Down to Earth (April 16-30)

Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC.

  1. Mass Poverty is Back in India

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-1: Role of women and women's organisations, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanisation, their problems and remedies.
  • GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.
    • Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.

Context: COVID-19 has exacerbated the economic slowdown in India, thus leading to a rise in poverty in the Indian population.

Prelims Focus

Keynesian Economics: This is a branch of economics based on the contributions of Nobel laureate JM Keynes.

  • Keynes states that in times of economic crisis, the government needs to increase public spending and cut indirect taxes, to revive the economy.
  • The public expenditure on capital assets leads to a crowd-in effect, where the demand for raw materials, increases production and investment, while the need for labour increases employment.
  • Similarly, the cut in taxes induces demand, thereby raising production, leading to the revival of economic activity in the country.

Trends in Poverty:

  • Increase in Absolute Number: According to Pew Research center (which has compiled the results based on World Bank data), poverty in India (Number of people earning less than $2 per day) has doubled from 6 Crore to 13.4 Crore during the last one year.
  • Country of Mass Poverty: This is the first interruption in India’s progress towards decreasing its poverty rate since the economic progress gathered pace in the 1970s. With the fall back of this huge chunk of people back to poverty, India has again fallen back into the list of ‘countries with mass poverty’.
  • Reversal of the Trend: India has performed well in recent times in terms of decreasing poverty, with the number of poor decreasing by 27 Crores from 2006 to 2016 (according to Multidimensional Poverty Index). The last time, the number of poor increased in India was just after independence. From 1951 to 1974, the share of poor in the total population increased from 47% to 56%. Therefore, reversal of this trend is not welcome news for Indian society.

Impact of COVID on Mass Poverty in India:

  • Complete Lockdown: The pandemic has led to the enforcement of new norms globally. This includes social distancing, use of masks and sanitizers and lockdown in most of the countries. This means loss of employment for many people, especially the daily wage earners. Therefore, with a single stroke, a large population of labourers has been pushed into the clutches of poverty.
  • Industrial slowdown: Lockdown has hurt the industry in multiple ways. Firstly, lowering of demand means cutdown in productions. Secondly, lockdown also led to reverse migration of labourers back to their hometowns, leading to scarcity of working hands in the industry. Therefore, many factories had to cut down on their human resources, leading to an increase in unemployment. This unemployment has been a factor in increasing the poverty.
  • Increased Unemployment: As explained above, COVID has led to a huge loss of employment, especially in the lowest strata of society. The urban poor is dependent upon the daily wages for their earnings. Therefore, in the absence of remunerative employment, most of them have been pushed below the poverty line.
  • Migrant crisis and lack of skilled workers: Migrant workers comprise a large proportion of the urban population. Due to the lockdown, they faced an uncertain future, including the unavailability of food and other necessities of life in many pockets of the country. This led to the Reverse Migration of urban poor back to their places of origin. Ultimately, Businesses were forced to provide for air travel for the skilled workers in the absence of railway travel. This is the manifestation of the shortage of skilled workers even in the urban areas.
  • Increase in the Out-of-Pocket Expenditure: Due to the pandemic, it is the poor who are disproportionately affected in the absence of social security provisions. Historically, out-of-pocket expenditure on medical requirements has been the largest factor in pushing the poor below the poverty line. Therefore, the pandemic with its impact on health has proved to be a major factor in the increase in poverty in the country.
  • Lesser Taxes, subdued public spending:  In times of an economic crisis, it is the government that can revive the economy, by following the principles of Keynesian economics (see inset). However, the lockdown and the resultant decrease in economic activity have led to the lowering of estimates of tax collection of the government. Therefore, the revival of economic activity by increased public spending does not seem likely in the present scenario.

Other Factors exacerbating Mass Poverty in India:

  • Economic Slowdown: Even before the pandemic struck, India was witnessing a general slowdown in economic activity as a result of the ongoing global economic recession. Therefore, it was expected that the progress India was showing in uplifting its population out of poverty, would be impacted. However, the pandemic has exacerbated this trend, leading to a further slippage of many people below the poverty line.
  • Migrant crisis: As stated above, it was the poor daily wage earners who suffered the maximum during the COVID-induced lockdown. After emptying their savings, they were kicked out of the rental houses, only to find means of transport unavailable, resulting in thousands of miles of walk back home. The event has exposed the chinks in the social security system of India.
  • Social Security: The migrant workers lack access to formal employment, thereby also to the social security system. This means they have no pension, no holidays, no insurance to tide over the life emergencies. COVID-induced lockdown not only meant loss of income, but tapping into meagre savings and sometimes, medical emergencies. Thus, COVID increased the expenditures, without a commensurate increase in the income level, pushing more people into poverty.
  • Food Inflation: Despite government assurance, logistics suffered from the confusion created by the lockdown. This was further worsened by the increasing fuel prices globally. Therefore, in the absence of a proper supply mechanism and hoarding by some traders, food prices have increased. Since food comprises the chief expenditure of lower strata, this has meant increased expenditure, without it being supplemented by a rise in income, thus, leading to increased poverty.
  • Hidden Hunger: Due to increased food inflation, many families had to cut on expensive items and revert to eating basic cereals. This erases the gains made by society in improving the nutritional status of the children, thus leading to increased prevalence of malnutrition. This is also referred to as hidden hunger.
  • Lack of Alternative Employment including MGNREGA: Although MGNREGA has been a gamechanger in improving the socio-economic condition of the poor, it has proved to be inadequate in dealing with the present crisis. Experts have said that 100 days of employment is not adequate to cover the basic expenses of the family. Therefore, either the number of days needs to be increased or multiple members of the family should be allowed to work for 100 days each, for the scheme to have the desired benefit.


