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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (4th September)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. Beyond uniformity: on ruling out a uniform civil code

  • The Law Commission has recently urged the legislature to “first consider equality within communities’ between men and women rather than equality between communities”.
  • Submitting a consultation paper on “reform in family laws”, the Commission has dealt with laws that are discriminatory “rather than providing a uniform civil code which is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”.

What is uniform civil code?

  • By uniform civil code, it is meant that all sections of the society irrespective of their religion shall be treated equally according to a national civil code, which shall be applicable to all uniformly.
  • They cover areas like- Marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, adoption and succession of property. It is based on the premise that there is necessarily no connection between religion and personal law in a civilized society.
  • Therefore, Uniform civil code is a proposal to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in India with a common set of governing laws for every citizen.

What the constitutional makes thought about this?

  • During drafting of the constitution prominent leaders like Nehru, Ambedkar pushed for a uniform civil code. However they ended up proposing the uniform civil code into the directive principles of the state policy (article 44) mainly due to opposition from Muslim fundamentalists, lack of awareness among the masses and the time for its imposition then, was not proper.
  • ‘I personally do not understand why religion should be given this vast, expansive jurisdiction, so as to cover the whole of life and to prevent the legislature from encroaching upon that field.’– Dr. B R Ambedkar, Constituent Assembly Debates

Highlights of the Law Commission’s Consultation Paper

  • It adopts an approach that would facilitate movement towards establishing a body of civil law that promotes equality within the law governing each community.
  • In other words, it advocates the removal of discriminatory provisions in the law relating to aspects such as marriage, divorce, succession and adoption in all religions — and the adoption of certain universal principles that would address gender bias and other forms of existing discrimination.
  • A simple way of moving towards a common marriage law is to make 18 the marriageable age for all communities and genders. When the age of majority and the age of voting, among other indicators of adulthood, stand at 18, there is no reason for differential treatment on this score.
  • The Commission rightly points out that the present age of 21 for men merely affirms the stereotype that the wife should be younger.
  • Decriminalising adultery and making it a common ground for divorce, simplifying the ‘no-fault’ divorce procedure and introducing ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as a ground for dissolving any marriage are other measures it throws open for discussion.
  • The panel suggests abolition of the 30-day notice period for civil marriages to prevent its misuse by those against inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.
  • It also suggests division of property equally after divorce, and removal of illnesses that can be cured or controlled from possible grounds of divorce.
  • Changes have been mooted to give equal treatment to children and parents of any gender in guardianship and adoption matters.
  • The juvenile law principle that the child’s best interest is the ‘paramount consideration’ has also been put forward for universal application.

Way Forward

  • The thrust of the Law Commission’s report is founded on the idea that “the mere existence of difference does not imply discrimination, but is indicative of a robust democracy.”
  • The Law Commission’s consultation paper on reform of family laws is a progressive document that avoids the advocacy of a uniform civil code merely for the sake of uniformity.
  • While calling for a wider public debate on its views, the Law Commission has framed the issue in the most reasonable way possible when it says it has “dealt with laws that are discriminatory rather than providing a uniform civil code which is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage.”
  • A just code is one in which universal principles of equality, non-discrimination and avoidance of taboos and social assumptions are applicable in equal measure within every community’s set of laws.

2Green shoots of revival: on BIMSTEC summit

  • The 4th BIMSTEC summit successfully concluded recently with Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli handing over the chairmanship of the grouping to Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

What is BIMSTEC?

  • Bay of Bengal Initiative on Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a sub-regional grouping involving seven countries in South Asia and South East Asia.
  • The BIMSTEC states are those which are on the shore or are adjacent to the Bay of Bengal and are dependent on it. They are Thailand, Myanmar from South East Asia and Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and India from South Asia.
  • The international organization was formed on 6th of June 1997, through the Bangkok declaration and is headquartered at Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Objectives of BIMSTEC

  • Technological and economical cooperation among south Asian and south East Asian countries along the coast of the Bay of Bengal
  • BIMSTEC is a sector driven cooperative organization and covers cooperation in sectors like communication, leather, textiles, transport, fisheries, human resource development, tourism, agriculture, investment, technology and commerce etc.
  • Currently, there are fourteen priority sectors and each member country voluntarily leads one or more sectors.
  • Counter terrorism & transnational crime and telecommunication & transport are dealt with by India. The grouping is a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia and constitutes a reinforcement of relations between the seven countries.
  • It is of utmost significance to India as it is a major support in implementing its Act East Policy and the development of its ambitious ‘Sagar Mala’ project.

