Down to Earth (April 1-15)
Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC.
1. Electoral Homecoming
Topics covered from the syllabus:
Context: In the ongoing state assembly elections in five states, a political party - Makkal Needhi Maiam in Tamil Nadu, has announced a proposal to monetize the work of Indian homemakers. It has promised a sum of Rs. 3,000 per month to each homemaker as a recognition of their contribution to the economy.
Genome Sequencing: It is the process of identifying the whole sequence of DNA in an organism’s genome.
Status of Indian Homemakers:
- A sizable number: India has an estimated 16 crore homemakers. This number is increasing with the increasing population and the falling share of Indian women in the overall workforce. This trend has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to temporary halts and sometimes, closing down of many businesses.
- Huge Commitment: Deloitte says that 95% of Indian women are employed in agriculture and household works. Yet, they spend a disproportionately large amount of time in household work. Everyday, an average Indian woman spends almost five hours on domestic chores as compared to half an hour spent by each of the men.
- Non-recognition: The problem with the homemakers is not limited to the personal sphere. Even the government machinery does not recognize the work done by women in the domestic sphere. This is clearly evident in the data from Census of India 2011, where the people engaged in household works are termed as ‘Non-workers’.
Reasons for recognition of women’s domestic work:
- Electoral constituency: While the discussion around recognizing the work of women in the domestic sphere is nothing new, the present discussion is certainly occasioned by the assembly elections. Experts have pointed to the rising turnout of women in the elections in recent times. For instance, in the 2019 general elections, 16 states saw more women voters than men as compared to six in the 2014 general elections. As is evident from the heat around such discussions, this trend has also been picked up by the political parties.
- En-bloc voting: Although there is no certainty of women being a monolithic constituency, the previous experiments have paid dividends for political parties. For example, Nitish Kumar’s gamble of attracting women by announcing a state-wide ban on alcohol did show considerable returns in the form of votes in the 2015 assembly elections in Bihar. Efforts to tap this currency are visible in Tamil Nadu in the form of monetary support for marriage and gifting appliances like TV and mixer grinders.
- Ending Discrimination: Payment of household work is expected to deal a blow to the gender stereotypes being propagated in the society, by movies, ads and marriage alliances looking for ‘homely’ brides. When the value of the labour of a housemaker is recognized, it is expected to generate respect for women and end their continuous stereotyping and discrimination.
- Accuracy in national accounting: Currently, household labour is not recognized as paid labour and is therefore outside the ambit of government accounting. By making payments for the household labour, the government can count it towards the GDP of the country, thereby, increasing the national income compared to the global level.
- Alleviation of Poverty: It is expected that unlike cash payments to the male members of the family, which run the risk of getting diverted to sin goods, household wages to the women will be used towards the welfare of the family, in the form of education, health or other such uses. This would raise the standard of living of the society, along with increasing the general levels of satisfaction with the governance.
Challenges in implementing Household Wages:
- Impact on the status of women: There is a danger of propagation of patriarchal notion towards the household work, once the system of payments for a household is operationalised. Rather than elevating the status of women, this system might actually compartmentalise their work by pushing them towards a stereotype of a homemaker rather than letting them explore their true calling.
- Source of Payment: It is unclear at this moment that who will finance the bill of wages. If it is the family members themselves, then it will difficult to enforce the decision. On the other hand, if the wages are paid by the government, it will lead to a burden on the exchequer and consequently upon the taxpayers, who are already suffering due to the COVID pandemic.
- Exclusivity for women: Going by the current assertion, it seems that the electoral promise made by the party is targeting the women as the electoral participants. However, if the payment is made for household work, then it will be difficult to ensure that the payment is gender-specific. Anyone, whether a male or female, would be entitled to the wages, defeating the objective of women empowerment.
- Encroachment in the personal sphere: Critics have pointed out that monetising the household work would hurt the notion of family values and tradition. Anyone doing the household work does so in the notion of duty and love towards the family instead of expecting monetary returns. Similarly, if the household work is made payable, then a similar demand may be made by the people driving the family or teaching the children to quantify and monetise their work, thereby striking at the base of the institution of the family.
