24 October 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) Centre’s Bureau?
The Maharashtra government’s decision to withdraw the “general consent” given to the CBI to investigate cases in the state is disquieting(disturbing).
- Maharashtra is not the first state to flag(raise) this distrust of the federal agency: Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh have done the same in recent times.
- On each such occasion, the state government had hinted that it suspected the agency of acting at the behest(request) of the Centre.
- The CBI has, in the past, been called a “caged parrot” that sings the Centre’s tune.
- There is a formidable(strong) body of evidence to establish that through much of the last three decades and even now, when an investigation is not being monitored by the court, the agency has served as pretty much its master’s voice — especially when it comes to its role as anti-corruption watchdog.
- Preliminary enquiries, FIR, cases, chargesheets, all are filed, dropped, put on hold depending on who is in power and what they want.
- The current confrontation(fight) strengthens the perception that states in opposition see the Centre as weaponising the agency to keep the heat on Opposition-led governments.
- That doesn’t help the agency.
- More so, when despite Narendra Modi’s refrain of “cooperative federalism”, Centre-state relations have been on a downward spiral(movement).
- The Uddhav Thackeray government’s decision on the CBI seems to be driven by the suspicion that the agency may take over a case regarding the manipulation of TV viewership figures that the state police is investigating.
- A day earlier, the CBI had, quietly, taken over a similar case in UP.
- Previously, the CBI had taken over the Sushant Singh Rajput investigation from Maharashtra police on a plea by the NDA government in Bihar.
- To ensure due process, the courts, of course, can and should ignore the state government’s reservation and order the agency to investigate a case.
- However, when the Centre and the state play tug-of-war with the investigation, it diminishes(reduces) the credibility(trust) and authority of the CBI.
- And yet, the CBI remains the first port of call for governments to signal that they favour a fair probe insulated(protected) from politics that may hobble the local police.
- This is the agency’s strength and it needs to leverage it.
- For, the onus of ensuring the CBI’s reputation is primarily on the CBI — helped by an independent judiciary — since there will be no incentive for the political executive to ensure that.
- The Supreme Court’s terms on the director’s appointment — by including the Opposition in the selection panel and fixing terms — has brought some reform but much more needs to be done.
- In the end, it is up to the parrot to decide what kind of a cage it has been put in — and whose tune it should sing.
States withdrawing general consent should worry the CBI — onus(responsibility) is on the agency, not its masters, to ensure its credibility.
2) Heat from Washington-
GS 2- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora
- The more restrained debate between President Trump and his challenger, Jo Biden, may not move the needle too much in the US presidential election campaign — millions have already voted and most seem to have made up their minds.
- Although the race has tightened in the last few days, Biden still holds a relatively comfortable lead.
- But the debate is of interest to the rest of the world, for its focus, though limited, was on foreign policy.
- The arguments generated some heat but did not shed much light on where the next administration’s policies might be headed.
- But there was one exception — climate change, on which the two leaders offered radically different approaches to addressing the challenges of global warming.
- Trump’s comments on India’s “filthy air” came with reference to the 2015 Paris Accord that sought to limit global temperature rise to below two degrees centigrade.
- Trump, who walked out of the accord, has said is unfair to the US and that he is not willing to pay the costs of mitigation(reduction) while countries such as India, China and Russia continue to pollute.
- Biden and the Democrats, in contrast, promise to re-join the pact — they believe climate change is the single most important threat to humanity and needs to be addressed urgently.
- In the last four years, Trump has gutted(upset) most of the regulations on fossil fuel use, instituted over the last two decades, in the name of economic growth and job creation.
- The Democrats say the phasing out of fossil fuels will help America transition to a green economy, which will create jobs as well as save the planet.
- This debate has significant implications for India.
- If he returns to power, Trump will continue to demand that India take a greater share of the burden of mitigating(reducing) climate change.
- The Democrats are likely to arrive at the same conclusion through a different route — by imposing environmental standards on trade issues as well as developmental lending.
- The Narendra Modi government has taken a positive approach to mitigating climate change and expanding India’s investment in renewable energy.
- However, Delhi’s reluctance to abandon(give up) coal will come under pressure from the Democrats.
- Meanwhile, anticipating pressure from a Biden presidency on climate change, China is offering serious negotiations.
- In India, the government is yet to take international ramifications of the air pollution challenge seriously.
- Delhi may have to take a fresh look at its energy-mix, and prepare for a new round of international political battles on limiting global warming.
Despite contrasting views of fossil-fuel use in US, both Trump and Biden are a challenge to Delhi’s climate change standpoint.
