farmers’ interests well and suffered from following lacunae:
The sum insured under MNAIS, particularly for risky crops and districts, was meagre and was based either on the quantum of crop loans or on the capping of the sum insured.
The crop damage assessment method based on crop cutting experiments was very slow and time-consuming.
The time taken for compensation to reach the farmers often ran into several months.
Improvements via PMFBY
To overcome the problems and the weaknesses of the NAIS and MNAIS, the government decided to incorporate following essential elements in the new scheme:
A technical committee was proposed to be set up in each district to decide the scale of finance for the sum insured.
The premiums are to be decided on an actuarial basis which would give credibility to the process of setting premiums.
Bids are invited from public and private insurance companies to decide the premiums, thus adding an element of competition which would work in the favour of the farmers.
The farmers were required to pay the premiums at a subsidized rate and rest is paid by the government as mentioned above.
Use of technology such as smart phones, GPS, drones and satellites to ensure accuracy, transparency, and faster assessment of damages and settling claims.
Impact of PMFBY
To know the impact and the results achieved due to the introduction of this scheme, it is essential to know a few numbers in comparison to the erstwhile insurance schemes performance in Kharif 2013 and Kharif 2015.
The number of farmers insured under the PMFBY rose by 193% over Kharif 2013 and by 0% over Kharif 2015. The number of non-loanee farmers also increased by more than six times.
The area insured also increased from 16.5 million hectares (mha) in kharif 2013 and 27.2 mha in kharif 2015 to 37.5 mha under PMFBY.
The sum insured has witnessed a huge rise and has gone up from Rs 34,749 crores in kharif 2013 to Rs 60,773 crores in kharif 2015, and now to Rs 1,08,055 crores under PMFBY.
Challenges faced by PMFBY
PMFBY has also had its own share of challenges and shortcomings in terms of implementation. These need to be ironed out to ensure that the scheme serves the farmers well and at a lower cost. Few of the problems faced by PMFBY have been:
This scheme has witnessed an increase in the actuarial premium, instead of coming down with the increasing scale of coverage. A major reason for this is high price charged by various insurance companies to increase their profits. The competition in the upcoming seasons will reduce this rate of premium and reduce cost to the government.
Areas in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam which faced floods and subsequent loss to farmers saw inspections being done by human eye.
Drones were not employed and smart phones which had to be issued to field officials, as per guidelines, were also not issued.
States failed to pay premiums to companies in advance in many cases.
There has also been a delay in compensating the farmers.
The scheme does not cover the risks and losses inflicted by wild animals like elephants and wild boars which is a major problem in certain states.
PMFBY has a lot of potential to tackle the impact of vagaries of nature on Indian agriculture.
At the rate at which it is increasing the coverage and the scope India may soon have half of its cropped area insured within three to five years. The subsidized premium for farmers is a big boost and will reduce farmer distress as well, although the scheme will increase the cost to the government.
Success of PMFBY depends on its sincere implementation and overcoming certain traditional problems faced by Indian agriculture such as poor land records, flawed land titles and corruption.
Connecting the dots
Critically analyse the provisions of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana.
Discuss the need for the government to introduce Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana even though various agriculture insurance schemes such as NAIS, MNAIS and Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme were already in operation.