As the Indian economy continues to struggle against the crippling financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first full-time Finance Minister announced the Union Budget 2021. For the first time, the voluminous Union Budget documents were not printed and the budget was announced in a paperless format. Sitharaman presented the Union Budget through a tab, instead of the traditional “bahi khata”.
The Finance Minister said the budget proposals for 2021-22 rest on 6 pillars of Atmanirbhar Bharat. These include health and wellbeing, physical and financial capital, infrastructure, aspirational India, reinvigorating human capital, innovation, and minimum government and maximum governance. The budget focused on bringing back growth to the Indian economy as it continues to reel from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, while also laying huge emphasis on privatisation measures. Sitharaman had promised prior to the announcement of the budget, that the budget for the year would be like never before. Given the financial impact of the Coronavirus crisis on all industries, the contraction of spending in both urban and rural areas, and job losses, all eyes and expectations were on the 2021 budget to revive the economy. So did Sitharaman’s third budget live up to expectations? Let us have a look at the highlights of the budget, measures taken to combat the financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and which groups were disappointed.
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WILL THE NATIONAL FARMERS’ DATABASE REALLY DOUBLE FARMERS’ INCOMES?
Earlier in September, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar announced the creation of a National Farmers’ Database containing the records of over 5.5 crore farmers. Tomar also announced that the number of farmers included in the database would increase to 8 crores by December 2021 by linking it with state-wise land record databases. This initiative is part of Agristack, a collection of technologies and digital databases on India’s farmers and the agricultural sector. These are being built by the central government to help farmers tackle issues such as poor access to credit and wastage in the agricultural supply chain, which continue to plague farmers across the country. The government has also created the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) which will lay down a framework for Agristack.
The Department of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare (DoAFW) claims that the digitized system will help offer proactive and personalised services to farmers, thereby increasing their income and improving the efficiency of the agricultural sector. However, experts have raised concerns about the digital divide between farmers, lack of push for crop diversification and representation of farmers in the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) task force, which could defeat the purpose of having such a database.
WHAT WILL BE THE USE OF A NATIONAL FARMERS’ DATABASE?
India has 14 crore operational farmland holdings and the maintenance of proper land records, especially in rural areas, has been a major challenge for the government in introducing and implementing welfare policies for farmers. The availability of a database consolidating these records would be an important stepping stone in the formulation of evidence-based policies for the agricultural sector. Under the programme, each farmer of the country will get what is being called an FID, or a Farmers’ ID, linked to land records to uniquely identify them. An important point to note is that the database would be linked to a digital land record management system, and so would only include farmers who are legal owners of agricultural land. Landless farmers will not be included in the database.
As part of the database, farmers would have access to personalised services, such as DBT, social and plant health advisories, and weather advisories. It would also aim to facilitate seamless credit and insurance, seeds, fertilizers, and pesticide-related information. The national database has been created by taking data from existing national schemes such as PM KISAN, soil health cards, and the insurance scheme PM Fasal Bima Yojna. The creation of the National Farmers’ Database will serve as the core of Agristack and IDEA, making data easily available and opening up the possibility of implementing digital technologies like AI/Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT) in the agricultural domain. The database would potentially contribute to ensuring input costs are reduced, ease of farming is ensured, quality is improved, and that farmers are able to get better prices for their farm produce, thus opening the sector up to productivity improvements.
CONCERNS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DATABASE AND IDEA
One of the glaring concerns of the database is the digital divide facing farmers in India. There is a huge digital divide between rural and urban areas in the country. According to the National Sample Survey conducted between 2017-2018, only 14.9% of rural households had access to the Internet against 42% of households in urban areas. The majority of farmers in the country live in rural areas and do not have access to smartphones, which means that they will not be able to enjoy the personalised purported benefits of the national database. Another concern of the database is that since it only includes farmers who are legally registered as landowners, it would leave out tenant farmers, landless labourers, and sharecroppers, who form a significant proportion of small and marginal farmers in the country. It would also exclude fisherfolk, livestock and dairy farmers without land, and those who collect forest produce. Various farmer groups have also pointed out that in most agricultural families, the land titles are typically in the name of the male head of the household. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (2017-18) in India states that in rural areas, 73.2% of the female workers are engaged in agriculture, but only 12.8% of women own landholdings, according to the Centre for Land Governance index.
Furthermore, farmers and farm organisations have raised objections to the IDEA task force, as there is a lack of farmer representation in the existing task force which was supposed to seek feedback from parties concerned. The farmers believe this process is similar to the way the three farm laws were introduced last year, with farmers not being consulted. A group of 91 farm unions and farmer organisations, including digital rights activists, have sent a feedback letter to the central government alleging that the current model is only focused on using pre-existing databases and would be geared towards corporate revenue models rather than ensuring that farmers’ needs and interests are considered. Agristack could also be misused for purposes such as predatory lending or land grabs.
WILL THE DATABASE DOUBLE INCOMES?
