1. Indore bags cleanest city award for sixth year, M.P. ranks first among States
President Droupadi Murmu presents awards as part of Azadi@75 Swachh Survekshan 2022; she invites citizens to join in the source segregation campaign and commit to the cause of cleanliness
Indore has been adjudged the cleanest city of India for the sixth year in a row, while Madhya Pradesh is the cleanest State in the country.
Surat is the second cleanest city and Navi Mumbai ranks a close third in the category of cities with a population more than a lakh.
In the population category of less than one lakh, Panchgani and Karad from Maharashtra bagged the first and third positions respectively, while Patan from Chhattisgarh bagged the second position.
Tirupati received the best city award in Safai Mitra Suraksha category, while Haridwar in Uttarakhand received the award for the best Ganga town in more than one lakh population cities. Shivamogga in Karnataka received the fast mover city award.
The State awards saw Madhya Pradesh emerge as the Cleanest State in the category of “more than 100 Urban Local Bodies”, relegating Chhattisgarh, the cleanest State of the previous three years, to second place. Maharashtra emerged as third cleanest State.
Similarly, Tripura got the cleanest state award in the “less than 100 urban local bodies category”, dislodging Jharkhand, which had won in the last two consecutive years. Jharkhand and Uttarakhand received the second and third spots respectively.
The awards were given away by President Droupadi Murmu as part of the Azadi@75 Swachh Survekshan 2022 hosted as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission. She also released the Swachh Survekshan 2022 dashboard.
Ms. Murmu said: “I congratulate all the awardee cities for their commitment to the cause of Swachhata (cleanliness)”. She exhorted the citizens to join in the three-week source segregation campaign set to begin today.
- Swachh Survekshan is an annual survey of cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation in cities and towns across India.
- It was launched as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which aimed to make India clean and free of open defecation by 2nd October 2019.
- The first survey was undertaken in 2016.
- Conducted by: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) with Quality Council of India (QCI) as its implementation partner.
- Parameters: The cities have been ranked based on three broad parameters: service level progress, citizen’s voice and certification.
Swachh Survekshan 2022 (SS-2022)- Urban
- Swachh Survekshan Urban 2022 was launched by the Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA). It is the seventh consecutive edition of Swachh Survekshan (SS) and the world’s largest urban cleanliness survey conducted by Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U) at New Delhi.
- Swachh Survekshan 2022 is designed with the theme ‘People First’. It aims at capturing the initiatives of cities for the overall welfare and well-being of frontline sanitation workers.
- It aims to capture feedback from senior citizens as an integral part of the survey. To ensure diversity of voices, SS 2022 will also reach out to young adults who are the future leaders of the country and the Swachhata movement.
- The survey is set to protect India’s ancient legacy and culture by nudging citizens to take ownership and initiative to clean urban India’s monuments and heritage spots.
- This year, Survekshan is committed to creating a level playing field for smaller cities by introducing two population categories under 15K and between 15-25K.
- To further expand the Survekshan footprint, district rankings have been introduced for the first time.
- Along with SS 2022’s launch, MoHUA also released a coffee table book titled ‘A Change of Heart’ that features inspirational stories of individuals and communities and stand witness to the significant impact of people’s will and commitment to drive change in urban India’s cleanliness chapter. A short film, ‘Swachhata Se Samriddhi’ that showcases the milestones of the last seven years in the Swachhata journey was also released on the occasion.
- MoHUA also flagged off the field assessments for the Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge launched a year ago. Once again, the Challenge is another initiative by MoHUA to empower sewer and septic tank cleaners whose occupation consists of battling against several safety concerns on a daily basis.
- Revamped version of the Swachhata App was launched on this day (28-09-2021). It is a digital sanitation grievance redressal platform by MoHUA introduced in 2016. This new version will take citizen engagement to the next level by enabling people to identify yellow (public urination) spots, search for and rate the service levels in public toilets and validate their city’s progress in reducing garbage vulnerable points & access to public sanitation facilities.
Achievements of Swachh Survekshan
- It was introduced by MoHUA in 2016 to rank cities on cleanliness parameters in 73 cities and has become the world’s largest urban cleanliness survey that covers over 4,000 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) today.
- The Survekshan framework has evolved with the years and has today become a unique management tool that accelerates ground-level implementation to achieve sanitation outcomes.
- The scope of the survey has been expanded to now cover 100% wards for sampling, as compared to 40% in previous years.
