The HINDU Notes – 03rd March 2018 - VISION

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Saturday, March 03, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 03rd March 2018

📰 Woman who had twins via surrogacy given leave

•The Central Administrative Tribunal has come to the aid of a woman, working in the Ministry of Law & Justice, who was denied maternity leave as she had begotten her children through surrogacy.

•The Tribunal directed the Ministry to sanction 180 days of maternity leave to the woman citing three High Court verdicts which held that the commissioning mother is also entitled for grant of maternity leave.

•The woman is working as a personal assistant in the Legislative Department, Official Language Wing of Ministry of Law & Justice. As she was unable to conceive due to medical issues, she entered into Gestational Surrogacy Agreement with another woman. The surrogate mother delivered two baby girls on February 13 last year. Being the biological mother she applied for grant of 180 days maternity leave to her with effect from the day the babies were born.

Ministry’s counter

•However, her application was rejected on the ground that according to Central Civil Services (CCS) Leave Rules, maternity leave cannot be granted to a government servant on getting baby through surrogacy.

•The woman then moved the Tribunal seeking to quash the order denying her the maternity leave.

•Responding to her plea, the Ministry had defended its decision to deny the maternity leave saying the issue has been dealt within Rule 43 of CCS (Leave) Rules which makes it absolutely clear that a commissioning mother or biological mother is not entitled for grant of maternity leave.

📰 Plea to raise minimum age for marriage

Petition to be listed before the bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra

•Population explosion was a growing menace to fundamental rights, and one of the steps to check this was to raise the minimum age for marriage, a petition filed in the Supreme Court said. It is likely to be listed before a Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

•Petitioner advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay said “fertility depends on the age of marriage’’. Therefore the minimum age for marriage for men and women should be made 25 years and 21 years respectively from the current 21 years and 18 years, he said.

•The plea said the state had failed to implement effective population control strategy or programme to ensure the well-being of citizens, which was under peril due to the rampant rise in population.

📰 India to help build nuclear plant in Bangladesh

Signs tripartite agreement with Russia and Bangladesh

•India, Bangladesh and Russia have signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) for cooperation in the construction of the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh.

•“Today [Thursday] was a landmark event for both our countries — and the industry as a whole. We are confident that this is the first step towards the formation of a new, forward-looking cooperation agenda in the region,” said Nikolay Spassky, Deputy Director-General for international relations of Rosatom, the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation.

•The MoU was signed in Moscow by the Department of Atomic Energy of India, the Ministry of Science and Technology of Bangladesh and Rosatom.

•Russia is building the nuclear power plant in Bangladesh on a turnkey basis.

•Indian companies can be involved in construction and installation works and in the supply of equipment of a non-critical category .

📰 ‘Gwadar, Chabahar not comparable’

•The development of the Chabahar port in Iran is a commercial enterprise, whereas that of the Gwadar port in Pakistan by China is a strategic venture with long-term implications on the region, former Union Minister Manish Tewari has said.

•The Gwadar Port in the Balochistan province is being built by China under a multi-billion economic corridor. The Chabahar port in Iran is being considered by India, Iran and Afghanistan as a gateway to major opportunities for trade with central Asian countries.

•“One thing which needs to be very clearly understood is that Chabahar port is a commercial enterprise and Gwadar port is a strategic military enterprise. There is a distinction between as to why two projects have been conceived,” Mr. Tewari said at an event organised by the South Asia Centre of the Atlantic Council.

•Similarly, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is not a connectivity project, the Congress leader said. It was a strategic project by which China seeks access to the Arabian Sea and surmount the Straits of Malacca.

•As such there is no comparison between Gwadar and Chabahar.

•Mohammad H. Qayoumi, Chief Adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said that after 100 years, Central Asian countries looked at Afghanistan as part of that entity.

📰 KRMB panel allows AP to draw 9 tmc ft water for irrigation

It also agrees withdrawal of 24 tmc ft by Telangana

•The row over utilisation of Krishna waters between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana has subsided for the time being with the three-member committee of Krishna River Management Board (KRMB) allowing them to avail 33 tmc ft water till the month-end for meeting immediate irrigation needs.

•The three-member panel comprising KRMB Member-Secretary A. Paramesham and Engineers-in-Chief of AP and TS M. Venkateswara Rao and C. Muralidhar, respectively, met here on Friday allowed AP to utilise 9 tmc ft and Telangana 24 tmc ft water to protect the standing crops under Nagarjunasagar Right and Left Canal systems. Official sources told The Hindu that about 15 tmc ft out of 33 tmc ft to be drawn by the two States would be released from Srisailam to Nagarjunasagar after generation of power. The dispute over utilisation of water reached a flash point on February 28 when the irrigation officials and police from the two sides gathered at Srisailam Right Canal regulator at the reservoir site, following orders issued by KRMB to stop water release to the canal.

