Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] Bigger and better: On number of Supreme Court judgesop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Judicial vacancies and pendency


Union Cabinet took a decision to raise the strength of the Supreme Court from 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India. Any move to increase the strength of the judiciary ought to be welcomed.

Reasons for increasing strength

  1. Availability of judges is not increasing in proportion to the institution of cases
  2. This will help in dealing with the large pendency of cases: 59,331 cases on July 11
  3. The law that fixes the number of judges in the highest court was last amended in 2009 to raise the figure from 26 to 31
  4. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had written to the PM recently, highlighting the problem of paucity of judges, due to which he was unable to constitute enough Constitution Benches to decide important questions of law

Problems with Supreme Court

  1. Should the Supreme Court go into the correctness of every decision of every high court
  2. Valuable time is being taken up by mundane matters that do not impinge on larger questions that involve interpretation of laws and constitutional provisions
    1. Routine bail matters land up in the Supreme Court within days of persons being arrested
    2. Every major crime or disaster seems to invite public interest litigation which mentions the matter before the Chief Justice for urgent hearing. The court is being invited to even oversee flood relief work.

Way ahead

  1. A mere increase in the court’s strength may not be enough to liquidate the burgeoning docket
  2. Reasonable restraint on the duration of oral arguments and disciplined adherence to a schedule of hearings may be needed
  3. Preserve the apex court’s primary role as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions and statutory interpretation. All other questions involving a final decision on routine matters, especially civil cases ought to be considered by a mechanism that will not detract from the court’s primary role
  4. Some countries have brought in a clear division at the level of the apex judiciary by having separate constitutional courts, which limit themselves to deciding questions of constitutional importance
  5. 229th Report of the Law Commission suggested a new system under which there will be one Constitution Bench in Delhi, and four ‘Cassation Benches’ for different regions of the country. This may also increase access to justice to those living in far-flung areas of the country
Solar Energy – JNNSM, Solar Cities, Solar Pumps, etc.

[op-ed snap] From Plate to Plough: In the shade of solar treesop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Solar trees for doubling farmers' income


Annadata becoming the urjadata – This one policy has the potential to double farmers incomes within a year or two


  1. Help farmers produce solar power on their lands
  2. Farmers occupy the largest chunks of land in this country


  1. This model will be much more inclusive and can help augment their incomes significantly


  1. Solar Pumps
    1. Replace all pump-sets, especially diesel ones, with solar pumps
    2. Excess power generated through solar panels can be purchased by state governments at a price that gives the farmer a good margin over his cost of producing solar power.
  2. Solar Trees
    1. Encourage farmers to grow “solar trees” on their lands at a height of about 10-12 feet in a manner that enough sunlight keeps coming to plants below
    2. The farmer can keep growing two irrigated crops as he has been doing, but the solar tree generates a lot of excess power that can be purchased by the state government
    3. In one acre you can have 500 solar trees in such a manner that even tractors can move through those and farmers can keep growing their normal two crops. It does not impact their productivity as there is ample sunlight coming from the sides for photosynthesis. 
  3. The power generated under the second variant is multiple times more than under the first variant, and therefore the income augmentation can also be several times more than under the first variant.

What surveys show

  1. A global survey on this shows that it is being practiced in many countries from Japan to China to Germany, and India is ripe for this


  1. Mobilizing enough capital to install these solar trees. 
  2. The state should be ready to do the power purchase agreement.


  1. The economic calculations suggest that farmers can be given Rs one lakh/acre per annum as net income, with a six per cent increase every year for the next 25 years. This can easily double their income.
  2. He does not have to mobilise capital for solar panels. That is done by other businesses, who also make profit in the process.
  3. As power consumption per hectare in Indian agriculture is still very low, this holds great promise for several poorer states
Monetary Policy Committee Notifications

[op-ed snap] The misplaced faith in an easy money policyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Monteary Policy basics

Mains level : Limitations of monetary pollicy

The reaction of global markets to the US Federal Reserve’s monetary stance suggests investors are vesting too much faith in easy money to promote investment and growth.

