The HINDU Notes – 24th October 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 24th October 2019

πŸ“° Health Ministry’s guidelines for peritoneal dialysis services welcomed

‘Move will move will benefit the 2 lakh Indians who develop end-stage kidney failure every year in India’

•Aimed at achieving equity in patient access to home-based peritoneal dialysis; reducing the overall cost of care; and bringing in consistency of practice, pricing and a full range of product availability, the Health Ministry has released guidelines for establishing peritoneal dialysis services under the Pradhan Mantri National Dialysis Program (PMNDP).

•It has also requested all States to include proposals for establishing peritoneal dialysis under their respective programme implementation plans. According to a health official, the guidelines aim to serve as a comprehensive manual to States that intend to set up peritoneal dialysis.

Extensive consultation

•The guidelines were formulated after an extensive consultative process that was coordinated by the National Health Systems Resource Centre and an expert committee.

•Chair of the Committee, Professor Vivekanand Jha, also executive director, George Institute for Global Health-India, said that this move will instantly benefit the 2 lakh Indians who develop end-stage kidney failure every year in India.

•“They now have another treatment option that allows them to do dialysis at home with potential flexibility in lifestyle. Mass-based peritoneal dialysis programmes also have the potential to substantially bring down the cost of treatment,” he added.

•During peritoneal dialysis, a cleansing fluid (dialysate) is circulated through a tube (catheter) inside a part of the abdominal cavity (peritonealcavity). The dialysate absorbs waste products from blood vessels in the abdominal lining (peritoneum) and then is drawn back out of the body and discarded.

•Prof. Jha explained that the Health Ministry had announced the National Dialysis Programme in 2016 and the first phase of the programme envisaged setting up of haemodialysis centres in all districts.

•“Given that peritoneal dialysis avoids the substantial costs of infrastructure set-up, maintenance and staffing, reduces the demands placed on the healthcare system and offers patient autonomy, the decision has now been made to include peritoneal dialysis in the ambit of the National Dialysis Programme,” Prof. Jha said.

Children excluded

•Arvind Bagga, Professor and Head of the Department of Pediatric Nephrology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, and a member of the expert committee, said that children with kidney failure were particularly disadvantaged due to the exclusion of peritoneal dialysis from this programme.

•“This modality is particularly suited to children who need dialysis because of biological and lifestyle reasons. Further, paediatric haemodialysis facilities are scarce in India,” he added.

•The guidelines, meanwhile, envisage providing training to community health workers to provide support to persons on peritoneal dialysis at home or in primary healthcare settings.

‘Self-care tools’

•“We recommend that simple self-care tools can be developed, which can help people on peritoneal dialysis to pre-empt development of complications by detecting them early and be in constant communication with care providers,” said Narayan Prasad, secretary general, Indian Society of Nephrology and a member of the expert committee.

πŸ“° Minding the gaps in India’s data infrastructure

The national discourse can ill-afford the danger of being hijacked by the poor quality of data

•Last week, demographers from around the world gathered in Delhi to mark 25 years of National Family Health Surveys (NFHS). It was both a celebratory and sombre moment. Policymakers and researchers celebrated tremendous achievements of four rounds of the NFHS since 1992-93; these have provided data on Indian families and allowed for development and evaluation of public policies regarding population, health, education and the empowerment of women. It was also heartening to see the political commitment towards ensuring the continuation of this outstanding survey programme at regular and predictable intervals. Nonetheless, a single concern permeated the two-day conference. Can India’s existing data infrastructure support high quality data collection or are we staring at a precipice where deteriorating data quality will lead evidence-based policy development astray?

•Presentations by Dr. Amy Tsui, Professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Santanu Pramanik, Deputy Director, National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)-National Data Innovation Centre, on contraceptive use highlighted the difficulties in obtaining reliable, high quality data. Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the total fertility rate (TFR) declined from 2.68 to 2.18 births. However, instead of being accompanied by increased contraceptive use, as would happen during normal circumstances, contraceptive use also declined from 56.3% to 53.5%. Using different approaches, both Prof. Tsui and Dr. Pramanik came to the same conclusion — that this aberration must be attributed at least partially to declining quality of contraceptive use data in NFHS-4.

