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Draft Natl Ed Policy: NEW VISION IN OFFNG?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 13 November 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 13 November 2019

Draft Natl Ed Policy

NEW VISION IN OFFNG?

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

There is much debate over the recently released new draft National Education Policy, which has come out with some encouraging recommendations. Experts believe that the Policy has been so geared to ensure that institutes act as an incentive to perform. In fact, discussions on the subject have already started among experts and educationists in different parts of the country.

 

However, the most significant aspect is the proposal of incremental increase in spending in the education sector till it reaches 20 per cent of the total public expenditure in next 10 years. Public expenditure, both of the Centre and States, on education in the country was just 2.7 per cent of GDP in 2017-18, which is about 10 per cent of the total government spending. The NEP panel rightly suggested that Central expenditure on education has to double and the State expenditure will also have to increase significantly to achieve the target.  

 

Another important facet of the new draft lauds the ancient Indian knowledge system and celebrates the contribution of people like Aryabhrata, Bhaskaracharya, Chanakya, Patanjali, Panini etc. in fields as diverse as astronomy, medical science and surgery, civil engineering and architecture, shipbuilding and navigation. It proposes integrating the ancient system of knowledge with modern curricula and aims to phase out single stream higher education institutes by converting them into multi-disciplinary establishments in keeping with traditional Indian literature that talks about kala (crafts), including science, music and dance.

 

But the most significant of the updated policy has been that all higher education institutions have to offer courses in Open Distance Learning so as to increase higher education enrolment rate among 18 to 24 year olds from the present about 26 per cent to 50 per cent over the next 10 years. The draft also proposes four year undergraduate programmes with the option to exit at the end of each year with graded academic qualifications. Those who opt out at the end of the first year will get a diploma; after two years will receive an advance diploma; after three years will get bachelor’s degree and those who complete the four-year course will be entitled to a bachelor’s degree and be eligible to enrol for research. Students now have to complete their Master’s to join M.Phil programme.

 

While the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and National Board of Accreditation (NBA) now assess accredited institutes, the same process will have to be followed by private entities.

 

The new opportunities that are expected to be thrown up by the new policy was underlined by Dr Krishnaswamy Kasturiangan, chairman, Committee for Draft National Education Policy 2019, who also mentioned that different aspects and suggestions of experts, covering technical, medical and even general areas, were taken into consideration, at a recent programme of the Indian Chamber of Commerce at Kolkata.

 

The need for training was emphasised in the conference by Dr Bhushan Patwardhan, Vice Chairman, University Grants Commission, who informed that it will start a one month residential training programme for teachers below par from the next academic session. “We are saying that NET/SET and Ph.D qualifications are necessary. But these are basic qualifications. Before you actually go to a classroom, you need to be trained properly on what this profession is and how you should teach”. Those who will train the teachers were recently prepared at the IISER, Pune. 

 

Meanwhile, the debate of NEP comes in the midst of widespread reports of lack of quality teaching in schools and colleges as also the lack of initiative of teachers in most of these institutions. Teacher absenteeism accounts for the loss of one quarter of primary school spending. A World Bank report estimated the loss to be a staggering $2 billion a year in the country, just at the primary level. It needs to be mentioned here that the poor and the impoverished sections suffer the most for such absenteeism in school and colleges as they cannot afford private tuition to compensate the loss of institutional teaching. 

 

One may refer here to a recent study by Niti Aayog and Boston Consulting Group, which found that though 100 per cent enrolment in primary schools has been largely met, the problem remains in qualitative improvement. And while India has three times more schools than China, nearly 4 lakh schools in our country have less than 50 students and a maximum of two teachers. Thus, 1.5-odd crore students study in such unviable schools, according to the study. 

 

There is no denying that India needs a totally new education system that emphasises on academic excellence, world class research and institutions. Unfortunately, no political party has given the requisite priority to academic excellence and most of their focus is on creating more quotas in educational institutions and jobs. Though presently IITs and IIMs are being expanded and a few excellent private institutions such as the Indian School of Business and Ashoka University have come up, these are definitely not enough for a country of 1.3 billion people.

