Tuesday, March 29, 2016

[Editorial # 89] Brinkmanship over a limited dispute : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 29th March 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 Centre should step forward and bring both Punjab and Haryana, ruled by the BJP and an ally, to the negotiating table to resolve the crisis over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal

Contemporary India illustrates the tragic paradox of farmers’ politics: they get divided just when they need to unite the most. The last few years have witnessed a deepening of the agrarian crisis in India. This is the moment when all agrarian classes need to come together. Instead, we have witnessed in recent times several attempts to pit one section of the peasantry against the other: communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, the Gujjar-Meena caste clashes in Rajasthan and the recent Jat and non-Jat divide in Haryana. It may not be a simple case of “divide and rule”, but someone does stand to gain by keeping farmers divided.

The latest episode in this unfolding tragedy is the Punjab-Haryana dispute over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. The unpopular governments of Punjab and Haryana and discredited politicians on both sides are suddenly back in the reckoning. This must be seen as the new business model of politics: how to turn a small and resolvable dispute into an impossibly large tangle, and then use brinkmanship to milk the situation for maximum political gains.

Playing the water card

The “SYL dispute” has exposed the weakness of the entire edifice of constitutional governance in our country — elected governments, constitutional authorities, political parties, autonomous bodies and even the judiciary.

The Parkash Singh Badal-led government in Punjab is arguably the State government most despised by its own people across the country. Facing an electoral rout, the ruling Akali Dal has played the water card again to distract voters from growing anger against its mis-governance. And it seems to have succeeded, at least for the time being. It managed to get the entire political establishment to first back a law — the Punjab Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016 — de-notifying the land taken for purposes of building the canal. The Supreme Court frowned at attempts to fill the half-built canal with earth even before the law could be signed. The Punjab Assembly retaliated on March 18 by passing a most unusual resolution that in effect declared that it would not let the canal be built, no matter what the Supreme Court orders in this regard.

The Haryana government, that faced a crisis of legitimacy on account of its failure to protect life and property during the recent agitation over reservation, has suddenly found an opportunity to present itself as the guardian of farmers in distress. Successive State governments that did little to take the available water to the arid region in south Haryana can now present Punjab as the main culprit.

A web of deceit

The Central government has been neither fair nor firm in its role as arbiter and facilitator in this dispute. Initially, Indira Gandhi’s government was partisan. Ever since the advent of militancy in the 1980s, successive Central governments have ducked the issue and shirked their constitutional responsibility. Delaying tactics were used to put the Eradi Tribunal into cold storage. When the Congress government in Punjab passed a law — the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004 — that unilaterally terminated earlier agreements, the United Progressive Alliance government meekly referred it to the Supreme Court and left it at that. Both instances do not make the judiciary look too good either. It is intriguing that the Supreme Court did not take up a Presidential Reference for well over a decade and has now started hearing the case in an election year in Punjab.

The worst example of hypocrisy was practised by political parties. No party in Punjab had the guts to call the Akali Dal’s bluff. The national parties just gave up the pretence of being national. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Punjab proposed the provocative resolution to the Assembly; the BJP government in Haryana called it unconstitutional. The Congress in Punjab backed the Akali Dal in its antics, while its leaders in Haryana staged a protest outside the Punjab Assembly. The Aam Aadmi Party was of course different. Here, the same leader spoke in different voices. Arvind Kejriwal declared in Punjab that he was against SYL since the State had no water to spare. Back in Delhi, he was for fair share to every State and warned against playing politics with water! Is there a way out of this web of propaganda, deceit and hypocrisy? I believe this is a limited and resolvable dispute provided we agree on some basics.

Water use and requirement

First, we must acknowledge that water is a real issue for all the States. The farmers of Punjab have a genuine concern. Their agriculture has come to be largely dependent on canal irrigation. The prospect of a reduction in water for irrigation is cause for concern, especially in the Malwa region. Similarly, we must acknowledge that farmers in Haryana and Rajasthan have legitimate needs. The Green Revolution patch in north Rajasthan is entirely dependent on water from the Ravi-Beas. Agriculture in south Haryana continues to be rainfed; parts of this region face a drinking water crisis.

We must also acknowledge that the water requirement is overstated by all parties to the dispute. What is stated as “need” is not the minimum requirement for growing crops suited for this agro-climatic zone, but for water-intensive crops unknown to this region. Ecologists have long been warning us about unsustainable water-use practices in this region.

Second, we must recognise that both Punjab and Haryana have a legitimate grievance. Punjab feels, rightly so, that the Indira Gandhi government’s Ravi-Beas settlement of 1976 was unjust. The people also feel that the shares agreed to by the Chief Ministers of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan in 1981 did not fully reverse this injustice. The farmers in Haryana feel that whatever was agreed to on paper has been denied to them in practice. Protracted cases, interminable tribunals and, finally, a blunt refusal to implement any settlement have denied them of their due share.

Third, we must note that this sense of grievance and mistrust has led leaders on both sides to inflate the quantum of difference. In the heat of the dispute we forget that there is no dispute about the use of Sutlej waters. There is a real but fairly delimited dispute about water from the Ravi-Beas. It was agreed upon right from the beginning that the pre-existing usage of water by Punjab and Rajasthan (2.3 and 1.1 MAF [million acre-feet], respectively) would not be touched. The dispute is about the quantum of extra water available for distribution and about the share of the respective States. The most conservative estimate of available water was 15.9 MAF in the 1955 agreement. The most generous, and latest, estimate is 18.3 MAF in the Eradi Tribunal report of 1987. The difference in the share allotted to Punjab is fairly limited: the most unfavourable award of 1976 gave Punjab 22 per cent, which was revised to 25 per cent in the Chief Ministers’ agreement of 1981 and further revised to 28 per cent in the first report of the Eradi Tribunal. There are differences here, but we are not looking at impossible differences.