•Much of the data quality discussions in the past have erupted when politically sensitive results around topics such as GDP growth rate or poverty rates have been released and partisan bickering allows for little room to think about data collection systems. A retrospective look at the way in which an outstanding programme of research such as the NFHS has changed over time along with the nation it chronicles, and emerging challenges facing the NFHS and other data collection efforts provide an opportunity to look at overall challenges facing our data infrastructure in a constructive manner.

•As Pravin Srivastava, Chief Statistician of India, noted at the NFHS conference, there is an amazing greed for data in modern India. This greed ranges from wanting to evaluate success of Poshan Abhiyaan (nutrition programme) to measuring changes in the aspirational districts. However, he also noted that the once vaunted Indian statistical infrastructure is crumbling and is not able to fulfil even its traditional tasks, let alone meet these new demands.

Being realistic

•I would like to submit that every government over the past two decades has been complicit in this neglect. If we are to move towards developing a more robust data infrastructure, subscribing to the following core principles may be a good start. First, set realistic goals and use creative strategies. In order to obtain data at the district level, the sample size grew from about one lakh households in NFHS-3 to over six lakhs in NFHS-4. At that time the National Statistical Commission had expressed a concern that such an expansion may reduce data quality. There was a fair amount of agreement among the participants at the NFHS conference that this concern may have been prescient. The government’s need for district-level estimates of various health and population parameters is legitimate, but do we need to rely on household surveys to obtain them? With a variety of small area estimation techniques available for pooling data from diverse sources to obtain robust estimates at district level, it may make sense for us to think of alternatives and to make sure that we obtain required local government directory identifiers in each aspect of government data, including Census, sample registration system, and Ayushman Bharat payment systems to ensure that these data can be pooled and leveraged.

Ensuring quality

•Second, adapt to changing institutional and technological environment for data collection. Veterans of the Indian statistical system blame deteriorating data quality on the move from regular employees to contract investigators at the National Sample Survey and use of for-profit data collection agencies in the NFHS. For better or worse, that train has left the station. Rising government salaries combined with increased technological needs of modern data collection systems make it difficult to rely on veteran investigators in the civil services to meet all of government data needs. However, if we are going to rely on outside data collectors, what do we need to do to ensure quality? Some of the initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation for developing training programmes for investigators offer a welcome improvement but stop far short of the radical restructuring of data collection oversight.

•I have enormous empathy for field investigators. They work under difficult conditions and are sometimes employed by for-profit agencies that require unrealistically high levels of output. Nonetheless, this is the data that guides the policies affecting millions of Indians and must be faithfully collected. Where interviewers make a mistake, they must be retrained. Where agencies impose an unrealistic workload, they must be checked. However, discovering mistakes after data collection has been completed is far too late to take any corrective steps. Concurrent monitoring using technologically-enabled procedures such as random voice recording of interviews, judicious back checks, and evaluation of agency and interviewer performance on parameters such as skipping sections, inconsistent data and consistent misreporting may be needed to ensure quality. Academician Dr. Leela Visaria noted the declining role of State population research centres in NFHS data collection. It may be worth investigating if they can be involved in quality monitoring.

Need for exclusive units

•Third, establish research units exclusively focused on data collection and research design. At one point in time, innovative research on the NSS was undertaken by an associated unit at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata. Since the dissolution of this association, very little research on data collection techniques takes place in India. We know little about whether men or women are better responders for data on household consumption expenditure. Nor do we know the extent of discrepancy in reporting on employment data between a direct response from women in the household vis-Γ -vis a proxy response via the household head. Do Likert scales that ask individuals to respond on their health status in five categories work well in India or do Indian respondents avoid choosing extreme categories? How does the presence of other people bias responses on contraceptive use? And does it have an equal impact on reported pill use as it does on sterilisation?

•While research on data collection methods has stagnated, research methodologies have changed phenomenally. Telephone surveys via random digit dialling or selection of respondents using voter lists are increasingly emerging as low-cost ways of collecting data. However, we know little about representativeness of such samples. Are men or women more likely to respond to telephone surveys? Are migrants from other States well represented on the voter list?

•Unless we pay systematic attention to the data infrastructure, we are likely to have the national discourse hijacked by poor quality data as has happened in the past with a measurement of poverty or inconsistent data on GDP.

