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SECURE SYNOPSIS: 25 September 2020


NOTE: Please remember that following ‘answers’ are NOT ‘model answers’. They are NOT synopsis too if we go by definition of the term. What we are providing is content that both meets demand of the question and at the same time gives you extra points in the form of background information.


General Studies – 1


 

Topic : Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

1. Coins form an invaluable source in reconstruction of India past. Explain with examples from ancient India. (250 words)

Reference: Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania

Why the question:

The question seeks the importance of coins as the source of archaeological evidence the reconstruction of Ancient Indian History.

Key Demand of the question:

Explain the significance of coins in the reconstruction of Indian History. Discuss that with relevant examples.

Directive:

Explain – Clarify the topic by giving a detailed account as to how and why it occurred, or what is the particular context. You must be defining key terms where ever appropriate, and substantiate with relevant associated facts.

Structure of the answer:

Introduction:

Start with briefly introducing how coins form a invaluable part in reconstruction of India’s Ancient past.

Body:

Body should explain in detail coinage provides information about various different components of Ancient India.

The body should be clearly demarcated in political, economic, social, cultural and technological information provided by the coins of the Ancient Indian age.

Relevant examples should be provided to substantiate your answers and they should be clearly highlighted as it is specifically asked in the questions.

In a sentence or two, just mention a passing reference regarding certain limitations of the coins as source of history.

Conclusion:

Summarize the entire answer as to how coins form an invaluable part of the past.

Introduction:

The coins are undoubtedly of great importance to the historians, numismatists, sociologists, and anthropologists, as it is a valuable source material for the reconstruction of political, religious, cultural, social and economic history of a country. The history of Indian coinage begins with silver and copper punch-marked coins, datable from about 600 B.C.

Body:

Importance of coins in reconstruction of India’s past:

  • The numismatists provide an almost unparalleled series of historical documents. They conjure up before us the life and story of those who had issued them and weave the texture of history into their being and do not simply illustrate it but furnish authentic information.
  • In India, literature which may furnish as historical evidence in the modern sense being scant, does not reveal enough facts about, the rulers, their names, dynasties, their thought and actions. But the find these facts well illustrated in many instances on the coins.
    • For instance, we know exclusively from coins that nearly forty Bactrian kings and queens ruled over Indo-Gangetic Divide and other parts of northern India for about hundred years during 200-100 B.C. The classical writers are almost ignorant about them.
    • This remarkable historical episode, interesting alike to Greece and India, came to the knowledge of the world, after nearly two thousand years, only by the discovery of their coins in gold, silver and copper from the area under study.
  • Coins have been the principal source of our information about the various tribal and city republics and monarchical states that flourished in India during the pre-Christian centuries and after.
    • Even for the history of those who are known from other sources, coin are equally important, as the 52 history known from other sources are corroborated, cross-examined and supplemented by coins.
  • In the realm of religious history, coins play an important role.
    • The coins of Kushanas, who ruled over a great parts of northern India including Indo-Gangetic Divide during the 1st and second century A.D., bear the effigies of a number of Greek, Iranian, Buddhist and Brahmanical gods and goddesses.
    • They reflect not only what popular deities were worshiped amongest the people they ruled but also throw light on the development of various pantheons and their iconographic forms.
    • The representation of Buddha in human form is noticed for the first time on the coins of Kanishka.
  • The also provide us information about foreign relations of that age.
    • For example Gupta coins were issued in the name of Lichchavi princess and this indicates a matrimonial alliances between the two dyansties.
  • Coins also throw significant light on economic life of ancient people. They indicate regarding trade and commerce. Ex: Bayana Hoard gold coins.
  • Apart from history, coins have also an aesthetic and artistic value.
    • The ‘dies’ from which coins were struck, were the work of the artists of the day. So they reflect an idea about the workmanship of the artists and also the aesthetic tastes of the people of those times.
    • For example the artistic excellence of the Indo-Bactrian coins need no comment, as the portraits of the kings and other figures on them reflect Hellenistic art at its best.

Conclusion:

Numismatics throw light on those aspect of history where literary sources are absent or limited. Hence, it makes coins invaluable source of ancient Indian history.

 


General Studies – 2


 

Topic : Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

2. Discuss in what way ground realities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic make a sound case for increased investments in the health and social sectors. (250 words)

Reference: The Hindu 

Why the question:

The editorial throws light upon how the ground realities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic make a sound case for increased investments in the health and social sectors.

