- The Mediation Bill, 2021
What are the changes which the Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended to the draft Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha last year? Will pre-litigation mediation be mandatory for all disputes before filing a suit in court?
The Mediation Bill, 2021 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 20, 2021, with the Parliamentary Standing Committee being tasked with a review of the Bill. The committee’s report to the Rajya Sabha was submitted on July 13, 2022.
The Bill proposes mandatory mediation before litigation. At the same time, it safeguards the rights of litigants to approach competent adjudicatory forums/courts for urgent relief. The mediation process will be confidential and immunity is provided against its disclosure in certain cases. It also establishes the Mediation Council of India and also provides for community mediation.
According to the Bill, pre-litigation mediation is mandatory for both parties before filing any suit or proceeding in a court. Parties who fail to attend pre-litigation mediation without a reasonable reason may incur a cost. However, as per Article 21 of the Constitution, access to justice is a constitutional right which cannot be fettered or restricted. Furthermore, the Bill considers international mediation to be domestic when it is conducted in India with the settlement being recognised as a judgment or decree of a court.
G. S. Bajpai Vikram Karuna
The story so far:
The Mediation Bill, 2021 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 20, 2021, with the Parliamentary Standing Committee being tasked with a review of the Bill. The committee’s report to the Rajya Sabha was submitted on July 13, 2022. In its report, the Committee recommends substantial changes to the Mediation Bill, aimed at institutionalising mediation and establishing the Mediation Council of India.
Why does India need to promote mediation?
While there is no standalone legislation for mediation in India, there are several statutes containing mediation provisions, such as the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, the Companies Act, 2013, the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, and the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee of the Supreme Court of India describes mediation as a tried and tested alternative for conflict resolution. As India is a signatory to the Singapore Convention on Mediation (formally the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation), it is appropriate to enact a law governing domestic and international mediation.
What are the key features of the Bill?
The Bill aims to promote, encourage, and facilitate mediation, especially institutional mediation, to resolve disputes, commercial and otherwise.
The Bill further proposes mandatory mediation before litigation. At the same time, it safeguards the rights of litigants to approach competent adjudicatory forums/courts for urgent relief. The mediation process will be confidential and immunity is provided against its disclosure in certain cases. The outcome of the mediation process in the form of a Mediation Settlement Agreement (MSA) will be legally enforceable and can be registered with the State/district/taluk legal authorities within 90 days to ensure authenticated records of the settlement. The Bill establishes the Mediation Council of India and also provides for community mediation.
What are the concerns with the Bill?
According to the Bill, pre-litigation mediation is mandatory for both parties before filing any suit or proceeding in a court, whether or not there is a mediation agreement between them. Parties who fail to attend pre-litigation mediation without a reasonable reason may incur a cost. However, as per Article 21 of the Constitution, access to justice is a constitutional right which cannot be fettered or restricted. Mediation should just be voluntary and making it otherwise would amount to denial of justice. Additionally, according to Clause 26 of the Bill, court-annexed mediation, including pre-litigation mediation, will be conducted in accordance with the directions or rules framed by the Supreme Court or High Courts. However, the Committee objected to this. It stated that Clause 26 went against the spirit of the Constitution. In countries that follow the Common Law system, it is a healthy tradition that in the absence of statutes, apex court judgments and decisions carry the same weight. The moment a law is passed however, it becomes the guiding force rather than the instructions or judgments given by the courts. Therefore, Clause 26 is unconstitutional.
Furthermore, the Bill considers international mediation to be domestic when it is conducted in India with the settlement being recognised as a judgment or decree of a court. The Singapore Convention does not apply to settlements that already have the status of judgments or decrees. As a result, conducting cross-border mediation in India will exclude the tremendous benefits of worldwide enforceability.
In order to enable a faster resolution of disputes, the Bill should be implemented after discussion with stakeholders. If the issues of the Bill aren’t fixed, our aspirations to become an international mediation hub for easy business transactions could be crushed before they’ve even begun.
2. What are the changes in the UAE’s immigration rules?
Has the United Arab Emirates introduced entry visas that do not require a host or sponsor for visitors? What are the amendments to the procedure for the green residence visa and the much-coveted golden visa?
The changes in the UAE visa rules can be broadly classified into three categories — entry visa, green visa and golden visa. For the first time, the UAE has introduced entry visas that do not require a host or sponsor for visitors. All entry visas will now be available for single or multiple entries and will be valid for 60 days unlike the previous 30-day period.
The new five-year green residence visa is aimed at attracting skilled professionals, freelancers, investors, and entrepreneurs. It replaces the previous residence visa that was valid only for two years.
The restructuring of UAE’s entry and residence system will further boost the country’s image as an ideal destination for work and investment. Thousands of talented professionals are expected to find employment.
The story so far:
The Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs and Port Security began the trial run of the Advanced Visa System on September 6. It was first announced by the UAE Cabinet — led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai in April.
What are the changes?
The changes in the UAE visa rules can be broadly classified into three categories — entry visa, green visa and golden visa. For the first time, the UAE has introduced entry visas that do not require a host or sponsor for visitors. All entry visas will now be available for single or multiple entries and will be valid for 60 days unlike the previous 30-day period. In 2020, golden visas were introduced, designed to enable exceptionally skilled foreigners to live, work and study in the UAE without the need for a national sponsor, according to Emirates News Agency.
