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Controversial Farmers Act 2020: Boon or Bane?

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Revised Farmers Act: Boon or Bane For Farmers?

On Sunday, President Ramnath Kovind gave his assent to all three farm bills, thereby making it a Farmers Act 2020 that has infuriated the ongoing controversy and protests by farmers and oppositions.

Let us try to understand the Acts and their respective issues:

Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act:

  • Provisions:

The Act majorly talks about “inter-state” and “intra-state” sales of agricultural produce beyond the physical premises of APMC markets.

AMPCs or Mandis (Agricultural market produce committee) is a state market system primarily established in the 1950s to protect and prevent farmers’ exploitation by large retailers by providing minimum support price (MSP). However, given recent times, due to lack of traders in these APMCs, more commission is charged by middlemen; certain traders and functionaries having monopoly led to less competitive prices for farmer’s produce.

With an intension to reform the agricultural sector, the Government enables the farmers to trade beyond these mandis. Farmers now have the freedom to directly trade with private sectors or individuals and sell their crops outside the state.

The Act nowhere directly implies that APMC or MSP would be abolished. The Government assured that these mandis would continue. The Act only encourages farmers to go beyond these markets and sell their produce at a competitive market price, as only 6 per cent of farmers benefit from MSP.

  • The Act prohibits state Governments from levying any tax or market fee onto the outside trade of APMC.

If any trade occurs beyond the established mandis, the State or Central Government won’t levy tax. Initially, from the trade in the APMC market, the State Government would earn a certain market fee as they have established these markets. This provision is an incentive for private companies or individuals to directly connect with the farmers and offer them a better price.

  • Concerns:

6 significant issues stated by the protestors about the Act:

  1. Transportation expense: In APMC, the farmers would sell their produce to the commission agent or intermediaries, and in turn, they would handle the transportation to respective buyers.
  2. Labors and Commission agents: The Sarkari mandis by State APMC act is widespread all over India and has become a source of livelihood to commission agents, several laborers, and accountants working in the market.
  3. No Taxes: Farmers believe that if no taxes are levied outside the mandis, the buyers would prefer the new system more than the established APMC; this is seen as a way to end the APMC market. It has also caused an uproar by states as they won’t have income from the same.
  4. Shanta Kumar Report of 2015: With only 7,000 APMC in India, most farmers don’t operate into the same. Only 6 per cent of farmers produce go to these mandis; the rest 94 per cent are sold to private buyers. This indicates that private buyers haven’t helped with the development of the agricultural sector.
  5. Bihar: The problem with APMC is immense; following this in 2006, Bihar abolished the same. However, the farmers still suffer price volatility and only attract private investments, which won’t lead to infrastructural changes.
  6. Agriculture is state subject: The states access the authority over the same, however, the Centre took the matters in hand by approaching the Act from “inter-state trade and commerce” under entry 42 of the Union List in the Seventh Schedule.

The farmers are worried that if trade outside the mandis is encouraged, it will eventually wipe out the APMC itself. This is a major cause of the uproar.

Many experts suggest that the APMC model should be renewed instead of a largescale agricultural reform. It is interesting to see that majority of the protests are occurring in states like Haryana and Punjab. The Government, here, is invested into a well-established APMC system, Arthiya (commission agent) working, and the state government buys the majority of wheat and paddy produce.

Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020

  • Provisions:

The Act creates a farming framework through an agreement between a farmer and a buyer before the production or rearing of any farm produce.

There are two ways to look at this provision:

  1. When the farmer comes into the contract with a buyer at a price, he will get his pre-determined price irrespective of the market situation. So that would benefit the farmer.
  2. On the other hand, if the same pre-determined price is less than the market after the production, it would lead to a farmer’s loss.

The major concern is that there is no mention of minimum support price (MSP) that buyers need to offer to farmers. Initially, a private company or an individual may offer a better pre-determined price. However, over the period, they would start offering less and less. The Act doesn’t link pre-determined price with Minimum support price.

