THE HINDU EDITORIAL – 9th August 2017

a) Food for action

The National Food Security Act, 2013, has met with prolonged political indifference, but there is some hope now since the Centre has been asked by the Supreme Court to ensure that States implement key aspects of the progressive law. The directives in the Swaraj Abhiyan case underscore the depressing reality that several State governments have not met key requirements in the legislation which empower the common person in securing subsidised food. Sections 14, 15 and 16, which require the setting up of a grievance redress mechanism and a State Food Commission with responsibility to monitor the implementation of the law, have been heeded only in name, as in Haryana, or not at all. Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s claim last November that the Act covers the entire country is, therefore, not consistent with the facts. As the court has pointed out, Article 256, which casts a responsibility on the States and the Union to ensure compliance with laws made by Parliament, also provides the remedy, as it can be invoked by the Centre to set things right. Unfortunately, the NFSA, which is vital for social security through the Public Distribution System and child welfare schemes, has suffered due to a lack of political will. As a law with egalitarian goals, the NFSA should have set the floor for food security through the principle of universal access, though not every citizen would need it. There is great merit in providing highly subsidised food grains to targeted households chosen by the State governments, with a ceiling of 75% of the population in rural areas and 50% in urban areas. But the system should have in-built mechanisms to allow for the entry of new households that suddenly find themselves in financial distress, while others can exit it based on changed circumstances. Such arrangements can be made only when there is a full-edged, independent machinery in the form of a Food Commission, and district-level grievance redress, besides social audits. All these are provided for under the Act, but have been ignored. Modernisation of the PDS, with the use of information technology, could incorporate such dynamic features to the supply of subsidised food to those who need it, and eliminate deficiencies and fraud. Now that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has been given specific directives by the court to complete the unfinished tasks this year, it should make up for lost time. As is widely acknowledged, some States are better at running the PDS than others, and the food security law is the best tool to raise standards uniformly. Food Ministry data presented to Parliament show that the present system does not reflect the true scale of public grievances, with a mere 1,106 complaints received from beneficiaries nationwide in 2016, including those reported in the media. The court’s intervention is wholly welcome to make the NFSA meaningful.

b) Rouhani’s challenge

Hassan Rouhani has formally begun his second term as Iran’s President in especially challenging circumstances. Conservatives at home are pushing for a hard-line agenda, Sunni states in the Gulf are consolidating a regional alliance against Shia-majority Iran, and the U.S. is turning up the heat on the country’s missile programme. Mr. Rouhani, who won the election on a moderate platform, had drawn hope during his campaign that he would build on the momentum his first term had generated and initiate social reform. It was never going to be easy, given the resolve of the clerical establishment to push back any major attempt to change the status quo. In Iran’s complex, multipolar political system, the President runs the government with a popular mandate but the security establishment reports directly to the Supreme Leader, who can override the government on critical issues. What Mohammad Khatami tried and failed and what Mr. Rouhani tested during his first term was to gradually push pragmatic policies, overcoming the conservative opposition. Mr. Rouhani’s decision to go ahead with the nuclear deal despite concerns from the establishment was an example of his successful brinkmanship. The expectation was that in his second term, Mr. Rouhani would expand the reform agenda into domestic politics. The reformists have many demands. However, one of the first decisions Mr. Rouhani has taken in the new term raises questions about his resolve to initiate meaningful reforms. On Tuesday, he nominated an all-men cabinet, which needs to be approved by Parliament. The chances of women nominees getting through the parliamentary process were high this time given that reformists and moderates make up a majority in the Majlis. Still, Mr. Rouhani preferred not to take the risk of antagonising conservatives. To be sure, these are hard times for a moderate President in Iran. The nuclear deal, the signature achievement of Mr. Rouhani’s first term, is under attack, with U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to cancel its certification. With the U.S. imposing more sanctions on Iran over the missile programme and joining hands with its regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia, conservative sections find their hard-line views vindicated and would like Tehran to reciprocate in the same tenor. Mr. Rouhani may therefore have preferred to avoid a clash within the system over his cabinet nominations. It is not clear to what extent he may sacrifice the reformist agenda under pressure from hardliners. His supporters will hope that he will come around to simultaneously pursuing a pragmatic reformist agenda at home and a realistic foreign policy that doesn’t succumb to external provocations. Only then would Hassan Rouhani live up to the expectations of the millions of Iranians who re-elected him.

WORDS/ VOCABULARY

1) Grievance

Meaning: A real or imagined cause for complaint, especially unfair treatment.

Example:  A website which enabled staff to air their grievances.

Synonyms: Injustice, Offence


2) Redress

Meaning: Remedy or set right (an undesirable or unfair situation).

Example: The question is how to redress the consequences of racist land policies.

Synonyms: Rectify, Resolve


3) Heeded

Meaning: Pay attention to; take notice of.

Example: He should have heeded the warnings.

Synonyms: Notice, Note, Obey

Antonyms: Disregard


4) Invoked

Meaning: Cite or appeal to (someone or something) as an authority for an action or in support of an argument.

Example: The antiquated defence of insanity is rarely invoked in England.

Synonyms: Adduce, Instance

Antonyms: Waive


5) Egalitarian

Meaning: Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.

Example:  A fairer, more egalitarian society.


6) Ceiling

Meaning: An upper limit set on prices, wages, or expenditure.

Example:  The government imposed a wage ceiling of 3 per cent.

Synonyms: Upper limit, Maximum

Antonyms: Floor, Minimum


7) Intervention

Meaning: Interference by a state in another’s affairs.

Example: The government was reported to be considering military intervention.

Synonyms: Involvement, Intrusion


8) Agenda

Meaning: A plan of things to be done or problems to be addressed (a list of items to be discussed at a formal meeting).

Example:  He vowed to put jobs at the top of his agenda.

Synonyms: Schedule, Programme


9) Pragmatic

Meaning: Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

Example:  A pragmatic approach to politics.


10) Brinkmanship

Meaning: The art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping, especially in politics.

Example:  In any game of brinkmanship, it is possible that one side will collapse suddenly.


11) Vindicated

Meaning: Show or prove to be right, reasonable, or justified.

Example: More sober views were vindicated by events.

Synonyms: Ratify, Verify, Justify

Antonyms: Disprove


12) Succumb

Meaning: Fail to resist pressure, temptation, or some other negative force.

Example: We cannot merely give up and succumb to despair.

Synonyms: Submit, Surrender, Capitulate

Antonyms: Resist, Conquer


 

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