[op-ed snap]Reality of impunity, rhetoric of human rights


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The ratification of the anti-torture convention is related to Human Rights and India has not ratified it.



Last week in Sitamarhi district, Bihar, two families received the bodies of their two sons from the police.

India’s stand on custodial torture

  • In May 2017, addressing representatives from countries at the UN’s Human Rights Council, the then Attorney General of India said, “The concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation.

Handling of Bihar Incident

  • Between the rhetoric of Geneva and the reality at Dumra lies the all too frequent story, in India, of police torture.
  • The motions of taking action have begun but there are clear signs of routine impunity.
  • Top police officials in Bihar have recognised that the custodial deaths were “unacceptable”.
  • There were some transfers and the policemen who were implicated were suspended and had a criminal case filed against them.
  • A First Information Report has been registered.
  • But in the first instance, the policemen who were implicated were not named. They were arrested and taken into custody but escaped, allegedly with the help of local police. They remain untraceable.
  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is content giving the Bihar Police six weeks to explain its conduct.
  • A plea from several concerned civil society representatives urging the immediate despatch of an NHRC team to Sitamarhi has been turned down. For now, it’s wait and watch.

The situation regarding custodial torture in India

  • That torture is ‘endemic’ across police stations in India is well known.
  • Official statistics show that last year there were 144 deaths in police custody.
  • About 40% of complaints received every year by the NHRC are against the police — mainly for custodial violence.
  • Though forbidden by law, the system perpetuates and incentivises torture. Top police officials tolerate it, turn a blind eye to it, citing it as a ‘practical tool’, or go easy on the perpetrators; Bihar will be a space to watch.
  • Those in the lower judiciary, which is the first point of check against custodial violence, are frequently not vigilant in checking if arrested persons are secure in custody, have a lawyer assigned, or have the means to speak out.
  • Often, pliant doctors further weaken protections to those in custody by willingly minimising or not disclosing the nature of the harm or injuries they have sustained.
  • Oversight bodies like police complaints authorities and human rights commissions are comfortable with the slow pace of accountability from state actors and do no doggedly pursue outcomes.
  • South Asia is among the last regions where the political executive must grant permission before public servants can be prosecuted for acts done in the course of their work.
  • Courts have repeatedly said that torture is no part of policing and so there is no question of waiting for permission for prosecution. Yet, the executive is still asked, decisions are delayed, and trials cannot proceed.
  • According to judicial precedent, recovery of evidence made as a result of torture cannot be used in court, but without proactive lawyers and magistrates, these important details are overlooked in the early stages of the legal process.

Irrationality of torture

  • Besides being illegal and immoral, torture is not even a useful tool to stop crime.
  • Eliciting unreliable confessions — the bedrock of the use of torture — destroys the process of deciding through evidence-based means whether the accused is the real perpetrator or not.
  • Moreover, whenever it goes unpunished, torture actually supports more crime by creating a class of criminals within law enforcement.

Past attempts to correct  Custodial torture

  • There have been attempts to restrain the use of torture.
  • The Kerala Police Act puts the onus on all police officers to report any physical torture they know of.
  • Prisons in Telangana refuse to admit people brought into judicial custody if they appear injured; such persons are sent back to hospitals, forcing their injuries to be properly recorded.

Way Forward

  • But isolated innovations are not enough to stop this horror that has embedded itself in the subculture of policing.
  • A comprehensive solution would be to ensure that disincentives are put in place and that there is proper accountability. But there is a lack of political will.
  • India signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1997, but despite repeated domestic and international recommendations to ratify it, there has been no attempt to create a specific and comprehensive torture prevention law. This is in sharp contrast with Bangladesh, which passed a strong law in 2013.
  • Until we have such a law, Indians must accept that the active tolerance of torture puts punishment before the crime and judgment in the hands of the wrong agency.
  • For those who now plead on behalf of the police personnel of Sitamahri and say “let the law take its course”, this is absolutely right.
  • Let the effort to establish guilt or innocence be thorough and speedy.


Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap]A short history of data


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India’s data regime.

Mains level: The news-card analyses issues and challenges with India’s data regime, in a brief manner.



In January, two independent members of the National Statistical Commission resigned in protest, over alleged suppression of economic data by the government.