The initiative to build a national database is a part of a report prepared by the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI). Under Volume 13, the report proposes to build a dynamic database and ensure targeted and efficient delivery of support to farmers, and to assist specialised extension services. For the last year, farmers have been protesting against the three farm laws introduced by the central government at the borders of the national capital, which has triggered a lot of debate around problems in the agricultural sector in the country. The poor economic condition of farmers across the country is a huge part of the problem. A survey conducted by Lokniti in 2014 showed that around 40% of farmers were dissatisfied with their economic conditions. The figure was more than 60% in eastern India and more than 70% of farmers said they think city life was better than village life.
The lack of a coherent farm policy that addresses both the issues of sustainability and long term productivity growth in the sector has been brought up many times by farmers, farmer unions, and other stakeholders. Many agricultural scientists pointed out that crop productivity has reached a saturation point in many states, especially in the “food bowls” of Punjab, Haryana, and Western UP, where only rice and wheat crops have been grown for the past few decades due to governmental policies. While costs of agricultural inputs have increased year after year, farmers have only been receiving increases in the minimum support price (MSP) for the two crops. Furthermore, the pattern in the area sown is completely guided by the variation in the monsoon season as a bad monsoon directly impacts the cost of cultivation and makes sowing of large areas unprofitable for the farmers. Similar issues are also linked with the production and yield of the kharif crops, which are rain-fed.
While in theory, the creation of a national digital database would help deliver personalised services to farmers and allow for the implementation of technology to improve productivity in the sector, the database itself would leave out the most vulnerable farmers in the country. Pushing for greater crop diversification, correction of commercial risks due to volatile prices, and removal of restrictions on the movement of farm produce markets are some of the measures that perhaps could help, alongside the constitution of a national database to ensure the on-ground problems of farmers are resolved and thereby leading to higher incomes across the sector.
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Akansha Makker, Animesh Gadre, Damayanti Niyogi,Interns at Polstrat.
YOGI’S MEAT AND LIQUOR BAN IN MATHURA: WHO WILL THIS AFFECT?
During the Krishnotsava programme in Lucknow on 30 August, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced a complete ban on the sale of liquor and meat in Mathura. The region around Mathura-Vrindavan, extending to Agra and Aligarh, is considered Krishnabhoomi (the land of Krishna) and is hence considered sacred to Hindus. While no details about how this ban will come into effect have been revealed, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath put forth the suggestion that those who were involved in liquor and meat sale could now take up selling milk, so as to revive the glory of Mathura, which was once known for producing large quantities of animal milk. “Every effort will be made to develop Braj Bhumi and there will be no dearth of funds for this. We are looking at a blend of modern technology and the cultural and spiritual heritage for the development of the region,” he said.
The announcement comes just months before UP is set to go to the polls. While the move was celebrated by members of the saintly community and upper-class Hindus in UP, for the thousands of Muslims and Dalits employed in the meat processing and production industry, this means an uncertain future and large-scale unemployment. Prohibition of and a complete ban on meat production (particularly cow and cattle meat) have been long-standing political promises used by parties across the country in an attempt to win various voter groups over, including women and upper-caste Hindu voters (the traditional vote bank of the BJP). Such bans not only give rise to an illicit economy by encouraging bootlegging, but can also lead to a multitude of problems such as the issue of stray cattle, large scale unemployment, and extreme religious polarization.
Photograph by Wikimedia Commons
WHICH VOTER GROUPS WILL YOGI WIN OVER WITH THE BAN?Yogi Adityanath led BJP government has announced a liquor and meat ban in Mathura CityUP Chief Minister Yogi Adityananth’s liquor and meat ban in Mathura may help the BJP in UP Assembly elections next year
Several BJP MLAs during the 2017 assembly elections had promised that meat and liquor trading would be banned in areas that had famous temples.
As per Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna and his elder brother Balram were born in Vrindavan and Radha was born in Barsana. Due to the religious significance and tourism potential of these places, they were labelled as holy pilgrimage sites. A ban on meat and liquor in Vrindavan and Barsana was announced in 2017. The banning of meat and liquor in Mathura on the other hand will have a two-fold impact on the caste and religious dynamics of the area, further polarising the Hindu-Muslim dynamics in the district.
Given the proximity of the announcement to the UP Assembly Elections early next year, it is clear that the decision is a calculated move to appease the Hindu religious community. Top BJP leaders, including union home minister Amit Shah, have been focusing on the UP government’s efforts to revive the glory of the Hindu religious sites and have alleged that no other government but its own has paid attention to this. The BJP’s traditional vote bank – the Brahmin community – had reportedly been feeling alienated and neglected due to alleged preference accorded to Thakurs in the state under Yogi’s regime. In light of the 2022 Assembly Elections, all parties set out to woo the Brahmin community, which comprises roughly 12% of the population of the state. Both Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have announced their intention to build statues of Lord Parashuram and organized conclaves (sammelans) in order to woo Brahmins. However, this move will now be viewed by the Brahmin population as an affirmation of BJP’s commitment to preserving their faith and culture and could give BJP a leg up in the upcoming elections and restore the popularity of CM Yogi Adityanath in the community.
Local cadres of the BJP are also likely to be pleased with this decision as they have revealed that several BJP MLAs during the 2017 assembly elections had promised that meat and liquor trading would be banned in areas that had famous temples. The move will serve to preserve the overall narrative that the Yogi government has been creating since 2017 – when a ban on cow smuggling was ordered and state police directed to close down illegal slaughterhouses.
