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Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

[op-ed of the day] Amendments to Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act are a mixed bag

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act amendment and issues involved.

Context

The Union Cabinet’s approval of the amended Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Bill 2020 was reported on January 29. This amendment was long due and has made some anticipated changes demanded by women’s groups and courts, including the Supreme Court.

Why the amendment was necessitated?

  • Abortion (unsafe) accounts for almost 10 per cent of maternal deaths in India.
  • No provision to avoid unsafe abortion: The amended Act doesn’t have any new substantial provisions to avoid unsafe abortions.
    • The right to safe abortion (at least till 12 weeks, when it is safer) would have made the state responsible to provide safe abortion services.
  • Reduce the burden on judiciary: The proposed amendments will definitely reduce the burden on the judiciary, especially given the plethora of cases seeking permission for abortion beyond the prescribed duration of 20 weeks.
  • Two types of Court cases: The court cases are broadly two types.
    • The first group of cases: These are pregnancies that extend beyond 20 weeks of gestation as a result of rape, incest or of minor women.
    • The new Act rightly addresses these by extending prescribed period abortion to 24 weeks.
    • However, such cases form a minuscule proportion of the total number. For such cases, even the 24-week cap can be done away with, provided the abortions can be safely done.
    • The second group of cases
    • These are of pregnancies that become unwanted after congenital foetal anomalies are found upon testing.
    • With advancements in prenatal foetal screening/diagnostic technologies, more such cases are knocking at the doors of courts.
    • Marginal interval under the current act: Anomalies detected at 17-20 weeks provide only a marginal interval to conduct an abortion under the current Act.
    • The extension to 24 weeks seems to give cover to these cases for abortion services, reducing the burden on courts.

How the law could be misused?

  • Possibility of using any anomaly as a ground for abortion: The amendments have opened up the possibility for any congenital anomaly to be used as grounds for abortion.
    • Anomalies which are incompatible with life provide grounds for access to abortion at any time during pregnancy -not just 24 weeks of gestation-as long as the woman desires it and it doesn’t endanger her health.
    • But with advancements in diagnostic technologies, more anomalies will be detected, including those which are compatible with life.
  • Social acceptability and anomaly: What constitutes an anomaly changes depending on what is considered socially desirable.
    • Issue of raising children with disability: Technology-aided detection of “undesirability” could now find social support, as has been the case with female foetuses.
    • This raises concerns that raising children with disability, especially in the absence of state support and poor social attitudes, could go down a similar path.

The risk to the life of women

  • Abortion beyond 12 weeks carries serious health risks.
    • 12 weeks provision under current law: Current law requires the expert opinion of two registered medical practitioners for the abortion beyond 12 weeks.
      • Extending the limit to 20 weeks and risk involved: 12-week requirement has been delayed till 20 weeks, though the physiology of pregnancy and risks associated with procedures for second-trimester abortions haven’t changed significantly.
      • Possibility of more complications: Without the strengthening of public services, easing second-trimester abortions between 12-20 weeks opens the possibilities of more complications and endangers the life of the woman.

Conclusion

With congenital anomalies as a ground for abortion, the eugenic mindset of having socially desirable children could push more women into risky late abortions. The approach of medical boards advising courts in cases of late abortions under this Act will be critical to balancing women’s right to choose with risk to the woman and the motives for abortion. The rules framed under the Act must address this in no uncertain terms.

 

 

Important Judgements In News

[op-ed snap] Course correction for the Speaker’s office

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Suggest the ways to ensure the neutrality of the Speaker in cases under 10th Schedule.

Context 

Recently the Supreme Court of India recommended that Parliament should rethink as to whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted to a Speaker as a quasi-judicial authority when such a Speaker continues to belong to a particular political party either de jure or de facto.

What the SC recommended?

  • Provision of a ‘Permanent Tribunal’: The SC was of the opinion that Parliament may seriously consider a Constitutional amendment to substitute-
    • The Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies with a ‘permanent Tribunal headed by a retired Supreme Court judge or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court.
    • Or some other outside independent mechanism.
  • What the ‘Permanent Tribunal’ achieve?
    • Impartiality and timely decisions: This is to ensure that such disputes are decided both swiftly and impartially.
    • Proper functioning of the democracy: It will give teeth to the provisions contained in the Tenth Schedule, which are so vital in the proper functioning of India’s democracy’.