The positives of the recent meet

  • First, work begins now on drafting a charter for BIMSTEC, which has functioned so far on the basis of the Bangkok Declaration of 1997, and outcomes of the past three summits and the Leaders’ Retreat in 2016.
  • Second, a Permanent Working Committee will be set up to provide direction during the period between two summits and also to prepare the Rules of Procedure.
  • Third, the Secretariat has been promised additional financial and human resources and enhancement of its role to coordinate, monitor and facilitate the grouping’s activities.
  • Fourth, as the institution has been handicapped due to lack of financial muscle, the leaders took the bold decision to establish the BIMSTEC Development Fund.
  • Fifth, a push to increase its visibility and stature in the international fora will also be made.
  • Finally, recognising that 16 areas of cooperation represent too wide a spectrum, the BIMSTEC governments will make a serious endeavour to review, restructure and rationalise various sectors, identifying a few core areas. In this exercise, Thailand has proposed a new strategy of five pillars (viz. connectivity, trade and investment, people-to-people contacts, security, and science and technology). This will be considered, although the difficulty in dropping specific sectors dear to individual member-states should not be minimised.

Concerns with respect to BIMSTEC

  • Fourteen years after signing the framework agreement on Free Trade Area (FTA), the leaders could only renew, rather lamely, their “commitment to an early conclusion” of FTA negotiations.
  • The Thai Prime Minister bravely urged participants to accept making BIMSTEC a Free Trade Zone by 2021 as “our common goal”, but this did not find a place in the summit declaration.
  • The Myanmar President pointed out that the grouping had established its Energy Centre in 2009, but it was still struggling for the “early operationalisation” of the Centre.

Conclusion

  • The summit articulated a vision for the Bay of Bengal Region heading towards a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future. The region is now widely viewed as a common space for security, connectivity and development.
  • Think tanks are fond of advising governments that they should walk the talk. But this time, that role was appropriated by the Nepalese Prime Minister and the summit chairman, who asserted: “Now is the time not just to deliberate, but also to deliver. Now is the time to translate promises into performance.” If this prescription is followed by all, BIMSTEC can become a dynamic, effective and result-oriented organisation. The coming year will be crucial in its further development.

3. Why ethanol blending in petrol might not work for India

  1. It is being increasingly suggested that India should increase the use of biofuels to reduce dependence on oil imports
  2. Among biofuels, ethanol appears to be the most viable alternative, and the government intends to raise ethanol blending in petrol to 20% by 2030 from the current 2-3%

Why this is not a good idea

  1. Increasing the production of biofuels can strain India’s water resources and affect food availability
  2. Biofuels, such as jatropha, have often proven to be commercially unviable

Analysing water usage

  1. Water footprint, that is water required to produce a litre of ethanol, includes rainwater at the root zone used by ethanol-producing plants such as sugarcane, and surface, groundwater, and fresh water required to wash away pollutants
  2. India’s water footprint is not only high in overall terms, but India also uses more surface and groundwater than the US and Brazil
  3. India has the least internal surface and groundwater compared with both countries
  4. Most of our daily uses of water come from this source and therefore it needs to be used judiciously

Another major problem:  Land resources

  1. Sugarcane currently accounts for around 3% of India’s net sown area
  2. To raise the petrol-ethanol blend rate to even 10%, India will have to devote another 4% of its net sown area to sugarcane
  3. In order to achieve 20% blend rate, almost one-tenth of the existing net sown area will have to be diverted for sugarcane production
  4. Any such land requirement is likely to put a stress on other crops and has the potential to increase food prices

Biofuel policy mandate

  1. India’s biofuel policy stipulates that fuel requirements must not compete with food requirements and that only surplus food crops should be used for fuel production
  2. Producing ethanol from crop residue will be a good alternative but the annual capacity of required bio-refineries is stipulated to be 300-400 million litres, which is still not enough to meet the 5% petrol-ethanol blending requirement

Way Forward

  1. Increasing petrol-ethanol blending does not seem viable in the current scenario
  2. Concerted efforts need to be made to either increase sugarcane yield and decrease water usage through better irrigation practices, or increase the ethanol production capacity of bio-refineries
  3. Trying to increase blending without these efforts can encroach upon land and water available for food production

