Awash in water crises
Indian farmers call for free markets
Synoptic line: It throws light on issue the recent interim order of SC extending deadline to link Aadhaar card.
(GS paper II)
- Supreme Court in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India passed a landmark judgement which holds that the right to privacy is protected as a fundamental constitutional right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
- The judgement of the 9-judge bench contains six concurring opinions affirming the right to privacy of Indian citizens. The judgement explicitly overrules previous judgements of the Supreme Court in Kharak Singh vs. State of UP and M.P Sharma v Union of India, which had held that there is no fundamental right to privacy under the Indian Constitution.
- In recent times by extending the deadline on linking Aadhaar to various services, the court showed us, at least in theory, that it was willing to treat every citizen with equal dignity, care and respect, that the inviolability of rights was not conditional on a person’s position in society.
- According to Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Every individual in society irrespective of social class or economic status is entitled to the intimacy and autonomy which privacy protects. The pursuit of happiness is founded upon autonomy and dignity. Both are essential attributes of privacy which makes no distinction between the birth marks of individuals.
- Judgment in Puttaswamy case, the court acknowledged that the state wasn’t doing anyone a favour by providing those benefits and subsidies; these were as much an entitlement that sprang from the Constitution as the other freedoms flowing from the document’s text.
The battle of Aadhaar linking
- Supreme Court’s in its interim order extended the government-mandated deadline on linking Aadhaar to different services, including one’s banking and mobile phone accounts, until it delivers a final judgment.
- But, markedly, it refused to grant a similar extension for notifications made under Section 7 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016. These notifications make a person’s entitlement to a host of welfare schemes, including subsidy programmes, conditional on the individual possessing an Aadhaar number. Aren’t citizens enrolled to receive benefits from government entitled to the same freedoms as others?
- According to state, by providing every Indian a unique identity number, by collecting biometric information from us, including our fingerprints and iris scans, the government can ensure an equitable distribution of benefits to the poor.
- But there were many problems with this vision, for example- it lacked any legislative backing, and was, therefore, clearly introduced without due process. Also the state displayed a complete lack of care or concern for a person’s right to privacy, in commencing a project which it couldn’t have even been sure would satisfy its purported objectives. The government had barely conducted any disinterested study before the project was piloted to examine its costs and benefits. As a result, several petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, questioning the project’s constitutional validity.
- The court delivered a brief interim order, that Aadhaar card cannot be made mandatory for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen. Additionally, Aadhaar could only be used for a specific list of purposes, such as the enforcement of schemes under the Public Distribution System.
- In October that year, a bench modified this order to include certain other schemes for which Aadhaar could be used, but, at the same time, was careful to clarify that the project was entirely voluntary and that no person could be compelled to enrol in the programme.
Issue of subsidy
- The Union government introduced draft legislation in the Lok Sabha, in the form of a money bill, with a view to legitimising the creation of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which runs the Aadhaar programme. This law, the Aadhaar Act of 2016, describes enrolment with the UIDAI as voluntary.
- But, in Section 7, it authorises both the Central and State governments to make Aadhaar mandatory for anyone wishing to receive a subsidy, benefit or service, for which expenses are borne from the Consolidated Fund of India. Although this clause, at the same time, demands that the government must accept alternate proofs of identity from persons without an Aadhaar number, since the law’s enactment the state has notified more than 130 schemes in which beneficiaries of different welfare measures have been mandated to enrol with the UIDAI.
- These programmes include schemes that affect access to the public distribution system, to mid-day meals for children, to pensions for the elderly, to public health care, to food subsidies under the National Food Security Act, to maternity benefits, and to an array of other such necessities.
- Simultaneously, the government has also made a series of declarations under various different laws, directing individuals to secure an Aadhaar card and to link this number with their income tax PAN, bank accounts, financial services such as mutual and provident funds, and insurance policies, among others.