•The officials from AP were insisting upon drawal of water below the minimum draw down level (MDDL) in Nagarjunasagar – 510 ft level with storage of 131.669 tmc ft – in the name of saving the standing crop both under the Right and Left Canals in its territory but their Telangana counterparts opposed it strongly highlighting the difficulties in drawing drinking water, particularly to Hyderabad, last year, the sources explained.

•Accordingly, it was agreed to release 15 tmc ft water from Srisailam to Nagarjunasagar so as to maintain at least 520 ft level in the reservoir till March 20 and 515 ft till March-end, the sources said adding that the water level in the project was at 522.8 ft with a storage of 154.43 tmc ft at 8 pm on Friday. Similarly, the level was 840.7 tmc ft in Srisailam with a storage of 62.94 tmc ft at 6 pm. The withdrawals from Srisailam backwaters stood at 1,350 cusecs to Handri Neeva lift, 494 cusecs to Muchumarri lift for supplementing the K-C Canal system and 800 cusecs to Kalwakurthy lift at 6 pm on Friday. The Telangana officials put its requirements at 46 tmc ft till July-end for drinking and irrigation needs of the ongoing rabi season. The river board has asked the two States to coordinate among themselves on release of water to Nagarjunasagar Right and Left Canal systems to save the standing crop.

📰 Ministry denies vendetta against Prasar Bharati

On reports of funds being withheld, it says public service broadcaster is bound by general financial rules

•The Prasar Bharati is bound by the government’s general financial rules and must sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Information & Broadcasting Ministry on financial targets and timelines for activities to use grants in a financial year, the Ministry said in a statement on Friday. The organisation had not signed the MoU despite repeated reminders, the Ministry said.

•The Ministry’s statement comes in the wake of a public conflict between the Prasar Bharati Board and the Ministry and a media report that the Ministry had withheld funds after December 2017 in response to the Prasar Bharati Board’s differences with the Ministry.

Salaries at stake

•A news portal carried a report quoting Prasar Bharati Chairman A. Surya Prakash as saying that I&B Minister Smriti Irani had withheld funds to the state broadcaster, which then had to pay salaries to employees in January and February from a contingency fund.

•Dr. Surya Prakash did not respond to messages or calls from The Hindu on Friday.

•At a meeting of the Prasar Bharati Board on February 15, at least three directives from the Ministry were rejected. The Board said the Ministry's directives were in “contempt” of the Prasar Bharati Act.

•Rejecting reports that it had withheld funds to the Prasar Bharati “as retaliation for not obeying certain dictates of the Ministry”, the statement said, “The misinformation is based on ill-will and incorrect appreciation with half-baked facts and is tantamount to causing loss of reputation of the government in public eyes.”

‘Fiscal prudence crucial’

•“Fiscal prudence and accountability is the very fulcrum of the functioning of any government organisation. Prasar Bharati is as much bound by the General Financial Rules (GFR) of the Government of India as any Ministry or any organisation receiving grants-in-aid from the Government,” the Ministry added.

•Prasar Bharati officials claimed that for the current financial year, the Finance Ministry had allotted Rs. 2,800 crore for the broadcaster. The Ministry has to release Rs. 200 crore a month for day-to-day functioning of the state broadcaster. “Since December, these funds, which are essential to pay salaries of our employees, have not been released,” a senior Prasar Bharati functionary said.

•The functionary told this correspondent that the Prasar Bharati had taken the matter to “higher authorities”.

📰 Fear of forfeiture

It is unclear whether the threat of confiscation of property will encourage fugitives to return

•Given the apparent ease with which economic offenders flee India and cock a snook at the banking and judicial systems, the proposed law to seize their wealth is undoubtedly a welcome measure. In fact, given the public disquiet over the apparent impunity enjoyed by billionaire fraudsters living in the safety of foreign climes, any new law is likely to be viewed in a positive light. However, its success rides on the slim hope that the threat of confiscation of property will act as a serious deterrent to those seeking to flee or as a big incentive for fugitives to return. Legal provisions to confiscate the assets of offenders already exist, but these are regarded as somewhat inadequate. The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, which has been cleared by the Cabinet, aims to make up for the shortcomings and provide a fresh legal framework that would enable the confiscation of the property of those evading prosecution by fleeing the country or remaining abroad. From the provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure for attachment of the property of ‘proclaimed offenders’, to sections in Acts targeting smugglers, foreign exchange offenders and traffickers in narcotics, proceedings for forfeiture of property have been marked by shortcomings and procedural delays. But laws deemed draconian, such as the Smugglers and Foreign Exchange Manipulators (Forfeiture of Property) Act, 1976, have not exactly been a success. Experience has shown that disposal of confiscated assets is not easy, especially at a price sufficient to recoup losses or pay off all creditors.