- In keeping with Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of a Digital India, the upcoming edition of Survekshan shall usher in improved technological interventions such as digital tracking of documents, geo-tagging of sanitation and waste management of facilities for better efficiency, and QR code-based citizens’ feedback for increased people outreach.
With the launch of Swachh Survekshan 2022, MoHUA began a week-long celebration of ‘Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’.
- During this week, SBM-U will organize a series of citizen-centric activities under the overarching theme of ‘Jan Bhagidari’.
- Citizens of urban India will participate in a host of focused campaigns to renew their commitment to the cause of cleanliness.
- Campaigns such as ‘Kachra Alag Karo’ is aimed at reinforcing the practice of source segregation which is the cornerstone of effective waste management.
- Citizen-driven exhibitions will be organized across cities with the theme of ‘Waste to Wealth’.
- Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and communities will recognize and felicitate citizen leaders, waste entrepreneurs, Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc. for driving Swachhata in their surroundings.
- Special ceremonies will be organized to salute the courage of sanitation workers who have been at the forefront of the efforts against COVID-19.
Swachh Survekshan Grameen 2021
Also known as Rural Cleanliness Survey, Swachh Survekshan Grameen 2021 has been launched under Swachh Bharat Mission Phase-II. Earlier, it was launched in 2018 and 2019. Its prime objective is to focus on the acceleration of ODF plus interventions and results in the country.
- Under Swachh Survekshan Grameen 2021, 17475 villages in 698 Districts across the country will be covered.
- 87250 public spaces would be surveyed and around 1,74,750 Households would be interviewed for their feedback on Swachh Bharat Mission related issues.
- Districts would be ranked based on different parameters. The element-wise allotment of weights is:
- Direct Observation of sanitation at public places – 30%
- Citizen’s Feedback, including feedback from common citizens, key influencers at the village level and from citizens online using a mobile App – 35%
- Service Level Progress on sanitation-related parameters – 35%
About the Swachh Survekshan Report
Discussed below are a few important facts regarding the Swachh Survekshan Report:
- The report of Swachh Survekshan Urban is released by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA); Grameen (Rural) is released by Jal Shakti Ministry.
- It is one of the world’s largest sanitation surveys.
- The Swachh Survekshan Grameen reports have earlier been released in 2018 and 2019 while Swachh Survekshan Urban report was started in 2016.
- The first survey was undertaken in 2016 and covered 73 cities; by 2020 the survey had grown to cover 4242 cities and was said to be the largest cleanliness survey in the world.
- The survey helps to scale up the coverage of the ranking exercise and encourage towns and cities to actively implement mission initiatives in a timely and innovative manner.
- The objective of the survey is to
- Encourage large scale citizen participation.
- Ensure sustainability of initiatives taken towards garbage-free and open defecation free cities.
- Provide credible outcomes which would be validated by third-party certification.
- Institutionalize existing systems through online processes and create awareness amongst all sections of society about the importance of working together towards making towns and cities more habitable and sustainable.
- Foster a spirit of healthy competition amongst towns and cities to improve their service delivery to citizens and move towards creating cleaner cities.
- MoHUA & QCI will conduct intensive virtual interactions with States and ULBs to familiarize them with various facets of the survey such as survey methodology, survey process and indicators, amongst others, while also clarifying their expectations from the survey.
About the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan
Given below is information about the Swachh Bharat Mission in brief:
- The campaign was launched by PM Narendra Modi on 2nd October 2014 to honour Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a Clean country
- The key objective of the mission is to spread awareness about sanitisation and cleanliness
- Increase construction of toilets, conduct awareness drives, make school children aware of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene
2. Does scrapping of awards signal misplaced priorities?
The government order shuts down all awards instituted through private endowments for which the government was not spending anything
Each year, September 26 is celebrated by the Indian Scientific Community as the birthday of Prof. Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar, a stalwart of Indian science in the 1940s and 1950s and the founding head of CSIR. This is also a day when the government announces the yearly Bhatnagar Awards aimed at honouring the most outstanding researchers (under the age of 45) working in India. But this year was an exception. There was no announcement of award winners.
Instead, the government released a copy of minutes of a high-level meeting held the previous week. The minutes reveal that the government has resolved to scrap most of the existing awards, including those instituted through private endowment, and introduce a ‘select few high-stature’ awards instead.
The decision raises more questions than it answers. It remains unclear what the rationale was for the sudden scrapping of most awards. One reason could be that the government is of the impression that the current awards are handed out in an unfair manner.
