The HINDU Notes – 23rd November 2021 - VISION

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The HINDU Notes – 23rd November 2021


📰 Authoritarianism is on the rise, says report

‘While 20 countries moved in the direction of authoritarianism, seven moved towards democracy’

•The number of countries moving towards authoritarianism in 2020 was higher than that of countries going in the other direction, towards democracy, the Global State of Democracy Report, 2021 released by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International-IDEA) on Monday said.

•While 20 countries moved in the direction of authoritarianism, seven countries moved towards democracy, the report said.

•“The pandemic has prolonged this existing negative trend into a five-year stretch, the longest such period since the start of the third wave of democratisation in the 1970s. Democratically elected Governments, including established democracies, are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics. This democratic backsliding has often enjoyed significant popular support,” the report said.

•The report highlighted the case of Brazil and India as “some of the most worrying examples of backsliding”. However, India remained in the category of a mid-level performing democracy as it has since 2000, the report showed.

•“The United States and three members of the European Union (EU) [Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, which holds the chair of the EU in 2021] have also seen concerning democratic declines,” the report said.

•In non-democratic regimes, the trend was deepening, it said. “The year 2020 was the worst on record, in terms of the number of countries affected by deepening autocratisation. The pandemic has thus had a particularly damaging effect on non-democratic countries, further closing their already reduced civic space,” the report said.

•“The uneven global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines as well as anti-vaccine views undermine the uptake of vaccination programmes and risk prolonging the health crisis and normalising restrictions on basic freedoms,” the report said.

•However, the report also pointed out that many democracies had proved to be resilient to the pandemic.

•“Despite pandemic restrictions on campaigning and media space unfairly favouring Governments in some countries, the electoral component of democracy has shown remarkable resilience. Countries around the world learned to hold elections in exceedingly difficult conditions.”

•The International-IDEA, which is an inter-governmental organisation supporting democracy, was chaired by Australia and includes India as a member-state.

📰 Falling short: On data protection provisos

JPC Bill gives much leeway to Govt. to exempt its agencies from data protection provisos

•It has been more than three years since a draft Bill on personal data protection was crafted by the Justice Srikrishna Committee of experts and submitted to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in 2018. Two years since a Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up to scrutinise another version — the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB), 2019 — it was finally adopted by it on Monday. But as dissent notes submitted by some panel members from the Opposition point out, the draft falls short of the standards set by the Justice Srikrishna Committee to build a legal framework based on the landmark judgment, Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India, on privacy. The key divergences from the Justice Srikrishna Committee’s draft Bill are in the selection of the chairperson and members of the Data Protection Authority (DPA) which shall protect the interests of data principals and the leeway provided to the Union government to exempt its agencies from the application of the Act. While the 2018 draft Bill allowed for judicial oversight, the 2019 Bill relies entirely on members of the executive government in the selection process for the DPA. In contrast to the 2018 Bill that allowed for exemptions to be granted to state institutions from acquiring informed consent from data principals or to process data in the case of matters relating only to the “security of the state” and also called for a law to provide for “parliamentary oversight and judicial approval of non-consensual access to personal data”, the 2019 Bill adds “public order” as a reason to exempt an agency of the Government from the Act, besides only providing for those reasons to be recorded in writing.

•As JPC member from the Rajya Sabha, the Congress’s Jairam Ramesh, rightly mentions in his dissent note, the “government must always comply with the Bill’s requirement of fair and reasonable processing and implementing the necessary safeguards”, which requires that the exemptions granted in writing should at least be tabled in both Houses of Parliament; but that was not accepted by the JPC. His note also points out to the dangers of exemption on the grounds of “public order” as it is susceptible to misuse and not limited to “security of the state” which is recognised by other data regulations such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation as a viable reason for exemption. In October 2021, the Global Privacy Assembly, featuring Privacy Commissioners from over 19 countries including those from the European Union, Japan and the U.K., came up with a clear resolution on principles for government access to personal data. In its resolution, the Assembly asked for a set of principles on legal basis, the need for clear and precise rules, proportionality and transparency, data subject rights, independent oversight, and effective remedies and redress to the individuals affected. As the JPC’s adoption of the draft Bill and the dissent notes appended to it suggest, it has fallen short of standards protecting privacy rights of individuals against blanket misuse by the state. It is now the task of Parliament to tighten the provisions further and bring them in conformance with the 2018 Bill.

📰 Dynamism in India-U.S. ties

Interactions between Indian MPs and members of the U.S. Congress are significant and should be institutionalised

•The trajectory of India-U.S. bilateral ties continues to go up. While there are regular interactions among officials at various levels and across sectors, as well as people-to-people engagement, there are no formal interactions between Members of Parliament in India and members of the U.S. Congress.