What are the different types of visas?
A job exploration visa will be granted if the applicant is classified in the first, second or third skill level as per the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, or is a fresh graduate of the best 500 universities in the world, or has a minimum educational level of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. Another kind of job visa includes the entry permit visa which allows employers to sponsor visitors for temporary work assignments on projects. Universities can also sponsor visitors for attending training and study courses.
A business entry visa allows investors and entrepreneurs to explore business and investment opportunities in the UAE.
For tourists, besides a regular tourist visa, a five-year multi-entry tourist visa enables them to enter multiple times on self-sponsorship and remain in the country for 90 days on each visit, which can be extended for another 90 days. However, the applicant has to submit proof of having a bank balance of $4,000 or its equivalent in foreign currencies for the last six months. A family visa allows parents to sponsor their male children till the age of 25, up from 18, while an entry permit to visit relatives allows a visitor to enter the country if they are a relative or a friend of a UAE citizen/resident.
What are the changes to the green residence and golden visas?
The new five-year green residence visa is aimed at attracting exceptional talent, skilled professionals, freelancers, investors, and entrepreneurs. It replaces the previous residence visa that was valid only for two years. Besides, a grace period of up to six months to stay in the country has been introduced after the residence permit is cancelled or expired.
Few amendments have been made to the golden visa scheme allowing more categories of people to secure the coveted 10-year visa. Scientists, skilled workers, exceptional talent, real estate investors, entrepreneurs, students, humanitarian pioneers, doctors and nurses have also been included in the list. Skilled professionals can get the long-term residency, if they have a minimum monthly salary requirement of AED 30,000 a month. Investors can also get the visa when purchasing a property worth at least AED two million.
How will Indians benefit?
The Indian expatriate community of approximately 3.5 million constitutes about 30% of the UAE population. The restructuring of its entry and residence system will further boost the country’s image as an ideal destination for work and investment. Thousands of talented professionals are expected to find employment in the UAE and tourists can now experience a hassle-free vacation with the simplified visa system.
3. The evolution of the Mahatma’s thought and philosophy
Gandhi’s rejection of the caste system and of discrimination against women became sharper over the years. It is possible however, that he continued to cherish nostalgia for a rural India, as envisioned in the Hind Swaraj
As yet another Gandhi Jayanthi goes by, Irfan Habib in this article dated October 1, 2019 remembers the father of the nation and his developing ideals and principles
The reader need not be reminded that it was in South Africa that Gandhi perfected the mode of Passive Resistance, which he later called “satyagraha”, to defend the interests of the Indian community in South Africa. During this period he was greatly influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin: from the former he derived mainly his hatred of violence and consumerism, and from the latter, respect for labour and concern for the poor. But he took their critiques to apply to the Western industrial society alone, and held that old Indian society was free of the evils the West suffered from. This basic thesis was advanced in his Hind Swaraj, composed in 1909.
The evils of western societies which India on obtaining Swaraj was to abstain from, as listed in this text, are startling: Electoral democracy was one such evil, for Parliaments were “really emblems of slavery”. Women were to have no employment outside the home: otherwise there would arise evils such as the suffragette movement in the West (demanding women’s right to vote). Above all, modern industry based on machinery was to be shunned. There were some faults in existing Indian society that he conceded, such as child marriage and polyandry, but no mention is made of polygamy or untouchability. The caste system is indirectly praised for having barred market competition by assigning a fixed occupation to everyone. It is proclaimed that India was being ruined by the three evils brought by the British, viz. railways, lawyers and doctors. He goes on even to say that rather than build cotton mills in India, India should continue to buy from Manchester! There was no need for compulsory education; “religious education” imparted by “Mullas, [Parsi] Dasturs and Brahmans” was enough.
On the poor
It is remarkable that while Gandhi shows so much concern for the poor, he does not present any proposal in Hind Swaraj for the removal or alleviation of poverty itself. This is, perhaps, mainly because of his belief, unexpressed here but firmly held, in the sanctity of rights of property. As for political action for people to obtain what they legitimately wanted, ‘passive resistance’ was to be the means, to be undertaken, but only by those who “observe perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth, cultivate fearlessness”. No further guidance on how India under Swaraj was to be governed is provided. The only modern notion adopted is that of ‘nation’, which, as in the rest of the world, says Gandhi, is not to be identified with any one religion.
When Gandhi arrived in India early in 1915, these were his views, despite a reprimand over them from his chosen guru, Gopal Krishna Gokhale (d.1915), who had visited South Africa in 1912. Yet there proved in time to be a teacher for Gandhi, far severer than Gokhale, namely, the Indian poor themselves, for they too had ideas for their own salvation quite different from what Gandhi had chosen to prescribe for them in Hind Swaraj .
The very first issue he encountered in India was that of untouchability, a matter ignored in Hind Swaraj . Immediately after he established his ashram at Ahmedabad in 1915 a crisis erupted when he admitted to it an ‘untouchable’ couple. But he withstood it, the couple stayed; and henceforth on this matter Gandhi would give no concession. If he yet went on affirming his faith in varnashram, this was done more or less to keep peace with the bulk of the upper castes.
