The HINDU Notes – 30th October 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 30th October 2019

📰 India, Saudi Arabia to sign Strategic Partnership Council pact

Kashmir unlikely to get any attention from Saudi rulers, says ex-envoy

•India and Saudi Arabia are set to sign an agreement for creating a bilateral strategic partnership council on Tuesday during the official visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Riyadh. The council will include multiple sections involving the External Affairs Ministry and NITI Aayog and counterpart organisations from Saudi Arabia.

•The council will be led by Mr. Modi and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Both sides are expected to seal several other agreements during Mr. Modi’s visit.

•Formation of the Council has been under discussion for some time and found mention during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s India visit in February in the aftermath of the terror strike in Pulwama. Mr. Modi will hold a discussion with Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, Minister of Energy, on Tuesday morning and follow it up with talks with Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and King Salman. He will deliver the keynote address at the Future Investment Summit organised by the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s public investment fund. Mr. Modi’s last and most important meeting will be with the Crown Prince.

•Mr. Modi’s visit is significant as it comes three months after India ended the special status of Kashmir. Former Ambassador to Riyadh Talmiz Ahmed, however, feels that Kashmir is unlikely to get any attention from the Saudi rulers as the visit is expected to boost the Crown Prince’s global stature which suffered after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. “The visit is a vote of confidence in the leadership of Crown Prince bin Salman and it will be used to showcase that Saudi-India ties are determined by long-term strategic considerations like India’s energy security and our desire to ensure stability in the Gulf region,” Mr. Ahmad said.

•Mr. Ahmad said India should go beyond the bilateral framework and seek a greater regional role to stabilise ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia as peace in the region is of utmost importance for India’s expat population and energy security.

📰 Members of European Parliament begin J&K visit

Invite to Chris Davies, an MEP from United Kingdom, was rescinded after he asked to meet people without escort.

•As many as 23 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) arrived in Kashmir on a two-day visit on Tuesday to assess the ground situation after scrapping of J&K’s special status and recorded the feedback from the Army, local officials and 15 delegations, as the Valley observed a complete shutdown and saw a spurt in street protests.

•“We are looking for the facts. It is a good occasion to get some views. I do not have enough facts to reach a conclusion. We are conscious of the context. We are also conscious that we were being kept away from some people,” Spanish MEP Herman Tertsch said.

•Earlier in the day, United Kingdom MEP Chris Davies, whose invite was rescinded after he made a request to meet people without any escort, said, “I am not prepared to be part of a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well. It’s very clear democratic principles are being subverted in Kashmir and the world needs to start taking notice.” 

•Around four MEPs have reportedly backed out from travelling to Kashmir.

•On arrival, the European Union (EU) delegates drove through Srinagar city from the airport to their hotel located near the Dal lake, under a heavy security blanket. The cavalcade also drove past four detention centres, where three former Chief Ministers and several mainstream politicians were being held since August 5.

•The EU delegates held across-the-table interactions with 15 delegations, including of traders, grassroots leaders, students, a three-member women’s group and civil society members at the Lalit Grand Palace hotel, just next to Hari Niwas where National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah is being detained. The members also took boat rides on the Dal lake in the evening.

•Global Youth Foundation head Touseef Raina, who met the MEPs, said he highlighted that youth of J&K witnessed “enough bloodshed and wanted an end to it.” 

•“We told the MEPs that youth draw inspiration from the EU-like system. We underlined there was no leadership in J&K. The unfortunate decision to bifurcate J&K is a collective failure of the regional mainstream parties and separatists. If they had worked in a selfless manner, Kashmir would have been a peaceful place,” said Mr. Raina.

•BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur, who led a delegation of panchs and sarpanchs, said, “Kashmir is normal. There are some forces that want to disturb peace here. Otherwise, people want to open shops and students want to go to educational institutes. Article 370 was like a wall, stopping the State’s development.” A women’s delegation highlighted the issue of unemployment.

•Earlier, General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, Lt. Gen. K.J.S. Dhillon hosted a lunch to the visiting delegates at the Badamibagh Cantonment. Sources said the Army apprised the team of situation on the Line of Control (LoC), infiltration bids from across the border and the internal situation. 

•In the evening, the EU team also met senior officials of the J&K government for their feedback on the situation.

•Meanwhile, no prominent traders' body, civil society group or regional political parties interacted with the EU delegation.

•Valley's apex traders body, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), president Sheikh Ashiq said his association was not invited. "The local delegations were hand picked," said Mr. Ashiq.

•Muhammad Akbar Lone, a National Conference Member Parliament, said he returned to Srinagar from Delhi with the hope to meet the EU delegation. "Unfortunately, there is no indication if we will be allowed to meet. There is no offer hold a meeting with them. They have been selectively brought here as a part of conspiracy. They have no credibility. If they had credibility, they would have met all, especially detained chief ministers," said Mr. Lone.

•Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Firdous Tak said, "The visit is mere an eyewash. It is an outcome of the internal and external pressure on the Centre. It is being stage managed to project all was well in Kashmir," said Mr. Tak.

•In a sudden spurt in violence, over 50 incidents of stone pelting were recorded in the Valley, according to the police data.

•Suspected militants also opened fire on a CRPF bunker in Pulwama's Drabgam area. It created panic among the students appearing for Class 10 examination in the area.

•There was a complete shutdown in Kashmir on Tuesday. Even the movement of the private traffic saw a dip. Shopkeepers, who otherwise would open for two hours in the morning, remained closed for the whole day.

•Joint Secretary, Examination, Syed Rouf said 99 percent students appeared in the Class 10 examinations. "Only 568 students remained absent out of 65000 enrolled students," he said.

📰 Legal pluralism in personal law

Uniformity in civil law can only be achieved in a piecemeal manner

•In Jose Paulo Coutinho v. Maria Luiza Valentina Pereira (2019), the Supreme Court has yet again revived the debate on a uniform civil code (UCC) and referred to Goa as “a shining example of an Indian State which has a uniform civil code applicable to all...”. There are rumours that the government may surprise everyone in the winter session of Parliament by introducing a UCC Bill, just as it did by diluting Article 370 on August 5. But in fact it has been the judiciary, rather than the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, that has been relentlessly pushing for the enactment of a UCC.

Some earlier cases

•In some cases that dealt with the issue of a UCC, the apex court’s observations have been unnecessary obiter dicta (such as in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, 1985). In some others (such as in Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, 1995, in which four Hindu men converted to Islam to take second wives), the court’s observations have been reflective of flawed and problematic judicial reasoning. Instead of condemning the men in Sarla Mudgal, the court demonised Muslims by saying, “Those who preferred to remain in India after the partition, fully knew that the Indian leaders did not believe in two-nation theory or three-nation theory and that in the Indian Republic there was to be only one Nation — Indian nation — and no community could claim to remain a separate entity on the basis of religion” (sic). It also stated there “there is an open inducement to a Hindu husband, who wants to enter into second marriage while the first marriage is subsisting, to become a Muslim”. In this judgment, the court completely negated the idea of legal pluralism; overlooked the fact that while all Congress leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi voted for Pakistan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad stood his ground and voted against it; overlooked V.D. Savarkar’s two-nation theory; and also overlooked the history of the Hindu Right’s resistance to the Hindu Code Bill.

•With reference to the court’s judgment in Jose Paulo Coutinho, it is important to understand that the reality of Goa is a little complex. The Goa Civil Code of 1867, which was given by the Portuguese, begins in the name of God and the King of Portugal. Uniformity is not necessarily a promise for gender justice. On the opposition of Hindus, the Code permitted limited polygamy for Hindus on certain conditions, including “absolute absence of male issue, the previous wife having completed 30 years of age, and being of lower age, ten years having elapsed from the last pregnancy”.

•The Code gives certain concessions to Catholics as well. Catholics need not register their marriages and Catholic priests can dissolve marriages performed in church. Church tribunals are similar to the so-called Sharia courts and dissolution by them is mechanically approved by the High Court. Why the court did not, as a first step towards a UCC in Goa, recommend the adoption of a reformed Hindu Code Bill in preference to the Portuguese Civil Code is not clear.

•The provision of matrimonial properties being jointly held and equally divided between spouses on divorce exists under the 1867 Code. However, through pre-nuptial contracts, parties may opt out of this joint ownership of properties. In many marriages, would-be wives are forced to sign on dotted lines. Thus, even where such joint ownership of assets exists, the control over property remains with the husband. Even the Goa Succession, Special Notaries and Inventory Proceeding Act, 2012, enacted by the BJP government in 2016, mentions the surviving spouse only as the fourth preference in Section 52 (order of legal succession), after descendants, ascendants, and brothers of the deceased.

•As far as Muslims are concerned, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937 has not been extended to Goa. Muslims of Goa are governed by Portuguese law as well as Shastric Hindu law.

•The majority in Shayara Bano v. Union of India (2017) did hold freedom of religion subject to restrictions under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution as absolute. Even the right to follow personal law had been elevated to the highest status of fundamental right. UCC is only one of the directive principles. The Supreme Court rightly held in Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union Of India (1980) that “to destroy the guarantees given by Part III [fundamental rights] in order purportedly to achieve the goals of Part IV [directive principles] is plainly to subvert the Constitution by destroying its basic structure.”

