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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 26 November 2022


Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 26 November 2022


Contents

  1. The millets movement has yet to gain traction
  2. OTT and the draft telecom Bill

The Millets Movement Has Yet To Gain Traction


Context

The Ministries of Agriculture and External Affairs recently organised a pre-launch celebration of the International Year of Millets in New Delhi.

Relevance

GS Paper 1: Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

Mains Question

Millets production has numerous health, agricultural, and nutritional advantages. Discuss. (150 Words)


Millets

  • The term “millets” refers to small-grained cereals such as sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), foxtail millet (kangni/ Italian millet), and little millet (kutki).
  • They require far less water than rice and wheat and are primarily grown in rainy regions.
  • Millets were among the first crops to be domesticated; there is evidence of consumption of millets by the Indus valley people (3,000 BC), and several varieties that are now grown worldwide were first cultivated in India.
  • Indigenous varieties of the crop can be found in West Africa, China, and Japan.

Millets from all over the world

  • Sorghum (jowar) is the most important millet crop worldwide, with major producers including the United States, China, Australia, India, Argentina, Nigeria, and Sudan.
  • Bajra is another important millet crop, with major producers including India and some African countries.

Significance

  • Food safety
    • Millets are a climate-friendly crop that can be grown even in drought-stricken areas.
    • COVID was a time when the world was reminded of what a pandemic could do to food security. As a result, experts are emphasising the significance of millets.
  • High nutritional value
  • Millets are considered to be nutritional powerhouses. In April 2018, the Agriculture Ministry designated certain millets as Nutri Cereals for production, consumption, and trade. These millets include: jowar, bajra, ragi/ mandua, the minor millets kangani/ kakun, cheena, kodo, sawa/ sanwa/ jhangora, and kutki.
  • buckwheat (kuttu) and amaranth, two pseudo millets (chaulai).
    • When compared to fine cereals, millets are more nutritious. Millets have a protein content of 7-12%, a fat content of 2-5%, a carbohydrate content of 65-75%, and a dietary fibre content of 15-20%.
  • Political importance
    • Millet is grown primarily in low-income and developing countries in Asia and Africa, and it is included in the diets of approximately 60 million people worldwide.
    • By proposing the resolution designating 2023 as the International Year of Millets, India positioned itself as the group’s leader.
    • This is similar to India’s initiative on the International Solar Alliance, which has 121 members.
  • Health Advantages
  • Millets help with anaemia, liver problems, and asthma.
    • Their high dietary fibre content helps to satisfy hunger while also lowering the risk of obesity and Type II diabetes.

Millets Production in India

  • According to Agriculture Ministry data, millets are primarily a kharif crop in India.
  • In 2018-19, three millet crops accounted for roughly 7% of the country’s gross cropped area: bajra (3.67%), jowar (2.13%), and ragi (0.48%).
  • Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, and Madhya Pradesh are the primary growing states for jowar.
    • During 2020-21, Maharashtra had the most jowar area and production.
  • Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka are the primary growing states for bajra.
    • During 2020-21, Rajasthan had the most area and production of Bajra.

Millets are classified as PDS.

  • The National Food Security Act (NFSA) of 2013 entitles eligible households to rice, wheat, and coarse grain at Rs 3, Rs 2, and Rs 1 per kg, respectively.
  • While millets are not mentioned in the Act, coarse grains are included in the definition of “foodgrains” under Section 2(5) of the NFSA.
  • However, the amount of coarse grains procured for the Central Pool and distributed under the NFSA has been negligible.

The government’s actions

  • The push to distribute coarse grains under the PDS has stalled.
  • The Centre has accepted the recommendation of a committee it formed to include millets in the PDS to improve nutritional support.
  • The government has set a target of 13.72 LMT coarse grains procured during the Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) 2022-23, which is more than double the 6.30 LMT procured during the KMS 2021-22.

Year of Millets

  • In March 2021, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 2023 to be the International Year of Millets.
  • India proposed the proposal, which was supported by 72 countries.
  • Millets’ importance in food security and nutrition will be highlighted during the International Year of Millets.

