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.
Making Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana(PMFBY) farmer-centric
Recent floods in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Assam show that even in an otherwise normal monsoon year, farmers in certain pockets could still suffer due to natural calamities. The droughts of 2014-15 and 2015-16 exposed that the existing crop insurance schemes were not enough to alleviate farmers’ woes.
Issues with NAIS and WBCIS:
The sums insured under National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), modified NAIS, and Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) were too low, as premiums were kept low.
Further, the compensation was too meagre, and the long wait which the farmers had to go through meant that the relief wasn’t meaningful. So, governments often used the National Disaster Relief Funds to address the situation. Unfortunately, it was not based on any robust scientific system and had its own loopholes.
PMFBY- A game changer:
The PMFBY raised the sums insured to realistic levels, basically to cover the cost of cultivation of farmers. The premiums were heavily subsidised by the Centre and the states in equal proportions, with farmers paying only 2 per cent of the premium for kharif and 1.5 percent for rabi (for horticulture crops it was 5 per cent).
Farmers found the PMFBY attractive. Consequently, in the very first kharif season (2016), area (in ha) and number of farmers covered under PMFBY, both increased to 37.5 million. It was 47 per cent higher in terms of number of farmers, and 38 per cent higher in terms of area, over NAIS and MNAIS schemes of kharif of 2015, a drought year.
However, if compared to a normal kharif year, say 2013, the number of farmers opting for the scheme increased by 210 per cent in kharif 2016, and the area covered increased by 126 per cent. The sum insured on per hectare basis under the PMFBY increased by 51 per cent over kharif 2015. All these indicators show that the PMFBY is moving at a good pace and in the right direction.
There are three critical steps in the process:
First, the state has to notify the crops, make clusters of districts, determine the sums to be insured based on district level committees, and invite tenders from insurance companies.
Second, the state and the Centre have to pay premium to the companies providing insurance.
Third, in case of crop damages, quickly assess the damages and ask companies to pay the claims of farmers.
Unfortunately, in this entire process, farmers have almost no role. That’s the reason why its implementation and effectiveness has fallen between the cracks.
If states delay notifications, or payment of premiums, or crop cutting data, there is no way companies can pay compensation to the farmers in time. It is exactly this slow pace and casual attitude of several state agencies that delayed compensations to farmers for losses in kharif 2016, and it may happen again in kharif 2017.
Most states have failed to provide smartphones to revenue staff to capture and upload data of crop cutting, which continues to come with enormous delay. There is hardly any use of modern technology in assessing crop damages.
The PMFBY has moved in the right direction and made substantial progress in terms of coverage, but failed in quick dispensation of claims to farmers. The primary reason behind this failure is the lethargy and casual attitude of state agencies.
If the PMFBY has to succeed:
Farmers must have a bigger stake in its functioning.
There is an urgent need to link the insurance database with Core Banking Solution (CBS) so that when premium is deducted from a farmer’s bank account, the bank sends him a message informing about the premium, sum insured and name of insurance company. IRCTC has a similar system is place for railway tickets and there is no reason why our technology-savvy banks and insurance companies cannot do it quickly.
Currently, several loanee farmers may not even be aware that they are insured. If the system remains locked between state agencies and insurance companies, chances are that farmers will get short changed.
It is time that the PM makes this flagship program farmer-centric with effective implementation. It can pay rich dividends.
Connecting the dots:
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana is seen as a game changer over previous insurance schemes. However, its effective implementation faces some impediments. Discuss.
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.
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Protecting the Domestic Workers
The recent case of a minor girl in Noida being accused of stealing; and the counter allegations of her ill-treatment are the latest in a long list of incidents involving domestic workers and questions of the rights of such workers. A clash on 12 July between domestic workers and their employers in an upmarket, gated housing society in Noida has snowballed into a full-blown class war with an overt anti-Muslim dimension.
Domestic work as an economic activity is too vast and employs too many to remain unregulated. Though the 2011 NSSO data put the number of domestic workers at 3.9 million, trade unions estimate the number to be around 10 million.
Most of these are from vulnerable communities – Adivasis, Dalits or landless OBCs. Nearly all of them are migrant workers. And an overwhelming number are women.
Most of the domestic servants are migrants, women, many are minors, and belong to the lowest end of the economic spectrum. This makes them easy to replace, and easier still to exploit.
Indeed, hardly a week goes by without some news report about a domestic help being abused by her employer. Cases of torture, beatings, sexual assault, and incarceration is common.
Since they belong to the unorganised sector, there are no laws safeguarding their rights – no minimum wage requirements, no health or insurance benefits, and no job security whatsoever.
