Saturday, January 30, 2016

[Editorial # 53] Giving cities the smart edge : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 30th January 2016. 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 Central government’s framework for 20 cities to become ‘smart’ over a five-year period can cover new ground if it makes intelligent use of information technology to deliver better civic services. Rapid and poorly regulated urbanisation has overwhelmed urban governments, rendering them incapable of providing even basic services such as clean water, sewerage, pedestrian-friendly roads, public transport, uninterrupted power, street lighting, parks and recreational spaces. So weak and uncoordinated is governance that commercial entities have wilfully violated building regulations and put up unauthorised structures — with severe impact on congestion, air quality and flood management — and governments have gladly regularised the violations later. The smart city plan now proposes to intervene and bring some order by upgrading the physical infrastructure in select enclaves, and incentivising the use of information and communication technologies. Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu has come up with a generalised definition of a smart Indian city as one that “enables a decent life to the citizens, and green and sustainable environment, besides enabling adoption of smart solutions”, but the exercise should lead to measurable outcomes.

The first batch of smart cities would create virtually new business districts in several cities, marking a departure from the disaggregated urban development witnessed over the past few decades. This area-based development approach makes it imperative that the resulting demand for mobility to and from the ‘smart’ area be made an integral part of the plan, with an emphasis on walkability, use of non-motorised transport and access to public transport. Ahmedabad and Bhubaneswar have shown high ambition by opting for a common travel card. Others such as Indore, Davangere and Belagavi plan Intelligent Transport Solutions, something that has been unattainable for even a big metro such as Chennai. Although it enjoys high visibility, the smart city programme is merely a framework for urban development aided by the Centre with a small initial seed fund of Rs.500 crore, while additional finances have to come from public-private partnerships and local revenue. State governments, including those left out of the first list, could unlock the potential of all cities with development policies that aim at structural change. Improved public transport, for instance, has an immediate positive impact on the local economy. Technologies such as GPS to inform passengers in real time on their mobile phones, and common ticketing, increase the efficiency of transport use. Universal design in public buildings and streets would help all people, including those with disabilities. The challenge for Smart Cities 1.0 is to provide proof of concept quickly and make outcomes sustainable. Care also needs to be taken that the effect is not to create gated communities of best practices and civic upgrade in a wider landscape of urban distress. It is crucial that these urban enclaves cater to the housing, health, education and recreation needs of a wide cross section of society, and that the convergence of the Smart Cities programme with existing urban renewal projects countrywide be smooth.


1. What are Smart Cities? What are the features of Smart City program?

2. What are the problems currently being faced by urban areas? What in your opinion are the causes of such problems?

3. Which ministry is responsible for implementing Smart Cities Program? What is the role of State Governments in implementing the program?

4. What is understood by local governance? What are the areas which fall under the purview of local governance? Name the local urban body in your city?

5. Study the Intelligent Transport Solutions of Indore, Davengere and Belagavi? Can such solution be adopted in your city? Why or why not?

6. What are the possible challenges in implementing Smart Cities Program?

7. What are the various technologies which would be used for implementing the Smart Cities Program?

8. Do you think that Smart Cities Program could lead to more migration towards cities and hence the existing problems are going to be aggravated instead of getting solved? Comment. (200 words)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

[Editorial # 52] No small trouble : The Indian Express

[Following editorial has been published in The Indian Express on 28th January 2016. 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.]

Even as RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan is set to present his next bi-monthly monetary policy review early next week, there is increased focus on what is to be done with the interest rates on small savings instruments like the public provident fund (PPF), the national saving certificate or the new Sukanya Samriddhi Account Scheme (SSAS). Currently, there’s a significant gap between the rates paid on these — ranging from 8.7 per cent for PPF and 9.2 per cent for SSAS — and the 7-7.5 per cent banks give on deposits or the 7.8 per cent yields on 10-year government bonds. The economic case to align the administered rates on small savings with the rates prevailing in the market is obvious. Such a gap essentially incentivises people to put their money in the small savings instruments, while making it difficult for banks to reduce deposit rates and, in turn, lower lending rates that are much needed in the current investment-starved economic environment.

Over the last year, the RBI has cut its policy rates by 125 basis points, whereas banks have on average reduced their lending rates by just half of that. Economists are not wrong in pointing out that the high administered rates for small savings — in relation to both market rates and CPI inflation — act as effective impediments in the “transmission” of the RBI’s monetary policy signals. To that extent, any further repo rate cuts — even assuming it happens on February 2 — will have only a limited impact on what companies and individuals would pay for their loans from banks. One could also very well argue that the overall gains to the economy from lower interest rates will far outweigh benefits to small savings deposit holders, who are today receiving real interest rates of 3 per cent after adjusting for inflation. They will continue receiving inflation-beating returns even if rates on PPF deposits are cut by 1 per cent. But selling this politically is another thing.

