The HINDU Notes – 26th June 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 26th June 2019

📰 Kerala tops the list for best performing State in health

Uttar Pradesh retains the worst performer tag in the NITI Aayog index

•Kerala continued to top the list for the best performing State in the health sector among the 21 large States, while Uttar Pradesh retained the worst performer tag, according to the second edition of NITI Aayog’s Health Index released on Tuesday.

•Kerala, which got an overall score of 74.01, was followed by Andhra Pradesh (65.13), Maharashtra (63.99), Gujarat (63.52) and Punjab (63.01), Himachal Pradesh (62.41), Jammu and Kashmir 62.37, Karnataka (61.14) and Tamil Nadu (60.41).

Fall in score

•Uttar Pradesh continued to be at the bottom of the list with its score falling to 28.61. Other States at the bottom of the list were Bihar (32.11), Odisha (35.97) and Madhya Pradesh (38.39).

•The report ‘Healthy States, Progressive India: Report on Rank of States and UTs’ has ranking in three categories — larger States, smaller States and Union Territories “to ensure comparison among similar entities.”

•Among the UTs, Chandigarh jumped one spot to top the list with a score of (63.62), followed by Dadra and Nagar Haveli (56.31), Lakshadweep (53.54), Puducherry (49.69), Delhi (49.42), Andaman and Nicobar (45.36) and Daman and Diu (41.66).

•The Index ranks the States and Union Territories based on 23 health-related indicators, including neonatal mortality rate, under-five mortality rate, proportion of low birth weight among new-borns, proportion of districts with functional Cardiac Care Units, full immunisation coverage and proportion of specialist positions vacant at district hospitals.

•The report stated that only about half the States and UTs showeds an improvement in the overall score between 2015-16 (base year) and 2017-18 (reference year).

•The report added that among the eight Empowered Action Group States, only three States — Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — showed improvement in the overall performance.

📰 31.4% of Indian children will be stunted by 2022: report

Country needs to double its efforts to control malnutrition

•Almost one in three Indian children under five years will still be stunted by 2022 going by current trends, according to an analysis of the country’s food and nutrition security released on Tuesday. Over the last decade, child stunting — which is a measure of chronic malnutrition — has reduced at a rate of about 1% per year, the slowest decline among emerging economies. At this rate, 31.4% of children will still be stunted by the 2022 deadline. India must double its rate of progress to reach the target of 25% by that time, says the report.

Analysis of progress

•The report, which is a baseline analysis of the country’s progress in achieving the second Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger, was prepared by the UN World Food Programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

•Foodgrain yields have risen 33% over the last two decades, but are still only half of 2030 target yields, says the report. Even so, the Indian farmer is producing more foodgrains than ever before, making the country self-sufficient in this regard. Unfortunately, the consumer’s access to rice, wheat and other cereals has not increased at the same rate, due to population growth, inequality, food wastage and losses, and exports. As a result, the average per capita consumption of energy among the poorest 30% of the population is 1811 kilo calories, much lower than the norm of 2155 kilo calories per day. The signs of unequal access are starkest among children. In States like Bihar (48%) and Uttar Pradesh (46%), almost one in two children are stunted, while it is only one in five children in Kerala and Goa (20% each). There are high rates of stunting among children in the poorest wealth quintile (51.4%), Scheduled Tribes (43.6%) and Scheduled Castes (42.5%), and children born to mothers with no education (51%).

📰 1 crore houses likely to be completed by 2020 ahead of deadline: Puri

Says government will beat 2022 target set under PMAY (U)

•The government’s target of constructing one crore houses by 2022 under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) could be completed by the end of 2020, Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister of State (independent charge) Hardeep Singh Puri said on Tuesday.

•Speaking on the fourth anniversary of the launch of three schemes for urban development – PMAY (U), the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transportation (AMRUT) and the Smart Cities Mission – Mr. Puri said the NDA government had spent 554% more in five years than the UPA government had in 10 years on urban development projects.

•So far, 81 lakh homes have been sanctioned, 48 lakh of those are under construction and 26 lakh have been completed and handed over to the beneficiaries, the Minister said.

•“As against a target completion date of 2022, I am more or less confident that we can have all the sanctioning done by the first quarter of 2020 and more or less completion by end of 2020,” Mr. Puri said.

•Of the ₹1.26 lakh crore committed for the scheme, ₹52,113 crore had been released so far, Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra said. Under the scheme, beneficiaries from economically weaker sections (EWSs) can get ₹1.5 lakh for the construction of homes. The scheme also includes in situ slum redevelopment, credit-linked subsidies and affordable housing in partnership with private and public sector.

