Measures for Farmers’ Welfare
The Government has taken up measures to protect farmers facing obstacles during the lockdown due to Covid-19.
Fruit and Vegetable Farmers have been among the hardest hit by the lockdown. They are facing major losses due to obstacles in harvesting and marketing their perishable produce.
The Central Government has directed all the States and Union Territories to implement the Market Intervention Scheme to ensure remunerative prices to farmers for perishable crops.
It has also begun a train service to transport perishable agricultural and horticultural commodities to markets due to the obstacles in road transport.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare 50 trains have been deployed for this purpose.
Farmers, mostly in dry-land areas, have been complaining that market prices for toor and urad dal, chickpeas and soybean are far below the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) in many mandis, with trading disrupted by the lockdown.
The MSP is the rate at which the government buys grains from farmers.
It is fixed on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
The Centre has extended the procurement window for its Price Support Scheme (PSS) up to 90 days from the date of commencement of the scheme in each State.
The PSS is operationalised on the State governments’ request when the prices fall below the minimum support price (MSP).
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) and other agencies procure pulses and oilseeds under the scheme at the MSP.
The procurement of pulses will also aid in the implementation of the Centre’s promise to provide one kg of pulses per month to all families with ration cards for the three months as part of a Covid-19 relief package (Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana).
Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) is implemented by the Department of Agriculture & Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare.
The objective of MIS is to provide remunerative prices to the farmers in case of excess of production and fall in prices.
The MIS is an ad-hoc scheme under which include horticultural commodities and other agricultural commodities.
These commodities are perishable in nature and which are not covered under the minimum price support scheme.
Further, the MIS is implemented on the specific requests of the State Government/UT Administrations willing to share the loss with the Central Government on a 50:50 basis (75:25 in case of North-Eastern States).
Wildlife Panel Holds Virtual Conference
Recently, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had its first ever video-conferencing meet. In the meet the NBWL cleared infrastructure projects in 11 States.
According to experts associated with the conference most of the projects were given “in-principal approval”.
In a virtual conference, it is difficult to scrutinise maps that show the location of the proposed projects.
It is because only the formal minutes of the meeting would reveal the conditions which projects would have to adhere to.
Projects that encroach into forests or protected reserves require NBWL approval as part of the government’s environmental clearance process.
Environment Clearance (EC) Process :-
An Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report is prepared to get Environment Clearance (EC) for a project.
A process of ‘Public Hearing’ is conducted before the issue of ‘Consent to Establish (NOC)’ by state regulators. Concerns of people living in the proposed project area are heard.
An application form with EIA report, details of public hearing and NOC is submitted for environmental clearance with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) if the project falls under A category or the state government if the project falls under B category.
The documents submitted for A and B category are then analyzed by an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) under the Union Environment Ministry or the concerned State Environmental Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs) respectively.
The recommendations of the Committee gets processed in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for final approval or rejection.
Talks for Dollar Swap Agreement
India is working with the United States to secure a dollar (currency) swap line that would help in providing an additional comfort in an event of any abrupt outflow of funds.
India already has a currency swap facility with other central banks like Japan, UAE etc.
As concerns on the economic effects of COVID-19 hit investor sentiment, Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have been large sellers of Indian equity and debt markets in March and April so far. This has led to outflow of funds from the country.
To stabilise the rupee which recently fell below the 76 level against the dollar, India liquidated (converted into cash) its forex assets.
Forex reserves/assets (also called foreign exchange assets) are assets held on reserve by a central bank in foreign currencies. These may include foreign currencies, bonds, treasury bills and other government securities. These are held to ensure that a central bank has enough funds if its national currency weakens/ devalues rapidly.
Dollar swap is a kind of currency swap. The word swap means exchange.
A currency swap between the two countries is an agreement to exchange currencies with predetermined terms and conditions.
In a dollar swap arrangement, the US Federal Reserve will provide dollars to a foreign central bank. At the same time, the foreign central bank provides the equivalent amount of funds in its currency to the Fed, based on the market exchange rate at the time of the transaction.
