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02 January 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) Clear connection

GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation


CONTEXT:

  1. From 1 January 2021, India has ended Interconnection Usage Charges (IUC) regime.
  2. Under IUC regime, one telecom operator paid a charge to another on whose network a subscriber’s voice call was completed.
  3. This new change has created a new era in which these companies can focus on upgrading their networks and service.

 

WHAT IS INTERCONNECTION?

  1. The term ‘interconnection’ refers to an arrangement under which telecom players connect their equipment, networks and services with other Telecom Services Providers.
  2. The regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), addresses the various issues related to interconnection arrangements. It also regulates the IUC.

 

INTERCONNECTION USAGE CHARGE (IUC):

  1. IUC is a charge payable by a service provider, whose subscriber originates the call, to the service provider in whose network the call terminates.
  2. In a calling-party pays regime (CPP), if you originate a call, you pay your access provider, who in turn pays termination charges to the network you placed the call.
  3. This is paid to cover the network usage costs as the operator, on whose network the call terminates, carries the call on its network to the customers. This requires infrastructure investment.
  4. Thus, IUC ensures operators make appropriate investments to carry voice calls without terminations.

 

TELECOM REGULATORY AUTHORITY OF INDIA (TRAI):

  1. It is a statutory body set up by the Government of India under section 3 of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997. It is the regulator of the telecommunications sector in India.
  2. It consists of a Chairperson and not more than two full-time members and not more than two part-time members.
  3. The TRAI Act was amended by an ordinance, effective from 24 January 2000, establishing a Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) to take over the adjudicatory and disputes functions from TRAI.

 

SHIFTING THE FOCUS:

  1. Initially, the plan to end IUC regime was delayed by a year by TRAI due to concerns that not all operators were ready. Also, the fact that the shift to more efficient 4G networks and compatible subscriber handsets was slower than anticipated.
  2. With the new change, there is a need to monitor call termination data and make IUC payments no longer exists.
  3. A spectrum auction is also scheduled this year. Now, the focus should shift to giving the users a better deal — as reliable call quality and competitive tariffs.
  4. For the subscriber, other than those who had to pay higher access tariffs on one wireless network due to the IUC system, the latest measure may not carry a significant impact, since providers sold unlimited call packs even earlier.
  5. One operator, Jio, had a higher proportion of outgoing calls to other wireless operators, thus having to pay significant net interconnection charges, which was six paise per minute since 2017.
  6. That imbalance has reduced, and TRAI has now introduced an arrangement called bill and keep, which does away with the IUC.

 

EXPANSION OF NETWORKS:

  1. India’s high density telecom market is poised for further growth as it awaits expansion through 5G and Internet-connected devices.
  2. Yet, as the Economic Survey of 2019-20 pointed out, intense competition has reduced the number of private players.
  3. Public sector operators BSNL and MTNL still face a challenge and their future must be clarified early, with efforts to improve their technological capabilities and service levels.
  4. A parallel trend has been the rise in 4G subscribers from 196.9 million in September 2017 to 517.5 million out of a total wireless subscriber base of 1,165.46 million in June 2019.
  5. The end of the IUC should spur an expansion of high-capacity networks, going beyond 2G and 3G that some telcos continue to use. The removal of interconnection charges was opposed by them just a year ago.
  6. TRAI has stressed the importance of consumer welfare through adequate choice, affordable tariff and quality service.
  7. It is important to tread cautiously on claims made on behalf of the sector, that higher tariffs alone can ensure the health of telecoms.

 

WAY FORWARD:

  1. India is a mass market for voice and data services that fuel the digital economy.
  2. Badly priced spectrum could lead to auction failures and lack of genuine competition is bound to hamper the growth of the next big wave of telecoms, of which the 5G piece is critical for new services.
  3. On the consumer side, helping more people migrate to 4G services quickly through affordable handsets will help telcos put their infrastructure to better use.
  4. Having got the interconnection charges out of the way, telcos should focus on service quality.

 

2) An ill-conceived, overbroad and vague ordinance

GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation


CONTEXT:

  1. Recently, Uttar Pradesh government had passed an ordinance in the name “The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance” which is commonly called the anti-love jihad ordinance. It is considered as unconstitutional and violates key rights.

 

WHAT IS AN ORDINANCE?

