1. The rise of the far-right in Italy
How did the Brothers of Italy, a party formed only in 2012, gain such popular support? What are the factors which led to its rise to power? How is the European Union looking at the developments in the country, known for its political volatility?
In Italy, the right alliance headed by Giorgia Meloni from Brothers of Italy with the League, Forza-Italia, and Nio Moderati emerged as the clear winner. It won with a majority of 237 seats in the Chamber of Duties (lower house) and 115 seats in the Deputies of the Senate (upper house).
The main reason behind the rise of the party was the failure of other political parties. The Brothers of Italy never changed its partnership or its identity. In terms of policy, Ms. Meloni has always kept Italy first. The party’s main focus includes stabilising financial markets, keeping debt in check and meeting Italy’s energy crisis without regional dependency. It has managed to keep true to its fascist roots even when it entered mainstream politics.
Europe as a whole is alarmed by the majority won by the Brothers of Italy party. This is mainly due to two factors, one being the party’s history of being evolved from Mussolini and the other is because of the fact that Italy is one of the most volatile countries in the region in terms of political stability.
The story so far:
On September 25, the right alliance, the left alliance, the Five-Star Movement and other traditional autonomous parties competed in Italy’s snap elections. Among the four coalitions, the right alliance headed by Giorgia Meloni from Brothers of Italy with the League, Forza-Italia, and Nio Moderati emerged as the clear winner. It won with a majority of 237 seats in the Chamber of Duties (lower house) and 115 seats in the Deputies of the Senate (upper house). The left alliance led by Enrico Letta from the Democratic Party including the Green/left alliance, Più Europa, and Impegno Civico were able to secure only 85 and 44 seats in both houses.
Who are the Brothers of Italy?
The Brothers of Italy was founded in 2012 by Giorgia Meloni after her exit from the Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party. It included members from the Italian Social Movement (MSI), which was created by the supporters of Benito Mussolini. Starting from 2% in the 2013 elections, the Brothers of Italy gained a quick margin of 26% by 2022, surprising other traditional parties of Italy.
The main reason behind the rise of the party was the failure of other political parties. Mr. Berlusconi’s threat to dissolve the government to pass the 2005 electoral reform, the shift of the League party to the Five Star Movement from the right alliance after the 2018 elections and a break in the coalition between Italia Viva, the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement in 2021, damaged the credibility of these parties.
On the other hand, the Brothers of Italy, neither changed its partnership nor its identity and used the failure of other parties to its benefit. The party’s main focus includes stabilising financial markets, keeping debt in check and meeting Italy’s energy crisis without regional dependency. It has managed to keep true to its fascist roots even when it entered mainstream politics. Externally, the party focusses on transatlantic relations, siding with Europe in standing against Russia.
In power, the Brothers of Italy will now have to address two major challenges. First is Italy’s economy which is heading towards contraction, besides COVID-19 induced debt, and energy crises, while the second challenge comes from within the coalition.
What does Italy’s new coalition mean for Europe?
The region as a whole is alarmed by the majority won by the Brothers of Italy party. This is mainly due to two factors, one being the party’s history of being evolved from Mussolini and containing members who are known for neo-fascist origins. Although Ms. Meloni’s stance on EU’s policies in terms of energy price cap, sanctions on Russia seem to be in line with the EU, Italian nationalism has always been the underlining priority. Ms. Meloni shares similar views with Hungarian leader Victor Orban with respect to the economy and issues regarding abortion, LGBTQ rights and migration, sending mixed signals for regional cooperation.
Secondly, Italy is one of the most volatile countries in the region in terms of political stability, with more than 65 governments coming to power since the end of the Second World War. The frequent breaking and making of coalition due to the misrule of Mr. Berlusconi, the shifting of the League party between coalitions, and the rain of reforms under each government has pushed Italy into a prolonged political crisis. Europe does not wish to see yet another government coalition break nor does it want Italy becoming another Hungary. Therefore, dilemma over stability and cooperation hangs in the air for the EU.
What is next for Italy?
In the past, most parties have concentrated more towards sustaining themselves in power by campaigning for electoral reform. They kept issues of identity, economy, and security in the backstage. The Brothers of Italy have shown that they intend to put Italy first and regional issues on the backburner. This indicates that the upcoming government will be more Italy-centric than Euro-centric.
2. What happened to the Nord Stream pipelines?
Why do international bodies think that the leaks to the pipelines were the result of sabotage? What are going to be the environmental effects of such a leak?
Four leaks were reported at different points in the Nord Stream pipelines, linking Russia and Europe, since September 26. Two of the leaks were in Swedish waters while the other two were reported from Danish waters.
Both Danish and Swedish seismologists picked up undersea explosions near the locations of the first two leaks before they occurred. Bjorn Lund of Sweden’s National Seismology Centre told BBC that there was “no doubt that these were explosions”.
Ukraine called the leaks a “terrorist attack” and an “act of aggression towards the EU” planned by Russia. Incidentally, Russia said that the leaks were an act of “terrorism” possibly by a state-actor.
