Read The Hindu Notes of 21st January 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 21st January 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 21st January 2019
  • Fabrication and falsification

    Data manipulation in the MGNREGA is leading to gross violations in its implementation

  • Chunni Devi (name changed), an Adivasi woman in her late 20s, lives with her three under-nourished children in Mahuadand, Jharkhand. Her husband died more than a year ago due to the cold conditions in the area. She is yet to get a widow’s pension and ration under the Antyodaya category. She is sceptical of working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) because of delays in payment and the lack of support facilities for her children at worksites. She earns just ₹120 a day, and which happens only when some cleaning work is available in her neighbourhood.
  • Chunni Devi is one among crores of people in India struggling to navigate a host of vulnerabilities to eke out a living. A lack of dignified employment, non-payment of adequate wages on time and insufficient food mean that the family of four is in a dicey situation and staring at starvation.
  • A curation of data

  • In recent years, there have been at least 74 reported starvation deaths, with 60 cases having occurred in the last two years across parts of India; a lot of them have been in Jharkhand. Based on a directive by the Union Ministry of Rural Development, the Jharkhand government issued a report on 18 deaths. Hastily produced and in insensitive language, the report concludes that none of these deaths was due to starvation or connected to MGNREGA — a lazy, convenient denial of any correlation. If implemented the proper way, MGNREGA, among other measures, can go a long way in improving the life and the livelihoods of Chunni Devi and others like her. Not only is the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the State and Centre demonstrating alarming indifference in this matter but is also covering up realities by curating information to suit its false narrative. Such curation starts from suppressing information at the source, to deliberately manipulating and obfuscating data to perpetrate falsehoods.
  • Here are some examples to illustrate how the manipulation of information is leading to ethical and legal violations.
  • The MGNREGA is a demand-driven programme, i.e., work must be provided within 15 days of demanding work failing which the Centre must pay an unemployment allowance (UA). A UA report is generated but rarely implemented. Numerous ground reports across the country suggest that because of a funds crunch, field functionaries do not even enter the work demanded by labourers in the MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS). This is information suppression at the source. Lack of offline alternatives to capture work demand from labourers means that data on the MIS are being treated as the gospel truth. Be that as it may, even this under-registered demand is being dishonoured by the government. Although work demand data (in person days) and employment-generated data are available at a panchayat level, aggregate data at the national level are only presented for employment generated. Thus, under-registered national demand is captured but intentionally not reported. By doing this, the Central government is trying to hide its violation of the extent of under-provision of work.
  • Key findings

  • To estimate the extent of under-provision, we have analysed (in an ongoing study), work demand and employment generated for over 5,700 panchayats across 20 States (for 2017-18 and the first three quarters of 2018-19). We found that this year, the employment generated was about 33% lower than the registered work demand, and last year, about 30% lower. If this large-sample trend holds true for the country, then a conservative minimal allocation required this year is about ₹85,000 crore. After 99% of the original allocation got exhausted earlier this month, 250 Members of Parliament and citizens wrote to the Prime Minister, following which the Centre’s revised allocation now stands at a paltry ₹61,084 crore. Despite this revision, 16 States still show a negative balance which shows the continued lack of funds. Further, the Centre’s oft-repeated claims of the “highest ever allocation” are dubious and meaningless because if the allocation does not honour work demand, as is the case here, it is a violation of the Act.
  • Chunni Devi’s cynicism is a case of corroboration at the implementation level of who the victims of the government’s manipulation eventually are. Contrary to the Central government’s claims of there being more than 90% payments on time, we found in a recent study of more than 9 million transactions that only 21% payments were made on time in 2016-17. The trend continued in 2017-18. Further, the Central government alone was causing an average delay of over 50 days in the disbursement of wages to labourers. The mandate is to pay wages within 15 days else workers are entitled to a delay compensation. While this delay by the Central government (called stage 2 delays) is captured in the system, it is intentionally suppressed to avoid paying delay compensation — another violation of the Act.
  • A case of insensitivity

