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Indian Express Editorial Analysis

21-February-2024

1. The minimum support

Topic: GS3 – Agriculture – MSP This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the economic and social implications of enforcing MSP legally.
Context:
  • Over the past two years, the central government has failed to take substantial action on the agreements made with protesting farmers’ unions, leading to renewed agitation near the national capital.
  • This lack of action has primarily revolved around the demand for a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) and other agricultural reforms.
  • In this analysis, we’ll delve into the intricacies of the MSP demand, its implications, and the arguments surrounding its enforcement.

The Demand for Legalizing MSP: Understanding its Components:
  • The farmers’ demand for MSP comprises two key elements.
  • Firstly, they advocate for MSP to be set at the comprehensive cost of production (C2) as recommended by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), plus an additional 50% as suggested by the Swaminathan Commission.
  • Secondly, they seek legal enforcement mandating that all crops covered under MSP are purchased at or above the MSP price by any market participant.
Quantifying the Impact of MSP Enforcement: Financial and Economic Considerations:
  • The total value of the 23 crops covered under MSP for the year 2023-24 is estimated at around Rs 15 lakh crore.
  • However, only a portion of this value reaches the markets due to various factors such as consumption, exchange within villages, and losses during harvesting and storage.
  • Government purchase, combined with private sector procurement, falls significantly short of the total MSP value, with the private sector often paying below MSP rates.
  • Enforcing MSP legally could potentially result in an additional financial outlay by the government, estimated at around Rs 1.5 lakh crore annually.
  • However, this investment could stimulate economic growth through increased consumer spending, leading to higher demand, investment, and tax revenue.
Economic and Ecological Implications of Legal MSP:
  • Enforcing MSP legally could incentivize crop diversification, leading to economic and ecological benefits.
  • Farmers would no longer be compelled to focus solely on crops with MSP coverage, such as paddy, wheat, and sugarcane, thereby promoting diversification and better resource utilization.
  • This could also lead to self-sufficiency in edible oils and pulses, reducing dependency on imports.
Addressing Concerns and Counterarguments:
  • Some economists argue that enforcing MSP legally might discourage private sector participation in crop procurement.
  • However, historical examples, such as sugarcane pricing, suggest otherwise, as government-prescribed prices haven’t deterred private mills from purchasing sugarcane.
  • Additionally, MSP serves as a crucial safety net for farmers, ensuring their viability and thereby safeguarding food security.
Conclusion:
  • The demand for a legal guarantee for MSP is not only justifiable but also crucial for ensuring the welfare of farmers and the stability of the agricultural sector.
  • By providing a safety net for farmers, promoting crop diversification, and stimulating economic growth, legal MSP enforcement emerges as a win-win solution for all stakeholders.
  • Ignoring this demand risks further unrest and threatens the livelihoods of millions of farmers, thereby underscoring the urgent need for decisive action by the central government.
Why is There a Demand for Law on MSP?
Ensuring Financial Viability of Agriculture:
  • Legalising MSP guarantees that farmers receive a minimum price for their produce, protecting them from market fluctuations and ensuring fair returns on their investments and labour.
  • MSP is the minimum price of agricultural produce that is necessary to keep agriculture financially viable. If the farmers do not get even this, then they will be pushed into debt.
Reducing Debt Burden on Farmers:
  • According to a 2019 National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) report, the average debt burden on a farmer’s family is over Rs 1 lakh. This is despite the central and state governments providing farmers a subsidy of Rs 3.36 lakh crore.
  • The total outstanding loan on farmers increased from Rs 9.64 lakh crore on March 31, 2014, to Rs 23.44 lakh crore in 2021-22.
  • The debt burden on farmers is rising due to minimal increase in MSPs and because they do not receive the declared MSP.
  • If the farmer has to sell his produce at a price lower than the promised MSP, the latter becomes meaningless for the farmers. Therefore, a legal guarantee of MSP is necessary.
Supporting Farmers’ Livelihoods:
  • Legalising MSP helps support the livelihoods of millions of farmers, particularly small and marginalized farmers who are vulnerable to market uncertainties.
  • The livelihood of about 50% of the country’s population depends on agriculture and agriculture-related activities.
Risk Mitigation:
  • No business has to deal with so many unpredictable factors and risks — extreme heat, floods, fire, frost, untimely rain, etc. Farmers remain uncertain and apprehensive about their income. MSP saves the farmer from debt and bankruptcy. Therefore, it needs to be secured with a legal guarantee.
  • Natural disasters and market forces are hurting farmers. Climate change is increasing the complexity of farming. The farmer cannot be left at the mercy of weather and market forces.
  • Legalising MSP provides a safety net, reducing the risk of income loss for farmers during unfavourable market conditions.
Addressing Market Imperfections:
  • The burden of providing cheap grains to protect consumer interests can’t solely rest with the farmer. Often, even when farmers sell their produce at low prices, consumers buy them at exorbitant rates. This is because of middlemen which need to be regulated.
  • Legalising MSP can help mitigate these issues by providing a guaranteed price directly to farmers.
Promoting Agricultural Growth:
  • Legalising MSP encourages farmers to invest in agricultural production by providing price stability and income security. This, in turn, promotes agricultural growth and contributes to overall food security in the country.
  • Legalising MSP can incentivize the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices by providing price incentives for crops that are environmentally friendly and resource-efficient.
Addressing Disparities:
  • The Shanta Kumar Committee concluded in 2015 that only 6% farmers benefited from the support price scheme.
  • In 2019-20 alone, three states — Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh — accounted for 85% of the wheat procurement.
  • Legalizing MSP can help mitigate these issues by providing a guaranteed uniform price directly to farmers.
  • Farmer-centric policies centered around MSP legalization contribute to poverty alleviation, rural development, and social inclusion.
PYQ: Consider the following statements: (2020) 1) In the case of all cereals, pulses and oil-seeds, the procurement at Minimum Support Price (MSP) is unlimited in any State/UT of India. 2) In the case of cereals and pulses, the MSP is fixed in any State/UT at a level to which the market price will never rise. Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 1 only (b) 2 only (c) Both 1 and 2 (d) Neither 1 nor 2 Ans: D
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of enforcing a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) in the context of agricultural reforms in India. (150 words/10 m)

