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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs 24th April, 2017

  • April 24, 2017
  • 1
IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs Analysis, IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs April 2017, National
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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 24th April 2017

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NATIONAL

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders

LOKPAL Act

Introduction

Governance in a country of size and diversities like India is a huge challenge. Anti corruption legislations have been promised by parties by implemented weakly or have been scuttled. There is a need to reinforce focus on Lokpal and other anti corruption legislations for clean governance.

Lokpal Act:

The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013 seeks to provide for the establishment of Lokpal for the Union and Lokayukta for States to inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries and for related matters. The act extends to whole of India, including Jammu & Kashmir and is applicable to “public servants” within and outside India. The act mandates for creation of Lokpal for Union and Lokayukta for states.

Issue:

Failure to implement the Lokpal law by the government is an indication of how the parties do renege with impunity on their poll promise of a corruption-free India.
A lack of will on the part of the government to implement the anti-corruption law can be inferred from its various actions and inactions in the last three years.

  • With the government’s refusal to recognise anyone as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) after the general election in 2014, the appointment of the Lokpal became an immediate casualty as the selection committee of the Lokpal includes the recognised LoP.
  • In order to implement the law, the government has to— introduce a Lokpal amendment Bill in Parliament substituting the recognised LoP in the selection committee with the leader of the single largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
  • In fact, a similar amendment was required in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act for the appointment of the CBI Director; it was introduced by the government and passed expeditiously.
  • However, for the Lokpal law, instead of bringing in a single amendment to alter the composition of the selection committee, the government introduced a 10-page Bill which proposed to fundamentally dilute the original law.
  • Given the controversial nature of amendments, it was referred to a parliamentary standing committee. The Bill continues to languish in Parliament.

Diluting asset disclosure

The Lokpal Act stipulated that by July 31, 2016, Section 44 related to disclosure of assets of public servants was to be operationalised irrespective of appointment of the Lokpal.

  • To prevent the asset disclosure provision from taking effect, the government introduced another amendment Bill.
  • This Bill, which completely whittled down the asset disclosure requirement, was resolutely pushed through by the government in Parliament and passed within 48 hours of its introduction.
  • It is significant that the Bill, pushed through in unprecedented haste, did not modify the composition of the selection committee which was needed to appoint the Lokpal.
  • The law was thus diluted even before it could be operationalised.

Amendments:

  • The Lokpal Amendment Act, 2016, did away with the statutory requirement of public servants to disclose the assets of their spouses and dependent children provided for under the original law.
    • It also dispensed with the need for public disclosure of these statements and empowered the Central government to prescribe the form and manner of asset disclosure.
    • This was a critical blow as the Lokpal was established to act on complaints under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA); one of the grounds of criminal misconduct under the PCA relates to a public servant or any person on his/her behalf being in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to known sources of income.
    • Since illegally amassed assets are often handed over to family members, public declaration of assets of the spouse and dependent children of the public servants was necessary to enable people to make informed complaints to the Lokpal.
  • Further, the response to a query under the RTI Act revealed that the Minister had misled Parliament.
  • Despite the Minister’s assurances on the floor of the House, the Lokpal Amendment Act, 2016, passed by Parliament was never referred to any parliamentary standing committee for deliberation.

Permission for prosecution

The government’s intention to subvert the Lokpal law was further confirmed when through proposed amendments to the PCA, it sought to usurp critical powers of the Lokpal.

  • Experience in India has shown that the requirement for seeking prior sanction from the government for prosecuting government officials is a critical bottleneck and results not only in huge delays but also, and often, in the accused never being prosecuted.
  • To address this problem, the Lokpal Act vests the power of granting sanction for prosecution in the independent institution of the Lokpal.
    • Instead of reinforcing this provision, which insulates the prosecution process from government influence, the PCA amendments strengthen the requirement to seek the government’s permission before prosecuting a public servant by increasing cover to even retired public officials.
  • By requiring the Lokpal to seek permission from the government before it can prosecute officials in cases of corruption, the proposed PCA amendments make a mockery of the independent institution and render the entire exercise of demanding an empowered Lokpal futile.

Conclusion:

Good governance is possible only when governance is inclusive, corruption free and empowering in nature. It is important for government to act with urgency and appoint Lokpal to bring corruption to the centre stage to eliminate the same.

Connecting the dots:

Critically analyse the importance of legislation like Lokpal act for India especially w.r.t. delay in appointment even after passing the legislation.