Key Demand of the question:

Explain the need for increased investments in the health and social sectors.

Directive:

Discuss – This is an all-encompassing directive – you have to debate on paper by going through the details of the issues concerned by examining each one of them. You have to give reasons for both for and against arguments.

Structure of the answer:

Introduction:

Present briefly the background of COVID-19 situation in the country.

Body:

Among the most affected during the COVID-19 pandemic are homeless persons and the ultra-poor, many of whom are employed in the informal sector.  Oppressed classes suffer the most as a consequence of multidimensional poverty.

They are exposed to greater adversity against the backdrop of intergenerational social disadvantage and lack of social security.  There is plenty of evidence pointing to relative poverty and its co-relation to stress, mental health and well-being. Data suggest that deaths by suicide and common mental disorders have also been on the rise during the pandemic.

Conclusion:

Suggest the efforts of the government in this direction, advice as to what more can be done to improvise the situation.

Introduction:

India moved up one spot to 129 among 189 countries in Human Development Index (HDI)1 released in December 2019. With a mix of rapid economic growth combined with social policies, the country’s gross national income per capita has more than doubled since 2005 and the number of multi-dimensionally poor people has fallen more than 271 million as per 2018 global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) released by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). However, India remains home to nearly 364 million (or 28%) of the global population of 1.3 billion.

Body:

India’s spending on social sector:

  • India’s social sector expenditure has grown in snail pace with just 7.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) going to the sector that encompasses crucial areas like education, public health, sanitation, labour welfare among others, according to the economic survey 2019-20.
  • Trends in Social Service Sector Expenditure by both centre and states at 7.7% of the GDP comes as a 1.1 percentage point between 2015 and 2019, the survey said even if it underlined that social sector spending has a “profound impact” on India’s “demographic advantage of a large young population in the productive age group”.
  • Of the total 7.7% GDP expenditure, 3.1% went to education, 1.6% to health sector and rest to other social service segments including housing, urban development, welfare of SCs, STs and OBCs, labour welfare, social security, nutrition and relief on account of natural calamities.
  • Education experts and administrators have been demanding to increase education expenditure to 6% of the GDP for last decades, the National Health Policy 2017 had advocated spending 2.5% of the GDP on healthcare alone. The education expenditure has growth to 3.1% of GDP in 2019 from 2.8% in 2014. Similarly, the health sector expenditure grew from 1.2% of the GDP in 2014 to 1.6% in 2019.

Impact of Covid-19 on social sectors:

Health:

  • The unprecedented pandemic has exposed the weaknesses and inadequacies in the public health sector in India right from shortage of doctors, beds, emergency equipment and medicines.
  • Crumbling public health infrastructure: Given the country’s crumbling public healthcare infrastructure, most patients are forced to go to private clinics and hospitals. There is a shortage of PHCs (22%) and sub-health centres (20%), while only 7% sub-health centres and 12% primary health centres meet Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS) norms.
  • High Out of Pocket Expenditure: Reports suggest that 70% of the medical spending is from the patient’s pockets leading to huge burden and pushing many into poverty. Most consumers complain of rising costs. Hundred days into the PMJAY, it remains to be seen if private hospitals provide knee replacement at Rs 80,000 (current charges Rs 3.5 lakh) bypass surgery at Rs 1.7 lakh (against Rs 4 lakh).
  • Shortage of Medical Personnel: Data by IndiaSpend show that there is a staggering shortage of medical and paramedical staff at all levels of care: 10,907 auxiliary nurse midwives and 3,673 doctors are needed at sub-health and primary health centres, while for community health centres the figure is 18,422 specialists.

Education:

  • A total of 320 million learners in India have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and have transitioned to e-learning.
  • With huge regional and household disparities in access to the internet and technology, this transition has not been possible for all students and educators.
  • The rapid shift to e-learning prompted by the pandemic has resurfaced long-standing issues of inequality and a digital divide in India that must be addressed by future economic, education and digitalization policies.
  • Teachers and institutions are not always trained and equipped to transition to online teaching. Many teachers are unqualified when it comes to using new technologies and interfaces. 

Labour:

  • As many as 41 lakh youth in India lost jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic with most job losses in the construction and farm sector, according to a joint report by the International Labour Organization and the Asian Development Bank.