  • It is expected that with the economic recovery, the people who have just slipped below the poverty line, would again revert to better economic status. However, with the current reports of scarce resources and prevalent maladministration, this might prove to be a herculean task. The need of the hour is to arrest the spread of the pandemic along with ensuring an adequate supply of required resources, with an eye on the future of daily wage earners.


Practice Question

  1. Illustrate the impact of COVID-induced lockdown on the socio-economic status of the daily wage earners and circular migrants.

UPSC Previous Years Questions:

  1. ‘Despite implementation of various programmes for eradication of poverty by the government in India, poverty is still existing.’ Explain by giving reasons.                                                                             (GS1 - 2018)
  2. Discuss the changes in the trends of labour migration within and outside India in the last four decades.      (GS1 - 2015)


  1. Uneasy Spring

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-1: Salient features of the world's physical geography.
  • GS-3: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, - different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

Context: The temperatures in the Indian subcontinent have been increasing over the years. This is despite the phenomenon of La-Nina, which is expected to bring cold winds from the Pacific Ocean to India.

What is La-Nina?

  • El Nino South Oscillation (ENSO): ENSO is a global phenomenon, which affects the temperature and precipitation of many regions around the globe, including the Indian subcontinent. The most important factor with the ENSO is the ability of the scientists to predict its occurrence, thereby predicting the amount of rainfall and temperature in the region. ENSO includes three phenomena:
    • El-Nino: It leads to warming in surface temperature of the eastern Pacific Ocean region. This is associated with an increase in rainfall along the western coast of South America and a decrease in rainfall over the Indian subcontinent. It also leads to westerly winds, instead of the generally occurring easterly winds.
    • La-Nina: It is the reverse phenomenon of El-Nino. The temperatures over the eastern Pacific Ocean increases, along with a decrease in rainfall. Also, the rainfall over the Indian subcontinent increases, along with augmentation of the strength of surface-level easterly winds.
    • Neutral: These years are not associated with any of the above phenomena.
    • Southern Oscillation: This is the interconnection which was established between the El-Nino and the decrease in rainfall over the Indian subcontinent. Although the fishermen and later the scientists knew both the phenomena, the two were thought to be independent of each other. it was quite later that interconnection was established between the two and it was named Southern Oscillation.

Impact of ENSO on the Indian Subcontinent:

  • Weather: El-Nino causes higher temperatures and lesser rainfall over the Indian subcontinent, during the monsoon season. On the other hand, la-Nina increases the rainfall and decreases the temperature. Therefore, it is the La-Nina which is (ironically!) much warmly welcomed in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Disasters like Drought and Floods: While El-Nino leads to drought events in the subcontinent, La-Nina is primarily associated with flood events. These disasters affect the socio-economic status of the affected communities.
  • Health: El-Nino induced droughts lead to wildfires and forest fires, thus worsening respiratory diseases like asthma. On the other hand, La-Nina leads to flooding, inducing water-borne diseases like Cholera, Malaria, Jaundice etc.
  • Irrigation: According to Down to Earth, the irrigated area accounts for 48.8% of the total agricultural area of the country (almost 140 million ha). The remaining 51.2% is rainfed. This rainfed area is chiefly dependent upon the monsoonal rains. Therefore, the El-Nino induced rainfall-deficit year brings worries for Indian farmers, while La-Nina induced surplus year is widely welcomed by the Indian farmers.
  • Economy: As the monsoon plays an important role in Indian agriculture and the Indian economy and also the fact that India is a primarily agricultural country, ENSO affects the Indian economy in a major way. Better agricultural output means better returns for the Indian farmers and rural population. This induces demand and raises the economic output of the country. Since the ENSO impacts farmers and rural poor more, it also has an important role in the reduction or exacerbation of the inequality of the country.
  • Ecosystem: ENSO causes warmer and colder temperatures in the sea surface waters. Since the corals are a delicate ecosystem, the temperature change has the potential to affect the coral ecosystem. Apart from that, ENSO events lead to wildfires, droughts and floods as stated above, thus impacting the wildlife and biodiversity.