What can be done? Ideally, the government should follow the report of the Shyamala Gopinath committee that, in 2011, had suggested fixing small savings rates based on “a positive spread of 25 basis points, vis-a-vis government securities of similar maturities…” One way to make it politically more palatable could be to retain the current rates only for deposits below a certain limit. But ultimately, this is a political call the government cannot delay too long. It’s unlikely to encounter much resistance here from states, which are less reliant on small savings collections following the Centre’s decision to devolve an increased share of its tax revenues.


1. What are the various roles and functions of RBI? How are these functions different from those of the Ministry of Finance?

2.  What is meant by Small Savings Instruments? What are various such instruments available in India?

3. What is Sukanya Samriddhi Account Scheme (SSAS)? What are its features?

4. What are Government Bonds? Can you buy/sell government bonds? How?

5. Why should the administered rates on small savings be aligned to the market rates?

6. Why is the government hesitating to reduce the rates on small savings schemes?

7. When does the RBI hike and decrease the interest rates? What impact does it lay on the economy?

8. What is meant by policy rates? By whom and when are these rates determined?

9. Why was Shyamala Gopinath Committee constituted? What were its recommendations?

10. Explain the following terms (50 words):
  • Repo Rate
  • Basis Point
  • Tax revenue
  • Government Securities
  • Real Interest Rate

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

[Editorial # 51] Politics, impropriety and President’s Rule : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 27th January 2016. 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.]

It is unfortunate that Arunachal Pradesh, a sensitive border State, should find itself in the throes of an artificial constitutional crisis. After seeking some clarifications from the Union government, President Pranab Mukherjee has approved the imposition of Central rule. The proclamation will have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament and the validity of President’s Rule may be considered by the Supreme Court, but it is difficult not to discern a discredited political pattern behind the crisis that led to the current situation. The pattern involves dissidence within the ruling party, the opposition joining hands with the rebels, confusion over the likelihood of a floor test, and the Governor intervening in a partisan manner. It is in similar circumstances that Article 356 of the Constitution has been misused in the past. And it was in such circumstances that the Supreme Court declared in 1994 that the only place for determining whether a Chief Minister has lost or retained majority is the floor of the House. Yet, the country is still witnessing the sad spectacle of partisan politics overshadowing constitutional propriety. It is a poor commentary on the Narendra Modi government that instead of finding ways to facilitate a floor test it has imposed President’s Rule in the midst of an ongoing hearing before a five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. The Congress in the State is also to blame because, having obviously failed to address the dissidence in its camp against Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, it appears to be avoiding a floor test as it has not sought interim orders to that effect from the court.

Undoubtedly, there is a constitutional impasse because six months have elapsed since the last time the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly met. That itself is a valid ground for Central rule. But it cannot be forgotten that events were manipulated in such a way that the divided legislature never got an opportunity to meet and test the government’s majority. The crisis was precipitated when Governor J.P. Rajkhowa advanced the session scheduled for January 14, 2016 to December 16, 2015, and fixed a motion seeking the removal of the Speaker as the first item on the agenda. In that controversial sitting at a makeshift venue, the Speaker was ‘removed’ and a ‘no-confidence motion’ adopted against the Chief Minister. The Gauhati High Court has ruled that the Governor was justified in advancing the session by acting on his own discretion if he had reason to believe that the Chief Minister and the Speaker were stalling a particular motion. The constitutional question of whether the Governor can summon the legislature on his own and whether he can send a message to the Assembly on what motion it should take up is now before the Supreme Court. An authoritative pronouncement is necessary on this question, but what must not be forgotten is that political processes followed should be rooted in norms of democracy, and not be at the mercy of any discretionary powers of constitutional functionaries.


1. Write a short note on the history Arunachal Pradesh.

2. What is meant by President's Rule? What are the Constitutional provisions for imposing President's rule?

3. Article 356 of the Constitution is more misused that used? Do you agree? Justify (200 words)

4. What is understood by "floor test" ? Under what circumstances a floor test is done?

5. What is Constitutional Bench of Supreme Court? Why is such a bench constituted? Explain with past examples.

6. Locate Arunachal Pradesh on a map of India. Which countries and states of India share a border with Arunachal Pradesh? Locate the major rivers/lakes/ National Parks/ Wildlife Sanctuaries/Mountain ranges/ Passes in Arunachal Pradesh on a map of India.

7. What is the present constitutional crisis in Arunachal Pradesh? 

8. How is the Speaker of an Assembly elected to and removed from his post?

9. "Political processes followed should be rooted in norms of democracy, and not be at the mercy of any discretionary powers of constitutional functionaries." Explain with suitable examples from the past. (200 words)