Mitras Analysis of News : 21-7-2017

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1.Big squeeze on Civil Society (The Hindu)

2.Recycling is the answer to India’s water woes (Down to Earth)

3.Harming organic farm movement (Down to Earth)


1.Big squeeze on Civil Society (The Hindu)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the the government crackdown on civil societies. (GS paper II)


  • Civil societies and Human rights organisations are facing their biggest crackdown in a generation as a wave of restrictive laws are being passed out to curtail their activity.
  • The government labelled the environmental NGO Greenpeace as “anti-national”, blocking its bank accounts, deporting foreign workers and preventing local staff from travelling abroad. Licences for more than 13,000 organisations have been revoked for alleged violations of a law on foreign funding.

Evolution of civil societies

  • The worldwide shift to civil society was catalysed by the mobilisation of people against communist states in Eastern and Central Europe in the 1970s and the 1980s.
  • Citizens turned their back on unresponsive and authoritarian states and formed associations, such as reading clubs and soup kitchens, in a metaphorical space outside the state. This space they called civil society.
  • In India, by the late 1970s, the decline of all institutions gave rise to several mass-based political movements and grassroots activism. The anti-caste movement, the struggle for gender justice, the movement for civil liberties, for a sound environment, and against mega development projects that have displaced thousands of poor tribals and hill dwellers, the movement against child labour, for the right to information, for shelter, for primary education, and for food security have mobilised in civil society.
  • The fact that vital issues related to livelihoods, to the fulfilment of basic needs, and for justice were not taken up by political parties but by civil society organisations acted to propel hopes in civil society as an alternative to the non-performing state and an unresponsive party system.

Civil societies as breath for democracy

  • Violation of two democratic rights has been alleged by the government: the right to freedom of expression including the right to protest, and the right to form associations.
  • Civil society as the sphere of associational life forms the backbone of democracy. The right to participate in an activity we call politics is not, and cannot be, restricted to just elections. Elections are but the starting point of the democratic project.
  • Citizens have the right to scrutinise the work of their representatives, publicise acts of omission and commission, such as infringement of civil liberties, appropriation of tribal land for purposes of accumulation, failure of governments to provide a reasonable standard of life for the citizens, and engage with leaders on the troubled issue of political conflicts.
  • The right to engage with, interrogate and criticise representatives is an integral part of democracy.
  • There has been too much emphasis on democracy as elections in India. The heat needs to be taken off elections. We need to be conscious of what happens between elections, given the opacity of government, given its awesome power over the lives and liberties of citizens, and given the propensity of every government to appropriate, accumulate and misuse power.
  • This can be checked, provided we appreciate the competence of ordinary people to participate in political campaigns in civil society.

Marginalisation of civil societies 

  • We see the marginalisation of civil society and the sidelining of a rights-based approach to social policy. The government at the Centre has no use for civil society activism or the politics of dissent. The government, along with the front organisations of the religious right, is determined to take over the political space as well as civil society.
  • Civil society organisations came together to press upon the government the right of citizens to social goods. Once laws granting the right to information, to food, and to work had been passed, activists kept watch on acts of omission and commission, and issued citizen reports.
  • Today, social security plans are announced without corresponding mobilisation of, consultation with or intervention of civil society organisations. On the contrary, the government has come down heavily on organisations by blocking their bank accounts, by putting a stop to funding, and by casting aspersions on their ability to represent the people of India

Way ahead

  • A democratic state needs a democratic civil society. But a democratic civil society also needs a democratic state; a state that respects the politics of ‘voice’ as opposed to the politics of the ‘vote’.
  • If the government respects the voice of citizens through the grant of the right to freedom of expression and association, it should be enabling civil society to articulate aspirations, critically engage with the state, and issue social report cards.
  • The promises of democracy can only be realised through collective action in civil society. If the state constrains civil society space, democracy is truncated, and citizens are seen only as voters.

Question–  NGO and civil societies are the conscience keeper of society. Comment.


2.Recycling is the answer to India’s water woes (Down to Earth)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the dire need to conserve water. (GS paper III)


  • The per capita availability of water in India is going down progressively and the situation may become precarious unless the country takes measures like recycling of water in an organized manner.

Water availability on decline

  • The average annual per capita availability of water which stood at 5200 cubic meter per capita per year in 1951 reduced to 1816 cubic meters in 2001 and further plummeting to just 1545 cubic meters as per capita by 2011. This means there has been a decline of 70% decline since 1951.
  • According to international norms, 1700 cubic meter per capita per year is required for healthy living and what we have is less than the international norm making India ‘water stressed’.
  • India has been witnessing rainfall of 1160 mm annually as compared to world average of 1110 mm. The overall rainfall is bountiful in some years, while in others is a shortfall. Within one monsoon season too, there could be wide variation in rainfall across geographical regions. But the water crisis is not largely due to variability of rainfall but essentially due to increase in population
  • There has been significant increase in the demand of water. At the time of independence India’s population was 33 crores and now it is 133 crores and the amount of water available is almost the same. If the availability falls below 1000 cubic meter per capita per year we would reach ‘water scarce’ situation.