 

The skill gap is a major area of concern which may be indirectly responsible for the economic gap between China and India. A decade ago, former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, stated that while China was well ahead in attracting foreign direct investment, India had overtaken its neighbour in outward FDI, i.e. in acquiring companies abroad. But many of those takeovers turned out to be big mistakes, not game changers. Meanwhile, China managed acquisitions which the US sees as a security threat.

 

Thus, while there are high expectations over the new education policy, a lot will depend on whether the problem areas will be given the necessary thrust. The first and foremost is the need for more resources, both for school as also for higher education, keeping in view the fact that government’s role is most important as the economically weaker sections and the low income groups cannot afford to send their children to private institutions. The story of the demographic dividend can completely go wrong unless we undertake reforms in education on an urgent footing.

 

It is expected of the government that it would focus on this sector by prompt action in allocating necessary resources for upgrading education, specially at district and sub-divisional block levels, for dispersal of higher education remains non-existent in most of these places. The government must make a note that unless 100 million children are not technically educated or gain skills training, India, shall not grow into a mature economy.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Ayodhya Verdict: INDIA EMBRACES BHARAT BHAKTI, By Poonam I Kaushish, 12 November 2019 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 12 November 2019

Ayodhya Verdict

INDIA EMBRACES BHARAT BHAKTI

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

The Gods, Ram and Rahim have had their way, say and come out trumps. The Ayodhya dispute which had became synonymous with Hindu-Muslim tensions and repeatedly frayed India’s secular fabric is finally settled. The nation has moved on. Serenading the triumph of the rule of law and judiciary. 'Ishwar Allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de bhagawan.'

India’s ‘temple of justice’ Supreme Court delivered a historic unanimous 1045-pages judicial judgment after 69 long years of political and court battles on Saturday. The 5 judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the rights of the 2.77 acre disputed plot in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid stood before it was razed in 1992 was indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram and will be handed over to the deity Ram Lalla who is one of the three litigants in the case. The possession of the land, however, will remain with the Central Government which will set up a trust within three months to oversee construction of the temple.

The Muslims will get “alternate land” a five-acre plot of land elsewhere for a mosque, thereby putting to rest the Sunni Waif Board claims that as the disputed structure was built by Babar they alone had lien on the land. Happily, the Board has negated the idea of filing a review petition.

Importantly, the Court has rubbished the Allahabad High Court’s legally tenuous attempted compromise of dividing the disputed site into three parts among the Hindus, Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waif Board.  Succinctly, the Court has put a closure on an issue that has been on the agenda of a moderately modernist, forward-looking nation since the late 1980s.

Certainly, this is music to the Ram Bhakts led by the Sangh Parivar’s fountainhead RSS and its affiliates. For the BJP it is a validation and culmination of it decades long fight for construction of a temple for Lord Ram on the site of the Babri Masjid. The Party obviously hopes to derive political mileage out of the judgment, despite its muted mature response.  

Remember it all began with then BJP President Advani’s Rath Yatra from Gujarat’s Somnath temple on 25 September which culminated in Ayodhya October 1990. The Yatra caused an outpouring of both religious and militant sentiments among Hindus, and became one of India's biggest mass movements.

But it also triggered religious violence with riots across North India. As a result, Advani was arrested by the Bihar Government following which the BJP withdrew support to VP Singh’s National Front Government. The demolition of the Masjid on 6 December 1992 altered the political landscape, strained communal ties and is still combustible enough to re-ignite temperatures.

Predictably, the Yatra propelled the BJP on the back of religious polarisation and over the years its Ram strategy paid rich dividends and it made significant electoral gains in every election and since 2014 occupies India’s Raj gaddi. 

In a sense, the Ayodhya dispute with its political undertones, underscores the nemesis of depending wholly and pathetically on the judicial process to tackle an issue of faith. It is to the Court’s credit that it pierced the veil of the politicization of the Ayodhya demolition, overtly by BJP and covertly by Congressand others, and is treating it as a property dispute.

