Thursday, December 31, 2015

[Editorial # 29] A stand against reason : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 31st December 2015. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer -writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]
Risk-taking, possible grievous injury and testing the limits of physical and mental exhaustion have always been part of competitive sport, and the resultant tension has held the imagination of participants and spectators alike. But the participants have a choice in partaking in the risk and are aware of the consequences — intended or unintended — of their actions even as they engage in the sport with adequate precautions and take steps to mitigate unnecessary risks. Jallikattu, the popular bull “taming” sport conducted every year during the “Pongal season” in Tamil Nadu, also engages young participants and spectators in a violent and irrational risk-taking endeavour, requiring the taming of a raging bull at the risk of even fatal injury. Yet the bull itself is a “silent” participant, goaded into frenzy in this “sport” and subjected deliberately to gruesome injury in the process. The rush of adrenaline, in fact, drives participants to abandon caution, and many get gored, resulting in violent injuries and even deaths. Spectators are not spared either as the temporary barricades that separate them from the bull run are mostly weak and unsteady. Jallikattu might be a popular tradition having evolved from a single man-bull combat in the past to the random spectacle that it is today, but that it is both irrational and against animal rights is beyond question.
In a judgment last year, the Supreme Court for this very reason had banned jallikattu along with bullock cart races in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, ignoring the argument for tradition and “culture”. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Tamil Nadu government has urged the Centre to pass legislation — even through the route of promulgation of an ordinance — to amend the laws for the conduct of jallikattu. Surprisingly, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has responded positively to this request. Traditional belief systems and customs have been invoked by proponents of jallikattu to seek revocation of the ban. Only those aspects of the customary rituals that put the well-being of participants and animals at disproportionate risk were considered in the Supreme Court decision in banning jallikattu. It would have been appropriate for the Tamil Nadu government to absorb this reasoning and explain it to rural youth who have complained about the loss of their traditional “sport”; instead, it has acceded to irrational demands and sought to have the ban overturned. Dominant political forces in the State of Tamil Nadu had, in the previous century, sought to contest irrational tradition by espousing rational values. The ideological decay and loss of fervour in promoting such values is evident in the recent plea made by the State government and the support this has received from opposition parties. The festive atmosphere during Pongal and the traditions of community bonding and competition can still be easily retained without the irrational practice of jallikattu.
1. What is Jallikattu? What is its history?
2. What is Pongal? Where and how is it celebrated?
3. What is adrenaline? Why is there an "adrenaline rush" in the human body?
4. Why is the editor considering Jallikattu an irrational sport?
5. What do you mean by animal rights? What are the laws to protect animal rights in India?
6. Why did the Supreme Court ban Jallikattu and bullock cart races in TN and Maharashtra?
7. What is the TN government trying to revoke the ban? How and why is it trying to do that despite the sport being an irrational one? 
8. What do you mean by an Ordinance?
9. What are the reasons given by the proponents of Jallikattu to revoke the ban?
10. What are the measures suggested by the editor to retain the tradition, community bonding and spirit of competition? What in your opinion could be other such measures?
11. Have you come across any such irrational event/practice in your life? How have you responded in such situations? 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

[Editorial # 28] Only for the rich?

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 30th December 2015. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer -writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]
Sometimes, when the state is faced with a legal challenge to its policy, all it needs to impress the judiciary is to make a suitably pious claim. Kerala, a State that accounts for nearly 14 per cent of the country’s liquor consumption as well as one that boasts of 100 per cent literacy, has managed to convince the highest court in the land that its policy of restricting bars that serve liquor to five-star hotels will bring down drinking. It has successfully claimed that if liquor is made prohibitively expensive, the State’s youth would be “practically compelled to abstain from public consumption of alcohol”. The court has accepted its argument that its objective was to prohibit all public consumption of alcohol, and that the only reason it made an exception in favour of five-star hotels was in the interest of tourism. The court sees no arbitrariness or caprice in this, saying even if it appears that there may be close similarities between five-star hotels and four-star or ‘heritage’ hotels, it is the preserve of the government to differentiate between them. The judgment strikes at the root of non-discriminatory treatment under the Constitution merely on the ground that the issue involved is the business of liquor. At one point, it recognises that a right to trade in liquor exists, and that once the State permits it any restriction on it has to be reasonable. Yet, it goes on to hold that a moratorium on other categories of hotels is not arbitrary or unreasonable because the potable liquor business, given supposed public health concerns, is res extra commercium, or a “thing outside commerce.”
The reasoning behind the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Kerala’s latest liquor policy is twofold. First, it unexceptionably roots its verdict in the rule that courts ought to be wary of interfering in policy matters. Secondly, and somewhat controversially, it accepts a discriminatory classification in favour of five-star hotels. The exception on the ground of tourism is quite curious because tourists, both foreign and domestic, are not drawn from the upper echelons of society alone. The court notes that no one is barred from upgrading their hotels to five-star grade, yet it seems to have accepted a contention by the government that it was not allowing bars in four-star hotels because three-star hotels may get themselves upgraded to four-star status! While total prohibition may be a laudable objective and one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, it is doubtful whether confining drinking to homes and private spaces by itself will bring down consumption. In a non-permissive society, it may only result in converting drinking into a covert activity, a phenomenon requiring policing and also bringing corruption in its wake. The verdict places a heavy burden on the State to rehabilitate those left unemployed by the closure of hundreds of bars, as well as to make its policy succeed. It also needs to ensure that the sweeping discretion conferred on it to differentiate between classes of licensees is not misused for any extraneous considerations.
1. What is prohibition? Why is liquor consumption not considered good? Throw light on this from an individual's health and sociological perspective.
2. What is the composition of liquor?
3. How does the rating system (5 Star etc) in hotel industry work? 
4. Why have 5-Star hotels been exempted from liquor ban in Kerala? Do you see any merit in this?
5. Which Fundamental Right is under question because of liquor ban in Kerala? How have the courts interpreted the ban?
6. Why is there a need to ban liquor sale and consumption? 
7. Which article under Directive Principle of State Policy talks about prohibition? Why did the drafters of Constitution think that such clauses are required to be put in the Constitution itself?
8. What hurdles could the government face in enforcing the liquor ban?
9. What could be negative fall outs of the liquor ban?
10. "Prohibition, though a pious objective mentioned in DPSPs, yet should not be brought about by coercion but by persuasion". Do you agree? Justify (200 words)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

