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April 2019

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap ] Making democracy meaningful


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : How can democracy be more meaningful besides elections.


General Elections are due in April and May.

Does democracy only mean periodic Elections?

  • Within Indian common sense periodic elections, party-based competitive candidates, and universal adult franchise have turned out to be the primary ingredients of democracy.
  • This common sense has come to cloud everything centrally associated with the idea of democracy in general and constitutional democracy in particular.
  • Reading elections as democracy has also led to the equating of means with ends, celebrating the former, and abdicating it from all responsibility the latter demands.
  • This reduction of democracy to elections, today, threatens to undermine the core aspirations associated with it.

Problems with Elections in India

  • Elections can hardly be termed as the sole and effective conveyor belts of popular will in India any longer.
  • Probably, they were never so.

1.Marginalisation of marginalised

  • But there were reasons to hope, as the poor and the marginalised, cutting across diversity and the social and gender divide, rallied behind it in strength.
  • But the hype that has come to surround elections, the resources that it calls for, the close monitoring of the voters by boxing them in social straitjackets, and the media’s obsessive focus on elections as a gladiators’ den have deeply compromised elections as the preeminent device of representation of popular will.
  • In the process the electoral space of the poor and the marginalised has shrunk, as other devices have been put in place to elicit their assent.
  • Redistribution of resources and opportunities has been lost in the endless litany of promises of goods and bounties.

2.Role Of media

  • Sections of the media have come to play second fiddle in amplifying the sound-bites of political leaders, deploying them to construct and reconstruct opponents, with specified social constituencies in view.
  • They have found jingoism and archaic frames easy to stoke rather than nudge public sensitivity to reinforcing the democratic temper.
  • Highlighting fragments from popular memory-lane, spreading isolated events wide across the political space, and nurturing the effect of simultaneity, particularly with certain audiences in view, have been the take of much reporting these days.

While elections have been successful in reproducing the order of things, they can hardly be considered as the tool of deepening democracy and the nursery of imagining alternative human possibilities.

History of Views on Election in India

  • There has been an ambivalence regarding elections as the route to democracy in India from early on, even before Independence.
  • It is important to recall that the Indian National Congress rejected the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (1919) that expanded the then electoral base, and entertained grave doubts with regard to the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935 till it accorded a qualified endorsement to it.
  • There have always been political tendencies in India after Independence, particularly on the Left, that have sought boycott of elections by appealing to a richer and thicker version of democracy.
  • But there is little to suggest that those who sought to reject or do away with elections have had much success in putting together an alternative, or enjoyed significant and consistent mass support for any appreciable time across the complex and deeply plural social ensemble in India.
  • Subsequent developments, particularly the option of Left parties to take the parliamentary path, demonstrate that elections as a device of choosing representatives find deep echo in the public culture in India.

Way Forward

  • As a political community, the bonds that unite Indians are not given but have to be forged, and have to be forged consciously and deliberately.
  • Certain inheritances, beliefs, memories and shared practices can be a great help in this direction, but it is also important to realise that they can be equally divisive.
  • In a complex society such as India, such a political project needs all layers of the political community.
  • There is no reason for anyone to participate in such a project unless it welcomes them as equals and enables them to pursue what they regard as the best for them.
  • This calls for auditing the election promises of political parties, extending support to some measures and rejecting others.
  • Measures such as access to quality education in the mother tongue, neighbourhood schools, strengthening public health systems, public transport, entrepreneurship and skill development, universal social insurance, and reaching out to those who suffer disadvantages in accessing these measures are definitely in synchrony with the democratic project.
  • There is a dire need to create a helm to focus on India’s democratic project.


Monetary Policy Committee Notifications

[op-ed snap] No surprises


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Repo Rate

Mains level : RBI through rate cut is trying to address slowdown in growth as well as keeping inflation in check.


There was 25 basis points cut in benchmark interest rates by the Reserve Bank of India in its first bi-monthly policy statement of the financial year announced on Thursday.

Need for Cut and basis of cut

  • The market had anticipated such a cut and the only question was whether the central bank would surprise with a deeper 50 basis points cut.
  • In the event, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) seems to have decided to hold its horses and settle for a conservative approach given the divergent sets of data that it was confronted with.

1.Fluctuating Inflation Rate

  • On the one hand, inflation, despite the mild spike in February, is well under control at 2.6% and is projected to average 3.2% to 3.4% in the first half of 2019-20.
  • This is below the 4% target set for the MPC.

2.Factors influencing Inflation

  • But there are some factors that could spring a surprise on the upside, such as the behaviour of the monsoon and the trend in global oil prices, both of which feed directly into inflationary expectations.
  • Early forecasts indicate a strong possibility of a below-normal monsoon due to El Niňo. Such an event would cast a shadow on agricultural output, and consequently the food prices.
  • Similarly, global oil prices are now edging close to the $70 a barrel mark on the back of production cuts by the OPEC cartel.
  • While the soft growth trends in the global economy could act as a check on any runaway increase in oil prices, the chances of a sharp fall in the next few months appear remote at this point in time.
  • If these are points of upward pressure on inflation, on the other side growth has been faltering in the last few months, going by both data on industrial output and overall GDP.

