The HINDU Notes – 16th May 2020 - VISION

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 16th May 2020

πŸ“° New law for contract farming

Centre to push through agri-marketing reforms as part of stimulus package

•Making long-pending agricultural marketing reforms the centrepiece of the third tranche of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan economic stimulus package, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday announced plans to enact a central law to permit barrier-free inter-State trade of farm commodities and ensure a legal framework to facilitate contract farming.

•The third tranche also included plans to invest Rs. 1.5 lakh crore to build farm-gate infrastructure and support logistics needs for fishworkers, livestock farmers, vegetable growers, beekeepers and related activities, although this includes some previously budgeted money and extensions of existing schemes. The Centre will deregulate the sale of six types of agricultural produce, including cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onions and potatoes, by amending the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, Ms. Sitharaman said.

•Several agricultural economists and farm activists welcomed the reform and investment announcements, but questioned the lack of immediate support to help farmers survive the current crisis.

•The Essential Commodities Act was enacted at a time of food scarcity, and needs to reflect current concerns, the Finance Minister said. “Now what is happening is that farmers are producing. There is an abundance of crops, and this sometimes leads to issues because they would want to export, and we don’t permit that. Because of a flip-flop sometimes, farmers don’t get the benefit. Some other times, the consumers suffer. So there is a need to amend the Act,” she said.

No stock limit

•Stock limits will not be imposed on these commodities except in case of national calamity or famine or an extraordinary surge in prices, the Minister said, adding that even these stock limits would not apply to processors and exporters. The Centre has been attempting to reform agricultural marketing through a model Act which it encourages States to adopt. However, it now intends to enact a central law to allow farmers to sell produce at attractive prices beyond the current mandi system, facilitating barrier-free inter-State trade and e-trading. Asked how the Centre could enact a law on agricultural marketing, which remains on the State list, the Minister pointed out that inter-State trade falls in the central list.

•She added that plans were underway to bring in a facilitative legal framework to oversee contract farming, which would provide farmers with assured sale prices and quantities even before the crop is sown and also allow private players to invest in inputs and technology in the agricultural sector.

•Agricultural economist and ICRIER professor Ashok Gulati, who has been advocating these reforms for many years, was elated by the announcement. “These are big, bold steps in the right direction which will benefit both farmers and consumers. This is long overdue and should have been done in Modi’s first term, but certainly the government deserves compliments for converting a crisis into an opportunity,” he said, noting that some of these reforms have been under discussion for two decades.

πŸ“° ‘No contradiction over new Lipulekh Pass road’

Face-offs unrelated, says Army chief

•There is no “contradiction at all” in the new road constructed through the Lipulekh Pass up to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to shorten travel time for the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage, and Nepal may have raised the issue “at the behest of someone else,” Army chief Gen. Manoj Naravane said on Friday, without naming any country.

•Nepal has protested against the road and called on India to “refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal”.

•“In fact, the Nepalese Ambassador has mentioned that the area east of the Kali river belongs to them. There is no dispute in that whatsoever. The road which we have made is, in fact, to the west of the river. So I don’t know what they are actually agitating about. There are little issues as we go ahead as to exactly where the tri-junction [India-China-Nepal] should be. There has never been any problem on this score in the past,” Gen. Naravane said in response to a question at a webinar organised by a Defence Ministry think tank. “There is a reason to believe that they might have raised the issue at the behest of someone else, and that is very much a possibility,” he said.

•Gen. Naravane said these incidents and face-offs that occurred at two-three places last week in eastern Ladakh and north Sikkim were not related at the domestic or international levels. He said there was a lot of dynamics in a face-off, and the Army was dealing with it on a case-to-case basis. “We are not seeing any concerted design in these face-offs.”

•The 80 km road built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) from Dharchula in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh, just 5 km short of the LAC, was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh last week. The road was made under the directions of the China Study Group and is funded under the India-China Border Roads.

Budgetary constraints

•Admitting that there would be some budgetary cuts for the armed forces in the post-COVID-19 scenario, Gen. Naravane said they “will not be at the cost of operations efficiency and preparedness”. He said a few areas had been identified, and they could be deferred or re-prioritised for next year. One area was the number of movements by units and the other was the major exercises held in Rajasthan for which units moved from far-off places.

•“Normally there are 250-300 moves per year. And each move costs Rs. 1 crore,” he said. Units involved in high-altitude postings and counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism had to move but some peace-time movements could be avoided, he said. “We have identified 100 such moves that can be deferred.”

