8 July 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) Crisis of the future-
GS 2- Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
- A report in this newspaper highlighted how, in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, the COVID-19 crisis has affected one of the main weapons in the country’s fight against malnutrition — the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme.
- Children of one of the most marginalised Dalit communities in Bihar, the Musahars, have taken to rag-picking after the scheme, which guaranteed them one stable meal a day, came to a standstill(halt) in March.
- National Human Rights Commission and the Patna High Court which flagged the newspaper’s report, prodded(pushed) the state government.
- The state government claims to have taken immediate corrective action has issued a statewide order to ensure distribution of rations to school children for three months.
- It also allowed transfer of money to their bank accounts, or that of their guardians, in lieu of the food scheme.
- But is that enough, given that child health experts have questioned the efficacy of dry rations as a substitute for cooked meals?
- The case of the Musahar children of Bhagalpur should lead to conversations about food security for children from underprivileged communities across the country during the pandemic.
- With schools closed and anganwadi workers engaged in COVID surveillance work, there is a real danger that the nutrition of such children could be compromised.
MID-DAY MEAL (MDM) SCHEME:
- Tamil Nadu was the first state to introduce the MDM scheme in the 1960s.
- The Central scheme to provide meals to school children began in 1995.
- However, initially, most states got away by providing dry rations.
- It took a Supreme Court order of 2001 for all states to introduce cooked meals.
- The order also specified that the meals should provide children with “at least 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days in a year”.
- Since then, a large body of scholarly work has shown how hot, cooked food attracted students to schools and improved their nutritional status.
STRENGTHENING FOOD SECURITY PROGRAMMES:
- Taking suo motu cognisance of the matter on March 18, the Court asked states to ensure that “schemes for nutritional food for children are not adversely affected”.
- (TRIVIA- action taken by a government agency, court or other central authority on their own apprehension)
- Most states, including Bihar, responded by substituting MDM with dry rations.
- But such rations may not be sufficient.
- The pandemic has led to widespread economic distress.
- In such times, the need to strengthen food security programmes cannot be overstated, especially in Bihar — amongst the worst performers on child nutrition.
- It, and other states, have much to learn from Kerala, which ensured that the MDM scheme remained operational during the pandemic.
- States should also heed the SC’s warning: “While dealing with one crisis, the situation may not lead to creation of another crisis.”
Collapse of mid-day meal scheme in pandemic could affect food security of most vulnerable.
There is much to learn from Kerala.
2) End of a dream-
GS 2- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora
- Kuwait’s move to reduce the share of expatriates in its workforce has deepened the spectre of an exodus of Indians from the Gulf.
- A draft Bill in the National Assembly has proposed that the percentage of Indian citizens in Kuwait should not exceed 15% of its population — nearly 8 lakh Indians may have to leave Kuwait.
- The possibility of a migrant exodus from West Asia is not new.
- Many countries in the Gulf region have been trying to replace expats in their workforce with locals.
- Saudi Arabia launched nitaqat — a Saudisation scheme which introduced quotas in the workforce — in 2011.
- Recently, Oman had proposed a phased reduction of expats in its workforce.
- Expat workers flocked to Gulf countries to build and run those economies following the oil boom in the 1960s and ’70s.
- They were welcomed mainly because the local population lacked the necessary skills, or the will, to meet the needs of the new economy.
- The Subcontinent was a major beneficiary of this economic boom as it exported both skilled and unskilled workers.
KERELA’S RELATION WITH THE GULF:
- Kerala, for instance, built on its historic relations with the region to plug in to the Gulf economy.
- Remittances from the Gulf boosted the Kerala economy, even funding its welfare net, while also helping to check unemployment in the state.
- There are many pockets in India that have benefited similarly from the Gulf economy.
- Even before the pandemic, two main factors seemed to be driving a change in this symbiotic relationship that has lasted nearly five decades and benefited both regions.
FACTORS BEHIND THE CHANGE:
- One, the national economies in the Gulf are slowing down, forcing companies to lay off people.
- Two, these countries now host a large indigenous population in the working-age segment that needs jobs.
- With no economic revival in sight, these nations may have to reduce dependency on expat workers and enforce quotas in the private sector to provide jobs to local youths.
- Nationalisation of the workforce is an ambitious project.
- It is doubtful if the emirates, with small populations and even smaller pools of skilled workers, can keep the largely consumption-driven economies afloat without expat workers.
- Saudi Arabia’s experience is instructive.
- However, states such as Kerala are gearing to address the influx of migrant workers from the Gulf.
- Last week, it announced Dream Kerala, a project to support the returning workers, to augment the existing welfare measures for NRIs.
- Over 1.5 lakh people have returned from the Gulf countries after the outbreak of COVID-19, of which close to 70,000 have lost jobs.
The challenge is enormous and can only get bigger in the coming months.
Kuwait’s indigenisation drive points to impending return of migrants from Gulf — there will be challenges on both sides.
3) Social Injustice-
- Reservations have been one of the most effective techniques of positive discrimination in India.
- Reservation was never been conceived as a mass employment scheme but as the best way to redress of whole history of oppression.
- Gradually, it has created a group of Dalits that validated some criteria of the middle class in terms of education and occupation.
- While quotas were not fulfilled among the “upper classes” of the public sector till the 1980s.
- In the Central Administrative Services, SCs (about 16% of India’s population) reached 14% of the Class C in 1984, 14.3% of the Class B in 2003 and 13.3% of the Class A in 2015.