Significantly, there are five lessons to be learnt from the Ayodhya battle. One, the people have shown their inherent maturity. There were no untoward incidents, fiery and inciting speeches, celebration or despondency. Asserted Prime Minister Modi, “this verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody….It is imperative that we strengthen the spirit of Rashtra Bhakti.” The Congress welcomed the verdict and though disagreeing with it, the Sunni Board accepted it. 

Two, the judgment will go a long way in becoming a catalytic agent to integrate India and make it a cohesive whole. Three, least, it will strengthen the basic features of the Constitution and the confidence of the people, especially of the minorities, on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. The judgment underscore that the judiciary is competent, not influenced by any considerations and has the courage to decide each and every sort of dispute, other than those which are recognised by the law of the land.

Four, the issue has lost its potency as a new generation considers it a non-issue and eagerly embraces the dawn of a resurgent vibrant emerging nation. Last but not the least, 26 years is a long time to heal wounds of hurt religious zeal. The protagonists of the Ram Janambhoomi movement have faded away and a brimming new Gen Next clueless about the religious portents now awaits a big push towards economic development.

The moot point: Does the Court’s expedience contain the potential for subversion of democracy and the equality of faiths guaranteed by the Constitution? Even as the verdict has given the land to Ram Lalla, it has not legitimized the movement to demolish the mosque. Thereby, reiterating the principle of equality that informs the Constitution.

Will the judgment be a soul cleanser for out netagan? Will they stop using religion as a hand maiden to serve their petty, parochial political ends? Importantly, it has driven the final nail in the coffin of our polity who has mastered the deceitful art of using religion per se as their vote-bank excelsior. Wherein the secularists, pseudo-secularists and communalists are all rolled into one.

Neither should we strain our secular credibility. Being secular does not negate religion or beliefs. Mahatma Gandhi prefaced his daily prayer meetings with Ram Dhun and repeatedly talked of bringing about Ram Rajya as the ultimate in good Government. He understood the dominant sentiment of India better than anyone else.

It is now time for the political Parties to close their ranks and re-dedicate themselves to a truly secular nation. There can be no two opinions that the developments at Ayodhya will alter the course of contemporary politics from which both the BJP and the Congress stand to gain as well as lose.

Clearly, the verdict allows both the State and its citizens to now focus on other matters pertaining to governance, development, social and economic prosperity, and the keeping of law and order. In fact, the temple can become a symbol of national unity if all castes and communities are involved in rebuilding it. After all, it was none other than Mohammad Iqbal who hailed Ram as Imam e Hind.

We need to remember that India is a pluralistic society where Hindus and Muslims have to live and die together. Those at the helm of governance must desist from showing a bias towards any faith as it could seriously strain inter-religious relations. People across all castes and communities are now craving for progress and development.

Undoubtedly, our polity has to desist from playing ducks and drakes with the aam aadmi’s religious beliefs, be it Ram Bhakti or Rahim Bhakti. It is only through sheer force of political will and authority that a Government can bring about communal harmony for the betterment of a future India. Can it deliver?  --- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Realty Aid Misplaced:71,000 BANK DEFAULT LURK, by Shivaji Sarkar, 11 November 2019 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 11 November 2019

Realty Aid Misplaced

Rs 71,000 BANK DEFAULT LURK

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

The move to rejuvenate the realty sector through Rs 25,000 crores special bank and FI funds look good but may be misplaced.

 

The Cabinet Committee nod for the package risks people’s deposits. It includes Rs 10,000 crores to be sunk by the Central Government and Rs 15,000 crores by banks, FIs, sovereign and pension funds. Undoubtedly, these are all diversion of people’s deposits in risky ventures.

 

The Rs 25,000 crores fund is a small fraction of the Rs 4,64,300 core worth of unfinished projects, many now decaying in seven top cities. The fund will not help the core albeit the buyers.

 

Apparently the realty sector lobbying succeeded. They have been arguing that banks have cash stash of Rs 1.5 lakh crores “unutilized” monies.

