Gist of EPW October Week 2, 2018

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. 

Topic covered in this article are:

  1. Redefining Strategies and Priorities
  2. Misnaming Toilet Building as ‘Swachhata’

  3. A Tangle of Temple Entry and ‘Pragmatic Politics’

  4. Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY)


Redefining Strategies and Priorities

India’s population by 2025 is projected to cross the 1.35 billion mark. Increasing population affects agricultural land use and land cover patterns. This puts enormous pressure on natural resources to produce more from less land, through use of additional inputs like fertilisers. However, increased fertiliser usage to enhance food production has adversely affected soil health.

Agriculture needs to be sustainable so that natural resources can be protected, conserved and enhanced and people’s livelihood in rural areas sustained. Achieving land degradation neutrality and sustaining food security have been added by the UN in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Principles contributing to sustainable agriculture include-Improving soil health, more crops per drop, reduction of fertiliser and pesticide usage, adapting to climate change, and doubling farmers’ income

The Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recently proposed sustainability principles such as effective governance; efficient use of resources; conserve, protect and promote natural resources; protecting/improving livelihoods of rural people among others

According to the 2030 Water Resources Group Report, India would need 1,498 billion cubicmetres (m3) of water annually with 80% for agriculture, 13% for industry and 7% for domestic needs. Against this demand, India’s current water supply is approximately 740 billion m3. As a result, most of India’s river basins could face a severe deficit unless concerted action is taken in the Ganga, Krishna, and Indus basins in India.

Practices such as laser-assisted precision land levelling, zero tillage, dry and surface seeding, mulching cultivars with early vigour, etc, save irrigation water, reduce evaporation, improve infiltration, water storage and crop productivity

In areas with low water productivity, reducing evaporation and improving soil health are important options for increasing water productivity. With the adoption of conservation agriculture and investment in water management, India’s water supply-demand gap can be largely solved.

In pre-independent India, farmers had no access to chemical fertilisers and relied mainly on organic and green manures and system of land fallows. In the green revolution era, the focus shifted to chemical fertilisers and burning of crop residues but the soil health deteriorated.

Soil health is fundamental to maintaining the eco-functions of soils, vital to agriculture. Regulating the release and uptake of nutrients, and soil organisms are critical for soil health.

Depleted arable soils can be nursed back to life by using conservation agriculture. Conservation agriculture can improve agriculture through reduced erosion, improvement in soil moisture storage, soil structure, reduced surface crusting (red soils) and surface cracking in black soils, and by increasing soil organic matter and suppressing weeds. Conservation agriculture also helps reduce costs of production.

Adoption of soil-conserving practices, such as surface retention of crop residues, green manures, agro-forestry, and fast-growing tree species in fallow lands, can also mitigate the damaging effects of climate variability.

Small tanks can be built on farms to tackle rainfall variability during the later crop season. These tanks can be used to store water from the overflowing canals during the rainy season to handle climate variability later in the crop season.

Diversification of agriculture systems with low water-consumptive crops, use of drought and heat tolerant cultivars, agro-forestry measures and nutrient management, etc, enhance the adaptive capacity of agriculture to climate change. It is necessary to reduce usage of Chemical Fertilisers and adopt conservation agriculture practices.

Conservation agriculture rests on four broad management practices:

  • Drastic reduction in soil disturbance and adoption of direct sowing
  • Maintenance of a continuous vegetative soil cover,
  • Sound crop rotation and
  • Avoidance of freewheeling to reduce soil compaction.

Conservation agriculture results in numerous environmental benefits such as decreased soil erosion and water loss through run-off, decreased carbon dioxide emissions and higher carbon sequestration, organic matter build-up, efficient nutrient cycling, reduced fuel consumption, increased water productivity, less flooding, and better recharging of underground aquifers, reduced compaction in the subsoil, and cracking in black soil.

Conservation agriculture has the targeted effect in reducing the use of synthetic fertilisers. Conservation agriculture principles must form an important component of the national strategy to produce more food at lower costs, improve environmental quality and preserve natural resources.


Agriculture development has to be in tune with local and national objectives. Schemes should not be mechanically implemented. Plans should be integrated and location specific and meet the needs of local farmers. Sustainable agriculture needs to be adopted on a sustained and aggressive basis.

Misnaming Toilet Building as ‘Swachhata’

Swachh Bharat Mission

  • The Government of India has launched “Swachh Bharat Mission” on 2nd October, 2014. The target is to achieve Swachh Bharat by 2019, as a fitting tribute to the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.


  • It aims to accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation.

The components of Swachh Bharat Mission

  • Construction of Household Toilets,
  • Community and Public Toilets,
  • Solid Waste Management,
  • Information, Education & Communication (IEC) and Public Awareness, and
  • Capacity Building and Administrative & Office Expenses (A&OE).

