The HINDU Notes – 13th May 2022 - VISION

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Friday, May 13, 2022

The HINDU Notes – 13th May 2022


📰 Event Horizon reveals true colours of SgrA*

Telescope, a collaboration of 300 researchers, captured image of the black hole

•Scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) facility, at press conferences held simultaneously at several centres around the world on Thursday, revealed the first image of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

•The image of Sagittarius A* (SgrA*) gave further support to the idea that the compact object at the centre of our galaxy is indeed a black hole, strengthening Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

•In 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope facility, a collaboration of over 300 researchers, made history by releasing the first-ever image of a black hole, M87* — the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a supergiant elliptic galaxy.

•The ring-shaped image of SgrA*, which looked a lot similar to the one of M87*, occupied 52 microarcseconds in the field of view, which is as big a span of our view as a doughnut on the moon.

•The whole exercise was possible because of the enormous power of the Event Horizon Telescope, an ensemble of several telescopes around the world, which together were like a giant eye on the earth with a sight that is 3 million times sharper than the human eye. Sagittarius A* is 27,000 light years from us. At the press conference, the researchers said that imaging Sagittarius A* (SgrA*) was much more difficult than imaging M87*: first, SgrA* is only one-thousandth the size of M87*; second, the line of sight is obscured by a lot of matter; and as SgrA* is much smaller than M87*, the gas swirling around it takes only minutes to complete an orbit around SgrA* as opposed to taking weeks to go around M87*. The last gives a variability that makes it difficult to image. A clear imaging requires long exposure of eight to 10 hours, where ideally the object should not change much.

•In this relation, Venkatessh Ramakrishnan, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University Metsahovi Radio Observatory, a member of the calibration and imaging team, says, “Since the physics of plasma flows around SgrA* changes on an hourly time-scale, getting a coherent image with all relevant information from photons corresponding to one orbit is difficult. This requires higher sensitive observations, which comes with the addition of telescopes to the EHT and with advanced image reconstruction algorithms.” He is an author of the paper on this work that is published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters .

•The collaboration hopes to improve their capacity so that they can not only image black holes but construct movies and study the magnetic field further.

📰 On the question of notifying minorities

Who assigns minority status to communities — Centre, States or both?

•The story so far: A public interest litigation (PIL) under the consideration of the Supreme Court of India challenges the power of the Centre to notify minority communities at a national level.

Who is a minority and who decides that?

•The PIL specifically questions the validity of Section 2(f) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions or NCMEI Act 2004, terming it arbitrary and contrary to Articles 14, 15, 21, 29 and 30 of the Constitution. Section 2(f) says “minority ,”for the purpose of this Act, means a community notified as such by the Central Government.” Section 2(c) of the of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act, 1992 also gives the Centre similar powers.

•In 2005, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre notified five communities — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis — as minorities at the national level. In 2014, the Manmohan Singh government notified followers of Jainism as a minority community, making them the sixth on the national list.

What does the PIL argue?

•The petitioner argues that the Centre’s decision was arbitrary since the SC had held, in the T. M. A. Pai Foundation vs State Of Karnataka case of 2002 that, “for the purpose of determining minority, the unit will be State and not whole India.” The petitioner argued that the Centre’s notification has created an anomalous situation in which the communities declared as minorities by the Centre enjoy the status even in States/UTs where they are in majority (Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir and Christians in Nagaland for instance) while followers of Hinduism, Judaism and Bahaism who are minorities are not accorded the same status under the Act.

•The petition seeks the SC to curtail the Centre’s power to notify national minorities or direct the Centre to notify followers of Hinduism, Bahaism and Judaism as minorities in States/UTs where they are actually fewer in numbers; or direct that only those communities that are “socially, economically and politically non-dominant” besides being numerically smaller in States/UTs be allowed the status of minorities.

How has the Centre responded?

•The Centre filed two affidavits in the case, the second one on May 9, suppressing its first affidavit that was filed on March 25. In both, the Centre said it had the power to notify minority communities. In the first, the Centre categorically defended the concept of minorities at the national level; in the second, it remains silent on that specific question. In other words, the Centre has not taken a position, one way or the other, about continuing the national list of minorities while it reiterated its power to notify communities as minorities under Central Acts. In the first affidavit, the Centre had pointed out that it had concurrent powers with States to take measures for the welfare of minorities. States could have minorities notified as such within their jurisdiction, and it even cited the examples of Maharashtra recognising Jews as a minority community and Karnataka recognising speakers of several languages as linguistic minorities. In the second affidavit there is no such elaboration. While it says the power is vested in it, the affidavit does not go as far as questioning the powers of the State on this question.