πŸ“° A case against judicial recusal

Despite the controversy, Justice Arun Mishra’s recusal is not in fact mandated by the law on judicial impartiality

•Over the past week, the Supreme Court of India has found itself increasingly mired in criticism concerning the recusal of Justice Arun Mishra. At the heart of the fuss lies Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. In 2014, three judges of the Court ruled on the construction of this provision in the Pune Municipal Corporation case. In 2018, however, another three-judge Bench of the Court departed from their interpretation, in the Indore Development Authority decision. To resolve the conflict between these two judgments and provide an authoritative understanding of Section 24, a five-judge Bench was constituted last week, led by Justice Mishra. Controversially, however, Justice Mishra also presided over the three-judge Bench in Indore Development Authority, penning an opinion that strongly disagreed with Pune Municipal Corporation, going so far as to call it ‘per incuriam’. In essence, the quarrel is this: having made his opinion on the legal issue abundantly clear in Indore Development Authority, should the judge still be allowed to sit on a bench established to reconsider the very same question?

Issue of bias

•Much of the writing that has emerged on this issue weighs in on the side favouring recusal, including an opinion piece published in an earlier edition of this paper. Indeed, the court itself acknowledged that social media posts and newspaper articles seemed to be pressuring the judge to step down. Yet, it is not apparent why such an outcome is mandated by the common law rule on judicial impartiality.

•As noted by the Supreme Court in the NJAC judgment, a judge may be required to step down in one of two scenarios: cases of presumed bias, where the judge has a pecuniary interest in the outcome of a case (extended, through the Pinochet judgment to other similar non-pecuniary interests); or in cases of apparent bias, where a reasonable, fair-minded observer would believe there is a real possibility that the judge is biased. It is this latter test of apparent bias which has been invoked in the ongoing proceedings.

•Emerging out of the principles of natural justice, the justification for the apparent bias test is fairly straightforward: that ‘justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done’ to instil public confidence in the legal system. Yet, the purpose of this test is not to disqualify judges on the slightest whiff of suspicion; rather, the allegation of bias is only to succeed if it convinces a reasonable, fully-informed fair-minded observer. Inevitably, then, we must ask what such an observer might think of Justice Mishra’s predicament. To this, it is submitted, there can only be one answer.

•An informed observer would be expected to understand the functioning of a judicial proceeding, which does not expect its judges to bring an empty mind to a case, but only an open one. Judges are permitted to have pre-existing opinions on legal issues they decide. Indeed, such opinions are often acknowledged as expertise and rewarded through appointment to specialised benches and tribunals. It is only when such opinions acquire a certain severity, such that the judge closes their mind and refuses to be persuaded by reason, that the question of impartiality arises.

•In the case of Justice Mishra, this standard has not been met. His opinion in Indore Development Authority does not use uncompromising or injudicious language to presage such a closing of the mind. Even the finding of ‘per incuriam’ was legally necessary to justify the departure from Pune Municipal Corporation. Nor does he have a confirmed history of deciding Section 24 cases in a particular fashion. There is, in fact, no evidence to indicate that Justice Mishra cannot be persuaded to change his mind on the interpretation of Section 24 through fresh arguments in the current proceedings.

Some precedents

•Some have argued that, because the current Bench will be indirectly ruling on the rectitude of the Indore Development Authority judgment, Justice Mishra is, in effect, sitting on appeal over his own judgment. While this may sound unintuitive, it is not in fact prohibited under the common law. Indeed, judges have often been permitted to question the validity of their own prior decisions — see, for instance, the decisions in Sengupta v. Holmes and JSC BTA Bank v. Ablyazov. The law recognises that judges can be, and often are, persuaded to change their opinions. Moreover, practically, the current proceedings are not formally an appeal but arise out of an entirely distinct case. As such, the situation is more akin to that of a judge being asked to decide a legal issue they have ruled on in a prior case: a matter that occurs fairly routinely in our legal system.

•A final argument warrants consideration: since Justice Mishra’s presence on the Bench has proved to be controversial, would it it be better to err on the side of caution and ask for his recusal? Decidedly not. Such a recusal would set a dangerous precedent for future litigants to cherry-pick their benches and coerce judges they find unfavourable into stepping down. Such a position would severely undermine the administration of justice in the Indian legal system. It is, therefore, imperative that Justice Mishra be allowed to sit.

πŸ“° Treading cautiously on the final Naga peace agreement

The Centre should not be rigid in its stance

•Around the time that the Centre announced the abrogation of special status for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370, there was a flutter of anxiety, bordering on panic, in the North-Eastern States, particularly in Nagaland, which enjoys certain special privileges under Article 371(A) of the Constitution. The State’s Governor, R.N. Ravi, assuaged the angst through assurances that there would be no tampering with Article 371(A).