Slowdown in growth rate

  • The Central Statistics Office has revised the GDP growth for 2018-19 downwards to 7% while the RBI has projected a lower growth of 7.2% in 2019-20 compared to the 7.4% estimated in the last policy.
  • The 25 basis points cut is, therefore, an acknowledgement by the MPC of the slowdown in growth.

Policy Shift

  • It also signals a shift in policy since Shaktikanta Das assumed office as Governor of the RBI, whereby the MPC is not solely focussed on inflation but also takes into account growth trends with equal seriousness.
  • The MPC’s neutral policy stance is prudent given the uncertainties ahead as it gives the central bank the flexibility to tailor policy to emerging data sets.



Meanwhile, New Governor has sent out a welcome, clear signal on the central bank’s commitment to the framework for resolution of stressed assets in the backdrop of the Supreme Court striking down its circular issued on February 12, 2018. While underlining that the RBI’s powers have not been compromised, he has indicated that the central bank will soon reissue the circular taking into account the apex court’s observations. This is as it should be.


ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[op-ed snap] Outer clarity


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PSLV. ASAT

Mains level : There is a need to regulate outer space and prohibit its militarisaton.


India’s Recent Achievements in Space

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation’s successful April 1 launch of the PSLV-C45 rocket that placed 29 satellites in three different orbits is remarkable both for the complex set of multi-tasking the mission accomplished and for the timing.
  • Coming three days after ISRO and the Defence Research and Development Organisation knocked out a satellite in a Low Earth Orbit with a direct hit.
  • It would appear that the Indian space programme stands galvanised and poised for a giant leap.

Past Achievements

  • The dexterity with which so many satellites, most of them American, were placed in three different orbits certainly showcases both the reliability and the expertise that ISRO offers.
  • This is not a new development.
  • Cost Effective-In February 2017, the PSLV-C37 placed 104 satellites, 96 of them from the U.S., in one go, a testimony to ISRO’s ability to launch satellites at a fraction of the cost that other countries incur.
  • Equally important, just as the February 2017 launch also placed the fifth of the Cartosat 2 series in orbit, an earth observation satellite with cameras that have a resolution of less than a metre, the PSLV-C45 placed EMISAT, which can, among other things, aid in electronic intelligence.

Need For formulating Space Programme

  • India is assiduously putting in place a space military architecture.
  • That is precisely why the government should articulate much more clearly the doctrinal aspects of the space programme, as well as the deterrence sought to be achieved by it.
  • India must communicate its peaceful intentions just as it showcases its capabilities, so as to contribute to a better understanding among countries it hopes to deter and thereby reduce the chances of wrong inferences being drawn in crisis situations.
  • After all, missiles are but one aspect of space warfare.
  • There are other, less visible but equally effective methods to incapacitate satellites that are being developed and are of equally serious concern.

Present global space architecture

  • There is no global regulatory regime to address the growing militarisation in space.
  • Last year, at the UN Disarmament Commission, India expressed concern about the “weaponisation” of outer space, and sought collective action to secure space-based assets.
  • In this regulatory vacuum, India has legitimate reasons to develop deterrence for the security of its space-based assets.

Way Forward

  • Equally, New Delhi must take a bigger lead in forging a global and legally binding instrument to prevent militarisation of space.
  • It is encouraging that after the ASAT test, India said it “expects to play a role in the future in the drafting of international law on prevention of an arms race in space”.
  • This is morally and pragmatically in keeping with India’s power projection.
  • Given the prohibitively expensive nature of space projects, India and other countries must utilise the increased presence in space to legitimately advance the well-being of their people.


Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Global Cooling Coalition


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Cooling Coalition

Mains level : Need for such united action

  • The first-ever global coalition on clean and efficient cooling was launched at the First Global Conference on Synergies between the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Global Cool Coalition

  • The Global Cool Coalition is a unified front that links action across the Kigali Amendment, Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.
  • It is expected to inspire ambition, identify solutions and mobilise action to accelerate progress towards clean and efficient cooling.
  • Besides the UN, it is supported by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL).
  • It includes government officials from Chile, Rwanda, Denmark as well as leaders from civil society, research and academia.

Need for such coalition

  • Throughout the world, 2018 was the fourth hottest year, preceded by 2017, 2015 and 2016.
  • With increasing incomes and urbanisation, number of air conditioning units across the globe is set to increase from 1.2 billion to 4.5 billion by 2050, and India alone may account for one billion units.
  • In the next 20 years, India’s cooling requirement will increase by eight times, with air conditioners alone consuming more than half of the total energy required for cooling in the country by 2037-38.
  • India has already developed a national cooling action plan that was launched by the Union environment ministry on March 8, 2019.

Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

EAT-Lancet Report for a sustainable food system


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EAT-Lancet Report

Mains level : Global need for a sustainable food system

  • One of the most influential public health documents of this decade, the EAT-Lancet Commission’s Food Planet Health, was formally released for India.

EAT-Lancet Report

  • The report stated that transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts.
  • The report was authored by 37 international experts, including two from India, has been put together by EAT, the science-based global platform for food system transformation, and the journal The Lancet .

Highlights of the report

  • The EAT-Lancet Commission’s report, for the first time proposes scientific targets for what constitutes a healthy diet derived from a sustainable food system.
  • It added that healthy diets had an optimal caloric intake and consisted largely of a diversity of plant-based foods and low amounts of animal-source foods, contained unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and limited amounts of refined grains, highly processed foods and added sugars.
  • The report also called for doubling in the consumption of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, and a greater than 50 per cent reduction in global consumption of less healthy foods.
  • EAT-Lancet also proposed a country-specific report for a reference diet for India, which was supported by the country’s apex food regulator, which stated that the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad.

Monetary Policy Committee Notifications

RBI cuts Repo Rate


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Repo and Reverse Repo

Mains level : Monetary Policy of the RBI

  • The RBI cut its repo rate, or the rate at which it lends to banks, by 25 basis points to 6 per cent.

What is Repo Rate?

  • REPO denotes Re Purchase Option – the rate by which RBI gives loans to other banks.
  • In other words, it is the rate at which banks buy back the securities they keep with the RBI at a later period.
  • Bank gives loan to the public at a higher rate, often 1% higher than REPO rate, at a rate known as Bank Rate.
  • RBI at times borrows from banks at a rate lower than REPO rate, and that rate is known as Reverse REPO rate.

Why a cut?

  • The key consideration for the RBI has shifted from inflation to growth and analysts are betting on the lower inflation rate as well as slower growth in the economy to spur the decision to slash rates.
  • In its last policy review in February, the MPC had shifted the monetary policy stance to ‘neutral’ from ‘calibrated tightening’.

Implications for Consumers

  • For retail consumers, a cut in rates could have a two-pronged impact. For depositors, new deposits will earn a lower rate and thereby lower returns.
  • For borrowers, though, a downward movement of interest rate would bring down the interest outgo in the near future.


Monetary Policy Committee

Monetary Policy Committee

Roads, Highways, Cargo, Air-Cargo and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NIIF

Mains level : Government initiatives for reviving infrastructure sector and providing required capital to the sector.


  • Roadis, a private investor and operator of transport infrastructure worldwide and the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) have jointly set up a platform to invest in road projects in India.

Platform for Road projects in India

  • The platform would invest up to $2 billion of equity targeting toll-operate-transfer models, acquisitions of existing road concessions and investment opportunities in the road sector.
  • With 710 km of highways under ownership and management, Roadis is one of the largest European highway concession managers in India.
  • Roadis is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, one of Canada’s largest pension funds.

About NIIF

  1. National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) is a fund created by the Government of India for enhancing infrastructure financing in the country.
  2. This is different from the National Investment Fund.
  3. Objective: to maximize economic impact mainly through infrastructure development in commercially viable projects, both greenfield and brownfield, including stalled projects.
  4. NIIF was proposed to be set up as a Trust, to raise debt to invest in the equity of infrastructure finance companies such as Indian Rail Finance Corporation (IRFC) and National Housing Bank (NHB).
  5. NIIF is envisaged as a fund of funds with the ability to make direct investments as required. As a fund of fund it may invest in other SEBI registered funds.
  6. The functions of NIIF are as follows:
  • Fund raising through suitable instruments including off-shore credit enhanced bonds, and attracting anchor investors to participate as partners in NIIF;
  • Servicing of the investors of NIIF.
  • Considering and approving candidate companies/institutions/ projects (including state entities) for investments and periodic monitoring of investments.
  • Investing in the corpus created by Asset Management Companies (AMCs) for investing in private equity.
  • Preparing a shelf of infrastructure projects and providing advisory service

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[pib] Solidarity Human Chain


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solidarity Human Chain, WHO

Mains level : Not Much

Solidarity Human Chain

  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare along with World Health Organization (WHO) formed a Solidarity Human Chain as part of the World Health Day celebrations.
  • It aims to reaffirm their commitment to bridging gaps and working collaboratively towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
  • April 7 of each year marks the celebration of World Health Day.
  • This year’s World Health Day will focus on equity and solidarity.
  • From its inception at the First Health Assembly in 1948 and since taking effect in 1950, the celebration has aimed to create awareness of a specific health theme to highlight a priority area of concern for the WHO.
  • Over the past 50 years this has brought to light important health issues such as mental health, maternal and child care, and climate change.