Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 29 April 2023

Centre’s stance on the same-sex marriage

GS Paper - 2 (Polity)

The Supreme Court heard arguments on behalf of the government from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in the case seeking legal recognition of same sex marriage. While urging the Court to leave the issue to Parliament, Mehta argued that the law cannot be re-drafted again to allow same-sex marriage.

Key arguments of the Centre

  1. Religious definitions of marriage: The Centre’s first submission was that various religions have always recognised marriage only between a man and a woman. If a new idea of marriage has to be imagined, then it must be Parliament and not the Court which can create it.
  2. ‘Legitimate’ interest of state: Responding to the argument of the petitioners that the state can have no role in regulating personal relationships, Mehta argued that the state has a ‘legitimate’ interest in regulating marriage. The right to marry is not absolute and is always subject to the statutory regime provided by the competent legislature.
  3. The right to privacy: In the landmark 2017 decision recognising the right to privacy as a fundamental right, the Supreme Court had held that sexual orientation is an essential component of identity. The Centre argued that while the right to privacy exists, it cannot be extended to marriage.
  4. Parliament must decide: The Centre has repeatedly said that the decision on same-sex marriage can only be made in Parliament. The argument essentially is that there exists a democratic right of people to regulate them and that it cannot be mandated by a Court.
  5. Interpreting the law: The key argument of the Centre is that the Court cannot interpret the Special Marriage Act to include same-sex marriage in a meaningful way.
  6. Effect on personal laws: The Centre argued that personal laws will inevitably be affected even if the Court only looks at the Special Marriage Act. Before the arguments began, the Court made it clear that it will restrict the scope of the challenge only to secular laws and not religious laws.

National Medical Devices Policy approved

GS Paper - 2 (Health)

The Union Cabinet has approved the National Medical Devices Policy with an aim to increase domestic production of these devices, thereby reducing the import of such equipment. The Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that the new policy would promote domestic production of medical devices. The government had floated the approach paper on the draft national medical devices policy 2022 for consultation. The policy is expected to help the medical devices sector grow from the present USD 11 billion to USD 50 billion in the next five years.

More about Policy

  1. The Indian medical devices sector's contribution has become even more prominent as India supported the domestic and global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic through the large-scale production of medical devices and diagnostic kits like ventilatorsrapid antigen test kitsRT-PCR kitsPPE Kits and N-95 masks.
  2. The policy is expected to provide the required support and directions to strengthen the medical devices industry into a competitiveself-reliantresilient and innovative industry that caters to the healthcare needs of India and the world.
  3. The policy aims to place the medical devices sector on an accelerated path of growth with a patient-centric approach to meet the evolving healthcare needs of patients.
  4. The government has already initiated implementation of the PLI Scheme for medical devices and extended support for setting up of 4 medical device parks in Himachal PradeshMadhya PradeshTamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
  5. Under the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for medical devices, till now, a total of 26 projects have been approved with a committed investment of Rs 1,206 crore and out of this, so far, an investment of Rs 714 crore has been achieved.
  6. India's medical device manufacturing sector has 1.5 percent share in the global market, and the government hopes to take this to 12 percent in the next 25 years. India will scale up the $11 billion market to $50 billion.
  7. The Union Cabinet has also approved the establishment of 157 new nursing colleges at a cost of Rs 1,570 crore in co-location with existing medical colleges.

India’s nuclear liability law

GS Paper -3 (Nuclear Technology)

The issues regarding India’s nuclear liability law continue to hold up the more than a decade-old plan to build six nuclear power reactors in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur, the world’s biggest nuclear power generation site under consideration at present.

More about the news:

The issues arising out of the liability law “would have to be solved before any contract” could be signed with India.