Recycling as a solution

  • The solution is to promote the concept of recycling of water. If we do not recycle water many times before we discard it as waste, we are in for serious trouble. In Frankfurt, for instance, one drop of water is recycled eight times before it reaches the sea.
  • In domestic and industrial sectors, possibilities for recycling water exist. There is a need to reach the stage of `zero water’ industries where industrial units would take care of all their water needs by adopting recycling techniques and not depend on outside sources.
  • There is need to bring about changes in agricultural practices. The government was already encouraging modern methods of irrigation such as micro-irrigation or precision irrigation using techniques like called drip or sprinkler irrigation.
  • Israel was able to grow eight to ten times more apples than India for the same extent of land and same quantum of water. India should learn from countries like Israel and Netherland, which have developed techniques for growing crops with lesser water. Traditional agriculture methods are often water intensive and it is time we focus on water conservation methods.
  • There is also need for policy makers and other stakeholders conscious of the fact that significant quantities of water is being exported in the form of articles and other products, which is complicating the water balance.

Way ahead

  • Virtual water is the water that has been consumed to produce a particular product, but which you may not see it. For example, if you drink a glass of water it is evident that you drink a glass of water but if you eat an apple you do not see water but after all water was used to produce that apple. Thus, when apple is exported, along with the product in an unseen way water is also transported. This transport of virtual water also has to come under scrutiny when we talk of water crisis
  • In addition to ‘virtual water’, there is also a need to look at `water footprint’ which is the amount of water that is used by an individual or a community. “The footprint depends on lifestyle of individuals. It would depend on aspects such as how much water a person uses, whether he or she wastes or conserves water

Question What is the the grey water model? How it will be useful for conservation of water?


3.Harming organic farm movement (Down to Earth)

 Synoptic line: It throws light on the newly proposed rules to curb fake organic products and how it will impact organic food sector as a whole. (GS paper III)


  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has recently announced the Draft Food and Standards (Organic Food) Regulations, 2017, aimed at curbing sales of fake organic products. However, the regulation may harm the organic farm movement.

New regulations

  • New norms will require that products sold in the domestic market as “organic” be certified by either of the two present certification systems: the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), initiated by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, or the Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS), led by the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • The difference between the two: the NPOP was designed for the export market and involves third-party companies which verify organic status, while in PGS, a group of farmers work together and guarantee that everyone in the group is practising organic farming.
  • The draft, however, exempts ‘unprocessed’ organic food sold directly by a farmer or a farmer organisation to the end consumer. In other words, this regulation is only applicable to ‘processed’ organic food and branded ‘unprocessed’ organic food sold by a company.
  • On the face of it, this looks like an excellent regulation, with a promise of protecting the rights of consumers. But a closer analysis shows that it cannot curb sales of fake organic products

Shortcoming of the norms

  • There are some fake organic products in the market. How big is this problem is difficult to ascertain till we have a comprehensive all-India study on this issue. Secondly, a fake organic product is not a case of safety, but that of ‘misbranding’ or ‘misleading advertisement’.
  • Fake products are as safe or unsafe as any other products sold in the market. The question, therefore: Is certification required as per the Food Safety and Standards Act to tackle misbranding?
  • The FSSAI has a clear definition of and penalty for misbranding of food and misleading advertisements. The penalty for misbranding is up to Rs 3 lakh; for misleading advertisement, up to Rs 1 million. Nowhere in the Act is it specified that to prevent misbranding or misleading advertisement, a product has to have mandatory certification.

Impact on farmers

  • Firstly, both NPOP and PGS are process-based certification systems. They look at the processes and practices of farming and food-processing; testing food for pesticide residues is a limited part of the scheme. NPOP obviously is far more expensive than PGS and therefore, preferred by big farmers, companies and exporters.
  • Under PGS, only the food processed by the PGS group of farmers themselves or their duly authorised federations can be labelled as ‘organic’. The problem is PGS groups are run by small farmers and there are hardly any PGS groups or federations that directly process organic produce. They, therefore, sell their produce to other processors for value addition.
  • Under NPOP, only the produce of a certified NPOP farm can be processed by a certified NPOP processor and sold as ‘organic’. The NPOP processor cannot take fresh produce from a PGS farmer, process it and sell it as ‘organic’.
  • The implication of the draft regulation, therefore, is that it will make it rather difficult for small farmers, who are either PGS certified or non-certified, to sell their produce for value addition. They will be forced to sell fresh produce directly to consumers or get NPOP certification. If a small farmer gets NPOP certification, it makes his product more expensive and hence uncompetitive in the market. If he sells only fresh produce, his value addition is low.
  • The draft regulations, therefore, will dissuade small farmers from practising organic farming. What it will certainly do is promote companies that do NPOP certification.

Way ahead

  • In a scenario where the government should be promoting more small farmers to take up organic farming, the FSSAI’s regulation is going to put a roadblock for them.
  • The logic of certifying organic food itself is perverse. Instead of making laws that require mandatory labelling of foods grown with pesticides, chemicals or GMO, FSSAI is asking positive attribute of organic food to be certified. If the FSSAI is so anxious about fake organic products, it should set standards and use its ‘misbranding’ provision to penalise them. Like it does for every other food product.

Question What are the newly proposed legislations to curb fake organic products? How it will impact organic industry?

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