[Editorial # 27] Letting startups scale up

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 27th December 2015. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer -writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Sunday that the government will unveil, in January, a comprehensive plan to help make India the world leader in startups is noteworthy. A part of the plan is to link all the IIMs and IITs, central universities and National Institutes of Technology via ‘live connectivity’. The move is expected to assist aspiring entrepreneurs plug into a network of incubators, mentors and angel investors and provide them the ambience to try out their business ideas in the real world. The startup policy is expected to, among other things, make it easier to start and exit a business, allow flexible hiring for new firms in their first three to five years, and provide incentives for financiers, especially domestic funds, as 90 per cent of startup financing currently comes from foreign venture capital funds. The government’s hopes of making India a serious contender to Silicon Valley may seem aspirational, but are also driven by the realisation that India needs many more new enterprises to create 10 million jobs for the youth entering the workforce each year. Apps and services apart, India needs startups in manufacturing, industrial design, agro-based food processing and renewable energy among some of the key sectors. Many Indian startups have made a mark this year with valuations in billions of dollars. The home-grown Flipkarts and Snapdeals have resiliently taken on the global e-tailing giant Amazon, so far. But many of these Indian success stories, more than 65 per cent of startups, have left the country to operate from places like Singapore.
This exodus is not because India doesn’t foster innovation per se. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in fact, remarked that the constraints people work with in India inspire more creativity and make their ideas more useful for the world. Indian entrepreneurs — from the small-scale factory owners in the 1970s and 1980s to the Bombay Club barons who resisted liberalisation in the 1990s — have a history of successfully adapting their business plans to adversarial regulatory regimes. That startups blossomed in the past few years was not related to the UPA government’s policy or lack thereof. They came up despite the government. Certainly, targeted interventions for startups would help. The mandatory use of Aadhaar for registering a new micro, small or medium enterprise could, for instance, be done away with. Similarly, angel investments by domestic financiers should not be treated as taxable income in the hands of a startup. Clearances and patents should be expedited, and crowd-funding allowed. Most importantly, the labyrinth of regulations and compliances that even startups that attain scale end up being subjected to — making business sense for them to leave India — has to be addressed. It is here that the new policy must deliver. As Mr. Pichai said, the ease of doing business has improved, but it needs to get a ‘whole lot better’ for India to meet its true potential.
1. What is understood by Startups?
2. Explain the following terms/phrases

  • Incubators
  • Angel Investors
  • Domestic Funds
  • Silicon Valley
  • Valuation of a company
  • Bombay Club
  • Adhaar
  • Crowd-funding
3. What is meant by Policy? What is Startup Policy?

4. Why do we need a Startup Policy?
5. What are the hurdles faced by the Startups in India?
6. What role do Startups play in the development of the economy?
7. Why are Startups exiting India and relocating abroad?
8. What steps should the government take to encourage the culture of Startups in India?
9. Given the current level of growth of economy in general and manufacturing sector in general, Startups could play a vital role in generating employment in the country. Do you agree? Justify

Monday, December 28, 2015

[Editorial # 26] New energy in old friendship : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 26th December 2015. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer -writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]
“Should old acquaintance be forgot”, asks the famous song Auld Lang Syne, traditionally sung at the year’s end. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia last week, much in the manner of the song, was as much about reassuring a “strong and reliable friend of India”, as he referred to Russia, as it was about chalking out new avenues for future cooperation in defence, energy and space. These avenues are well- charted, with the annual summit between both countries giving a consistent direction on all bilateral agreements, but relations have flagged in the past few years. This year the summit itself had to be put off several times for one reason or another, and it was finally held on Christmas-eve, which was the last possible window before Russia shuts down for holidays. In contrast, India’s relationship with the other world power, the United States, has seen a dramatic year, particularly in military engagement. From U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi as chief guest at the Republic Day parade, when India and the U.S. signed their first military agreement outside South Asia as a maritime cooperation agreement, firming up of more military exercises and joint development of defence equipment, visits by top U.S. generals, and the first-ever visit by the Indian Defence Minister to an American military base — all have given the impression that India is abandoning its traditionally neutral strategic space.
While Prime Minister Modi’s visit may not have resulted in overturning that impression entirely, it has served as a major boost to the outlook on India-Russia ties in the future. First, a series of defence acquisitions announced in the works will put Russia back on top of military suppliers to India, a spot taken by the U.S. and Israel for more than five years. Second, the deal for 200 Ka-226T Kamov helicopters will become the first big Make in India project, which has tended to be only a slogan thus far. Third, by investing time in the CEO summit that included several Indian players in the energy and defence sector, Mr. Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have shown a desire to involve the private sector in areas that only saw government-to-government deals. This move is the most significant: despite the close friendship the two have fostered, the immense goodwill the people of the two countries share and the major dependence the Indian military has on Russian hardware, bilateral trade ties have always been poor, and even today languish below $10 billion. Russian and Indian industry’s interest and investment will give what the leaders referred to as the old friendship’s “new energy”. An energy that will also bolster India’s plans for new ties with Central Asia, and more recently, in the trips Mr. Modi made straight after his Moscow visit, with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
1. Which part of the globe is Russia situated? Can you locate Russia on a world political map? Which all countries and water bodies share a border/coast with Russia?
2. Why is Russia being called “strong and reliable friend of India”? What has been the history of India-Russia ties?
3. What do you understand by terms like 
  • cooperation in defence, energy and space
  • annual summit
  • bilateral agreements
  • government-to-government deals
4. What is the significance of inviting heads of states as chief guests at the Republic Day Parade? Who is being invited for the same at the Republic Day parade in 2016?
5. What are the recent events which show that India-US military ties are improving?
6. How is PM's visit to Russia going to improve India-Russia ties?
7. Do you think India-Russia ties were deteriorating because of India's increasing closeness to US?
8. How can a strong strategic relation with Russia could secure India's interests?
9. Had there been no cooperation from erstwhile USSR, India could not have progressed in the fields of defence, energy and space research? Do you agree? Justify.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

