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Prelims Booster

21st October – Prelims Booster

Fertiliser Subsidy

The Centre is working on a plan to restrict the number of fertiliser bags that individual farmers can buy during any cropping season.

What is ‘fertiliser subsidy’?

  • Farmers buy fertilisers at MRPs (maximum retail price) below their normal supply-and-demand-based market rates or what it costs to produce/import them.
  • The MRP of neem-coated urea, for instance, is fixed by the government at Rs 5,922.22 per tonne, whereas its average cost-plus price payable to domestic manufacturers and importers comes to around Rs 17,000 and Rs 23,000 per tonne, respectively. The difference, which varies according to plant-wise production cost and import price, is footed by the Centre as subsidy.
  • The MRPs of non-urea fertilisers are decontrolled or fixed by the companies. The Centre, however, pays a flat per-tonne subsidy on these nutrients to ensure they are priced at “reasonable levels”. The per-tonne subsidy is currently Rs 10,231 for di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), Rs 6,070 for muriate of potash (MOP) and Rs 8,380 for the popular ‘10:26:26’ complex fertiliser, with their corresponding average MRPs at Rs 24,000, Rs 17,500 and Rs 23,500 per tonne, respectively.
  • Decontrolled fertilisers, thus, retail way above urea, while they also attract lower subsidy.

How is the subsidy paid and who gets it?

  • The subsidy goes to fertiliser companies, although its ultimate beneficiary is the farmer who pays MRPs less than the market-determined rates. Companies, until recently, were paid after their bagged material had been dispatched and received at a district’s railhead point or approved godown.
  • From March 2018, a new so-called direct benefit transfer (DBT) system was introduced, wherein subsidy payment to the companies would happen only after actual sales to farmers by retailers.
  • Each retailer — there are over 2.3 lakh of them across India — now has a point-of-sale (PoS) machine linked to the Department of Fertilisers’ e-Urvarak DBT portal. Anybody buying subsidised fertilisers is required to furnish his/her Aadhaar unique identity or Kisan Credit Card number.
  • The quantities of the individual fertilisers purchased, along with the buyer’s name and biometric authentication, have to be captured on the PoS device.
  • Only upon the sale getting registered on the e-Urvarak platform can a company claim subsidy, with these being processed on a weekly basis and payments remitted electronically to its bank account.

What is the next step being proposed?

  • At present, the Centre is following a “no denial” policy. Anybody, non-farmers included, can purchase any quantity of fertilisers through the PoS machines. That obviously allows for bulk buying by unintended beneficiaries, who are not genuine or deserving farmers.
  • While there is a limit of 100 bags that an individual can purchase at one time, it does not stop anyone from buying any number of times.
  • One plan under discussion is to cap the total number of subsidised fertiliser bags that any person can buy during an entire kharif or rabi cropping season. This, it is expected, would end even retail-level diversion and purchases by large buyers masquerading as farmers.

What’s the way forward?

The time has come to seriously consider paying farmers a flat per-acre cash subsidy that they can use to purchase any fertiliser. The amount could vary, depending on the number of crops grown and whether the land is irrigated or not. This is, perhaps, the only sustainable solution to prevent diversion and also encourage judicious application of fertilisers, with the right nutrient (macro and micro) combination based on proper soil testing and crop-specific requirements.

Asafoetida

Scientists at CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource, Palampur (IHBT), are on a mission to grow asafoetida (heeng) in the Indian Himalayas. The first sapling has been planted in Himachal Pradesh’s Kwaring village in Lahaul valley.

What is asafoetida?

  • Ferula asafoetida is a herbaceous plant of the umbelliferae family. It is a perennial plant whose oleo gum resin is extracted from its thick roots and rhizome. The plant stores most of its nutrients inside its deep fleshy roots.
  • Asafoetida is endemic to Iran and Afghanistan, the main global suppliers. It thrives in dry and cold desert conditions. While it is very popular in India, some European countries too use it for its medicinal properties.