Finally, there are settled legal principles and institutions to resolve a dispute like this one. As a riparian State, Punjab has first right to use river water, but Punjab, or for that matter any other State, does not own the water that flows through its territory. It was the India-Pakistan Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960 that gave India the exclusive right to use the entire waters of the Sutlej, the Ravi and the Beas. Haryana was a part of Punjab and was thus a riparian State when the IWT took place. The division of the State in 1966 does not take away that status. India got the share of river water that it did in the IWT because it successfully claimed water for canal irrigation projects in the desert area of Rajasthan. So, Haryana and Rajasthan have justified claims accepted by the Supreme Court and the Eradi Tribunal.

Let us also agree that no State government can unilaterally abrogate all the agreements, good or bad, which its lawful predecessors had entered into. And no one can refuse to obey the orders of the highest court of this land. Such actions are plainly unconstitutional.

For a political resolution

How do we go ahead? The resolution should ideally take a political route. Leaders and parties from Punjab must step back from the extra-constitutional path of unilateral action and instead negotiate on the share of Ravi-Beas water. Leaders from Haryana must step back from their demands of a share of water; instead, they should focus on swift and assured implementation of whatever is agreed upon. The Centre should step forward and bring both States, ruled by the BJP and an ally, to the negotiating table. The Prime Minister must work towards a a fair settlement.

Alternatively, the resolution could take a legal route. Let the Supreme Court quickly dispose of the Presidential Reference. If the court finds the 2004 Act unconstitutional, it must take up the contempt petition against Punjab for violating its orders on completing the SYL canal by 2003. Let the court also take a view on the latest Bill of the Punjab Assembly and the filling up of the SYL canal. Finally, let the vacancy in the Ravi-Beas Tribunal be filled and let it submit its final report, which shall be binding on all parties. There is no reason why all of this cannot be completed within a year from now.

Of late, there has been loud talk about nationalism. A true measure of nationalism may not be the height of a flag mast. The real test of nationalism or otherwise of our leadership is in the will and wisdom that it demonstrates in resolving a dispute like this one.


1  What are other major water disputes between different states of India?

2. What are the main rivers of Haryana and Punjab?

3. What is meant by irrigation? What are major methods of irrigation in India ?

4. What are the provisions of Indus water treaty?

5. What are the challenges being faced by the farmers of Punjab? 

6. Mention an international treaty of water sharing by India other than IWT?

7. What is article 262?

Monday, March 21, 2016

[Editorial # 88] Increasing the cost of violation is the only way to tackle food adulteration : The Economic Times

[Following editorial has been published in The Economic Times on 21st March 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.]

Nearly 70% of the milk in India is adulterated. This, simply, is not acceptable. The government has said that a new scanner has been developed for quick detection of adulteration, and is now working towards developing a portable test kit based on this technology. While this development will help improve detection, addressing the problem of adulteration of this essential food item will require changes in the regulatory and legal framework and the manner in which the food safety administration discharges its duties.

The adulteration of milk can be grouped into two broad categories: contamination arising from poor hygiene, handling and packaging; and deliberate addition of water to increase the quantity and, along with the water, other substances that mask the dilution, such as urea, detergents, shampoo, caustic soda, hydrogen peroxide and oil, which apparently enhance viscosity, never mind if the milk is transformed into a poisonous cocktail. This is an egregious violation and must attract stiff penalties: jail terms and heavy fines, besides closure of offending units. Identifying the point of adulteration is crucial. Therefore, testing must be made mandatory across the supply chain, from the primary collection point to the processing and packaging plant. No producer or aggregator will be able to sell without a test. Each unit should be required by law to submit its daily test results, and these should be publicly available. This will make it possible to identify the source of adulteration. Adulteration must be made a cognisable offence.

The only way to tackle adulteration of essential food items like milk is to increase the cost of violation. Failure to do so will mean continuing to expose the millions of Indians, particularly children, to a public health time bomb.


1. How much is the annual milk production in India? How much is Per Capita Availability of milk in our country? Which are the top 5 milk producing states of India?

2. What is the composition of milk? What are various tests to find out adulteration in milk?

3. What is meant by adulteration? What are common food adulterants?

4. What are various legal provisions for checking adulteration in food?

5. What are the harmful effects of food adulteration on human body? 

6. Mention a few international standards in the area of ensuring food safety?

7. Who regulates food safety standards in India? How does is enforce food safety standards?

8. What are the challenges in maintaining food safety standards in a country like India? How can they be tackled? 

Friday, March 18, 2016

[Editorial # 87] Be bold in revisiting the sedition law : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 18th March 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 government’s admission in Parliament that the present definition of ‘sedition’ in the Indian Penal Code is too wide and requires reconsideration, is the first indication that the fallout of the Kanhaiya Kumar episode has had a chastening effect on the ruling party. There seems to be a realisation that invoking the draconian penal provision against students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University was an act of overreach by the Delhi Police. Further, legal luminaries had pointed out that the essential ingredient of sedition — an imminent threat to public order — was absent in the case. Opinion is growing that the relevant provision, Section 124-A, has no place on the statute book. While Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured Opposition members that an all-party meeting on the issue would be convened after the Law Commission submitted its report on the matter, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju made a pointed reference to concerns that the definition of ‘sedition’ was very wide. He also sought to clarify that he was not discussing the merits of the case against JNU students or defending the action of the Delhi Police, indicating a significant political climbdown. In other remarks, Mr. Rijiju recalled that the Law Commission in its 42nd Report had rejected the idea of repealing the section altogether. A look at the 1971 report shows that in fact it wanted to expand the term relating to exciting “disaffection towards the government established by law” to cover disaffection towards the Constitution, Parliament, the government and legislatures of the States, and the administration of justice.