[Editorial # 25] A bold & laudable initiative

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 26th December 2015. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer -writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]
"To achieve the impossible, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought,” wrote a famous novelist. To that end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unannounced visit to Kabul and surprise stopover in Lahore is certainly as unthinkable as it is a transformational moment for India. While several Indian Prime Ministers have attempted to turn ties with Pakistan into something more neighbourly, nothing defines good neighbours more than Mr. Modi’s “dropping in” for tea to wish his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on his birthday and to give his good wishes for his grand-daughter’s wedding. With the two visits on Christmas day, bringing together India’s interest in engaging both Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has also reclaimed the ‘SAARC moment’ of his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, which many had called a masterstroke at the time. What is perhaps the most surprising is not just that Mr. Modi decided to make the stops, but that they come at the end of a year when relations with both Afghanistan, over talks with the Taliban, and Pakistan, over LoC firing and the NSA talks, were very troubled. Mr. Modi has ensured that a curtain has been drawn on those troubles, and a new beginning will be made in the new year. Not just that, by making the journey from Kabul to Lahore, he has transformed Afghanistan from a battlefield between India and Pakistan into a facilitator of good relations. The road ahead is certainly perilous. Relations with Pakistan have often seen setbacks far worse than the strides in ties. The Kargil war followed just such a bold initiative by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the Lahore bus, and Manmohan Singh’s sustained talks on Kashmir with President Musharraf, who he invited for a cricket match to India to restart talks, went awry after a series of attacks. However, if Mr. Modi were to dwell only on those perils, there would be no way of moving forward, and he has been wise to take the high road to peace over the low road of discordant ties with Pakistan. The two foreign secretaries should build on this breakthrough at their meeting scheduled for mid-January. 
If Mr. Modi’s move towards Pakistan represents a maturing and progression of his position, then the Congress party’s attack on the Lahore visit represents a churlish regression in its position. It is surprising that the main opposition party has chosen to criticise Mr. Modi for everything its own Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, risked so much for during his tenure. In 2007, many were aghast when Dr. Singh said he dreamed of a time he could have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. With a few modifications, Mr. Modi, who is now the biggest beneficiary of the previous government’s sagacious Pakistan policy, has achieved that dream, in reverse.
1. What are the thorns in India - Pakistan relations?
2. What are the major milestones in the efforts of improving India-Paksitan ties?
3. How has India supported Afghanistan to rebuild its democracy?
4. What is SAARC? What is its significance?
5. What is the history of LoC? Trace it out on a map of India?
6. What is NSA? What is the role of NSA?
7. What is the history of Kargil War? 
8. What is the role of the institution of the Foreign Secretary? How is a Foreign Secretary appointed?
9. Trace out the major events in the history of Jammu and Kashmir since the British rule.
10. The progress of SAARC as an effective regional cooperation in line with other such regional groupings is contingent upon the healthy relations between India and Pakistan. Critically analyse.