Why the emphasis on monetary policy

  1. RBI does have more leeway to reduce its repo rate now that the Fed has lowered its own lending rate in the US by a quarter percentage point
  2. An RBI rate cut may stem the slide in stock prices, but this can be rationalized only by virtue of the signal it sends of RBI’s intent to aid a sluggish economy, not for a quick revival

Limitations of monetary policy

  1. There is evidence to suggest that the efficacy of monetary policy is diminishing.
  2. In the West, this is largely because the cost of capital is already very low by historical standards
  3. Much cheap credit goes into chasing higher-paying assets around the world instead of spurring business activity
  4. In India, monetary policy is even less potent in spurring investment. Various other factors beyond the cost of capital act as a drag.
  5. Of the three- quarters of a percentage point reduction in RBI’s repo rate this year, banks have passed on barely half
  6. With consumption on a downtrend, the will of companies to borrow and invest is weak

Way ahead

  1. What might restore market sentiment are renewed inflows from abroad into Indian shares and securities set off by the Fed’s move
  2. Infrastructure spending spree
  3. Implementing a set of major reforms that allow market forces to play an effective role in most of the arenas
  4. Easing land acquisition rules and turning the country’s labour market flexible could have a dramatic effect on India’s appeal as an investment destination
  5. Reversal of some income tax rules seen as extortionary by rich investors 
  6. LTCG tax could be given a rethink

It is a good time for reforms. Let’s not over-rely on monetary policy.

Coal and Mining Sector

Explained:  India’s Deep Ocean MissionExplained


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Deep Ocean Mission

Mains level : Deep Ocean Mission and its benefits

  • India’s ambitious ‘Deep Ocean Mission’ is all set to be launched this October.

Deep Ocean Mission (DOM)

  • Nodal Agency: Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES)
  • The mission proposes to explore the deep ocean similar to the space exploration started by ISRO.
  • Underwater robotics and ‘manned’ submersibles are key components of the Mission which will help India harness various living and non-living (water, mineral and energy) resources from the seabed and deep water.
  • The tasks that will be undertaken over this period include deep-sea mining, survey, energy exploration and the offshore-based desalination.
  • These technological developments are funded under an umbrella scheme of the government – called Ocean Services, Technology, Observations, Resources Modelling and Science (O-SMART).

 Mining PMN

  • One of the main aims of the mission is to explore and extract polymetallic nodules (PMN).
  • These are small potato-like rounded accretions composed of minerals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron hydroxide.
  • They lie scattered on the Indian Ocean floor at depths of about 6,000 m and the size can vary from a few millimetres to centimetres.
  • These metals can be extracted and used in electronic devices, smartphones, batteries and even for solar panels.

Where will the team mine?

  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA), an autonomous international organisation established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, allots the ‘area’ for deep-sea mining.
  • India was the first country to receive the status of a ‘Pioneer Investor ‘ in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) for nodule exploration.
  • In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA and after complete resource analysis of the seabed 50% was surrendered and the country retained an area of 75,000 sq km.
  • According to a release from the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the estimated PMN resource potential in this area is 380 million tonnes (MT), containing 4.7 MT of nickel, 4.29 MT of copper, 0.55 MT of cobalt and 92.59 MT of manganese.
  • Further studies have helped narrow the mining area to 18,000 sq km which will be the ‘First Generation Mine-site’.

Which are the other countries that are in the race to mine the deep sea?

  • Apart from the CIOB, polymetallic nodules have been identified from the central Pacific Ocean. It is known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.
  • According to the ISA’s website, it has entered into 15-year contracts for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the deep seabed with 29 contractors.
  • Later it was extended for five more years till 2022.
  • China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia and also some small islands such as the Cook Islands, Kiribati have joined the race for deep sea mining.
  • Most of the countries have tested their technologies in shallow waters and are yet to start deep-sea extraction.

India’s preparedness

  • India’s mining site is at about a depth of 5,500 metres, where there is a high pressure and extremely low temperature.
  • We have also deployed Remotely Operated Vehicle and In-situ Soil Tester in the depth of 6,000 metres and have a thorough understanding of the mining area at the Central Indian Ocean Basin.
  • The mining machine newly developed for 6000 metres depth was able to move about 900 metres and will be deployed soon at 5,500 metres.
  • Weather conditions and availability of ships also play a role.
  • More tests are being conducted to understand how to bring the nodules up to the surface. A riser system comprising an umbilical cable or electromechanical cable and a hose is being developed.

What will be the environmental impact?

  • According to the IUCN these deep remote locations can be home to unique species that have adapted themselves to conditions such as poor oxygen and sunlight, high pressure and extremely low temperatures.
  • Such mining expeditions can make them go extinct even before they are known to science.
  • The deep sea’s biodiversity and ecology remain poorly understood, making it difficult to assess the environmental impact and frame adequate guidelines.
  • Though strict guidelines have been framed, they are only exploration guidelines. A new set of exploitation guidelines are being worked out and discussions are on with the ISA.
  • Environmentalists are also worried about the sediment plumes that will be generated as the suspended particles can rise to the surface harming the filter feeders in the upper ocean layers.
  • Additional concerns have been raised about the noise and light pollution from the mining vehicles and oil spills from the operating vessels.

