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March 2020

Right To Privacy

Breach of trust


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Breach of privacy in sharing of call record data of citizens.


In bypassing established protocol to seek call details of citizens en masse, the government violates SC guidelines.

What is the issue?

  • Departure from stringent protocol: The Cellular Operators Association of India has reported mass requests from the government for mobile call detail records (CDRs).
    • Which is a serious departure from the stringent protocol established by the UPA government following an uproar in 2013 after prominent politicians were found to be under unauthorised surveillance.
  • Records of all customers: Records have been sought for all consumers on certain dates in parts of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.
    • In the case of Delhi, records were sought for the last three days of campaigning before assembly elections, while the anti-CAA protests were at their peak.
  • How the data was requested? Requests were delivered by local offices of the Department of Telecommunications, taking advantage of a condition in licences granted to operators, which permits the DoT to inspect their CDRs, which go back one year.

Breach of many requirements and norms

  • A serious breach of privacy: These requests depart from established protocol and international expectations on multiple counts, and amount to a serious breach of privacy.
  • What is the protocol for requesting CDR information? A CDR request is supposed to be sanctioned by the home secretary and handled by a police officer of the rank of SP or above,
    • But in this case DoT offices were used.
  • The requirement of informing magistrate was not fulfilled: The requirement to report CDR requests on a monthly basis to the district magistrate was not complied with.
  • No reason was offered: Most importantly, no reason was offered for snooping on the traffic of citizens.
  • Surveillance must be specific and purposive: It is generally understood that communications surveillance must be specific and purposive, and must not trespass on the privacy of the innocent.
  • Invasion of privacy of all citizens: Indiscriminate mass surveillance of communications invades the privacy of all citizens to the detriment of public trust. In this case, it was for purposes which are not verifiably honourable, since the government has chosen not to reveal them.

Why the CDR data matters if it is metadata only?

  • Combining CDR with other data gives more information: CDRs are all metadata and no content. They do not reveal any words uttered or messaged.
    • But combining the metadata with phone location data reveals a lot about connections between specific people and the actions that they take.
  • Multi-dimensional map of human activity: If data is available at scale, as was the case here, it is possible to build a multi-dimensional map of human activity, and correlate it with real events.
  • This would disturb the balance of information power between the citizen and the state, and amount to a breach of privacy.


If the government needs CDR data for a legitimate purpose, it should have no objection to following the rule-book scrupulously. And if there is a reason for sidestepping protocol in a sensitive matter, it should explain why.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Time for a powerful display of humanity


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India is unprepared for dealing with pandemics.


India is unprepared for dealing with the outbreak of coronavirus.

Is India really faring better than the other countries?

  • 45 days for first 100,000: Globally, it took roughly 45 days for the first 100,000 cases. It is likely to take nine days for the next 100,000.
  • Death count: The global death count is now doubling every nine days and stands at 8,248, with 207,518 confirmed cases.
  • That is how epidemics work — they gather steam as infected individuals go on to infect even more people. Confirmed cases in India, as of today stand at 169.
    • It is much lower than in small countries such as Iceland (around 250). Could this really be the case that we have fared better than everyone else?
  • Probably India is not performing better: Testing in India remains abysmally low. Only about 10 in a million people in India have been tested, compared to say nearly 120 in a million in Thailand or 40 per million in Vietnam.
  • Why testing in not being done in India? The stated explanation is that the limited number of test kits are being conserved for when they are truly needed but when is the need greater than right now?
    • There are probably shortages even in being able to procure adequate supplies given that many countries are seeking to buy the limited stocks.
  • Importance of testing: Testing is the most important thing we could be doing right now.
    • As the Director-General of the World Health Organization, said recently about the need for more testing, “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded.”