In penal law, vague and ‘over-broad’ definitions of offences often result in mindless prosecutions based merely on the wording of the act that seems to allow both provocative and innocuous speeches to be treated as equally criminal. While upholding sedition as an offence that fell under the ‘public order’ restriction on free speech, the Supreme Court ruled that it ought to be invoked only if a particular speech or action had a “pernicious tendency to create public disorder”. Words such as “excites or attempts to excite disaffection” or “brings into or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt” are unacceptably vague, and the further explanation that ‘disaffection’ includes “disloyalty and all feelings of enmity” compounds the problem. The provision in effect appears to demand ‘affection’ towards the government, except for a general exception allowing disapproval of governmental measures. Two High Courts had declared Section 124-A unconstitutional before the Supreme Court upheld the section in 1962 in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar. The Law Commission, while revisiting the issue, should take into account recent developments, especially the flagrant instances of misuse of the sedition law and the tendency to invoke it against those involved in strident forms of political dissent and scathing criticism of governments. One way to limit its mischief is to narrow the definition; but a more rational and constitutional option would be to scrap the provision altogether.


1. What is Indian Penal Code? When was it codified? 

2. Section-124 A of IPC has been associated with India's freedom struggle. Find out how.

3. Why is it being said that the definition of "Sedition" is too wide under IPC?

4. What is a Law Commission? Who all are the members of this Commission? What are the various roles of this commission?

5. What are various verdicts given by High Courts and the Supreme Court with regards to sedition?

6. Edmund Burke once said "Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny"? Comment on this statement giving examples from Indian judicial system.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

[Editorial # 86] A new chapter in Myanmar

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 17th March 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 election of U Htin Kyaw as Myanmar’s President is a watershed moment in its history. Mr. Htin Kyaw’s government would be its most democratic administration since 1962 when the military seized power. During this period, the generals ran a repressive regime that denied the people even basic democratic rights and isolated the country internationally. For Myanmar’s pro-democracy camp, the election is a moment of joy, and sorrow. Finally a legitimate, democratic government is in place, but there is deep disappointment at the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi, their “rightful” leader, could not become the President. A provision in the military-era Constitution bars Ms. Suu Kyi from assuming the highest office as her children are foreign citizens. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) lacks the parliamentary power to rewrite the Constitution. Efforts by Ms. Suu Kyi to reach a settlement with the generals did not bear fruit either. It was against this background that she nominated Mr. Htin Kyaw, an economist and writer she has known from her early school days, as the party’s presidential candidate. Ms. Suu Kyi has made it clear that she will be in control of the government, irrespective of her constitutional status.

While the formation of a democratic government is clearly a firm step forward, the new government faces an uphill task. Primarily, it has to address the deep economic problems. Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Asia. In the years of isolation under the junta, economic growth stagnated, trapping millions in acute poverty. Getting the economy back on track is no easy task, and Myanmar will need regional and global assistance. Besides, though the generals have agreed to civilian takeover of political power, they still wield enormous influence over Myanmar’s institutions. One-quarter of seats in both Houses of Parliament are reserved for the military. This prevents any constitutional amendments without the military’s approval. The military also has direct control of three key Ministries: defence, home affairs and border affairs. Two recent actions of the military indicate it is still not ready to cede influence over institutions completely. The first is its refusal to let Ms. Suu Kyi become the President. It knew that if Ms. Suu Kyi, hugely popular at home and widely respected abroad, becomes President, that could expedite the country’s transition into a full democracy. Second, by successfully getting Myint Swe, a controversial retired general who served the previous junta, elected as one of the two vice-presidents, the military has sent a clear message to the government that it is not going to completely stay away from power. But the good news is that the balance of power has clearly shifted in favour of the pro-democracy camp after the November elections. Ms. Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw will have to tread cautiously but purposefully to build on the democratic gains, and expedite Myanmar’s transition into a full democracy.


1. It is said that Burma (present day Myanmar) was a part of British India and was administered by the same government which administered mainland India? Is it true? If yes then why was it separated out of India?

2. Why is the recent Presidential election of Myanmar being considered as a watershed moment in the history of the country?

3. What is understood by a military rule? How is it different from a democratic government?

4. Mention a few nations which has been through military regimes? What were the effects of such regimes on those nations?

5. Who is Aung San Suu Kyi? What are her contributions towards establishing Democracy in Myanmar? Why did she not run for the post of the President in the recent elections?

6. What are the issues currently being faced by Myanmar? 

7. "Establishment of democracy in Myanmar is in the interest of both India and the world." Comment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

[Editorial # 85] A good omen : Business Standard

[Following editorial has been published in Business Standard on 15th March 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 Real Estate Bill, which Parliament passed into law on Tuesday, contains several provisions which aim to protect homebuyers from unscrupulous builders. At the moment, there is great opacity in the sector. Buyers suffer because they often don't know the relevant details of the project, including the state of various government approvals and the legal status of the land. Under the new law, builders will have to register all projects with the authorities and disclose all details. And they can start construction only after they have got all the approvals. Builders will have to deposit 70 per cent of the money received from buyers in an escrow account which can be used only for the project for which money has been raised. In the past, builders have used money raised from buyers to buy land for new projects. As the market turned sluggish, and cash flows got constrained, this led to a lot of projects getting stuck, which put the buyers in a spot. The new rule should end this malpractice.

Moreover, builders will need the concurrence of at least two-thirds of the homebuyers before altering a project. This safeguard has been introduced after it came to light that builders had added extra floors without taking the buyers into confidence. In two cases, the courts disallowed such constructions after the residents complained. Not only is such construction unfair to the original buyers, who are forced to share the infrastructure with more people than initially promised, but it also poses a safety risk. There are other buyer-friendly features in the new law. Misleading advertisements are punishable with a fine and even imprisonment, and buyers will be charged only for the carpet area and not the common areas which are often included under the guise of "super area". Moreover, the new law covers residential as well as commercial real estate. Though the perception is that the residential market is where the rot lies, the commercial market is no less in need of a clean-up. Even in the commercial market, one big reason for corruption in the sector is the maze of laws in every state. Builders often need to pay speed money to negotiate these laws and get the clearances. In any market, this means that construction can start at least two years after the land has been acquired. This adds to the builder's cost, which he then tries to recover from his unsuspecting buyers. While the new law will help deal with errant builders, there is also the need to simplify these rules if the Augean stables need to be cleaned. Accountability is needed for bureaucrats as well as builders to fix the sector.

