Inside politics

Has the BJP been able to shut up and brush aside the opposition?

The government believes it can afford to be tough with the opposition because it is on a strong wicket.

A united opposition has paralysed Parliament ever since the winter session got underway on November 16 to register its protest against the hardship caused to the weak and poor sections by the Modi government’s decision to annul high denomination currency notes.

But the ruling alliance is not too concerned about the disruptions or the opposition attack as it is using this time to pump in more currency notes in banks and ensure that normal banking resumes at the earliest. Its indifference to the disturbances in Parliament are based on the internal assessment of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that it is the opposition which is under pressure to explain its objections to the demonetisation move and why it is holding up Parliament.

The government was on the defensive in the face of the opposition attack when the Parliament session commenced. But the scales have tilted in favour of the ruling alliance since then after it received reports that the decision to ban old notes had got widespread support from the people, especially the poor. Even its allies like the Shiromani Akali Dal, which had voiced their concern over the Prime Minister’s decision, have fallen in line after their surveys revealed that the note ban had actually been welcomed by the poor because they were convinced that it had hit the rich hard. This change is evident in the body language of the leaders of the two camps. While BJP ministers sound more confident now, the opposition camp is showing signs of frustration, especially since its campaign against the government is not resonating with the people.

Consequently, the government’s floor managers have made little effort to break the logjam in Parliament.

Logjam in Parliament

Home Minister Rajnath Singh did call opposition parties for a meeting last week but it proved to be a non-starter when the opposition leaders realised that not all of them had been invited for the talks and that this was an attempt to create fissures in their ranks. There has been no follow-up by the government on Rajnath Singh’s initiative. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has also tried for a compromise between the government and the opposition but nothing concrete has emerged from this move.

The opposition first held up proceedings in the Rajya Sabha to demand that the Prime Minister sit through the debate on demonetisation and reply to it instead of the finance minister. However, it has upped the ante after Modi slammed the opposition at a public function. It is now demanding that the prime minister should apologise for his remarks, failing which it will not allow the House to function. The Lok Sabha proceedings have been disrupted as the opposition wants a debate on demonetisation under a censure motion requiring a vote. Not surprisingly, the government has rejected the opposition’s demands.

The government believes it can afford to be tough with the opposition because it is on a strong wicket. Its confidence levels have shot up further after the BJP registered impressive wins in the recent by-elections in Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. This has been followed by victories in the local body polls in both Maharashtra and Gujarat. The BJP forged ahead in Maharashtra by winning 851 of the 3,705 seats in 147 municipal councils and 17 panchayats. The results from the prime minister’s home state also proved to be a shot in the arm for the ruling party which won 107 of the 126 municipal and district panchayat seats for which elections were conducted.

Narendramodi.in
Narendramodi.in

The BJP was obviously in an upbeat mood after these results. Held after Modi announced the ban on high-denomination currency notes, these elections had been described as a referendum on the prime minister’s move. The BJP leadership lost no time in underlining that these election results were a clear indication that the people support demonetisation. “People of India back note ban move... Our performance in local polls held across two states present the mood of the nation. We sense they are with us,” declared Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar. The BJP president Amit Shah put out an equally exultant tweet:

Riding high on these victories, the BJP is further drawing comfort from the fact that there are differences in the opposition camp which surfaced during its protest day on November 28. Janata Dal (United) president and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who has consistently supported Modi’s decision on demonetisation, refused to join the protests while the other opposition parties conducted their individual protest marches as their state-level rivalries prevented them from putting up a united show.

While the opposition is continuing with its collective protests inside Parliament, the government is working overtime to see that the new notes reach the cash-starved banks before December 1. The ruling alliance is focused on making sure that pay day goes off without any glitches as it could provide fresh ammunition to the opposition to hit out at the government. If the Centre succeeds in stabilising the situation and ensuring there is no disruption in the payment of salaries to government employees and those employed in the informal sector, it will not just blunt the opposition attack but will also provide it with yet another reason to steamroll its political opponents.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.