When Gandhi initiated his first popular agitation in India in 1917, namely, the Champaran struggle against indigo-planters, the issues raised certainly impinged on what the planters regarded as their proprietary rights; and in 1918 when Gandhi went on a hunger-strike in favour of striking textile mill workers, this could hardly be regarded as consistent with his own nihilistic attitude towards modern industry.
Gandhiji’s ideas were put to test still more fundamentally during the Non-Cooperation movement, 1920-22. The main demand initially was for protection of ‘Khilafat’, a purely Islamic institution under the aegis of Ottoman Turkey, now threatened by the victorious Allies, Britain and France. This could well be justified by the invocation of religion as a legitimate source of political action, implicit in Hind Swaraj . But for larger mass support the demand for Swaraj was added to it; and this essentially meant drawing peasants into the struggle. Their role, however, could only be effective if they ceased paying rent to the landlords, who in turn would not then be able to pay the land-tax to the Government. But this struck against Gandhi’s notion of protection of property, and he specifically prohibited such action by peasants in U.P. through his “instructions” issued in February 1921. Yet peasants, especially in U.P., defied the injunction in many places.
The village connect
The experience of the Non-Cooperation movement, led Gandhiji to formulate in 1924, his ‘Constructive Programme’. He had by now made his peace with electoral democracy by advocating optional universal suffrage for legislative bodies in an article in 1924. His Constructive Programme concentrated on work in the villages, involving the promotion of Khadi (hand-woven cloth out of hand-spun cotton), which was in line with his rejection of machine-made cloth, though here opposition to use of foreign, especially British, manufactured cloth was also involved. Allied with this project was a campaign for Hindu-Muslim unity and removal of untouchability. Simultaneously Gandhi developed his theory of the property-owners as custodians of the poor, the mill-owners looking after their workers, and landlords, after their tenants. This was part of an obvious bid to overcome class antagonisms. However, the approach was bound to have little practical consequence, since few Zamindars came forward to shower money on their tenants.
When the next cycle of Civil Disobedience began in 1930, the acute distress of peasants owing to the Great Depression of 1929-32, tended to convert it largely into a peasant struggle. There was also now a growing industrial working class. To both peasants and workers the radical approach of Jawaharlal Nehru, himself greatly influenced by the Soviet Revolution of 1917, made a special appeal. Gandhi had already recognised the importance of Nehru as a figure commanding great popularity; and there is no doubt that he was now prepared to make concessions to Nehru’s approach. So came about his readiness to espouse Nehru’s draft resolution on Fundamental Rights, which Gandhi himself moved at the Karachi session of the Congress on 31 March 1931.
This resolution established many principles in favour of which Gandhi had not yet pronounced, such as equality between men and women not only as voters, but also in appointments to public offices and exercise of trade: reduction of agricultural rent and levy of tax on landlord incomes, state ownership or control of key industries, and, finally, scaling down of the debts of the poor.
Perhaps, Gandhiji later wished to draw back from some of what he had conceded (“a heavy price for the allegiance of Jawaharlal”, in the words of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru). Thus to Nehru’s clear chagrin, he assured zamindars in U.P. that he would stand by them, if anyone attacked their rights; and when in September 1934 he resigned (formally) from the Congress, he cited as a grievance the rise of the “socialist group” in the Congress. Yet there is no evidence that he opposed in any manner the Congress Provincial Governments in U.P. and Bihar in 1937-39 when they framed their legislation restricting zamindars’ rights in relation to their tenants.
During these years, in fact, Gandhi chose for his main activity the welfare of the Depressed Castes, whom he now called Harijans. Provoked by the British Government’s Communal Award of August 1932, he went on fast against separate electorates created for depressed castes. This led to the well-known Poona Pact between depressed caste leaders, and caste Hindu representatives. Contrary to present-day denunciations of the Pact, it actually improved the representation of the Depressed Castes by more than doubling the seats reserved for them in the Provincial Legislatures, and providing 18% reservation (against none in the Communal Award) in the Central Legislature. There was also provision for an initial vote among Depressed Caste voters to select four eligible candidates for each reserved seat.
The Poona Pact proved a signal for Gandhiji from 1932 onward to initiate a nationwide campaign against untouchability and for ‘Harijan’ uplift. Increasingly, Gandhi now avoided giving any sanction to the caste system, or any philosophical defence of varnashram.
It is difficult to assess how much the experience of the Second World War II (1939-45) and the Quit-India movement of 1942 further altered Gandhiji’s social views. It is possible that he continued to cherish some nostalgia for a rural India, content with its poverty, as envisioned in Hind Swaraj , and a reassertion of the responsibilities of the rich as custodians of the poor. But, by and large, his rejection of the inequities of the caste system and of discrimination against women became only sharper.
Above all, his concerns for Hindu-Muslim unity became ever more focused as he stood rock-like against communal violence that enveloped the country in the year of Independence. In his last great act, he went on fast in January 1948 to make India pay ₹Rs55 crore, the sum due to Pakistan, while both countries were at war with each other, and to get Muslims in Delhi back to their homes, from which they had been driven out. Here in practice, was a real assertion of internationalism and sheer humanity — for which he paid with his life on 30 January 30, 1948. It is fitting to remember that on the issue of communal amity Gandhi thus remained as firm till the end as he was at the time of writing Hind Swaraj.