The story so far:
Four leaks were reported at different points in the Nord Stream pipelines, linking Russia and Europe, since September 26. Two of the leaks were in Swedish waters while the other two were reported from Danish waters. The European Union said they suspected “sabotage” behind the leaks while the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the ruptures to the pipelines took place in territory that was “fully under the control” of U.S. intelligence agencies.
What are the Nord Stream pipelines?
The $7.1 (€7.4) billion Nord Stream 1 subsea pipeline has been operational since 2011, and is the largest single supply route for Russian gas to Europe. The Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom has a majority ownership in the pipeline, and while it was running at just 20% of its capacity since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, the company, in early September fully cut gas flows from the pipeline on the pretext of maintenance. According to Bloomberg, while 40% of Europe’s pipeline gas came from Russia before the war, the number now stands at just 9%. The construction of the $11 billion-worth Nord Stream 2 was completed in 2021 but never began commercial operations. Even though both pipelines were not running commercially, they had millions of cubic metres of gas stored in them.
What is the extent of the damage?
Denmark’s defence authority released footage of the bubbles forming on the surface of the sea resulting from gas spewing from the pipelines. The Danish Energy Agency said that while half of the gas stored in Nord Stream 1 and 2 had leaked out of the ruptures, the remaining volume was expected to escape by Sunday. Both Danish and Swedish seismologists picked up undersea explosions near the locations of the first two leaks before they occurred. Bjorn Lund of Sweden’s National Seismology Centre told BBC that there was “no doubt that these were explosions”.
What will be the impact of the leaks?
The Swiss-based operator of the pipelines, the Nord Stream AG consortium, said on Tuesday, “the destruction that happened within one day at three lines of the Nord Stream pipeline system is unprecedented. It’s impossible now to estimate the timeframe for restoring operations of the gas shipment infrastructure.” Al Jazeera quoted Eurasia Group analysts as saying, that with the timeframe for repairs being uncertain, the pipelines were unlikely to provide any gas to Europe in the forthcoming winter months, even if the political will to resume supply was found.
European gas prices spiked after reports of the leaks emerged; European Benchmark prices rose 12% on Tuesday, while Dutch and British Prices continued to rise on Wednesday. Additionally, while analysts have not yet quantified the environmental impact of the leaks, Reuters quoted the commercial methane-measuring satellite firm GHGSat as saying that a “conservative estimate” based on available data suggested that the leaks together were releasing more than 500 metric tonnes of methane per hour when first breached, with the flow decreasing over time.
What have international bodies said?
Ukraine called the leaks a “terrorist attack” and an “act of aggression towards the EU” planned by Russia. Incidentally, Russia said that the leaks were an act of “terrorism” possibly by a state-actor. While the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization called the leaks acts of sabotage, they did not name a country. The U.S. also hasn’t blamed any specific actor for the leaks, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stating that the country would stay committed to protecting Europe’s energy security.
3. The race to provide exhaustive satellite broadband services in India
While satellite communication companies can help in addressing the need of the market for fibre-like connectivity in the remotest parts of the country, one will also have to deal with slow Internet speeds and limited satellite bandwidths because of the distance the signals will have to travel
The race for providing satellite broadband connectivity in India is heating up as companies like Jio, Oneweb, Hughes and Tata-backed Nelco are preparing to provide these services.
Satellite communication has been gaining prominence globally and is seeing a lot of interest, investments, and innovations. The two biggest developments in the global satellite communication space are the emergence of LEO (low-earth orbit constellations) that promises to provide truly global coverage and lower latency service, and HTS (High Throughput Satellites Service) which offers unprecedented capacity and flexibility. India is quickly catching up with global trends and we are optimistic about India’s prospects in the global satellite communication market, Shivaji Chatterjee, executive vice president, Hughes Communications India (HCI) said to The Hindu. Although the satellite broadband industry in India is still at a nascent stage, the growing demand for connectivity and Internet — the Digital India drive — calls to connect all unserved terrains and this is what satellite broadband players like Hughes can do, he added.
However, different reports indicate that although India is about to see the roll out of 5G services, infrastructure woes like inadequate tower fiberisation questions the success of 5G in connecting different parts of the country which do not have even 4G access till now.
Different satcom players
Different players offering satellite broadband services are preparing to start operations in the country.
Jio has received approval from the Department of Telecommunication (DoT), in the second week of this month, to provide satellite broadband services in India. Earlier, in February this year, Jio Platforms Ltd, the digital arm of Reliance Industries (RIL), and Luxembourg’s SES, formed a joint venture, Jio Space Technology Ltd to provide satellite-based broadband services in India. The DoT has granted the Letter of Intent for global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) services to the company that the firm had applied for earlier this year. The licences are for a period of 20 years and include voice and data services via satellite.