Friday, December 25, 2015

[Editorial # 24] Cess proceeds in a black hole: The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 25th December 2015. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer -writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]
The National Democratic Alliance government has just introduced a cess of 0.5 per cent on all taxable services for the Swachh Bharat campaign. In February 2016, it will introduce a 2 per cent cess on airfares for all domestic flyers except those flying to remote locations, and international travellers. This cess is meant to fund losses that airlines may incur in connecting to hinterland locations. The Central government loves cesses, partly because it doesn’t have to share the proceeds with State governments. It has been levying them for several important causes including primary education, secondary education, road development, the welfare of construction workers and beedi workers, clean energy, research and development and universalisation of telecom coverage, among several others. But good intentions often pave the road to hell, as is evident from the fact that over Rs.1.4 lakh crore of cess proceeds lie unutilised and inadequately accounted for in the government’s books. Take, for example, the case of the Secondary and Higher Education Cess paid by all income tax payers that has yielded over Rs.64,000 crore between 2006 and 2015. Not a rupee of that has been spent, while hundreds of students now fork out more for higher education since the government has discontinued the non-National Eligibility Test fellowship. That the government has failed to even set up a fund to pool the proceeds shows the lack of planning that precludes and follows the levy of a cess. So is the case with the proposed airfare cess. The government is yet to identify routes that the cess would subsidise, or spruce up the many defunct civil airports.
The point of a cess is that the money it generates can only be used for the designated purpose so it can be an effective policy tool in theory. But if the money isn’t spent for the designated purpose, as the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India tabled in Parliament has shown, it just stagnates and distorts the economy further: the additional tax brings down real incomes without any accompanying gain in socio-economic indicators as targeted. Then there is the question of whether a given cess is needed at all. Most reasons cited for levying a cess, such as purposes of education, are important enough for direct budgetary allocations — as happens in the developed world. So the government can simply raise the tax rate rather than impose multiple cess levies. But with the Fourteenth Finance Commission increasing States’ share of the common pool of resources, cesses are tempting for the Centre to shore up its own finances. If it wants to keep complicating the taxation system for good intentions, the government should start disclosing a deployment plan to achieve the intended outcomes from cess collections before imposing the next such levy on citizens.
1. What is understood by Cess? How and why is it imposed? Give examples.
2. What is Swachh Bharat Campaign? 
3. Which government appropriates the revenue collected by different cess? 
4. How is the revenue collected by Cess utilised? 
5. Do you pay cess? Give examples.
6. What are the different components of Air Fare in India? Why is relatively higher than various other markets abroad?
7. What is the objective of imposing Cess?
8. What are the consequences of imposition of Cess and non-utilization of funds thus collected ?
9. Why is better to increase tax rates than imposition of cess?
10. What do you mean by Finance Commission? How and why is FC constituted?
11. What are the recommendations of 14th Finance Commission which strengthens federal structure of our polity?
12. Do you think imposition of cess, though supports the Union Government's developmental projects yet goes against the philosophy of federalism? Justify

Thursday, December 24, 2015

[Editorial # 23] RBI must give clear guidance on rates: The Business-Standard

The lack of efficiency in monetary policy transmission has been a pressure point for the central bank. Since January 2015, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has cut the policy rate by a total of 125 basis points (100 basis points make one percentage point), but bank lending rates in that period came down by only 60 basis points. Bankers have argued it was the same when policy rates were being hiked: banks increased rates by less than the policy rate. Be that as it may, the RBI has decided to change things. To address truncated monetary policy transmission, it announced last week that banks will now be required to compute lending rates based on the marginal cost of funds - instead of the current practice of using average cost - and will have to publish these rates on a monthly basis. The move must be welcomed because it is expected to increase transparency and promote competition in lending markets. Similar arguments were used in 2010, to explain the shift from benchmark prime lending rate to the base rate system. Perhaps the new edict will be more effective.

However, is the RBI doing all that is needed to ensure the efficacy of monetary policy? There are two notable features of the 125-basis-point rate cuts by the RBI. First, there have been apparent inconsistencies between the rate cuts and monetary policy commentary on the likely trajectory of inflation and interest rates. Second, out of the 125 basis points, 50 points were cut through out-of-turn monetary policy statements. Changing interest rates is a complex matter for banks. All product designs have to be reviewed, broader economic considerations revisited, and board decisions have to be re-taken. These tasks get complicated when the central bank cuts rates but simultaneously in the statement warns about raising rates. To banks, the mixed signal implies that the central bank is hedging its bets, and may undo the rate cut in the near future. Banks may then think it is not worth their while to change rates for an interest rate cut that is likely to be reversed.

Out-of-turn statements are likely to have the same effect on monetary policy transmission. Like mixed monetary policy signals, out-of-turn cuts suggest heightened uncertainty. Banks may then prefer to wait and watch, rather than to act. These problems of the monetary policy process are recent additions to the older shortcomings of the monetary policy transmission, with the lack of a bond market and insufficient competition in the lending business. The international slogan of good monetary policy is "say what you will do, and then do what you just said". The RBI must live by its promise of inflation targeting - and back this up with a well-constructed communication strategy.


1. What do you mean by Monetary Policy?

2. Who formulates Monetary Policy of India?

3. What is Reserve Bank of India? How is it different from other Scheduled Banks?

4. What is meant by policy rates?

5. What is meant by basis points?

6. What is meant by lending rates? What are the current value of lending rates in India?

7. How does lending rate affect the common man?

8. Who regulates the lending rates in India?

9. What is meant by inflation targeting?

10. What are different rates currently being offered in Saving Banks Account/ Fixed Deposit/ Recurring Deposit Account?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

