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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 25 November 2023

  1. Need for Climate-smart Agriculture in India
  2. Challenging the Electoral Bond Scheme


Context:

The two primary challenges confronting humanity in the 21st century are climate change and food insecurity. Ongoing repercussions of climate change, including phenomena like heat waves, flash floods, droughts, and cyclones, are adversely affecting both lives and livelihoods. Environmental effects on farming output compound the difficulties, making traditional farming practices less effective. Farmers are compelled to reassess their methods as climate change heightens risks.

Relevance:

GS3-

  • Food Security
  • Environment and Ecology

Mains Question:

Climate­-smart agriculture has the potential to assure food security, empower farmers, and protect our delicate ecosystems. Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words)

The Dual Challenge:

  • Southern continents are reportedly facing severe droughts due to climate change, leading to a negative impact on agricultural production and the well-being of farmers.
  • The increasing demand for food, driven by both population growth and dietary shifts, poses additional challenges. To mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, farmers are adopting various adaptation measures.
  • Addressing the dual challenges of adaptation and mitigation necessitates a comprehensive strategy, especially considering the urgent need for a 60% increase in agricultural production by 2050 to meet growing food demands.

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) as an Alternative:

About Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA):

  • The Food and Agriculture Organization articulated in 2019 that CSA is an approach aimed at transforming food and agriculture systems to support sustainable development and ensure food security in the face of climate change.
  • The three pillars of CSA encompass sustaining increases in agricultural productivity and incomes, adapting and building resilience to climate change, and, where possible, reducing or removing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Climate-smart practices, such as water-smart, weather-smart, energy-smart, and carbon-smart approaches, enhance productivity, address land degradation, and promote soil health.
  • To effectively combat climate change, sustainably enhance agricultural output and income, a fundamental overhaul of the agricultural industry is imperative.
  • Aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end hunger and improve environmental management, CSA is rooted in achieving these objectives through sustainable agriculture and rural development.
  • The National Action Plan on Climate Change underscores the significance of climate-resilient agriculture in India’s adaptation efforts.

Community-Based Efforts and Climate Smart Agriculture:

  • Community-supported initiatives are increasingly recognized globally for their efficacy in minimizing and adapting to the impacts of climate change on agriculture.
  • There has been a surge in community-supported agriculture endeavors worldwide, aiming to establish resilient and environmentally friendly agricultural systems.
  • Tangible examples of these efforts include advancements in agroforestry, sustainable water management, and precision agriculture, demonstrating that CSA principles are applicable across borders.

Benefits of Climate Smart Agriculture:

Boosting Agricultural Output:

  • CSA encourages crop diversification, enhances water efficiency, and incorporates drought-resistant crop varieties, mitigating the disruptive effects of climate change.
  • The significance of CSA lies in its capacity to boost agricultural output while preserving ecological stability—a crucial aspect for long-term food security and sustainable resource utilization in a warming world.
  • By reducing exposure to climate-related risks and shocks, CSA enhances resilience against prolonged stressors like shorter seasons and unpredictable weather patterns.
  • Studies on various climate-smart techniques employed in India demonstrate their positive impact on agricultural production, making agriculture sustainable, reliable, and reducing GHG emissions.
  • For instance, a study in the northwest Indo-Gangetic Plain focused on wheat production reveals that site-specific no-tillage is advantageous for fertilizer management, enhancing yield, nutrient usage efficiency, and profitability while lowering GHG emissions.

Benefits for Farmers:

  • Beyond these benefits, a substantial outcome of CSA implementation is the increased economic autonomy of farmers.
  • CSA brings about a transformative shift in the economic and social structure of farming communities by disseminating information about and facilitating access to climate-resilient practices.
  • As the climate evolves, adopting climate-smart techniques, especially for already disadvantaged farmers, becomes highly advantageous. The growing popularity of CSA signifies a promising future for biodiversity conservation.

Environmentally Sustainable:

  • The ecosystem-based approach and diverse crop varieties promoted by CSA enable cropland and wild areas to coexist, safeguarding native plant species, maintaining stable pollinator populations, and alleviating the effects of habitat degradation.
  • Conversely, the agricultural sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 17% of total emissions in 2018. Hence, the implementation of CSA is crucial for reducing GHG emissions and preserving biodiversity.

Can help India Achieve National and International Targets:

  • The success of the CSA is directly linked to the Paris Agreement’s objective of curbing global warming through the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
  • Examples like agroforestry and carbon sequestration represent CSA measures that could aid India in meeting its international commitments and contributing to the global effort against climate change.

Government Initiatives:

Government initiatives such as the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change, National Innovation on Climate Resilient Agriculture, Soil Health Mission, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, Biotech-KISAN, and Climate Smart Village are examples in India that focus on CSA. Public and private sector entities, including farmer-producer organizations and NGOs, are also actively working towards the adoption of CSA.