3) Freeing the Farmer-
GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- The debate on the Farmers’ Produce Trading and Commerce Act 2020 (FPTC Act) has seen some misinformation and qualms(doubts) among stakeholders, especially farmers in some states.
- It is imperative(needful) to understand the background and intentions underlying the new farm laws and put their implications and scope in perspective rather than being guided by the imaginary, ideological and vested narratives.
FREE FROM EXPLOITATION:
- From the 1960s, there have been concerted efforts to bring all wholesale markets for agricultural produce in various states under the Agriculture Produce Market Regulation (APMC) acts.
- All states, except Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur, enacted such laws.
- The APMC Acts mandated that the sale/purchase of agricultural commodities is carried out in a specified market area, and, producer-sellers or traders pay the requisite market fee, user charges, levies and commissions for the commission agents (arhtiyas).
- These charges were levied(put) irrespective of whether the sale took place inside APMC premises or outside it and the charges varied widely across states and commodities.
- In the initial years, APMC acts helped remove malpractices and freed the farmers from the exploitative power of middlemen and mercantile capital.
- The golden period for APMC markets lasted till around 1991.
- With time, there was a palpable(visible) loss in growth in market facilities and by 2006, it had declined to less than one-fourth of the growth in crop output after which there was no further growth.
- This increased the woes(problems) of Indian farmers as market facilities did not keep pace with the increase in output and regulation did not allow farmers to sell outside APMC markets.
- The farmers were left with no choice but to seek the help of middlemen. Due to poor market infrastructure, more produce is sold outside markets than in APMC mandis.
- The net result was a system of interlocked transactions that robs farmers of their choice to decide to whom and where to sell, subjecting them to exploitation by middlemen.
- Over time, APMC markets have been turned from infrastructure services to a source of revenue generation.
- In several states, commission charges were increased without any improvement in the services.
- And to avoid any protests from farmers against these high charges, most of these were required to be paid by buyers like the FCI.
- In Haryana and Punjab, mandi fees and rural development charges for wheat and non-basmati rice purchased by FCI are four to six times the charges for basmati rice purchased by private players.
- This not only results in a heavy burden on the Centre but also increases the logistics cost for domestic produce and reduces trade competitiveness.
- These drawbacks were recognised by experts and stakeholders and pressure started mounting for changes in market regulations.
- Successive governments at the Centre made repeated attempts to persuade the states to make appropriate changes in their APMC acts.
- But for 18 long years, the progress in reforms remained slow.
- The only choice for the Union government was either to ignore its responsibility towards farmers or use the constitutional route to address long-pending issues of market reforms.
- The FPTC Act gives farmers the freedom to sell and buy farm produce at any place in the country — in APMC markets or outside the mandated area — to any trader, like the sale of milk.
- The Act also allows transactions on electronic platforms to promote e-commerce in agriculture trade.
- The effect of the FPTC Act on APMC mandis will depend on the treatment meted out to the mandis and the charges and levies therein.
- Out of the 25 states with APMC acts, no commission is levied under the Act on notified crops in 12 states.
- Service charges like mandi fees on major crops in these states vary from zero per cent to one per cent in nine states and it is two per cent in Madhya Pradesh and Tripura.
- There is no threat from the FPTC Act to APMC mandis and their business in these states as private traders and sellers will get benefits commensurate with the mandi charges.
- The second category of states — Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Telangana — is where service charge for mandis is one per cent of the value of produce and commission varies from one to two per cent.
- Uttarakhand also comes in this category. Karnataka follows these states closely, with total charges at 3.5 per cent.
- These states can easily bring down mandi charges to 2 per cent or less.
- The third set of states includes Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, where the total charges, including commission, varies from five to 8.5 per cent, the highest being in Punjab followed by Haryana.
- Punjab and Haryana will not face any challenge from sale outside of mandis as long as paddy and wheat are the dominant crops and are procured by the government.
- It is in the long-term interest of these states to bring down market charges and commissions to 2 per cent or less to enable APMC mandis to compete with sales outside their premises.
- The real threat in some states to APMC mandis and their business is from excessive and unjustified charges levied under the APMC acts.
- The FPTC Act will only put pressure on APMC markets to become competitive.
- Discussion with mandi officials reveals that a maximum 1.5 per cent of total charges, distributed between market fee and commission, are adequate to maintain and run mandis.
- This will not wean away traders from APMC markets as they will receive the benefits of mandi infrastructure, bulk produce available in one place and save costs required for individual transactions outside the market.
- The states which are actually interested in farmers’ welfare should keep mandi charges below a reasonable level of 1.5 per cent.
- This will ensure the co-existence of APMC mandis and private channels permitted under the new Act in a true competitive spirit.