Range of functions of the Speaker

  • What is the nature of the duties of the Speaker?
    • Role under 10th schedule: Under 10th Schedule, the nature of duties of the Speaker, is as an “arbiter” or a “quasi-judicial body”. But it also extends to a range of its functions.
    • What other functions are performed by the Speaker? While facilitating the business of the House and to maintain decorum in the House, the Speaker has ‘extensive functions to perform in matters regulatory, administrative and judicial, falling under her domain.
    • She enjoys vast authority under the Constitution and the Rules, as well as inherently’.
    • Ultimate interpreter: She is the ‘ultimate interpreter and arbiter of those provisions which relate to the functioning of the House. Her decisions are final and binding and ordinarily cannot be easily challenged.
    • She decides the duration of debates, can discipline members and even override decisions by committees.
    • A representative of the House: She represents the collective voice of the House and is the sole representative of the House in the international arena’

Issue of alleged bias

  • Allegations of bias by the Speaker: On several occasions, the Speaker’s role has been questioned on the allegation of bias. The office has been criticised for being an agent of pernicious partisan politics.
    • The Supreme Court has observed in Jagjit Singh versus State of Haryana“…certain questions have been raised about the confidence in the matter of impartiality on some issues having political overtones which are decided by the Speaker in his capacity as a Tribunal.”
  • As a minority view, Justice J.S. Verma in Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu And Others observed: “The Speaker being an authority within the House and his tenure being dependent on the will of the majority therein, the likelihood of suspicion of bias could not be ruled out.”
  • What is the problem with the neutrality of the Speaker? Howsoever desirable the proposition of neutrality maybe, in the present circumstances, it would be unrealistic to expect a Speaker to completely abjure all party considerations.
    • Structural issues: There are structural issues regarding the manner of appointment of the Speaker and her tenure in office.
  • Why the Speaker prefers to maintain party membership: A member is appointed to the office of the Speaker if a motion nominating her is carried in the House.
    • Since the electoral system and conventions in India have ‘not developed to ensure protection to the office, there are cogent reasons for Speakers to retain party membership.
    • Elections are not always by consensus and there have been cases when different parties have fielded their own candidates.
    • All political parties campaign in the constituency of the Speaker.
    • Even if the Speaker is re-elected to the House, the office of the Speaker in India is still open for elections’.
  • Way forward
    • Revamp the structure: What is required is not merely incidental changes in the powers of the Speaker; rather a major revamp in the structure of the office itself is necessary.
    • How to ensure the neutrality of the Speaker? The scheme should be brought wherein Speakers should renounce all political affiliations, membership and activity once they have been elected, both within the Assembly and in the country as a whole.
  • Replicating the UK model:
  • Reference can be sought from the United Kingdom where the ‘main characteristic of the Speaker of the House of Commons is neutrality.
  • Once elected, the Speaker gives up all-partisan affiliation, as in other Parliaments of British tradition, but remains in office until retirement, even though the majority may change.
  • She does not express any political views during debates and is an election candidate without any ticket.
  • Impartiality, fairness and autonomy in decision-making are the hallmarks of a robust institution.
  • It is the freedom from interference and pressures which provide the necessary atmosphere where one can work with an absolute commitment to the cause of neutrality as a constitutional value.

Conclusion

At a time when India’s fall in ranks in the latest Democracy Index has evoked concern, it is expected that Parliament will pay heed to the reasoning of the Supreme Court and take steps to strengthen the institution of the Speaker.

 

 

Issues related to Economic growth

[op-ed snap] Fashioning the framework of a New India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- How could focusing on inclusive growth help spur the Indian economy.

Context

As the Indian economy is going through a severe crisis, a major solution to the present economic crisis is to go in for inclusive growth; it also means shared prosperity.

Where India stands on poverty and how the slowdown is impacting the poor.

  • Bottom 30-40% adversely impacted: The slowing economy has had an adverse impact on the bottom 30%-40% of the population.
    • Absolute poverty on the rise: The incidence of absolute poverty, which has been falling since 1972-73, has increased to 30% (4% jump).
  • 44% population below the multi-dimensional Poverty line: The Human Development Report (2019) has shown, more than 44% of the Indian population is under the multi-dimensional poverty line.
  • Rising inequality: The poorest 50% population at present owns only 4.1% of the national wealth.
    • While the richest 10% of people own 73% of the total wealth in India (Suisse Credit 2019).
  • Rampant malnourishment: India has 15.2% population malnourished (women 15%) as against 9.3% in China.
    • And 50% of the malnourished children in the world are in India.
  • At 112th position on global hunger: India’s global hunger rank has gone up to 112 while Brazil is 18, China is 25 and South Africa, 59.
  • Dismal performance on education: In the field of education as per a UN report (2015), overall literacy in India is 74.04% (more than the 25% are totally illiterate) against 94.3% in South Africa, 96.6% in China and 92.6% in Brazil.
    • Almost 40-45% population is either illiterate or has studied up to standard 4.
  • Poor quality of education: Given the quality of education in India, the overall population is very poorly educated, with the share of ‘educated unemployment’ rising by leaps and bounds.

