1. Farm unions protest direct payment order issued by FCI
They warn that the Centre’s insistence on tenancy documentation could derail the crop procurement process
Recent orders from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) have led to a new flashpoint in the ongoing farmers protests, with farm unions warning that the Centre’s insistence on direct payment and tenancy documentation could derail the crop procurement process.
On Monday, farm unions affiliated to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha protested outside the FCI offices in Punjab and Haryana, as well as some locations in other States such as Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Declaring it as FCI Bachao Divas (or Save FCI Day), farmers demanded an immediate withdrawal of the recent orders.
“The government should roll back the provision of direct payment to the bank account. Implementing it in haste can lead to many complex problems that will exclude so many farmers from getting their price of the crop,” said an SKM letter to the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs. The FCI has insisted that direct payment to farmers’ bank accounts, bypassing the powerful arhatiyas or commission agents, will lead to greater transparency and accountability. Since arhatiyas play a key role in the Punjab and Haryana farm ecosystem by providing farm loans, the move has been opposed by a large section of farmers, as well as the Punjab government.
Another FCI order stipulates that tenant farmers and sharecroppers must produce a jamabandhi, or legal agreement proving that they have the right to till leased land, in order to get paid for procured crops. Thousands of sharecroppers do not have such agreements and will be hit hard by this move. SKM is demanding that this order be withdrawn as well.
The FCI’s fresh proposals to tighten quality requirements for wheat and paddy procurement from the next marketing season are also being opposed.
At a broader level, farmers connected their issues with the FCI with their existing demands to repeal the farm laws and enact a legal guarantee for procurement of all crops and minimum support prices.
“The Acts will increase control of the private sector in food grains storage, cold storage, food processing and marketing,” said the All India Kisan Sabha, in a letter addressed to the PM.
“Ultimately the government plans to wind up subsidised food distribution under [the Public Distribution System] and reduce it to a cash transfer scheme under pressure from the [World Trade Organisation] and imperialist countries like the U.S.A. It also plans to sell off the FCI warehouses to the private sector to pay off the debts,” it added, accusing the Centre of reducing the FCI’s budget and procurement centres in recent years.
PDS and TPDS
The Public Distribution System (PDS) which evolved as a system of management for food and distribution of food grains was relaunched as Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in June 1997. This programme is controlled by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India. TPDS emphasizes on the implementation and identification of the poor for proper arrangement and delivery of food grains. Therefore, the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) under the Government of India plays the same role as the PDS but adds a special focus on the people below the poverty line.
The below-table will give a quick overview of Public Distribution System (PDS) and Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in India
|Difference between Public Distribution System and Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS)||Both PDS and TPDS have same role, TPDS focuses more on people below poverty line (BPL)|
|PDS relaunched as TPDS||In June 1997|
|Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) – Operated By||TPDS is jointly operated by Central Government and State Government|
|Role of Central Govt in TPDS||Procurement, Allocation, Transportation of food grains to Food Corporation of India (FCI)|
|Role of State Govt in TPDS||Allocation, Distribution of Food grains, Identify beneficiaries, issue ration cards.|
|TPDS – Beneficiaries||Beneficiaries Divided into 2 categories – Households Below Poverty Line and Households Above Poverty Line.|
Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) is jointly operated by Central and State Governments. The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) came into operation in June 1997 under the Government of India with a focus on the poor. Under the operations of TPDS, the beneficiaries were divided into two categories:
- Households Below the poverty line (BPL)
- Households Above the poverty line (APL)
Central Government is responsible for
- Procurement of food grains
- Allocation of food grains
- Transportation of food grains to designated depots of Food Corporation of India (FCI).
State Government is responsible for
- Allocation and Distribution of food-grains within the state.
- Identification of eligible beneficiaries.
- Issuance of ration cards.
Who Introduced the PDS System?
- PDS was introduced during the time of World War II. It was before the year 1960 that the distribution through PDS was dependant on imports of food grains.
- The Public Distribution System was then expanded in the 1960s to handle food shortages and take care of distribution.
- The Food Corporation of India and the Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices were also set up by the government of India to improve domestic procurement and storage of food grains.
- It was during the 1970s when PDS evolved as a universal scheme for the distribution of food.
Use of PDS
There are several benefits of PDS
- It helps in maintaining the Food Security of the nation.
- It helps in making sure that food is available for the poor at affordable prices.
- Maintains buffer stock of food grains which will help during the lean season of crop production.
2. Railways completes arch closure of Chenab bridge
The bridge will be 35 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower
The Railways on Monday said it had completed the arch closure of the 1315m Chenab Bridge, the world’s highest railway bridge.