While bias and prejudice cannot be ruled out, there is a strong notion that winning an award becomes easier when the potential awardee is a favourite of one or more members of the selection committee. But these supposedly bad choices have been only a few and most of the time, the current system of selection has undoubtedly rewarded excellence.
Since the minutes have not listed out the reasons, speculations about the government’s motive are rife. It was thought that this cull is part of the overall austerity measure, in light of the economic downturn. But that seems unlikely as the total annual budget of all these cancelled awards is so small that it is less than rounding error in the Union Budget. Secondly, this order also shuts down all awards instituted through private endowments, for which the government was not spending anything.
Strangely, the order does not clarify what would happen to the said endowment if it is not used for giving those respective awards. Another oddity about this order is that all the ministries have been told to stop all ‘non-core-domain’ awards.
It is no secret that only a small fraction of the Indian scientific community align themselves with the questionable scientific agenda of the current government. Centralising all the awards is seen as one way of giving the government a greater control over the selection committees and reward scientists who are seen favourably by the government. This will help in raising the profile of such scientists, paving the way for their eventual elevation to the leadership positions in different research institutes and universities.
There is apprehension that social media activity of prominent scientists is being monitored and that the government has not taken kindly to the critical comments made about its scientific policies. Even before the pandemic, there were occasional instances of fellowships of young researchers getting delayed by 2-3 months. But since the last three years, an astonishingly large fraction of researchers have been experiencing delays. These delayed fellowships and grants not only means that skilled researchers are just sitting in their labs without being able to procure necessary samples, chemicals or equipment but it also leads to a large number of PhD students quitting mid-way as they are unable to support their families.
Recently, the government issued another order asking researchers to open a new bank account for each new project and meeting all expenses of that project only through that specific account. This would not just lead to more unnecessary paperwork but would create comical situations such as placing multiple orders of the same chemical for the same lab, because it must be billed to multiple projects. Thankfully, after backlash, the government promised reconsideration. Few months back, the government raised the GST on purchase of scientific equipment from 5% to 18%, which has been playing havoc on the research budget of many institutions.
International collaborations have been made almost impossible by mandating multiple permissions just to invite a foreign researcher to an institute or to sign an MoU with a foreign university. Anything which involves foreigners or foreign currency is viewed dimly and has to clear multiple hurdles, which hampers research. The whole procedure has become needlessly cumbersome.
It has been said that the government plans to replace all these awards with a ‘few high-stature’ awards, tentatively called Vigyan Ratna. Only time will tell if these new awards adequately cover the diversity in not just research disciplines but also in researchers themselves. More importantly, the scientific community would be keenly watching if the new awards are decided on quality of research or they become a vehicle to promote scientists who are favoured by the government.
3. How can India reduce its impact on global warming
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has pointed out that since the industrial revolution, which started around 1800, human activities have released large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) due to fuel burning and other ‘greenhouse gases’ such as methane, nitrous oxide, and compounds of sulphur, phosphorous, ozone into the atmosphere, changing the earth’s climate.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by over 40%, from 280 ppm in the 18th century to 414 ppm in 2020, and greenhouse gases level by over these 200 years.
India had 170 million people in 1800, which has risen to 1.4 billion people today. And industrial revolution started only after India’s Independence 75 years ago. While it has helped in reduction of poverty, it has also led to rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) site points out that we have a rural population that constitutes 70% of the country, and their main occupation is agriculture. This gives us a total foodgrain production of 275 million tonne. India is the second largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton and groundnuts. It, thus, becomes important that India reduce its carbon footprint, more in its farming sector.
Farmers have come up with some admirable methods, with the help of agricultural professionals, by using solar panels in their fields, so that they can avoid diesel for groundwater pumps.
Sibi Arasu, an independent journalist from Bengaluru, writes, “Climate-friendly agriculture offers new income sources and is more sustainable” in the journal Carbon Management that India’s carbon emissions could drop by 45-62 million tonnes annually. The government and professional groups have helped rural farmers put in solar panels to save money and gain greater income.
Indian farmers not only grow rice and wheat but produce other foodgrains as well. They grew about 121.5 million tonnes of rice and 109 million tonnes of wheat during the year 2020-2021. They also produce other foodgrains such as millets (bajra), cassava and more. They grow about 12 million tonnes of millets annually. Likewise, the amount of maize produced per year is about 28.6 million tonnes. It may also be added that millets have more proteins (7.3 m per 100 g), fat (1.7 g per 100 g) and fibre content (4.22g per 100g) than rice (protein content 2.7 g per 100 g; fat content 0.3 g per 100 g; and fibre content 0.4 g per 100 g).
