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Daily Current Affairs 02.05.2023 ( SC says it can end wait for consensual divorce , The importance of constitutional punctuality , The ever expanding medicinal uses and properties of psychedelic substances , Consultations on sedition law are in final stage: Centre , India leads in ‘laundering’ Russian oil and selling to Europe: report , Inaugural ASEAN-India maritime exercise in South China Sea from today , PMI signals April manufacturing hit a 4-month high, input costs climbed )

Daily Current Affairs 02.05.2023 ( SC says it can end wait for consensual divorce , The importance of constitutional punctuality , The ever expanding medicinal uses and properties of psychedelic substances , Consultations on sedition law are in final stage: Centre , India leads in ‘laundering’ Russian oil and selling to Europe: report , Inaugural ASEAN-India maritime exercise in South China Sea from today , PMI signals April manufacturing hit a 4-month high, input costs climbed )

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1. SC says it can end wait for consensual divorce

SC says it can use its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution to grant divorce on ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage if separation is inevitable and damage irreparable

The Supreme Court on Monday held that its extraordinary discretion under Article 142 of the Constitution can be used to do “complete justice” for couples trapped in bitter marriages by granting them divorce by mutual consent, sparing them the “misery” of waiting for six to 18 months for a local court to declare the annulment final.

A Constitution Bench, headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, observed that the same extraordinary power could be used by the court to quash pending criminal or legal proceedings, be it over domestic violence or dowry, against the man or woman. This would wipe the slate clean and help them start afresh their separate lives.

The judgment on five petitions including the lead one filed by Shilpa Sailesh in 2014, authored by Justice Sanjiv Khanna for the Constitution Bench, further observed the way the entire law of divorce was built predominantly on “assigning fault” on one or the other partner. Such an approach fails to serve broken marriages, the court noted. “If a marriage is wrecked beyond hope of salvage, public interest lies in recognising this real fact,” Justice Khanna reasoned.

Taking this logic forward, the Bench held that the Supreme Court could also use Article 142 to grant divorce on the ground of “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” if the “separation is inevitable and the damage is irreparable”. The judgment is significant as irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not yet a ground for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act.

However, the judgment cautioned that grant of divorce by the Supreme Court on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage was “not a matter of right, but a discretion which is to be exercised with great care and caution”. The court said the facts established must show that “the marriage has completely failed and there is no possibility that the parties will cohabit together”.

“The judgment does not mean people can rush straight to the Supreme Court for a quick divorce. It means that the Supreme Court, using great care and caution, can invoke Article 142 to deal with certain cases which come to it by way of transfer petitions or appeals in civil or criminal matrimonial disputes,” senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan clarified on the judgment.

Several factors would be considered by the Supreme Court before invoking Article 142 in matrimonial cases.

These include the duration of the marriage, period of litigation, the time they have stayed apart, the nature of the pending cases between the couples, the number of attempts at reconciliation and the court’s satisfaction that the mutual agreement to divorce was not under coercion.

On the aspect of invoking Article 142 to grant divorce by mutual consent, Justice Khanna recounted the long process involved under Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act.

First, a couple seeking divorce by mutual consent had to file a joint petition in a local court. In it, they had to claim that they were living separately for a year or more and were unable to live together again. The duo had to then wait for six to 18 months before making a second motion before the same court. This time, they had to confirm their decision to divorce. Following which, the judge would make a formal inquiry before granting them a decree of divorce by mutual consent.

On Monday, Justice Khanna said the “cooling-off period” of six to 18 months was meant as time for couples to introspect. However, he reasoned that in cases in which divorce was inevitable and the marriage was beyond salvage, a six-month or a year-and-half-long wait would only “breed misery and pain, without any gain and benefit”.

“The Supreme Court, in view of settlement between the parties, has the discretion to dissolve the marriage by passing a decree of divorce by mutual consent, without being bound by the procedural requirement to move the second motion. This power should be exercised with care and caution… This court can also, in exercise of power under Article 142(1), quash and set aside other proceedings and orders, including criminal proceedings,” the Constitution Bench held

2. The importance of constitutional punctuality

Manuraj Shunmuga Sundaram is Spokesperson, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and an advocate practising before the High Court of Madras.