Importantly, the passage of this Bill marks one of those rare occasions when the Treasury and Opposition benches have buried their differences for the sake of legislative reform. In the version drafted by the Manmohan Singh-led government, the Bill had suggested that the money deposited in the escrow account should be 70 per cent. Given the high price of real estate, the Narendra Modi government had said 50 per cent should be enough. In a model case of co-operation, the government has, at the Opposition's request, returned the bar to 70 per cent. It is to be hoped that more examples of such forward-thinking bipartisanship will be on display in the ongoing session of Parliament.


1. What are the problems being faced by Real Estate buyers? 

2. What was the need of The Real Estate Bill which was passed by the Parliament recently?

3. What are the salient features of the Real Estate Bill?

4. What is the share of the Real Estate sector in India's GDP?

5. What is meant by an escrow account? Explain with examples?

6. What all permissions are needed to start a real estate project? 

7. Why is the Real Estate Sector considered to be inflicted with corruption? 

8. "Burying of differences between the Treasury and Opposition benches could both be healthy as well as a dangerous sign". Comment (200 words)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

[Editorial # 84] Good to Go : The Indian Express

[Following editorial has been published in The Indian Express on 15th March 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.]

On Sunday, after a hat-trick of wins, Google’s AlphaGo programme surrendered a game of Go to a human, South Korea’s Lee Se-dol. The news made waves in Korea, which read it as a reaffirmation of the anthropocentric universe. That’s because Korea is mad about Go, with 24-hour TV channels covering tournaments non-stop. At first, the significance of the series of human-computer Go games in Seoul was not appreciated in the rest of the world. Computers have repeatedly defeated chess grandmasters, right, so what’s the big deal?

The deal is actually remarkably big. Chess is a relatively limited game, and computers win because they can visualise the whole decision tree of a game from opening gambit to checkmate, while humans are more likely to lose the plot. Go is the world’s most statistically complex game, with millions of possible outcomes. It is useful to think fuzzily about 20 moves ahead, not to the end of the game, and that gives humans an edge over machines, which are traditionally exact. In short, a programme is unlikely to defeat a human. But AlphaGo, a project of Google’s artificial intelligence company DeepMind, won three games straight. Was it, Asimov forbid, thinking like a human?

But it’s just a game, right? It is, and weirdly enough, many aspects of human behaviour can be modelled as maximisation games. The possibilities for deep, human-like intelligence in autonomous connected devices are both amazing and fearsome. Autonomous devices are deployed in a wide range of formats, from the home thermostat to complex weapons systems. The possibility that machines can think like humans, and better than us, raises humankind’s second-oldest anxiety after the fear of death: The rise of the machines. For now, it’s only a game, and the machine has won 3:1. Humans can be sporting about it.


1. What is Google's AlphaGo programme?

2. What is meant by Artificial Intelligence? Give some examples of AI in action in our day-to-day lives?

3. What are some examples of latest advancements in the field of AI? Where does India stand in this field?

5. What is the history of game Chess? Where was it invented? Who currently is the world champion in the game of Chess?

6. "The possibilities for deep, human-like intelligence in autonomous connected devices are both amazing and fearsome". Explain (200 words)

7. What is Turing's Test? What is the purpose of such tests?

8. "The ethical dilemma of bestowing moral responsibilities on robots calls for rigorous safety and preventative measures that are fail-safe, or the threats are too significant to risk."Comment (200 words)

Monday, March 14, 2016

[Editorial # 83] Transparency at any cost : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 14th March 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 shutdown of the 220 MW Unit-1 of the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station located in Gujarat’s Surat district following leakage of heavy water used to cool the nuclear reactor, on March 11, the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan, is at once a reminder of the inherent risks associated with operating nuclear reactors and the importance of augmenting safety mechanisms. Unlike the Fukushima accident, rated seven (the highest level) on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, where meltdown of the core of three reactors occurred due to the failure of the cooling system, it is reassuring that the safety systems of the KAPS reactor worked as intended, including the backup cooling systems, thus preventing any cascading event leading to radioactivity release outside the plant. While this may be a “rare event for a functioning plant” that happened for the “first time” in India, it is a cause for concern that the magnitude of the coolant system failure was “significant”. That the reactor has been shut down and an independent assessment of the safety situation at the plant is being undertaken by scientists from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board evokes confidence. The second unit here has remained shut since July 2015 for maintenance. While the AERB has maintained its independence in terms of its risk assessment and management functions, there is no room for complacency. It must be borne in mind that collusion between the Japanese government, the country’s regulator and the operator had led to many violations that were detrimental to the environment and human health.

Given the heightened fear of nuclear energy in India following the Fukushima disaster, the only way AERB officials can reassure the public and win confidence is by being more transparent with its findings, however grave they are, and by taking all necessary steps to ensure that similar events are averted in the future. Just as lessons learnt from the Fukushima accident led to an enhancement of the level of safety of the backup systems in reactors that are under construction in India, lessons from this incident should be put to good use. These steps are indeed warranted as India plans to increase the installed nuclear power capacity from the current 5,780 MW to 10,080 MW by the end of the Twelfth Plan (2017) and 20,000 MW by 2020. Also, India gave an assurance in Paris that by 2030 it would reduce carbon emissions relative to its GDP by 33-35 per cent from 2005 levels and also generate 40 per cent of the country’s electricity from non-fossil fuel-based sources, using among others the solar, wind and nuclear options. While India has positioned itself as a leader in the renewable energy sector by playing a pivotal role in the creation of the International Solar Alliance, the nuclear space is plagued by delays in completing the construction of reactors, as seen in the case of Kota in Rajasthan (RAPP 7 and 8) and at Kakrapar (KAPP 3 and 4). Whether public sentiment supports fresh nuclear reactor proposals would depend on how well the AERB fulfils its tasks.


1. How is Nuclear power generated? What all materials are required for Nuclear Power generation?

2. What is the total installed capacity of Nuclear Power in India? What is its share in total capacity of renewable sources of energy and total installed capacity  (renewable + non-renewable)?

