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- There is enough evidence to show that the government has failed farmers and agricultural labourers.
- As the Lok Sabha debates the vote of no confidence today, representatives of farmers from across the country will be marching outside Parliament under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of 201 farmer organisations.
Farmers distress against the Govt
- Farmers have already passed a vote of no confidence against this government. Far from helping the farmers, this government has actually harmed them in their hour of crisis. This is a strong indictment, backed by solid evidence.
- Agricultural production suffered due to consecutive droughts for which it is unfair to blame the government. Further, in any case, the data on farmer suicides has not been released for 15 months now.
Arguments given in support of it by the farmers organisations
- Ten concrete, evidence-based, arguments on why the farmers of India express their vote of no confidence against the government.
- The government’s own Economic Survey 2018 has already conceded that farmers’ real income has “remained stagnant”, recording a 1.9% growth over four years. The concrete promise of higher public investment in agriculture did not materialise; in fact, it has declined in terms of its share of GDP. Government manifesto promised nothing short of “highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmers income and rural development”.
- The new farm insurance scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, has consumed thrice as much money as earlier schemes without either increasing the proportion of farmers who benefited from it, or giving a fair claim to the farmers.
- The promise of “welfare measures” — for farmers above 60, small farmers and farm labourers — was forgotten.
- The National Land Use Policy was never enacted. The Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act was not reformed. We don’t even have a ‘promises vs. delivery’ report card yet.
- The MSP promise: The government actually reneged on its promise of ensuring “50% profit over the cost of production” to the farmers.
- As pressure from farmer organisations mounted, the government shifted the goalpost in the 2018 Budget by changing the definition of cost of production for the purpose of calculating the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
- Not only did the government not fulfil its promise of “cost+50%” as MSP, it did not even maintain the routine annual increase in MSP. The government’s failure to implement the MSP that it announced forced the farmers into distress sale of Kharif and Rabi crops, amounting to at least ₹50,000 crore, in 2017-18.
- The central government’s response was limited to a revision in the eligibility cap for compensation and a routine raise in the compensation amount but also included cuts in contribution to States from the National Disaster Relief Fund.
- Choking the MGNREGS: The government’s lack of political will in implementing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has hit the rural poor in general and farm labourers in particular.
- From imposing Minimum Export Price on potatoes in 2014 to importing sugar from Pakistan, the government has followed anti-farmer trade policies.
- Farm exports were systematically discouraged, leading to a decline in agricultural exports from $43 billion on 2013-14 to $33 billion in 2016-17.
- Import of lentil, chana, wheat, sugar and milk powder was allowed that led to a crash in crop
- The government’s ill-advised and shoddily implemented policy of demonetisation dealt a severe blow to agricultural markets, especially to fruit and vegetable markets, just when the farmers were recovering from the consecutive droughts. A sudden shrinking of cash led to demand contraction and fall in prices.
- the government’s attempt to regulate livestock market by imposing ban on livestock movement and its protection to those guilty of lynching the suspected “cow smugglers” has disrupted livestock economic cycle, leading to loss of income and aggravation of the widespread problem of animals destroying crops.
- For the adivasi farmer, this is surely the most insensitive government. This government has diluted the Forest Rights Act and various other environmental and forest conservation laws substantially in order to help the transfer of common land and water resources from the adivasis to industry.
- The government made not one but four attempts to bring an ordinance so as to nullify the historic Land Acquisition Act of 2013 and take away the few concessions that farmers had won after 120 years.
- The government has effectively bypassed this law in the land acquisitions done by central agencies like the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and has also allowed State governments to nullify the provisions benefitting the land-owning farmers.
- The Lok Sabha has passed the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, which will now replace the ordinance by the same name promulgated by the President in April.
- The Bill empowers special courts to direct the Central government to confiscate all the assets belonging to a fugitive economic offender, including those assets that are proceeds of the crime and that do not belong to the offender.
- It has provisions for a court (‘Special Court’ under the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002) to declare a person as a ‘Fugitive Economic Offender.’
- A Fugitive Economic Offender is a person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued in respect of a scheduled offence and who has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution, or being abroad, refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.
- If at any point of time in the course of the proceeding prior to the declaration, however, the alleged Fugitive Economic Offender returns to India and submits to the appropriate jurisdictional court, proceedings under the proposed Act would cease by law.
- The legislation gains importance against the backdrop of high-profile cases where individuals such as Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi escaped the country.
- It is expected to re-establish the rule of law as the accused will be forced to return to India and face trial for his offences.
- This would also help the banks and other financial institutions to achieve higher recovery from financial defaults committed by such fugitive economic offenders, improving the financial health of such institutions.
- It did not do any more than what’s already provided for by the existing laws, that the Rs. 100-crore limit above which the law becomes applicable was untenable, and that the provision in the Bill disqualifying a fugitive economic offender from availing the Indian judicial system for civil cases was unconstitutional.
- 100-crore limit was placed so that big offenders could be tackled quickly. Offenders below that limit will continue to be tackled by the existing various laws and courts.
