[op-ed snap] Justice and the manifesto


Mains Paper 2: Constitution | Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the issues in Judiciary.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues relating to parties raising issues of Justice system reforms in manifesto.



Access to justice now also means access to judicial infrastructure. The Supreme Court in 2012 has held that “it is the constitutional duty of the government to provide the citizens of the country with judicial infrastructure and means of access to justice”.

Focus on Justice as Political Agenda

  • Effective programmes for action should engage all political parties as a matter of people’s basic human rights, not as acts of political largesse or grandstanding.

Article 38-A

  • Manifestoes will do well to acknowledge the paramount constitutional governance obligation as per Directive Principle Article 38-A, providing a fundamental obligation of the state to “secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities”.
  • Far from being a provision only for legal aid, this Article guarantees a basic human right to a just social and political order under the Constitution.
  • And “other disabilities” go beyond economic disability and also need to be fully deciphered lest, as Justice Krishna Iyer memorably used to say, the administration of criminal justice become criminal administration of justice.

Access to judicial Infrastructure

  • Access to justice now also means access to judicial infrastructure.
  • so that “every person is able to receive an expeditious, inexpensive, and fair trial”
  • And it rules that “financial limitations or constraints” may not be urged to defeat this right.

The promise of Review of legal procedures

  • Already, a leading national party is reported as considering deletion of the offence of sedition (Section 124-A of the IPC) — a colonial legal provision wholly at odds with the values and rights under the Constitution.
  • One hopes that a review of similar colonial laws (like the Officials Secrets Act) will find a place in all manifestoes.
  • Adjudicatory polices on bail and some procedures that allow long periods of pre-trial detention also need a close review; the present position where suspects are arrested and detained in jails for a long time only to be acquitted after a decade or more is simply unconstitutional because co-citizens have a fundamental right of access to justice, well recognised by the Constitution and the Supreme Court.

Way forward for reforming Justice System

  • As a first step, we should reiterate the basic assumptions of a civilised criminal justice system that maintains a few self-evident truths
    • One, one is sent to jail as punishment and not for punishment.
    • Two, the difference between prosecution and persecution is civilisationally precious; the law is not a programme of revenge but a tableau of legal punishments for well-defined crimes
    • Three, a custodial inmate, or a prisoner has all the rights (save freedom of movement) of a citizen, person and human being not to be taken away by degrading, cruel and inhumane punishment or treatment.
    • Four, presumption of guilt should never rule or replace the presumption of innocence
    • Five, no one should be allowed to forget that the accused, defendant, or the convict has a right to be, and to remain, fully human.
  • Second, the miscarriage of justice even under the rarest of rare situations has been highlighted by the Supreme Court as late as 2019. Ankush Shinde, Rajya Shinde, Raju Shinde, Ambadas Shinde, Bapu Shinde and Surya were acquitted and ordered to be released from Yerawada Central Prison by the Supreme Court on March 5 after having spent most of their jail time of 16 years on death row.
  • such a grave error must trigger the moral honesty to accept that we are playing with fire by keeping the death penalty.


Perhaps, the Supreme Court may expedite its directions to the executive, as urged by Ashwani Kumar in his anti-torture petition. But given 70 years of not so benign neglect of custodial and investigative torture, would it be unreasonable of the people to expect that there will be an all-round consensus towards priority legislative action against torture in the next Parliament!



[op-ed snap] When free speech is truly free


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code

Mains level: Meaning of democracy and why it’s necessary for democracy.



Freedom is a theme which is going to come up again and again through this election. It is a term, like truth, that has globally become extremely important today.

Elements of democracy

  • We often tend to think that among the main elements of democracy are the holding of elections and a free media.
  • Both elections and free media are important because they stand, among other things, for the notions of free speech and free expression.
  • Casting a vote anonymously, of one’s own free will, is an example of free expression and is broader than just ‘free speech’.
  • Similarly, when the media has the freedom to air all kinds of views, it is seen to be an example of free speech.
  • But is free speech really the essence of democracy? Is it really so important for an effective democracy?

The balance between democracy and free speech

  • Paradoxically, there is an inherent tension between free speech and democracy.
  • If free speech is understood merely as the freedom to say what one wants, then that is obviously not conducive to meaningful social behaviour.
  • For example, one can spread falsehood about another in the name of free speech. One can insult, lie, create harm and hatred through free speech.
  • Rumour, gossip, fake news and deliberate lying can be hidden under the guise of free speech. It is speech with an ulterior motive. To call these as free speech is a mistake.

