The HINDU Notes – 12th October 2017 - VISION

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

The HINDU Notes – 12th October 2017

πŸ“° Pondicherry Shark, Red Sea Torpedo and Tentacled Butterfly Ray may have become extinct, fear scientists

•Three marine species, the Pondicherry Shark, the Red Sea Torpedo and the Tentacled Butterfly Ray might have become possibly extinct in the oceanic waters of the Arabian Seas Region (ASR) since no evidence of its existence has surfaced in the last three decades.

•Scientists are also worried about the possible disappearance of other species from the region even before they were known to science.

•The first ever assessment of the conservation status of sharks, rays, and chimaeras (collectively called chondrichthyans) in the region has left the scientists grim-faced as 78 of the 153 species revived were found fighting for survival.

•The Guitar fish found in coastal waters of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the Ganges Shark found in Arabian Sea were classified as Critically Endangered, among others.

•The “extinction risk and conservation status of all chondrichthyans naturally reproducing” in the region were reviewed by the IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group. Though 184 species of sharks, rays, and chimaeras occur in the region, only the confirmed 153 species were considered for the analysis.

•The ASR covers the waters of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Sea of Oman, and the Gulf. The region is also bordered by

•20 countries including India, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel and Pakistan.

•The assessment also revealed that 27 species were Near Threatened and 19 others were of least conservation concerns. It was also known that less was known about 29 to evaluate their risk of extinction.

•The evaluators included two from Kerala including K.V. Akhilesh of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Mumbai centre and K. K. Bineesh of the Zoological Survey of India, Andaman Nicobar unit.

•By-catch was found to be the biggest threat to the majority of chondrichthyan fishes besides the “pressure from artisanal and industrial fisheries.”

•The assessors were of the view that the “increasing decline in the extent and quality of habitat as a result of coastal development and other anthropogenic disturbances, particularly for those critical habitats that many species depend on coral reefs, mangroves, sea grasses pose a serious threat to the survival of many species.”

•India, which banned the exploitation and trade of 10 species of sharks and rays, had in 2015 banned the export and import of shark fins of all species.

πŸ“° Common genetic variants for skin colour in Indians found

•A study of nearly 300 people living in different parts of India found that nine single-base variants (single-nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) account for 31% variation in the colour of the skin.

•Researchers at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad tested 30 SNPs that were earlier studied for skin colour in other parts of the world. Based on certain criteria, only 22 of the 30 SNPs were found suitable for statistical test in the Indian population. The two-member team of Dr. Madhusudan Reddy Nandineni and Anujit Sarkar found that only nine SNPs have significant association with skin colour in people living in India.

•Samples were collected from people living in Karnataka and Telangana in the south, Maharashtra and Rajasthan in the west, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand in the north, and Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam in the east.

•The single-base variant rs1426654 accounts for 25-38% of skin colour variation between Africans and Europeans. Like earlier studies, this study too found this single-base variant was strongly associated with skin pigmentation in the Indian population. In fact, rs1426654 was one of the four SNPs that had maximum effect on skin pigmentation in people living here. The results were published in the American Journal of Human Biology.

•The gene variants (allele) that give the skin a darker colour due to the presence of higher amount of melanin pigment are found in people living in south India while those living in north India have gene variants that make the skin lighter. Being closer to the equator, the darker skin in the south Indian population protects them from strong UV rays of the Sun.

•The darker skin of people in south India was reflected in higher mean melanin index (a representation of the amount of melanin in the skin) of 48 compared with mean melanin index of 39 in the case of people in north India. The population in east and west India has intermediate values (mean MI of 41). The melanin index did not vary within a given geographical region.

•All the nine SNPs that are significantly associated with skin pigmentation are found in chromosome 15. The researchers found a few SNPs are found close together as two blocks in the chromosome. While one block of the chromosome has two SNPs, the other block has three SNPs. SNPs found together tend to have combined effect on skin colour. Since children tend to inherit small blocks of chromosome from parents, the SNPs found close together are inherited as a whole from parents.

πŸ“° Sexual intercourse with minor wife is rape, says SC

A girl child below 18 can’t be treated as a commoditySeen as trigger to declare child marriages voidSays a child remains a child even if she is married

•The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, who is below 18 years of age, is rape.