Impact on poor and marginalized:

  • he inability to adhere to public health protocols that prescribe distancing and use of hygienic products, the absence of private toilets and basic amenities, and the lack of adequate nutrition are all realities in lower- and middle-income countries. Amongst those most affected are homeless persons and the ultra-poor, many of whom are employed in the informal sector. They are exposed to greater adversity against the backdrop of intergenerational social disadvantage and lack of social security.
  • Within this context, distinctly deprived are homeless persons living with a mental illness. They are at risk of violent victimisation, assault and long-term incarceration. In India, close to two million individuals sleep rough; 35% of them live with one or the other mental health concern.
  • Pathways into homelessness include abject poverty, conflict, natural or man-made disasters, lack of access to health and mental health care, social hardships, disruptions in care-giving and domestic violence.

Way forward: 

  • Studies have indicated that social spending has a significant co-relation with improved aggregate welfare in low- and middle-income countries. More specifically, social spending has a direct impact on improving human development indices.
  • For meeting SDGs, India needs to step up public funding for ensuring successful implementation of the National Health Policy (2017). To reach the stated goal of 2.5% of GDP (gross domestic product), as public financing for health by 2025 from the present 1%, Union budgets from now on have to allocate more funds for health in every annual budget.
  • School education is certainly important for improving human development index, but it cannot be seen in isolation. Research funding should be given due attention in the budget not because it shall improve higher education, but because it also shall fix the broken school system by offering good teachers. In a changing employment environment, the education system no more looks like a pyramid but a pipe-like structure and demands equal attention across the education supply-chain.
  • Experts said that the focus must also be on gender-sensitivity, making its impact assessment mandatory, considering that women, constituting 48% of India’s population, have historically lagged behind men in terms of social indicators.
  • A section of experts said the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and access to potable water have raised hopes of more allocations for issues directly benefitting rural India. “Treatment facilities for sludge and solid waste; capacity building initiatives; emphasis on research and innovation, and behaviour change, could be a few measures for which the upcoming budget may consider allocations.

Conclusion:

The pandemic has made a sound case for increased investments in the health and social sectors. States must also re-examine the role of social determinants of health in perpetuating unjust structures that normalise deprivation. A person’s social context and health intersect to help achieve a better quality of life. Relative poverty and its co-relation to stress, mental health and well-being have been evidenced. While distress cannot always be pathologised, data suggest that deaths by suicide and common mental disorders have also been on the rise during the pandemic.

 


General Studies – 3


 

Topic : Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.

3. Discuss the basis of MSP and explain if it is beneficial to the Indian agricultural economy? Bring out the challenges in MSP Regime in the light of recently passed farm Bills. (250 words)

Reference: Indian Express

Why the question:

The newly passed farm trade Bill has raised concerns that farmers may no longer be assured MSP for their crop. Thus the question.

Key Demand of the question:

Explain first the basis of MSP and explain if it is beneficial to the Indian agricultural economy and bring out the challenges of MSP regime in the backdrop of recently passed farm bills.

Directive:

Discuss – This is an all-encompassing directive – you have to debate on paper by going through the details of the issues concerned by examining each one of them. You have to give reasons for both for and against arguments.

Structure of the answer:

Introduction:

Set the context of the question first by explaining the fact that the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill does not give any statutory backing to MSP.

Body:

Minimum Support Price (MSP) is a form of market intervention by the Government of India to insure agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices. The minimum support prices are announced by the Government of India at the beginning of the sowing season for certain crops on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). MSP is price fixed by Government of India to protect the producer – farmers – against excessive fall in price during bumper production years. The minimum support prices are a guarantee price for their produce from the Government.

Discuss the key objectives of MSP, highlight the challenges associated with it.

Discuss the context of the recently proposed and passed farm bills, explain in what way they it raises concerns.

Conclusion:

Conclude with fair and balanced opinion and suggest suitable solutions.

Introduction:

In theory, an MSP is the minimum price set by the Government at which farmers can expect to sell their produce for the season. When market prices fall below the announced MSPs, procurement agencies step in to procure the crop and ‘support’ the prices.

Body:

The Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs announces MSP for various crops at the beginning of each sowing season based on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). The CACP takes into account demand and supply, the cost of production and price trends in the market among other things when fixing MSPs.