Avoiding undercounting

  • Timely identification is essential to prevent secondary infection: We need to identify coronavirus-infected patients in a timely manner in order to increase our chances of preventing secondary infections.
    • There is no shame in saying that we have far more cases than what we have detected so far.
  • K.’s admitted undercounting: Even the United Kingdom, which has a far better health system than India, has admitted that it is probably undercounting its true infections by a factor of 12, and is likely have about 10,000 cases.
    • Is it possible that India with 20 times their population has only 169 cases?
  • Preparedness to deal with a higher number of cases: If widespread testing were to commence in India, the number of confirmed cases would likely climb to the thousands very quickly. This is something we have to be prepared for without panic or fear-mongering.
  • Positive action: This is how epidemics move and the real numbers should spur us into positive action.
  • Strict measures by the government: At some stage, it is possible that the government may have to put in place very strict measures on quarantining and closures, much like what China had to do to control the epidemic in Wuhan.

How prepared is India?

  • There is not an easy answer to how worst things could go.
  • Mutation or sensitivity of virus: If we escape the worst, either because this virus mutates to a less virulent form or because there is something about its temperature or geographical sensitivity that we know nothing about, then we should count our blessings.
    • Viruses do mutate and generally to be less lethal.
  • Projection from Europe: If the projections from Europe are applicable in India, our ‘namastes’ and clean hands notwithstanding, the prevalence in India would be upwards of 20%.
  • In other words, we should expect to see about 200-300 million cases of COVID-19 infections and about four and eight million severe cases of the kind that are flooding hospitals in Italy and Spain at the moment.
  • More importantly, these cases are projected to appear in just a two to the four-month window.
    • In the current scenario, we are not ready.
  • India has somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 intensive care unit beds and probably a smaller number of ventilators.
    • That is simply inadequate.
  • What should be done? The next two weeks should be spent on planning for large, temporary hospitals that can accommodate such numbers. If we are lucky, we will not need them.

Unprepared for pandemics

  • Catastrophic event with highest probability-Pandemic: This all sounds doomsday-like. But we have known for decades now that of all catastrophic events to befall humanity, between an asteroid hit and a nuclear war, a disease pandemic has always been the highest on our list of impact and probability.
  • Not enough changes in preparedness: There were some changes after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) but not nearly enough.
    • Pandemic preparedness always took a backseat to the crisis of the moment.
    • And in fairness, there is truly no amount of preparation that can fully mitigate such an occurrence.


Things are about to get a lot worse. Let us hope that this brings out the best in us, and not the worst. Whether we know this or not, these events are just a dress rehearsal for the more challenging events such as climate change that are likely to be with us this century. And if we take care of each other, we will survive both these challenges with our humanity intact.


Banking Sector Reforms

Let clear principles prevail in the bailout of Yes Bank


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AT-1 bonds.

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues involved in banking system and resolution process in case of failures.


Resolving bank failure is tough but following a set of principles could achieve a fair and efficient outcome.

Key issues involved in the resolution

  • Challenge in courts: Resolving Yes Bank’s failure is no easy task. Some bondholders are already challenging the restructuring plan of the Reserve Bank of India in court, and seem ready for a long-drawn battle.
  • How much dilution is fair for existing shareholders to take?
  • AT-1 Bonds issue: Should the value of the Additional Tier 1 (AT-1) bonds be written off entirely?
    • As such issues become matters of policy discussion and address, we must not lose sight of some fundamental principles of resolving bank failures.
  • Three of them should be on the top of the list: honour contracts, address market failure and protect systemic stability.

How honouring contracts matter for economy?

  • For efficient outcomes: Honouring contracts is vital for achieving efficient outcomes between contracting parties such as lenders and borrowers, managers and shareholders, and insiders and outsiders.
  • Shying away from entering a contract: If there is uncertainty over this fundamental principle, contracting parties will shy away from entering contracts in the first place.
    • Lenders will be less willing to lend.
    • Prospective minority shareholders will be less keen to buy shares in a company.
  • Impact on allocative efficiency: This will ultimately compromise the economy’s allocative efficiency, or the market’s ability to deploy capital to its best use.