Meaning of Free Speech

  • What is really free in free speech? The freedom to say what one wants?
  • We can’t really say what we want all the time since all speech is constrained.
    • We are constrained by language, words, concepts and grammar, and even by the physical contours of our mouth.
    • We are constrained by the biological and cognitive structures related to thought and its expression through language.
  • In addition to constraints, all speech also has a cost.
  • Thus, the essence of free speech is not really about the freedom to say what we want.
  • It is more about speech which is free, which comes with no cost.
  • Free speech is actually speech for which you don’t pay a price. But paying a price is not in the hands of the speaker.
  • Free speech is nothing but the conditions under which the hearer is not allowed to take offence and intimidate the speaker.
  • The real freedom in ‘free speech’ lies not in the freedom of the speaker to say what she wants but in the constraint on hearers to allow the speaker to say what she wants.
  • Thus, when we demand the right to free speech, we are essentially demanding the right to stop others from not letting us speak.
  • The most important consequence of the idea of free speech is that it shifts the responsibility of free speech from the speaker to the hearer.

Validity of Criticism of Government

  • criticising the government or nation is not the same as slandering an individual. Such criticism is not just a right, it is more a duty of democratic societies.
  • In a true democracy, there is nothing that can be considered as slandering the government, even if a criticism may be wrong and unjustified.
  • Democracy is about governance for others and on behalf of others. It is a social and public system of responsibility of governance.
  • The very foundation of democracy is collective action and the real freedom in a democracy is the freedom of choosing who will govern on our behalf.
  • The true power of free speech lies in its capacity to make those in power accountable to those who do not have power.
  • The price we demand for making somebody govern on our behalf (the elected leaders) is to allow us to say what we want about them, not as individuals but as political leaders.


  • Thus, true free speech covers only those acts of speech which speak against power, and keep those in power accountable. It thus safeguards the most cherished democratic principle. Free speech by itself is not the essence of democracy but is the means by which any democracy can be sustained.
  • Anybody who doesn’t like to hear criticism of government or government representatives is being undemocratic. We dilute the importance of free speech when we use it to derive personal benefit or cause harm or do so in situations which are not about power. Speech, in the task of keeping check on power, has to be subsidised and made free by those in power.

[op-ed snap] Back on track: On India-Maldives ties


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SAGAR strategy

Mains level: Reclaiming ties with India’s neighborhood in light of China’s increasing interference.



India and the Maldives appeared to return to the old days of strategic bonhomie when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met her counterpart Abdulla Shahid in Male during a brief visit this week.

The significanctimprovement in relationship

  • It is the first full-fledged bilateral visit at the political level from India to the Maldives after the new government assumed office.
  • Mr. Solih’s inauguration, which was marked by the attendance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was assumed to be a potential inflection point in the trajectory of bilateral ties with India.
  • The previous five years witnessed Male’s disconcerting drift, under the aegis of the Abdulla Yameen government, into what many Maldivians felt was the stifling embrace of China.
  • Chinese financing for infrastructure and construction projects poured in even as the functioning of the political Opposition and the judiciary was harshly curtailed.

Way forward for India

  • it would be unwise for New Delhi to take the Indian Ocean nation for granted.
  • In December, when Mr. Solih visited India, a $1.4 billion financial assistance package for the Maldives was announced.
  • While the proximity of the Indian general election may have precluded any major policy announcements from New Delhi, the two countries have agreed to exempt holders of diplomatic and official passports from visa requirements, inked an MoU on Indian grant-in-aid for “high-impact community development projects”, and other agreements on energy efficiency and renewable energy, areas critical to the agenda of Mr. Solih.
  • At a broader level, the archipelago and the larger Indian Ocean region could expect more collaborative approaches on regional maritime security issues, including counterterrorism and trans-national crimes.


  • The massive debts the Maldives incurred, by some estimates to the tune of $3 billion, linked to infrastructure investments need to be unwound.
  • Second, the multiparty alliance must hold firm despite immense political pressures that arise from varying visions for governance.
  • Some tensions already seem to be bubbling to the top: on February 25, Mohamed Nasheed, former President and important coalition-builder in the MDP, tweeted about the country’s Supreme Court “meddling in elections — again”.
  • For genuine peace and bilateral harmony to take root in the region, building a shared vision for the future of the Maldives is the immediate task at hand.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

Explained: Significance of the Golan Heights


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Golan Heights

Mains level: Read the attached story


Controversy again

  • Trump has recently said that the US should back Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967.
  • The dramatic shift mirrors Trump’s decision in Dec. 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the US Embassy to the city.
  • This delighted Israel but infuriated Palestinians and many Arab political and religious leaders.
  • The recent announcement is likely to further complicate US’s long-awaited plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Golan Heights

  • The Golan Heights were part of Syria until 1967, when Israel captured most of the area in the Six Day War, occupying it and annexing it in 1981.
  • That unilateral annexation was not recognised internationally, and Syria demands the return of the territory.
  • Syria tried to regain the Heights in the 1973 Middle East war but was thwarted.
  • Israel and Syria signed an armistice in 1974 and the Golan had been relatively quiet since.
  • In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest-level talks over a possible return of the Golan and a peace agreement.
  • But the negotiations collapsed and subsequent talks also failed.