What needs to be realised?

  • Focus on domestic demand: It needs to be realised that when exports are declining, the economy will have to depend on domestic demand for growth.
    • It is no more feasible for the top 20-25% population to continue growing without depending on the demand from the bottom 40-45% population.
  • Demand by the bottom 40% a must: There is thus a strong reason now for the economy to increase effective demand of this bottom 40-45% population at least to continue growing-to reach a $5-trillion economy by 2024.

What is wrong with the growth process?

  • Bottom 40% not getting the fair share of growth: A major reason for the crisis is that the growth process has marginalised the bottom 40-plus% of the population.
    • It is in the sense that they do not get a fair share of the economic growth, and are more or less deprived of productive employment with a decent income.
    • They have not been used as active participants in the growth process. Their potential has not been promoted.
  • Less spending for the poor and its consequences: Though the bottom population depends on the government for basic health and elementary education (and also for access to higher educational opportunities)-
    • The government spends just 4% of GDP on health (against the norm of 4-6% of GDP) and 3% of GDP on education (against the norm of 6-8% of GDP).
    • How this dismal spending affects the poor: As a result of this below norm spending, these people are left hardly literate and sick, with poor nutrition and high morbidity.
    • They are incapable of acquiring any meaningful skills or participating actively when new technology is spreading in the rest of the economy.
  • The sub-optimal use of labour force: This sub-optimal use of the labour force in the economy is not likely to enable India to achieve optimal growth with proper use of the national resources -the labour force.

Inclusive growth- a solution to the present economic crisis

  • Inclusive growth also includes shared prosperity: Here, inclusive growth does not mean only including all sections of the population in the growth process as producers and beneficiaries; it also means “shared prosperity”.
    • Since India has already committed to sustainable and inclusive growth at the UN General Assembly, India is definitely obliged to implement inclusive growth.
    • This should be our “New India”.
  • What “New India” would involve?
    • Improve the capability and opportunities: To start with, to improve the capabilities of the masses as well as their well-being by expanding productive employment opportunities for them.
    • What expanding productive employment mean? The main steps to expand productive employment for all in the economy should be made up of-
    • A process of inclusion.
    • Expanding the quality of basic health for all.
    • And ensuring quality education to all.
  • How will “New India” help?
    • Which will by itself generate large-scale employment in the government.
    • Having a well-educated and healthy labour force will ensure high employability.
    • Such people will be able to participate actively in the development process.
    • The cycle of more productive employment: Having a well-educated labour force will help start-ups and MSMEs, in turn triggering a cycle of more productive employment in the economy.
    • Global competitiveness increase: This will also improve the global competitiveness of our production units.
    • Labour absorption potential of MGNREGA: Employment guarantee schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) will also increase employment.
      • Assets generated under MGNREGA will expand capital formation in the economy, thereby raising the labour-absorbing capacity of the mainstream economy.
    • Why this strategy is advantageous?
      • Such a strategy has multiple advantages:
      • First– it will raise incomes and the well-being of those who need it most urgently.
      • Second– it will raise effective demand rapidly, which is so badly needed in the economy today to raise economic growth.
      • Third– growth will be equitable and sustainable.

Way forward

  • Finally, how does one raise resources to increase new public investments in the selected sectors?
  • Raise direct taxes: One major strategy is to raise direct taxes, both capital tax and wealth tax.
    • Past growth has failed to reach the poor: Growth led by providing tax cut and extra incentives, but this growth does not much percolate to the poor.
    • Consequently, taxing the rich has to be a major strategy to raise government revenue.
  • Treat public expenditure as an investment: The public expenditure on raising capabilities should be treated as social investment rather than social welfare, policymakers will be willing to spend on this capital formation.
  • Let the fiscal deficit slip: Finally, there was no sound economic reason to control fiscal deficit ratio. Sound macroeconomics never supports this.

 

 

 

Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

Defence Bill in Budget

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Issue of ever-increasing defence expenditure

 

The Union Budget for 2020-21 has allocated Rs 1,33,825 crore to defence pensions. This is up by 10½ times in a decade and a half, from Rs 12,715 crore in 2005-06.