It is, thus, healthier for us to add more millets in our diet, besides rice and wheat. And wheat is superior to rice as it has more proteins (13.2 g per 100 g), fat (2.5 g per 100 g), and fibre (10.7 g per 100 g).
A common goal
India has about 20-39% vegetarians and 70% of the population eat meat — mainly chicken, mutton and fish (Devi et al). India, with its many rivers, has a vast coastline which is rich in fishes. And fshes have high nutritional value and help in reducing carbon footprint (Nature, Jude Colman, September 13, 2022 issue).
Thus, with farmers, meat sellers and fishermen, each contributing to India in reducing our carbon footprint, we can hope to be an exemplary nation for the EPA.
4. Did the ban spare PFI’s political wing?
Could the Election Commission of India have had a role in the Social Democratic Party of India escaping a crackdown? What is the mandate of this party often associated with the Popular Front of India? Does the ECI have the power to de-register a political party?
The story so far:
A definitive crackdown on the Popular Front of India (PFI) and eight of its affiliates by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with the police last week was capped by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declaring them as ‘unlawful associations’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and outlawing them for five years. The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), widely thought to be the political wing of the PFI, escaped the ban, with its national president M.K. Faizy ascribing the action against the PFI to ‘an undeclared Emergency’ prevailing in the country.
What would have saved the SDPI for now?
There’s no official word on what worked in favour of the SDPI, a political party that was formed in June, 2009, “for the advancement and uniform development of all citizenry including Muslims, Dalits, Backward Classes and Adivasis” and registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI) a year later. However, it is being surmised that the fact of it being a political dispensation with people’s representatives in close to a dozen States and the lack of any tangible evidence of its involvement in ‘planned unlawful’ activities saved it.
While some top leaders of the SDPI also figured in the senior leadership of the banned PFI, the party was quick to distance itself from the latter, claiming to be an ‘independent’ entity featuring cadres, members and leaders from all communities and faiths.
“The MHA, if it so willed, could’ve acted against the SDPI as well, as the UAPA provides for overriding powers to act against any entity found to be involved in acts prejudicial to India’s interests. But that wasn’t done probably because there would not have been anything suggesting planned illegal activities on the part of the political party,” was how Gopal Krishna Pillai, former Union Home Secretary, explained the MHA’s action.
Could the ECI have acted against it?
The ECI is largely powerless to deregister active political parties, leave alone recommending a ban on them. “Over the last two decades, the ECI has gone to the Government of India several times over with a bouquet of proposals which include amendments to Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, but there has been no progress in this regard,” said N. Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner of India.
According to Supreme Court lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj, even the limited power of the ECI to deregister a party is not provided by statute, as the Representation of the People Act only empowers the ECI to register a party. “However, in a case between the Indian National Congress and the Institute of Social Welfare in 2002, the Supreme Court held that the ECI can deregister a party (i) if the registration is obtained fraudulently (ii) if there is alteration in the original name or other material particulars of the party or (iii) where a de-registration without even an enquiry is an imperative. For example, if the registration of the political party cannot be continued for the very party becoming unlawful by a declaration by the competent authority to that effect,” he explained.
But the SC itself, in the context of hate speech, gave indulgence to the Law Commission to examine whether the ECI should be given the powers to deregister a political party and the grounds for deciding so. Mr. Raj added that the ECI, at the moment, has almost insignificant powers to deregister a party for non-furnishing of details of accounts or donations.
“If the system of electoral bond continues, even the Representation of the People Act or the provisions in the Model Code of Conduct will remain inconsequential to a considerable extent on the issue of fiscal transparency in the dealings of a political party. The Supreme Court has decided to hear the electoral bond issue soon. Unless the malpractice of electoral bond in the present form is totally abolished, our democracy cannot be rescued. Any change in law relating to political parties should begin with abolition of the electoral bond system in India,” he said.
How does the SDPI view the development?
Much as it has been ruffled by the ban on the PFI, the SDPI harps on its independence and insists that it’s steadfastly focused on social democracy and equal representation for all backward sections at all levels of government. “We have close to 800 seats in local bodies across States such as Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra. An internal survey is being conducted right now to identify at least 60 constituencies — where a Muslim-Dalit alignment could work — from where to contest the Lok Sabha elections of 2024,” says Elyas Mohammed Thumbe, SDPI national general secretary.
