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September 2020

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Challenges India faces in managing relations in neighbourhood


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India and relations with its neighbours

The article analyses the inherent challenges India faces in managing good relations with its neighbours.

Duality challenge

  • Even for the Britishers, it was an unceasing struggle to sustain its primacy in the region.
  • The notion of regional primacy certainly persisted in the Nehru era.
  • Primacy was hard to sustain after Independence even within the immediate neighbourhood.

Five reasons stand out

1) Partition of the subcontinent

  • The problems generated by the great division of the Subcontinent on religious lines continue to animate the region.
  • Partition created the challenges of settling boundaries, sharing river-waters, protecting the rights of minorities, and easing the flow of goods and people.
  • The burden of the Subcontinent’s history is not easily discarded.

2) Unification of China

  • The unification of China amidst the Partition of India had profoundly transformed the geopolitical condition of India.
  • Beyond the bilateral territorial dispute in the Himalayas, the emergence of a large and purposeful state on India’s frontiers was going to be a problem given the ease with which it could constrain Delhi within the Subcontinent.

3) India’s choice in favour of de-globalisation

  • Independent India’s conscious choice in favour of de-globalisation led to a steady dissipation of commercial connectivity with the neighbours.
  •  India’s economic reorientation since the 1990s and the rediscovery of regionalism did open possibilities for reconnecting with its neighbours.
  • Delhi today is acutely aware of the need to revive regional connectivity.
  • There is much progress in recent years — note, for example, the recent launch of a ferry service to the Maldives or the reopening of inland waterways with Bangladesh.
  • Integrating India’s regional economic and foreign policy remains a major challenge-Consider the recent fiasco of onion exports to Bangladesh.

4) Rise of political agency in the neighbourhood

  • India ignores the rise of political agency among neighbourhood elites and mass politics that they need to manage.
  • Their imperatives don’t always coincide with those of Delhi.
  • It is unlikely that Delhi can completely insure itself against the intra-elite conflicts in the neighbourhood.

5) Influence of domestic politics on foreign policy

  • Can India persistently champion Tamil minority rights in Sri Lanka without incurring any costs with the Sinhala majority?
  • But asking that question takes us to India’s own domestic politics.
  • Can Delhi ignore sentiments in India’s Tamil Nadu in making its Sri Lanka policy?
  • Indian Prime Minister did not attend the Colombo Commonwealth Summit in 2013 because of the Tamil minority issue.
  • The Teesta Waters agreement was not concluded due to political reasons.

Ways forward

  • Timely responses to problems.
  • Preventing small issues from becoming big.
  • Aligning Delhi’s regional economic policy with India’s natural geographic advantages .
  • These are some important elements of any successful management of India’s perennial neighbourhood challenges.


There are no easy answers to the regional difficulties that trouble all governments in Delhi. The source of the problem lies in the deeply interconnected nature of South Asian societies administered by multiple sovereigns.

Foreign Policy Watch: United Nations

UN and the retreat from multilateralism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : U.N. and its organs

Mains level : Paper 2- United Nations and the challenges it faces

As the U.N. enters into 75th year of its existence, it faces several challenges. The article discusses such challenges.

Challenges to the multilateralism

1) Withdrawal of the main stakeholders: U.S. and the U.K.

  • The U.S. is withdrawing from multilateralism and so it the U.K.
  • Brexit has shown that nationalism remains strong in Europe.
  • Nevertheless, the most important development is the position of the U.S.
  • The U.S., which created the international system as we know today, is no longer willing to be its “guarantor of last resort”.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump stressed “America First” and suggested that others too should put their countries first.

2) China’s reluctance

  • China has stepped in to take advantage of the West’s retreat from multilateralism.
  • But China is not embracing the idea of multilateralism.
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative consists of a series of bilateral credit agreements with recipient countries with no mechanism for multilateral consultation or oversight.
  • The European Union’s and U.S.’s sanctions against Russia have driven it closer to China.
  • Work of the UN Security Council has been affected by the lack of consensus between its permanent members.