However, the issue of religious polarisation might stretch further. Unlike places like Vrindavan and Barsana where the ban has previously been placed, Mathura has a significant proportion of the Muslim population involved in the meat production and trading business. Muslims also comprise 8.7% of the total population of Mathura district. In 2017, the state administration’s strict crackdown on slaughterhouses, packaging plants, meat retailers, and restaurants led to the shutdown of all establishments that were unable to produce licenses.
The move was seen by some as against Muslims and Dalits who are largely associated with the small-scale meat trade in the area and across the state.
After this move, allegations of cow vigilante groups burning down meat shops and lynching suspected meat smugglers instilled fear in the minority community. Many reportedly shut down their shops to avoid unnecessary harassment.
According to news reports, the decision to ban slaughterhouses also led to a stray cattle problem in Mathura. Large-scale unemployment among the Muslim community was reported as well.
The liquor ban, on the other hand, is not being viewed from a very communal angle, as it will affect business owners from all communities.
Photograph by Wikimedia Commons
Photograph by Diego Delso | Creative Commons
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF MEAT AND LIQUOR BAN
The ban of liquor and meat production not only directly impacts the livelihood of the communities engaged in production, distribution, and sales of both but also affects several auxiliary industries associated with the same. As of 2020, UP contributes to over 64% of India’s overall export revenue and employs a whopping 25 lakh people (directly or indirectly) as part of the industry. According to UP’s Animal Husbandry Department, meat exports account for Rs. 26,685 crores annually. As per estimates, UP’s meat processing and trade industry is estimated to be worth between Rs. 15,000 – Rs 22,000 crores. The closure of slaughterhouses across states has been estimated to substantially impact the Rs. 22,000 crores (3.5 billion) meat trade and the Rs 50,000 crore leather business. 38 out of 72 government approved meat abattoirs across India are in UP and lakhs are employed in these abattoirs and shops.
Similarly, on an average, each liquor shop in UP provides an annual revenue of around Rs. 1.10 crores to the government, and UP has 27,352 such stores. In 2020-21, the state government earned Rs.30,061 crores through excise duty and license fees paid by liquor stores. The excise department of the Uttar Pradesh government, in an RTI response to India Today, stated that the past four years of Yogi Adityanath’s government have seen a 74% jump in revenue derived from excise duty and license fees. The average daily sale of alcohol in the state is worth Rs. 70-80 crores. It should also be noted that since coming into power, the Yogi government has granted licenses to 2,076 new liquor shops.
In March 2018, the government had declared five Nagar Panchayats in Mathura to be holy places, and the liquor ban was imposed. It was reported that the five Nagar Panchayats had 32 liquor shops, and the loss of excise amounted to Rs 11 crores.
HISTORY OF LIQUOR AND MEAT BAN POLITICS
Ahead of the 2015 Assembly Elections in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar promised to ban the consumption of alcohol in the state if he was re-elected. One of the objectives of this move was to curb domestic violence, often linked with excessive drinking. As a result of the decision, women voters turned out in record numbers to support Kumar and he swept the elections. After he assumed his term as chief minister, Kumar announced prohibition in the state and the Bihar Excise and Prohibition Act came into effect on April 5, 2016. However, since the announcement of prohibition, there have been allegations of weak enforcement and complicity of officials and local public representatives, giving rise to a huge illicit economy for the sale and consumption of liquor. This led to the rise of consumption and addiction of other narcotic substances in the state. Most people suffering due to the prohibition are from the backward or the Mahadalit communities. The lack of an alternative occupation and the temptation to earn quick commission from the illegal sale of liquor has compelled poverty-stricken youth, and women, who supported the prohibition, to indulge in bootlegging. Bihar’s unemployment rate by October 2020 was 9.8%, which is well above India’s 6.7%.
Similarly, the liquor ban has been an integral point of contention in electoral politics in South India, with parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala struggling to implement and remove similar bans and restrictions on the consumption and production of liquor for years. In Andhra Pradesh, prohibition was imposed in 1995 by NT Rama Rao but was reversed by his successor N Chandrababu Naidu in 1997 citing huge losses in state revenue and inability to implement it effectively. During the run-up to the 2019 Assembly Elections, current Andhra Chief Minister YSRCP President Jagan Mohan Reddy had promised to implement prohibition in three phases if they came to power. The phases included the takeover of all liquor sales by the state government, a reduction in the number of liquor shops, and alterations to operating hours. In May 2021, Reddy announced a major shift in his government’s liquor policy, moving away from prohibition (nishedham) to restriction (niyantrana).
Poor implementation of these bans often gives rise to an illicit economy, putting the health of the population at greater risk due to the consumption of duplicates, locally produced unsafe liquor, or a shift to the consumption of more harmful narcotics. Prohibition, particularly in the case of alcohol, encourages bootlegging, which becomes a lucrative activity despite high risk and often government officials are involved in the bootlegging of banned liquor products. States have often reversed liquor bans, as revenue from liquor sales accounts for over one-fourth of the state’s income, and the ban directly affects the state’s finances. Another major issue of a blanket ban on any industry is the economic impact of the same. Shutting down an entire industry means shutting down the livelihood of those involved in the industry directly, indirectly, and through auxiliary industries. It is important for governments to create a robust plan for generating alternative employment for those employed in the industry before complete shutdown of economic activity.