Why does Israel want the Golan?

  • Israel says that the civil war in Syria demonstrates the need to keep the plateau as a buffer zone between Israeli towns and the instability of its neighbour.
  • Israel says it also fears that Iran, an ally of Syria’s Assad, is seeking to establish itself permanently on the Syrian side of the border in order to launch attacks on Israel.
  • The area is a key source of water for an arid region. Rainwater from the Golan’s catchment feeds into the Jordan River. The area provides a third of Israel’s water supply.
  • The land is fertile, with the volcanic soil being used to cultivate vineyards and orchards and to raise cattle.

Who lives there?

  • More than 40,000 people live on the Israeli-occupied Golan, more than half of them Druze residents.
  • The Druze are an Arab minority who practice an offshoot of Islam and many of its adherents in Syria have long been loyal to the Assad regime.
  • After annexing the Golan, Israel gave the Druze the option of citizenship, but most rejected it and still identify as Syrian.
  • About another 20,000 Israeli settlers also live there, many of them working in farming and tourism.

Syrian stance on Golan 

  • Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, there was an uneasy stand-off between Israeli and Syrian forces loyal to Assad.
  • But in 2014 anti-government Islamist rebels overran Quneitra province on the Syrian side.
  • The rebels forced Assad’s forces to withdraw and also turned on US forces in the area, forcing them to pull back from some of their positions.
  • The area remained under rebel control until the summer of 2018, when Assad’s forces returned to the largely ruined city of Quneitra and the surrounding area following a Russian-backed offensive and a deal that allowed rebels to withdraw.

What is the current military situation? 

  • Assad’s forces are now back in control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, which reopened in October 2018, while UN forces are still carrying out refurbishment works.
  • Although Israel signalled that it would not impede the Syrian army’s return to Quneitra, it has repeatedly expressed concern that Assad may defy the U.N. armistice, or let his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah allies deploy there.

What separates the two sides on the Golan? 

  • A United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is stationed in camps and observation posts along the Golan, supported by military observers of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
  • Between the Israeli and Syrian armies is a 400-square-km (155-square-mile) “Area of Separation” – often called a demilitarized zone – in which the two countries’ military forces are not permitted under the ceasefire arrangement.
  • The Separation of Forces Agreement of May 31, 1974, created an Alpha Line to the west of the area of separation, behind which Israeli military forces must remain, and a Bravo Line to the east behind which Syrian military forces must remain.
  • Extending 25 km beyond the “Area of Separation” on both sides is an “Area of Limitation” in which there are restrictions on the number of troops and number and kinds of weapons that both sides can have there.
  • There is one crossing point between the Israeli and Syrian sides, which until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 was used mainly by United Nations forces, a limited number of Druze civilians and for the transportation of agricultural produce.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Right to Self-Defence


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Right to Self-Defence

Mains level: Expanded scope of the aforesaid right


  • The right to self-defence extends not only to one’s own body but to protect the person and property of another; the Supreme Court has interpreted the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • The court acquitted a forest ranger, who was jailed for shooting an alleged sandalwood smuggler in 1988.

Key points of SC ruling

  • The court observed that the right of private defence extends not only to “the defence of one’s own body against any offence affecting the human body but also to defend the body of any other person.
  • The right also embraces the protection of property, whether one’s own or another person’s, against certain specified offences, namely, theft, robbery, mischief and criminal trespass.
  • The court explained that the right does not arise if there is time to have recourse to the protection of the public authorities. Nor does it extend to the infliction of more harm than is necessary.
  • When death is caused, the person exercising the right of self-defence must be under reasonable apprehension of death, or grievous hurt, to himself or to those whom he is protecting, the court explained.

Right to Self-defence

  • Sections 96 to 106 of the IPC deals with the right to private defence.
  • It is not necessary that there should be an actual commission of the offence in order to give rise to the right of private defence.
  • A person who faces imminent and reasonable danger of losing his life or limb may in an exercise of self-defence inflict any harm even extending to death on his assailant either when the assault is attempted or directly threatened.
  • It is enough if the accused apprehends that such an offence is contemplated and it is likely to be committed if the right of private defence is not exercised, the court ruled.
Judiciary Institutional Issues

Voluntary Retention Route (VRR) Scheme of RBI


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: FDI, FPI, VRR

Mains level: Liquidity management policy in India


  • The RBI’s decision to infuse rupee liquidity through long term foreign exchange swap, a first of its kind in liquidity management policy, is likely to boost investments by foreign portfolio investors under the voluntary retention route (VRR).