Parallelly, in January this year, satellite communication companies, OneWeb and Hughes Network Systems, announced a six-year agreement, to bring low Earth orbit (LEO) connectivity services in India. OneWeb will then bring these solutions to enterprises, governments, telcos, airline companies and maritime customers. However, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis forced OneWeb to cancel the planned launch of 36 satellites on Russia’s Soyuz rockets after Russia cancelled its agreement with the Bharti-backed U.K. based company. This led the satellite major to delay the commercial launch of its satellite communication services in India to early 2023.
OneWeb has also partnered with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to resume its satellite launches. The pending release of the new Spacecom policy by the Department of Space brings a layer of uncertainty over the launch of commercial services in India. The policy is supposed to lay out the guidelines on which the newly liberalised space sector will operate.
Satellite service provider Hughes Communications India, (HCI) and Bharti Airtel announced a joint venture in January to provide satellite broadband services in India. The joint venture was created after the agreement, announced in May 2019 and received all statutory approvals, including those from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and Department of Telecom. Last week, HCI also announced the commercial launch of India’s first HTS broadband service to deliver high-speed broadband across the country, including to the most remote areas beyond the reach of terrestrial networks. HTS provides more throughput than conventional communication satellites. Higher-throughput refers to higher data processing and transfer capacity than conventional satellites, while using the same amount of orbital spectrum.
Tata-owned satcom company Nelco, and Canada’s Telesat have also successfully conducted the first in-orbit demonstration of high-speed broadband connectivity in India in May this year. Telesat services will deliver significant benefits for applications like 4G/5G backhaul, mobile hotspots, telemedicine, village connectivity and more, P. J. Nath, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of NELCO said in a press release. Telesat will also help accelerate 4G and 5G expansion, and set new levels of performance for enterprise, telecom, mobility and government broadband connectivity on land, air and sea, Glenn Katz, Telesat’s Chief Commercial Officer said in a release.
Changing the Internet landscape
Satcom companies reckon that satellite broadband services can connect the most remote parts of the country which are otherwise difficult to connect through fibres. Satellite broadband services can, therefore, help in addressing the need of the market for fibre-like connectivity in the remotest parts of the country with high reliability and flexibility, Mr. Nath said. Mr. Chatterjee also echoed the sentiment by stating that the rollout of satellite broadband communication services can close the digital divide in India.
For example, Hughes India has partnered with Bharat Broadband Nigam Limited (BBNL) and Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. (TCIL), as part of BharatNet, to provide high-speed satellite connectivity to 5,000 remote gram panchayats. These panchayats are located in northeastern States, including Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and the Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh — places that lack terrestrial connectivity like fibre or cable. With the Bharatnet project, India aims to better facilitate e-governance applications like telemedicine, access to land records, treasury, police stations, Internet access, and many other services in rural India. “We are going to see a very open market space where there is going to be, foreign operators, In Flight and Maritime Connectivity (IFMC) providers, Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) service providers, all of them being able to provide connectivity and, they will all be able to service this whole ecosystem of mobility on land, on water and in the air,” Mr. Chatterjee said.
Satellite data transfer provides very slow Internet speeds and limited satellite bandwidth because of the distances the signals have to travel and all the potential obstacles in between, according to Resilio, a technology company. Connection times can also be impacted by your surroundings, the length of your message, and the status and availability of the satellite network.
However, if the user is located under trees with light or medium foliage it might take over a minute to send a message, while the same message takes 15 seconds to be sent in ideal conditions with a direct view of the sky and the horizon. Users might not be able to connect to a satellite at all if they are located under heavy foliage or surrounded by other obstructions, Apple said in a blog earlier this month. The Emergency SOS via satellite might not also work in places above 62° latitude like northern parts of Canada and Alaska.
Additionally, satellite Internet latency can be a significant problem. This can be a matter of only a second or two, but a delay on that scale can seriously affect real-time applications like video chats. Unlike terrestrial communications, minor changes in weather can have a massive impact on both the speed and latency of satellite data, according to Resilio. Because satellite networks are complex, satellite Internet providers like Hughes often charge based on throughput. This along with the complex equipment like satellite dishes being used to avail these services makes the service expensive, the company added.
4. ‘62% rural houses have tap water connections’
Around 62% of rural households in India have fully functional tap water connections within their premises, according to a survey commissioned by the Union Ministry of Water Resources to assess the functioning of the government’s marquee Jal Jeevan Mission.
In June, the Centre reported this figure to be 52%.
Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, and Puducherry reported more than 80% of households with fully functional connections, while fewer than half the households in Rajasthan, Kerala, Manipur, Tripura, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Sikkim had such connections.
A fully functional tap water connection is defined as a household getting at least 55 litres per capita per day of potable water all through the year. Close to three-fourths of households received water all seven days a week and 8% just once a week. On an average, households got water for three hours every day, and 80% reported that their daily requirements of water were being met by the tap connections. The water quality in some households was tested. It revealed 95% of households to have within acceptable limits of pH values. Over 90% of village-level institutions were getting potable water. Over half (57%) of the sampled households reported purifying water before drinking.
