The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) is an important source of study material for IAS, especially for the current affairs segment. In this section, we give you the gist of the EPW magazine every week. The important topics covered in the weekly are analysed and explained in a simple language, all from a UPSC perspective.
1. Fixed Fate, Free Will
- The fifth governing council meeting of the NITI Aayog, had called upon the state governments to undertake structural transformations of the Indian agricultural sector.
- Through the reforms of the marketing regulations, such as the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), 1955 and the Model Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act (APMC Act).
Expected outcomes of reforms
- In the context of the agrarian distress across the country, reforming these acts is expected to provide a breather, especially to the deteriorating farm incomes
- The idea for reforming the ECA, particularly at a time when surplus management has emerged as a pressing problem for the farm sector, deserves mention.
- With the ECA being a deterrent for market integration—a necessary condition for Pareto optimality of spatial competitive equilibrium—its relaxation would imply that excess demand (supply) and hence price signals from one market will be transmitted to other markets.
- In other words, farmers will get the right price for their produce, while increase in availability will give (price) relief to consumers.
Challenges in amending ECA
- Amending the ECA is a contagious issue, especially for such crops that have a well-entrenched political practice of fixing an administered price.
- Once the government commits an assured price to the growers, an essential corollary is that it must ensure the offtake of whatever is produced.
- In the case of crops such as sugar cane, there is a political clout within the sugar milling industry that would resist any relaxation of control over the movement and marketing of the cane.
- In such cases the middlemen refuse to pay the administered prices—whether the central government’s statutory minimum prices (SMP) or the state-advised prices (SAP)—to the growers.
- With such examples at hand, “cooperative federalism” for agricultural reforms seems more notional than practical.
- It is expected to encourage the much-needed investments (more specifically corporate investments) in agricultural marketing.
- Such an explanation is based on some classic beliefs of “market romanticism.”
- The private sector will act as an innovator/game changer for agricultural transformation and therefore needs to be integrated in the rural development strategy,
- The efficiency in outcomes of the market, and particularly the role of the private sector in improving marketing efficiency are self-evident.
- The government’s political will for “inclusive” agricultural reforms will stand the test of time only if it can create an “enabling environment” for making these reforms work in the coming days.
2. Women’s Reservation Bill
- The 17th Lok Sabha witnessed the highest number of women ever in Parliament, with 78 women members of Parliament elected from all over the country.
- Women’s representation in the Lok Sabha has increased from 11.3% in 2014 to 14% in 2019, coming across as a positive development.
- However, the diversity composition within the group of elected women candidates needs further analysis along the lines of caste, class, religion and ethnicity.
Comparing with other countries
- The number of women representations in India is lesser than its neighbouring countries like Nepal (30%), Pakistan (20.2%) and Bangladesh (20.6%).
- The relatively stronger representation of women in these countries is due to the implementation of legislated gender-based reservations.
Significance of women representation
- More local, national and global attention on issues of violence against women.
- This will also grow awareness around sexual harassment and mental trauma.
Women’s Reservation Bill
- Bill proposed, by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-I) government —remains pending till date in Parliament.
- The proposition to have one-third of all seats reserved for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies was a sincere concern, aimed at increasing the representation of women in these male-dominated spaces.
- The same bill also seeks to reserve one-third of the total number of seats for women from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
- However, reservations for women from Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have not been incorporated within the bill, despite recommendations from the report examining the 1996 Women’s Reservation Bill.
- The reservation policy is said to be discontinued 15 years after the commencement of the amendment act.
Why issues faced by women do not get required attention
- Only a section of the privileged, upper-caste and urban-educated women occupy the few spaces available for women.
- Within the existing framework of general reservations, the privileged among the underprivileged, that is, the men within these socially-deprived groups are able to find more opportunities of education and employment than the women.
- Women’s empowerment and their intersectional forms of oppression often get subsumed within general, tokenistic political discussions.
- Most of the major political parties do not encourage women’s issues to be a central political theme in their campaigns, unless a physically or sexually violent matter is highlighted in the media.
- The lack of representation of women in powerful positions in the Lok Sabha or the legislative assemblies hinder the focus required on women’s education and financial independence, that may have helped them to break free from those oppressive familial ties.
- The proposed bill therefore would be an entry point to raise such questions of the politics of intersectional deprivation within the category of women.
- However, one must also take note of the exclusion of OBC women from the proposition. Although, post Mandal Commission, the specific issues of OBCs have been voiced in different spheres, it certainly does not eradicate the gender hierarchies within the backward classes.