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Abhinay Chandna, Akansha Makker, Animesh Gadre, Kashish Babbar, and Kavya Sharma, Interns at Polstrat.
INDIAN CENSUS: HISTORY, CONTROVERSY AND FUTURE
Leaders from the opposition as leaders from parties that support the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have been voicing their strong support for a caste-based census. Opposition leaders and proponents of the caste-based census have highlighted that the availability of caste-based data that includes OBCs will help improve government programmes and efforts designed for them. The BJP government has refused to do the same, stating that it is a “matter of policy”. Many opposers of the caste census allege that it is politically motivated for vote-bank purposes.
The 2021 census, which is the first “digital census” and the 16th undertaking since the inception of the exercise, has been delayed by over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the first complete census of an Indian city was conducted in 1830 by Henry Walter in Dacca (now Dhaka, Bangladesh), the first complete census in its modern form was conducted in India in 1881. With a history of more than 130 years, the Indian Census is one of the most comprehensive in the world and has undergone notable changes in categorisation as well as details of data collected.
PRE-INDEPENDENCE HISTORY OF INDIAN CENSUS
Based on the methodology of the English census, the British Government conducted a census in Allahabad in 1824 and inBenaras in 1827-28 by James Prinsep. Following this, the first complete census of an Indian city was conducted in 1830, and this included statistics of population, gender, and broad age group along with information about household amenities.From 1849, local governments were instructed to undertake quinquennial returns of the population. One would be surprised to know that the Census of 1872, which was undertaken during 1866-67 was an actual counting of heads in most parts of the country.
The information collected included names, ages, religions, caste or class, race or nationality, attending schools or colleges, and literacy. While both men and women were asked these common questions, the question on occupation was limited to male respondents. The Census of 1881 which was undertaken on 17 February, 1881 by W.C. Plowden, Census Commissioner of India, was the first step towards a modern synchronous census to be held in India. Since then, censuses have been undertaken uninterruptedly once every ten years. In the 1881 Census, emphasis was laid not only on complete coverage but also on the classification of demographic, economic and social characteristics.
Photograph by censusindia.gov.in
POST-INDEPENDENCE DEVELOPMENTS AND CHANGES
An advertisement of Census India in 2011.
Photograph by censusindia.gov.in
The first census of Independent India was conducted in 1951, which was the seventh census in a continuous series. Overall, data was collected in two phases, which included a household schedule for each household and an individual slip for each individual. The Census Act was enacted in 1948 to provide for the scheme of conducting population census with duties and responsibilities of census officers. The Government of India decided in May 1949 to initiate steps for developing a systematic collection of statistics on the size of the population, its growth, and established an organisation in the Ministry of Home Affairs under Registrar General and ex-Officio Census Commissioner, India.
A major technological leap took place while undertaking the first census of the twenty-first century in 2001. The schedules for the phases were scanned through high-speed scanners and handwritten data from the schedules were converted into digitized form through Intelligent Character Reading (ICR). The primary tool of Census operations is the questionnaire that is developed over the years, taking into account the changing needs of the country. The questions enhance the credibility & quality of data if various dimensions of socio-economic issues are well-incorporated in the questionnaire. The changes in the questionnaire have made a significant difference in the understanding of Indian realities and every Census of India has introduced new questions and new formats.
It should be noted that the inclusion of ‘caste’ was unique to India compared to the census activity conducted in the other British colonies. Similarly, in the first census conducted post-independence (the 1951 Census) in the context of the partition, a unique section for “displaced persons” was added. The 1961 Census expanded the question regarding the place of birth to include ‘Rural’ or ‘Urban’ and also provided for explicit enumeration of the SC/ST category. In the 1981 census, the household schedule also included the collection of information with respect to amenities available in a household such as drinking water, electricity, toilet facilities, along with information such as the nature of housing, that is, the construction materials used for walls, roofs, floors etc. The 2011 census canvassed a new schedule termed National Population Register (NPR) to collect data on every citizen in India to introduce unique identity numbers (UID).
2021 CENSUS: INDIA’S FIRST DIGITAL CENSUS
The 2021 census is the 16th census since the inception of the exercise in 1872. As announced by the Union Home Ministry in August 2021, the 2021 census is the first-ever digital census, and there is a portal for management and monitoring of various census-related activities, with a provision of working in offline mode. The forthcoming census will have a “provision for self-enumeration,” which means that respondents themselves can enter and complete survey questionnaires. The census was scheduled to take place in two phases, with the housing Census from April to September 2020 and population enumeration from 9 February, 2021, which however, was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In February 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated Rs 3,768 crore for the census in the 2021 Union budget of India. An estimated 33 lakh teachers will take on the responsibilities of enumerators and the census will be conducted in 16 languages, including English. It is for the first time that information of households headed by a person from the transgender community and members living in the family will be collected. Prior to this, the options included only ‘male’ and ‘female’. The fieldwork for the first phase, which would provide data on housing conditions, household amenities and assets possessed by households, is expected during 2021-22, while the fieldwork to count the population and provide data on demography, Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SC/ST), language, literacy and education, economic activity, migration and fertility is estimated to be available by 2023-24.