3) Turkey’s interventions

  • Turkey has intervened in Syria, Libya, and the Eastern Mediterranean, which is a breach of international law.
  • The last was a reference to Turkey sending a drilling ship in Greek and Cypriot exclusive economic zones.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a detailed reference to the Jammu and Kashmir issue.
  • As Turkey has assumed the position of UN General Assembly President, statement and its actions matters.

4) Paucity of resources

  • Over 40 UN political missions and peacekeeping operations engage 95,000 troops, police, and civil personnel. it suffers from a paucity of resources.
  • The UN peacekeeping budget, a little over $8 billion, is a small fraction of the $1.9 trillion military expenditure governments made in 2019.
  •  Most of the humanitarian assistance, developmental work, and budgets of the specialised agencies are based on voluntary contributions.
  • There are calls for increasing public-private partnerships. This is not a satisfactory arrangement.
  • The UN provides ‘public goods’ in terms of peace and development often in remote parts of the world.
  • There may not be enough appetite on the part of corporations. The UN remains an inter-governmental body.

5) Climate action

  • President Trump mentioned that China’s emissions are nearly twice of those of the U.S.
  • Despite its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. has reduced its carbon emissions by more than any country in the world.
  • President Xi said that after peaking emissions by 2030, China will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
  • President Macron said that he was determined to see the EU agree on a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Consider the question “As the world is facing the retreat from multilateralism, what are the challenges facing the U.N. in the current global order?”


What does the UN bring to the developing countries? It gives them greater political space. We need to support reform not only to expand the permanent members’ category of the Security Council but also to revitalise the role of the General Assembly. The retreat from multilateralism would undermine the UN’s capacity to face diverse challenges.

Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce

Explained: Farm Acts and federalism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Doctrine of colorable legislation

Mains level : Federalism issue raised by the Agricultural Bills

The President has finally given assent to the controversial farm Bills passed by Parliament last week. Amid protests by farmers’ organisations across the country, questions are being raised about the anti-federal nature of these ‘Acts’.

Here we shall only discuss its constitutionality and federal nature. Tap to read more about the theme at:

What is the question over the constitutionality of these laws?

  • These are some of the questions that will be raised in the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Acts.
  • As per Union of India v H.S.Dhillon (1972), the constitutionality of parliamentary laws can be challenged only on two grounds — that the subject is in the State List, or that it violates fundamental rights.
  • As per Ram Krishna Dalmia v Justice S R Tendolkar (1958) and other judgments, the Supreme Court will begin hearings after presuming the constitutionality of these laws.
  • The bills (now Acts as they have got the President’s assent) do not mention, in the Statement of Objects & Reasons, the constitutional provisions under which Parliament has the power to legislate on the subjects covered.

Where does the question of federalism come in?

What is federalism, first?

  • Federalism is the system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units.
  • It is based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and state governments, creating a federation.
  • It essentially means both the Centre and states have the freedom to operate in their allotted spheres of power, in coordination with each other.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which of the following federal principles are not found in Indian federation?

  1. Bifurcation of the judiciary between the Federal and State Governments
  2. Equality of representation of the states in the upper house of the Federal Legislature
  3. The Union cannot be destroyed by any state seceding from the Union at its will
  4. Federal Government can redraw the map of the Indian Union by forming new States

Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

a) 1, 2 and 3

b) 2, 3 and 4

c) 1 and 2

d) 3 and 4

Federalism in India

  • The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution contains three lists that distribute power between the Centre and states.
  • There are 97 subjects in the Union List, on which Parliament has exclusive power to legislate (Article 246); the State List has 66 items on which states alone can legislate.
  • The Concurrent List has 47 subjects on which both the Centre and states can legislate, but in case of a conflict, the law made by Parliament prevails (Article 254).
  • Parliament can legislate on an item in the State List under certain specific circumstances laid down in the Constitution.

