Down To Earth(February 01-14)
Down to Earth (Feb 1-14 2022)
Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC.
Sohrai Murals: These are the vibrant, attractive tribal paintings drawn by Santhal communities of Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand on the walls of their dwellings.
1. Sitting Duck
Topics covered from the syllabus:
Arab Spring: It was a series of pro-democracy revolutions which began and swept many of the countries in the Middle East.
Context: Flaws in the PM Fasal Bima Yojana have exposed the farmers to acute stress and debt traps, which have the potential to affect the food security of the country as well as lead to an increase in farmer suicides.
Requirement of Crop Insurance
- High Dependency on Agriculture: In India, a majority of population is directly or indirectly dependent upon agriculture. For e.g. the Labour Force Participation Rate in agriculture in the country is 42.6% in 2019, while more than 60% of the population is indirectly dependent on Agriculture. Therefore, any losses in Agriculture have the tendency to affect a majority of population in the country.
- Debt Trap: Rural areas in the country are still reeling from expensive loans and usurious interest rates because of low access to formal financial institutions. This leads to many farmers being caught in the debt webs spun by the moneylenders, traders and middlemen. A single-year crop failure has the potential to devastate a small or marginal farmer, leading to a high prevalence of suicide among debt-ridden farmers.
- High dependence on Monsoons: At the same time, the country suffers from a lack of irrigation facilities in a majority of agricultural area. In fact, 51.2% of 140 million hectares of India’s agricultural land remains rainfed, leading to farmers being dependent upon monsoons for irrigation. Therefore, any monsoon-deficit season can wreak havoc for the over-leveraged Indian farmer.
- Food Security: Due to its high population, India is especially vulnerable to crop losses and agricultural failures. Any such incident has the potential to affect food security and increase hunger & malnutrition in the country. For e.g., in 2021, India lost 5.04 million hectares of crop area to weather events like cyclones, landslides, flash floods and cloudbursts, as per the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. This translated into brief bouts of hyperinflation in the food sector.
- Food Inflation: Any losses in the agriculture sector translate to a rise in prices of agricultural commodities. This is difficult to bear for the majority of population in the country. For e.g., India’s wholesale inflation rate in November 2021 was 14.23%, which is the highest in three decades. Such price rise has the capacity to spoil the household budget plans in the country, if it translates into higher retail inflation.
- Food Related Violence: Food, being one of the basic requirements of human and animal population, has the potential to incite riots in the population, as happened in 2011 in West Asia and Africa during Arab Spring (see inset). Therefore, it is pertinent to keep an eye on indicators like Food and Agricultural Organization’s Food Price Index, which showed that the food prices are increasing by 28% from last year on an average, being highest in the last decade.
- Aggravation in Extreme Weather Events: A controlled food price rise is not bad, per se, as it encourages farmers to increase production, by increasing their incomes. However, this is contradicted by the loss incurred due to extreme weather events like floods, droughts, untimely rains, hailstorms etc., which disincentivize farmers from investing more in their fields. For e.g. between 1956 and 2010, there were nine double-digit inflation episodes, of which seven were caused by drought conditions as per RBI. At the same time, the uncertainty in advanced predictions or knowledge distribution regarding such events also leads to losses for farmers.
- Investment in Agriculture: Despite India being blessed with fertile land and perennial rivers, it suffers from low agricultural production due to lack of advancements in agriculture. This increases the requirement for manual labour and leads to disguised unemployment in the economy, where a field is often farmed by more people than required. This vicious cycle can be prevented by assuring adequate remuneration to the farmers through insurance schemes, so that they are encouraged to invest in increasing the production on their farmlands.
PM Fasal Bima Yojana
- Details: PMFBY insures farmers against all types of agricultural risks from pre-sowing to post-harvest. The premium is subsidized for the farmers. They have to pay 2% of the total premium in the case of Kharif crop and 1.5%, in the case of Rabi Crops. For horticultural and commercial crops, farmers need to pay 5% of the total premium.
- Government Contribution: The amount of premium is determined on the basis of a bidding process. After the farmer has paid her share, rest of the amount is shared by the Central and State government in the ratio of 50:50 or 90:10 for the hilly states.
- Determination of Claims: Initially, a threshold yield is notified by the State government on the basis of yield of the past seven years. If there is a shortfall from the threshold yield, it means the claim can be successfully processed by the insurance company.
- Loanee farmers: The scheme was initially compulsory for farmers who had taken an agricultural loan. However, it has been made voluntary since 2020.
