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April 2019

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Level-playing field matters


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Electoral Bonds

Mains level : How elections can be made more transparent and fair through state fundin of elections


The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme has afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity. The anonymity provision is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.

Money power in Current General Election

  • In just 28 days since the announcement of the general election, the Election Commission (EC) has seized cash, drugs, alcohol, precious metals and other items worth Rs 1,800 crore.
  • Compare this to the legal upper limit of expenditure per candidate — Rs 70 lakh.
  • Simple arithmetic would show that the seized amount can fully finance up to five candidates from each of the 543 constituencies.
  • The expenditure in any election is estimated to be several times the legal upper limit.

Need for state Funding of elections

  • Fiscal constraints on electioneering give rise to the problem of unaccounted money.
  • There have been a few solutions.
  • However, all of them are premised on an adverse relationship between accountability and transparency.
  • Alternately, state funding of the recognised political parties and outlawing of corporate funding could be instrumental in making the electoral process fairer and more participatory.

History of introducing State funding of elections

  • In 1962, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee moved a Private Member’s Bill to prevent electoral donations by corporates.
  • It was argued that since all shareholders need not subscribe to the political endorsement by a corporate, it was immoral to allow donations against their consent.
  • Vajpayee had propositioned that such funding would only serve corporate interests.
  • While all political parties welcomed the bill, the then ruling party did not vote in its favour.

Provision regarding donations

  • Under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act 1951, political parties are free to accept donations from any person, except from a foreign source.
  • wo inferences can be drawn from this — first, money wields the ability to disrupt political agenda; second, foreign money dilutes electoral integrity.
  • Both reasons would equally be valid for any person who is alien to the election process — a non-voter.

Concerns from Foreign Funding and Corporate Funding

  • The concerns that arise from foreign-funding are equally applicable to funding from corporates, with the distinction that while the former is a jurisdictional alien; the latter, on account of being a non-participant, is an alien. However, party interests deter further expansion in the law.
  • Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties
    • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
    • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.
  • Corporates are associations that further economic interests of their members who enjoy a freedom of trade.
  • Since corporates are not participants as voters, they have no claim to freedom of “political” speech and expression.
  • Therefore, while citizen-voters can donate to a political party pursuant to free speech, corporates must refrain from donating to a political party.

Analysis of Electoral Bond Scheme

  • The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity.
  • The ruling party is the main Beneficiary – Of the Rs 2,722 crore donated through the scheme in the last 15 months, almost 95 per cent has gone to the ruling party, which enjoys a 31.34 per cent vote share.
  • The remaining contestants with a 68.66 per cent vote share could only garner 5 per cent funding.
  • The anonymity provision under the scheme is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.
  • The State Bank as the facilitator would be privy to the details of the depositor and the political party funded, therefore allowing the ruling party to monitor its rivals.
  • What would be unknown to others will be known by the ruling party.

Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties

  • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
  • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.

Lessons From the Brazilian Supreme Court’s Verdict  on the corporate donation

  • In 2015, the Brazilian Supreme Court declared corporate financing of elections to be unconstitutional.
  • Right to equality is violated – The court understood that right to equality was essential to ensuring fairness through the extrinsic (fair options between candidates) and intrinsic (fair options between ideologies) conceptions.
  • Because 95 per cent of all campaign finance came from corporates, the courts felt that disclosure norms could only address the extrinsic aspect.
  • Corporate Funding Suppress ideological diversity – Corporates would still be able to collectively suppress certain socio-economic ideologies (welfare measures, controlled economy, wage-labour regulations) to their advantage, by inducing political parties and candidates.
  • So, the electoral contest would not allow certain policies to flourish, irrespective of who won. Outlawing corporate funding was important to ensure the right to equality.

Way Forward

  • In realpolitik terms, there is no incentive for any ruling political party to reform the law as it stands.
  • Even the main Opposition party lives in the hope that it would derive similar advantage when it comes to power.
  • Electoral Funding to EC –
    • Thus, necessity would dictate that the task of electoral funding be given to the EC under Article 324.
    • A fair and transparent manner to finance the political parties would require a censure of unaccounted money and direct donations by corporates and non-voters to political parties.
  • State Funding –
    • State funding of recognised political parties is a viable alternative.
    • A state funding scheme would be viable through the levy of an election cess on the direct taxes.
    • A National Election Fund could be maintained by the EC, into which the proceeds from this cess may be deposited.
    • At the current GDP-Direct Tax ratio and voter numbers, a 1 per cent election cess can fund Rs 500 for each vote cast in elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies.
    • The cess being progressive would spare the poorer candidates from the costs of funding elections.
    • Direct donations to political parties may be permitted only from persons who are entitled to vote. Those not entitled to vote may contribute to the neutral National Election Fund.