NATIONAL/AGRICULTURE

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; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

General studies 3:

  • Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

Performance of Agriculture Schemes in last 3 years

Introduction:

Agriculture in India contributes 14 percent to India’s GDP and employs nearly 50 percent of the population. However agriculture sector has failed to gain the momentum due to lack of sound policies making it one of the most vulnerable sector of Indian economy.

Agriculture engages 47 per cent of the work force, as per the Labour Bureau, and without whose development “sabka saath, sabka vikas” is not possible.

In the first three years of the NDA government, agri-GDP grew by just 1.7 per cent per annum, which is less than half of what was achieved during the last three years of the UPA government (3.6 per cent).

Such a poor performance was caused primarily by droughts in 2014 and 2015. In order to tackle droughts more effectively, the NDA (under Modi) government tweaked and improvised existing schemes and launched the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY). Also, a new scheme, the e-National Agriculture Market (e-NAM), was launched to link 585 regulated agri-markets across the country.

Assessment: The below article examines the performance of above three flagship schemes and whether these schemes have made much difference to the lives of farmers so far or not.

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY)

PMKSY was launched on July 1, 2015.

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) has been formulated with the vision of extending the coverage of irrigation ‘Har Khet ko pani’ and improving water use efficiency ‘More crop per drop’ in a focused manner with end to end solution on source creation, distribution, management, field application and extension activities.

PMKSY had been formulated amalgamating ongoing schemes viz. Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR,RD&GR), Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) of Department of Land Resources (DoLR) and the On Farm Water Management (OFWM) of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC).

The major objective of the PMKSY is to:

  • Achieve convergence of investments in irrigation at the field level,
  • Expand cultivable area under assured irrigation (Har Khet ko pani),
  • Improve on-farm water use efficiency to reduce wastage of water,
  • enhance the adoption of precision-irrigation and other water saving technologies (More crop per drop),
  • Enhance recharge of aquifers and
  • Introduce sustainable water conservation practices by exploring the feasibility of reusing treated municipal based water for peri-urban agriculture and attract greater private investment in precision irrigation system.

The scheme also aims at bringing concerned Ministries/Departments/Agencies/Research and Financial Institutions engaged in creation/use/recycling/potential recycling of water, brought under a common platform, so that a comprehensive and holistic view of the entire “water cycle” is taken into account and proper water budgeting is done for all sectors namely, household, agriculture and industries.

Performance:

The implementation of various components of this scheme depends on three different departments — Agriculture, Water Resources, and Rural Development. However, a new mission directorate for PMKSY is set up under the Ministry of Water Resources.

The government identified 99 projects for early completion under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP), which together will irrigate 76 lakh hectares (ha) upon completion. Of these 99, 23 projects (Priority-I) were shortlisted for completion by March 2017, another 31 projects (Priority-II) during FY18, and the remaining 45 projects (Priority-III) are to be completed by December 2019.

Financial support was to be given through NABARD’s Long Term Irrigation Fund of Rs 40,000 crore. Of these 99 projects, 26 are in Maharashtra which had seen long delays and allegations of corruption. On the exact progress, out of the 23 projects to be completed by March 2017, none was actually completed, although many are expected to be completed soon.

The component of micro irrigation (MI) in PMKSY has done better and 8.13 lakh ha of additional area is said to have been brought under MI. The total area under MI is about 9 million ha while the potential for MI is almost 10 times more. The government would do better if MI is treated at par with AIBP in terms of funding. MI can move faster with much better results in terms of water-use efficiency.

Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)

PMFBY is another flagship programme of the Modi government.

The highlights of this scheme are as under:

  • There will be a uniform premium of only 2% to be paid by farmers for all Kharif crops and 1.5% for all Rabi crops. In case of annual commercial and horticultural crops, the premium to be paid by farmers will be only 5%. The premium rates to be paid by farmers are very low and balance premium will be paid by the Government to provide full insured amount to the farmers against crop loss on account of natural calamities.
  • There is no upper limit on Government subsidy. Even if balance premium is 90%, it will be borne by the Government.
  • Earlier, there was a provision of capping the premium rate which resulted in low claims being paid to farmers. This capping was done to limit Government outgo on the premium subsidy. This capping has now been removed and farmers will get claim against full sum insured without any reduction.
  • The use of technology will be encouraged to a great extent. Smart phones will be used to capture and upload data of crop cutting to reduce the delays in claim payment to farmers. Remote sensing will be used to reduce the number of crop cutting experiments.

The new Crop Insurance Scheme is in line with One Nation – One Scheme theme. It incorporates the best features of all previous schemes and at the same time, all previous shortcomings/weaknesses have been removed.