AT-1 bond issue

  • Honouring contract in Yes banks resolution: There are several issues in the application of this principle in Yes Bank’s resolution.
    • The most visible one concerns the decision of writing off its perpetual contingent, or AT-1, bonds.
  • Write off: According to the original agreement, these additional tier-1 (AT-1) bonds are indeed supposed to be written off at a time like this.
    • And this write-off need not happen before the common equity value goes down to zero.
    • The entire idea behind these perpetual contingent bonds is to improve a bank’s capitalization if its common equity value falls below a certain threshold, but does not hit zero.
  • Counter argument: These bondholders and some commentators are arguing that writing off those bonds will be a big blow to India’s bond market.
    • Moral hazard problem: This is just the opposite of the truth. Not writing them off in accordance with the original contract will create a severe moral hazard problem.
    • What incentive would any bondholder have to correctly price and monitor these banks in the future?
    • Market discipline would die a quick death, and the bond market will suffer in the long run.
  • What the resolution process should do? Therefore, the resolution process should honour the contract and write off the entire value of Yes Bank’s AT-1 bonds.

Dealing with critical market failures

  • Second core principle: The second core principle in this resolution should be to tackle some critical market failures that led here.
    • Several observers have pointed out the failure of board oversight, promoter negligence and reckless lending at the bank.
  • Vital market failure in the purchase of AT-1 bonds by retail investors: Indeed, these issues must be addressed. But there seems to be another vital market failure hidden in this crisis: the purchase of AT-1 bonds by retail investors.
  • Why AT-1 bonds are complex? AT-1 bonds are “information-sensitive” instruments, which means that the value of these instruments is extremely sensitive to information on the firm’s fundamentals.
    • Complex financial security: They are very complex financial securities. Understanding the risk and reward associated with these securities and valuing them properly is not an easy task even for the best of market professionals.
    • Retail investors are certainly not suited to buy this product. Still, several of them ended up holding Yes Bank AT-1 bonds in their asset portfolios.
  • Demand deposits and market failure: Banking theory relies on the idea that demand deposits are information-insensitive instruments.
    • Hence, a retail investor can place deposits in a bank without worrying about understanding the real risks borne by it. Government-backed deposit insurance makes deposits even more liquid and riskless.
    • Hence, retail investors should hold regular deposits in a bank, and not complex securities like AT-1 bonds.
    • Where is the market failure involved? If such bonds are sold to them without proper disclosure of the associated risks, then it amounts to a serious market failure.
  • Way forward: This market failure must be corrected.
    • Holding investment advisors to higher standards of fiduciary responsibility is one way of doing so.
    • Prohibiting retail investors from investing in such securities is another critical step to prevent such a market failure.

Way forward to carry out the resolution process

  • Restitution of value to retail investors: Meanwhile, the resolution process could consider partial or full restitution of value to retail investors in Yes Bank’s AT-1 bonds, if these products were indeed mis-sold to them.
  • Large professional investors should be treated differently: But such a rescue must not extend to large professional investors who willingly bought these bonds for higher returns.
    • One mechanism to do this could be to create a separate fund for retail investors with investments capped at a certain point.
    • Or, their AT-1 investments up to a specific limit could be converted into a simple deposit contract. The legal hurdles may be insurmountable.
    • However, in principle, those who mis-sold these products to retail investors should be required to compensate them.
  • Conflict in two principles: Sometimes, these principles can come into direct conflict with each other.
    • If the resolution allows retail investors in those AT-1 bonds to recover their investments, it would go against the “honour the contract” principle, but it would address the “market failure” issue.
  • Ensuring systemic stability: How should we reconcile this conflict? That’s where the third principle comes in: ensuring systemic stability.
    • After all, the regulator’s main objective is to restore the market’s faith in the country’s financial system.
    • While this is not an easy task, protecting the capital and confidence of small investors can go a long way in restoring their faith in the banking system.


