Polity & Governance
- The case against simultaneous polls
- The malaise of malnutrition in India
Bilateral & International Relations
- Get real on Russia
Defence & Security Issues
- Towards a database nation
Polity & Governance
GS (M) Paper-2: “Important aspects of governance”
The case against simultaneous polls
Simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies seem to be fast on their way to becoming a matter of national concern.
This proposal is not only being discussed in the television studio, but even the Central government is seeking inputs from ordinary citizens.
The most prominent argument in favour of holding simultaneous election is – cut on election costs and carrying forward developmental projects without hindrances.
- No one can deny that a huge amount of money is spent in conducting elections in India, both by the candidates themselves and political parties as well as the government (the Election Commission of India).
- However, the argument in favour of simultaneous elections does not seem to be based on saving the money spent by political parties and candidates, but by the Election Commission – which is meagre compared to our GDP.
- It is highly undesirable, because it privileges monetary concerns over democratic principles.
- The contention is that with multiple elections, the Model Code of Conduct is in force for much of the time, which prevents the government from initiating new projects and ultimately slows down development work.
- While this is true, in order to overcome this problem, it may be more useful to make changes in the Model Code of Conduct to allow the government to initiate projects and programmes till a reasonable period (maybe till the notification of elections) instead of the existing scenario where the code comes into force the day the elections are announced.
- Besides, such policies which are not likely to impact the election outcome are permitted by The EC.
- Also, in the normal course, the code should apply only to the State where Assembly elections are to be held.
Undermining the federal structure:
- The argument, or slogan, of “one country, one election” is misleading- it overlooks the presence of 29 states.
- India has a federal structure and a multi-party democracy where elections are held for State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha separately; the voters are better placed to express their voting choices keeping in mind the two different governments which they would be electing by exercising their franchise.
- This distinction gets blurred somewhat when voters are made to vote for electing two types of government at the same time, at the same polling booth, and on the same day.
- There is a tendency among the voters to vote for the same party both for electing the State government as well as the Central government.
- If we consider elections from the 1989 general election onwards, there have been 31 instances of holding simultaneous elections for State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha in different States.
- In 24 elections the major political parties polled almost a similar proportion of votes both for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha, while only in seven instances was the choice of voters somewhat different.
- During the same period, when in many States the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections were held at different times, the electoral outcome (votes polled by different parties) of the two elections has been different.
GS (M) Paper-2: “Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources”
The malaise of malnutrition in India
- India is still home to a quarter of the world’s malnourished, with 194.5 million of them.
- There are a number of nutrition-specific schemes intended to tackle malnutrition — the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) and Public Distribution System (PDS), still it prevails.
- The economic loss that India undergoes on account of malnutrition is pegged at 2-3% of GDP.
- The coverage of schemes remains patchy because of rampant leakages, and poor execution and monitoring.
- Anganwadi centres (AWCs) are not fully functional-private contractors siphoning off large sums, inadequately trained anganwadi workers and poor infrastructure.
- The healthcare system suffers from acute shortage of qualified doctors and poor medical facilities
- High IMR and MMR in poorer states like MP further aggravates the situation.
- We need a nation-wide Malnutrition Eradication Mission, a single-point window to execute these schemes in a convergent manner, with clear timelines and targets, especially nutrition-specific outcomes
- Even so, such a multi-sectoral agency will likely remain ineffective unless each department working under the mission, be it Women and Child Development (WCD) or Health, is made accountable for its own targets to an independent apex authority at the Centre
- It is important to leverage mobiles, tablets and information and communication technology (ICT) to collect robust data, and bolster the monitoring system through cross-validation and data audits.
- It must be ensured that family members of those identified as malnourished receive guaranteed employment under the MGNREGA, thus improving food and household security.
- Health facilities and nutritional rehabilitation centres (NRC) in high malnutrition-burden districts need to be equipped and staffed on a war footing.
- We cannot ignore the role of specialist doctors, anganwadi workers, ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) and ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) in combating malnutrition. Besides providing them with proper training and incentive structures, the government must ensure that they are well-coordinated
- India is likely to be the most populous country by 2022 and on the brink of a demographic dividend, so investing in our human resources must be a priority.
