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1. Tackling HIV
A new report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) bears good news for the global war against HIV.
What does the report say?
- Between 2010 and 2017, several countries made rapid progress in reducing HIV incidence and getting antiretroviral therapy to patients.
- Today, 3 out of 4 people with HIV know their status, and 21.7 million get treatment.
- The largest reduction in incidence came from eastern and southern Africa.
- Asia also made significant progress in terms of reduction in incidence of HIV.
What is the status in India?
- India brought down the number of new cases and deaths by 27% and 56%, respectively, between 2010 and 2017.
- Tuberculosis is the biggest killer of HIV patients across the world. India is now able to treat over 90% of notified TB patients for HIV.
- Social stigma surrounding AIDS-infected people in India, while high, is declining slowly too.
Critical gaps in India’s strategy:
Even as India celebrates such progress, it is important to be mindful of the scale of the challenge. With 2.1 million cases, India is among the largest burden countries in the world.
- Homosexual men, drug-users and sex workers are at the highest risk of HIV.
- There are troubling patterns in the society with respect to social stigma attached to HIV patients. India must find ways to reach such groups.
- The UNAIDS report points out that a country’s laws can legitimise stigma and give licence to the harassment of such groups at the highest risk of HIV. India’s laws it must do more in removing social stigma
- India criminalises several aspects of sex work and Section 377 of the IPC criminalises gay sex. Studies show that fear of prosecution under such laws prevents such groups at high risk of contracting the infection seek screening and treatment. As a result, these groups lag behind average treatment rates.
- Stigma isn’t just social: it frequently means that patients end up having to spend much more money for either insurance or medical treatment simply because of their condition. Some places even simply turn away people with HIV or AIDS.
HIV/AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017:
- The Lok Sabha in April 2017 passed the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017.
- The Bill seeks to give a legislative framework to existing norms of non-discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, most crucially, making it a legally punishable offence to deny such a person health insurance on the ground of the infection.
- Short of changing the law, the Centre can consider targeted interventions.
- Sensitising police personnel and educating female sex workers can greatly reduce arbitrary police raids and arrests.
- The right to health is universal. India must take note of this to ensure that no one is left behind in the fight against HIV.
- India has brought down HIV incidence, but it must do more in removing social stigma.
- Many people have advocated the concept of Sharia courts in recent past
- They claim that Sharia courts are mere arbitration centres and not a parallel judicial system
Huge difference between the two
- Mediation and arbitration centres are very different from Sharia courts
- In the case of arbitration/mediation, an issue can be referred only when both the parties agree to it and choose their own counsellors
- They don’t have judges(qazis) but counsellors who settle the disputes by consulting both the parties
International operations argument is flawed
- Sharia courts are operational in the UK, Israel and other countries
- This claim is not relevant to the current issue in India
- In the UK, for example, Sharia councils and not Sharia courts are operational which provide advice to those Muslims who voluntarily choose to use them to resolve civil and family disputes
Presence in India
- Sharia courts are operational in Bihar and other states
- An argument is put forward that their decisions are never challenged by the people
- If the orders of Sharia courts are not challenged, this doesn’t show the acceptance of people
- It shows how the Muslim associations have successfully misled the common people to believe these bodies are courts and if they do not follow their orders, it would be anti-Islamic
SC decision on the issue
- There is also a claim that the Supreme Court never declared Sharia courts unconstitutional
- This too is a false claim.
- In Vishwa Lochan Madan versus Union of India and Others in 2005, the Supreme Court held that: “In any event, the decision or the Fatwa issued by whatever body being not emanating from any judicial system recognised by law, it is not binding on anyone including the person, who had asked for it
- Further, such an adjudication or Fatwa does not have a force of law and, therefore, cannot be enforced by any process using coercive methods
- Any person trying to enforce that by any method shall be illegal and has to be dealt with in accordance with law.”
