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19th December 2020 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content:

  1. Friend and neighbour
  2. Swaminathan Report: National Commission on Farmers

Editorial: Friend and neighbour

Context:

  • The virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina, where they discussed issues ranging from the violent border incidents to the COVID-19 fight, demonstrates their desire to reboot India-Bangladesh ties that have faced challenges in recent months.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2:  India and its Neighbourhood (relations)

Mains Questions:

  1. New Delhi should take a broader view of the changing scenario and growing competition in South Asia, and reach out to Dhaka with an open mind. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the relationship

  • Significance of Bangladesh for India
  • Major concerns between two countries
  • Way Forward

History of India Bangladesh Relations

India’s links with Bangladesh are civilisational, cultural, social, and economic. There is much that unites the two countries – a shared history and common heritage, linguistic and cultural ties, passion for music, literature and the arts.[6] Also, Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Polymath created the national anthems of both Bangladesh and India in 1905 and 1911 respectively.

Significance of Bangladesh for India

Geopolitical

  • Connecting North East India: Bangladesh’s location is a strategic wedge between mainland India and NE seven states. Each of these states is land-locked and has shorter route to the sea through Bangladesh. Transit agreement with Bangladesh will spur the socio-economic development of North-East India and thus help in containing insurgency.
  • Bridge to Southeast Asia: Bangladesh is a natural pillar of Act East policy. It can act as a ‘bridge’ to economic and political linkages with South East Asia and beyond. Dhaka’s support in BIMSTEC and BBIN initiatives complement Delhi’s Southeast Asia outreach.
  • Strengthening South Asia as a regional power: By leveraging on organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for promoting cooperation among its member nations to economic growth and securing strategic interests.
  • Securing sea lanes of communication: Bangladesh is a major country in the Indian ocean rim and strategically placed nearby important sea lanes. The South East Indian ocean is becoming hotbed of piracy. Bangladesh can play significant role in containing the same.
  • Fighting terrorism and deradicalization: Both the countries are very vulnerable to the propaganda of religion based radical outfits thus they could cooperate in deradicalization efforts, sharing intelligence, and other counter-terrorism efforts.
  • To contain insurgency in North-East: A friendly Bangladesh can ensure that no anti-India terror or insurgent activities can be carried out from its soil.
  • Countering China: A neutral Bangladesh would ensure containment of an assertive China in this region, and help in Countering it’s string of pearls policy.

Trade and investment

  • Bilateral trade: Currently, the volume of bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh is about $7 billion while the trade potential is at least four times the present level.
  • Investment opportunities: There are huge opportunities for investment in defense, such as in military hardware, space technology; infrastructural development, and other areas.
    • India can expand sub regional cooperation among BBIN countries to cover initiatives in rail which would open opportunities in land ports and land customs stations, air connectivity. Efforts to integrate the region’s economies with road, rail and shipping routes can yield rich dividends.
    • Recently, a tripartite MoU was also signed between India, Russia and Bangladesh for development of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Bangladesh.
  • Cooperation in blue economy: exploration of hydrocarbons, marine resources, deep-sea fishing, preservation of marine ecology and disaster management.
  • Social sector development: Bangladesh is now a role model for the developing world in poverty reduction, achieving success in health and education and fighting climate change, among others.

Cultural

  • India and Bangladesh has a shared history and common heritage, linguistic and cultural ties, passion for music, literature and the arts. Greater people to people contact would percolate to other areas like economic and trade relations especially near the border areas. It would also help in curbing hostilities and lack of trust specially Bangladesh being a smaller neighbor.