Concretization of the idea

  • Federalism, like constitutionalism and separation of powers, is not mentioned in the Constitution. But it is the very essence of our constitutional scheme.
  • In the State of West Bengal v Union of India (1962), the Supreme Court held that the Indian Constitution is not federal.
  • But in SR Bommai v Union of India (1994), a nine-judge Bench held federalism as part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
  • Neither the relative importance of the legislative entries in Schedule VII, Lists I and II of the Constitution, nor the fiscal control by the Union per se is decisive to conclude the Constitution is unitary.
  • The respective legislative powers are traceable to Articles 245 to 254… The State qua the Constitution is federal in structure and independent in its exercise of legislative and executive power,” it said.

Where is agriculture in the scheme of legislative powers?

Terms relating to agriculture occur at 15 places in the Seventh Schedule.

  1. Entries 82, 86, 87, and 88 in the Union List mention taxes and duties on income and assets, specifically excluding those in respect of agriculture.
  2. In the State List, eight entries contain terms relating to agriculture: Entry 14 (agricultural education and research, pests, plant diseases); 18 (rights in or over land, land tenures, rents, transfer agricultural land, agricultural loans, etc.); 28 (markets and fairs); 30 (agricultural indebtedness); 45 (land revenue, land records, etc.); 46 (taxes on agricultural income); 47 (succession of agricultural land); and 48 (estate duty in respect of agricultural land).
  3. In the Concurrent List, Entry 6 mentions the transfer of property other than agricultural land; 7 is about various contracts not relating to agricultural land; and 41 deals with evacuee property, including agricultural land.
  • It is clear that the Union List and Concurrent List put matters relating to agriculture outside Parliament’s jurisdiction, and give state legislatures exclusive power.
  • No entry in respect of agriculture in the State List is subject to any entry in the Union or Concurrent Lists.

What about Entry 27 of the State List that is subject to Entry 33 of List III (Concurrent)?

  • Entry 33 of the Concurrent List mentions trade and commerce, production, supply and distribution of domestic and imported products of an industry over which Parliament has control in the public interest.
  • This includes foodstuffs, including oilseeds and oils; cattle fodder; raw cotton and jute.
  • The Centre could, therefore, argue that it is within its powers to pass laws on contract farming and intra- and inter-state trade, and prohibit states from imposing fees/cesses outside APMC areas.
  • However, like education, farming is an occupation, not trade or commerce.
  • If foodstuffs are considered synonymous with agriculture, then all the powers of states in respect of agriculture, listed so elaborately in the Constitution, shall become redundant.

So what happens in case of legislation that covers entries in two Lists?

  • In cases such as State of Rajasthan v G Chawla (1959), courts have used the doctrine of “pith and substance” to determine the character of legislation that overlaps between entries.
  • The constitutionality of legislation is upheld if it is largely covered by one list and touches upon the other list only incidentally.
  • But the two new farm Acts go beyond that — they impinge on entries in the State List.
  • In interpreting the lists, the Supreme Court in State of Bihar v Kameshwar Singh (1952) invoked the doctrine of colourable legislation, which means you cannot do indirectly what you cannot do directly.

What is the Doctrine of Colorable Legislation?

  • This doctrine refers to the question of competency of the legislature while enacting a provision of law.
  • If a legislature is prohibited from doing something, it may not be permitted to do this under the guise or pretence of doing something while acting within its lawful jurisdiction and this prohibition is an implied result of the maxim “what cannot be done directly, cannot be done indirectly”
  • This doctrine is a tool used to determine the legislative competence of laws enacted by various legislatures.
  • Therefore, it is a means to implement the separation of powers and impose judicial accountability.

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

What are the ESG funds?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ESG funds

Mains level : Not Much

ESG funds are witnessing a growing interest in the Indian mutual fund industry these days.

Try this PYQ:

Sustainable development is described as the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In this perspective, inherently the concept of sustainable development is intertwined with which of the following concepts?

(a) Social justice and empowerment

(b) Inclusive Growth

(c) Globalization

(d) Carrying capacity

What are the ESG funds?