4. Induction of indigenously built Light Combat Helicopter marks a new chapter: Air chief
Induction of the indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) adds unique capability to the combat potential of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and marks a new chapter, said Air Chief Marshal (ACM) V. R. Chaudhari on Monday as the twin-engine helicopter was formally inducted into the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’ at the Jodhpur Air Force Station.
“The induction of LCH underlines the fact that just as the country trusts the IAF, the IAF equally trusts the indigenous equipment,” said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who presided over the induction ceremony.
Stating that the LCH met the requirements of modern warfare and necessary quality parameters under varied conditions of operations, Mr. Singh said it fully met the requirements of both the Army and the Air Force.
The Army had formally received its first LCH in Bengaluru last week.
The twin-engine LCH, designed and developed by HAL, is a 5-8 tonne class dedicated combat helicopter. It was conceptualised after the 1999 Kargil conflict when the need for such a dedicated platform capable of operating in high altitudes was felt. It is the only attack helicopter in the world which can land and take-off at an altitude of 5,000 m (16,400 ft) with considerable load of weapons and fuel significantly augmenting the firepower of the IAF and the Army in high altitude areas.
The helicopter has a combat radius of 500 km and go up to a service ceiling of 21,000 feet which makes it ideal to operate at high altitude areas of the Siachen glacier.
Speaking at the event, C.B. Ananthakrishnan, Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL), said four LCH had been delivered to the IAF and four more would be delivered within this financial year.
The contract for 10 Limited Series Production (LSP) helicopters was signed between the IAF and the HAL on March 30 and the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’ which is operating the LCH was raised on June 1.
The first prototype of the helicopter took first flight on March 29, 2010, and has since undergone extensive testing and evaluation. The LCH is armed with 20 mm nose gun, 70 mm rockets, anti-tank guided missile ‘Dhruvastra’ and air-to-air missile ‘Mistral-2’ of MBDA which has a maximum interception range of 6.5 km.
5. 69% houses under PMAY in rural India are owned by women, says govt.
Data shared by the government reveal that a total of two crore houses have been built, as against the sanction for 2.46 crore residences
Over 69% of houses constructed under the Prime Minister’s special housing scheme are either wholly or jointly owned by women in rural areas.
According to the data shared by the government, as on September 29, 2022, a total of two crore houses had been constructed out of the 2.46 crore houses that were sanctioned.
Of this, 69% are owned partly or completely by women.
Launched by PM
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin) was launched by the Prime Minister in 2016 with the aim of constructing 2.95 crore houses.
A senior official in the Ministry of Women and Child Development said it had been the government’s endeavour to ensure women get a fair share of government schemes under the Nari Shakti initiative.
The idea behind the initiative is to have “women-led” development instead of “development of women”.
“By providing houses under the PMAY–G, the government has fulfilled the aspirations of women of owning a pucca house and strengthened their participation in the financial decision making of the household. Living in a pucca house with basic amenities gives security, dignity and economic power and uplifts their social inclusion,” he said.
According to the government, another initiative which has helped safeguard the health of women and children was ensuring supply of clean cooking fuel under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
Over 9.4 crore LPG connections have been released under the Ujjwala Yojana. This scheme also received global recognition from International Energy Agency, which has described it as a major achievement in improving the environment and health of women, it said.
Another scheme that has helped women gain dignity and security is the Swachh Bharat Mission under which 11.5 crore toilets were constructed in the rural areas and 70 lakh were built in the urban areas.
The government quoted a report, “Access to toilets and the safety, convenience and self-respect of women in rural India”, to claim that after the construction of toilets, 93% of women reported that they were no longer afraid of being hurt by someone or harmed by animals while defecating.
As many as 93% of women reported they are no longer afraid of contracting health infections; 92% of women said they were no longer afraid of going to the toilet in the dark of night, the report said.
Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana
• The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation launched Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in 2015.
• The Programme was initiated with the objective of ‘Housing for All by 2022’.
• Providing housing Facilities to rural poor and urban poor including slum dwellers
• Financial assistance provided to eligible beneficiaries for construction of pucca houses.
• The Centre and States share the Cost of the houses made under the scheme.
• The mission has 2 Components: Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Rural).
• Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Gramin (PMAY-G) was formerly called the Indira Awas Yojana and was renamed in March 2016.
o It is targeted at promoting accessibility and affordability of housing for all of rural India with the exceptions of Delhi and Chandigarh.
• Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) Programme
o In Situ Slum Redevelopment: Slum rehabilitation grant of Rs. 1 lakh per house, on an average, would be admissible for all houses built for eligible slum dwellers in all such projects. Slums so redeveloped should compulsorily be denotified.
o Affordable Housing through Credit Linked Subsidy: Under Credit Linked Subsidy, beneficiaries of Economically Weaker section (EWS) and Low-Income Group (LIG) can seek housing loans from Banks, Housing Finance Companies and other such institutions for new construction and enhancement to existing dwellings as incremental housing.
o Affordable Rental Housing Complexes: It will be a mix of single/double bedroom Dwelling Units and Dormitory of 4/6 beds including all common facilities which will be exclusively used for rental housing for a minimum period of 25 years.
