The HINDU Notes – 08th February 2018 - VISION

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 08th February 2018






πŸ“° Khap menace

It is a sad comment that courts need to keep curbing interference in love and marriage

•Each time the Supreme Court feels impelled to remind khap panchayats and the society at large that they have no business interfering in the life choices of individuals regarding marriage and love, it is an implicit commentary on our times. The frequency with which one hears the court’s warnings against groups and individuals obstructing inter-faith or inter-caste relationships reaffirms the fact that the social milieu continues to be under the sway of the medieval-minded. The court’s latest observations that khap panchayats should not act as though they are conscience-keepers of society and that no one should interfere in relationships between adults came while it was hearing a writ petition seeking a ban on such community organisations and guidelines to put an end to “honour killings”. In 2011, the highest court termed such khaps “kangaroo courts”, declared them illegal and wanted them stamped out ruthlessly. Similar observations were made in other cases too, some of them in the context of “honour killings”. It is a grave misfortune that parents and self-appointed guardians of social mores continue to use coercion and harassment, and even resort to murderous violence, as a means to enforce their exclusionary and feudal prejudices. The recent murder of Ankit Saxena, a photographer who was in love with a Muslim girl, allegedly by members of her family, is one more extreme indication of families choosing the penal consequences of violence over the perceived dishonour caused by an inter-religious relationship. While the popular narrative situates community pride as a source of unconscionable violence in rural India, such murders are a reality in cities and among educated and presumably socially advanced sections too.

•The other dimension is that these khap organisations in north India seek to enforce age-old taboos such as the prohibition on sagothra marriages among Hindus. Their grouse is that the present law on Hindu marriage allows sapindarelationships up to a particular degree; they would prefer a limitless bar on any degree of such relationship in lineal ascendancy, which would prevent any marriage with one presumed to be descended from an ancestor belonging to the same gothra . Such views can only be eradicated with a change in social attitudes. The Law Commission in 2012 prepared a draft bill to prohibit interference in marriage alliances. Key provisions that seek to address the problem of khap panchayats in this draft say such informal groups would be treated as an ‘unlawful assembly’ and decisions that amount to harassment, social boycott, discrimination or incitement to violence should be punishable with a minimum sentence. Whether the solution is social transformation or legislative change, high-handed mediation or interference should brook no sympathy.

πŸ“° Sushma takes part in Saudi festival

•External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday participated in the national festival of Saudi Arabia and held bilateral discussions with the Saudi royals, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Wednesday.

•The Minister is on a two-day visit to the Gulf country.

•“..The minister held bilateral discussions with the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir and discussed wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. She also re-affirmed India’s support to peace in the region and called for collective efforts in fighting the menace of terrorism,” a press release from the Ministry of External Affairs stated.

πŸ“° Indian immigration conundrum

On the divergence in the U.S. between the needs of visa-holding aliens and undocumented migrants

•A group of approximately 800 Indian-Americans gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House last weekend to march — wait for it — in favour of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Apparently, there are some Indian-origin persons who do support Mr. Trump’s harsh rhetoric on securing America’s borders, not only through the southern border wall with Mexico, but also stricter enforcement of controls over legal migration.

•How could this be, given that migration is the engine that powers the globally aspirational Indian of today? And as, historically, Indians have always been a vibrant immigrant community on distant shores, consistently maintaining deep familial and professional ties across the world?

•In part the “protest” may have stemmed from the fact that the head of the group that organised it is Shalabh Kumar, the Illinois-based Indian-American businessmen who claims to have close ties within the Trump team. Any demonstration of support to Mr. Trump’s agenda could be politically beneficial to Mr. Kumar.

•However, to an extent the views of those protesters in Washington may represent the divergence between the needs of visa-holding “aliens” such as H-1B tech workers from India, and those of undocumented migrants to the U.S., a 11.4 million-strong population.

•Undocumented workers seek the unrestricted right to enrol in educational institutions, work, marry, and own property, as well as access social security, health insurance, college tuition support, and other such welfare benefits that the federal government is required by law to provide to U.S. persons.

•On the other hand, non-immigrant workers are focussed on attaining a higher level of access to and integration into their adopted home. They seek to convert their alien status into permanent resident or citizen status. They worry about getting their visas extended and lengthy green card queues; about what the fate of their children will be once they reach the age of 21 and cannot claim dependent status; and about the options available to spouses of H-1B visa-holders, H-4 visa-holders, to seek gainful employment and escape facing social isolation and professional atrophy after years of productive career growth in India.