  • Donations from corporates into this fund will not distort the election process, but would instead improve the integrity of the peoples’ electoral choice.
  • Parties would be inclined to adopt a more inclusive agenda when in government since more votes will translate into more state funding.
  • Parties will also vie for votes in absolute numbers than merely be the first past the post. Democracy will then truly be of the people, for the people and by the people.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

[op-ed snap] Slowing down fast: Industrial growth


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Inflation, Index

Mains level : Industrial slowdown and it's effects


The downturn in industrial activity and the spike in retail inflation pose a policy challenge.


  • Yet another indicator, worryingly, points to the Indian economy slowing down fast.
  • Industrial growth was just 0.1% in February from the year-earlier period, the slowest pace in 20 months.
  • Industrial output had expanded by 6.9% in February 2018.
  • Industrial growth, as measured by the index of industrial production, has been slowing down considerably in recent months, dropping to just 0.2% year-on-year in November.

Sectorwise Decline

  • Manufacturing – Manufacturing, which has a weight of almost 78% in the index, continues to be the biggest drag, with output contracting by 0.3% as compared with an 8.4% jump in the year-earlier period.
  •  Capital Goods  – The largest contributor to the slowdown in February was the capital goods sector, which shrank by close to 9%, with the contraction widening from the preceding month’s 3.4%.

Overall Scenario

  • That the revision in this closely watched proxy for business spending plans has widened, from the 3.2% contraction reported last month, is striking.
  • GDP grew by just 6.6% in the quarter ended December, the slowest pace in six quarters.
  • Forecast – Various institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the International Monetary Fund have been lowering their expectations for India’s growth in the coming quarters.
  • Other Growth Indicators – With other economic indicators such as the purchasing managers’ index and high-frequency data like automobile sales also signalling weakening momentum, the overall scenario, when viewed along with the slowdown in industrial output, suggests that a turnaround in economic growth is not in sight.
  • Inflation – Retail inflation as measured by the consumer price index reached a five-month high of 2.86% in March due to the rise in food and fuel prices.
  • While price gains still remain below the RBI’s stated inflation threshold of 4%, the trajectory is hardly bound to be reassuring.
  • The RBI, which has cut interest rates at two successive policy meetings to help bolster economic growth, is likely to be tempted to opt for more rate reductions.

Implications of such a scenario

  • Need for structural reforms – While monetary easing could be an easy solution to the growth problem, policymakers may also need to look into structural issues behind the slowdown.
  • Credit Market Slowdown – The high levels of troubled debt in not just the banking sector but the wider non-banking financial companies are hurting credit markets, and unless these issues can be resolved, no amount of rate cuts would serve as an effective stimulus.
  • To a large extent, the slowdown is due to investments in sectors that turned sour as the credit cycle tightened.
  • A decline in new proposals – In the fiscal year ended March, new investment proposals fell to a 14-year low, says the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.


Easing interest rates without reforms may only help hide investment mistakes instead of fostering a genuine economic recovery.

History- Important places, persons in news

Explained: History behind Notre Dame- Soul of the French nation

  • Paris was struck in its very heart as flames devastated the roof of Notre-Dame, the medieval cathedral made famous by Victor Hugo.

Importance of Notre-Dam

  • The iconic cathedral has been deeply enmeshed in Paris’s history since construction began at the end of the 12th century; historians generally ascribe the date 1163 and lasted more than two centuries to 1345.
  • For French Catholics it has particular resonance, as the resting place of the crown of thorns believed to have been placed on Jesus’ head before his crucifixion.
  • For centuries France’s kings and queens were married and buried there.
  • Its massive tenor bell announced the liberation of the city from Nazi control on August 24, 1944, ending the dark years under German rule in World War II.
  • Napoleon was crowned emperor in Notre-Dame in 1804, and the joyous thanksgiving ceremony after the Liberation of Paris in 1944 took place there, led by Charles de Gaulle.

Monsoon Updates

Long Period Average: The IMD yardstick for determining rainfall

  • While releasing its monsoon forecast, the IMD expressed the projected rainfall in terms of Long Period Average (LPA), saying that it was expected to be 96% of LPA.