•Speaking about AMRUT, Mr. Puri said the “top priority” for the government would be water supply across the country. Under the scheme, projects for improvement of water supply and sewerage networks, developing green spaces and non-motorised transport have been taken up in 500 cities with a population of over 1 lakh.

•So far, the State plans of ₹77,640 crore had been approved. Of this, ₹39,011 crore was for water supply projects, ₹32,456 crore for sewerage and septage, ₹2,969 crore for storm water drainage, ₹1,436 crore for non-motorised urban transport and ₹1,768 crore for green spaces, the Ministry said.

•Under the Smart Cities Mission, which covers 100 cities, a total investment of ₹2,05,018 crore would be made. Of that, projects worth ₹14,860 crore had been completed and projects worth ₹44,521 crore had been tendered, the Ministry said. In all, 16 integrated control and command centres had been operationalised.

📰 Trade, anti-missile deal, other sticky issues on plate during Pompeo-Jaishankar talks

Trade, anti-missile deal, other sticky issues on plate during Pompeo-Jaishankar talks
U.S. Secretary of State will meet Modi before the latter leaves for Osaka

•India will once again press its case for a waiver of United States’ sanctions on the $5.4 billion Russian S-400 Triumf anti-missile deal, but will discuss Washington’s concerns over the issue during talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.

•On a visit to Delhi to prepare for the Trump-Modi meeting this weekend, Mr. Pompeo landed on Tuesday evening ahead of a full day of meetings with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Wednesday, where he will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

•Mr. Pompeo will start his day with full-delegation meetings with Mr. Jaishankar followed by a press briefing. No MoUs or agreements are expected to be announced, although negotiations on two important agreements, the Industrial Security Annexe and the Geo-spatial cooperation agreement BECA have made considerable progress. Mr. Pompeo will hold a closed-door interaction with Indian and American businesses to speak about the impasse over a trade deal and the U.S. withdrawal of India’s GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) status.

•In the evening, he will meet Mr. Modi before the latter leaves for Osaka, and also give a public address aimed at India’s youth. Mr. Pompeo will leave for Osaka early Thursday morning.

•While strategic relations and people-to-people ties are on the agenda during the main talks, trade issues between the two countries are expected to take centre stage, diplomatic sources said. In addition, the U.S.’s objections to the purchase of the S-400, its sanctions on Indian imports of oil from Iran and Venezuela as well as its new demand that India must not allow Chinese telecom major Huawei to participate in 5G network trials are likely to come up for discussion.

•The sources acknowledged that the U.S. had made known its concerns over the S-400 deal and other issues quite openly, and India fears becoming “collateral damage” of the U.S.’ relationships with other countries. In the past few weeks, a number of senior U.S. diplomats and officials have suggested that if India goes through with buying the S-400, the U.S. will not offer India certain hi-technology platforms or may hold back on F-21/F-35 sales, as it had done with Turkey which has also bought the S-400.

•“[The U.S.] must realise that we have a long-standing defence relationship with Russia which we cannot wish away,” a government official said on Tuesday, adding that the S-400 deal had been discussed with the Putin government for a long time before it was signed in October last. “If you look at it purely from a legal point of view, India fulfils the requirements for a CAATSA waiver,” the official said, referring to the U.S. law that bans military purchases from Russia, Iran and North Korea.

•The sources indicated that the decision on whether to accept the U.S. diktat on import of oil from Iran has yet to be announced officially, but Indian oil companies have already taken a decision not to import more oil from Iran after the U.S. waivers ran out on May 2.

Huawei issue

•On the Huawei issue, Mr. Jaishankar will tell Mr. Pompeo that the government will balance the national security implications of the Chinese company with the demands of the local telecommunications market before deciding on 5G trials. Last week, the Chinese foreign ministry weighed in on the debate, calling for India to take an “unbiased and non-discriminatory” decision.

•The slew of U.S. demands from India had even prompted the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Eliot Engel to write to Mr. Pompeo on the eve of his visit to Delhi, warning of a growing view that the U.S. is “attempting to coerce India” into compliance with its demands. When asked, the sources said they didn’t see any coercion in the U.S.’ demands, rather that India saw them as “requests from friends”.

📰 The state of Indian prisons

The National Crime Records Bureau must be more prompt and open in releasing data

•Indian prisons make news when there is a jail break, a prison riot or when the lawyers of high-profile businessmen or economic evaders fight against their extradition to India. And in the midst of the election process this year, the release of the data-driven report, the Prison Statistics India 2016, published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in April went largely unnoticed.