Futility of one nation, one law

•Since personal laws are in the Concurrent List, they may differ from State to State. The framers of the Constitution did not intend total uniformity or one law for the whole country. States have made more than a hundred amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Penal Code. The law of anticipatory bail differs from one State to another. Even BJP governments in different States, including Gujarat, have reduced fines under the amended Motor Vehicles Act despite the Centre justifying the hefty fines. This proves the futility of one nation, one law.

•Not all Hindus in the country are governed by one law. Marriages amongst close relatives is prohibited by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, but is considered auspicious in the south. The Hindu Code Bill recognises customs of different Hindu communities. Even the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 made several compromises and could not make daughter a coparcener till 2005. Wives are still not coparceners. Even today, property devolves first to Class I heirs and if there are no Class I heirs, then to Class II heirs. While heirs of sons are Class I heirs, those of daughters are not. Even among Class II heirs, preference is given to the male line. If a couple does not have a child, the property of not only the husband but also of the wife goes to the husband’s parents.

•Similarly, there is no uniform applicability of personal laws among Muslims and Christians. The Constitution protects the local customs of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.

•In fact, let’s leave aside discriminatory personal laws; even land laws enacted after 1950 in a number of States are gender unjust. These laws have been exempted from judicial scrutiny and have been included in the Ninth Schedule.

•No blueprint of a UCC has been prepared yet. No expert committees, like the Hindu Law Committee of 1941, has been constituted so far. Several provisions of codified Hindu law such as solemnisation of marriage, satpati, kanyadaan, the sacramental nature of marriage, income tax benefits for the Hindu joint family, and absolute testamentary powers may not find a place in the UCC. Provisions like dower (payment by husband) or nikahnama (prenuptial contract) are to be incorporated in the UCC. Will Hindus accept these changes?

•Last year, the Law Commission had concluded that a UCC is neither desirable nor feasible. Indeed, it is best to enact a UCC in a piecemeal manner.

📰 The new gold standard in development economics?

With RCT becoming a dominant factor, ‘randomistas’ could be changing the social sciences paradigm

•Development economics has changed a lot during the last two decades or so, mostly due to the extensive use of ‘randomised control trials’ (RCT). ‘Randomistas’ are proponents of RCTs to assess long-run economic productivity and living standards in poor countries. Three randomistas, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, were awarded the 2019 Nobel prize in Economics for their RCT-based studies on poverty worldwide.

An evolution

•The concept of RCT is quite old; instances of RCTs can be traced back in the 16th century. However, the statistical foundation of RCT was developed by British statistician Sir Ronald Fisher, about 100 years ago, mostly in the context of design of experiments.

•In my experience I have seen the proportion of events by the same treatment varying between 10% to 35% in different clinical trials. Is it due to unknown distribution of treatment effects, and/or other external effects such as hospital care, hospital location, etc? Thus, for an unbiased evaluation of the treatment, its performance needs to be compared with some ‘control’, which maybe ‘no treatment’ at all or an ‘existing treatment’ other than the treatment under study.

•The next task is to allocate the patients among two treatments/interventions at hand. Patients might prefer some treatment to the other. Prior knowledge of the treatments to be applied to them might induce a ‘selection bias’ due to unequal proportions of patients opting out from the study. ‘Randomisation’ is a procedure used to prevent this by allocating patients using a random mechanism — neither the patient nor the doctor would know the allocation.

•‘Control’ and ‘randomisation’ together constitute an RCT. In 1995, statisticians Marvin Zelen and Lee-Jen Wei illustrated a clinical trial to evaluate the hypothesis that the antiretroviral therapy AZT reduces the risk of maternal-to-infant HIV transmission. A standard randomisation scheme was used resulting in 238 pregnant women receiving AZT and 238 receiving standard therapy (placebo). It is observed that 60 newborns were HIV-positive in the placebo-group and 20 newborns were HIV-positive in the AZT-group. Thus, the failure rate of the placebo was 60/238, whereas that of AZT was only 20/238, indicating that AZT was much more effective than the placebo. Drawing such an inference, despite heterogeneity among the patients, was possible only due to randomisation. Randomisation makes different treatment groups comparable and also helps to estimate the error associated in the inference.

•The early applications of RCTs were mostly within the agricultural field. Sir Ronald Fisher himself was very reluctant to apply statistics to social sciences, due to their ‘non-experimental’ nature. RCT got its importance in clinical trials since the 1960s, so much so that any clinical trials now-a-days without RCT were being considered almost useless.

