Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 07 January 2023
- Freedom in Authority: On the Right to Free Expression
- Farm Subsidies Must Be Recast
Freedom in Authority: On the Right to Free Expression
In a recent decision, the Supreme Court demonstrated sound restraint in examining the issue of misuse of free speech, particularly by political functionaries holding public office. The Supreme Court has ruled that additional restrictions on the fundamental right of high public officials to free speech and expression cannot be imposed because exhaustive grounds exist under the Constitution to limit that right.
GS Paper-2: Parliament and State legislatures—structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that empowers marginalised people. Discuss. (150 words)
What exactly was the case about?
- The case, Kaushal Kishor v the State of Uttar Pradesh, concerns the 2016 Bulandshahar rape incident, which was described as a “political conspiracy and nothing else” by then-Uttar Pradesh Minister and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan.
- The case involved whether a minister can claim the right to ‘freedom of speech and expression’ to speak contrary to the Central government’s statute and policy and “whether restrictions can be imposed on a public functionary’s right to freedom of speech and expression”.
The article 19 of constitution
- Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution guarantees all citizens the six rights. These are the rights to free speech and expression.
- The right to assemble in peace and without arms.
- The right to establish associations, unions, or co-operative societies.
- The freedom to move freely throughout India’s territory.
- Right to reside and settle in any part of India’s territory. o Right to practise any profession or carry on any occupation, trade, or business.
- Article 19(2) refers to the State’s powers to make laws imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and expression in the interests of the country’s sovereignty and integrity, public order, decency, morality, and so on.
Arguments Made by the Supreme Court in Support of Ministers’ Free Speech?
- Ministers, like all citizens, are guaranteed the right to free expression under Article 19(1) (a), subject to the reasonable restrictions outlined in Article 19(2), which are exhaustive in themselves.
- What governments lack is the political will and resolve to act on instances of hate speech, particularly when they involve one of their own, and there are no legal shortcuts to compensate.
Inconsistency between free speech of public officials and citizens’ rights
- On the question of whether a minister’s statement inconsistent with a citizen’s rights constitutes a violation and is actionable, the Court argued that no one can be taxed or penalised for holding an opinion that is not in accordance with constitutional values. • However, if any act of omission or commission is done by officers as a result of such a statement, resulting in harm or loss to a person/citizen, the same may be actionable as
- Thus, the restrictions on free speech when expressing opinions on sensitive issues apply equally to MPs, MLAs, and other public officials as they do to all other citizens. In this context, it is up to voters to compel political parties to implement a code of conduct.
Decision on Collective Responsibility for Individual Ministers’ Hateful Remarks
- The majority ruling correctly distinguished the government’s vicarious liability for ill-judged or hateful remarks made by its individual ministers.
- The court ruled that it is not possible to extend the concept of collective responsibility to “any and every statement orally made by a Minister outside the House of the People/Legislative Assembly”.
- The issue of hate speech by ministers and others affiliated with the ruling party is real, but it is primarily political. The solution is not for the court to draw a new line, or even for Parliament to pass a new law, as proposed by the minority judgement.
- The Constitution contains sufficient provisions to deal with speech that incites enmity and violence or restricts the freedoms of others.
Article 19 Ambition Expansion
- Noting that the State is obligated to affirmatively protect a person’s rights under Article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) even when a non-State actor is involved, the Supreme Court ruled that a fundamental right under Articles 19 and 21 can be enforced against persons other than the State or its instrumentalities.
- This interpretation may also impose an obligation on the state to ensure that private entities follow Constitutional norms.
- This largely resolves the question of whether these rights are only’vertical,’ that is, only enforceable against the state, or also ‘horizontal,’ that is, enforceable by one person against another.
Dissenting Opinions on the Decision
- The potential restraints on unwarranted and disparaging speech by public functionaries will apply equally to public functionaries, celebrities/influencers, and all citizens of India, especially since technology is being used as a medium of communication with a wide spectrum of impact across the globe.
- While there is little to argue against the verdict upholding the principle of equality, it does leave room for debate on the issue of free expression having the potential to cause harm or incite discrimination, hostility, and violence. Because no law condones such behaviour.
- In these days of social media, especially in a country as diverse as India, there are an increasing number of instances that raise the question of what constitutes free speech and what is a derogatory and vitriolic remark or work of art.
- As a result, the blurred line between the two leads to the misapplication of legal provisions, biassed behaviour, and the shielding of wrongdoers in positions of power.
- Equality, liberty, and fraternity are the foundational values embedded in our Constitution’s Preamble, and hate speech attacks each of these foundational values by identifying a society as unequal.
- Freedom of speech and expression is an essential right for citizens to be well informed and educated about governance.