•This edition of the report is different from its earlier versions on account of its omission of certain key demographic data. Despite these gaps, the report raises a number of red flags signalling the rot in India’s prison system. But before we go forward, a simple question needs to be asked. Who are our prisoners?

•The report tells us that at the end of 2016, there were 4,33,033 people in prison; of them 68% were undertrials, or people who have yet to be found guilty of the crimes they are accused of. India’s under-trial population remains among the highest in the world and more than half of all undertrials were detained for less than six months in 2016. This suggests that the high proportion of undertrials in the overall prison population may be the result of unnecessary arrests and ineffective legal aid during remand hearings.

No demographic details

•The most significant shortcoming of the report lies in the NCRB’s failure to include demographic details of religion and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe status of prisoners, which are crucial to understanding India’s prison population. This information was consistently published for the last 20 years and instrumental in revealing the problematic overrepresentation of Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis among under-trials in prisons.

•The report of 2015, for instance, said that Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis accounted for 55% of the under-trial population even though they made up only 50% of the convict population and 38% of the total Indian population.

•Another disturbing point is the rise in the number of people held under administrative (or ‘prevention’) detention laws in Jammu and Kashmir (a 300% increase), with 431 detainees in 2016, compared to 90 in 2015. Administrative, or ‘preventive’, detention is used by authorities in J&K and other States to unfairly detain persons without charge or trial and circumvent regular criminal justice procedures.

Data on prisoner release

•But a new and important addition to the report is the number of prisoners eligible to be released and actually released, under Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows undertrials to be released on a personal bond if they have undergone half of the maximum term of imprisonment they would have faced if convicted. In 2016, out of 1,557 undertrials found eligible for release under Section 436A, only 929 were released. Research by Amnesty India has found that prison officials are frequently unaware of this section and unwilling to apply it.

•In 2017, the Law Commission of India had recommended that undertrials who have completed a third of their maximum sentence for offences attracting up to seven years of imprisonment be released on bail. Perhaps the NCRB should consider including the number of such undertrials in its upcoming report for informing the policy on the use of undertrial detention.

•The 2016 prison statistics do not mention the number of prison visits by official and non-official visitors which typically include district magistrates and judges, social workers and researchers. This number, while not as disaggregated as it should be, must nevertheless be used to provide some information on independent monitoring of prisons. This is essential to uncover torture and other forms of ill-treatment, increase transparency and balance the power asymmetry in prisons.

Mental health concerns

•The relevance of prison visits is underlined by the number of “unnatural” deaths in prisons, which doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 115 to 231. The rate of suicide among prisoners also increased by 28%, from 77 suicides in 2015 to 102 in 2016. For context, the National Human Rights Commission in 2014 had stated that on average, a person is one-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide in prison than outside, which is an indicator perhaps of the magnitude of mental health concerns within prisons.

•The NCRB has said that about 6,013 individuals with mental illness were in jail in 2016. It does not provide information on whether these prisoners were diagnosed with mental illness before entering prison, making it difficult to determine whether prison conditions worsened their plight.

•The report states that there was only one mental health professional for every 21,650 prisoners in 2016, with only six States and one Union Territory having psychologists/psychiatrists. Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the three States with the most prisoners with mental illness, did not have a single psychologist or psychiatrist.

•All things considered, the report has important information which can be used to facilitate a dialogue on improving prison policies. But these conversations will be limited and the public’s right to know about the functioning of the criminal justice system thwarted if critical information is delayed inordinately or withheld without credible reason. The NCRB’s apparent reluctance to be prompt and open about its prison statistics does not bode well for the democratic discourse in India.

📰 Sinha-led panel proposes ₹5,000 crore stressed asset fund for MSMEs

The fund will assist units becoming sick due to changes in external factors

•A committee formed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), headed by former SEBI Chairman U.K. Sinha, has recommended a ₹5,000 crore distressed asset fund for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

•The fund will assist units in a cluster where there is a change in the external environment such as plastic ban, which had resulted in large number of such entities becoming non-performing. “This would be of significant size which makes equity investments that help unlock debt or help revive sick units. It is a variation of venture capital fund , meant for equity investment of ₹1 lakh to ₹10 lakh in proprietary or partnership MSMEs, which will not or cannot list on the stock exchanges,” the committee, which submitted its report to the RBI few days back, said.

•“The structure would recognise that exits will not be big bang but through a percentage of revenues or profits over a period of 3-5 years. The onus of creating this fund would lie with the government,” it said.