3. Which agency/organisation in India is responsible for operating nuclear power plants in India? How many nuclear power plants are currently operating in India?

4. What are some drawbacks of Nuclear Power generation? Mention a few cases of nuclear plant disasters?

5. What is meant by cooling process in a nuclear reactor? What are various types of coolants used in Nuclear Power Plants?

6. What is Atomic Energy Regulatory Board? What are its roles and functions?

7. Why has India not been able to exploit nuclear power for electricity generation despite having significant knowledge of technology needed for the same?

8. What are the various stages of India's Nuclear Program? What is the current status of development of the same?

Friday, March 11, 2016

[Editorial # 82] Opening up exploration : Business Standard

[Following editorial has been published in Business Standard on 10th March 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 decisions taken on hydrocarbon exploration and pricing by the Union Cabinet on Thursday are by and large welcome, in that they should encourage greater private sector investment in this vital activity. India is not well-served at the moment in terms of natural gas and petroleum resources; it has to import a vast majority of its requirement, leaving the country at the mercy of world prices and threatening the stability of its external account. This problem has been exacerbated of late by contractual disputes between the government and various licensees. Earlier contracts, based on production sharing after cost recovery between the government and the private sector contractor, have proved to be difficult to monitor and have led to disputes. Among other issues in these contracts, operators had an incentive to "gold plate" their costs, and thereby reduce the amount provided to the government. This has now been replaced by a revenue-sharing model, which is easier to administer. This is a welcome move.

It is possible that industry will be more pleased with other aspects of the policy. A new licensing system is now being introduced, which will mean that the concessionaire in a particular field will be able to explore for both conventional hydrocarbon resources like petroleum as well as unconventional ones like shale gas and shale oil. "Open acreage" is also promised, so that companies can bid to explore certain blocks and then the hydrocarbons regulator will subsequently examine their geological findings. This means that companies can start to look at blocks that have not already been put out for bidding by the government.

While there is much to welcome, it is important to remember that the cost recovery and production-sharing method had its advantages in minimising risk to the explorer. If investments are to fructify in the changed regime, it is necessary to ensure that other sources of risk are minimised - for example, companies should not be expected to specify profiles of their hydrocarbon discoveries in advance to their actual production, given geological uncertainties. But overall, several long-pending issues have been addressed.

Perhaps the most debatable of them is the grant of pricing freedom, subject to a cap, on deep-water and other hydrocarbon discoveries in difficult areas. This has been extended naturally to future discoveries - but also to reserves discovered under previous contracts which had not started producing at the beginning of this calendar year. Some will see this as a windfall gain to the concessionaires in question, including Reliance Industries Limited. However, the government has rightly included the caveat that the new regime will only be available if arbitration or other legal proceedings currently in progress are settled or withdrawn. It is notable that, on Thursday, Reliance's stock price did not trend upwards. The overall impact of the increase in gas price on downstream sectors will have to be watched. At present the gas price is $3.82 per million metric British thermal units (mmBtu); what the new formula might take it up to is not yet clear. But the effects of such decisions on medium-term investment and on prices, however, remain to be seen.


1. What are the total reserves of crude oil and natural gas in India? Where are these reserves located in India? Which state has the highest reserves?

2. Where does India import crude oil and natural gas from? What is the total import bill of crude oil and natural gas? What percentage is this bill of total GDP?

3. What is the difference between a production-sharing and a revenue-sharing model?

4. What were the problems with production sharing model in which the government operated with various licensees?

5. What is meant by "Open Acerage" ? How would private companies gain by this policy?

6. How is the cost of crude oil and natural gas determined in India? Who determines it?

7. What are the various risks associated with oil and natural gas exploration? 

8. Highlight the salient features of new licensing system which is going to be adopted for hydrocarbon explorations?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

[Editorial # 81] Maria Sharapova and a poser for sport : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 10th March 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.]

Two months after the tennis world was rocked by match-fixing allegations, Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and the highest-paid female athlete, dropped a bombshell when she admitted to testing positive for the recently prohibited drug meldonium at the Australian Open. She has been provisionally suspended from March 12. The drug was added to the Prohibited List of 2016 on January 1 after being on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) monitoring list in 2015. The Agency banned the substance because of “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”. According to WADA, a substance is placed in the prohibited list if it enhances performance, poses a threat to health, or violates the spirit of sport. In this case, by aiding the circulation of oxygen through increased blood flow, the medication (primarily meant to treat serious heart problems) enhances performance, thus violating the spirit of sport. The effect of the drug is similar to other banned substances — autogenous and allogeneic blood transfusion for extra doses of red cells and the erythropoietin hormone to produce more red blood cells to increase oxygen supply to muscles, thereby enhancing endurance. Since the drug was banned on January 1, 2016, the titles Sharapova won during her career will not be taken back. Nonetheless, by netting one of the biggest stars, the tennis anti-doping programme has at once brought to an end the debate on whether it has been soft on tennis players; two other tennis players were caught as recently as in 2013.

While some may be inclined to consider Sharapova’s an “honest mistake”, as she “did not know” that the mildronate medication that she had been taking for the last 10 years is also known as meldonium, it raises a few questions. Sharapova has been residing in Florida since 1994, and it is unclear how she gained access to the drug, as it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She is still to adequately explain the medical requirements that necessitated its consumption for a decade, as according to the company that manufactures the drug, the treatment course may “vary from four to six weeks” and it can be “repeated twice or thrice a year”. But she can seek a retroactive therapeutic use exemption by proving the merit of her case. Whether or not she enjoyed the performance-enhancing benefits of the drug during the last decade, it once again underlines the fact that scientific evidence-gathering and testing methods are slow to catch up with the increased use of performance-enhancing substances. This case should serve as a reminder for India too to clean up its act. While India may not be producing many world-class athletes and sportspersons, it ranks very high in terms of the number of cheats. According to a 2013 WADA report, with 91 dope offenders, India is ranked third, behind Russia and Turkey. Russia had 212 persons testing positive for prohibited substances, while Turkey had 155.