CASTE-BASED CENSUS: CONTROVERSY AND SUPPORT
Since the inception of the Indian Census in 1872 by the British government in India, counting of all castes was included in the exercise. This continued till 1931, however, post-Indian independence, since 1951, India’s census only counts Dalits (Scheduled Castes) and Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes). Roughly over 52% of the Indian population belonging to various lower and intermediate caste groups belong to the OBC or Other Backward Class groups, who have not been counted for in the census. However, several political parties, including some of the allies of the ruling BJP have been demanding a caste-based census, which would essentially just include a count of OBCs in the 2021 census.
In 2018, former BJP Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced to the Press Information Bureau that the 2021 census will “collect data on OBC for the first time”. However, the BJP-led government has now refused a caste-based census, “as a matter of policy”. Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, who has been strongly advocating for the need for a caste-based census has said that the need for the same is driven by “social” and not “political concerns”. Others who have come out in strong support for the need of a caste-based census, include, Tejashwi Yadav, Leader of Opposition, Bihar Legislative Assembly, Ramdas Athawale, Member of Rajya Sabha, Jitan Ram Manjhi, former Chief Minister of Bihar, Pankaja Munde, National Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Parties such as the Apna Dal, Indian National Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Samajwadi Party have also expressed their support for a caste-based census. However, it is interesting to note that current supporters of the caste census such as the INC had been reluctant to conduct one when they were the ruling party at the centre.
Several policymakers and proponents of the caste-based census argue that an accurate enumeration of OBCs will aid in the formulation and further development of many affirmative action based programmes of the government. Additionally, the data can also be used in the debate related to reservation policy, and poverty alleviation schemes targeted towards OBCs.
While many argue that surveys by the National Sample Survey Office and the National Family Health Survey already provide some estimates of the OBC population in India, these figures are still just a survey-based estimation, and not an actual enumeration that a census would yield. The government has also argued that the undertaking of a caste-based census would lead to a further perpetuation of caste identities. However, those from lower castes have argued that caste boundaries are a reality they already deal with every day.
Photograph by censusindia.gov.in
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Damayanti Niyogi & Abhinay Chandna, Akansha Makker, Animesh Gadre, Kashish Babbar, and Kavya Sharma, Interns at Polstrat.
ROAD TO 2022: CROP POLITICS IN POLL-BOUND STATES
A year after the start of the farmers’ protest around the borders of the capital, hundreds of farmers continue their fight, expressing their discontentment against the three new farm laws passed by the central government. The farmers’ disgruntlement with the central and other state governments is likely to dominate the electoral discourse in the poll-bound states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Assembly elections in all these states are scheduled to be held in 2022. The issues of farmers, and agriculture overall, which dominate the economy in the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh, have always been used as a major poll plank by the opposition and ruling parties. The issue of sugarcane cultivation and non-payment of dues has always been at the forefront in discussions around the politics of Uttar Pradesh, while the issues of farmer’s suicides and falling incomes have dictated Punjab politics in recent years.
GANNA POLITICS IN UTTAR PRADESH
Western Uttar Pradesh is known for farming and politics of sugarcane.
Photograph by Land Rover Our Planet | Creative Commons
Western Uttar Pradesh is referred to as the sugarcane belt of India, and the sugarcane economy in the state is estimated to be around Rs. 40,000 crore, directly employing about 4 million farmers’ households. UP is the highest sugarcane producer in the country, with about 22.77 lakh hectares under sugarcane cultivation and a yearly output of 135.64 million tonnes.
In India, the sugarcane industry is highly regulated by the government. The government decides the procurement price, minimum selling price (MSP), monthly sales quota of mills, and annual export volumes of sugar. Unlike other staple food grains, sugarcane is not directly procured by government agencies and sugar inventory is also not maintained by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) or any corresponding state government agencies. The hot topic regarding the sugarcane industry and farmers in the past few elections has been the non-payment of dues to sugarcane farmers.
The non-payment of sugarcane dues by mills has been a perennial issue for Uttar Pradesh’s farmers where there are a number of delays and often only a fraction of the payments are made. In the run-up to the 2017 Assembly Elections, sugar mills owed farmers around Rs. 4,000 crores for the 2016-17 season and an additional Rs. 6,600 crore for the 2015-16 season. The Samajwadi Party (SP) in 2016 decided to waive Rs. 2,000 crore owed by the sugar mills, causing widespread agitation amongst farmers.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, taking advantage of the growing anger against the SP government, promised the clearing of all sugarcane dues within 14 days of coming into power. While the current BJP government has said it has cleared around 80.45% of all sugarcane dues so far, the total dues sugar mills owed were estimated to be around Rs. 11,000 crores for the 2020-21 season (till the end of June 2021). The issue of sugarcane dues and the MSP of the crop will continue to be a major electoral issue for the upcoming elections. In a recent speech, former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav from the SP attacked the Yogi Adityanath government’s treatment of sugarcane farmers. Farmers have also been disappointed with the decision to not increase the state advisory price (SAP) of sugarcane. After coming to power in March 2017, the BJP government in the state had increased the SAP for sugarcane by Rs 10, however, since then the prices have remained unchanged. Farmer groups and trade unions said they have expected an increase in the SAP for the upcoming year, in light of the UP Assembly Elections.
