The Forgotten People : On Sri Lankan Refugees
As there have been a constant talks about Rohingya Refugees but no one talks about 1 lakh Sri lankan Refugees who are living in Tamil Nadu ever since Anti Tamil Program in Sri Lanka in 1983.
They have been facing several problems like :-
- The refugees also suffer from social and psychological problems as reports of suicides, school dropouts and child marriage show.
- Many middle-aged refugees worry about their children’s future, given the fact that 40% of camp refugees are below 18 years.
- 28,500 refugees are said to be stateless.
The Sri Lankan government, in 2003 and 2009, amended its laws to enable easier repatriation.Yet, the voluntary reverse flow of refugees has happened only incrementally. Even the end of the Eelam War in May 2009 and the decision of Indian authorities in January 2016 to waive visa fees and overstay penalty on a case by case basis for willing persons have not made a huge difference.
In the last eight and a half years, hardly 10% of the refugee population (9,238 people) went back through a scheme implemented by Indian officials along with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Why Sri Lankan Refugees don’t want to leave India ?
- Central & State Government Schemes benefits :-
Around 62,000 refugees, living in 107 camps across Tamil Nadu, have been receiving various relief measures of the Central and State governments.
In addition, in recent years, the Tamil Nadu government has taken steps for scores of young boys and girls of the refugee community to join professional courses, particularly engineering. This has benefited eligible candidates among 36,800 non-camp refugees in the State too.
- Regardless of the quality of housing and the nature of their jobs, several camp refugees have experienced a perceptible improvement in their lifestyle.
- Lack of Benefits in Sri Lanka :-
The refugees know well that if they go back to Sri Lanka, they will not get many of the benefits they have been enjoying in Tamil Nadu. What especially bothers them is “lack of or no livelihood opportunities”, as found in a survey of refugee returnees by the UNHCR, Colombo, in 2015. This situation may not improve in the near future given the state of the Sri Lankan economy.
What India & Sri Lankan Govt should do for repatriation of refugees ?
It would be in the interests of the two countries to solve the issue sooner than later. While for India a long-standing problem would be resolved, for Sri Lanka it would be a step towards ethnic reconciliation.
- The two governments can come out with a comprehensive package on voluntary repatriation, after involving representatives of the refugee community, the Tamil Nadu government and Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council.
- For refugees who want to stay back, India can consider providing them citizenship, as it did for refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On Maternity Benefits :-
The Amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act, has provided the provision of
- 26 weeks of paid maternity leave
- mandatory crèche facility
Amendments seek to improve infant mortality rate (34 per 1,000 live births) and maternal mortality rate (167 per 100,000 live births).
But the growing concern is when recently, the Labour Ministry placed the financial burden of implementing these measures squarely on the employers. The measures introduced, particularly the crèche facility, are cost-intensive and may deter employers from hiring or retaining pregnant women.
A 2014 International Labour Organisation report specifically cautions against making employers solely liable for the cost of maternity benefits for this reason. It advocates that maternity benefits should be provided either through compulsory social insurance or public funds.
In fact, the Standing Committee on Labour in 2007 had suggested that the government should create a corpus fund to partially sponsor the costs to be incurred by the employer to provide maternity benefits.
To illustrate, one of the key goals of any maternity benefit policy is to facilitate breastfeeding by working mothers.
- Studies have shown that health benefits that accrue to both the mother and her child by breastfeeding are more than matched by economic returns at family, enterprise and national levels.
- A 2017 report released by the Global Breastfeeding Collective, led by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, has termed breastfeeding the “best investment in global health” generating $35 in global return for every dollar invested.
- A ‘Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, 2017’ released by the Collective shows that India spends an abysmal $0.15 (less than ₹10) per child to ensure that it meets the breastfeeding guidelines. The report suggests that as things stand, India is poised to lose an estimated $14 billion in its economy, or 0.70% of its Gross National Income, due to a high level of child mortality and growing number of deaths in women from cancers and Type II diabetes, directly attributable to inadequate breastfeeding.
What Govt needs to do ?
- Enabling employers to seek reimbursement of the expenses incurred by them in this respect.
- They must find innovative and cost-effective ways to ensure that working women are not forced to discontinue breastfeeding.