•These aspiring migrants, who consider themselves to be on the “merit” side of Mr. Trump’s immigration paradigm, also separate themselves from the “family-based migrants,” who seek to immigrate legally to the U.S. based on the status of close family members and not work-related qualifications.

•They take to heart the words of Mr. Trump, who in his State of the Union speech last month vowed to crack down on “chain migration” and end the visa lottery system, and move toward creating an immigration framework geared more toward “merit-based” migration.

•Yet the hope of visa-based temporary foreign workers that this government will not turn upon them eventually may be belied. The rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration, including an executive action last summer that called for stricter enforcement of laws regulating H-1B visa entry, appears to have thus far put both forms of legal migration in its cross hairs as much as it does undocumented migration.

πŸ“° Drama on the high seas, 30 years ago

‘Operation Cactus’, India’s swift intervention in the Maldives, was riveting till the end

•‘Operation Cactus’, the code name for India’s military intervention in the Maldives in 1988, following an attempted coup d’Γ©tat against the government of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his request for help, was spontaneous and swift. But its finale, in mid-ocean, was a rescue operation that had a thorny side to it.

•On learning about the swift landing of an Indian Army parachute brigade at Hulule airport adjacent to the island capital of Male, the mercenaries of the Sri Lankan rebel group, the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), ran for cover after randomly grabbing people from the mainland and holding them hostage on board a hijacked merchant vessel, MV Progress Light, that had been anchored in Male harbour. Among this motley group of seven hostages was a Maldivian cabinet minister and his mother-in-law. As the hijacked ship moved out of Male harbour, the Indian rescue plan fell into place equally swiftly. Unknown to the rebel leader on board the ship, a high speed Indian Navy Task Force led by the naval ship, INS Godavari, and with Captain Gopalachari in command, was fast closing in.

In the war room

•With drama unfolding on the high seas, the Indian Navy War Room in New Delhi was tense; monitoring every move there was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Swiss Ambassador to India was also there as one of the hostages, and the only woman was a Swiss national (the mother-in-law of the Minister mentioned earlier). The mission before the Navy’s Task Force Commander was certainly difficult — to rescue the hostages without a scratch and capture the rebels.

•As dawn broke the next day, the rebels were startled to see the imposing warships that had stealthily encircled their ship during the night. Confused and agitated, they refused to negotiate and tried to steam ahead, full speed. Their intent was to seek refuge in Sri Lanka, which the warships confirmed after closely monitoring their radio transmissions.

•After hours of inaction came the bombshell. Diplomatic and the Indian Navy’s channels had received a terse message on the hotline from the Sri Lankan Navy. It read:“The SLN [Sri Lankan Navy] has been directed by its Government to destroy the rebel ship if it approached within 100 miles of the Sri Lankan coast.”

A twist

•This strange twist could ruin everything as any attempt by the Sri Lankan Navy to intervene could have compromised the safety of the hostages. The Navy’s Task Force Commander aboard INS Godavari received a simple and clear message: “Stop ‘Progress Light’.”

•Captain Gopalachari rose to the occasion and quickly improvised on the art of coercive diplomacy. Using his linguistic skills to good advantage, he managed to engage the rebel group leader in a series of friendly negotiations, all the time making sure that the warships provided a visual and persuasive demonstration to the rebels of what was in store.

•After a while, it was time for decisive action as the negotiations had begun to flag. A four inch shell from another accompanying naval vessel, INS Betwa, shattered the foremast of Progress Light. Then, gunfire raked the hijacked vessel’s upper deck, knocking out its anchors. Finally, a massive undersea explosion from a depth charge dropped by a helicopter on board INS Godavari brought the rebel ship to a shuddering halt. Before the dazed rebels could realise what had happened, the Navy’s commandos stormed the vessel and established control. It was all over in minutes.

•Far away from the scene of action, relief swept through the Navy’s War Room. The encrypted message relayed mid-sea back to Delhi was: “All hostages rescued and rebels captured.”

•Rajiv Gandhi seemed elated as he strolled across to Indian Navy Chief Admiral J.G. Nadkarni. Giving him a pat on the back, he said in good humour, “I wonder if the Maldivian Minister will forgive the Indian Navy for rescuing his mother-in-law.”