[Editorial # 22] Ominous signals from Ayodhya

Ominous signals from Ayodhya

That the Ramjanmabhoomi movement was more political than religious in nature was evident from its very beginnings in communal frenzy and bigotry. And that the demand for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the site where the Babri Masjid stood would become more strident with every approaching general election was a foregone conclusion. Even so, the offloading of truckloads of pink sandstone at the premises of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Ayodhya this month adds a new element of provocative divisive politics in Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls for the Legislative Assembly in a little over a year’s time. The elaborate ritual performed on the stones, the ‘shila puja’, is in itself an indication of the symbolism sought to be evoked with the arrival of every batch of stones. Already, about one half of the total requirement of the stones necessary for the building of the temple is lying at the premises, but the offloading of each truckload is celebrated as an event in time marking the journey to the construction of the temple at the Babri Masjid site. Although the VHP insists that the entire exercise is a routine affair, the fact that this is the first time in eight years that such activity is happening gives it an ominous colour.
Issues relating to the site, whether a Ram temple was pulled down or modified to build the Masjid, and who could claim ownership of the plot of land believed by some sections of Hindus to be the birthplace of Ram, are still part of an unresolved legal dispute after the Supreme Court stayed an order of the Allahabad High Court that split the disputed site in three parts. With the restoration of status quo ante, no construction is possible at the site. By making preparations for the construction of a temple without waiting for the court verdict, the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, a trust run by the VHP, is clearly attempting to whip up communal passions over the dispute. Although the Samajwadi Party government of Akhilesh Yadav put the law and order machinery on alert, in such tension-charged atmosphere it would take no more than a few rumour-mongers to disrupt communal peace. However, with the Bharatiya Janata Party in power at the Centre, senior leaders are a lot more circumspect, not wanting to be seen as defying court orders. Indeed, the BJP is at present fighting under the cover of the VHP, assuming that any political gains from communal tensions over the issue would accrue to it, but the cost would be borne by the VHP alone. But the BJP is mistaken if it thinks it can harness the demons the VHP unleashes. Hate campaigns have a life of their own, and could spiral into unstoppable violence. The Ayodhya dispute should be left to the courts of law to adjudicate on. There can be no room for political games to stir communal passions.
1. What is the history of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya?
2. What is the history off Babari Masjid?
3. What is understood by the term "Communalism"?
4. What is the dispute around Ram Janm Bhoomie?
5. What is the Court Verdict on the dispute?
6. What is VHP?
7. Do you think such disputes are fired by political vested interests?
8. Why is Indian society so susceptible to communal tensions?
9. What is the history of communalism in India?
10. Suggest a few practical measures to address the issue of communalism in India.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

[Editorial # 21] The elusive toilets goal: The Business Standard

The attempt to make India free of open defecation appears to be a classic example of how goals can remain elusive despite the best of intentions of the government and the availability of money. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, launched by the prime minister over a year ago, is really the fourth avatar of a three-decade long effort. Yet the fate of the latest repackaging, which has reset the target date at 2019, may not be very different from that of the earlier efforts. An indication of the mindset at work is available from the fate of a well-meaning effort by the central ministries responsible for various parts of the programme to find out how things are going and learn quick lessons. But when the quick survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation earlier this year found that less than half the toilets built since the Abhiyan was launched were being used, the government decided to keep the results under wraps lest the Opposition made an issue of it.

Fortunately, a detailed report by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General into the earlier avatar, Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, has unearthed highly useful findings which can in fact make it a classic case study. With rare pungency, the CAG report, covering the period of 2009 to 2014, declares: "The (sanitation) programme which is running in mission mode for three decades has not succeeded in evoking the missionary zeal in various government agencies, participating NGOs and corporates." The audit found no proper bottom-up planning like gram panchayat plans being linked to district plans. Less than half the number of toilets targeted were constructed, and a third of those which saw the light of day were defunct. They were either incomplete, or poorly constructed, or badly maintained. In the years studied, not only did the Centre release less than half the funds it was to, as many as 16 states either did not release or did less than what was their share of funding. As the government runs innumerable programmes whose tasks overlap, there was a plan for convergence. For example, the material cost for toilets in homes built under Indira Awas Yojana could come from the sanitation programme and the labour costs from the rural employment programme - but this did not happen. Finally, the programme was to be monitored through an online management information system, but not only was the data uploaded not verified, it was not cross-checked with the departments' annual performance reports.

A course correction is due. There may be some change form the past in a critical area - persuading people to actually use toilets. Brand ambassadors have been appointed to spread the message. The NSSO survey has revealed that some are using the new toilets as store rooms. There is every reason for the government to institute a more detailed study, which discovers the reasons behind the reality, and to shares those results with the public. Again, money will not be a problem. The World Bank has approved a $1.5 billion loan to focus on behavioural change to further the project.


1. What is Swachh Bharat Abhiyan? Why is it being called "the fourth avatar of a three-decade long effort" by the editor? 