The nexus of the state and the market has managed to keep domestic work outside the realm of economic regulation.
Neither the Maternity Benefits Act nor the Minimum Wages Act or any of the scores of other labour laws apply to domestic work.
Domestic workers can be hired and fired at will. The employer has no legally binding obligations.
In a country where 93% of the workforce is in the unorganised sector and therefore beyond the purview of most labour laws, domestic workers represent a new low in terms of disempowerment: they are not even recognised as workers. Their work — cooking, cleaning, dish-washing, baby-sitting — is not recognised as work by the state.
Apart from facing routine, structural exploitation in the form of low wages, heavy workloads, and long hours, domestic workers face graver dangers, as is evident from cases of employers confining and assaulting them coming to light with frightening regularity.
The inequality of domestic workers’ circumstances is accentuated by the fact their workplace falls within the privacy of the homes of people that are invariably more privileged than they are.
Although successive governments have drafted policies, they are yet to become law.
The ILO Convention on Domestic Workers:
India is a signatory to the ILO’s 189th convention, known as the Convention on Domestic Workers; but has not ratified it yet.
The convention mandates that domestic workers be given daily and weekly rest hours, their payment must meet the minimum wage requirement, and that they should be allowed to choose the place where they live and spend their leave.
Ratifying states are also required to take protective measures against violence against such workers and are required to enforce a minimum age for employment.
However, since these provisions are not binding on those countries that have not ratified the convention, India is not obliged to enforce these recommendations.
India has only two laws that, in a roundabout way, construe domestic helps as workers. The Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, (UWSSA) and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. While the former is a social welfare scheme, the latter is aims to protect working women in general. Neither of these recognizes domestic helps as rights-bearing workers.
About half the states have included domestic workers as labourers under the Minimum Wages Act, which sets out terms of payment, hours of work and leave. Yet, this law is grossly inadequate. The law does not, for instance, require domestic workers and employers to register with any authority, which is crucial for monitoring whether both parties are fulfilling their contractual obligations and for adjudicating conflicts.
Some states, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, do have welfare boards for domestic workers that attempt to do this, but they have meagre funds and do not go far enough. A national law should also regulate the numerous for-profit domestic workers’ agencies that have sprung up, some of which are suspected of putting children to work.
Thus far, there is no national law that governs domestic employment.
‘Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act, 2010’ Bill:
Drafted by the National Commission for Women (NCW).
It attempted to bring this large and vulnerable work force into the mainstream. But little progress has been made in passing this bill so far.
The Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Bill, 2016:
Drafted by the National Platform for Domestic Workers.
Going beyond state-centric welfare measures, it calls for the compulsory registration of the employer and the employee with the District Board for regulation of domestic workers.
Unlike the UWSSA, which puts the onus on the state, it mandates the collection of cess from the employer for the maintenance of a social security fund for domestic workers, whose access would be mediated through an identity card.
This framework achieves both the objectives of police verification — security, and documentation of identification data.
It provides for basic terms of employment like a minimum wage, hours of work, notice period and grounds for termination, as well as offences and penalties in the case of crimes.
Draft National Policy for Domestic Workers:
This policy not only calls for promoting awareness of domestic work as a “legitimate labour market activity”, but also recommends amending existing labour laws to ensure that domestic workers enjoy all the labour rights that other workers do.
To view domestic workers as a security threat is another way of denying them the status of workers. The policy mindset regarding domestic workers must shift from a law-and-order paradigm to one about workers’ rights.
A good place to start would be to consider enacting a Domestic Workers Regulation of Work and Social Security Act. Such a law will, above all, recognise domestic work as labour, partly addressing society’s devaluation of housework. A national law also needs to oversee workers’ safety, provide for health emergencies and their children’s education, among other things.
Some have attempted to justify the government’s reluctance to regulate domestic work on the grounds that the workplace is a private household which should not be encroached upon by the state. But this argument does not hold since the anti-sexual harassment law recognises the private household as a workplace.
The ongoing conflict also suggests that laws can serve only as enabling frameworks, albeit crucial ones, for improving these employees’ abysmal working conditions and terms. To be able to use the law effectively, domestic workers also need to organise, given that their employers are in an economically and socially superior position.
Estimates of the number of domestic workers in the country vary from 3.9 to 10 million. No liberal society, or modern economy, can allow such a large number to remain outside the law as “help”. It is perhaps past time that India revived debate on the Domestic Workers Security bill.
Connecting the dots:
With instances of exploitation of domestic workers increasing, we need to revive debate on the Domestic Workers Security bill. Discuss.