Heeng cultivation in India –

  • Heeng is not cultivated in India. Government data states that India imports about 1,200 tonnes of raw heeng worth Rs 600 crore from Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
  • The first asafoetida sapling, grown at IHBT’s Centre for High Altitude Biology, was planted in Kwaring village of Lahaul valley recently.
  • It is believed the geo-climatic conditions required for cultivation of certain heeng varieties are available in India. Asafoetida best grows in dry and cold conditions.
  • The plant can withstand a maximum temperature between 35 and 40 degree, whereas during winters, it can survive in temperatures up to minus 4 degree. During extreme weather, the plant can get dormant.
  • Regions with sandy soil, very little moisture and annual rainfall of not more than 200mm are considered conducive for heeng cultivation in India. Some initial experiments were conducted in high altitude districts of Mandi, Kinnaur, Kullu, Manali and Palampur in Himachal Pradesh. Besides, the researchers plan to expand their experiments to Ladakh and Uttarakhand.

Benefits of asafoetida –

Published studies list out a range of medicinal properties of heeng, including relief for digestive, spasmodic and stomach disorders, asthma and bronchitis. The herb is commonly used to help with painful or excessive bleeding during menstruation and pre-mature labour. Being an anti-flatulent, the herb is fed to new mothers.

District Development Councils

The Centre has amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, to facilitate the setting up of District Development Councils (DDC), the members of which will be directly elected by voters in the Union Territory.

What are ‘District Development Councils’?

  • A legislation to this effect was brought in by the Ministry of Home Affairs through an amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. This structure will include a DDC and a District Planning Committee (DPC).
  • The J&K administration has also amended the J&K Panchayati Raj Rules, 1996, to provide for establishment of elected District Development Councils in J&K.
  • This system effectively replaces the District Planning and Development Boards in all districts, and will prepare and approve district plans and capital expenditure. Their key feature, however, is that the DDCs will have elected representatives from each district. Their number has been specified at 14 elected members per district representing its rural areas, alongside the Members of Legislative Assembly chairpersons of all Block Development Councils within the district.
  • The term of the DDC will be five years, and the electoral process will allow for reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. The Additional District Development Commissioner (or the Additional DC) of the district shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the District Development Council.
  • The council, as stated in the Act, will hold at least four “general meetings” in a year, one in each quarter.

Background –

  • The DDCs replace the District Planning and Development Boards (DDBs) that were headed by a cabinet minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • For Jammu and Srinagar districts, as winter and summer capitals, the DDBs were headed by the Chief Minister. However, for Leh and Kargil districts, the Autonomous Hill Development Councils performed the functions designated for the DDBs.

Functioning –

  • The Councils will oversee the functions of the Halqa Panchayats and the Block Development Councils in tandem with the line departments of the Union Territory.
  • For every district there will be District Planning Committee comprising Members of Parliament representing the area, Members of the State Legislature representing the areas within the District, chairperson of the District Development Council of the District, chairpersons of the town area committees/municipal committees of the district; president of the municipal council/municipal corporation, if any; the district development commissioner; additional district development commissioner, among others. The MP will function as the chairperson of this committee.
  • The committee will “consider and guide” the formulation of development programmes for the district, and indicate priorities for various schemes and consider issues relating to the speedy development and economic uplift of the district; function as a working group for formulation of periodic and annual plans for the district; and formulate and finalise the plan and non-plan budget for the district.

What is the Centre’s objective behind this new structure?

  • The J&K administration in a statement said that the move to have an elected third tier of the Panchayati Raj institution marks the implementation of the entire 73rd Amendment Act in J&K.
  • The idea is that systems that had been made defunct by earlier J&K governments such as the panchayati raj system are being revived under the Centre’s rule in the state through the Lieutenant Governor’s administration.
  • In the absence of elected representatives in the UT, senior government officials argue that DDCs will effectively become representative bodies for development at the grassroots in the 20 districts of the UT. They hope that this may draw some former legislators in as well.