•He said for major exercises, troops and formations moved to Rajasthan, which could also be avoided for a year without affecting operational performance.

πŸ“° Centre borrows another $1 billion from World Bank for COVID-19 relief

Funds to also be used for reforming social security net

•The Centre is taking another $1 billion loan from the World Bank to support its COVID-19 relief measures and financial assistance for the poorest and most vulnerable communities.

•The money will also be used for reforms in India’s social security net, making it more integrated, portable and focussed on the urban poor.

•The loan was approved by the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors on Thursday, according to an official statement.

•The bank had already approved a $1 billion loan to support India’s health sector in April, taking its total commitment to India’s COVID-19 response to $2 billion.

•The new support will be funded in two phases. An allocation of $750 million —more than Rs. 5,600 crore — will be made immediately to help fund the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, which the Centre announced in March to scale up cash transfers and free foodgrain distribution to vulnerable communities, pensioners and poor workers, and provide insurance support to health workers.

•The second phase will provide $250 million — almost Rs. 1,900 crore — post July 2020, which will fund additional cash and in-kind benefits based on local needs through state governments and portable social protection delivery systems.

•The money will also be used to implement reforms. “The COVID-19 pandemic has also put the spotlight on some of the gaps in the existing social protection systems,” said World Bank’s India director Junaid Ahmad.

•“This program will support the Government of India’s efforts towards a more consolidated delivery platform – accessible to both rural and urban populations across state boundaries,” he added.

πŸ“° The pandemic and the challenge of behaviour change

A well-crafted social marketing campaign can help address the crisis and even prepare for future disease outbreaks

•The COVID-19 crisis is far from over, but governments everywhere appear to have either relaxed lockdown parameters or will do so soon. The curve may have been flattened, but there will be a greater risk now of being infected.

•Containing COVID-19 and restoring our economies requires not just good policy decisions and medical advice; it also needs continued compliance with the recommended behavioural changes that in many ways go against social and cultural conventions. Daunting as they may seem, the drastic changes in behaviour being called for can indeed be brought about. The science of social marketing uses known marketing principles and behaviour change theory to influence people’s behaviour for the benefit of both the target audience and of society. Public health, safety and environmental concerns are some of the areas where social marketing can have huge impact.

•The Health Belief Model (HBM), developed by Irwin M. Rosenstock others suggests that a person’s health-related behaviours ultimately stem from the desire to avoid illness. The two most important constructs of the model are: perceived benefits — the effectiveness of actions available to reduce the threat of the disease, and perceived barriers — the obstacles to performing a recommended health action. The model also recognises the importance of “cues to action” or triggers which set into motion the process of adopting the desired behaviours. These cues, typically, are emotional, not just informative or educational. The HBM presumes that knowledge or education alone is grossly insufficient to change a person’s behaviour. Cigarette sales, for example did not decline significantly for years despite the ills of smoking having been widely publicised.

The Indian example

•India is one of the few countries that appears to have recognised the power of deliberately crafted emotive cues to action such as the Prime Minister’s call for a voluntary “Janata Curfew”, exhorting citizens to show that they care for themselves and their loved ones, and to display their patriotism. People were asked to stay indoors but, at 5 p.m., to also applaud health-care workers and others who are a part of the pandemic battle. The blend of fear, patriotism and gratitude extolled by the Prime Minister appeared to have been just the right buttons to push and people did stay indoors. Yet at 5 p.m., while many applauded from their balconies, hordes of others congregated in large groups, throwing social distancing to the winds. Fear, patriotism and gratitude, even if they were effective as “initiating” cues to action, were insufficient to sustain behaviour change and needed to be periodically rekindled. The Prime Minister later called upon citizens to switch off lights at 9 p.m. for 9 minutes on a chosen day and light lamps to go “from darkness to hope”. As is well known, the number 9 and lighting lamps are powerful positive symbols in India.

•In Singapore, the government, perhaps taking a cue, supported an event, “Sing Together Singapore”. People at home were encouraged to sing as well and wave a torchlight as gratitude for frontline and migrant workers.

•Going back to the main constructs of the HBM, to be effective, the social marketing message would present the benefits as applying direct to the individual, not just indirectly to society at large. And, messaging about barriers should not make the change appear too difficult to engage in or make the cost of adopting the behaviours appear too high. Supportive measures should facilitate the adoption of the desired behaviour.

•Here is an example to illustrate this. In the 1970s, Bangladesh undertook an ambitious family planning campaign keeping in mind the country’s limited resources. Research showed that while the women were able to readily see the benefits, the men, who were the decision makers at home, could not.

