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May 2019

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Posers on the code


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Election Commission

Mains level : Election commission has been less powerful in controlling misconduct in 2019 General Elections.


The Opposition has been complaining frequently about what it believes is the Election Commission’s leniency towards the ruling BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The focus is now on the manner in which the EC is dealing with complaints against Mr. Modi for some of his controversial campaign speeches.


  • While complaints against other leaders were promptly dealt with, there was an obvious delay in taking up those against Mr. Modi. Few would have failed to notice that he has been running an abrasive campaign.
  •  It was only after the matter reached the Supreme Court that the three-member EC began to dispose of the complaints.
  • It has found nothing wrong in most of the remarks about which complaints were made for possible violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
  • What is disconcerting is the EC’s finding that none of his remarks touching on the role of the armed forces under his rule violates the directive against the use of the armed forces for political propaganda.
  • That some of these decisions were not unanimous, but marked by dissent from one of the Election Commissioners, points to the seriousness of the credibility crisis the institution is facing.

Election Commission’s Reactions

  • So far the EC has rejected six complaints.
  • The prohibition against the use of the armed forces in election propaganda is to underscore their apolitical nature and to deny ruling parties the opportunity to project their performance as their own achievements.
  • Yet, the EC has decided that none of the references to air strikes, the nuclear option and dealing with Pakistan attracted the bar under the MCC.
  • It is difficult not to speculate that had the same remarks been made by other candidates, they may have attracted a ban on campaigning for a period.


The EC has so far retained its well-founded reputation, although there have been occasional complaints in the past that questioned its impartiality. It is unfortunate that this reputation for independence and even-handedness is starkly under question in this election.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] The quest for a military footprint


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BRI

Mains level : India has to challenge China'a aggressive quest to acquire foreign bases.


In the annual report to the US Congress on Chinese military power released last week, the US Defence Department has pointed to China’s vigorous quest for foreign military bases, including in Pakistan.

India’s response

India’s response so far has developed along three axes.

1. Countering Potential Threats – One is to counter potential threats from China’s military bases in its immediate neighbourhood.

2.Military Partnerships – Second, to strengthen military partnerships with its friends and partners to balance China.

3. Emulate Beijing’s Quest  – The third is to emulate Beijing’s quest for foreign military presence.

Quest for foreign bases

1.Evolution as a modern state –

  • That China and India compete for foreign military bases is not merely an extension of their very familiar rivalry but a definitive moment in their overall political evolution as modern states.
  • While Beijing is racing ahead in the search for foreign military presence, Delhi has some catching up to do.

2. Part of anti-colonial movement – Demanding that the Western powers withdraw from their military bases in Asia and the Indian Ocean was very much part of the anti-colonial and anti-imperial framework of Chinese and Indian foreign policies.

3. Support to American Military Presence – Beijing began to justify American forward military presence necessary to counter the “Soviet social imperialism” and constrain the potential for “Japanese militarism”.

4. India’s building of alliance – India, which vigorously objected to US military alliances in Asia and Pakistan’s participation in them, eventually built an alliance-like relationship with the Soviet Union. The objective was to balance the US and Chinese alliances with Pakistan.

5. Change in Attitude – Today, China is already a great power and India is rising, slowly but certainly. One of the big changes in their strategic outlooks has been the quiet change in their attitudes towards foreign military bases.

Reasons for transformation

  1. Means and motivation –
  • As the world’s second-largest economy (aggregate GDP of $13 trillion) and the second-largest annual defence budget ($250 billion), China has both the motivation and the means to acquire foreign military bases.
  • China’s transition follows the familiar dictum that flag follows trade.
  • As the Pentagon’s annual report put it: “China’s advancement of projects such as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative (OBOR) will probably drive military overseas basing through a perceived need to provide security for OBOR projects”

2.Strategic Interests –

  • The Pentagon report argues that “China will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests”.
  • No surprise that Pakistan fits the bill perfectly. The Pentagon notes, Pakistan has the precedent of hosting foreign military bases.
  • Pakistan is undoubtedly China’s closest political and military partner.
  • The Pakistan army’s determination to limit India’s power means there is little political opposition to hosting Chinese bases and facilities.

Delhi’s prospects

  • That Chinese warships and submarines might soon be based on a permanent basis in Karachi or Gwadar is surely part of India’s military planning for the future.
  • Limiting Chinese Scope – In other places where it has some political influence — say Sri Lanka and Maldives — India has indeed sought to contest and limit the nature and scope of Chinese military activities.
  •  Peacetime use of military Basis – After prolonged reluctance, India has signed agreements with the US and France for mutual peacetime use of military bases. It is a matter of time before it signs such agreements with other powers like Japan and Australia.
  • Access to military facilities- In the third leg of India’s strategy, Delhi is seeking access to military facilities in a number of countries.