Resolving bank distress is never an easy job. But honouring contracts, addressing market failure and ensuring systemic stability can together go a long way in achieving a fair and efficient outcome.






Anti Defection Law

Supreme Court Removes Manipur MLA Under The 10th Schedule


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Discretionary powers of the Supreme Court

Mains level : Executie and Judiciary

The Supreme Court has removed a Minister against whom disqualification petitions were pending before the Speaker since 2017.

  • The court invoked its discretionary powers under Art. 142 of the Indian Constitution.

What is Article 142?

  • Article 142 of the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it.
  • Any decree so passed or orders so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India.
  • The phrase ‘necessary for doing complete justice’ encompasses a power of equity which is employed when the strict application of the law is inadequate to produce a just outcome.
  • The power under Article 142 can be exercised when the SC has to decide difficult cases where adequate laws may not exist, or existing laws may not be adequate, in order to deliver complete justice.

Scope and limitations

  • Supreme Court in State of Punjab v Rafiq Masih (2014) has opined that- Article 142 of the Constitution of India is supplementary in nature and cannot supersede the substantive provisions, though they are not limited by the substantive provisions in the statute”.
  • Article 212 of the Constitution bars courts from inquiring into proceedings of the Legislature.
  • In this case, however, prompted by the fact that the Speaker’s conduct has been called into question on several occasions, the court invoked Article 142.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What are Supplementary Grants?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Supplementary grants

Mains level : Various grants in Parliament

Supplementary Grants

Lok Sabha recently held voting on supplementary demands for grants for Jammu and Kashmir and passed the proposals on voice vote.

What are Supplementary Grants?

  • The additional grant required to meet the required expenditure of the government is called Supplementary Grants.
  • When grants, authorised by the Parliament, fall short of the required expenditure, an estimate is presented before the Parliament for Supplementary or Additional grants.
  • These grants are presented and passed by the Parliament before the end of the financial year.
  • When actual expenditure incurred exceeds the approved grants of the Parliament, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Railways presents a Demand for Excess Grant.

How it works?

  • The Comptroller and Auditor General of India bring such excesses to the notice of the Parliament.
  • The Public Accounts Committee examines these excesses and gives recommendations to the Parliament.
  • The Demand for Excess Grants is made after the actual expenditure is incurred and is presented to the Parliament after the end of the financial year in which the expenses were made.

Railway Reforms

[pib] Flexi Fare System


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Flexi Fare System

Mains level : Not Much

During the eight months period from 1st July 2019 to 29th February 2020, approximately 28.93 Lakh berths remained vacant in Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto type trains having Flexi fare.

What is Flexi Fare System?

  • The flexi-fare scheme was introduced by the IRCTC in 2016 for the 142 “premium trains” such as Shatabdi, Rajdhani, and Duronto (now Vande Bharat Exp. as well).
  • Under this dynamic pricing system, the base fare increases by 10% with every 10% of berths sold, with a limit set at 1.5 times the original price.
  • The scheme was applicable to all classes, except AC first class and executive class. The pricing system is still in force.

Reasons for flexi fares:

  1. Indian Railways run about 12900 passenger trains per day and the railways is losing around more than 40% of what they spend on passenger trains.
  2. The trains like Rajdhani are the ones in which the elite class prefers to travel. So, some revenue can be garnered from them.
  3. The cost of service is almost double of what is being charged from the passengers.
  4. Freight business is already very expensive in India as compared to other countries in the world. Therefore, a further increase in this area is not feasible.

Issues with the system

  • After the introduction of Flexi-fares, the railways lost 700,000 passengers in just 11 months while the additional revenue earned as a result of the scheme was ₹ 552 crore.
  • While drawing upon the fundamentals of dynamic pricing, what Indian Railways failed to introduce was a simple principle that Flexi-fares work ways, hikes, and declines.
  • The railways model just focused on increasing fares with no provision for a decrease in price when demand is low.
  • While half of the decision-makers in the Railway Board support it, half of them oppose it stating that what the railways require is an increase in ticket prices across the board.

