Indian Express Editorial Analysis
16 May 2020

1) Freeing the farm-


CONTEXT:

The third tranche(a part of total money) of the economic package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday focused on agriculture and allied(related) activities and had two sets of measures:

First, steps aimed at boosting credit(money) flow to parts of the agri-ecosystem, though not backed by substantial allocations.

(An agricultural ecosystem is an ecosystem managed with a purpose, usually to produce crops or animal products. Agricultural ecosystems are designed by humans, and are based on a long chain of experience and experiments)

The second, and arguably the more substantive part of the announcements related to the government’s intention to amend the Essential Commodities Act, usher(push) in agricultural marketing reforms. It aims to put in place a legal framework to facilitate direct dealings between farmers and buyers — all of which, if implemented, could potentially deliver sizeable returns in the long term.

While these reforms have been on the policy agenda for years, the NDA government must seize(capture) this opportunity to push them through.

 

AMENDING THE ESSENTIAL COMMODITIES ACT:

Sitharaman announced the government’s intention to amend the Essential Commodities Act. The act, enacted in an era of scarcity, is ill-suited(badly suited) for times when the nation is faced with problems of plenty.

It imposes restrictions on holding of stocks and has disincentivised(discourage) private players from making investments in the farm sector in warehousing and storage. This has thwarted(dashed) the creation of integrated value chains across the country.

The government’s announcement of excluding food items such as cereals, edible oils, pulses, onions, and potatoes, and also doing away with stock limits, is very welcome.

As is the move to initiate marketing reforms meant to provide more choice to farmers. This move by the Centre comes after states such as Punjab and Madhya Pradesh have recently moved to open up agricultural marketing.

TOWARDS CONTRACT FARMING:

While these initiatives by the states may have been triggered by the need to relieve the pressure on mandis in order to maintain social distancing norms during the COVID pandemic, the Centre’s decision could permanently alter(change) the dynamics.

As the situation exists today, farmers are bound to sell their produce only to licencees in APMCs. The Centre’s move could end their stranglehold(complete or overwhelming control) over agricultural trade.

Put together, these two steps will enable farmers to sell their produce to anyone, and provide traders and organised retailers the flexibility to procure and stock food items.

This could facilitate private investment in the sector, strengthening the "From Farm to Fork" traces the different stages of the food chain system and examines the practices and procedures that ensure the safety of our food., and benefiting both producers and consumers.

("From Farm to Fork" traces the different stages of the food chain system and examines the practices and procedures that ensure the safety of our food.

https://www.eufic.org/en/food-production/article/from-farm-to-fork )

Other announcements such as the creation of a legal framework to enable farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, large retailers, suggest a push towards contract farming.

CONCLUSION:

The policy discourse(debate) over the past several years has centred around the imperative(need) to free Indian agriculture from the clutches(grips) of APMCs, amend the Essential Commodities Act, and encourage private investment in various parts of the food chain.

While governments in the past have indicated their preference to carry out these much-needed reforms, they have shied away(avoided) due to political compulsions. The NDA government should not let go of this moment to reform Indian agriculture.

Government moves to amend laws holding back agriculture are very welcome. It must follow through quickly.

 

2) Back on the move-


CONTEXT:

In his address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated that Lockdown 4 will be very different from the previous versions.

A day earlier, during his video conference with chief ministers, PM Modi had asked states for suggestions on the economic activities that should be allowed after May 17.

 

RESPONSE FROM STATES:

In response, the Delhi government has proposed a slew(range) of bold measures, including re-opening markets and shopping complexes with outlets selling non-essential items functioning on an odd-even basis.

A significant section of Delhi’s proposals pertains(related) to public transport. These include a “limited” resumption of metro and bus services.

Meanwhile, the Centre is also reportedly framing social distancing guidelines with a view to resuming public transport. These are steps in the right direction. The rules and guidelines for Lockdown 4 must focus on the safe mobility(travelling) of people who do not own personal vehicles.

OTHER NATIONS:

Amongst the nations that have opened up after asking people to stay at home for several weeks, China’s example could be pertinent(relevant) for India because of comparable demographics.