Temperatures defying La Nina:

  • Spike in temperature: According to the meteorological department, the temperature is 5 °C greater than the usual temperatures in this season this year. This is in conflict with the usual La-Nina years, which brings cold winds from the pacific and keeps the temperature low. The March of 2021 has been 3rd warmest in 121 years. The warmest March was in 2010 and the second warmest was in 2004.
  • Greenhouse Effect: Scientists have not discounted the effect of the greenhouse effect on a La-Nina year, which may increase the temperature. However, the fluctuation has caused concerns over the future of ENSO in the Indian subcontinent.


  • ENSO impacts the Indian subcontinent due to its dependence upon the monsoonal rains. Since 60% of the Indian population is indirectly dependent upon agriculture, it is imperative to expand the coverage of irrigation in India. This would enhance the food security of the nation, apart from being remunerative for the population of the country.


Practice Question

  1. Explain the interlinkage of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian subcontinent in the context of the impact of El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on the regional temperature and precipitation. Also, discuss the impact of ENSO on the economy of India.


UPSC Previous Years Questions:

  1. What characteristics can be assigned to monsoon climate that succeeds in feeding more than 50 percent of the won population residing in Monsoon Asia?                                                                         (GS1 – 2017)
  2. How far do you agree that the behavior of the Indian monsoon has been changing due to humanizing landscapes? Discuss.                                                                                                                                               (GS1 - 2015)
  3. Most of the unusual climatic happenings are explained as an outcome of the El-Nino effect. Do you agree?                                                                                                                                                                (GS1 - 2014)


  1. Breaking New Ground

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-3: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, - different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers. 
  • GS-3: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.

Context: The longest-running agricultural study in the world has led to valuable lessons for increasing the productivity of agricultural commodities.

The study:

  • Broadbalk: The 4.5-hectare land has been the world’s longest-running agricultural study. It was started in 1843 in the Rothamsted Research Institution. The field has been named Broadbalk.
  • Aim: The aim of the study is two-fold:
    • To test the effect of different organic and inorganic nutrients on soil productivity.
    • To determine the optimum combination of nutrients which can be applied to the crops to increase their productivity and to increase soil fertility.
  • Types of Fields: There are majorly three types of fields in the Broadbalk study:
  • Farming using Organic manures: These are cultivated using organic manures.
  • Farming using inorganic fertilizer: These fields are cultivated using inorganic fertilizers. In sub-fields, different variations of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and other nutrients are used to test their requirements for the plants.
  • Control Field: These fields are cultivated without any application of nutrients.

Findings of the Study:

  • Leaving the land Fallow: The study found that after cultivating multiple crops in the same field, the fertility of the soil starts to decrease. In such a scenario, the productivity of the crop can be increased by leaving the land fallow for a few seasons, during which it regains its productivity. This essentially vindicates the practice of Jhum or slash and burn cultivation practiced by certain tribal groups, despite its much larger negative ecological impact on biodiversity.
  • Organic vs Inorganic Fertiliser: The study does not find much difference in the yield of crops using organic or inorganic fertiliser. However, it goes on to state the positive impact of using organic manures on soil fertility, water holding capacity on the soil and the soil organic matter.
  • Importance of Herbicides: The study finds that the herbicides increase the productivity and yield by eliminating the herbs, which compete for resources and nutrients with the main crop. Therefore, it advocates the usage of herbicides in agricultural practice.


  • Broadbalk study emphasizes upon the importance of evidence-based policy formulation, rather than theoretical assumptions. It provides valuable guidance for India as a primarily agricultural country in the usage of organic manures and herbicides, to increase agricultural productivity. There is a need for more such studies specific to Indian soil, in the country.
  • The study has further taken up the 20:20 program in 2012, which aims to increase the agricultural yield of the wheat crop from 9 tons per ha to 20 tons per ha in 20 years. This will also be an important guiding factor for global agriculture in the future.


Practice Question

  1. Discuss the importance of the usage of organic manures and their long-term impact on soil characteristics. Also, discuss the government steps to augment agricultural productivity by investing in techniques to improve soil health.


UPSC Previous Years Questions:

  1. Sikkim is the first ‘Organic State’ in India. What are the ecological and economic benefits of Organic State?                                                                                                                                                                 (GS3- 2018)
  2. What are the major reasons for declining rice and wheat yield in the cropping system? How crop diversification is helpful to stabilize the yield of the crop in the system?                                                 (GS3 – 2017)
  3. Establish the relationship between land reform, agriculture productivity and elimination of poverty in Indian Economy. Discussion the difficulty in designing and implementation of the agriculture friendly land reforms in India.                                                                                                                                                    (GS3 – 2013)

Note: An important article related to the waiver of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) of the COVID vaccination is published in the magazine. We have already covered it in the earlier edition of Down to Earth (March 2021 second fortnight) here (March 16-03-2021 Down to Earth; article name – Dark Underbelly of Big Pharma Lobbying).