However, the report mentions a concerning problem of chlorine contamination. Though 93% of the samples were reportedly free of bacteriological contamination, “most of the anganwadi centres and schools, had higher than the permissible range of residual chlorine and indicated inappropriate local dosing. Thus, there is a need to monitor the correct dosing of chlorine in the pipe water supply system”, the report notes.
Jal Jeevan Mission
- The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), a flagship program of the Government of India, was launched on August 15, 2019, by Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- In the year 2019, Project Jal Jeevan Mission has been launched.
- JJM aspires to establish a Jan Andolan for water, making it a top priority for every rural household in the country.
- The mission is a part of the Jal Shakti Ministry which is the nodal ministry for the implementation of the scheme.
The Jal Jeevan Mission is the foundation of the Rashtriya Jal Jeevan Kosh. On August 15, 2019, the Honourable Prime Minister of India made a big announcement about a government program. The main objective of Jal Jeevan Mission is to supply 55 liters of water per person per day to every rural household through Functional Household Tap Connections (FHTC) by 2024.
- Rainwater harvesting and water conservation are also the most important aspects of the mission.
- Using recycled water and recharging structures
- Development of the watercourse
- focusing on planting trees.
- Traditional and other water bodies are being renovated.
Jal Jeevan Mission Rural Objectives
- The main objective of the Jal Jeevan Mission is to start giving to all households in rural India over the long term.
- Supplying pure, safe, and enough drinking water through individual tap connections by 2024.
- The goal is to provide 55 liters of water per person per day through Functional Household Tap Connections (FHTC).
- Planning and putting into action how essential water is for a better quality of life.
- Assistance from states and UTs in organizing their financial funds and resources for the mission.
Features of the Jal Jeevan Mission
- This mission will resolve the lack of tap water connections by making the tap connections work.
- It is based on local management of both how much water is used and how much is available.
- This mission will build local infrastructure for things like harvesting water, putting water directly into the earth, and managing household wastewater so it can be used again.
- By 2024, each person in a rural home will be able to get 55 litres of water every day from a tap connection.
- The mission helps the community come up with a plan for the water that includes a lot of information, education, and communication.
- The scheme gave forth an amount of Rs 3 lakh crore.
- In this mission, everyone helps make the Jan Andolan for water a top priority.
- For the Himalayan and North Eastern States, the fund is split 90:10 between the center and the state, 50:50 for the rest of the states, and 100% for the Union Territories.
Implementation of the Jal Jeevan Mission
Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, tap water is given to every rural household, even those in SC/ST-dominated villages in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, so that “no one is left out. “Also, tap water is given top priority in places where the water quality is bad, like deserts and drought-prone areas, SC/ST majority villages, Aspirational and JE-AES affected districts, Saansad Adarsh Gramin Yojana villages, and so on. households in the country by 2024.
- The Paani Samitis plan has village water supply systems in good shape also, wherein they operate the system in an organized way.
- At least half of these associations have between 10 and 15 members, at least half of whom are women.
- Other members come from Self-Help Groups, accredited social and health workers, Anganwadi teachers, and other places.
- The committees put together a one-time action plan for the village that uses all of its resources.
- A Gram Sabha should indeed agree to the plan before it can be put into action.
National Rural Drinking Water Mission Implementation Issues
- Some of the problems with putting the National Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Mission into action are the lack of reliable drinking water sources.
- In areas such as water-stressed, drought-prone, and subtropical, the presence of location-specific contaminants in groundwater, uneven terrain, and scattered rural settlements.
- Also, the inability of local village communities to manage and operate in-village water supply infrastructure.
- The delay in the release of the matching state share in some states, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Progress So Far in Jal Jeevan Mission
At the time that the Jal Jeevan Mission was announced, 17.1% of the 18.93 crore rural households had tap water connections. This meant that 3.23 Crore rural households had tap water connections.
- Under the JJM, tap water connections have been set up in 5.38 Crore (28%) of rural households so far.
- So, out of the 19.22 billion rural households in the country, 8.62 billion (or 44.84 percent) are said to have potable tap water.
- The number of homes with running water from the tap has reached 100% in rural areas of states like Goa, Telangana, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Puducherry. “Har Ghar Jal” has become everyone’s top priority.
Funding for Jal Jeevan Mission
- The Union Territories will get all of their money from the central government.
- The central government will pay for 90% of projects in the North Eastern and Hill States.
- Central funding will be 50% for cities with less than 10,00,000 people, 1/3 for cities with 10,00,000 to 1,00,00,000 people, and 25% for cities with 10,00,000 or more people.
- The government will give money to projects in three parts of 20:40:40.
- From the third installment onwards, the money will be given out based on the results, while funding and credible exclusion will be applied.