Ashraf Moulavi, the party’s Kerala president, vouches for its financial, ideological and functional transparency and accountability, stressing that the party worked for “India’s pluralism, Constitutional guarantees and cultural ethos”.
Any Indian citizen regardless of caste or faith who abides by these besides meeting the criteria such as being averse to corruption, social evils like alcoholism or substance abuse and not being a member of any other political formulation, could become a member of the party by paying a fee of ₹5, Mr. Thumbe maintains. Cadres are selected based on their commitment to the party ideology and activism and given two sessions — on social democracy and on the tenets of a cadre. “Even rationalists are party members. Only, the believers and the atheists should respect each other’s belief systems,” says Mr. Moulavi, adding that the party doesn’t condone violence on the part of its members.
What is in the works now?
Two weeks ago, the Kerala State committee of the party decided to carry out an extensive campaign on October 2 against drug abuse and addiction. “A three-month national campaign, ‘Ghulami Na-Manzoor’ (Slavery isn’t acceptable) had been planned from September, but that has been put off to a later date in view of the uneasy political developments,” says Mr. Thumbe.
5. What the Party Congress means for China
What are the three broad objectives on the agenda? Will there be any changes in policy and leadership? Will Xi Jinping further consolidate power? Will the Congress lead to a lift of the stringent ‘zero-COVID’ policy and begin to finally consider an exit strategy?
The story so far:
On October 16, the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will convene in Beijing for a week-long gathering. The 20th National Congress of the CPC, a once-in-five-year event, will mark sweeping changes in the leadership of China’s ruling party, amend the party’s constitution, and set the policy direction for the next five years, which will impact both China’s domestic and international policies.
What happens at a Party Congress?
The CPC convenes a national congress every five years. On September 25, the party announced it had chosen 2,296 delegates to attend this year’s event, representing various provinces, the military, different ministries, branches of government, and society. Choosing new leadership, amending the party constitution, and setting the main policy direction are the three broad objectives of a congress. The delegates “vote” on various resolutions, including amendments to the CPC’s constitution, and in theory, choose a new Central Committee, which in turn is supposed to “elect” a new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC). In practice, however, the amendments and personnel appointments are decided in advance by the party leadership, and not by the delegates who merely rubber stamp the decisions. The party briefly considered the idea of “straw polls” to elect the Politburo and PBSC, which was introduced in 2012. It was, however, discarded by current General Secretary Xi Jinping at the 19th Congress in 2017, with the party later saying the process had been “corrupted”. Former security czar Zhou Yongkang and former Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai, who was once seen as a likely successor to Mr. Xi, were both purged and jailed for corruption by Mr. Xi. They were accused of “taking advantage of” the straw-poll system with “votes-soliciting corruption” activities. At the last congress in 2017, Mr. Xi abandoned the voting system and, according to the party, held “direct consultations” with 57 serving and retired party leaders to decide on personnel appointments. Mr. Xi is thought to have similarly done so ahead of this year’s congress.
What are the likely changes in leadership in the offing?
Perhaps the most significant outcome of any congress is the selection of the next PBSC, the party’s highest ruling body. Since 1992, congresses, every 10 years, have also selected a new party General Secretary, with Jiang Zemin taking the reins in 1992, Hu Jintao in 2002, and Xi Jinping in 2012. The 20th congress this year will mark a break in the 30-year precedent, with Mr. Xi, in 2018, ending term limits and the 10-year norm that had enabled smooth transitions of power, throwing into uncertainty how future successions in leadership will take place. There will, however, still be sweeping changes in the rest of the top leadership, including the 25-member Politburo and the 7-member PBSC, with leaders aged 68 and higher set to retire. Mr. Xi (69) is the lone exception to the “seven up, eight down” age rule. While at least two of the current PBSC will retire, four others, including second-ranked leader and Premier Li Keqiang, are under 68, so could continue. Mr. Li will, however, step down as Premier having served two terms. The composition of the next PBSC and the selection of the next Premier will serve as key indicators of the extent of Mr. Xi’s influence, reflected in how many of his appointees will assume top positions in the next leadership, or whether Mr. Xi will have to compromise with other power-centres in the party and accommodate their preferred appointees instead, such as officials close to the former leaders, Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu. The Chinese military will also see a sweeping change in its top leadership, with the Central Military Commission, which Mr. Xi will continue to lead for another five years, set to choose new members.
What are the implications?
