Mains Marathon

Answered: Mains Marathon – UPSC Mains Current Affairs Questions – February 1

1.What are the findings of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) on the derailment of the Indore-Rajendranagar Express? Discuss. (GS 2)

इंदौर-राजेंद्रनगर एक्सप्रेस के पटरी से उतर जाने पर रेलवे सेफ्टी (सीआरएस) आयोग का क्या निष्कर्ष है? इसके निष्कर्षों पर चर्चा करें।

The Hindu

Suggested Answer:

Indore-Rajendranagar Express derailed near Kanpur in November 2016 and this led to death of nearly 140 people. The preliminary findings of Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) in this were:
1. Carriage and wagon defects were the main cause.
2. There were variations in the wheel gauges of two coaches, leading to derailment.
3. The carriages were kept running beyond their useful life.
Railways have witnessed several train accidents in the past few years.
CRS annual report for 2012-13 identified the following as responsible for these accidents:
1. Failure of railway equipment.
2. Laxity in administration and dereliction of duties by the railway staff.
3. Rail fractures due to non-replacement of old rails.
4. Non-railway factors such as sabotage in LWE areas etc.
The Kakodkar committee on Railway safety found out that out of the 441 derailments it analysed, only 15% were the result of sabotage. Others were factors whose rectification was in control of the Railway administration.
The Way Forward:
1. Recommendations of Kakodkar committee should be implemented in real earnest.
2. Filling the vacancies of front line staff which is responsible for proper functioning of trains.
3. Replacing the old coaches with modern Linke-Hoffman-Busche coaches and replacing the old rails periodically.
4. Leveraging technology such as ultrasonic flaw detection to identify potential accidents and prevent them.
5. Modern signalling systems and automatic braking system in case a red signal is breached. This is present in European railway systems but not yet in Indian Railways.
6. Government has recently taken several steps such as launching TRINETRA, which is a terrain imaging system that works on infrared, optical devices and radar and assists drivers in fogs and conditions of limited visibility.
7. The Bharatmala initiative and Setu Bharatam project have been launched to eliminate all level crossings throughout the country. This will entail building railway under bridges and over bridges.
8. A Railway Sanrakshna Kosh has been launched to pool funds for implementing these safety measures.
Indian Railways transports 23 million passengers daily, a number equivalent to the entire population of Australia. It carries 1 billion tonnes of freight, half of which is coal. It is precisely due to this enormous scale of operations that there is an urgent need to identify and remove the obstacles that prevent the Railways from being a safe mode of transportation and the lifeline of India.

2.Will a “debt relief scheme for the population with loans below a certain income threshold” qualify to be a populist measure? Are subsidies by their very nature populist? (GS 3)

क्या एक “निश्चित आय सीमा से नीचे ऋण के आबादी का ऋण राहत योजना” एक लोकलुभावन उपाय हो सक्ता है? क्या सब्सिडी स्वभाव से ही लोकलुभावन है?

Live Mint

Suggested Answer:

Schemes are objective in nature. Factors such as the timing of launch, target beneficiaries and the intent of the policymakers decide whether a scheme qualifies to be a populist measure or not.
Therefore, any scheme, including a debt relief scheme for populations with loans below a certain income threshold, would qualify to be a populist measure if:

  1. It is launched just before elections are to be announced, specifically to appease poor voters.
    2. It is not economically sound and will just create a feel-good factor for the beneficiaries.
    3. Has been launched in order to soften the blow created by another harsh policy decision, or as a diversion from an important issue.

Debt relief schemes are essential:
1. In times after droughts, especially when half of Indian agricultural area is rain-fed and dependent on vagaries of monsoon.
2. When wages have stagnated due to subdued global growth, while inflation is rising.
3. When there are massive, concentrated job losses in specific sectors and there are not enough jobs that require the skill-sets of those retrenched workers.
4. After natural hazards such as earthquakes or landslides, since they result in massive loss of property and livelihood.

In such cases, if debt-relief is not provided, it leads to mental stress, affects the health of the debtor and the family, leads to social tensions and clashes, and leads to suicides in worst cases. Thus, debt-relief itself cannot qualify to be a populist measure unless it satisfies the three aforementioned conditions.

Subsidies are entitlements granted in cash or kind to the citizens or industries in order to keep the prices of a commodity low, for purchasing in case of citizens or for selling in case of industries. For example, fertilizer subsidies are provided to urea companies so that they can sell urea at low cost to the farmers. On the other hand, LPG cylinders are sold at market prices, and the eligible households get the subsidy amount in their bank accounts (via PAHAL DBT).

Subsidies create a level playing field between those who are less privileged and those who are more. They are meant to elevate the quality of life of citizens or to make available essential goods and services to all sections of the population who cannot afford it.
Thus, subsidies inherently are not populist. It is the nature of subsidies granted, as well as the intended beneficiaries, that decide whether a subsidy is populist.

There are productive subsidieswhich reach the intended beneficiary and cause an improvement in the quality of life or standard of living. An example is the Direct Benefits Transfer for LPG cylinders (PAHAL scheme).

Unproductive subsidies are those that cause undue harm to the Exchequer or the environment without substantial benefits to the intended beneficiaries. Examples are – free electricity to run agricultural pumps (Which lead to overexploitation of groundwater), subsidized urea (which skews the N:P:K ratio and decreases soil fertility) etc. The latter also affects cropping patterns and jeopardises food security.
Another example is the de-facto subsidy on EPFO interest rates, the benefits of which accrue to the middle class instead of the lower classes and the poor, for which it was originally intended.

Removing such subsidies is political suicide since these come to be seen as entitlements by successive generations. This was evident when government had to roll-back the proposed changes regarding taxing 40% of the PF corpus on withdrawal after backlash from the middle-class voters.

Thus, it is essential to introduce schemes and subsidies with a built in time limit after which they will cease to operate, and making renewal of these schemes and subsidies subject to outcomes and the result-gap that needs to be bridged. Periodic reviews of such schemes and subsidies, with a bi-partisan support to data-driven policy making, is the need of the hour.

3.“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” Critically examine. (GS 4)

“सीखने के बारे में एक अछी बात है की कोई भी यह आप से दूर नहीं ले जा सकती है।” गंभीर रूप से जांच करें।

Suggested Answer:

Learning is an act of assimilating knowledge and experience. It happens every time a person ponders over something that s/he has heard or read or experienced. It is not limited to mere bookish knowledge.

The learning process takes place in the mind, and is stored in the mind itself. This places a great responsibility on the individual, because this learning can then be used either for betterment, or for worse.

For example, learning about the basics of how human body works can help even a normal person identify day-to-day problems, common illnesses, and improper diet and make lifestyle changes for his/her betterment. This leads to a virtuous cycle wherein that person gains fitness while transmitting the same learning to his/her friends and relatives.

A person who has learnt how to make explosives has a choice regarding whether to use his knowledge for creating controlled explosives for productive purposes such as mining etc, or to use it for nefarious purposes such as making bombs that will kill people.

On the other hand, learning can be a painful experience as well, never always beautiful. For example, suffering from an accident while learning how to ride a bicycle is a painful experience for a child. However, this painful process is what enables the child to learn to ride in the first place. Essentially, it is a rite of passage.

Thus, the beauty of learning does not lie in the fact that it cannot be taken away. The beauty of learning lies in the opportunities and choices that it gives people, and the enlightenment that people derive as a result. The beauty lies in knowing that we have the ability to gain knowledge and change ourselves as well as our surroundings for the betterment of ourselves and the world.


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