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Indian Express Editorial Analysis

7-February-2024

1. Policy must address growth gap

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Government Budgeting.
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of understanding of the country’s economic policies, challenges, and prospects.
Context:
  • The Interim Union Budget presented on February 1 serves as a vote on account due to the impending general elections, yet it offers insights into the government’s macroeconomic policy objectives amid prevailing economic challenges in India.
More about the news: Budgetary Figures and Trends:
  • In nominal terms, the budgeted total expenditure stands at Rs 47.8 lakh crore, marking a 6.1 percent increase over the revised estimates for 2023-24, which is the lowest increase in two decades.
  • Capital expenditure has notably risen by 16.9 percent to Rs 11.1 lakh crore, continuing the trend seen in recent years.
  • However, non-interest revenue expenditure has declined by 5.5 percent in real terms, indicating a fiscally conservative approach.
Fiscal Policy Objectives:
  • The fiscal policy framework aims to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio and mitigate the adverse effects of expenditure reduction on GDP growth.
  • This strategy aligns with the recommendations of the FRBM review committee to lower the targeted debt-to-GDP ratio from the current 58 percent to 40 percent.
Factors Influencing Debt-to-GDP Ratio:
  • The debt-to-GDP ratio depends on GDP growth rate relative to the interest rate and the primary deficit-GDP ratio.
  • The government has been reducing its borrowing and primary deficit ratio since 2021-22 to achieve the targeted debt-to-GDP ratio.
Impact on Expenditure Growth Rate:
  • Reducing the primary deficit-GDP ratio necessitates controlling the expenditure growth rate.
  • The primary expenditure-GDP ratio declined from 12.7 percent in 2021-22 to 11.6 percent in 2023-24, implying a limitation on expenditure growth rate to achieve the debt-to-GDP target.
Shift in Expenditure Composition:
  • To mitigate the adverse impact of expenditure reduction on GDP growth, the government has focused on shifting expenditure towards capital expenditure.
  • This policy decision reflects the belief that an increase in capital expenditure has a greater multiplier effect on output compared to revenue expenditure.
Analysis of Fiscal Policy Framework:
  • The fiscal policy framework raises questions regarding the advisability of an arbitrary debt-to-GDP target and the sufficiency of policy objectives to address India’s developmental challenges.
  • While debt stability can be achieved at the current debt-to-GDP ratio through higher growth rates, the focus on debt reduction may not adequately address the need for structural change and employment generation.
 Employment Trends and Income Distribution:
  • Labour force data highlights a reversal in the process of structural change, with a significant increase in self-employment post-Covid.
  • Despite GDP growth recovery, regular wages have stagnated, indicating a widening income gap and weak improvements in welfare.
  • Addressing these challenges may require a reevaluation of fiscal policy targets and a focus on inclusive growth strategies.
Conclusion:
  • The Interim Union Budget reflects a fiscally conservative approach aimed at debt reduction and GDP growth stabilization.
  • However, questions remain regarding the effectiveness of these policies in addressing India’s developmental challenges, particularly in terms of employment generation and income distribution.
  • Addressing these concerns may necessitate a reassessment of fiscal targets and a more nuanced approach to economic policy formulation.
PYQ: Distinguish between capital budget and revenue budget. Explain the components of both these Budgets. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2021)
Practice Question:  Discuss the challenges and opportunities in achieving the stated fiscal targets amidst prevailing economic challenges and structural transformation requirements in the Indian economy. (250 words/15 m)Top of Form

2. The dead ends of education

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Education
This topic is relevant for Mains in the context of understanding the complexities surrounding student suicides and the broader socio-economic context.
Context:
  • Between 2019 and 2021, 35,950 student suicides were recorded in India, highlighting a concerning trend.
  • However, there is a notable lack of comprehensive socio-economic data regarding these deaths, hindering a deeper understanding of the underlying factors.
More about the news: Caste Discrimination in Elite Educational Institutions:
  • In the period from 2014 to 2021, 122 students in elite engineering and management institutions committed suicide, with 68 belonging to lower-caste communities.
  • This disparity underscores the role of caste discrimination, particularly in institutions where a majority of India’s population, belonging to lower castes, faces significant challenges.
Coaching Culture and Mental Health Struggles:
  • The pressure-cooker environment of coaching institutions, particularly evident in places like Kota, Rajasthan, has been cited as a contributing factor to student suicides.
  • High-stakes entrance exams, coupled with the financial burden and mental toll of rigorous preparation, exacerbate the struggles faced by vulnerable students.
Root Causes and Societal Pressures:
  • The societal expectation of academic success, compounded by caste-based discrimination and economic disparities, creates a hostile environment for many students.
  • Marginalized groups often bear the brunt of these pressures, perpetuating cycles of inequality and mental health challenges.
 Education as a Tool for Empowerment:
  • While education is touted as a pathway to empowerment and social mobility, its current manifestation often falls short.
  • The perpetuation of caste-based discrimination, coupled with systemic inequalities, undermines the transformative potential of education.
Pedagogical Perspectives and Policy Implications:
  • Various thinkers, from Gandhi to Ambedkar, have offered differing perspectives on the purpose and nature of education.
  • However, a coherent pedagogical tradition remains elusive.
  • There is a pressing need to reevaluate educational objectives and prioritize holistic development over rote learning and academic achievement.
Reimagining Education for the Future:
  • In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, education must evolve to meet the changing needs of society.
  • A renewed focus on critical thinking, empathy, and social justice is essential to cultivate responsible citizens capable of navigating the challenges of the 21st century.
Role of Educators and Stakeholders:
  • Ultimately, the responsibility lies with educators, policymakers, and society as a whole to address the root causes of student suicides and create a more inclusive and supportive educational environment.
  • By prioritizing mental health, fostering diversity, and challenging systemic injustices, we can work towards a brighter and more equitable future for all students.
What are the Initiatives To Curb Suicides?
Global Initiatives:
  • World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD): Every year on September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) was first observed in 2003 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). Giving the clear message that suicide may be averted, it draws attention to the problem, lessens stigma, and increases awareness among organisations, the government, and the general public.
  • World Mental Health Day: Every year on October 10th, the world observes World Mental Health Day. Raising awareness of mental health concerns globally and organising initiatives in favour of mental health are the main goals of World Mental Health Day.
Indian Initiatives:
  • Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017: The goal of MHA 2017 is to offer mental health treatments to those who are mentally ill.
  • KIRAN: A 24/7 toll-free helpline called “KIRAN” has been established by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to offer assistance to anyone dealing with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, suicide thoughts, and other issues.
  • Manodarpan Initiative: Under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, the Ministry of Education launched the Manodarpan project. Its goal is to give instructors, students, and families psychological assistance for their mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19.
  • National Suicide Prevention Strategy: The nation’s first suicide prevention strategy, unveiled in 2023, aims to reduce suicide mortality by 10% by 2030 through multi-sectoral cooperation and action plans with deadlines. The plan aligns with the South East Asia Region Suicide Prevention Strategy of the World Health Organisation.
PYQ: Explain why suicide among young women is increasing in Indian society. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2023)
Practice Question:  Discuss the socio-economic factors and systemic challenges contributing to the rising trend of student suicides in India. (150 words/10 m)

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