•Given that J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik had given a similar assurance to the denizens of that State when former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah met him two days before the constitutional change was announced, the Naga people are justifiably sceptical about the statements of their Governor that Article 371(A) is a “solemn commitment to the people of Nagaland...” and that they “don’t have to worry at all.”

Separate flag, Constitution

•For reasons best known to the concerned officials in the government and the signatories on behalf of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), the Framework Agreement, which was signed with much fanfare in the presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, has remained under wraps. Was there something in the agreement that was hindering its disclosure? Perhaps it was a clause regarding a separate flag and Constitution for Nagaland? Could the Centre have strategised that the final agreement for Nagaland would only be announced after the decision on J&K, so that the latter could serve as a precedent event and render reversal of any aspects of the Naga agreement — including clauses on its flag and Constitution — impossible?

•Herein lies the crux of the matter. While the Nagas maintain that “the Naga national flag is the symbol of the recognised Naga entity... the Constitution of the Nagas is the book form of the recognised sovereignty,” the Centre has conveyed its firm stand that the matter stands rejected.

•Meanwhile, akin to actions taken in J&K, leaves of all government officials including police personnel have been cancelled and the State put on alert. While the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), an umbrella organisation of seven insurgent groups, has consented to be a signatory to the agreement for the time being, it has asserted that the Naga Constitution, must be drafted by a committee of distinguished personalities from every Naga tribe. Though the NNPG does not distance itself from the final agreement, it holds the view that such a Constitution could be drafted subsequently. Currently, to meet the deadline of October 31, the agreement seems to be getting pushed forward, with the Centre hopeful that the talks slated for October 24 will be decisive and final.

•However, with the NSCN (I-M) obdurate in its stand of having a separate flag and Constitution, the situation could take a turn for the worse. In a reference to the armed outfit of NSCN (I-M), the Centre has categorically stated that talks at gunpoint are not acceptable and has directed all armed outfits including the NSCN (I-M) to decide upon a date for surrender of all arms in their possession. While the other outfits like NSCN (Khaplang), NSCN (Unification) and NSCN (Reformation) may readily agree to surrender their arms, the NSCN (I-M) may not give up as easily, unless of course the prospect of governmental berths being offered in the Nagaland Assembly might be allurement enough for it to do so.

•The Centre also could do well to step back from its rigid position of forcing an agreement that a major political stakeholder is not willing to ink. The government will have to tread cautiously in tackling the situation lest a variant of the pre-1997 militancy returns to the State. That would be a retrograde development, especially given the last 22 years of hard-fought peace.

πŸ“° An election dilemma in Sri Lanka

Progressives are united against having a Rajapaksa as President but divided over Premadasa’s abilities

•In less than a month, over 15 million voters in Sri Lanka will have a say in the country’s presidential election.

•A total of 35 candidates are in the fray, but the principal contest is between Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP). Two other prominent candidates — the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake and civil society group-backed former Army commander General Mahesh Senanayake — are pitching themselves as an alternative to the mainstream parties.

•As the final countdown begins, progressives in Sri Lanka are sharply divided. Though bound by a resolve to “stop a Gota [as Gotabaya is popularly known here] presidency”, they are unable to agree on ‘how’ they might oppose him. Mr. Gotabaya, 70, is a war-time Defence Secretary and younger brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In much of the island’s Sinhala-Buddhist south, the brothers invoke an aura of “war victors” who “saved the country” from the separatist LTTE. In Mr. Gotabaya’s now-significantly large support base, which includes professionals and businessmen, he is also seen as an efficient administrator, and a “non-politician” promising to deliver.

•However, the Rajapaksa brand doesn’t draw all Sri Lankans. To a substantial population, particularly Tamils, Muslims and his Sinhalese critics, Mr. Gotabaya’s candidacy portends a reversal to an era known for its authoritarian slant and diminished freedoms. Mired in accusations of killings and enforced disappearances during the war and soon after — which Mr. Gotabaya has squarely denied — the Rajapaksa decade in power, from 2005 to 2015, was marked by brutal state repression an unmistakable intolerance to dissent.

