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10th September – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. Digitising India’s Electoral infrastructure
  2. The twisted trajectory of Bt. cotton
  3. Redefining a farmer

DIGITISING INDIA’S ELECTORAL INFRASTRUCTURE

Focus: GS-II Governance

Introduction

  • The Election Commission of India has been working with idea of further digitising the electoral infrastructure of the country and in furtherance of this the Election Commission had recently held an online conference in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (“TNeGA”) and IIT Madras, through which they explored the possibility of using blockchain technology for the purpose of enabling remote elections.
  • While this exploration is still only in the nascent stages, there are several concerns that must be considered at the offset with utmost caution.

Rise in new applications

  • Blockchain ledgers have traditionally been used as supporting structures for cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum; however, their use in non-cryptocurrency applications too has seen a steady rise.
  • Some of the blockchain solutions allowing individuals and companies to draft legally-binding “smart contracts,” enabling detailed monitoring of supply chain networks, and several projects focused on enabling remote voting and elections.

Benefits of ‘Remote voting’

  • ‘Remote voting’ is argued to benefit internal migrants and seasonal workers, who account for roughly 51 million of the populace (Census 2011), and who have, as a matter of record, faced considerable difficulties in exercising their democratic right of voting.
  • It might also be useful for some remotely-stationed members of the Indian armed forces,

However, it is to be noted that for the most part, vote casting has not been an issue for those serving in even the remotest of places including the Siachen Glacier, which, given its altitude, is considered to be the ‘highest battleground’ on the planet.

Key issues, security concerns

  • Electors would still have to physically reach a designated venue in order to cast their vote, adding that systems would use “white-listed IP devices on dedicated internet lines”, and that the system would make use of the biometric attributes of electors.
  • Digitisation and interconnectivity introduce additional points of failure external to the processes which exist in the present day.
  • Blockchain solutions rely heavily on the proper implementation of cryptographic protocols, and if any shortcomings exist in an implementation, it might stand to potentially unmask the identity and voting preferences of electors, or worse yet, allow an individual to cast a vote as someone else.
  • The requirement of physical presence and biometric authentication may not necessarily make a remote voting system invulnerable to attacks either.
  • Physical implants or software backdoors placed on an individual system could allow attackers to collect and deduce voting choices of individuals.

The system envisioned by the Election Commission is perhaps only slightly more acceptable than a fully remote, app-based voting system.

Other solutions

  • If the only problem that is to be solved is the one of ballot portability, then perhaps technological solutions which involve setting up entirely new, untested voting infrastructure may not be the answer.
  • Political engagement could perhaps be improved by introducing and improving upon other methods, such as postal ballots or proxy voting.
  • Another proposed solution to this issue includes the creation of a ‘One Nation, One Voter ID’ system, though it is unclear whether such a radical (and costly) exercise would be required at all for the mere purpose of allowing individuals to vote out of their home State.
  • Even if the Election Commission is able to design a system which is proven to be satisfactorily secure in the face of attacks, where tampering could be detected, and where the integrity of the ballot is verifiable by electors, use of such a system could perhaps only be justified for lower level elections, and not for something as significant and politically binding as the general election.

Blockchain Technology

  • A blockchain is a growing list of records, that are linked using cryptography.
  • To be more precise, a blockchain is a decentralized, distributed, and oftentimes public, digital ledger consisting of records called blocks that is used to record transactions across many computers so that any involved block cannot be altered retroactively, without the alteration of all subsequent blocks.
  • Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data.
  • By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of the data.
  • The use of a blockchain removes the characteristic of infinite reproducibility from a digital asset.
  • It confirms that each unit of value was transferred only once, solving the long-standing problem of double spending.

-Source: The Hindu


THE TWISTED TRAJECTORY OF BT. COTTON

Focus: GS-III Science and technology, Agriculture

Introduction

  • Cotton fabric from around 3,000 BCE has been excavated from the ruins of Mohenjo-daro show that cotton was used in the subcontinent as far back as 5,000 BCE.
  • Indian cotton fabrics dominated the world trade during the succeeding millennia and were exported to many places, including Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, Assyria and parts of Asia.
  • Cotton suffers from plenty of infestation from moth pests (Lepidopteran) such as the Pink Bollworm (PBW) and sap-sucking (Hemipteran) pests such as aphids and mealy bugs.
  • Much of the cotton cultivated until the 20th century was of the indigenous variety Gossypium arboreum.
  • From the 1990s, hybrid varieties of G. hirsutum were promoted which cannot resist a variety of local pests and require more fertilizers and pesticides.  
  • Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2002 to help farmers deal with the increasing use of synthetic pesticides.

What are GM Crops?

  • Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. More than 10% of the world’s crop lands are planted with GM crops.
  • In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species like resistance to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, herbicides etc.
  • Genetic Modification is also done to increase nutritional value, bioremediation and for other purposes like production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels etc.

Bt cotton

  • Genetically modified (GM) cotton, the plant containing the pesticide gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), has been grown in India for about twenty years.
  • Strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produce different Bt toxins, each harmful to different insects.
  • Most notably, Bt toxins are insecticidal to the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, cotton bollworms and ghtu flies but are harmless to other forms of life.
  • The gene coding for Bt toxin has been inserted into cotton as a transgene, causing it to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues.
  • According to the Ministry of Agriculture, from 2005, adoption of Bt cotton rose to 81% in 2007, and up to 93% in 2011.

The important advantages of Bt Cotton are briefly:

  • Increases yield of cotton due to effective control of three types of bollworms, viz. American, Spotted and Pink bollworms.
  • Insects belonged to Lepidoptera (Bollworms) are sensitive to crystalline endotoxic protein produced by Bt gene which in turn protects cotton from bollworms.
  • Reduction in insecticide use in the cultivation of Bt cotton in which bollworms are major pests.
  • Potential reduction in the cost of cultivation (depending on seed cost versus insecticide costs).
  • Reduction in predators which help in controlling the bollworms by feeding on larvae and eggs of bollworm.
  • No health hazards due to rare use of insecticides (particularly who is engaged in spraying of insecticides).

Arguments against Bt Cotton

  • In India, Bt cotton has been enveloped in controversies due to its supposed failure to reduce the need for pesticides and increase yield.
  • The link between the introduction of Bt cotton to India and a surge in farmer suicides has been refuted by other studies, with decreased farmer suicides since Bt cotton was introduced.

Argument for Indigenous variety

  • The cost of ignoring indigenous varieties for decades has been high for India.
  • These varieties resist many pests and don’t present the problems faced with hybrids.
  • Research suggests that with pure-line cotton varieties, high density planting, and short season plants, cotton yields in India can be good and stand a better chance at withstanding the vagaries of climate change.
  • But government backing for resources, infrastructure and seeds is essential to scale up indigenous varieties.

-Source: The Hindu


REDEFINING A FARMER

Focus: GS-III Agriculture

Introduction

  • The agriculture sector saw a slew of immediate and strategic stimuli under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ programme after a nationwide lockdown was declared in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The post COVID-19 responses in the sector range from investments in agri-infrastructure, logistics and capacity building to governance and administrative reforms.
  • The direct cash transfer scheme under PM-KISAN and the credit boost through PM Kisan Credit Cards have benefitted farmers both directly and indirectly.

Eligibility

  • Ownership of cultivable land as per land records is a mandatory criterion for being eligible under the PM-KISAN scheme.
  • However, there have been many debates about the definition of a ‘beneficiary’ under the plan.
  • Traditionally, land ownership is a mandatory criterion for availing benefits under various agricultural schemes in India.

Is land ownership the right way to define farmers?

  • According to the 2015-16 agricultural census, about 2.65 million operational holdings are either partially or wholly leased.
  • The impact of agrarian distress is felt disproportionately by tenant farmers.
  • The tenant farmer incurs the costs (including the rental payments) and faces the risks, while the owner receives the rent, subsidies and other support.
  • The lessees do not benefit from loan waivers, moratorium and institutional credit, and are forced to be at the mercy of moneylenders.
  • The distress is reflected in the fact that tenant farmers account for a majority of farmer suicides reported in the NCRB data.

Different Definitions

  • The population census defines ‘cultivators’ as a person engaged in cultivation of land either ‘owned’ or held in kind or share.
  • The 59th round of the Situation Assessment Survey (SAS) of farmers, conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), also stresses on ‘possession of land’ either owned or leased or otherwise possessed for defining ‘farmers’.
  • Delinking of land as the defining criterion for a ‘farmer’ was done in the 70th round of SAS carried out by the NSSO, wherein agricultural households were defined as those receiving some value of produce from agricultural activities during the previous one year.
  • Further, a minimum cut off value of ₹3,000 for agricultural produce in the last 365 days was fixed as an additional requirement. This was done to exclude households with insignificant shares of income obtained from agriculture.
  • The National Policy for Farmers, 2007 adopts a broad-based definition independent of ‘land ownership’ as well as ‘value of produce’. This definition includes everyone engaged in agriculture and allied activities to eke out a livelihood, including persons engaged in shifting cultivation and collection of non-timber forest produce.

Finalising on the definition?

  • It can be further refined to define a farmer as one who earns a major part of the income from farming.
  • The definition delinks agriculture production from land per se, and not just ownership.
  • Access to land as a policy instrument in bringing about equitable growth of rural economies needs no further emphasis.

-Source: The Hindu

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