•A girl child below the age of 18 cannot be treated as a commodity having no say over her body or someone who has no right to deny sexual intercourse to her husband, the Supreme Court held.

•“Human rights of a girl child are very much alive and kicking whether she is married or not and deserve recognition and acceptance,” a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta observed.

Separate judgments

•The two judges wrote separate judgments totalling 127 pages. The court read down Exception 2 to Section 375 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which allowed the husband of a girl child — between 15 and 18 years of age — blanket liberty and freedom to have non-consensual sexual intercourse with her. Her willingness or consent was of no concern. The husband in such cases was not punished for rape.

•The exception had remained an anomaly because Section 375 itself mandated that sex with a girl below 18 years of age, with or without her consent, was statutory rape. An unmarried girl child can prosecute her rapist, but a married girl child aged between 15 and 18 could not even do that, Justice Lokur said, pointing out the injustice.

•“A child remains a child whether she is described as a street child or a surrendered child or an abandoned child or an adopted child. Similarly, a child remains a child whether she is a married child or an unmarried child or a divorced child or a separated or widowed child. At this stage we are reminded of Shakespeare’s eternal view that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet — so also with the status of a child, despite any prefix,” Justice Lokur wrote.

•The court, however, refrained from dealing with the issue of marital rape of a woman aged above 18.

•With this judgment, considered by experts as trigger to declaring child marriage void ab initio, the court ended the decades-old disparity between Exception 2 to Section 375 IPC and other child protection laws.

πŸ“° SC to frame norms for drafting ‘living wills’

‘A person’s advance order to withdraw medicare to allow him to die with dignity should take effect after medical board nod’

•A person’s advance directive to withdraw medical care to allow him to die with dignity should take effect only when a medical board affirms that his medical condition is beyond cure and irreversible, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said on Wednesday.

•The Chief Justice, heading a five-judge Constitution Bench, was responding to a debate on when exactly a person’s “living will” or advance directive for end-of-life medical care should take effect.

Informed consent

•The Bench said it would lay down guidelines for drafting living wills and how it could be authenticated. It had reserved the case for judgment.

•The court is hearing a petition by an NGO, Common Cause, to legalise euthanasia and the concept of living will.

•“Advance directives may be approved by a Magistrate. The Magistrate has to examine that the person executing the living will is of sound mind. That he has taken informed consent...” Chief Justice Misra observed.

•Justice A.K. Sikri, on the Bench, said a certificate from a statutory medical board that a patient’s condition was beyond cure and irreversible would take care of apprehensions of relatives and doctors about withdrawing life support.

Decision final

•“If a man is admitted to a hospital and he goes into a coma, the hospital informs the medical board, which takes a fair, informed and impartial decision that his medical condition is beyond cure. This decision is taken by the medical board on the touchstone of modern technology,” Justice Sikri observed.

•The Constitution Bench, which includes Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, suggested framing guidelines for setting up medical boards in every district. The decision of the board would be final and an advance directive should yield to the board’s decision.

•Justice Chandrachud suggested a two-fold test as to when living will would come into effect.

•“One, when the medical condition of the patient has become irreversible. Two, when the prolongation of his life can be done only at the cost of pain and suffering which is at a level inconsistent with his advance directive,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

•Chief Justice Misra said involving a court in a dispute over living wills would only cause delay, especially when a person is in the hospital.

•The government, represented by Additional Solicitor-General P.S. Narasimha, said the legalisation of “advance directives” would amount to the waiving of the paramount fundamental right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution. Mr. Narasimha said it was opposing the concept of living will as a principle of public policy. It said the State’s primary obligation was to sustain life and not legalise a person’s wish to die.

•“Persons who exercise the right of self-determination [of when to die by withdrawing medical care] should know that there were many underprivileged persons who may be subjected to abuse if euthanasia and living wills are legalised,” Mr. Narasimha warned.

Framing safeguards

•The Bench said it would frame safeguards and procedures for forming medical boards.