  • In an internal memorandum dated August 21, 2017, the Union Ministry of Finance acknowledged the accuracy of the study’s findings and stated that delays in payments were directly linked to lack of “[un]availability of funds”. This glaring lacuna was argued in the Supreme Court in a recent PIL (Swaraj Abhiyan vs. Union of India) where the judgement categorically stated: “The wages due to the worker in terms of Stage 2 above must be transferred immediately and the payment made to the worker forthwith failing which the prescribed compensation would have to be paid. The Central Government cannot be seen to shy away from its responsibility... The State Governments and Union Territory Administrations may be at fault, but that does not absolve the Central Government of its duty”. In court, the Central government, agreed to calculate Stage 2 delays, and pay compensation, but the judgement (dated May 18, 2018) has still not been implemented. This not only reflects contempt of court by the Central government but is also an insensitive assault on people and a deliberate hiding of the truth. In the process, countless lives are getting silently buried in fabricated statistics.
  • Such falsification and a manipulation of information by the BJP government reminds one of Václav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless”. Written in protest against the repressive regime of erstwhile Czechoslovakia, it says: “Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics.” The crisis that Chunni Devi and others are in becomes entangled in a web of technicalities and a din of dry numbers. While the government is busy falsifying realities, starvation and agrarian distress, the slow death of the MGNREGA continues.
  • Steel frame or steel cage?

    Shah Faesal’s resignation tells us about the receding powers of the civil service to make a difference to society

  • In his letter of resignation from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in early January, Shah Faesal cites a number of reasons. He became an icon and a celebrity when he topped the IAS examination, in 2010. He was the first Kashmiri to do so. Now, after his resignation, he is sure to acquire greater glow, especially if he joins politics as he has indicated. His letter of resignation demonstrates his anguish over the pain Kashmir has experienced over the recent past. Apparently, he feels that as a civil servant, he feels constrained to express his views. The letter also suggests that he feels sorry for not being able to do much to alleviate the sufferings of his people. His hope that he will be able to do this by joining politics permits us to look at a problem we face in our quest of modernity.
  • Respect through merit

  • Before Independence, and for a while after it, competing for entry into the IAS was motivated by the urge to seek status in society. An open contest based on success in an academic examination presented the attraction of gaining social respect through merit. The status that accrued to an officer was associated with the authority he had to exercise state power. In those days, official power had few political constraints, especially at the local level. A district collector was seen as a meritorious monarch. He was the custodian of law and order. That was a key role in the colonial order. Its cultural residues have persisted to the present times, and the status of the district collector — in some States, the district magistrate or DM — comes largely from his or her responsibility to maintain law and order.
  • Following Independence, the IAS acquired a nation-building tinge in its earlier colonial role (as the Indian Civil Service as it was then called). From the local to the national levels, the IAS was seen as providing the firm and stable frame that India needed to overcome what were often described as ‘fissiparous’ tendencies in society. The addition of a nationalist lustre to an otherwise unchanged status gathered yet another layer when nation-building extended to a ‘development’ agenda. As a learned decision-maker, the civil servant was supposed to lend objectivity to the elected politician’s agenda and wishes. This function made an impact on the lure of the civil service as a career. Success in the IAS examination was now seen as bringing the power to ‘do something’ for the larger good, and not merely as a conduit of personal security and comfortable life-style.
  • Marker of change

  • Mr. Faesal’s decision to resign from the IAS after a short stint in it marks yet another stage in the change of perceptions. He is not the first to mark this change. Young entrants to the IAS have been known to resign early for social causes or academic careers. In each case, early abandonment continues to signify an act of renunciation for the pursuit of an ideal. Such examples have indicated the rising perception that the IAS officer’s power is much too constrained, especially by those wielding political power. Mr. Shah Faesal’s resignation tells us how the power to ‘do something’ now belongs exclusively to the politician.
  • This trajectory has a considerable lesson to offer. To begin with, it shows how modernity in India has not brought an adequate appreciation of the different roles a society needs to run itself well. Children and adults share the feeling that one or two roles are more important than all others. From childhood onwards, one learns this lesson both directly, from parents and teachers, and also indirectly, from socialisation. The chief guest culture, widely prevalent in schools, reinforces the significance of becoming an important person. The person invited as chief guest is often either a civil servant or a politician.
  • A ‘syndrome’

