1.Does India need a bullet train? (The Hindu)

2.Law, faith, unreason (The Hindu and The Business Standard)

 

1.Does India need a bullet train? (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of High Speed Railway Project of India. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The foundation stone for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway Project (MAHSR) is a huge leap towards India and Japan converging and integrating them in a long-term sustainable economic relationship. The project will enable Indians to learn the Japanese art of perfection in engineering and execution, and pick up innovative and sustainable practices through the Make in India initiative.

About the high speed railways

  • There’s no standard definition, but a railway system designed for speeds above 250kmph is generally called high speed -sections of these routes may have lower speed limits for safety reasons. Only 16 nations have high-speed railways -China boasts the world’s longest network with 27,000km of such tracks. Japan, Spain, France and Germany are the others where tracks dedicated for high-speed trains stretch over 1,000 km.
  • The Japanese Shinkansen technology was preferable for a variety of reasons. It is the oldest HSR system. It operates trains at speeds of over 320 km/hour. The Japanese HSR system has the best safety record in the world with no passenger fatalities in the last 50 years. The Chinese system, which is the largest system at present in terms of route km, is of recent origin. There have been fatalities on the Chinese system. Japanese railways are by far the best in the world for on-time performance.

Does India need a bullet train? 

LEFT

  • The leftist believes that the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train is a vanity project which has little or no justification on the grounds of economic viability or public service. There is a huge overreach. Only a handful of high-income countries with specific demographics have high-speed rail (HSR), while many have failed in their efforts, others have abandoned it after studying it. The main problem is viability, given the huge costs involved.

Examples

  • Japan’s pioneering Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo to Osaka, passes through the biggest industrial and commercial centres, caters to almost 50% of Japan’s population, and carries more than 150 million passengers annually.
  • South Korea’s Seoul-Busan HSR caters to almost 70% of the population, yet struggles with viability.
  • France’s fabled Paris-Lyon HSR service has had to periodically receive substantial subsidies.
  • Taiwan’s $14 billion HSR service between Taipei and Tainan virtually became bankrupt after losses of over $1 billion. It realised only 50% of the projected ridership and required government bailout.
  • Argentina gave up on HSR ambitions on cost grounds, deciding instead to upgrade its entire railway system to medium-speed infrastructure, an option India should seriously consider.
  • Even the U.S. is tentatively initiating a San Francisco-Los Angeles corridor, and is still unsure about the densely populated industrial-commercial Philadelphia-Boston-New York-Washington DC corridor.
  • Turkey’s Ankara-Istanbul HSR line is the only example from a middle-income country, and the jury is still out on its viability.
  • China is an exception, as it is in most things. But the question arises- Is India ready for such an eventuality?

Overly priced

  • The Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR will costs around ₹1 lakh crore. Estimates in the project report by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad show that at least 1 lakh passengers at fares of ₹4,000-₹5,000 would be required daily for the project to break even. The tariff is too high air fares between the two cities are around ₹2,500.
  • Subsidies appear inevitable. Subsidies for agriculture, education and healthcare are taboo, but subsidies for the rich seem unproblematic. Here the main question comes should India spend over ₹1 lakh crore for a 508-km HSR used by well-heeled passengers when over 90% of rail passengers in India travel by sleeper class or lower class for thousands of kilometres. So they believe it is a wasteful project which only serves to deliver an illusory feel-good perception among the wealthy.

RIGHT

  • The rightist claims that it was evident in the Railway Budget speeches of 2009, 2010 and 2012, that the all government had have also committed itself to the bullet train. The ‘Vision 2020’ document presented by former Railway Minister to Parliament also speaks of HSR. In 2012, the High Speed Rail Corporation was set up.
  • In May 2013, during former Prime Minister’s visit to Japan, it was decided that the two countries would co-finance a joint feasibility study for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor. It is unfortunate that despite being the third largest railway network in the world, in terms of kilometres of track and the number of passengers who travel, India does not have a single high-speed corridor. There are 15 countries worldwide in the exclusive high-speed rail fraternity.
  • There is no denying that the present infrastructure of the Railways should be strengthened to avert accidents. The attitude of all those in the Railways, from a gangman to the Railway Minister, has to change to give highest priority to safety when it comes to investment, operation, maintenance of the rail network.
  • As the present system of running trains on a congested network at the cost of maintenance and safety has to give way to safety consciousness in operations. ‘Safety first’ should be the mantra of the Indian Railways if accidents like Utkal Express and the Elphinstone Road station stampede are to be averted. The government had announced a plan to renovate or upgrade all safety infrastructures in a span of two years by prioritising the investment.
  • The Comparing the investment in the bullet train project with investment in renovation and upgradation of conventional railways is odious. These investments are not comparable as these are not alternative choices at all. Both dimensions are necessary and we should take a cue from China which has developed a network of 22,000 km of HSR over the past 15 years. It plans to expand it to 30,000 km by 2020.
  • Unlike air travel, which is expensive and less energy-efficient, bullet trains will make the stations en route hubs for economic and industrial growth. HSR also means de-congestion of metropolitan cities as traffic will be diverted from road to rail. It is safer, faster, and economically viable with a 11.8% rate of return. It will increase investment in infrastructure, ignite the economy, and create jobs.