  • ESG means using Environmental, Social and Governance factors to evaluate companies and countries on how far advanced they are with sustainability.
  • ESG investing is used synonymously with sustainable investing or socially responsible investing.
  • While selecting a stock for investment, the ESG fund shortlists companies that score high on the environment, social responsibility and corporate governance, and then looks into financial factors.
  • So, the scheme focuses on companies with environment-friendly practices, ethical business practices and an employee-friendly record.
  • They imbibe the environment, social responsibility and corporate governance in their investing process.

Why so much focus on ESG now?

  • Modern investors are re-evaluating traditional approaches and look at the impact their investment has on the planet.
  • As a result of this paradigm change, asset managers have started incorporating ESG factors into investment practices.
  • Companies with good ESG scores tick most of the checkboxes for investing, tend to mitigate environmental and social risks and tends to have stronger cash flows, lower borrowing costs and durable returns.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[pib] 20 years of Himalayan Chandra Telescope (HCT)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Chandra Telescope, Chandra X Ray Observatory

Mains level : Not Much

In the cold, dry desert of Ladakh, 4500 meters above the mean sea level, for two decades, the 2-m diameter optical-infrared Himalayan Chandra Telescope (HCT) at the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) has been scanning the night sky for 20 years in search of stellar explosions, comets, asteroids, and exo-planets.

Chandra X-Ray observatory and now, it is Himalayan Chandra Telescope. Do you the key difference? The former is a NASA project while the HCT is the Indian one.

Himalayan Chandra Telescope

  • The HCT is a 2.01 meters (6.5 feet) diameter optical-infrared telescope named after India-born Nobel laureate Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar.
  • It contains a modified Ritchey-Chretien system with a primary mirror made of ULE ceramic which is designed to withstand low temperatures it experiences.
  • The telescope was manufactured by Electo-Optical System Technologies Inc. at Tucson, Arizona, USA.
  • It is mounted with 3 science instruments called Himalaya Faint Object Spectrograph (HFOSC), the near-IR imager and the optical CCD imager.
  • It is remotely operated from Hosakote, about 35 km northeast of Bangalore via an INSAT-3B satellite link which allows operation even in sub-zero temperatures in winter.

Significant feats

  • The telescope has been used in many coordinated international campaigns to monitor stellar explosions, comets, and exo-planets, and has contributed significantly to these studies.
  • Some of the thrust research areas are the study of solar system bodies like; comets, asteroids, the study of star formation processes and young stellar objects, the study of open and globular clusters and variable stars in them.
  • It has helped in analysis of elements in the atmosphere of evolved stars, star formation in external galaxies, Active Galactic Nuclei, stellar explosions like novae, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts and so on.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[pib] UVIT: India’s first multi-wavelength astronomical observatory


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UVIT

Mains level : Not Much

The satellite that detected the first extreme-UV rays in the Universe from the cosmic noon celebrated its 5th birthday today.

Try this PYQ:

Q.“Event Horizon” is related to:

(a) Telescope

(b) Black hole

(c) Solar glares

(d) None of the above

Ultra-Violet Imaging Telescope (UVIT)

  • The UVIT is a remarkable 3-in-1 imaging telescope.
  • Weighing all of 230 kg, the UVIT can simultaneously observe in the visible, the near-ultraviolet (NUV) and the far-ultraviolet (FUV).
  • UVIT comprises of two separate telescopes. One of them works in the visible (320-550 nm) and the NUV (200-300 nm).
  • The second works only in the FUV (130-180 nm).

Its achievement

  • It has carried out 1166 observations of 800 unique celestial sources proposed by scientists both from India and abroad.
  • It has explored stars, star clusters, mapping of the large and small satellite galaxies nearby to our own Milky Way galaxy called the Magellanic Clouds.
  • It is an energetic phenomenon in the Universe such as the ultra-violet counterparts to gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, active galactic nuclei, and so on.
  • Its superior spatial resolution capability has enabled astronomers to probe star formation in galaxies as well as resolve the cores of star clusters (3 times better than the last NASA mission, GALEX).
  • Observations from UVIT has recently led to the discovery of a galaxy located at a distance of about 10 billion light-years from Earth and emitting extreme ultraviolet radiation that can ionize the intergalactic medium.