  • India’s growing and globalised economy is now close to $3 trillion and Delhi’s political ambition is to raise it to $5 trillion in the next five years.
  • Delhi’s security imperatives are no longer limited to its borders and it needs to secure its widely dispersed interests with forward military presence in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Where Delhi lags behind Beijing is in the structuring of a purposeful policy on foreign military bases and the creation of organisational structures to implement it.

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

[op-ed snap] Deserved penalty


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SEBI

Mains level : SEBI's imposition of fine on NSE will restire invetor's confidence in the market.


The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) last week ordered the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) to pay a fine of about ₹1,000 crore within 45 days for its supervisory laxity that led to some of its broker-clients gaining preferential access to certain market data.

Details of order

1.Payback from NSE Chiefs – Two former NSE chiefs have been ordered to pay back a part of their past salaries as punishment for their failure to ensure that the exchange was fully compliant with all provisions of the norms governing securities exchanges.

2.Use of tick by tick protocol is responsible for data breach – In its order, SEBI noted that the NSE’s use of the tick-by-tick server protocol had allowed certain high-frequency trading firms using the exchange’s secondary server to receive important market data before other market participants, who were thus put at a disadvantage.

3.Doubts regarding market fairness – While it has not yet been proven decisively that the firms with preferential access to data from the exchange managed to profit from such data, the episode raised serious questions about market fairness.

4.No fraudulent activity but lack of diligence – SEBI ruled that it did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that the NSE committed a fraudulent act, but was unequivocal in ruling that the Exchange had failed to exercise the necessary due diligence to ensure that it served as a fair marketplace.

5.Switch to new data system worked in favour – The fact that the NSE had opted to switch to a new data transmission system, which relays data to all market participants at the same time, prior to a whistle-blower’s complaint in 2015 may have worked in the NSE’s favour.

The relevance of the verdict

1.Relief to stock exchange –

  • Despite the sizeable fine that it imposes on the NSE, the SEBI verdict must surely come as a relief to the erring stock exchange for at least two reasons.
  • First, the fact that it has not been found to have intentionally favoured certain market players over others should help it retain investor confidence.
  • Also, the exchange, which had been barred from proceeding with its initial public offering during the pendency of the SEBI probe, will now finally be able to tap the capital markets to fund its growth, after a six-month moratorium.

2.Welcome regulatory Action

  • While there is bound to be debate about the magnitude of the fine, overall the financial penalty is a welcome regulatory action.
  • Millions of investors choose to do their trading on market platforms like the NSE every year in the belief that the marketplace offers an equitable environment to carry out their trades.


As the markets regulator, SEBI must deal with breaches of their supervisory brief by exchanges in an exemplary manner to ensure that small investors retain confidence in the fairness and soundness of key institutions that enable a market economy.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Global Assessment Report by IPBES


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Highlights of the report

Mains level : Threats of mass extinction

Global Assessment Report

  • It is compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries and is a cornerstone of an emerging body of research the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
  • Known as the Global Assessment, the report found that up to one million of Earth’s estimated eight million plants, insect and animal species is at risk of extinction, many within decades.
  • It suggests the world may need to embrace a new “post-growth” form of economics if it is to avert the existential risks posed by the mutually-reinforcing consequences of pollution, habitat destruction and carbon emissions.


  • The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body, established by member States in 2012 under the auspices of UNEP.
  • The objective of IPBES is to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.
  • The IPBES secretariat is based in Bonn, Germany.

Findings of the report

  • The report identified a range of risks, from the disappearance of insects vital for pollinating food crops, to the destruction of coral reefs that support fish populations that sustain coastal communities, or the loss of medicinal plants.
  • It found that the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900.
  • The threatened list includes more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals.
  • The picture was less clear for insect species, but a tentative estimate suggests 10% are at risk of extinction.

Threats posed by human activities

  • Relentless pursuit of economic growth, twinned with the impact of climate change, has put one million species at risk of extinction.
  • The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed.
  • This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.
  • Only a wide-ranging transformation of the global economic and financial system could pull ecosystems that are vital to the future of human communities worldwide back from the brink of collapse.

Various Causes

  • The authors identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers with the current rate of species extinction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years.
  • Climate change caused by burning the coal, oil and gas produced by the fossil fuel industry is exacerbating the losses, the report found.

Way Forward

  • The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.
  • By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.
  • The findings will also add to pressure for countries to agree bold action to protect wildlife at a major conference on biodiversity due to take place in China towards the end of next year.

Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

Genetic Study on people of Lakshadweep Islands


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lakshadweep Islands

Mains level : Read the attached story

Genetic studies in Lakshadweep

  • Genetic studies on the people of the Lakshadweep archipelago was done by a team of CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), for the first time.
  • It has have shown that a majority of human ancestry in Lakshadweep is largely derived from South Asia with minor influences from East and West Eurasia.
  • And, there was no evidence of early human migration through the Lakshadweep islands.

Findings of the study

  • The islands are located between Africa and southwestern part of India.
  • Through our earlier studies we know that early human migration from Africa to Andaman and Australia happened through western coast of India.
  • So it was presumed that Lakshadweep Islands might have played a major role in early human migration and expected the presence of genetic signatures of ancient people, such as Andamanese and Australian aboriginals.
  • The study of major islands of Agatti, Andorth, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kiltan and Minicoy of Lakshadweep and demonstrated a close genetic link of Lakshadweep islanders with people from Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.

Why study Lakshadweep?

  • Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands, scattered over approximately 78,000 square km of the Arabian Sea, 200-440 kms off the south-western coast of India, with a population of approximately 65,000.
  • However, the genetic composition of the first human settlement of this archipelago is not clear.
  • The islands were known to sailors since ancient times and historical documents say that the spread of Buddhism to these islands happened during 6th century B.C. and Islam was spread by in 661 A.D. by Arabians.
  • Cholas ruled the islands in 11th century, Portuguese in 16th century, Ali Rajahs in 17th, Tipu Sultan in 18th before the British Raj of 19th century.

Indian Navy Updates

Fourth Scorpene-class submarine INS Vela launched


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : INS Vela, Project 75

Mains level : India's naval arsenal

  • The Scorpene-class submarine Vela, the fourth of six underwater warships being built in India with French collaboration, was launched in Mumbai.

INS Vela

  • The submarine has been named ‘Vela’ after an earlier lead submarine of the erstwhile Vela class, which was the second batch of the Foxtrot class submarines acquired from erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
  • INS Vela is the fourth Scorpene class Submarine of Project 75.
  • INS Kalvari, the first of the Scorpene-class submarines, was commissioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 14, 2017.
  • INS Khanderi and INS Karanj are in advanced stages to join the fleet.
  • The remaining two — INS Vagir and INS Vagsheer are in the advanced stages of manufacturing.

Scorpene Class Submarine: What it means?

  • The Scorpene class submarines have the capability to be operational in any theatre also have the capability of undertaking different types of missions, which include anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying and area surveillance.
  • They have top end stealth features which includes advanced acoustic silencing techniques, low radiated noise levels, hydro-dynamically optimised shape and the ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision-guided weapons.

Who built it?

  • The State-owned Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited has entered into a contract for construction and transfer of technology for six Scorpene-class submarines with French collaborator Ms Naval Group (formerly DCNS).

Judicial Pendency

Zero Pendency Courts Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Zero Pendency Courts Project

Mains level : Judicial Pendency in India

  • A Delhi High Court’s pilot project report on the backlog of cases has said the Capital needed 43 more judges above the current strength of 143 to clear all the pending cases in one year.
  • The ‘Zero Pendency Courts Project’ is a one-of-its-kind project in India aimed to study the life cycle of cases to come up with optimal timelines for cases.

Zero Pendency Courts Project

  • Prompted by the urgent need to ensure timely justice, the Delhi High Court started the pilot project from January 2017 in certain subordinate courts in Delhi.
  • It is one of its kind in India aimed to study the life cycles of cases to come up with optimal timelines for cases.
  • The primary goal of the project was to study the flow of cases in the absence of backlog.
  • The inspiration for the “zero pendency court project” was a remark by Justice M.N. Venkatachalaiah (former Chief Justice of India).

Cost of Pendency

  • As recently as in 2016, it was estimated that judicial delays cost India around 1.5% of its Gross Domestic Product annually.
  • The report noted that the number of criminal cases in Delhi is far more than the number of civil cases.
  • As on March 20, 2019, there were 5.5 lakh criminal cases and 1.8 lakh civil cases pending in subordinate courts in Delhi.
  • It said the highest amount of time per hearing on average was spent on the final arguments stage followed by the final order or judgment.
  • A considerable amount of time is taken on dictation, researching on case laws etc. before pronouncing the final judgment. Thus, a lot of time is spent on each of the hearings.