• Aadhaar Card is mandatory to take benefit of the scheme.
• Economically weaker sections and Middle-Income Groups are also eligible for Financial assistance under the Missions.
• Priority given to SCs, STs, OBSs, differently abled persons, senior citizens, Minority, single women, transgender and other Socio-economic weaker sections of the society.
• Identification of beneficiaries eligible for assistance and their prioritisation to be done using information from Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) ensuring total transparency and objectivity.
• The ownership of houses is provided in the name of female members or in joint names.
• Houses made under the scheme would ensure basic facilities like salutation, tap water connection, etc.
• Under the scheme, the Government promoted Training to Rural Masons under Rural Mason Training (RMT) programme to make available a pool of trained rural masons for faster construction of quality houses.
Objectives of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana
• To promote empowerment of citizens, as the Ownership of a house is one of the key indicators of socio-economic development.
• Ensuring Women empowerment through the Scheme, as the ownership of the house is provided in the name of a female member or joint ownership.
• To Promote Cooperative Federalism, Autonomy is given to States/UTs to decide the list of beneficiaries and adopt innovative methods to implement housing projects.
Initiatives taken under PMAY
• The Ministry is taking various steps to increase the pace of sanction and completion of houses.
• The government has identified hindrances coming in the way of implementation of PMAY-G and are taking various steps in this regard.
• Timely allocation of targets to the States/UTs.
• Micro monitoring of house sanction and completion using PMAY-G Dashboard and other IT tools and technologies.
• Regular review by Minister/ Secretary/ Additional Secretary and Joint Secretary.
• Separate review of States with high targets and sub-par performance.
• Adoption of House Design Typologies by the States/UTs.
• Training to Rural Masons under Rural Mason Training (RMT) programme to make available a pool of trained rural masons for faster construction of quality houses.
6. MGNREGS to fund work to reverse desertification of land across the States
The employment scheme will work in tandem with the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana to help take up treatment of about 30% more land than feasible with the current scheme size
With limited funds to deal with the gargantuan task of restoring degraded land and reversing desertification in the country, the government is now planning to bring convergence between the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY).
According to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas published by the Environment Ministry in 2021, at least 30% of India’s total geographical area is under the category of “degraded land”.
Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa have more than 50% of land area undergoing desertification or degradation, while States with less than 10% land degradation are Kerala, Assam, Mizoram, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh.
In a recent jointly signed advisory, Nagendra Nath Sinha, Secretary, Rural Development, and Ajay Tirkey, Secretary, Department of Land Resources, urged the Chief Secretaries of the States to ensure that the two schemes work in tandem. Under the latter, activities such as ridge area treatment, drainage line treatment, soil and moisture conservation, rainwater harvesting, nursery raising, afforestation, horticulture and pasture development are done.
The Union government now wants the States to undertake these activities using MGNREGS funds, which go towards both material and wage components.
In 2019, the government raised its target of restoration of degraded land from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares by 2030 following a commitment made during the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14). Nearly three years on, the government is nowhere near this target.
Though the Ministry has been making efforts to contribute towards meeting the international commitment, the constraints posed on economy by the pandemic restricted the target to 4.95 million hectares by 2025-26. Therefore, there is a compelling reason for the Ministry to explore alternative opportunities to fulfil the commitment, the advisory read.
The Rural Development Ministry is now hoping that by making use of the MGNREGS, which for the financial year 2022-23 has a budget of ₹73,000 crore, the government can scale up the area to be covered.
As of now, there is Central allocation of ₹8,134 crore for developing 4.95 million hectares.
By the Ministry’s own estimate, a convergence with the MGNREGS could help take up treatment of about 30% more land than feasible with the current scheme size.
Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sinchai Yojana
o It is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (Core Scheme) launched in 2015. Centre- States will be 75:25 per cent. In the case of the north-eastern region and hilly states, it will be 90:10.
• It will benefit about 22 lakh farmers, including 2.5 lakh scheduled caste and two lakh scheduled tribe farmers.
o In 2020, the Ministry of Jal Shakti launched a mobile application for Geo-Tagging of the components of projects under PMKSY.
o It has three main components namely the AIBP, HKKP and Watershed Development.
• AIBP was launched in 1996 with the aim of accelerating the implementation of irrigation projects that exceed the resource capabilities of states.
• HKKP aims to create new water sources through Minor Irrigation. Repair, restoration and renovation of water bodies, strengthening carrying capacity of traditional water sources, construction rain water harvesting structures.
• It has sub components: Command Area Development (CAD), Surface Minor Irrigation (SMI), Repair, Renovation and Restoration (RRR) of Water Bodies, Ground Water Development.
• Watershed Development is the effective management of runoff water and improved soil & moisture conservation activities such as ridge area treatment, drainage line 5 treatment, rain water harvesting, in – situ moisture conservation and other allied activities on watershed basis.
o Convergence of investments in irrigation at the field level.
o To expand the cultivable area under assured irrigation (Har Khet ko pani).
o To improve on-farm water use efficiency to reduce wastage of water.
o To enhance the adoption of precision-irrigation and other water saving technologies (More crop per drop).
o To 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 a precision irrigation system.