Assam-Mizoram Boundary Dispute

Recently, the residents of Assam and Mizoram have clashed twice over territory. In the Northeast’s complex boundary equations, showdowns between Assam and Mizoram residents are less frequent than they are between, say, Assam and Nagaland residents.

Nevertheless, the boundary between present-day Assam and Mizoram, 165 km long today, dates back to the colonial era, when Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam.

Background –

  • The dispute stems from a notification of 1875 that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933 that demarcates a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
  • Mizoram believes the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, which is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873.
  • Mizo leaders have argued in the past argued against the demarcation notified in 1933 because Mizo society was not consulted. As the Assam government follows the 1933 demarcation, it becomes the point of conflict.

Other boundary disputes in Northeast –

  • During British rule, Assam included present-day Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya besides Mizoram, which became separate state one by one. Today, Assam has boundary problems with each of them.
  • Nagaland shares a 500-km boundary with Assam. Violent clashes and armed conflicts, marked by killings, have occurred on the Assam-Nagaland border since 1965. In two major incidents of violence in 1979 and 1985, at least 100 persons were killed. The boundary dispute is now in the Supreme Court.
  • On the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary (over 800 km), clashes were first reported in 1992. Since then, there have been several accusations of illegal encroachment from both sides, and intermittent clashes. This boundary issue too is being heard by the Supreme Court.
  • The 884-km Assam-Meghalaya boundary, too, witnesses flare-ups frequently. As per Meghalaya government statements, today there are 12 areas of dispute between the two states.

MCQs

1. Which of the following statement(s) is/are correct about the ‘fertiliser subsidy’ in India?

  1. Farmers purchase fertilisers at the maximum retail price which is fixed by the fertiliser companies but the farmers are compensated through subsidies.
  2. The maximum retail price of all fertilisers have been decontrolled and fixed by the companies with no benefit accruing from the government to the fertiliser companies anymore.
  3. In March 2018, a direct benefit transfer system was introduced for subsidy payment after actual sales to farmers by retailers.

Select the correct codes from below –

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 1 and 3 only
  3. 3 only
  4. None of the above

Answer – C

Explanation – Farmers buy fertilisers at MRPs (maximum retail price) below their normal supply-and-demand-based market rates or what it costs to produce/import them. The MRP of neem-coated urea, for instance, is fixed by the government at Rs 5,922.22 per tonne, whereas its average cost-plus price payable to domestic manufacturers and importers comes to around Rs 17,000 and Rs 23,000 per tonne, respectively. The difference, which varies according to plant-wise production cost and import price, is footed by the Centre as subsidy. The MRPs of non-urea fertilisers are decontrolled or fixed by the companies. The Centre, however, pays a flat per-tonne subsidy on these nutrients to ensure they are priced at “reasonable levels”. The per-tonne subsidy is currently Rs 10,231 for di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), Rs 6,070 for muriate of potash (MOP) and Rs 8,380 for the popular ‘10:26:26’ complex fertiliser, with their corresponding average MRPs at Rs 24,000, Rs 17,500 and Rs 23,500 per tonne, respectively. Decontrolled fertilisers, thus, retail way above urea, while they also attract lower subsidy. The subsidy goes to fertiliser companies, although its ultimate beneficiary is the farmer who pays MRPs less than the market-determined rates. Companies, until recently, were paid after their bagged material had been dispatched and received at a district’s railhead point or approved godown. From March 2018, a new so-called direct benefit transfer (DBT) system was introduced, wherein subsidy payment to the companies would happen only after actual sales to farmers by retailers. Each retailer — there are over 2.3 lakh of them across India — now has a point-of-sale (PoS) machine linked to the Department of Fertilisers’ e-Urvarak DBT portal. Anybody buying subsidised fertilisers is required to furnish his/her Aadhaar unique identity or Kisan Credit Card number.