The ‘hype’ of defence pension

  • The allocation of Rs 1,33, 826 crore is 4.4% of the total expenditure of the central government or 0.6% of GDP.
  • And of the overall allocation made to the Defence Ministry, 28.4% goes towards pensions.
  • So sharply has the bill for defence pensions gone up that it is now Rs 15,291 crore more than the Defence Ministry’s total capital expenditure, a bulk of which goes towards modernization of the armed forces.
  • It now nearly equals the salaries bill for Defence Ministry. The more the government spends on salaries and pensions, the less it can spend on modernizing the armed forces.
  • To put it in perspective, the government’s spending on education is Rs 99,300 crore and on health is Rs 69,000 crore.
  • To compare it with other sectors, the government’s rural employment scheme MGNREGA has an allocation of only Rs 61,500 crore — 46% of the bill for defence pensions.

Why the bill is high?

  • As per the Defence Ministry, there are about 26 lakh armed forces pensioners and family pensioners and approximately 55,000 pensioners are added every year.
  • In 2015, the government announced the OROP (One Rank, One Pension) scheme which cost it Rs 8,600 crore.
  • The implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations in 2017 again increased the defence pensions bill.

What makes defense pensions distinct?

  • Defence pensions are unique in many ways. Defence personnel retire at a young age and thus continue to get pensions for a longer period of time than their civilian counterparts.
  • The current ratio of military pensioners to serving military personnel is 1.7 to 1, while the ratio of civil pensioners to civil working personnel is 0.56 to 1.
  • This ratio in defence is projected to further change as life expectancy in India goes up and retired personnel live far longer than earlier.
  • All civilian employees in the government who joined service on or after 1 January 2004 do not get an assured pension but come under the ambit of the contributory National Pension Scheme (NPS).
  • That is meant to reduce the pensions bill of the government on the civilian side, but military personnel have been excluded from the ambit of the NPS because of their short service span.

Where this can lead to

  • With economic growth stalling and competing requirement from development and infrastructure sectors, the government is being hard-pressed for the last rupee in its kitty.
  • The defence services themselves need more funds to modernize themselves but are struggling with budgetary allocations.
  • In such a scenario, attention is likely to come to the fast-rising defence pensions bill.

Feasible solutions

  • The short-term answer to keep the bill frozen at the same level is to increase the retirement age of serving military personnel and stop the rise in number of pensioners.
  • But at a time when the country is facing unemployment at an all-time high, stopping recruitment for a few years will worsen the situation.
  • The other solution is to send the retired military personnel to paramilitary forces but those forces, too, need to stay young and have not accepted the proposal.
  • That would also pose the problem of recruitment in a time of high unemployment, as in the case of increase in retirement age of military personnel.

Conclusion

  • The sharply rising defence pensions bill, however, has become a challenge that cannot be ignored any longer.
  • Unless India’s economy grows at a double-digit rate, it will not be possible to furnish this bill and still modernize the armed forces.
  • There are no easy answers to the challenge, and the answer will have to come from the top political leadership.

Intellectual Property Rights in India

Global Intellectual Property Index 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Prospects of the Global IP Index

Mains level : Intellectual property rights and their protection in India

India has been ranked 40th out of 53 countries on a global intellectual property index, even as the country has shown improvement in terms of scores when it comes to the protection of IP and copyright issues.

GIP Index

  • The Global IP Index was released by Global Innovation Policy Center or GIPC of the US Chambers of Commerce.
  • The GIPC Index consists of five key sets of indicators to map the national intellectual property environment for the surveyed countries.
  • The major indicator categories are:
  1. patents, related rights, and limitations;
  2. copyrights, related rights, and limitations;
  3. trademarks, related rights, and limitations;
  4. enforcement;
  5. membership and ratification of international treaties.

India’s performance

  • India was placed at 36th position among 50 countries in 2019.
  • India’s score, however, increased from 36.04 per cent (16.22 out of 45) in 2019 to 38.46 per cent (19.23 out of 50) in 2020, a 2.42 per cent jump in absolute score.
  • However, India’s relative score increased by 6.71 per cent.
  • India also continues to score well in the Systemic Efficiency indicator, scoring ahead of 28 other economies in these indicators.

Challenges for India

  • GIPC has identified several challenges for India. Prominent among them are:

Patentability requirements, patent enforcement, compulsory licensing, patent opposition, regulatory data protection, transparency in reporting seizures by customs, and Singapore Treaty of Law of TMs and Patent Law Treaty

Measures to protect IPs in India

  • Since the release of the 2016 National IPR Policy, the government of India has made a focused effort to support investments in innovation and creativity through increasingly robust IP protection and enforcement.
  • Since 2016, India has improved the speed of processing for patent and trademark applications, increased awareness of IP rights among Indian innovators and creators, and facilitated the registration and enforcement of those rights.
  • To continue this upward trajectory, much work remains to be done to introduce transformative changes to India’s overall IP framework and take serious steps to consistently implement strong IP standards.

Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

Supreme Court panel recommends several prison reforms

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Prision reforms

The Supreme Court has taken up a report on Prison Reforms for hearing on before a Bench led by CJI Sharad A. Bobde.

About the Committee

  • The court had in September 2018 appointed the Justice Roy Committee to examine the various problems plaguing prisons, from overcrowding to lack of legal advice to convicts to issues of remission and parole.
  • Besides Justice Roy, a former Supreme Court judge, the members included an IG, Bureau of Police Research and Development, and the DG (Prisons), Tihar Jail.

Various recommendations

  • Every new prisoner should be allowed a free phone call a day to his family members to see him through his first week in jail.
  • This is among the several recommendations — besides modern cooking facilities, canteens to buy essential items and trial through video-conferencing.
  • The report described the preparation of food in kitchens as “primitive and arduous”.
  • The kitchens are congested and unhygienic and the diet has remained unchanged for years now.

Staffing the prisons

  • The court said overcrowding is a common bane in the under-staffed prisons. The Prison Department has a perennial average of 30%-40% vacancies.
  • Both the prisoner and his guard equally suffer human rights violation.

Speedy trial

  • The undertrial prisoner, who is yet to get his day in court, suffers the most, languishing behind bars for years without a hearing.
  • Speedy trial remains one of the best ways to remedy the unwarranted phenomenon of over-crowding.
  • The report concluded that most prisons are “teeming with undertrial prisoners”, whose numbers are highly disproportionate to those of convicts.
  • It said there should be at least one lawyer for every 30 prisoners.

History- Important places, persons in news

Kumbhabishegam at Brahadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Brahadeeswarar Temple

Mains level : Temple Architecture

 

  • Tens of thousands of pilgrims thronged Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu’s Cauvery delta to witness the Kumbhabishegam (consecration) ceremony at the Sri Brahadeeswarar Temple.
  • This enormously significant event was held after 23 years — and after the Madras High Court had settled an old argument over the ritual purification process only five days previously.
  • The judgment delivered by the Madurai Bench of the court addressed the struggle for supremacy between the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions.

Sri Brahadeeswarar Temple and Kumbhabishegam ceremony

  • The Sri Brahadeeswarar Temple (also spelt Brihadisvara, and called Peruvudaiyar Koyil, which translates simply to ‘Big Temple’) is the most famous of the many temples in Thanjavur.
  • The temple, one of the world’s largest and grandest, was built between 1003 AD and 1010 AD by the great Chola emperor Raja Raja I (c. 985-1014 AD).

Before the High Court

  • The court, in a dispute over which language should be used in the slokas at the kumbhabishegam, agreed with the state government’s affidavit that the ceremony should be in both Sanskrit and Tamil.
  • The Temple committee had demanded that the Kumbhabishegam should be held only in Tamil.
  • The court ruled the choice to be vested with the devotees to seek for their archanas to be performed at their wishes by chanting the manthras either in Tamil or in Sanskrit.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Energy stored in wastewater

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNU-INWEH

Mains level : Need for wastewater management

The world generates about 380 trillion litres (tl) wastewater every year. These stores vast amounts of energy, nutrients for fertilizers besides, of course, water, according to recent study by the UN Institute for Water Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

Energy in wastewater

  • In principle, nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium recovered from wastewater produced annually can offset 13.4 per cent of global demand to produce fertilizers.
  • Assuming full-energy recovery, the study estimated, current wastewater volume could provide enough methane fuel to power 196 million households by 2030 and 239 million households by 2050.
  • Usable water reclaimed from wastewater can irrigate up to 31 million hectares (mha) of land, the study claimed.
  • The volume of wastewater being generated is projected to rise roughly 24 per cent by 2030 to 470 tl and 51 per cent by 2050 to 574 tl.
  • Treating wastewater efficiently can go a long way in achieving the UN-mandated sustainable development goals (SDG).

About UNU-INWEH

  • UNU-INWEH acts as the “UN Think Tank on Water” and contributes to the resolution of the global water challenge through a unique programme of applied research and education.
  • It conceives, develops, and manages water initiatives that help developing countries build their capacity for lasting improvements in human and ecosystem health, and overall reduction in poverty.
  • The  University is not a traditional university in the sense of having a faculty, campus, or students.
  • They respond directly to the regional and global water crisis and facilitate efforts to meet UN Development goals by providing a scientific evidence base.
  • UNU-INWEH carries out its work in cooperation with other research institutions, international organizations, individual scholars, and scientists throughout the world.