Terming it one of the biggest civil engineering challenges faced by any project in India, the Railways added that at 359m above the river bed level, the bridge would be 35 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The Chenab bridge is part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link project (USBRL) and completion of the steel arch is an important construction milestone.
Most difficult part
“This was one of the most difficult part of the bridge over Chenab. This achievement is a major leap towards the completion of the 111-km-long winding stretch from Katra to Banihal,” the Railways added.
The arch consists of steel boxes, which will be filled with concrete to improve stability. The bridge is being built at a cost of ₹1,486 crore and can withstand high wind speed up to 266 km per hour.
3. Editorial-1: The pillars of an equitable post-COVID India
In the post-pandemic world, addressing inequality is key to sustaining growth and well-being
COVID-19 in the last one year has once again reminded us of the growing inequalities in India. A recent Pew Research Report shows that India’s middle class may have shrunk by a third due to the novel coronavirus pandemic while the number of poor people earning less than ₹150 per day more than doubled. The Pew report also warned that the situation may actually be worse than estimated because of worsening inequalities. International organisations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the International Labour Organization have also warned about rising inequalities in several countries including India due to the pandemic.
Made worse now
Inequalities in India have been high even in the pre-COVID-19 period. The economic shock due to the pandemic has been much more severe for the country for two reasons. First, pre-COVID-19, the economy was already slowing down, compounding existing problems of unemployment, low incomes, rural distress, malnutrition, and widespread inequality. Second, India’s large informal sector is particularly vulnerable. Inequalities were increasing earlier also but the pandemic has widened them further. For example, the share of wages declined as compared to that of profits. The big companies and a large part of the corporate sector could manage the pandemic. The quarterly net profit of the BSE200 companies reached a record high of ₹1.67 trillion in the third quarter of FY21 and was up by 57% year-on-year. But the informal sector and workers have suffered a lot with loss of incomes and employment in the last one year. In other words, the recovery is more k-shaped with rising inequalities.
The economy recovered in the third quarter of FY21 with a positive GDP growth of 0.4% as compared to minus 24.4% in the first quarter and minus 7.3% in the second quarter. For the year FY21, the economy would contract by 8%. GDP growth is likely to increase by 10%-11% in FY22. But the levels of GDP show that it will grow only around 1.1% in FY22 as compared to FY20 levels. According to the Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy, the employment rate is still 2.5 percentage points lower now as compared to the level before the lockdown last year. Women lost more jobs and many are out of the workforce. Inequalities have increased in health care and education.
A three-step plan
As the British economist Anthony Atkinson says, “much is written about the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent. But, if we are serious about reducing income inequality, what can be done?” Reduction in inequalities is important for its own sake and for improving demand which can raise private investment, consumption and exports for higher and sustainable economic growth.
We concentrate here on a three-pronged approach for reducing inequalities. These are: focus on employment and wages; raising human development, and quasi universal basic income and other social safety nets.
First, creation of quality or productive employment is central to the inclusive growth approach. At the macro level, the investment rate which declined from 39% in 2011-12 to 31.7% in 2018-19 has to be improved. Investment in infrastructure including construction can create employment. In the recent Budget, the central government has rightly focused on capital expenditure for infrastructure.
There are seven challenges in employment: creating productive jobs for seven to eight million per year; correcting the mismatch between demand and supply of labour (only 2.3% of India’s workforce has formal skill training as compared to 96% in South Korea, 80% in Japan, and 52% in the United States; Structural change challenge (manufacturing should be the engine of growth. Here, labour-intensive exports are important and manufacturing and services are complementary); focusing on micro, small & medium enterprises and informal sectors including rights of migrants; Getting ready for automation and technology revolution; Social security and decent working conditions for all; raising real wages of rural and urban workers and guaranteeing minimum wages.
The second approach is in creating equality of opportunity by improving human development. Increasing public expenditure on health and education is another form of redistributive measure. COVID-19 has supplied us several lessons on the health sector. Public expenditure on health is only 1.5% of GDP. Apart from spending on vaccines and other related measures, we need to move towards universal health care and spend 2%-3% of GDP on health. Education and health achievements are essential for reducing inequality of opportunities. Much dichotomy exists in both these sectors. In education, there are islands of excellence that can compete internationally even as a vast majority of masses of children are churned out with poor learning achievement. We also have the experience of a digital gap in education during the pandemic. One has to fix this dichotomy in health and education.