- Household wages have been a demand which is long overdue, as an offshoot of the movement for empowerment of women. The idea holds merit as an alternative to Minimum Basic Income.
- However, the need is to study the actual impact of the idea on the status of women and the risk of the perpetuation of patriarchy in the event of its implementation.
- Changing Patriarchal mindsets in India requires a behavioral revolution instead of financial intermediation. Critically elaborate, in the context of demand for household wages.
UPSC Previous Years Questions:
- ‘Women’s movement in India has not addressed the issues of women of lower social strata. Substantiate your view. (GS1 – 2018)
- How does patriarchy impact the position of a middle class working woman in India? (GS1 – 2014)
2. Draft National Migrant Policy
Topics covered from the syllabus:
Context: A policy to alleviate the suffering caused to migrants in situations like COVID induced lockdown.
Circular Migration: Also called repeat migration, it refers to repetitive movement of labourers between home and employment regions.
Details of the Policy:
- The Policy aims to provide state support to the circular migrants (see inset), in the events of crisis, who despite being in the exploitative informal sector, continue to support the economy.
- It has been proposed by the NITI Aayog, along with a sub-group of officials and the members of civil society.
- The policy continues the effort of a working group set up by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation in 2017.
- It discusses the limitations of Inter State Migrant Workers act, 1979 which is restricted to the migrant labourers, who have migrated through contractors and does not include independent labourers in its ambit.
- Coordination among different ministries and department: The policy seeks to converge the various issues faced by migrant labourers in accessing welfare services like education, health, housing and social security provisions. It provides for a single agency under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, which is tasked to coordinate with the other ministries and departments, to improve the accessibility of the above-mentioned services for the labourers.
- Establishing Institutions and mechanisms: The Policy seeks to establish the mechanisms to facilitate the migrant labourers and workers in need, in the form of Migration Resource Centers in high migration zones, a national labour Helpline and inter-state migration management bodies.
- Rights-based Approach: It seeks to move away from the culture of handouts, cash transfers and quotas to a rights-based approach while developing the natural ability of an individual and recognizing her true potential. It seeks out to remove restrictions on the true agency of the individual by recognizing them as the agents who have the capability to visualize and improve their own future.
- Improvement in Data: The policy lays down the importance of accuracy and comprehensiveness in data collection as the foundation for the provision of the services to the intended beneficiary. Data is a critical input, for the determination of the outlay and measuring the performance of the government steps by establishing the expected outcomes.
- Need to include ‘Invisible Workers’: The International Labour Organization (ILO) has underlined the importance of explicitly covering the domestic workers under the scope of the policy, lest they fall through the gaps in the policy. The problem with domestic workers is multi-dimensional, including the inability of the government to determine the exact number of such workers, with estimates varying between 25 lakhs to 9 Crores. It is to be noted that India has not ratified the ILO’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011.
- Better Implementation: The issue with migrant labourers is not the lack of laws but the lax implementation of the welfare programmes, which has been plaguing the government schemes in recent times. This has led to various issues like mistargeting the benefits, lack of knowledge regarding the schemes, issues of accessibility and other such irregularities.
- Middlemen: The policy establishes the private contractors and recruitment agencies as exploitative agencies, who lure unsuspecting tribals and later abuse them by unfair profiteering. However, this is uncalled for as such cases are exceptions and without such middlemen, it will be difficult for the migrants to find remunerative employment and bridge the language and cultural divide which exists between the source and destination.
- Agency: By intending to stem migration, the policy is labelling the migrants as gullible, ignorant people who are unable to determine their own interest. Instead, the need is to recognize them as capable individuals with an independent agency, who can act in their self-interest. The policy should seek to provide them with financial services, skill development and political education, to facilitate them in improving their social status.
- The policy is a step in the right direction. It recognizes the individual’s potential and establishes her control over her life. It also seeks to establish mechanisms to reduce stress and help inter-state migrants in situations of duress.
- The issue with the policy is not of intent, but of implementation. The onus now falls on the government as any policy is as good as the authority which seeks to enforce it.
