Content

  1. Do we have a grip on disinformation in 2021?
  2. Agri Reforms 2: Raising Agricultural Productivity and Making Farming Remunerative for Farmers

Editorial: Do we have a grip on disinformation in 2021?

Context:

  • Disinformation is increasing and becoming harder to combat, but fact-checking too is evolving.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Role of media and social-networking sites in internal security challenges; Internal security challenges through communication networks.

Mains Questions:

  1. Disinformation, or “fake news”, is a malaise that has been worsened by the infodemic of the social media age. In the last few years, it has been used as an effective weapon to polarise communities and upset democratic processes. Discuss. 15 Marks
  2. Use of Internet and social media by non-state actors for subversive activities is a major concern. How have these have misused in the recent past? Suggest effective guidelines to curb the above threat. 15 Marks
  3. What are social networking site and what security implications do these sites present? 10 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is fake news or disinformation?
  • Types of Fake News or Disinformation:
  • Disinformation in Indian Context:
  • Causes responsible for developing fake news culture:
  • Challenges posed by the Fake News:
  • Measures to curb disinformation:
  • Way Forward:

What is fake news or disinformation?

“Fake news” is a term that has come to mean different things to different people. At its core, we are defining “fake news” as those news stories that are false: the story itself is fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources or quotes. A Microsoft study found that over 64% Indians encountered fake news online, the highest reported among the 22 countries surveyed.

Types of Fake News or Disinformation:

  • Clickbait: These are stories that are deliberately fabricated to gain more website visitors and increase advertising revenue for websites. Clickbait stories use sensationalist headlines to grab attention and drive click-throughs to the publisher website, normally at the expense of truth or accuracy.
  • Propaganda: Stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda.
  • Satire/Parody: Lots of websites and social media accounts publish fake news stories for entertainment and parody. For example; The Onion, Waterford Whispers, The Daily Mash, etc.
  • Sloppy Journalism: Sometimes reporters or journalists may publish a story with unreliable information or without checking all of the facts which can mislead audiences.
  • Misleading Headings: Stories that are not completely false can be distorted using misleading or sensationalist headlines. These types of news can spread quickly on social media sites where only headlines and small snippets of the full article are displayed on audience newsfeeds.

Disinformation in Indian Context:

In the Indian context, disinformation is not evolving in quality but in quantity. But the nature of disinformation was the same as it is today — primarily old videos and images used to represent something in the present, especially if they have an element of violence or are highly politicised.

  • We saw massive spikes of disinformation on the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, elections, the Delhi riots of 2020, and the pandemic.
  • In all of these issues, the kind of disinformation which was perpetrated was pretty simple, and not that difficult to debunk. It’s just the organised manner in which it was produced every single day — multiple false claims using photos, images and text.

Causes responsible for developing fake news culture:

  • Power Struggle: The disinformation is spread and created in the pursuit of Power. It often comes from the political establishment: sometimes from the governing party, sometimes from the opposition.
  • Increasing Profits: This is mostly sort of low-grade clickbait.
  • Profound Public Disagreement: This is bottom-up disinformation, where people in good faith spread information that others think of as disinformation. We see this around vaccines, climate change, community relations in countries such as India. 
  • Platform companies: Facebook and WhatsApp, Google and YouTube, Twitter, and others enable the creation and spread of this information in ways that set us apart from where we were before the advent of digital media.
  • Increasing mobile and internet penetration: India has the most social media users, with 300 million users on Facebook, 200 million on WhatsApp and 250 million using YouTube.
  • Emphasis on likability enhancement of the news: Social media algorithms are geared to appeal to people’s habits and interests and the emphasis is on likeability, and not accuracy.
  • Fake news is being used as an extension of propaganda and advertising. Unlike the traditional process, there are no editorial controls or quality-assurances.
  • Lack of comprehensive legislation: There is no specific law to deal with fake newsmakers which allows miscreants to take undue advantage of the situation as authorities mostly remain confused as to the actionable wrong.

Challenges posed by the Fake News:

  • Weakens the democracy: Fake news poses a serious challenge to this proposition as it misleads the consumers of information, poses a threat to a democratic society as it can give a handle to the state to interfere with the functioning of media.
    • For instance, Facebook took a hammering over Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election. It conceded the following year that up to 10 million Americans had seen advertisements purchased by a Russian agency.
  • Affecting choices and behaviours: These platforms are predominant source of news and a critical mass of misinformation leads to mis-directed behaviours filled with fake news and disinformation aimed at influencing choices ranging from day to day life to political choices made during the Indian elections.
  • Threat of infodemic: The WHO warns that societies around the world are facing an “infodemic”—an “overabundance” of information that makes it difficult for people to identify truthful and trustworthy sources from false or misleading ones.
  • Give rise to various crimes: Crimes that includes communal riots, mob lynching, mass hysteria, etc. are many times the product of fake news being shared by the people.
  • Violates rights of the citizen: The boundless dissemination of fake news on the social media induces crime against humanity and infringement of citizens’ right to unbiased and truthful news and reports.
  • Affecting the economy at large as we witnessed that how the misinformation pandemic has also pervaded industries altogether unrelated to COVID-19 infection, such as poultry and seafood sector.
  • Spread hatred and mistrust: False information propagated through fake news have helped people developing racist and xenophobic sentiments against people of Asian origin around the world, as we saw in the case of Corona epidemic. Such messages can often be a means of reinforcing existing prejudices.
  • Influences the mainstream information dissemination mechanism: Fake news disrupt the traditional or official chain of information. For instance, the official agency, Press Information Bureau has also drawn criticism for advocating treatments offered by alternative medicine systems without any supporting scientific evidence and or clinical testing data.