 

Clearly, this is the biggest myth. Indian banks and NBFCs are in the throes of a severe crisis. Their cash has evaporated since the UPA “incentives” to the industry post-the Lehman sub-prime crisis in 2007-8. Whereby the Indian industry was virtually doled out huge loans though they were sitting on huge cash reserves of over Rs 2 lakh crores.

 

Besides, public sector banks have over Rs 14 lakh crores accumulated NPAs (non-performing assets) which means they have lost the money. Bluntly, deposits of India’s poor and middle class. The mergers of various banks are the result of this profligacy.

 

Worse, it resulted in virtual denudation of bank coffers, much of it led by the realty sector. The real estate did not need the funds as they were pouring in from home buyers. But the builders siphoned off and swindled the money leading to unfinished 5.76 lakh home units today, mostly a legacy of that era.

 

True, the courts intervened in a number of cases forcing builders to take corrective steps. But this has not helped buyers as lakhs of them in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Lucknow stare at a bleak future of losing their life’s earnings.

 

The biggest shock to the realty sector has come from the road and highway segment. They were funded by the IL&FS on the premise that the monies would be repaid through collection of toll. It is another matter that toll has become the biggest scam.

 

Certainly, toll collection is increasing every year but IL&FS was not repaid consequently, it collapsed in 2018 and Rs 91,000 crores has been lost. Further, this has hit other NBFCs including housing finance companies. Interestingly, little is known about actions taken against large toll companies. In fact, a new package may be taken by them as a reward for swindling public fund.

 

There is no gainsaying that NBFC's are a key source of funding for real estate projects in the country and the liquidity crunch due to the collapse of IL&FS had a devastating effect on the real estate sector as builders lacked capital to complete stalled projects. Today, our policy makers need to review the decision for a new package. While concern is welcome, the remedy needs a relook.

 

Think. Till 2008, NPAs were around Rs 4 lakh crores. It soared to over Rs 12 lakh crores in the next four years as 50 large companies did not repay huge loans. Presently, having settled much of it through book process, it remains officially at over Rs 9.1 lakh crores though it might be higher, according to the CAG.

 

Pertinently, a SEBI action on 2 November reveals three banks are in crisis zone. Namely, Indian Bank: divergence of Rs 820 crores in its net 2018-19 NPA, Union Bank Rs 998.7 crores and private bank Lakshmi Vilas (LV) Rs 54.9 crores. Add to this the net loss of Union Bank widened to Rs 3978.37 crores in 2019 from Rs 2947.45 s and LV Rs 1006 crores from Rs 894 crore.

 

This is not all. The financial sector is in difficulty. There is little guarantee that banks would be repaid after doling out Rs 25,000 crores to now mostly sick realty units.

 

Importantly, India’s slowdown, which has hit even the IT sector like Infosys, is led by the failed realty sector. Builders promised and collected funds from people and banks but neither delivered houses nor repaid loans. Today, they are enjoying double-profit as the new package would give them more and as hinted on low interest rates.

 

It appears the Government advised by the same set of people or officials has not been able to take right remedial measures. It is unable to see beyond clichéd methods. The fault lies in the system of high taxation, tolls, fees, charges and liberal loans to the mighty and powerful. In contrast, people and home buyers whose money they are playing games including banks, insurance or mutual fund depositors are treated shabbily.

 

 Depositors suffer as deposits are taxed, unbelievable as interest rates are being continuously cut and now after the PMC bank failure, the entire banking system is looked at with suspicion.

 

Shockingly, demands for payment of Government and corporate salaries in cash are being raised by workers of different sectors. Some are even demanding a Constitution amendment to check a free hand to the Government on monetary matters.

 

Questions are being raised as to how any Government could play with banks or LIC deposits which belong to customers and not the Government. A relook is being suggested for preventing interference in public sector companies like Air India, MTNL or BSNL.

 

The Indian realty sector feels markedly different from the difficulties it faced in recent years on account of slack demand. Rating by Fitch states that in the first quarter of 2020, builders would have to repay loans worth over Rs 71,000 crores. A default in repayment could affect mainstream banks and NBFCs.