πŸ“° Congress carved up nation, ruined democracy, says PM

‘Kashmir problem would not have been there had Sardar Patel been the first PM’

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi tore into the Congress in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, accusing it of “partitioning” the country and also of “scuttling democracy” during the past 70 years.

•His attack included barbs on Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who he accused of being undemocratic.

•And at a time when the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress Party have been protesting against Andhra Pradesh purportedly being given a raw deal in the Union Budget, Mr. Modi also accused the Congress of having been unfair to the State.

Relentless sloganeering

•His attack on the Opposition party — interspersed with statistical claims of his having achieved much more than what was done during the UPA days — came amid relentless slogan-shouting by Congress MPs, who also waved placards regarding Andhra Pradesh and the Rafale deal in the Well of the House.

•“When you partitioned India, you sowed such poison that not a day has passed in 70 years when 125 crore Indians don’t pay for it,” Mr. Modi said.

•Mocking the Congress for claiming that Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress gave India democracy, Mr. Modi said: “Congress feels India was born on August 15, 1947. I was surprised yesterday when they said that Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress gave India democracy. You should know that the Lichhavi clan also had democracy. The Buddhist Sangha functioned with democracy and voting. We had Gana Rajyas (Republics) 2,500 years back and accepted both conformity and dissent.”

•He then accused the Congress of having been undemocratic, and saying it was no one to offer sermons on democracy.

•Mr. Modi said that 15 Congress Committees wanted Sardar Patel as their leader and three were undecided, and yet Nehru was made Prime Minister.

•He asserted that the Kashmir problem would not have been there had Mr. Patel been the first Prime Minister.

•“More than 90 times was Article 356 used to dismiss State governments,” he added.

•The Prime Minister also accused the Congress of being unjust to Andhra Pradesh.

πŸ“° What’s wrong with one identity, asks SC

•Aadhaar becomes the sole record by which a person can establish his identity, or he runs the risk of a “civil death.” “So what is wrong in one identity for one nation? We are all Indians,” Justice Bhushan asked. “Yes, we are all passionately Indian. But we are much more than our Aadhaars. You [government] cannot reduce me to just one identity [Aadhaar],” Mr. Sibal replied to Justice Bhushan. Justice Bhushan said he did not want to go into the point any further. However, Mr. Sibal said he wanted to argue on the point. “I am not going to make a political argument. I am going to make legal arguments against this one-nation-one-identity move,” Mr. Sibal said.

•Justice A.K. Sikri, also on the five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, intervened to put matters in perspective. He summed up that what Mr. Sibal meant was that a person’s identity as an Indian should not be dependent on whether he has got Aadhaar or not. Justice Bhushan then referred to Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act to justify the use of Aadhaar. “Aadhaar can be used for other purposes. The Aadhaar Act does not confine the use of Aadhaar to it alone. It [Aadhaar] can be used to establish a person’s identity under any other Act,” Justice Bhushan interpreted the provision. But Mr. Sibal said such an interpretation of Section 57 would give the state “blanket power” as regards the use of Aadhaar.

πŸ“° RBI holds rates on inflation risk

•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday kept its policy interest rate unchanged, citing risks to the outlook for inflation.

•The RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee also raised its estimate for retail inflation in the fourth quarter to 5.1%, from the 4.3-4.7% projected earlier for the second half of the fiscal year.

•The RBI said firms polled in its industrial outlook survey expect input prices to harden in the fourth quarter.

•“In a scenario of improving economic activity, rising input costs are likely to be passed on to consumers,” the RBI said as it projected retail inflation in the range of 5.1-5.6% for the first half of 2018-19.

•The RBI pared its 2017-18 GVA growth estimate to 6.6%, and forecast that the pace would quicken to 7.2% in the next fiscal year.

πŸ“° Ujjwala Yojana to benefit eight crore women now

Centre to raise allocation for the project to Rs. 4,800 crore

•The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the increase in the target for the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, meant to provide cooking-gas connections to rural women, to eight crore from the earlier five crore. The deadline for achieving the target is 2020.

•The Cabinet also approved an additional allocation for the scheme of Rs. 4,800 crore.

•The meeting took a slew of decisions across sectors, including increasing the minimum support price for copra, extending the Discovered Small Fields Policy to include more oil and gas fields, approving several bilateral agreements signed by India, and giving ex post facto approval to the changes made in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Bill.