•In the first affidavit, the Centre said the pleas made by the petitioner must be rejected; in the second, the Centre said the PIL dealt with ‘vital’ issues and sought time to consult with all stakeholders before it could take a position. In the first instance, the Centre went on to defend the constitution of the new Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Sachar Committee that studied the backwardness of Muslims in India — both UPA measures, criticised by the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party then. In the second affidavit on May 9, the Centre did not defend these decisions of the previous Congress regime.

•The May 9 affidavit, in fact, leaves all questions open, other than the emphatic claim that the Centre has the power to notify minorities under the two Acts.

What next?

•The Centre’s second affidavit leaves its own stand on the entire issue ambiguous, and perhaps it was intended that way. The Centre has said it would come back to the apex court “after consideration of several sociological and other aspects.” It said “any stand without detailed deliberations with stakeholders may result in an unintended complication for the country.” Though the power is vested with the Central government, it would consult the States and other stakeholders.

📰 The India hypertension control initiative

How do States in the country fare on the hypertension spectrum? Which States have a higher percentage of blood pressure?

•The story so far: A project called the India Hypertension Control Initiative (IHCI) finds that nearly 23% out of 2.1 million Indians have uncontrolled blood pressure.

What is the IHCI?

•Recognising that hypertension is a serious, and growing, health issue in India, the Health Ministry, the Indian Council of Medical Research, State Governments, and WHO-India began a five-year initiative to monitor and treat hypertension. Hypertension is defined as having systolic blood pressure level greater than or equal to 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure level greater than or equal to 90 mmHg or/and taking anti-hypertensive medication to lower his/her blood pressure.

•India has committed to a "25 by 25" goal, which aims to reduce premature mortality due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25% by 2025. One of the nine voluntary targets includes reducing the prevalence of high blood pressure by 25% by 2025.

•The programme was launched in November 2017. In the first year, IHCI covered 26 districts across five States — Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Maharashtra. By December 2020, IHCI was expanded to 52 districts across ten States — Andhra Pradesh (1), Chhattisgarh (2), Karnataka (2), Kerala (4), Madhya Pradesh (6), Maharashtra (13), Punjab (5), Tamil Nadu (1), Telangana (13) and West Bengal (5).

How many have been enrolled in the programme?

•As of December 2021, 101 districts across 19 States had commenced project activities. The project districts enrolled almost 21 lakh patients across 13,821 health facilities. In the 26 initial districts, one fifth of the expected patients were enrolled. State wise proportions were Maharashtra (27%), Kerala (22.6%), Madhya Pradesh (18.7%), Telangana (18.6%) and Punjab (14.2%).

•Managing blood pressure for 2.5 crore individuals can prevent up to five lakh deaths due to cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years.

What has the IHCI found so far?

•Its most important discovery so far is that nearly one-fourth of(23%) patients under the programme had uncontrolled blood pressure, and 27% did not return for a follow-up in the first quarter of 2021. There were an estimated 20 crore adults with hypertension in the country. To achieve India’s target of a 25% relative reduction in the prevalence of raised blood pressure, approximately 4.5 crore additional people with hypertension need to get their blood pressure under control by 2025.

•Of a million patients registered in five phase I and three phase II States till Dec 2020, 7.4 lakhs were under care between April 2020 to March 2021. Nearly half (47%) of the registered patients under care had blood pressure under control during the most recent visit in the first quarter of 2021. Drug availability improved in all phase I States with at least one-month refills for key blood pressure drugs. Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana had stocks for nearly six months for protocol drugs. Kerala had only one month stock and Maharashtra had two months stock available in May 2021. Availability of drugs was a challenge in most phase II States and procurement process took nearly one year from planning.

•There weren’t enough validated high-quality digital blood pressure monitors in several health facilities, which affected accuracy of hypertension diagnosis. In phase I States, dedicated nurses were insufficient except in Telangana and Maharashtra. In phase II States, most districts did not have dedicated NCD nurses at public health care centres level except Chennai.

How prevalent is the problem of hypertension?

•Southern States have a higher prevalence of hypertension than the national average, according to the latest edition of the National Family Health Survey. While 21.3% of women and 24% of men aged above 15 have hypertension in the country, the prevalence is the highest in Kerala where 32.8% men and 30.9% women have been diagnosed with hypertension.

•Kerala is followed by Telangana where the prevalence is 31.4% in men and 26.1% in women.