Factors taken into consideration for fixing MSP include:

  • Demand and supply;
  • Cost of production;
  • Price trends in the market, both domestic and international;
  • Inter-crop price parity;
  • Terms of trade between agriculture and non-agriculture;
  • A minimum of 50% as the margin over cost of production; and
  • Likely implications of MSP on consumers of that product.

msps

Importance of MSP:

  • Protects farmers against market fluctuations- minimum prices ensured for the crops protects the agricultural prices, farmers from market fluctuations.
  • Economic assurance – guarantee of a buyer while cultivation of crops and safeguarding their future. Hence, provides an economic assurance and security for the farmers.
  • Food security – Large scale procurement at MSP helps the government in catering the requirements of food security which is targeted by government through schemes like MDM, Aaganwadi, NFSA, etc.
  • Boosts production – It motivates farmers to grow targeted crops and thus helps in achieving the targets of agriculture production.
  • Price volatility makes life difficult for farmers. Though prices of agri commodities may soar while in short supply, during years of bumper production, prices of the very same commodities plummet. MSPs ensure that farmers get a minimum price for their produce in adverse markets. MSPs have also been used as a tool by the Government to incentivise farmers to grow crops that are in short supply.

Challenges of MSP:

  • Distorted Production – Recent trends by NSSO indicates shift in pattern of food consumption from cereals to protein rich foods, but no such remarkable shift is seen in sowing or production patterns. For e.g. India is largest producer and consumer of pulses in the world, but still 25 % of the pulses consumed are imported.
  • Huge Stocks– This resulted in ‘Open ended procurement’ which means government can’t decide quantity it wants to buy. How much ever grains are offered by farmers to gov. has to purchase. So now government has huge stocks which are almost double the requirements for Buffer stock, PDS and Other government schemes such as Midday Meal Scheme.
  • Out of control Inflation– As we have seen initially MSP and procurement prices were kept lower in relation to Market Prices. So lower the market prices, even lower were MSP and procurement prices. Situation now is that Market prices are dictated by MSP which remains most of the time higher. This brings market prices at least on par with MSP. Facts by surveys and analysts suggests an obvious directly proportional link between hike in MSPs and food Inflation.
  • Middlemen: The other major problem with the MSP-based procurement system is the working dependence on middlemen, commission agents and red-tapism of the APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) officials. An average farmer finds it difficult to get access to these mandis, and depends on the market to sell farm produce.
  • Backwardness in Agriculture – Any industry grows when it adapts to a competitive environment. If farmers get market signals from the market about upcoming trends of demands of consumers, total supply in economy, new technologies, export opportunities or import vulnerabilities, they will find out more profitable crops, technologies and will keenly adapt. Present system creates glut in market of particular crops. It leads to intensive farming year after year, which degrades soil. Farmers rely on political pressure to remedy their problems, instead of adapting to market. This all keeps private investment away for the sector and thus contributes to backwardness in agriculture.
  • Environmental harm – It degrades the soil because of irrespective of the soil condition, some crops are preferred which have MSP over them which results in exploitation of group water resources, alkanity, decrease in the production of the crops in long run and much harm to environment.

Farm Bills, 2020 and MSP:

The following were recently passed by Parliament during its monsoon session.

  • The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, allows farmers to sell their harvest outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis without paying any State taxes or fees.
  • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, facilitates contract farming and direct marketing.
  • The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, deregulates the production, storage, movement and sale of several major foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, edible oils and onion, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances. The government hopes the new laws will provide farmers with more choice, with competition leading to better prices, as well as ushering in a surge of private investment in agricultural marketing, processing and infrastructure.
  • The Centre only purchases paddy, wheat and select pulses in large quantities, and only 6% of farmers actually sell their crops at MSP rates, according to the 2015 Shanta Kumar Committee’s report using National Sample Survey data. None of the laws directly impinges upon the MSP regime.
  • The bills give greater freedom to farmers to sell their produce. They will abolish intermediaries, or at least some levels of intermediaries between farmers and buyers. This will ensure that the farmer gets a bigger share of the price paid by the consumer and will, therefore, improve agricultural incomes.
  • The clamour for incorporating Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) into the law is a pursuit of vested interests as only a handful of farmers enjoy the benefits of MSP-based procurement in the country today. The agricultural practices in Green Revolution regions of Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, where MSP was the cornerstone, have prevented reforms and these changes will lead to a creative destruction in agriculture.
  • With the new changes while MSP is being continued, it has given farmers the choice and the freedom to sell outside the mandis.

