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April 2020

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

Removal of AP State Election Commissioner by ordinance route


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Appointment, removal, change in the conditions of service of the SEC.

Mains level : Paper 2- Power of the state governments to change the tenure of the SEC can affect the independence of the body in conducting free and fair elections.

The removal of the SEC by the ordinance route raises the question over the legality of the move. And if it passes the judicial scrutiny it would harm the independence of the body.

The legality of the removal and its implication for free and fair elections

  • The fact that it was the culmination of an open conflict between the Election Commissioner and Chief Minister makes it a glaring instance of misuse of power.
  • The State government got the Governor to issue an ordinance to cut the SEC’s tenure from five to three years.
  • The ordinance also amended the criterion for holding that office from being an officer of the rank of Principal Secretary and above to one who had served as a High Court judge.
  • This automatically rendered the SEC’s continuance invalid.
  • Last month, just days before the local body polls were to be held, the SEC postponed the elections, citing the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The State government approached the Supreme Court, but the court declined to interfere.
  • Having exhausted its legal remedy, the government should have waited for the ongoing fight against the disease to be over.
  • The Chief Minister has no legal right to terminate the SEC’s tenure.
  • The Constitution makes the holder of that post removable only in the same manner as a High Court judge.
  • If courts uphold this means of dislodging the head of an independent election body, it would mark the end of free and fair elections.

Past judgements on the issue

  • The State government seems to have gone by legal opinion that citedAparmita Prasad Singh vs. State of U.P. (2007).
  • Cessation of term vs. removal: In that judgement the Allahabad High Court ruled that cessation of tenure does not amount to removal, and upheld the State Election Commissioner’s term being cut short.
  • The Supreme Court, while dismissing an appeal against the order, kept open the legal questions arising from the case.

UPSC can frame the question based on the judgement in case by the SC and its implication for the independence of the body in conducting the fair, free and impartial election.

Issues arising out of the past judgements

  • The judgment seems erroneous, as it gives freedom to the State government to remove an inconvenient election authority by merely changing the tenure or retirement age.
  • This was surely not what was envisioned by Parliament, which wrote into the Constitution provisions to safeguard the independence of the State Election Commission.
  • It is a well-settled principle in law that what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.
  • Therefore, the removal of an incumbent SEC through the subterfuge of changing the eligibility norms for an appointment may not survive judicial scrutiny.
  • Prohibition on the variation of condition of service: Further, the Constitution, under Article 243K, prohibits the variation of any condition of service to the detriment of any incumbent.
  • Even if the State government argues that a change of tenure does not amount to varying the conditions of service, the new norm can only apply to the successor SEC, and not the one holding the office now.


In order to ensure the independence of the SEC and free and fair elections, legality of the move should not pass the legal scrutiny. Even if it passes the legal scrutiny the government should amend this provision avoid such instances in the future.


Rural Distress, Farmer Suicides, Drought Measures

Using knowledge-era technology to bridge the urban-rural gap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 1- Closing the the gap between urban and rural in India using knowledge-eratechnology.

This article puts forward the idea of using knowledge-era technology to minimise the difference between rural and urban areas. In the first part, it elaborates the reasons and circumstances that led to the neglect of rural areas and development in urban areas. In the next part, the idea of using knowledge-era technologies to close the gaps between rural and urban areas is explored.

Why Urbanisation is spreading and how it led to the neglect of rural areas?

  • Better opportunities: The tendency to migrate to urban areas has been a natural consequence of better opportunities that got created there — in contrast to life in rural areas becoming increasingly unsustainable.
  • Centralisation: The industrial-era dynamics that led to centralisation in support of mass production or massive scale-up was clearly a major one.
  • This, in turn, also led to the concentration of higher education/capacity building processes to urban centres where there was job growth, quite to the detriment of the much larger rural area.
  • Problems in education and training: The education and training environment became myopic, essentially meeting the manning requirements to run systems created by others.
  • Our education with its inherent problems led to little confidence in creating one’s own systems to address needs independent of others.
  • Demographic dividend: India’s importance grew primarily because of her demographic dividend and the large market that her people constituted and not because of the systems and technologies.
  • Neglect of rural India: Rural India suffered severe neglect in the process, probably as a result of poor job opportunities there and education having lost its role as an enabler of local development.
  • However, the country is learning to create systems and technologies to address her needs. The exercise is, by and large, urban-centric.

UPSC asked about the quality of urban life in 2014, and the trends of labour migration in 2015. This article touched upon both of these themes.

