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List of Contents
Financial distress in Railways : Reasons and Way Forward
Source: The Hindu
Gs3: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways, etc.
Synopsis: Despite several reforms, Railways is facing financial distress. This article highlights the issues and suggests solutions for financial distress in Railways.
- In 2016, the Railway Budget was merged with the General Budget. Earlier, Railways had a separate Budget.
- The Dedicated Freight Corridor will be operational by 2022. It includes
- The Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC), from Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai
- The Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC), Ludhiana in Punjab to Dankuni in West Bengal.
- Recently the union cabinet approved a proposal to create a single cadre for railways management. This was aimed to eliminate “departmentalism” in railways.
Why Railways is in financial distress?
- First, freight earnings are not improving despite improvement in freight load.
- According to the CEO and Chairman of the Railway Board, the freight loading in January 2021 was the highest ever.
- However, the freight earnings, according to the Revised Estimates for 2020-21 is ₹1,24,184.00 crore. It is lower than what was achieved in 2018-19 (₹1,27,432.72 crore).
- Second, the financial performance index i.e., the Operating Ratio (OR) (the ratio of working expenses to revenues) is not effective. (If the ratio is less than 100%, then Revenues are more than working expenses)
- Currently, the Operating Ratio is less than 100% due to the under-provisioning of the Pension Fund for 2020-21.
- However, the actual Operating Ratio works out to 114.19% and 131.49%, respectively, if the required provision is made for pension payments.
- More worryingly, this is the first time ever, the Indian Railways were unable to adequately provide for the Pension Fund.
What are the future challenges that may increase the financial distress of railways?
- First, traffic revenue is unable to keep pace with the increase in staff costs and pension payments. With the (Eighth) Pay Commission, to be scheduled in 2025-26 the working expenses of railways will further increase.
- For example, the passenger and freight revenues increased by 84.8 % from 2010-11 to 2019-20. While the staff and pension costs almost doubled, by 157%, in the same period.
- This is despite the fact that there is a reduction of about one lakh staff on the roll during this period.
- The increase in the staff and pension costs is mainly due to the implementation of the Central Pay Commission recommendations.
- Second, freight traffic is over-dependent on one commodity, coal. Almost 50% of freight earnings are contributed by the transport of coal.
- With the increasing usage of renewable energy at competitive prices, dependence on coal will reduce. This will affect freight revenues.
- Third, the other major challenge facing the Railways is the burgeoning staff costs including pension. In this scenario, the proposal to recruit an additional 1.5 lakh staff will further increase the financial distress.
- One, increasing the revenues, particularly on the freight front, and a drastic reduction in the number of employees. In this context, the operationalization of two DFCs is significant.
- Two, Railways need to think seriously about life after coal. Adoption of the roll-on roll-off model of transporting loaded trucks on the rail on the DFCs will reduce the overall carbon footprint.
- Three, Corporatisation of the Railways’ Production Units and outsourcing the medical services may reduce work expenses.
- Finally, an annual report called ‘Indian Railways Report’ on the lines of the annual Economic Survey should be placed in Parliament every year. It should detail the physical and financial performance of the Railways. It will make railways more accountable and transparent.
Issue of Women rights in India
Issue of Women rights in India
Source: The Hindu
GS – 1: Issues linked to Women in India
Synopsis: March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day. While celebrating it, we also need to look back at how women’s rights upheld by the state in the last years.
- 8th march is being celebrated as International Women’s Day. It is celebrated to commemorate the struggles of women factory workers.
- It was first organised by socialist movements as “international women’s day” in the first decade of the 20th century.
- Later, from the 1920s, it began to be celebrated annually by communist parties, first in the Soviet Union and then in China.
- Much later, the United Nations “established” International Women’s Day in 1977 in the wake of the International Women’s Year in 1975.
- In India, the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8 started in the 1980s.
- For the last few years, there are demands to celebrate the death of Savitribai Phule on March 10 as Women’s Day in India.