What is LPA of Monsoon

  • The LPA for the season is calculated on the basis of the mean rainfall during the four-month monsoon season over the 50-year period from 1951-2010.
  • It works out to an average of 89 cm for the country as a whole.
  • This is the average rainfall recorded during the months from June to September, calculated during the 50-year period.
  • It is kept as a benchmark while forecasting the quantitative rainfall for the monsoon season every year.
  • When IMD forecasts the category of rainfall, be it for country, region or month, the forecast is based on these standardised figures calculated for a period of 50 years.
  • As per the outputs obtained from the weather models, the rainfall is categorised as normal, below normal, or above normal.

Five Rainfall Distribution categories

  1. Normal or Near Normal: When per cent departure of actual rainfall is +/-10% of LPA, that is, between 96-104% of LPA
  2. Below normal: When departure of actual rainfall is less than 10% of LPA, that is 90-96% of LPA
  3. Above normal: When actual rainfall is 104-110% of LPA
  4. Deficient: When departure of actual rainfall is less than 90% of LPA
  5. Excess: When departure of actual rainfall is more than 110% of LPA

Region-wise LPA

  • 83 cm for East and Northeast India,
  • 55 cm for Central India,
  • 61 cm for South Peninsular India, and
  • 50 for Northwest India, which put together, bring the all-India figure to 88.75 cm.

Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

India successfully test-fires Sub-sonic cruise Missile Nirbhay


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nirbhay Missile

Mains level : India's missile arsenal

  • In a major boost for defence, India successfully test-fired its first Sub-sonic cruise missile, Nirbhay.
  • The missile, which can be deployed from multiple platforms, was launched by the DRDO from complex-3 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur, Odisha.

Nirbhay Missile

  • Nirbhay is a long range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile designed and developed in India by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
  • The missile can be launched from multiple platforms and is capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads.
  • It is a two-stage missile powered by Solid rocket motor booster.
  • It is capable of carrying warheads of up to 300kg at a speed of 0.6 to 0.7 Mach (sub-sonic)
  • It has an operational range of 1000 km (long range).

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

India short of 6 lakh doctors, 2 million nurses: U.S. study


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Healthcare lacunae in India

  • India has a shortage of an estimated 600,000 doctors and 2 million nurses, say a US study.

Out-of-pocket costs of health

  • In India, 65% of health expenditure is out-of-pocket, and such expenditures push some 57 million people into poverty each year.
  • Even when antibiotics are available, patients are often unable to afford them.
  • High out-of-pocket medical costs to the patient are compounded by limited government spending for health services.
  • The study found that lack of staff that are properly trained in administering antibiotics is preventing patients from accessing live-saving drugs.

Mortality burden

  • Researchers at CDDEP in the U.S. conducted stakeholder interviews in Uganda, India, and Germany, and literature reviews to identify key access barriers to antibiotics in low-, middle-, and high-income countries.
  • The majority of the world’s annual 5.7 million antibiotic-treatable deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Here, the mortality burden from treatable bacterial infections far exceeds the estimated annual 700,000 deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections.
  • Health facilities in many of these countries are substandard.

Issues with India

  • In India, there is one government doctor for every 10,189 people (the WHO recommends a ratio of 1:1,000), or there is a deficit of 600,000 doctors.
  • The nurse: patient ratio is 1:483, implying a shortage of two million nurses.
  • Lack of access to antibiotics kills more people currently than does antibiotic resistance, but we have not had a good handle on why these barriers are created.
  • The findings of the report show that even after the discovery of new antibiotic, regulatory hurdles and substandard health facilities delay or altogether prevent widespread market entry and drug availability.

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

[pib] Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific (RCAP) Congress


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RCAP

Mains level : Building climate resilient urban infrastructure

  • The 4th Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific (RCAP) Congress 2019 was organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific

  • RCAP is the annual global platform for urban resilience and climate change adaptation.
  • It is convened by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and co-hosted by the World Mayors Council on Climate Change and the City of Bonn.
  • It was launched in 2010 with the goal of forging partnerships and dialogues that matter.
  • The success of the series ‘Resilient Cities – The Annual Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation’ that attracts hundreds of participants to Bonn, Germany, every year since 2010 is a clear indication of how pressing the issue of adaptation and resilience is perceived among local governments worldwide.
  • The RCAP is a response to heightened demand from the Asia Pacific Region, which encouraged ICLEI to expand the congress series to include Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific, bringing the event and the focus to the Asia-Pacific region, catering to the situation, challenges and opportunities of local governments specifically in this region.
  • It aims to provide an Asian platform for urban resilience and climate change adaptation where partnerships are forged and concrete dialogues are happening, with the ultimate goal of identifying solutions and creating lasting impacts for cities in the region.