2. What is National Sample Survey Organisation? What is its role?

3. What is Comptroller and Auditor General of India? Who holds this office currently? What is CAG's role?

4. What is Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan?

5. What are the highlights of the audit report on Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan?

6. What is understood by convergence of Government schemes? What are its merits and demerits?

7. What is World Bank? Where is it located? What are its functions? Who heads the WB currently?

8. What is understood by behavioural change? Explain with examples.

Monday, December 21, 2015

[Editorial # 20] Justice that is rehabilitative : The Hindu

A mature society will not give in to popular clamour and overturn sound legal principles and social norms that underpin its justice system. The popular outrage over the release of a juvenile convict in the December 2012 Delhi gang rape case after a three-year term in a Special Home is understandable, but it is just plainly wrong to demand that his detention should continue. It is a misplaced view that juveniles who fell only a few months short of adulthood in the eye of law and were convicted for heinous crimes such as murder and rape should be tried as adults. Nor is it legally tenable to argue that an ‘unreformed’ convict should not be released back into society on completion of the maximum permissible stint in a home for juveniles in conflict with law. In fact, child-convicts growing into adulthood while being kept in a reformatory institution are ripe for rehabilitation. It will be a greater crime to force them to spend further time in special homes or put them in prison along with adult criminals. It is futile now to seek to establish that the former juvenile released now was the most brutal among the group that committed the gang rape. To say this is not to lose one’s sympathy for the grieving parents of the young rape victim who subsequently died. None can afford to forget the crime that brought forth an unprecedented outpouring of anger and made the whole country introspect about the way it treats its women. 
The Delhi High Court has taken the correct view by refusing to stay the convict’s release. It has taken note of the provisions for post-release rehabilitation, especially through an individual care plan for his reintegration with society. The Juvenile Justice Board should also receive quarterly follow-up reports for two years from the child welfare officer, probation officer or the NGO concerned. Claims that the stay in the Special Home had had no effect on him and that he had been ‘radicalised’ during his confinement in the Special Home appear to be desperate arguments by an unconvinced society to stall his release. Children fall foul of the law mainly because of neglect, abuse and poverty. There are no innate human propensities that magically transform cherubic children into unregenerate criminals beyond redemption. The whole object of juvenile law in India is to preserve the scope for rehabilitation and prevent recidivism. There is a pending Bill in Parliament that seeks to carve out a separate category of child offenders in the age group of 16 to 18 involved in heinous crimes and transfer them to regular criminal courts. It would be a retrograde step to enact this provision, even though other clauses in the Bill contain many progressive aspects for children in need of care and protection. It is the wider society that will really benefit from rehabilitative justice for child offenders and their transition to responsible adulthood.
1. How is a Juvenile defined?
2. What is Juvenile Justice Board?
3. What is Juvenile Justice Act?
4. What provisions of JJ Act are being considered for amendment in the current session of Parliament?
5. What is meant by Special Homes?
6. Do you think that the courts have done the right thing by not allowing the continuation of detention of the juvenile convicted in Nirbhaya case?
7. What are the reasons for children under the age of 18 years coming in conflict with the law?
8. What steps do you suggest to bring such children back in the mainstream?
9. How is the society responsible for juveniles coming in conflict with the law?
10. What steps should the Government take to reduce the crime rate perpetrated by juveniles?
11. What is understood by rehabilitative justice?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

[Editorial # 19] Shades of grey: The Indian Express

The mid-year economic review presented by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian puts up a brave front by concluding that “prima facie”, economic growth is showing “signs of steady recovery”, but the data shared in the review paints a sobering picture. As against a real (after discounting for inflation) GDP growth of 7.5 per cent in the first half of the last financial year (2014-15), growth clocked just 7.2 per cent in the first half of this fiscal. The review claims that the real GDP growth for the full financial year 2015-16 will be between 7 and 7.5 per cent. The outlook for the next financial year, 2016-17, is not any better. To put these numbers in perspective, consider this: One, the real GDP of the country in 2013-14 (the last year of the UPA government) was 6.9 per cent. Two, in the economic survey, presented barely nine months ago, the CEA had given a growth outlook of 8.1-8.5 per cent for the current fiscal. In other words, not only has India’s growth decelerated from what it was in the same period of the last financial year, it is close to what it was around the time the NDA government took over. But even these headline GDP growth numbers mask the real economic and, indeed, political challenge that the Narendra Modi government now faces.

The disaggregated data shared in the review gives what it calls “mixed, sometimes puzzling, signals” about the health of the economy. For instance, if one looks at the indicators of finance, a gauge of economic activity, one finds that consumer credit has picked up, yet “industrial credit has slowed dramatically”. Similarly, while tax buoyancy is up, the growth of capital good imports, a proxy for the level of investment, has “decelerated sharply”. Such oddities are likely to further fuel the suspicion many have had about the veracity of the new GDP data, even though the CEA has tried to explain the possible reason for the measurement uncertainty plaguing the new GDP series.
The Indian economy is doing well for a car with only two wheels running. Compared to the boom years of 2004-11, neither exports nor private investments are contributing much to economic growth. As such, the economy is essentially being run on the other two wheels — private consumption and government expenditure. The trouble is, without adequate investment coming in soon, the consumption story will falter. The answer is in reforms that unleash the supply potential, like the GST, simpler labour laws and easier land acquisition, and in public expenditure in infrastructure that crowds in private investment. In the absence of these, the government will soon be forced to compromise on its fiscal deficit targets.


1. Who is Chief Economic Advisor? What is his role? How is he appointed?
2. Who is the current CEA?
3. Define the following terms: GDP, Real GDP, Capital Goods, Tax Buoyancy, Consumer Credit, Industrial Credit, Fiscal Deficit
4. What is understood by GDP growth rate? How is it calculated? Which authority is responsible for determining GDP and GDP GR for India?
5. What is the purpose of calculating GDP?
6. Which are the top 10 countries in GDP ranking?
7. What has been the GDP and GDP GR trend in India since independence?
8. Do you see any impact on GDP after the economic reforms of 1991? 
9. What measures are being suggested by the editor to improve the economy?
10. What are the Fiscal Deficit Targets set by India?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