- Research has also depicted that among the OBCs, the Muslim OBC women are further deprived due to various intersections of oppression inflicted by religious and caste discrimination.
- Activists have written to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, urging him to “draft a proposal or revise the old draft of the Women’s Reservation Bill,” which had lapsed multiple times in the past three decades
- With the rising concerns over the decreasing labour force participation rates and the increasing number of cases of violence against women, the country and its women are looking forward to the upcoming Lok Sabha sessions.
- Despite the deplorable track record of the proposed bill, one could only hope for better representation in various legislative bodies to address these concerns promptly and more effectively.
3. Hollowing Out the Right to Education
- The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 aims to ensure inclusive education by requiring private educational institutions to admit students of economically weaker sections as part of the fundamental right to education.
- However, the existence of the act has never been free of state government and judicial attempts to dilute its beneficial provisions.
- A recent division bench judgment of the Karnataka High Court, has effectively put an end to the hopes of lakhs of children belonging to economically weaker sections (EWS) from gaining admission to unaided private schools.
- The high court dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutional and legal validity to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012 which imposed certain preconditions for children from the EWS category to avail admissions to private schools.
- The amendment in January 2019, requires that any child seeking admission to a private school—under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act)—must not have a government school or aided school in the “neighbourhood.
- Even before the judgment of the high court was delivered, the operation of this rule had dramatically reduced the number of private school seats open for children from the EWS.
- The high court’s judgment put a seal of approval on this large-scale exclusion of underprivileged children from school.
Flawed and Muddled Judgment
- The PIL filed by the Education Rights Trust (an organisation of parents of children seeking admission under the RTE Act) raised two very basic and straightforward challenges
- that it was contrary to the RTE Act itself
- and that it was against the constitutional mandate of Article 21-A of the Constitution.
- In dismissing the PIL, the high court wholeheartedly accepts that the private schools’ obligation to admit students from EWS is only contingent upon the government not being able to provide schools in the neighbourhood.
- This is an entirely flawed and baseless reading of the two provisions as, on the face of it, there is no connection between the provisions in question
- The two provisions contain two independent obligations on two different sets of persons: Section 6 on the government and Section 12(1)(c) on private, unaided schools.
- The Karnataka High Court judgment simply adds words to the statute that, in fact, go contrary to the intent of the law.
- The nature of the obligation was made quite clear by the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court that is, it was a binding obligation on private aided and unaided schools to admit students belonging to the EWS category, and fees reimbursed by the government
- At no point does the court find this obligation contingent upon the government being unable to set up enough schools or any other such requirement.
Education as Charity, Not a Right
- The inclusion element of the RTE Act has been repeatedly emphasised by the union government and other agencies. Yet, courts have repeatedly refused to give the idea the primacy it deserves in context of the right to education.
- The Supreme Court in one of the judgements, first held that the right under Article 21-A cannot be claimed vis-à-vis unaided, private schools run by linguistic and religious minorities.
- While upholding the constitutional validity of the Constitution (Eighty Sixth) Amendment Act, 2002 in inserting Article 21-A, the Court (by a majority of two to one) nonetheless effectively rendered minorities’ right to run educational institutions superior to the right to education.
- The necessary consequence of this judicial sleight of hand was to turn a fundamental right into state largesse. Judgments began the process of hollowing out the right to education of aspects of choice, quality, and inclusion.
- The linguistic or religious minority character of an institution is not in any way destroyed by admitting students from EWS categories.
- Even if there was a “danger,” the Court could have read down Section 12(1)(c) to hold that the minority institution could give preference to minority students from the EWS category.
- When seen thus, the Karnataka state government and the high court have simply taken forward this approach of using flawed reasoning and unsustainable construction of statutes to further diminish the scope of the right to education.
- Even without judicial dilution, the noble intent of the 86th Amendment and the RTE Act has been facing and continues to face implementation difficulties at the state government level elsewhere too.
- In the case of the rules framed by the Karnataka government, we find an instance where the state government has explicitly abandoned any intention of implementing the mandate of Section 12(1)(c) contrary to the plain intent of the RTE Act.
- The logical endpoint of this judgment is a dystopia where government schools are reserved for those who cannot afford to pay the high fees charged by private schools.
- Ensuring a segregated education system that is fundamentally at odds with the constitutional values of equality and the right to education.
For more EPW articles, read “Gist of EPW