Visit to India

•In November, a congressional delegation (CODEL) led by U.S. Senator John Cornyn travelled to the Indo-Pacific Command countries, including the Philippines, Taiwan and India. In New Delhi, the six-member delegation interacted with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and representatives of the Dalai Lama. Senator Cornyn is a senior member of the Republican Party and co-founder and co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Mr. Modi and the members of the delegation noted the “increasing convergence of strategic interests” between India and the U.S. and said they would like to “further enhance cooperation... to promote global peace and stability”.

•After the trip, Senator Cornyn said, “The Indo-Pacific is the largest military theater in the world, and our allies there are invaluable to ensuring we can counter China’s overreach. Our delegation was able to see firsthand the issues facing countries from mainland India to island partners in the Pacific...”. The China overhang was visible in the backdrop. Mr. Modi appreciated the consistent support and constructive role of the U.S. Congress in deepening the India-U.S. comprehensive global strategic partnership. Mr. Modi and CODEL exchanged views on enhancing the bilateral relationship and strengthening cooperation on contemporary global issues such as terrorism, climate change and reliable chains for critical technologies.

•Last month, Senator Cornyn and Democrat colleague Mark Warner urged President Joe Biden to grant a waiver to India which faces the prospect of sanctions for procuring S-400 missiles from Russia. Two days after returning from his trip to India, CODEL member Senator Tommy Tuberville favoured India getting the presidential waiver under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. More on the issue is in the works on Capitol Hill.

•The significance of the CODEL visit is not lost in the U.S. as members of the U.S. Congress play an important role in determining foreign policy, which at times is dictated by the demands of constituents. But despite the robustness in India-U.S. relations, there is no institutional communication or interaction between MPs in India and members of the U.S. Congress. Noting that there is popular and political support in both countries for a robust India-U.S. partnership, the joint statement at the end of the 2+2 Dialogue in 2019 stated: “The Ministers looked forward to the establishment of India-US Parliamentary Exchange to facilitate reciprocal visits by Parliamentarians of the two countries”. With the next edition of the 2+2 Dialogue due to be held soon, the Ministers could examine progress on this aspect. India can take it forward through the Indian Parliamentary Group, which acts as a link between the Indian Parliament and the various Parliaments of the world. In 1953, the Group had first invited then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon to address MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament. Over the years, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also addressed MPs at Central Hall.

Shaping foreign relations

•At present, there are eight Parliamentary Friendship Groups of India’s including Japan, Russia, China and the European Union. The U.S. is absent from this list. It is important to note what former Congressman and veteran Democrat Jim McDermott, a former co-Chair and pioneer of the India Caucus on the House side, said: legislative interactions inject dynamism in bilateral relations. Dr. McDermott was part of the CODEL led by John Lewis to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s historic journey to India. CODEL travels across the world during the periods when Congress takes a break from legislative work. Interactions during these travels are important in shaping relations with foreign countries.

•India’s connection with the U.S. Congress goes back to November 17, 1954, when Vice President S. Radhakrishnan presented the Senate with a gavel to replace the hour-glass-shaped piece of ivory that had shattered during a heated debate when Nixon had used it. Radhakrishnan hoped that the gavel would inspire senators to debate “with freedom from passion and prejudice”. In 2022, when Parliament celebrates its 70th year, a formal arrangement with Congress can institutionalise this unique relationship between representatives of the U.S. and India.

📰 Reforming the fertilizer sector

In order to address the multiple goals of fertilizer policy, India needs to work on four key areas

•Since 1991, when economic reforms began in India, several attempts have been made to reform the fertilizer sector to keep a check on the rising fertilizer subsidy bill, promote the efficient use of fertilizers, achieve balanced use of N, P and K (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), and reduce water and air pollution caused by fertilizers like urea.

Increase in subsidy

•The Economic Survey of 1991-92 noted that fertilizer prices remained almost unchanged from July 1981 to July 1991. The Union Budget of July 1991 raised the issue prices of fertilizers by 40% on average. But from August that year, this was reduced to 30%, and small and marginal farmers were exempted from the price increase. The Economic Survey further noted that even with this 30% increase, fertilizer subsidy remained substantial and needed to be reduced further. Due to opposition to increase fertilizer prices, the increase in the price of urea was rolled back to 17% a year later over the pre-reform price.

•This change disturbed the relative prices of various fertilizers and resulted in a big shift in the composition of fertilizers used in the country in favour of urea and thus N. The ratio of use of N:P:K increased from 5.9:2.4:1 in 1991-92 to 9.7:2.9:1 in 1993-94. Farmers tended to move towards balanced use, but policy and price changes reversed the favourable trend a couple of times in the last three decades. Thus, little success has been achieved on any of the three fronts. Rather, there has been an uncontrolled increase in subsidies on urea, due both to almost freezing the MRP of urea in different time periods and its rising sale leading to an increase in indiscriminate and imbalanced use of fertilizers.

