1.Food for action (The Hindu)

2.Privacy and the ‘nothing to hide’ argument (The Live mint) 

3.Paradox of the vote (The Indian Express and Journal on Democracy)

 

1.Food for action (The Hindu) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of the Supreme Court directive that should lead to better access under the Food Security Act. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The Supreme Court has recently mentioned that the National Food Security Act 2013 has not been implemented properly, and legislation enacted by parliament for citizens’ benefit was kept on the “back-burner” by various states. The apex court observed that even after four years, the authorities and bodies mandated to be set up under the act have not been made functional in some states and this reflects the “pathetic” compliance of the provisions.
  • The Supreme Court judgment listed Haryana and nine other States Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. These states had all come under the SC’s scanner for their damp response to the food security law meant to help those living below the poverty line.
  • Supreme Court has pointed out, Article 256, which casts a responsibility on the States and the Union to ensure compliance with laws made by Parliament, also provides the remedy, as it can be invoked by the Centre to set things right. However the recent directive left some hope now that States will implement key aspects of the progressive law.

National food security act

  • The National Food Security Act, 2013 has the objective to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
  • The Act provides for coverage of upto 75% of the rural population and upto 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidized food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), thus covering about two-thirds of the population. The eligible persons will be entitled to receive 5Kgs of food grains per person per month at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per Kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains.
  • The Act also has a special focus on the nutritional support to women and children. Besides meal to pregnant women and lactating mothers during pregnancy and six months after the child birth, such women will also be entitled to receive maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000. Children upto 14 years of age will be entitled to nutritious meals as per the prescribed nutritional standards.
  • In case of non-supply of entitled food grains or meals, the beneficiaries will receive food security allowance. The Act also contains provisions for setting up of grievance redressal mechanism at the District and State levels. Separate provisions have also been made in the Act for ensuring transparency and accountability.
  • The existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, which constitute the poorest of the poor, will continue to receive 35Kgs of food grains per household per month. 

Way ahead

  • Modernisation of the Public Distribution System, with the use of information technology, could incorporate the dynamic features to the supply of subsidised food to those who need it, and will helpful in eliminating deficiencies and fraud.
  • Some States are better at running the PDS than others, and the food security law is the best tool to raise standards uniformly.  To make the NFSA meaningful, there should be need of full-fledged, independent machinery in the form of a Food Commission, and district-level grievance redress, besides social audits.

Question– Throw light on the brief provisions of National food security Act. What approach can be a adopted to make it more accessible and inclusive?

 

2.Privacy and the ‘nothing to hide’ argument (The Live mint) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of right to privacy and what privacy means. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • In India recently the question that whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right or not, had cropped up in the context of legal challenges to the Aadhaar number, which has now become the bedrock of government welfare programmes, the tax administration network and online financial transactions.
  • The Supreme Court nine-judge Constitutional Bench is dealing with the issue whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21 has reserved its verdict. The bench has been examining the nature of privacy as right in the context of two earlier judgements in 1954 and 1962 which had held that the right to privacy was not a fundamental right.
  • The government’s counsels, in large part, have consistently maintained that the Supreme Court should not recognise as a fundamental right. The arguments advanced centred around the balancing the need for privacy versus social and economic justice, that privacy was largely an elite concept and that only wrong-doers asked for privacy rights.

Arguments with Right to Privacy

  • According to the senior lawyer appearing for the petitioners have argued that, “None of the existing fundamental rights could be exercised without assuming a certain sense of privacy, Liberty existed prior to constitutional era and the law had merely recognised its existence. Liberty is fundamental to democracy and citizens cannot exist without privacy.”
  • It is wrongful to equate privacy with secrecy, they are distinct concepts. Privacy is about exercising the choice to withhold information, which others have no need to know. Secrecy, on the other hand, is about withholding information that people may have a right to know.
  • According to the historian Jill Lepore, “Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves.” The “nothing-to-hide” paradigm evaluates any breach of privacy only from the perspective of disclosure of unwanted information.
  • Privacy is a much richer concept than secrecy. The right to privacy includes a bundle of rights such as the privacy of beliefs, thoughts, personal information, home, and property. In fact, as far back as 1890, privacy was understood as the “right to be let alone”, a fact missed by the “nothing to hide” paradigm.
  • The argument that if you have “nothing to hide”, then you should not worry about government surveillance has fundamentally misunderstands the consequences of the perceived loss of privacy and ensuing chilling effects on speech and behaviour.
  • Surveillance programmes are problematic even when there is no “undesirable” information that people want to keep hidden. To justifying the invasion of privacy because “I have nothing to hide” takes a short-term view of privacy and data collection. Data once collected can be used, misused, shared, and stored in perpetuity. Worse, it can be combined with other individually inconsequential data points to reveal extremely significant information about an individual.

Way ahead

  • Today, privacy is regarded as central to our identity, dignity, ability to have intimacy, and meaningful inter-personal relations. It determines our interaction with our peers, society, and the state. Privacy should thus be viewed as an integral part of self-development, a shorthand for “breathing space”, since individual autonomy is all about the ability to control and share information selectively.
  • The multiple dimensions of privacy seem to have been lost in the arguments put forward by the state opposing the recognition of the fundamental right to privacy. However Privacy enjoys a robust legal framework internationally.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966, legally protect persons against “arbitrary interference” with one’s privacy, family, home, correspondence, honour and reputation. India signed and ratified the ICCPR on 1979, without reservation, at this time we should wait for Supreme Court verdict.