1. What is doping? Why do sports persons indulge in doping?

2. What are various drugs used for doping? How does it lead to performance enhancement of sports persons?

3. What is World's Anti Doping Agency? Where is it located? What all sports are covered under WADA?

4. What is meant by autogenous and allogeneic blood transfusion? What is their purpose?

5. What are Red Blood Cells? What are their functions? 

6. What is USFDA?What is its role? Is their a similar agency in India? What is its name?

7. What are the mechanisms in place to prevent doping by sports persons in India?

8. What are various ethical concerns related to doping in sports? Suggest some measures to check the same.

9. What are various issues related to sports and sportspersons? Explain with examples.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

[Editorial # 80] Don’t compromise on privacy : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 9th March 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 Aadhaar Bill, which the government introduced in the Lok Sabha last week, has not come a day too soon. More than six years have passed since the first attempt was made to give legal validity to Aadhaar, an ambitious project that seeks to provide unique identification numbers to each individual in a country of over a billion people, collecting demographic and biometric information in the process. And through these years, amid many legal and political challenges and a change in government, over 98 crore numbers have been issued. The stated idea of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, is to provide for “efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services”. This, along with a clause that says the unique numbers will not be considered as proof of citizenship, is welcome. And yet, the process of legislating for Aadhaar has not been wholly reassuring. The Bill has attracted immediate criticism for being introduced as a money bill, by virtue of which it does not require approval of the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led government does not have the numbers to ensure its passage. Bypassing the Upper House’s vote does give the Bill an easy route to becoming law. The question is, given that Aadhaar was a signature project of the Congress-led UPA, could not the government have made the effort to reach out to lawmakers across the board on such a crucial, bipartisan issue?

Wider political consensus and scrutiny are vital. Section 7 of the Bill, for instance, makes proof of Aadhaar necessary for “receipt of certain subsidies, benefits and services”. This must be read in the backdrop of a Supreme Court ruling that said Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory. A key concern over the collection of personal information on this scale is data protection. There are provisions in this Bill that seem to address the concern, including one that prohibits any official from revealing information in the data repository to anyone. But the exceptions cause unease. Two provisions are particularly troubling. The first is Section 29(4), by which no Aadhaar number or biometric information will be made public “except for the purposes as may be specified by regulations”. The second, which experts have already flagged, is Section(33), under which the inbuilt confidentiality clauses will not stand when it concerns national security. The only reassurance could be that in such cases the direction has to come from an official who is not below the rank of a Joint Secretary to the government. Nonetheless, without robust laws to protect their data, citizens would be rendered vulnerable. It is not about just snooping. It is also being said that in order to be useful and effective, Aadhaar data might have to be used alongside other databases. That could trigger further privacy questions. There is little doubt that India needs to streamline the way it delivers benefits, and to empower citizens with a basic identification document. But this cannot be done without ensuring the strictest protection of privacy.


1. What is Adhaar Card? Who issues it? What is the purpose behind enrolment for Adhaar Card?

2. How can one get Adhaar Card? What is the procedure? Evaluate the complexity of such procedure from the perspective of a common man, especially people who lie at the bottom of the pyramid.

3. What all data is collected while enrolling for Adhaar Card? 

4. What are the various criticism about Adhaar Card? Are they just? Comment

5. Why is there a need of passing Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016? How does it make the Adhaar Card mechanism more effective?

6. What is a Money Bill? What are the criteria for declaring a bill as a Money Bill? Who is the final authority on declaring a Bill as a Money Bill? Why is Rajya Sabha not allowed to vote on a Money Bill? How is a Money Bill different from an Ordinary Bill?

7. What are various sections of the said bill which are being criticised? Are these criticisms just? Comment

8. "There is little doubt that India needs to streamline the way it delivers benefits, and to empower citizens with a basic identification document. But this cannot be done without ensuring the strictest protection of privacy". Comment (200 words)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

[Editorial # 79] Time to deliver on Women’s Bill : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 8th March 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.]

By clockwork precision, talk about the Women’s Reservation Bill has duly floated in ahead of March 8, International Women’s Day. President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari have called for reviving the Constitution (108th) Amendment Bill to reserve for women one-third of seats in Parliament and the State legislatures. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been less forthcoming in revealing whether his government has any plans to pilot the Bill through the Lok Sabha. This is particularly disappointing. The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in March 2010 amid obstructive theatrics from parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party, but also with an unusual level of cooperation among the national parties, especially the Congress, which was leading the United Progressive Alliance government, and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Thereafter they could not — or would not — overcome similar odds in the Lok Sabha to deliver on their stated support for the Bill. Six years on, Mr. Modi’s BJP commands a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. It is therefore in a position not only to get the Bill passed by mopping up the support of just a few more MPs, but also to force the Congress and the Left into reaching out across the aisle in a polarised Parliament to affirm fidelity to a long-voiced promise. Every session of Parliament must serve as a reminder that the real stumbling block to the Bill has not been political from parties opposed to it, but essentially patriarchal within the very same parties that have affirmed support to it.

In the two decades since it was first presented in Parliament, different governments have tried clearing it but faced tremendous opposition, often accompanied by manhandling and name-calling. It is obvious that despite the pretty speeches and public posturing, the political space in the country, regardless of the ideological divide, is uniformly and strongly chauvinistic. Opposition to the Bill has often taken the form of a demand for the proposed quota to be diced along other parameters of disadvantage, such as caste and class. Additionally, resistance has been rationalised as a caution that women’s quota would be appropriated by relatives and proxies of powerful politicians, neatly ignoring the fact that such a reality could well obtain with regard to male legislators too. Women need to overcome gender prejudice firstly in their respective parties before entering the wider electoral fray. It is also a sign of lack of seriousness on the Bill that parties have not taken up a considered discussion of the impact of the rotation of reserved constituencies envisioned, and purposefully debate its merits against suggestions for double-member constituencies, proportional representation and mandatory women’s quotas for parties while announcing candidate lists for elections. To have more women in legislatures and the government is a big step towards empowering women in society. The experience of several village panchayats that have women as effective leaders bears testimony to this fact. Affirmative action of this kind is the best way to usher in social and gender justice.