Constitutional high offices must evolve guidelines to discharge their duties in a time-bound manner, safeguarding the will of the people

Recently, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed a resolution seeking to provide for a time frame for Governors to act on Bills passed by the State Legislature. The motivation was that the Governor of Tamil Nadu, R.N. Ravi, had withheld assent to as many as 13 Bills passed by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. Last week, the Supreme Court of India, while disposing of a case filed by the State of Telangana against its Governor Dr. Tamilisai Soundararajan, remarked that Governors should not sit over Bills indefinitely. Taking this sentiment farther, the idea of constitutional punctuality need not be restricted to gubernatorial offices alone. All constitutional high offices including those of the President of India and Speakers of Assemblies must suo motu evolve guidelines to discharge duties in a time-bound manner.

In the resolution passed on April 10, 2023, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly urged the Union Government and President to advise the Governor to decide on the bills passed by the State Legislatures within a reasonable time period. The resolution, proposed by the Chief Minister, M.K. Stalin, argued that it was important to protect the sovereignty of the Legislatures and, ultimately, safeguard parliamentary democracy.

Subsequently, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu wrote to his counterparts in other Opposition-ruled States and encouraged them to pass similar resolutions in their Assemblies. So far, the Chief Ministers of Delhi, Kerala, and West Bengal have expressed their support for the resolution and its underlying principles. In the case of Telangana, the State had already filed a writ petition seeking direction from the Supreme Court to the Governor to decide on the Bills, passed by the Assembly, in a timely manner. Looking at these developments, it would be fair to say that the time has come to evolve a new constitutional architecture that would deliver on the demands for a time-bound constitutional delivery mechanism.

Evolving constitutional scheme

When the Constitution was adopted, in consequence of independence from British rule, some of the sovereign functions were retained for the sake of continuity in governance. As such, there was no time limit fixed for various authorities to discharge duties that arose out of the constitutional scheme. It may also be understood that the drafters of the Constitution, in their contemporaneous wisdom, expected Raj Bhavans to be nominated with those who would discharge sovereign duties beyond the confines of political partisanship.

Article 200 of the Constitution, as it stands today, limits the options before the Governor to give assent to the Bill sent by the legislature, or withhold assent, or reserve a Bill for the consideration of the President. The nub of the issue is that Governors have wrongly understood the function to grant assent to have endowed them with some discretionary responsibility. However, the direct import of the words used in the Constitution as well as a composite reading of the debates in the Constituent Assembly (when this portion of the Constitution was deliberated and, subsequently, adopted) portrays an altogether different interpretation.

The original draft Article 175 moved for discussion in 1949 read as follows: “Provided that where there is only one House of the Legislature and the Bill has been passed by that House, the Governor may, in his discretion, return the Bill together with a message requesting that the House will reconsider the Bill.”

While moving the amendment to this Article on July 30, 1949, B.R. Ambedkar said there “can be no room for a Governor acting on discretion” and recommended removing the phrase “the Governor, in his discretion”. Therefore, the final Article, adopted by the Constituent Assembly and embedded in the Constitution explicitly negates any discretionary power.

This position has been fortified by a seven-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Shamsher Singh & Anr vs State Of Punjab (1974), wherein it was held that the discretion of the Governor is extremely limited and, even in such rare cases shall act in a manner that is not detrimental to the interest of the state. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Governor shall only act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.

Moreover, a simple and plain reading of the Article is sufficient to show how the meaning of the phrase “withholds assent therefrom” has been wilfully misinterpreted to mean holding back the Bill — an act which is colloquially referred to as pocket veto. There can be nothing further from constitutional reality and literary meaning. Any straightforward reading of withholding assent can only mean to return the Bill; and not to hold back. The problem is accentuated as there is no time-limit prescribed to return the Bill, and, as such, Governors have considered themselves to be unaccountable to the principles of time-bound governance.

Time-bound governance

Other jurisdictions where similar powers have been bestowed show a starkly different picture. In the United Kingdom, there has been no royal veto since 1708 when the assent to the Scottish Militia Bill was vetoed by Queen Anne. Whereas in the United States, there is a time limit of 10 days for the President to give assent or veto a bill. If the President does not sign or vetoes the Bill within this time, it automatically becomes an Act. If the President vetoes and returns the bill to the Congress or Senate, then both the chambers of the Congress must override the veto for it to become a law.

Over time, matters involving an inexplicable delay in exercising powers by various authorities have been brought under the ambit of judicial review by constitutional courts. The Supreme Court, in Keisham Meghachandra Singh vs The Hon’ble Speaker Manipur (2020), issued a writ of mandamus to the Speaker of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly to decide on the disqualification petitions under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution within a period of four weeks.

In the case filed by the State of Telangana against the Governor, the Supreme Court found it fit to highlight the spirit of Article 200. While disposing of the case on April 24, 2023, the Court acknowledged that the words in Article 200, “as soon as possible after the presentation of the Bill”, held significant constitutional content and that Governors should necessarily bear this in mind.