MSP for copra

•“The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has given its approval for increase in the minimum support price for fair average quality (FAQ) of ‘milling copra’ to Rs. 7,500 a quintal for 2018 season from Rs. 6,500 per quintal in 2017,” the government said in a press statement.

•“The MSP for FAQ of ‘ball copra’ has been increased to Rs. 7,750 per quintal for the 2018 season from Rs. 6,785 per quintal in 2017.”

•“The Union Cabinet has approved the incorporation of the official amendments to the Major Port Authorities Bill 2016, which is pending in Parliament,” another release said.

•“The Cabinet has given its approval for extending the Discovered Small Field Policy notified on October 14, 2015 to identified 60 discovered small fields/un-monetised discoveries for offer under the Discovered Small Field Policy Bid Round-ll,” the government added. “Out of these, 22 fields/discoveries belong to Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Limited, five belong to Oil India Limited (OIL) and 12 are relinquished fields/discoveries from the New Exploration and Licensing Policy (NELP) blocks.”

πŸ“° The formal-informal divide

The slowdown in private investments is visible chiefly in the informal sector, not the corporate sector

•It is now well recognised that there is an investment slowdown in India, which is delaying a full-blooded recovery in the economy. Private investments, the principle engine of growth, are out of steam. The fall is so severe that it has more than offset the government’s macroeconomic stimulus of increased public investments.

•The slowdown started five years ago, and is, as Economic Survey 2018 notes, the most severe in India’s history. Investments peaked 11 years ago. The Survey recommends urgent prioritisation of investment revival to arrest more lasting growth impacts, with policy focus on both big and small companies, creating a conducive environment for the smaller industries to prosper and invest, with their ‘animal spirits’ conjured back. That will not be enough to restart the private investments cycle.

Why the slowdown

•A day after the Survey came out, estimates of investments and savings in the financial year ended March 2017 were released. The private investments slowdown is statistically visible chiefly in the informal segment of the economy. The corporate sector is not the source of the decline.

•Corporate investments have been on the upswing, rising through the five-year slowdown. Financial stress on company balance sheets and the severe bad debt problem is visible only once, when, in 2014-15, companies applied brakes on their investments. The rate rebound the subsequent year. By 2016-17, corporate investments were greater than at the time the slowdown started.

•There is negligible change in the investment behaviour of public and private finance corporations. Public non-financial corporations reduced investments marginally. The government stepped up its investments, but its share of the pie is small (with multiplier effects on the rest of the economy).

•The sharpest pullback has been by the household sector, its investments are down 6.6 percentage points since the start of the slowdown. Economy-wide investments are down 5.8 percentage points. The slowdown is mainly because of the household sector’s troubles.

•The private investments slowdown, then, is a slowdown in the household sector’s investments. The bad bank loans mess appears to have restricted the funds supply to this sector, not corporates.

•When will the slowdown end? The estimates show that the slowdown did not deepen in 2016-17, as investment rates for the household sector and the overall economy held steady. If and how demonetisation and the goods and services tax (GST) roll-out altered this, it remains to be seen. Because of the lag in estimation, only some of demonetisation’s initial impact could have got measured. The GST was rolled out in July 2017; the estimates cannot say anything about its impact.

Policy implications

•What is the household sector? Households can be producing or non-producing, in which case they are consuming households. The 73rd round of the survey by the National Sample Survey Office had found about 6.34 crore unincorporated non-agricultural enterprises in the country. A chunk of private investments is undertaken by these firms that often operate out of homes, with, typically, less than 10 workers.

•The investments estimates (Gross Fixed Capital Formation) cover physical investments in plants, machinery and equipment, and dwellings and buildings, but not land. The two largest investing segments in the economy, households and private non-financial corporations, correspond roughly to the informal and formal economies.

•The formal-informal divide shows up also in savings. Corporate savings are rising consistently, while those of the household sector are slowing.

•What has made the informal sector more vulnerable than the rest of the economy? Consuming households tend to be net savers. The government, corporates and unincorporated enterprises are net debtors. The savings are mainly held with banks and insurance companies, etc. Through bank loans, bonds, etc, the net debtors raise funds from the savings pool. When the government (Centre plus the States) mops up larger portions of what net savers can provide, corporates can still access capital, but the unincorporated are left without recourse.