PUNJAB: HUB OF FARMERS AGITATION
The state of Punjab, also referred to as the food basket of India, is a majorly agrarian state, and agriculture plays a very important role in the culture and economy of the state. While the major crops grown in the state vary regionally, the two cereal crops, wheat and rice, which are grown in rotation during the year dominate the politics of the state. In 2012, Punjab rolled out the state’s first agricultural policy, aiming to make farming economically viable as a profession. The policy laid out the ways in which farmers’ incomes could be improved, and also pushed on the agenda of crop diversification. The main aim of this was to bring down the area under paddy cultivation, as paddy crop requires a lot of water and affects soil fertility.
For the 2022 Assembly Elections, the farmer’s protests which have been ongoing near the borders of New Delhi have taken centre stage. Leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), AIKS (All India Kisan Sabha), and other major farmers’ organisations have been collectively protesting at the borders of the capital against the “anti-farmer” laws introduced by the central government. The disgruntlement with the BJP has been growing across farmers in the country, but especially in Punjab, and has already cost the party its 23-year-old alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
The BJP, which has never been able to secure (individually) more than 9.63 percent of vote share in the Lok Sabha in any previous elections in Punjab is now struggling to find support in the state for the upcoming assembly elections. The anger of the farmers and the impact of the farmer’s protests was also visible in the results of the municipal elections in the state in February this year, whereby Congress swept the polls. The Indian National Congress (INC) won 98 out of 109 municipal councils and Nagar panchayats and seven out of eight big municipal corporations that went for polls.
ORCHARDISTS OF HIMACHAL PRADESH
Agriculture is a major contributor to the economy of Himachal Pradesh as well. The state is set to go to the polls in late 2022. Around 90 percent of the state’s population continues to reside in rural areas, out of which 62 percent are associated with agricultural activities and are dependent on agriculture for survival. Overall, agriculture and allied sectors contribute to around 12.73 percent of the state’s gross domestic income. However, apple producers and other farmers from the hill state seemed to be missing in action at the protests taking place across the country.
Over the last few months, apple farmers have demanded that their produce be brought under the MSP purview as well, as they continue to face growing challenges such as inflation included by the COVID-19 lockdown. Farmers and orchardists have also stated that roads and connectivity, which is imperative for the supply and sale of produce, end up being an election issue, while no action has been taken to improve connectivity. Orchardists state that nothing has been done to improve the state of the Theog-Hatkoti Road, which leads to Rohru and also passes through Jubbal-Kotkhai, thus connecting the apple belt. Non-payment of apple dues is also a major problem. Dozens of apple farmers across the state are yet to get roughly Rs 100 crore in dues from buyers and commission agents who purchased the last two years’ produce, according to the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, a Shimla-based fruit-growers action group leading their campaign for payments (2019).
Himachal Pradesh, which is known for its apple economy, has also emerged as a major vegetable producer in the past few years. In the lead-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, vegetable farmers in the state protested against the BJP government, accusing them of ignoring their problems. They alleged that they were facing widespread problems such as the absence of a mechanism for minimum support price (MSP), lack of cold storage and food processing units and monkey attacks on uninsured crops in farms.
RISING DISCONTENT IN UTTARAKHAND
The BJP, which swept the state assembly elections in 2017, winning 57 out of the 70 seats with a vote share of 47 percent, faces an uphill task in the state against the Indian National Congress (INC), which won 11 seats in the last assembly elections with a vote share of 33.8 percent. Both parties have been using the momentum of the ongoing farmers’ protests to attack each other. While the Congress has been organizing marches and rallies against the BJP’s farm laws, the BJP government on the other hand is accusing the Congress of misleading the farmers regarding the new farm laws. Another main issue in the state is that of providing relief from farm debts to small and border area farmers. The state BJP president Madan Kaushik said that the government has fulfilled 85 percent of the promises made in the manifesto, but it is yet to fulfil the promise of providing relief from farm debts to small and border area farmers.
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Damayanti Niyogi & Abhinay Chandna, Interns at Polstrat.
HOW ARE PROLONGED SCHOOL CLOSURES AFFECTING INDIA’S CHILDREN?
In March 2020, as cases of COVID-19 began to rise in India, millions of schools across the country shut down, to protect young children and communities from the risk of infection. Today, about one and a half years later, most students continue to be confined to online schooling. Many from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, castes, communities, especially girls, have dropped out of school completely in disproportionate numbers.
According to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the duration of school closures in India has been the longest in the world. Parents with meagre incomes and vulnerable jobs have been forced to sacrifice their children’s education to make ends meet due to the financial impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns.
The impact is greatest on children in low-resource settings who do not have access to remote learning tools and youngest children who are at key developmental stages. Children from rural areas face greater challenges when attempting to access online education, as only 47 percent of households in villages receive electricity for more than 12 hours a day. In rural India, the ASER (Rural) 2020 Wave I survey found, the proportion of “out of school children” has increased from 1.8 percent to 5.3 percent in the 6-10 age group between 2018-2020. Prolonged school closures have had an impact on the learning and development abilities of children, including on their physical and mental health. This disproportionately impacts children from marginalized groups and communities. While some states in the country have reopened schools on alternate days for those in Classes XI and XII, the majority of children continue to be subjected to the online learning mechanism. Though the government has prioritised the reopening of non-essential economic activities such as malls, including sporting and political events, the reopening of schools seems to be much lower down on its list of priorities.