[Editorial #18] Unseemly turn in Arunachal Pradesh: The Hindu

The saddest aspect of the political turmoil in Arunachal Pradesh is that its key actors have revived unedifying practices that one would have thought the Indian polity had left behind some years ago: dissident ruling party legislators joining hands with their political rivals to bring down an elected government, holding parallel or unauthorised Assembly proceedings, and the Governor playing a partisan role. The conduct of Governor J.P. Rajkhowa in the ongoing crisis facing the Nabam Tuki government, set off by a group of ruling Congress MLAs revolting against his leadership, is questionable. In S.R. Bommai in 1994, the Supreme Court decided that the only place for determining whether a Chief Minister has lost his majority is the floor of the House, and not the Raj Bhavan. When it appeared that Mr. Tuki had lost the support of many of the legislators, the Governor could have either asked him to prove his majority when the Assembly met on January 14, 2016, or, if the matter brooked no delay, requested him to advance the session for the same purpose. There was no justification for the Governor to advance the session to December 16 on his own, and a legitimate question arises whether the Constitution permits such action. In another partisan act, he sent a message to the House to take up ‘Resolution for removal of the Speaker’ as the first item on the agenda.
The Congress has been ruling the State with the support of 47 MLAs in the 60-member Assembly, but 20 ruling party legislators have rallied under former Minister Kalikho Pul and joined hands with the 11-member Bharatiya Janata Party group in a bid to unseat Mr. Tuki. They accuse the Chief Minister of financial mismanagement and corruption. In a pre-emptive move against the rebels convening the Assembly on the Governor’s order, the government locked down the legislature building and the Speaker disqualified 14 out of the 20 dissidents to bring down the number required for a majority. Disqualification under the anti-defection law is subject to judicial review and the rebels could have challenged the Speaker’s decision. Instead, showing unseemly hurry, the Deputy Speaker, a dissident himself, ‘revoked’ their disqualification. All the rebels, along with the BJP and independent MLAs, held a sitting of the ‘Assembly’ at a makeshift venue, and ‘removed’ the Speaker and then the Chief Minister through a ‘no-confidence motion’. With the Guwahati High Court keeping in abeyance all the decisions taken at the rebel ‘session’, and sharply questioning the Governor’s action in convening the Assembly, the rest of the crisis may play out in a courtroom. Nevertheless, it would be a travesty of democracy if the current crisis results in the imposition of President’s Rule without Mr. Tuki being given an opportunity to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The Centre should avoid any impression that constitutional norms will not be respected while handling the issue.
1. What is S. R. Bommai case of 1994?
2. What is understood by No Confidence Movement?
3. How is Speaker of the Legislative Assembly elected?
4. How can a Speaker of the Assembly be removed?
5. What is the role of Deputy Speaker?
6. What is meant by President's rule?
7. What is Anti-defection Law? When and why was it passed?
8. Mention some instances when President's rule was implemented in any state?
9. What are Supreme Court Verdicts with regards to imposition of President's rule?
10. How is Governor of a state appointed?

Friday, December 18, 2015

[Editorial # 17] Fed's liftoff ends uncertainty: The Hindu

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to finally start normalising interest rates, by raising the fed funds rate by one quarter of a percentage point, has emphatically ended the uncertainty over the direction the world’s largest economy is headed in. Seven years after the Fed embarked on its record monetary expansion — by beginning a programme of bond purchases and cutting itsbenchmark rate to near zero — to provide a stimulus in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. central bank has signalled that the American economy has definitely turned the corner. Fed chair Janet Yellen’s categorical assertion that the decision “reflects our confidence in the U.S. economy” and that the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) sees the economy on a path of sustainable improvement, should give comfort to investors worldwide that a key engine of the global economy is now ticking. Simultaneously, the Fed held forth the reassurance that its stance remains accommodative to support the recovery and help return inflation to the targeted level of 2 per cent. The widely anticipated decision should now infuse some much-needed optimism across both developed and emerging markets, especially at a time when global trade is stagnant and commodity prices continue to remain depressed as demand from China’s slowing economy stays muted. If history is any guide, previous tightening cycles from the Fed both in 1999 and in 2004 were coterminous with increased capital flows into emerging markets as economic growth in the U.S. spurred demand for goods and services in the developing and exporting nations. But conditions, as some economists point out, are different this time, with the majority of emerging market currencies more expensive than they were 11 years ago on an inflation-adjusted, trade-weighted basis. The immediate reaction in India’s markets was positive on Thursday as both stocks and the rupee ended stronger. And with adequate foreign exchange reserves accumulated as a bulwark against any sudden, sharp capital outflows, the Reserve Bank of India and Governor Raghuram Rajan — who had been calling for a gradual end to global easy money — appear well-prepared to deal with any exigencies, should they arise.

That the road ahead could still be anything but smooth and straight for both the global economy and the emerging markets is also amply evident in the language contained in the Fed’s communication. The FOMC statement made it clear that “economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant only gradual increases” in the benchmark rate. This is shorthand for saying that interest rates are likely to inch up and over a longer duration rather than mount a well-spaced and clearly graded timetable of staircase steps. With China’s surprise yuan devaluation of August and the resultant turmoil still fresh in memory, Chinese policymakers, along with the monetary authorities in Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union, would be closely tracked. For Indian companies, new overseas loans are likely to start getting costlier, and the appreciation of the dollar could roil corporate balance sheets as debt-servicing gets more expensive.


1 What is meant by fed fund rates?
2. Why is this in the news?
3. What is the 2008 Economic Crisis?
4. How is 2008 economic crisis linked to fed fund rates?
5. Why has the fund rate been increased?
6. Is this increase going to impact India? If yes then how?
7. The article talks about an inflation rate of 2%. What do you understand by this?
8. What is the current inflation rate prevailing in India?
9. How is inflation measured in India?
10. Which agency is responsible for determining inflation rates in India? What are various indices to measure inflation?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