•Under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, confiscation is not limited to the proceeds of crime, and extends to any asset owned by an offender, including benami property. Such clauses are liable for legal challenge, especially if there are third party interests and doubts about real ownership. Care must be taken to draft a law that is free from legal infirmities from the point of view of fundamental rights and due process. The government has justified not linking the forfeiture clause to criminal conviction by citing the principle enshrined in the UN Convention Against Corruption, which India ratified in 2011. The convention envisages domestic laws for confiscation of property without a criminal conviction in cases in which the offenders cannot be prosecuted for reasons of death, flight or absence. The Bill is reasonable in that a fugitive offender will cease to be one if he or she appears beforecourt. There is a 180-day window during which the property will remain attached, with a provision for appeal against an order of confiscation. While the utility and effectiveness of laws are best assessed in the implementation, it is important to ensure they are fair and reasonable. The shortcomings in previous laws must be avoided, and the new legal regime impartially enforced.

📰 ‘Present laws adequate to deal with defaulters’

New Bill a ploy to divert attention: Cong.

•A day after the Centre announced a new Bill to deal with fugitive economic offenders, the Congress on Friday said the move was to “deflect attention from the bank scams that happened under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch.”

•Speaking to The Hindu , the Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, said the current laws gave the Enforcement Directorate (ED) enough power to deal with economic offenders.

•“Let the Bill come and we will discuss. But there were enough laws and the ED had the authority and legal mandate to attach the properties of all these people. Why was Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi allowed to flee,” Mr. Sharma asked.

•“More important is the fact that there were official complaints against them in the Prime Minister’s Office since 2015 but nothing was done. They were allowed to plunder and flee with Rs. 22,000 crore. And now if you add the amount of Jatin Mehta [owner of Winsome Diamonds who fled in 2016], it will be close to Rs. 30,000 crore. And it all happened under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch,” he said.

•The Congress leader said the government would have to answer the Opposition on all these issues when the Budget session of Parliament resumes on Monday.

‘Deflecting attention’

•“We need answers. And they are deflecting attention. It is not only this new law but also by arresting somebody who was always available for questioning. You allow those who have plundered the banks to scoot and those who have gone with court permission and returned is arrested on landing,” Mr. Sharma said referring to the arrest of Karti Chidambaram, son of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

•The Congress leader justified the party’s boycott of the Lokpal selection committee meeting on Thursday over the Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, being referred to as a “special invitee”.

•“The Prime Minister isn’t serious about it [Lokpal] and he never had a Lokayukta in Gujarat,” he said.

📰 ‘Effective regulation need of the hour in banking sector’

Scams becoming excuse to seek privatisation: Economists

•What the banking sector needs right now is effective regulation and supervision and not increased privatisation, a group of prominent economists said on Friday.

•“The scale of the recent bank scams and the potential losses faced by banks holding non-performing loans given to some large companies and individuals, has shocked all of us,” the economists said in a joint statement. “However, we are concerned to note that this has become an excuse to demand the privatisation of publicly held banks.”

•While it was true that the Punjab National Bank scam involved the second largest public sector bank, “the basic cause is very clearly the inadequate and faulty regulation and monitoring of the banking sector,” they said.

‘Curious turn’

•“This affects all banks, regardless of ownership. But in a curious turn, fraud that was led by and benefited private players pursuing super-profits at any cost is being made the reason for handing control of the nation’s savings to the private sector,” they said.

•The statement said that poorly regulated private banks were even more prone to scams and failure, and that private profit orientation generated incentives for managements to exploit loopholes in rules and engage in risky behaviour, as shown by the U.S. and European bank behaviour leading up to the financial crisis of 2008-09.

•“It is worth noting that even a scam as large as the present one has not led to a widespread run on PNB and other banks,” the economists added. “This is because of the state guarantee that still generates trust in the public banking system.”

📰 Staying ahead of the double helix

India needs a law against genetic discrimination. There are enough models available globally

•The Delhi High Court recently ruled against discrimination in health insurance by United India Insurance Company involving a person with a heart condition which was perceived to be a genetic disorder. The court held, “Discrimination in health insurance against individuals based on their genetic disposition or genetic heritage, in the absence of appropriate genetic testing and laying down of intelligible differentia, is unconstitutional.”

•While the specific features of this case may depend on clauses in the original policy, this is a critical court decision around the broader question of discrimination on the basis of one’s genetic predisposition. As technology for genetic testing and tools to gather family history and compile them in databases become cheaper and more widespread, it becomes imperative that due social and ethical consideration be given to genetic discrimination as the implications are far-reaching and can affect everyone.