- Thus, there should be a proper legal framework to define acts and omissions that amount to ‘constitutional tort’.
- The court’s overall conclusion that fundamental rights are enforceable even against private actors is to be applauded.
Farm Subsidies Must Be Recast
- India is spending a lot of money to incentivize and subsidise farmers to adopt new technology and increase their income.
- Market distorting subsidies play a larger role in this context than non-market distorting subsidies. This is a major issue that India is currently dealing with.
GS Paper-3: Issues related to Direct and Indirect Farm Subsidies and Minimum Support Prices.
What are the problems with the government’s market-distorting support for farmers? Also, propose solutions to these problems. (250 Words)
In terms of farmer registrations, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana is the world’s largest crop insurance scheme.
Market distorting vs. non-market distorting Support
- Government assistance to the agricultural sector can be classified as follows:
- Market Distorting Assistance
- Non-Market Distorting Assistance
- Market distortion support refers to any interference that has a significant impact on the prices of inputs and outputs.
- For example, fertiliser subsidies and paddy procurement.
- Non-market distortion support refers to any intervention aimed at increasing farmers’ productive capacity while having no negative impact on input and output prices.
- Income support initiatives, for example, are similar to direct money transfer schemes such as PM-KISAN, which transfers 6,000 to each farmer-household, and crop insurance premium subsidies under PMFBY (Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana), which covers farmers’ production risks.
- Non-market distorting public investments include irrigation and market infrastructure development, as well as agricultural research and development.
Fasal Bima Yojana
- This scheme was introduced in February 2016.
- All farmers, including sharecroppers and tenant farmers, who grow “notified crops” in “notified areas” are eligible for coverage under the scheme.
- Farmers pay a premium of 2% of the sum insured for all food grains and oilseeds crops in Kharif, 1.5% for all food grains and oilseeds crops in Rabi, and 5% for all horticultural crops under the provisions of PMFBY.
- The difference between the actuarial premium rate and the rate of insurance premium payable by farmers, known as the rate of normal premium subsidy, was to be shared equally between the Centre and the states in the initial scheme.
- The Centre decided in February 2020 to limit its premium subsidy to 30% for unirrigated areas and 25% for irrigated areas.
- The scheme was initially mandatory for loanee farmers; however, in February 2020, the Centre revised it to make it optional for all farmers.
- Immediate notification (within 72 hours) to the insurance company by the insured farmer via the “Crop Insurance App” or any other available reporting channel.
- In India, the trend is reversing.
- All governments should try to gradually shift to non-market-distorting support over time, as it helps farmers’ incomes without affecting market prices.
- In India, however, the general trend is the opposite.
- Year after year, the budget for market-distorting fertiliser subsidies and free power for agriculture grows, while investment support for agricultural R&D and market infrastructure declines.
- Subsidies that distort the market are becoming more expensive.
- There has been a significant increase in market distorting support.
- For example, fertiliser subsidies are expected to exceed 2.76 lakh crore this year, food subsidies are expected to exceed 2.37 lakh crore, and massive subsidies are provided to provide free power for pumping water into farmland.
- Non-market distorting schemes such as PM-KISAN (70,000 crore), PMFBY (15,500 crore), and agricultural research and development budget (8,513 crore) receive far less support.
- Fertilizer Overuse
- This disproportionately higher share of market-distorting subsidies is causing fertiliser overuse and a greater emphasis on water-intensive crops like paddy and wheat rather than more diverse and nutritive crops like pulses and oilseeds.
- Monoculture of a Few Crops
- Procurement at MSP is limited to paddy and wheat, with little attention paid to other crops such as pulses, oilseeds, and millets, resulting in mono-cropping of paddy and wheat with less land allocated to other crops.
- This results in a surplus of a few crops, such as paddy, wheat, and sugarcane, while pulses and oilseeds are in short supply.
- Excessive use of urea
- Currently, the government provides a subsidy of $2,183 for each 45-kg bag of urea in order to keep the retail price at $267; the government imports urea from international markets at a cost of $2,450 per bag.
- This results in an excess of urea and an underutilization of various micronutrients.
- Less Money for Government Investments
- In the food and agriculture sector, a large portion of the budget is devoted to handing out doles (subsidies) rather than investing.
- Food subsidies, fertiliser subsidies, and PM KISAN are the three big-ticket items that dominate and take almost Rs 5 lakh crore out of the budget.
As a result, it is critical to reduce budget allocations for market-distorting fertiliser and power subsidies while increasing allocations to non-market distorting subsidies/support such as direct money transfers to farmers/income support, which will help farmers increase their income, purchase farm inputs based on requirements, and increase their productive capacity.