- In the Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), their proportion rose from 14.6% in 2004 to 18.1% in 2014.
- In parallel, the SCs’ literacy rate jumped from 21.38% in 1981 to 66.1 per cent in 2011.
- Similar progress was achieved by the OBCs, a category that started to benefit from reservations many years later, after the Mandal Commission report was implemented by V P Singh.
- In 2013, OBCs – 52% of India’s population according to the Mandal report – represented 8.37% of the Class A in the Central Government Services, 10.01% of Class B and 17.98% of Class C.
- Their percentage in the CPSEs jumped from 16.6%in 2004 to 28.5% in 2014.
- Today, these achievements may be affected by the new programme of privatisation that has been announced by Finance Minister in the framework of structural reforms.
- According to the new Public Sector Enterprises Policy (PSEP), a list of strategic sectors will be notified where there will be no more than four public sector enterprises — the rest would be merged or privatised.
- But reservations are already undermined by other developments and policies.
- While the percentages mentioned above are on the increase, the trend is different if one looks at the number of jobs they represent, as the public sector is shrinking.
- First, the number of vacancies has surged, from 5.5 lakh in 2006 to 7.5 lakh in 2014 (no data are available since then) so far as central government employment is concerned. The trend has continued afterwards.
- For instance, the number of civil service candidates shortlisted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has dropped by almost 40 per cent between 2014 and 2018, from 1,236 to 759.
- Second, the total number of employees has dropped so dramatically between 2003 and 2012, from 32.69 lakh to 26.30 lakh in the Central Government Services, that the number of Dalits benefiting from reservations has been reduced by 16 per cent from 5.40 lakh to 4.55 lakh.
- In the CPSEs, in spite of rising percentages, the number of jobs has decreased from 18.1 lakh in 2011 to 14.86 lakh in 2014.
- In contrast, the number of OBCs continued to rise, from 1.38 lakh to 4.55 lakh between 2003 and 2012 in the Central Government Services.
- But in the CPSEs, the inverted U curve had started: While the number of OBCs benefiting from reservations had jumped from 14.89 lakh in 2008 to 23.55 lakh in 2012, it has dropped to 23.38 lakh the year after.
- Reservations have also been undermined by lateral entry in to the bureaucracy.
- By the end of his first term, Narendra Modi implemented one of the promises of the 2014 BJP election manifesto — the creation of lateral entry in the Indian administration.
- This reform was intended to “to draw expertise from the industry, academia and society into the services”.
- In February 2019, 89 applicants were short listed (out of 6,000 candidates from the private sector) for filling 10 posts of Joint Secretary.
- This new procedure undermined the reservations system because the quotas did not apply.
- The judiciary has contributed to the erosion of the reservation system in different ways during the last two years.
- In a judgment of the Allahabad High Court, which was later upheld by Supreme Court, the University Grants Commission (UGC) was allowed to issue a notification on March 5, 2018, which sought to shift the unit of provision of reservations from a university as a whole to the departmental level.
- Such a shift has reduced the quantum of reserved seats and restricted the entry of lower castes because small departments, where vacancies are few, would be indivisible — thereby no seats would be reserved.
- As a result, as per the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in the teaching posts advertised by 11 central universities, only 2.5 per cent posts were reserved for SCs, none for STs and 8 per cent for OBCs.
- However, the impact of the ordinance and the subsequent Bill passed by the Parliament in March and July 2019, reversing the Supreme Court’s judgment, is yet to be seen.
UNDERMINING THE RIGHTS:
- Recently, the Supreme Court made another important decision on February 7.
- It ruled that reservation in job promotions was not a fundamental right.
- This ruling undermined the effect of an amendment to the Constitution that had been introduced by the Narasimha Rao government in 1995.
- Amendment resulted in article 16(4A), a provision that circumvented a facet of the 1992 decision of the Supreme Court to allow reservation for SCs and STs in promotions.
- Interestingly, this amendment had been further refined under the A B Vajpayee government in 2001 through the 85th amendment.
- 85th A extended the benefit of reservations in favour of the SCs/STs in matters of promotion with consequential seniority.
- This time, in 2020, the Government of India has decided not to contest the decision of the Supreme Court affecting this amendment.
- It remains to be seen whether the government will react to the even more recent questioning of reservations.
- Last month, the National Commission for Backward Classes has issued a notice to the health ministry complaining that the post-Mandal 27% quota was not implemented systematically.
- Indeed, since 2017, under the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, OBCs were not provided the 27% quota in the all-India seats which are pooled from state colleges.
- This loss represented about 10,000 seats in three years, which have been transferred to the general category.
- SCs and OBCs are not only penalised by the decline of the reservation system. They are also affected by other policies.
- For instance, the funds earmarked for Dalit education in the Indian budget were reduced during Modi I.
- While this budget item, within the Special Component Plan (a subcategory of the annual budget), is supposed to be proportional to the demographic weight of the Dalits, 16.6 per cent, it fluctuated between 9 and 6.5 per cent during Modi’s first term.
- As a result, scholarship funds were cut drastically.
- According to S K Thorat, nearly five million Dalit students have been affected by this reduction and delays in payment.
- The trajectory of positive discrimination in India suggests that the implementation of this policy is a function of the political clout of Dalits and OBCs.
- They gained when parties — including the BSP, SP and RJD — were in a position to put pressure on the governments, especially when they were part of ruling coalitions.
- Unsurprisingly, the electoral decline of these parties has resulted not only in the comeback of upper castes in the assemblies but in the questioning of policies in favour of the plebeians(common person).