1. What is Women's Reservation Bill? Why do you think that our country requires such kind of bill to be passed?

2. Do we have examples of legislatures in different countries which ensure reservation for women? If yes then which all? 

3. Why is it said that our Indian society is patriarchal? Explain with examples? Are there any communities in India which are matriarchal? If yes then which all?

4. What is a Constitution Amendment Bill? What is the significance of the number 108 in the above mentioned bill? Does that mean our constitution has been amended at least 108 times?

5. What is the rationale being put forth by few parties against the Women Reservation Bill? Do you think their logic is just? Why or why not?

6. What are various options/alternatives being put forth in order to increase the representation of women in legislatures? Analyse their feasibility?

7. What is meant by Affirmative Action? What is its purpose? 

8. Its true that women should be equally represented as men in the Parliament and state assemblies but ensuring this through reservation would bring in only cosmetic changes. Do you agree? Justify (200 words)

Monday, March 7, 2016

[Editorial # 78] Don’t let down the children : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 7th March 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.]

With worrying levels of stunting and lack of healthy weight among children revealed by the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for 15 States, Budget 2016-17 was expected to provide some remedies. To begin with, it could have raised funding for the flagship nutrition programme, the Integrated Child Development Services. Instead, the Budget has dealt the ICDS a blow in the form of a 7 per cent cut over the revised estimate of expenditure for the previous year, of about Rs.15,500 crore. This follows the pattern of Budget 2015-16 which cut the outlay initially, but with provision of some supplementary grants later in the year. Such an approach to a welfare programme that is so crucial to the health of the next generation reflects a poor set of development priorities. It also defies economic reasoning, given that India has been growing steadily after liberalisation and has the wherewithal to substantially raise social sector expenditure annually. To their credit, several States have used the ICDS to improve health and welfare by providing good supplementary nutrition to children under six; the support of the Supreme Court has also helped in ensuring that commercial interests are unable to corner the funds, and there is provision for community oversight. The Ministry of Women and Child Development must focus on States such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh with a large burden of stunted, wasted and underweight children as revealed by the latest NFHS data. Figures for all States together will give a full picture, including best practices.

Empirical evidence on the effectiveness of supplementary nutrition should prompt the Centre to enhance funding for the ICDS. Data from an earlier round of the NFHS show that when nutrition is available every day to children under two, there is a marked positive effect on their height, particularly for girls. Such early interventions have a life-long impact, in the form of higher productivity and earnings. Scholars have, however, found a tendency within the ICDS in some States to neglect the needs of children less than two years old. Only 6 per cent in this age group were getting adequate daily nutrition a decade ago. The more progressive States have corrected the bias, with striking results. There is a clear lesson here for others, and it is incumbent on the Central Ministry to monitor the implementation of the scheme. It can take the support of local communities and self-help groups, as provided for in the Supreme Court judgment of 2004, to ensure that wholesome cooked meals are provided and contractors are not engaged. More recently, the court wanted high standards of hygiene and nutrition maintained in ICDS centres. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has missed the opportunity in the Budget to secure the future of India’s children, but he can still make amends. Raising the outlay, instituting a mechanism to heighten awareness among communities in less developed States and achieving full coverage are needed remedies.


1. What is National Family Health Survey? Who conducts it? What all data is collected during NFHS? What is the frequency of NFHS? Is the frequency optimal?

2. What is ICDS program? Which ministry implements it? Under which list of the constitution does the Children's nutrition and healthcare fall?

3. Appraise the performance of ICDS program since its inception? Why is the budget allocation for the same is being reduced?

4. What are supplementary grants? Does the government need to seek Parliament's permission for supplementary grants?

5. What is meant by wasting and stunting of children? What is the percentage of such children in India? What are the factors behind such numbers?

6. How can the effectiveness of programs like ICDS be improved? Suggest some measures in light of the verdicts given by the Supreme Court in this regard.

7. Why do you think community participation is necessary for improving the effectiveness of welfare programs? Explain with examples.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

[Editorial # 77] A better deal for bus commuters : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 5th March 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.]

In 2014-15, India added nearly 20 million vehicles, mainly two-wheelers, but also two million cars, vans and so on to the existing 172 million registered motor vehicles. Several million more have been added since, as public transport remains inadequate. Personal transport has now reached saturation limit in the cities, resulting in gridlock, rising air pollution, lost productivity and ill-health. The Union Budget for 2016-17 has made a timely intervention at such an inflection point, with the move to expand the public transport system. The Motor Vehicles Act is to be amended to open up the passenger segment, and more entrepreneurs will be able to operate bus services. It will be up to the States, though, to accept the new liberalised regulatory system. Any measure to modernise India’s public transport and help the commuter should be welcomed. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is on target when he talks of greater investment, employment and multiplier effects for the economy stemming from such a move. The law enabling State road transport undertakings dates back to 1950, and many States have failed to progressively augment their operations after opting for full or partial nationalisation, especially in the cities. Private operators, on the other hand, have rapidly increased their share of the total number of buses. The Budget proposal to open up the sector has the potential to reverse the effects of the neglect and obsolescence.

Regulation is often seen as the obstacle that has affected the growth of bus transport. Yet, a scheme of the kind that the Budget proposes cannot run without a sound regulatory framework, if the goal is to remove erstwhile monopolies and introduce greater competition even in those States where private provision in urban and inter-city services already exists. Optimally, a system should lay down standards, identify areas of operation, fix prices and enable participation by entrepreneurs. As the National Transport Development Policy Committee 2013 said in its report, there is a need for a strategy panel at the national and State levels. This is necessary to take a comprehensive view of rail, road, waterway and non-motorised modes. On the question of encouraging private sector participation in bus services, the experience of London is worth studying: routes are tendered as per schedules, fares are fixed by the city government, and buses are run by franchisee operators who are paid according to mileage. What stands out in this model is the use of intelligent transport systems — of the kind the new taxi companies in India use — to determine whether the contractor is adhering to schedules, and to analyse demand-supply patterns. For passengers, they provide efficient real-time service information. India’s bus transport system lacks the wherewithal to make such studies using massive amounts of data as it is technologically outdated. Buses are also unpopular because they are not ergonomically designed as per the national bus code. A renaissance in bus services is possible, but not without modern design standards and service-level benchmarking that are ensured through strict enforcement.