Other Steps Required
- Improvements in PM Fasal Bima Yojana: As reported in the media, there is a need for further improvements in the scheme:
- Calculation Methodology: Many farmers have complained that the surveyors are not using market price for the calculation of claims, instead it is calculated on the basis of cultivation cost. This needs to be corrected to let farmers benefit from the scheme.
- Inaccuracies in coverage: There have been reports of many farmers being left out arbitrarily while calculating the claim and transferring the amounts to their respective amounts. This leads to a lack of trust between the farmers and the whole insurance process.
- Delays in Payments: As per a reply of the Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ welfare in Lok Sabha, Rs 3372 Crore is pending to be paid, out of total claims of Rs 66,460 Crore. The insurance companies, in turn, blame the State governments for not paying up their dues. This is not conducive to the future of the scheme and leads to farmers opting out of it.
- States opting out: Seven states viz. Punjab, Gujarat, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal, have opted out of PMFBY due to financial constraints. Similarly, in the 2021 Rabi season, only 19 of the 29 states participated.
- Awareness Generation: There is a need to educate farmers about the finer details of the scheme and their rights vis-à-vis the scheme. For e.g., despite the government making PMFBY contribution voluntary even for the loanee farmers since 2020, many continue to pay the premiums due to a lack of knowledge.
- Research and Development: Again, there is a need to address the lack of scientific interventions in agriculture in the country. For e.g., recent advances in weather prediction technology can be used to advise farmers to go for lesser water-intensive crops. At the same time, more research is required to develop drought-resistant and disease-resistant crops, which are more suitable for Indian conditions.
- Policy Support: Agriculture is an emotive issue in India because of the dependence of a major part of the population on agriculture. Therefore, it must be ensured that it is not issued as a political sop during elections and round the year focus is ensured on the development of agricultural infrastructure. Similarly, farmer organizations have complained of export bans after shortages caused by global crop failures, leading to non-realization of highly remunerative prices by the farmers in the global market. This is a double-whammy for the farmers as they suffer from a steep fall in prices due to demand-supply mismatch, in case of bumper production in agriculture.
- PM Fasal Bima Yojana involves dependency on the private sector insurance schemes, whose main motive is profit. At the same time, farmers lack the resources to fight big corporates against their unjust policies. Therefore, despite being a scheme with good intent, the scheme suffers from the lack of proper execution. There is a need to plug the loopholes so that the scheme can be used more intensively for the farmers’ welfare.
- Highlight the reasons for the farmers’ lack of trust in agricultural insurance scheme despite the country being prone to climatic disasters. Also, enumerate the major provisions of PM Fasal Bima Yojana.
- Given the vulnerability of Indian agriculture to vagaries of nature, discuss the need for crop insurance and bring out the salient features of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY). (GS3 - 2016)
- In view of the declining average size of land holdings in India which has made agriculture non-viable for a majority of farmers, should contract farming and land leasing be promoted in agriculture? Critically evaluate the pros and cons. (GS3 - 2015)
2. An Unusual Contest
Topics covered from the syllabus:
Agrivoltaics: It refers to the practice of using the farmland for solar power generation, along with planting of crops.
Context: Apart from directly encroaching the forest lands, India is also seeing a loss of bio-diverse areas due to its zeal to achieve the renewable energy targets.
- The article covers the desert area of Jaisalmer which is home to Great Indian Bustard. But has not been as comfortable for the bird due to the web of transmission lines laid to distribute electricity from the large scale solar and wind energy generation projects.
Impact of Renewable Energy on Man-Animal Conflict
- Encroachments: India has committed to achieve 450 GW of renewable energy as a part of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement. This has led to a huge sprawl of solar and wind energy generation projects, including in bio-diverse areas. Environmentalists have flagged such projects as a threat to biodiversity.
- Orans in Jaisalmer: In Rajasthan, Orans are biodiversity-rich, sacred groves, which are traditionally protected by the local communities of the area. For e.g., Orans in Jaisalmer boast of 122 Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) out of a total population of 150 in the wild. Considering GIBs are ‘Critically Endangered’, these Orans assume a great significance. But they have been victims of encroachments of solar and wind energy plants.
- Suitability for renewable energy: The area surrounding Orans in Rajasthan is ideally suited for renewable energy due to long sunlight hours as well as existence of large plains with unhindered winds. This makes the areas conducive to both solar energy generation and wind energy generation respectively.
