1.The NOTA principle (The Hindu)
2.A half-done reform (The Hindu)
3.A field of her own (The Indian Express)
1.The NOTA principle (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the recent judgement of Supreme Court to allow NOTA option in Rajya Sabha poll. (GS paper II)
- In India Rajya Sabha polls usually go unchallenged. This time however things are different, recently the use of ‘None of the above’ option in Rajya Sabha election has kicked up a political storm.
- The Supreme Court (SC) has recently allowed the use of the ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option in the upcoming poll for Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat, by saying that the provision has been in place since April 2014 after a direction by the Election Commission.
- Recently a political party approached the Election Commission against the use of NOTA option in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections, claiming that the use of NOTA in an indirect election is contrary to the mandate of the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act, as well as conduct of election rules.
- Party has been alleging that the NOTA option has been brought with an aim of influencing the result of Rajya Sabha poll, involving heavy-weights to other party leaders. However the other party said that since there was no secrecy for the voting in Rajya Sabha election, the purpose of NOTA was not much of use. “Therefore ask withdrawn of NOTA.
- NOTA was introduced in India following the 2013 Supreme Court directive in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India judgment.
- India became the 14th country to institute negative voting. However, NOTA in India does not provide for a ‘right to reject’. The candidate with the maximum votes wins the election irrespective of the number of NOTA votes polled.
- The idea behind the use of NOTA is to allow the voter to register a “protest” vote if none of the candidates is acceptable to his/her for whatever reason. While NOTA votes are tallied, the candidate with the highest number of votes polled is declared elected irrespective of the NOTA total.
- In the case of the Rajya Sabha elections, the vote allows for the preferential ordering of candidates. If an MLA chooses NOTA, the vote is rendered ineffective. The presence of the NOTA option for the legislator allows the possibility of a protest vote against the party high command for choosing candidates who are not agreeable to his/her, without having to choose candidates from opposing parties.
- The principle of a protest vote remains the same even if these are indirect elections. The party high command can issue a whip for a Rajya Sabha candidate, but anti-defection law provisions do not apply, and a defiant MLA is not disqualified from membership of the House.
- The Supreme Court has in the past held that open ballot votes in Rajya Sabha elections against the whip will not lead to disqualification as the Tenth Schedule, pertaining to anti-defection provisions, has a different purpose.
Rajya Sabha election
- A second chamber Rajya Sabha also known as the ‘Council of States’, was created with altogether different composition and method of election from that of the directly elected House of the People.
- Rajya Sabha elections are based on open ballots system. These elections follow a proportional representation system based on the single transferable vote, unlike the general elections to the Lok Sabha, which are conducted with secret ballots (or votes) and based on the first-past-the-post principle.
- Article 80 of the Indian Constitution lays down the maximum strength of Rajya Sabha as 250, out of which 12 members are nominated by the President and 238 are representatives of the States and of the two Union Territories.
- The present strength of Rajya Sabha, however, is 245, out of which 233 are representatives of the States and Union territories of Delhi and Pondicherry and 12 are nominated by the President. The members nominated by the President are persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of such matters as literature, science, art and social service.
- The Gujarat Rajya Sabha election is being seen as a personal battle between the parties. It would impact Assembly elections to be held in the next couple of years in other states, such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
- There is need to relearning the art of floor management rather than democratisation of indirect elections, through reforms such as the NOTA option.
Question– what do you mean by NOTA? How far it is capable of cleansing politics in India?
2.A half-done reform (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue with LPG subsidy and why the aim of government should be to sustainably lower the price of cooking gas. (GS paper III)
- In India, energy subsidies are provided for petroleum products, including kerosene, diesel and LPG, as well as for electricity. LPG carries the label of being a ‘clean and healthy fuel’. Therefore, the objective of LPG subsidies is that if provided across the country at lower rates, households across the board will increasingly shift from using the more polluting solid fuels to LPG.
- However, expenditure on subsidies not entirely accounted for in the government accounts gives a wrong picture on the Centre’s fiscal and revenue health, an issue that also raises doubts on the accuracy of the finance account.
- The government has recently decided to completely do away with the subsidy offered to cooking gas used for household purposes. Public sector oil companies were authorised to incrementally hike the “effective price” of LPG cylinders until the entire subsidy is wiped off by March next year. The move is likely to save the government at least Rs 6,500crore on the petroleum subsidy in this financial year.
- The opposition has slammed the government over LPG subsidy by describing the move as “anti-welfare, which will severely hit ordinary common people. This decision runs totally against the high profile ‘Give it Up’ campaign conducted by the Prime Minister to persuade families that can afford gas cylinders without subsidy to give up their subsidy so that these can be given to the poor.
- A subsidy is a benefit given by the government to groups or individuals, usually in the form of a cash payment or a tax reduction, to remove some type of burden.
- Last year, the oil companies were given the green signal to increase the effective price of subsidised cylinders by ₹2 a month. The latest order to increase the effective price by ₹4 a month, but with the clearly stated aim of eventually doing away with subsidies completely, signifies a more aggressive pursuit of the policy of cutting the fuel subsidy.
- With the fall in global crude oil prices, it has reduced the price difference between subsidised and non-subsidised cooking gas in the local market, which led to already ease the burden on the government. In the latest Union budget, the government allocated about ₹25,000crore towards oil subsidy, which is a fourth of the total oil subsidy bill incurred in fiscal year 2013.
