GS (M) Paper-2: “Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.”
Farm Policy: The window for agricultural reform is closing fast
- For the past one year, Niti Ayog is working on a wide ranging reform package for India’s farm sector.
- Centre plans of liberalising the rules concerned with tenancy governance, contract farming, agri-marketing and forestry.
- But given the past glacial pace of reform in agriculture, nothing dramatic will come out soon, even when hopes are high.
- Little time is left for the government in power to bring in any reform agenda for agriculture as this month end will mark the half way for the Narendra Modi government.
- If anything meaningful is to be achieved, it has to be unveiled in the next 3-4 months, to show results before 2019.
Three basic errors:
The current agricultural reform is likely to repeat the 3 basic errors which marred similar well-meaning attempts in the past are Delhi-centric nature of ongoing consultations/discussions, a one-size-fits-all approach, preaching to states what they need to do.
- Centre over states
- Lack of ownership by states is a primary reason for the failure of agricultural reforms. Agricultural policy or reforms are majorly done by the centre without involvement of the states even when the subject is under the ‘State List’ of the Constitution.
- Every major step taken or decision so far are decided unilaterally by the Centre. Some of the examples are
- Land reforms agenda of the 1950s
- Adoption of Green Revolution technologies
- Farm loan waivers
- Curbs on agricultural exports
- Push to delist fruits & vegetables from the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) regulations, etc.
States presented with fait accompli deal with (or not) in accordance with the political economy peculiar to their regions.
- One size fits all
The one-size-fits-all approach is an affliction emanating from the partial success tasted by policy makers and scientists in implementing the Green Revolution package.
- While the resource-intensive package — involving use of high-yielding dwarf wheat and paddy varieties, large doses of fertilisers and pesticides, and multiple irrigations — worked in the well-endowed regions of north-western and east-coast southern India, the success couldn’t get replicated in the rain fed parts of central and western India.
- The eastern region, too, lacked strong institutions — for instance, village cooperatives to disburse credit and inputs, extension systems, and state agencies to procure the surplus grains from farmers — and couldn’t hence fully exploit the Green Revolution technologies, despite a much more favourable natural resource base, especially with regard to water.
- The Green Revolution approach was clearly unsuited to the North eastern and hill states, but they were still offered the same schemes for agricultural development as in the rest of India.
- It is only in the past decade or so that horticulture has been recognised as the core competent field where these states have a natural growing advantage. But it took decades for Delhi’s policymakers to shed their Green Revolution obsession and allocate some resources for horticulture development in these regions.
- Asking more from states:
- The third mistake that the Centre continues to make is drawing up its own wish list of agricultural reform, which the states are expected to dutifully line up and implement without demur.
What else should the Centre do?
It’s not as if the Centre cannot initiate reforms in agriculture. In fact, in at least three major areas, the onus for leadership and action lies with the Centre.
- The provisioning of credit and capital is something that the Centre and the RBI can largely influence with their policies. The Situational Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households, 2013 reveals that
- Hardly 60% of India’s farmers received institutional credit for cropping operations.
- Among small and marginal farmers, who make up 86% of all agricultural households, the penetration of formal credit was an abysmal 15%.
- This is one area for reform begging Central intervention – and which can dramatically change the fortunes of households at the bottom of the agri pyramid.
- Much pressure has been brought upon states to loosen the stranglehold of APMCs whereas no incentives have really been offered to them. In cities like Delhi and Mumbai – where delisting of fresh produce from compulsory APMC mandi trading has been achieved – the Centre can at least put up state-of-the-art, modern trading infrastructure. This kind of public investment and incentives for creation of new mandis, including in the private sector, could help showcase a model which states may be attracted to emulate.
- Direct cash transfers at least to the weakest and most vulnerable farmers in rain fed areas and the north eastern/hill states must be given.
This is a step only the Centre can take. It has after all accepted the concept of putting money in mouth. It will give New Delhi significant leverage to take up the larger reform agenda with the states in the remaining part of this government’s tenure.
- The above three measures alone can trigger a virtuous cycle of reforms and should be followed up with the creation of a Council on Agriculture hosted by the Centre.
- This could be on the lines of the GST Council, where all the states are represented, while serving as a platform for developing locally relevant reform agendas. Only with patient deliberation and long-term engagement can the states can be brought on board, much in the manner in which the GST reform is currently happening.
- The time is now, or never.
GS (M) Paper-3: “Challenges to internal security”
State of jails: Too many prisoners, too few guards
Recently, the eight alleged SIMI terrorists who were killed by Madhya Pradesh Police hours after they had broken out of Bhopal Central Jail, had unlocked their cell, killed the lone guard on duty, and scaled a 30-foot wall.
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data:
- Jail staff vacancies severely compromise jail security.
- According to the latest data on prisons, published by the NCRB for 2015, there is a vacancy of 33% among prison guards, and 36% among officers.
- As many as 200 inmates escaped — both in jailbreaks and from custody while outside prison premises — across the country in 2015.
- Prisons across the country are facing a severe staff crunch — with over 27,000 vacancies against the sanctioned strength of a little over 80,000.
- Bihar and Jharkhand, have the most poorly guarded jails. Both states have over 65% vacancy among officers, staff and jail guards. Bihar, along with Rajasthan, also has the highest vacancy among officers, at 71%.
- Madhya Pradesh, which also witnessed a similar jailbreak by three alleged SIMI activists of the same group in 2013, has a vacancy of 28%.
- Delhi has some of the most overcrowded jails in the country, housing over 220 inmates for every 100 that it should be having.
- UP, which has the highest number of prisoners and sanctioned strength of jail staff and officers, faces a vacancy of 33%.
Status of Muslims prisoners across the country:
- Muslims make up 15.8% of all convicts and 20.9% of all undertrials in jails across the country. This is higher than their share in the country’s population, which is 14.2%.
- In some states, this gap is even far wider.
- In Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the percentage of Muslims in the incarcerated population was almost thrice the percentage of Muslims in the overall population.
- In states such as West Bengal, Gujarat and Rajasthan, Muslims have almost double the share of undertrial populations in prisons than their share in the populations of the states.
- It is also important to compare these figures with those of Muslim convicts languishing in jails across states. A bigger gap between the two figures would show that while more Muslims are being booked in such states, they are not being convicted for lack of evidence.
- Caste-based analysis shows that 34% of the convicts belong to the general category, while 31.2% belong to the OBC category. Also, 21% belong to the scheduled castes, while 14% belonged to the schedule tribes. Almost similar percentages were reported for caste-based analysis of undertrial prisoners.
- Tamil Nadu also tops in use of preventive detention law with 1,268 detenues held across the State in 2015. The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Forest Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Sand Offenders, Slum Grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982, referred to as the Goondas Act, empowers law-enforcement authorities to issue orders to detain ‘habitual offenders’ for up to a year in prison.