•The campaign became successful after social marketers decided to empower women by making female contraceptives available through women rural medical practitioners who made house calls. The marketers also designed a communications programme directed at men highlighting benefits such as better health for their wives, thereby enabling them to look after their husbands and children better.

Gauging receptivity

•This writer conducted informal interviews (not scientific by any means) in Chennai to gauge receptivity to recommended behaviours during the pandemic. Here are the findings in relation to some of the recommended behavioural actions and possible messaging and support measures.

•Many were not quite convinced of the threat posed by asymptomatic others merely because they were close by. The perceived direct benefits of social distancing were thus moderate at best. Further, one does not have the luxury of observing physical distancing in many situations (especially in densely populated areas). Telling someone to stand away is also difficult because it could be considered rude. Hygiene instructors often ask an audience to colour their hands and then show the imprints they leave everywhere to demonstrate how germs can spread. Would a social marketing campaign that paints a picture of the virus “jumping” onto you if you are close to an infected person work? This needs to be supported by physical barriers wherever possible to promote social distancing.

•The recommendation to hand wash often or use an alcohol-based hand rub was unrealistic for too many people even though they saw the merit in it. The two options have been presented as equivalent, but from a behavioural change point of view they are not. Even those who had fairly easy access to soap and washing facilities found it rather inconvenient to interrupt whatever they were doing to frequently head to a hand wash station. If alcohol-based hand rubs were available within arm’s reach, people had no need to interrupt their work and drying their hands was not a problem since they would swiftly dry on their own. This suggests high payoffs from a decision by governments to focus on increasing the supply of hand rubs and absorbing or highly subsidising the costs of making hand rub bottles readily available to supplement hand washing with soap and water.

•We know that shame is a powerful disincentive to undesirable behaviour. This writer has considerable experience in projects to make villages open defecation free through the use of Community-led Total Sanitation, a technique that liberally and successfully uses “naming and shaming” to achieve its goals. It is not hard to visualise messaging that shows bystanders strongly disapproving of those who do not comply with the COVID-19 recommendations.

•A well-crafted social marketing campaign would help address the COVID-19 crisis and set foundations that will help ameliorate the adverse consequences of future pandemics. Let us build policy from science in the effort to save lives and to put the local and global economies back on track.

πŸ“° NEET is not student-friendly, merit-promoting

In the case of education, over-centralisation is becoming a harsh and painful reality

•“Freedom of individual development is the basis of democracy,” observed the Commission (1948-49) appointed by the Government of India “to report on Indian University Education and suggest improvements and extensions that may be desirable to suit present and future”. It had among its members Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and was cited by then Chief Justice of India, B.N. Kirpal, in the judgment in T.M.A. Pai Foundation & Ors vs State Of Karnataka & Ors (2002).

•The Commission added (also cited in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation judgment): “Exclusive control of education by the State has been an important factor in facilitating the maintenance of totalitarian tyrannies. In such States[,] institutions of higher learning controlled and managed by governmental agencies act like mercenaries, promote the political purposes of the State, make them acceptable to an increasing number of their populations and supply them with the weapons they need. We must resist, in the interests of our own democracy, the trend towards the governmental domination of the educational process.”

•But these observations do not seem to have been kept in mind in a judgment this April on the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), by a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Arun Mishra. NEET was initially struck down as unconstitutional in Christian Medical College, Vellore (2013) by a 2:1 majority. In 2016, not only was a review of this judgment allowed but the dissenting judge of the 2013 judgment made NEET compulsory even prior to a full hearing by the constitution Bench. NEET is an assault on the autonomy of universities and higher education institutions, particularly private, unaided ones. It is ironical that while in all other areas including industrial relations, the government is talking about deregulation, in the case of education, over-centralisation is becoming a harsh and painful reality. Similarly in the name of NEET or the state’s power to “regulate”, the rights of unaided private institutions and minority institutions cannot be violated as regulation cannot annihilate minority character. Certainly minorities do not have right to “mal-administer” their institutions yet due to admission mal-practices practised by the few institutions, denial of Article 30 rights and Article 19(g) rights of private unaided institutions is absolutely wrong.

