Answers: Mains Marathon – UPSC Mains Current Affairs Questions – September 20

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Q1. Gauri Lankesh, a senior Kannada journalist known for her criticism of Hindu extremism, was recently shot dead.With reference to the above incident Discuss the challenges that Indian press is facing in present scenario. What all steps are needed for safeguarding the freedom of press guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India?

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What happened?

Gauri Lankesh, a senior Kannada journalist was killed on September 5 by an unidentified gunman when she returned home from the office of Gauri Lankesh Patrike.

What is Freedom of press?

  • In India, freedom of the press has been treated as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.

What are the challenges that Indian press is facing today?

  • Freedom of press: Instances like in the case of NDTV shutdown for reporting during Pathankot attack, weak whitsle –blower protection act, defamation suits etc have restricted the freedom of press.
  • Paid News, a nexus between media persons and politicians seems to have taken firm roots in India.
  • The Election Commission is reported to have identified more than 1,400 cases of paid news between 2009 and 2013.
  • Corporate and political lobbying and ownership
  • Yellow journalism: Unnecessary sensationalization of issues to fetch TRP meddles with the real content of news.
  • Weak regulation: only a self regulating body like PCI(Press Council of India) has little power or legislative backup to regulate the press.

What need to be done for securing freedom of press provided under article 19(1)?

  • freedom of the press has been integrated as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court is the “Upholder and Protector of the Constitution. It is essential that proper reform is brought about by way of Legislation or Precedent by the SC to ensure the legitimcy of news and the “Freedom of the Press”.
  • A regulatory body comprising both of media persons and government bodies should be established to give media a fair play and check its arbitrariness at the same time.
  • The legislative backup for PCI to give it more power for regulation is also required.

Q2. Japan and India have come together to partner for High-speed rail projects to boost the Indian Railways. Do you think that this project would be a transformational leap in India’s transportation history? Discuss. (GS 3)

Indian Express | Link

This visionary Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project (popularly known as the bullet train project) will herald a new era of safety, speed and service and help the Indian Railways craft a pathway to becoming a global leader in scale, technology and skill.

Yes, this project would be a transformational leap in India’s transportation history and Indian railways.

Why is this project a transformational leap in India’s transportation history?

Following are the five reasons how this project would be a transformational leap in India’s transportation history:

      Attractive low-cost long-term financing:

  • As a part of the agreement between India and Japan, Japan will provide soft loan of about Rs. 90,000 crore at a interest rate of 0.1 per cent over 50 years.
  • India is getting the loan for the MAHSR at close to almost zero cost.
  • This saves any strain on existing financial resources, as more than 80 per cent of the project cost is being funded by Japan in this way.
  • It is for the first time that an infrastructure project of this size and magnitude is being funded on such favorable terms.

      Stimulus for advanced components’ manufacture and construction:

  • One of the stated objectives of the project is “Make in India”, which is being auctioned even before the commissioning of the project.
  • As per the agreement between the two governments, the MAHSR Project has “localised manufacture” and “transfer of technology” as twin.
  • The construction sector in India is also expected to get a big boost not only in terms of works contracts but also with respect to new technology and work culture.

      Professional capacity-building:

  • A dedicated High Speed Rail Training Institute is being developed at Vadodara.
  • This institute will be functional by the end of 2020, and have facilities to train about 4,000 staff in the next three years, who will then be utilized for operation and maintenance.
  • They will also serve as a backbone for the development of other high speed corridors in India.

      Speed:

  • There are two types of services proposed : “rapid train” service with only two stops at Surat and Vadodara and a slower service that halts at 10 stations en route.
  • The “rapid train” would complete the journey in 2 hours and 7 minutes, while the slower service would take 2 hours and 58 minutes.
  • This is widely expected to enable the railway system to begin winning back the creamy layer of higher-fare paying passengers in inter-city routes.

      Cutting edge operational technology:

  • India is getting cutting-edge operational technology in totality.
  • The Shinkansen technology is renowned for its reliability and safety.
  • Thus, the project is set to provide reliable and comfortable service with high standards of safety.
  • The technology regarding disaster predictions and preventions will also be acquired as part of the project.

Conclusion

We should be careful not to confuse leapfrogging technology development with elitism, whether it is mobile phones, satellite launches, regional air-connectivity or high-speed rail. This bullet train project will therefore help the Indian Railways to become a global leader in scale, technology and skill.

Q3. Securities and Exchange Board of India has released a consultation paper and sought feedback on a new set of rules to improve market efficiency and enhance the governance, accountability and functioning of credit rating agencies.What could be the possible impact of the new rules on credit rating services in India? Discuss. (GS 3)

The Hindu

Credit rating agencies may be in a tough spot as Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) continues to tighten the screws on them.

Important provisions

  • New set of rules were drafted to improve “market efficiency” and enhance “the governance, accountability and functioning of credit rating agencies”.
  • Among them are provisions to restrict cross-shareholding between rating agencies without regulatory approval to 10%, and increase the minimum net worth requirement for existing and new agencies from Rs. 5 crore to Rs. 50 crore.
  • Another mandates at least five years’ experience for promoters of rating agencies.
  • SEBI has proposed disclosure norms to improve investor awareness about the operations of rating agencies.

Rationale of the proposed rules

  • The spin-off of non-core operations of rating agencies will allow SEBI to focus on regulating just their credit rating operations.
  • SEBI has spelt out its rationale for proposing each of the rules.
  • SEBI’s predominant concern, apart from improving the information available to investors, seems to be to prevent rating agencies from resorting to collusion in reaching decisions.

Possible impact of the new rules on credit rating services in India

  • The new rules may not have any substantial impact on the quality of credit rating in India.
  • The intended effects of the rules sound convincing. What is unclear are their unintended effects on competition in the rating space.
  • Also, how the rules will address the problem of “rating shopping” that plagues the business of credit rating in the country is unknown.
  • The present business model of rating agencies is seen to allow considerable room for issuers of securities to shop for a favourable rating or avoid negative ratings by severing their ties with these agencies.
  • Prudential regulation is thus justified to tackle this problem.
  • This criticism, however, ignores the reputational damage these agencies suffer after each corporate default.
  • Repeated failures have not affected the business of rating agencies, primarily due to the lack of alternative service providers who can help out investors.
  • Individual creditors have thus had to trust the ratings of the existing rating agencies at their own peril, even after repeated crises.
  • As is well-known today, the Indian credit rating market is an oligopolistic one due to the high barriers to entry.
  • SEBI’s proposed move to impose further quality requirements on rating agencies is unlikely to change things for the better, or raise further barriers.

Way forward

  • The way forward lies in making it easier for new players to enter the credit rating space and compete against incumbents.
  • This will go a long way towards making credit rating agencies actually serve creditors rather than borrowers.

 

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