1. What are various modes of Public Transport? Why is public transport system important for a balanced growth of cities?

2. What are the negative impacts of burgeoning number of private vehicles on the roads of our cities?

3. What are various provisions in the Budget 16-17 for improving the Public Transport Systems in India?

4. Under which list of the constitution does Public Transport fall? How is Centre-State relation important to improve public transport systems?

5. What were the important recommendations of National Transport Development Policy Committee 2013?

6. What is the London Model of Public Transport System? Can it be replicated in Indian cities? What would be the challenges in replicating such projects in India?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

[Editorial # 76] Provident fund reform needs more clarity : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 3rd March 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 finds itself in the thick of a controversy over the Budget proposal to tax a part of the accumulated corpus in the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) upon withdrawal. Gauging the popular mood, the Opposition is seeking to corner the government on this issue. The proposal is seen to hurt particularly the salaried middle class, considered a core constituency of the BJP. “Pension schemes offer financial protection to senior citizens,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in the Budget speech. “I believe that the tax treatment should be uniform for defined benefit and defined contribution pension plans.’’ He proposed tax exemption for withdrawal of up to 40 per cent of the corpus at the time of retirement in the case of the National Pension Scheme (NPS). In the case of superannuation funds and recognised provident funds, including the EPF, the same norm of 40 per cent of the corpus being tax-free would apply to contributions made after April 1, 2016. From a larger social security perspective, Mr. Jaitley’s intention to lay the groundwork for a “pensionised society” is laudable. In an ideal environment, there is a justifiable case for prescribing a level-tax treatment for similarly positioned pension plans. However, in the pursuit of a principled taxation policy, the government should have imposed a similar provision for its own employees’ retirement savings in the General Provident Fund. But as things stand, they will continue to get a tax-free lump sum for their sunset years from the GPF apart from a pension, albeit on a defined contribution basis through the NPS for those who joined service after 2004.

The government should have also tried to distinguish between a regular pension scheme and a provident fund (that also provides a pension). Why should it force EPF subscribers to get two pension cheques, which once credited to their account would form part of their taxable income? The point is, the reform needs to be carefully calibrated. Besides the tax benefits it fetches, EPF is often seen as a reliable tool to force-save for the future. It has been, in a way, playing a critical role in inculcating the habit of saving in a country with a very limited social security net. In a sense, individual contributions to EPF could also be construed as a way of enabling a corpus to meet critical lifetime event expenditures. In any case, the contribution of employees to the provident fund is not tax exempt beyond the annual ceiling of Rs.1.5 lakh. Therefore, the tax on withdrawal will be tantamount to double taxation. For, one would have paid tax at the time of contribution as well. If the intention is to prod people to plan for pension, the government would do well to invigorate the Employee Pension Scheme, which exists today as a component of the EPF. The limited annuity product option also does not help the cause of force-driving people into a pension system. The government appears to have put the cart before the horse in this instance.


1. What is Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF)? Who puts money in this fund? Who manages this fund?

2. What is the purpose of such funds? 

3. What is understood by the term "Social Security"? How does the government provide social security to its citizens? Explain with examples.

4. What is NPS? What is its purpose?

5. What is the current debate on the new provision of taxation on EPF as announced in the budget?

6. What are different types of pension schemes available in the market?

7. If Employee Provident Scheme is for salaried employees, what are the social security options for self-employed people?

8. What percentage of Indian population are under some social security net? How can it be improved?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

[Editorial # 75] Urea: Prime target for subsidy reform : The Economic Times

[Following editorial has been published in The Economic Times on 1st March 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 Economic Survey rightly pitches for overhaul of the subsidy regime for urea. There are multiple distortions in urea, which lead to inefficiencies and plain misallocation of resources. It is estimated that 41% of the subsidised urea is diverted for non-agricultural use or across the border, about 24% of the subsidy goes to prop up inefficient producers, and only about a third reaches small and marginal farmers, the intended beneficiaries. We can surely do much better. Of the total fertiliser subsidy of about Rs 73,000 crore — including for phosphoric (P) and potassic (K) nutrients — almost 70%, or Rs 50,300 crore, is allocated to urea. But there is an extensive black market for it, along with its overuse, degrading soil.
The black marketing imposes significant costs on farmers and adds to uncertainty in supply. We clearly need better targeting of the urea subsidy and its rationalisation. There are perverse price and movement controls, manufacturer subsidies and import restriction on urea. The 75% subsidy per kilogram of urea — against about 35% subsidy for P and K fertilisers — actually encourages overuse.
The canalisation of urea imports only adds to the distortions. We need prompt decanalisation of urea to ease supply restrictions. The survey moots joint-venture urea plants in areas of cheap feedstock like Iran, at the very end of its recommendations.
But we clearly need to be much more proactive and fast-track and concretise the investment plans without further delay as these are long-gestation projects. Its suggestion for limiting urea sales via biometric authentication makes sense. The idea to cap the number of bags of subsidised urea, so that larger farmers buy more from the market, is worth a try. Rationalising the urea subsidy would provide much-needed central funds for agricultural investment.


1. What is Urea? Why and where is it  used? How much is the per hectare consumption of Urea in India?

2. How is Urea produced? What are the raw materials required for Urea manufacturing?

3. What is the total production of Urea per year in India? Does India import/export urea? If yes, then what is the value/volume of such imports/exports annually?

4. What are some traditional sources of Urea which are used by farmers as fertilizers?

5. How much subsidy on urea is provided by the government? What are the current issues with subsidies on urea provided by the government?

6. What are various nutrients required for getting a better crop yield?

7. What steps should the government take to rationalize subsidies on Urea?