Questionable assumptions

•Genetic discrimination (GD) is understood to be differential treatment of those not showing symptoms but who are nevertheless treated differently on the basis of any real or assumed genetic characteristics. We must recognise that GD is nothing new. There were robust policies of eugenics in the U.S. in the 1900s. These led to laws in many States that made sterilisation compulsory for those who expressed a range of conditions believed to be inherited. Such conditions covered those with disability, who were poor, had mental health problems, were promiscuous, were dwarfs, and so on. Eugenics was also practiced in many countries in Europe, not just in Nazi Germany. Nordic countries, for example, passed eugenics laws in the 1930s and some of those stayed in the books until the 1970s.

•With newer and cheaper methods to sequence entire genomes, the era of expanded genetic testing is already upon us, although not everyone may associate it with eugenics. Whether specific genetic tests themselves are scientifically valid, whether they add value to those tested, and whether they should be generalised for populations or communities raise a separate but linked set of issues that I will not cover in this article. Rather, I will stay focussed on the issues of insurance and employment when there is family history of disease, the potential complications of genetic tests and their implications.

American precedent

•In the U.S., researchers working with the Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, Massachusetts recorded hundreds of cases of misuse of genetic information obtained through family history, genetic tests, or by employers and insurers accessing personal data.

•There are many examples of employers and insurers using genetic information to engage in discriminatory policies. In 2001, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company settled a federal lawsuit in the U.S. The company had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by threatening to fire a worker who did not give a blood sample to test whether he was predisposed to developing carpal tunnel syndrome. The company conducted genetic tests on its employees without their consent as a means of thwarting compensation claims for job-related stress injuries. A person diagnosed with a condition that causes excessive iron storage, but whose symptoms are otherwise manageable, lost her health insurance despite clear medical evidence that she was healthy.

•In the U.S., the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law in 2008. GINA provides strong protection against access to genetic information and genetic discrimination in the context of health insurance and employment. It prohibits insurers from “requesting or requiring” genetic tests from an individual or members of the person’s family, or using genetic information to determine eligibility or establish premiums. It also prohibits employers from “requesting or requiring” genetic information for hiring or promotional decisions, or when determining eligibility for training programmes.

•Geneticists are not in agreement on the usefulness of genetic tests or even on their veracity. Most importantly, very few single-gene health problems exist and the vast array of common diseases is related to the functioning of networks of genes in the milieu of other central cellular components and also depend on lifestyle and environment.

Too much miscommunication

•Moreover, the popular notion of deoxyribonucleic acid (otherwise known as DNA) being the central and only player in cellular and genetic information and disease with a mere unfolding of characteristics is deeply flawed. While there is mounting evidence to oppose this perception of DNA as a master molecule, there is a lot of miscommunication among scientists and the media on this topic wherein a gene that codes for a protein associated with the outward expression of a condition is regarded as its cause. Correcting this perception, even when genetic reductionist paradigms have shifted, is an uphill battle when commercial interests such as testing have been unleashed.

•The Council of Europe has adopted a set of recommendations on the use of genetic information for the purpose of insurance. Canada’s recent Genetic Non-Discrimination Act makes it illegal for insurers or employers to request DNA testing or results. It is reported that insurers in the U.K. are currently under a voluntary moratorium agreed upon between the Association of British Insurers and the government until 2019. Based on this agreement, results from genetic tests are not to be used for health or life insurance except for Huntington’s disease, which is dominantly inherited with a high penetrance. This simply means that there is a high likelihood that those who have this gene develop the disease, which is inherited as an autosomal-dominant trait. But it must be noted here that even with the rare single-gene conditions the genetic expression varies significantly because of other factors.

•India too needs a law that prevents genetic discrimination. In this era of rampant genetic testing, we need to prevent discrimination and uphold “equal treatment under the law”. Would the court have ruled the same way if the insurance company had done a genetic test and included a clause that this particular heart condition would not be covered? Equality under the law cannot have exceptions.

A complex future

•The situation is likely to get worse as people become more accepting of predictive genetic tests and insurance companies insist on them; at the moment, they generally use family medical history as the basis for determining premiums. In the medium term, there are also serious concerns related to the protection and privacy of medical and genetic data. Breaking into databanks, as we are all familiar by now, is not impossible as even America’s Federal Bureau of Investigations and other secure firewalls have been breached.

•Looking beyond these immediate issues, everyone has genes for some predisposition or the other, this being the human condition. There should therefore be no discrimination based on genetic information. Insurance is developed from pooling risks. If companies begin to insist on tests for everyone, then potentially no one will be insurable. Only universal health care can therefore be a viable solution.

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