•Concerned with the adverse environmental impact of certain chemical fertilizers, some sections of society suggest the use of organic fertilizers and biofertilizers instead. There is a growing demand to provide subsidies and other incentives for organic fertilizers and biofertilizers to match those provided for chemical fertilizers.

•Fertilizer subsidy has doubled in a short period of three years. For 2021-22, the Union Budget has estimated fertilizer subsidy at ₹79,530 crore (from ₹66,468 crore in 2017-18) but it is likely to reach a much higher level due to the recent upsurge in the prices of energy, the international prices of urea and other fertilizers, and India’s dependence on imports.

•In 2019-20, fertilizer use per hectare of cultivated area varied from 70 kg of NPK in Rajasthan to 250 kg in Telangana. This gap was much wider at the district level. Further, composition of total plant nutrients in terms of the N,P,K ratio deviated considerably from the recommended or optimal NPK mix. It was 33.7:8.0:1 in Punjab and 1.3:0.7:1 in Kerala. This also has implications for inter-State disparities in fertilizer subsidy due to high variations in subsidy content, which is highly biased towards urea and thus nitrogen. As a result, the magnitude of fertilizer subsidy among the major States ranges in the ratio of 8:1.

•The government introduced the Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) in 2010 to address the growing imbalance in fertilizer use in many States, which is skewed towards urea (N). However, only non-nitrogenous fertilizers (P and K) moved to NBS; urea was left out.

•The total demand for urea in the country is about 34-35 million tonnes (mln t) whereas the domestic production is about 25 mln t. The requirement of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) is about 12 mln t and domestic production is just 5 mln t. This leaves the gap of nearly 9-10 mln t for urea and 7 mln t for DAP, which is met through imports. The use of Muriate of Potash is about 3 mln t. This is entirely imported. In addition, consumption of complex fertilizers (NPK) is about 12-13 mln t, which is largely produced within the country and so the import requirement is only 1 mln t.

•The international prices of fertilizers are volatile and almost directly proportional to energy prices. Besides, cartels of major global producers have a strong influence on prices. Of late, there has been a surge in international prices with urea prices rising to a record level of over $900 per metric tonne (mt) in November 2021 from nearly $270 per mt in September 2020. Likewise, the international prices of DAP have risen from about $360 per mt in September 2020 to about $825 per mt in November 2021. These extraordinary price rises are on account of a sharp upsurge in international energy prices and supply constraints in major producing countries due to robust domestic demand, production cuts and export restrictions. This also coincides with the peak demand for the Rabi season. In order to minimise the impact of rise in prices on farmers, the bulk of the price rise is absorbed by the government through enhanced fertilizer subsidy. This is likely to create serious fiscal challenges.

•In the last 20 years, the price of urea has increased to ₹5.36 per kg in 2021 from ₹4.60 in 2001. In the same period, the Minimum Support Price of paddy increased by 280% and that of wheat by 230%. In other words, in 2001, 37.7 kg of wheat was required to buy one bag of urea (50 kg), which has now reduced to 13.3 kg. At current prices, farmers pay about ₹268 per bag of urea and the Government of India pays an average subsidy of about ₹930 per bag. Thus, taxpayers bear 78% of the cost of urea and farmers pay only 22%. This is expected to increase and is not sustainable.

The way forward

•In order to address the multiple goals of fertilizer policy, we need to simultaneously work on four key policy areas. One, we need to be self-reliant and not depend on import of fertilizers. In this way, we can escape the vagaries of high volatility in international prices. In this direction, five urea plants at Gorakhpur, Sindri, Barauni, Talcher and Ramagundam are being revived in the public sector.

•Two, we need to extend the NBS model to urea and allow for price rationalisation of urea compared to non-nitrogenous fertilizers and prices of crops. The present system of keeping the price of urea fixed and absorbing all the price increases in subsidy needs to be replaced by distribution of price change over both price as well as subsidy based on some rational formula.

•Three, we need to develop alternative sources of nutrition for plants. Discussions with farmers and consumers reveal a strong desire to shift towards the use of non-chemical fertilizers as well as a demand for bringing parity in prices and subsidy given to chemical fertilizers with organic and biofertilizers. This also provides the scope to use a large biomass of crop that goes waste and enhance the value of livestock byproducts. We need to scale up and improve innovations to develop alternative fertilizers. Though compost contains low amounts of nitrogen, technologies are now available to enrich this.

•Finally, India should pay attention to improving fertilizer efficiency through need-based use rather than broadcasting fertilizer in the field. The recently developed Nano urea by IFFCO shows promising results in reducing the usage of urea. Such products need to be promoted expeditiously after testing.

•These changes will go a long way in enhancing the productivity of agriculture, mitigating climate change, providing an alternative to chemical fertilizers and balancing the fiscal impact of fertilizer subsidy on the Union Budgets in the years to come.