- Now, although the deadline for seeding Aadhaar with these services expires on March 31, much like the deadline for linking Aadhaar for the purposes of the schemes notified under Section 7, the benefit of the Supreme Court’s interim order, delivered last week, will ensure only to the former.
- The court has every power to now amend its interim order. Unless it does so, the social contract, undergirding the Constitution, faces the grave threat of being reduced to rubble.
Question – Why did the court extend the deadline on linking Aadhaar to various services, but refuse to grant one for welfare plans?
Awash in water crises
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of nature based solutions to address water scarcity issue.
(GS paper I)
- Around 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. And ecosystems around the world will suffer even more.
- This year’s World Water Development Report makes it clear that nature-based solutions, which are also aligned with the principles and aims of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can offer answers to our most pressing water-related challenges.
World Water Day
- World Water Day occur on 22 March every year, it is about focusing attention on the importance of water. The theme for World Water Day 2018 is ‘Nature for Water’ –exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.
- Damaged ecosystems affect the quantity and quality of water available for human consumption. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home; affecting their health, education and livelihoods.
- Sustainable Development Goal 6 commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes targets on protecting the natural environment and reducing pollution.
Why need for Nature-based solutions ?
- The 2018 edition of the World Water Development Report (WWDR 2018) seeks to inform policy and decision-makers, inside and outside the water community, about the potential of nature-based solutions (NBS) to address contemporary water management challenges across all sectors, and particularly regarding water for agriculture, sustainable cities, disaster risk reduction and improving water quality.
- As the world’s population is expected to increase from 7.6 billion (2017) to between 9.4 and 10.2 billion people (2050), with two-thirds of them living in cities. UN estimates are that more than half of this anticipated growth will be in Africa (1.3 billion) and Asia (0.75 billion). Therefore, those most in need of water will be in developing or emerging economies.
- Climate change is also impacting the global water cycle with wetter regions generally becoming wetter and drier regions drier. An estimated 3.6 billion people now live in areas that could face water scarcity for at least a month in a year, with that number increasing to 4.8 and 5.7 billion by 2050. The International Water Management Institute estimates that total demand could increase from 680 billion cubic metres (BCM) to 833 BCM by 2025, and to 900 BCM by 2050.
- By 2050, countries already facing water scarcity challenges may also be forced to cope with the decreased availability of surface water resources. India faces major threats to its water security, with most water bodies near urban centres heavily polluted. Inter-State disputes over river resources are also becoming more intense and widespread.
Issue of water quality
- Along with water scarcity, there is the issue of water quality. Since the 1990s, water pollution has worsened in most rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
- An estimated 80% of industrial and municipal wastewater is released without any prior treatment, with detrimental impacts on human health and ecosystems. Given the transboundary nature of most river basins, regional cooperation will be critical to addressing projected water quality challenges.
- A Central Pollution Control Board report indicates that almost half of India’s inter-State rivers are polluted. Sewage from 650 cities and towns along 302 polluted river stretches in the country increased from 38,000 million litres per day (MLD) in 2009 to 62,000 MLD in 2015.
Nature based solutions
- Nature-based solutions can address overall water scarcity through “supply-side management,” and are recognised as the main solution to achieving sustainable water for agriculture. Environmentally-friendly agricultural systems like those which use practices such as conservation tillage, crop diversification, legume intensification and biological pest control work as well as intensive, high-input systems.
- The environmental co-benefits of nature-based solutions to increasing sustainable agricultural production are substantial as there are decreased pressures on land conversion and reduced pollution, erosion and water requirements, Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment can also be a cost-effective, nature-based solution that provides effluent of adequate quality for several non-potable uses (irrigation) and additional benefits that include energy production.
- Such systems already exist in nearly every region of the world. Natural and constructed wetlands also biodegrade or immobilise a range of emerging pollutants. Recent experiments suggest that for some emerging pollutants, nature-based solutions work better than “grey” solutions, and in certain cases may be the only viable option.