•About one-fourth of women and men aged 40 to 49 years have hypertension. Even at an earlier age, one in eight women and more than one in five men aged 30 to 39 years have hypertension. The prevalence of hypertension is higher among Sikhs (37% for men and 31% for women), Jains (30% for men and 25% for women), and Christians (29% for men and 26% for women) than the rest.

📰 The importance of consent: On marital rape

The institution of marriage cannot be allowed to sanction force and violence

•A split verdict in the Delhi High Court on the question of criminalising marital rape has reignited the controversy over legal protection for disregard of consent for sex within marriage. On Wednesday, while Justice Rajiv Shakdher, who headed the Bench, struck down as unconstitutional the exception to Section 375 of the IPC, which says that intercourse by a man with his wife aged 18 or above is not rape even if it is without her consent, Justice C. Hari Shankar rejected the plea to criminalise marital rape pointing out that any change in the law has to be carried out by the legislature since it requires consideration of social, cultural and legal aspects. With the judges differing on key points such as difficulty in getting evidence, the importance of consent, whether the state’s concerns about safeguarding the institution of marriage were valid, and if other laws against sexual violence protected married women, the issues involved may have to be ultimately adjudicated with the help of a third judge or a larger Bench of the High Court or the Supreme Court. The Union government has been opposing the removal of the marital rape exception. In 2016, it had rejected the concept of marital rape, saying it “cannot be applied to the Indian context” due to various reasons, not least because of the “mindset of society to treat marriage as a sacrament”. However, in the final hearing, the Union government did not take a stand on the issue.

•Justice Shakdher’s opinion goes to the heart of the matter, inasmuch as it treats the absence of consent as the core ingredient of rape. He says what is defined as rape in law should be labelled as such, irrespective of whether it occurs within or outside marriage. He finds that the marital exception violates equality before law, as well as deprives women of the right to trigger a prosecution for non-consensual sex. Besides, it also discriminates among women based on their marital status and robs them of sexual agency and autonomy. In contrast, Justice Hari Shankar’s opinion, somewhat disconcertingly, de-emphasises the element of consent and lays much store by the importance of preserving the institution of marriage to such an extent that he holds that any legislation that keeps rape out of a marital relationship “is immune to interference”. If marriage is regarded as a partnership between equals, an exception in a 162-year-old law should have had no place. While there are other laws governing civil relationships that legitimise conjugal expectations, these cannot be seen as giving a free pass for violence within marriage, which is essentially what sex without consent is. Whether the legislative route is more appropriate in making marital rape a criminal offence is a matter of detail. What is important is that sexual violence has no place in society, and the institution of marriage is no exception.

📰 With delimitation over, a look at the slate for J&K

There is every likelihood of the delimitation report only compounding the political issues for the former State

•The Delimitation Commission’s redrawn map for Jammu and Kashmir’s Assembly election was notified a few days before the Supreme Court of India ’s judgment on sedition. As expected, Kashmir’s political parties oppose its results. Though they had raised critical queries on the commission’s draft during its consultation phase, most of their concerns were not addressed. Instead, the commission’s final report speaks glowingly of the enthusiasm and the support members received. Apart from Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra and J&K State Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma were ex-officio members of the commission.

There is a chasm

•Perhaps the commission members did not read the innumerable news stories detailing criticism of their draft. Or, perhaps, they concluded that erstwhile legislators do not represent public opinion. Either way, the gap between the commission’s self-projection in the report, and the views of the Valley’s political leaders, is as wide as a chasm.

•The commission’s establishment was controversial from the start. Initially, the Union Home Ministry had notified five States and/or Union Territories for immediate redrawing of constituencies while the remainder would undergo fresh delimitation after 2026. After protests, four of the five States were dropped from the list, leaving only Jammu and Kashmir. Fresh delimitation was necessary for Jammu and Kashmir, the Narendra Modi administration said, since the State had been divided into two Union Territories and elections could only be held under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019

•The decision placed the Valley’s regional political parties in an impossible situation. Over 5,000 people, including three former Chief Ministers, had been taken into preventive detention days before the reorganisation act was passed, many of them charged with unlawful activities tantamount to sedition. The State’s Assembly had been dissolved a year earlier and it was under President’s rule. Four parties were in the Supreme Court of India challenging the act. If they cooperated with the delimitation commission, they would be seen as tacitly watering down their court challenge. If they did not cooperate, they risked their concerns being ignored. Given that non-cooperation might radically shift power balances within and between districts, most of Kashmir’s regional parties chose to submit written representations to the commission.