Measures to curb disinformation:

  • Implementing Laws: Section 505(1) of Indian Penal Code, 1860– whoever by making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report which may cause fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  • Role of the Government: In the current wake of Corona epidemic, Government initiatives like the introduction of an official chatbot on WhatsApp named ‘MyGov Corona News Desk’ which answers queries about the virus with an aim to prevent spreading of rumours during this pandemic.
  • Initiatives taken by social media intermediaries: Facebook has developed an Artificial Intelligence system that can investigate and deactivate fake accounts disseminating fake news. 
  • By the Election Commission of India: In the lead-up to the elections, the ECI, summoned the top executives of Facebook and Twitter to discuss the crisis of coordinated misinformation, fake news and political bias on their platforms.

Way Forward:

  • Promoting the culture of self-verification: Where people who consume the data on an everyday basis educate themselves and acquire the skills to tackle it. Thus, there is a need to shift towards a system where self-verification of information is an ‘internet skill’ and an important duty. This can be done simply by a quick search on Google or checking for that information or visiting the official websites to verify the accuracy of the data.
  • Responsible citizenry: Consumers who play the central role in the spread of misinformation, are also the most efficient and effective in debunking the various myths and fake news. This skill can be taught via: o creating awareness on television and social media, or o innovative initiatives like ‘Fake News Classes’ introduced in government schools in Kerala, where they teach students how to identify and spot misinformation.

Agri Reforms 2: Raising Agricultural Productivity and Making Farming Remunerative for Farmers

Context:

  • This article is based on the work of the Task Force on Agricultural Development constituted by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, Government of India in March 2015.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Agriculture (Inputs: Seeds, Fertilizers and Pesticides)

Mains Questions:

  1. Reducing input cost and increasing productivity are key to make agriculture as profitable business and also help to address the farms distress. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Topic:

  • Agri inputs: Seeds, Fertilizer and Pesticides:
  • Agri Input: Seeds
  • Agri Input: Fertilizers
  • Issues related to fertilizers in India:
  • Issues related to Urea Subsidy:
  • Way forward

Agri inputs: Seeds, Fertilizer and Pesticides:

Seeds, fertilizers and pesticides constitute the three pillars of modern agriculture and have been central to pushing agricultural-productivity frontier out.

  • The Green Revolution in India was begun by the introduction of the high Yielding Varieties (HYV) of seeds complemented by effective use of fertilizers and expansion of irrigation.
  • Farmers often see a direct connect between seeds and fertilizer on the one hand and crop yield on the other.

Agri Input: Seeds

Seed is the true carrier of technology. In India, three sets of institutions produce seeds: research institutions and agricultural universities; public sector seed producing corporations; and private sector firms including multinationals. The last decade has seen two main developments in seed market.

  • One, production of quality seed has risen at a rapid rate after 2005-06.
  • And two, public sector has begun to effectively compete with the private sector.
  • Beginning with 2001-02, there has been a distinct change in the role of public sector in the development of hybrid in all crops.
  • In the next seven years, share of public sector increased from 8 to 19% in cotton, 4 to 40% in maize and 25 to 58% in rice.
  • Cotton and maize have been the most favourite crops for development of hybrids both by public and the private sectors. Private sector also evinced strong interest in pearl millet, sunflower and sorghum.
  • Considering all crops together, private sector accounted for three-fourth of the total hybrids developed in the country till year 2009-10, which is significantly lower than that in 2001-02.

Steps need to be taken to improve the quality of seeds used by farmers:

  • Sometimes prices of good quality seeds, especially hybrids, are high and farmers are unable to afford them. Creating community Seed Banks in producing areas can reduce dependence on market for seeds. The seed banks not only protect the existing crop varieties but also ensure supply of seeds to the farmer to meet contingency.
  • Proper storage of seeds is essential to get satisfactory germination. This factor assumes particular significance in the eastern region due to humid climatic conditions. Adequate-quality storage infrastructure according to agro-climate conditions and specific seeds to be stored, needs to be created to save the seeds from damage.
  • Huge demand supply gap exists in forage seed. The seed companies are not coming forward for production of forage seeds. This is a major cause of concern for development of dairy sector in the country. The seed companies and State Agricultural Universities have to take-up forage seed production on a priority basis. In parallel, the dairy cooperatives should be encouraged to grow forage seeds.
  • Regulatory measures for quality seed production have to be tightened so as to discourage the sales of spurious seeds to farmers. The seed companies should be made responsible for poor performance of seed supplied by them. The details of seed traits should be displayed on seed packages and agency website.