•His main opponent, Sajith Premadasa, is the son of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who many Sinhalese revere as a pro-poor leader, particularly for his efforts in housing reform and poverty alleviation. The senior Premadasa’s presidency also brings back memories of a dreadfully repressive regime, especially around the second armed insurrection of the JVP.

•But Mr. Sajith’s own political career has been largely non-controversial. Currently a Minister for Housing, Mr. Sajith, 52, has seldom spoken on national issues until now.

A hard-won candidacy

•Mr. Sajith’s hard-won candidacy followed an insurgent campaign by his supporters within the UNP. They sought to shift the power centre from party leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe — who is seen as representing the Colombo elite — to deputy leader Mr. Sajith, who is said to have aroused new energy at the party grassroots. Nevertheless, Mr. Sajith is still part of the incumbent UNP government. It is a government that won elections on the promise of democracy and good governance in 2015, but disappointed on most fronts. At the end of its term, its staunch backers — including liberals and several civil society groups — are utterly disenchanted.

•While President and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader Maithripala Sirisena is held chiefly responsible for last year’s constitutional crisis, the UNP arm of the coalition too has let down supporters. The UNP-led government, which vowed to ensure accountability and justice, hardly walked the talk. From its failure to respond to the massive corruption scandal at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in 2015 to its inability to prosecute those responsible for grave crimes during the Rajapaksa administration, it has repeatedly shown a lack of conviction and the political will to deliver the good governance it promised, though it made partial headway in reconciliation front and to some degree, opened up democratic space.

•The UNP is popularly perceived as the liberal alternative to the nationalist SLFP, whose place the SLPP has now taken, but Mr. Sajith’s messaging has at best been contradictory — with his own positions and surely his party’s. In his public rallies, he has been promising welfare programmes, including free noon meals at schools and greater rural employment. While addressing business chambers though, he has vowed by the free market, with little explanation of how he might reconcile the divergent approaches to governance. He has pledged to protect “war heroes”, just like Mr. Gotabaya has, and supports the death penalty despite the UNP opposing it. Both candidates have promised to enhance national security — a popular theme after the Easter Sunday attacks — but neither has so far articulated a progressive vision for the war-affected Tamil community that includes substantive power devolution.

•In this scenario, progressives are torn between backing Mr. Sajith, despite his shortcomings, in order to “keep Gota out at all cost”, and supporting a third alternative such as the JVP to help start a much-needed, new political culture and relief from the two main parties that have alternated in power since independence.

•Those unwilling to back Mr. Sajith know well that the JVP doesn’t stand a chance to win this election, but still feel the need to support it. After all, it was the JVP, along with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), that boldly challenged the October 2018 constitutional crisis, batting firmly for democracy. The JVP is fielding its own candidate after 20 years to kick-start a “real social transformation” that it thinks neither main party will do.

The third option

•For others in the progressive camp, a third option like the JVP’s Mr. Dissanayake or General Senanayake may be important but certainly not relevant at this political moment. The stakes, they say, are too high and warrant an urgent collective action from democratic forces, rather than a split vote that might indirectly favour Mr. Gotabaya in a presidential poll, where the winner needs 50% plus one vote.

•This election is about a “choice between dictatorship and democracy”, senior political scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda noted in a column, urging citizens not to allow their disenchantment with the current regime to blunt their political vigilance about an “impending catastrophe”. Few in the liberal/leftist camp disagree with him on the perils of a Gotabaya presidency. But they doubt if a Sajith presidency can, in reality, “keep Gota out” decisively. It was indeed the UNP government’s lapses that made a Rajapaksa comeback a viable electoral prospect — first evidenced in the SLPP’s big win in last year’s local government elections.

•Moreover, apart from promising to take on the “Rajapaksa oligarchy”, Mr. Sajith has not put forth a radically different or progressive agenda, they argue. Mr. Sajith and Mr. Gotabaya may not be the same but is Mr. Sajith different enough to bring about a more fundamental political shift, they ask? The politics of ‘backing the lesser evil’ merely postpones the return of a regressive rule but doesn’t make it any less inevitable, they worry. Such a choice will not alter the political landscape sufficiently, or entrench democratic values or progressive ideals, in their view.

πŸ“° Do public functionaries need a tighter gag?

Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court begins hearing on citizens’ fundamental right to lead a dignified life

•A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday began examining whether “greater restrictions” should be imposed on the right to free speech and expression of high public functionaries, including Ministers, to protect the citizen’s fundamental right to lead a dignified life.