Contribution of Savitribai Phule
- Savitribai Phule was colonial India’s first female teacher. She fought for the cause of “social justice” against women’s caste-differentiated enslavement. She was ousted from the family home for breaking caste codes.
- Furthermore, she was instrumental in establishing the Satyashodhak Samaj in Maharashtra by her husband Jyotirao Phule.
- It was a social reform society that focused on education and increased social rights and political access for underprivileged groups.
- However, the legacy, of Savitribai Phule, long ignored in the history of women’s rights.
State’s response to the major women-centric movements in 2020
- First, Denial of right to protest. For example, the Shaheen Bagh protest led by Muslim women against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act. This protest ended with the arrests of many young women and students, on the charges of having incited violence.
- In the recent farmer protests against the three farm laws, many women participated even during freezing weather in Delhi. However, the state didn’t show apathy towards their concerns.
- Second, denial of rights to live a dignified life. For example, Lockdown imposed hardship on women migrants. They were left without basic survival needs – food, shelter and care due to lack of social security.
- Three, denial of economic rights to women. For example, the lockdown witnessed increased domestic violence against women. Also, the burden of Women’s household care work increased due to the absence of paid domestic workers. Yet, there was no state response to recognize women’s care work and housework.
- Fourth, ineffective towards deterring gender violence based on caste. For example, Hathras rape case. The state response in tackling this kind of crime not proved effective to deter future caste-based violence.
Why Criticisms of New IT Rules 2021 are illogical?
Source: The Indian Express
Synopsis: The new IT rules 2021, is not a discretionary, arbitrary document released by the government. It is a document aimed towards creating a level playing field.
Recently, the government introduced the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The rules have the potential to transform the online media platforms to fit into the Indian ecosystem.
Few important provisions of new IT rules 2021:
The major provisions of the new IT rules are,
- Self-Classification of Content: The OTT(Over the top) platforms would self-classify the content into five age-based categories i.e. U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
- Three-tier grievance redressal framework: Both the digital news publishers and OTT platforms have to establish and follow the three-tier grievance redressal framework.
What are the general criticisms against new IT rules 2021?
The new IT rules are criticised by various private sectors. These private players mention the new IT rules as discretionary and against freedom of expression. They all point out criticisms like,
- 5 Stage content classification on OTT platforms is arbitrary
- Government influence in 3-tier Grievance redressal mechanism
- The new IT rules were not consulted with OTT platforms
- Government right to ban any content on OTT platforms
- Furnishing basic information of a user violates privacy
Counter-arguments against the criticisms of new IT rules 2021:
All these steps are aimed to create a level playing field between offline and online media. But there are few criticisms against the new IT rules in 2021. But these criticisms are meaningless.
- 5 Stage content classification on OTT platforms: This is for the first time in independent India, the policy is shifted from pre-certification(censorship) to self-classification. This is a more transparent system compare to censorship. Even many countries are not following the same. For example,
- The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore: All the service providers are required to obtain a license from IMDA for operation. Further, all content must be rated according to the Film Classification Guidelines there.
- Recently the UK Government released a white paper on the threats posed by unregulated online content. The paper proposed few important points such as,
- Creating a new independent regulator to ensure online safety,
- Develop codes of practice,
- Impose liabilities/fines on companies for the violation, etc.
So the 5 stage content classification is much in line with the international practice.
- Government influence in 3-tier Grievance redressal mechanism: This is completely a wrong criticism. Tier 1 and tier 2 of the self-regulatory body are to be formed by the OTT platforms themselves, not by the government.
- Lack of consultation with OTT platforms: The government consulted the private sector on various occasions. Such as,
- Earlier, the I&B ministry organised consultations in Mumbai and in Chennai with the OTT platforms in November.
- The I&B minister himself met representatives of OTT platforms in March.
- Government right to ban the content: This is not a new provision in India. Under the Information Technology Rules, 2009, the government uses the same provision to ban the content. Further, these provisions are aimed at National Security to protect its national interests in digital platforms.
- Furnishing basic information of a user violates privacy: This is not a violation of privacy. Instead, it is transparency. The private players always advocating transparency from the government, but they themselves don’t want to be transparent.
