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Today’s Talk on Editorials Civils360

July 31, 2017


At The Half-way Mark

  • India is midway into the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Since its inception on October 2, 2014, the ministries of Urban Development and Drinking Water and Sanitation have been spearheading the programme, with implementation happening at the state level and now to district and block levels.
  • The SBM has witnessed several notable achievements in reducing open defecation thanks to the focus on behaviour change, need-based capacity building and constant measuring of outcomes.
    • An increase from 42 per cent to 65.02 per cent in national sanitation coverage.
    • Five states, 149 districts and 2.08 lakh villages have already been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF).
    • Nearly 22 per cent of the cities and towns have been declared ODF; 50 per cent of the urban wards have achieved 100 per cent door-to-door solid waste collection; and over 20,000 Swachhagrahi volunteers are working across urban local bodies, and over a lakh are working in rural India.
    • The number of schools with separate toilet facilities for girls has increased from 0.4 million (37 per cent) to almost one million (91 per cent).
  • Sanitation, in a diverse country like India, encompasses a number of factors which are important determinants for the success of the mission. It has a direct relationship to caste, creed, religion and gender.
  • Achieving ODF status alone is not sufficient for the success of SBM. Attention to the complete sanitation cycle is required, where toilets not only need to be built and used but the waste generated also needs to be collected and treated properly.
  • The India Sanitation Coalition advocates safe and sustainable sanitation including design, implementation and practice. This is evident in the tag line BUMT (Build, Use, Maintain and Treat) to complete the entire sanitation chain. .

The right to be left alone

  • Privacy is not only about hiding something or keeping it secret. It is, at its core, the right to be left alone. It doesn’t mean that one is withdrawing from society. It is an expectation that society will not interfere in the choices made by the person so long as they do not cause harm to others. It means that one’s right to eat whatever one chooses, the right to drink what one chooses, the right to love and marry whom one chooses, to wear what one chooses, among others, are rights which the state cannot interfere with.
  • Although the nine-judge bench has been constituted to decide whether there is a fundamental right to privacy protected under the Constitution in the specific context of the Aadhaar case, privacy has many more dimensions than just data protection or surveillance by the state.
  • A fundamental right to privacy, enshrined and protected in the Constitution, would mean that all persons have the right to be left alone by the state unless such intrusion is necessitated by a just, reasonable, and fair law.
  • The Union government has argued that it does not think that the right to privacy is a fundamental right protected under the Constitution. The arguments of the Union government and state governments supporting it have been premised on an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution — that the framers never intended privacy to be a fundamental right available to citizens.
  • Given the Supreme Court’s recent approach where it has not been hesitant to depart from the narrow interpretation of the Constitution when the situation demands it (such as appointment of judges), perhaps this approach may not find much judicial favour.
  • A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court holding that the Constitution guarantees a right to privacy will, however, only settle one issue — that there is a right to privacy guaranteed against state intervention. To what extent this right can be claimed and in what circumstances the state may be allowed to intrude will have to be decided on a case by case basis.
  • Whatever the final judgment, the implications will go far beyond just the Aadhar scheme and law. The law laid down by the Supreme Court on privacy could affect the course of development of the law governing reproductive rights, gay rights, beef bans, prohibition, among a host of other issues that the Indian state and society are grappling with.

From plate to plough: Everybody loves a good crop

  • Recent floods in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Assam show that even in an otherwise normal monsoon year, farmers in certain pockets could still suffer due to natural calamities. The droughts of 2014-15 and 2015-16 exposed that the existing crop insurance schemes were not enough to alleviate farmers’ woes.
  • The sums insured under National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), modified NAIS, and Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) were too low, as premiums were kept low. Further, the compensation was too meagre, and the long wait which the farmers had to go through meant that the relief wasn’t meaningful.
  • So, governments often used the National Disaster Relief Funds to address the situation. Unfortunately, it was not based on any robust scientific system and had its own loopholes.
  • The prime minister realised that and in kharif 2016, he announced a revamped Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY), hoping it to be a game changer.
    • The PMFBY raised the sums insured to realistic levels, basically to cover the cost of cultivation of farmers.
      • The premiums were heavily subsidised by the Centre and the states in equal proportions, with farmers paying only 2 per cent of the premium for kharif and 1.5 percent for rabi (for horticulture crops it was 5 per cent). Farmers found the PMFBY attractive.
    • Consequently, in the very first kharif season (2016), area (in ha) and number of farmers covered under PMFBY, both increased to 37.5 million.
    • But despite the increasing coverage, the premiums, as percentage of sums insured, increased. With greater competition, there is surely scope for negotiating lower premiums. But the litmus test of any crop insurance scheme is how fast it can settle the claims of farmers. It is here that the governance of the state is tested. There are three critical steps in this process:
      • First, the state has to notify the crops, make clusters of districts, determine the sums to be insured based on district level committees, and invite tenders from insurance companies;
      • Second, the state and the Centre have to pay premium to the companies providing insurance; and
      • Third, in case of crop damages, quickly assess the damages and ask companies to pay the claims of farmers.
    • Unfortunately, in this entire process, farmers have almost no role. That’s the reason why its implementation and effectiveness has fallen between the cracks.
    • If states delay notifications, or payment of premiums, or crop cutting data, there is no way companies can pay compensation to the farmers in time. It is exactly this slow pace and casual attitude of several state agencies that delayed compensations to farmers for losses in kharif 2016, and it may happen again in kharif 2017.

So what is the future of crop insurance in addressing farmers’ woes from natural calamities?

  • The PMFBY has moved in the right direction and made substantial progress in terms of coverage, but failed in quick dispensation of claims to farmers. The primary reason behind this failure is the lethargy and casual attitude of state agencies.
  • If the PMFBY has to succeed, farmers must have a bigger stake in its functioning.
  • There is an urgent need to link the insurance database with Core Banking Solution (CBS) so that when premium is deducted from a farmer’s bank account, the bank sends him a message informing about the premium, sum insured and name of insurance company.
  • IRCTC has a similar system is place for railway tickets and there is no reason why our technology-savvy banks and insurance companies cannot do it quickly.
  • Currently, several loanee farmers may not even be aware that they are insured. If the system remains locked between state agencies and insurance companies, chances are that farmers will get short changed.
  • It is time that the PM makes this flagship program farmer-centric with effective implementation. It can pay rich dividends.