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Q.1) ‘Given the procedural and logistical challenges that holding of simultaneous elections pose, it would be far more productive for political parties to focus on basic electoral reforms and find ways to curb excessive election expenditure’. Discuss.

Guidelines Provide procedural and logistical challenges

Describe the need for basic electoral reforms and curbing excessive election expenditure and how that would be more beneficial

Answer: The idea of holding elections simultaneously to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies is being debated.

Procedural and logistic challenges associated with it:

Procedural:

  1. There is the basic requirement of a legal framework under which the extension or curtailment of the term of any Assembly is constitutionally permissible.
  2. Altering the term of an Assembly needs an amendment to the Constitution.
  3. Wider political consensus and legislative cooperation from various parties is required for holding simultaneous elections.

Logistic:

  1. Simultaneous elections demand a massive increase in the number of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) units.
  2. It requires deployment of large no of paramilitary forces at one time across the country.
  3. More no of staff need to be deployed at once. Now the officers rotate on the duty at different times in different states.

Need for electoral reforms:

  1. To address criminalisation of politics.
  2. To reduce role of black money in elections.
  3. To bring in more honest people into politics and make politics citizen-centric.

Need to curb election expenditure:

  1. High electoral spending distorts the level playing field between various political parties.
  2. Most of the time, corporates donating to the parties gain back in the form of favourable policies or corruption.
  3. Vote buying by various political parties distorts the deepening of democracy.

As simultaneous elections compromise federalism and accountability at large, it is better to bring in electoral reforms. The most important reasons cited for simultaneous elections are large cost of elections and constant engagement in electoral campaigns. These can be addressed naturally if the larger electoral reforms are put in place.

 

Q.2) Why there is an urgent need to revise India’s Bhutan policy? In your opinion what policy alternatives does India can adopt to keep the relations with Bhutan cordial?

Answer: The bilateral relations between the Bhutan and India have been traditionally close and both countries share a ‘special relationship’. India remains influential over Bhutan’s foreign policy, defence and commerce.

Need to revise Bhutan’s policy:

  1. Bhutan’s national debt is owed mostly to India for hydropower loans. The hydropower projects where delays in constructing and commissioning in Bhutan by Indian companies led to the country’s burgeoning national debt.
  2. Need to respect the sovereignty, security and self-sufficiency of Bhutan.
  3. Growing voices for Bhutan’s sovereignty after repeated Indian interferences in the affairs of the country. The recent Doklam crisis and UPA’s decision in 2013 to cut cooking gas subsidy before the 2013 elections in Bhutan has been shown as proof of Indian interference.
  4. India’s power-surplus status and renewable energies like wind and solar power will make it difficult for Bhutan to ensure that its hydropower sector becomes profitable. Otherwise, India will be accused of “debt-trapping”.
  5. The goods and services tax hurts Bhutanese exporters, and demonetisation has left scars on the banking system.
  6. Doklam has long been discussed as part of a “package solution” to Bhutan-China border dispute. After the recent crisis, it could become a point of India-China dispute.

Policy alternatives:

  1. India should keep its high-profile visits at an arms length from the election process in Bhutan.
  2. To address debt, though the government agreed to raise tariffs for the original hydropower plant in Chukha (by about 30 paisa per unit), other tariffs will need to be renegotiated too.
  3. Focus on policing cross-border trade better.
  4. Need to address the concerns of Bhutan in any border discussions including India, China and Bhutan at Doklam.

Q.3) India’s rapid urbanization has been proceeding apace for decades, but current slum policies have been less than sufficient to deal with the socio-economic distress brewing in slums. Explain.

Answer: According to the U.N. World Urbanization Prospects 2018 report, about 34% of India’s population now lives in urban areas. This is an increase of about 3% since the 2011 Census. It is said that by 2030, 50% of India’s population would reside in urban areas.

Most cases of migration are out of rural distress. These people end up in the urban slums where the infrastructure and quality of life are very poor.

Deficiency of slum policies:

  1. There are no concrete figures on the temporary settlements as slums have a fluid definition. 2011 Census estimated 65mn people in slums much less than the UN-HABITAT’s 2014 estimate of 104mn.
  2. Current slum policies primarily focus on housing, relocation or in-situ development of multi-storey complexes. But they miss the socio-economic distress in slums. A survey by researchers from Netherlands, U.S. and a local NGO revealed that over 70% of families in slums live in debt.
  3. Other financial problems in slums are ignored. As there is no access to formal financial systems, any borrowing comes from private money lenders at high interest rates.
  4. Lack of infrastructure development in these areas is a problem. Water and electricity are disproportionately more expensive here as they are forced to rely on the grey market rather than on formal channels.
  5. Lack of formal identification of migrants in slums deprives them of the social welfare benefits they used to receive back in the villages.

Thus there is a need for a slum policy which does not impose a one-size-fits-all approach.

 

Q.4) Reliable Internet connectivity has the potential to bridge the rural-urban economic divide and revolutionise healthcare and education. Explain

Answer: India’s internet consumption largely remains an urban phenomenon. According to the report Internet in India 2017, while internet penetration in urban India was at 64.84%, it was 20.26% in rural India.

How internet can bridge rural-urban economic divide:

  1. Internet connectivity provides more self-employment opportunities for people living in rural areas.
  2. Agriculture

a) It can revolutionise the price realisation for farmers and expand their market.

b) New technologies enable small farmers to shift from input-intensive to knowledge-intensive agriculture.

c) Precision agriculture can improve the timeliness of planting, secure the best market prices through market information and e-market reforms.

d) Provide fertiliser subsidies via direct bank transfers that eliminate or reduce the cost of financial intermediaries

e) Improve agricultural extension.

f) Digitised land registration, mobile phones and ‘Uberised’ tractor services all are contributing to improved farm management.

  1. Rapid skilling of village youth helps in tapping the demographic dividend.

How internet can revolutionise healthcare and education:

Education :

  1. It can bring tele education and address literacy gap between rural and urban areas. Most of the success stories in education sector come from urban areas. Internet gives access to the vast world of knowledge and empowers rural youth and children to learn.
  2. The cost of infrastructure can be substantially reduced. E-schools can achieve learning outcomes with lesser buildings and less no of teachers/ mentors.
  3. Modern methods of teaching through AV aids can be utilised by teachers in primary schools with internet connectivity. This will address the problem of learning outcomes and dropouts as education becomes easy.

Health:

  1. It bridges the gap in providing primary healthcare to villagers. Most of the PHCs are not sufficiently manned and do not even meet the necessary standards. With e-health solutions, primary healthcare can be easily provided and the cost of healthcare reduces substantially.
  2. Management of public health can become easy. The prediction of diseases, monitoring of health of individuals can be simplified if the rural health records are connected.
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