Alternative way for India
- Even if both the parties agree to settle their disputes outside the court, these bodies can be called Sharia councils or arbitration centres but under no circumstances can they be called Sharia courts
- Also, if these bodies are to be given this power to settle disputes outside the court, this decision has to come from Parliament by proper legislation and not by a private entity like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB)
- All claims put in favour of Sharia courts are baseless
- It is an attempt to mislead the common man and improve the image of this parallel judicial system in the country, which is a threat to the rule of law
- Google’s CEO compares AI (artificial intelligence) with fire and electricity in terms of their role in human civilisation
- Industrial revolution moved the centres of physical power from human and animal bodies to machines
- With the locus of intelligence now also getting disembodied, AI systems are set to transform our economic, social and political organisation
Tendency of monopoly
- Intelligent systems typically tend to centralise and monopolise control
- Sensing that an AI economy will radically concentrate income and wealth, many global digital industry leaders have called for assured basic income for all
- Globally, just one or two concentrations of AI power may rule the world. Currently, these are in the U.S. and China
- India stands nowhere in the AI race
- It is fast squandering its great advantages of high IT capabilities and a big domestic market required for data harvesting
- Any country’s AI therefore largely exists within it’s huge, domestically owned commercial digital/data systems
- In the U.S. it is with Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft — and in China with Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent
- India has no such large domestically owned commercial data systems
- And any chance that these could develop is being nipped by allowing takeovers like of Flipkart by Walmart
The dominance of US companies
- Soon, Walmart and Amazon will own between them perhaps the most significant set of India’s consumer-behavioural and other economic data, over which they will develop various kinds of AI
- In time, such AI will allow them to control practically everything, and every actor, along various economic value chains linked to consumer goods
- All the wonderful AI applications that we read about, which the Niti Aayog’s new AI strategy is also replete with — whether of increased agriculture output, precision medicine or tailored learning — are basically shop-windows of global digital/AI corporations
- It is just like they allured us with all the unbelievable Internet and mobile applications, provided for ‘free’
- These AI applications may give us spectacular one-off benefits here and there, but by gathering further data from each new instance it is the AI engine owned by a Google or Microsoft that becomes ever more intelligent about India’s problems and solutions
India needs to be a developer and not client
- A big nation like India cannot derive satisfaction from rapidly becoming a client country for AI, whether as ready users of AI applications in different areas or by offering out-sourced R&D for global digital/AI corporations through start-ups existentially eager to be bought out
- Technologies should flow freely across the globe, and we must welcome global technology companies to help India’s digital development
- Data-based sectoral platforms, like in e-commerce, urban transport, agriculture, health, education, etc., should largely be domestic
- India has a right to provide such domestic protection through policy, especially if India begins to treat its collective social/economic data as a strategic national asset
- Such policy protection alone will ensure that we have large-scale data-driven Indian companies able to develop the highest AI in every sector, by employing huge Indian data to solve (equally huge) Indian problems
- Once enough AI proficiency and strength has been developed domestically, it should then be used to go global
- There is no other route to becoming an AI superpower
- With its highest IT as well as entrepreneurial/managerial competence, and a huge domestic market, India is among extremely few countries that can make it
- The West Bengal Assembly on Thursday passed a resolution to change the name of the State as ‘Bangla’ in three languages — Bengali, English and Hindi.
About the issue
- The proposal has been pending since August 2016, when the Assembly passed a resolution to change the name to ‘Bengal’ in English, ‘Bangla’ in Bengali and ‘Bangal’ in Hindi.
- The Centre, however, turned it down in 2017, objecting to having three names in three languages.
Resolution passed for change of name
- Education Minister Partha Chatterjee moved the resolution which was unanimously passed.
- Assembly gives its nod for change.
- Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she had taken up the issue with the Home Ministry. “They said that there cannot be three different names and we should stick to one name. “Even though we wanted three names, we have to follow instructions. Let us pass resolution for Bangla,” the Chief Minister said.
- Parliamentary privileges are certain rights and immunities enjoyed by members of Parliament, individually and collectively, so that they can “effectively discharge their functions”.
- When any of these rights and immunities is disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law of Parliament.
- A notice is moved in the form of a motion by any member of either House against those being held guilty of breach of privilege.
- Each House also claims the right to punish as contempt actions which, while not breach of any specific privilege, are offences against its authority and dignity.
What are the rules governing privilege?
- Rule No 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and correspondingly Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha Rulebook govern privilege.
- It says that a member may, with the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, raise a question involving a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or of a committee thereof.
- The rules however mandate that any notice should be relating to an incident of recent occurrence and should need the intervention of the House. Notices have to be given before 10 am to the Speaker or the Chairperson.
Role of the LS Speaker/RS Chairperson
- The first level of scrutiny that a privilege motion has to go through is that of the Speaker, in case the motion is moved in the Lok Sabha and that of the Chairperson when a motion is moved in the Rajya Sabha.
- The Speaker/Chair may decide on the privilege motion at their own discretion or they may refer it to a parliamentary committee.
- The Speaker/Chair has authority to admit or dismiss the Privilege Motion.
- The Speaker/Chair can decide on the privilege motion himself or herself or refer it to the privileges committee of Parliament.
- If the Speaker/Chair gives consent under Rule 222, the member concerned is given an opportunity to make a short statement.
- The Speaker/Chair can seek the services of “Committee of Privileges” to establish the allegations with facts. The committee may also recommend any punishment, which the Speaker may or may not accept.
- In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker nominates a committee of privileges consisting of 15 members as per respective party strengths. A report is then presented to the House for its consideration.
- The Speaker may permit a half-hour debate while considering the report.
- The Speaker may then pass final orders or direct that the report be tabled before the House.
- A resolution may then be moved relating to the breach of privilege that has to be unanimously passed.
- The process is similar in the Upper House, except that the privilege committee consists of 10 members and is headed by the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
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