Using the knowledge-era technology to close the urban-rural gap

  • We are now in the knowledge era.
  • And knowledge-era technologies, in contrast to industrial-era technologies, promote democratisation (social media, for example) and facilitate decentralisation (work from home).
  • It should thus be possible for an adequately educated and trained youth residing in a rural domain to support a significant part of the manufacturing and service needs of urban areas.
  • Just as an urban youth can support a significant part of the knowledge and application needs in rural areas.
  • With technologies like additive manufacture, internet of things, and artificial intelligence, well-trained people can address needs in both urban and rural areas from wherever they are.
  • Thus, the knowledge era should, in principle, become a significant income leveller between the urban and rural domains, with a large rise in the overall national income.
  • As we focus on capacity building of rural youth, the opportunities in rural areas should, in principle, become higher than those in urban areas since the rural segment can now benefit from all three sectors of the economy- agriculture, manufacturing and services.

The idea of “cillage”

  • In the knowledge era, with emphasis on capability and capacity building of rural youth in terms of holistic education, appropriate technology and enhanced livelihood, there is a possibility for a more balanced distribution of income as well as population.
  • This would, however, need knowledge bridges to be built between cities and villages, and the creation of an ecosystem which has been conceptualised as a “cillage” — a synergistic combination of city and village.
  • Bridging the knowledge gap between a city and a village would also bridge the income gap between the two.
  • This will also lead to a faster bridging of the gap between the average individual income in India and that in industrially advanced countries.
  • Democratisation promoted by knowledge technologies, if properly leveraged, can in principle reduce disparities, which, unfortunately, are on the rise today.

How to realise the idea of cillage?

  • Integrated and holistic approach: Developing a “cillage” ecosystem would need a rooted and integrated approach to holistic education and research, technology development and management, as well as technology-enabled rural livelihood enhancement.
  • It would take a while for the rural youth to become empowered enough to convert the challenges into opportunities in rural areas.
  • The emergence of a new-age society is an inevitability.
  • How soon the rural domain can embrace it and how concurrently, comprehensively that can happen, is the real challenge.
  • That will decide whether India will gain in the knowledge era or lag as it did in the industrial era.

Look at one more question from 2015-“Smart cities in India cannot sustain without smart villages. Discuss this statement in the backdrop of rural-urban integration”.  The ideas discussed here in this article help us to deal with such questions.

Can Covid-19 speed up the realisation of cillage?

  • The process could also be seen as the migration of a set of experiences and skills to villages.
  • We can look at this as a potential two-way bridge for a new relationship between cities and villages.
  • It will be the bridge in which not all need to return to cities, but can rather meet the needs of cities as well as villages by remaining in villages.
  • Several initiatives will be needed to realise such a possibility.
  • Facilitating a number of new skills, technologies and support systems that can further leverage current capabilities of these people for starting a new enterprise would be important.
  • Immediate arrangements to facilitate their livelihood, and leveraging their present capabilities could help retain at least some of these people in villages.
  • It could trigger a faster movement towards an inevitable long-term equilibrium.
  • Going forward, we should take knowledge activities to a higher level so that the products and services created by these people become more competitive.
  • Looking at disruptive technologies for exploiting local opportunities should follow.


Given that the new normal after Covid-19 would, in any case, be quite different, the right course would be to channelise the stimulus caused by this crisis towards accelerating the shift to a new normal. This will not only help a more dispersed population, but will also reduce disparities and lead to faster growth of the economy.

Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

OPEC+ decides combine slashing of crude oil production


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : OPEC+

Mains level : Global crude oil pricing dynamics and its impact on India

India has made a case for affordable oil prices in the backdrop of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries-plus (OPEC+) combine slashing production amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global crude oil pricing dynamics greatly impact  India and its import bill. Kindly refer to the article titled “Oil Prices and OPEC+” pinned below this newscard. Various aspects related to the issue are covered in the Burning Issue section . It seeks to answer all your doubts such as ; Impact on Fuel prices,  India’s forex reserves, Strategic petroleum reserves,  etc.

Why a cause of worry?

  • OPEC accounts for around 40% of global production.
  • The OPEC accounts for 80% of India’s crude oil imports.
  • Any production cut by the OPEC plus arrangement impacts India’s energy security efforts in the short run.

Impact on India

  • India, which is one of the major OPEC consumers, has always stood for a global consensus on responsible pricing.
  • Indian refiners have cut production as the lockdown has led to a sharp decline in demand for transportation fuels.
  • Demand for domestic cooking gas has, however, increased as more people stay indoors during the lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus.

About OPEC+

  • The non-OPEC countries which export crude oil along with the 14 OPECs are termed as OPEC plus countries.
  • OPEC plus countries include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan and Sudan.
  • Saudi and Russia, both have been at the heart of a three-year alliance of oil producers known as OPEC Plus — which now includes 11 OPEC members and 10 non-OPEC nations — that aims to shore up oil prices with production cuts.

