1.A clear failure (The Hindu)

2.The difficult economics of the Indian farmer (Live Mint) 

3.Illegal miners (Down to Earth)

1.A clear failure (The Hindu) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the ongoing issue between state government and NEET. (GS paper III)

Overview 

  • The concerns raised by Tamil Nadu over the mandatory National-Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to medical courses, have escalated this year, with several parties planning protests across the state. States like Tamil Nadu have been opposing NEET have claimed that the students from the CBSE board will have an advantage over students from state boards.
  • Recently the Madras high court quashed a Tamil Nadu government order that reserved 85% of the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) and Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) seats to state board students and 15% for students from CBSE and other boards.
  • The state government move to Supreme Court will be final effort in seeking exemption for the state’s students from the common nationwide medical entrance test, NEET.

National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET)

  • National Eligibility and Entrance Test or NEET is the one examination which would be considered for filling medical seats across the country, it will be a single entrance exam for all medical aspirants in India.
  • As per the Supreme Court’s order, NEET would be the only examination to be undertaken to fill the All India Quota Seats as well as the State Level Quota seats across the country. This examination is also valid for applying to private colleges across the country.
  • The NEET was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013; however it was restored in last year, after a five-judge constitution bench recalled the earlier verdict and allowed the Centre and the Medical Council of India (MCI) to implement the common entrance test.

Tamil Nadu and NEET issue

  • The Tamil Nadu state government had passed an order reserving 85 per cent seats to medical and dental courses in Tamil Nadu for state board students. The government had claimed that the NEET examination was based on CBSE syllabus that gave CBSE board students an undue advantage. The government moved to give only 15 per cent seats to CBSE students, which was challenged in court.
  • The Madras High Court dismissed the Tamil Nadu government’s appeal challenging the quashing of reservation to state board students holding that it amounted to discrimination among equals. In the process, it has completely let down aspiring doctors from the State.
  • Centre claimed that the State cannot remain insulated from the policy, the Tamil Nadu government did not respond with a concrete plan to upgrade its syllabus and prepare students for the task ahead. Tamil Nadu assembly had also passed two Bills to exempt the State from NEET and send them to the Centre to secure the President’s assent.
  • However Centre is obviously reluctant to advise the President to give his assent, as granting exemption to one State may lead to similar demands from other States; and, the legislation may not survive the Supreme Court’s scrutiny.

Way ahead 

  • Reserving 85% of the seats for state board students have been seen as an act of desperation. The State governments need to upgrade its syllabus and infrastructure so that students from state boards do not lag behind their counterparts elsewhere.
  • The State apprehensions about NEET-based admissions are genuine as the prospects of students from rural areas and economically weaker classes may indeed suffer. However, solution is not reservation rather it is an opportunity for the State government to focus on raising academic standards at the school level sothat they fair well in highly competitive entrance tests.

Question– What is the importance of NEET for Medical discipline in India? What more safeguard are needed to make it more compatible?

2.The difficult economics of the Indian farmer (The Live Mint)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue with agriculture, how policy should focus not just on higher production but also on helping farmers manage risks. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Agriculture is still the core of our food security, though agriculture accounts for less than 15% of gross domestic product (GDP), it is still the main source of livelihood for nearly half our population. With over 1.3 billion mouths to feed, imports will not solve our problem if there is a severe drought and food shortage.
  • With the wave of farmer protests across the country, there is need to first understand the difficult everyday economics of the Indian agriculturalist. Most farmers swim in a turbulent sea of risks against which they have almost no protection.
  • Monsoon has delivered more than normal rain; the erratic distribution has flooded some areas and left others in drought, clouding the outlook for summer crops. The uneven rains could lead to lower food grain output despite bigger planting areas, forcing India to raise imports. On the other side it will lead to deprive income for farmers.
  • Despite subsidies on power, fertilizers, etc., input costs have been rising faster than sale prices, further squeezing the meagre income of the small farmers and driving them into debt. 