4. Curbs on WhatsApp media groups in U.P.

  • Social media law India is regulated by the Information Technology Act which was enacted in the year 2000 to regulate, control and deal with the issues arising out of the IT.
  • Social networking media is an “intermediary” within the meaning of Indian information technology act 2000 (IT Act 2000).
  • Thus social networking sites in India are liable for various acts or omissions that are punishable under the laws of India.
  • Section 66A of the IT Act has been enacted to regulate the social media law India and assumes importance as it controls and regulates all the legal issues related to social media law India.
  • This section clearly restricts the transmission, posting of messages, mails, comments which can be offensive or unwarranted.
  • The offending message can be in form of text, image, audio, video or any other electronic record which is capable of being transmitted.
  • The IT Act provides a tool in the hands of the Government to curb the misuse of the Social Media Law India in any form.
  • However, in 2015, in a landmark judgments upholding the right to free speech in recent times, the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal and Ors. vs Union of India, struck down Section 66A of the Information & Technology Act, 2000.
  • The ruling found the Cyber law provision to be open-ended, vague and unconstitutional owing to the restriction it caused to the Indian citizens’ right to free speech.
  • The repeal of S.66A does not however result in an unrestricted right to free speech since analogous provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) will continue to apply to social media online viz.
  • Intentionally Insulting Religion Or Religious Beliefs (S. 295A), Promoting Enmity Between Groups On Grounds Of Religion, Race Etc. (S. 153A), Defamation (S. 499), Statements conducing to Public Mischief (S. 505), Insulting The Modesty Of A Woman (S 509), Criminal Intimidation (S 506), Sedition (S124-A), etc.

Sec 499 and 500

  • One of the important section that would be effective against posting offensive messages on social media would be invoking sec 499 and 500 of IPC.
  • Under the IPC, the defamatory statement could be oral or written or in sign language or by visible representation and should be made/ published with intention to harm or with knowledge about its defamatory character (IPC, section 499).
  • Thus, section 499, IPC is wide enough to encompass the publication and dissemination of defamatory content via electronic means. Defamation is punishable under section 500, IPC.
  • Further, the law against obscenity is a reasonable restriction on the “fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression”.
  • Technology has expanded the ambit of the offence of obscenity. Today, obscene material (including pornography) is easily available.
  • The Internet facilitates the creation as well as rapid transmission of such material across the world.
  • There is no universally acceptable definition of obscenity. What is considered obscene material in one country may not be considered so in another.
  • Technologically also, there is absence of effective filters to screen out objectionable material on the Internet.
  • The traditional law dealing with obscenity (including pornography) in India is contained in sections 292-294 of the IPC. Section 292, IPC prohibits sale, letting on hire, distribution, public exhibition and circulation etc., of obscene material.
  • Section 293 provides enhanced punishment for sale etc. of obscene material to any person under the age of twenty years. Even an offer or attempt to do so is punishable.
  • Publishing as well as circulating of obscene photographs of women is also punishable under sections 3 and 4 of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986. These provisions can also be used for punishing people who circulate obscene material in electronic form.
  • In view of the above, though sec 66A of the IT Act has been held unconstitutional by the apex court but still a victim of cyber offence would not be rendered remediless and could invoke the appropriate section and law to get desired relief.

In news

  • Officials of a district in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh have been accused of trying to suppress media freedom by monitoring WhatsApp media groups and threatening criminal action against journalists not following its directives.
  • However, the administration on Sunday said it was a move to check circulation of fake news and the presence of “fake media portals”.
  • In a joint directive issued by Lalitpur District Magistrate Manvendra Singh and Superintendent of Police O.P. Singh
  • The admins of all WhatsApp media groups operating in the district had been told to get their groups registered with the District Information Officer or face action.
  • No WhatsApp media group in the district will be allowed to operate without registration and if found doing so, a case will be registered against the admin of the group under relevant sections of the IT Act.
  • The administration said that it took the step in view of increasing complaints of incidents in which “fake journalists” were intimidating and extorting money from the local people and government staff.
  • News channels and YouTube portals have been circulating news and rumours that have caused a threat to the social harmony and unity of the district.
  • The district also has many news portals that are not registered anywhere, and do not have a regulatory authority laid down for them.
  • The administration has also specified that no news portal will be allowed to function in Lalitpur without its approval.
  • Clarifying on the directive, the District Magistrate said it was not to restrain the general media but to prevent the misuse of the platform by “fake” news channels and portals.