Performance:

For the first time, farmers’ share of the premium was pegged at 2 per cent for kharif crops and 1.5 per cent for rabi crops. As a result, the area covered under insurance increased from 27.2 million ha in kharif 2015 to 37.5 million ha in kharif 2016, and the sum insured increased from Rs 60,773 crore to Rs 1,08,055 crore over the same period.

However, the system of crop damage assessment has not changed much and most of the states could not even procure smartphones that were supposed to facilitate the faster compilation of crop cutting experiments.

Some state governments did not take the cost of cultivation as the amount to be insured with a view to saving their outgo on the premium subsidy. Many state governments did not pay the premium on time, as a result of which the farmers’ claims could not be settled expeditiously. In sum, there is still much work to be done on the implementation side, else the large expenditure from the government kitty will be spent without accruing commensurate benefits to farmers.

e-NAM (National Agriculture Market)

The third mega scheme launched by the Modi government — in April 2016 — is e-NAM.

National Agriculture Market (NAM) is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities.

The idea was to enable buyers located in distant places to purchase agri-commodities from any mandi.

The GoI also decided that state governments can apply for a grant of Rs 30 lakh per mandi (enhanced to Rs 75 lakh from this year) for related infrastructure and hardware, provided they undertake some reforms in their Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) rules. These included a single trading license to operate in any mandi in the state, single point levy of market fee, and provision for e-auction of agricultural commodities in the rules and regulations of the state.

Performance:

So far, 417 markets from 13 states have been integrated with e-National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) against the set target of 400 markets by March, 2017.

In most mandis the sales through traditional auctions are being shown as turnover through e-NAM. Out of a turnover of approximately Rs 15,605 crore in e-NAM, Haryana alone is showing a turnover of Rs 8,237 crore.

However, studies have revealed that very few auctions are being conducted by using the software. So far, there are no inter-mandi auctions and there is no evidence that farmers have gained from this system either in terms of cutting down commissions of arhtiyas (agents/middlemen) or better price realisation.

The ambition of creating an all-India agri-market, therefore, still remains a distant dream. The e-NAM can be a game changer only if it is steered as diligently as the GST.

Other initiatives:

In the last few years, the Government of India has taken several farmer friendly initiatives. These, amongst other things, include the following:

  • A new scheme had been introduced to issue a Soil Health Card to every farmer. Soil Health Management in the country is being promoted through setting up of soil and fertilizer testing laboratories. 34 lakh soil samples had been collected and analysis is continuing.
  • A new scheme for promoting organic farming “Pramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana” had been launched to promote organic farming.
  • A dedicated Kisan Channel had been started by Doordarshan to address various issues concerning farmers.
  • Government is also encouraging formation of Farmer Producer organizations.
  • Assistance to farmers, as input subsidy, had been increased by 50 percent in case of natural calamities.
  • Norms have been relaxed to provide assistance from previous norm of crop loss of more than 50 percent to 33 percent to farmers afflicted by natural calamities.
  • Minimum Support Price (MSP) for various Kharif crops has been increased. Bonus of Rs.200 per quintal has been announced for pulses. Area coverage under pulses has increased over the last year.

Conclusion:

All the above flagship programmes are dwarfed when one looks at the money being spent on food and fertiliser subsidies, which exceeds Rs 3,00,000 crore (including arrears) in 2017. One had hoped that the NDA government under Modi will take bold decisions to streamline these by moving towards Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to beneficiaries’ accounts. The progress on this front has been tardy and one doubts whether any bold reforms are coming soon.

A strong revolutionary agricultural policy at grass root level is the much awaited reform because major subsidies of agriculture are not reaching small farmers(95% have < 1 hectare)

The growth rate of agriculture insurance and credit is mere 4 and 2.5% respectively which is way below the prescribed growth targets. The present Crop insurance schemes are not serving the purpose due to issue of premium.

Domestic issues like responding to adverse impacts of climate change and also formulating a strong actionable climate change policy is needed (The present NAPCC and SAPCC is not getting off the ground).

Although the NDA government has made the right moves, yet its flagship schemes have not made much difference to the lives of farmers so far. Without a champion for agriculture in the government, these schemes may fall far short of their promises and claims.

Connecting the dots:

  • “Even though Agriculture contributes 14 percent to India’s GDP and employs nearly 50 percent of the population the fruits of agriculture are not as sweet as it should be”. In the above context critically examine the state of Indian agriculture and issues associated with it.
  • Identify the major issues agriculture is facing in India and critically analyse if recently launched schemes are able to address these issues.
  • The government’s flagship schemes have had not been encouraging towards agricultural sector. Do you agree? Discuss how to revive rural economy and overall economy through agricultural development.

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