The third approach is in providing a quasi-universal basic income and other safety nets. For example, C. Rangarajan and I had suggested three proposals on minimum income for the poor and the vulnerable in the post-pandemic period. These are: cash transfers to all women above the age of 20 years; expanding the number of days provided under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and a national employment guarantee scheme for urban areas. In all these proposals, there is no problem of identification. A combination of cash transfers and an expanded guarantee scheme would provide income support to the needy.
Apart from the ideas above, increasing farmers’ income especially for small and marginal farmers is needed to reduce inequalities and create demand. Farmer producer organisations should be strengthened. States have to be given a bigger role in agri-marketing reforms. The terms of trade for agriculture have to be improved.
Tax base, budgets
Enhancing tax and non-tax revenues of the government is needed to spend on the above priorities. The tax/GDP ratio has to be raised, with a wider tax base. Richer sections have to pay more taxes. Similarly, the inequalities between the Centre and States in finances should be reduced. State budgets must be strengthened to improve capital expenditures on physical infrastructure and spending on health, education and social safety nets.
Apart from economic factors, non-economic factors such as deepening democracy and decentralisation can help in reducing inequalities. Unequal distribution of development is rooted in the inequalities of political, social and economic power. We have to find opportunities and spaces where the power can be challenged and redistributed. In the post-COVID-19 world, addressing inequality is important for higher and sustainable economic growth and the well-being of the population.
4. Editorial-3: Free and unhindered justice
Access to the Supreme Court has been made easier with virtual hearings, but more needs to be done
It is ironic that it has taken a pandemic to acknowledge the significance of fair and equal access to the Supreme Court, or the lack thereof. While the lockdown limited people’s movements, it opened new vistas for litigants and lawyers across India to approach, through technology, the country’s highest court with relative ease. It is no wonder then that despite demands for a return to physical hearings by the Bar in Delhi, there are calls for virtual access to the Supreme Court to continue.
Even at the time the Constitution was being debated by the Constituent Assembly, geographical access to the Supreme Court was flagged as a concern. The B.R. Ambedkar-led Drafting Committee was nevertheless of the view that the Court must have a specified place of sitting and that litigants should “know where to go and whom to approach”. However, the framers of the Constitution agreed that the volume of litigation from different parts of the country may require the Supreme Court to increase its reach and hold court elsewhere. Accordingly, in recognition of the same, the Constitution empowered the Chief Justice to hold sittings of the Supreme Court through Circuit Benches in places other than Delhi as well. However, despite an increasing caseload and repeated pleas by litigants and governments, successive Chief Justices have refused to invoke this constitutional power for reasons best known to them.
In India, given the unified, single-pyramidal structure of the judicial system, all types of cases can potentially make their way to the Supreme Court, irrespective of the place or forum of the original institution. It is the effective exercise of that right, however, that is curtailed by the court assembling exclusively in Delhi. According to a report by the Centre for Policy Research, a disproportionately high number of cases filed in the Supreme Court originated in High Courts closer to Delhi. For instance, cases from States like West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, which collectively account for around a fifth of India’s total population, contribute to less than 10% of the court’s docket. On the other hand, almost 18% of all cases in the Supreme Court originate from Punjab and Haryana, with less than 5% of the total population share.
Geographical constraints have also meant that appearing before the Supreme Court has inescapably become the domain of a select few lawyers in and around Delhi. Such implied exclusivity consequently translates into steep and often prohibitive monetary costs for litigants. Without the option of a local advocate of their choice, litigants are forced to choose from what the Bar in Delhi offers, both in terms of quality and costs.
A Court for everyone
Thus, the pandemic, although for different reasons, has compelled the Supreme Court to attempt to overcome physical constraints in an effort to increase access, albeit virtually. Over the past year, with virtual hearings, what was seen as the exclusive domain of a limited number of lawyers in Delhi has opened up to advocates from all over India, most of whom could only ever have dreamt of addressing the Supreme Court in their lifetimes. Litigants now have the option to engage a local lawyer of their own choice and convenience, including the same lawyer who argued their case before the lower court.
Indeed, virtual hearings may not be the perfect alternative, but such imperfections must be preferred over a denial of the right to access justice itself. It is only when each person in India is provided unhindered access to its corridors can the Supreme Court be said to have fulfilled its constitutional promise. More than one Law Commission and Parliamentary Committee have recommended Circuit Benches of the Supreme Court to be set up around the country. Nonetheless, till the judiciary acts on such proposals, virtual hearings should be allowed to continue, if not as a matter of right, then at least as a matter of just and equitable policy.