Past glory of statistical governance

  • While declining data quality has been an issue for a while, concern over institutional independence is new.
  • What several of these criticisms reference is the fact that India’s national statistics were once internationally renowned among economists and policy professionals for their reliability.
  • In the decades following World War II, India had reason to be proud not only of the institutional independence of national statistical bodies but also — uniquely among developing countries — of a pioneering history of independent data collection and publication.
  • The growth of India’s vast national statistical infrastructure dates back to its first decade as an independent country.
  • The birth of a new nation led to an explosion of national statistics, based on the need to plan the economy through Five Year Plans.
  • These years would see the establishment of the office of the Statistical Adviser to the Government, bi-annual National Sample Surveys (NSS), the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), and National Income Committees (that made the estimates similar to GDP measurements).
  • The moving spirit behind these developments was Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, whom Jawaharlal Nehru described as the “presiding genius of statistics in India,” and the institute that he had founded in Calcutta in 1931, the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI).
  • ‘The Professor’, as Mahalanobis was known to associates, was involved in the discussions that led to establishment of the UN Statistical Commission in New York (a body that he would be voted Chairperson of several times during the 1950s).
  • As a pioneer in the emerging field of large-scale sample surveys, he would also be the force behind creating the UN Sub-Commission on Statistical Sampling in 1947, co-authoring the textbook on the subject in 1950.
  • The Institute’s fingerprints were readily apparent in the creation of India’s National Income Committee, the Central Statistical Organisation, the International Statistical Education Centre in Calcutta, and the National Sample Survey — all created around the mid-century mark.

The effectiveness of National Sample Survey

  • The results of the National Sample Survey offered high-definition snapshots of the country’s material life — casting light on cost of living, crop estimates, household consumption, industry, trade, and land holding patterns.
  • Twenty years later, the once sceptical Edwards Deming was now a convert: “No country, developed, under-developed or over-developed, has such a wealth of information about its people as India.”
  •  The contemporary Singaporean statistician Y.P. Seng observed that by comparison that China had “no genuine statistics” and so India’s example of using surveys would “serve as a guide and an example worthy of imitating”.
  • With their combined influence on the UN Statistical Commission and the UN Sub-Commission on Statistical Sampling, the Indian Statistical Institute and the National Sample Survey continue to have a lasting impact on estimating poverty across the developing world.
  • Methods pioneered by the National Sample Survey have become the norm for household surveys across the globe. For example, the Living Standard Measurement Study surveys conducted in several countries by the World Bank can trace their lineage back to the work of Indian statisticians associated with the Indian Statistical Institute and the National Sample Survey.


This distinguished history, which India can claim with pride, makes the recent undermining of the credibility of our statistical output especially regrettable. We can, however, ensure that when we look back on this several years from now, it represents an anomaly rather than a lasting, irreparable loss of institutional credibility.






India ranks 140th in global happiness list


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Inclusive growth & issues arising from it

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Happiness Report

Mains level: Need for introspecting various governance factors affecting happiness levels in India


  • The World Happiness Report- 2019 was recently released by the UN.

India’s slips down

  • Indians are not as happy in 2019 as they were in 2018 and the country figures at 140th place, seven spots down from last year, a/c to the UN World Happiness Report- 2019.
  • The overall world happiness has fallen over the past few years, which has mostly been fuelled by a sustained drop in India, which came in 140th place this year compared with 133rd place a year ago.
  • Pakistan is ranked 67th, Bangladesh 125th and China is placed at 93rd position, according to the report.
  • The list is topped by Finland for the second year in a row.
  • The US ranks at 19th place despite being one of the richest countries in the world.

Who are most unhappy?

  • People in war-torn South Sudan are the most unhappy with their lives.
  • It is followed by Central African Republic (155), Afghanistan (154), Tanzania (153) and Rwanda (152).

About World Happiness Report

  • The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.
  • It is released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations by the UN General Assembly.
  • It ranks the countries of the world on the basis of questions primarily from the Gallup World Poll.
  • The Gallup World Poll questionnaire measures 14 areas within its core questions: (1) business & economic, (2) citizen engagement, (3) communications & technology, (4) diversity (social issues), (5) education & families, (6) emotions (well-being), (7) environment & energy, (8) food & shelter, (9) government and politics, (10) law & order (safety), (11) health, (12) religion and ethics, (13) transportation, and (14) work.
  • The results are then correlated with other factors, including GDP and social security.
Issues related to Economic growth

Fall Armyworm: A new, unwelcome visitor


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture| Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fall Armyworm

Mains level: Challenges associated with Pest Control



  • Fall armyworm, first detected in maize fields in India last year, can wreak havoc across crops without timely government action.
  • Its moths were totally different from oriental armyworm.
  • This pest was known to strike once every 10-12 years.

Fall Armyworm

  • Native to the Americas, FAW has, since 2016, been aggressively moving eastwards, infesting Africa and making landfall in India last summer.
  • It propagates similar to an army that “marches” slowly forward and consumes any foliage on the way.
  • Unlike oriental armyworm, FAW isn’t a cyclical pest that comes intermittently.
  • Instead, it is a continuous pest that is nearly always present and can build permanent populations.
  • Not only is it a far more serious threat, but the measures to control the pest are also ad hoc.
  • Within India, FAW attacks have already been reported from even Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, while causing damage to the maize, jowar (sorghum) and, to a limited extent, sugarcane crops in these states.

Why FAW are more dangerous?