Extortion charges

  • It is for those who claim to be news channels but have no registration to show it. They go and extort money from people.
  • The trigger for the directive came after a recent incident at Kursi village in Mehroni tehsil, where a portal spread news that some people had been denied entry into a temple, creating tension.

5. Drug-resistant superbug spreading in hospitals: study

  • Antimicrobial resistance (AMR or AR) is the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication that once could successfully treat the microbe.
  • The term antibiotic resistance (AR or ABR) is a subset of AMR, as it applies only to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.
  • Resistant microbes are more difficult to treat, requiring alternative medications or higher doses of antimicrobials.
  • These approaches may be more expensive, more toxic or both. Microbes resistant to multiple antimicrobials are called multidrug resistant (MDR).
  • Those considered extensively drug-resistant (XDR) or totally drug resistant (TDR) are sometimes called “superbugs”

In news

  • A superbug resistant to all known antibiotics that can cause “severe” infections or even death is spreading undetected through hospital wards across the world, scientists in Australia warned.
  • Researchers at the University of Melbourne discovered three variants of the multidrug-resistant bug in samples from 10 countries, including strains in Europe that cannot be reliably tamed by any drug currently on the market.
  • The bacteria, known as Staphylococcus epidermidis, is related to the better-known and more deadly MRSA superbug.
  • It’s found naturally on human skin and most commonly infects the elderly or patients who have had prosthetic materials implanted, such as catheters and joint replacements.
  • It can be deadly, but it’s usually in patients who already are very sick in hospital. It can be quite hard to eradicate and the infections can be severe.
  • His team looked at hundreds of S. epidermidis specimens from 78 hospitals worldwide. They found that some strains of the bug made a small change in its DNA that led to resistance to two of the most common antibiotics.
  • Howden said his study showed the need for better understanding of how infections spread.
  • Another Australian study, published last month, suggested some hospital superbugs are growing increasingly tolerant to alcohol-based disinfectants found in handwashes and sanitisers used on hospital wards.

6. Still too many children out of school

  1. The official numbers of out-of-school children in India are either out of date or contradictory
  2. According to the 2011 Census, the number of out-of-school children in the 5-17 age group was 8.4 crore
  3. However, according to a survey commissioned in 2014 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the number of out-of-school children in the 6-13 age group was only 60.64 lakh

Using NSS data to find a better estimate

  1. On the basis of the 71st round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) carried out in 2014 and taking into account the 6-18 age group, out-of-school children in this age group were more than 4.5 crores in the country
  2. The proportion of out-of-school children was higher in rural India (17.2%) than in urban India (13.1%)
  3. The proportion of children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) was the highest, followed by Other Backward Classes (OBCs)
  4. Among religious groups, the proportion of Muslims was as high as 24.1% in rural areas and 24.7% in urban areas
  5. Out-of-school children came mostly from low-income, landless and marginal families

Reasons for dropping out of school

  1. The most important reason for boys to drop out of school was to take up jobs to supplement the family earning
  2. For girls, it was the compulsion to participate in household work
  3. There is also a prejudice against educating girls that is prevalent in India
  4. An important reason for drop-out is the socio-economic conditions of the parents of the children
  5. The most important social reason for drop-out is a lack of awareness of the importance of school education and of the fact that education is now a legal right

Reason for child labour too?

  1. According to the RTE Act and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, these out-of-school children fall under the category of child labour
  2. It is, therefore, not surprising that the largest number of child labourers in the world is in India

What can be done to bring more children to school?

  1. We would not have been confronted with this high proportion of drop-outs if all the provisions of the RTE Act had been implemented within the time limit prescribed in the Act (latest by April 2015)
  2. The Act provided for the availability of a school at a distance of 1 km from the residence of the child at the primary level and 3 km at the upper primary level
  3. If these provisions had been implemented, a major reason for drop-out (the distance of school) would have been eliminated
  4. Until an adequate number of schools at the prescribed distances from the children’s homes becomes available, it would be necessary to provide secure modes of subsidised travel to schools, particularly for girls
  5. Another important provision which ought to have been included in the RTE is financial support to poor parents, adequate to enable them to send their children to school

Way Forward

  1. It is a matter of serious concern that nearly 10 years after the enactment of the RTE Act, and 16 years after the right to education was elevated to a fundamental right, such a large number of children are out of school
  2. Education is a quintessential example of being vested with intrinsic as well as instrumental value — being both the means and the end
  3. Steps need to be taken to provide education to India’s potential demographic dividend

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