THE UNEQUAL IMPACT OF ONLINE EDUCATION ON MARGINALISED COMMUNITIES
A field study undertaken by Centre for New Economics Studies, OP Jindal Global University in Lucknow, Pune, Bhopal, Jhansi, Katni focusing on daily wage workers, domestic workers and frontline health workers (ASHAs), revealed that 95 percent of respondents said their children had either dropped out of school or had stopped learning after the start of “remote learning”. Data by the Ministry of Education shared with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports highlighted that one crore children in Bihar and over 30 lakh children in both Jharkhand and Karnataka have no access to digital learning devices.
A substantive hidden cost of prolonged school closures is also the impact this would have on young girls across social fault-lines of class, caste, ethnicity. Experts have emphasised that in India, girls are worse affected than boys when a family faces huge setbacks and income losses, as millions of poor Indian families are currently facing lockdown and economic downturn. Families are more likely to push girl children to contribute to housework instead of studying during times of hardship. Additionally, even when they have access to educational resources, the lack of access to nutritious food and health supplies increases the chances of early marriage and risk of child labour.
A survey, conducted by Praxis India, a Delhi-based non-profit, which interviewed 290 adolescent girls, revealed that 36 percent of respondents said they were getting less food than before the lockdown (7 percent were even going without food on some days), 70 percent lacked access to sanitary pads, and 40 percent could not attend online classes. Additionally, adolescent girls usually get health supplements such as vitamins and iron-folic acid tablets and take-home ration (THR) through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) or on Village Health and Nutrition Days. This had completely stopped during the lockdown.The impact of inadequate nutrition during adolescence can have serious consequences during the reproductive years of women.
ADVERSE IMPACT ON THE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH OF CHILDREN
Apart from the impact on education, prolonged school closures have also had an impact on the health of school children.Around 12 crore school children from poor and marginalised communities used to rely on cooked mid-day meals in schools for nutrition. India’s mid-day meal programme is the largest in the world, and the prolonged closure of schools has put these children at severe risk of malnutrition. While the government implemented a Take Home Ration (THR) scheme, a study conducted by OXFAM India relieved that approximately 35 percent of children did not receive midday meals, and of the remaining 65 percent, only 8 percent received cooked meals while 53 percent received dry rations and 4 percent received the money in lieu.
It is estimated that nearly 70 percent of children, mostly from rural areas, urban slums, and other disadvantaged groups who are facing maximum learning and nutritional loss, due to the prolonged school closure. India is placed 94 amongst 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index (2020) — which is calculated on the basis of total undernourishment of the population, child stunting, wasting, and child mortality. A study conducted by ChildFund India, covering approximately 2,000 children from marginalised communities in the age group of 6-14, from 10 states suggest that around 73 percent of children said they were feeling sad and 8 percent were feeling anxious because they were not able to meet friends and teachers, were not able to access or/and understand online learning sessions, and were missing active face-to-face teaching-learning. A UNICEF India report in May 2020 also reported that parents of one-third of primary-school and half of the secondary-school children noted that their child’s mental and socio-emotional health had been compromised.
ARE CHILDREN MORE AT RISK OF COVID 19 IN THE THIRD WAVE?
State and central government authorities have expressed concerns about reopening schools in India as vaccination in India for those below 18 years of age still hasn’t been approved. For a country as populous as India, it is extremely difficult to ensure physical distancing in schools and educational institutions. Even when rules for social distancing are implemented, younger children, especially those in elementary schools, do not have the self-control or awareness that is necessary to follow such guidelines. There are fears that the reopening of schools will potentially lead to a spike in infections since it will lead to increased interactions between community members.
With the spread of the Delta variant in India, experts have warned that children could be at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 during the third wave. However, some studies also suggest that the third wave may not put children at any extra risk in comparison to adults. In fact, between August 1 and August 11, as per the Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) 543 children tested positive for COVID-19 in Bangalore, following which the Chief Minister convened an emergency meeting with experts regarding the effects of COVID-19 on children. However, no COVID-19 related death in the age group of 0-19 has been reported, and the infected children were mostly asymptomatic or had mild symptoms. However, some medical experts suggest that rising cases of COVID-19 in children in the third wave can be primarily because children have not been covered in the vaccination drive.
As of now, there is no data to ascertain whether COVID-19 has infected more children in the second wave compared to the first. Doctors confirm that they are seeing a larger number of COVID-19 cases amongst children, but cannot say with certainty if these are due to the earlier or new COVID-19 strain. The IAP (Indian Academy of Paediatrics), a body representing over 32,000 paediatricians in the country, has also confirmed that at least 90 percent of COVID-19 positive children will have very mild symptoms or none at all. However, treating younger patients who have COVID-19 has its own unique set of challenges. Children can not be subjected to Computerized Tomography (CT) scans which are used to check the severity of infection, due to radiation exposure. Additionally, the number of paediatric and neonatal ICUs in the country is far less than those for adults. Uttar Pradesh, one of the most populous states in the country, only has 78 newborn care units (each having 12 beds) that can be used to treat critically ill children. As of now, it seems unclear whether or not other strains of COVID-19 will affect children more seriously than the previous strains.