 

Also, bankruptcy among realty companies has doubled in a year. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India data shows that realtors like Unitech, Jaypee and Amrapali may miss the deadline for repayment. This is likely to aggravate as house sales declined by 11% in 2019-20 and there is a 47% slump in new projects. Despite this slump sellers have not reduced prices and taxes remain high amidst calls for a cut.

 

Furthermore, stamp duty charges for property registration are higher than most other countries. The GST on a sale of a house and bank transactions have worsened it. Hence, the realty sector is risk laden. Builders fear they would lose out in case of liquidation because home buyers’ claims will be considered only after those of secured creditors like the banks have been settled.

 

In the ultimate, a mere cosmetic fund is not a solution. It calls for open discussion on the economy, taxes and the banking system and curbs on the rights of executive for a lasting solution and real growth. ----- INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

8 November 2019

 

Naga Peace Talks: IT’S HOPE Vs HURDLES, By Sagarneel Sinha, 10 November 2019 Print E-mail

Spotlight

New Delhi, 10 November 2019

Naga Peace Talks

IT’S HOPE Vs HURDLES

By Sagarneel Sinha

 

Anxiety is refusing to die down among the people of Nagaland, as the peace deal to the Naga problem still remains inconclusive. Naga insurgency is often described as the oldest in India. Although the Naga separatist movement dates back to the British period, the State has witnessed bloodshed that mostly started in the mid 1950s, when the secessionist movement under Naga National Council (NNC) led by hardliner leader A.Z. Phizo turned  violent, battling against the Indian state. At times, there were many peace deals between the various Naga rebel groups and the Centre and 1975 Shillong Peace Accord is one. However, due to differences within the Naga rebel groups, every time a peace deal was signed, one or some other group emerged to oppose it, thus negating effects of the peace deals signed earlier.

 

Another peace deal was to be signed on October 31 between the Centre and Naga groups that included the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah)-(NSCN-IM). However, the deadline was given a miss. The insurgent group NSCN-IM, which was formed in 1980 by Nagaland born Isak-Swu and Manipur born Th. Muivah, has been involved in peace talks with the government of India since 1997, when it signed a ceasefire agreement. However, the other faction, NSCN-Khaplang formed by Myanmar born SS Khaplang has refused to join these efforts and is a big insurgent group. Presently, only Muivah is alive as both Isak and Khaplang passed away in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

 

The October 31 date was set by the Centre after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s return to power with a huge mandate. To fasten the process, Modi dispensation also appointed the government’s interlocutor for Naga peace talks N Ravi, as Governor of the State. However, NSCN-IM’s demand for a shared sovereignty with a separate Naga constitution and Naga flag emerged as a deadlock for the peace talks. Especially, by modifying Article 370 of erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir that had the provision of a separate Constitution and State flag, Modi government has already made its stand clear that there will be one Constitution and one flag across the country.

 

Obviously, no doubt there is a shadow of Kashmir on the Naga Peace talks with the Modi government being adamant on its stand. Apart from that, Modi government's urgency to pull off a historical achievement seems to have also worked against bringing a lasting solution to the decades’ old insurgency.

 

It must be noted that NSCN-IM and the GoI led by Modi had signed a historic framework agreement in 2015 that sought to end the insurgency for restoring peace and paving the way for prosperity in the northeast. However, the government hasn’t shared the details of the framework despite calls from various quarters. The dispensation has maintained that since the peace talks are on, it would not be right to share the details in public. Although, later Ravi had said that NSCN-IM signed the framework “by giving up the demand of Naga sovereignty and agreeing for a settlement within the Indian federation”.

 

Apart from a separate Naga constitution and Naga flag, NSCN-IM also wanted a greater Nagalim -- much bigger in size than the present Nagaland comprising the Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. This demand has only extended the issue beyond the borders of Nagaland. The three neighbouring States have clearly stated the Naga peace deal shouldn't be at the cost of their territorial integrity. Particularly, the Meiteis of Manipur are concerned about it. The hills of the State are inhabited by Nagas, while the plains by the Meiteis, who often keep demanding for Inner Line Permit in the State. However, besides Nagas, Kukis too reside in the hills of Manipur.