Law governing nuclear liability in India:

  • Laws on civil nuclear liability ensure that compensation is available to the victims for nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident or disaster and set out who will be liable for those damages.
  • The international nuclear liability regime consists of multiple treaties and was strengthened after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.
  • The umbrella Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) was adopted in 1997 with the aim of establishing a minimum national compensation amount. India was a signatory to the CSC; Parliament ratified the convention only in 2016.
  • To keep in line with the international convention, India enacted the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA) in 2010, to put in place a speedy compensation mechanism for victims of a nuclear accident.
  • The CLNDA provides for strict and no-fault liability on the operator of the nuclear plant, where it will be held liable for damage regardless of any fault on its part.
  • It also specifies the amount the operator will have to shell out in case of damage caused by an accident at ₹1,500 crore and requires the operator to cover liability through insurance or other financial security.
  • In case the damage claims exceed 1,500 crore, the CLNDA expects the government to step in and has limited the government liability amount to the rupee equivalent of 300 million Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) or about ₹2,100 to ₹2,300 crore.
  • India currently has 22 nuclear reactors with over a dozen more projects planned. All the existing reactors are operated by the state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

What does the CLNDA say on supplier liability?

The international legal framework on civil nuclear liability, including the annex of the CSC is based on the central principle of exclusive liability of the operator of a nuclear installation and no other person.

This is because:

  • To avoid legal complications, in establishing separate liability in each case.
  • To make just one entity in the chain, that is the operator to take out insurance, instead of having suppliers, construction contractors and so on takes out their own insurance.

Section 10 of the annex of the CSC lays down “only” two conditions under which the national law of a country may provide the operator with the “right of recourse”, where they can extract liability from the supplier:

  • It is expressly agreed upon in the contract.
  • If the nuclear incident, results from an act or omission done with intent to cause damage.

Supplier liability in India law:

  • India for the first time introduced the concept of supplier liability over and above that of the operator’s in its civil nuclear liability law, the CLNDA. The architects of the law recognised that defective parts were partly responsible for historical incidents such as the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 and added the clause on supplier liability.
  • CLNDA has a Section 17(b) which states that the operator of the nuclear plant, after paying their share of compensation for damage in accordance with the Act, shall have the right of recourse where the “nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services”.
  • What are existing projects in India?
  • The Jaitapur nuclear project has been stuck for more than a decade — the original MoU was signed in 2009 with EDF’s predecessor Areva.
  • In 2016, EDF and NPCIL signed a revised MoU, and in 2018, the heads of both signed an agreement on the “industrial way forward” in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.
  • In 2020, the EDF submitted its techno-commercial offer for the construction of six nuclear power reactors but an EDF official told that the issue arising from India’s nuclear liability law remains an item on the “agenda for both countries”.
  • Other nuclear projects, including the nuclear project proposed in Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh, have also been stalled.
  • Despite signing civil nuclear deals with a number of countries, including the U.S., France and Japan, the only foreign presence in India is that of Russia in Kudankulam,which predates the nuclear liability law.

What is the government’s stand?

The central government has maintained that the Indian law is in consonance with the CSC. About Section 17(b), it said that the provision “permits” but “does not require” an operator to include in the contract or exercise the right to recourse.

 

Menstrual hygiene facilities in Indian schools

GS Paper -2 (Social Sector)

The Supreme Court directed the Union Government to devise a uniform policy to ensure menstrual hygiene for school children. The policy should ensure all government, government-aided and residential schools provide adolescent students with free sanitary napkins and access to a vending and disposal mechanism.

More about the news:

  • Absence of menstrual hygiene and awareness drives “period poverty”, the lack of access to sanitary products, toilets, waste management, hand-washing facilities and menstrual hygiene education.
  • Studies show period poverty has a ripple effect: girl students drop out of school, are pushed into child marriage, and are more like to experience domestic violence, infections, reproductive illnesses, malnourishment and poor mental health. 
  • In 2019, UNICEF Chief said that meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health.

What does the petition say? 

The Bench, comprising Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud responded to a PIL which sought directions on two accounts:

  • Governments ensure schools provide girl students from class 6 to 12 with sanitary pads, and that there is a separate toilet for girl students.  
  • Theyshould also be padded with State-wide measures to ensure washrooms have clean running water and waste disposal facilities. Out of 10.8 lakh government schools, 15,000 have no toilets and 42,000 lack drinking water.
  • Investment in social awareness programs is also needed; inadequate menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is a barrier to education.
  • The SC nominated the Ministry of Family Health and Welfare to coordinate with the Jal Shakti Ministry and Ministry of Education to implement policies over four weeks.  