Jal Jeevan Mission Urban
In Budget 2021-22, the Government of India has announced the Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) to provide universal coverage of water supply to all households in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal- 6. The scheme is announced by the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry. The Jal Jeevan Mission Urban Scheme’s key points are
- Securing tap and sewer connections
- Rejuvenation of water bodies
- Creating a circular water economy
Jal Jeevan Mission Urban UPSC Topic can be asked in both prelims and mains exam under current affairs or Government policies. The key features are using the latest technology, mass awareness, surveying equitable distribution, strengthening urban local bodies, and promoting the PPP model.
5. Telangana scoops Swachh Survekshan Gramin, 2022 award
President speaks of plans to make all six lakh villages in India free of open defecation in the second phase of Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin
Telangana was ranked first for the cleanliness of its villages in the Swachh Survekshan Gramin (SSG), 2022, which looked into the sanitation status of rural areas. After Telangana, Haryana was placed second followed by Tamil Nadu in the Large States category.
The Swachh Survekshan Gramin, 2022 award ranks States and districts on the basis of their performance attained on Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) parameters and engagement of the rural community in improvement of their sanitation status. Among smaller States and Union Territories, Andaman and Nicobar secured the first position, followed by Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Sikkim.
“Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin is a movement to bring in behavioural change in our populace. The use of toilets, the habit of washing hands with soap and having water supply through taps acted as a shield for the country during the pandemic,” said President Droupadi Murmu, while giving away the awards.
Ms. Murmu noted that since the launch of SBM-G in 2014, over 11 crore toilets had been built and about 60 crore people had given up open defecation. The second phase of the mission, launched in 2020, aims to make all six lakh villages in India ‘Open Defecation Free Plus’, she said. “Having achieved success against open defecation, we now have to address more complex and technical problems like solid and liquid waste management,” she added.
6. Editorial-1: Choose ‘safe surrender’ over infant abandonment
Last month in Tamil Nadu, a two-year-old girl was found alone in a government bus. The crying toddler was handed over to the Dharmapuri police station which traced her mother with the help of CCTV footage. The mother said that after a quarrel with her husband she had tried to abandon their child in the bus.
In another incident in July, a two-week-old boy was found abandoned in a closed tea stall in very inclement weather in New Town, 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. He was rescued by the Technocity police station after a person alerted the police. The boy was given immediate medical aid. However, his parents could not be located.
Reports of newborn children being found abandoned in garbage piles, dustbins, in bushes by the roadside or places of religious worship are not uncommon in India. Data by the National Crime Records Bureau show that no less than 709 criminal cases of ‘exposure and abandonment of child under twelve years’ under Section 317 of the Indian Penal Code were registered in the year 2021. It is pertinent to note that no case is registered when a child is surrendered to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) constituted under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (or the JJ Act).
Abandonment versus surrender of a child
The moot question is this: If the child’s biological parents or the guardian do not want to or are unfit to raise the child, why do they abandon the child especially when there are so many people in India willing to adopt children? Especially when this number is more than the number of children available legally free for adoption? According to the portal of the Central Adoption Resource Authority, there were 2,991 in-country adoptions and 414 inter-country adoptions in 2021-22. Similarly, according to the 118th report on Review of Guardianship and Adoption Laws, presented to the Rajya Sabha on August 8, 2022), as on December 16, 2021, there were 2,430 children declared legally free for adoption for 26,734 adoptive parents-in-waiting.
An abandoned child means a child who is deserted by his biological or adoptive parents or guardians, while a surrendered child is relinquished on account of physical, emotional and social factors beyond their control. The JJ Act, which has an overriding effect on other laws in force, provides that no first information report shall be registered against any biological parent in the process of inquiry relating to an abandoned and surrendered child. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that all efforts are made to trace the parents or guardians of the child without initiating any criminal action.
It is always advisable to surrender a child rather than abandon him if the conditions to retain the child are beyond the control of parents or guardian. Abandonment endangers the child’s life. Surrender before the CWC is a guarantee that the child will be taken care of till he or she attains majority or is adopted by a fit and willing parent.
As most of the reasons for child abandonment are an unwanted pregnancy, breakdown of a relationship, lower socio-economic status, either or both parents being drug addicts or alcoholics, a child can be considered eligible for surrender and declared so after the prescribed process of inquiry and counselling. Further, the disclosure of the identity of such children is prohibited and all reports related to the child are to be treated confidential by the CWC. Hence, there is nothing the parents need to fear about. Also, the surrender of a child does not entail any criminal action.
A liberal interpretation
The Supreme Court of India has just given a liberal interpretation to the law on termination of pregnancy when it comes to single and unmarried women. Section 3(2)(b) Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 was amended in 2021 and the words “married woman” replaced with “any woman” and “husband” with “partner”. However, the corresponding rule (Rule 3B of the MTP Rules, 2003), was not amended, leaving scope for different interpretations by the lower courts. In view of this, the Supreme Court, in X vs The Principal Secretary Health and Family Welfare Department and Another (2022), held, while hearing an appeal, that the parliamentary intent was clearly not to confine the beneficial provisions only to a situation involving a matrimonial relationship. The Court passed an interim order to allow an unmarried woman petitioner to abort her pregnancy of 24 weeks arising out of a failed live-in relationship, subject to the Medical Board’s recommendations. The Court said that there was no basis to deny unmarried women the right to medically terminate her pregnancy, when the same right was available to other categories of women (divorcees, widows, minors, disabled and mentally-ill women and survivors of sexual assault or rape). With the top court’s clarification and the amended law, it is anticipated that unmarried women will be free of mental trauma.