Wuhan, once the epicentre of the pandemic, for instance, resumed bus services in a calibrated(measured) manner — to begin with, 30 per cent of the city’s fleet was deployed and supervisors ensured that commuters followed safety protocols.

The Delhi government, too, plans to operate buses with 20-25 commuters. However, India’s traditional deficiencies in public transport could compound(complex) the challenges of operating buses and metros at less than optimum(maximum) capacity.

Even in normal times, Delhi’s bus fleet — about a fourth of that of Beijing — is short by 5,000 buses. In such a situation, transport authorities will have to find ways to make optimum(best) use of scarce resources.

In Delhi, the DTC must coordinate with the metro to plan routes — the two transit systems must complement each other.

SAFETY MEASURES:

Delhi’s pitch(need) for the resumption of public transport, reportedly, rests on a range of safety measures. Passengers will be requested by marshals and conductors to not board buses carrying over 25 people.

This approach is reasonable, to begin with — the dangers of overcrowding cannot be overstated during the pandemic.

However, given the overwhelming(large number) dependence of the working class on public transit systems, authorities will have to be creative with the protocols. Buses in the Chinese city have earmarked places where passengers can stand.

CONCLUSION:

During the pandemic, Indian cities, too, will have to find ways to ensure the availability of public transport for people who use it the most, without compromising on safety.

In reopening public transport, ensure that services are made accessible to those who need them most.

 

3) The Kashmir Lockdowns-


CONTEXT:

On August 5, 2019, the republic of India was supposed to have brought the bright light of Indian constitutionalism to Kashmir. Instead, it has created an even more ominous(threatning) darkness.

The light of Indian constitutionalism is itself dimming(fading). The latest exhibit is the Supreme Court’s order in the petitions asking for restoration of 4G access in Kashmir.

By referring the matter back to a committee led by the home ministry, the court has violated all principles of natural justice. It has created a new evil(bad). It implies that the home ministry can be plaintiff(a person who brings a case against another in a court of law), judge, executioner, jury in its own cause. It will not be held to account when it abridges(violates) the liberties of Indian citizens.

But the order, and the cowardly(lack of courage) lack of outrage(anger) amongst India’s legal luminaries and elites, will convince every Kashmiri — if any convincing was required — that Indian constitutionalism will not provide any redress(solution).

The judges were offensively(in a way that causes anger) inhumane. They also proved that, for Kashmir, the Indian Constitution is not a portal of hope, but the oppressive(cruel) dead end.

 

POLICY FAILURE:

The silver lining(an advantage that comes from a difficult or unpleasant situation) in the pantomime(dramatic) proceedings in the Supreme Court was this.

The government’s case rested on admitting something we are rarely allowed to say out aloud: That our Kashmir policy is pretty much a failure. The government was itself, in effect, saying that Kashmir needs to be treated as if it were a war zone.

This is the justification it gives for inhumanly depriving Kashmiris of 4G access, even in the time of a pandemic, when such connectivity is necessary for basic things like education.

In a democracy, there is one simple yardstick of moral success. The more control the state needs to exercise, the more repression(suppression) it needs, and the more freedom it abridges(violates), the more unsuccessful that state is.

Kashmir is not the Potemkin(having a false or deceptive appearance, especially one presented for the purpose of propaganda) paradise we staged for European diplomats. After the sullen calm that we falsely interpreted as peace, the ground situation is getting more precarious(severe).

Kashmir is being denied full digital connectivity. It is also, through formal and informal means, being denied freedom of the press.

UAPA:

The use of the UAPA against journalists is a new low in a state where censorship(suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security) has been the norm. The message the state wants to send out is clear. Even the slightest transgression(violation) from the line of the Indian state, and you will be treated like a terrorist.

Think of the chilling effect it has on a profession where you could be branded a terrorist for simply doing your job, or worse, even an odd tweet. That the UAPA is now being used in other states is not a comforting thought; it is simply a reminder that the authoritarianism we perfect in Kashmir will destroy all of us.

(Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is an Indian law aimed at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India. Its main objective was to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India)

 

NARRATIVE BEING JANUS-FACED:

The Indian government is itself tacitly(understood or implied without being directly stated) admitting militancy is growing again, now in new areas like north Kashmir. But our narrative is Janus-faced(having two sharply contrasting aspects or characteristics):

To pronounce domestic policy as a success we attribute the rise in militancy to Pakistan; to pronounce foreign policy as a success we say this is home-grown. All the old fissures are coming back again with a vengeance(revenge).

A young man dies, ostensibly(seemingly) at the hands of the CRPF, and the Valley is teetering(move or balance unsteadily) on the edge again. Although not being reported much in national media, sporadic citizens’ protests are erupting(happening) again.

The COVID lockdown is being seen as a cover for the state. Militants’ bodies are being buried discreetly, but there is no credible independent confirmation that those being buried are in fact militants.

Here, transparency and independent monitoring of human rights could shore up the state’s credibility(trust). The idea that discreet burials will somehow break the cycle of youth being inspired to take up arms is proving naïve(showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement).

Quite the contrary. We have given up the pretence that the deep and profound estrangement(moving away) of young people in Kashmir can be addressed. There is no strategy to elicit(bring) trust.

Our only strategy is fear, fear and fear. It does not take a genius to figure out that this will only deepen the seething resentment(anger), and the death wish of so many young people in Kashmir.

NO DEFENSIBLE ARTICULATION:

There is no defensible articulation(explanation) of our endgame in Kashmir. If it is to make available freedoms and rights of all Indian citizens, then censorship and constitutional humiliation communicate the contrary(opposite).

If the endgame is engineered(skilfully and deliberately arranged rather than arising naturally or spontaneously) demographic change, through brute coercion(force), we are setting ourselves up for a long and violent war. If the endgame is a normal democratic political process, then we seem to be too clever by half.

The Centre is trying to engineer “pro Delhi” political forces, perhaps backroom deals with older mainstream politicians. But so long as Kashmir remains a municipality of Delhi, the humiliation of August 2019 will continue to rankle(create disturbance).

There is no autonomous political process in Kashmir, only Delhi engineered options. This is a game for which India has paid the price before. The BJP now defines the national interest as synonymous with being pro-BJP.

So the range of permissible(allowed) political expression in Kashmir is also being reduced. Kashmir does not have constitutional redress on basic rights, a political process that is free, or an administrative structure that is not an extension of Delhi.

And then we are surprised that Kashmir is back on the edge, when the only future in sight is an opaque(non-transparent) darkness.

SECURITY AS YARDSTICK:

Let us look at it from the government’s own yardstick, which is security. Will it achieve anything for Kashmiri Pandits, in whose name it continues to communalise a deep human rights problem?

Ask yourself a simple question: Is India strategically more secure in Kashmir after the chest-thumping(conduct or expression marked by arrogant self-assertion) Balakot operation? The answer is: No.

After all, the government is itself saying that the footprint of cross-border terrorism has not gone down. All indications are it is likely to increase as summer approaches. You cannot solve Kashmir without a Pakistan policy. Symbolic legal victories notwithstanding(nevertheless), we don’t have one. We made Pakistan’s job easier, not harder.

But more ominously(in a way that suggests that something bad is going to happen), China is also now pressuring India in the Ladakh sector. China and Pakistan may be perfidious(deceitful).

But our staged arrogance has also created a situation where we are now vulnerable on both fronts in a way that is unprecedented(unparalleled) in recent times.

CONCLUSION:

There are no easy solutions. But the triumphal(made, carried out, or used in celebration of a great victory or achievement) silence in which we have enveloped the challenge in Kashmir is a measure of our delusions(misapprehension).

The COVID lockdown may have been precipitated(caused) by a virus. But the intellectual, political, constitutional, strategic and moral lockdown with which we are imprisoning(locking) Kashmir will produce more violence. It is also a harbinger(thing that announces or signals the approach of another) of the future of the rest of India.