- The only provision that needs to be provided by employers to facilitate this would be a clean and private pumping room.
Loan Waiver is not the solution :-
Since Independence, one of the primary objectives of India’s agricultural policy has been to improve farmers’ access to institutional credit and reduce their dependence on informal credit.
The government has improved the flow of formal credit through :-
- Nationalisation of commercial banks
- Establishment of Regional Rural Banks and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.
- Kisan Credit Card scheme in 1998,
- The Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme in 2008,
- The Interest Subvention Scheme in 2010-11
- Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana in 2014
It is encouraging to see a robust increase in institutional credit from ₹8 lakh crore in 2014-15 to ₹10 lakh crore in 2017-18. Of this, ₹3.15 lakh crore is meant for capital investment, while the remaining is for crop loans, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare. The result is that the share of institutional credit to agricultural gross domestic product has increased from 10% in 1999-2000 to nearly 41% in 2015-16.
At the global level, studies indicate that access to formal credit contributes to an increase in agricultural productivity and household income. However, such links have not been well documented in India, where emotional perceptions dominate the political decision quite often.
A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute reveals that at the national level :-
- 48% of agricultural households do not avail a loan from any source.
- Among the borrowing households, 36% take credit from informal sources, especially from moneylenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest in the 25%-70% range per annum.
Where as the study using the 2012-13 National Sample Survey-Situation Assessment Survey (schedule 33) finds that
- compared to non-institutional borrowers, institutional borrowers earn a much higher return from farming (17%).
- The net return from farming of formal borrowers is estimated at ₹43,740/ha, which is significantly greater than that of informal sector borrowers at ₹33,734/ha.
- Access to institutional credit is associated with higher per capita monthly consumption expenditures.
A negative relationship between the size of farm and per capita consumption expenditure (a proxy for income) further underscores the importance of formal credit in assisting marginal and poor farm households in reducing poverty.
Indeed, access to formal institutional credit also tends to enhance farmers’ risk-bearing ability and may induce them to take up risky ventures and investments that could yield higher incomes.
Going by the NSS schedule :-
- 18.2 (debt and investment), rural households’ investments in agriculture grew at a high rate of 9.15% per annum between 2002 and 2012.
- While 63.4% of agricultural investments are done through institutional credit.
- Landless, marginal and small farmers’ investment demand is met through informal sources to the tune of 40.6%, 52.1%, and 30.8%, respectively.
- Statistics show that nearly 82% of all indebted farm households (384 lakh) possess less than two hectares of land compared to other land holders numbering 84 lakh households. Those residing in the less developed States are more vulnerable and hence remain debt ridden.
Not helping farmers’ welfare through loan waivers :-
- Clearly, a major proportion of farmers remain outside the ambit of a policy of a subsidised rate of interest, and, for that matter, of loan waiver schemes announced by respective State governments. In other words, this sop provides relief to the relatively better off and lesser-in-number medium and large farmers without having much impact on their income and consumption. This anomaly can be rectified only if the credit market is expanded to include agricultural labourers, marginal and small land holders. It is, therefore, important to revisit the credit policy with a focus on the outreach of banks and financial inclusion.
- Second, the government along with the farmers’ lobby should desist from clamouring for loan waivers as it provides instant temporary relief from debt but largely fails to contribute to farmers’ welfare in the long run. If governments are seriously willing to compensate farmers, they must direct sincere efforts to protect them from incessant natural disasters and price volatility through crop insurance and better marketing systems.
- Third, it should be understood that writing off loans would not only put pressure on already constrained fiscal resources but also bring in the challenge of identifying eligible beneficiaries and distributing the amount.
The report of the Committee on Doubling of Farmers’ Income, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, has rightly suggested
- Accelerating investments in agriculture research and technology, irrigation and rural energy, with a concerted focus in the less developed eastern and rain-fed States for faster increase in crop productivity and rural poverty reduction.
- Public and private investments are required to grow at an annual rate of 14.8% and 10.9% in the next seven years.
A diversion of money towards debt relief, which is in fact unproductive, will adversely impinge on state finances, may dissuade lending by the banks, and hence prove counterproductive to the government’s broader mandate of doubling farmers’ income by 2022-23.