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5th February 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. Sub-categorisation of OBCs: what a Commission has found so far
  2. Missing the Gandhian imprint
  3. A year on, mind the gaps in the pandemic response

Editorial: Sub-categorisation of OBCs: what a Commission has found so far

Context:

  • On January 21, the Centre has extended the tenure of The Commission to Examine Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) headed by Justice G Rohini, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. The commission now has until July 31 to submit its report.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Appointment to various Constitutional posts; Constitutional Bodies (powers, functions and responsibilities);

Mains Questions:

  1. Equal opportunity and universal education can make affirmative action meaningful. Discuss. 15 Marks
  2. Diversity achieved through affirmative action such as compensatory discrimination in favour of some classes of citizens corrects historical distortions. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is sub-categorisation of OBCs?
  • What are the Commission’s terms of reference?
  • What is the need for sub-categorization and tentative recommendations of the committee?
  • Recommendations in this regard
  • What are the challenges in its implementation?
  • Way Forward

What is sub-categorisation of OBCs?

  • OBCs are granted 27% reservation in jobs and education under the central government. In September last year, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court reopened the legal debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations.
  • The debate arises out of the perception that only a few affluent communities among the over 2,600 included in the Central List of OBCs have secured a major part of this 27% reservation.
  • The argument for sub-categorisation — or creating categories within OBCs for reservation — is that it would ensure “equitable distribution” of representation among all OBC communities.
  • To examine this, the Rohini Commission was constituted on October 2, 2017. Before the Rohini Commission was set up, the Centre had granted constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).

What are the Commission’s terms of reference?

  • To examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the castes or communities included in the broad category of OBCs with reference to such classes included in the Central List;
  • To work out the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters in a scientific approach for sub-categorisation within such OBCs;
  • To take up the exercise of identifying the respective castes or communities or sub-castes or synonyms in the Central List of OBCs and classifying them into their respective sub-categories.
  • To study the various entries in the Central List of OBCs and recommend correction of any repetitions, ambiguities, inconsistencies and errors of spelling or transcription.

What is the need for sub-categorization and tentative recommendations of the committee?

  • Benefits of reservations have reached only limited sections: The Rohini commission highlighted that from about 2,633 central list OBCs, about 1900 castes have not proportionately benefitted.
    • Half of these 1900 castes have not availed the benefits of reservation at all, and the other half include those that have availed less than 3 per cent share in the OBC quota.
    • The commission highlighted that 25% of benefits from OBC reservations have been availed by only 10 sub-castes.
    • According to the committee, the communities that have got almost no benefits of reservations include profession-based castes such as Kalaigars, a community that traditionally polishes tins; and Sikligars and Saranias, communities that traditionally sharpen knives; apart from several other marginalised groups.
  • Benefits are tilted towards economically stronger sub-sections: Research suggests that the Mandal Commission recommendations helped the economically better positioned OBCs more than the most backward castes.

Recommendations in this regard

  • A fixed quota of between 8 to 10 percent within the 27 percent OBC quota for almost 1900 castes from among the central list of 2,633 OBCs. o These 1900 castes constitute about 2-3 per cent of the total seats and won’t affect other groups significantly but may create substantial opportunities for them.
  • Sub-categorization to be based on relative benefits among the OBCs and not on social backwardness, this may help deprived sections to be able to avail of their fair share of the quota.

What are the challenges in its implementation?

  • Political sensitivity of the issue: The move to sub-categorize OBCs may create agitation in some sections of OBCs as the benefits get redistributed. o OBC reservations have caused political turmoil in the past and its possible effect on the upcoming Bihar assembly elections cannot be denied.
  • Use of older and unreliable estimates: The commission has based its recommendations on quota within quota on the population figures from the 1931 Census, and not on the more recent Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011.
    • Since the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, over 500 new castes have been added to the Central list of OBCs. The 1931 Census does not have the population for these new additions.
    • The 1931 census also does not have population of princely states that were not ruled by the British.
  • Information unavailability on social and educational status: There is lack availability of information regarding the social and educational backwardness of various castes.
  • It could be a very difficult exercise statistically due to following reasons: Large number of castes: According to NCBC, there are 2514 OBC castes in the country and scientific sub-categorization by analyzing each caste could be challenging.
  • Variation from state to state: There are significant variations within castes from state to state which implies data collection needs to be larger and more robust.

Way Forward

  • Revising the creamy layer ceiling: National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) demanded that the income ceiling be further revised as the current limit is not in up to date with the associated purchasing power.
  • Strengthening NCBC: Expanding the powers and domain of NCBC as envisaged by providing the Commission with a constitutional status.