Division of fund  

  • The funding pattern between the Central Government and the State Government/ Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) is 75%:25%(90% : 10% for North Eastern and special category states).

Swachh Bharat Kosh (SBK)

The gap in financing of the aforesaid components could be met by Swachh Bharat Kosh (SBK) has been set up to attract Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds from Corporate Sector and contributions from individuals and philanthropists.

Subdivisions of Swachh Bharat Mission

  • Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) – In Rural India, Swachh Bharat Mission would mean, improving the levels of cleanliness in rural areas through Solid and Liquid Waste Management activities and making Gram Panchayats Open Defecation Free (ODF), clean and sanitised.
  • Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) – In urban area, Swachh Bharat Mission would mean elimination of open defecation, conversion of unsanitary toilets to pour flush toilets, eradication of manual scavenging, municipal solid waste management and bringing about a behavioural change in people regarding healthy sanitation practices.

Some recent facts about the scheme

  • Within a span of merely four years (2014–17), household toilet availability has increased from 42% to 64%, with over five lakh villages across 25 states/union territories being declared open defecation free (ODF).
  • A WaterAid study in 2017 found that almost a third of the functional toilets under SBM failed to prevent human contact with faecal matter, either because these have no traps, and/or are located at susceptible distances from drinking water points.
  • The National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (2017–18) shows 70% of villages as having waste management systems in place, while studies by WaterAid in 2017 and World Health Organization/United Nations Children’s Fund in 2015 found about 30% of the rural households and 9% of urban population, respectively, practising safe disposal of faecal waste.
  • A report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Leo Heller, in 2017 has identified that the implementation of the SBM “contributes to violating fundamental rights of others, such as those specific caste-affected groups engaged in manual scavenging.”
  • While Heller’s report mentions that the existing infrastructures are unsuitable for persons with disabilities, transpersons, and women, particularly with respect to the menstrual hygiene management, a study by the Aser Centre (2016) found only 62% schools having functional and usable girls’ toilets.

Critical analysis of the Scheme

  • All is not well behind these impressive numbers. Evidence shows that physical access alone is not enough to ensure usage, so much so that even the ODF-certified areas are not de facto (in reality) ODF.
  • The focus for toilet construction/ODF certification has overshadowed the fact that the essence of universal water and sanitation coverage is derived from the right to life, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • At the same time, India has ratified several international treaties that explicitly recognise the human rights to water and sanitation, and the human rights obligations of the states. Yet, there is no national legislation to protect these rights in the country.
  • In such a top-down system, violation of rights is rampant, primarily because of the beneficiaries’ lack of ownership and the consequent lack of accountability of the service providers.
  • For example, while the government vouches for a “safe” sanitation technology, on implementation it may not turn out so due to limited involvement/knowledge of the beneficiary in the decision to build a toilet/choose a technology.
  • From the human rights perspective, sanitation is not only concerned about individual right to use facilities, but also the human rights of other people who can be negatively affected by inappropriate management of sanitary wastes.
  • Building more toilets/introducing alternative sanitation technologies can elicit corporate investments, garner celebrity endorsements and, perhaps, brownie points with voters, too, but it cannot change the mindset that sanitisation is the work of the lower castes.
  • Notwithstanding the glitches, Modi should be given credit for bringing a socially relevant issue like “open defecation” to the centre stage of the Indian policy discourse.

A Tangle of Temple Entry and ‘Pragmatic Politics’


  • The question of the entry of women, between the ages of 10 and 50 years, into Sabarimala temple in Kerala, is as old as the formation of the state itself.
  • The debate around Sabarimala temple has involved the judiciary, successive state governments, the priestly class and socio-religious organisations, and devotees of all ages and genders.
  • However, parties to the debate do not constitute a homogeneous whole, as they hold diverse standpoints on the issue. The resultant differences between these standpoints have further widened the political fault lines following the much-awaited verdict of the Supreme Court in late September 2018. The Court revoked the existing ban on women’s entry into the temple during their menstruating years.

Background of the issue

  • A Constitution Bench of the court, in a majority of 4:1, upheld the 12-year-old PIL petition filed by Indian Young Lawyers Association challenging the prohibition of women aged between 10 and 50 from undertaking the pilgrimage.
  • The Bench found that a restriction on a woman solely based on her menstrual status was a smear on her individual dignity.
  • The court said, “treating women as the children of a lesser God is to blink at the Constitution”.
  • It was a “form of untouchability” abolished decades ago and the ban on women was derogatory to equal citizenship, the Supreme Court held.

What are the issues involved in the case?