Even as schools have started opening in some states, there is an urgent need for the government to ensure that children and youth in danger of being left behind because of their background, identity, or ability do not drop out of school. As a part of the policy designed to reopen schools, the government must also account for policies and initiatives to ensure that those most susceptible to being left behind, such as girls, children from marginalised communities, and those from economically vulnerable households, also come back to schools when they reopen. The reopening of schools should be as much of a priority for the government as restarting economic activities. Hampering the education of children and young people will have a direct impact on the quality of the workforce which will enter the economy in the years to come, and prolonged school closures stand to hurt the country in the long run.
UTTARAKHAND 2022 POLLS: WILL BJP BE ABLE TO RETAIN STATE DESPITE INFIGHTING?
The Uttarakhand Assembly elections are scheduled to take place in February 2022, to elect 70 members to the state’s Assembly. Over the last few months, the internal politics of the state took national stage leading to the resignation of two Chief Ministers in one year. In March this year, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned after large-scale dissatisfaction against his government, after which Tirath Singh Rawat was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of the state. However, the troubles of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), did not stop there. Shortly after, in July 2021, Tirath Singh Rawat also tendered his resignation. Pushkar Singh Dhami then took up his post, as the youngest Chief Minister of the state.
The BJP, which swept the elections in 2017, winning 57 out of the 70 seats with a vote share of 47%, faces an uphill task in the state against the Indian National Congress (INC), which won 11 seats in the last assembly elections with a vote share of 33.8%. The upcoming election is set to witness a three-cornered fight this time, with Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also gearing up to try to win Uttarakhand. Historically, the state has had very strong anti-incumbency as it has turned up alternative governments every five years since the first election was held in 2002. While analysts and political pundits predict a similar trend in 2022, it is yet to be seen whether the BJP’s internal troubles will lead to losing the state or retaining power.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN 2022?
It is no surprise that the INC and AAP have both been using the instability within the BJP and the change in leadership a year before Assembly Elections as a weapon for the upcoming elections. In March this year, the ABP-CVoter opinion poll predicted a win for the Congress in the state. As per the poll, the BJP’s vote share in the state is expected to see a decline of 8.2% while, the Congress may gain 2.3% in their vote share. The AAP may make some inroads in the state. As per the poll, the Congress is likely to win 35 seats, the BJP 27 seats, and the BSP and AAP are likely to win three and five seats, respectively.
BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY (BJP)
The BJP’s massive win is often attributed to a very strong Modi-wave, as the party did not have a Chief Ministerial face during the elections. Apart from internal turmoil and instability, the party also faces the grave challenges of strong anti-incumbency due to lack of employment opportunities, lack of healthcare, and poor handling of the second wave of COVID-19. The BJP is facing allegations of corruption and controversy surrounding the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Bill. The declaration of Garsain as the summer capital of Uttarakhand and the decision to add new districts to this new administrative unit from both the Garhwal and Kumaon areas have been labelled controversial decisions. Furthermore, there are reports of internal dissatisfaction with the elevation of Pushkar Singh Dhami due to his relative inexperience and being chosen over other leaders. Keeping these points in mind, it is clear that the BJP will have a tough time retaining power in the state.
INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS (INC)
The INC, which was only able to win 11 seats during the last Assembly Elections, was able to retain its vote share of 33.8%. The party is banking on the widespread anti-incumbency in the state and the strong grassroots connection of party leader Harish Rawat to bolster a victory in the 2022 polls. However, winning might not be so simple for the INC as well. The new appointments of party national general secretary Harish Rawat as president of the 2022 election committee along with Rajya Sabha member Pradeep Tamta as vice president and former minister Dinesh Agrawal as the convenor have brought across rumours of discontent within the party. Additionally, the untimely death of party veteran Indira Hridyesh, the leader of opposition in the state assembly, could hurt the Congress electorally.
OTHERS: AAM AADMI PARTY (AAP) AND BAHUJAN SAMAJ PARTY (BSP)
The Aam Aadmi Party announced that it will be contesting all 70 seats inUttarakhand. The party has said it will bring the “Delhi model” to the state, along with the promise of quality education, healthcare, 300 units of free electricity, waiving off old electricity bills, free electricity for farmers, and 24×7 electricity. The party has projected Colonel (retd) Ajay Kothiyal, who has been hailed for his rescue and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy, as its Chief Ministerial face. The AAP launched a membership drive in February 2021 to get ready for 2022 polls in the state. The BSP which had managed to secure three seats with a vote share of around 12.2% did not manage to win even a single assembly seat during the 2017 elections. However, it was able to secure a vote share of 7%. Earlier this year, BSP chief Mayawati announced that the party will contest all assembly seats in Uttarakhand on its own and would not forge a poll alliance with any party.
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Abhinay Chandna, Damayanti Niyogi and Niyanta Desai,Interns at Polstrat.
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