• An aquifer is a body of porous rock or sediment saturated with groundwater. Groundwater enters an aquifer as precipitation seeps through the soil. It can move through the aquifer and resurface through springs and wells.
• Peri-urban agriculture refers to farm units close to town which operate intensive semi- or fully commercial farms to grow vegetables and other horticulture, raise chickens and other livestock, and produce milk and eggs.
• Precision Irrigation is an innovative technique that uses water wisely and helps farmers achieve higher levels of crop yield in a minimal amount of water
Formulation: It was formulated by amalgamating following schemes:
o Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) – Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation (now Ministry of Jal Shakti).
o Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) – Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development.
o On-Farm Water Management (OFWM) – Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC).
Implementation: Decentralized implementation through State Irrigation Plan and District Irrigation Plan.
7. Editorial-1: With the rupee under pressure, what next
Even without getting into any quantitative measure of vulnerability, it is quite clear that the rupee is under pressure. In the last one year, it depreciated by over 10%, has crossed the psychological marker of ₹80 to a dollar, and India’s foreign exchange reserves are down by more than $100 billion.
The rupee is falling on account of two factors. The first is the widening current account deficit, mainly owing to the rise in the price of oil triggered by the Ukraine war. And the second is capital outflows, driven by a strengthening dollar on the back of aggressive rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Tantrums, but not of the taper variety
Having been at the helm in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) during the taper tantrums of 2013, I have been asked in recent weeks whether India is heading into a similar crisis. I believe that is unlikely because there are big differences between the external situation then and now. For one, there was pressure built up in the exchange rate then whereas the exchange rate today is tracking fundamentals more closely. Second, India’s macro situation then was fragile because of year-on-year high fiscal and current account deficits. Most importantly, India’s current war chest of reserves inspires confidence that India lacked at that time.
Arguably, the pressure on the rupee has softened, if only modestly, compared to six months ago, because the price of oil which was ruling above $100 to a barrel has since dropped to $88, India’s monthly trade deficit appears to have come off the peak, and capital flows are stabilising.
This is by no means to suggest that India is slowly heading into a comfort zone. On the contrary, the country remains vulnerable on many counts.
At risk on different counts
By far the most important vulnerability stems from the current account deficit (CAD) — a broader measure than the trade deficit because it takes into account invisibles such as, for example, travel and tourism — is expected to widen to beyond 3% of GDP this year, higher than 2.5% that the RBI considers to be the safe limit. India can withstand a one-off overshoot of the CAD beyond the safety zone, but there can be no reassurance that it will soften soon given the Fed’s seeming commitment to continue hiking rates until inflation in the U.S. is tamed and there is the unlikely prospect of the Ukraine war ending anytime soon.
What accentuates India’s vulnerability is the fiscal deficit. For all the talk of fiscal consolidation, the combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and the States is still above 10% of GDP, possibly higher if the contingent liabilities, especially of the States, are also brought to the book. It is worth remembering that India’s severe balance of payments crisis in 1991 and the near crisis in 2013 were both consequences of fiscal deficits spilling over into the external sector. The twin deficit problem is still very much with us.
Some comfort is seen to be drawn from the fact that this is a global problem, and India is not in it alone; also, that the rupee has fallen much less than most currencies, including hard currencies such as the euro and the pound. That comfort is misplaced. Even if the problem is global, the consequences are domestic. Moreover, India’s fiscal situation is more stretched than that of most economies.
Quite justifiably, India has come to look upon its foreign exchange reserves as a buffer against exchange rate pressures. It cannot get too sanguine though. There are many metrics for measuring the adequacy of reserves; one of them is to see them as a ratio of GDP. That ratio which stood at 21% in March 2022 as a proportion of FY22 GDP has since declined to about 17% of expected FY23 GDP, not very much higher than the ratio of below the 15% it had dipped to during the taper tantrums of 2013.
Besides, experience shows that in times of pressure, market perceptions are shaped more by how rapidly the reserves are falling — the ‘burn rate’ — rather than the absolute level of reserves.
The ‘R’ word, it seems, is no longer a taboo; recessions in the U.S. and Europe look much more likely today than they did a couple of months ago. How will India’s fortunes change if that happens? Much will depend on the depth and the duration of the recessions, but for sure, India’s exports, already struggling, will be further hit. On the positive side, the international price of crude will soften and global financial conditions can be expected to ease. How these opposing forces will play off is uncertain, but my hunch is that on a net basis, a recession in advanced economies will hurt the country.
The Russian question, the RBI’s actions
In August, the RBI allowed domestic traders to settle their import and export bills in rupees. Although projected as a bold move to internationalise the rupee, it was essentially an effort to enable payments for the crude that India buys from Russia in rupees. That arrangement has not taken off so far; if and when it does, it can save up to $4 billion a month in forex outgo which will be a substantial relief in a trade deficit of $20billion-$25 billion right now.
The RBI has been intervening in the market — selling dollars from its foreign exchange kitty — to defend the rupee. Presumably, the effort is to prevent volatility but not target any specific exchange rate. Experience shows that any attempt to prop up the rupee against fundamentals will be a costly and futile endeavour. All the RBI can — and indeed should — do is to engineer the trajectory of the fall, not prevent the fall itself. There is in fact a good case for the RBI to allow some depreciation of the rupee. The real effective exchange rate (REER) of the rupee, which is a broader measure of its value against the currencies of India’s trading partners, is overvalued, suggesting some room for depreciation. If that movement towards equilibrium is allowed, it will support exports, restrain non-oil imports, and help narrow the current account balance.