  • Gender Discrimination – When everyone is equal in the eyes of God and the Constitution, why are only women banned from entering certain temples.
  • Religion is a personal choice – Our Constitution guarantees an individual the freedom to choose his/her religion. Therefore, praying in a temple/mosque/church or at home must be the choice of the individual.
  • Custom Vs Liberty – The Constitution has provisions to protect the customs and religious practices of the people. At the same time, it guarantees liberty and religious freedom to the individual.
  • Temple as public place Vs religion as private choice – Temple, managed by trusts, are public places. The representatives of the Sabarimala trust say that it has its own customs and traditions which have to be respected. Just like there are rules for other public places.

Observations made by the Court

  • Tagging a woman’s right to enter the famous Sabarimala temple with her menstrual cycle is unreasonable.
  • There is no concept of private mandirs (temples). Once a temple is opened, everybody can go and offer prayers there. Nobody, man or woman, can be excluded.
  • Sabarimala temple drew funds from the Consolidated Fund and people coming from all over the world thus – it is qualified to be called a public place of worship.
  • Women and their physiological phenomena are creations of God. If not god, of nature. Why should this (menstruation) be a reason for exclusion for employment or worship or anything?
  • Article 25 (1) mandates freedom of conscience and right to practise religion. “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. This means right to pray is a constitutional right.
  • Any religion which excludes women on the basis of their age, sex or menarche is irrelevant.

Analysis of the issue

  • The judgment, delivered by a five-member constitutional bench, was divided 4:1. The majority opinion judges, all male, affirmed “constitutional morality” over “discrimination in devotion” and “patriarchy in religion.”
  • The lone dissenting judge, also the only woman on the bench, differed on the grounds that “notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion.”
  • While many in the country celebrated the verdict that upheld gender equality, women devotees in Kerala thronged the streets to protest the same.
  • Arguments against the verdict primarily centre on fears of increased state intervention in religious affairs.
  • While these fears are valid in a multireligious country like India, the case of Sabarimala temple and other public temples in Kerala is unlike many other pilgrimage sites in the country.
  • The state intervention in Sabarimala goes back to the Travancore–Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950, when the temple’s governance was transferred from the Travancore Royal Devaswom Commission to the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), a statutory body.
  • What has got lost in the din of the present controversy is that it was the state legislature that passed the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965.
  • This meant that the TDB’s two successive notifications disallowing the entry of “mature” women, traditionally barred only from the sanctum sanctorum of Sabarimala, into the temple premises altogether, were endorsed by the legislature.
  • In reality, however, this rule was more strictly adhered to during the pilgrimage season of November–December and the Vishu festival, and not so strictly during the rest of the year, barring access to certain areas within.
  • In 1990, a vigilant devotee filed a case against routine transgressions by VIP women among others in the Kerala High Court, which upheld his objection and instituted a complete ban on women’s entry into Sabarimala in their menstruating years. Thereafter, women had to provide proof of age to enter the temple premises.
  • In 2006, this ban was challenged in the Supreme Court by a lay group. Since then it is the state government that has been changing its position in the Court.
  • While the Left Democratic Front (LDF), in power in 2006 as also now in 2018, opposed the ban, the United Democratic Front supported it.


  • Temple entry forms one of the grounds to articulate the concerns of justice. The state has, and will be, an important stakeholder in this agenda.
  • However (gender) justice, as a value, seems to have become vulnerable to pragmatic politics. It most commonly takes a back seat in the case of vote bank politics and larger demands for religious/communitarian reform.

Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY)

  • MSY is the maximum level at which a natural resource can be routinely exploited without long-term depletion.
  • MSY is a concept that is frequently encountered in any discussion on the management of fisheries.
  • It is derived from the understanding that in a given population of organisms (be they trees, fish, or crops), a certain number of adults get added to the population each year due to reproduction and growth. At the maximum growth rate, only a fraction of these are required to replace dying adults and maintain the population.
  • Hence, the rest are considered to be “surplus” individuals that can be harvested each year, without any long-term decline in the population, especially if these are older individuals that are anyway likely to die off in the near future.
  • In other words, proponents of MSY believe that a steady peak rate of harvest can be calculated for a given species.
  • It follows that such extraction is beneficial for the population because it eliminates competition for resources by removing the excess, older individuals, and thereby enables the population to maintain its maximum growth rate or productivity for perpetuity.
  • Utilitarianism – According to this theory, the quality of one’s life can be judged by the effect of one’s actions and people should strive to do whatever would be beneficial for most of society.
  • It advocated hard work in all domains, in order to serve certain practical social goals, and included the view that nature should be used efficiently to serve human needs.

For more EPW articles, read “Gist of EPW”.

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