Major issues between India and Bangladesh

  • NRC issue in Assam: Since the 1971 war of independence that created the state of Bangladesh, millions of Bangladeshi immigrants (the vast majority of them illegal) have poured into India. This is changing the demography of northeastern states which is causing unrest.
  • Rohingya crisis: There are almost 11 lakh Rohingyas refugees living in Bangladesh. While India has supplied humanitarian aid to Bangladesh under ‘Operation Insaniyat’ for the Rohingya crisis but Bangladesh expects India to put pressure on Myanmar for repatriation of over a million of Rohingyas.
  • Border Management: The Indo-Bangladesh border is of porous nature which provides pathway for smuggling, trafficking in arms, drugs and people.
  • China’s role: The ever increasing presence of China in India’s neighbourhood is a major cause of concern. The smaller countries like Bangladesh uses China card to supplement its bargaining capacity against India.
  • River disputes: India shares 54 transboundary rivers, big and small. (Ganga River Dispute- concerns in Farakka barrage, Teesta River Dispute, Barak River – Tipaimukh Hydro Electric Project Dispute etc.)
  • Presence of radical groups: Groups like Harkat-alJihad-al-Islami (HUJI), Jamaat-eIslami, and HUJI-B fuel Anti-India sentiments in Bangladesh. Their propaganda could spill across borders too.
  • Ganga river dispute
    • In 1996, the sharing of the Ganga waters was successfully agreed upon between the two nations. However, the major area of dispute has been India’s construction and operation of the Farakka Barrage to increase water supply to the river Hooghly.
    • Bangladesh complains that it does not get a fair share of the water in the dry season and some of its areas get flooded when India releases excess waters during the monsoons.
  • Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric power Project
    • Bangladesh has been demanding to stop the construction of the Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric Power Project on the Barak River on the eastern edge of Bangladesh.
    • Bangladesh says that the massive dam will disrupt the seasonal rhythm of the river and have an adverse effect on downstream agriculture, fisheries and ecology of the region. 
    • Indian government has assured Bangladesh that it will not take any unilateral decision on the Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Power Project which may adversely affect Bangladesh.
  • Teesta River water sharing issue: Teesta River originates from the Pahunri (or Teesta Kangse) glacier in Sikkim, flows through the northern parts of West Bengal before entering Bangladesh. It merges with the Brahmaputra River (or Jamuna in Bangladesh). The river is a major source of irrigation to the paddy growing greater Rangpur region of Bangladesh.
    • In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement on sharing water was made, according to which Bangladesh got 36% and India 39% of the waters, while the remaining 25% remained unallocated. The transient agreement could not be implemented.
    • Bangladesh has sought an equitable distribution of Teesta waters, on the lines of Ganga Water Treaty of 1996.
    • In 2011 India and Bangladesh finalized an arrangement, by which India would get 42.5% and Bangladesh 37.5% while remaining 20% would flow unhindered in order to maintain a minimum water flow of the river. This agreement was not signed due to opposition from chief minister of West Bengal.

Way forward

  • India and Bangladesh share civilizational ties thus play a complementing role in each other’s all round development, however the potential has not been adequately tapped. Though there has been many positive development s in recent years like the historic Land boundary agreement.
  • India should adopt the Gujral doctrine of unilateral support to its smaller neighbours to gain their confidence especially given China’s presence. India should proactively resolve the outstanding issues like Teesta water treaty. India should also help in resolving Rohingya crisis involving Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Swaminathan Report: National Commission on Farmers

Context:

  • The report provides an overview of India’s agrarian economy and discusses the causes and effects of the agri-crisis, both environmental and policy-based.

Relevance: GS Paper 3

  • Major Crops – Cropping Patterns in various parts of the country, – Different Types of Irrigation and Irrigation Systems; Storage, Transport and Marketing of Agricultural Produce and Issues and Related Constraints; E-technology in the aid of farmers.
  • Land Reforms in India.

Mains Questions:

  1. Farmers’ genuine concerns must be addressed as soon as possible so that they can continue producing food and fibre needed for the ever-increasing population. In this context, discuss the key suggestions of Swaminathan Report on agriculture. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Report:

  • Land Reforms
  • Irrigation
  • Productivity of Agriculture
  • Credit and Insurance
  • Food Security
  • Employment
  • Bioresources

The major causes of the agrarian crisis are:

  • Unfinished agenda in land reform,
  • Quantity and quality of water,
  • Technology fatigue,
  • Access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit,
  • Opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing
  • Adverse meteorological factors add to these problems.

Farmers need to have assured access and control over basic resources: which include land, water, bioresources, credit and insurance, technology and knowledge management, and markets.  The NCF recommends that “Agriculture” be inserted in the Concurrent List of the Constitution.

Land Reforms

Land reforms are necessary to address the basic issue of access to land for both crops and livestock. Land holdings inequality is reflected in land ownership. In 1991-92, the share of the bottom half of the rural households in the total land ownership was only 3% and the top 10% was as high as 54%.

Some of the main recommendations include:

  • Distribute ceiling-surplus and waste lands;
  • diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes.
  • Ensure grazing rights and seasonal access to forests to tribals and pastoralists, and access to common property resources.
  • Establish a National Land Use Advisory Service, which would have the capacity to link land use decisions with ecological meteorological and marketing factors on a location and season specific basis.
  • Set up a mechanism to regulate the sale of agricultural land, based on quantum of land, nature of proposed use and category of buyer.