Conclusion:

The future of Indian agriculture cannot be salvaged by simply allowing greater freedom to farmers. Agriculture can have a better future only when the excess workforce employed in farming moves to the non-farm sector and there is a greater demand for agricultural products as incomes increase. Because the majority of Indians cannot even afford a decent food basket, many commentators have reached a wrong conclusion that Indian agriculture is facing a problem of plenty.

India’s policymakers need to realise that agriculture is heavily supported by governments in most countries. Producer support to farming in India as a share of total farm receipts is negative, something which goes against the stereotype of agriculture being heavily subsidised. Promises of future gains from deregulation can hardly be a substitute for budgetary support for Indian farmers.

 

Topic: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.

4. Without internet connectivity and market intelligence market participation is meaningless for Indian farmers, Should every Indian farmer get a smartphone? Discuss the urgent to recognise the important role that technology can play without which all agri reforms are more of failures than successes. (250 words)

Reference: Live Mint 

Why the question:

The article brings to us detailed insights of the need and essence of technology to Indian farmers.

Key Demand of the question:

One has to explain in the context of recent reforms how without internet connectivity and market intelligence market participation is meaningless for Indian farmers.

Directive:

Discuss – This is an all-encompassing directive – you have to debate on paper by going through the details of the issues concerned by examining each one of them. You have to give reasons for both for and against arguments.

Structure of the answer:

Introduction:

Discuss in brief the scenario of Indian agriculture; explain the plight of farm markets vis-à-vis farmers.

Body:

Start by explaining that the recent reforms seek to increase the availability of buyers for farmers’ produce and motivate farmers to diversify crops by reducing existing restrictions on licenses and stock limits. The hope is that increased competition will result in better prices for farmers. However without technology aid these reforms are worthless. Because we know that for competition to create efficient outcomes, high information access and low (preferably zero) transaction costs are essential.

Explain with suitable examples need for technology and information to every farmer to ensure the objective of the Farm bill is truly met.

Conclusion:

Agriculture today needs rapid tech diffusion and it is urgent for the government and the private sector to fund it. It is amply clear that investments towards digitalization will bring the greatest improvements in farm productivity.

Introduction:

The Indian economy is all set to contract this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There is only bright spot in this year’s economic story; the agriculture sector. A good rabi crop harvest, adequate rainfall during the ongoing monsoon and encouraging data on sowing on kharif crops, all point towards a good performance by agriculture.

But in the long without technological interventions Indian farmers do not have way out.

Body:

Technological issues in Indian Farming:

  • Information Asymmetry:
    • A bumper crop can pull down prices in wholesale markets. Price spikes after a poor crop are inevitably dealt with through cheap imports in a bid to protect consumers. The opposite is done less frequently. This is due to lack of information.
    • Weather and disaster related information is not conveyed or obtained by farmers in a timely manner and that hampers their the decision making on harvest and sowing.
  • Very less use precision agriculture on a large scale basis.
  • Space technology and Mobiles could act as “Eyes and Ears” of the farmers to assist in farming.
  • Improper functioning of Kirshi Vignyan Kendras. With 77 state agriculture universities and 700 KVKs, India is sitting on a 39% vacancy in positions for extension officers due to which the average extension services reach only 6.8% of farmers.
  • Lack of smart phones and internet connectivity.
  • Lack of digital literacy among farmers.

Need for internet and market intelligence:

  • With the passage of two key farm bills by the parliament, these reforms seek to increase the availability of buyers for farmers’ produce and motivate farmers to diversify crops by reducing existing restrictions on licenses and stock limits. The hope is that increased competition will result in better prices for farmers.
  • However, we know that for competition to create efficient outcomes, high information access and low (preferably zero) transaction costs are essential.
  • Across India, every farmer is looking to pool their produce with other farmers in order to afford the transport costs to sell in more rewarding markets. Without internet connectivity and market intelligence, the transaction cost associated with selling in places outside the local market are higher than the value of the produce.
  • Aggregated platforms can help farmers consolidate farm produce in real-time and help them negotiate better deals with transporters.
  • Further, access to data on growth in the demand for certain crops and changes in consumption and lifestyle patterns of consumers would greatly help farmers to pivot towards products that the market is willing to pay for.
  • It is fair to say that the real benefits of reform would accrue to farmers only when the entire agricultural produce trade is digitized.
  • Currently, over 94% of India’s 138 million farm landholdings do not receive information through the agriculture extension system due to which smallholder farmers continue to be far less productive than what’s possible.
  • To be specific, there are three infirmities in the current agriculture extension system—insufficient knowledge creation, poor delivery of information, and an absent grassroots capability.
  • Contract farming is a panacea for smallholders only when they can harvest high value produce that can compete in markets and consolidate produce to make large and regular supplies. Else, it benefits only bigger farmers. Without access to on-farm knowledge on ‘how to grow’ high-value crops, smallholders will continue to carry on with low-value subsistence farming.