- More importantly, it is the state’s moral obligation – Article 47 of the Directive Principles recognises it as a primary duty of the state to raise the standards of nutrition and living of its citizens.
Bilateral & International Relations
GS (M) Paper-2: “Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests”
Get real on Russia
As Russia conducts its first ever military exercise with the Pakistan Army – named Druzhba-2016 (Friendship-2016) this week, India has to reckon with the prospect that Russia might not necessarily remain India’s “best friend forever”.
- Until now India’s Russian relationship seemed immune to change — internal and external. Governments — centrist, leftist and rightist — have come and gone in Delhi.
- The Soviet Union, which had such strong influence on the formation of modern India’s worldview during the inter-war period, simply disappeared from the map in 1991. But Delhi and Moscow seemed to carry on after the end of the Cold War.
Jammu and Kashmir question:
- But by letting the sensitive Jammu and Kashmir question into its current play with Pakistan, Moscow might have dealt a big blow to the popular enthusiasm in India for the Russian relationship.
- At the heart of the Indian perception of Russia as the most reliable international partner was Moscow’s attitude towards the dispute between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir.
- The Russian embassy in Delhi stepped in to clarify that the exercises will not take place in Gilgit-Baltistan. But the damage had been done. The timing of the exercise was bad enough.
- It comes at a moment when India was trying to isolate Pakistan after the Uri attacks, coping with fresh political violence inside Kashmir, and drawing international attention to India’s claims over Gilgit-Baltistan.
- That a sovereign has no permanent friends is part of traditional wisdom around the world. Nothing illustrates this more than the evolution of Russia’s ties with China and Pakistan.
- The Chinese alignment with the West from the 1970s and the Pakistani jihad against Moscow in the 1980s were central to the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
- That was then; Moscow now believes it can play the China card in enhancing its leverage with the US.
- At a moment of great turbulence in great power relations, Russia is rightly jockeying for position. This demands that Delhi must stop taking Moscow for granted. It must focus instead on reconstituting the partnership with a country that will remain a powerful force in Eurasia, on its own merits.
Defence & Security Issues
GS (M) Paper-3: “Challenges to internal security”
Towards a database nation
There has been a sharp rise in state surveillance, government collection of data and government aggregation of big data sources.
It appears that we are thoughtlessly mutating into what Jack Balkin calls the “National Surveillance State – a governance form in which governments use surveillance, data collection, data mining and other such invasive methods to prevent crime, terrorist attacks and to deliver welfare services”.
- The Central Monitoring System (CMS) is already scanning our communication in real time in Delhi and Mumbai – privacy infringement. This creates two potential problems:
- The state will use the system for surveillance excesses as it has done in the past.
- Whoever actually executes the ambiguous ‘automated process’ through which the government accesses our communication in real time may abuse this access to private information for personal gain.
- The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), which links multiple government databases, aggregating all kinds of information, will be operational next year.
- NATGRID is supposed to offer law enforcement agencies data access to 21 providers such as airlines, banks, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, railways and telecommunications operators by 2017.
- NATGRID is classified among the ‘intelligence and security’ organisations and is exempted from the Right to Information Act.
- Aadhar, with its access to our biometric identification and its connection with all kinds of databases from banking to health and scholarships, will be a part of NATGRID- raising security concerns over misuse of sensitive information.
- There have been data breaches ranging from UK government to MNCs like Adobe, Sony etc.
- We have had no public debate about the effectiveness or safeguards created for NATGRID and Aadhaar. We have put our children’s personal information in these databases without any information about the resilience of these databases in the face of sophisticated cybercriminals.
- Any cyber breach must be reported publicly. Ensuring sensitive information should be codified as government’s duty.
- It appears that we are travelling fast towards a complete transformation into a National Surveillance State.
- The government wants to add our travel and bank information to these databases, and is pressuring all the phone manufacturers to integrate with them. This renders us powerless and steps around our painstakingly crafted civil liberties to hand control of our lives and information back to the state.