Back2Basics:  OPEC

  • OPEC is a permanent, intergovernmental organization, created at the Baghdad Conference in 1960, by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.
  • It aims to manage the supply of oil in an effort to set the price of oil in the world market, in order to avoid fluctuations that might affect the economies of both producing and purchasing countries.
  • It is headquartered in Vienna, Austria.
  • OPEC membership is open to any country that is a substantial exporter of oil and which shares the ideals of the organization.
  • Today OPEC is a cartel that includes 14 nations, predominantly from the middle east whose sole responsibility is to control prices and moderate supply.

Also read:

[Burning Issue] Oil Prices and OPEC+

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

ConFarm model of agricultural market


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ConFarm Model

Mains level : Alternative Market Channels for Farmers, Limitations of e-NAM

A unique initiative titled Consumer-Farmer Compact in Telangana is ensuring food availability and access in COVID-19 times.

Such innovative models of agricultural marketing are very crucial while highlighting the limitations of APMCs and eNAM. Make personal notes of such initiatives.

Consumer-Farmer Compact

  • The initiative is kicked off by some NGOs in June 2018 and has been endeavoring to bring farmers and consumers on the same platform for their benefit.
  • The consumers support farmers with their agricultural needs; in return, farmers ensure consumers are able to access food in a hassle-free manner.

What does the initiative do?

  • The initiative requires consumers to support farmers at the beginning of a farming season.
  • Each consumer supports a group of farmers with about Rs 12,500 per acre for their farming needs.
  • In return, at the time of harvest, consumers are given products according to the value they invested, leaving the middlemen out.
  • They are provided with millets, pulses, oil, jaggery and other necessary items produced organically — either in bulk or on a monthly basis.
  • The initiative also aims to give millets a push in the urban market, enabling consumers to move beyond the commonly consumed grains such as rice and wheat.


  • This model of sharing economy in the village has helped alleviate hunger and ensured their nutritional needs are met.
  • The farmers who are part of the initiative practice traditional ecological farming with an emphasis on biodiverse cultivation.
  • It helps them have dietary diversity in their food choices and control over their land and food production that is not dictated by the vagaries of the market.
  • The practice has brought them closer to a group of consumers who have been keen on trying an alternative route.


  • At this juncture in crisis — when the free-market system and global trade are staring at an uncertain future — local solutions such as ‘Confarm’ hold greater prominence.
  • Such supply chains such are the need of the hour. Farmers and consumers must come together to face crisis moments in the future as well.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Is the Centre’s lockdown different from a state’s lockdown?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various provisions allowing lockdowns

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation

The central government has extended the 21-day nationwide lockdown by two more weeks. Before this, some states had already ordered to extend the lockdown till the end of this month.

How do the two lockdowns differ?

Newspapers are flooded up with news on lockdowns. The two lockdowns are fundamentally different from each other. Such difference sparks a thought in the mind of question framers.

1) State lockdowns

  • As per the Constitution, subjects of law and order and public health lie with state governments.
  • Additionally, the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, which many states have invoked to order a lockdown, empowers them to prescribe temporary regulations to prevent the outbreak and spread of disease.

2) Centre’s lockdown

  • The lockdown ordered by the centre is implemented under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  • The Union home ministry, in compliance with the NDMAs order can issue orders for the lockdown under Section 10(2)(l) of the DMA.

History- Important places, persons in news

Who are the Nihangs?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nihang cult

Mains level : Not Much

The Patiala incident in which a group of Nihangs attacked a Punjab police officer has put the spotlight on the Nihangs.

This newscard focuses on Nihang cult of Sikhism. Though in news for a different purpose, it is significant for prelims.

Who is a Nihang?

  • Nihang is an order of Sikh warriors, characterized by blue robes, antiquated arms such as swords and spears, and decorated turbans surmounted by steel quoits.
  • Etymologically the word Nihang stems more from the Sanskrit word nihshank which means without fear, unblemished, pure, carefree and indifferent to worldly gains and comfort.
  • The word Nihang also occurs in a hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib, where it alludes to a fearless and unrestrained person.

When was the order formed?

  • Formation of Nihang order can be traced back to the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

How were Nihangs different from other Sikhs, and other Sikh warriors?

  • As per an account by the East India Company’s Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841), Khalsa Sikhs were divided into two groups.
  • Those who put on blue attire which Guru Gobind Singh used to wear at the time of battle and those who do not follow any restrictions on the colour of their dress.
  • Both of them follow the profession of soldiery and are brave without peer in the art of musketry and chakarbazi, and the use of quoits.
  • Nihangs observe the Khalsa code of conduct in its strictest sense.
  • They do not profess any allegiance to an earthly master. Instead of saffron they hoist a blue Nishan Sahib (flag) atop their shrines.