Awareness is the key
One of the major reasons for the abandonment of children is a lack of awareness about the law on the surrender of unwanted children. Since it is believed that most cases of unwanted pregnancies are known to Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), daais and anganwadi workers, who have a strong network in villages, educating and sensitising them may reduce incidents of abandonment. The staff of nursing homes should also be included in such a programme.
Although, the surrender deed is to be executed before the CWC, a parent or guardian may approach any police officer, public servant, childline services, recognised non-governmental organisations, voluntary organisation, child welfare officer or probation officer, social worker or public-spirited person, nurse or doctor or management of a nursing home, hospital or maternity home when wanting to surrender a child. It shall be the duty of such an authority or officer to produce the child before the CWC within 24 hours. Non-reporting of abandonment within the prescribed time is a criminal offence. Therefore, wide publicity needs to be given to these provisions of the JJ Act so that no child is deserted, and parents, guardians and functionaries who are mandated to report any abandonment do not face a risk.
7. Editorial-2: The U.K. is staring into an economic abyss
It took the new British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, just 25 minutes to unleash havoc when he unveiled his mini-Budget on September 23. His speech was meant to announce help for the ongoing energy crisis in Britain and provide a plan for higher economic growth. It led to an unprecedented week in which the pound plummeted, the cost of borrowing soared and ongoing conversations about a cost-of-living crisis are now being replaced with tentative fears of a financial crisis.
Mr. Kwarteng announced a slew of ideologically-driven tax cuts that disproportionately favour high earners. In place of policies to boost the United Kingdom’s economy to achieve a promised 2.5% growth, the Chancellor offered promises of sunlit uplands simply as a result of reversing recent tax rises (meant to fund extra investment in the National Health Service and social care), abolishing the top rate of income tax and reversing a promised rise in corporation tax.
He failed to explain how the announced support on winter fuel bills to households and small businesses (estimated at £60 billion for this winter) would be funded, and how the shortfall generated by the tax cuts (of £45 billion) would be made up. Markets were spooked and the cost of the U.K.’s borrowing rose sharply, indicating a lack of confidence in the long-term prospects of the economy. Though the sterling’s precipitous fall grabbed headlines initially, it is the damage done to the U.K. treasury bonds that has the potential to cause turmoil globally. So much so, that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a statement on the Chancellor’s mini budget.
To be clear: the IMF is not in the habit of criticising G7 countries on their domestic economic policies. The Fund, officially the lender of last resort and the organisation tasked with maintaining stability in the global economy, broke new ground on September 27 with its stinging rebuke which, moreover, was issued outside of a scheduled country review, global economic update, or a bailout. Noting that the tax cuts threatened to ‘increase inequality’, the Fund said that it was ‘monitoring … developments’ and remained ‘engaged with the authorities’. Observers could be forgiven for wondering if the Fund had accidentally issued a statement composed for a developing country facing a balance of payments crisis. There was more: cautioning against a fiscal policy that appeared to be ‘at cross purposes to monetary policy’ and which thereby risked stoking inflation further, it ended by urging the U.K. to ‘re-evaluate the tax measures… that benefit high income earners’.
Spotlight on pension funds
The IMF, however, has a duty to protect global financial markets, and to mitigate the risk of contagion. The Bank of England had to intervene the following day; warning of a ‘material risk to U.K. financial stability’, the Bank reversed its stance of bringing down its debt and instead pledged to buy back up to £65 billion in long-term Treasury bonds, or gilts, over the coming fortnight in order to stabilise the bond market. Despite the inflationary repercussions of this move, there was little choice in the matter as pension funds, which have invested heavily in gilts, suddenly found themselves facing a liquidity crisis brought about by the rising cost of borrowing, and compounded by the over-leveraged debt instruments that underwrite their future liabilities. However, the Bank has not solved the problem but only stabilised pension funds for now by buying them a little time.
It is not just U.K. pension funds that have exposure to gilts. The sterling is one of the five major reserve currencies, and is (still) ranked third, after the U.S. dollar and the euro, on a par with the yen and above the renminbi. Approximately 5% of global foreign currency reserves are held in sterling or sterling instruments, including gilts. The pound has already lost value. If gilts start looking like a bad investment, several economies around the world, including India, may reconsider their holdings.