•The freedom of speech is subject to “reasonable restrictions” to maintain public order under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

•The five-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra is examining whether further restrictions are needed on free speech.

•The reference to a Constitution Bench was made in April 2017. It sprouted from a petition filed by the family members of the Bulandshahr rape victim who were enraged by Uttar Pradesh Minister Azam Khan’s public statements that the rape case was part of a political conspiracy against the then Akhilesh Yadav government. Mr. Khan subsequently apologised unconditionally in the Supreme Court, but it decided to examine the question of imposing curbs on the free speech of public functionaries in sensitive matters.

•Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal suggested issues which the Bench need to decide on the case.

‘Collective statement’

•“The question is whether reasonable restrictions under Article19(2) should be expanded or not. Should there be a greater restriction on Ministers in position of power, especially if there is a possibility that the Minister’s statement could be misunderstood to be a collective statement of the government by the public?” Mr. Venugopal submitted.

•He said the Bench should further answer whether private persons and corporations can be held liable for violating Article 21. So far, only the State can be held liable for the violation of the fundamental rights, including Article 21. The top law officer asked the Bench also to decide whether the State could proceed against private individuals for making statements violating the fundamental right of another private individual.

•Justice Mishra said free speech and right to life were equally important. “So, the question is can free speech be restricted by invoking Article 21? Can a person’s right to free speech be curbed on the ground it affects another’s right to lead a dignified life under the Article?” Justice Mishra wondered.

•Mr. Venugopal said Article 19(2) introducing reasonable restrictions is proof that free speech is not absolute in this country. The exceptions to free speech given in Article 19(2) are defined and exact.

•“The question is can we introduce further restrictions without backing it up with any statutory law,” Mr. Venugopal asked the Bench.

•But Justice S. Ravindra Bhat expresses doubts about how greater restrictions, if imposed on free speech, can possibly be enforced without a definite statutory law defining the dos and dont’s.

•“Do we need new, greater restrictions. There are other remedies already available like civil/criminal injunctions, torts, general laws, etc,” Justice Bhat asked Mr. Venugopal.

•Instead of bringing new restrictions, focus should be on remedies like filing pleas under Article 226 — a constitutional provision through which citizens can approach the High Courts against the State for violation of their fundamental rights — to injunct embarrassing statements from especially Ministers, Justice Bhat suggested.

•The referral was made on the basis of a petition filed by a man whose wife and daughter were allegedly gang-raped in July last year on a highway near Bulandshahr, seeking transfer of the case to Delhi and lodging of an FIR against Mr. Khan for his controversial statement.

•The Constitution Bench is also hearing a separate petition filed by Joseph Shine, represented by advocate Kaleeswaram Raj, against comments made by Kerala Minister M.M. Mani. The Bench asked Mr. Raj to make submissions on October 24 about “whether it is permissible or desirable to have code of conduct for Ministers at the Centre and States following the practice in some other democracies”.

•The Supreme Court had in 2017 found that the matter required to be referred for consideration to a larger Bench as important questions of interpretation of Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of Constitution was involved in it.

πŸ“° Narendra Modi skips NAM summit again

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar calls for ‘new configurations’ at ministerial meet.

•Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu will represent India at the 19th Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 25 and 26, marking the second time in a row that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will give the summit a miss.

•Mr. Modi’s absence indicates a decisive move away from past practice at the 60-year-old organisation that India was a founding member of, by the NDA government. In 2016 as well, India was represented by then Vice-President Hamid Ansari at the NAM summit in Venezuela.

•“Long-held assumptions and alignments rooted in the legacies of colonialism and the ideology of the Cold War are making way for new configurations and partnerships,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said in a statement at the NAM ministerial meet in Baku on Wednesday. However, he maintained that “India remains committed to the principles and objectives of the Non Aligned Movement, including our long-standing solidarity and support for the Palestinian cause.”

•When asked, External Affairs Ministry officials denied that the government’s decision to send Vice-President Naidu represented a “downgrade” of India’s representation at the 120-member movement, which began with the “Bandung Process” in 1956 by India, Indonesia, former Yugoslavia, Egypt and other countries. Since it was inaugurated in 1961, the Indian Prime Minister has always attended the NAM summit, except once in 1979, when Chaudhury Charan Singh was the caretaker PM and hence missed it.