For sure, a weaker rupee will be inflationary, but the RBI should deal with that with its monetary policy as it already is doing.
We live in a difficult world where macroeconomic management is hostage to global economic conditions. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary John B. Connally famously told his G-10 counterparts in 1971 that “the dollar is our currency, but it’s your problem”. That is even truer today because of deepened financial globalisation and the continuing hegemony of the dollar.
8. Editorial-2: Every drop counts
The infrastructure created as part of the Jal Jeevan Mission must be long lasting
One of the most significant commitments of the Narendra Modi government is to ensure piped water to every rural household by 2024. Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, led by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, 10.2 crore rural households, or about 53% of the eligible population, now have tap water access. This, the Government claims, is a 37-percentage point rise from 2019 when the scheme was announced, where its stated aim is to ensure at least 55 litres per person per day of potable water to every rural household — which implies a mere connection does not suffice. The Government commissions annual surveys to evaluate the success of the scheme. A recent audit, by a private agency, found that around 62% of rural households in India had fully functional tap water connections within their premises. A report of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources in March, based on numbers provided by the nodal Jal Shakti Ministry, stated that 46% households had such fully functional tap water connections. It is important to note that for the purposes of the survey, only 3% of rural households were surveyed by the agency for the updated numbers and so the margin of error may be substantial and subject to the way the survey was designed. If the numbers are accurate, however, this represents an impressive rise in potable, tap water accessibility and suggests that the mission is well on its way to meeting its 2024 target.
The survey, however, revealed wide disparities in achievement. Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Puducherry reported more than 80% of households with fully functional connections while less than half the households in Rajasthan, Kerala, Manipur, Tripura, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Sikkim had such connections. About 75% of households received water all days of the week, and only 8% just once a week. On average, households got water for three hours every day. Moreover, the report mentions a problem of chlorine contamination. Though 93% of the water samples were reportedly free of bacteriological contamination, most of the anganwadi centres and schools had higher than the permissible range of residual chlorine. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the progress of the scheme but with the economy now close to pre-pandemic levels, it is likely that the challenges of labour and material have softened somewhat to aid the progress of the scheme. The Centre should liaise better with States that are falling behind in targets and ensure that the infrastructure created as part of the scheme is long lasting and not merely to meet election targets.
9. Editorial-3: A decisive shift in the discourse on abortion rights
Recently, a single woman, residing in Delhi, approached the Delhi High Court seeking permission to terminate her 22-week-old pregnancy. The reason for her wanting a Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) at this stage was a change in her personal circumstances — her partner did not want to support her and the pregnancy any more and she did not want to continue this journey on her own because of her practical realities.
The Delhi High Court refused her permission by referring to the recently amended provisions of the MTP Act, which recognised the need for a request for an MTP by an unmarried woman on the grounds of contraceptive failure; however, this was only till 20 weeks of gestational limit. A change in circumstance was available, as per the law, only for a married woman up to 24 weeks.
The woman filed an appeal before the Supreme Court of India, which in the first instance, granted her permission to terminate the pregnancy based on the report of the medical board concerned. It also heard the case on the aspect of the constitutionality of the classification based on the marital status of a woman that the law, particularly the rules, has created.
The day of the judgment started with bits and pieces of information coming in about the Supreme Court judgment on access for termination of pregnancy services for women up to 24 weeks irrespective of their marital status. What was not expected was a judgment keeping the pregnant person at the centre of it despite the law being provider-centric, and to read a judgment that beautifully encapsulates all the concerns that exist about the legal regime on abortion in India. For this, one has to thank the top court of India for providing women a ray of hope.
There are five key aspects of this judgment that need to be shared.
First, it acknowledges the context of criminality in which access to abortion in India is — the Indian Penal Code criminalises accessing and providing an abortion except where there is an immediate necessity to save the life of the pregnant woman, and that the MTP Act is an exception to this criminal offence. This means that any termination of pregnancy that does not fall within the realm of the MTP Act is an offence under the IPC. By doing this, the judgment contextualises the narrow space within which abortion is legalised in the country.
Second, the judgment holds unconstitutional the distinction that the law, through the rules, has made between a married pregnant woman and an unmarried pregnant woman. The judgment basically holds that what is accessible and available for a married pregnant woman should be accessible and available to any pregnant woman, and that a classification based on marital status is fallacious and illegal.
The third aspect is an acknowledgement that a pregnancy which is a result of rape can be one due to forced sexual intercourse within a marriage, and while the issue of marital rape being recognised as an offence is before the Supreme Court, that a pregnancy can be sought to be terminated on the ground of it being as a result of rape by the husband of the pregnant woman must be recognised. In this, the judgment basically reiterates that you cannot make a distinction between a woman who is pregnant because of rape only on the grounds of her marital status. Thereby acknowledging that a distinction made on the basis of marital status where it discriminates against the single woman and where it discriminates against the married woman on the issue of access to abortion is unreasonable.