- Lack of Stringent Regulations: Unlike thermal power plants and various other industrial projects, solar and wind energy generation plants are not subject to ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ (EIA). This may lead to deterioration in biodiversity of a region on the installation of such projects. In contrast, the countries like USA conduct comprehensive EIA and Avian Path Studies to ascertain the impact of such projects on wildlife.
- Underground Wiring: On a petition filed by environment conservationists, Supreme Court had directed underground wiring in the region, to protect GIBs and other birds from electrocution. The Centre has set up a three-member committee to look into the different aspects of underground wiring. However, it is difficult to comply with SC order due to various reasons:
- Prohibitive Costs: According to the proponents of the Renewable Energy projects, an attempt to lay underground wiring may lead to a four to ten-fold increase in the costs of the project, rendering it unviable. This would hinder the progress of renewable energy generation in the country.
- Right of Way: Unlike overhead wiring, the land needs to be dug to lay underground wiring. This might be difficult considering the land acquisition problems which have plagued the development of highways and other infrastructure projects in the country.
- Technical Limitations: Experts have contended that no company around the world manufactures underground cables which have the capacity to transmit 765 KV of current, which is suitable for the project.
- Safety Issues: The project may lead to electrocutions and loss of life in case of any fault exposing the high tension cable under the ground.
Steps Required to Resolve the Issue
- Technology-based Initiatives: (This part is taken from another article in the same edition – Good Riddance): There is a need to harness the power of technology to reduce man-animal conflict and protect the animals while still preventing them from destroying the property. For e.g. a startup Katidhan Tech has tied up with various NGOs to install devices that deter animals. It has designed two devices:
- Parabraksh: It is a smart light which repels animals. The light is solar-powered and has usb-charging system for cloudy days. It is a smart light which switches on at night and switches off during the day. It has various patterns of LED lighting to keep the animal away from the intended location.
- Kapilkaat: This device has 2 speakers and it uses predator sounds to scare monkeys away. It has built-in sensors to detect the movement of monkeys and plays sounds of tigers and lions to scare them off. Since monkeys are known to be highly adaptable, the device uses different sounds every time monkeys approach an area.
- Humane in application: The major advantage of the devices is that despite being tremendously effective, they are not cruel in nature like electric fences, which give electric shocks, sometimes killing the young animals.
- Protecting the Area: Due to its rich biodiversity, there is a need to declare areas like Jaisalmer Orans protected areas. In 2018, Supreme Court directed such areas to be deemed forests as they are open natural ecosystems. This would also be in the spirit of Article 25 of the Constitution of India, as Orans have spiritual significance for the local communities.
- Tapping the potential of Renewable Energy: Despite its proven rich biodiversity, Orans in Jaisalmer hold huge energy potential. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the area has potential to generate renewable energy to the tune of 263 GW. Out of this, only 3% of the total potential has been realized till now.
- Phasing out Fossil Fuel: Proponents of renewable energy have contended that if the renewable energy potential of the area is not tapped, it would mean continuing to use thermal power and could only be offset by an additional capacity of 93 GW of coal-based projects. This would lead a huge blow to Indian efforts at lowering its fossil fuel based energy intensity.
- Decentralized Power Generation: Environmentalists suggest innovative practices like agri-voltaics (see inset) and roof-top power generation to decrease the use of power transmission lines. They have additional benefit of lower power losses due to transmission and distribution losses.
- Conservation of Wildlife: There is a need to balance the country’s objectives of tapping into renewable energy as well as conserving biodiversity. For e.g., as already mentioned, Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is a ‘critically endangered’ bird. Therefore, the forest department in Rajasthan and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun have set up a GBI breeding centre in the Desert National Park. In the centre, the eggs of GIB are collected and hatched in captivity to protect them from being eaten or destroyed in the open.
- Solar and wind energy hold immense potential in a tropical country like India. However, there is a need to ensure that any attempt to harness renewable energy is not at the cost of loss of biodiversity in the country. Innovation is required to balance the need for harnessing the renewable energy, while still maintaining the natural areas in pristine condition.
- Critically discuss the need for regulatory supervision of the renewable energy sector in the light of recent incidents of encroachment of biodiversity rich areas during the installation of such projects.
- Rehabilitation of human settlements is one of the important environmental impacts which always attracts controversy while planning major projects. Discuss the measures suggested for mitigation of this impact while proposing major developmental projects. (GS3 – 2016)
- 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)