The parties agree to swap back these quantities of their two currencies at a specified date in the future, which is the next day or as far ahead as three months, using the same exchange rate as in the first transaction.
These swap operations carry no exchange rate or other market risks as transaction terms are set in advance.
Central banks and Governments engage in currency swaps with foreign counterparts to meet short term foreign exchange liquidity requirements or to ensure adequate foreign currency to avoid Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis till longer arrangements can be made.
MoHFW has clarified that it has not suspended the PC&PNDT Act, which prohibits sex selection before or after conception.
In view of the ongoing lockdown, due of COVID19 pandemic, the Health Ministry has issued a Notification dated April 4, 2020 to defer/suspend certain provisions under the PC&PNDT Rules 1996.
These Rules pertain to applying for renewal of registration if falling due in this period, submission of reports by diagnostics centres by 5th day of the following month and submission of quarterly progress report (QPR) by the States/UTs.
But, a section of the media is speculating that the PC&PNDT (Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection)) Act 1994 has been suspended by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
About PCPNDT Act:
The Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act, 1994 was enacted in response to the decline in Sex ratio in India, which deteriorated from 972 in 1901 to 927 in 1991.
The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.
Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.
The act was amended in 2003 to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.
The Act was amended to bring the technique of pre conception sex selection and ultrasound technique within the ambit of the act.
The amendment also empowered the central supervisory board and state level supervisory board was constituted.
Main provisions in the act are:
The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect few cases.
No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.
The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.
Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020
The Odisha government has promulgated an ordinance to deal with COVID 19 spread by amending Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
Overview of the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020:
Anyone who disobeys any regulation or order made under the Act, is liable for imprisonment up to two years or with a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or with both.
All offences under the Act shall be cognisable and bailable.
Any person disobeying any regulation or order made under the 1897 Act was deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), under Section 3 of the Act.
A provision has also been also made in the Ordinance for special procurement of critical drugs and consumables to manage the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Odisha’s department of health and family welfare has also framed regulations which have two provisions:
Not wearing a mask in public place shall be considered as an offence.
The penalty for the first three instances has been kept at Rs 200 while for offences beyond that, the penalty shall be Rs 500 for each offence in the state.
What is Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897?
It is routinely enforced across the country for dealing with outbreaks of diseases such as swine flu, dengue, and cholera. It was introduced by colonial government to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that had spread in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency in the 1890s.
Why was this act criticised?
Historians have criticised the Act for its potential for abuse. Using powers conferred by the Act, colonies authorities would search suspected plague cases in homes and among passengers, with forcible segregations, evacuations, and demolitions of infected places. In 1897, the year the law was enforced, freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was punished with 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment after his newspapers Kesari and Mahratta admonished imperial authorities for their handling of the plague epidemic.
Provisions of the 1897 Epidemic Diseases Act:
It empowers state governments/UTs to take special measures and formulate regulations for containing the outbreak.
It also empowers state to prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public or by any person or class of persons as it shall deem necessary to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread thereof.
The state may determine in what manner and by whom any expenses incurred (including compensation if any) shall be defrayed.
The State Government may take measures and prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons travelling by railway or otherwise, and the segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.
It also provides penalties for disobeying any regulation or order made under the Act. These are according to section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant).
It also gives legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.
Examples of implementation:
In 2018, the district collector of Gujarat’s Vadodara issued a notification under the Act declaring the Khedkarmsiya village in Waghodia taluka as cholera-affected after 31 persons complained of symptoms of the disease.
In 2015, to deal with malaria and dengue in Chandigarh, the Act was implemented and controlling officers were instructed to ensure the issuance of notices and challans of Rs 500 to offenders.
In 2009, to tackle the swine flu outbreak in Pune, Section 2 powers were used to open screening centres in civic hospitals across the city, and swine flu was declared a notifiable disease.