Is deep sea mining economically viable?

  • The latest estimate from the ISA says it will be commercially viable only if about three million tonnes are mined per year.
  • More studies are being carried out to understand how the technology can be scaled up and used efficiently.
Digital India Initiatives

Biometric Token SystemPrelims Only


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BTS

Mains level : Reforms in railway sector

  • The Western and Central Railways have introduced a new Biometric Token System (BTS) that seeks to streamline the process of boarding unreserved coaches.

What is Biometric Token System (BTS)?

  • The Western and Central Railways have introduced a new system by which passengers travelling in the general coach, where seats are not reserved, are given a token roughly three hours before the train’s departure.
  • These tokens are given on a first-come, first-served basis, and carry a serial number on them, which governs the order in which passengers will board the train.
  • Passengers with valid tickets are required to place their fingers on a scanner, and are issued a token with a serial number against their biometric data.
  • Passengers must queue up and enter the compartment in the order of their serial numbers.
  • The tokens are issued three hours before a train’s departure. The use of biometrics cuts out the touts, and helps genuine passengers.

Why such move?

  • Boarding ‘general’ compartments — in which seating is not reserved — especially in long-distance trains leaving major cities, has always been an ordeal for passengers.
  • The massive mismatch between the numbers of travellers and the available seats drives people to queue up on platforms up to 10 hours in advance.
  • Chaos at the time of boarding has led to stampedes and even deaths in the past.
  • Gangs of touts ‘reserve’ seats for a price, and those who can’t pay suffer.

Why use BTS?

  • The use of biometrics (fingerprint) rules out touts and ensures only bonafide travellers receive a token.
  • The data (captured in the machines) will be used to analyse the pattern of crowds and the patronage of trains.
  • In case of a mishap, officials will have details of the passengers, and with the help of this (biometric information) they can prevent black marketing of unreserved tickets.
Banking Sector Reforms

Fit-and-Proper criteria for directors on PSB boardsPrelims Only


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the criteria

Mains level : Governance of PSBs in India

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has tightened the fit-and-proper criteria for directors on the boards of state-run banks.

Changes in the fit-and-proper criteria

  • The terms with regard to the NRC and the manner of the appointment of directors have been aligned with the practice in private banks, the recommendations made by the Banks Board Bureau, and with the provisions in the Companies Act.
  • While the revised norms are applicable only to public sector banks (PSBs), separate guidelines for private banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) may be in the offing.

Nomination and remuneration committee (NRC)

  • The Centre’s nominee director shall not be part of the nomination and remuneration committee (NRC).
  • The revised criteria for the first time laid down an exhaustive list for the disqualification of directors.
  • The NRC will have a minimum of three non-executive directors from amongst the board of directors.
  • Of this, not less than one-half shall be independent directors and should include at least one member from the risk management committee of the board.

List of entities

  • What will also be under scrutiny is the ‘list of entities’ in which a prospective director has an interest – to ascertain if such a firm is in default or has been in default in the past decade.
  • This is with respect to the credit facilities obtained from the bank (in which a directorship is being evaluated), any other bank, NBFC or other lending institution.

A not for member candidates

  • The negative list says that the candidate should not be a member of the board of any bank, the RBI, financial institution (FI), insurance company or a non-operative financial holding company (NOFHC).
  • The candidate should not be connected with hire-purchase, financing, money lending, investment, leasing and other para-banking activities.
  • No person is to be elected or re-elected to a bank board if the candidate has served as a director in the past on the board of any bank, the RBI or insurance company under any category for six years, whether continuously or intermittently.
  • The candidate should not be engaging in the business of stock broking.
  • The candidate should not be a member of Parliament, state legislature, municipal corporation, municipality, or other local bodies — notified area council, city council, panchayat, gram sabha or zila parishad.

In short: ‘Fit & proper’ regime

  • Members of Parliament, state legislatures, and local governments not eligible to be members of PSB boards
  • ‘Declaration and undertaking by director’ made more exhaustive
  • Maximum tenure on board pegged at six years
  • Candidates cannot be board member of rival banks
  • Directors’ connection with defaulting firms, links with chartered accountancy firms to be no-go areas
  • No links with financial institutions, insurance firms, and non-operative financial holding companies
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Canine Distemper Virus (CDV)Priority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CDV

Mains level : Various threats to wildlife population

  • With doubled tiger populations in India, the loss of habitat, a decline of prey and poaching continues to be a threat to tigers’ survival.
  • Along with these, a potential virus — Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) — that can be transmitted from CDV-infected dogs living in and around wildlife sanctuaries has started to raise concern among wildlife biologists.
  • Last year, over 20 lions from the Gir forest succumbed to the viral infection and now a guideline has been prepared by the NTCA to prevent the spillover of the disease to wild animals.