As such, it would be appropriate for various constitutional authorities such as Governors exercising powers under Article 200 and Speakers acting as quasi-judicial tribunals under Tenth Schedule to evolve strict time frames and avoid unnecessary delays. Only such an approach will advance the constitutional scheme and safeguard the will of the people exercised through the legislatures.

3. The ever expanding medicinal uses and properties of psychedelic substances

Psychedelic drugs, banned in India under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, are emerging in research as promising ways to treat treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder

ALOK KULKARNI

Psychedelics are a group of drugs that alter perception, mood, and thought-processing while a person is still clearly conscious. Usually, the person’s insight also remains unimpaired. Psychedelics are non-addictive, non-toxic and compared to illicit drugs, they are less harmful to the end user. In India, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 prohibits the use of psychedelic substances. Ketamine, a dissociative anaesthetic with psychedelic properties, is used under strict medical supervision, for anaesthesia and treatment-resistant depression.

What is the history of psychedelics?

A psychiatrist named Humphrey Osmond first used the term ‘psychedelic’ in 1957. The word is derived from the Greek words psyche, meaning ‘mind’, and deloun, meaning ‘to manifest’. Humans have used psilocybin and mescaline for ceremonies, healing, and spiritual rituals for millennia. Temples built for mushroom ‘deities’ in indigenous cultures in Mexico and Guatemala date back to 7000 BC. Records of the Greek ‘Eleusinian Mysteries’ indicate that psychedelics were used in ceremonial rituals.

The modern-day use of psychedelics is commonly associated with the German chemist Arthur Heffter isolating mescaline from the peyote cactus in 1897. In 1938, while investigating compounds related to ergotamine (one of the ergot alkaloids), the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesised LSD. When Hofmann accidentally contaminated himself with a small dose of LSD, he experienced what was likely the world’s first ‘acid trip’. On a hunch, he resynthesised LSD in 1943 and, with further testing, found LSD to be extremely potent and physiologically relatively safe.

Between 1947 and 1967, LSD was widely used as a therapeutic catalyst in psychotherapy. The Harvard Psilocybin Project, founded by psychologist Timothy Leary, further proselytised LSD and psilocybin which led to the increasing recreational use of these substances. Around this time, medical concerns and the Vietnam War prompted the conservative Richard Nixon administration to criminalise the use of psychedelics and other psychoactive drugs. This “war on drugs” stopped all medical use and pushed recreational use underground. Media campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s further stigmatised the use of all psychoactive drugs.

How do the drugs work in the body?

Users of psychedelic substances report changes in perception, somatic experience, mood, thought-processing, and entheogenic experiences. Perceptual distortions most commonly include the visual domain. An intriguing phenomenon called synaesthesia may occur, where the sensory modalities cross and the user may ‘hear colour’ or ‘see sounds’.

About half of the ingested psilocybin is absorbed via the digestive tract. In the body, psilocybin is converted to psilocin, which is then metabolised in the liver. LSD is completely absorbed in the digestive tract and then metabolised in the liver. Classical psychedelics boost brain serotonin levels. Psilocybin’s therapeutic effects require a ‘trip’ that is mediated by the activation of serotonin receptors. A recent case report published in the American Journal of Psychiatry demonstrated that robust and sustained antidepressant effects can occur even in the absence of psilocybin’s psychedelic effects. This finding, if replicated in larger trials, will have major implications for people with treatment-resistant depression. They can then get better without having to endure a trip.

Modern neuroimaging suggests that psychedelics are neither stimulants nor depressants of brain activity. Instead, they increase the cross-talk between different brain networks, and this correlates with the subjective effects of psychedelics.

Can such substances cause harm?

Death due to direct toxicity of LSD, psilocybin or mescaline has not been reported despite 50-plus years of recreational use. An overdose requires cardiac monitoring and supportive management in a low-stimulus and reassuring environment.

Synthetic psychedelics (such as 25I-NBOMe) have been associated with acute cardiac, central nervous system, and limb ischaemia, as well as serotonin syndrome. There have also been reports of death attributed directly to synthetic psychedelic use.

The psychological effects of psychedelics depend on the interaction between the drug and the user’s mindset (together called a set), and the environmental setting. People with a personal or family history of psychosis are strongly discouraged from experimenting with psychedelics.