  • The Act provides a three-level dispute settlement mechanism: the conciliation board, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, and Appellate Authority.

Concerning a dispute, a farmer or a buyer may approach the set-up board for resolution. If the conflicts remain unsettled, they can reach the Sub-divisional Magistrate. The Parties will also have the right to appeal to an Appellate Authority (presided by collector or additional collector) against decisions of the Magistrate. However, no farmland would be confiscated as recovery due.

  • Concerns:

The dispute related mechanism is dominated by the administrative part of the Government rather than the judiciary. This excludes the farmers from the domain of civil and other courts. A bureaucratic led mechanism may influence political or social identity. Experts suggest an amendment over the same by bringing the judiciary into the picture.

Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020

  • Provisions:

The Act allows the Central Government to regulate the supply of certain food items only under extraordinary circumstances (war, famine, unusual price rise, natural calamity)

According to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, the Union Government is empowered to amend the schedule to add or remove a commodity to it under the public interest and in consultation with State Governments. The Act eliminates cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities list and operation and control by the Government during extraordinary situations.

  • Concerns:

In extraordinary circumstances, the Government only ‘may’ choose to exercise regulation. Such legislative ambiguity makes one question the entire exercise of introducing this particular provision.

  • The Act allows Stock limits to be imposed on agricultural produce only if there is a steep price rise.

The Government generally imposes stock limits to discourage hoarding items, including food commodities, such as pulses, edible oils, and vegetables. Stocking restrictions are only levied when (i) a 100 per cent increase in the retail price of horticultural produce; and (ii) a 50 per cent increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items. This paves the way for the Big cooperates to enter into the sector.

  • Concerns:

The Act welcomes private individual’s investment; however, limiting the stocking to certain restrictions may increase hoarding by these individuals.

All three Acts lead to reformation in the agricultural sector, suggested by economics experts and several committees. The question about boon or bane with regards to the Act comes with its implementation. It is the perception at which the private individuals invest in the agricultural sector to decide the farmer’s fate.

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All You Need To Know About National Institute Of Food Technology Entrepreneurship And Management Bill 2021

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National Institute Of Food Technology Entrepreneurship And Management Bill 2021

On July 26, 2021, Lok Sabha passed a bill under the ministry of Food Processing Industry. The bill is titled as National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management Bill, 2021. The main motive of this bill is to address issues with the Food Processing Industry, Entrepreneurship and one Institution for National Importance. With the passing of this bill, the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT) and National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) is now merged as Institutions of National Importance, and it aims at providing various research and advancement in learning about the Food Industry and its associated branches. The bill was first introduced in the house in February 2019 but was pending due to protest by the opposition.

Significance of Institutions of National Importance (INI)

With the passing of this bill, the institutions enjoy greater autonomy through which they can carry out various courses, research attracting skilled faculties and students from all over the country and overseas. Good standards in education will be adopted to improve the present and future of education in this branch and sector, overcoming the technological gap in the country. This law aims to improve and introduce new changes in food, bio-nanotechnology, cold chain technology etc. The desired efforts will be taken in terms of human resources and infrastructure developments, labs for research etc. Liberty to open centres anywhere in India is also granted to INI and include courses regarding food technology certification and improving the workforce of the country.

Some other important features of this act are the Institution has been authorized with the Board of Government, Senate and other acting Authorities. The Council of Board will include 16 members from different branches from the same field. The Head will be Chairperson, who will be a skilled person from the Food Industry, the Director, Dean and Registrar. Members appointed from Centre and State Governments, Members from FSSAI and Council of Agriculture Research, as mentioned in the bill. The 16 members of the board will carry out work of taking administrative decisions, creating annual budgets and paths for institution progress as an organization, establishing departments, their appointment terms of services, faculties etc. The Board of Council also holds power to grant Honorary Degrees and Diplomas. The Senate shall be the principal academic body of the Institute, consisting of the people such as Director as the Chairperson; Registrar; Full-time skilled level Professor; and Three academically skilled Individuals nominated by the board from the field.

