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The Hindu Editorial

17-November-2023

1. Challenging the Electoral Bond Scheme

Topic: GS2 – Indian polity

Introduction:

  • Political parties in India have historically resisted public scrutiny of their funds and their applications.
  • The substantial funds required for party processes and operations are typically sourced from Big Business, raising concerns about potential quid pro quo arrangements.

Civil Society Advocacy:

  • Civil society has long advocated for improved voter access to candidate information and greater transparency in political funding.
  • Public interest litigation (PIL) has been a key tool in addressing these concerns.
  • The campaign is grounded in the citizen’s democratic right to information, which is considered integral to the fundamental right to speech and expression.

Challenges and Legislative Response:

  • The political establishment has responded with legislative maneuvers.
  • Successive governments introduced the Electoral Trusts Scheme (2013) and the Electoral Bond Scheme (EBS).
  • Amendments to regulatory frameworks have raised concerns about transparency and accountability in political funding.

Legal Challenges:

  • Amendments have been challenged through a PIL filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Common Cause.
  • Allegations include infringing on citizens’ ‘Right to know’ and incentivizing corrupt practices.
  • The amendments are seen as eroding the constitutional role of the Election Commission and subverting legislative processes.

Electoral Bond Scheme (EBS):

  • Introduced in January 2018, the EBS was presented as an effort to clean up electoral democracy.
  • It has become the preferred mode of political donation, accounting for a significant percentage of contributions to political parties.
  • Concerns have been raised about its impact on influencing voter behavior and electoral outcomes.

Supreme Court’s Position:

  • The Supreme Court has been reluctant to stay the scheme pending the determination of constitutional issues.
  • The court has suggested the possibility of voter scrutiny by comparing electoral bond expenditure with corporate filings and party accounts.
  • The government emphasizes the need to protect donor anonymity, citing it as crucial to the right to privacy.

Hope for Change:

  • The Constitution Bench has expeditiously concluded the hearing on the PIL.
  • There is optimism that the Supreme Court, known for expanding freedom of speech and empowering voters, will level the playing field in future elections.

Conclusion:

  • There is hope that addressing concerns around electoral funding will lead to more transparent and accountable political processes.
  • Anticipation exists that upcoming elections will be contested on a reasonably level-playing field.

Question: Discuss the implications of the Electoral Bond Scheme (EBS) on transparency and accountability in political funding in India. Evaluate the legal challenges raised through public interest litigation (PIL) and the Supreme Court’s stance on the matter.

2. Branded, generic and the missing ingredient of quality

Topic: GS3 – Health sector

Introduction

  • Over-the-counter sales of generic medicines in India are often handled by unqualified sales personnel who lack the expertise to provide accurate medical advice.
  • Patients often seek or solicit a second opinion from these sales personnel,who may recommend specific brands of generic medicines.
  • This practice raises concerns about the quality and efficacy of the prescribed medications.

Brand Names vs. Generic Names

  • The National Medical Council (NMC) has directed doctors to prescribe only generic names rather than brand names,but this has been met with protests.
  • Generic names are much cheaper than brand names,but there is a perception that certain branded companies offer superior quality products.
  • Pharmaceutical companies often engage in unethical marketing and promotional practices to influence doctors’ prescribing habits.

Ensuring Quality

  • The prevalence of spurious and substandard medicines (NSQs) in India remains a significant concern.
  • The government must take stricter measures to ensure the quality of medicines produced,procured, and supplied through various healthcare systems.
  • Periodic sampling and testing of medicines are crucial,and batches that fail quality tests should be banned.
  • Replicating the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation Limited’s practice of quarantining all supplied medicines until they pass quality testing could be beneficial.

Essential Medicines and Profit Margins

  • The availability rate of essential medicines must be significantly improved,as it currently stands at a mere 17%.
  • Unscientific combinations of medicines,which constitute around 40% of the retail market in India, should be banned.
  • Approved norms for profit margins for wholesale agents and retailers must be strictly enforced to ensure affordable medicines for all.

Janaushadhi Kendras and Universal Healthcare

  • The network of Janaushadhi kendras,which provide affordable generic medicines, needs to be expanded.
  • Free medicines and diagnostics should be considered under Universal Healthcare,but implementation must be carefully monitored.

Conclusion

  • Ensuring universal access to affordable generic medicines in India requires a comprehensive approach that addresses quality,availability, pricing, and ethical practices.
  • The NMC’s decision to withdraw the order on generic prescribing is a setback,but it highlights the need for a more nuanced and effective strategy to achieve the goal of accessible and affordable healthcare for all.

Question: Critically evaluate the practice of over-the-counter sales of generic medicines in India, highlighting the challenges and potential solutions.

 

3. Should elections be state funded?

Topic: GS2 – Indian polity

Introduction:

  • The Constitution Bench recently reserved judgment on the electoral bonds scheme’s validity, with a focus on the tension between voters’ right to information and donor confidentiality, highlighting transparency issues in election funding.
  • The ongoing debate centers on whether elections should adopt state funding to enhance transparency in the electoral process.

Public Funding of Elections:

  • Advocacy for the term “public funding” instead of “state funding” underscores the use of public money.
  • Public funding has the potential to introduce transparency but requires careful implementation to prevent misuse.
  • The allocation of public money to political parties and candidates is a key aspect of the discussion.

Challenges and Conditions for Public Funding:

  • Successful public funding requires conditions such as internal democracy, transparency in financial affairs, and a reliable mechanism to prevent external funding.
  • The viability of public funding depends on agreed-upon principles of desirability.
  • The suggestion is to provide funding only in-kind, such as free transport.
  • Exploration of the possibility of a system that is partially public-funded.

Political Parties and Public Funding:

  • Despite political parties expressing support for state funding, the lack of progress is attributed to unclear mechanisms for implementation.
  • Ambiguity surrounds how state funding would be executed.

Viability in the Indian Economy:

  • The discussion delves into the viability of public funding in the Indian economy.
  • Acknowledgment that public funding is socially desirable but necessitates clear working models.

Global Comparison:

  • Information on global practices, with 34 countries having some form of state funding.
  • Different models exist, with variations in funding for both parties and candidates.

Transparency Requirements:

  • Emphasis on transparency requirements in countries with public funding.
  • The U.S. example is cited, where candidates can receive government money but often decline due to attached conditions.
  • The need for complete transparency in how parties and candidates spend public money is underscored.

Conclusion:

  • The ongoing debate focuses on whether public funding of elections can improve transparency and accountability.
  • The judgment from the Constitution Bench on the validity of the electoral bonds scheme is awaited.

Question: Discuss the potential impact of introducing public funding in electoral processes on transparency and accountability of elections.

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