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16th April – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. Harmonising with nature
  2. End the harassment of farmers now
  3. Cease the distractions, seize the moment

HARMONISING WITH NATURE

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Introduction and examples of learning from crisis

  • Aristotle Onassis counselled, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” So, even as we, along with millions of our fellow citizens, observe the curfew while under a lockdown, this hiatus offers a rare opportunity to reflect and take the long view.
  • The way human society behaves after a crisis can vary significantly.
  • Germany’s abiding obsession with fiscal discipline and aversion to inflation, even today, can be traced to lessons learned during the 1920s, when that country experienced devastating hyperinflation.
  • The 9/11 attacks, and India’s own tragedy of 26/11, fundamentally altered our perspectives on safety in public spaces, and we have come to accept intrusive security checks as a price we must pay.

Will the COVID-19 pandemic change the way we behave?

  • If there can be any enduring takeaway from the social and economic cost imposed by COVID-19, it must be that our much-vaunted modern and technologically sophisticated society can be humbled by nature operating at its most microscopic scale.
  • At this scale, the speed of replication and proliferation is astounding and, within a few weeks from its first manifestation, the virus has brought a globally connected economy to a standstill, and endangered the lives of total strangers across all continents.
  • At the same time, almost silently, at the other end of the scale, a slow but perceptible escalation of climate calamities, including more severe storms, more destructive forest fires and faster melting of glaciers, indicate a carbon-emissions-triggered crisis where nature in reacting on a macro scale.
  • The sobering conclusion is that our armoury is inadequate to deal with either end of nature’s scale of intervention.

What can we, as a society do?

  • To start with, it would help to shed some of the chutzpah that we have allowed ourselves to adopt through the 20th century — that we can develop technologies to overcome nature and re-shape our environment.
  • There is no doubt progress in science and technology has served humanity well over centuries and they will continue to be called upon to serve society for centuries to come.
  • What we will need, however, is an outlook that seeks to harness our knowledge of science to work in harmony with nature, rather than attempt to bulldoze it.

Conclusion

  • In all of this, nature seems to expect of us a certain economy of consumption and gentleness of impact.
  • A human society that is sympathetic to and in harmony with our environment, and where human beings listen to and nurture their selves, may be an enduring recipe for a safer future.
  • India has a long heritage of nurturing one’s inner self — yoga and meditation have been adopted globally as secular exercises for a more robust constitution.
  • India also has a long tradition of dealing with frugality as a virtue and can easily relate to what in ancient Greece was revered as gaia — dealing with the earth as our mother.
  • These can be timeless lessons as human society seeks closer harmony with nature, to take us on to a safer trajectory in a post COVID-19 world.

END THE HARASSMENT OF FARMERS NOW

Focus: GS-II Social Justice, GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

  • An order dated March 28 said all agricultural, horticultural activities and those relating to harvesting, transportation, procurement, mandis, farming operations and the like are exempted from the lockdown. The order was made so that “harvesting would continue uninterrupted”.
  • The exempted categories included “agencies engaged in procurement of agriculture products, including MSP operations; mandis; farmers and farm workers in the field; custom hiring centres related to farm machinery; manufacturing and packaging units of fertilizers, pesticides and seeds; and intra- and inter-state movement of harvesting and sowing-related machines.”
  • The order went on to say that “this decision has been taken with a view to facilitate unhindered activities related to agriculture and farming so as to ensure essential supplies and that farmers and common people do not face any difficulty.”
  • In a press release on March 27, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordinating Committee (AIKSCC), in a representation to the government, had asked the police not to stop peasants and said “there should be no harassment and violence against peasants, farmers, vendors and transporters.”
  • The committee demanded that all harvested crops, milk, poultry, meat and eggs should be procured and that regulated markets should operate at requisite strength, failing which, the panel feared, village-level procurement and supply “will rot and ruin the producer farmers.”

Adverse effects of the lockdown

  • If harvesting is interrupted, if transportation of produce is halted on account of vehicles with passes not being available, if farmers and farm workers are lathi-charged on their way to work and if the mandis do not operate at full strength, there could be an unprecedented food crisis.
  • Officials have interfered with the collection of non-timber forest produce, as allowed by the Forest Rights Act, causing hunger and distress to millions of tribals.
  • Anganwadis were closed in panic and supplementary nutrition for children below 6 years and for pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls came to an immediate stop.
  • Mid-day meal, which reaches millions of school-going students, was abruptly discontinued. The provision of ₹6,000 to every pregnant woman and lactating mother, mandated under the Maternity Benefit Act, also virtually came to an end.
  • This is not to say that some form of a lockdown was unnecessary; however, the harshness and arbitrariness and lack of thought and preparation in its execution was certainly avoidable.

CEASE THE DISTRACTIONS, SEIZE THE MOMENT

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

  • The government has issued two ordinances, Parliament has modified its rules to reduce the salary and allowances of Members of Parliament and Ministers, and the Union Cabinet has decided to cancel the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for two years.
  • These measures are purportedly to save costs as the nation tackles the COVID-19 pandemic.

Criticism of the Pay-cuts

  • The 30% cut in the ₹1 lakh per month salary and the ₹27,000 cut in office and constituency allowances amount to savings of less than ₹5 crore per month.
  • The cut in sumptuary allowances for Ministers results in a total savings of ₹25,000 per month; yes, you read that right. These amounts are immaterial for the Central government with an average monthly budget of ₹2.5-lakh crore.
  • During the crisis, Members of Parliament should be deliberating on the actions and policies to be taken to manage the epidemic, and the costs and consequences of various alternatives.
  • They should also be trying to figure out ways to have committee meetings and even the meetings of the full House through alternate mechanisms such as video-conferencing.

Support of cancellation of MPLADS

  • The cancellation of MPLADS for two years, on the other hand, is a welcome move. This scheme should not be resumed after the crisis. In financial terms, there are savings of nearly ₹4,000 crore per year.
  • While this is not insignificant, the larger benefit is that this will help Members of Parliament focus on their roles as national legislators.
  • MPLADS creates several issues of accountability and jurisdiction. It impinges on separation of powers, both horizontally across different organs of state, and vertically across different levels of governance.
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