Way forward:

  • We need to reimagine the agricultural R&D and the extension system by creating knowledge, disseminating personalized information through technology, and decentralizing knowledge delivery by empowering local channels. There are viable interventions on all these fronts which can make the reforms count.
  • To build capabilities, agriculture universities and institutes need to create open access online agriculture courses (like courses on Udemy, a popular online learning platform) on horticulture, soil science, nutrient management, crop protection, greenhouse cultivation, post-harvest management and cold supply chain.
  • With cheaply available online courses, young graduates and even progressive farmers can self-train as extension officers and fuel on-farm innovation. As farming becomes more digitalized, information is not needed to be delivered on a two-wheeler and India needs to design powerful educational content—customized ‘how-to-do’ videos and audios in vernacular languages.
  • By building a knowledge culture, we can empower farmers with information on the ‘how to grow’ question. They will be able to experiment with different approaches to farming, often discovering solutions replicable in the local context.
  • A public-private tech platform that addresses the knowledge and marketing needs of farmers and creates farmer networks would be an ideal intervention. A helpful example is the Farmers Business Network (FBN) in the US. The FBN farmer-to-farmer model empowers farmers with impartial information through cloud-based analytics on seed performance, input price transparency, farm operations and yield forecasting.
  • In a post-covid world, extension officers cannot visit farms; farmers cannot move freely; and roughly 60% of farmers in India do not have smartphones to obtain personalized information through video calls or zoom webinars. Farmers are facing abject impoverishment right now, and an enabling digital instrument such as a smartphone can actually be their pathway out of poverty.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his recent Independence Day address announced that every village will be connected with optical fibre in 1000 days. The policy to connect India’s villages must be quickly reinforced with a grassroots momentum that would arise from a ‘one smartphone per farm household’ through direct benefit transfer (DBT).

 Conclusion:

Technological capacity building would prove more valuable for farmers along with the recently passed farm acts and PM-KISAN aid, opening lucrative opportunities for diversification, access to credit, and increased savings on agri-inputs. Instead of waiting for the needle to move on digital penetration, it may be prudent to marshal the digital shift directly.

 


General Studies – 4


 

 Topic : Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity; Information sharing and transparency in government, Right to Information, Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, Citizen’s Charters, Work culture, Quality of service delivery, Utilization of public funds, challenges of corruption.

5. “Transparency is not only necessary for maintaining a democratic polity, but necessary for making the economy work” in the context of the recent steps taken by government of promoting a culture of secrecy and undermining legislation such as RTI, analyse the above statement. (250 words)

Reference: Indian Express 

Why the question:

The article in detail explains how transparency is not only necessary for maintaining a democratic polity, it is also necessary for making the economy work.

Key Demand of the question:

Explain in detail the significance of transparency in maintaining democratic polity.

Directive:

AnalyzeWhen asked to analyse, you have to examine methodically the structure or nature of the topic by separating it into component parts and present them as a whole in a summary.

Structure of the answer:

Introduction:

Start by explaining the importance of transparency in general to a country.

Body:

While transparency is a cornerstone of democracy, today’s India is cultivating secrecy. Paradoxically, this culture of secrecy is sometimes justified in the name of transparency.

The article presents a good case of how the current government has failed to uphold the values of RTI in the name of secrecy, explain with suitable examples the lacunae and its ill effects of the “Transparency” factor in the system.

Take hints from the article present examples and justify valid points in support of your answer.

Conclusion:

Conclude with suitable way forward.

Introduction:

The right to information has been upheld by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right flowing from Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right to free speech and expression. Without access to relevant information, people’s ability to formulate opinions and express themselves meaningfully is curtailed. Since its enactment, the RTI law has been used by people to seek information to actively participate in decision-making processes and hold governments accountable.