So, the new IT rules 2021 not provide discretionary powers to the government. Instead, the new IT rules are progressive and creating a level playing ground for digital entities.
Why India should Focus More on Climate Change Adaptation?
Source- The Indian Express
Syllabus- GS 3 – Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Synopsis- Climate Change initiatives are not working as per their aims. India’s climate policy should focus on Climate Change Adaptation measures instead of emission mitigation.
- The United Nations COP-26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow in November 2021. This conference was originally scheduled to be held last year but delayed due to COVID-19.
- The COP-26 will be the first time after the Paris Climate agreement concluded in 2015. Countries will be expected to raise their nationally determined commitments they made as part of that agreement.
Target announced by the major economies to reduce emissions
Countries globally are more focussed upon Climate Change Mitigation instead of adaptation, as depicted below:
- The EU and the UK have committed to net-zero GHGs by 2050.
- Japan, Korea, Canada, South Africa all have statements of intent for 2050 targets in either GHG or carbon terms.
- The US rejoined the Paris Agreement under the Biden administration and will achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
- China has announced a 2060 carbon neutrality target.
What are the Climate Change challenges in front of India?
- Present strategies are not effective in containing the Temperature rise- The original commitments to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions might be enough to limit global warming to near 3˚ C by 2100, but it is still not enough to limit it to 1.5˚ C.
- As depicted in the data above, the Net Zero target strategy is not that effective. Climate Change is already a reality and India’s population is much more vulnerable. India needs to focus on Adaptation strategies rather than just focussing on mitigation.
- US-China collusion on climate policy framing before COP- 26 same as Barack Obama and Xi Jinping before Paris climate summit.
- Indian interests were neglected at that time despite China being part of the BASIC group. There is a full possibility that the interest of India will not be taken into account this time also.
- Financing – By 2020, developed countries committed to mobilize $100 billion in climate financing each year, including a mix of mitigation (carbon reduction) and adaptation projects. According to the OECD, they delivered $21 billion short at the end of 2018.
- As per estimates of the Indian finance ministry only a billion dollars in new and additional finance transferred to developing countries annually.
What should India’s stance be at these meetings?
- Both climate mitigation and Adaption strategies are required. India should focus more on adaptation measures to climate changes. Adaptation and mitigation should be given equal weight if climate change action is discussed.
- India should highlight the finance component – Developed countries, must keep their pledge to channel $100 billion annually.
- India needs to implement a new climate change policy to protect its interests and commit to a global climate regime that benefits rather than hinders India’s growth prospects.
- Delinking from China. India must delink from China and make BASIC a consultative forum only. India needs to forge a coalition with like-minded developing countries on climate change.
India should focus more on Climate Change Adaptation rather than following the Net Zero targets like countries.
Prerequisites for Developing Digital Health Data
Source: The Indian Express
Synopsis: National Digital Health Mission aims to build digital health infrastructure in India. But there are many hurdles in developing comprehensive digital health data.
Recently on Independence Day, our Prime Minister announced National Digital Health Mission. The Mission aims to develop the backbone for integrated digital health infrastructure in India. Developing countries with significant health challenges like India critically need such an infrastructure.
The NDHM will help in developing the diagnostics and management of health services. Apart from that, the NDHM will also help in achieving broader public health monitoring, research, socio-economic studies, prioritizing resource allocation and policy interventions, etc.
Digitization can make healthcare more organized, effective, and efficient. But we must know that Digitization can’t substitute the fundamentals like an investment in nutrition and welfare, primary healthcare services and healthcare professionals, etc.
What is the prerequisite to digital health infrastructure?
Before going completely digital, certain things are essential to achieve the desired social objectives. They are,
- India needs to carefully develop various ways to fulfil the “health needs of the public”. India needs to carefully examine the following things and their improvement with digitization. Such as,
- Ways of facilitating better diagnosis and management,
- Understanding of the data structures for effective health services
- Alleviate health problems with digitization such as malnutrition and child stunting, etc.