  1. Ordinances are laws that are promulgated by the President of India on the recommendation of the Union Cabinet, which will have the same effect as an Act of Parliament. They can only be issued when Parliament is not in session.
  2. They enable the Indian government to take immediate legislative action.
  3. Ordinances cease to operate either if Parliament does not approve of them within six weeks of reassembly, or if disapproving resolutions are passed by both Houses.
  4. It is also compulsory for a session of Parliament to be held within six months. A total of 679 ordinances have been issued from 1950-2014.
  5. Article 213 (1) of the Constitution of India provides-

“If at any time, except when the Legislative Assembly of a State is in session, or where there is a Legislative Council in a State, except when both Houses of the Legislature are in session, the Governor is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such Ordinances as the circumstances appear to him to require: …”

  1. Three pre-conditions to be satisfied before the Governor promulgates an ordinance-
  1. State Legislature should not be in session
  2. Circumstances should exist for promulgating an ordinance and;
  3. Those circumstances must warrant immediate action.

CIRCUMSTANCES, URGENCY:

  1. There is no established practice requiring the Governor (or the President under Article 123 of the Constitution) to state the circumstances for immediate action.
  2. The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce Ordinance merely stated in the preamble what the ordinance provides for, but did not disclose the circumstances and urgency for immediate action.
  3. A healthy convention should develop and the preamble to any ordinance should state the immediacy for promulgating it when the Legislature is not in session.
  4. This would greatly enhance transparency in legislation, but, more importantly, enable legislators to understand why they are, in a sense, by-passed and why a debate and discussion in the Legislature could not be awaited.
  5. The reason for immediate action is, as yet, not justiciable and it is unlikely that any court will get involved into this arena.
  6. SC has held that the existence of circumstances leading to the satisfaction of the Governor can be inquired into.
  7. However, the court will not delve into the sufficiency of circumstances. Therefore, it is important to disclose the circumstances and reason for immediate action in the first instance rather than require people to go to court to find out.

 

THE U.P. ORDINANCE & FLAWS:

  1. Anti-love jihad ordinance provides for unlawful conversion from one religion to another by coercion, misrepresentation and so on “or by marriage”.
  2. It then proceeds to record the satisfaction of the Governor of the existence of circumstances and the necessity for “him/her to take immediate action”.
  3. If one fraudulent or coercive inter-faith marriage is taking place, the police can certainly prevent it, as they supposedly do in child marriages. An ordinance is not required for it.
  4. However, if more than one such fraudulent or coercive inter-faith marriage is expected to take place, the State government would have information of mass conversions for the purpose of marriage.
  5. In the normal course, it is unlikely that these mass conversions would be in secret and almost simultaneous.
  6. A more realistic expectation would be specific information of some or many unwilling religious conversions likely to take place.
  7. Surely, these can also be prevented by an alert police force by invoking existing legal provisions. Assuming a somewhat unbelievable scenario does exist, how does one justify immediate action for promulgating an ordinance?

 

RIGHT TO PRIVACY:

  1. The Constitution of India encompasses Right to Privacy under Article 21, which is a requisite of right to life and personal liberty. Stressing on the term ‘privacy’, it is a dynamic concept which was needed to be explained.
  2. The scope of Article 21 is multi-dimensional under the Indian Constitution. Law of torts, Criminal Laws as well as Property Laws also recognize right to privacy.
  3. Privacy is something that deals with individual privacy and also which was needed to be protected earlier before the passing of a landmark case, i.e., K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India in 2017 as it was, previously, not considered a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.
  4. However, our Indian judiciary has, at present, carved out a distinctive precinct regarding privacy and an upshot of that is Right to Privacy, it is, now, recognized as a fundamental right, which is intrinsic under Article 21.
  5. Right to privacy is a requisite of right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  6. Right to privacy is not an absolute right, it may be subject to certain reasonable restrictions for prevention of crime, public disorder and protection of others.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. The ordinance is prone to abuse and we have seen its consequences — of intimidation, bullying, arbitrary arrests and the loss of a foetus.
  2. It is ill-conceived, overbroad and vague in many respects.
  3. It defames all inter-faith marriages and places unreasonable obstacles on consenting adults in exercising their personal choice of a partner.
  4. It also mocks the right to privacy and violates the right to life, liberty and dignity. In short, it is unconstitutional.

 

3) Taking note of farmer welfare, the Kerala way

GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation


CONTEXT:

  1. Farmers are writing a new history by representing the unflinching will of a people who consider agriculture as their culture. This farmers’ struggle is unique in the history of free India.
  2. In some manner, the upsurge by these farmers resembles the ‘Occupy Wallstreet Movement’ in the United States, in 2011, whose slogan reverberates even today across the world: “We are the 99 percent”.