There is also no evidence that psychedelics cause physiological or psychological dependence — nor has any withdrawal syndrome been identified. Tension headaches are common in the 24 hours after use and are offset by the use of simple analgesics. This said, brief and self-limiting psychotic episodes can occur when a user is intoxicated with psychedelics, particularly LSD. They are more common among first-time users and among those with a personal or family history of psychiatric illness. Users describe these experiences as a ‘bad trip’ and they are more likely to occur in unfavourable environments.

Can psychedelics be used to treat neuropsychiatric disorders?

In November 2022, the results from a phase II psilocybin trial were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The trial found that a single 25-mg dose of psilocybin reduced depression scores over three weeks in people with treatment-resistant depression. Adverse events included headache, nausea, and dizziness which occurred in 77% of the participants. Suicidal ideation, suicidal behaviour, and self-injury occurred in all dose groups (1 mg, 10 mg, and 25 mg).

In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated the use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as MDMA, to be the “breakthrough therapy” in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Under its “expanded access” program, the FDA has allowed a small number of people — particularly those seriously ill with PTSD and who haven’t responded to other treatment — to use MDMA.

Recently, the U.S. non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) also announced positive results from its observational study on MDMA-assisted therapy for patients with PTSD, echoing the findings of its phase-III MDMA trial, published in Nature Medicine in May 2021. In 2018, the FDA had granted “breakthrough therapy” status to psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression as well.

What does this mean for the use of psychedelics?

Although recent findings are encouraging, there remains uncertainty about where the psychedelic renaissance will take us. Psychedelic substances provide an intriguing avenue through which one can probe the broader constructs of creativity, spirituality, and consciousness, aside from their therapeutic effects.

While not a panacea, psychedelic substances have certainly reinvigorated clinical and research interests, and have added to psychiatry’s ever-expanding therapeutic armamentarium. If larger phase III trials establish their safety and therapeutic efficacy, the FDA and other regulatory bodies may clear these agents for routine clinical use.

4. Consultations on sedition law are in final stage: Centre

The government in the Supreme Court on Monday said it had initiated the “process of re-examination” of Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code and consultations are in the “final stage”.

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Attorney-General R. Venkataramani said the government was “very keen”. He indicated that a “final shape” may be given to the exercise ahead of the next Parliament session.

The court recorded Mr. Venkataramani’s submission that the consultations on the colonial-era law were at a “substantially advanced stage”.

It posted the case for hearing next in the second week of August.

In May last year, the court, in an interim order, suspended the use of Section 124A, stalling pending criminal trials and court proceedings under the section across the country. However, in October 2022, the petitioners alleged in the top court that arrests and prosecutions under Section 124A were continuing despite the freeze.

The government on October 31 last year assured the court that it was re-examining the colonial provision and “something may happen” in the then Winter Session of Parliament.

It further told a Bench led by then Chief Justice U.U. Lalit (retired) that no “transgressions”, as claimed by the petitioners, had come to its attention.

On April 26, lawyers for petitioners, including senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, advocates Kaleeswaram Raj, P.B. Suresh, Vipin Nair and Prasanna S. urged the court to take up the case and strike down the provision.

Mr. Raj said the May 2022 order had only kept Section 124A in abeyance, the provision required to be struck down immediately rather than occupying space in the statute book indefinitely.

In May last year, the court, in an interim order, suspended the use of Section 124A

5. India leads in ‘laundering’ Russian oil and selling to Europe: report

Among the ‘laundromat’ countries, India remained the highest global consumer of seaborne Russian crude in April.

Price cap coalition countries have increased imports of refined oil products from India, China, Turkey, UAE and Singapore that have become the largest importers of Russian crude, says Finland-based group, thereby circumventing the sanctions

India leads five countries named as the “Laundromat” countries that buy Russian oil and sell processed products to European countries, thus side-stepping European sanctions against Russia, says a Finland-based group that cited the latest figures for the first quarter of 2023.

The report, released last week, coincides with the latest data from analytics firm Kpler and a report by international agency Bloomberg that showed how European Union (EU) countries, which are all part of the “price cap coalition” that bars trade and insurance for any oil purchased above a certain price from Russia, are in fact increasing their intake of oil from India, China, Turkey, the UAE and Singapore.

The report also accused Indian sellers and European buyers of possibly “circumventing sanctions” by selling crude products from a refinery in Gujarat that is co-owned by Russian oil company Rosneft.

“Price cap coalition countries have increased imports of refined oil products from countries that have become the largest importers of Russian crude. This is a major loophole that can undermine the impact of the sanctions on Russia,” said the report, titled Laundromat: How the price cap coalition whitewashes Russian oil in third countries, by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

European countries are simply substituting oil products they previously bought directly from Russia, with the same products now “whitewashed” in third countries and bought from them at a premium.