Body:

Increasing opaqueness in the functioning of the government:

  • Denying information regarding PM-CARES fund set up for Coivd-19 and not getting it audited by the CAG.
  • Electoral bonds have allowed anonymous donations to political parties and, therefore, protected the privacy of the donors.
    • The Election Commission of India (ECI) criticised the opacity of this financial mechanism and described it as “a retrograde step”. The ECI told the government that this arrangement would prevent the state from ascertaining whether a “political party has taken any donation in violation of provisions under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act, which prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources.
    • Electoral bonds also made it impossible to check whether a company was giving to parties more than what the Companies Act (2013) permitted, that is 7.5 per cent of the net average profit of the three preceding financial years.
  • In 2016-17, the home and finance ministries rejected close to 15 per cent of the applications they received while the RBI and public sector banks rejected 33 per cent. The RBI, for instance, refused to give any information about the decision-making process that led to demonetisation.
  • Dilution of the RTI:
    • In 2019, regressive amendments were made to the RTI Act which did away with statutory protection of fixed tenure and high status conferred on the commissioners.
    • Despite stiff opposition within and outside Parliament, the government pushed the RTI (Amendment) Act which allows the Central government to determine the tenure and salaries of all Information Commissioners, signalling that directions to disclose inconvenient information could invite adverse consequences.
    • The functioning of commissions has been severely impeded by governments not appointing Information Commissioners in a timely manner.
    • Vacancies in Information Commissions lead to large backlogs of appeals/complaints and long delays in the disposal of cases, effectively frustrating the people’s right to know.
    • Since May 2014, not a single commissioner of the Central Information Commission (CIC) has been appointed without citizens having to approach courts.
    • Despite Supreme Court orders to fill all vacancies, six out of 11 posts of commissioners are currently vacant in the CIC, including that of the chief.
    • The CIC is headless for the fifth time in the last six years! State governments appear to have adopted a similar strategy.
    • Eight State Information Commissions are functioning without a chief. Two commissions Tripura and Jharkhand are totally defunct with no commissioners.

Importance of transparency in the functioning of a government:

  • Democracy, accountability and participation: Absence of, or inaccessibility to, information often creates a sense of disempowerment, mistrust and frustration.
  • Good governance: Transparency is also inextricably linked to governance, one definition of which is a way of implementing policies through cooperation whereby representatives of the government, market and civil society participate in mixed public and private networks
  • Increased economic efficiency and effectiveness: Greater transparency can also bring benefits to government themselves, directly or indirectly. Therefore, transparency is also considered to be a key component of public policy and efficiency. Studies have shown that in countries where information flows freely in both directions:
  • The knowledge that decisions and processes are open to public scrutiny can make government bodies work better, by imposing on them a constant discipline;
  • Government effectiveness is improved: even the most competent and honest decision-makers need feedback on how policies are working in practice;
  • Efficiency in the allocation of resources can also be improved: By ensuring that the benefits of growth are redistributed and not captured by the elite, transparency reforms can result in substantial net savers of public resources and improved socioeconomic and human development indicators.
  • Weapon against corruption: As noted in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report 2003, “information is perhaps the most important weapon against corruption. Having access to information plays a key role in efforts to curb corruption and control its impact, since,
    • Free and guaranteed access to information enables citizens, the media and law enforcement agencies to use official records as a means to uncover cases of corruption and maladministration;
    • Increasing transparency increases the risk of detection of corrupt practices and this can act as a deterrent to future corruption.
  • Every year nearly six million applications are filed under the RTI Act, making it the most extensively used transparency legislation in the world.
  • National assessments have shown that a large proportion of these are filed by the poorest and the most marginalised who have understood the tremendous potential of the law to empower them to access their basic rights and entitlements, especially in the absence of effective grievance redress mechanisms to address service delivery failures.
  • During the COVID-19 crisis too, the law has been widely used to seek information about availability of medical facilities, like ventilators and ICU beds, and to hold government departments accountable for delivery of food grains and social security benefits meant for those in distress, including migrant workers.

Way forward:

  • The right to question is the hallmark of a democracy. Any attack on the RTI law, which has empowered citizens to question those in power, is an attack on the foundation of our democratic republic.
  • It is a clear reflection of the lack of political will of governments to be answerable to the people of the country.
  • The RTI has unshackled millions of users who will continue to use this democratic right creatively and to dismantle exclusive power.
  • The law is seen as having acted as a deterrent for government servants against taking arbitrary decisions.
  • The need of the hour is the Government should take into account the concerns of the experts and should arrive at an amicable solution, which ensures sufficient independence to the Commission.
  • Government should bring the amendment after proper consultation with civil society and other stakeholders. It should towards strengthening RTI rather than weaken it from within for a sustainable and growing democracy.
  • The RTI has been and will be used to withstand attacks on itself and strengthen the movement for transparency and accountability in India.