The fourth aspect is an acknowledgement of concerns with accessing safe and legal MTP services that adolescent girls who have indulged in consensual sexual activity and seeking an abortion face due to the provisions of mandatory reporting to the police as in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. This judgment clarifies that while the need to report mandatorily remains, the identity of the pregnant person need not be disclosed in the cases of consensual sexual activity and where the minor and/or her guardian request the medical service provider to maintain confidentiality.
The fifth aspect is a recognition of the fact that the law in its current form is non-inclusive and the terminology used is exclusionary. It also recognises the extra-legal requirements that medical practitioners insist upon before providing MTP services, only to safeguard themselves due to the context of criminality.
Finally, the judgment has created progressive jurisprudence which interprets an otherwise medical law from the point of view of the rights of the persons accessing the services, even though it has not been acknowledged as a right yet, and is conditional. While doing this, the Court has placed a reliance on the various rulings of the Court itself, which have upheld bodily autonomy and the right to dignity and decision making in various aspects.
The Court has also woven in this jurisprudence its reliance on the international commitments and obligations of India in ensuring safe and legal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights that include abortions.
This judgment is a ray of hope and brings to the fore the possibility of the law acknowledging the right of every person capable of becoming pregnant to be able to decide what she thinks is best for her without the need for any third-party authorisation, and only supported by medical advice.
10. Editorial-4: Is TN’s breakfast scheme populist or pertinent?
Is the ‘Chief Minister’s Breakfast Scheme’ in Tamil Nadu required in a Dravidian welfare model state today or is it yet another populist scheme couched cleverly in the language of welfare of the poor? With a budget outlay of ₹33.5 crore in the initial phase, the new scheme caters to 1,14,095 primary school students from 1,545 government schools. It mainly aims to help students attend school hunger-free and improve their nutritional status.
The scheme stands at the confluence of three sociopolitical developments: a fierce but murky political debate on freebies, falling human development performance, and the educational disruption caused by COVID-19. Chief Minister M.K. Stalin defended the scheme as a responsibility of the state, and not as a freebie, charity or incentive. This distinction is significant as the freebie debate clubs clientelist, populist, welfare-promoting, and human development-enhancing schemes as one and denigrates all of them without distinction. The States have a responsibility to promote welfare and minimise inequalities in income as well as in facilities and opportunities among individuals and groups (Article 38). The freebie debate strategically deploys fiscal burden as a potent tool to possibly constrain States from discharging this responsibility.
The welfare responsibility of the States remains undiminished, especially since India is ranked 71 out of 113 countries on the Global Food Security Index, 101 out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index, and 132 out of 191 countries on the Human Development Index. India’s mean years of schooling stood at just 6.7 years in 2020-21. Additionally, India has among the highest levels of inequality in education. This corresponds closely with the rising wealth inequality, as brought out by the recent Credit Suisse report.
Despite this dismal record, India’s spending in human development-enhancing welfare schemes has been wanting. There is an urgent need for implementing innovative and effective welfare schemes to address the disruptions caused by the pandemic in the education and nutrition sectors and strengthen these sectors. Initiatives such as Illam Thedi Kalvi and Ennum Ezhuthum were positive attempts in the education sector. Since the breakfast scheme is introduced as a first-of-its-kind scheme to address nutritional deficiencies among primary school-going children, it is relevant to look at how T.N. fares.
How Tamil Nadu fares
The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18, carried out in May-August 2018 in T.N., shows us the level of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies among children aged 5-9 years. About 10% of children aged 5-9 years were stunted in 2018, much lower than the all-India average of 22% and marginally lower than Kerala’s average (11%). T.N. had a marginally higher level of underweight children (23%) than Kerala (21%), but this was lower than the national average (35%). In T.N., 19% of children were malnourished (BMI for age), which was higher than the 16% in Kerala but lower than the national average (23%). About 10% and 7% were anaemic and deficient in Vitamin A, respectively, whereas 41% were deficient in Vitamin D. While the State’s levels were lower than the national average in anaemia and Vitamin A deficiency, but not in Vitamin D deficiency, they were much higher than Kerala’s average. T.N.’s performance is relatively good in aspects of nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies among primary school students, but the levels would be higher among children from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.
To what extent can the new scheme improve nutritional performance and address specific micronutrient deficiencies? The answer depends on the focus and content of the scheme. Since the scheme caters mainly to children from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, who constitute the major proportion of students at government schools, it scores well on focus and appears pertinent given the huge socioeconomic disparity in the nutritional outcomes of children. But going by the content of the scheme, it seems unlikely that it will bring any substantial or sustained improvements in the above-mentioned aspects of nutrition, especially since T.N. is already doing well in this regard.
Though the scheme has the potential to ensure that children attend classes hunger-free, reliable and representative data on what proportion of them attend school without having breakfast regularly is scarce. Though the State acknowledges that students tend to skip breakfast because of the school timing and their financial situation, it is important to identify which among these is the significant contributor. The present approach does not distinguish between the two.
Nonetheless, the scheme might yield a positive outcome in one important aspect. Studies from other countries suggest that free breakfast schemes might help increase educational outcomes through a likely increase in school attendance and improved concentration on studies. Though T.N. fares quite well overall in NITI Aayog’s index on school education quality, its performance in the subcomponent on learning outcomes seems rather wanting.