- Three decades after its first mission to Antarctica, the government is refocusing priorities to the other pole — the Arctic—because of opportunities and challenges posed by climate change.
- This month, it has renamed the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) — since 1998, charged with conducting expeditions to India’s base stations to the continent — as the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research.
- It’s also in talks with Canada and Russia, key countries with presence in the Arctic circle, to establish new observation systems.
- Now, India only has one Arctic observation station near Norway.
- While annual missions to maintain India’s three bases in Antarctica will continue, the new priorities mean that there will be more expeditions and research focus on the other poles.
- Climate change was a decisive factor in India re-thinking priorities.
- Sea ice at the Arctic has been melting rapidly — the fastest in this century.
- That means several spots, rich in hydrocarbon reserves, will be more accessible through the year via alternative shipping routes.
- The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.
- India is already an observer at the Arctic Council and, in 2015, set up an underground observatory, called IndARC, at the Kongsfjorden fjord, halfway between Norway and the North Pole.
- Early this month, the Census of India made public the language data based on the 2011 Census, which took into account 120 crore speakers of a very large number of languages
- Recent Census data appear to inadequately reflect India’s linguistic composition
Previous census & their data collection
- The 1931 Census was a landmark as it held up a mirror to the country about the composition of caste and community
- It was during the 1961 census that languages in the country were enumerated in full
- India learnt that a total of 1,652 mother tongues were being spoken
- Using ill-founded logic, this figure was pegged at only 109, in the 1971 Census
- The logic was that a language deserving respectability should not have less than 10,000 speakers
- The language enumeration takes place in the first year of every decade
- The findings are made public about seven years later as the processing of language data is far more time consuming than handling economic or scientific data
- The Language division of the Census office released stats related to languages
- A total of 1,369 names — technically called “labels” — were picked as “being names of languages”
- The 1,369 have been grouped further under a total of 121 “group labels”, which have been presented as “Languages”
- Of these, 22 are languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, called “Scheduled Languages”
- Under the heading “Hindi”, there are nearly 50 other languages
- Bhojpuri, Powari/Pawri of tribals in Maharashtra and even the Kumauni of Uttarakhand has been yoked to Hindi
- The use of English is not seen through the perspective of a second language
- Counting for this is restricted to the “mother tongue” category — in effect bringing down the figure substantially
- Given the widespread use of English in education, law, administration, media and healthcare, a significant number of Indians use English as a utility language
- To some extent, it is the language of integration in our multilingual country
Role of UNESCO in protecting languages
- From time to time, UNESCO tries to highlight the key role that language plays in widening access to education, protecting livelihoods and preserving culture and knowledge traditions
- In 1999/2000, it proclaimed and observed February 21 as International Mother Language Day, while in 2001 the ‘Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity’ accepted the principle of “Safeguarding the linguistic heritage of humanity and giving support to expression, creation and dissemination in the greatest possible number of languages.”
- In pursuit of these, UNESCO has launched a linguistic diversity network and supported research
- It has also brought out an Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, which highlights the central place of language in the world’s heritage
- The Census in India should adequately reflect the linguistic composition of the country
- It is not good practice when data helps neither educators nor policymakers or the speakers of languages themselves
- The Census, a massive exercise that consumes so much time and energy, needs to see how it can help in a greater inclusion of the marginal communities, how our intangible heritage can be preserved, and how India’s linguistic diversity can become an integral part of our national pride
- The bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, that was to be introduced but was deferred in Rajya Sabha, ostensibly pertains only to the status of information commissioners (ICs) at the Centre and in the states
- It proposes that “The salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the chief information commissioner and the information commissioners shall be such as may be prescribed by the central government”
- It also states that the ICs “shall hold office for such terms as may be prescribed by the Central government, instead of five years”
Government’s reasoning and its impact
- The government has argued that the legislation intends to correct an anomaly in the original Act, which placed ICs on par with election commissioners
- If the changes proposed in the bill are carried out, they will dilute the RTI Act considerably
Why is current structure of act important?
- The Act allows an Indian citizen to seek “information from any authority in the country on the payment of Rs 10”
- Its efficacy hinges on the independence of the commissioners who are the final appellate authority for those denied information
- The Act, therefore, stipulates that these officials exercise their powers “without being subject to directions under any other authority”
- Making them dependent on the government for their tenure, therefore, strikes at the core mandate of the Act
- In fact, the bill, in its original avatar, had a provision for deputy commissioners who would function as per the direction of the government but the Parliamentary Committee recommended the deletion of this clause because “it would curb the independence and autonomy of the commissioners”
Objective of RTI & Way Forward
- The fundamental objective of the RTI Act is to ensure transparency in the government’s functioning
- Currently, there are four vacancies in the Central Information Commission, even though more than 23,000 appeals are pending before the agency
- In the first week of July, the Supreme Court termed the shortfall in ICs as “very serious” and asked the Centre and the states to fill up the vacant positions
- In drafting the new bill, the government also seems to have gone against the spirit of the deliberations in Parliament that led to the enactment of the RTI law
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