•The government has already said that passive euthanasia is the law of the land, with thousands of cases in which doctors withdraw life support after getting the informed consent of the relatives. The government pointed out that the Supreme Court itself, in 2011, had issued comprehensive guidelines allowing passive euthanasia in the tragic case of the bed-ridden former Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug.

•However, the reference to Chief Justice Misra’s Bench also includes the question whether the Aruna Shanbaug judgment of 2011 had wrongly relied on the Gian Kaur judgment of 1996, which had observed that right to live with dignity also includes right to die with dignity, to approve of passive euthanasia. Even as question about the correctness of the Aruna verdict lies open, the government is finalising a draft law on passive euthanasia called ‘The Management of Patients With Terminal Illness – Withdrawal of Medical Life Support Bill’.

πŸ“° Council acts to ease cascading tax impact on petroproducts

Exclusion of petrol, diesel, ATF and crude from GST creates pricing complexities

•The Centre on Wednesday said that the GST Council had at its meeting on October 6 taken decisions to reduce the cascading effect of excluding petrol, diesel, ATF, natural gas and crude oil from the purview of GST.

•The decisions include cutting the rate on ancillary services such as transport of natural gas through a pipeline, and import of rigs.

‘Incentivise E&P’

•“To reduce the cascading of taxes arising on account of non-inclusion of petrol, diesel, ATF, natural gas and crude oil in GST and to incentivise investments in the E&P (exploration and production) sector and downstream sector, the GST Council in its 22nd meeting held on October 6, 2017, has made… recommendations for GST rate structure for specified goods and services,” the Finance Ministry said in a release. Offshore works contract services and associated services relating to oil and gas exploration and production in offshore areas beyond 12 nautical miles would be taxed at 12%, according to the release. The transportation of natural gas through pipelines would attract GST of 5% without input tax credits (ITC), or 12% with full ITC.

•“Import of rigs and ancillary goods imported under lease will be exempted from IGST, subject to payment of appropriate IGST on the supply/import of such lease service and fulfilment of other specified conditions,” the release added. GST on bunker fuel has also been reduced to 5%, both for foreign going vessels and coastal vessels.

•“The much anticipated issues in the oil and gas sector, because of exclusion of petrol, diesel, crude, natural gas and ATF, have started surfacing,” said Abhishek Jain, Tax Partner, EY India. “The exclusion of these products from GST increases the cost of these products as input GST not being creditable against sale of these products adds to the cost of these products. Further, excise duty/VAT payable on sale of these products is not available as credit to industries buying these products. Thus, it is a double hit.”

πŸ“° The will to die

Advance directives on withdrawal of life support must come with robust safeguards

•The debate on allowing euthanasia as a means to protect the dignity of patients in a vegetative state has crystallised into a key question before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. Should the law allow ‘living wills’? These are advance directives that people can lay down while being sound of mind, on whether they should continue to get life-sustaining treatment after they reach a stage of total incapacitation, that is, a vegetative state. The question is fraught with legal, moral and philosophical implications. The court will have to resolve the question whether the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, which according to an earlier verdict does not include the right to die, is being voluntarily waived by a person giving such an advance directive. A living will, at the same time, may relieve the close family members and caregivers of a terminally ill patient of the moral burden of making a life-ending decision. Does a living will imply that the state has come to accept a patient’s autonomy and self-determination to the point of legalising a wish to die? For doctors, does it mean an abandonment of their obligation to preserve life? Under U.S. jurisdiction patient autonomy is paramount, and many States have laws allowing advance directives, even the nomination of a ‘health care proxy’ who can decide on behalf of the patient. Should India follow suit?

•While reserving its verdict, the court has indicated that it may lay down comprehensive guidelines on operationalising the idea of living wills. The government has opposed the concept of an advance directive, arguing that it would be against public policy and the right to life. The government is rightly concerned that the idea may be misused and result in the neglect of the elderly. If the U.S. had a Terri Schiavo, India had its own Aruna Shanbaug, both of whom were at the centre of right-to-die arguments. In the latter’s case, the Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict in 2011, ruled out any support for active euthanasia, but laid down a broad legal framework for passive euthanasia, or the withdrawal of life support subject to safeguards and a fair procedure. In the present case, the court may have to draw up stringent safeguards for certifying living wills, preferably by a judicial officer, and lay down the exact stage at which the advance directive becomes applicable. The court’s observation that it would kick in only after a medical board rules that a person’s condition is incurable ought to be sufficient reassurance for those concerned about its possible misuse. The present law provides for advance directives regarding treatment of mental illness, so the concept is not new to Indian law. Living wills, if sanctified in law, should come with robust safeguards.