Question– Examine how far privacy as a right is justified so that it does not endangers the national integrity.

 

3.Paradox of the vote (The Indian Express and Journal on Democracy) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue how instant universal suffrage hurts state-building and state-capacity in India. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • UNIVERSAL Adult Suffrage is the right of citizens in a given society who are entitled to vote in an election to select, at periodic intervals when these elections are called, a government to represent them. Usually, the only restriction applies to people under a certain age.
  • The authors of India’s Constitution took the extraordinarily bold step of giving all adult citizens the right to vote, making India the world’s first large democracy to adopt universal adult suffrage from its very inception. India’s move “instant universal suffrage”, to distinguish it from “incremental suffrage” when the vote is extended more gradually, what happened in nearly all Western democracies.
  • It has been a key to India’s national survival a point that the vast literature on Indian democracy surprisingly overlooks. However it has weakened the Indian state’s capacity to deliver public goods.

Paradox of instant universal suffrage

  • Under the British, only a small share of India’s population, never more than 12 per cent had received voting rights, primarily in two large-scale elections- First in 1937 to choose legislative bodies for eleven provinces of British India, and the second in 1945-46. The “princely” states which held about a fourth of India’s population had virtually no elections before Independence.
  • But in sharp contrast to western societies India after independence made a giant political leap, vaulting straight into universal adult suffrage with none of the intervening conflicts, the practice of universal suffrage had by the 1950s become fully established across the country.
  • In the 70 years since, Indians have voted in thousands of elections across national, state and local levels, casting billions of votes a remarkable testament to the endurance of our electoral democracy.
  • The incremental extension of suffrage in the manner seen in U.S. or British history might have strengthened state capacity in India. But would this geographically vast and heavily peopled country, with its wide array of tongues, creeds, castes, classes, and regions, have been able to endure as a unified nation amid the prolonged disenfranchisement of large swaths of its citizenry?
  • By giving every citizen of such an ethnically and religiously diverse nation a voice in choosing rulers, instant universal suffrage made the mass involvement of citizens in national life a routine exercise. India became real to its people through their periodic but regular vote. Yet instant universal suffrage also affected other aspects of India’s political system, shaping the priorities and capacities of the state as well as the forms of mobilization and contestation that various social groups favoured. In all these realms, the pressure of mass inclusion made itself sharply felt, and left state capacity impaired.
  • We need to look at India’s experience in light of the consequences that incremental suffrage had for political parties and government policies in the United States and the United Kingdom. Such a comparison throws the consequences of instant universal suffrage for India into high relief.

Comparison

  • According to Robert A. Dahl, “India’s widespread poverty combined with its acute multicultural divisions would appear to be fertile grounds for the rampant growth of antidemocratic movements powerful enough to overthrow democracy and install an authoritarian dictatorship.”
  • In the United States, the Civil War ended slavery in 1865, yet it took a century for full voting rights to extend to African Americans. In Switzerland, women received the vote only in 1971. Indeed, across Western democracies generally, the process of universalizing the adult franchise involved drawn-out contests among various stakeholders.
  • The processes of incremental suffrage expansion in these countries taking decades and spanning centuries had a major impact on the development of their respective political systems. The question of who could or should vote changed the priorities of elected governments. As new priorities arose, public institutions and capacities had to be created or overhauled to suit them.
  • Contests over suffrage extension also taught different classes and groups profound lessons in the areas of mobilization, collective action, and political competition. All manner of groups the propertied and privileged, the middle classes, the poor and marginalized, and various minorities learned to forge alliances and reach accommodations in service of their respective goals.
  • Because universal suffrage was so slow in coming, state capacities also had a chance to develop slowly, without being overwhelmed by the sudden pressure of urgent mass demands. Instead, popular demands evolved more gradually, in pace with the spread of the franchise.
  • Instant universal suffrage has weakened the capacity of India’s public institutions. The challenges of nation-building in 1947 and beyond enduring the massive violence and population displacements of partition, stitching the various princely states into the fabric of the Union, writing and ratifying the Constitution, setting up state governments, surviving wars with China and Pakistan, coping with insurgencies, put a premium on the design and functioning of national institutions. So much energy and attention went into getting those rights, that public institution at the state and local levels inevitably got short shrift.
  • More broadly speaking, instant universal suffrage helped to cause not only a deficit of state capacity but also a deficit of state accountability. The two deficits are related. The conditions surrounding the formation of India’s public institutions were tailor-made for weak accountability.
  • India’s bureaucracy was a continuation of the British Raj. It was more a machine for keeping order than an instrument of development attuned to citizens’ demands. In 1947, barely 18 per cent of Indian voters were literate. People were just learning to vote, let alone grasping how government worked and laying out coherent demands to keep government accountable.

Way ahead

  • In India instant universal suffrage is not a mere historical topic, but has continuing consequences for the structure and functioning of the country’s public institutions. The withdrawal of the middle class and elite from seeking public provision of such key public goods as education and healthcare, for instance, has made the emergence of a U.S. or European-style welfare state unlikely in India.
  • Instead, India will probably witness the creation of new “partnership” mechanisms driven by state obligations to citizens but premised on the provision of public goods through nongovernmental means, since the state alone will not be able to provide what is needed.

Question– What do you understand by the paradox of adult suffrage? What are its results for India?