Conclusion:

As the RTI law completes 15 years, it is again time for those whom it empowers the citizens to assert themselves and protect their fundamental right to information, which they attained after a long struggle.

 

Topic : Ethics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in-human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics – in private and public relationships. Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators; role of Family society and educational institutions in inculcating values.

6. Discuss the Mill’s concept of the harm principle. Also discuss its applicability in contemporary times. (250 words)

Reference: Ethics

Why the question:

The question is premised on the Mill’s concept of “Harm principle” and its applicability in today’s times.

Key Demand of the question:

Discuss in detail Mill’s concept of “Harm principle” and its applicability in today’s times.

Directive:

Discuss – This is an all-encompassing directive – you have to debate on paper by going through the details of the issues concerned by examining each one of them. You have to give reasons for both for and against arguments.

Structure of the answer:

Introduction:

The harm principle holds that the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. John Stuart Mill articulated this principle.

Body:

The harm principle states that the only actions that can be prevented are ones that create harm. In other words, a person can do whatever he wants as long as his actions do not harm others.

If a person’s actions only affect him, then society, which includes the government, should not be able to stop a person from doing what he wants. This even includes actions that a person may do that would harm the person himself.

There are many actions which affects only the agent ‘directly and in the first instance’. They may still affect other people, but if they do so, they will affect other people ‘through’ the agent as all people are interconnected and no human being live in isolation.

Give examples and explain in what way it can be applicable in certain situations even today.

Conclusion:

Conclude with significance of the principle.

Introduction:

The harm principle says people should be free to act however they wish unless their actions cause harm to somebody else. The principle is a central tenet of the political philosophy known as liberalism and was first proposed by English philosopher John Stuart Mill.

The harm principle is not designed to guide the actions of individuals but to restrict the scope of criminal law and government restrictions of personal liberty.

Body:

The harm principle states that the only actions that can be prevented are ones that create harm. In other words, a person can do whatever he wants as long as his actions do not harm others. If a person’s actions only affect himself, then society, which includes the government, should not be able to stop a person from doing what he wants. This even includes actions that a person may do that would harm the person himself.

However, we cannot just stop there and think that Mill makes things seem so simple, because he doesn’t. If we were to stop our discussion of the harm principle at ‘anyone can do whatever they want just so long as it doesn’t affect anyone else,’ problems arise. One such problem may be what to do with people who want to end their own life. Interestingly, Mill would actually say it would not be okay for this to happen.

For this to make the most sense, we need to understand three important ideas that helped shape the harm principle. The first is that the harm principle comes from another principle called the principle of utility. The principle of utility states that people should only do those things that bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. So, if a person is trying to decide between two things, he should choose the option that makes the most people happy.

The second idea is that Mill says there is a difference between harm and offense. Harm is something that would injure the rights of someone else or set back important interests that benefit others. An example of harm would be not paying taxes because cities rely on the money to take care of its citizens. An offense, according to Mill, is something which we would say ‘hurt our feelings.’ These are less serious and should not be prevented, because what may hurt one person’s feelings may not hurt another’s, and so offenses are not universal.

The third idea to understand is that it is very rare for an action to only affect the individual himself. Mill argues that no person is truly isolated from others and that most actions do affect other people in important ways.

Mill’s Harm Principle in contemporary times:

  • One of the biggest examples Mill used his harm principle to defend was the ability to have free speech. Mill felt that free speech was necessary for intellectual and social progress. If free speech was prevented, progress would not occur and thus harm would happen. Thus, in order to prevent harm, we should not limit free speech. The recent censorship, the gag order and contempt of court orders would come Harm principle.
  • It can be applicable in the environment versus development debate. If the development is causing too much harm than the advantage it seeks to bring, then it is indeed causing harm.

Conclusion:

Through this, the Principle of Harm by John Stuart Mill was explored through its definition in regards to liberty and its link to personal freedom. Also explored was the only circumstance in which Mill believes freedom can be limited: to protect others from harm. Lastly, objections to Mill argument were brought up such as his vagueness in his explanations of liberty and harm as well as its tie to bad personal choices.


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