Canine Distemper Virus (CDV)

  • CDV is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs.
  • Canine distemper is caused by a single-stranded RNA virus of the family Paramyxoviridae (the same family of the viruses that causes measles, mumps, and bronchiolitis in humans).
  • Its common symptoms include high fever, eye inflammation and eye/nose discharge, labored breathing and coughing, vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite and lethargy, and hardening of nose and footpads.
  • It affects a wide variety of animal families, including domestic and wild species of dogs, foxes, pandas, wolves, ferrets and large cats as well.

Risk of disease transfer

  • A recent study notes that 86% of the tested dogs around Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan carried CDV antibodies in their bloodstream.
  • This means that the dogs are either currently infected or have been infected sometime in their life and have overcome the disease.
  • This finding points out that there is an increased risk of disease transfer from the dogs to tigers and leopards that live in the park.

Preventive measure

  • The main aim should be to vaccinate the free-ranging and domestic dogs in the area around national parks.
  • The disease needs to be recognised and more targeted studies need to be initiated to collect baseline data on CDV from wherever they are reported from in wild carnivores.
  • Understanding the role of domestic animals as contributors to a local CDV reservoir is imperative precursor in considering control measures.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Genome India InitiativePriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Genome India Initiaitve

Mains level : Benefits of genome mapping

  • The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) plans to scan nearly 20,000 Indian genomes over the next five years, in a two-phase exercise, and develop diagnostic tests that can be used to test for cancer.

What is a Genome?

  • A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all its genes.
  • It contains all the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
  • By sequencing the genome, researchers can discover the functions of genes and identify which of them are critical for life.

Genome India Initiative

  • The initiative aims to make predictive diagnostic markers available for some priority diseases such as cancer and other rare and genetic disorders
  • The first phase involves sequencing of complete genomes of nearly 10,000 Indians from all corners of the country and captures the biological diversity of India.
  • In the next phase, about 10,000 “diseased individuals” would have their genomes sequenced.
  • These vast troves of data sets would be compared using machine learning techniques to identify genes that can predict cancer risk, as well as other diseases that could be significantly influenced by genetic anomalies.
  • 22 institutions, including those from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the DBT would be involved in the exercise.
  • The data generated would be accessible to researchers anywhere for analysis.
  • This would be through a proposed National Biological Data Centre envisaged in a policy called the ‘Biological Data Storage, Access and Sharing Policy’, which is still in early stages of discussion.

Why such move?

  • There is interest among private and public companies in sequencing genomes thanks to the declining costs for the process.
  • From China to the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, several countries have announced plans to sequence their population.
  • Currently, genomic data sets under-represent Asia, particularly India, whose population and diverse ethnicity make it an attractive prospect for genome-mining efforts.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

New ISRO system to shield its assets from space debrisPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NORAD

Mains level : ASAT mission and associated issues

Space Situational Awareness and Management

  • To get accurate data about the movement of space debris to avoid collision with its satellites, ISRO has decided to set up telescopes and radars in four corners of the country.
  • The network will be set up under the Directorate of Space Situational Awareness and Management.
  • The directorate would monitor inactive satellites, pieces of orbiting objects, near-earth asteroids and adverse space weather conditions.
  • Currently ISRO has 50 functional satellites, including communication, navigation and surveillance satellites, in space.

Why such development?

  • Till now, ISRO was dependent on NORAD (North America Aerospace Defense Command) data, which is available in public domain, for keeping track of space debris and monitoring our active and passive (dead) satellites.
  • However, this global data is not accurate.
  • NORAD also keeps accurate data, which is exclusively available to those that are members of its network. Therefore, ISRO can’t access this data.

What have been planned for this?

  • ISRO’s sophisticated multi-object tracking radar installed in Nellore (90km from Sriharikota) will be part of this project.
  • It will also set up a telescope in Ponmudi (Thiruvananthapuram) and second one in Mount Abu (Rajasthan) and third one in deep north.
  • ISRO will also install radar in the northeast.
  • Once this network is operational, India will be able to get accurate data on space debris and will also become part of the global network where India can access very accurate data on debris from hundreds of radars set up across the world.