- The implementation of the direct transfer of cash benefits in the last few years has already helped in the better targeting of subsidies to the poor, thus substantially reducing wasteful spending. The cut in subsidy would further strengthen fiscal discipline.
Effect of subsidy cut
- A study by the World Bank showed that in 2013, welfare losses cost India 7.7% of its GDP due to premature deaths and illnesses caused or aggravated by air pollution (both household and outdoor). There is an undeniable and significant impact of air pollution on both public and personal health expenditures. An obvious solution to this is the use of cleaner fuels to cook, and the provision of electricity for lighting.
- Recently the Government introduced the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) 2016 to promote the use of LPG for cooking. LPG is a fossil fuel, but it burns significantly cleanly with no production of soot. LPG connections to households have steadily and significantly increased over the past few years.
- An LPG subsidy therefore assists the poor in ensuring that this clean cooking fuel remains within the budget of many poor households, thereby keeping them healthy and saving on time spent on collecting wood.
- It is estimated that about 18crore people, many of them below the poverty line, depend on subsidised gas cylinders. It would therefore be difficult to argue that a complete abolition of subsidy will not adversely affect them.
- While this move will have a positive impact on the government budget, it is likely to have a detrimental impact on the transition to modern fuels in rural India, and on the health of the citizens. After all, what has not changed is rural India’s reliance on biomass for cooking. The poor continue to use it and suffer from the air pollution caused by it.
- The subsidy was in many ways an investment into public health. The concern is that this will impact marginal households and keep many households trapped in biomass use for daily cooking which has no place in a modern economy.
- Apart from the impact on human health and therefore the economy, what has also not changed is the affordability of LPG. This is in particular of concern at this juncture as there have been reports of significant job losses in the aftermath of demonetization particularly in rural India.
Question– LPG subsidy reforms are required in India in order to ease the burden of unsustainable fiscal deficit but still it can have repercussions for the fate of poor. How government resolve this dilemma?
3.A field of her own (The Indian Express)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue that how advancing rights of women farmers can revolutionise the rural ecosystem (GS paper III)
- Agriculture, with its allied sectors, is unquestionably the largest livelihood provider in India, more so in the vast rural areas. It also contributes a significant figure to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- The Indian agricultural landscape is fast being feminised. Gender roles in tradition-bound rural India are slowly changing with women having to take control as large numbers of working-age men migrate to cities for jobs and amid a wave of suicides by male farmers battling to provide for their families.
- Already, women constitute close to 65 per cent of all agricultural workers. An even greater share, 74 per cent of the rural workforce, is female. Despite their hard labour in the field, women are not officially counted as farmers, and are either labelled “agricultural labourers” or “cultivators”. This is because the government does not recognise as farmers those who do not have a claim to land under their name in official records.
What is feminisation of agriculture?
- Feminisation of agriculture can be interpreted differently; usually seen as the proportion of women in the agricultural workforce, and also in the proportion of households headed by women in rural areas. These women are de facto household heads because they care for both their families and the farm plots.
Reasons – According to official data, women make up more than a third of India’s agriculture workforce, yet only about 13% of farmland is owned by women.
- There are two primary reasons for the alarmingly low number, One, land being a state subject is not governed by the constitution under a uniform law that applies equally to all citizens but rather is governed by personal religious laws, which tend to discriminate against women when it comes to land inheritance.
- Second, the cultural aspect of the deep-rooted biases that hinder women’s ownership of land in patriarchal societies cannot be discounted.
- From numerous studies conducted worldwide it has been determined that women have a greater propensity to use their income for the needs of their households. Land-owning women’s offspring thus receive better nourishment and have better health indicators. Land-owning mothers also tend to invest in their children’s education. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation all around for the farmer, her family and the larger ecosystem.
- However by granting women the right to the land they cultivate would not necessarily immediately result in these beneficial outcomes. As Indian farmers, both men and women, face an uphill battle even leasing land. Nearly 35 per cent of India’s agricultural land is cultivated by tenant farmers, who tend to be landless, poor and marginal.
- Before securing women’s land ownership rights, working toward ascertaining security of tenure for tenant farmers is a necessary first step. With security of tenure, female farmers should be provided with the three critical driving factors, the incentive, the security, as well as the opportunity to invest in the land they harvest. Security of land tenure also presents advantages for landlords by removing the fear of losing their land ownership.
- Recently the NITI Aayog released the Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act, which seeks to legalise and liberalise land leasing with the interests of both the landlord and the tenant in mind. The Model Act could enable the real cultivators of land to be recognised as farmers and thus be entitled to obtain important inputs provided to farmers by the state. The act has the potential to improve the productivity of farmer harvests, replacing unwilling cultivators with willing cultivators.
- Giving agency to women farmers is critical, it will help in ensuring food security for its citizens and boost women’s rights; these constitute goals of the Sustainable Development Goals that our country committed to in 2015.
- Acknowledging the growing role women play in India’s key agricultural sector, state governments, farming groups, and private industry are starting to train women to lead farms, teaching them about crops, irrigation, and finance. Repeated studies show that when women control the family’s finances, they invest more in their children, businesses and communities, which can be a step out of poverty.
Question– Empowering women farmers, hold the key for addressing the women labour force participation rate. Comment.