Implications for household debt
A little ideology can be a dangerous thing. Prime Minister Liz Truss came to power promising to take on the ‘economic orthodoxy’ of the Treasury and economists. One of her first actions as Prime Minister was to dismiss the top civil servant in charge of the Treasury. Her Chancellor did not publish a forecast of his interim economic policies provided by the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent body. When their ideology rubbed up against what they perceived to be orthodoxy, they belittled the experience, knowledge and institutional memory that go into providing independent, non-partisan advice. Britain could pay dearly for this. As the country stares into an economic abyss, the cost of domestic borrowing has risen, affecting household (and corporate) debt. Within days of the mini-budget, several mortgages were discontinued, and those paying a variable rate, or facing an imminent renewal of their fixed-rate loans, are anticipating calamitous increases in their monthly payments. Interest rates are expected to rise even further. Over the summer, discussion focused on whether people could afford to heat their homes over the winter. Now, people are asking whether they will be able to keep their homes after the winter.
Good debt may be turned into bad debt. And bad debt has a habit of infecting other economies, as was the case in 2008. Britain could be in for a rocky ride, and it may yet take others along with it.
8. Editorial-3: Boxed in
As high prices restrain consumption, inflation control must be top priority
The Reserve Bank of India’s rate decision on Friday was ultimately inevitable. Monetary policymakers were left with little choice but to raise interest rates by 50 basis points, as a bout of extreme volatility in international financial markets combines with persistently high domestic retail inflation to threaten macroeconomic stability, globally and in India. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das cited the ‘aggressive monetary policy actions and even more aggressive communication from advanced economy central banks’ as a third shock — following the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — which he said had thrust the ‘global economy into the eye of a new storm’. “Emerging market economies, in particular, are confronted with challenges of slowing global growth, elevated food and energy prices, spillovers from advanced economy policy normalisation… and sharp currency depreciations,” Mr. Das explained, elaborating on the external challenges confronting emerging economies, including India. The rupee too has been under pressure, weakening by more than 7% against the dollar since the start of the current fiscal year in April. And this has added upward pressure to price stability by way of imported inflation. The RBI’s September issue of the Monetary Policy Report in fact pertinently observes that the ‘second-round effects of low growth and high inflation globally could keep domestic inflation at elevated levels even beyond eight quarters, necessitating appropriate monetary actions to anchor inflation expectations’.
The central bank’s own projections, in fact, do not anticipate a slowing in India’s retail inflation below its upper tolerance threshold of 6% till the January-March quarter. And Mr. Das was right to point out the multiple factors that could upend the RBI’s inflation outlook. These include the likelihood of higher pass-through of input costs by service providers on increased demand, as well as upside risks to food prices from both the lower kharif output of rice and pulses, and the unseasonably excess spells of rainfall in some regions that have pushed up the prices of vegetables. The surfeit of liquidity or cash in the banking system, which is expected to be buoyed by enhanced government spending in the coming months, could also threaten price stability and the RBI Governor was at pains to note that the policy stance of a calibrated ‘withdrawal of accommodation’ had become an imperative. Specifically, he pointed out that ‘even as the nominal policy repo rate had been raised by 190 basis points since May, the rate adjusted for inflation still trailed the 2019 levels’. With the RBI’s latest surveys of households’ inflation expectations and consumer confidence too signalling that price pressures will continue to restrain consumption, inflation control will have to remain the top policy priority.
9. Editorial-4: Mahatma Gandhi, the peacemaker
Mahatma Gandhi was attentive of the fact that world peace is not possible without the spiritual growth of humanity. So far, the 22 years of the 21st century have not been peaceful. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine represents the biggest threat to peace in the world since the end of the Cold War. Many believe that humanity will never attain peace. But we all know that peace is the result of a long process of compassionate dialogue and tireless caring across cultural, religious, and political boundaries.
Gandhi considered the problem of peace as an ethical, rather than political, issue. For him, the importance was to be on the side of the just. In a letter published in Harijan on December 9, 1939, he wrote: “The moral influence would be used on the side of peace… My nonviolence does recognise different species of violence — defensive and offensive. It is true that in the long run the difference is obliterated, but the initial merit persists. A nonviolent person is bound, when the occasion arises, to say which side is just. Thus, I wished success to the Abyssinians, the Spaniards, the Czechs, the Chinese, and the Poles, though in each case I wished that they could have offered nonviolent resistance… But who am I? I have no strength save what God gives me. I have no authority over my countrymen save the purely moral. If God holds me to be a pure instrument for the spread of nonviolence… He will… show me the way…”
A peace strategy
This letter explains a great deal on Gandhi’s psychology as a moral leader at the time of war. It also shows clearly that he was a man of peace, who, beyond the violent values of his time, could struggle for nonviolence and dialogue among nations. Based on this assumption, it appears that the most appropriate way to interpret Gandhi’s approval of violence over cowardice is to consider him as a consistent thinker on peace. Hence, it would be wrong to say that there were gradual changes in his opinions on war and peace.