  • Both oriental armyworm and FAW are polyphagous; their larvae feed on a range of host crop plants.
  • The former, though, does not spread very fast, which is why the damage from it in 2017 and even 2018 was largely confined to Karnataka.
  • The adult FAW moth, in contrast, can fly up to 100 km distance every night, allowing it to invade new geographies very quickly.
  • Besides, an adult female can lay 1,500-2,000 eggs during her entire life cycle of 45 days, as against 100-200 eggs by the oriental armyworm.

How to identify them?

  • Pheromones are natural compounds emitted by female FAW moths to attract males for mating.
  • Pheromone traps basically use synthetic versions of these compounds to attract and catch male moths, which can, then, be counted to detect any significant FAW presence.

Worst is yet to come

  • The governments reported move to allow five lakh tonnes of duty-free maize imports has been attributed mainly to a lower 2018-19 crop from a combination of drought and FAW infestation in major producing states.
  • The experts feel that the hot and humid climate during the monsoon season is particularly conducive for the propagation of the pest.

Way Forward

  • The problem has to be nipped in the bud, through constant vigilance on the part of farmers, right from day one of vegetative growth.
  • Treatment of seed before sowing and setting up pheromone traps in fields should be made standard practice for maize growers.
  • Farmers must take up spraying insecticides even if 2-3 moths get trapped.
  • The best way to avoid FAW infestation is to ensure that farmers in a given area sow around the same time.
  • Staggered planting allows the pest to move from field to field, making control difficult. Farmers should also go in for removal of egg masses and newly-hatched larvae.
  • The application of bio-fungicides such as Nomuraea rileyi, which give good results in the long run.

India’s first Real Estate Investment Trust subscribed 2.58 times


From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: REIT

Mains level: Not Much


  • The initial public offering (IPO) of India’s first Real Estate Investment Trust (Embassy REIT) was subscribed 2.5 times, with the share sale generating a demand of over Rs 5,300 crore.

What is REIT?

  • REITs provide a way for individual investors to earn a share of the income produced through commercial real estate ownership – without actually having to go out and buy commercial real estate.
  • It is a company that owns, and in most cases operates, income-producing real estate.
  • REITs own many types of commercial real estate, ranging from office and apartment buildings to warehouses, hospitals, shopping centers, hotels and timberlands.

How does it work

  • Unlike shares, investors in a REIT get units, somewhat similar to units in a mutual fund.
  • A REIT owns a number of rent-yielding commercial and hotel properties, and the unit-holders get a portion of this rental income in the form of dividend and interest income in proportion to their equity contribution.
  • It gives the investor an option to buy partial stake in rent-yielding commercial properties, with the benefit of a professional manager managing these assets.
  • Increase in rentals of underlying assets, improvement in occupancy rate and commencement of under construction properties are the growth drivers that an investor can
  • The net distributable cash flows of the Embassy REIT are based on the cash flows generated from the assets.
  • In terms of the REIT Regulations, at least 90 per cent of the net distributable cash flows are required to be distributed to the Embassy REIT.
  • The trust distributes the cash flow to unit-holders in the form of dividend and interest income, generally, once every quarter.

Associated risks

  • Since this is the first REIT issue, there is no comparable data in terms of pricing and attractiveness of the issue.
  • Real estate properties are always prone to litigation and operational challenges.
  • Even though its assets are in cities offering good rental clients, the rate of occupancy is always a critical factor.
  • Also, with future development of new office spaces in upcoming areas, the old buildings lose their charm and thereby their premium to get higher rental.
  • The management fee and operating expenses can rise, eating into the returns of investors. The biggest concern is the valuation of the units.
  • Since the Net Asset Value of the REIT is based on estimated future cash flows and certain assumptions, it is difficult to gauge the margin of safety for an investor.
Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

Mizoram passes bill to detect “illegal migrants”


Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Population & associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: National Register of Citizens (NRC)

Mains level: Turmoil over citizenship in North East


  • Mizoram Assembly has passed a bill that seeks to detect “illegal migrants” at the village and town level and bring in punitive measures for those making a false statement during the exercise.

The Mizoram Maintenance of Household Register Bill, 2019

  • The bill is aimed at Chakma residents, who are often suspected to be illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
  • It shall be the responsibility of every householder as well as every member of household in the state to furnish all such information, particulars and passport-size photographs of the members of the household as may be required by the registering authorities reads the bill.
  • The Bill further states that once the information prescribed by the state government is received, the concerned registering authority will compile the details in two distinct registers- one for the citizen residents and another for non-citizen residents of a village/area/town.
  • Information furnished by individuals for the registers would be verified and counter-signed by the president of the local branch of the state-level NGOs as may be designated by the state government from time to time.
  • The Bill says that all government departments and police may use the household registers for administrative purposes, during implementation of development schemes and law enforcement.

Why such move?

  • Influx of foreigners into Mizoram through its porous borders has remained a serious concern for several decades.
  • Mizoram has 510-km unfenced borders with Myanmar and 318-km with Bangladesh.
  • In many cases the benefit of development and welfare programmes are found eaten away to a large extent by such foreigners who clandestinely stayed back and got assimilated in the people.
Citizenship and Related Issues