Conclusion:

CSA has the potential to ensure food security, empower farmers, and safeguard delicate ecosystems by integrating innovation, resilience, and sustainability. In the face of a changing climate, the path of CSA emerges as a source of inspiration and transformation for a world striving to ensure a sustainable future.



Context:

Political parties in India have traditionally resisted public scrutiny of their fund sources and utilization due to the substantial amounts required to finance their operations, which cannot be solely sourced from party members and altruistic donors. Instead, these funds typically come from Big Business with expectations of reciprocity.

Relevance:

GS2- Important Aspects of Governance, Transparency and Accountability, Elections

Mains Question:

Discussing the evolution of political funding in India, analyse how legislative measures have acted as a barrier to the country’s citizen’s Right to Information. (15 marks, 250 words).

Political Funding and the Right to Information:

  • Civil society has long advocated for empowering voters by providing better access to information about electoral candidates and enhancing transparency in political funding.
  • Public interest litigation (PIL) has been effectively utilized in this campaign, emphasizing the citizen’s democratic right to information, an integral aspect of the fundamental right to speech and expression under the Constitution.
  • Despite these efforts, the political establishment has attempted to undermine these achievements through legislative manoeuvres and intricate schemes aimed at concealing the identities of corporate donors.

Attempts to make the System of Funding Opaque:

  • The United Progressive Alliance government introduced the Electoral Trusts Scheme in 2013, and the succeeding National Democratic Alliance government devised the more comprehensive Electoral Bond Scheme (EBS).
  • To pave the way for the EBS’s introduction in January 2018, safeguards limiting the influence of foreign money and big business in India’s democratic system were systematically dismantled.
  • The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) was retroactively amended in 2016 to allow Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies to donate to political parties, preventing disqualification for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) for violating the ban on foreign contributions.
  • An overhaul of the regulatory framework, including amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RPA), the Companies Act, the Income Tax Act, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Act in 2017, further facilitated the introduction of the EBS.
  • Despite objections from the RBI, the Election Commission of India (ECI), and opposition parties, incorporating amendments into the Finance Bill expedited their passage without full legislative consideration.

Questions Raised in this Regard:

  • Before the EBS’s implementation, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Common Cause filed a PIL challenging the constitutionality of the amendments to the legal framework of corporate donations introduced by the Finance Act of 2017.
  • The petition argued that these amendments violated the citizen’s fundamental ‘Right to know’ under Article 19(1)(a), without being justified by permissible restrictions under Article 19(2). The legality of the FCRA amendment through the Finance Act of 2016 was also contested.
  • The essence of the petition contended that the contested amendments posed a threat to the country’s autonomy, undermined transparency, encouraged corrupt practices by removing caps on corporate donations, and allowed contributions from loss-making and shell companies.

Effects of the above Amendments:

  • Consequently, the connection between politics and big business became more obscure. The instrument was seen as enabling special interest groups, corporate lobbyists, and foreign entities to exert control over the electoral process and influence the country’s governance to the detriment of the public.
  • The amendments, by relieving political parties of the obligation to disclose donor particulars, eroded the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) constitutional role and deprived citizens of crucial information regarding electoral funding.
  • Additionally, using a money bill to amend relevant laws was seen as subverting the legislative scheme outlined in the Constitution.

Present Status of Electoral Funding:

  • Over time, electoral bonds have become the preferred method of political donation, with bonds totaling ₹13,791 crore sold in 27 tranches until July 2023.
  • Research by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) revealed that electoral bonds accounted for 55.9% of the ₹9,188 crore in donations received by 31 political parties.
  • While political parties may not solely depend on these inflows to meet their substantial funding needs, the receipts from electoral bonds enable them to engage with the formal economy, covering costs such as infrastructure expansion, equipment, and media publicity.
  • This advantage enhances their ability to influence voter behavior and electoral outcomes over rivals.
  • After a six-year wait, the challenge to the constitutionality of electoral bonds is nearing resolution. Meanwhile, several elections have taken place, with political entities in power benefiting from increased corporate contributions due to the Electoral Bond Scheme (EBS).

Government’s argument:

  • Notably, the government has emphasized the need to protect donor anonymity to shield them from retaliation by political rivals.
  • The Solicitor General argued that anonymity is essential to the right to privacy, although this fundamental right is not applicable to artificial legal entities.
  • The majority of electoral bond sales, over 94%, are in one-crore rupee denominations, beyond the capacity of individual donors.
  • Moreover, details of individuals contributing ₹20,000 and above are disclosed in party accounts, raising questions about the need for greater protection for corporate donors.

Conclusion:

The pending public interest litigation (PIL) has experienced periods of inactivity interspersed with brief periods of activity. The Constitution Bench has expedited the hearing, and given the strength of the case against the scheme and the Supreme Court’s track record in expanding the right to freedom of speech and expression, there is optimism that the next round of elections will be contested on a relatively level playing field.


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