Voluntary Retention Route (VRR)

  1. RBI had announced a separate scheme called VRR to encourage Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) to undertake long-term investments in Indian debt markets.
  2. Under this scheme, FPIs have been given greater operational flexibility in terms of instrument choices besides exemptions from certain regulatory requirements.
  3. The details are as under:
  • The aggregate investment limit shall be ₹ 40,000 crores for VRR-Govt and ₹ 35,000 crores for VRR-Corp.
  • The minimum retention period shall be three years. During this period, FPIs shall maintain a minimum of 75% of the allocated amount in India.
  • Investment limits shall be available on tap for investments and shall be allotted by Clearing Corporation of India Ltd. (CCIL) on ‘first come first served’ basis.

Benefits of VRR

  • The RBI will conduct dollar-rupee buy/sell swap action of $5 billion for a three-year tenor.
  • Such a swap route has been explored by various emerging market economies as an effective tool to manage liquidity.
  • Apart from liquidity infusion, the move will boost the country’s foreign exchange reserves and is likely to support the exchange rate.



FDI and FPI in India, External Commercial Borrowings, Foreign Exchange Reserves in India

RBI Notifications

Enforcing a ban will not end the menace of stubble burning, say, researchers


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Winter air pollution caused by stubble burning


  • A recent study says that the enforcement of the ban on stubble burning isn’t an only feasible solution.

Ground zero reality

  • On average, about 20 million tonnes of straw are generated in Punjab, and they barely have two to three weeks to dispose them off and prepare the fields for the next crop.
  • Hence the popularity of deploying stubble-burning as a quick and cheap solution.
  • For about a decade now the Centre has held this practice responsible for the abysmal air quality in the capital in winter.

Ban not a solution

  • According to the team, the government’s efforts earmarking funds for specialized farming equipment (for straw management) or enforcing the state-led ban on the practice are unlikely to solve the problem.
  • Farmer cooperative groups a key link between government and farmers ought to be playing a more active role in educating farmers.
  • The main message is that farmers are not to blame (for the pollution crisis).
  • There are deeper causes beyond economic incentives or awareness about the health consequences of burning at play.

Govt. measures so far

  • The Centre has spent about ₹600 crore in subsidizing farm equipment via village cooperatives to enable farmers to access them and avoid stubble burning.
  • In 2018, Punjab had disbursed about 8,000 farm implements to individual farmers and set up 4,795 custom hiring centers, from where such machinery could be leased.
  • However, the success of these efforts has been mixed, even though stubble-fires in 2018 were fewer than in 2017 and 2016, according to satellite maps by independent researchers.

What do researchers say?

  • The researchers found that farmers who had bigger landholdings were more likely to burn straw.
  • Those who used harvesters (for cutting the straw) as opposed to manual labourers were more likely to engage in burning.
  • On average, the input costs of farmers who burned straw were about ₹40,000 per acre and those who didn’t about ₹25,000 per acre.
  • However the incomes of those who burned and those who didn’t were closer about ₹60,000 and ₹50,000 respectively.

Way Forward

  • There needs to be greater participation by village cooperatives in being able to impose social norms that would dissuade burners.
  • Only educating farmers about the monetary costs of burning stubble can address the environmental crisis triggered every year.
Air Pollution

International Air Transport Association (IATA)


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: IATA

Mains level:  Potential of the aviation sector in India


  • SpiceJet has joined global airlines’ grouping International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a member, becoming the first Indian low-cost carrier to get the membership.

About IATA

  • The International Air Transport Association is a trade association of the world’s airlines.
  • IATA supports airline activity and helps formulate industry policy and standards.
  • It is headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada with Executive Offices in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Consisting of 290 airlines, primarily major carriers, representing 117 countries, the IATA’s member airlines account for carrying approximately 82% of total available air traffic.

Benefits of joining IATA

  • The IATA represents more than 290 airlines, including Air India, Jet Airways and Vistara.
  • SpiceJet is the first Indian low-cost carrier to be an IATA member, and fifth member in India.
  • The IATA membership is significant for rapidly expanding the airline’s international footprint.
  • The membership allows the airline to explore and grow its collaborations with international member airlines of IATA through interlining and code shares.
  • This in turn enables an airline to seamlessly expand the network options for its passengers in future.
  • The membership will further enable us to inculcate global best practices and innovations.
Civil Aviation Sector – CA Policy 2016, UDAN, Open Skies, etc.