•Corporates can, and have, borrowed overseas and raised funds from the capital markets. The informal sector has not had the sophistication or resources required. It depends solely on the domestic pool of savings, largely through bank loans, to finance its investments.

•The government’s borrowings from the savings pool, after the surge in the fiscal deficit during the United Progressive Alliance government’s tenure, followed by recklessness also of some States, seem to have crowded out the unincorporated enterprises or the informal sector. Banks, hit by the bad loan problem, have played safe. They have lent more than they are statutorily required to the government. As government borrowings dried up the bank credit supply to the informal sector, it has struggled to find funds and has had to cut back its investments.

•Given the anatomy of the private investments slowdown, a macroeconomic stimulus may not be the best policy choice. Urgent fiscal deficit reduction, quick clean-up of the bad loans mess, and restoration of banks’ health are more likely to revive private investments.

•The informal sector’s character and constraints are different from those of incorporated firms. A policy skew in favour of the vocal and the organised who are able to make themselves heard and seen is natural, but must be shed. The government’s mandarins must pay attention to the unorganised.

πŸ“° In inflation’s shadow

The RBI has stressed the need for vigilanceon price stability amid fresh uncertainties

•The Reserve Bank of India’s decision to keep the repo rate unchanged was no surprise given the focus with which the Monetary Policy Committee has approached its mandate: of keeping inflation in check. With the relevant measure of price gains, the Consumer Price Index, reflecting an acceleration in inflation for a sixth straight month in December, and that at the fastest pace in 17 months, the bank’s rate-setting panel must have had little difficulty in choosing to remain on hold. This was probably best exemplified by the reversal in stance of the six-member panel’s hitherto most dovish member, Ravindra H. Dholakia, to vote to stand pat on interest rates. This the MPC did while retaining a ‘neutral stance’, which gives it the flexibility to change gears in either direction. The RBI’s nominee, Michael Debabrata Patra, in fact voted to head off incipient price pressures by raising the policy rate by 25 basis points. Laying out the factors informing its decision, the RBI once again spotlighted the less than reassuring outlook for price stability. For starters, “an unusual pick-up in food prices in November”, combined with a “less than usual” softening in the winter seasonal food price moderation, meant headline inflation averaged 4.6% in the third quarter. The RBI had in December made a projection for inflation in the range of 4.3-4.7% in the six months through March 2018. With pump prices of petrol and diesel having risen sharply in January, the RBI has now been forced to raise its estimate for retail price gains in the fourth quarter to 5.1%.

•Extending the time horizon beyond the current fiscal, the inflation scenario gets even more worrying. Clouding the outlook are multiple uncertainties. These include the staggered impact of HRA increases by various State governments that may induce second order effects on prices; the pick-up in global growth, a factor the RBI also cites as a positive for the economy, that may push up crude oil and commodity prices worldwide; the Budget’s proposed changes to the minimum support price norms for crops as well as the proposals to increase customs duty on a range of goods; and the fiscal slippage, which could not only fan inflation but also risks increasing borrowing costs. The normalisation of monetary policy by advanced economies could spell a decisive end to global ‘easy money’ conditions and may trigger some flight of capital from emerging markets including India. The upshot is that the RBI sees CPI inflation hovering in the 5.1-5.6% range in the first six months of the new fiscal before moderating to 4.5-4.6% in the second half, subject to a big assumption: a normal monsoon in 2018. Under the looming shadow of inflationary risks, the RBI has again reasserted the need for unwavering vigilance on the price stability front.

πŸ“° Air pollution behind poor lung capacity among kids: study

In a sample size of 343, 80% found to have unhealthy or below normal lung function; cancers occuring earlier, say doctors

•Particulate matter pollution monitored over 15 different locations across the Capital for more than three months in a row this winter on a sample size of 343 revealed that 80% of the sample population had unhealthy or below the normal lung functioning.

•This report was released by the Hazards Centre which revealed poor lung capacity in children and teenagers.

•The study did a peak flow test (done to measure how well your lungs are working by assessing how quickly you can blow air) and tests were conducted in areas where the monitors are installed, and out of the 15 locations, the samples for the health study were taken from 11 different areas.

•The samples were collected from Holambi, Bhalaswa, Ayanagar, Punjabi Bagh, Wazirpur, Seelampur, Seemapuri, Saket, Okhla-NFC, Badarpur-TGK andMunirka.