If it is accepted that Gandhi always had a peace strategy even when he wrote on violence over cowardice, we can establish a continuity between his writings on war and peace in different stages of his struggle. Gandhi wrote: “I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence…But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment… But… forgiveness only when there is the power to punish…. A mouse hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces by her. I therefore appreciate the sentiment of those who cry out for the condign punishment of General Dyer and his ilk. They would tear him to pieces if they could. But I do not believe India to be a helpless creature. Only I want to use India’s and my strength for a better purpose.” This said, Gandhi never dissociated nonviolence from violence, either in reality, or as major concepts of his political philosophy. Therefore, we can understand his position, when he affirmed that an action “may wear the appearance of violence” and yet be “absolutely nonviolent in the highest sense.”
Many famous critics of Gandhi’s nonviolence have pointed their fingers at the impotence of Gandhian nonviolence against totalitarian regimes. Hannah Arendt said, “If Gandhi’s enormously powerful and successful strategy of nonviolent resistance had met with a different enemy — Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, even pre-war Japan, instead of England — the outcome would not have been decolonization, but massacre and submission.” However, unlike Arendt, Gandhi believed that in the absence of a concrete ethical foundation, the political could not function democratically and non-violently.
The task of the political
Therefore, for Gandhi, the essential task of the political was to bring moral progress. While Hitler believed in eliminating morality from politics, for Gandhi, it was most important that the moral legitimacy of non-violence be a strategy of peacemaking. That is why Gandhi is impossible to classify in terms of conventional categories of peace studies and conflict resolution. Gandhi remains an original thinker in the matter of peace building and also an astute peace builder.
From Gandhi’s perspective, nonviolence is an ontological truth that follows from the unity and interdependence of humanity and life. While violence damages and undermines all forms of life, nonviolence uplifts all. Gandhi, therefore, advocated an awareness of the essential unity of humanity, and that awareness required a critical self-examination and a move from egocentricity towards a ‘shared humanity’. This ‘shared humanity’ cannot exist today if it is not aware of its own shortcomings. It needs to strive to remove its own imperfections, in order to be able to foster a pluralistic peace. Needless to say, in an age of increasing ‘globalisation of selfishness’, there is an urgent need to read and practise the Gandhian social and political philosophy in order re-evaluate the concept of peace.
10. Editorial-5: Iran’s indices, and the immediate causes of protests
The lack of adequate political freedoms, the absence of gender equality, and recurrent economic crises have frequently triggered protests
Earlier this month, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained by Iran’s morality police for “violating” the mandatory dress code. Though her family had been assured she would be released after a “re-education session”, she died on September 16 after being rushed to the hospital from the detention centre. Her family has contested the police claim that she died of a heart attack due to underlying conditions. Various reports have claimed that Amini was beaten up by police authorities after which she slipped into coma. Amini’s death has sparked protests across Iran. In the unrest, more than 75 people have so far been killed and hundreds are injured.
Iran has a long history of protests that have been triggered by socioeconomic and political issues. While the 1977-79 uprising unseated the country’s repressive monarchy, the Islamic republic that replaced the Pahlavi dynasty has also been accused of repressing dissent, including by women questioning the imposition of clothing and other behavioural mores by the regime. Here is a look at various protests that have taken place in the country in recent years with data showing the proximate triggers for these.
Chart 1A, 1B and 1C compare how Iranian women fare in literacy rate, labour force participation rate and the share of women in parliament, respectively, compared to women in other countries for whom such data are available. The charts show that though a large section of Iranian women is literate (81%), they have relatively poor economic and political freedom. The current unrest could be a reflection of the social awareness of literate Iranian women and their dismay at their economic situation and lack of political freedoms.
The regime, overshadowed by economic and political crises, has repeatedly witnessed mass protests in the last four decades. The protests in 2017-18 and 2019, which were triggered by price hikes and inflation, reflect this. Chart 1D shows that Iran’s per capita GDP in 2020 was less than $3,000. This placed Iran 148 among 204 countries. Chart 1E displays a poor employment-to-population ratio, which is causing unrest among the youth. These protests have also coincided with the sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. in recent years.
In 2009, over three million demonstrators took to the streets of Tehran protesting against irregularities in the presidential elections. According to Chart 1F, Iran fares poorly in political rights, ranking 157 among 193 countries. Restrictive laws have resulted in people having to fight for their basic rights. Chart 1G shows how civil liberties are poor compared to other countries.
Chart 1H depicts the poor press freedom ranking in Iran. Methods used by the Iranian government to quell the protests in the country include brutal force, restrictions on movements, and digital crackdowns. Chart 1I depicts the nature of Internet freedom in Iran.
Chart 2A shows how Iran’s Human Development Index remains among the poorest in the West Asian region, with only Iraq and Yemen ranking below it.
Chart 2B shows Iran’s Human Rights Protection Index between 1950 and 2019. It dropped to its lowest after 1979. Though the ranking improved in the 1990s, it has not been able to reach the previous highs. And after 2014, it has been showing a downward trend.
Iran overthrew monarchy, but the lack of adequate political freedoms, the absence of gender equality, and recurrent economic crises, some of which have been triggered by sanctions, have possibly pushed the citizenry to protest frequently in the republic, especially in recent years.