2. Why are we falling ill so often?

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Health
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of the challenges faced in diagnosing and treating influenza, including issues related to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the need for appropriate vaccination strategies.
Context:
  • In recent times, India has witnessed a concerning escalation of respiratory diseases, particularly Influenza A (H1N1), raising alarms across various states.
  • The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has reported a resurgence of cases in multiple regions, with some states even recording fatalities associated with influenza.
  • The presence of different strains of the flu virus, including A(H1N1) pdm09, A(H3N2), and Type B Victoria lineage, has been highlighted, necessitating urgent measures to address the situation.
Current Situation and Recommendations:
  • The NCDC recommends heightened vigilance and testing for both influenza and COVID-19, given the increase in chest infections and hospital admissions.
  • To combat the rising infections, the prudent use of the Southern Hemisphere’s 2024 quadrivalent influenza vaccine has been suggested.
  • This vaccine targets the strains recommended by the World Health Organization for the current year, aiming to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Understanding Seasonal Influenza:
  • Seasonal influenza, characterized by acute respiratory infections caused by influenza viruses, poses significant challenges globally.
  • Its symptoms include fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, and runny nose, often leading to severe malaise.
  • While most recover within a week, high-risk individuals, especially the elderly and children under five, face increased vulnerability to severe illness or death.
  • In developing countries, the impact on children is particularly grave, with a majority of influenza-related deaths occurring in this demographic.
Factors Contributing to Influenza Transmission:
  • Several factors contribute to the transmission of influenza in India, including high population density, poor hygiene practices, conducive weather conditions, and low vaccination rates.
  • Extensive epidemiological studies have explored the interplay between respiratory virus epidemics and meteorological factors, with climate change emerging as a significant influencer.
  • Shifts in temperature and rainfall patterns may alter the spatial and temporal dynamics of influenza outbreaks, exacerbating transmission risks.
Challenges in Diagnosis and Treatment:
  • Diagnosing influenza presents challenges, especially during periods of low activity when other respiratory viruses mimic its symptoms.
  • Indiscriminate antimicrobial use, driven by the difficulty in clinical differentiation, further complicates treatment approaches.
  • The misuse of antibiotics contributes to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), a growing concern in India, necessitating interventions to curb excessive prescription practices.
Role of Vaccination and Immunization Programs:
  • Vaccination remains a cornerstone in influenza control measures, with several countries, including India, recommending annual vaccination for high-risk groups.
  • However, the inclusion of influenza vaccines in India’s Universal Immunization Programme is hindered by a lack of comprehensive data on morbidity and mortality associated with influenza.
  • Leveraging the success of the COVID-19 vaccine program, there’s an opportunity to expand adult immunization efforts, potentially reducing community transmission and AMR-related challenges.
Conclusion:
  • As India moves towards universal health coverage, addressing the growing burden of influenza requires a preventive approach, including the expansion of immunization programs.
  • Prioritizing influenza prevention and control strategies can not only benefit vaccinated individuals but also contribute to reducing community transmission and associated complications.
  • This proactive approach aligns with ongoing pandemic preparedness efforts and supports broader public health goals in the country.
About National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)
  • The Central Malaria Bureau was founded in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, in 1909 and later became the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), which later became the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
  • In 2009, NICD was renamed the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), tasked with the expanded responsibility of managing newly and re-emerging illnesses.
  • It serves as the nation’s nodal agency for disease surveillance, assisting in the prevention and management of communicable diseases.
  • In addition, it is a national centre that engages in a range of applied research endeavours and trains skilled personnel for the fields of public health, laboratory sciences, and entomology.
Major Functions
  • Carries out nationwide disease outbreak investigations.
  • Offers diagnostic service referrals to state health directorates, medical schools, research institutes, and private citizens.
  • Actively involved in the creation and sharing of knowledge across a range of fields, including laboratories, surveillance, and epidemiology.
  • One of the main focuses of the Institute has been applied integrative research in a variety of elements of both communicable and certain non-communicable diseases.
  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Director General of Health Services is in charge of the Institute’s administrative operations.
  • The Institute’s main office is located in Delhi.
 PYQ: H1N1 virus is sometimes mentioned in the news with reference to which one of the following diseases? (2015) (a) AIDS (b) Bird flu (c) Dengue (d) Swine flu Ans: (d)  
Practice Question:  Discuss the challenges posed by the escalation of respiratory diseases, particularly Influenza A (H1N1), in India. Examine the role of government policies and public health interventions in addressing this issue. (250 words/15 m)

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