Besides the changes in personnel, the congress will pass amendments to the party constitution, and indicate the broad directions in policy for the next five years, which will be outlined by Mr. Xi in a speech to the congress. At the previous 19th Congress, Xi Jinping’s ideology, officially called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, was written to the constitution, elevating him on a par with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping as the only leaders with eponymous ideologies in the constitution. New amendments may formalise Mr. Xi’s status as a “core” of the party leadership. Recent pronouncements have called on the party to uphold what it calls “two establishes” — enshrining Mr. Xi’s “core status” and his ideology as a leading priority for the party. This will likely indicate even more centralisation of power in the coming term.
On the policy front, continuity, rather than change, is expected. The current Central Committee’s annual plenum in 2020 approved the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) and Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, which emphasised some of Mr. Xi’s campaigns, including “common prosperity” to reduce inequality as well as address monopolies, particularly with regard to private firms in the tech sector, which has seen a crackdown; “dual circulation” to give more primacy to the domestic market as a driver of growth to complement external trade; and self-reliance in key strategic sectors. The immediate concern for many in China, however, is whether Mr. Xi will decide to continue with his “zero-COVID” policy or begin to finally consider an exit strategy, after the conclusion of the congress which is expected to hail the success of China’s pandemic response as one of Mr. Xi’s biggest legacies.
6. How has the SC expanded abortion rights?
What has the judiciary said about reproductive autonomy? What has it remarked on marital rape?
The story so far:
On September 29, the Supreme Court ruled that single and unmarried women with pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks are entitled to access the same safe and legal abortion care as married women. Interpreting the Rules framed under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said “the rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity and privacy give an unmarried woman the right of choice as to whether or not to bear a child on a similar footing as that of a married woman.” In another judicial recognition of marital rape, which is not recognised as an offence under the Indian Penal Code, the Court also said sexual assault by a man on his wife can take the form of rape.
Do women in India now have equal abortion rights?
Under the current legal framework, and as the Court too noted, the MTP Act lays out exceptions to the provisions criminalising abortion in Sections 312-318 of the Indian Penal Code. The Court was hearing a case of a 25-year-old unmarried woman, whose plea to terminate a pregnancy before the completion of 24 weeks was rejected by the Delhi High Court pointing out that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, did not extend to unmarried women in a relationship. Taking a “purposive” view of a “beneficial legislation” like the MTP Act, the Court declared that unmarried women be included within the ambit of Rule 3B of the MTP Rules. The MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021, had introduced a key change in Section 3 by extending the upper limit for termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks. Specifically, Explanation II replaced this point — anguish caused by a pregnancy resulting from a failure of any device or method used by any “married woman or her husband” in the unamended Act — to “any woman or her partner”, thus bringing pregnancies which happen outside the institution of marriage within the “protective umbrella of the law”.
What did the Supreme Court lean on to make its decision?
The Bench said “constitutional values, such as the right to reproductive autonomy, the right to live a dignified life, the right to equality, and the right to privacy” led it to reinterpret the contours of the MTP Act and the MTP Rules. “In the context of abortion, the right to dignity entails recognising the competence and authority of every woman to take reproductive decisions, including the decision to terminate the pregnancy,” it said.
What is the situation on the ground?
Women’s rights activists say a lot more needs to be done so that all women feel safe to take a decision on their bodies. India’s abortion laws are moving in a progressive manner, they say, especially in the light of what has happened in countries like the U.S. where the constitutional right to abortion was overturned by the Supreme Court in June. In India, besides patriarchal mindsets and social stigma, unmarried and single women face greater hurdles in exercising a right over their bodies, thus leading to higher risks and complications. Many women are forced to go to quacks when there are unwanted pregnancies, an activist said. As the Court noted, unsafe abortions are a leading cause of maternal mortality. The National Family Health Survey 5 (2019) pegs spousal violence (physical and sexual) faced by women in the age group 18-49 years at 29.3%.
What has the court remarked on marital rape?
The Court said that the meaning of the words “sexual assault” or “rape” in Rule 3B(a) includes a husband’s act of sexual assault or rape committed on his wife. “The meaning of rape must therefore be understood as including marital rape, solely for the purposes of the MTP Act and any rules and regulations framed thereunder. Any other interpretation would have the effect of compelling a woman to give birth to and raise a child with a partner who inflicts mental and physical harm upon her.” Human rights experts point out that if a person is guaranteed equality, autonomy and dignity under Articles 14 and 21, then marital rape must be termed a criminal offence. Though left out of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, the Justice Verma Committee had recommended that the law should specify that a marital relationship cannot be a defence against sexual violation. “A rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim,” Justice Verma had concluded.