Irrigation

Out of the gross sown area of 192 million ha, rainfed agriculture contributes to 60 per cent of the gross cropped area and 45 per cent of the total agricultural output.  The report recommends:

  • A comprehensive set of reforms to enable farmers to have sustained and equitable access to water.
  • Increase water supply through rainwater harvesting and recharge of the aquifer should become mandatory. “Million Wells Recharge” programme, specifically targeted at private wells should be launched.
  • Substantial increase in investment in irrigation sector under the 11th Five Year Plan apportioned between large surface water systems; minor irrigation and new schemes for groundwater recharge.

Productivity of Agriculture

Apart from the size of holding, the productivity levels primarily determine the income of the farmers.  However, the per unit area productivity of Indian agriculture is much lower than other major crop producing countries.

In order to achieve higher growth in productivity in agriculture, the NCF recommends:

  • Substantial increase in public investment in agriculture related infrastructure particularly in irrigation, drainage, land development, water conservation, research development and road connectivity etc.
  • A national network of advanced soil testing laboratories with facilities for detection of micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Promotion of conservation farming, which will help farm families to conserve and improve soil health, water quantity and quality and biodiversity.

Credit and Insurance

Timely and adequate supply of credit is a basic requirement of small farm families. The NCF suggests:

  • Expand the outreach of the formal credit system to reach the really poor and needy.
  • Reduce rate of interest for crop loans to 4 per cent simple, with government support.
  • Moratorium on debt recovery, including loans from non-institutional sources, and waiver of interest on loans in distress hotspots and during calamities, till capability is restored.
  • Establish an Agriculture Risk Fund to provide relief to farmers in the aftermath of successive natural calamities.
  • Issue Kisan Credit Cards to women farmers, with joint pattas as collateral.
  • Develop an integrated credit-cum-crop-livestock-human health insurance package.
  • Expand crop insurance cover to cover the entire country and all crops, with reduced premiums and create a Rural Insurance Development Fund to take up development work for spreading rural insurance.
  • Promote sustainable livelihoods for the poor by improving
    • Financial services
    • Infrastructure
    • Investments in human development, agriculture and business development services (including productivity enhancement, local value addition, and alternate market linkages)
    • Institutional development services (forming and strengthening producers’ organisations such as self-help groups and water user associations).

Food Security

The Mid-term appraisal of the 10th Plan revealed that India is lagging behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals of halving hunger by 2015.  Therefore, the decline in per capita food grain availability and its unequal distribution have serious implications for food security in both rural and urban areas.

The report recommends:

  • Implement a universal public distribution system. The NCF pointed out that the total subsidy required for this would be one per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.
  • Reorganise the delivery of nutrition support programmes on a life-cycle basis with the participation of Panchayats and local bodies.
  • Eliminate micronutrient deficiency induced hidden hunger through an integrated food cum fortification approach.
  • Promote the establishment of Community Food and Water Banks operated by Women Self-help Groups (SHG), based on the principle ‘Store Grain and Water everywhere’.
  • Help small and marginal farmers to improve the productivity, quality and profitability of farm enterprises and organize a Rural Non-Farm Livelihood Initiative.
  • Formulate a National Food Guarantee Act continuing the useful features of the Food for Work and Employment Guarantee programmes. By increasing demand for food grains as a result of increased consumption by the poor, the economic conditions essential for further agricultural progress can be created.

Employment

Structural change in the workforce is taking place in India albeit slowly.  In 1961, the percentage of the workforce in agriculture was 75.9%. while the number decreased to 59.9% in 1999-2000.  But agriculture still provides the bulk of employment in the rural areas.

The overall employment strategy in India must seek to achieve two things.  First, create productive employment opportunities and second to improve the ‘quality’ of employment in several sectors such that real wages rise through improved productivity.  The measures to do so include:

  • Accelerating the rate of growth of the economy;
  • Emphasizing on relatively more labour intensive sectors and inducing a faster growth of these sectors; and
  • Improving the functioning of the labour markets through such modification as may be necessary without eroding the core labour standards.
  • Encourage non-farm employment opportunities by developing particular sectors and sub-sectors where demand for the product or services is growing namely: (i) trade, (ii) restaurants and hotels, (iii) transport, (iv) construction, (v) repairs and (vi) certain services.
  • The “net take home income” of farmers should be comparable to those of civil servants.

Bioresources

Rural people in India depend on a wide range of bioresources for their nutrition and livelihood security.  The report recommends:

  • Preserving traditional rights of access to biodiversity, which include access to non-timber forest products including medicinal plants, gums and resins, oil yielding plants and beneficial micro-organisms;
  • Conserving, enhancing and improving crops and farm animals as well as fish stocks through breeding;
  • Encouraging community-based breed conservation (i.e. conservation through use);
  • Allowing export of indigenous breeds and import of suitable breeds to increase productivity of nondescript animals.
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