[Editorial # 16] Cautionary signals from the export slump : The Hindu

The protracted slump in merchandise exports, which rounded out a 12th straight drop in November, is a cause for serious concern. The sharp, almost 25 per cent, contraction in the overseas shipment of goods from a year earlier to $20 billion signals there is more to this extended contraction than just the global economic weakness that has cast its shadow across trade worldwide. While the slide in commodity prices, including that of oil and petroleum products, has contributed to the decline in the value of exports in dollar terms, of greater worry is the continuing fall in demand for Indian engineering goods, and leather and leather goods. The leather sector has been hurt by a combination of economic weakness in Europe, increased competition and poor infrastructure. The theme of infrastructure hobbling the country’s trade competitiveness has been an enduring one with the problems of power availability and inadequate road and port connectivity still continuing to dog exporters, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) that together accounted for more than 44 per cent of India’s exports in the last fiscal year. The MSME sector also provides employment on a sizeable scale, including in semi-urban and rural areas, and the export slowdown is sure to result in widespread labour distress that can only weigh on savings and consumption in the broader economy. The slowdown also reflects on the low level of value-addition being achieved by India’s exporters, as is evident in the widening trade deficit with China — itself coping with declines in both exports and imports. While the main exports to the northern neighbour are low value-added commodities such as cotton, copper alloys and iron ore, the imports include machinery, electrical equipment and electronics that have resulted in the trade gap surging 32-fold to $48.5 billion in the decade through March 2015.
The export slowdown is at the same time both a symptom and a potential trigger for domestic economic weakness. Any effort to improve business competitiveness through reforms, including in areas such as labour and credit markets, especially for the MSME segment, can surely give a fillip to the overall environment. The Make in India programme, if pursued cogently, can also serve as a springboard for enhancing skills and technologies that can over time help reverse and possibly boost both volumes and the value of overseas shipments. Also, the monetary and fiscal authorities need to be mindful of the fact that the rupee — while having weakened against the dollar, thus appearing to offer a price advantage to exporters — has actually appreciated in real terms against a trade-weighted basket of 36 currencies, making India’s exports less competitive. For this reason, the Reserve Bank of India needs to continue its close vigil over inflation. Finally, even the pharmaceuticals sector, where exports have grown, can ill afford to be complacent as the U.S. and Europe tighten regulatory oversight of generics and manufacturing processes in India.

1. What do you mean by exports? What is the value of exports from India in FY 2014-15?

2. What all items does India export?

3. What are India's major export destinations?

4. Why is there a decline in exports from India over last few months?

5. What are the challenges being faced by Indian exporters?

6. What is MSME sector? What is its share in India's GDP and exports?

7. What is understood by trade gap? Why is India facing a huge trade gap with China?

8. What are the major items exported to and imported from China?

9. Is valuation of rupee against dollar a factor influencing the exports? If yes then how?

10. Suggest a few measures to boost exports from India?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

[Editorial # 15] Peace in the pipeline: The Hindu

After being called a pipe dream for decades, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline came one step closer to reality on Sunday, with the groundbreaking ceremony at the Turkmen town of Mary attended by leaders of the TAPI countries. The pipeline, that is set to cross over 1,700 km, through Herat and Balochistan before reaching the Indian Punjab border, and will draw from the world’s second largest natural gas field of Galkynysh, comes full of promise. To begin with, it will reopen a historic route that reconnects South Asia to Central Asia, in the way it was before the British Empire sealed it off. It will also bring India and its neighbours much needed energy at competitive pricing, and could easily supply a quarter of Pakistan’s gas needs, about 15 per cent of India’s projected needs, as well as Afghanistan’s requirements, by the time it is completed in the 2020s. This is a growing need, and even if India is able to source energy from other countries like Iran and further afield, both the proximity and abundance of Turkmenistan’s reserves, that rank fourth in the world, will make it an attractive proposition. At a time when China has already secured nearly half of its energy requirements from the region, and is working on the $400 billion Russia-China gas pipeline, India has no time to lose in securing its interest in Central Asia. Finally, the TAPI pipeline gives this fractured region a reason to work on a project together as well, and it is hoped the shared stakes in TAPI’s success will ensure that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan find ways of cooperating on other issues as well. 
However, the project faces the challenge of terrorism today. Unless the pipeline is secured from the Taliban that operates on both sides of the Durand Line, and from militant groups operating in Pakistan, it is hard to see how the TAPI dream can go beyond the groundbreaking ceremony. “By coming this far, we are overcoming a history of doubt and scepticism,” said Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani at the ceremony. Certainly, the fact that the TAPI, pushed by Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimohamedov, was able to bring leaders of three countries with relations as complicated as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan share is itself remarkable. To envisage a $10 billion project that traverses all three countries with all the bad blood between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Pakistan and India, is ambitious as well. If it can manage to loosen the tight bonds between terror groups and their sponsors in Pakistan, who ought to see where their own interests lie, it will achieve the impossible; something no amount of pressure, cajoling and threat from India, Afghanistan and other countries has been able to effect in Pakistan thus far. The only way the project will be actualised is if the leadership of all four member-countries don’t just dwell on the world that exists today, but the region as it can be: connected, cooperative, peaceful and prosperous.

1. What all countries are there in Central Asia?
2. What could be possible areas of cooperation between India and Central Asian Countries?
3. What is the history of India-Central Asia relationship?
4. What are the reasons behind India pushing for TAPI pipeline?
5. What are the possible challenges before all the stakeholders in TAPI project?
6. Which energy source is planned to be shipped through the pipeline? What is its composition?
7. Does India have an existing network of gas pipelines? How is it better than other conventional shipping modes?
8. What is the energy requirement of India? How is it linked to the growth of economy?
9. What measures have other countries like China adopted for securing its energy needs?
10. What measures you would suggest for improving the energy security of our country?