Gaps in the report

•As it turns out, they must be wondering why they bothered. The commission’s report appends a long list of people who made representations and/or objections, but it does not summarise the objections nor address them point by point.

•The central question of why Jammu has gained six Assembly seats and the Valley only one has been brushed under general remarks on methodology with no explanation of how that methodology was applied. For example, the commission claims to have taken plus 10% of the average population at the patwari or ward level as a measure for redrawing constituencies in flat areas and minus 10% in hilly areas. But that does not answer the question of why Jammu province has more seats relative to its population than the Valley does, with a differential of as much as 20,000 people per seat. Nor does it explain why Jammu’s Muslim-majority seats now comprise less than a quarter of the province’s total seats, though Muslims comprise over a third of the province’s population.

•What is more, as analysts point out, the majority of the six new constituencies that Jammu has acquired are Hindu-majority. One has a population of just over 50,000 people, but shares the same physical features as a Muslim-majority constituency of close to four times its population.

•The commission’s recommendations further complicate the issue. They propose that the President nominate Pandit migrants to two Assembly seats — why is there no reference to Pandits who remain in the Valley? — and West Pakistani refugees to another, along the lines of reservation for Anglo-Indians in Parliament. But the reservation for Anglo-Indians lapsed in 2020 since it was not extended by the 126th amendment to the Constitution.

•Indeed, the only overarching guideline which the report does describe in some detail is the commission’s desire to match the boundaries of Assembly and parliamentary constituencies. Why this is so important is unclear. There is certainly a logic to ensuring that Assembly and parliamentary constituencies match local administrative and police boundaries. But what is the logic of ensuring that no Assembly constituency falls under two parliamentary constituencies? How many local legislators found that a problem?

•Most of these questions were addressed to the commission during its consultation phase. Its members, therefore, had the opportunity to answer doubts in their final report. By choosing not to do so they lost a valuable opportunity to display transparency and dispel suspicion of bias. Instead, and breathtakingly, the CEC, Mr. Chandra, commented in his preface that the redrawing will overcome long-standing divisions between Jammu and the Kashmir Valley. How can seeming bias do anything other than exacerbate division?

Court hearing is next

•So, what happens now? Perhaps the Supreme Court will start hearing the challenges to the reorganisation act after the summer recess. If the Court decides the challenges are valid, then the delimitation exercise will be nullified, as Justice Desai remarked when she undertook the task of chair.

•In the meantime, with the redrawn constituencies now notified, there is no reason for the Election Commission to delay announcing dates for the long overdue Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir. However unhappy Valley political parties might be, they will have no choice but to participate. The former State desperately needs an elected leadership after having been under the administration of non-local and inimical bureaucrats for four years.

•Whenever it happens, this election will be as polarised as the last election over seven years ago. Indeed, with the redrawn constituencies, it is likely to be even more polarised. In the short term, the risk of violence will be high, unless armed groups yield to the unspoken consensus in the Valley that a smooth election is in their best interest.

•The real challenge will come after. If, as anticipated, the election results reflect a sharp divide between Jammu and the Valley, it will be even more difficult to put together a coalition administration with the Bharatiya Janata Party as partner. The breakaway factions from the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party might, with the aid of dirty tricks, win enough seats to help the BJP helm a coalition. But they must by this time be well aware that while they will have little influence in a BJP coalition, they might have to shoulder all the blame.

Focus on freedoms

•The only hope for a peace process in Jammu and Kashmir is if there is a clean election, statehood is speedily restored, and the new Assembly determines whether or in which form special status is required. But the cards are already heavily stacked against either, and the delimitation report has further tilted them in favour of further conflict. A wise leader would hold elections for existing constituencies and let the new assembly approve or query the delimitation report. In fact, the commission itself proposed that the report be placed before the legislative assembly, a recommendation that makes sense only if new delimitation comes into force after and not before elections.

•Urgent as elections are, attention to fundamental freedoms is even more important. There are over a thousand Kashmiris in prison under charges that the Supreme Court has questioned in relation to sedition. Most of them have been denied bail or asked to furnish punitive sureties. The three Kashmiri students arrested in Uttar Pradesh for celebrating a Pakistani cricket victory had to deposit ₹1 lakh each for bail, whereas Jignesh Mewani paid the far more appropriate sum of ₹1,000 for a similar non-offence. Applying the Supreme Court’s interim orders to cases under similarly draconian legislation would be a true confidence-booster for elections.