- Elaborate the impact of COVID-induced lockdown on the migrant labourers, while enumerating the important features of the draft national policy on migrant labour. Also, discuss the shortcomings of the policy.
UPSC Previous Years Questions:
- ‘Despite implementation of various programmes for eradication of poverty by the government in India, poverty is still existing.’ Explain by giving reasons. (GS1 – 2018)
- Discuss the changes in the trends of labour migration within and outside India in the last four decades. (GS1 – 2015)
3. Hydrogen as fuel of the future
Topics covered from the syllabus:
Context: In the wake of the search for alternative fuels, hydrogen has emerged as a frontrunner.
Colors of Hydrogen: For using Hydrogen as a source of energy, it is necessary to extract it from its combined form in which it exists in nature. This process consumes energy and has by-products (sometimes in the form of carbon), on the basis of which the colour of hydrogen is determined.
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA): It is an inter-governmental organisation which is mandated to improve upon the usage of renewable energy globally, by building capacity and providing technological support to the member countries.
Benefits of Hydrogen:
- Ultimate Green Fuel: The only by-product hydrogen leaves is pure water. Therefore, in the pursuit of fuels with a smaller carbon footprint, hydrogen has tremendous potential, if it can be viably extracted and stored for providing energy.
- Abundance: Hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table. It is also the most abundant element in the universe. Therefore, if mankind is able to tap hydrogen as a fuel, it would be a sustainable source of energy. There would be no need of plans to extract it in a limited quantity as we currently have for fossil fuels like coal and petroleum.
- High calorific value and more efficient storage: Hydrogen provides three times more energy than is provided by fossil fuels. Conversely, it provides the same energy from one-third quantity as compared to fossil fuels. This means that hydrogen would consume lesser storage space and would be more economical to store. This can be helpful in designing sleeker storage systems.
- Cheaper Raw material: As we move towards a lesser-carbon future, transport systems need to be reformed as automobiles are one of the largest emitters of environmental pollution. The constraint in this direction is the inefficient storage batteries and the huge cost of rare metals, which are used in the production of batteries. Hydrogen, being independent of rare earth metals has no such limitation and can be a better substitute for fossil fuels.
Challenges with Hydrogen as a source of Fuel:
- Availability of alternatives: Till recently, the availability of coal and petroleum has been the chief factor limiting investment in the field of exploring the usage of hydrogen in the energy sector. Similarly, the continued focus on solar energy and the already established capacity (in the form of thermal or nuclear energy, for instance) are huge impediments in the pathway to allocation of funds.
- Absence of Independent existence: Hydrogen, though the most abundant element in the universe, is not available as a free element in its natural state. It usually exists in combined form with other elements like oxygen (in the form of water) or carbon (Carbon dioxide). The process to extract hydrogen from such compounds is energy-intensive, thus reducing the attractiveness of hydrogen as a source of energy.
- Unclean Production Process: As already stated above, the extraction of hydrogen from its compounds is an energy-intensive process. Since fossil fuel sources constitute our main source of energy, this means a huge carbon footprint. With the world striving towards a low-carbon future, this does not augur well for the usage of hydrogen as a potential source of energy. Therefore, despite being used as a fuel for the Apollo-I mission in 1969, hydrogen could not take off as the primary choice of energy source.
- Hydrogen can be a potent weapon in the endeavor of the Indian government to end its dependency on fossil fuels. With China establishing its dominance in the mining of rare-earth metals, India is already late to the energy scene. It can counter this threat by establishing a strong research culture in usage of hydrogen as a source of energy.
- However, this would require a concerted effort from the government and the private sector, along with a friendly regulatory regime in the energy sector.
- Why is hydrogen dubbed as the fuel of the future? Also, discuss the impediments in harnessing the potential of hydrogen as a source of energy.
UPSC Previous Years Questions:
- With growing energy needs should India keep on expanding its nuclear energy programme? Discuss the facts and fears associated with nuclear energy. (GS3 – 2018)
- Give an account of the current status and the targets to be achieved pertaining to renewable energy sources in the country. Discuss in brief the importance of National Programme on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). (GS3 – 2016)