OTT And The Draft Telecom Bill


Context

  • The article discusses the provisions of the draught Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, which was recently released for public comment, as well as the risks associated with including Over The Top or OTT (Communication Services) within its scope.
  • The draught bill aims to replace India’s current legal framework for telecommunications, which includes the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act of 1950.

Relevance

GS Paper – 3: Industrial Growth, IT & Computers

GS Paper – 2: Government Policies & Interventions

Mains Question

The aim of Information Technology Agreements (ITAs) is to lower all taxes and tariffs on information technology products by signatories to zero. What impact would such agreements have on India’s interests? (2014)


A new telecommunications law is required.

  • Outdated regulatory framework: The current regulatory framework for the telecommunications industry is based on the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885.
    • Since the invention of the “telegraph,” the nature of communication, its use, and technologies have changed dramatically. In 2013, the world also stopped using the term “telegraph.”
  • India’s vast digital ecosystem requires regulation: India has the world’s second-largest telecommunications ecosystem, with 117 crore subscribers. The telecommunications industry employs over 4 million people and accounts for approximately 8% of the country’s GDP.
  • No consolidated framework: The purpose of this new bill is to consolidate and amend the laws governing the provision, development, expansion, and operation of telecommunication services, telecommunication networks and infrastructure, and spectrum assignment.

Highlights of the draught Indian Telecommunications Bill 2022

  • Spectrum allocation: For the first time, the draught establishes a clear statutory framework and regulations for assigning spectrum, as well as stating that spectrum should be distributed primarily through auction.
    • To ensure efficient spectrum use, the Centre may ‘harmonise’ any frequency range assigned through an auction or administrative process.
    • The Bill allows for spectrum sharing, trading, leasing, surrender of assigned spectrum, and a process for returning unutilized spectrum.
    • The Bill proposes administrative assignment for specific functions related to government and public interest, such as defence, transportation, and research.
  • Spectrum termination: According to the bill, the government will also have the authority to terminate spectrum allocations in part or entirely if it determines that assigned spectrum has remained unutilized for insufficient reasons for an extended period of time.
    • Additionally, the government will reclaim spectrum allocated to telecom companies that are insolvent and unable to provide services, pay dues, or comply with licence conditions.
  • Broadening the definition of “telecommunication services”: The bill proposes to include over-the-top (OTT) communication services such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Internet-based and satellite-based communication services in its scope.
    • As a result, OTT communication services must obtain a licence and be subject to the same conditions that govern telecom players in India, such as quality of service and security rules, revenue sharing with the government, and so on.
  • Simplified framework for company restructuring: The Bill also seeks to simplify the framework for telecom company mergers, demergers, acquisitions, or other forms of restructuring by requiring only notification to the licencing authority.
  • Telecommunication Development Fund: The Rs 60,000 crore Universal Service Obligation Fund, which has primarily aided rural connectivity, will be expanded into the Telecommunication Development Fund (TDF) by including additional objectives such as underserved urban areas, R&D, skill development, and so on.
  • User safety and security: The draught bill aims to create a legal framework to prevent unauthenticated sources from harassing users. It also states that prior user consent is required before providing any promotional services or advertisements.
  • Prevent cyber fraud: In order to prevent cyber fraud, the Bill requires that the identity of the person sending a message via telecom services be made available to the user receiving it.
  • Limits the role of TRAI: The draught bill eliminates the government’s obligation to consult with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on licencing issues. As a result, TRAI’s watchdog function is reduced to that of a recommending body.
  • Enforcing ‘right of way’ (RoW) at the state level: To facilitate the rollout of 5G services, the draught bill proposes making RoW enforceable at the state and municipal-corporation levels.
    • The RoW is a critical element in the telecom space that provides a guideline for telecom companies to lay up infrastructure elements such as towers and optical fibre cables on a specific route.
    • Unless there is a substantive reason for refusal, the public entity that owns the land must grant ‘right of way’ permission as soon as possible.
  • Appellate authority: The bill establishes the right to appeal to the appellate authority. Furthermore, the central government has the authority to establish an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, such as mediation or arbitration.