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

[pib] GreenCo Rating System


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GreenCo Rating System

Mains level : Not Much



The Union Ministry of Railways has informed about the applications of Greenco Ratings on Workshops and Production Units of Indian Railways.

GreenCo Ratings

  • GreenCo Rating is the “first of its kind in the World” holistic framework that evaluates companies on the environmental friendliness of their activities using life cycle approach.
  • Implementation of GreenCo rating provides leadership and guidance to companies on how to make products, services and operations greener.
  • It is developed by Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre.
  • It has been acknowledged in India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) document, submitted to UNFCCC in 2015.
  • GreenCo rating is applicable to both manufacturing facilities and service sector units.
  • The rating is implemented at unit or facility level. The unit or facility has to be in operation for a minimum period of 3 years. In case of new plants/ facilities minimum 2 years operation is required.


It helps the industrial units in identifying and implementing various possible measures in terms of energy conservation, material conservation, recycling, utilization of renewable energy, GHG reduction, water conservation, solid and liquid waste management, green cover etc.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Friction-reducing Nanocomposite Coatings


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nano-composites and its applications

Mains level : Not Much

A group of scientists at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy & New Materials (ARCI) have developed a process for size-selective deposition of nanocomposite coatings which can reduce friction of these dynamic systems.

What are Nanocomposites?

  • Nanocomposite coatings are formed by mixing two or more dissimilar materials at nanoscale to improve the physical, chemical and physicochemical properties of the new materials.
  • The scientists have found that nickel tungsten-based coatings with infusion of particular sized Silicon Carbide (SiC) submicron particles using a pulsed electroplating can provide an excellent combination of wear and corrosion resistance.


  • Many aerospace, defence, automobile, space devices need to reduce friction, wear, and tear to enhance the life of components.
  • Lubricating these dynamic systems add to the cost, complexity, and weight of these systems.
  • The coating could help in reducing the friction of such devices.

Animal Husbandry, Dairy & Fisheries Sector – Pashudhan Sanjivani, E- Pashudhan Haat, etc

[pib] Potential Fishing Zone (PFZ) Advisories


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PFZ

Mains level : Application based initiaitives by ISRO

The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad has reported that Oceansat Satellite data from ISRO are used to prepare the PFZ advisories on the potential rich fishing areas and provide to the sea faring fishermen in all states.

Potential Fishing Zone (PFZ)

  • This is the first advisory service started by INCOIS. The backbone of this service is the real-time data for ocean color and SST provided by the OCEANSAT and NOAA respectively.
  • This service was started because there was a need to identify the potential fishing zones to help the fishermen to get better catch while they were at the sea.
  • This service was started by the Ministry of Earth Sciences with the help of the Department of Space and several institutions under the Ministry of Agriculture.

How it works?

  • This service makes use of parameters such as sea surface temperature and chlorophyll content provided by NOAA-AVHRR and Oceancolor satellites.
  • Features such as oceanic fronts, Meandering Patterns, Eddies, Rings, Up Welling areas etc. are identified sites for fish accumulation.
  • These features can easily be identified from Sea Surface Temperature and Chlorophyll data.
  • The availability of Chlorophyll from OCEANSAT and MOdDIS has further enriched these advisories in the recent years.
  • Hence, PFZ advisories have helped the fishing community to locate the fishing zones with accuracy.

Special advisories for fisherman

  • Another feature of PFZ service is the generation of species-specific advisory to enable the fishermen folk to distinguish between the exploited and under-exploited species in the potential fishing zones.
  • This enables them to have sustainable fishery management by targeting only the under-exploited species in the fishing zones.
  • This approach enables them to avoid fishing the over-exploited species over and over again.