Analysis

  • Though in India production in the months ahead is deeply dependent on weather conditions, however it is not just about the extremes of drought or flooding, rather a round of unseasonal rain can destroy standing crop. Irrigation can offer some respite but not to the extent of completely removing production risks.
  • There is huge price risk involves with production. A bumper crop can pull down prices in wholesale markets. Price spikes after a poor crop are inevitably dealt with through cheap imports in a bid to protect consumers. The opposite is done less frequently. Farmers are reported to have not been able to even recover the cost for some crops.
  • The prospects of a good monsoon pushed up rural wage, in the recent report it has been shown that the fall in inflation has increased the real debt burden of farmers, which has risen faster than real income in recent years.
  • The government in 2016 had launched the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana which was seen as potential game changer. However, farmers who suffered losses in the last financial year have not yet received compensation for 55% of the estimated claims under the scheme. Crop insurance will not benefit farmers as desired if the compensation is not paid in time, as they will need the money for sowing in the next season.
  • The standard cobweb model in microeconomics helps us understand why production decisions based on limited information lead to wild swings in prices every year. Tomatoes are the most recent example.
  • In 2016, the government encouraged farmers to produce pulses because of rising prices, part of the protein inflation that the Reserve Bank of India used to be obsessed with. The farmers responded. Record output led to a price crash. Market prices went below the support prices.
  • NITI Aayog has advocated price deficiency payment, to reduce price risk. In the price deficiency payment farmers can be compensated through direct benefit transfer if prices fall below a predetermined threshold level. For this, farmers may be asked to register with relevant details at the nearest mandi.
  • There are other issues agrarian crises like the intense pressure of population on land. Demographic pressure has pushed down the land: man ratio to less than 0.2 hectares of cultivable land per head of rural population. It has also progressively pushed down the size structure of landholdings.

Way ahead

  • There is need of more robust mechanism to mitigate the price risk. In areas where markets don’t function freely, it needs to strike a balance between the interests of both the producer and the consumer. The actual impact of higher remunerative farm prices can be contained by making markets more efficient and removing middlemen from the system. Government policy should focus not just on higher production but also on helping farmers manage risks.

Question– What are the different safeguards needed to manage farmer’s risk? What govt. has done in this regard?

3.Illegal miners (Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the recent move by Supreme Court suspending mine leases of companies for illegally extracting iron and manganese ore in Odisha. (GS paper III)

Overview 

  • In a strong and punitive judgement, the Supreme Court has come down heavily on the mining companies that have been illegally extracting iron and manganese ore in Odisha in the past. Due to various illegalities, these mine leases have been earlier suspended by the apex court.
  • A two-judge bench has directed the state government to recover 100 per cent compensation from the mining companies. The compensation will be payable “from 2000-2001 onwards at 100 per cent of the price of the mineral”, and should be deposited on or before December 2017.

The Odisha mining case 

  • The issue of illegal iron and manganese ore mining in Odisha particularly involves three districts, Kendujhar, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj. The first two are also among the top two iron ore mining districts of India. The apex court noted that while such illegal mining fetched “megabucks” to the violators, on the other hand it has “destroyed the environment and forests and perhaps caused untold misery to the tribals in the area”.
  • The petition was filed by non-profit Common Cause, which has sought judicial intervention to terminate all mining leases that are involved in illegal mining activities in Odisha, highlighting the observations of the report of the Justice M B Shah Commission. The Shah Commission was set up by the central government in 2010, to look into the illegal mining of iron ore and manganese in the country and had pointed to large-scale illegal mining in Odisha.
  • In 2014, the court had asked its Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to investigate the matter and identify the lessees who are operating the leases in violation of the law. The CEC report of 2014 had observed that out of the 187 mine leases granted in the three concerned districts in Odisha, a total of 102 leases were in violation of various statutory clearances and permits.
  • These included violations of required environmental clearance, forest clearance, consents from state pollution control boards (SPCBs), operating beyond permissible limits etc.

Supreme Court’s direction

  • The SC has directed that the compensation amount recovered should to be used for “benefit of tribals in the affected districts”. These districts such as Kendujhar and Sundargarh are also currently receiving huge amounts of money by the way of district mineral foundations (DMFs) for benefitting people in mining affected areas. The money recovered from compensation will go towards a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV).
  • Supreme Court also gave direction for setting up of an expert committee presided over by a retired judge to identify the lapses that have occurred over the years that have enabled rampant illegal and unlawful mining in Odisha and to recommend preventive measures not only to Odisha but generally to all other states where mining activities are proceeding on a large scale.
  • It also directed the Centre to revise the National Mineral Policy by December 2017, as it is outdated to deal with present day challenges especially on the areas of conservation and development. It has directed that the new policy should be “fresh and more effective, meaningful and implementable”.

Question– What are the implications of illegal extraction from ecological point of view?