  • Not only schools, even community functions organised on religious festivals are similarly adorned. If the organisers cannot get hold of someone in service or politics at present, they go for someone retired. By the time they are in secondary grades, children absorb the message that a worthwhile life can only be led by gaining public importance. Many children begin to feel that their best chance to make their parents happy is by doing things that bring fame and importance. For doing this, there are more choices today, but the range continues to be narrow and the preferred ones are those with the biggest crowd at the entry. The lure of competitive tests like the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) throws light on this cultural phenomenon.
  • The civil services remain a big draw as the vast clientele of commercial coaching demonstrates. Probability of success is understandably low, and that is precisely what drives the coaching industry to ever increasing rates of growth and fee. It is only after failing to make it into the highest civil services that students look towards other avenues. The same is true of tests in engineering and medicine. It is only after failing to get into these professions that the young consider pursuing a career in other areas. The experience of failure leaves its psychological scab on many young minds. They continue to feel, for a long time, that they could have ‘become’ someone important. A touching story in this genre is of a schoolteacher who never went back to meet his favourite teacher. He said, ‘How could I tell my teacher that I could only become a teacher?’
  • As a society, we obviously pay a high price for maintaining this syndrome. If only an IAS or a political leader is perceived as having the capacity to ‘do something’, the rest can only carry out inconsequential routines. And what is that ‘something’? It is a socially shared mystery. In the case of Mr. Shah Faesal, it seems to be somewhat clear. His letter of resignation from the IAS can be read as an expression of his urge to alleviate the pain of Kashmir. He feels he can do it by joining politics. Let us hope he succeeds.
  • Unity and strength

    Opposition parties need a cohesive framework to be a viable alternative to the BJP

  • It is always easier to agree on the ends than on the means. Opposition parties that came together at the Kolkata rally hosted by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee had a commonality of purpose — defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party. But little else. To share a dais and hold hands is one thing; to share seats and work in tandem is quite another. Even so, for over 20 parties, big and small, some with overlapping support bases, to come together on one platform is in itself remarkable. It is the dominance of the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi beginning with the 2014 Lok Sabha election that has forced these parties to yoke themselves together. Alliances that had seemed impossible just a year ago, such as those between the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, the TDP and the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, and the Congress and the JD(S) in Karnataka now have a settled look. The Trinamool and Ms. Banerjee have also shifted positions to move toward the formation of a national-level alternative to the BJP, giving up the idea of a federal front of regional parties opposed to both the Congress and the BJP. The federal front was essentially the brainchild of the TRS founder K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who could not countenance being part of a front that included his principal rival, the Congress. Ms. Banerjee, who seemed warm to the idea initially, was quick to realise such a formation would be unable to mount a serious challenge to the BJP. In terms of optics, the Kolkata rally was a show of strength for Ms. Banerjee. At the same time, it seems to have imparted a fresh impulse to the efforts to put together a viable, if not entirely cohesive, alternative to the BJP.
  • However, though all these parties are agreed on flushing out the BJP, there is still the issue of reaching agreements at the State level, and arriving at a consensus on a common manifesto of policies and programmes. The SP and the BSP have agreed on seat-sharing but have not accommodated the Congress; also, negotiations with another ally, the RLD, are yet to conclude. The Congress and the JD(S) are partners in government, but their vote banks overlap geographically. Seat-sharing is likely to be akin to navigating a minefield. There is also no telling how an alliance between the Congress and the TDP, bitter rivals hitherto, will work on the ground. Besides, the support bases of these parties are varied socio-economically, and without a shared agenda for governance the political unity at the leadership level might be difficult to sustain. Therefore, it was perhaps no surprise that the rally avoided the contentious issue of naming a prime ministerial candidate, leaving the issue to be decided after the election. The Opposition parties may have made a good start, but there is much they need to settle among themselves to mount a serious challenge in 2019.
  • Clear the air

    The fog of doubt over the Rafale deal can be lifted only with greater transparency