- Watershed management is another nature-based solution that is seen not only as a complement to built or “grey” infrastructure but also one that could also spur local economic development, job creation, biodiversity protection and climate resilience. Nature-based solutions are closely aligned with traditional and local knowledge including those held by indigenous and tribal peoples in the context of water variability and change.
- Chennai in Tamil Nadu is a textbook example of how nature is being ignored in urban development-posed challenges. Earlier, when there was heavy rain in catchment areas in the Chennai region, lakes, ponds, tanks, rivers and inter-linked drainage systems helped replenish groundwater, hold back some water and release the excess to the ocean. Unplanned urban development and unwieldy growth with no hydrological plan are causing many problems
- Nature-based solutions are crucial to achieving our Sustainable Development Goals. Adopting them will not only improve water management but also achieve water security.
Question–Examine how Nature-based solutions are crucial to achieving our Sustainable Development Goals?
Indian farmers call for free markets
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of liberalizing agriculture.
(GS paper II)
- The Kisan Coordination Committee (KCC) has released a liberal eight-point charter of demands ahead of a meeting to be held in New Delhi this week of various members of the World Trade Organization.
- The farmers have called for the liberalization of agriculture, the end of government intervention in the farm economy, scrapping of the National Food Security Act, direct benefit transfers to the poor, free trade in farm products and the removal of restrictions of rural land markets.
- These demands deserve attention when the limitations of the recent cycle of higher procurement prices as well as farm loan waivers are evident. Shetkari Sanghatana leader Sharad Joshi often said that the internal terms of trade discriminated against farmers, who were not allowed to export and had to operate under tight controls in the domestic market.
- The first problem is the subservience of the farmer to the licensed trader in the mandi system. These traders collude to determine the purchasing price in a non-transparent fashion, virtually dictating terms to the farmer. This was apparent in Madhya Pradesh recently, where the price of commodities covered by the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana was depressed by the traders as the farmers were promised compensation for the shortfall by the government.
- This hegemony can be broken by allowing private mandis and delisting farm products from the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act, but there has been little progress on this front. For example, while many states have amended the APMC to delist fruits and vegetables, the rules are still to be notified and several entry barriers remain.
- The government has established e-NAM (electronic national agriculture market) to create a national market and price discovery by trading. But the platform has not been successful as there is limited intra-state and negligible interstate trade. Given the massive disparity between producer and consumer prices, one would imagine that arbitrage would be highly profitable.
- The second reason for the farmer’s plight is the excessive risk he has to bear in order to do business. Government policy, through the Essential Commodities Act, restricts farmers and traders from transporting and storing their produce, in order to prevent alleged hoarding and profiteering in times of shortages.
- The stock-holding limits preclude investments in supply-chain as the food processing and retail companies need stocks in order to shield themselves from price shocks. Moreover, stock-holding allows a smooth supply of produce, reducing price volatility. Unfortunately, the government started its term by bringing onions and potatoes under the Essential Commodities Act in 2014, reducing the likelihood and credibility of future reform.
- Third, given the monsoon-dependent nature of farming, farmers are at a constant risk of falling into poverty and a number of measures can distribute this risk between peasants and traders. Futures markets, for example, would allow traders to incorporate information about seed purchase volumes, area under harvest, weather forecast, etc., to predict future shortages or glut and enter into pre-purchase agreements with farmers.
- Contract farming and land lease laws will similarly allow farmers to share the risks associated with farming, and allow them access to cheaper credit and farm inputs.
- Equal treatment for agriculture and industry has been demanded since the 1980s. Yet today, while the industrial policy remains stable in promoting exports, farmers are not free to do so. For decades, despite rising production, the Indian farmer has been at the mercy of government policy, which has transformed over the years from being directed at capital formation to providing subsidies and transfers.
Question – Critically analyse whether liberalizing agriculture is a solution to farmers’ distress or not.