 

FARM BILLS:

  1. The three Farm Bills were passed as an ordinance and while it was passed in Rajya Sabha by voice vote.
  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, allows farmers to sell their harvest outside notified APMC mandis without taxes.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, facilitates contract farming and direct marketing.
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, deregulates the production, storage, movement and sale of cereals, pulses, edible oils and onion.

 

WHY ARE FARMERS UPSET WITH THE FARM BILLS?

  1. The Farm Bill allows farmers to directly sell to private companies without relying on the APMC mandis. Farmers fear this could lead to scrapping of MSP.
  2. Government has removed most agricultural products from Essential Commodities List. Farmers expect this to lead to price volatility and hoarding.
  3. Effectively, the bills permit private sector investment into farm infrastructure. Farmers are sceptical that large corporates may squeeze out the traditional farmer.

 

WHY ARE FARMERS WORRIED ABOUT TAX-FREE DEALS OUTSIDE THE APMC?

  1. Farmers fear that tax-free private trade in food grains will make these mandis unviable. If volumes shift out of the APMC mandis, government may lose interest in enforcing MSP.
  2. In Punjab and Haryana, most government procurement centres are located within the APMC mandis. Farmers want MSP to be made universal; both within mandis and outside mandis.

 

WHY ARE PROTESTS VOCIFEROUS ONLY FROM STATES LIKE PUNJAB AND HARYANA?

  1. More than 50% of all government procurement of wheat and paddy since 2015 happened in Punjab and Haryana.
  2. Nearly, 85% of wheat and paddy grown in Punjab, and 75% in Haryana is bought at MSP rates.
  3. Farmers in these States expect prices to fall without MSP. Punjab has invested in the mandi system and infrastructure.
  4. Large farmers in Punjab and Haryana double up as commission agents. So, they earn the commission plus the interest on loans given to smaller farmers. These will cease to exist.

 

 

WHY ARE SOME STATE GOVERNMENTS UPSET WITH THE FARM BILL?

  1. It is purely economical. For example, Punjab government charges 6% mandi tax (along with a 2.5% fee for handling central procurement).
  2. Punjab earns Rs.3,500 crore and Haryana Rs.1,600 crore from these mandi taxes. For other states, mandi tax is less than 1% of revenues while for Punjab and Haryana it is almost 9%.
  3. Also, agriculture is a state subject and state governments are not comfortable with the centre diluting their importance.

 

WILL THE FARM BILL HELP BRING PRIVATE INVESTMENTS INTO AGRICULTURE?

  1. With just 7000 APMC markets in India, agricultural marketing largely happens outside the mandi network. Bihar, Kerala and Manipur do not follow APMC system.
  2. The facilitation and storage of agri commodities is likely to attract large corporates in the agriculture space.
  3. They will invest in farm technology and robotics, apart from post-harvest infrastructure.

 

KERELA MODEL:

  1. There are no Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) and mandis in Kerala, and the concept of the Minimum Support Price is not prevalent in the State. But it does not mean that the interests of farmers are not taken care of in the State.
  2. In fact, Kerala is the State where farmers’ rights are being protected by the government itself, and much more effectively than any other Indian State.
  3. While the government of India has fixed the procurement rate for rice at ?18 a kg, the government in Kerala is procuring rice from cultivators at ?27.48 a kg.
  4. In the same manner copra (dried coconut) is also procured at a much higher rate in Kerala than the price announced by the central government.
  5. Kerala is the State where increased basic price is ensured not only for paddy but also vegetables and fruits.
  6. Sixteen such items are enlisted by the government where the basic prices (per kg) are guaranteed. For example, tapioca (?12), banana (?30), garlic (?139), pineapple (?15), tomato (?8), string beans (?34), ladies’ fingers (?20), cabbage (?11) and potato (?20).
  7. Apart from crop insurance, paddy cultivators will get the royalty in Kerala at the rate of ?2,000 per hectare. They have a pension too, which is something unique in India.
  8. In 2006, when farmers’ suicides became the order of the day across the country, the then state government introduced a debt relief commission that extended a helping hand to the farmers, thereby saving them.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. This is the reality of the farm Bills. Though they claim ‘to enable’ the protection and the empowerment of farmers, the truth is just the opposite.
  2. The purpose of these laws is the enabling of the corporatisation of Indian agriculture and the introduction of contract farming.
  3. The annadatas have been able to foresee the evil in the three farm laws that would eventually find them at the mercy of corporate profit mongers.
  4. They know that these laws would ruin the backbone of the agricultural economy and badly affect the food security of India.
  5. The farmers are in the struggle in order to prevent such a calamity from happening. It is high time that the Prime Minister and his government understand the patriotic and selfless role being played by the food providers of the country and the genuine nature and cause of their struggle.