Editorial: Missing the Gandhian imprint

Context:

  • Gifted journalist Ved Mehta, who passed away last month, believed that Gandhi was hard to copy. Writing about Martin Luther King’s struggle against racism in the United States, Mehta wondered if Gandhi could be replicated in that country. Mehta found Gandhi’s standards of ethical conduct far too high for emulation by others.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 1: The Freedom Struggle — its various stages and important contributors, contributions from different parts of the country
  • GS Paper 4: Contributions of Moral Thinkers and Philosophers from India and World.

Mains Questions:

  1. Throw light on the significance of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi in the present times. 15 Marks
  2. Education is, in fact, quite crucially responsible for widening the hierarchical divide between the rural and the urban, and for portraying the latter as the engine of change in the former. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi
  • Relevance in Addressing contemporary issues: Farmers issues
  • Persuasion and inequality
  • Tradition to political use
  • Way Forward

Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi:

  • Ethical Conduct: Gandhi believed that as human beings, men can never reach the perfection of divine virtues. Still, they should strive with all their strength to follow the virtues of truth, love, nonviolence, tolerance, fearlessness, charity and service to mankind. Men have to uphold the right, regardless of the personal consequences they may face. He urged Satyagrahis to adopt to these Virtues.
  • Truth: Gandhi equated God with truth and designated his religion as religion of truth. He used to say God is Truth, which he later changed to “Truth is God”.
  • Service to Society: Service to the Society was another way in which Gandhi’s concept underpins his practical actions. He believed that “only way to see God is to see him through his creations and identify oneself with it”.
  • Cleanliness: Gandhi emphasised on internal (mental) and external (physical) cleanliness. There was no litter or dirt or filth in his Ashrams and surroundings. He said: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness“. He advocated moral self-purification.
  • Ends and Means: Gandhi believed that Men should adopt only good means to attain noble objectives. As per him: “No good can follow from bad deeds, even if they are well intentioned.”  He believed that the path to hell is paved with good intentions; thus leading to so called “ends and means” debate.
  • Ahimsa: Gandhi’s Ahimsa was not only refraining from killing but also show love for the whole mankind and all living beings. He believed that Man can only realize God by pursuing Ahimsa. He also maintained that truth and non-violence are inseparable and truthfulness and fearlessness is prerequisite for a pursuit of Ahimsa.
  • Satyagraha: Gandhi’s later work rested largely on a spiritual principle of satyagraha that he developed while working in South Africa. For Gandhi, Satyagrahi was the foot soldier of Passive Resistance Movement. One has to adopt the virtues of truth and violence to be a Satyagrahi.
  • Doctrine of Trusteeship: Gandhi regarded Rich as trustees of wealth. He said that ultimately all property belongs to God, the excess or superfluous wealth which the rich possess belongs to society and should be used for supporting the poor.

Relevance in Addressing contemporary issues: Farmers issues

  • The Government opinion:  The government, its initial position was that opposition to the new farm laws is based on misunderstanding.
    • The government has maintained the view that the farmers who are agitating are misled and do not represent the farming community as a whole.
  • Experts Opinion: Among experts, those who support the new farm laws have taken the stand that these laws are necessary for reforming the agricultural sector and such wider reform will eventually benefit farmers. Their protest has been attributed to insufficient dialogue.
  • Thus, both the government and the supporters of the new laws view farmers as objects of persuasion or guidance. In this jointly held view, the farmers are believed to have no agency of their own. For the government and its expert advisers, an outreach effort is the answer to protests.

Persuasion and inequality

  • Role of persuasion: Along with mediation, persuasion ranks high among the means of achieving a peaceful resolution in a conflict situation. However, there is a condition attached to the use of persuasion in this context.
    • The condition is that both sides, i.e. the persuaders and the ones to be persuaded will be equal partners in the act. It is not enough to say that during the negotiation they will behave as if they are equal.
    • For persuasion to work, the two sides must be equal to begin with. They must feel equal.
    • If there are mediators, their job is to make each side realise that they are equal. This condition is clearly difficult to apply in the present conflict.
  • Inequality: Inequality between farmers and the state has deep historical roots. It is reflected in the rural-urban gap.
    • As a professional community, farmers suffer from the common stereotypes that the urban educated classes carry with regard to villagers.
    • According to these stereotypes, farmers cannot be expected to know their own good — especially the benefits that are somewhat distant — on account of general ignorance and lack of education.
    • The poor spread of education reinforces this stereotypical perception of the farming community as being simple-minded, and therefore prone to being misled.
  • Role of Education: Education is, in fact, quite crucially responsible for widening the hierarchical divide between the rural and the urban, and for portraying the latter as the engine of change in the former.
    • The view that farmers’ opposition to the new laws is merely a reflection of certain “doubts” which can be removed in the course of further discussion is reminiscent of the stereotype that the villagers are like children who do not understand the complex decisions made to benefit them in the long run.
    • Teachers in India typically conclude their class lecture by asking “Any doubts?” The assumption is that children can only have doubts, but no real questions.