2. Which of the following statement(s) is/are correct?

  1. Currently, there is a ‘no denial’ policy on fertiliser subsidy by the Centre which allows unintended beneficiaries or non-genuine farmers to misuse fertiliser subsidy benefits.
  2. There is no cap on the total number of subsidised fertiliser bags that any person can buy during an entire kharif or rabi cropping season.

Select the correct codes from below –

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer – A

Explanation – At present, the Centre is following a “no denial” policy. Anybody, non-farmers included, can purchase any quantity of fertilisers through the PoS machines. That obviously allows for bulk buying by unintended beneficiaries, who are not genuine or deserving farmers. While there is a limit of 100 bags that an individual can purchase at one time, it does not stop anyone from buying any number of times.

3. Asafoetida is locally known in India as –

  1. Haldi
  2. Heeng
  3. Daalcheeni
  4. Ajwain

Answer – B

Explanation – Scientists at CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource, Palampur (IHBT), are on a mission to grow asafoetida (heeng) in the Indian Himalayas. The first sapling has been planted in Himachal Pradesh’s Kwaring village in Lahaul valley. Heeng is not cultivated in India. Government data states that India imports about 1,200 tonnes of raw heeng worth Rs 600 crore from Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

4. Which of the following statements is/are correct about the proposed ‘District Development Councils’ in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir?

  1. Each member of the DDC will be indirectly elected by the village panchayat members to be represented at the District level.
  2. The chairman of all the DDCs will be the Lieutenant Governor of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
  3. These Councils will oversee the functions of Halqa Panchayats and the Block Development Councils in tandem with the line departments of the Union Territory.

Select the correct codes from below –

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. 3 only
  4. None of the above

Answer – C

Explanation – The Centre has amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, to facilitate the setting up of District Development Councils (DDC), the members of which will be directly elected by voters in the Union Territory. The term of the DDC will be five years, and the electoral process will allow for reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. The Additional District Development Commissioner (or the Additional DC) of the district shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the District Development Council. The Councils will oversee the functions of the Halqa Panchayats and the Block Development Councils in tandem with the line departments of the Union Territory. For every district there will be District Planning Committee comprising Members of Parliament representing the area, Members of the State Legislature representing the areas within the District, chairperson of the District Development Council of the District, chairpersons of the town area committees/municipal committees of the district; president of the municipal council/municipal corporation, if any; the district development commissioner; additional district development commissioner, among others. The MP will function as the chairperson of this committee. The committee will “consider and guide” the formulation of development programmes for the district, and indicate priorities for various schemes and consider issues relating to the speedy development and economic uplift of the district; function as a working group for formulation of periodic and annual plans for the district; and formulate and finalise the plan and non-plan budget for the district.

5. Which of the following states of India share its land borders with the state of Assam?

  1. Mizoram
  2. Nagaland
  3. Arunachal Pradesh
  4. Meghalaya

Select the correct codes from below –

  1. 1, 2 and 3 only
  2. 2, 3 and 4 only
  3. 2 and 3 only
  4. All of the above

Answer – D

Explanation – During British rule, Assam included present-day Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya besides Mizoram, which became separate state one by one. Today, Assam has boundary problems with each of them. The boundary between present-day Assam and Mizoram, 165 km long today, dates back to the colonial era, when Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam. Nagaland shares a 500-km boundary with Assam. Violent clashes and armed conflicts, marked by killings, have occurred on the Assam-Nagaland border since 1965. In two major incidents of violence in 1979 and 1985, at least 100 persons were killed. The boundary dispute is now in the Supreme Court. On the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary (over 800 km), clashes were first reported in 1992. Since then, there have been several accusations of illegal encroachment from both sides, and intermittent clashes. This boundary issue too is being heard by the Supreme Court. The 884-km Assam-Meghalaya boundary, too, witnesses flare-ups frequently. As per Meghalaya government statements, today there are 12 areas of dispute between the two states.

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