The Union Minister of Food Processing Industry, Mr Pashupati Kumar Paras, expressed his gratitude to PM Modi for this landmark step in this industry from his Twitter handle, indicating new opportunities in Food Technology Industries. Therefore, this Act looks promising on paper with new opportunities and in Educational Development. Amidst the Pegasus Spyware and repeal of the farm laws, this looks positive from the Modi Government.

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Curious Case Of Pegasus: Explained

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Pegasus II News Aur Chai

Pegasus is a spyware that can hack the victims’ mobile phones and read their SMS messages and emails. The Pegasus spyware is owned by an Israeli software company named NSO Group. According to the various reports, this company has targeted more than 50,000 phone numbers at the Global level, of which 300 are in India for surveillance.

The news broke out after the 17 media partners investigated. This investigation brought into the picture information about a leaked database of mobile telephone numbers of Indian Ministers, Opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, business people, government officials, scientists, activists and many influential personalities of the nation.

Pegasus Spyware and India

According to the report by the agency, the Israeli company which sells Pegasus around the world says that its clients are confined to ‘vetted governments”, believed to number 36. The NSO Group also says that ‘the target list in India is not ours, never was.’ Their refusal of the leaked database has created a loophole in understanding this case.

This whole case has violated the integrity of democratic institutions. According to the report by the agencies, after the mobile phones of the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and various other leaders were hacked under the Pegasus spyware surveillance. Multiple tweets were made against the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) government in India. This whole case has become one of the major threats in the political arena and the Indian Democracy.

Though at the start, it was used for national security purposes. The explosive expansion of surveillance technology vendors has become a vast human rights and a global security issue. If such surveillance technologies increase, it might cause a lot of problems to countries around the globe. Hence, as a precaution, all these countries need to work on regulating this technology.

According to the reports by the agency, one of the targeted phones by the Pegasus spyware was of the former election commissioner of India, Ashok Lavasa. Various such people and such opposition leaders were somehow against the BJP government having their phones hacked with the NSO-owned spyware. All these instances and the names in the leaked list have pointed figures towards the Modi Government.

The Modi government’s stand on this case was put forward in Lok Sabha by two serving ministers, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel. These two leaders were also featured in the leaked database. The recent Information Technology Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw defended the BJP government in the parliament by saying, “the expose was an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.” She even said, ‘any form of illegal surveillance is not possible with the checks and balances in our laws and robust institutions.’

This case has adjourned the parliament proceedings due to the protests inside and outside the house of parliament by the opposition party.

Pegasus Spyware and World.

 In the statement given to the agency, Access Now, an organisation defending the digital rights of global users, said it was outraged that products sold by NSO were allegedly “used to hack and invade the private communications” of thousands of people across the globe.

At a global level, France’s Emmanuel Macron was targeted in the Pegasus spyware case. As the phone of French President Emmanuel Macron was hacked, the investigation was carried out and later on was published which was directed by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden.  After this case came in front of the whole world, the Pegasus spyware surveillance came into the picture.

If this continues for some more time, it will ruin India’s Democratic values at a global level. As well as this might become a huge technological threat between the different nations around the globe.

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Modi Cabinet 2.0: Young and Dynamic Leadership or Otherwise

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Cabinet II News Aur Chai

On the 7th of July, the union government announced the biggest cabinet expansion in the 7 years of NDA rule. The recent expansion increased the size of the Council of Ministers from 53 to 77. About 43 new ministers were sworn in, 15 of which were Cabinet Ministers and 28 Ministers of State (MoS). This is the first cabinet overhaul in the second term of NDA governance.