What is their role in history?

  • Nihangs had a major role in defending the Sikh panth after the fall of the first Sikh rule (1710-15) when Mughal governors were killing Sikhs, and during the onslaught of Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Durrani (1748-65).
  • Nihangs also took control of the religious affairs of the Sikhs at Akal Takht in Amritsar.
  • They did not consider themselves subordinate to any Sikh chief and thus maintained their independent existence.
  • At Akal Takht, they held the grand council (Sarbat Khalsa) of Sikhs and pronounced the resolution (Gurmata) passed.
  • During Operation Bluestar in June 1984, some Nihangs, namely Ajit Singh Poohla, collaborated with the Punjab police to eliminate militants.

Festivals, Dances, Theatre, Literature, Art in News

Meru Jatra Festival


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Meru Jatra

Mains level : NA

Odisha’s Ganjam district administration has banned the Meru Jatra festival and congregations related to it at temples on the occasion of Mahavishub Sankranti.

Festive fairs in India are known for their age-old traditions and some historic background.  Meru Jatra is one of such fairs. We can expect a match the pairs question on such fairs.

Meru Jatra

  • In Southern Odisha, the Meru Yatra festival is celebrated as the end of the month-long Danda nata dance festival.
  • Thousands of devotees gather at the Shakti Pitha shrine in the Taratarini Temple because it is one of the auspicious days during the Chaitra Yatra.
  • People from all over the state eat festive chhatua and drink Bel Pana to mark the occasion.

What is Danda nata?

  • Danda as the name implies, is self-inflicted pain, which the danduas (people who participate in the festival) undergo to pay their obeisance to the lord Kali.
  • It is also a form of worshipping the lord Shiva and his consort Parvati.
  • The origin of the festival is generally traced to 8th and 9th AD after the decadence of Buddhism in Orissa.

Internal Security Trends and Incidents

How IS regroups and its threat to India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- With the presence of sleeper cell in India and ability of IS to co-opt a local affiliate makes the IS a major security challenge for India.


IS has shown its ability to strike by regrouping and co-opting local affiliates be it the case of Ester Sunday attack in Sri Lanka or a recent attack on a  Gurudwara in Afghanistan. For India, the presence of sleeper cells and their links with the Islamic jihad group has internal security implications. We have covered an op-ed dealing with the Gurudwara attack and discussed the futility of the US-Taliban peace deal.

Security threat of IS to India and South Asia

  • In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was speculation about the degree to which al-Qaeda had been able to make inroads in India.
  • In recent years, the focus has shifted to the IS.
  • The creation of an IS-Khorasan (IS-K) in early 2015 with a visible presence in Afghanistan-Pakistan, seemed to suggest that the group is now targeting South Asia.
  • The recent terror attack on a gurdwara in Kabul (March 25) was also claimed by the IS. The IS released a photograph of one of a resident of Kasargod in Kerala
  • According to India’s leading terrorism think-tank SATP (South Asia Terrorism Portal), 99 persons from India were confirmed to have joined the IS in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Question about the ” Over-ground worker” of the terrorist organisation was asked by the UPSC in 2019.

Close intelligence cooperation within and beyond South Asia

  • Last October, the NIA disclosed that it had arrested 127 IS sympathisers from across India since 2014, and the highest number of 33 were from Tamil Nadu.
  • The arrests by NIA were made throughout the country and not from a specific region.
  • This degree of spread is testimony to the close watch the Indian security agencies are maintaining concerning the IS.
  • One may conjecture that close intelligence cooperation has been established within and beyond South Asia.
  • The pattern that now obtains is that countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have their own internal surveillance in place to monitor the activities of the IS-K.

Ability of IS to regroup and ally with a domestic affiliate

  • The IS has demonstrated a proclivity to re-group by co-opting or merging with credible domestic affiliates, even if they are little-known.
  • In Afghanistan, the IS-K has sought to position itself favourably in the factional tussle, and the Kabul gurdwara attack is seen as part of this murderous strategy.
  • Pakistan connection: Islamic terror groups in the Af-Pak region are deemed to be as credible as the support that they receive from the deep-state in Pakistan.
  • It is pertinent that the main accused in the Kabul gurdwara attack is Aslam Faroqi, a Pakistani national.


The ability of IS to co-opt a local affiliate makes it a credible threat for India where there is a significant presence of the sleeper cells. In the light of that threat India and the other affected nations will have to strive individually and collectively to foil such nefarious designs.