Of the so-called “laundromat” countries, India, which in April remained the highest global consumer of seaborne Russian crude for a fifth month, is ahead of all others in the export of crude products to the coalition countries, exporting nearly 3.8 million tonnes of oil products to price cap coalition countries, which include the EU, G-7 countries, Australia and Japan.

India’s exports of diesel, for example, tripled to about 1,60,000 barrels per day in March 2023, compared with the period before the Russian war in Ukraine, making diesel one of the largest components of India-EU trade at present.

The CREA report said the most oil products were being exported from two ports in Gujarat: the Sikka port that services the Reliance-owned Jamnagar refinery, and the Vadinar port that ships oil products from Nayara energies, which is partly owned (49.13%) by Rosneft, alleging that this could constitute “circumventing sanctions” imposed unilaterally by the U.S. and Europe.

“The port is of great value to the Russian oil industry, especially Rosneft,” the report said.

“This situation where a Russian company owns an oil refinery in a third country highlights a possible way of circumventing sanctions. Rosneft or other oil companies from Russia are free to transport crude oil to Vadinar, where it is refined and can be exported to the price cap coalition countries as oil products from India,” the report concluded, recommending that a “place of origin” certification should accompany oil products sold to Europe.

Neither the Petroleum Ministry nor the External Affairs Ministry responded to a request for a comment on the report, or the categorisation of India as an “oil launderer” for Russia.

6. Inaugural ASEAN-India maritime exercise in South China Sea from today

Indian naval ships Satpura and Delhi arrive to participate in the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise in Singapore on Monday.

In a step further in the expanding India-ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) military cooperation, the maiden ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise (AIME) is set to begin on Tuesday, with war games in South China Sea.

The Navy chief, Admiral R. Hari Kumar, is in Singapore for the exercise as well as to take part in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX-23) and International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC) being hosted by Singapore.

In separate developments, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in the Maldives on a three-day visit, while the Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, embarked on a four-day visit to Sri Lanka.

Indian Naval Ships Satpura and Delhi with Rear Admiral Gurcharan Singh, the Flag Officer Commanding-Eastern Fleet “… arrived at Singapore on May 1 to participate in the inaugural AIME-2023” scheduled from May 2-8, the Navy said in a statement.

“AIME-2023 will provide an opportunity for Indian Navy and ASEAN navies to work together closely and conduct seamless operations in the maritime domain,” it added.

The ‘Harbour Phase’ of the exercise is scheduled to be held at Changi Naval Base from May 2 to 4 and ‘Sea Phase’ from May 7 to 8 in the South China Sea, the Navy said.

The ships, during their port call at Singapore, will also participate in IMDEX-23 and IMSC, it added.

The inaugural edition of the naval and maritime defence event IMDEX was held in 1997 and has since been expanding year on year. There are about 50 delegations this year, it has been learnt.

Mr. Singh reached Male on a three-day visit, the first by an Indian Defence Minister to the Maldives in 11 years, according to the Indian High Commission.

 India and the Maldives are working closely to address shared challenges, including maritime security, terrorism, radicalisation, organised crime and natural disasters, the Ministry said.

7. PMI signals April manufacturing hit a 4-month high, input costs climbed

India’s manufacturing sector saw new orders and output record their strongest growth so far in 2023 during April, as per the survey-based S&P Global India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which rose to 57.2 from 56.4 in March.

Overall sentiment about prospects a year ahead improved from March’s eight-month low, as manufacturers gained confidence that volumes will rise going forward. New orders at producers rose at the quickest pace since December.

After a fractional reduction in the workforce in March, April saw firms seeking to expand capacities by hiring additional workers and stockpiling inputs. However, while overall job creation was “only slight”, producers resorted to a record expansion in inventories last month.

Within inputs, raw materials and semi-finished items’ stocks surged. “Not only did buying levels expand for the 22nd successive month, but also at a sharp rate that was the strongest since February 2021,” S&P Global noted, adding suppliers were able to meet higher demand.

Finished products’ stocks, on the other hand, depleted at the fastest pace this year, as demand stayed resilient. Output charges were raised at the sharpest pace in three months — but only 6% of the surveyed firms raised prices, while 92% left prices unchanged from March.

Inflation in input costs accelerated afresh. Cost increases were linked to fuel, metals, transportation and some other raw materials.

“Reflecting a robust and quicker expansion in new orders, production growth took another step forward,” said Pollyanna De Lima, economics associate director at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “Companies also benefited from relatively mild price pressures… and improving supply-chain conditions.”

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