  • That troubling questions about the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets will persist despite a clean chit of sorts from the Supreme Court, was demonstrated compellingly last week following The Hindu’s detailed investigation into the deal. It showed that in comparison to the bid under the UPA there was an overall escalation in the price of each jet in the 2016 deal struck by the Modi government, because the price of 13 India Specific Enhancements (ISEs), essentially upgrades that were sought on the bare-bones aircraft, was spread over 36 jets as opposed to the original 126. Significantly, as The Hindu’s investigation revealed, three Defence Ministry officials in the seven-member Indian Negotiating Team objected to the €1.3 billion assigned to ISEs; it was eventually approved by a narrow 4-3 majority on the ground that ISEs are a non-recurring cost. But this raises an obvious and perplexing question: since they are a non-recurring cost, why did the government drop, or fail to secure, the follow-on provision, which would have given India the option to purchase more Rafales, and reduce the per-aircraft price by spreading the design and development costs involved in the upgrades? After all, the follow-on clause was a part of the deal under negotiation under the UPA government. The import of the question assumes an altogether different dimension given that the Air Force, with an old and depleting fleet, has required — and for some two decades now — far greater numbers of Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) like the Rafale. Last year, the government issued a Request for Information for 110 fighters, of which about 15% will be acquired in a flyaway condition and the remainder manufactured under the strategic partnership route. With the same manufacturers back in the bidding fray, we are in a way back to where we were — in other words, to a place that casts doubts on the vigour of India’s long-term planning when it comes to defence preparedness.
  • Owing to a mix of investigation, statements and government leaks, much of the information about the pricing, the acquisition process and the ISEs are already in the public domain. It is nobody’s case that information that could impact the aircraft’s operational capability or jeopardise national security should be shared, but the government has been less than willing to come forward to address the issue of pricing. Instead it has been taking cover, unconvincingly, under the secrecy clause in the general security agreement signed between India and France in 2008. Given the fog of doubt over a number of issues, it is unclear why it doesn’t adopt a more accommodating posture by arranging private briefings for Opposition leaders and permitting a JPC to examine the deal. Without this, the general presumption will be that it has something to hide.
  • This is not the future we want

    NITI Aayog’s strategy for 2022 is replete with environmental and livelihood related contradictions

  • In what appears to be draft zero of the BJP’s election manifesto, NITI Aayog released the ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’ document in 2018. This high-sounding and aspirational strategy aims to achieve a ‘New India’ by 2022, when the country celebrates its 75th year of Independence.
  • The strategy has many progressive objectives. It follows the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Inclusion, sustainability, participation, gender equality and other buzzwords find mention. A cursory reading would evoke widespread appreciation.
  • But these documents can’t be read cursorily. We need to unearth what’s hidden in their depths. Is there a consistent and well-thought-out strategy to meet the objectives? Are there contradictory elements that could defeat the objectives? Are there hidden motivations, not so benign? On one such reading of India @ 75, focusing on ecological and related livelihood concerns, there is serious doubt as to whether the ‘New India’ this strategy envisages will be any different from the crisis-ridden society we are today.
  • There are positive directions vis-à-vis the environment, such as a major focus on renewable energy, organic farming (with the zero budget natural farming model developed by Maharashtrian farmer Subhash Palekar being singled out for national application), increasing forest cover, and reducing pollution and waste. A chapter titled ‘Sustainable environment’ states: “The objective is to maintain a clean, green and healthy environment with peoples’ participation to support higher and inclusive economic growth through sustainable utilization of available natural resources.” It focuses on air pollution, solid waste management, water pollution, and forestry.
  • Many missing issues

  • It is puzzling why these four are singled out here, from amongst the much larger number of environmental issues India faces. Some other issues do find mention elsewhere, such as arresting land degradation and soil erosion, and water conservation. But many are missing, such as the urgent need to conserve a range of non-forest ecosystems. (Since colonial times, forests have remained predominant in the minds of decision-makers, as indicated by the fact that India still has only a Forest Department and no dedicated entity for grassland, marine and coastal, wetland, mountain, and desert conservation.) The increasing presence of toxic chemicals around us finds no mention. Most importantly, the absence of an integrated, comprehensive view on how ecological issues can be integrated into all sectors indicates that this is still not core to the mindset of our planners.
  • A reading of the rest of the document strengthens this conclusion. There is total absence of an understanding that the current form and goal of economic growth is inherently unsustainable. For more than three decades, governments have been promising that with environmental safeguards, growth can be made sustainable. There is no indication that this is anywhere near achievable, much less achieved. In 2008, the Confederation of Indian Industry indicated that India was already using twice of what its natural resources could sustain, and that more than half its biocapacity had already been eroded. Things are likely only worse now. No party in power has shown what magic wand it can use to suddenly make growth sustainable. Indeed, no country in the world has been able to do this. So it is alarming that the most important “driver” for the lofty goals of the strategy is economic growth.
  • Alarming features