Marking a change

•Social scientists slowly found RCT to be interesting, doable, and effective. But, in the process, the nature of social science slowly converted from ‘non-experimental’ to ‘experimental’. Numerous interesting applications of RCTs took place in social policy-making during the 1960-90s, and the ‘randomistas’ took control of development economics since the mid-1990s. About 1,000 RCTs were conducted by Prof. Kremer, Prof. Banerjee and Prof. Duflo and their colleagues in 83 countries such as India, Kenya and Indonesia. These were to study various dimensions of poverty, including microfinance, access to credit, behaviour, health care, immunisation programmes, and gender inequality. While Prof. Banerjee thinks RCTs “are the simplest and best way of assessing the impact of a program”, Prof. Duflo refers to RCTs as the “tool of choice”.

•There has been tremendous international attention on Finland’s Basic Income experiment (2017-18), where 2,000 unemployed Finns between ages 25-58 were randomly selected across the country, and were paid €560 a month instead of basic unemployment benefits. Results from the first year data didn’t have any significant effect on the subjects’ employment, in comparison with the control group comprising individuals who were not selected for the experimental group. Essentially this was also an RCT.

•Critics of RCTs in economic experiments think that in order to conduct RCTs, the broader problem is being sliced into smaller ones, and any dilution of the scientific method leaves the conclusions questionable. Economists such as Martin Ravallion, Dani Rodrik, William Easterly, and Angus Deaton are very critical of using RCTs in economic experiments.

•Randomisation in clinical trials has an additional impetus — it ensures that allocation to any particular treatment remains unknown to both patient and doctor. Such kind of ‘blinding’ is central to the philosophy of clinical trials and it helps to reduce certain kinds of bias in the trial. It is believed that the ‘outcome’ or the ‘treatment-response’ might be influenced if the patient and/or the physician are aware of the treatment given to the patient. However, such kind of ‘blinding’ is almost impossible to implement in economic experiments as participants would definitely know if they get any financial aid or training. Thus, randomisation must have a much less impact there. Often, economists miss such an important point.

•However, unless randomisation is done, most of the standard statistical analyses and inference procedures become meaningless. Earlier social experiments lacked randomisation and that might be one reason that statisticians such as Sir Ronald Fisher were unwilling to employ statistics in social experiments. Thus, “RCT or no RCT” may not be just a policy decision to economics; it is the question of shifting the paradigm. The “tool” comes with lot of implicit baggage. With randomisation dominating development economics, implicitly, economic experiments are becoming more and more statistical. This is one philosophical aspect which economists need to settle.

•Apparently, for the time being, many would concur with Harvard economist Lant Pritchett who criticises RCTs on a number of counts but still agrees that it “is superior to other evaluation methods”. The debate would continue, while the randomistas continue to gain momentum at the moment.

📰 36 million Indians face flood risk: study

36 million Indians face flood risk: study
The study employs a new software called CoastalDEM.

•The number of Indians who stand to be affected by rising sea levels may have been underestimated by as much as 88%, according to a study that uses a new modelling approach.

•In India, 36 million people would face annual flooding by 2050 and 44 million by 2100 if emissions continue to rise unabated. Nearly 21 million — and not 2.8 million — are expected to be living below the High Tide Line, the boundary that marks the farthest to which the sea reaches into the land at high tide.

Detailed maps

•The study, which appears on Thursday in the peer reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications, employs a new software called CoastalDEM. Estimates on the risks posed by flooding now rely on detailed maps of the globe taken by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), which was a radar mapping system that travelled aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 2000.

•The maps so prepared form the basis for determining the elevation of the earth’s topography.

•However, say the authors of the study, this approach overestimates the elevation of land surfaces and frequently miss. CoastalDEM, they claim, is more accurate and “reduces linear vertical bias from 4.71 m to less than 0.06 m”.

•It does so because it uses more variables — vegetation cover, population indices — to estimate the actual land surface and more sophisticated modelling techniques, claim the authors Scott Kulp & Benjamin Strauss, of Climate Centre, an independent organisation of scientists and journalists working on climate change.

Below tide lines

•Their analysis suggests that globally nearly 110 million people live on land below the current high tide lines and 250 million on land below annual flood levels, in contrast with SRTM-based estimates of 28 million and 65 million respectively.

•Current climate studies say that climate change has caused global mean sea level to rise by 11-16 cm in the 20th century and is expected to by as much as 2 m by the end of this century. Other than India, the flood risk has also been underestimated for China at 93 million, as opposed to the current estimates of 29 million; Bangladesh at 42 million vs 5 million; Vietnam 31 million vs 9 million; Indonesia 23 million vs 5 million; Thailand 12 million vs 1 million.

Coastal defences

•“These assessments show the potential of climate change to reshape cities, economies, coastlines, and entire global regions within our lifetimes,” said Dr. Kulp in a statement.

•“As the tideline rises higher than the ground people call home, nations will increasingly confront questions about whether, how much, and how long coastal defences can protect them.”

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