Reason for delays

  • The reason for delays, the report said was the absence of witnesses.
  • Evidence stage forms an important of a case. Absence of witnesses during the evidence stage causes a serious impediment to the progress of the case.
  • Also, unnecessary adjournments sought by the advocates or the parties at various stages in a case delay the proceedings, thus prolonging the case life.
  • Additionally, there is a delay in the service of summons, especially to outstation parties.

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

UK has become the first country to declare a ‘climate emergency’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Climate Emergency

Mains level : Climate change and associated threats

  • UK Parliament has passed an extraordinary measure: a national declaration of an Environment and Climate Emergency.
  • The UK is the first national government to declare such an emergency.

Why such move?

  • The decision marks a renewed sense of urgency in tackling climate change, following a visit to Parliament by teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
  • There are now some 49 million people living under national, city and local declarations of a climate emergency around the world.
  • The UK is legally committed to a 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (relative to their 1990 levels).
  • It was recently recognised as one of just 18 developed economies that have driven down carbon dioxide emissions over the last decade.

The cost of inaction

  • Research in Australia has investigated the cost to the global economy if the Paris Agreement is not met and the world hits 4˚C warmer.
  • The values are eye-watering: an estimated $23 trillion a year over the long-term.
  • This has been likened to the world experiencing four to six global financial crises on the scale of 2008 every year.

What is a climate emergency?

  • There is no precise definition of what constitutes action to meet such an emergency, the move has been likened to putting the country on a “war footing”.
  • This has put the climate and the environment at the very centre of all government policy, rather than being on the fringe of political decisions.

Counting down to 2030

  • The year 2030 is an important target.
  • In spite of what climate contrarians might voice very loudly, five of our planet’s warmest years on record have occurred since 2010, whilst 2018 experienced all manner of climate extremes that broke numerous global records.
  • It’s sobering to realize that, because the oceans are a major sink of heat, the estimated 40-year delay in the release of this energy back into the atmosphere means the conditions of the last decade are in part a consequence of our pollution from the 1970s.

Way Forward

  • At a time when politicians discuss the need to “live within our means” when it comes to national finances, this does not appear to translate to the environment when we’re considering future generations.
  • Instead we seem to be caught in a debate surrounding the costs of action rather than inaction.
  • The welcome announcement from the UK is a major step in the right direction and potentially a watershed moment for a more sustainable global future.

History- Important places, persons in news

Thailand’s cultural roots with India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Not Much


  • Recently Thailand observed an elaborate coronation ceremony for its new king.
  • Last time such a ceremony took place in the country was back in May 1950 for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as Rama IX.
  • Adulyadej passed away in 2016 at the age of 88, after having ruled for seven decades.

Indian roots of Coronation

  • The coronation ceremony is an interesting mix of Buddhist and Brahminical rituals, symbolically declaring the king as Devaraja (God-king) and upholder of Buddhism in Thailand.
  • The Indian roots of the Thai king’s coronation ceremony are reflexive of the rich, long relationship that South East Asian countries have shared with Hindu and Buddhist communities in India.
  • The Brahmanical character of the Thai coronation ceremony needs to be located in the context of such cultural exchange.
  • The Siamese preserve the ancient term for coronation as ‘Rajabhisheka’ which in ancient India referred to the coronation of ordinary kings.
  • For the Siamese, Rajabhisheka is rather a Rajasuya, a ceremony for the consecration of an emperor, and it is extremely interesting to find that some of its features can be traced back to the Vedic Rajasuya described in the Satapatha Brahmana.

Indianisation in SE Asia

  • French scholar George Coedes is known to be the first person to have carried out an in-depth study of the process of ‘Indianisation’ in South East Asia, whereby he coined the term ‘Farther India’.
  • Trade was perhaps the foremost cause of contact between the two regions.
  • As Coedus notes, individual traders had perhaps set up small kingdoms in South East Asian states, thereby carrying with them Buddhist and Hindu cultural motifs and value systems.

Observation of Brahminical features

  • The existence of Brahmanical features in the coronation ceremony can be traced back to the Sukhothai Kingdom of the thirteenth century.
  • Since then, despite the growth of Buddhism in the country, Brahmins had an extremely important role to play in the royal court.
  • Although Buddhism was the religion of the people, and was protected by the kings, Hinduism was still considered as essential to the monarchy, and received a great share of royal favour.
  • During the period of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Brahmins were appointed in the court from Cambodia and from the Indian peninsula.
  • The Brahmanical nature of the court ceremonies was destroyed only when the Ayutthaya kingdom was sacked in the 18th century by the Burmese troops of the Konbaung Dynasty.
  • King Rama I, who founded the Rattanakosin Kingdom in the late 18th century, brought back the Brahmanical tradition of the coronation ceremony which continues to be observed till date.