- Challenges with Privacy: It may also create tensions between a collection of digital health data and individual rights to privacy. For example, many countries like UK, Sweden, the US, etc. attempted to build digital health infrastructures they were not successful due to serious privacy-related controversies.
- Linking the digital health data to other sectors: This data may be linked to other sectors such as banking and services with adequate access to data. This creates two types of challenges.
- Not linking the digital health data with other sectors will make the potential uses of digital health data very limited.
- Complete interlinking of digital health data will create various problems such as privacy violation, the vulnerability of data to profit-motivated pharma companies, etc.
- Design of Digital health data operations: Access to digital data requires identifying and understanding the complexity in various data sources such as immunisation records, data in government and private hospitals, diagnostic centres, etc. The design should also include an understanding of data generation frequency, error models, sharing and other operational requirements, etc.
- Building an effective system that can generate people’s trust requires building a transparent process. That process should have openness and public consultations in all spheres of development. This includes avoiding “crony expertise”, rejecting poorly-conceived designs and ideas, etc.
So, developing a comprehensive digital health infrastructure not only depends on the health sector alone. Instead, it also depends on e-governance and the administration of digitisation in India.
Rise of Lateral Surveillance in India
Source: click here
Syllabus: GS 2
Synopsis: The notification on the IT rules 2021 promotes lateral surveillance. It has given a new meaning to ‘Citizen watch’.
The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C), under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), launched the Cyber Crime Volunteers Program. It aims to allow citizens to register themselves as “Cyber Crime Volunteers’’ in the role of “Unlawful Content Flaggers”.
- The programme will help law enforcement agencies in identifying, reporting and removal of illegal/unlawful online content.
- The programme will be launched all over the country. It is going to have its test run in Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura.
What is lateral surveillance?
- The surveillance in which citizens watch over one another is called lateral surveillance.
- Main Features of lateral surveillance:
- It is different from typical surveillance. In the typical surveillance, there is a vertical relationship between those being watched(citizenry) and those who are watching(the state).
- The lateral surveillance specifically ensures that the imbalance of power no longer exists.
- It is a form of community policing.
- The United States had the neighbourhood watch scheme. It increased community policing in the 1970s. With the introduction of technology and the development of applications such as Citizen and Next door, monitoring of people and their behaviour has become easier.
What is the extent of lateral surveillance in India, and what are its impacts?
The state-sponsored lateral surveillance has been implemented in India earlier as well. For example, the C-Plan App in Uttar Pradesh launched for keeping a tab on anti-social elements. It is designed to receive inputs from certain identified individuals in villages across the State.
- Firstly, these individuals have been given the responsibility to solve local problems such as providing information about boiling communal tensions or land disputes taking place in their own villages through the mobile application.
- Secondly, the scope of lateral surveillance expanded during the pandemic lockdown. For instance, the Karnataka government released a PDF with the names and addresses of around 19,000 international passengers who were quarantined in Bengaluru.
- Thirdly, lateral surveillance may create a situation where privacy could get weakened for the betterment of the community.
- Fourthly, It can act as a tool for social exclusion. Lateral surveillance makes it easier to discriminate between those who do not conform to the social norms of the majority.
- For example, the LGBT community in South Korea faced harsh comments from the homophobic majority when coronavirus cases were reported from the area where they resided.
- Fifthly, it is harmful because it creates an environment of hate, fear and constant suspicion. This method gives people a duty of keeping an eye out for their own safety which results in an increase in fear of crime in society.
- Sixthly, these threats will increase intolerance, prejudice, racism and casteism in our society. It will also violate the fundamental right to privacy right of free speech.
What will be the outcome of the policy?
- The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 also promotes lateral surveillance.
- For example, there is a provision relating to the user-directed removal of non-consensual sexually explicit content. It will enable mediators to remove or disable access to the information within a short period of time of being notified by users.
- This may result in taking down content and sharing user data without sufficient due process safeguards, violating the fundamental right to privacy and freedom of expression.