CENTRE

  • The centre view mentioned that the growth of civilisation is linked intimately with growth in speed or mobility. The invention of the wheel, domestication of the horse, and harnessing of steam power for locomotion are all intricate links of the same chain. Railways emerged as the mainstay of the Industrial Revolution witnessed in the Western world in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • The high speed trains have been status symbol, as the high-speed rail (HSR) owes its genesis to the competition railways faced from fast-moving automobiles and airplanes. China leveraged the phenomena to the hilt by introducing high-speed trains on its network in the nineties, and can now boast of owning the world’s largest HSR network so it is natural for India to aspire to join the exclusive club of nations having a HSR network.
  • India has the dream of becoming the third largest economy in 25 years. It already has a nuclear arsenal, a formidable missile programme, and has taken creditable strides in the field of space exploration. So, why should it not have a modern HSR network as well?
  • But the India just doesn’t have the technology for running trains at high speeds. Japan, France and China all took a decade or more to upgrade their rail systems to reach a speed of 250 kmph and beyond to qualify for wearing the tag of having a HSR network.
  • By adopting the Shinkansen technology owned by Japan and wrangling a sizeable loan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, India has tried to kill two birds with one stone. It will have the technology and the finances at one go.

Way ahead

  • The project will enable Indians to learn the Japanese art of perfection in engineering and execution, and pick up innovative and sustainable practices through the Make in India initiative. The launch also culminates a long process of preparations and negotiations between the two countries. It is an occasion to reflect on some of the key aspects of the project and the process followed in reaching this milestone. 

Question – Critically analyse the statement- the high speed trains are wasteful project which only serves to deliver an illusory feel good perception among the wealthy

2.Law, faith, unreason (The Hindu and The Business Standard)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of need to have broad-based social reform to address the superstition. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • India is a country of diverse culture and tradition, as well as of a lot of superstitions. Mere legislation is not enough to eradicate superstition from society, but laws do have the utility value of curbing the prevalence of inhuman rituals and practices.
  • The proposed Karnataka law targeting black magic and inhuman practices may be regarded as social reform. The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017 has been approved by the State Cabinet and is likely to be introduced soon in the Assembly.

About the bill

  • Maharashtra already has a law against black magic and other ‘evil’ practices. It is not clear if it has made much headway in eliminating blind faith, but it must strengthen the hands of people willing to take on social practices steeped in ignorance and unreason.
  • The proposed law ought to be seen as a reasonable restriction on the right to practise and propagate one’s religion under Article 25 of the Constitution. As long as these restrictions are in the interest of public order, morality and health, the law may withstand the test of constitutionality.
  • It will be not accurate to characterise the bill as just an ‘anti-superstition bill’, as what it seeks to prohibit are actions that offend human dignity, result in the exploitation of gullible and vulnerable people or cause harm to them.
  • Organising macabre rituals, offering magical cures and threatening people, under peril of incurring divine or supernatural displeasure, are covered by this law, even though these can be treated as offences under the Indian Penal Code too. But ironically, it exempts established religious practices and the propagation of spiritual learning and arts, besides astrology and vaastu. 

Way ahead

  • It is hard to make a case for retaining the practices; however, it is possible that some may ask whether everything that appears irrational to the less believing should be prohibited by law. When the state ventures to identify some practices mostly prevailing among groups in the social periphery as incompatible with ‘civilised’ norms, it must demonstrate that these are wholly inhuman, or exploitative.
  • Ultimately, it is education and awareness that can truly liberate a society from superstition, blind faith and abominable practices in the name of faith. Until then, the law will have to continue to identify and punish acts that violate the people’s right to life, health and dignity.

QuestionBanning ‘evil’ practices by law is not enough, social reform must be more broad-based. Discuss with examples.