City breathes bad air

•The study also found that the southern and northern peripheries of the city — children seem to have better health but the air in all parts of the city is not good for our children.

•“While one needs to remember that this may partly be due to the weaker economic background, the children across the city and country deserve good health,’’ noted the study.

•“The air quality monitoring also highlights the fact that there is a base pollution load across Delhi of about 300 ug/m3 for PM10 and 200 ug/m3 for PM2.5, which is three times higher than the approved limits and the source is located in Delhi. It is important to note that the Graded Response Action Plan formulated hasn’t been put to use fully since its inception.

•Multiple organisations and bodies across Delhi seem to be advocating for new plans every winter instead of implementing what’s been put in place to mitigate the problem,’’ the study added.

•Meanwhile, Dr. Arvind Kumar, from Sir Ganga Ram hospital, said, “Air pollution has caused a public health crisis in the city.’’

‘Smoking 50 cigarettes’

•“The major reason behind this emergency is industrial emission and vehicle fumes which has been sealed by cool temperature and still winds. At the same time, mass burning of crop waste across the north Indian hinterland has sent dense smoke billowing across one of the world’s most populated regions. The air has heavy metals and other carcinogens at levels more than 30 times World Health Organization limits, conditions likened by medics to smoking at least 50 cigarettes in a day,’’ he added.

•Dr. Kumar also stated that in the longer term, consistent poor quality air is altering the demographics of cancer in the city.

•“Earlier we would see 90% of the lung cancer patients were smokers. Most were men in their 50s or 60s. However, in the last two years, half of my lung cancer patients have been non-smokers. There is a peak in people aged in their 40s, even people in their 30s. Our cancers are occurring earlier, more in non-smokers, and more in females,’’ he said.

πŸ“° NGT seeks report on rainwater harvesting

Panel had rapped Delhi govt earlier

•The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on February 5 directed the Delhi government to submit within three weeks a report on the number of flyovers here having rainwater harvesting systems.

•Taking into account submissions made by the counsel appearing for the state government, the Bench headed by NGT Acting Chairperson U.D. Salvi said, “Learned counsel appearing on behalf of the NCT of Delhi seeks time to place on record detailed status report. Time is granted.”

•Earlier, the NGT had rapped the State government for not submitting the detailed report.

•In October last year, the Bench headed by former NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar had said, “Despite repeated orders, the status report has not been filed by the NCT of Delhi. By way of last opportunity report to be filed within one week from today. In the event of default the concerned secretary of NCT of Delhi shall be present before the tribunal.”

Must in all projects

•The green panel had also directed the Centre and other public authorities to ensure that the rainwater harvesting systems are installed in every project including flyovers and bridges.

•The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Mehrauli resident Vinod Kumar Jain who sought directions to make it compulsory for all government buildings of 100 square metres and above to have rainwater harvesting systems.

πŸ“° India successfully test-fires nuclear capable Prithvi-II

nuclear capable Prithvi-II

•India on Wednesday successfully test-fired its indigenously developed nuclear capable Prithvi-II missile as part of a user trial by the Army from a test range in Odisha, Defence sources said. The trial of the surface-to-surface missile, with a strike range of 350 km, was carried out from a mobile launcher from launch complex-3 of the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur.

πŸ“° Biologics, patents and drug prices

India’s rejection of secondary patents has kept blockbuster medicines affordable for many

•The global sales of the world’s best-selling prescription drug, Humira, continue to grow even after the expiry of the patent over its main ingredient, adalimumab, a biologic used for the treatment of arthritis. By 2020, AbbVie Inc, makers of Humira, expects its sales to touch $21 billion — a figure that will surpass India’s pharmaceutical exports for that year. But success has its price. In 2015, faced with the imminent expiry of the patent for Humira’s main ingredient, AbbVie reassured investors that the “Broad U.S. Humira Patent Estate” — a list of 75 secondary patents in the U.S. for new indications, new methods of treatment, new formulations, and the like — would take care of the problem.

•But what was the problem? Patents offer their owners market exclusivity for a limited period of time. For medicines, this exclusivity should last as long as the primary patent — which relates to the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) of the medicine — is in effect, typically 20 years. The end of patent exclusivity is referred to as a patent cliff, because drug prices fall steeply afterwards — by as much as 80% — owing to generic competition.