•“It may not be possible for PM [Modi] to attend all multilateral events, given the huge demands on his time,” said a senior official, pointing to the fact that in the past, Prime Ministers attended the UN General Assembly regularly as well, but PM Modi has not followed that tradition either and spoken at the General Assembly only on three occasions.

•In his statement at Baku, Mr. Jaishankar spoke about the importance of reforming international structures at a time when “multilateralism is undoubtedly under strain”, and called for the expansion of the UN Security Council. Mr. Jaishankar said that the NAM summit must resolve to fight terrorism “collectively” and “across all fronts”, and advocated the finalisation of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) that India had proposed in 1996.

•“The growing linkages between terrorist groups and cross-border operations including terror financing networks, and the spread of hateful ideologies through modern communication technologies have left no country untouched by this scourge,” he added.

•Pakistan President Arif Alvi, Iranian President Rouhani, Bangladesh PM Hasina and Nepal PM K.P. Sharma Oli are expected to attend the summit, Azerbaijani media reported.

πŸ“° ‘Revival of stalled projects will kick-start growth’

Such a move by the government will create more than one lakh jobs, says L&T

•Engineering and construction major Larsen and Toubro (L&T) said that if the government is able to revive stalled projects, it will kick-start growth and create over one lakh jobs.

•There have been various delays in the government in awarding big contracts, that can kick-start the economy and revive growth.

•Asked about the reported delays in the government awarding major contracts, L&T’s MD & CEO S.N. Subrahmanyan told The Hindu,. “It’s not moving as fast as it should. There are various reasons. The government has got a lot of feedback on many of the projects that are not being taken up due to issues such as right of way and public interest litigation The government is trying to re-arrange them to see that all issues are sorted out before they are offered for bidding. [The] system works like that, so it’s not correct to blame the government for everything.” EPC orders in roads have dried up compared with the last year.

•“Last year also, the orders came in the second quarter. NHAI also has budgetary allocations. NHAI will have to find ways to get the money,” said Mr. Subrahmanyan.

•L&T is looking at getting ₹15,000 crore of the ₹1 lakh crore worth of road projects to be awarded by the government this year.

•L&T Group CFO R. Shankar Raman said the economy can be revived and jobs created only if government revives stalled projects.

‘Lots of halted projects’

•“There are lots of projects which have been halted midway. They just need to be put back on track. My guess is at least 1 lakh people will get employment if you are able to release these projects, which are held back for some reason or other. Second, the government has to prioritise the allocation of funds to projects, contractors and vendors to get the circulation back. It’s important that the government [increases] spends,” said Mr. Raman.

•“There has to be rediscovery of belief in the credit system of the country. I think the ships are safest in the harbour but they are not built to stay in the harbour. Credit has to flow between balance sheets. There has to be confidence that credit decisions will be taken and supported,” explained Mr. Raman. “Today, we are sitting on ₹2 trillion of systemic liquidity surplus. The banks and financial institutions are sitting on extra credit and it’s important that they get diverted.

•“NPAs are going to be a part of any credit delivery system. These two or three things are not rocket science or policy changes but just to enable momentum into the economy,” he added.

πŸ“° Call of the wild: India plans first-ever snow leopard survey

Population and geographical range of elusive animal to be studied

•India will commission its first-ever survey to estimate the population and geographical range of the snow leopard, an elusive and endangered predator.

•The snow leopard is found along the upper reaches of the Himalayan range and, in India, it is reported to have a presence in Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. However, the inhospitable terrain and the reclusive nature of the animal have so far made a scientific estimation impossible.

•“This is the first time that we’ll use technology such as camera traps and scientific surveys to estimate the numbers. This is critical to its conservation,” said Anup Kumar Nayak, Director, National Tiger Conservation Authority. This organisation, which is part of the Union Environment Ministry, will play a crucial role in coordinating the survey.

•The snow leopard is found in 12 countries — India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Officials announced the survey at a meeting on Wednesday of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) programme being organised by Union Environment Ministry. The meeting has officials from Nepal, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and China. China, according to a representative, has nearly 2000 snow leopards.

•“We will strive to double the snow leopard population in the world in the coming decade,” Prakash Javadekar, Union Environment Minister, said. “We must start thinking about capacity building, livelihood, green economy, and green pathway even in the snow leopard areas of the Himalayan range and cross-country cooperation.”

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