Concerns about the draught bill

  • Vague licencing requirements: The ability to issue licence standards can dilute technical protections available to users, leading to smaller online service providers, such as Telegram or Signal, refusing to offer services in India.
  • As a result, this will be a double blow to both privacy rights and technological innovation.
  • Ignores privacy protection: The bill allows the central government to direct any service provider, including subscribers, to provide any information for a “apprehended,” rather than an actual, civil or criminal proceeding.
    • This disregards the KS Puttaswamy (2017) judgement, which required surveillance reform, including the rejection of mass surveillance systems and the requirement of judicial oversight.
  • Maintain colonial spirit: The drafters have almost word for word replicated the colonial text while detailing the powers for interception and suspension of services under Clause 24. (2).
    • Clause 24(2) of the draught bill extends the surveillance powers granted by the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 to “telecommunication services or networks,” threatening end-to-end encryption. The Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 previously authorised interception of messages transmitted only via telegraphs.
  • Against the federal framework: Because land is a state subject, the Centre cannot take coercive action against states or municipal corporations to impose ‘right of way’ rules.
  • Dilutes TRAI: The Bill may have a negative impact on TRAI’s consultative role by removing the government’s obligation to consult TRAI on licencing issues.
  • Overlooked net neutrality provisions: Net neutrality, which was one of the few examples of widespread public participation in telecom policy, is not mentioned in the draught bill.

Arguments for OTT (Communication Services) inclusion in draught Bill

  • Same service, same rules: The primary rationale for including OTT in the draught telecom Bill is the principle of “same service, same rules,” which states that communication services provided by telcos or OTTs should be treated similarly.
  • Telecom companies’ pressure: According to telecom service providers, operators had to incur high costs for licences and spectrum, whereas OTT players used their infrastructure to provide free services and did not pay any regulatory levies.
    • As a result, telcos are seeking a level playing field with OTT service providers in order to preserve the arbitrage that exists between voice and data tariffs.
  • Lowers exchequer loss: OTT communication service providers enjoy significant direct/indirect benefits and revenues by utilising TSP networks, but are not subject to such taxes and levies, resulting in a loss to the government exchequer.

Arguments against OTT (Communication Services) inclusion in draught telecom bill

  • Existing legislation: The existing IT Act already regulates OTT communication services in terms of encryption, data storage, interception, and so on.
  • Excessive state control: The proposed Telecom Bill is based on the principle that providing telecom services is solely the government’s responsibility, except where private enterprises are permitted, licenced, or authorised.
    • A similar principle applies to content, which is regulated by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Prasar Bharti, and the Censor Board.
  • Suffocate the digital economy: The freedom granted to technology/applications and content enables and encourages creativity, innovation, and the development of new products, among other things.
    • Licensing them could suffocate the entire socioeconomic ecosystem, kill innovation, and slow GDP growth.
  • Impact venture capital funding: Inclusion in the bill’s ambit would severely discourage venture capital funding to OTTs.
  • Thin demarcation line: It is difficult to distinguish an OTT communication service from any other OTT platform because every OTT platform, such as Flipkart, Ola, and MakeMyTrip, includes a messaging component.
  • Diverse domains: The same service implies that a user should be able to switch between telecom and OTT services. However, no OTT provider can reach a customer without the intermediation and services of a telecom service provider; however, the absence of OTT does not preclude a telco from providing its services.
    • As a result, OTT communication services fall under the domain of applications such as group and video communication, encryption, and so on, whereas telcos fall under the domain of carriage, so donors fall under the “same service” category.
  • Will harm Indian service providers: Because the Telecom Bill is limited to domain carriage, i.e. geographical boundaries, it will only affect Indian-based OTT players. Those operating from abroad, on the other hand, would be unaffected, giving foreign competitors an advantage.

Far ahead

Because no other country has equated OTT communication services with basic telecommunications services, the government should consider including whatever controls are deemed necessary in the soon-to-be-unveiled Digital India Act instead of including the OTT (Communication Services) in the draught Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022.


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