•But the threat of this precipitous fall in profits drives pharmaceutical companies to find new ways to postpone their exclusivity by filing secondary patents for derivatives and variants of the API, such as a physical variant of the API, a new formulation, a dosage regimen, or a new method of administering the medicine. The secondary patents prop up before the expiry of a primary patent thereby stretching the exclusivity beyond 20 years, a practice that is called “evergreening”. This strategy is most lucrative when employed in the context of so-called blockbuster medicines, which reap annual revenues exceeding $1 billion.

Secondary patents

•The Humira patent estate now comprises secondary patents. While it is hard to comprehend how real estate can grow, the genius of patent law allows the intellectual property estate to expand by filing more secondary patents. Over the years, AbbVie has increased the price of Humira in the U.S. by 100%, while steadily filing a large number of secondary patents. While the complexity of biologics – drugs made from complex molecules manufactured using living cells — allows for filing more patents, the patent laws too play a role. The U.S. recognises and encourages secondary patents. India, however, does not, which means that while Humira costs $1,300 (Rs. 85,000) in the U.S., the same treatment costs only $200 (Rs. 13,500) in India, thanks to the rejection of secondary patents on Humira by the Indian Patent Office (IPO) and the consequent introduction of cheaper versions.

•The rejection of a secondary patent for Novartis’ Glivec, a crucial leukaemia cure, was famously upheld by the Supreme Court of India in 2013, while the same was granted in the U.S. Consequently, the cost of a monthly dose of the medicine in the U.S. was Rs. 1.6 lakh, while the cost of the generic was Rs. 11,100 in India. Likewise, Spiriva, a medicine for asthma, enjoys patent protection until 2021 in the U.S., largely due to secondary patents. All of these secondary patents were rejected in India. As a result, while the monthly cost of the medicine in the U.S. is over Rs. 19,100, it costs a mere Rs. 250 in India.

Good patent law

•In our study of more than 1,700 rejections for pharmaceutical patents at the IPO spanning the last decade, we identified a subset of applications that sought protection in the form of secondary patents for blockbuster medicines. Our study sheds new light on how Indian patent law helps thwart evergreening practices by pharmaceutical companies. Secondary patents for several blockbuster medicines have been rejected by the IPO dramatically expanding access to medicines for important health problems such as cancer, AIDS, asthma and cardiovascular diseases.

•None of this would have been possible without some remarkable innovations in Indian patent law. To be deemed patentable, applications for secondary patents have to clear significant hurdles. As per Section 2(1)(ja) of the Patents Act, the product in question must feature a technical advance over what came before that’s not obvious to a skilled person. Because secondary patents for pharmaceuticals are often sought for trivial variants, they typically fail to qualify as an invention. Further, when a medicine is merely a variant of a known substance, Section 3(d) necessitates a demonstration of improvement in its therapeutic efficacy. The provision also bars patents for new uses and new properties of known substances. This additional requirement is unique to Indian law, and along with Section 2(1)(ja), ensures that bad patents stay out of the system.

•We found that secondary patents were rejected largely due to the stringent thresholds imposed by Sections 2(1)(ja) and 3(d). Section 3(d) is not our only defence against secondary patents. It is complemented by other exceptions to patentability: Section 3(e) ensures that patents for combinations of known substances are allowed only if there is synergistic effect, while Section 3(i) ensures that no exclusivity can be claimed over methods of treatment. Together, Sections 3(d), 3(e) and 3(i) have been instrumental in rejecting close to 1,000 secondary patents for pharmaceuticals we studied.

•These provisions also extend to biologics, the new big players in the therapeutics marketplace. More lucrative than small molecule medicines, biologics are no stranger to the lure of secondary patenting for extending patent terms. For instance, a quarter of the secondary patents for Humira, a biologic, are directed towards new uses and methods of treatment. Thanks to the provisions in the patent law, Humira enjoys no patent protection in India, since AbbVie restricted their Indian filings to only cover their secondary patents.

•Blockbuster medicines are crucial to the success of public health. But they have been gamed, and rendered inaccessible to the people and governments who need them. In order for these medicines to be accessible, there can be no surer way than to enact strong standards that put bad patents where they belong.

•Feroz Ali is the IPR Chair Professor at IIT Madras and Sudarsan Rajagopal is a London-based patent analyst. Their report, available at www.accessibsa.org, was prepared as a part of a Shuttleworth Foundation project on access to medicines




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