Experts however claim that the new cabinet expansion is a pre-emptive measure to balance electoral formulae in different states ahead of the 2022 State Assembly elections. It is also conjectured that the reshuffle comes as rectification of prolonged criticism about BJP’s governance in the past 2 years, including the Healthcare management during the Pandemic.

The Performance Paradox

This recent cabinet expansion is a report card of the BJP government’s performance in the last 2 years. Major ministerial changes, such as the resignation and replacement of Dr. Harshvardhan as the Health Minister indicate a confession of their mismanagement of the pandemic.

He has been replaced by Mansukh Mandaviya, a 2 time Rajya Sabha MP who has also been awarded by the UN for initiatives in Women’s healthcare in the past. His appointment as the Health Minister is one of hope for BJP, to change and streamline (a.) the COVID-19 Pandemic response and (b.) BJP’s image in the name of healthcare management.

On the contrary, Anurag Thakur’s promotion from MoS Finance to a Cabinet Minister defies all logical explanations for awarding performance. Not only has India’s economic condition worsened under his management, his controversial statements like “Desh ke Gadaaro ko…” do not present a strong case for him. His appointment is a political investment by BJP in Himachal Pradesh’s state elections next year which happens to be Thakur’s home state.

Similarly, Sitharaman’s finance ministry has remained untouched, after historical mismanagement of our Finance capabilities. All of this reflects a selective approach adopted by BJP, which is one of political hesitation and hyperopic ignorance.

BJP’s Political Calculator

Apart from the ‘punishment’ narrative, the new cabinet expansion has also given an insight into BJP’s political planning.  This expansion has incorporated key leaders from several states that go to elections next year. Moreover, it has also been carefully planned to cover the losses BJP has incurred in the past two years.

As a reward for dismantling the elected Madhya Pradesh government and tipping scales in BJP’s favor, Jyotiraditya Scindia was appointed as the Cabinet Minister for Civil Aviation (a post held by his father as well in ’91) almost after 3 years.

On the contrary, Pashupati Kumar Paras got an early reward for breaking down Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) representation in Lok Sabha. He was appointed as the Union Minister for Food Processing, after the attempted coup on Chirag Paswan’s leadership.

Sarbananda Sonowal, who was replaced by Himanta Biswa Sharma as the Chief Minister of Assam after the fresh elections, was also awarded a berth in the Cabinet. It is conjectured that this development was in talks ever since Himanta Biswa Sharma was chosen as the CM.

As the Uttar Pradesh elections near, BJP also made sure to improve representation from the state. Major appointments such as Niranjan Jyoti (MoS Food Processing), Anupriya Patel (Mos Commerce and Industry), and Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma (MoS MSME) were made majorly because of their heavy support base in UP.

Following the same lead, Ajay Bhatt from Uttarakhand was appointed as MoS Defence and Tourism. As seen earlier, BJP has made major organizational changes in Uttarakhand which goes to elections next year.

Some Positives

In the mirage of calculated placements and image reconstruction, BJP has hit a few rights with this organizational change. The new cabinet includes a maximum number of women to have ever served in a Union Cabinet, a first in a nation with largely patriarchal tendencies.

The cabinet has also tried to focus on bringing people with commendable background experience and education on board. Ashwini Vaishnav, former IAS and an alumnus of Wharton School have been given major ministries such as Railways, Communications, and IT. Similarly, Anupriya Patel who has been given the Commerce and Industry as an MoS has also served as an educator at Amity University.

Moreover, the diffused reliance on regional strength has become the overarching theme in this cabinet reshuffle. Even though the ruling party intends to balance the voter dynamics, this regional unity has become something to watch out for.

Yet, the big story remains the ouster of major politicians who have served loyally and faithfully to this government. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Jaavedkar, and Dr. Harshvardhan are major losers in this dynamic reshuffle. While the current government has tried to modernize the leaders of this nation, it has set a new precedent that loyalty is not the most critical virtue anymore; Election Commission’s schedule is.

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