 

So, the demand for greater Nagalim is far away from ground realities and NSCN-IM too now has softened its stand over the issue. But, there are clamours that the Naga inhabited districts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur would be provided some kind of autonomy — though it is not yet clear about the type of autonomy. That’s the reason that the apprehensions of Meiteis of Manipur and civil society groups of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are refusing to wither away.

 

Nevertheless, the positive thing is that despite missing the deadline, both the Centre and NSCN-IM have agreed to continue the peace talks. There have been reports that the rebel group has even agreed to use its own Naga flag only at cultural events. However, the issue with the separate Naga constitution still remains to be resolved.

 

The reality is despite positive hopes there are still hurdles that can wash away all the efforts, dealing a big blow to the peace aspirations of the Nagas. One hurdle to the solution is the urgency of the Modi government to clinch the peace deal as soon as possible by setting unfeasible deadlines. To achieve this, it is alleged by many that the government is using Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), an umbrella coalition of seven armed groups, which is quite flexible to the various contentious issues, including the separate flag and constitution, to pressurise NSCN-IM. The government should understand that such acts will only backfire as happened in the past, when the peace deals signed with one particular group failed to deliver the required results.

 

Second obstacle is the NSCN-IM itself. Their demands should be practical. Agreeing to the demands of separate Naga constitution is not possible for the Centre as it will ignite calls for separate constitutions from other States too. Given the current situation of Kashmir, it would be disastrous for Centre to agree over such impractical demands. NSCN-IM leadership should understand this, as now they too agree that separation from India is a closed chapter. So, they should also be aware of the ground realities of India. Instead, the rebel group should settle for whatever greater autonomy is possible for the Nagas within the ambit of the Indian constitution.

 

Also, the Centre should focus on the concerns of the communities belonging to the neighbouring states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur -- all ruled by BJP. Moreover, in Nagaland, BJP is part of the coalition led by Chief Minister Neuphio Rio’s NDPP. Politically this comes as an advantage for the BJP-led Modi government to allay their worries born out of Naga peace deal, and the onus lies on the Centre to definitely utilise this.

 

After all, securing a permanent peace deal is the major requirement. Nagas are tired of decades’ old insurgency and are aspiring for permanent peace, while considering separation from India as a closed chapter. All they want is peace and tranqulilty and proper security of their culture and identity in India. Beside this, an end to the Naga insurgency will also help in the prosperity of the entire northeast region. Responsibility now lies on the shoulders of both the Modi government and NSCN-IM.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

India Out of RCEP: RAISING GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 8 November 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 8 November 2019

India Out of RCEP

RAISING GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

Amidst farmers’ protests and resentment, India has taken a judicious decision to opt out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), keeping in view the country’s interests.  Obviously, the outcome may go against the interests of China as it was desperate to become the unchecked dominant economic power of Asia and flood our domestic market with its products. As is well known, the signing of the RCEP would have forced the government to reduce import duties on several goods. Experts estimate that the Indian government stood to lose around Rs 50,000 crore, or even more, if it had agreed to reduce duties.

 

Recently farmers’ representatives had decided to intensify protests if the free trade agreement between India and 15 Asia-Pacific region countries (of RCEP) was signed as this would have paved the way to flood local markets with inexpensive farm, dairy and plantation products. Incidentally, these 16 countries account for about 25 per cent of global GDP and around 30 per cent of global trade. It is understood that producers of coconut and palm oil, areca nut, tea, coffee, rubber and cardamom as also dairy products would have been the ones at the greatest risk, if the agreement was signed.

 

By walking out of RCEP, India has been bold enough to point out that it is unwilling to do business on their terms but remain open for business. As the Prime Minister rightly observed that “the present form of the RCEP agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed principles of RCEP”. However, India’s ASEAN FTA will continue though even that is being renegotiated with Thailand and South Korea. According to government sources, India would prefer to pursue bilateral agreements for some time.