Students disadvantaged

•Is NEET really student friendly? For example, Tamil Nadu has been opposing NEET. With NEET and similar other national tests such as the Joint Entrance Examination and Common Law Admission Test, coaching institutes are prospering; since most of them are in cities, poorer students from a rural background and who have studied in the vernacular medium face a disadvantage. There is also large-scale variation in the syllabus and standards of the Central Board of Secondary Education and State boards. We cannot overlook some of the advantages a student has if there are multiple tests: if he falls ill or has not done well in one test, he will still have a chance to qualify in another without losing a year. Second, it gives a student a right to select an institution of his choice. Third, the NEET paper was leaked twice in the last four years; therefore, there is not much confidence in NEET’s fairness and transparency. Finally, there is the issue of wrong translation. In the 2018 NEET, as many as 49 questions had errors in Tamil translation leading to a Madras High Court order to award four marks for each of the 49 wrongly translated questions, or 196 marks to all 1.07 lakh candidates of Tamil Nadu. The Supreme Court overruled this order as the High Court had arbitrarily ordered giving grace marks to everyone without examining whether the student even attempted such a question.

Element of class

•NEET is considered the best option as our judges genuinely think it promotes merit. But is there a consensus on what merit really means? British sociologist Michael Dunlop Young’s book, The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958), has popularised what is called “meritocracy” though the idea really goes back to earlier times. Meritocracy requires competition and equality of opportunity. Is it not a fact that the administrators of NEET and judges do believe that the multidimensional construct of merit can be adequately, if not accurately, measured? When NEET and other such admission tests do not meet this fundamental criteria, competition cannot be termed as fair and just, and the equality of opportunity becomes illusionary. There is substantial scholarship in the West (Sacks, Freedle, Wells, Camara & Schmidt) that argues that common admission tests cannot measure abilities that are essential for learning such as imagination, curiosity and motivation. Justice Mishra did concede the point of a lack of commitment of doctors to serve in rural areas (that was a point in Christian Medical College, Vellore ) but eventually decided in favour of NEET in the name of merit. Empirical research in the United States on standardised common tests has found that these tests are biased against the poorer and underprivileged sections of population, women and minorities. Thus there is an element of class in NEET that the Indian judiciary has so far overlooked.

Differential treatment

•Minority rights are not the violation of the equality provision in Article 14 as the Constitution does permit classification. In fact substantive equality as opposed to formal equality, mandates differential treatment. There are even hundreds of minority institutions of Hindus as linguistic minorities. The Supreme Court itself termed Article 30 as ‘an article of faith’ in Lilly Kurian (1978); a ‘sacred obligation’ in Kerala Education Bill (1957); ‘the conscience of the nation’ in Ahmedabad St. Xaviers College (1974); ‘an absolute right’ in Rev. Sidhajbhai Sabhai And Others (1962) and part of the ‘basic structure’ in Kesavananda Bharati (1973); thus minority rights were held as unamendable and inalienable.

•The Court’s opinion in Kerala Education Bill , on minority rights, has been religiously cited in all subsequent judgments (including the latest judgment on NEET) but without paying much attention to the crucial statement where there was the observation that the key words in Article 30 are ‘of their own choice.’ Holding ‘choice’ to be the dominant word, then Chief Justice Das said that ‘the content of the article is as wide as the choice of the particular minority can make it’. If a minority institution wants additional qualifications over and above the NEET score, denial of such additional and superior qualifications undermines its choice. Even if one concedes the necessity of NEET, centralised counselling due to which several minority institutions and private medical colleges are unable to fill their seats is indeed an ‘intolerable encroachment’. Moreover, every vacant seat is the national loss. COVID-19 has only demonstrated India’s extremely poor doctor-population ratio.

•Justice Mishra has rightly relied on T.M.A. Pai Foundation , where the Court had held that admission by the management can be by a common entrance test held by “itself or by the State/University”. Moreover, it is important that here universities and state were treated on a par and an admission test by the university was considered as good as a test conducted by the State. What a 11-judge Bench really emphasised was that an admission process must be fair and transparent rather than just one test for all institutions. In Islamic Academy of Education and Another (2003), a five-judge Bench of the top court clarified the T.M.A. Pai judgment and held that institutions which have a special feature and which have been admitting only students of their own community but have a fair and transparent admission procedure for at least the last 25 years can seek an exemption from a common admission test. Certainly it is nobody’s case that minority institutions can grant admission on their whims and fancies, but if such an institution follows an identifiable or reasonable methodology of admitting students, the imposition of NEET with mandatory centralised counselling is indeed an unreasonable restriction.

•The Supreme Court has consistently held that Article 30 is not so absolute as to be above the law and regulations made in the true interests of efficiency of instruction, discipline, health, sanitation, morality and public order could be imposed. This is a small window and cannot be widened to take over the entire admission process as some of the smaller Benches (including the latest one) have inferred. After all, instruction, sanitation, health and discipline will come into play only after candidates are admitted.