  • Some readers may find this objection somewhat abstract. So here are other, more earthy examples of the internal contradictions in this document. One of the biggest ecological and social disasters in India is mining, especially the large-scale open-cast type. NITI Aayog ignores this when it proposes a doubling of the extent of mining. The only concession is the suggestion to bring in “cutting-edge” technology to “limit environmental damage”, as if that will solve the fundamental need to deforest areas. Another major sector with horrendous environmental impacts is tourism (never mind the ‘eco’ tag it comes with), as witnessed by virtually all our groaning hill stations and the ruin that areas like Ladakh, Kutch and the island regions are facing. Yet, NITI Aayog recommends doubling the number of domestic tourist visits to over 3,200 million from 1,614 million in 2016. It also urges prompt completion of a host of mega river valley projects that have proved to be ecological nightmares, including Pancheshwar in the fragile Himalaya, the Ken-Betwa link in Madhya Pradesh, and dozens in the Northeast that are going to choke up rivers and are being pushed ahead despite strong local opposition.
  • Nor, for all the mention of organic farming, is there a clear direction to phase out chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The agriculture chapters are in fact full of such fault lines. For instance, the objective of sustainable farming is undermined by the following: “Phase out old varieties of seeds and replace them with hybrid and improved seeds”. This is the kind of Green Revolution approach that has caused huge loss of agricultural biodiversity and resilience amongst small farmers. There is also no focus on dryland farming though most farmers are engaged in this. There is positive mention of organic farming models for replication, but nothing on the amazing work of dryland farmers (such as the Dalit women of the Deccan Development Society in Telangana) showing productive, sustainable, biodiverse agriculture with millets and women as the fulcrum.
  • One of the most alarming features of the document is its stress on rapid, single-window clearance of infrastructure and other projects. Any decent ecological assessment of a project needs a year of study (over all seasons), so the 180 days limit it suggests will mean short-cuts. This rush also means compromising on crucial processes of social assessment, public hearings, and participatory decision-making, as already seen in the last few years. There is nothing on the need to seek consent from local communities, though this is mandated under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
  • Governments in the last few years have a dismal record of safeguarding the environment and the livelihoods of Adivasis and other communities. They have found ways to bypass constitutional and policy safeguards these vulnerable sections are supposed to enjoy. Without a strong, unambiguous commitment to upholding these protections, and putting communities at the centre of decision-making, India @ 75 is going to be an even more unequal, unjust, and conflict-ridden society than India @ 50. Is this the future we want? Or can we learn from the many alternative initiatives for food, water, energy, housing, education and health existing across India, which show the way to more just and sustainable livelihoods and ways of living?
  • Ashish Kothari is with Kalpavriksh and Vikalp Sangam, Pune
  • The missing women

    The number of young women who are not in education, employment and training in India is very high

  • India’s employment generation in the last five years has remained weak. According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index Baseline Report by NITI Aayog, 64 per 1,000 persons appear to be unemployed in the working age group of 15-59. The problem of unemployment has become more acute for youth and women. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) report of 2016, youth are three times as likely as adults to be unemployed.
  • Yet, unemployment rate does not sufficiently measure labour market inefficiencies, as it does not consider those who are not in the labour force. Sustainable Development Goal 8 speaks of full and productive employment and economic growth; target 8.6 mentions that by 2020 there should be a substantial reduction in the proportion of youth in the category of Not in Education, Employment and Training. As per ILO estimates, 27.5% in India are in this category, of which 8% are men and 49.3% are women.
  • The narratives on the missing half of the female population vary. One is that the majority of women work under the category of “housewives”. Unfortunately, in India’s economy, neither their contribution nor their presence gets counted in the GDP. Another is that women have a low enrolment rate in secondary and higher education. Those not in education, employment and training in the age groups 15-19, 20-24, and 25-29 comprise 13.48%, 31.80% and 35.33%, respectively. If we look at the figures gender-wise, the age group 15-19 consists of 5.37% men and 23.04% women, the age group 20-24 consists of 8.32% men and 56.13% women, and the age group 25-29 consists of 7.13% men and 64% women in this category. The percentage of men not in education, employment and training in all three age groups does not vary much.
  • To date, most discussions on this subject get stuck on questions of unemployment and labour force participation. Only if the causes and consequences of not being in education, employment and training are understood will affirmative actions follow. For example, to promote girls’ education, the major schemes which function at the pan-India level are Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana. While the efficacy of these schemes is a matter of debate, it is the focus on recognising the contributions of the youth, particularly the younger cohort of women, that matters from a policy perspective. If the problem is thus analysed correctly and appropriate policy actions are taken, this could pave the way for genuine progress towards Sustainable Development Goals. That matters considerably because, after all, today’s youth will be the adults of tomorrow.
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