IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains Focus)- 13th December 2017
Cash benefit for TB patients
Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
- About 35 lakh identified Tuberculosis patients across the country will soon get Rs. 500 every month from the Centre as social support.
- The cash benefit for social support will cover loss of wages, travel and mainly nutrition.
Undernutrition and TB:
- TB is inextricably linked to determinants of health such as malnutrition and low immunity due to social deprivation and marginalization. Poor nutrition is increasing the risk by three-fold.
- Undernutrition at the population level contributes to an estimated over one million new cases of annual TB incidence in India.
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The “2+2” dialogue between India & Australia
Part of: Mains GS Paper II- International relations
- Continuing with the strategic bilateral discussion, Australia and India discussed the need to maintain the Asia-Pacific region as a “free” and “open” zone under the “2+2” dialogue model which includes the foreign and defence secretaries of both sides.
- Both sides agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large.
- There is a growing convergence of strategic perspectives between the two countries.
- Both sides call for the need to maintain the region as a ‘free’ and ‘open’ zone.
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Special courts for criminal cases involving MPs and MLA’s
Part of: Mains GS Paper II- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability and institutional and other measures.
- The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it will set up at least 12 special courts to try exclusively criminal cases involving MPs and MLAs.
- The government, in an affidavit, said it had framed a scheme to set up the special courts.
- The affidavit was in response to a Supreme Court direction in November to the government to frame a Central scheme for setting up special courts across the country exclusively to try criminal cases involving “political persons”.
- In a determined effort to cleanse politics of criminality and corruption, the court said it took years, probably decades, to complete the trial against a politician.
By this time, he or she would have served as a Minister or legislator several times over.
- The scheme should give the details of the funds that are required to set up such courts.
- The Supreme Court would directly interact with the State governments on issues like the appointment of judicial officers, public prosecutors, court staff and other requirements of manpower and infrastructure for the special courts.
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General Studies 3:
- Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices
- Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
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
Policy reforms in Agricultural sector
Last year, India’s production was 23 million tonnes (MT), the highest ever, 40% more than the previous year. This was owing to good rains, higher minimum support price (MSP) and higher acreage.
High production should have meant lower imports. But, last year’s imports were at an all-time high of 6.6 MT, that too at zero import duty. This caused prices to crash, in some places to half of the MSP. Farmers faced ruin.
Procurement of pulses by the government doesn’t helps because of the glut and limited storage and fiscal space.
The policy lessons:
- Firstly, there is no instrument for using future price information. Farmers plant crops based on anticipated future prices, not past prices. If futures trading in pulses was allowed, it may have helped in reducing volatility, and garnering some benefits for farmers.
- Secondly, there are arbitrary stock limits for private traders, which can inhibit inter-period smoothening of prices. In the absence of futures trading, the volatility at times is as high as 48%..
- Thirdly, for the past 10 years, all exports of pulses have been banned. This was presumably for food security and price stability.
But this export ban has hurt farmers, who couldn’t take advantage of high prices.
When prices of food crops go up, the Central government swings into action, clamping down on exports, bringing in zero-duty imports, imposing stocking and storage limits, and so on. But when the opposite happens, that is when prices crash, often, there is no corresponding reverse rescue.
Among all World Trade Organization members, India is among a handful of countries with negative protection of agriculture.
- Lastly, pulses continue to be in the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act.
farmers are not free to sell to any buyer they wish but must go through the APMC.
Significance of pulses:
- Pulses are an important source of protein in India.
- Almost one-fifth of total acreage is used to grow them.
- They are also an important source of soil fertility since they provide nitrogen through fixation.
Indeed, a pulses plant is called a mini fertilizer factory.
Lack of self-sufficiency:
Pulses were part of the six technology missions created in the 1980s (they were added to the oilseeds mission), to greatly enhance their production, use of technology and processing.
But despite the mission-mode approach, India is still not self-sufficient in pulses production. Farmers continue to be at the mercy of nature, markets and government policies.
Agriculture is an arena where policy-induced distortion is the rule, not an exception.
- The story of pulses is repeated across various crops. In cashew, India’s Kollam used to be the world’s capital, but has lost out to Vietnam due to its failure to adopt technology and due to excessive government control.
- India pioneered the Green Revolution, but scores very poorly in the global hunger index. The monolithic nationwide policies of promoting and procuring wheat and rice have ultimately proved harmful to health, nutrition and environment (through soil salinity).
- Coarse cereals, the staple of most rural folk, were largely ignored by the public distribution system, and are only now being introduced in the midday meal schemes.
- The maze of subsidies in credit, inputs, outputs, water and electricity is a patchwork to act as an antidote to various price and quantity controls, which have an urban/consumer/anti-farm bias.
- Even policies like prohibition of foreign direct investment in retail hurt the farmer.
- Farm distress is chronic, and occasionally manifests in its most acute form as farmer suicides. Loan waiver to farmers is yet another reaction to policy-induced indebtedness, which has much deeper roots.
- The various farm subsidies were cornered mostly by large farmers. Even free or subsidized electricity, or cheap credit, benefits larger farmers.
- Subsidies also created distortions like overuse of urea, leading to soil salinity, and free power creating a hole in distribution company balance sheets.
- The single instrument of public procurement and distribution was supposed to achieve three goals:
- Ensure adequate prices to farmers,
- Keep food prices low and stable and
- Ensure food security to the nation.
This too has had very limited success. Farm incomes did not rise proportionate to gross domestic product or industry.
- We have recently had two consecutive years of a serious drought. The blight of farmer suicides is still with us. Farm income growth since 2011-12 has dipped to 1% or below, which is the main factor behind rural distress.
- Job creation in the rest of the economy is woefully inadequate. A national survey showed that 40% of those in farming would gladly leave, if only they can find a stable job outside.
- The farm sector does not have a focused lobbying voice. Perhaps this is because the sector is too large and fragmented, and now exposed to globalization.
The agriculture sector needs to be unshackled:
- Export restrictions and monopoly procurement must go.
- Essential Commodities Act restrictions and arbitrary stocking limits must go.
- Compulsory sale through the APMC must go.
- Prohibition on money-lending to farmers, tenancy farming, land leasing, land transfers, all must go (with reasonable and appropriate safeguards).
- We also need a comprehensive, well-designed crop and price insurance market for farmers.
After 69 years of independence, we still have more than half the population depending on farming and related activities for their livelihood. India, with its vast continental size, will have to forge a new path in achieving the rural-urban, industry-agriculture balance, unlike the trajectories followed by Western nations. Removing the anti-farm bias in our policies is a crucial prerequisite for this strategy.
Connecting the dots:
- The policies meant for agriculture have induced distortions at multiple levels. Critically analyze.
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