Measures taken by government:

  • The “Menstrual Hygiene Scheme” provides sanitary pads to girls aged 10 to 19, at a rate of ₹6 for a pack of six napkins.
  • In 2019, Under Suvidha schemethe government began distributing eco-friendly and biodegradable pads at a subsidised rate, as of 2021-22 over 1,128 lakh pads were distributed.
  • The Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) focuses on promoting sexual and reproductive wellness for all adolescents.
  • The Union Government in 2013 issued guidelines for setting up mini incinerators in schools to burn sanitary waste.

Challenges in implementation:

  • Due to poor product quality, irregular supply, lack of funds and prevailing stigma.
  • Affordability is also a barrier; the latest National Family Health Survey data showed at least 30% of girls were using “unhygienic” methods of protection including cloth, make-shift sanitary pads, dried leaves and newspapers.
  • Awareness programs face administrative challenges as the male teachers are usually nominated for health education, but their capacity to deal with the concern is limited.
  • Due to cultural barriers in engaging with adolescent girls and absence of proper information education communication are some major bottlenecks.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent school closure, further restricted access to affordable sanitary napkins. Also, current programmes focus on able-bodied girl students, overlooking non-binary, gender non-conforming folks, and trans-men who also menstruate.

Menstrual facilities and awareness linked to education access:

  • In April 2021, the Karnataka High Court said, “If you want to empower young women and young girls, provide menstrual facilities, this will lead to empowerment of the girl child, but also implementation of the fundamental right under Article 21A Right to Education. 
  • According to United Nations Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council Girls’ enrolment in schools reduces at the secondary education level due to varied factors, with MHM being one.
  • A study by UNICEF found, knowledge gaps are also an issue, because almost 71% of adolescent girls are unaware of menstruation until they get their first period.
  • The latest Annual Status of Education Report found that in Bihar, girl school students had low attendance because 36.7% of primary and upper primary schools did not have separate toilets.

Economic impact:

An estimate shows that India can advance its GDP by 2.7% ($86.7 billion) by positively addressing period poverty, as it can improve girls’ and women’s health, education, well-being and economic independence.

 

Dima Hasao Insurgent Group Signs Peace Pact

GS Paper - 2 (Polity)

An Assam-based insurgent group Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA)/Dimasa People’s Supreme Council (DPSC) which operates in the DimaHasao districtsigned a peace agreement with the State Government and the Centre.

Peace Agreement

  • “The agreement will put a complete end to insurgency and with this, there are no more armed groups in Assam.”
  • The DNLA representatives have agreed to give up violence, surrender including the surrender of arms and ammunition, disband their armed organization, vacate all camps occupied by DNLA cadres and join the mainstream.
  • As a result of this agreement, more than 168 armed cadres of DNLA surrendered with their weapons and joined the mainstream.

Dimasa Welfare Council

  • “Dimasa Welfare Council will be set up by the Government of Assam to protect, preserve and promote a social, cultural, and linguistic identity to meet political, economic and educational aspirations and will ensure speedy and focused development of the Dimasa people residing outside the jurisdiction of the Autonomous Council,”.
  • The MoU also provides for the appointment of a Commission under Paragraph 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India to examine the demand for the inclusion of additional villages contiguous to the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) with the Council.
  • It also provides for necessary measures to be taken by the Government of India and the Government of Assam to rehabilitate the surrendered armed cadres of DNLA.

Development Packages

  • “To this effect, a Special Development package of ₹500 crore each, will also be provided by the Government of India and Government of Assam over a period of five years, for all-round development of NCHAC as well as Dimasa people residing in other parts of the State”.
  • In September 2021, the DNLA had declared a unilateral ceasefire for a period of six months following an appeal by the Chief Minister. The ceasefire has been extended since then.
  • The DNLA was established in April 2019 seeking a sovereign territory for the Dimasatribals and launched an armed insurgency to achieve its goal.

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