Agri Input: Fertilizers

Fertilizer use has seen rapid expansion and intensification in India and in other parts of the world with the spread of the Green Revolution technology. With the scope for raising production through the expansion of cultivable land exhausted, fertilizer will continue to play a key role in meeting the future requirement of food, feed and fibre. Therefor it is important that fertiliser is used judiciously and optimally.

  • Fertilizers supply three critical macro elements: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potash (K). A common belief is that the ideal balance among N, P and K in India is 4: 2: 1. But these proportions represent average across different soil types, crop and water availability.
  • Moreover, independently of the proportions, the optimal level of fertilizer use also varies according to soil type, level of yield, crop and water availability.
  • Soil type matters because the naturally available content of the nutrients varies across soil types. Similarly, there being complementarity between water and nutrient absorption capacity, optimal levels of fertilizer use are higher in irrigated than rain-fed regions.
  • Finally, cereals such as rice, wheat, maize and jowar, cotton and sugarcane require larger doses of nitrogen per ton of output than pulses and fruits and vegetables.

Issues related to fertilizers in India:

  • Beginning with the launch of the Green Revolution, fertilizer use in India has steadily grown but it has been disproportionately tilted in favour of urea, the source of nitrogen.
  • Already in the early 1970s, the average proportions across N, P and K were 6:1.9:1, they shifted in favour of nitrogen over time reaching 10:2.9:1 in 1996.
  • The average consumption of fertilizers in India rose from 105.5 kg per ha in 2005-06 to 128.34 kg per ha in 2012-13. But the level remains well below what is observed in the neighbouring Pakistan (205 kg per ha) and China (396 kg per ha).
  • National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy (NIAP) study reports that one third of the major states apply excess N and two thirds apply it at below optimum level.
  • Due to low use of organic fertilisers and increase in productivity and crop intensity micro nutrient deficiency in the soils is on increase. Thus, beside N, P and K use of micro nutrients also needs to be increased.
  • Finally, a major problem with the current regime arises from canalization of urea imports. Because imports are seen as the source of filling the gap between demand and domestic supply, often there are bureaucratic delays in the issuance of licenses and imports being reaching farmers resulting in shortages some time.

Issues related to Urea Subsidy:

  • Availability: Since sale of urea is controlled, the government needs to estimate demand in each of the regions. Inaccurate estimation of demand of urea had led to large shortages in the market. Delays in imports also have led to unavailability of fertilizer around planting seasons when the need is most critical.
  • Over usage/misuse of urea due to pricing difference: Growing price differential between urea and other fertilizers led farmers to substitute away from DAP and MOP to urea. Data from the Department of Agriculture shows that since 2010, the ratio of consumption has worsened to 8:3:1 leading to diminishing crop yields and increased soil toxicity.
  • Inefficient Fertiliser Manufacturers: The subsidy a firm receives is based on its cost of production: the greater the cost, the larger the subsidy. As a consequence, inefficient firms with high production costs survive and the incentive to lower costs is blunted.
  • Over regulation: The urea sector is highly regulated which: creates a black market that burdens small farmers disproportionately; incentivizes production inefficiency; and leads to over-use, depleting soil quality and damaging human health. Almost 36% of the subsidy is lost through leakage to industry or smuggled across borders.
  • Black market prices are, on average, about 61 per cent higher than stipulated prices, indicating that black marketing imposes significant pecuniary costs on farmers—in addition to creating uncertainty of supply.
  • Fiscal burden: The government budgeted almost Rs. 730 billion for fertilizer subsidies in 2015, making it the largest subsidy in absolute terms after food. Urea, the most commonly used fertilizer, makes up almost 70% of the fertilizer subsidy allocation.

Way forward

  • De-canalising urea imports: It would increase the number of importers and allow greater freedom in import decision–would allow fertiliser supply to respond flexibly and quickly to changes in demand. (De-canalisation means the end of public sector channelized imports and importers can import goods on their own.)
  • Gas Price Pooling: Since different urea plants get gas (main feedstock for most of the plants) at different prices, their cost of production differs. o It is important that all urea plants get gas at a uniform price. The GoI has recently moved in that direction by pooling gas prices.
  • Bringing Urea under NBS scheme: Bringing urea under the Nutrient Based Subsidy program currently in place for DAP and MOP would allow domestic producers to continue receiving fixed subsidies based on the nutritional content of their fertiliser, while deregulating the market would allow domestic producers to charge market prices.
  • Digitisation of land records to ensure timely reach of subsidy to farmers: The process of digitisation of land records was launched in August 2008 but has not gathered momentum.
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