Tradition to political use

  • Gandhi did not invent this vision; he spotted it in tradition and put it to a new, political use. The value system he used and modernised can still be witnessed in certain settings and contexts.
    • For instance, when an irksome neighbour falls ill or meets with an accident, a few people do ask if the family needs help.
    • A similar customary value covers hospitality.
    • Teachers ask children not to take advantage of an injured member of the rival team.
    • Internationally maintained modern norms for warring nations have their origins in similar old ethics sustained by tradition in several cultures.
    • Gandhi used this old value system to develop his ethic of non-violence in oppositional politics.
    • It was rooted in the belief that an adversary has human instincts which can be activated by demonstration of self-inflicted suffering.
    • Gandhi saw the protester’s willingness to endure physical discomfort as a means of awakening the adversary’s saner instincts.

Way Forward

Gandhian Philosophy is a romantic idea that education can compensate for psychological losses incurred in the pursuit of lopsided goals. It is hardly surprising that a farmers’ movement is reminding us of the legacy we inherited from Gandhi’s social experimentation.


Editorial: A year on, mind the gaps in the pandemic response

Context:

  • January 30, 2021 marked one year since India detected its first case of COVID-19 — a student in Kerala who had returned from Wuhan, China.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Health and associated issues.

Mains Questions:

  1. India needs to revisit its disease control strategy to ensure a more robust and humane response in similar crises. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • India versus the world
  • Lockdown and after
  • State-level ownership
  • Civil society’s role
  • Divide widened
  • Way Forward:

India versus the world

  • Official statistics show that India has fared better on rates of infections and deaths than many higher income countries. For example, India’s case fatality ratio on February 3 stood at 1.4% compared to 2.8% in the United Kingdom or 3.1% in South Africa, while India’s deaths per million is 112, compared to 1,362 in the United States, 1,486 in Italy, or 1,831 in Belgium.
  • However, it has not done so well compared to countries of similar income and demography in South Asia. While India’s case fatalities ratio was lower than Bangladesh (1.5%) and Pakistan (2.1%) it was but significantly higher than Bhutan (0.1%), Nepal (0.7%), the Maldives (0.3%) and Sri Lanka (0.5%). Deaths due to COVID-19 per million population in Bangladesh was 50, Pakistan was 54 and Sri Lanka was just 16, lower than in India.

Lockdown and after

  • India was also among the few countries to announce a stringent nationwide lockdown much before it had a significant number of cases. The U.K. and the U.S. hesitated to impose a lockdown, costing many lives due to their late response.
  • Ultimately when India ended up lifting the lockdown, cases were already rising rapidly with confirmed cases per million people going further from 200 on June 9, 2020 to 7,454 on January 1, 2021.
  • Unfortunately, the lockdown was also marked by excessive dependence on security forces to ensure enforcement of physical distancing measures and quarantine-related restrictions.
  • An unintended offshoot of the lockdown was the large-scale exodus of migrants and families forced to walk hundreds of kilometres back to their homes in the countryside.
  • Dozens died in the exodus, with many in horrific road accidents. There were also deaths due to lack of sufficient food, drinking water and the sheer stress of travelling.
    • Their plight highlighted the lack of a social safety-net for poor Indians both from before as well as during the pandemic.

State-level ownership

  • First, in the context of the country’s federal structure, no public health response can be successful without ownership at the state level. The lack of consultation with State governments saw many of them implementing COVID-19 response policies hesitantly without much initiative or innovation.
  • Second, in all epidemic responses, generation and use of strategic information plays a crucial role. Given India’s global reputation as a software superpower, the pandemic would have been an ideal staging ground for fast-tracking plans to create an integrated digital health information system to improve the efficiency and transparency of the COVID-19 response.
  • The Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), India’s national disease surveillance framework, was not visible throughout the response. While the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) carried out selective sero-surveillance studies in metropolitan areas, these surveys were limited in coverage and periodicity.

Civil society’s role

  • The response was also marked by a lack of involvement of civil society organisations as partners with state agencies.
  • On earlier occasions such as polio eradication and AIDS response, civil society played an important preventive and promotional role in bringing the infections under control.
  • It goes to the credit of many civil society organisations that they voluntarily stepped into the response and played a meaningful role in providing social support and lobbying with funding organisations such as the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) to provide social support to affected families.

Divide widened

  • Another critical unknown in India’s COVID-19 response is over its plans to revive the economy and restore livelihoods of millions of people, who are today in danger of starvation and for whom even basic health care has become unaffordable.
  • The pandemic period has exacerbated existing social inequalities and the poor face a ‘lost decade’ ahead, a challenge which needs to be addressed on priority.

Way Forward:

There is an urgent need to examine all these critical gaps in the response to the pandemic, whether they occurred through acts of omission or commission. Without such an open inquiry and widespread debate, India will miss yet another chance to learn the right lessons and ensure a more robust, well-thought out and humane response to similar crises in future.

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