πŸ“° Accountability, not armour plating

We need a debate on police reforms

•The buzzword of police “reform” is upon us once again with the Union Cabinet approving a Rs. 25,000 crore outlay for upgrading the internal security apparatus in States. An umbrella scheme, ‘Modernisation of Police Forces’, has been cleared, with the government projecting this as “one of the biggest moves towards police modernisation in India”.

•It is big money, especially the Centre’s contribution of about 75%, with the promise that gaps in police transport, weaponry, communications, and forensic support among others will be met. The funds are to be rolled out over the next three years, with the Centre contributing Rs. 18,636 crore and StatesRs. 6,424 crore along the lines of the established police “modernisation” model. Under the scheme, Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeastern States and those affected by Maoist violence are to receive special focus.

•In the absence of a comprehensive policy document in the public domain that details the benchmarks of this scheme, several questions arise. It is important to cut through the hype and get to the model of reform being propagated, and be reminded of the essential reforms aimed at democratising the police which are still being firmly resisted by States and the Centre.

Facing internal challenges

•This push is geared to armour plate State police in their responses to internal security challenges. Yet, with reference to Naxalism, the annual report of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), 2016-17 notes that there has been a reduction in violent incidents and violence-related deaths since 2013. Alarmingly, there has been a 50% increase in encounters, a 122% increase in the “elimination” of armed Maoist cadres, and a larger number of arrests and arms recoveries.

•It is important to point out that a Central paramilitary force, not the State police, is at the forefront against Naxal groups. With the new funds, some may argue that the police need this ‘upgrading’ in order to gradually phase out the reliance on the paramilitary. The key questions of whether further militarising of police could only increase violence, or the consideration of alternative strategies not solely reliant on coercive force, remain, unsurprisingly, absent. There is no dent in the political discourse which accepts encounters as a legitimate crime-fighting strategy, irrespective of the strictures of the Supreme Court. Governments and the police have become glaringly opaque in their responsibility to account for deaths caused due to police action. The state needs to be reminded that it is bound to register a First Information Report and initiate a criminal investigation into any encounter killing by the police. Unaccounted deaths at the hands of the police are violations of the right to life, yet they are seen as policing dividends.

Tracking funds

•Also, there are bookkeeping requirements. It may be wise to first analyse the underutilisation of existing funds in the broader context of state capacity to absorb such a significant tranche.

•The 2013-14 MHA guidelines on modernisation funds mandate that every State and the Centre furnish a utilisation certificate for the full amount of modernisation funds released yearly. The Finance Ministry stresses that unless the certificates account for the full amount of funds sanctioned, no new funds will be released. Considering that only 14% of modernisation funds were spent in 2015-16, one would advise a tempering of the excitement around this infusion of funds until the previous year’s accounting is done. Not only are modernisation funds underspent, on average, but also only about 3% of Central and State Budgets are spent on policing.

•Ironically, the 11th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s directives on police reform fell on September 22, and five days before this announcement. It is no secret that neither the Centre nor any State has complied with the directives in letter or spirit, with hardly any reprimand by the court itself.

•Herein lies the rub; “reform” geared towards technical and infrastructural advancement is prized, but reform which squarely demands greater checks and balances is resisted and violated. Less than 10 States provide security of tenure to their police chief and key field officers. Only five States provide for independent shortlisting of candidates in the process of appointing police chiefs; everywhere else, directors general of police are handpicked by Chief Ministers. Serving police and government officers are adjudicating members on police complaints bodies even though these are supposed to be independent from the police department. “Reform” through the pathway of the directives is being mauled and distorted. This cannot be ignored in the wider discourse on police reform.

•The police reform to aspire for is to move beyond armour plating to accountability and the upholding of the law as measures of police effectiveness.

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