 

Members of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and the Indian Coordination Committee Farmers Movement (ICCFM) urged the State governments to oppose the RCEP as that would affect farmers. Foreign farm products would be cheaper because of the comparative efficiency advantage of foreign or because they are subsidised by foreign governments.

 

According to farmer group representatives, dairy cooperatives now get about Rs 280 to Rs 300 for a kg of milk powder. Though India is the largest producer of milk in the world, most of the production is consumed internally and it is apprehended that milk powder from Australia and New Zealand might become available at Rs 180 to Rs 200 a kg. Also rubber imports from Malaysia would be sold much cheaper in the domestic market.

 

This speculative news was indeed distressing for farmers as this sector has been in a crisis for quite some time, specially since 2017. Instead of opening up avenues and export markets, it is possibly a right decision to examine the whole issue and not sign the RCEP agreement as this would have had a cascading effect and lakhs of farmers would be affected, directly or indirectly.

 

The question remains why India has not been competitive in the global arena? Why is it that these foreign farm products are cheaper? We should examine our subsidy in relation to those offered by foreign governments and provide similar incentives. Moreover, agricultural research has to be diversified, keeping in view the prices prevalent in the global arena.

 

It needs to be stated here that India’s agrarian future, whether gene based or drone based, continues to be productivity focused drawing upon the green revolution model. Alternative visions based on different kinds of crop choices, farming systems, technologies and practices have not been given due emphasis in the last few decades by governmental and non-governmental organisations. In fact, it would not be out of context to state that agriculture with 12 per cent contribution to the GDP has been somewhat neglected keeping in view the large number of people dependent on this sector for their livelihood. 

 

Productivity of the entire gamut of agricultural produce is quite low except for two staple cereals. It needs to be mentioned here that productivity of a single grain per unit of land in a given season is a misleading metric as it fails to account for multiple products and crops that land can provide in the same season and that, in many places, multiple crops are grown on the same land across seasons. Plus, what about the feasibility of land to continue producing in future?

 

It is a well known fact that the high levels of wheat have come at the cost of depleting/replacing soils, groundwater and the livestock economy in ways that are non-replenishable, non-renewable and carbon emitting. Thus, the needs for diversification of crops – some of which are value added – have been aired by agricultural scientists at conferences and seminars but no effective plan of action at the grass-root has been evolved.

 

It is in this connection that one may refer to the large imports of oilseeds and pulses from Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar. Imports fulfilled nearly 35 per cent of India’s domestic requirement of oilseeds and over 20 per cent of pulses, according to available data around 2-3 years ago and the situation has remained unchanged. The rise in the prices of pulses has put them beyond the reach of the low income groups.

 

Thus, diversification of the agri sector with value addition in horticulture, floriculture, pulses and spices and on-farm processing for production of various types of oil, both for the domestic and export markets, is the need of the day so as to ensure higher incomes on a sustained basis. One needs to mention here that oil seeds production of the country is way below world average and needs to be boosted up with proper usage of micronutrients and mechanisation apart from increasing processing centres with latest technology.

 

Thus the hype about self-sufficiency of rice and wheat has no meaning as it does not help in complete nutrition. Recent research of the National Institute of Nutrition revealed that cereal-heavy diets of the poor and the EWS have contributed to an epidemic of anaemia along with creating malnutrition and nutrient deprivation, specially among women and children. Very little efforts at the ground level were initiated to harvest oilseeds and pulses in a big way through training and also technical guidance by the high profile ICAR.

 

Through proper technical guidance and subsidies that our competitors give, our country can definitely be competitive. Why do we have to bother if foreign products enter the domestic market even though such government decision is undoubtedly wrong and needs to be examined by a panel of economists and agricultural scientists?

 

India very rightly withstood pressure and not signed the trade pact, more so in a situation where the global economy has changed considerably with the US-China trade war and the Indian economy struggling. However, one cannot deny that prospects of India’s increasing exports are quite high. Thus it is imperative to evolve a new strategy, which may be formulated with agricultural scientists, traders and representatives of farmers’ organisations, preferably with a State-wise or better still a district-wise action plan, to professionalise our agricultural production, concentrate on certain crops and increase overall productivity.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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