•The panel also suggested that the RBI should increase the limit for non-collateralised loans to ₹20 lakh, and this would address a significant proportion of the sector needs. In addition, it also suggested revision in loan limit sanctioned under MUDRA by the Finance Ministry to ₹20 lakh from ₹10 lakh.

•The committee has also recommended banks that wish to specialise in MSME lending, their sub-targets for farm loans under the priority sector lender could be waived off, and instead can be given a target for loans to the SME sector. The targets, committee said, could be of 50% of the net bank credit for universal banks and 80% for small finance banks.

•At present, the overall priority sector lending target for a universal bank is 40% of their net bank credit and 75% for small finance bank.

•Commercial banks have been suggested that they should develop customised products to assess the financing requirements based on expected cash flows moving away from traditional forms of assessment.

•“Banks need to build their ability to capture cash flows of MSME borrowers on a regular basis, for which tie-ups with industry majors / aggregators / online platforms will have to be done by the banks,” the report said. In order to provide loan portability in a seamless manner to MSMEs, the committee recommended that the RBI should come out with measures on portability of MSME loans with a lock-in-period of one year.

📰 Union Cabinet clears fresh DNA profiling bill

The bill envisages that every data bank will maintain indices like the crime scene index, suspects’ or undertrials’ index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and the unknown deceased persons’ index

•The Union Cabinet on Monday cleared a DNA profiling bill, which seeks to control the use of DNA technology for establishing the identity of a person.

•The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in January, but lapsed as it could not be cleared in the Rajya Sabha due to lack of support from the Opposition.

•Now, after the Cabinet’s nod, a fresh bill will be brought in Parliament in the next few days, sources aware of the development said.

•The legislation seeks to establish a National DNA Data Bank and Regional DNA Data Banks.

•The bill envisages that every data bank will maintain indices like the crime scene index, suspects’ or undertrials’ index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and the unknown deceased persons’ index.

•The legislation also seeks to establish a DNA Regulatory Board. Every laboratory that analyses DNA samples to establish the identity of an individual, has to be accredited by the board.

•Under the bill, a written consent by individuals is required to collect DNA samples from them. Consent is not required for offences with punishment of more than seven years of imprisonment or death.

📰 Cash in circulation fell post note ban: FM

‘Demonetisation exercise of 2016 succeeded in reducing notes in circulation by Rs. 3.4 lakh crore’

•Demonetisation, coupled with increased digital transactions and the reduced cash usage in the informal economy, led to a reduction in currency in circulation by Rs. 3.4 lakh crore, according to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

‘Significantly lower’

•Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Ms. Sitharaman said that the level of currency in circulation as of May 31, 2019, was significantly lower than what it would have been if demonetisation had not happened.

•According to the data provided, the value of notes in circulation on November 4, 2016, (four days before demonetisation was announced) stood at Rs. 17.74 lakh crore, which has now increased to Rs. 21.71 lakh crore as of May 31, 2019.

•However, Ms. Sitharaman said that the notes in circulation had been growing at an average annual growth rate of 14.51% since October 2014.

•“At this rate, notes in circulation would have increased to Rs. 25,122.53 billion (Rs. 25.12 lakh crore) as on May 31, 2019,” Ms. Sitharaman said in her reply. “As actual notes in circulation on May 31, 2019 are only Rs. 21,713.85 billion [Rs. 21.71 lakh crore], demonetisation, followed by digitalisation and reduction of cash use in informal economy, has succeeded in reducing the notes in circulation by as much as Rs. 3,408.68 billion (Rs. 3.4 lakh crore).”

•Ms. Sitharaman went on to cite Reserve Bank of India data to show that the number of counterfeit bank notes detected decreased from 762,072 pieces in 2016-17, to 522,783 in 2017-18 and 317,389 pieces in 2018-19 and hence “demonetisation resulted in curbing of the counterfeit currency”.

•However, she did not mention whether this reduction in detection of fake currency was due to their incidences coming down or their sophistication surpassing the RBI’s ability to detect.

•“A significant growth has been observed in digital transactions in the country post demonetisation,” Ms. Sitharaman added. “Growth of digital transactions in terms of value has increased to Rs. 188.07 lakh crore in September 2018 from Rs. 112.27 lakh crore in November 2016. Digital transactions in terms of volume have increased to 241.88 crore in September 2018 from 91.83 crore.”

•The Minister also said that demonetisation led to a “significant positive impact on most theatres of violence” in the country since illegally held cash formed a major chunk of terrorfunding, and that the note ban rendered the cash held with terrorists worthless.

📰 An indecent settlement

Johnson & Johnson’s paltry settlement for faulty hip transplants is problematic

•There have been no mass tort cases in India like the Acetabular Surface Replacement (ASR) hip implant case. In this, Johnson & Johnson has been accused of selling its faulty ASR hip implants to approximately 4,700 Indian patients between 2004 and 2010. The company announced a global recall of the ASR hip implants in 2010 after doctors in the U.K. and Australia reported an extremely high failure rate for the implant. The metal in the implant was apparently degenerating, causing damage to the bone and tissue, apart from leaching dangerous metals like cobalt and chromium into the blood stream of the patient. By 2013, J&J announced a $4 billion settlement to cover the claims raised by 12,000 patients in the U.S.

•Meanwhile, in India, individual patients filed cases against the company before consumer courts. There was no governmental response till 2017 when the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) set up a committee of experts to probe the matter. This committee stated that J&J, as part of its global recall, had published advertisements in two English language newspapers informing patients that it was effecting a recall of the ASR hip implants and would pay for the revision surgery of those patients who required the implant replaced. Apparently 1,032 Indian patients contacted the company in response to these advertisements. And of these patients, the company paid for revision surgeries of 254 patients, while another 774 patients were kept on monitoring. The remaining 3,600 patients are likely not even aware of the issues with their hip implants because J&J did not contact each patient individually.

The challenge before court

•In 2018, an expert committee under Dr. R.K. Arya recommended that J&J be ordered to pay each patient a baseline compensation of Rs. 20 lakh and additional compensation based on the age of the patient and disability suffered by him. When the DCGI ordered J&J to pay compensation as per the formula laid down by the expert committee, its order was challenged before the Delhi High Court on April 8, 2019 by J&J which argued, and rightly so, that only courts of law and not regulators like the DCGI could order payment of compensation.

•In May, the company struck an entirely different chord, claiming that it was willing to pay Rs. 25 lakh to patients who had a revision surgery and approached the government’s committee, provided that the payment was not construed as an acceptance of any liability. As per the court’s order, this settlement offer would not affect the patient’s right to claim further compensation subject to the fact that any possible future award of compensation from a court would have to be adjusted with the Rs. 25 lakh already paid. The order records that J&J was in effect extending this offer to merely 67 of the 289 patients who had approached the ‘expert committee’ of the Central government because only these 67 patients had been “verified” and had received revision surgeries.

Problems with the settlement

•There are several problems with this settlement. The first is that the patients who are the most important stakeholders are not party to this litigation. One of the fundamental tenets of law is that no order, not even one that is perceived to be a favourable order, should be passed by a court of law without hearing the parties who are going to be impacted by the order. The only way patient interests can be protected is to invite patients to be part of the process. This is not merely an issue of abstract theory but one of practical implications. For instance, if there was even one lawyer for the patients present in court, he or she would have informed the court that most patients have not approached the expert committee of the government because it was as clear as day that the committee did not have any legal powers to award damages. Instead, most patients moved consumer courts seeking compensation. Thus, dealing with the claims of only the 289 who contacted the committee is pointless. The same lawyers would have also informed the court that as per the expert committee report, J&J has knowledge of at least 254 patients who have had revision surgery. Why then is J&J prepared to pay only 67 patients who had the revision surgery? Also, what of the remaining 3,600 patients who have not been informed of problems with the implant?

The perfect smokescreen

•The second problem with this payment of Rs. 25 lakh per patient is that there is no theory of damages supporting the payment of this amount. Normally damages are split under different heads such as loss of future earnings and solatium for hardship — all of which will be calculated on the basis of the age of the patient. A 40-year-old patient who has a much higher earning potential than a 60-year-old patient deserves to be compensated at a higher rate. J&J needs to explain the basis of treating all the patients equally. The expert committee had recommended Rs. 20 lakh as a baseline compensation to which more could be added as per a formula it proposed. Going by this formula, the compensation payable to these patients would depend on age and disability and would be far in excess of the Rs. 25 lakh proposed by J&J. The High Court needs to guarantee some transparency in this regard since there are pending cases before the consumer courts which will be dealing with similar questions.

•The third tragedy with this settlement is that it provides the perfect smokescreen to both J&J and the DCGI who have so far had to deal with intense media scrutiny over their failure to take care of patient interests. By presenting to the media a deal that has the blessings of the Delhi High Court, both J&J and the DCGI will get away with the appearance of having taken care of patients even when it is clear that Rs. 25 lakh is a pittance of a compensation. The image of this settlement which costs J&J a paltry sum of Rs. 16.75 crore will end the public pressure on the company despite no justice being done to the patients.

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